Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Triple Funky/Sour Rye Saison Tasting

Saison is dead, long live saison! For a style that has about as much cohesion as IPA these days, there are so many opinions on what saison is. Last week while I was in Brazil for a homebrewing conference, I spent many hours talking to two of my homebrew heroes: Drew Beechum and Denny Conn (authors of the fascinating book Experimental Homebrewing). Drew is one of the handful of people who deserve credit for popularizing saison's range since I started brewing in 2005, but he is suspect when it comes to adding Brett to the style.

BJCP seems to agree with Drew; with the 2015 Beer Style Guidelines they have given Brett’d saisons an explicit home in the American Wild Ale category’s Brett Beer sub-category (Belgian Specialty is gone!). Gordon Strong asked me to comment on American Wilds draft about a year ago, and I made the case that Brett has been isolated from several of the classic Belgian examples. Too much Brett and I agree the peppery-spice is overwhelmed, but I love a touch of funk in the style! His counterargument was that it is not intentionally part of many modern Belgian saisons, and breaking the funky versions out makes both entering and judging easier.

American Wild Ale is a new home for the sort of weird funky/sour beers that encompass most of what I brew. Clearly I need an edge after most of my sours scored in the mid-30s at the National Homebrewers Competition (my gueuze and cherry brown were knocked for being too sour, my lemon Berliner for not being sour enough). My general goal in commenting was to make the target balance and drinkability, rather than rewarding the sharpest or classic-Brett-forward beers.

This funky/tart rye saison was brewed with a fellow government employee during the great furlough of 2013. We split the batch three ways and pitched various microbes (mostly from the dregs of homebrewed saisons). I wanted to taste the influence of such a small amount of bugs compared to the primary yeast (a blend of White Labs WLP585 Belgian Saison III and WLP568 Belgian Style Saison Ale Yeast Blend).

Left: Dregs from Funky Dark Saison #4 Middle: B. nanus and B. naardenensis Right: Two Bootleg Biology Pithos isolates.

Rye Saison Tasting - Three Ways

Appearance – Three seemingly identical beers. Clear muted-yellow, with delicate dense white heads. The sudden burst of rain didn't help retention.

Funky Dark #4 – Lambic-like. Musty-dusty with some lemon rind.
Nanus/Naardenensis – The fruitiest, but also some rubber band.
Bootleg Biology Pithos Isolates – Mild basement funkiness, while retaining the most peppery saison character of the three.

FD4 – The most acidic, more American Wild than Brett saison. Luckily the acidity is tangy, lactic, really bright. Lots of white wine (despite the lack of wine, grapes, or oak).
N/N – The least acidic and mildest funk. The fruit is more orchard than citrus.
Pithos – Mild citrusy tartness. Dry, earthy, but lacks depth.

Mouthfeel – All three are all pretty similar, firm carbonation (perfect for a pale/funky beers), medium-thin body. The proteins from the rye keep it from being watery, even after the carbonation calms down.

Drinkability & Notes – For my tastes, the dregs from Funky Dark #4 were the winner (itself WLP670 American Farmhouse, and Wyeast 5112 Brettanomyces bruxellensis). It has the balance of acidity, funk, fruit, and spice that I want in a beer. Rather than trying to recreate this beer exactly would be close to impossible, but I’d suggest that once you start bottling sour beers you’re happy with that you start using dregs from your homebrewed sours!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Alsatian Saison Recipe

I like conceptual series of beers, for example our annual dark-funky saisons. This batch is the third in a different sort of lineage, hoppy saisons fermented with an evolving mixed culture. It is the follow-up to the delicious Nu Zuland Saison, this time with European hops an wine. I wanted an excuse to try Hull Melon ("honeydew melon and strawberry") and Hallertau Blanc ("passion fruit, grapefruit, pineapple, grape and lemongrass"), two German hops released to compete with the bolder-fruitier flavors of modern American and Southern Hemisphere varieties like Citra and Nelson Sauvin.

The old rule of thumb that the hundredths place of the original gravity roughly predicts alcohol by volume (e.g., 1.060 wort will ferment into ~6% ABV) doesn't work well for saisons because of their high attenuation. With the start of DC's four months of oppressive heat and humidity arriving soon, I wanted to keep this batch relatively light and refreshing at 1.047. With the wine it still ended up just above 6% ABV.

I fermented it with a starter made from the yeast slurry harvested from the Nu Zulund Saison keg after it kicked (not a textbook maneuver). This is the third use for my house saison blend (a mixture of The Yeast Bay Saison Blend, WLP644 Trois, CB2, and Wyeast Lacto brevis). This turn is heading towards being the funkiest so far. Likely the late harvests are applying selective pressure that favors Brettanomyces. As a side note, White Labs recently renamed/reclassified WLP644 from Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. Trois to Saccharomyces "bruxellensis" Trois. I could care less what genus it is, I still think Trois is a great strain! If anything I hope the strain gains wider use by brewers who do not want to risk introducing Brett to their gear.

To bolster the flavors of the hops and yeast I blended in an entire bottle of Trimbach Gewurztraminer at kegging. I find this to be a much easier, more consistent, and effective way to introduce wine flavors than soaking oak cubes in wine that are in turn added to the beer. Despite the German name, most Gew├╝rztraminer is grown in what is now France. I selected the varietal because it tends to be a more aromatic and fruity/spicy than most European wines. Maison Trimbach is a storied producer which I've posted about before. This 2010 bottle was bright, citrusy and minerally, a nice match for the flavors already in the beer.

Excited to see how it all comes together after keg conditioning!

Alsatian Funky Saison

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.90
Anticipated OG: 1.047
Anticipated SRM: 3.4
Anticipated IBU: 24.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 65 Minutes

82.5% - 8.99 lbs. Rahr 2-Row Brewer's Malt
14.9% - 1.62 lbs. Great Western Soft White Wheat Flakes
2.6% - 0.28 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated Malt

0.56 oz. Magnum (Pellet, 11.80% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Hallertau Blanc (Pellet, 11.2% AA) @ Hop-Stand
2.00 oz. Hull Melon (Pellet, 6.8% AA) @ Hop-Stand
2.00 oz. Hallertau Blanc (Pellet, 11.2% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Hull Melon (Pellet, 6.8% AA) @ Dry Hop

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 5 min.

House Saison Blend 
(i.e., The Yeast Bay Saison Blend
White Labs WLP644 Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. Trois
Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. CB2 (Jason Rodriguez isolate)
Wyeast L5223-PC Lactobacillus brevis)

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 75 min @ 148F

Brewed 3/22/15

7 gallons mash water with 2 g of CaCl. 1 gallon of untreated cold sparge water.

Initial mash pH 5.64 at room temperature with 3 oz of acid malt. 1.5 additional ounces plus .5 fl oz of 10% phosphoric acid brought it down to 5.50.

Collected 6 gallons pre-boil at 1.047, diluted with .75 gallons of water to 1.042. Added .5 fl oz of phosphoric acid to the boil.

Whirlpooled 5 minutes, settled for 15 minutes. Wort pH= 5.46. Naturally cooled to 180F. Then added 2 oz each Hallertau Blanc and Hull Melon. Allowed to steep an additional 30 minutes before finishing runoff (down to 145F). Chilled to 68 F, pitched the slurry from the Nu Zulund Saison with 1 L of wort pitched the night before, slow activity.

4/9/15 Dry hopped in primary.

4/20/15 Kegged with 3.5 oz of table sugar and 740 ml of Trimbach Gewurztraminer. Left in the cellar to naturally condition. FG 1.003 (5.8% ABV, 6.1% with wine).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Courage RIS Clone Tasting "2014"

Rationing a delicious beer is always challenge, but offsite storage helps. I drink a single bottle of Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone each year, usually while visiting my parents for Christmas (the remaining seven bottles are the last of my once impressive stockpile at their house). I missed my annual tasting in 2013 (I gifted that bottle to Ron Pattinson himself while he was talking historic beers at 3 Stars, the closest brewery and homebrewing store to my house). I spent Christmas 2014 in Montreal, and didn’t get around to opening my 2014 bottle until the cherry blossoms were out. I also needed something to write about this week when my phenol experiment didn’t prove worthy of another official tasting.

Courage Clone

Appearance – Coal-black body with the same tight mocha head it’s had for years. Pretty good head retention compared to other years. Not all stouts need to be pitch black, but I think imperial stouts should be!

Smell – What a nose! Figs, burnt-on coffee, and fresh toast. Saturated with dark malt and caramelized sugar. Just a hint of soy-sauce oxidation, not offensive yet. Dusty basement. A suggestion of clean ethanol, no fusel burn. Every last bit of what an English imperial stout should be in the nose.

Taste – Decadent. Sweet, intensely malty, clean roast, and lots of caramelized raisins. Nothing overtly funky, but it has a sooty complexity that age alone doesn't produce. Speaking of which, age and oxidation haven’t caused any structural problems so far. Time has mellowed the alcohol and increased the intensity of the dark fruit and burnt sugar. Any hop bitterness is gone, but at 1.020 it isn’t so sticky that the lack of hops leaves it unbalanced.

Mouthfeel – Rich, full, and coating. It has enough heft to back up the opulent flavors and aromas. Carbonation is medium, which is more than I need in such a big beer. Nothing ruins a dark strong ale like too much carbonation, but after a few swirls it falls in line.

Drinkability & Notes – I need to brew another batch of this recipe before I run out! Considering the Brett was killed before bottling, it has held up very well. The antioxidant sulfites might be part of the reason. The dark fruit has really come up since my last tasting in 2012 (when that was missing compared to the actual Courage).

It is challenging for me to be objective with this beer: I brewed it less than two years after I moved to DC, about two years into what is now ten years of homebrewing. The sort of beer that I like to sit, sip, and think with.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Galaxy Dry Hopped Funky Cider

I post pretty much every recipe I ferment, but once in a while something gets missed. I started this cider in the fall of 2013. Fermented with Champagne yeast and a couple wild yeast isolates from Colorado Springs provided by Bootleg Biology. It was the spiritual successor to my first sour  cider; this time I skipped the bacteria, because without staggered pitching or a source for complex carbohydrates they don't produce noticeable acidity.

I'll post a tasting of the plain version soon, but I wanted to get to the half I dry hopped while it was still fresh. The idea of dry hopping a cider was borrowed from Citizen The Full Nelson (with Nelson Sauvin) and Millstone Hopvine (with Cascade). While both are delicious, I selected Galaxy for it's tropical fruity aromatics. I wanted the dry hopping to compliment the apples, without completely dominating.

Galaxy Funky Cider

Galaxy dry-hopped cider, and a slide enlarger.Appearance – Dull yellow, slight haze. The head forms nicely, but despite the hops there simply aren’t enough proteins for it to hold for more than a few seconds. Looks like an authentic farmhouse cider to me.

Smell – Apple peel and slightly tropical. Doesn’t smell of hops specifically. There is a distant earthy-dirty funk. The hops take off the edge, brighten it up, without turning it into an India Pale Cider.

Taste – Dry, dusty, and tart Granny Smith apples. The bugs give the drinking cider depth. The finish does introduce resinous hoppiness. Still fresh thanks to the hops, but with a mature backbone.

Mouthfeel – Thin, quenching. Carbonation is slightly lower than it could be, ciders often benefits from some lift.

Drinkability & Notes – If you’re looking for the hop-lover’s cider, this isn’t it. The Galaxy dry hop is more a twist than a star. Happy with the way it turned out, a pleasant blend of apples, wild yeast, and cider.

Funky Cider 2013

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated IBU: 0.0

5 gallons Apple Cider

2.50 tsp Pectic Enzyme
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient

Red Star Pasteur Champagne Yeast
Bootleg Biology "Colorado Springs" Isolates

Brewed 10/6/13

Fermenting with Champagne yeast, and two "Colorado Springs" isolates from Bootleg Biology. Likely: Backyard Garden Berries BB80907A and BB80907B.

1/26/15 Bottled 2 gallons with 47 g of table sugar with a splash of rehydrated Pasteur Champagne yeast. Racked the other 3 gallons onto 2 oz of Galaxy hops in a CO2 purged 3 gallon carboy.

2/15/15 Bottled the 3 gallons of dry hopped wit 2.5 oz of table sugar and a splash of ECY Dirty Dozen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Matt, and Maple-Bourbon Adam

It’s been more than two years since my series of four barrel-aged strong/dark beers (Wheat Trippelbock, Rye Stout, Vanilla/Cinnamon Porter, and Quadrupel), and stocks are beginning to dwindle. It seemed like a good excuse to brew a variant on the fantastic Hair of the Dog Adam clone I brewed six years ago, considering I'm down to my final bottle (recently drank the second to last – still tasted fantastic). However I didn’t want 10 gallons of the same ~10% ABV beer (no matter how well it ages).

My new water filter, right into the mash tun!
Hair of the Dog occasionally brews a version of Adam called Matt which augments the base with candi sugar, more malts, and bourbon and apple eau de vie barrel aging. Apple brandy and dark candi syrup seemed like a nice match, so I went with that for five gallons of the beer.

I’d been thinking of brewing a Baltic porter inspired by the transcendent Les Trois Mousquetaires Porter Baltique I brought back from Montreal… with the addition of maple syrup and bourbon. I decided it would be a bit too close to Adam (both are dark, lightly smoky, and 10% ABV) so I transferred the concept to Adam. Maple syrup plus some bourbon is a technique that I’ve use to great effect before in a Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout inspired RIS variant. I wanted more maple flavor so I added one quart (nearly three pounds) of grade B maple syrup after primary fermentation slowed. That may sound like a crazy amount in five gallons, but I've heard that some highly sought-after maple beers are brewed with twice that rate (around 10% maple syrup by volume!).

The base recipe is pretty close to my first Adam clone. I tweaked a few percentages and hops, but the only major substitution was the switch from intense peat-smoked malt to a mellower combination of Briess Cherry Wood Smoked and Weyermann Beech Smoked. I used a higher percentage of smoked malt than the first batch, so hopefully the smoke intensity will be similar, if a bit sweeter.

This was the first strong beer (over 1.075) I brewed on the new system. I used the technique borrowed from HoTD, collecting only my target volume of first runnings and boiling down well below the target volume. This concentrates the sugars and amino acids, increasing the rate of Maillard reactions (raising the pH slightly with baking soda further encourages this process). Rather than top-off with water (through my new Camco filter), I sparged with cold water to collect four gallons of second runnings which I boiled for 45 minutes separately. This resulted in pretty good efficiency (overshooting my target gravity) so I topped-off with water post-boil. Nice to have 8 gallon fermentors to accommodate situations like this!

Matt and candi sugar, Adam and maple syrup.Matt, and Maple-Bourbon Adam

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 11.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 46.75
Anticipated OG: 1.095 (Pre-Sugar)
Anticipated SRM: 31.8
Anticipated IBU: 64.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65 %
Wort Boil Time: 180 Minutes

62.0% - 29.00 lbs. Rahr Pale Malt
19.3% - 9.00 lbs. Weyermann Munich Malt
7.0% - 3.25 lbs. Simpsons Medium Crystal
4.3% - 2.00 lbs. Briess Cherry Wood Smoked
4.3% - 2.00 lbs. Weyermann Beech Smoked
2.1% - 1.00 lbs. Simpsons Chocolate Malt
1.1% - 0.50 lbs. Simpsons Black Patent Malt

3.50 oz. Rakau (Pellet, 10.50% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Crystal (Whole, 5.00% AA) @ 40 min.
1.25 oz. Crystal (Whole, 5.00% AA) @ 10 min.
1.25 oz. Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 10 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

White Labs WLP028 Edinburgh Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch - 60 min @ 153F

Brewed 3/8/15

Added 4 g of CaCl to the mash and 3 g of baking soda to the boil. Collected 11 gallons of 1.078 runnings in the main kettle, plus 3.5 gallons of 1.060 in a separate kettle.

IBUs likely lower than projected given concentrated wort. Boiled down to about 6 gallons (~1.143). Added the 3 gallons of second runnings, plus 1 gallon of water to get to 10.5 gallons at 1.105 in the kettle. Then mixed with the entire yeast cake from the Honey Stout which was resuspended in another gallon of water for 11 gallons in the fermentors (poured back and forth to mix). Wort temperature was 64F in the fermentor. Left at 56F ambient.

Added 45 seconds pure oxygen about five hours after pitching.

Good fermentation by 24 hours. Temperature is a bit cool for this strain, so I wrapped the fermentors in a blanket to help hold in the heat of fermentation.

3/11/15 Moved to 67F ambient.

3/12/15 Still fermenting, thankfully as it's at 1.060 (37% AA), only half way there...

3/15/15 Still slowly ticking along, 1.038 (60% AA). Krausen has only gotten bigger. Adding sugars tomorrow.

3/16/15 Still some krausen, but activity seems to have mostly stalled. Added 32 oz (by volume) ~2.8 lbs of Whole Foods Grade B maple syrup to the bucket (effective OG = 1.111), and 1 lb of D-90 Candi Syrup to the Speidel (effective OG = 1.101). Still at 67F ambient.

3/19/15 Candi half down to 1.030 (70% AA, 9.5% ABV), the maple at 1.025 (77% AA, 11.5% ABV). Right where they should be, and fermentation appears finished.

3/22/15 Fermentation appears finished on both, moved to 55F ambient to settle.

4/5/15 Bottled the Matt portion. 5.25 gallons. Added 4 oz of Daron Calvados. Rehydrated 2 g of Pasteur Champagne yeast, and primed with 106 g of table sugar. Aiming for 2.3 volumes of CO2.

4/12/15 Kegged the Maple half with 8 oz of Medley Brothers bourbon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Meadowfoam Honey Oatmeal Stout

One of the more fascinating talks I attended during National Homebrewers Conference 2014 in Grand Rapids wasn’t even about beer. Ken Schramm (author of the excellent Compleat Meadmaker, and founder of Schramm's Mead) talked passionately about bees, amino acids, and agriculture during "Really Understanding Honey." While he talked he passed around ten varietal honeys for us to taste with single-use straws. The range from a mild honey like blackberry to some of the weirder ones (e.g., leatherwood) was interesting. Others demonstrated how different a single varietal (like orange blossom) can be depending on what part of the world the bees collect nectar (milder California versus the more  more acidic/juicy Florida).

The two that really stood out to me were meadowfoam (toasted marshmallows) and Mexican coffee blossom (hint of coffee-like roast). I knew I had to get my hands on one or both of these to add to a stout! Last month I finally got around to brewing with meadowfoam honey. The base beer was a relatively straight-forward oatmeal stout, with 10% home-toasted oats rather than a breadier base malt. If I really wanted to play-to s’mores, I could have added a bit of smoked malt, but I didn’t want the flavor of the honey to be lost.

As with other honey beers I've brewed, I added the concentrated nectar when primary fermentation was nearing completion (four days after pitching). This prevents destruction of the volatile aromatics by the heat of the boil, and scrubbing by the vigorous primary fermentation. For the first time I also saved a few ounces of honey to add directly to the keg for natural conditioning. I'm usually not an advocate for using priming sugar to add flavor, but the pressure should trap the volatiles, and I can a easily adjust the carbonation with CO2 once it goes on tap.

Using a pump to recirculate the wort during the mash.Meadowfoam Honey Oatmeal Stout

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 11.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 25.38
Anticipated OG: 1.056
Anticipated SRM: 42.2
Anticipated IBU: 34.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

59.2% - 15 lbs. Valley Malting Pale
8.9% - 2.25 lbs. Rahr Pale
10.3% - 2.63 lbs. Home-Toasted Oatmeal (25 min @ 340F)
9.9% - 2.50 lbs. Simpsons Roasted Barley
3.0% - 0.75 lbs. Briess Crystal 120L
3.0% - 0.75 lbs. Simpsons Extra Dark Crystal
5.9% - 1.50 lbs. Meadowfoam Honey

1.38 oz. Magnum (Whole, 12.00% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Challenger (Whole, 6.10% AA) @ 10 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

White Labs WLP028 Edinburgh Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch - 60 min @ 154F

2/13/15 Made a 3.5 L starter with 1 vial of month old yeast. Crash chilled after 24 hours on the stir-plate.

2/16/15 Brewed with some guy

Oats toasted at 340F 25 min. until they smelled toasty (only minimal color pickup).

Measured 5.3 mash pH.

3 gallon cold sparge. Collected 13 gallons of 1.045 runnings. Adjusted hops down by 1% AA.

Chilled to 65F, shook to aerate, pitched 2 L of the starter. 24 hours at 65F ambient, then to 58F ambient.

2/19/15 Back to 65F ambient to finish.

2/20/15 12 oz of Winter Park meadowfoam honey and 1/2 gallon of water to my half.

3/8/15 Racked my half (FG 1.020) into a keg with about 3 oz of meadowfoam honey. Purged and sealed. Left in the mid-60s to condition. Extra beer went into a growler with a small amount of the honey.

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