Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Westvleteren Belgian Blond Clone Recipe

There are essentially no breweries that exclusively brew strong beers. This is partly because moderate-strength beers have a big market, but it is also a practical consideration. Harvesting yeast from high-alcohol beers is usually frowned upon. Wild yeast rarely have high alcohol tolerance, and even though brewer’s yeast has been selected for its ability to resist the damaging effects of alcohol, viability drops quickly above 8% ABV. So in addition to brewing a beer for the monks to drink with lunch, Westvleteren's moderate gravity beer means they don’t need to get a fresh pitch from Westmalle for every batch.

Sharing a lineup with a quad (Abt/12/Yellow) that is a long-standing contender for best beer in the universe, and a dubbel (Extra/8/Blue) that I prefer to it, how much does anyone pay attention to the blond (6/Green)? Not much, despite it being one of the best Belgian blonds! It blends subtle spice and fruit from the noble hops and Trappist yeast, with clean and crisp malt. Far more drinkable and lively than its two bigger/older brothers! The Trappist equivalent of a wonderful Pilsner!

Given the difficultly and cost of procuring a steady supply of Westy Blond, it seemed like the perfect inspiration for a keg of homebrew (a five gallon batch costs about the same $22 of a single bottle of the original at The Sovereign)!

I began with a well-reviewed recipe from Candi Syrup Inc., but made a few adjustments. According to Brew Like a Monk, Westvleteren includes Belgian pale malt along with Pilsner in the same ratio for all three recipes, so I swapped it in for 50% of the malt. I also swapped out the clear candi syrup for table sugar (my Pale Belgian Sugar Experiment suggested that pure sugar choice isn't critical even at double the rate of this batch). The hops were heavy on mid-boil additions (not my default) but I decided to stick to it as written (other than augmenting with Magnum to hit the target IBUs) to judge for myself.

The other half of the batch is conditioning with two different Brett cultures (WLP648 Brettanomyces bruxellensis Trois Vrai and my house saison culture). Tasting notes for those in the next couple months!

A glass of homebrewed Westvleteren Blond, and an 8 and 12.

Westvleteren Blond (Green Cap)

Appearance – Blond body, so far so good. Slightly less than hefeweizen haze, but not by much. The snowy head in dense and sticky, with superb endurance.

Smell – Belgian yeast character leads, banana peel, and a waft of vanilla. The phenols skew pepper (rather than clove) and meld with the subtle noble hops to form a nice counter to the fruit. The malt and hops aren’t able to shine through as I would have liked thanks to the expressive yeast.

Taste – Flavor is bright and vibrant, more interesting than the nose. The fruitiness transitions from banana in the nose adding subtle notes of pear and red apple. The absent malt shows itself with some saltine crackeriness. The focus on reducing carbonate and hitting pH really benefits a beer like this making it finish snappy with a final more-ish crack of hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel – Crisp and lively without being thin or bracing.

Drinkability & Notes – A very nice daily Belgian drinker, maybe a half notch behind my favorite pale/session Belgian as a result of a bit too much banana and malt.

And introducing a new category, notes on what I'd change if I rebrewed:

Changes – Sadly I didn’t have a bottle of the original to open up alongside, but from my recollection the homebrew is more yeasty and malty and less hoppy. On a rebrew, I’d reduce the Pale malt to 25% of the total malt and restrain peak fermentation temperature to 75F. This is cooler than BLAM notes for the original, likely a result of ester suppression from fermenting in larger fermentors. The hops may be fine as is once the malt and yeast are tempered, but an ounce or two of Styrian Goldings or Hallertau at flame-out wouldn’t hurt!

Westvleteren Blond Clone

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 12.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 21.25
OG: 1.050
SRM: 3.8
IBU: 42.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

47.1% - 10.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner
47.1% - 10.00 lbs. Castle Pale Ale
5.9% - 1.25 lbs. Domino Granulated Pure Cane Sugar

0.50 oz. Magnum (Pellet, 11.50% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Northern Brewer (Pellet, 7.00% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 20 min.
2.00 oz. Styrian Goldings (Pellet, 1.20% AA) @ 12 min.

1.00 tsp – Wyeast Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.
1.00 – Whirlfloc @ 5 min.

White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Beta Rest – 60 @ 147 F (Infuse)
Alpha Rest – 20 min @ 157 F (Direct)

Brewed 1/10/16 - 3 L starter made on a stir plate for two days then crashed a week prior.
Mashed 9 gallons filtered DC, 7 gallons distilled. 5 g gypsum, 7 g CaCl, 1 tbls phosphoric acid. Mash pH = 5.31. 2 gallon cold/distilled sparge.

Collected 14.5 gallons of 1.040 runnings. Added white sugar 5 minutes into the boil.
Chilled to 65F, shook to aerate, pitched the decanted starter. Left at 67 F ambient to ferment for the first 36 hours.

Placed next to a radiator, measured beer temperature at 78F 12 hours later. Held around this temperature.

At 10 days allowed to come back to 68 F ambient.

1/23/16 Kegged half with 3 oz of table sugar to condition. Slight sulfur edge, nice mellow singed banana. FG 1.009 (5.4% ABV, 82% AA), on point.

1/31/16 Bottled the other half. 2.5 gallons with 1/4 cup of WLP648 B. bruxellensis Trois Vrai starter and 62 g of table sugar. 2.75 gallons with 1/4 cup of House Saison starter and 75 g of table sugar.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Honey Sour Beer Tasting

These five sour beers were split from the same primary fermentor with Conan and East Coast Yeast Flemish Ale (recipe). When fermentation slowed, I divided the young beer into five one-gallon jugs each with a half pound of a different single-varietal honey. Once the gravity was stable I bottle conditioned with one ounce more of the same honey to trap some volatile aromatics (something I usually caution against). All told, the honey provided about 35% of the fermentables!

This wasn’t my first time adding honey to sour beer, but I wanted to play with a variety of new flavors in a bland-ish base beer to evaluate them!

Five glasses of honey sour beer!

Honey Sours: Five-Way

Appearance – Quintuplets: clear gold body, nice foam on the pour, but mediocre retention (see it as I poured left to right). Honey shouldn’t hurt head retention, but sugar without protein doesn’t help either.

Smell/Taste – Even at one third honey, the differences between the aromas are subtle. They have more alike than unalike. They each have a mild fruity aroma, light horsey-Brett funk, pleasant acidity, and restrained maltiness. Similarities are always a good sign for a split-batch, no major process issues!

Acacia: This was the oddball through most of the fermentor samples I’ve pulled (weird plastic/stable aromatics). It has calmed down, but the honey doesn’t add much. It is abrupt, changing course mid-palate from fruity to funk. However, it has some interesting white-wine and watermelon rind notes I don’t get from the rest.

Sourwood: Classic honey aroma, with some vinous notes behind it. Fresh, honey on your pancakes flavor. Not exactly what I’m looking for in a pale sour, but I drank it quicker than any of the others. Wonderful lingering floral note!

Gallberry: Subtle waxy aroma. The most herbal, a nice counter to the berry. The honey flavor is nicely integrated into the base sour. The most interesting of the posse, with subtleties that needed a pale canvas to showcase.

Raspberry: Young this had a big cotton-candy note, but that has mostly faded. It is still the fruitiest and suggests the most sweetness. Least funky, most acidic. The nose is almost acetic, but the flavor doesn’t bear a trace. An outlier, but then it always has been.

Blueberry: Light, fruity, berry but not distinctly blueberry. Balanced, pleasant, the maltiest, but not quite the right match for a pale sour. Would be ideal for a sour red!

Mouthfeel – Happy that they all seem to have fermented out and carbonated at similar rates. Could be spritzier, but I don’t mind it as is.

Drinkability & Notes – This is the sort of batch that I love to brew! One of my recent pushes has been to brew beers that embrace homebrewing. A large brewery couldn’t procure enough gallberry honey to brew a batch at a reasonable rate. As homebrewers we have the opportunity to produce beers on a scale that allows us to use ingredients that are impractical for even brewpubs because of availability or cost. I’ll be talking about this for one of my talks at the Norwegian Homebrewer Weekend (aka Hjemmebryggerhelgen 2016) later this month, I’ll also be talking to Brad Smith about it for his BeerSmith Podcast if you can’t make it to Drammen!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sour Brown: One Batch Two Barrels

Split batches are wonderful! They provide the opportunity to see (and taste) the changes that just one variable can make. They helps to cut through all the confounding batch-to-batch variables and identify what a single tweak is responsible for. However, with sour beers you always have to be cautious not to read too far into them as identical worts aged in identical barrels under seemingly identical conditions can diverge as the microbes compete. The beating of a bacteria’s flagellum can cause a proverbial hurricane of flavor!

These two beers started from the same mash, I pitched the same microbes (White Labs WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend, and dregs), and aged them in two third-use barrels from Balcones Distilling for four months. While most of each batch then went onto fruit (raspberries for the rum, cherries for the malt whisky) I reserved a gallon of each fruitless to taste the base beer. While I love fruited sour beers, I’m usually far more interested in the straight-up examples. They provide a truer expression of the magic of microbes, barrels, and wort!

Rum Barrel-Aged Sour Brown

Appearance – Clear, mahogany leather, dense off-white head.

Smell – Madeira-like, brandy-soaked raisin aromatics with a touch of oxidation. A brighter fruit candy note as well – SweeTarts perhaps. A tinge herbal as well, not what I usually pick-up in an old/dark sour.

Taste – Flavor leaves those darker fruit flavors behind for cherry-acidity flowing into cocoa powder. Dry, but still enough to support the malt and oak. Not distinctly rummy to my palate… but in comparison to the whisky-barrel it is surprising how much of that fruit is from the barrel!

Mouthfeel – No tannins or anything rough. The acidity helps to cover-up the lean body.

Drinkability & Notes – Somewhere in the nebulous realm between old ale and oud bruin, with the barrel playing a wonderful supporting role. While I enjoyed the jammy raspberry contribution, I'm glad I also got to taste all the nuance here that was obscured by the fruit.

Twin beers, seperated at fermentation.

Malt Whisky Barrel-Aged Sour Brown

Appearance – A twin, other than the slightly stickier head.

Smell – A cleaner more fresh-brown-liquor aroma. What I thought at first sip was dark fruit from the combination of fermentation/age/malt really seems to have been coming from the rum barrel. This one is more dusty-basement damp-oak. Coconut candy bar.

Taste – Acidity is tamer, but still firmly sour. The fruit is more plum than cherry, not as bright. The finish is a bit curdled milk, lingering in a not-entirely pleasant way. Likely more a result of the particular fermentation in this barrel rather than anything inherent to the wood/spirit themselves.

Mouthfeel – Similar, feels slightly richer, maybe just drinking it second a bit warmer and flatter.

Drinkability & Notes – It is a fine beer, but next to the Rumble-barrel it is missing that extra something that makes a great dark sour. Academically it is the same, but I’m tossing the last few sips and going back to the other bottle for the last few ounces!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Whisky Barrel Sour Cherry Brown: Tasting

Sometimes the timing of a tasting gets away from me. I posted about the raspberry-rum half on this “Double Barrel” sour brown back in 2013; now finally getting around to the half that was aged in a Balcones Single Malt Whisky barrel and then on homegrown sour cherries from Audrey’s parents!

Whisky-Cherry Sour Brown

Glass of sour-cherry whisky-barrel-aged brown ale!Appearance – Glowing fire-red when back-lit! Pristine clarity. Head retention is exceptional for an aged-out sour beer.

Smell – Hints of cherry-cola. Some mild age-perfume, but otherwise unharmed by the ravages of time. Subdued Brett-funk, more towards the Cascade Brewing model (as was the bourbon barrel that the culture came from).

Taste – Cherry has aged nicely: skins, pits, dried fruit, really concentrated. The malic acid from all those cherries certainly adds acidic sharpness on the front of the tongue compared to straight lactic. Just a hint of acetic, despite the four months in a five-gallon barrel (with its high surface-to-volume ratio). Graham cracker maltiness is subdued, but present. Slight buttery oak-coconut in the finish. Dry, but with a suggestion of malty-sweetness left to carry the big/dark flavors.

Mouthfeel – Medium-thin body, medium-low carbonation. About what I hope for in a dark sour, nothing to detract from the richness.

Drinkability & Notes – One of the best cherry beer I’ve brewed! I often find this most-singular fruit dominates pale beers, so I tend to prefer it against a maltier red or brown backdrop. The barrel adds nice complementary flavors without being too out-in-front. I’ll have to get around to tasting the fruit-less versions of these two soon…

Monday, February 22, 2016

Czech-Baltic Porter

There are some brewers who see almost all of the possible drinkable beers neatly fenced in by established styles. Most on a continuum like mild, to brown ale, to porter, to stout with no spaces between. The only places not bounded by styles being the willful targeting of gaps, for example a Pilsner dyed black (and even then that’s just a schwarzbier...). I see much more fertile ground where new styles and recipes are waiting to spring forth!

One of my favorite ways to come up with unique beers is to imagine what sort of recipe the brewers from one country might brew if they wanted to make their own version of a style from another country. A few examples have been my Scottish Stout, New Zealand Saison, and India (American) Wit. This isn’t as silly as it might sound because Flemish red, Munich helles, schwarzbier, and American pale ale each grew from brewers taking a style from somewhere else and adapting it to their local ingredients, equipment, and tastes!

This batch is the big brother to tmavé pivo. It was from the same mash, but had a higher proportion of first runnings, a longer boil, higher bittering rate, and a cool rather than cold lager-yeast fermentation. It is my re-imagining of a Baltic porter brewed by a Czech brewery!

Czech-tic Porter

Appearance – Not as pretty as the tmavé, head retention and chill haze are worse. Luckily it’s a dark beer which means it's still pleasant on the eyes, but I’m not sure how two beers from the same mash and fermented with the same yeast could differ so much.

Smell – Clean malty aroma. Fresh spent coffee grounds, whole wheat toast, and some caramel especially as it warms. No hop aroma. Yeast comes across clean despite a mid-60s F fermentation temperature peak, in line with the baffling Brulosophy experiments (the third of which I participated in).

Taste – Flavor is similar to the aroma, that Munich-like (Weyermann Bohemian Dark) breadiness comes through, but a little less rounded than the classic flavor of bock and dunkel. The roast is subdued even for a Baltic porter, coffee ice cream, milk chocolate, and subtle dark fruit - more plum than raisin. Drier than I expected it to be, maybe thanks to the good attenuation and the more substantial bittering charge. Again, a clean fermentation behind all of that malty goodness.

Mouthfeel – Medium-full body, medium carbonation. Feels substantially wintery, without being sticky.

Drinkability & Notes – A pleasantly substantial speciální tmavé-porter 18°! I will say it doesn’t exhibit the depth and complexity of my favorite Baltic porter (Les Trois Mousquetaires Porter Baltique), but it also isn’t nearly that strong at 6.8% ABV compared to 10%. The Czech influence comes in in the softer palate, less assertive roast, and firmer bitterness.

Czech-tic Porter Recipe

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.34
OG: 1.075
SRM: 33.1
IBU: 49.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73 %
Wort Boil Time: 110 Minutes

51.9% - 8.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner
29.6% - 4.50 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark
13.0% - 2.00 lbs. Weyermann CaraMunich II
3.7% - 0.56 lbs. Weyermann Carafa II
1.9% - 0.28 lbs. Weyermann Carafa Special II

2.00 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ 55 min.

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

White Labs WLP800 Pilsner Lager

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Protein Rest - 15 min @ 126F
Sacch I - 30 min @ 145F (direct)
Sacch II - 20 min @ 158F (direct)

Two stage starter made a week in advance (1.25 L to 3.5 L). Second stage was mini-mash of Bohemian Dark. Crashed in fridge prior to brew day.

Brewed 10/25/15

Note: adjusted the amounts above so that this recipe could be brewed as a single batch.

5 g CaCl added to the filtered DC tap water for the mash. Started with only Bohemian grains. Added specialty malts as I heated to the second Sacch rest to ensure conversion, but reduce intensity/astringency.

Collected 8 gallons of first runnings at 1.055 for the Baltic Porter. Chilled to 58 F. OG 1.075. Shook to aerate. Pitched 1/2 starter. Left at 60F to ferment.

11/2/15 Up to 65F.

11/3/15 Gravity down to 1.028 (63% AA). Hoping for a bit closer to 1.022.

11/6/15 Down to 1.024 (68%, 6.8% ABV). Solid, malty, sweetish, coffee. Likely won't fall much more.

11/7/15 Into a flushed keg and into the fridge at 60F for the slow ramp-down. Looked pretty yeasty and there was a dense persistent krausen. 1 extra liter into a growler with 1.25 tsp of sugar.

2/22/16 Tasting notes above.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Post-Fermentation Malt-Infused Porter

Tried five different roasted grains I had on hand.Why can’t beer just taste like beer anymore? Maple beer, passion fruit beer, elderflower beer... even new hop varieties are marketed as smelling like "coffee" and "garlic." What about a beer flavored with malt? Sure the Reinheitsgebot was an artificial constraint on the ingredients available to German brewers, but it focused their creativity on process (think: decoction, acidulated malt, first wort hopping).

With the ever increasing prevalence of weird-ingredient beers, American brewers (both craft and home) are overlooking the possibilities that weird process provides! Whether that is dry hopping before fermentation, concentrated Maillard-intensifying boil, or adding malt after fermentation (which is what I'm investigating with this post)!

The second filtration was likely unnecessary, but couldn't hurt.The concept for this porter was to age it for six months (while the other half was on tap), and then add cold-extracted dark grain to refresh the dark malt flavor and aroma. I've used cold-extracted dark grains before, but only before fermentation (like Dark Saison IV). Over the years I've drank a few stouts and porters (fresh Deschutes Abyss comes to mind) that have exhibited a hint of dough-in: that wonderful combination of fresh coffee and bready malt. That's what I wanted to accentuate. While not as sensitive as hop compounds, malt aromatics are driven off by the boil and fermentation and muted and muddled by age and oxidation. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it can be boring when that is what all malt goes through on the way to the glass!

The base for this experiment was the “plain” half of the chocolate-butternut squash porter that I brewed in early August. It had some roastiness, but after five months in the keg it was beginning to show its age, too dark-fruit forward. Dosing into a glass let me play with different rates and malt combinations without risking the whole batch. After testing a variety of dark malts in small scale infusion I settled on equal parts Weyermann Carafa Special II and Chocolate Rye. Both are husk-free, and provide a softer flavor contribution than black malt and roasted barley.

Paper filter after it was done with the extract.To make the extract for the full-batch infusion I ran the grains (2.5 oz each) through my Barley Crusher. While you can use a blade-style coffee grinder for dark malts, the fine particulate makes the spent grain sludge difficult to separate from the liquid. I combined the grain with 48 oz of filtered water in a sanitized growler, shaking occasionally to aid extraction. After 10 hours I decanted the liquid through a mesh coffee filter to remove large pieces of grain that hadn't settled. I then passed it through a paper filter to remove any dust (stouts and porters often taste better after roasted particulate is allowed to drop). Despite being a second pass this still took about 30 minutes.

I pasteurized the resulting inky black concentrate at 170F for a few minutes. While I doubt it would have caused a microbial issue going into cold/fermented beer, the extra effort was worth the peace of mind. Heating the extract also helps to reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, although not as much as boiling would have. After cooling, I did another taste test to dial in my ideal ratio, and then dosed 23 oz directly into the depressurized mostly-full keg. This technique might also benefit from combination with water adjustments, but I didn't find that necessary flavor-wise (beers on nitro often benefit from slightly lower pH to replace the absent carbonic acid).

No idea what this glass is intended for, $.79 at Goodwill.ReMalted Porter

Appearance – Doesn’t look much darker than it was prior to the cold extraction, but when held at an angle to the light it is less translucent (still transparent, but brown rather than red right at the edge). Nice big tan head, a bit voluminous though, needed to settle and top-off to get a full pour.

Smell – Not quite brew-day morning, but much fresher grainy-roasty flavor than the beer was prior to the transfusion. Still has some dark fruit behind the coffee and roasted grain. On the upper-end of mocha for a porter. No hop aroma.

Taste – Roast is mellower on the palate than it was in the nose. Smooth cold brewed coffee, minimal roasted bitterness. Hops were never prominent, but by now they add just a slight bitter edge. Smooth, although a bit dry for my tastes. Fermentation seems clean, no noticeable off-flavors.

Mouthfeel – Not quite as full as I prefer for a cold-weather rye porter, although the creamy head helps with that body while it lasts. Low carbonation after running through the stout faucet. Amazing how much mouthfeel the butternut squash added to the other half!

Drinkability & Notes – This method breathes malty freshness into an aged beer, the malt equivalent of a hop tea. Adding more dark malt after fermentation certainly improved this beer, but at this rate it doesn’t provide a showcase character. It would be interesting to taste a dark beer with all of the roasted grain added like this! It could also be an easy way to make a split batch without having to divide the wort pre-boil. You could even try a shorter/hotter extraction if you wanted to see how that changes the roast impression. Lots of options, and certainly not the last of my attempts to use traditional ingredients in new ways!

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