Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Maple Bourbon Adam Tasting

Maple imperial stouts... so hot right now. Like coconut last year, mole a few years ago, and whiskey-barrel-aged before that (not that any of those have gone anywhere). Maple syrup is a comparatively mild flavor, difficult to showcase in a flavorful style without resorting to "natural" flavorings or fenugreek.

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout was the first to really get beer nerds excited about maple-stout. I aged a Breakfast Stout inspired recipe on maple syrup-soaked bourbon oak cubes to replicate the contribution of bourbon barrels that subsequently held maple syrup, but only got a hint of flavor.

More recently Tree House has Good Morning sitting at #1 on BeerAdvocate. I was amazed how intense the maple flavor was, really jumped out of the growler (although I’ve talked to other people who had growlers from later in the same batch with only a hint of maple, not sure if it was palate or beer differences). Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight is #2 on BA (although I’ve yet to get a chance to sample it).

Rumor is that some well-thought-of maple beers are brewed with 10% or more by volume (e.g., a half gallon of maple syrup in a five gallon batch!). That seemed like too much simple sugar, so for this batch of Adam I added only a quart (5%) of Grade B as fermentation slowed. Some brewers suggest dosing the syrup into cold beer to prevent refermentation, but I didn't want that much sweetness in the finished beer. Others suggest adding it early in the boil to encourage the Maillard reaction between the sugars and proteins, but I worried that the fermentation would scrub out volatile aromatics. I wasn't worried about boiling them off though, as maple syrup is created by boiling for many hours.

A glass of Adam with maple syrup and bourbon.Usually I bottle big beers to space out my enjoyment, but not 13% ABV big! I didn't want to risk two cases of uncarbonated beer (like my first Adam clone) so I kegged and force carbonated. Nice to have the option to pour a few ounces without committing to a whole 12 oz bottle, but tough to tie-up a tap long-term. After a few months I disconnected the keg to put the Saphir Pilsner on. Doubt I'll tap it again until next fall. I actually dusted off the last bottle of my original Adam clone to share while brewing a more traditional adambier with a group of homebrewers in Fargo, ND a few months ago: still delicious, and Hoppy Halloween was a blast!

Maple Bourbon Adam

Appearance – Brunette body with a tan head. Dark enough to be nearly opaque, but clear edges when held at an angle. Decent retention for a liquor-infused strong ale.

Smell – Light woodsy smoke, caramel, vanilla, and hints of clean ethanol. Varied aroma, but given everything that is in there not especially intense. Not too phenolic as I’ve heard complaints about Briess cherry wood smoked malt.

Taste – Sticky-intense caramel maltiness. Bourbon notes come through in the finish (vanilla with a hint of butterscotch), about the right intensity. Mellow maple syrup contribution despite accounting for 12% of the fermentables. Finish is a nice blend of oak and hardwood smoke. The cherry wood malt melds well with the bourbon and maple, but none of them are bold. How some of those commercial maple beers get such an assertive aroma/flavor is beyond me!

Mouthfeel – Full and luscious. Despite being on the same PSI as my other kegs this one never seems quite as carbonated, not that I’m complaining!

Drinkability & Notes – The blend of smoke, booze, and maple evokes my trip to Montreal and dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, which was the goal. A hulking 13% ABV beer in a relatively drinkable cloak. That is good and bad – for that much alcohol I want a WOW beer and this is a pleasant sipper. I’m not an “It hides its alcohol well” fan, I’d much rather a 9% beer drank like 13% than vice versa (not hot or boozy, but rich, full, complex, intense etc.)! Should age beautifully!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

German Pilsner and Brett Saison (Same Wort)

Netting 12 gallons of wort from each brew day I’ve had to get creative with my recipes and fermentation (parti-gyling, staggering hop additions, and doctoring). This split batch of Pilsner and Saison was pretty straight-forward, identical worts (including dry hopping) with two diametrically-opposed yeasts: one a lager (WLP800 Pilsner Lager), the other a Belgian mixed-culture (3031-PC Saison-Brett Blend). No better example of the old adage that “Brewers make wort, but yeast make beer!”

German Pilsner

Appearance – Clear (nearly crystal) bright yellow, just a shade darker than my Berliners for palest. Fantastic head retention, dense sticky white, with a full covering down to the last sip.

Smell – Nose is clean, the herbal-lemon hoppiness comes through fresh and energetic. The best nose on any Pilsner I’ve brewed. Maybe a hint of diacetyl as it approaches room temperature, although my wife (and chief diacetyl tester) has yet to note it.

Taste – Flavor is similarly clean, no yeastiness or yeast character. The hop bitterness is firm, but not rough or lingering. Malt adds a faint fresh-baked white bread flavor in the middle, not grainy. Hop flavor is saturated, without being grassy like noble hops tend to be when used for dry hopping.

Mouthfeel – A hair full for than a classic German Pilsner, perhaps mid-way to Bohemian (thanks to the yeast, and/or higher chloride). Still medium-light and pleasant for my palate. Slightly stinging carbonation, but nothing approaching the carbonic bite of my least favorite pale lagers.

Drinkability & Notes – Chock another one up for Firestone-Walker, Saphir will be my new go-to for Pilsners! A wonderfully drinkable beer that doesn’t cross into being an India Pale Lager with a distinctly American-hop character and assertive bitterness.

Pilsner on the right, Saison on the left.

Brett Saison

Appearance – Appears a shade golder thanks to the haze (and wider glass). Head retention is slightly lower, but the lacing is clingier.

Smell – The hop aroma doesn’t come through nearly as clearly. It’s hiding behind the yeasts’ green apple skin, peppery-spice, and melon. The Saphir does add a delicate herbal-liveliness that too many “Bretted” saisons lack, especially as it warms. A bit more ethanol too, thanks to higher attenuation (and a warmer fermentation).

Taste – Apple is there again, although a bit more bruised than in the nose. Typical French Saison-type tropical fruit and spice. The Brett finally shows up in the finish, all leather and horse blanket. This blend does a lovely job balancing the “saison” and the Brett, not going fully wild-funkmotron as too many Brett Saisons do. Mild acidity, not enough to clash with the solid hop bitterness. The maltiness from the Pilsner is obscured. Bone dry.

Mouthfeel – Leaner mouthfeel, not tannic or drying though. Same carbonation, thanks to the manifold.

Drinkability & Notes – I’m reasonably pleased with the Wyeast Saison-Brett Blend given the relatively short turnaround on this batch! The Brett provides depth without dominating the saison-iness. I think the Saphir does well here, although not in a starring role like the Pilsner.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Saphir-Hopped Pilsner (and Saison)

I often daisy-chain similar batches by harvesting the yeast from one and repitching into the next. While this can be convenient and cost-saving for any strain, it is especially valuable for 100% Brettanomyces and lagers where the pitching rates are higher than ales. After brewing this tmavé, I wanted to brew a brighter and hoppier lager.

Pilsner has long been my favorite pale lager. Clean, hoppy, and delightfully drinkable. I've brewed more of the rounder-maltier Czech-style than the bitter-crisper German-style, but I enjoy both. I've been looking for the right hop (Saaz, Perle, etc.), but traditional European varieties don't have the high aromatic oil content that IPA drinkers are accustomed to (hops like Citra and Simcoe have total oils over 2% compared to many noble-leaning cultivars which hover around 1%). Compound that with no dry-hopping, and you get a Pilsner that doesn't have the hoppy aromatic profile that I'll aiming for!

Pilsners don't travel well, so I tend to buy American when I don't have my own on tap. Firestone Walker Pivo is one of my favorites (along with Victory Prima Pils and Hill Farmstead Mary). I decided to take a cue from Firestone-Walker's Matt Brynildson and dry hop with Saphir (they add Spalt for late-boil additions, but I wanted to feature the new-to-me variety). Saphir has a total oil content of 0.8-1.4%, not bad considering alpha acids are under 3%. The aroma reminds me most of Crystal, with some citrus mixed in with the herbal.

Rather than imitate the classic water profile or techniques used by German brewers, I employed a similar water profile and hop timing that I would for an IPA. Although rather than blend sulfate and chloride, I focused on chloride as advised by the December BYO story Firestone Walker Fever, which included the recipe/process for Pivo. I dry hopped at 50% apparent attenuation, the same time I started ramping up the temperature.

One of the advantages of blogging is that occasionally I get free stuff! I received a Javelin Pro thermometer (order on Amazon and I get a cut) courtesy of LavaTools! It is a more reasonably priced ($55 compared to $99) alternative to the Thermoworks Thermapen. It even has a few added features like magnets embedded on the back, and a back-lit display. Sadly it shares the Thermapen's hinged design, which I find to be an annoying less-sanitary two-handed mechanism to turn the unit on and off (despite being splash-resistant a hinge is also a liability where sticky wort is involved - which killed my Thermapen). In comparing the Javelin Pro side-by-side to my five-year-old $19 Thermoworks Super-Fast Pocket the response time is slightly faster going from room to mash temperature, although the saved second is more valuable for finding the coolest spot in the center of a roast. Luckily the readings of the two were within a couple tenths of a degree; accuracy is by far the more important factor when it comes to brewing! If you have lusted after a Thermapen, the Javelin Pro is a nice budget pick, but I wouldn't suggest either if you are buying it specifically for brewing.

The wort (pale, hoppy, and fermentable) seemed perfect for a funky saison as well, so I pitched Wyeast 3031-PC Saison-Brett Blend into the other half. I even did the same dry hopping. Should make for an interesting tasting later this week!

Saphir German Pil/Belgian Saison

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.38
OG: 1.052
SRM: 2.9
IBU: 34.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 82 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

98.8% - 10.25 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsener
1.2% - 0.13 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated Malt

0.93 oz. Magnum (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Saphir (Pellet, 2.60% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Saphir (Pellet, 2.60% AA) @ Dry Hop

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

White Labs WLP800 Pilsner Lager
Wyeast 3031-PC Saison-Brett Blend

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch 1 - 20 min @ 146 F
Sacch 2 - 30 min @ 156 F (Direct)

11/14/15 1.25 L stir-plate starter of two-month-old Wyeast 3031-PC Saison-Brett Blend.

Brewed 11/15/15 - Brewed 12.5 gallons, but all ingredients/process details scaled so it can be brewed as is for 6.25 gallons of Pilsner or Saison wort at the end of the boil.

Mash: 2 gallons distilled, 2 gallons spring, 3 gallons filtered tap. 7 g CaCl. Weyermann Floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner. Measured pH at 5.27 five minutes into the mash. 2 gallon cold/distilled untreated sparge water. Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.045 runnings. pH=5.45 five minutes into the boil.

Allowed the flame-out hops to whirlpool for 10 minutes and settle for 20 minutes before chilling.

Saison: Chilled to 72F, settled for 10 minutes post-chill, ran off 5.5 gallons. 30 seconds pure O2, pitched the entire starter, and left at 71F ambient to ferment.

11/19/15 Dry hopped with 2 oz of Saphir, fermentation was beginning to wane

11/26/15 Keg conditioned with 3 oz of table sugar.

12/20/15 Moved to kegerator. FG 1.002 (96% AA, 6.6% ABV)

1/28/16 Tasting notes, nicely balanced between the yeast, Brett, and hops. Not a wow beer, but solid.

Pilsner: Switched to recirculating with 10 lbs of ice, chilling to 48F. Settled for 10 minutes, and ran off 5.5 gallons. 60 seconds pure O2, pitched a little over 1/2 cup of thick slurry from the Tmave Pivo (WLP800) which had been settling at 32F until the morning, then allowed to warm closer to pitching temperature. Fermented at 52 F ambient to start.

11/19/15 Only down to 1.036 (31% AA). Nice krausen, surprised it is so high. Upped temperature to 53F to make sure it doesn't stall.

11/21/15 1.026 - 50% AA, added dry hops (2 oz of Saphir) pellets and upped fridge to 59F.

11/22/15 24 hours later, up to 64F ambient.

11/29/15 Kegged into flushed Corny, moved to 50F to begin crashing. Gravity 1.012 (77% AA, 5.3% ABV). Held at 32F after dropping 10F every 12 hours.

1/12/16 Hooked up to gas.

Managed to plug the poppet immediately on the first pull. No issues after that.

1/28/16 Tasting notes, wonderfully hoppy, crisp, clean, lager!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Courage RIS Tasting 2015 (Eight Years Old)

My Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone it its native environment.Christmas week is Massachusetts at my childhood home, meant drinking my annual bottle from our 2007 batch of Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone! Three bottles of this batch are all that is left in the closest, so I'm good through 2018! I thought there was a forth bottle, but on closer inspection it was a Scandinavian Imperial Porter brewed earlier that same year (not a bad trade, considering I thought I opened the last one of those a couple years ago!)

Courage RIS Clone 2007

Appearance – Opaque dark charcoal brown, other than the clear amber-red edges. Head is fine, haven’t noticed any appreciable deterioration with age.

Smell – The nose leads with earthy slightly-smoky Brett, followed by toast slathered with Nutella. Vanilla and clean booze as it warms. Good progression as it approaches room temperature, nice to have a sipper that changes as you slowly imbibe.

Taste – Sweetness is picking up as the hops continue to drop out: milk chocolate, molasses, and figgy pudding. Still some leather from the Brett, maybe even a little horse blanket. Toasted marshmallow in the finish, a character I don’t see mentioned in previous tastings.

Mouthfeel – Low-moderate carbonation and the body is still luscious, so still no sign that the Brett survived. This technique, fining and then chemically pasteurizing, is still my choice for a hint of funk without drying out a dark beer.

Drinkability & Notes – Thank goodness for the anti-oxidant properties of metabisulfite, no eight year old beer deserves to taste this fresh! I may need to start dosing clean beers intended for aging with a small amount. Time to rebrew this recipe, five gallons all for myself this time (that should take me to Christmas 2060 or so)!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager)

Lagers can be more interesting, quicker, and easier to brew than they are often given credit for! Every time I brew a lager I find myself drinking it faster than I realize. Kicking the keg when in my mind it is still half full. The cleanliness of lagers showcases malts, hops, and other ingredients better than characterful ale yeasts are able. Balanced, versatile, and hard to find from craft breweries!

Recirculating the wort.One of the first commercial lagers I really loved was Sprecher Black Bavarian. It is marketed as a "Kulmbacher style lager" (AKA schwarzbier), but because it was formulated in the early 1990s it is brewed with inauthentic dark malts (chocolate and black patent). The result is a dark lager that is halfway to English porter. Like cold-brewed coffee: smooth, roasty, moderate bitterness, and no astringency.

In the January/February 2013 issue of Brew Your Own Nathan Zeender and I wrote Dark Lagers: The New Possibility. In addition to Baltic porter and weizen tripelbock, we covered tmavé pivo (Czech for "dark beer"). It is sometimes called černé (black). Our friend and DC beer-historian extraordinaire Mike Stein had returned from Prague with actual examples of the style (most were a bit bland/sweet) to share. We also got context from Czech-located beer writer Evan Rail, and Nathan brewed one with Jason Oliver at Devil’s Backbone – Morana. I never got around to brewing one for myself though!

My research for this recipe.Earlier this year, I bumped into a recipe courtesy of Horst Dornbusch for Flekovský ležák 13° the hallmark example brewed by U Fleku (founded in 1499, the oldest still operating brewpub in the world). It has since been deleted from the Brewer’s Associations website, but is preserved in this BeerAdvocate thread. However, the ensuing discussion only served to catalyze confusion about the accuracy of the recipe, especially the roasted malt.

So I started digging: 2015 BJCP Guidelines for Czech Dark Lager, Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops has a recipe from Evan Rail, Gordon Strong's Modern Homebrew Recipes, and of course rereading our BYO article. The result was that I came to assume the U Fleku recipe likely should call for Carafa Special II (in place of the Carafa II), but I wanted to err on the roasty end, so I only replaced 1/3. The 13% CaraMunich seemed high, but I occasionally brew recipes that I wouldn’t write to help break me out of routine. I had originally intended to use Munich as prescribed, but an order SNAFU resulted in a free sack of Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark… similar SRM and "well suited for classic Czech Dunkel lagers," so why not?

I employed the Brulosophy Quick Lagering method for the first time for this batch. Results were good, but the WLP800 was in no mood to be rushed even finishing with a week sitting at 65F. The batch was about twice the size stated below, with most of the first runnings going to a similar “special” higher gravity Baltic porter-esque version at 7% ABV. Sadly I also learned that two 30L Speidel fermentors won’t fit in my fermentation fridge together, so the Czech-tic porter fermented at ambient-fall-basement temperature.

Coincidentally I was at the Rockville, MD Gordon Biersch brewing a collaborative wine-barrel-aged Flemish Red last week and brewmaster Christian Layke happened to have his Tmavé Pivo on. Much closer to the original style (without being bland): less roasty, a few shades lighter, and slightly less sweet allowing the hops to be more present. More on our beer another time!

Tmavé Pivo: U Fleku Style

Trying to get some highlights in the photo took some effort.Appearance – Dark brown, but with clear red highlights. The dense off-white head exhibits tremendous retention. Good lacing. The body is a few shades darker than I hoped for, would be nice to see highlights without holding it up to a lamp.

Smell – Hints of coffee, bready malt, and some dark fruit. Really intense maltiness for the style. "Spicy" Saaz hop aroma doesn’t come through. Clean fermentation, glad the quick lagering method worked!

Taste – Smooth French-roast coffee, and caramel cookies. Clean fermentation, but the malt obscures most of the other characters. Light bitterness, enough to balance the sweetness. Fermentation is clean again in the flavor, although I'm not sure how much I'd notice if it was a little fruity.

Mouthfeel – Full, rounded, and well carbonated. Smooth.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s a good beer, but a true Tmavé Pivo it is not. Richer, roastier, and fuller than classic examples of the style. Turns out my instincts were right on the recipe. To get closer to the real deal, I’d back down the CaraMunich to 7-8% and go all Carafa Special II at 5%. I need to buy a bottle of Black Bavarian to remind myself of how close I ended up!

Tmavé Pivo U: Fleku Style

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.57
OG: 1.053
SRM: 25.8
IBU: 29.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 70 Minutes

51.9% - 6.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner
29.6% - 3.43 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark
13.0% - 1.50 lbs. Weyermann CaraMunich II
3.7% - 0.43 lbs. Weyermann Carafa II
1.9% - 0.21 lbs. Weyermann Carafa Special II

1.13 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ First Wort
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 5 min.

First stage of the yeast starter.Extras
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

5 g CaCl added to the filtered DC tap water for the mash. Started with only the two Bohemian grains (no CaraMunich or Carafa). Added specialty malts as I heated to the second Sacch rest to ensure conversion, but reduce intensity/astringency.

Collected 8 gallons with a 5 gallon cold sparge at 1.042 for the Tmavé.

Added 1.125 oz of 8% AA Sterling adjusted down shortly before the start of the boil. 1/2 tsp Wyeast nutrient, 1 whirlfloc. OG 1.053. Chilled to 51F, shook to aerate, pitched 1/2 starter. Left at 48F to ferment.

10/29/15 To 1.033 (38% AA), upped to 52F.

10/31/15 AM, started ramping up 5F every 12 hours. Topped out at 65F.

11/3/15 Gravity at 1.019 (64% AA). Still a few more points to go. Remnants of the krausen remain. Would be nice to see 1.016!

11/6/15 Still a little krausen, but I got my wish, 1.016 (64% AA, 4.9% ABV). CaraMunich caramel shines, no diacetyl, ready for kegging and lagering tomorrow.

11/7/15 Into a flushed keg and into the fridge at 60F for the slow ramp-down (5F every 12 hours). Looked pretty yeasty and there was a dense persistent krausen. 1 extra liter into a growler with 1.25 tsp of sugar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

House Culture Saison Tasting

There are always new hop varieties, malts, and yeast strains begging for the attention of brewers. While it is fun to brew with each, better results often come from repeated use of a smaller subset of ingredients. Of the three, yeast occupies a unique position in that it can provide homebrewers a true house character for minimal effort.

18 months ago I brewed a hoppy wort and pitched The Yeast Bay’s Saison Blend, White Labs Brett Trois (since reclassified and renamed), and dregs from a beer conditioned with CB2. From there I repitched adding Wyeast L. brevis for a New Zealand Saison, and again for my Alsatian Saison. All three beers were delicious, but they were far from showcases for yeast character!

Glass of my House SaisonEnter this batch, the wort from my Softer and Juicier APA, minus the flame-out and dry hopping. A test to see if my house saison culture actually produces good beer when it isn’t hidden behind hops and wine!

How you harvest a mixed culture exerts a selective pressure on the microbes. I won't say my practice is ideal, I've waited until the keg kicks, poured in a pint of sterile wort, and pouring into a flask. Culturing at this late stage selects for the hardiest microbes. Likely those that are not particularly flocculant (so they don't drop out in primary), but not so intransigent that they refuse to drop out after a couple months cold!

House Saison

Appearance – Nice glowing yellow body. Hazy, but far from the gray-tinged muddiness of its sister APA. Airy lemon-meringue foam perched on top. Not perfect head retention falling after half a glass, but great for a mixed-fermentation!

Smell – The nose is a pleasant mix of clove/pepper from the saison strains, and aspirin/cherry funk from the Brett. Brewed less than three months ago (and cold for the last month) so pretty impressive funkification speed.

Taste – The flavor leans more towards the bugs. Light lactic acidity (pH of 3.92), dusty Brett, and a bit of that Wyeast B. lambicus-type cherry pie. With 30+ IBUs in these batches, I doubt the Lactobacillus is responsible for the pH drop. Who knows what other microbes have joined the team after four trips through my "sour" gear!

Mouthfeel – Pillowy, especially while the head is intact. The chloride, wheat, and oats add the substance that low-final-gravity saisons (1.002 in this case) often lack. Carbonation is as high as it could be on draft (I had to pour, settle and top-off after a few minutes for the photo - 15' of 3/16" line).

Drinkability & Notes – This relatively simple batch doesn’t have the bombastic character that some of the previous beers fermented with this culture, but it has surprising balance for a culture harvested from kicked kegs. 96% apparent attenuation turned the 1.056 wort into 7.1% ABV, drinks easier than that. Once this keg kicks I'll be giving this culture another round in something else (maybe with some juniper?). I also dropped some slurry from the primary off when I visited Commonwealth Brewing, I should probably see if it ended up in one of our barrels or somewhere else?

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