Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hoppy German-American Wheat Recipe

Why are American homebrewers so obsessed with brewing to style? Who cares that a schwarzbier shouldn't be too roasty? That milds have to be low in alcohol? Or that hefeweizens are brewed with almost no hops? The only question that should matter when you are formulating a beer recipe is "Will I enjoy drinking this?"


I won't say that beer styles are worthless.  They are a fine way to start brewing (giving you a target to aim for) and for commercial breweries to quickly communicate what kind of beer they are selling (calling a beer a porter is much easier than saying "A dark ale that is roasty, but not as roasty as a stout, with moderate alcohol content and bitterness"). However, styles don't lead to brewing the best or most interesting beer because they confine creativity and prevent brewers from experimenting with the huge range of malts, hops, and yeast that are available. 

American homebrewers sparked the most substantial change the brewing landscape in the last 150 years, since lager brewing generally and Pilsners specifically altered the way beer was brewed and consumed. The revolution homebrewers started 35 years ago has lead not only to the creation of a thriving American craft brewing industry but also similarly booming craft beer production in areas as disparate as Japan, Sweden, and Italy.  The rise of homebrewing has also created better educated consumers that have been able to sustain some of the more esoteric breweries in countries like Belgium that wouldn't stay in business without lucrative exports to American beer nerds.

American craft brewers certainly deserve some of the credit (although most of them are former, or even current, homebrewers), but there is little they have popularized that a homebrewer didn't try first (the first bourbon barrel aged beer was made by Chicago area homebrewers according to Radical Brewing). American homebrewers should still be pushing the creative envelope, not ceding creative control of brewing to the professionals.

So I say don't waste your time brewing to style, or copying someone else's recipes (take inspiration and go in your own direction). Try combining flavors and techniques that you think will work to see what happens.

To further this ideal I brewed a "German" wheat beer hopped like an American IPA, blending the complex citrus character of American hops (Amarillo and Cascade) with the fruity/spicy character of German wheat beer yeast. This is a combination a few breweries have played with (New Glarus Crack'd Wheat and Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse) but it is a concept that has yet to gain much traction. My version is intended to have a bolder hop aroma than the commercial versions, letting the hops take center stage while pushing the yeast character towards the background.   

The wort was collected from the same mash as the Decocted Hefeweizen, so read that post for more details on the process. I steeped a small amount of CaraVienna in the wort for a bit of extra body to balance the aggressive hopping schedule. The fermentation started cool and slowly ramped up to ensure complete attenuation without creating too much banana flavor. After primary fermentation I'll give it a short period of cold conditioning before kegging the beer with two more ounces of hops.

Hopefully you've enjoyed this anti-style post and the previous pro-style one, like many homebrewers I feel the tug both to create/innovate and to refine my attempts at styles that have been slowly built and refined by brewers around the world. I'd certainly love to see more homebrewers experimenting (and I'm not just talking just dumping weird ingredients into your beer), but without having the foundation of classic styles the beer world would be a much blander place.

Hoppy German-American Wheat

Recipe Specifics
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.88
Anticipated OG: 1.056
Anticipated SRM: 4.6
Anticipated IBU: 39.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73%
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain
------
47.9% - 4.25 lbs. French Pilsener
47.9% - 4.25 lbs. German Wheat Malt
4.2% - 0.38 lbs. CaraVienne (steeped)

Hops
-----
1.25 oz. Perle (Whole, 7.00% AA) @ 60 min.
0.50 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 9.40% AA) @ 5 min.
0.50 oz. Cascade (Whole, 3.50% AA) @ 5 min.
0.50 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 9.40% AA) @ 0 min.
0.50 oz. Cascade (Whole, 3.50% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 9.40% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Cascade (Whole, 3.50% AA) @ Dry Hop

Extras
-------
0.40 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 12 min.

Yeast
-----
WYeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
----------------
Clove 15 min @ 114 (Infuse)
Protein 10 min @ 125 (Direct)
Sacch I 40 min @ 144 (Direct)
Sacch II 20 min @ 161 (Decoction)

Notes
-----
Brewed 7/18/10 by myself

The remainder of the no-sparge runnings from the Hefeweizen mash, plus a gallon of the first runnings transferred over since I didn't leave enough for this half. Added 4 g of gypsum to the wort for the hops. Steeped the CaraVienna in the wort for 30 minutes, then sieved out. Started heating to a boil inside while the hefe finished. 

Added aroma hops as I started the chill. Racked onto the extra ~1/2 gallon of wort from the hefeweizen half of the batch.

Chilled to ~85, moved to fridge set to 55. Added 1 cup of wort to the starter and put it in the fridge so it would be the same temp at pitching.

6 hours later I pitched 2 cups of the starter and gave 45 seconds of pure oxygen, returned to the fridge @ 55 degrees.

Good fermentation after 18 hours.

7/22/10 Upped temp to 62 to help fermentation finish out.

7/29/10 Fermentation seems to be complete, krausen has fallen almost completely.

8/1/10 Dropped temp to 34 to drop excess yeast/protein out of solution.

8/12/10 Put into keg, added dry hops, and put into the kegerator to carb.

9/8/10 Turned out very nicely, perfect combo of hops and yeast.  I'll have to get my hands on a bottle of Crack'd Wheat to see how mine stacks up.

Monday, July 26, 2010

All Grain Decocted Hefeweizen Recipe

There are more than 100 recognized styles of beer being made today.  For the most part I'm happy to ignore all of them and just brew what I want.  I think ingredient combinations and techniques should be based on hitting the flavors and characteristics you like, not some mostly arbitrary target that someone else (BJCP, World Beer Cup, Brewers Association etc...) came up with.

So it is with great sadness that admit that I recently brewed one of my favorite beers, a completely by the numbers, no-nonsense German Hefe Weisse.  The recipe I used for this batch was very close to another one I brewed in the fall of 2008 that was just about perfect, banana (but not too much), bread, clove, light, spritzy, and delicious (I did up the alcohol a bit this time to 5% ABV).  I tried to brew a batch with extract last fall, but the bready malt depth and balance just weren't there.

Certainly is a big mash for just five gallons of beer...I went with a simple grist of 50% pilsner and 50% wheat malt.  For the mash I did a single decoction on my stove with four rests:

1.  Mashed in at 114 F for ferulic acid (a precursor for the molecule that gives the spicy clove character) using 2 qrts of water per pound of grain.

2.  After 15 minutes I turned on the burner and brought the mash up to 125 F for a protein rest, stirring regularly to prevent the grain at the bottom from scorching.

3.  10 minutes later I turned the heat back on and took the mash up to 144 F to start the conversion of starches into sugar.

4. 10 minutes into the Saccharification rest I pulled about 1/3 of the mash (thicker than the mash, but still with plenty of liquid on the advice of Kai's excellent decoction guide on German brewing and more) and heated it to a boil over 30 minutes.

5.After boiling the decoction for 10 minute I added the decoction back to the main mash for a second, warmer, Saccharification rest at 161 F to finish off conversion.  I let the mash rest here for 20 minutes before proceeding with the brew.

I don't mind the extra time a decoction takes, but all the stirring is a pain.
I added the mash along with all the 180 degree sparge water to my mash tun, stirred, recirculated and ran off the wort.  Once I collected enough wort I boiled it with a single addition of really low alpha acid Spalt hops at 75 minutes for bittering.

The ground water at my house is around 82 F this time of year, so after getting the wort under 90 F I moved it to my fermentation fridge to cool to pitching temps.

I had great luck pitching and fermenting Wyeast 3068 at 55 F ambient last time, so I did the same this time.  After 4 days I increased the ambient temp to 62 to make sure the yeast doesn't stall out as fermentation nears completion.  After two weeks, assuming fermentation is finished, I'll drop the temperature close to 32 F for 7-10 days of cold conditioning before bottling the beer.

Hefeweizen is one style I just don't think should be tampered with, the combination of banana, clove, rich malt, and moderate hopping is in perfect balance... 


By the Book Hefeweizen

Recipe Specifics
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.50
Anticipated OG: 1.050
Anticipated SRM: 3.1
Anticipated IBU: 11.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 115 Minutes

Grain
------
50.0% - 4.75 lbs. German Wheat Malt
50.0% - 4.75 lbs. French Pilsener

Hops
------
2.00 oz. Spalter Spalt (Pellet, 1.50% AA) @ 75 min.

Extras
-------
0.40 Tsp Yeast Nutrient 10 min.

Yeast
-----
WYeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
----------------
Ferulic Acid 15 min @ 114 (Infuse)
Protein 10 min @ 125 (Direct)
Sacch I 40 min @ 144 (Direct)
Sacch II 20 min @ 161 (Decoction)

Notes
------
Made a 1 qrt starter the night before to split between this one and the other wheat beer I am brewing.

Brewed 7/18/10 By myself

Mashed 18 lbs of malt, 50% each Weyermann Wheat and French Pils. Added all the sparge water before running off the mash, stirred and waited a few minutes then ran off 8 gallons @ 1.040 for this beer. Took 1 gallon of the runnings to add to the other half of the batch, added 1 gallon of boiling water to this to replace the volume.  The other half of the wort went to the Hoppy Hefe.

8 month old hops adjusted down from 2% AA.

Chilled to ~85, racked to a bucket, moved to fridge set to 55. Added 1 cup of wort to the starter and put it in the fridge so it would be active and the same temp at pitching.

6hours later I pitched 3 cups of the starter and gave 45 seconds of pure oxygen, returned to the fridge @ 55 degrees.

Good fermentation after 18 hours, small amount of blow off.

7/22/10 Upped temp to 62 to help fermentation finish out.

7/26/10 Upped to 65 as the beer still has a big krausen on it.

8/1/10 Racked to keg. Dropped temp to 34 to drop excess yeast/protein out of solution.

8/12/10 Bottled with 5 oz of cane sugar in 1 pint of water, aiming for ~3.5 volumes of CO2.

9/16/10 Turned out really well, good balance of fruit/spice/dough.  Not much I would change next time around, but the head retention was mediocre.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

De Struise Pannepot Clone Tasting

Last December during what was (at the time) the biggest storm since I moved to DC I brewed a beer inspired by De Struise's Pannepot.  Pannepot is a big, dark, spiced beer that shows exactly what Belgian beer can be at its best (complex, drinkable, surprising, and ponderous).  With hopes of getting something similar I went with a similarly complex mix of grains, spices, and herbs for my version.

Despite mashing at 155 the Westmalle strain (Wyeast 3787) chewed the beer all the way down to 1.010 from 1.096 giving me a beer considerably stronger (11.5% ABV) and drier than the original (1.100 to 1.025, 10% ABV).  With that high alcohol the beer needs more than the three months I've given it in the bottle, but I always try to get my impressions of a big beer early on. 

You can read my tasting notes below, but for another take on how this batch turned out read the impressions of Tom and Jeff over at Lug Wrench Brewing. They're brewing their version of the recipe is fermenting now, looking forward to getting a chance to try their take on it eventually.

The other half of my batch is still sitting on cherries and slowly getting funkier as a variety of bugs continue to work.  I probably won't get around to bottling the Cuvee de Pannepot for another few months still.

Pannepot Clone

Appearance – Clear chestnut brown. Nice two finger off-white head when I first pour, but before I take my first sip it's sank to ~1/4 inch. A thin head sticks around until the end of the glass, still better head retention than the last bottle of Pannepot I had anyway.

Smell – Toasty, boozy, fruity, spicy, caramely, certainly complex. The fruit character is especially nice, plum, fig, and cherry (gotta love that Dark Candi Syrup). I think I got the spices at about the right level, I can't pick any of them out individually, but they are there.

Taste – Toasted malt, orange, clove, brown sugar, and bourbon (vanilla and hooch?). Note quite the sweetness to the original Pannepot, but the other flavors are more aggressive. The finish has a spicy alcohol character that might need a few more months to mellow, it has already improved from the last bottle I had in June. I wonder if the temperature got higher than I thought since this was fermented sitting on top of a radiator pushing that alcohol character.

Mouthfeel – Perky carbonation with more body than most big Belgian beers, but it isn't as thick as most other 10%+ beers.

Drinkability & Notes – A beer that throws everything that a beer can (16 ingredients will do that), and as a result loses a bit of drinkability on a hot summer night. Should be perfect for wintertime drinking, a “Christmas” beer that doesn't slam you with spices or sweetness. I'd back down on the sugar and the corn next time to try to get it to finish a bit sweeter, I'd also try to keep the fermentation cooler longer.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sour Old Ale (Quick Oud Bruin?)

One of the great things about running this blog is that every once in awhile a reader sends me interesting information (the occasional tasty commercial beers and homebrews are a nice perk as well). About a year ago I got an email (thanks Ethan) detailing the production method employed by one of the more secretive (and larger) sour beer producers in America.  The information may not be 100% accurate, the source was a tour guide at the brewery, but the concept made enough sense and the details were specific enough that I had to give it a shot. The owner of the brewery has always shied away from giving details on his souring process when interviewed, so I’ll grant them the courtesy of not coming out and naming them.

The basic idea is to sour the wort quickly before the primary Saccharomyces fermentation rather than slowly afterward.  To achieve this the wort is "spontaneously" fermented with microbes cultured from malt.  Before the primary yeast is pitched the wort is pasteurized to kill the lactic acid bacteria and anything other microbes.  This is much faster and more controllable than the more traditional practice of letting successive waves of yeast/bacteria work for a year or more to produce a sour beer.  This "sour-worting" method also eliminates most of the problems (inconsistent souring, off-flavors, stuck sparges etc...) associated with sour mashing, the other "quick" souring method.

While you could simply add crushed malt to the wort for inoculation, the process calls for adding malt to a small starter and incubating it warm to encourage the growth of Lactobacillus.  Once the starter is finished the liquid is pitched into the wort, which is left warm for several more days to sour.  After the wort is adequately sour it is pasteurized and fermented as usual.  While the method does not produce the same complex ester and phenol profile of a traditional mixed fermentation it does produce a sour beer in just a few days longer than it takes to make a "clean" batch of beer.  The finished beer is also wild-microbe-free so you don't have to worry about contaminating your kegging/bottling equipment. 

This may be a bit more difficult if you don't have an old heating pad without the safety auto-off.For my first attempt I used the technique to add some tartness to to a recipe that borders between a low gravity English Old Ale and a Belgian Oud Bruin.  Sour-worting would also be a good choice for a fruit beer or any other style that doesn't rely on the bugs for complexity.

I made the starter by combining 1 pint of 1.033 DME wort (boiled then chilled to 110 F) with 1/2 cup of crushed Maris Otter (the grain only serves as the source of lactic acid bacteria, so any base malt will do).  I used a funnel to get the wort and grain into a 750 ml bottle and wrapped the make-shift fermenter with a heating pad set to high to keep it between 110 and 120 F (essentially the same setup I use to make yogurt).  After 48 hours a small white krausen/pellicle formed and the starter smelled like tart apples.  When I do this again I'll use an airlock to prevent any aerobic microbes from getting established, but I didn't have any issue with aluminum foil over the mouth of the bottle.

Nothing weird about the mash and sparge, so that part is easier than a sour mash.After 3 days I proceeded with the mash and sparge, which were completed as usual. After the sparge I took 2.5 gallons of the 1.050 pre-boil wort and heated it just to a boil before chilling to 80 F and pitching the starter (most of the grain had sunk to the bottom so it was easy to pour off ~1 cup of the microbe rich liquid).  I flushed the carboy with CO2 before and after filling to get rid of any oxygen needed by acetobacter and other anaerobes (Cambridge Brewing played flushing with argon because it is heavier than air to keep oxygen away from their sour mashes).

The rest of the wort was boiled as usual and hopped with all of the hops for the entire batch.  This wort was chilled to 65 and pitched with a packet of S-04.  I may have pitched a bit more yeast than was needed, but for 2.5 gallons of 1.070 beer it wasn't too far off.

That is one of the worst, most disturbing pellicles I've seen, and it only took three days to grow...After 3 days held around 80 F ambient the portion that got the sour starter had developed the same white pellicle/krausen the starter had, as well as a similar tart aroma.  The flavor was sour, but still clean (although it took a long soak in PBW and hot water to remove the slightly murky smell from the Better Bottle).  I was surprised to see the gravity had only fallen a couple points to 1.046.  I added 1 gallon of water to account for boil-off (I probably should have collected a bit more wort to sour).  After a 30 minute boil to make sure all the microbes were dead I chilled it and racked onto the clean portion.

After two weeks in primary I racked the beer to secondary to age and added 1 oz of Hungarian oak cubes for it to sit on for a couple months before bottling.  Going into secondary the character was interesting, but the flavors still need some time to blend and mellow.

Tart Old Ale

Recipe Specifics
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50  
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.83
Anticipated OG: 1.056  
Anticipated SRM: 17.7
Anticipated IBU: 22.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain
------
74.0% - 8.75 lbs. Golden Promise            
10.6% - 1.25 lbs. Maris Otter             
4.8% - 0.57 lbs. Amber Malt              
4.8% - 0.57 lbs. Golden Naked Oats     
3.2% - 0.38 lbs. American Roasted Barley          
2.1% - 0.25 lbs. Simpsons Dark Crystal              
0.5% - 0.06 lbs. Simpsons Extra Dark Crystal        

Hops
------
0.75 oz. Galena (Pellet 8.50% AA) @ 60 min.

Extras
-------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 10 min.
0.50 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 min.
1.50oz Medium Toast French Oak Beans 30 Days

Yeast
-----
DCL Yeast S-04 SafAle English Ale

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
----------------
Sacch Rest 60 min @ 154

Notes
-----
6/30/10 Dissolved 6 oz of malt extract in 3 qrts of water, added 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient.  Boiled 20 min.  Chilled to 110, poured into a sanitized 750 along with ~1/2 cup of crushed Marris Otter for lacto, topped with aluminum foil.  Wrapped with a heating pad set to medium and left alone.  Temp ~110-115 for the duration.

7/3/10 Cut of the heat, smells nicely sour, a bit fruity. Maybe a hint of vinegar, next time use an airlock.

7/4/10 Brewed by myself

Fly sparged.

Took 2.5 gallons of the pre-boil wort and heated it to a boil, chilled to 85, and siphoned into a carboy flushed with CO2, pitched the pint lacto starter (most of the grain had settled to the bottom), and flushed again with CO2.

The other 4.5 gallons boiled with all the hops. Chilled to 85, adjusted gravity 1.071, put into 38 degree fridge, then set to 64.  Pitched yeast straight from the pack 4 hours later. Gave 60 seconds of pure O2.

Good fermentation on the "clean" portion after 12 hours, I over-pitched a bit.

After 48 hours the sour portion was sour, but otherwise very clean.  Nice fresh toasty malt character. Boiling tomorrow.

Topped off the sour portion with 1 gallon of filtered water pre-boil (I forgot to take the evaporation of the second half into account).  30 min boil, chilled to 85, gravity ~1.040 (didn't boil off all the water I added).  Mixed with the clean portion (already looked fermented out).  Placed back in the fridge at 61 degrees.

Extra 1/2 gallon of the sour portion racked to a growler, pitched ~1 cup of Brett B starter. left down stairs 75-80.

7/17/10  Racked to a keg for secondary and left at room temp to age.

7/19/10 Added 1 oz of house toast Hungarian oak cubes steamed for 5 minutes.

8/24/10 Really produced a lot of CO2 in the keg, hopefully just the yeast getting a second wind and not an infection.

9/5/10 Took a sample, tastes pretty clean, not sure what caused all that CO2.

10/07/10  Put on tap (carb'd from the residual fermentation after kegging), nice mellow/bright acid profile with a firm oak presence.

10/14/10 Bottled 7 bottles worth of the Brett fermented portion each with 1/2 tsp of table sugar, nice and tart.

11/14/10 Ended up pretty good, but not great.  The sourness is too clean for my tastes.  It could use an added layer of flavor (New Glarus tends to add fruit, or smoke to the beers they brew with this method.)

11/22/10 Racked the remainder of the keg onto 1.5 lbs of Blackberries and Black Raspberries.  The combo of the oak, clean lactic sourness never did it for me.  Filled a 3 gallon carboy close to the top, and saved a 1/2 gallon growler clean for blending.

Blended the berry portion with 2 gallons for the bugfarm Golden Sour on soursop, and left for some additional aging.

2/28/11 Tasting of the Brett B fermented portion. Tasted pretty good, slight sweet and sour thing going on, gravity down to 1.010.

-------------------------
I modified the original technique a bit, the way I understand it all of the wort is kept together through the boil. After some or all is soured it is heated to 140 to pasteurize. I was worried that the hops would inhibit the growth of lacto (the amount wasn't specified), and I wanted to be sure the microbes were dead so I did it this way. Eventually I'll have to give this version a try, since it only has one boil instead of two.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rauch Dunkel - Smoked Dark Lager Tasting

Lagers take a bit more time to turn around that ales, but at a low gravity and with some chocolate rye and German Beechwood smoked malt my Smoked Dark Lager is drinking pretty well just 6 weeks after I brewed it. Turned out to be just what I was craving, moderate smoke, big bready malt, drinkable even in the summer heat, and great with grilled food. 

Rauch Dunkel - Smoked Dark Lager

Smoked Dunkel - Rauch Dark Lager.  Nice red color when held to the light.
Appearance – Transparent (well just a bit of haze) leathery brown topped by a three-finger off-white head. Nice looking beer, certainly plays the part of a traditional Dunkel. The head falls sooner than expected though, a short protein rest might have helped there.

Smell – Bread crust, light smoke, and a touch of spicy hops. The depth of the breadiness is very nice. Clean fermentation character (no buttery diacetyl or fruity esters), I'm impressed with the performance of the W-34/70 strain.

Taste – Rich and malty with a pleasant sweet smoke in the finish. The smoke isn't potent enough to give it the hammy/sausage flavor of some of the more aggressive German rauchbiers (cough Aecht Schlenkerla cough). Leans towards the malty, but there is enough bitterness to leave me wanting another sip. Again I'm surprised just how clean this is for pitching dry lager yeast right out of the package (I'll have to try the strain in a subtler recipe).

Mouthfeel – Moderate-low carbonation plus a surprisingly full body for a 4.5% ABV beer.


Drinkability & Notes – The perfect dark beer for a summer day, low in alcohol, balanced, but with enough character to stand up to barbeque or burgers.  I'll have to brew an ampled-up version of this for winter (smoked Baltic porter?).

Monday, July 12, 2010

How To Homebrew : All-Grain Beer

Over the years I've gotten numerous emails asking me to do a post detailing how I brew.  This post is the answer to those requests.  What follows is not the only way, or necessarily the best way, but it is how I brew.  The pictures were taken during the brew day for my Citra Pale Ale, a relatively simple, moderate gravity batch.  This post is not intended to be a complete guide on homebrewing (How to Brew is what you should read for that), but hopefully it will provide some insight by elaborating on why I've decide to do things in specific ways.  If it seems like I've left something out let me know, and I'll add it.


Filter strike water.  I filter my DC tap water because it has chlorine or chloramine (depending on the month).  Big carbon block water filters are much cheaper per gallon filtered compared to the small Brita/PUR faucet mounted models that need to be replaced every few hundred gallons (the $35 filter I have is rated for 5,000 gallons or 2 years).  This model also has enough height that I can get my pot under it.  I had bad luck (no fermentation) on the two batches where I used campden tablets to de-chlorinate my water, but that method seems to work for a lot of people. 

Heat strike water.  I like heating on the stove to conserve propane, I'm not in much of a rush at this stage anyway because I leave it heating while I go deal with the malt (or go back to bed if I'm doing an early morning brew).  I always heat up a bit of extra water over the Promash software estimate so I can add it if the mash temp is lower than expected. 

This is my 7.5 gallon aluminum turkey fryer pot.  It has served me well for 5 years. I don't regret going aluminum because it is lighter, cheaper, and has better heat conductivity than stainless steel. Your hot liquor tank (HLT) needs to be at least as big as your finished batch size, but bigger is always better.  





Weigh out the malt.  Sadly my scale only holds up to 5 lbs, so I weigh the grain out piecemeal in a bowl and then dump it into the hopper on my mill.  Just make sure to tare out the weight of the bowl.  Eventually I'll invest in a scale with a higher capacity so I can weigh out the entire grain bill in one go, but this one has served me well for a couple years and I'm in no hurry to get rid of a loyal appliance. 

I keep extra specialty malts in vacuum sealed Foodsaver bags.  This keeps the grain away from oxygen and moisture, so I can hang onto it for a couple years without issue.  It also ensures that the mice that may or may not live in my basement don't get any free meals at my expense.

On top I keep boxes of supplies.  One contains all my liquids and powders (water salts, yeast nutrient, Whirlfloc, acids etc...) and the other contains small equipment (airlocks, stoppers, caps, bottling wax, oak cubes etc...).  Sanitizers and cleaners go in the middle.  Eventually I'd like to get some nice shelves to put everything out on, but for the time being this keeps everything together.
I keep extra base malts in their original sacks inside lidded plastic bins (again to keep real bugs and critters out).  Having a couple different base malts on hand allows me to be ready to brew whenever I want.  Buying in bulk is also cheaper than buying by the pound, most grains are about half price by the sack.  I don't worry too much about a little bit of oxygen/moisture getting into my base malt as its rare that they sit around for more than a couple months (and I have a dehumidifier in the basement).  I try to keep on hand sacks of European pilsner (lagers, Belgian beers), Maris Otter (malty English and American ales), and American 2-row pale (anything that I want a subdued malt character). 
Crush the malt.  This should be done as close to mashing as possible to reduce the amount of oxidation that occurs (not a huge issue, but it can lead to premature staling according to several professional brewers I've talked to).  I often crush while the strike water is heating, but sometimes I'll do it the night before if I want to brew early in the morning.  I ran my mill by hand for years, but I recently got a drill (which attaches directly to the drive shaft of my mill) beefy enough to handle grinding the grain.
I've been very happy with my Barley Crusher (~4 years old at this point).  Although once in awhile the grain doesn't feed into the rollers well, but a quick reverse of the drill usually fixes the problem.  I probably should have gone with the larger hopper (I assumed I'd build a larger one myself, but I haven't...). 

A good crush should look something like this, pretty intact husks with the endosperm (inner starchy part) well broken up. I have the mill set just slightly tighter than the factory setting (.039).  Depending on your lautering system you may want a finer or coarser crush, but this is what works for my system.  A finer crush will help your mash efficiency to a point, but too fine and you can end up with a stuck sparge.
I use a 5 gallon round cooler mash tun with a copper manifold I build myself for most batches.  I leave the slots facing down while I mash/sparge.  It is the same manifold I've been using since my first all-grain batch about five years back.  I tried to make another one out of CPVC, but it floated and I had trouble keeping the connections together.  Less complex systems like a Bazooka Screen or hose braid seem to work well for batch sparging, but I like having the option of doing fly sparges as well.
The manifold fits snugly into the bulkhead pass through I bought from Northern Brewer.  I tried to build my own at first, but I was never able to get it leak-proof.  It is a good idea to use Teflon tape on any threaded connections (like the one I have between the bulkhead and ball valve) to ensure they don't start leaking while you are in the middle of a mash/sparge.  

The 5 gallon mash tun is fine for 5 gallon batches up to about 1.080 (without sugar or extract), above that I need to use my larger 70 qrt rectangular mash tun (which doesn't happen very often).  If I need to do a direct fired multi-step mash I'll usually do it in my boil kettle and then scoop the mash into the mash tun when it is time to sparge.  I'm surprised that the cooler has held up as well/long as it has, but the sides are starting to look a bit scratched, bumpy, and warped from the ~100 batches I've run through it.

Dough in. I start with about 75% of my expected water in the mash tun.  Adding the malt slowly, stirring as I go to prevent lumps (dough balls) from forming with dry grain in the center.  Having these dry spots will reduce your efficiency since the water will not be able to penetrate into the center of the clumps.

I take temperature readings, adding more water and stirring as necessary until the mash hits 1-2 degrees higher that my target (the mash tun will suck up a bit of heat over the first few minutes). I only preheat the mash tun in the rare case that I am mashing outside during the winter.  I find that adding water before the grain makes the dough in a bit easier to deal with. It also prevents grain from being compacted down around the manifold which makes sparging slower.

A thermometer that you trust is one of the most important pieces of equipment.  I have a Thermapen which is quick and accurate, but at nearly $100 probably more than most people are willing to spend on a thermometer.  Digital in general is nice because it is quick and easy to read, but any "meat" thermometer will get the job done in a pinch.


After waiting 5 minutes for the mash reactions do their thing, I pull a small sample of wort for a pH test.  Remember that the pH will read a few tenths higher if you are taking it at room temp.  While ~5.2 is ideal at mash temps, at room temp you are looking for ~5.4.  Most beers don't need adjustment (I usually only check especially light or dark beers because DC water is fine for anything amber-brown). At this point I also recheck the temp to make sure it is holding steady (since I didn't pre-heat my mash tun).

I like the pH strips because they don't need calibration and they don't break (unlike pH meters).  Having the right pH ensures that the enzymes will do what they are supposed to do, and that tannins will not be extracted.

I stir the mash with my big spoon a couple times during the mash just to make sure the heat and enzymes are evenly distributed.  I doubt it does much, but it gives me something to do during the mash.

Recirculate/Vorlauf.  I drain a pint of wort through the manifold, pour it back into the mash, and repeat.  Starting off pretty slowly to make sure that the grainbed doesn't compact.  I generally cycle 1-2 gallons through the mash depending on how long it takes for the bits of grain/husk to disappear. This steps helps make clear beer, and also is supposed to help your beer taste fresher longer.  This is a shot of the first runnings, very cloudy with big chunks of husk/grain. 



I use a piece of aluminum foil on top of the mash to prevent the grainbed from being disturbed when I pour the wort back.  It is much easier to poke to holes after the aluminum foil is on top of the mash (I just use a clean steak knife).  This is the best/easiest way I've found to accomplish diffusion for the recirculation and for adding sparge water. 
Once the wort is relatively clear I do either a fly sparge or a batch sparge.  I do fly sparges for bigger beers since it gives better efficiency (on my system) and allows me to mash more grain (since I don't have enough room for all the sparge water to be added at once).  I do a batch sparge for lighter beers since it removes the worry about tannin extraction from letting the sparge run too long, it is also less labor intensive (you can walk away and let the tun drain completely).

 For completeness I'll cover both methods.




Batch Sparge
Drain all of the liquid from the mash into the brew kettle, I do this slower than some other people because it helps prevent grain from being sucked into the kettle. Once I have collected all of the first runnings I measure the volume in the kettle and subtract it from my target volume, the difference is the amount of sparge water that needs to be added.

I use 180-185 degree water for the sparge infusion, aiming to get the mash up just below 170.  The closer to 170 you get the better the extraction you will have, hotter than that though and you risk tannin extraction.  Once the water is added I stir the mash for about five minutes to make sure I extract as much of the sugars as possible.  There is no need for any additional rest in my experience.  Once I am done stirring I  recirculate again until relatively clear, and drain the second runnings.

Fly Sparge
I let the wort drain to within an inch of the top of the grainbed, then pour in a pint or two of the sparge water.  I keep adding water when the level gets close to the top of the grainbed until the wort in the boil kettle is about half a gallon short of the target volume, then I stop adding water and let it drain.  Ideally you would monitor the gravity and pH of the runnings and stop it once the pH starts to rise or the gravity drops below 1.010 or so (in practice I never do this).



Add water salts. I wait to add water salts to the runoff for flavor if I don't need them to adjust the mash pH.  For more details on my thoughts on water treatment check out the Water Treatment overview post.  For the most part I try to keep my adjustments pretty minimal.  I've gone through stages where I built waters from RO/distilled, but these days I use DC tap water with small adjustments for mash pH (carbonate for dark beers, calcium for pale beers) and flavor (sulfate for hoppy beer, sodium/chloride for malty beers).  It is rare I go over 200 ppm for any individual ion.

My boil kettle is a relatively thick 10 gallon aluminum stock pot I bought at a restaurant supply store in Boston.  I've been happy with it so far (again close to 5 years), although it would be nice to have gone stainless in this case so I could give it a more aggressive scrub from time to time.


I use my mash spoon to figure out how much volume I've collected.  I calibrated the notches using cold water, so they are a bit lower than they should be (by ~4%).  On my system in addition to the volume I want in the fermenter I need 1 gallon for every hour of the boil plus .5 gallon for losses to hops, cooling shrinkage, and transfers.  I collect extra for really hoppy beers, less if I am adding honey/liquid malt extract/molasses. 

After the sprage is complete and you have collected all your wort take a gravity reading to determine if you are on target (after mixing the wort to ensure an accurate reading).  If I am under gravity I'll either add malt extract or boil longer and reduce my batch size.  If I am over gravity I'll either up my hopping, or add water and use the extra beer for an experiment of some sort.  It is a good idea to cool this sample quickly so you know where you stand before you start adding anything to the boil.

Sanitize.  I try to get my sanitation started during the boil.  Star-San and Iodophor only need a couple minutes to work, but longer contact time makes them even more effective (a necessity when I brew so many beers with various strains of wild yeast and bacteria.) You can make a small amount of sanitizing solution and swish it around, but I feel better soaking my equipment.

I always make sure my post-boil equipment is clean of dirt, grime, residue, gunk, and schmutz before storing.  I do this by giving it a long soak in hot water and Oxiclean Free, TSP, or PBW (followed by several rinses with hot water to remove any residue from the cleaner).  The sanitizers won't work well if there are spots of organic or inorganic material on the surface for microorganisms to hide in.  As a last resort I'll use a carboy brush, but I don't like to since the bristles are supposedly hard enough to leave tiny scratches in the Better Bottle plastic (luckily it is rarely necessary after an overnight soak).


Boil.  I get a good strong boil on a turkey-fryer  (Banjo Cooker) in my garage (with plenty of ventilation), but if you have a wide enough pot you can get a pretty good boil going on your stove by placing the pot over 2 burners (which is what I did for years when I lived in apartments).  I generally start heating with the lid on, but once it gets close to a boil I take it off and stay nearby to watch for boil overs. 

Skim.  I like to skim off the foam (coagulated protein) that accumulates on top of the wort as it approaches a boil using a small sieve. This ensures that I get any small particles of grain that might have slipped by the manifold.  Skimming also helps to prevent boil overs by removing some of the protein and nucleation sites.  It doesn't have much effect on the finished beer, but it gives me a reason to stick around the pot while it is coming up to a boil.

Once the wort hits a boil I leave the lid off to prevent volatilized DMS from dripping back into the pot (especially important when brewing with pilsner malt).  Speaking of which I do a 90 min boil for most of my batches to help drive off DMS, give the wort some time to boil before the hops are added, and allow me to collect more wort pre-boil to increase my mash efficiency.

Hop. While the wort is heating I get my mise en place laid out for anything I'll be adding during the boil (hop additions, yeast nutrient, sugars, kettle finings, spices, herbs etc..).

A scale is the only reliable way to measure hops, especially when a small difference with high alpha acid hops can have a huge difference in your results.  My scale is more accurate in grams, so I'll often use them and convert back to ounces.  I generally adjust the hop alpha acid content down based on how old the hops are. 

Once the hops are measured out I seal any left over back up and put them back in the freezer.  Hops stored away from heat and oxygen will retain more bitterness and aromatics than poorly stored hops.  Just like grain, buying hops in bulk makes Hops Direct and Freshops depending on what varieties I'm looking for and how much I want to buy. 

I use both pellets and whole hops depending on what I can get.  In general I like pellets in the boil and whole hops for dry hopping.  Whole hops take up more space, oxidize easier, and suck up more wort, but I like them for dry hopping because it is easier to prevent little bits of them from making it into your glass and they don't give as much of the grassy (chlorophyll) flavor that pellets can with long exposure times.

I set a timer to make sure I add the hops at the scheduled times.  If you are just starting to homebrew it is a good idea to write out all of your additions and check them off as you go to make sure you don't miss anything (especially for something with a complex schedule like an IPA).  You can stir the hops in if you want, but they seem to hydrate and sink on their own.








Add kettle finings and yeast nutrient.  I often use Whirlfloc because you can just toss it in, but when I use Irish Moss I rehydrate it in water  (although generally not for as long as I you are supposed to).  Removing protein not only helps make a clear beer but also helps the beer to remain "stable" (tasty) for a longer period of time.

Yeast nutrient is always a good idea, but especially if you are adding sugars or are worried about your yeast health.  I like the Wyeast blend, but there are lots of good options available.

Chill.  A quick disconnect makes hooking up my homemade immersion chiller to the faucet much easier.  I like the convenience of chilling in the kitchen (boil kettle sitting on a metal folding chair), but outside connected to a garden hose works to.   I give the wort a stir/swirl every few minutes with the wort chiller to speed up the chilling process. In the winter my tap water is really cold, but in the summer chilling takes much longer as the water creeps up towards 80.
I always try to chill to at or below my target fermentation temperature.  I think far too many people get off-flavors because they are pitching warm and then trying to cool as fermentation (an exothermic process) starts.  Don't rely on feeling the side of the pot for the temperature of the wort, sanitize your thermometer and take a reading (you may be surprised).  In the summer when my water is warmer than my pitching temp I'll place the wort in my fermentation fridge for a few hours before aerating and pitching to get the temperature down.

Strain.  I generally pour the chilled beer through a sanitized metal strainer into my bottling bucket to remove as much of the hops as I can before the beer enters the fermenter.  I'm not worried about an off-flavors from leaving he hops in the wort, they just get in the way of racking (poor suction during racking can lead to oxidation as the siphon struggles and pulls air into the beer).  This shot is of the strainer after it was taken off the bottling bucket.








I then use the spigot to transfer the wort into a carboy or Better Bottle.  This is the easiest way I've found to do this, a big funnel is faster, but this is a lot less stress/effort.  If there is a lot of trub in the wort I'll wait 10-15 minutes to transfer the beer to the fermenter to allow time for the excess hot/cold break to settle below the level of the spigot.

This post was originally conceived as a overview of wort production, but I thought I'd touch on a few other areas as well.  I also did a post on brewing sour beers that covers most the issues specific to those beers.
Aerate.  For low gravity beers I shake for a minute or two before pitching and then repeat a couple more times over the first few hours of fermentation.  For higher gravity beers I pump in pure oxygen (using a mini-regulator, stone, and one of those red bottles of oxygen from Home Depot) because the yeast cells need more O2 and it has a lower solubility in the denser wort.  I set the regulator to as low as it will go with oxygen still coming out and gently rock the carboy.

Pitch.  I try to pitch plenty of healthy cells, either with a starter from liquid yeast, slurry from a previous batch, or dry yeast.  Jamil's pitching rate calculator is a very handy tool for figuring out exactly how much to pitch.  The only time I pitch right out of a smack-pack or vial is when I'm doing a small batch of low gravity beer (essentially a glorified starter I'm planning on drinking).

Ferment.  Keep the ambient temperature a few degrees below your target fermentation temperature.  The fermenting yeast will produce some heat and will cause the wort to be a few degrees warmer than the surrounding air.  As the fermentation slows I'll generally increase the ambient temperature to make sure the wort doesn't chill (which could shock the yeast and lead to a stuck fermentation).

I usually crimp a piece of aluminum foil over the neck of the carboy for beers that have plenty of head space (with the amount of CO2 being produced you don't need to worry too much about wild microbes getting into the beer), or a blow-off tube for beer that don't have a safe amount of head space.  Once fermentation slows down I'll switch either to an airlock to make sure no oxygen gets into the fermenter.

Rack.  A pump action auto-siphon is the single greatest homebrewing gadget in my opinion.  Mine tend to only last about 12-18 months before the gasket loses suction, but the $10 is well worth it for the effort, oxidation, and infection risk they reduce.  Flushing the carboy with CO2 is a great idea if you are worried about oxidation, but I really only do it for pale hoppy beers.  I don't rack beers I am going to keg to secondary, since the keg takes its place, but I do for most bottled beers to ensure they don't have much yeast/trub in the bottle.  If you have the ability to cold crash/stabilize your beers for a few weeks it will help improve the clarity and shelf stability of your beer by dropping out excess yeast and protein. 

Bottle/Keg. An in depth look at packaging will have to wait for another time.  That said, I wish it didn't because I think carbonation is an often marginalized topic.  Figuring out the proper amount of priming sugar should be done with a priming calculator that takes into account the volume (not your intended batch size, but the actual amount in the bottling bucket) and temperature of the beer (which is a proxy for the amount of carbonation in solution), and target amount of CO2.  Like most things in brewing, priming sugar should be measured by weight, not volume for the most accuracy.  Some fresh yeast is a great idea for long aged, strong, or cold crashed beers, but it is generally not needed.

As Pete Docter the director of Monsters, Inc. and Up said, "Pixar films don't get finished, they just get released." I've been working on and off on this post since I brewed my Citra Pale Ale in late April, I'm still not completely happy with it, but it was time to post.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Peach Sour Beer Tasting

One of the fruit beer “facts” often thrown around is there are some fruits that just don't translate well, strawberries, banana, and peaches (use apricots instead!). In Radical Brewing Randy Mosher writes “Peaches have been, in my experience, a terrible disappointment. The taste of the finished beer is rather flat and somewhat gummy, very different from the intense bouquet of fresh peaches.” After having a couple of delicious peaches beers (New Belgium Eric's Ale and Dogfish Head Festina Lente) I knew this couldn't be the whole story.

I had originally planned on adding some flowers to the secondary of my batch of Sour Honey Wheat beer, but after eating some delicious peaches from the local farmers market last August my mind was changed. I used the same ripe white peaches (sliced, stones removed, skins left on), around 2.5 lbs per gallon (more than I do for most fruit beer combinations). Five months later I racked the beer off the peaches to give it a few months to clear before bottling.

The resulting peach character is wonderful, bold, fresh, and most importantly peachy!

Peach Sour Honey Wheat

I wish the head looked that good for longer than 45 seconds...Appearance – Pours a hazy golden yellow with a thin white head that lasts only a minute or so.

Smell – The nose is fresh peaches, with some other fruit (Melon? Lemon? Apricot?). There is a touch of floral/honey dancing behind the fruit. Minimal funk/alcohol (no hops, obviously).

Taste – Piquant acidity coats the tongue and the roof of the mouth. The peach flavor starts midway through and lingers into the finish, the peaches taste fresh and vibrant. The honey/waxy character is again there in the background. I could have used a bit more funk/complexity, but the balance of fruit and acid has its charms as well.

Mouthfeel – Moderate carbonation, certainly could be higher to compliment the sourness. The body still has a bit of heft, but the acidity provides a bit of astringency to balance it.

Drinkability & Notes – I'm impressed by how well the dosed food grade lactic acid worked in this beer. I'm not sure how this beer would compare if it was just fermented with a clean ale yeast, I can't tell if some of the complex fruitiness is from the bugs or just a result of the fruit.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sake Bottling and Pasteurization

Two weeks ago the just strained sake (separated from the rice) was milky, thick, and slightly sweet (and pretty tasty).  After two weeks settling in the fridge an inch and a half cake of rice solids, starches, and yeast had formed on the bottom of each of the jugs.  I wanted to split the batch so I decided to bottle some cloudy (as is), and fine the other half with bentonite to make a crystal clear sake.  This also gave me a trial run at bottling/pasteurization with only half at risk while the rest continued to bulk age.

1/2 tsp of bentonite hydrated in 3 tbls of warm water.
To prepare the bentonite (a clay fining I had left over from a batch of mead) I mixed 1/2 tsp into 3 tbls of hot water (filtered then microwaved for 25 seconds).  After stirring the mixture with a fork for a minute I poured the loose slurry into a freshly sanitized 4L jug.  I then racked all of the sake from one of the jugs, plus a bit of the second one onto the bentonite.  I gave this sake a brief stir with a bottling wand just to ensure that the finings and sake were well mingled.  I topped the jug with an airlock and returned it to the fridge to allowing the finings to go to work.

I racked the rest of the sake from the second jug directly into bottles.  For such a small amount of liquid this seemed easier than racking to a bottling bucket first, but it led to an uneven distribution of sediment.  Some bottles looked pretty clear while others had a good amount of haze.  I didn't mind this since it will allow me to see how much sediment (if any) I like in my sake.

Heating bottles of sake in a water bath to pasteurizeSake is a delicate beverage despite the high alcohol content. It is susceptible to off flavors produced by wild yeast and bacteria as a result of the starch (bug food) in suspension and the lack of preservative hops.  To help extend the shelf life (allowing it to be aged long enough for proper maturation) it is almost always pasteurized.  There are three main ways to accomplish this, chemicals, filtration, and heat.  Heat seemed like the most foolproof, and convenient, so I followed Bob Taylor's guide and took the six uncapped bottles and placed them in a pot half filled with cold tap water.  I turned the burner on to high.   It was interesting to see the carbonation bubbling out of solution as the bottles heated.

The sake in the bottles seemed to trail the water by about 20 degrees, so it only took 20 minutes for each one to reach 140 degrees.  Once the liquid in each bottle hit 140 I immediately removed and capped them.  Pasteurization apparently drives off some of the more subtle/volatile aromatics produced during fermentation, but it also drives off some other less desirable aromatics as well.  Heating the glass too rapidly can shock it leading to broken bottles, so don't try to put a second set of bottles in the already hot water.

Diluting then bottle conditioning sakeA few days later it was time to do the same thing to the fined portion of the batch.  This was a bit easier since the amount of rice/yeast goo at the bottom of the fermenter was much smaller.  Five days after that I diluted 3 of these bottles into 6 with filtered/boiled/chilled water and added 1/2 tsp table sugar and a sprinkle of Champagne yeast (aiming for a light carbonated sake, that is to say something I'll be able to drink before November).

The sake still needs to age for another 2-6 months to further mellow and age, but I am really looking forward to tasting the results.  For the time being I am aging them in the refrigerator to keep them out of the current DC heatwave (even my basement is creeping up towards 80).

Hopefully everyone has enjoyed my brief foray into the world of sake production.  I just finished reading From Vines to Wines, so I may make my first excursion into wine making sometime in the fall (and probably a couple of sour beers with grapes as well).

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6/26/10 Microwaved 3 tbls of filtered water for 25 seconds.  Sprinkled on 1/2 tsp of bentonite and stirred for a minute or two.  Poured the slurry into a sanitized jug.  Racked 1 gallon of relatively bright sake on top.  Dropped temp to 35 to encourage sedimentation.

Bottled 6 bottles worth of varying clarity.  Placed in a pot of cool water and brought up to 140 without caps on.  I turned down the heat when the water in the pot reached 150.  Allowed the sake to sit with the cap resting on top for a minute or two to allow the still escaping CO2 to purge the head space, then capped.  Left at room temp to cool overnight, then returned to the fridge

7/01/10 Bottled the fined portion, yielded 10 bottles.  Good deal more sediment had settled out, sake looked pretty clear, but not crystal.  Pasteurized at 140 as before.  Diluting/priming will wait for later.

7/5/10 The fined and pasteurized sake tastes much hotter than the cloudy/raw sake did a few weeks ago, hopefully a few months in the bottle will mellow it out.

7/6/10 Split 3 bottles into 6.  Topped off with 6 oz of filtered/boiled/chilled water.  Added 1/2 tsp of table sugar and a sprinkle of EC-1118 Champagne yeast.  Capped.

10/7/10 Tasting for the carbonated portion.  Fine, but not especially interesting.

10/14/10 Tasting for the fined/undiluted portion.  Too boozy and not enough character for my tastes.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Have you brewed a spontaneously fermented beer?

Yes - 20%
No - 79%

I'm surprised (and impressed) that 33 of you have given spontaneous fermentation a shot!  The technique is currently only used commercially by the last few Lambic brewers in Belgium and a handful of American bug nerds (the likes of Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin, and Allagash).  The general concept is that the boiled wort is exposed to the air, allowing whatever bacteria and wild yeast are present to colonize the beer and ferment it.  The results can be mixed, so most breweries that employ spontaneous fermentation rely on blending for consistency and quality. 

Despite my love of brewing sour beers so far I've only used microbes obtained from yeast labs and bottle dregs.  Introducing added risk by trusting wild yeast for a beer that needs a year or more of age is a bit off-putting for me.  That said, I'm considering giving it a shot later this year once cool weather returns (from what I understand the bacteria floating around during hot/damp weather often leads to off flavors).

Soaking 60 loaves of Rye bread for a batch of Kvass at East End Brewing.The closest I've gotten was using a sourdough starter to ferment part of my second batch of Kvass, which is kinda-sorta like a bit like spontaneous fermentation.  Speaking of which I was just up in Pittsburgh two weeks ago assisting at East End Brewing on their annual batch of Kvass (more details to come).

I'm also in the process of brewing my first batch soured with microbes harvested from the malt.  It isn't exactly a sour mash, but it is in the same direction (souring the wort pre-boil with a starter grown from 1/2 cup of crushed Marris Otter) with a pure strain ale yeast added post-boil to complete the rest of the fermentation.

If you've given ambient/spontaneous fermentation a try please post a comment (or shoot me an email) with your technique and what your result were.  I'd also be interested where you left the wort for exposure (orchards/vineyards seems to be a popular choice).  As a side note I just noticed Freshops is selling 3 year old Willamette "Lambic" hops.

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