Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Commercial Kombucha Beers (Lambrucha and Fleur)

Kombucha has been in the news recently because it has been pulled from the shelves due to an alcoholic content in excess of the .5% ABV cap on "non-alcoholic" beverages.  If you haven't heard of it, kombucha is a sweetened tea that is fermented with a mix of yeast (including Brettanomyces) and acid acetic producing bacteria.  I thought it might be interesting to try a couple of commercial beers that are blended with kombucha for sourness and complexity.

Lambrucha - A blend of lambic and kombucha.Some long time readers of the blog might remember my experiments with kombucha (including a Flanders Red Kombucha) about three years back.  I couldn't keep up with the cycle of production that keeping a kombucha culture demands (partially because my results weren't that great) so I eventually passed my scoby ("mushroom") off to my friend Nathan (who promptly threw it out).

The first beer is Lambrucha, a 3.5% ABV blend of year plus old lambic and kombucha from Vanberg & DeWulf (importers of such tasty beers as Saison Dupont, and Witkap Pater).  The result is more like carbonated lemonade than anything else.  Bright, citrusy, fresh, with vibrant carbon dioxide rising through the off-pink body, but not much head.  The low alcohol and citrusy tartness make it a wonderfully quenching/refreshing beer, but with 1 year old lambic as the main ingredient I would have hoped for more complexity and Brett character.  I would have been interesting to taste the lambic before and after blending to taste exactly what the kombucha contributed (I suspect that brightness that is rare in straight lambics).

Fleur - Beer brewed with added kombucha and hibiscus.Goose Island's Fleur looks and smells much more like a beer than Lambrucha (it is twice the alcohol so that isn't too surprising).  It pours a hazy light amberish-red with a small white head.  The aroma is very fruit, with strawberry and banana (and a light "artificial" bubblegum smell, maybe the hibiscus?).  The flavor is similar, but it adds a bit of spice and a faint tartness (even some malt...).  Fleur doesn't make the kombucha suggestion as strongly, relying on the fermented tea for complexity rather than as a main selling point (the bottle makes no mention of kombucha).  While it is a more complex beerier beer, it lacks the brightness and drinkability of the Lambrucha.

Two interesting beers that use kombucha in different ways.  I think as time goes on we will see more and more breweries blending kombucha into beers as a cheap/quick way to add some balancing acidity.  Blendiung non-beer beverages into beer seems to be getting more popular in general.  Lost Abbey for example has been doing blending beers with mead and wine as components. These are ll options for blending at home, and are all things that you can either make at home, or just buy for convenience and variety (as many people do for simple "bourbon barrel" beers).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sorachi Ace Lime Cherry Flanders Red

Hop Lime TeaThe Iron Mug competition was started last year as a inter-club event between the DC Homebrewers and the Wort Hogs of Northern Virginia.  The basic concept was borrowed from Iron Chef; each brewer is given secret ingredient(s) and a limited amount of time in which to brew a beer.  Beers are judged by an celebrity panel (local brewers and the like) to see whose brewed stuff is the good stuff.  The scoring is done based on general taste/appearance, and also on how creatively each beer showcases the chosen ingredients.

Our "chairman" is Derek, the owner of My LHBS homebrew store in Falls Church, VA.  This year he the secret ingredients he selected were dried lime peel and Sorachi Ace hops (appropriately a Japanese variety, with prominent lemon notes).  The first year, which I didn't enter, the ingredients were woodruff and white wine concentrate.  

Purging to get rid of the oxygen before carbonating.The obvious choice for lemon and lime flavors is something light and summery like a saison or a wheat beer, but I wanted to have a bit more fun.  I took one ounce of the hops and 1 tbls of the lime peel and mixed them with 12 oz of ~180 degree water in my coffee press.  After 5 minutes I slowly depressed the plunger and poured 5 tbls of the liquid into a 2 liter soda bottle.  To this extract I added four bottles of my sour cherry Flanders Red that was still only partially carbonated.  After tasting the mixture I added another 5 tbls of the hop/lime extract to bring up the citrus flavors a bit more.

I used my carbonator cap to add a bit of extra carbonation to the beer before finally pouring the beer slowly into four clean/chilled/wet bottles. Not sure if it will be enough for me to get my name on the Iron Mug, but hopefully one of the DC Homebrewers is able to avenge our loss in the inaugural year. 

Cherry Lime Ricky

Not the most attractive beer I've made for sure.Appearance – Murky is the only way to describe this one. I'm blaming the hop/lime tea, which I added just two days ago.  The head pours big and bubbly, but quickly sinks to nothing.  The appearance reminds me of a poorly made American red.

Smell – Despite the added hops and lime the cherries are still the first thing I get out of the aroma. There is a slight herbal-citrus hop edge, but they are secondary notes. As it warms I get a slight whiff of vinegar, nice in a Flanders red.

Taste – Potent tongue coating sourness, that luckily doesn't come off as sharp or harsh. The cherry flavor from the aroma carries through in the flavor along with some subtle citrus. There is a toastiness that I get in the plain version of this beer as well.  I like it, but I can see many non-sour heads complaining about just how acidic it is.

Mouthfeel – With such a sour beer the moderate carbonation is all that's needed.  The acidity dominates the mouthfeel making it hard to tell how full the body is, but it certainly isn't too thin.

Drinkability & Notes – I like it, but it doesn't have nearly the same great combination of hops and sourness that the dry hopped Flanders Red did. I'm not sure if the variety or the method (hop tea vs. bottle hops) is to blame.

Update: Despite the popularity of this beer with the judges it didn't have enough hop or lime character to advance.

Monday, August 23, 2010

BYO Article - Adding Fruit to Sour Beers

The September 2010 issue of Brew Your Own magazineThe September 2010 issue of Brew Your Own magazine contains the first print article I've had published!  There isn't much in the article that I haven't said somewhere on Mad Fermentationist, but I collected bits of information that had been peppered across many posts into a single guide to making fruit flavored sour beers.  My goal was to present the options available along with my experiences, rather than trying to give a single "best" practice.  The article also includes the recipes and step-by-step instructions for brewing my Sour Cherry Flanders Red, Cabernet Berliner Weisse, and Peach Honey Wheat Sour

I'd like to give a special thanks to Alex, Nathan, Dan, and my father for giving the article both content and editorial reviews.  They all helped to get what I wrote whipped into a "magazine quality piece" (i.e removed the spelling and grammatical errors that sometimes plague my writing).  Chris Colby and the rest of the staff at BYO did a great job cleaning up the formatting, and adding metric equivalents for all my measurements.  I'm only complaint is that the extract versions of the recipes they included called for steeping grains that need to be mashed (although in a sour it isn't that big of an issue).  Submitting to a magazine was a different experience than writing a blog where I can always add, amend, correct, and expand what I have written (even years after posting).

Nathan and I are working on an article on Kvass (which I have touched on before) for a future issue of BYO (I baked the rye bread Friday and we brewed Sunday), but it probably won't be published until early 2011.  If anyone has any suggestions for other in depth topics you'd like to see an article (or post) on let me know.

If you'd like to subscribe to BYO you can sign up using this link, and a portion of the subscription fee will go to fund this blog (the price is the same as a regular subscription).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tasting Lambic (Not pLambic) 2.0

Lambic/Gueuze is one of the most complex, intricate, and confusing styles to brew.  Virtually every stage of the process from the mash, through carbonation can be different that the "standard" brewing procedure.  Things like turbid mashing, aged hops, spontaneous fermentation, barrel aging, and blending are all parts of the traditional process.  Homebrewers have employed all of these (as well many substitute procedures), but which of these are the key components required to replicate the acidic, fruity, funky beer?

While I've had great success brewing sour beers in general, producing a great homebrewed Lambic has so far eluded me.  The first batch I brewd was nearly undrinkable (poor fermentation), while this second batch is drinkable it doesn't have the right balance.  I have high hopes for my third attempt, at a year old it has a great deal of complexity and a moderate acidity that I hope will continue to increase over the next 6-12 month. 

2.0 was brewed with 70% pils, 30% raw wheat, using the Wyeast Lambic Mash (from Wild Brews).  It received a four hour boil with 3 oz of ultra-low AA% Hallertau Select hops.  I did a standard chill then pitched Wyeast Lambic Blend, Vinnie's Russian River bug chips, and the dregs from Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze (the best Gueuze available in my opinion).  The only major issue with the process was that the complex mash, hot sparge, and long boil conspired to give the beer an OG of 1.070 (well above the standard range for commercial examples 1.040-1.060, although Boon makes a great 8% ABV Gueuze called Mariage Parfait).

On a side note, I refuse to call the beers I brew pLambics (psuedo Lambics) for the same reason I don't say pKolsch or pEnglish Pale Ale.  I think the fact that I am an American homebrewer is enough to imply that these beers are made in the spirit of the Belgian brewers who have the right to use the term Lambic commercially.

A glass of Lambic 2.0Lambic 2.0

Appearance – Moderately hazy yellow-gold. Pours with a huge head that quickly sinks to a scant ring of tiny bubbles despite the high carbonation.

Smell – Great big funky bretty nose, floral/honey, lemon rind, lots of subtle complexities. It is a bit rough/rustic compared to my favorite Lambics, but it isn't far off. As it warms up a bit of that clean ethanol comes out, but the funk does a good job of hiding it.

Taste – Sadly the taste doesn't have the acidity to back up that big aroma. It comes off more like a De Proef beer (one of the Flemish Primitive or Reinhart Wild Ale), faintly tart but the overall balance is closer to a Belgian strong golden (crisp, dry, moderate mineral bitterness). The funk gives it most of its character, making for a beer that lacks depth. The finish has a mild mineral character that I don't really care for, but it isn't objectionable.

Mouthfeel – The mouthfeel is much bigger than a standard Lambic, which isn't so surprising when you consider it has an OG .020 higher than most commercial offerings. Great carbonation, and certainly dry/crisp for such a big beer, but without the acidity it just isn't the same.

Drinkability & Notes – Compared to the first Lambic I brewed this is a great beer, but I should have watered it down before fermentation. The high gravity sent this off on a tangent (probably too strong for the lactic acid bacteria), but I'm happy to be getting closer to my target.  A bit of 88% lactic acid added to the glass improved things, but it didn't fix it completely.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Treasure Hunt (Orange-Cranberry Mead Tasting)

At that point was was just happy it only took two test holes to hit the box.My friend Mat helped me make my first (and so far only) batch of mead in the spring of 2006.  Two years ago we buried 8 bottles of the batch in an old wooden crate in the backyard of my parents' house on Cape Cod.  Our plan was to dig the it up and drink a bottle each year.  I didn't make it to the Cape last year until a cold October weekend, so this summer while Audrey and I were down there I made digging up the box for the first time a priority. Sadly Mat is currently spending ~18 months working in Liberia so he wasn't around, but hopefully he'll be available for digging and sampling next time.

I remembered approximately where we buried the box, but after two years the scrub grass had grown over and I couldn't tell exactly where the mead pit was (for some reason we assumed we didn't need to mark the spot...).  After pressing a shovel into the ground in a couple of places I picked an especially soft spot to dig.  I came up empty with the first hole, but the second one was a direct hit.  Audrey and I spent the next 30 minutes taking shifts with the shovel until the entire top of the box was visible.  It felt like playing Battleship, first trying to hit the box, then figuring out the orientation.

Pulling the box open with the rope was much easier than trying to do it from inside the pit.
I tied a rope to the bolt we had attached to the lid, and pulled it open.  I was half expecting to see earthworms, water, and rotten wood underneath the lid, but other than a bit of sand it looked exactly like it did two years ago.  There didn't seem to be any roots growing more than a foot below the surface, so the box has been safe from them.

Probably one of the cooler bottles I've done, we didn't use the netting Sarah did to fish the bottle out, but it certainly makes it look more piratey.


I wasn't expecting too much from the mead because I had drank an unimpressive sample with a few friends (from the only bottle that avoided the crypt) last winter.  Before opening the bottle we gave the bottle a couple hours upright for the flakes of protein (?) to settle out.  Luckily the exertion of the dig paid off and the mead was better than I'd hoped with lots of complex flavors/aromas and a good overall balance.

I don't think I have bottles of any of my beers older than this mead (although there are probably still a few floating around with previous brewing partners), so I'm looking forward to seeing how many more years it is worth drinking.  Well made mead can supposedly last for decades when properly stored, I'll be ecstatic if this can make it a decade to 2016.

I have another picture of us both looking at the camera, but I like this one better.

When we re-buried the box I left the rope attached from the bolt and sticking out of the ground to make it easier to find next time.  We also stacked some rocks on the surface to give us a crude outline of the box.  After burying the box I was struck with the idea that I should have put a bottle of beer in the box to drink next year.  It might be a fun way to add another dimension to the project (maybe see how bottles of the same beer age in the ground compared to my basement). 

Orange-Cranberry Mead

Appearance – Minor rust on the outside of the cap, with the wax intact I wasn't expecting that. Slight hiss upon opening, so the seal is still fine. The golden elixir pours crystal clear (after I gave it a few hours to settle before drinking).

Smell – Complex aroma of oranges, flowers, alcohol, and some mild mustiness (first signs of oxidation). Seems like it is where a mead should be after four years.

I actually took this the next morning, so it is a bit cloudier than it was when we were drinking it.Taste – Moderate sweetness with a nice balancing tartness from the oranges. I think it ended with a better balance than many of the commercial meads which tend to pour on the sugary sweetness and fresh fruit character without balancing it with anything besides alcohol. There is an slight apparent booziness, but this is a lower alcohol mead (~12.5% ABV) compared to some of the alcohol bombs out there (I'm looking at you Poland).

Mouthfeel – Fuller than the 1.005 finishing gravity might indicate, but still much thinner than a big beer would be. I don't miss the carbonation, which I think would detract from what body there is.


Drinkability & Notes – A tasty mead, but I wish there were more people around to help with a 750.  It hurt to pour half the bottle down the drain the next morning.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Portland Oregon Beer-cation

Early this morning (last night?) Audrey and I got back from a week in Portland Oregon.  The weather was perfect (60s-70s), the people were friendly, and the beer and food were delicious (and cheap).  I failed to take many beer related pictures, but I still wanted to post a few highlights from our travels.

Rogue Bicycle ValetThe best hour of the trip was hanging out with John, Chris, and Beck in the brewery at Raccoon Lodge.  In addition to letting us talk their ears off, they were kind enough to pull samples of Bourbonic Plague (soured and spiced imperial Belgian porter with dates) and Vlad the Imp Aler (soured blend of spiced quad/tripel/dubbel), which won first and second respectively in Wood- or Barrel-Aged Sour Beers category at last year's GABF. We tried several other interesting sour beers (Summer and Winter Goses, and Nightfall a strong pale sour aged on blackberries) including a sample of the first beer with Brett they've made. The rest of their sour beers undergo a clean primary fermentation before they are racked into barrels (which are only rinsed with cold water) and inoculated with a house lactic acid bacteria culture.  Their beers get sick (ropy), so it sounds like there is Pedio at work, but the beers don't have a diacetyl character which is supposed to be the result of using Pedio without Brett.  Hopefully the brewers enjoy(ed) the couple bottles of barrel aged homebrew I left with them.

The best night of the trip was having dinner with Sean White (the homebrew blogger turned brewer for Alameda Brewhouse) and Clarissa.  Before dinner the four of us swung by Upright Brewing's tasting room and got to try some interesting variants of their house beers (Long Pepper Six, Dry Hopped Five etc..).  Upright has been around for a bit more than a year and uses one of my favorite strains (Wyeast 3711 French Saison) as their house yeast.  Alex, the brewer, mentioned that he had just brewed a beer with some redwood smoked malt. Back at Sean and Clarissa's we tried a couple great homebrews including a gruit spiced wedding ale, an aged dark saison, and a smoked imperial stout (plus some surprisingly delicious home-infused beet vodka).  Just as good were the grilled salmon, and local corn/fennel/beets they made for dinner. 

Pacific City Haystack Rock - 1 mile out
The best day was Thursday when we rented a car and drove out to the coast to stay right by Pelican Pub & Brewery (their Tsunami Stout inspired an ill-fated batch I brewed a couple years back).  When we mentioned we were headed there for dinner the owner of the B&B he suggested we stop by Twist Wine Company on the way.  Despite the name Twist has plenty of interesting beers on tap and in bottles, especially from Russian River since it is owned by Vinnie Cilurzo's sister (Chenin) and her husband.  After splitting a bottle of Temptation Audrey and I continued down the beach past the massive haystack rock and on to Pelican (the best of the bunch were a slightly funky syrah barrel aged Belgian called Cuvee de Phillipe and the Tsunami).

In general the beer we tried was well made and the prices were terrific compared to the east coast (Boston/New York/DC anyway).  For example we went to Concordia Ale House for the tail end of the Concordia Cup which features13 Oregon made double IPAs for less than $5 a pint (with smaller pours available as well).  In DC I'm lucky to get a 10 oz pour of a mediocre DIPA for $7.  Even Lauro Kitchen, the nice Mediterranean restaurant we went for dinner had three local beers on tap for $5 a pint (the Ling cod with panchetta, baby artichoke, and peas was excellent as well).  It was wonderful to spend time in a city that is so saturated in good beer that was new to me (although I was a bit burnt out on hops by the end). 

There were plenty of other great places we visited, beers we drank, and people we met, but I wanted to restrict this to the highlights.  Any one else have a favorite town for beer (not that I'm necessarily saying Portland is mine)?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Audrey's Belgian Amber (Brown) Tasting

For her birthday Audrey wanted to brew a slightly strong amber Belgian beer, but it ended up more brown than amber.  Even though the beer has the color/strength/bitterness of a Belgian Dubbel we avoided using dark candi syrup and caramel malt, so it doesn't have the distinct dark fruit character most examples have.  Just about all of the color came from 4 oz of English chocolate malt, so to get a lighter color next time I'll just have to dial it back a little bit.  The closest commercial beer I can compare it to is Ommegang Ommegang, but we didn't use spices or aromatic malt. 

Belgian it is, amber it is not...Audrey's Belgian Amber (Brown)

Appearance – The dark brown color makes it look almost like an English porter. Medium-light tan head with moderate retention (I was expecting better from the flaked barley). Hopefully the flavor is more summery than the appearance.

Smell – Lots of spice (clove, cinnamon, vanilla, and white pepper) in addition to a general yeasty character. There is some non-banana Belgian fruitiness. The malt is subdued, but it is slightly toasty.

Taste – The dark malt is much more prominent in the flavor than it was in the aroma, as is the fruit. The beer isn't quite roasty, but it is almost there, closer to the over-cooked edge of a chocolate muffin/cupcake. In some ways it reminds me of the mix of brown malt and funk I get in my Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone. Not much alcohol character, but I'm drinking it a bit colder than I probably should be.

Mouthfeel – Medium-thin body with prickly carbonation. The body and carbonation really help to add to the overall "Belgian" character.

Drinkability & Notes – Despite the color and moderate-high alcohol, it is dry enough to be drinkable on a cool summer day. I should check in on the Brett B spiked portion to see how it is doing soon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Have you ever brewed a recipe from this blog?

The Mad Fermentationist at work on a Smoked Baltic Porter Recipe
Something inspired by one - 48%
No - 41%
Yes (liked it) - 17%
Yes (not that good) - 0%

I'm glad to see that so many people have brewed a recipe from this blog (especially since everyone who responded Yes reported good results).  If you get a chance, please leave a comment on the recipe post to let me (and other people) know that you enjoyed the results.

I'm just as happy about the large number of people who were inspired by a recipe I posted to brew something of their own.  I know most of my recipes have been influenced by other brewers (both home and craft).  Post a comment and let people know what sparked your recipe, what you brewed, and how it turned out.

Speaking of recipe collaboration, seven other homebrewers and I are working on a project based on Collaborative Evil.  Collaborative Evil was started by Todd Ashman of FiftyFifty, Zac Triemert of Lucky Bucket, and Matt Van Wyk of Flossmoor Station in 2008 with the idea that they each brew a version of the same recipe with their own embellishments.  The eight of us are each brewing strong porters with our own twists, then swapping bottles to taste the results.  I'm thinking of doing a smoked Baltic porter with some flaked rye.  More on the project to come this fall.

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