I think beer is trying too hard to be wine. There is too much hype surrounding high alcohol, expensive, limited release, barrel aged beers with flavor profiles that demand splitting a 12 oz bottle three ways. Of beer is every bit as capable as wine at excelling at that game, but where beer has traditionally dominated wine is the combination of big flavor and high drinkability. I'm not calling for all session ales, but I think there is a lot to be said for a beer that I can drink a pint of while I'm cooking dinner and not burn the French toast.
The only way to get a low alcohol wine is to water the grape juice down, but beer recipes can be adjusted to compensate for a more meager alcohol content. If you want an IPA with half of the standard alcohol content it is not as simple as cutting in half each malt and hop addition. I brewed a ~2% ABV Micro-IPA from the second runnings of a hoppy wheat beer a few months ago, and while it had the aromatic hop character I wanted it was severely lacking in malt backbone. Reducing the amount of malt can also result in a thin body, and the lower sweetness can lead to an unbalanced flavor. A few ideas to combat those pitfalls:
Boosting Perceived Body:
1. Add more crystal/dextrin malt, which will add sweetness and mouthfeel.
2. Add unmalted grains (especially oats and rye) for their beta-glucans, which add body without sweetness, but can also contribute haze.
3. Raise the saccharification rest temperature, a good choice to avoid the sweetness of crystal malts.
4. Use a less attenuative yeast strain, English strains are especially well suited.
5. Use a strain that produce a high amount of glycerin/glycerol, saison strains tend to excel at this.
6. Lower carbonation, I find high carbonation makes light beers taste seltzer-like (although higher carbonation can help excessively thin beers, like gueuze).
Enhancing Malt Flavor:
1. Use a more flavorful base malt like Maris Otter, Vienna, Munich, or dark wheat.
2. Raise the percentage of specialty malts, especially toasty malts like Victory, biscuit, and melanoidin.
3. Eliminate adjuncts like corn/table sugar, and corn which dilute malt flavor.
4. Conduct a no-sparge mash to increase color/flavor, and minimize tannin extraction.
1. For a hoppy beer reduce the IBUs proportionally to the expected residual extract (I think this is a better way to think about balance than the classic BU:GU ratio).
2. Do not trim late boil additions as much to maintain a solid hop aroma.
3. For dark beers consider increasing the percentage, but cold steeping your roasted grains to reduce harshness.
4. Use a more expressive yeast because the lower gravity will result in a cleaner fermentation profile.
5. Account for serving the beer fresher than you would a strong beer (e.g., use a highly flocculent yeast).
These are certainly not all things that should be done concurrently for one batch of session beer, but it is a good idea to pick the ones that make sense for the type of beer you are brewing. For this batch I switched out most of the bland American pale I would usually use in an IPA for toastier Vienna malt. I also opted for a hotter mash and no-sparged to boost the body and malt flavor. I selected a low attenuating English yeast to replace the default Chico strain, to add both body and additional flavor.
For hopping I went with one of my favorite combinations - Amarillo/Simcoe/Columbus (which I last used in my favorite IPA recipe); I love the bit of extra dankness that Columbus adds to the otherwise fruity duo. I used only late "hop bursting" additions to help increase the hop aroma without overdoing the bitterness. I also tried a new technique called "hop standing" which means waiting for 30 minutes or longer after the flame-out hops are added before chilling. This technique was proposed by Ray Daniels, as a way to better replicate the whirlpool additions that breweries use, which often sits in the hot wort for a substantial amount of time before chilling. This goes against the homebrew mantra (Jamil's article on late hopping) to cool as quickly as possible after adding the final dose of hope, so to cover all of my bases I added a second dose of hops as I started the chiller.
Session Vienna "IPA"
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.00
Anticipated OG: 1.038
Anticipated SRM: 5.6
Anticipated IBU: 37.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 54 %
Wort Boil Time: 60 Minutes
72.5% - 7.25 lbs. German Vienna Malt
22.5% - 2.25 lbs. American Pale Malt
5.0% - 0.50 lbs. CaraVienna
0.50 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 15 min.
0.25 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 15 min.
0.75 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ 10 min.
0.75 oz. Simcoe Pellet (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 5 min.
1.50 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.50 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.50 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.25 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 11.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.25 oz. Columbus (Whole, 11.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.25 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
0.50 Unit Whirlfloc @ 12 min.
0.40 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 12 min.
White Labs WLP037 Yorkshire Square Ale
Profile: Washington DC cut 50% with distilled, plus 2 g CaCl and 1 g gypsum
Sacch Rest 40 min @ 153
1/10/12 Starter made with .75 L, first time using the stir plate.
Cut with 50% gallons of distilled water to lower carbonate. Added 2 g of CaCl to the mash since I was short on gypsum.
Valley Malting Pale.
No Sparge, filled up the 5 gallon mash tun to the brim. Collected 3.5 gallons of first runnings @ 1.060. Diluted with 3.25 gallons of the diluted DC Tap water and 1 g of gypsum.
Added 1 oz of each hop and let sit for 25 min, then chilled with the addition of an additional .5 oz of each.
Chilled to 68 F, strained, and pitched the slightly decanted starter (finished quickly and flocc'd hard). Left at 64 F ambient to ferment
Good fermentation by 12 hours. Gave periodic twists to help with the high flocculating yeast.
1/20/12 Racked to a double purged keg with the bagged dry hops. Pretty full fill on the keg. Hit with ~30 PSI and shook twice to get a jump on the carbonation. Left in the basement at ~45 F to dry hop and drop clear. Down to 1.010, tasted a bit more bitter than I expected, but cold and time should help that.
2/16/12 Couldn't be happier with the way this one turned out. Similar balance to a West Coast IPA, but at half the alcohol.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Sunday, January 29, 2012
This post marks the first in a series of tasting of the beers I (with the help of a couple friends) spent a day bottling a couple months ago, four base beers and four blends. When I brewed this sour amber ale I was hoping it would answer a couple questions I had. First, I wanted to see how well the Jolly Pumpkin souring method would transfer to homebrewing - a relatively cool saccharification rest (149 F in this case), short aging (still less than a year old), and the wild Michigan microbes harvested from a few of their beers. Second, I wanted to see what sort of flavors a couple pounds of buckwheat would contribute, both the grain itself and any esters the Brett was able to produce from its fatty acids.
My three-year-old Cannon digital camera died (camera lens failure...) about 30 seconds after snapping the pictures for this tasting. As a result, this tasting series will be on hiatus for the next couple weeks until I have the chance to research and buy a new camera.
Buckwheat Sour Amber Ale
Appearance – Clear leathery brown body with a thick slightly off-white head suspended on top. The head recedes over a couple minutes leaving a nice sheet of lacing along the sides of the wine glass.
Smell – The nose is a mix of toasty, almost roasty, malt and Brett aromatics. The Brett leans more towards fruity than funky and gives that really distinct Jolly Pumpkin aroma to the beer. There is some tobacco and loam aromas as well, surprised at the range of aromas in such a young sour beer.
Taste – The sourness is slightly puckering, bright and lemony. The finish is crisp and clean, surprisingly subdued compared to the aroma. It has a surprising amount in common with several of the darker Jolly Pumpkin beers, especially Fuego del Otono. There is some toasty oak character as a secondary flavor. Could certainly use another six months in the bottle for the flavor to catchup with the aroma.
Mouthfeel – Smooth mouthfeel, although it seems like most of the boost from the buckwheat is gone. Not overly dry or tannic. Solid carbonation, but not too much for a dark beer.
Drinkability & Notes – Solid balance, one of those sour beers that I can really drink in quantity. In terms of what I set out to do, it is a successful demonstration of techniques from Jolly Pumpkin, but sadly I don't get much of the tropical character I was hoping for from the buckwheat.
Monday, January 23, 2012
It is hard not to get embedded in a rut when you really get into brewing sour beers. The investments of time and effort are so big that it discourages major risk taking (just take a look at all of the lambic brewers who essentially brew only one beer!). While I'm confident enough to adjust the grain bill, or add interesting new ingredients, my basic method hasn't changed much since I stared to be happy with the results a few years ago. As I hinted at in my Great Souring Experiment post, I’d like to try mimicking the methods that several respected craft breweries are using. I doubt all of these batches will be as good as my default, but maybe I will find a way to make sour beers that is faster, more reliable, or produces a unique flavor.
I started the mash for my inspired by batch at 159 F and allowed it to convert before adding the acid malt. Ithaca does not wait to add the acid malt, but I was a bit worried about getting really terrible starch to sugar conversion. I initially added 1.5 lbs of the tangy sourdough-flavored acid malt from Weyermann. When this didn’t result in a pH as low as I expected I added another 1.5 lbs. Now at 20% acid malt, the mash made it down to a pH of 4.5. As pH is a logarithmic scale, the final pH of Brute ~3.7 would require more than six times as much acid to reach. On their website Weyermann suggests 8% acid malt to sour a quick Berliner weisse, but I don't see how this would work when 20% in this beer gave no noticeable acidity.
I'm interested to see how far the Brett will be able to lower the pH on its own, it is also possible that Brute had other microbes, which had not been pitched, at work in the dedicated tank. Jeff has also said that he felt that seasonal temperature swings were a big part of what made Brute work, so I'll be letting this batch sit outside of my temperature controlled basement "fermentation" room next summer... maybe.
I failed to take many pictures during the brew day, but the American University journalism project were around throughout the day snapping photos of ever step of the process.
Acid Malt Soured Saison
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.00
Anticipated OG: 1.069
Anticipated SRM: 4.1
Anticipated IBU: 10.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
66.7% - 10.00 lbs. German Pilsener
20.0% - 3.00 lbs. Weyermann Sauer(acid) Malt
13.3% - 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
0.50 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ 60 min.
WYeast 3726 Farmhouse Ale
Profile: Washington DC
Sacch Rest 45 min @ 159 F
Acid Malt Sacch 30 min @ 159 F
Brewed 12/04/11 with my neighbor Josh and the American University journalism crew
Mashed 45 minutes before adding the 1.5 lbs of Weyermann acid malt, waited 15 minutes, and pH was still at 5.5, added 1.5 lbs more which took it down to 4.5. Not quite as sour as I wanted, but it should be interesting.
Double batch sparge. Ended up with a bit more gravity than I wanted. Pitched yeast cake from one carboy of the first refill of the apple brandy solera. Shook to aerate.
Fermentation was going strong after 12 hours at 64 ambient. After 24 hours total I added 1 gallon of distilled water to lower the gravity.
After 48 hours placed it in a pot on the radiator to get it up to ~82 F.
12/10/11 Racked to secondary, down to 1.015. Not much acidity, I may have to pitch more microbes that I was intending.
1/13/12 Added ECY Brett Blend #1 via dregs from my Brett'd Rye Saison.
10/29/12 Bottled 2.25 gallons with 2.5 oz of table sugar. Racked the rest onto ~4 lbs of frozen/thawed white nectarines.
1/24/13 Bottled the 2.5 gallons on fruit with 2 1/8 oz of table sugar. Great fresh nectarine aromatics.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Rye is a weird grain. It has a flavor that some people call "spicy" but I've never thought it made a beer taste like it had been spiced (unless you also add caraway, like our Kvass). To me rye malt adds more of a rustic earthy grain flavor that is hard to articulate. On previous batches I'd stuck between 15-25% (in Denny's RIPA, and Brett'd Saison), but brewing with my friend Scott we went all the way up to 45% in our Cherry Wood Smoked Roggenbier. Brewing a collaborative recipe is a good way to try something out of your comfort zone, something you would not brew if the choice was entirely up to you. Sometimes it yields a beer you love (as it has on several previous batches with Scott), while other times it gives you a data point for future experiments.
Appearance – Ruddy brown, with the rye adding a thick almost muddy haze despite several weeks of cold conditioning. Head pours a finger thick, but deflates rather quickly. Looks similar to a dunkle, but I would like it to be a bit lighter on the haze.
Smell – Some ctrusy hops, sweet cigarette smoke, sulfury yeast. Nice complex aroma, the smoke is lighter and melds better with the yeast and hops than other smoked malts I have used. It is a nice level of smoke for complexity, but some people might want more.
Taste – Firm bitterness, lingering smoke, maltiness, a bit muddled. The rye adds an indistinct earthy malt character that gets in the way of the other flavors. I think I would back down on the rye to 25% if I brewed it again (swapping in some wheat malt probably).
Mouthfeel – Creamier and almost syrupy compared to what I expect in a beer like this (the rye's beta glucans are to credit/blame). Solid carbonation, I'm sure purists would want it spritzy, but in a higher bitterness example like this I think too much carbonation would be grating.
Drinkability & Notes – Solid beer, but it just doesn't have the balance I want. Baking down on the rye, and upping the smoke slightly would be the way to go if I brewed it again. One of the problems with home-smoked malt is that inconsistency compared to commercially smoked versions, but the soft cherry wood smoke was the right choice by Scott for this beer.
As a side-note, this is my 500th post... yikes.
Monday, January 16, 2012
There are a handful of American cities that are regarded as hubs for good beer: I'd put Portland, San Diego, and Philadelphia all in that first tier. These days there are plenty of other places that have a few cool breweries, or a bunch of good bars, but there are still a lot of cities that are not known for their beer scene at all. New Orleans was one of those cities in my mind, sure they have Abita (brewers of a number of most mediocre beers) nearby, but I think of it as a town whose drinking scene is centered around college students slamming florescent colored hurricanes and hand grenades. I was expecting great food, so if I wasn't able to get a decent beer I'd survive (see our trip to Spain).
Before Audrey and I flew down for the extra-long weekend over New Years, I did a bit of research. There were a few more places than I expected in the BeerAdvocate database, and got some good suggestions from replies on Facebook and Twitter. However it is always hard to tell just how good places are when there isn't a huge amount of competition.
We stayed near the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street at a small-cool-eclectic-odd bed and breakfast. The first day we walked around to get a feel for the neighborhood. The next day we took the St. Charles St. streetcar through the Garden District to Casamento's (delicious oyster loaf and stew, but painfully inattentive service).
After lunch we walked to NOLA Brewing, a smallish production brewery that opened a few years ago. We arrived in time for the weekly Friday tour. It turned out the tour consisted of drinking free beer and standing around the brewery. We only stuck around long enough to try one beer each before the line stretched out the door and around the corner, and we decided to move on. However, over our six days in town I got to try most of their beers with the Irish Channel Stout (more bitter and roasted than expected) being the winner.
From NOLA we headed to what I had been told was the best bottle shop in town, Stein's Market and Deli. Not a big place, but it was funny to see Cantillon and Fantôme in abundance, breweries that have become rare on the East Coast (and at prices I don't remember seeing in a couple years - $12.50 for Fantôme Saison?!). Other then a few local beers, they didn't carry much I can't find in DC besides a few Southern breweries like Sweetwater, St. Arnold, and Lazy Magnolia. Before we left we also grabbed a couple knishes and a pickle to snack on as we continued our walk.
In general I was impressed that most places we went into had at least a couple local beers from places like Bayou Teche, Tin Roof, NOLA, and Abita. In particular we enjoyed d.b.a (live music and 30 taps), Green Goddess (brûléed, apple stuffed, French toast, and a smoked beer from Bayou Teche), Boucherie (best corned beef sandwich of my life, and a glass of Du Ciel Route Des Épices), and Cochon (braised pork cheeks, house cured meats and a Tin Roof Voodoo Bengal S.P.A). I think the single best thing we had to eat on the trip were the barbecued shrimp at Mr. B's Bistro, particularly the sauce which tasted like reduced shrimp stock, butter, and spices (the Abita Winter I had with it was the best beer I've had from them). I can't remember a single bad thing we ate on the entire trip, even the beignets at Cafe du Monde were excellent despite it being a tourist trap.
Old New Orleans Rum distillery for a tour (luckily the $10 includes both a tour-guide and samples). The tour started out with a cocktail (a not-too-sweet tea with Cajun spiced rum), and then proceeded into the history of the distillery (founded in 1995) and of rum production in general. The molasses is mixed with water and then open-fermented in a large vat by a few pounds of yeast (the taste of the wash was a bit sour, but otherwise inoffensive - sanitation isn't that important when you are going to distill). Once fermentation is complete the distillation begins in a pot still and then proceeds to a column still (repossessed from a French perfume maker). The bulk of their rum is sold unaged, but some is aged in used bourbon barrels for three years (some of the barrels are subsequently sold to a brewery that uses them to age their smoked porter). At the end of the tour we got small samples of all four of their products (including the 10 year aged version, barrels of which survived hurricane Katrina up in the rafters, above the eight feet of flooding they experienced - see the color change in the wood above the fan?).
El Gato Negro for some fresh squeezed margaritas, which were excellent (I went with the pineapple-cilantro, Audrey had the satsuma). We talked about the beer scene and the local culture in general and swapped a couple homebrews. Sadly, I haven't had a chance to open either of the beers he gave me yet since I have been fighting off a cold for the last week. For the flight back I grabbed a muffaletta sandwich at Central Grocery (we'd tried to go around lunch on a previous day, but baulked at the line). Best dinner on a plane I've ever had.
Good beer, great food, fun trip. Not sure where we'll be headed next, but I need a trip to Belgium at some point (maybe a reward once the book is finally done...).
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Apollo - 4%
Calypso - 3%
El Dorado - 3%
Bravo - 2%
Legacy - 1%
Comet - 0% (3 votes)
Serebrianka - 0% (3 votes)
Sonnet Golding - 0% (1 vote)
Not a big surprise that Citra won by a landslide given it's the easiest to buy (and the most commonly used in commercial beers), but it was nice to see every hop get at least one vote. I’ve used Citra in a handful of beers and have been really pleased with the big bright orangy flavor it contributes. I am planning to dry hop the sour tripel (which never soured much) with a few ounces of it before bottling to give it some additional aromatic character.
I have not had a chance to brew with any of the other newly released varieties, but on an impulse I included one pound of Comet in an order I placed from Hopsdirect a couple months ago. My plan is to brew a beer with them to judge their contribution, and give away the rest if their flavor isn’t for me (not much of a loss for $9). I always like to use a hop by itself the first time to get a true sense of their bitterness/aroma, before trying to pair it with other varieties in subsequent batches.
In general it is great to see new varieties coming to market, especially ones that were selected for their interesting flavor rather than stratospheric alpha acid percentage (James Spencer had a great article in the October issue of BYO Magazine on the current wave of Aroma Hop Breeding). Just trying a new ingredient is part of what gets me excited about homebrewing, finding a new unique flavor, something that will surprise people is always a worthwhile goal for a batch. It will be interesting to see which varieties prove popular enough to continue being grown, and which fail to sell. I’m also wondering if any of the new varieties will reduce demand enough to kill production of any of the old standby varieties that are no longer seen as “exciting” to brew with.
If you have tried and enjoyed one of the less popular hops on the list, then please post a comment and let the rest of us know what the flavor was like, what sort of beer it would work in, and what other hops it might match well with.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
After previously using raisins, dates, and figs we decided that currants were the next logical choice. Dried currants have a flavor similar to raisins, but it is slightly more acidic with winey complexities. While there are "cassis" lambics flavored with fresh (or juiced) currants, I think the best example of their use is dried in Russian River's Consecration. Recently I went to a tasting at a friend's house where we opened five bottlings, and while each one was interesting in its own way the 001 had the perfect balance of acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon, tobacco, and dark fruit (too bad it was my last bottle).
For the malt bill of this year's dark saison we used a base of Vienna to give it more bready/toasty flavors than previous batches. Rather than getting all of the dark color from dehusked roasted malts in the mash, I made a cold extraction with roasted barley first processed in coffee grinder. I mixed a half pound with 20 ounces of water, although I probably would use a quart the next time. After sitting overnight at room temperature I strained it through a tea strainer (my initial attempt with a paper coffee filter quickly became clogged). We added the resulting 10 ounces of syrupy jet-black extract to the kettle at the start of the boil.
Fermentation was a mix of saison strains and Bretts. This was my first time using White Labs WLP670 American Farmhouse which includes a mutated version of Brett bruxellensis from The Lost Abbey. I missed the initial release last summer, but Brandon (who writes the excellent sour beer blog Embrace the Funk) was kind enough to send me a slurry he had saved (the strain will be available again as a year round release for 2012). Alex and I also pitched Wyeast Brett bruxellensis and Farmhouse Ale to complete the fermentation team. For once we did not add bacteria, so while this beer will be funky it will not have the sourness that the previous batches did.
For the first three dark saisons in this series we pureed the dried fruit and added it to the end of the boil, but this time Alex and I decided to wait until secondary to preserve more of its flavor. As these currants were coated in oil (from the feel of them) I gave them a quick rinse in Star-San followed by filtered water to remove the head destroying lipids.
For oak a fellow homebrewer (Tom, who also hooked me up with a bottle of Surly Five) sent me a few slices of an oak stave that had been in a red wine for some time. Even the smallest one, at 1.75 oz, was a bit more than I usually add, but since it had already had a good deal of its character extracted and had relatively low surface area I decided to risk over-oaking. I am also planning on adding some citrus zest when the beer is closer to bottling, but that will depend on the flavor.
We are starting to run out of dried fruits to use in dark saisons, so if anyone has a suggestion please post a comment. I think maybe even prunes would be a good choice...?
Dark Saison IV
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 25.00
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated SRM: 29.3
Anticipated IBU: 22.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 77 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes
92.0% 23.00 lbs. Vienna Malt
2.0% 0.50 lbs. American Chocolate Malt
2.0% 0.50 lbs. Carafa Special II
2.0% 0.50 lbs. Special B Malt
2.0% 0.50 lbs. Roasted Barley
0.75 oz. Warrior (Pellet, 16.00% AA) @ 75 min.
WYeast 3726 Farmhouse Ale
White Labs 670 American Farmhouse
Wyeast 5112 Brettanomyces bruxellensis
Profile: Washington DC
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 159 F
Brewed 12/17/11 with Alex.
Used spring water for the mash and sparge.
One week earlier had made a cold extraction with the roasted barley and one pint of water. Filtered after 18 hours at room temperature, rinsed with a few more ounces, and saved in the fridge. Added to the start of the boil.
Chilled to 70 F. Aerated with ~45 seconds of pure O2. Pitched my five gallons with 375 ml of loose slurry from the acid malt saison, 75 ml of dense slurry from WLP670 American Farmhouse, and half a package of Wyeast Brett B.
Good fermentation by the next morning at 64 F ambient in a large bucket fermentor. Never produced much krausen. Left the lid on lightly to mimic the low pressure of open fermentation.
12/27/11 Racked to secondary with 27 oz of dried currants (first rinsed with Star-San and then filtered water) and a long chunk of oak from a wine stave (1.75 oz).
2/7/12 Already had enough oak character (tannins especially), racked off of currants and oak stave. It would have been nice to let the currants ferment longer, but at 6 weeks they should have given up most of their flavor.
7/21/12 Bottled with 3.25 oz of table sugar and 1 g of Primere Cuvee yeast rehydated.
2/6/13 Tasting notes, nice contribution from the currants and oak. The cold steeping worked to prevent an acrid flavor.