Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blackberry-Mulberry Sour Ale Tastng

Tonight seemed like a good one for the final of the four tasting from the first pull of our apple brandy barrel aged solera (previous tastings: plain - hops - spice). For this version Nathan and I aged five gallons of the sour beer on lots of blackberries, and a little mulberry. Back in late-2010 before we had a chance to fill it, the barrel spent a month empty (other than a gallon of beer at the bottom...) and as a result has a relatively sizable resident population of airborne oxygen-loving Acetobacter. The result is that all the beers from the first pull are sharply sour, although luckily within a range I still enjoy drinking them.

A glass of Blackberry-Mulberry sour beer.Apple Brandy Solera - Fruit

Appearance – Brilliantly clear, ruby-magenta-purple body. Very pretty looking contribution from the fruit. The head is thin and white, with poor retention.

Smell –The nose has lots of blackberry, jammy, with a noticeable acetic component. Luckily it has not ventured into the ethyl acetate, nail polish remover, side of things. It is a bright/sharp nose without earthy balance.

Taste – The flavor isn’t as sharp as the nose suggested, juicy berries, firm acidity, and a hint of sweetness. There is a tickle of acetic acid on the back of the throat, but no more than most Flemish reds. There isn’t much contribution from the Brett (East Coast Yeast Bugfarm IV), the fruit and acid dominate. Not sure if it is the barrel, or the combination of flavors, but there is an apple-cidery note as well.

Mouthfeel – Bright, snappy but not thin or watery. The body does a good job supporting the bold flavors. The carbonation is moderate, about right.

Drinkability & Notes – I’ll call this a fine sour-fruit beer, but not my best effort. The acetic is higher than I’d prefer (a valuable if painful lesson), and that keeps it from being a really terrific beer. Drinkable to a point, but it doesn’t have a flavor that calls for me to refill my glass.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Funky Old Ale - Last Bottle

On Saturday, my friend Drew had invited me and a few friends to an autobiographical beer tasting. His concept was for everyone to bring a couple bottles that represented their personal beer history. I brought Ommegang Hennepin, one of the first really interesting beers I sampled, thanks to my friend Jason. It was as good as ever, especially compared to a light-struck bottle of Saison Dupont. My second beer was Flanders Fred, a collaboratively brewed version of Hair of the Dog’s barleywine Fred, brewed at De Proef, that was then blended with Flemish Lambic (Gueuze Fond Tradition?). I’d never had it before, but Alan Sprints' high gravity creations at Hair of the Dog were big influences early on (my Adam clone), as was Dirk Naudts at De Proef with his weird and interesting Flemish Primitives series. Sadly their collaboration was underwhelming, without the complexity of either of the base beers.

My final pour of my 78 month-old Old Ale.Finally, I brought the last bottle of one my of the first funky/sour beers. Brewed way back in 2006, an old ale finished with Brett C. I was sad to say goodbye to an old friend, but happy I could send it out in style.

Funky Old Ale - 2006

Appearance – Pours into my sample glass with a thin tan head that dissipates quickly. The leathery brown body is nearly clear, despite a delay-filled subway ride to the tasting.

Smell – Apple skins and sherry lead. There is oxidation, but it is mostly positive, no wet paper or cardboard. Like the color, leather is a prominent character in the aroma as well. Brett is a terrific oxygen-scavenger, and a big reason this beer still smells as good as it does.

Taste – Dry, dusty, farmyard-Brett character. Some dark/dried fruitiness, vinous. There is a hint of toasty oak, but it has mellowed considerably. It is too dry for what old ale is expected to be these days, but I don’t think it is too dry to be enjoyable. I’d love to try the oak aged portion (5X) of Strong Suffolk to see how they compare.

Mouthfeel – The body is the only place where this beer really lacks. It has smoothed over the years, although it is still slightly tannic, but drinking it you understand why blending well-aged stock ales (like this one) with younger, sweeter beers was so popular a couple hundred years ago. The carbonation is slightly high, but it always has been.

Two De Dolle Reservas, side-by-side. Stille Nacht and Oerbier.Drinkability & Notes – I'm really pleased that this one held up so well. It was pretty popular, even with one of the tasters who doesn’t usually care for funky/sour beers. It could probably have survived a year or two longer, but better to enjoy it now than risk waiting too long. Luckily I’ve got a 10 gallon share of a barleywine aging with Brett lambiucus in a bourbon barrel that should be ready to bottle soon. Nathan recently reported that it has developed a lovely sherry character. Hopefully that one will be doing just as well as this one sometime around 2019.

Some of the other highlights from the tasting: Allagash House Beer, a 4.5%, citrusy-funky Belgian table beer that was all kinds of deliciously sessionable. It was generously provided by Greg, who played host at Pizzeria Paradiso Dupont. I also really enjoyed the bottle of Olde Rabbit’s Foot (23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrel aged blended Imperial Stout) from Olde Hickory, Foothills, and Duck Rabbit, that Drew had waited in line to buy. It was also fun to try a five-year-old bottle of Orval next to a relatively fresh one, brought by two people who’d both been inspired by the classic Brett-finished beer.

To cap the afternoon we bought a 750 of De Dolle Stille Nacht Reserva 2010 to split. The original 2000 version was one of those beers I always wanted to try and never got to, this one was worth the wait. Apple, caramel, damp basement oak, fruity funk. I still prefer Oerbier Reserva for its greater malt complexity (Nathan brought a bottle of the 2008), but I wouldn’t turn it down if I have the chance to try it again!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Oatmeal Coffee Stout #3 - Bigger and Bolder

Boiling stout wort, one of the best smells there is.There is something special about stouts. I’m not sure if it’s the color, or the flavor. One of the defining moments during my early beer-drinking "career" was a trip to Ireland over my 21st birthday to visit my friend Sarah, who was studying abroad. We went to the old Guinness brewery (St. James Gate) and had some fantastically fresh Guinness on tap in their Storehouse tasting room. Up until that point I’d never really had many beers that I actually had much interest in.

Despite the fact that so many people think stout is a “meal in a glass” they are actually often lighter in alcohol and residual sugar than other styles (it is the nitrogen containing beer-gas Guinness is served with that adds fullness, while dampening the aroma). However, a glass of a really strong imperial stouts can be the caloric equivalent of a Big Mac. Jacob and I wanted this stout to have some of the heft of a strong stout, without being boozy. Previous iterations had been solid, but almost refreshing in an iced-coffee sort of way. Our goal for this third batch was to raise the starting (more malt) and final gravities (higher mash temperature) to create a fuller and creamier mouthfeel.

Stir-plate starter of WY1056, right after pitching the Wyeast smack-pack.For many beer recipes, ingredient freshness isn’t a major concern. Hops and barley keep well as long as they are stored properly. Flaked oats have a tendency to oxidize and go rancid relatively quickly as a result of their high surface area and unsaturated oil content. I always buy a fresh box/bag to open when I’m brewing an oatmeal stout.

The freshness of coffee beans is paramount to their aromatic punch as well. It isn’t when the green beans were harvested that is important, it’s how recently they were roasted. We’re backing down the amount slightly from previous batches (from 2 oz down to 1.75 oz) and upping the roasted barley and chocolate malt to achieve a better balance between the roasted flavors. When the recipe is dialed in, and we are able to brew a bigger batch on the brewery’s pilot system, we’ll split it to experiment with different origins, roasts, roasters, and amounts to determine the perfect match for the base beer. Until then I'll keep using the Mocha-Java blend from Whole Foods.

For this batch we are also changed from an English yeast (WY1968) to American (WY1056), to get it in line with most of the other core Modern Times beers (can designs were recently released). We also switched the base malt from Maris Otter to American pale. I doubt either change will result in a noticeable effect given the flavor contribution from the specialty malts and coffee.

A bowl of oatmeal made with second runnings of an oatmeal stout in place of the water.I find mash pH control/adjustments to be especially important when brewing black beers. The roasted grains/malts lower the pH, resulting in what I perceive as a sharp-acrid character when not balanced by enough (bi)carbonate in the water. This is the second beer (after the third batch of Amber IPA) that was brewed with water I based on San Diego’s municipal profile (with additional carbonate in the form of chalk). This means a higher level of sodium than I had used for previous batches, but not as high as I have used for some dark beers (Scandinavian Imperial Porter) with delicious results!

As a brew-morning breakfast-experiment I took a cup of ~1.040 second runnings and used them to make a bowl of oatmeal. The roasted bitterness carried through, but it was nicely balanced by a sprinkling of brown sugar. 

Black House #3

Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 14.88
Anticipated OG: 1.066
Anticipated SRM: 45.2
Anticipated IBU: 41.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain
------
63.9% - 9.50 lbs. American Pale Ale Malt
13.4% - 2.00 lbs. Quick Oats
8.4% - 1.25 lbs. Briess Roasted Barley (~300 L)
6.7% - 1.00 lbs. Briess Chocolate Malt
5.0% - 0.75 lbs. CaraMunich II
2.5% -  0.38 lbs. Crystal 90L

Hops
------
5 ml HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.

Extras
-------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
1.75 oz Coffee Beans for 1 day

Yeast
------
WYeast 1056 American Ale

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: San Diego, Dark

Calcium(Ca): 104.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 15.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 64.0 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 102.0 ppm
Chloride(Cl): 76.0 ppm
biCarbonate(HCO3): 280.0 ppm

Mash Schedule
---------------
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 158 F

Notes
------
Brewed 1/12/13

Very similar to Batch #2, but converted to be closer to what we can brew on a commercial scale.

Made a 1.2 L starter the night before brewing.

Whole Foods Quick Oats. Breiss Pale Ale Malt, Chocolate, and ~300 L roasted barley.

Water treated to mimic Average San Diego with .5 g per gallon of chalk. Initially, but the mash pH was around 5.0 (at room temperature), so I increased the amount of chalk and baking soda above my original planned amounts.

DC Water with (per gallon):
.3 g gypsum
.05 g Epsom
.2 g salt
.4 g baking soda
.2 g CaCl
.3 g Chalk

Collected 7 gallons of 1.053 runnings with a batch sparge. Sparge water was treated the same as the mash water.

Chilled the 5.5 gallons of wort to 64 F, gave 60 seconds of pure oxygen (with my newly cleaned stone) and then pitched the entire starter. Left at 64 F to start fermenting.

Moved to 59 F ambient after 8 hours (onset of CO2 production).

1/20/13 Moved next to the radiator, to heat it up and ensure complete fermentation.

1/22/13 Down to 1.025 (62% ), fermentation appears finished. Nose has an interesting warming aromatic. I called it hazelnut, Audrey though cinnamon.

1/27/13 Added the Allegro Mocha-Java blend coarsely-crushed coffee beans in a mesh/weighted bag at 11 PM.

2/21/13 Turned out fine. No issues from the water profile, but it lost some complexity in the switch of base malt and yeast.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dank Amber IPA #3 - San Diego Water

Participating in the recipe development process for Modern Times Beer has been a really interesting experience, and luckily I think Jacob and I are getting pretty good at it! Not to say that early batches weren’t tasty, but I think we are now honing in on beers that are not only delicious, but also more likely to translate well into commercial production.

Initially the goal was to brew our ideal beers, with no limitation on ingredients, process, equipment etc. Soon enough though we started to consider what sorts of requirements/restrictions our four year round beers would have when it came to production:

1. Two yeasts (total)
2. One base malt (ideally)
3. Hops we can get (or don't need) contracts for
4. No processes we won’t have equipment for (house-toasted oats, decoction mash etc.)
5. San Diego water (based)

Me, running the mill, grinding malt.That isn’t to say the restrictions on the first three won’t be lifted for seasonal and special releases, but each will require more effort and/or higher cost. For example if we choose to use a base malt other than what we have in the silo, we'll need to haul about 40 sacks of malt by hand. With yeast, there is a sweet spot for how often it is repitched (enough to maintain high viability), too many strains in house and we won't be able to use them frequently enough.

This Amber IPA, was partially inspired by Tröegs Nugget Nectar and as a result was based on Vienna malt, which added a nice background toastiness. However, in a beer so hop-forward, the switch to American pale bolstered by a moderate amount of Munich malt will serve equally well (I hope). I also eliminated the small amount of crystal 120 as I didn’t think it was adding anything beneficial. If the malt bill on this recipe doesn’t get us the flavor we want, we’ll keep tweaking until we find a combination of malts that does.

The only other major change to the recipe was the switch from Columbus to Palisade hops for post-boil and dry hopping. The rest of the hop bill, Nelson Sauvin and Simcoe, remained the same. We’re looking for the right earthier/danker hop profile that Columbus (surprisingly) failed to deliver. Columbus is now included in the bittering addition along with hop extract, a combination that has given us good results in other hoppy beers.

Up until now, I’ve been adjusting the water for these test batches based on the assumption that we’d have a reverse osmosis (RO) unit at the brewery to strip most of the minerals out of the San Diego water. This was one of the many items that Jacob had to make a tough decision on, cutting it from the initial budget. However, there are so many great hoppy beers brewed in San Diego that I’m really not worried! If we were planning on brewing an authentic Czech Pils, I'd be more wary.

The ingredients and equipment for water adjustment.For this batch I started with the yearly average San Diego water profile. From there I “added” gypsum and calcium chloride to boost the amount of calcium, sulfate, and chloride to my preferred levels for hoppy beers. This gave me a profile to target that included higher amounts of two minerals (sodium and magnesium) than I would normally add to a hoppy beer. However, since these are the minerals we’ll have in the baseline water profile at the brewery we need to know how they impact the flavor of our beer.

My next task was to transform my local water (Washington, DC) into a reasonable facsimile of that “San Diego, Hoppy” water profile I'd created. To do this I cut my filtered tap water with 35% distilled water to dilute the bicarbonate to the same level as San Diego’s. This is not as much as I would usually dilute for a hoppy beer (50% is my standard), but in an amber beer the higher bicarbonate shouldn’t push the mash pH too high. For paler IPAs, many San Diego area brewers (like Alpine) add a small amount of acid malt to lower the mash pH. So that is something we’ll keep in mind for other recipes.

I added water salts to increase the other minerals to the desired levels. This takes a few minutes to determine because each salt contains two minerals. My process is to start with the mineral I can only get from one salt, magnesium from Epsom salt, and then look at what I still need. In this case I knew I didn’t want to add more bicarbonate (baking soda or chalk), so my only option for sodium was kosher salt. Even with the sulfate added by the Epsom salt, I needed a substantial addition of gypsum to reach my target. This left me slightly short of calcium (despite the gypsum), and chloride (despite the kosher salt), so I added a small dose of calcium chloride. I wasn’t able to hit the profile exactly, but I was within a few PPM (mg/L) on all of the minerals. For additions this precise, a scale capable of .1 g resolution is a requirement.

We’ve had good luck so far when we’ve reached the third iteration of our recipes, so I’m excited to taste how this one turns out!

Blazing World #3

Recipe Specifics
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 14.63
Anticipated OG: 1.065
Anticipated SRM: 13.3
Anticipated IBU: 141.7
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73 %
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
78.6% - 11.50 lbs. American Pale Ale Malt
17.1% - 2.50 lbs. German Munich Malt
2.6% - 0.38 lbs. Crisp Pale Chocolate Malt
1.7% - 0.25 lbs. Table Sugar

Hops
------
1.50 oz. Columbus (Whole, 15.00% AA) @ 90 min.
5 ml HopShot (Extract) @ 90 min.
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ 25 min.
3.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Hop Stand
1.00 oz. Palisade (Whole, 8.30% AA) @ Hop Stand
2.00 oz. Palisade (Whole, 8.30% AA) @ Hop Back
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Hop Back
3.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.50 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Palisade (Whole, 8.30% AA) @ Dry Hop

Extras
-------
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc Fining @ 15 min.

Yeast
------
WYeast 1056 American Ale

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: San Diego, Hoppy

Calcium(Ca): 84.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 15.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 64.0 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 178.0 ppm
Chloride(Cl): 102.0 ppm
biCarbonate(HCO3): 104.0 ppm

Mash Schedule
----------------
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

Notes
-----
Brewed 1/6/13 with Garret and Andrei

Mash - 4 gallons filtered DC, 2 gallons distilled (used about 5 gallons)

Then add (per gallon) .8 g gypsum, .35 g Epsom salt, .45 g table salt, and .1 g of  CaCl. Mash pH 5.3 at room temperature.

Sparge water was treated similarly, although slightly more distilled water to reach my target dilution of 35% overall.

Collected 8 gallons of 1.050 runnings. Had to extend the boil and add a small amount of sugar to hit my target OG.

30 minute hop stand with mostly Nelson since it was pellets. Chilled to 60 F. Oxygenated for 60 seconds. Pitched the decanted 1 L stir-plate starter that I had made 48 hours earlier.

Left at 64 F to ferment. Good activity by the next morning. Moved to 60 F ambient to slow fermentation.

Despite the large bucket, a small amount of krausen came out of the airlock during days two and three.

1/11/13 Raised the temperature to 65 F to ensure fermentation finishes out completely.

1/18/13 Dry hopped, loose in primary. Shook 5-6 times a day for the first five days, then allowed to sit at 64 F to settle.

1/27/13 Kegged into a twice flushed keg and placed into the kegerator to carbonate. No keg hops this time. FG 1.014.

2/14/13 Tasting results, best of the Blazing World series so far. Really shows off the Nelson, the malt bill also survived the switch from Vienna.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

West Coast IPA Tasting

I’m not much for brewing specifically for monthly homebrew club competitions, but when the timing works out I’m game. This Saturday is the first joint meeting of BURP and DC Homebrewers (the two clubs I belong to), and festivities includes an IPA competition. With an IPA on tap, coincidentally, I couldn’t resist entering. I’d been feeling pretty confident about my chances with this West Coast IPA, but after drinking what my friends Erich (Amarillo/Galaxy) and Andrei (Mosaic) are entering earlier tonight, I’m no longer as sure about my chances (update: my IPA won 2nd place of the 42 entries). The IPA style can have so much range, it’ll all come down to what sort of hop character and balance the judges are looking for.

IPA, delicious and pretty!
West Coast IPA

Appearance – Golden-yellow, almost clear, but with a slight blur. Given how flocculent the yeast (WLP007) is, blame falls squarely on the dry hops. The white head is very sticky, but retention is moderate at best.

Smell – Wow! Huge citrus peel (fresh orange), tropical-mango, with some pine. I’d call it classic, but I don’t think a nose like this was possible until the modern high-oil hops started to be released a decade ago. Saturated, complex hoppiness, with just a hint of malt toastiness. The yeast adds to the generally fruity character without being immediately discernible. Can’t imagine a better IPA nose. I like that this beer has the complex essence of the hops, without the green-grassy “nose in a hop-bag” character of some much sought-after hoppy beers.

Taste – The flavor is coated in hops, lingering into the finish. There is a slight sweetness, hard to say whether it is residual sweetness (1.013), or a trick of the fruity hops and yeast. Lots of citrus zest and dank-pine, not as tropical as the nose. Slight maltiness, but it sits on the sideline. Coating grabby bitterness, without being harsh or rough.

Mouthfeel – Slightly fuller than many IPAs, but considering the substantial flavors, I don’t mind it. Solid carbonation mostly stays out of the way.

Drinkability & Notes – It is remarkable how much better this beer is than the DIPA I brewed a week earlier. The nose leaps out of the glass, and the flavor is dripping with hop oils. One of the best two or three hoppy beers I’ve ever brewed, complex, drinkable, beautiful! We’ll see if the judges agree…

Monday, January 7, 2013

Beer Gun and Counter-Pressure Filler Comparison

Blichmann Beer Gun on the left next to a Fermentap Counter-Pressure Filler.For most of my homebrewing career I’ve relied on just two methods for packaging: bottle conditioning and force carbonation in a keg. Once in awhile I'll naturally condition in the keg, but that is only if I have a beer ready to keg and no open slot in my kegerator to put it. When I had a batch on tap that I wanted to enter into a competition or bring to a homebrew club meeting, I really only had one option, stick the bottle under the tap and deal with some overflow and then cap.

While this most basic bottling option is alright for short term transportation, it has the tendency to allow oxygen from the air to dissolve into the beer, and to knock carbonation out of the beer. In both cases the result is beer in the bottle that will not be as delicious as it was on tap. When Zymurgy posts the winning recipes each year from NHC, it is amazing how many people force carbonate and then bottle from the keg (19 of the 24 winners in 2012). Over the last couple years this has been not just IPAs and light lagers, but also sour beers, imperial stouts, and English ales as well. Of course this is a correlation, and not causation (it could be that brewers who are more serious about brewing for competitions also happen to want the precision of force carbonation).

Luckily there are a number of gadgets available to improve the transfer of carbonated beer from the keg into the bottle. To bottle test batches for samplings at public tastings (sign up for the Modern Times email newsletter), and meetings with investors/distributors, we first opted for the Blichmann Beer Gun, and more recently the Fermentap Counter-Pressure filler. After trying both, I thought I'd write down my thoughts on where each excels, and what to consider if you want to start bottling from the keg.

Ease of use

Pretending to fill the same bottle with the Blichmann Beer Gun.
Blichmann Beer Gun: This filler has a button that flushes the bottle with CO2, and a trigger to subsequently control the flow of beer. As a result it can be operated with one hand. However, as it has no way to slow the flow of beer, the pressure of the keg has to be lowered and the head space vented before you begin. The design does a good job minimizing foaming, but with even moderately carbonated beer I'd still have some foam overflow before the liquid reached the lip.

Fermentap Counter-Pressure: With a counter-pressure filler the bottle is flushed and then pressurized with carbon dioxide before filling. The pressure prevents the beer from foaming much as it is transferred into the bottle. However, when the bottle is full and the stopper is released the beer will begin to gush. This is fine as it allows you to cap on foam, but you have to be quick. I’ve found it really helps to have a second person to take the filler to shorten the time between removal and capping.

The Fermentap's three-way ball valve is a bit more cumbersome to operate than the Beer Guns button/trigger. It is easy to allow gas or beer to continue flowing slowly if you aren’t careful when turning it to the off position. This filler also causes more of a mess, beer spurts through the valve when it reaches the top, and the previously mentioned gushing means that filling bottles placed in a large bowl/pot/bin is a must.

Build Quality
Blichmann Beer Gun: Solid and relatively easy to clean. My only real complaint is that the small rubber nub on the tip of mine fell off and was lost. An email to Blichmann resulted in me being told that it wasn’t covered by the warranty, and that I needed to order another ($4.50) nub from a homebrewing store. The Beer Gun seems easier to sanitize than the Counter-Pressure, without as many internal parts where microbes can hide.

Fermentap Counter-Pressure: The first filler I received leaked from the stem, and second one leaks from the valve (CO2 pressure, and then beer vent even when the valve fully closed). It is a bit disappointing that the product isn’t tested before it is sold. Luckily the slow leak is enough that the product still works alright, but the loss of the ability to throttle the flow is annoying.

Results
Pretending to fill a bottle with my counter-pressure filler.
Blichmann Beer Gun: The flavor of the beer was fine, not showing premature signs of oxidation. Carbonation seemed to drop as I filled more bottles. I suspect the lower dispensing pressure was at least partly to blame. Carbonating the beer too highly resulted in a lot of foaming, and loss of carbonation. As the bottle is open to the air during filling, there is also more of an opportunity for air/microbes to enter, but it is minimal at best.

Fermentap Counter-Pressure: The beer can be bottled at a higher pressure without excessive foaming, and being able to dispense at serving pressure seems to have resulted in more consistent results. The flavor is similarly good to the Beer Gun, no complaints over the short term (you can read my tasting notes for my Aromatic Cream Ale both on tap and in counter-pressure-filled bottles in this post).

Cost
The fillers cost about the same, Blichmann Beer Gun is $75 while the Counter-Pressure retails for $65 for the standard or $87 for the “Deluxe” model with a pressure gauge. The price goes up if you need to buy beer/gas line and extra fittings. Luckily I have a spare barb on my gas distributor, so I can sanitize it and dispense CO2 without putting a splitter on the gas each time I want to bottle.

Tips and Tricks
Whichever one of these you decide to purchase, there are a few tricks that make them more effective:

Dispense into cold/wet bottles to minimize foaming. I sanitize with Star-San, then put the bottles into the freezer for 15-20 minutes. When I am ready to fill I give each a last blast with Star San to ensure they are still wet and sanitized.

Chill your beer close to freezing, to minimize the amount of CO2 lost. I usually leave my kegerator set to around 40-45 F, but a day before bottling, I crank it down into the mid-30s F.

For the Beer Gun, you need to turn down the head pressure to ~4 PSI to slow the speed at which the beer dispenses. For the Counter-Pressure filler, leave it set to the same pressure as the keg because the pressure will slow the speed at which the bottles fill.

A long/narrow liquid line helps, once again, to add resistance which helps minimize foaming and loss of carbonation. This is much more important for the Beer Gun.

When using the Counter-Pressure filler, hold the stopper in firmly while it is under pressure, but don't push down on the filler itself. Especially for larger bottles, you don't want the stopper to ride-up and lose its seal around the stem.

The effort of setting up either of these is only justified when you are filling multiple bottles, or packaging a couple beers. When I’m headed to a homebrewing club meeting I still usually just stick a chilled/wet bottle or growler under the tap.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Galaxy/Rakau DIPA Tasting

When I suggested brewing a double IPA recipe that featured about a pound of hops in five gallons (6+ lbs per bbl), split between Rakau and Galaxy, Jacob told me that it sounded like fun, but probably wouldn’t happen full-scale at Modern Times given hop prices/availability. Although it highlighted a question that we’ve been trying to figure out, how will the hop additions scale from my modest homebrew setup to the 30 bbl brewhouse currently being manufactured for the brewery? Bitterness will be relatively easy to scale once we determine the hop utilization of our kettle, but hop aromatics are a trickier matter.

As a homebrewer it is easy to buy more hops if I need more hops. With the demand for these oil-saturated varieties though, on a commercial scale we’re forced to lock-in amounts now with contracts for nest fall (or the next three years for varieties from Australia and New Zealand). Meaning that we'll only have a certain amount to use, so increasing the hops in a recipe means reducing the number of batches we’ll be able to brew of it until the next contract.

Jacob has been talking to craft brewers who brew hoppy beers he enjoys, and the general message is that we should be able to cut my dry hop amounts per gallon in half and still achieve similar results. Could I do that at home, or is there something more efficient about the way craft breweries dry hop? Is it the larger volume? The fact that many breweries circulate the beer to increase exposure to the hops? No answers yet, but I’m glad we are (if anything) over-estimating the amount of hops we’ll need.

For this Southern Hemisphere DIPA I was hoping to compliment the tropical fruitiness of Galaxy with Rakau, which I read has a more herbal/piney character plus a unique fruitiness of its own. My hope was this would achieve a balance similar to the one created by Amarillo’s fruitiness and Simcoe's mango-pine thing. The resulting beer is solid, but the balance of aromatics isn’t what I hoped for in a double IPA. Considering the high (absurd?) hopping rate late in the boil and split between two dry hop additions, the aromatics aren’t as bold as I wanted! The hops smelled great coming out of the package (unlike my first Galaxy-only DIPA), but that didn’t translate to the finished beer.

Southern Hemisphere DIPA

A goblet of Double IPA hopped with Rakau and Galaxy.Appearance – Medium-amber body, but the wide glass makes it appear darker than it does usually. The head pours dense and thick, beautiful once it settles, but it is time to turn the pressure down. Chill haze and two substantial dry hoppings have created a somewhat murky beer.

Smell – This beer hadn’t been wowing me, but served in a deep/curved glass the hop nose is much more pronounced. The Galaxy and Rakau provide a very deep fruit flavor. There is certainly a tropical aspect to it, but also a cooked pear and cherry. The pine and citrus most people expect in a DIPA are hardly detectable. There isn’t anything to dislike about this one, but it just doesn’t leap out of the glass and demand to be tasted like my favorite hoppy beers!

Taste – The flavor is reasonably well balanced between malt and hop. There are hints of toastiness poking through the fruity hops. The finish is firmly bitter, lasting for a few seconds before fading (the combination of HopShots and Columbus for bittering worked really well). Similar to the nose, the combination of hop oils doesn’t grab me, I enjoy the fruitiness, but it doesn't scratch my hop itch. The fermentation, from what I can tell, was very clean. There is a slight alcohol presence, about what I expect in a beer this strong.

Mouthfeel – Considering that this beer is 8.4% ABV, the body is relatively thin. This is what I want in a double IPA, much thicker and it would taste like an American barleywine. Solid carbonation enough to keep it light.

Drinkability & Notes – Very drinkable for a strong beer. Similar to the first DIPA I brewed with Galaxy, it is a solid, but doesn’t captivate me. I don’t feel like the Rakau is adding much to the aroma, as I enjoyed Galaxy by itself more.The strange thing is I was blown away by Hill Farmstead's Galaxy DIPA, not sure it is how I am using them, or the specific hops I'm getting.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Double Barrel Sour Brown Recipe

After aging two strong beer in each of my 20L Balcones spirit barrels I decided that was all I was willing to risk. With each refill the chance of an undesirable wild microbe taking up residence deep in the oak (especially while sitting in my basement) rose. There is still plenty of delicious oak character left in the barrels however, so their new calling is to house sour beers. As someone asks just about every time I post about these barrels, they are sometimes available from Adventures in Homebrewing, but they are currently sold out.

While our DC barrel crew has made some delicious beers by aging strong sours in a first use 53 gallon bourbon barrel (e.g., Bourbon Barrel Wee Heady – Imperial Oud Bruin), large barrels have low surface-to-volume ratios. A high surface-to-volume ratio, like the one these 20L barrels have, results in a greater amount of oak in contact with the aging beer gallon-for-gallon. Small barrels are often used by distilleries to allow shorter aging times, which leads to even more residual character for the beer to extract. Hopefully three months of aging clean beers, along with near-boiling water rinses after each, stripped enough oak character that the sour beer won’t be quickly overwhelmed. I find the low amount of residual sweetness in traditional mixed-fermentation sour beers accentuates oak tannins (not to mention other sharp flavors like roasted/smoked grains, hop bitterness, etc.).

The other major concerns with small-barrel-aging is the volume of oxygen they let diffuse in and high amount of beer they allow to evaporate out. This is not only the result of the high surface-to-volume ratio but also thinner staves compared to larger barrels. In fact many lambic producers prefer pipes, barrels more than twice the size of standard 53-60 gallon wine and spirit barrels. Many feel that these 126 gallon barrels allow for more graceful aging of their wares during the one to four years spent in oak.

My bin of vacuum sealed specialty malts.Levi Funk posted instructions/encouragement on his Funk Factory blog for coating small barrels with paraffin wax to slow both oxygen ingress and beer evaporation. However, for this first fill I wanted to leave the barrels as is; I may coat them if this batch begins to show signs of acetic acid (vinegar) production (which indicates excess oxygen exposure) too quickly. Assuming good results, my plan is to continue using these barrels to age sours. Hopefully in time they will each develop a unique resident souring culture (with the assistance of some bottle dregs).

To save time and take advantage of both barrels, I decided to brew a double batch of basic sticky reddish-brown wort. For the base malt I went with Vienna to provide a substantial malt backbone to compete against the residual spirit flavor of the barrels. That was augmented by a wide variety of crystal/caramel malts (cleaning up my specialty malt box). This is similar to the recipes for our barrel-aged group beers, with each person using the medium or dark crystal of their choice. A touch of Carafa Special II provided a deeper color, without adding much roast.

The three yeasts I pitched for primary, T58, S23, and WLP665
Fermentation was a hodgepodge as well. I pitched a blend of dry yeasts (T-58 and S-23). The more complexity you build into primary fermentation the more interesting compounds there will be for the bugs that follow to work with. Speaking of which I also pitched the White Labs Flemish Ale Blend, their recently released answer to Wyeast’s Roeselare Blend. White Labs suggests pitching their blends without a starter or additional yeast, but with such a small cell count (~7 billion total) I worry that primary fermentation wouldn’t be adequately rapid or vigorous.

With the primary fermentation complete, I racked the beer from my BetterBottles to the barrels. At this point I also topped-off each with about a liter of bottled water to fill the head space. A under-filled barrel allows the wood at the top to dry, slowly opening gaps that allow faster oxidation and evaporation. A much more serious concern than head space in an impermeable fermentor. I'm leaving airlocks on them for the time being, but may eventually switch to the hard bungs that I used when barrel-aging the clean beers.

I try to never put sour beers on a schedule, but the basic timeline for these should be: three weeks in primary, four to six months in the barrels, then onto fruit until they are ready to bottle. I’m thinking of Audrey’s parents’ homegrown sour cherries for the Malt whisky barrel, and raspberries for the Rumble barrel (which will make for a beer that tastes and smells like outer space apparently).

Double Barrel Sour Brown

Recipe Specifics
-----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 11.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 26.13
Anticipated OG: 1.060
Anticipated SRM: 17.5
Anticipated IBU: 15.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 70 Minutes

Grain
------
76.6% - 20.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
11.5% - 3.00 lbs. Flaked Wheat
4.1% - 1.06 lbs. CaraMunich
1.9% - 0.50 lbs. CaraRed
1.9% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 75L
1.9% - 0.50 lbs. Special B
1.2% - 0.31 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.0% - 0.25 lbs. Carafa Special II

Hops
------
2.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.20% AA) @ 65 min.

Extras
-------
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

Yeast
------
DCL Yeast T-58 SafBrew Specialty Ale
Fermentis SafLager S-23
White Labs WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend

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

Mash Schedule
----------------
Sacch I - 15 min @ 152 F
Sacch II - 45 min @ 159 F

Notes
------
Brewed 12/8/12 by myself

Mix of crystal malts to use up, adds up to 11% of the grist.

No water adjustments other than carbon filtration.

Undershot my target mash temp, stepped up after about 15 minutes with additional boiling water.

Collected 12 gallons of 1.058 runnings with a 175 F batch sparge.

Bagged the hops to prevent the pellets from clogging the pump.

Chilled to 65 F with plate chiller (recirculated hot wort to sanitize it first), shook to aerate, pitched un-rehydrated T-58, and S-23, as well as White Labs Flemish Ale Blend. Left at 64 F to ferment.

12/30/12 Racked to the two rinsed third use Balcones barrels. One in third use Malt Whisky and the other in the Rumble.

1/1/13 Topped off with ~1 L of water each to eliminate the head-space.

3/5/13 Barrel/spirit character is close, but with the fruit and additional age to come I want to overdo it slightly. Added dregs from a bottle of the Bourbon Barrel Sour Brown to both, hoping to boost the acidity without drying them out too much.

4/14/13 Racked 4 gallons of the Rumble barrel onto 14 lbs of Trader Joe's frozen (defrosted) raspberries. Racked 4 gallons of the Malt barrel onto 10 lbs of Audrey's parents' homegrown sour cherries. One gallon of each moved to jugs for future blending or bottling straight.

9/22/13 Bottled the raspberry portion after racking twice, the second time through nylon stockings to remove most of the seeds and chunks. Added 2 5/8 oz of table sugar to the 3.75 gallon yield, no bottling yeast. Good fruit character, solid acidity, barrel isn't aggressive.

12/4/13 Tasting notes on the raspberry portion. Loads of jammy raspberries, not complex, but delicious!

12/10/13 Bottled the four gallons of cherry with 2 5/8 oz of table sugar and a couple grams of rehydrated Pasteur. Bottled the two non-fruited gallons with 5/8 oz of table sugar each and a splash of Pasteur.

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