Monday, December 21, 2015

Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tmavé Pivo: U Fleku Style

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

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

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

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

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

Tmavé Pivo U: Fleku Style

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

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

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

First stage of the yeast starter.Extras
--------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 5 min
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min

Yeast
-------
White Labs WLP800 Pilsner Lager

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

Mash Schedule
-------------------
Protein Rest - 15 min @ 126F
Sacch I - 30 min @ 145F (direct)
Sacch II - 20 min @ 158F (direct)

Notes
-------
Two stage starter made a week in advance (1.25 L to 3.5 L). Second stage was mini-mash of Bohemian Dark. Crashed in fridge prior to brew day.

Brewed 10/25/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

House Culture Saison Tasting

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

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

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

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

House Saison

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Design a Beer Recipe in 10 Steps

Too many homebrewers are overwhelmed by recipe design and as a result stick to kits. While kits can produce solid beers, writing your own recipe means you can tailor the beer to your tastes exactly. Many brewers just don't know where to start, how to select ingredients, and the way everything fits together. This post isn't about ingredients or process (although I'll mention both), each of my recipe posts gives some insight into why I selected particular malts, hops, yeast, and techniques. This is a meta-post about the process I go through each time I write a recipe.

So here are the 10 steps I go through for every batch I brew.

1. Select a Target

Your goal for a batch could be to recreate Russian River Pliny the Younger, brew an award-winning Berliner weisse, learn the flavor profile of various sugars, pack an IPA into a 2.5% ABV package, or concoct a saison inspired by New Zealand. Be careful not to mix goals, pick one priority and stick to it! Drinking similar commercial beers can be especially helpful in formulating your target profile.

Start by identifying those things that you will actually perceive. Be as specific as you can be in terms of appearance, flavor, aroma, balance, and mouthfeel. How much bitterness, sweetness, banana, clove, bready, roasty, citrus, alcohol warmth, carbonation etc. do you want? Then translate those things into analytic targets that you can build a recipe around: ABV, OG, FG, SRMs, IBUs, and final pH (thankfully many craft breweries provide their targets, as do the BJCP Guidelines). While it is helpful to understand how to calculate each of these numbers by hand, I use ProMash for accuracy and convenience.

Parameters can only get you so close though, a German Pilsner and a saison can look nearly identical on paper, as can a schwarzbier and English porter! Researching flavor contributions is essential at this stage. There are informative books, magazine articles, blog posts, forum threads, podcasts etc. covering almost every style, brewery, and flavor.

The best brewers are usually those that are brewing-knowledge sponges, taking the best ideas and refining and combining them into something that works for their palate and system. I'm always amazed to read things like: "I don't need a book to brew sour beer well." I often read and listen to something even tangentially brewing related in the hopes of gleaning some new tidbit or technique. Sure I can brew most styles well, but I'm always looking for ways to improve!

There is no shame in starting with a recipe someone else has perfected and adjusting to your tastes/system! Every once in a while it is even healthy to brew a reputable recipe that doesn’t look like one you’d design; it is easy to get stuck doing things a certain way out of habit, taking cues from someone else breaks you out of that rut!

2. Identify Constraints

As homebrewers, we usually have more freedom than commercial brewers in terms of ingredient selection. We can use any malt, yeast, and hop available without compromise. However, many homebrewers are constrained in other ways: fermentation temperature, water profile, equipment, or timing. Sometimes the correct answer is that the target isn’t achievable given the constraints (e.g., an imperial stout in three weeks, a saison with primary fermentation at 55°F). If you don't have time to make a yeast starter, consider dried yeast (with its higher cell count) a preference. Extract with steeping grains is a constraint as well because it limits both fermentability and grain choices.

Even if you receive the exact recipe from a brewery, hitting the target may require considerably more than simply scaling down their batch size to match yours. Adjust the system efficiency, tweak the hops to account for their greater bitterness extraction (especially from whirlpool), adjust the fermentation temperature to account for the differences in pressure and geometry, and decide how to replace a bourbon barrel, Schaerbeek cherries, or house ale yeast. Converting a recipe from a fellow homebrewer is a bit easier, but requires some similar considerations.

3. Determine Batch Size

Batch size isn’t a single number. Start with how much beer you want going into kegs or bottles and work backwards from there. You’ll need to know your system to accurately predict how much water to start with in order to produce the desired volume of beer. Work in a bit of buffer if you can so you don't need to collect/transfer every drop of liquid.

Use different volumes for different (tasks):
Volume in the bottling bucket or keg (priming sugar)
+ Losses to blow-off, trub, and fermentor dead space =
Volume in fermentor (pitching rate)
+ Losses to hop absorption, break, and kettle dead space =
Volume in kettle at end of boil (IBUs)
+ Losses to boil-off (evaporation) =
Volume in kettle at start of boil (mash efficiency, amount of grain)
+ Losses to grain absorption and mash tun dead space =
Combined mash/sparge water

While you can project targets for all of these volumes, brewing consistent beer requires adjusting as you measure what they actually turn out to be. If you planned the batch to yield five gallons but end up with 4.75 gallons in the bottling bucket, only add enough priming sugar for 4.75 gallons!

4. Deal with Specialty Ingredients

While the base beer is hugely important no matter what weird ingredients you add, I always consider specialty ingredients first (although in an ideal world, you would dial in the base beer before adding less traditional flavorings or fermentables). If there aren’t going to be fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, wood, spirits etc. skip to step #5.

As a general rule, the more I want to taste the “true” flavor of the ingredient the later in the process I add it. If the flavoring doesn't contain significant fermentables (e.g., coffee, citrus zest) I steep it in the ready-to-package beer for a day or two right before kegging or bottling. Infusing directly into the finished beer allows alcohol and water to work together to extract most important aromatics. Exposure to heat and fermentation dull distinct aromatics, giving a more “integrated” character that works well for Belgian-style subtlety. I’d spice a wit at the end of the boil, while I'd dose a pumpkin ale with a spice tea in the bottling bucket.

This is another important chance for research, although this time cookbooks and cocktail recipes are especially helpful. Bloom cocoa powder in hot water, toast chili peppers in a dry pan, and use citrus zest without the pith. The traditional methods used by brewers may not be ideal, so don't limit yourself to them!

With experimental ingredients, a more controlled method is preferred. Spice teas, tinctures (alcohol extracts), blending, slow additions to taste etc. all reduce the risk of an imbalanced beer compared to guessing with an early addition. If you will be aging the beer, the longer you can wait before flavoring, the fresher those flavors will be when the beer is ready to drink.

5. Select Fermentables

The target OG (from step #1), your desired pre-boil volume (from step #3), and projected mash efficiency for your system for similar gravity beers (assume that the lower the total water-to-grain ratio is the lower the mash efficiency will be) are the three essential factors for determining the amount of fermentables required.

If you are adding sugar, determine the amount as a percentage of the gravity it provides (rather than the percentage of the total weight of fermentables). To get a 15% contribution of sucrose by gravity a brewer who achieves 80% mash efficiency would add 10.4% table sugar by weight while to a brewer who hits 60% efficiency would do the same with 8% table sugar. Both would use the same weight of sugar, the percentage changes because the brewer with higher efficiency uses less malt.

You should also consider the timing of aromatic sugars. Honey is best saved for after aroma-scrubbing primary fermentation. All sugars added to beers stronger than 10% ABV are also best withheld until after fermentation peaks to reduce the initial osmotic pressure on the yeast. For pure sugars in moderate gravity beers, add to the kettle as the wort runs in.

Next calculate the total amount of grain needed to reach the target original gravity. Then determine the type and amount of specialty malts. Do this based on weight, rather than a percentage of the grain bill. Lower gravity beers tend to have a higher percentage of specialty malts and adjuncts than stronger beers because they require less base malt. The amount of pale malt in a barleywine provides plenty of maltiness, body, color etc. often without much assistance, while a low alcohol beer can taste thin and bland without some toasted, roasted, or caramelized malts. 15-20% caramel malt in a 1.040 pale ale might be perfect, but the same weight might only account for 5% of the grain in a barleywine. Although I do maintain the grain percentages when scaling for changes in efficiency or volume.

Selecting sugars and malts is one of many areas where your knowledge and research will be key. Brewing and tasting beers brewed with just one-or-two malts, chewing on malts, and reading up on traditional combinations all help. Be specific in your choices and record keeping, not all roasted barley or crystal 60 is created equal; different maltsters' products make unique contributions to the wort.

The newer you are to a style, the simpler the grain bill should be. Too many different malts combined without skill will result in a blander beer all else being equal. While a specific dark malt may lean more coffee, chocolate, or charred, three randomly selected and mixed together in equal parts will taste “brown,” that is to say indistinctly roasty. There are complex grain bills that produce delicious beers, but this type of formulation takes considerable skill and repeated brewing.

With the sugar and specialty malts determined, the only thing left is base malt. Select one that supports the malt flavors, and that contains enough enzymatic power to convert the adjuncts and specialty malts (as well as its own starches) given the percentage of the grain bill. While I love Maris Otter and Munich in dark beers, alone they may not have enough enzymatic power to convert half their own weight in unmalted grain and specialty malts (so you might add in a few pounds of a paler malt higher on the Lintner scale). In some cases the last consideration is a small addition of dehusked roasted malt for color adjustment.

When you are starting out, a simple rule is to source your malts from the country that inspired the recipe. As you gain experience though, you’ll likely think of malts in terms of the flavors they contribute. Some of my favorite less traditional combinations are: Simpsons Extra Dark Crystal in bocks, American pale malt in quads, and German CaraVienna in hoppy American pale ales.

6. Choose the Hop Bill

Start with flame-out (hop-stand) addition and work outwards. Flame-out hops impart some bitterness and aromatics, but their main contribution is a wonderful saturated hop flavor. Dry hopping primarily provides aromatics and comes across one-dimensional without a late hot-side addition (the one exception would be a dry-hopped sour beer), so I almost always pair it with flame-out hops. If I want a softer hop character, I’ll make a 5-15 minute addition the final hops. For hoppy beers with a large hop-stand and dry hop, I don’t find late-boil hops to be beneficial (or at least efficient). By default I usually use the same ratio of hops for all flavor/aroma additions (although I've had good results venturing away from that as well).

I rarely use more than three hop varieties in total between the late-boil and dry hop additions. As with specialty malts, without great skill, adding too many hop varieties produce a generic “green” hoppiness rather than layers of complexity.

The final hop addition to calculate is the bittering addition, enough to hit the target IBUs. This can be a relatively generic moderate-to-high alpha acid variety, no worries about matching the late-boil additions. In most cases I bitter with a 60 minute addition, but a one slightly before or after 60 minutes, or  a first wort addition can work as well. In many beers, especially those with other strong flavors, this is my only hop addition.

7. Plan the Fermentation

Now that we’ve mostly figured out what the wort will be, we need to plan the transformation into beer. This means selecting a yeast strain, pitching rate, and fermentation temperature. Luckily we are now overwhelmed by yeast-strain choice. Fifteen years ago there were really only a couple labs producing liquid yeast for homebrewers, not only have they doubled the strains they produce, but 10 new labs have opened, and dry yeast quality/variety has also greatly improved!

You’ll need to ensure that the alcohol tolerance of the strain you select is above your target ABV from step #1. The strain's fermentation temperature range needs to fall within the range you have available as well. Finally (and most importantly) the flavors produced must match your goals for yeast character. Consider the attenuation, but know that you can tweak that with the mash profile.

Reading the descriptions and reviews for commercial yeast can be helpful, but better to taste beers fermented with the strain to evaluate the results for yourself! Homebrew is especially helpful for this as it allows you to ask the brewer specific questions about pitching rate, temperature, aeration, and timing.

It is helpful to select a strain used in a beer you enjoy and ferment several batches with it to form a relationship. Does it stall out if you don’t raise the temperature over 70°F to finish? Does it go all bubblegum if you don’t pitch enough cells? Does attenuation pause and then resume when it hits 1.020? Does it benefit from post-fermentation fining?

This is also a good time to think about how much carbonation you want. Don't figure out the priming sugar at this stage, but select a target volumes of carbon dioxide based on style and preference. Also decide if extended aging, high alcohol, high flocculation, fining, or lagering will mean reyeasting is required.

8. Calculate the Water Profile

Repeat after me, "Don’t pay attention to water profiles from cities other than your own!" Brewers everywhere treat their water, so mimicking their source water without their adjustments has a good chance of lowering the quality of your beer. Two of my worst batches were brewed with by-the-book water profiles from Burton-on-Trent and Westvleteren.

It is far more effective to treat your water with the specific recipe and a goal in mind. It is good to have at least 50 PPM of calcium for all styles to ensure good starch conversion, break formation, and yeast health. For pale beers, I prefer the carbonate and sodium to be as low as possible. This is the reason I do not normally post my target water profile along with each recipe, I don’t consider it to be ideal. For pale/hoppy beers, my carbonate ends up around 50 PPM, but I don’t want anyone adding more carbonate to their IPAs if their water has less than that. I’m not willing to buy a reverse osmosis system or 20 gallons of distilled water each time I brew, but I’ll often cut my carbon-filtered tap water 50% with distilled to bring the carbonate down from 100 PPM average.

Extract includes the minerals from the water used to produce it. As a result low-mineral water is ideal for these beers.

The flavor ions (sulfate, chloride, and sodium) don’t influence brewing or fermentation, so they can be dosed in at any point, including to taste at packaging. Sulfate adds dryness and increased bitterness perception, chloride increases the fullness of the body and roundness of the flavor, sodium enhances malty-sweetness (but can clash with high sulfate). Don’t worry about being hyper-precise with your targets because the malt contributes the same minerals, and the human palate isn’t precise enough to taste differences of a few parts per million anyway.

You may have a different water profiles for the mash and sparge (in general sparge water should be softer and more acidic than mash water).

You can estimate acid additions (using Bru’n Water or similar), but it is always best to take a pH reading and add only as much as is needed to hit your target. Similarly, if you think you'll need to add carbonate to raise the pH, calculate the amount of baking soda or slaked lime required, but wait to add it until a reading indicates it is needed. I aim for a slightly lower pH for pale beers than I do for dark beers (including mash, boil, and finished beer). Measured at room temperature the medians for me are 5.4 for the mash, 5.2 for the end of the boil, and 4.4 for the beer at packaging.

I'll include yeast nutrient and kettle finings in this step as well. Yeast nutrient generally isn't required, but one with trace minerals is inexpensive insurance (especially if you use a large amount of distilled or RO water). Similarly kettle finings like Irish moss and Whirlfloc are not essential, but combined with whirlpooling/settling they help to leave more break behind in the kettle. The result is more room in the fermentor for beer, and less protein mixed into the yeast for harvesting. I add 1/2 tsp of Wyeast nutrient and 1/2 Whirloc tablet per five gallons with five minutes remaining in the boil for almost all batches.

9. Determine the Mash Profile

The mash rest temperatures are the last brew day lever to pull. Adjustments here allow you to increase or decrease the attenuation of the selected yeast strain. One of the major drawbacks of extract brewing is that you cede this decision to the extract manufacturer.

My rule of thumb is that mashing base malt at 152°F will give about the yeast’s average stated attenuation, raising by 1°F decreases apparent attenuation by about 1%, and lowering by 1°F increases the attenuation by about 1%. This isn’t foolproof, and only applies from 144°F to 160°F, but is a good enough ballpark. Only do this calculation based on the extract obtained from the mash (assume that pure sugars like sucrose/dextrose will not raise the FG, and unfermentable sugars like lactose will add their entire contribution to the FG – most other sugars will be somewhere between).

Adding crystal malt will slightly lower attenuation, but not by as much as many brewers assume. Mashed gelatinized starchy adjuncts (e.g., flaked, torrefied, or pre-boiled raw grains) don’t have a huge impact on fermentablity as their starches are exposed to the same enzymes at work on the starches from the malt itself.

Most malts commonly available do not benefit from a step mash, but as you dial in a recipe in some cases you may want to experiment with a protein, ferulic, beta-glucan, or multiple saccharification rests. Decoction mashes may give some benefit at the margins, but several experiments over the years have suggested that their contributions are not apparent to the average palate.

10. Brew, Taste, and Rebrew

Always do a final review of all of your decisions to make sure the recipe makes sense as a whole before sourcing your ingredients.

Despite your best efforts, in most cases not everything will go to plan. Don’t hesitate to adjust, augment, or reevaluate as the process unfolds. For example, if your mash efficiency is higher than expected, you should identify that pre-hopping with a gravity reading so you can dilute and increase your hop additions to produce more wort, or dilute and draw off wort for another purpose. If your first addition of dry hops doesn’t produce the intense aroma profile you wanted, add a second dose. If the yeast doesn’t attenuate as expected, pitch a more attenuative strain.

The biggest improvements come from critically evaluating the finished beer and starting the whole process over again! Either adjust your recipe to get closer to your target, or adjust your target if you hit it and realize it wasn’t exactly what you wanted.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Updates on the Three "Other" Brett Species

If there are any batches that I’ve gotten the most requests to update it would be the fermentations with the three “other” Brettanomyces species from East Coast Yeast. In 2013 I obtained samples of B. nanus (aka Eeniella nana), B. custersianus, and B. naardenensis from Al. I put each to use in two split batches: one with each Brettanomyces alone, and another where I waited to pitch until bottling.

With six beers to taste through, I’ll forgo the full tasting notes in favor of a 10-word highlight reel for each.

Naardenensis 100% – Small head, tart, white grape juice, cherry, mineral, thyme, effervescent.

Naardenensis Bottle Conditioned – Creamy head, Belgian yeast, peppery, mushy apples, honey, wet paper.

Nanus 100% – Average appearance, ripe orchard fruit, spice, mild tartness, faint urinal.

Nanus Bottle Conditioned – Beautiful lacing, cardamom, black pepper, mild oxidation, earthy, highest bitterness.

Custersianus 100% – Gusher, red grape juice, tropical, Smarties, metallic, perfume, refreshing, prickly.

Custersianus Bottle Conditioned – Bright, airy, spice, stale malt, sweaty, apple-berry, clean ethanol.

I avoided rereading my old notes until I was finished tasting to avoid unduly influencing myself, but I'm happy to see many commonalities in the words used. I should also note that as these ran through my “sour” gear, there is a decent chance that the results are not entirely the work of the single strain pitched. This would especially apply to the acidity in the 100% B. naardenensis fermentation. This is one reason that some breweries (like Russian River) maintain three separate sets of gear: clean, sour, and Brett (no bacteria).

The 100% B. custersianus is my favorite of the bunch at this stage, but sadly none of these strains turned out to shine with extended aging.We think of Brett through a particular lens (Orval, gueuze etc.), but it may be that many of the strains out there don't do well under these conditions. Obviously the species and strains that survive in beer for an extended period will be hardier under those conditions that strains isolated from other sources.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Commonwealth Brewing Collaboration – Sour Brown Brew Day

Barrels prior to filling.Columbus Day was a long day. I was in the car before I would have been awake for work on a normal Monday, trying to beat the notorious DC traffic. My destination was three hours south, Virginia Beach and specifically Commonwealth Brewing Co. The brewery had only opened a month earlier, just in time for Labor Day weekend. I’d been talking to founder/owner Jeramy and head brewer Greg (a Seattle transplant) in the lead up, planning a collaborative batch of barrel-aged brown to inaugurate their souring program!

Luckily traffic was light and I made it to the brewery with the smell of dough-in welcoming me. The grain bill was loaded with specialty malts, including Aromatic, Special B, and Carafa. We’d passed the recipe back-and-forth a few times via email, each providing tweaks and adjustments. Our goal was to brew something substantial (in terms of strength and maltiness) to stand up to the first-use red wine barrels. For microbes, we split the batch between Flemish-type blends from Wyeast, White Labs, and East Coast Yeast. The diversity of microbes will provide variety for future fruiting, blending, and tasting efforts. We currently don't have firm plans on what those will be, the results will dictate that as well as the timing.

A plate filter makes an excellent table for samples when not in use.It was the sort of brew day I love, mostly me standing around, taking photos, drinking samples, talking sour beer, and eating banh-mi! Although they did eventually put me to work milling grain for the second 20 bbl batch, scheduled for the following day.

Commonwealth is housed in a former volunteer fire department in a mostly residential neighborhood just a few blocks from the ocean. The roof is constructed from leftover spans from construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel! They’ve done a great job on the interior to the point I could have believed it was constructed to be a brewery; the three bays are for packaging (with a side-room with an open fermentor), brewing/fermentation, and barrels. The tasting room is also beautifully done with plenty of rough wood, concrete, and big windows looking into the brewhouse (depending on your perspective).

From this perspective the windows offer a nice view of the tasting room from the brew deck.Even the door on the mill room is cool!














Speaking of the tasting room, the beers already on tap were impressive (thank goodness!) for a brewery still serving many of its inaugural batches. Jeramy and Greg have put together a diverse list that mostly stray from the crowded path. My favorite was the intensely-tropical 100% Brett IPA (Wapatoolie), although that may not count as I've been a huge advocate of the concept for years! I was also fond of their hopfen-weisse (Taonga) – a juicy blend of citrusy hops with understated banana and clove from WB-06. Nice range of strengths as well, from a session IPA, up to a blonde quad. Even their pumpkin ale (Pumpkin Juice) had a twist, based on a cream ale with correspondingly light spicing!

In a fitting cap to the day, someone dropped off a mixed four-pack of Modern Times cans and a shirt for Jeramy. Apparently the coasts really get me! Luckily the mid-Atlantic is a bit easier to visit for the day.

As I learned when Nathan and I collaborated with McKenzie Brew House on Irma, it’s always smart to show up with a sanitized keg or carboy (a few growlers never hurt either)! Greg ran off three gallons of wort for me to take home. It had their house ale yeast already and I pitched Omega Lacto Blend when I racked it to a bucket for primary fermentation. I still need to pitch bottle dregs to up the biodiversity now that I've racked it back into the 3 gallon carboy for aging.

End-of-a-three-day-weekend traffic added a couple hours to the drive back, but I still made it home about 13 hours after leaving. A long day, but well worth the trip! I’ll be making that drive a couple more times for blending and release events, hopefully with time to spend the night down there for a bit of exploration. Looking forward to tasting the beer (name TBD), sometime in 2016!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Extract Lambic Recipe

Extract beers get an undeservedly bad rap. Experienced homebrewers who brew with malt extract often sound apologetic: “I work 90 hours a week and have three young kids… what other option do I have?” The truth is that if you use the same process (full-boil, pitch enough healthy yeast, control fermentation temperature etc.) that you would for all-grain, extract can produce some excellent examples of some styles! After I'd switched to all-grain, I've gone back and dabbled with malt extract for both clean (Belgian Single) and sour beers (Sour Stout on Blackberries) with enjoyable results.

Who knew that DME was good for more than starters?The primary issue with malt-extract-based beers is the loss of control. Many extracts includes several malts, in unspecified ratios. The best option is to use paler extracts and build from there with steeping grains (although even with crystal malts, steeping isn’t equivalent to mashing). With both extract and all-grain, it is essential to stick to styles that work with your available ingredients. If you can’t get Vienna or Munich extract (or malt), don’t make an Oktoberfest!

The fermentability is set by the extract producer, taking away the mash temperature lever that all-grain brewers get to pull. Luckily, there are still a couple options to influence the fermentability of the wort. Substituting 5-10% refined sugar or extract will increase the percentage of simple sugars to help dry out a beer that would otherwise finish too full. Maltodextrin will have the opposite effect, adding “unfermentable” dextrins to a wort that would be too thin. Maltodextrin can also be used to increase the amount of complex carbohydrates available for the non-Saccharomyces microbes in an extended mixed-fermentation. I've yet to use maltodextrin in its more "traditional" role for molecular gastronomy.

Soon to find out if you can age hops too long!The recipe below was inspired by two well-known homebrewed extract lambic recipes. The first is from Steve Piatz’s Lambic Brewing article in the October 2004 issue of BYO (the magazine where I'll soon start my second year as Advanced Brewing columnist - Subscribe). Steve is the second highest ranked BJCP judge, and I got to chat with him at Hoppy Halloween in Fargo, ND over the weekend! The second is a multi-award-winning recipe from AmandaK posted on HomebrewTalk. Both called for 4 oz of maltodextrin per 5 gallons. That seemed a bit lower than I would have guessed, adding only .002 to the original gravity. Extract is often on the unfermentable side, but I upped the amount to 6 oz. The nice thing about maltodextrin is that you can always boil up more and dose it into the fermentor if the gravity drops to terminal without adequate lactic acid production (works for all-grain too!). Brett will work its magic without requiring much in the way of residual malt fermentables. You could also add a few tablespoons of flour to the boil if you wanted some starch for the Pediococcus to work on.

Speaking of microbes, I opted for The Yeast Bay’s Mélange ("Two Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolates, Saccharomyces fermentati, five Brettanomyces isolates, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus delbreuckii and Pediococcus damnosus"), and nothing but. Usually I’d pitch some additional brewer's yeast and bottle dregs along with a blend, but the vial was directly from Nick, so I though I’d give it a try as he intended. Luckily fermentation started within a day and so far the samples I’ve pulled from the carboy are pleasantly lemon-farm-y. I need to take a gravity reading to decide if it needs more maltodextrin to help increase the acidity!

Golden Boy Lambic

Recipe Specifics
---------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.38
OG: 1.051
SRM: 6.4
IBU: 9.8
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

Fermentables
----------------
47.1% - 3.00 lbs. Muntons Wheat DME
47.1% - 3.00 lbs. Briess Pilsen DME
5.9% - 0.38 lbs. Maltodextrin

Hops
------
3.00 oz. Mt. Hood (Whole, 1.00% AA) @ First Wort Hop

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

Yeast
-------
The Yeast Bay Mélange - Sour Blend

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

Notes
-------
Brewed 2/1/15 Super Bowl Sunday!

Hops aged around seven years total. 1.060 Post-boil

Allowed to chill in the barrel room naturally to 75F in the brew pot. Racked to a Better Bottle and shook to aerate. Pitched Yeast Bay Melange directly. 67F ambient. First activity after about 24 hours.

2/6/15 Fermentation slowing, topped off with 3/4 of a gallon of distilled water to bring the gravity down. Left at ambient basement temperature in the primary fermentor.

7/12/16 Racked about 2 gallons onto 8 lbs of "ugly" white peaches from the Takoma Farmers Market. Bottled the remaining 3 gallons aiming for 2.8 volumes of CO2.

9/10/16 Bottled peach half (2.1 gallons) with 55 g of table sugar and a splash of WLP007. FG 1.005.

2/13/17 Tasting notes for the lambic with and without peaches. The Mélange served as a good microbial base, but I would have liked a little more Brett character and acidity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Passion Fruit Sour Wheat Beer

The inside of a passionfruit by Alexander Klink
Attribution: Alexander Klink
The inside of a passionfruit
Creative Commons 3.0 Unported
Passion fruit is one of the few fruits that is almost always used as a flavoring rather than consumed straight; passion fruit mousse being the classic example. This is largely because it has an potent flavor and loads of seeds.

I was at the supermarket a couple months ago and happened to see fresh passion fruit for $3 each. Many brewers (and chefs) skip the actual fruit and opt for purée, but I bought two with no plan of what I'd make with them.

I’m certainly not the first brewer to add passion fruit to beer, I've enjoyed Breakside Passionfruit Sour, Jolly Pumpkin-Maui Brewing Sobrehumano Palena’ole, and Tired Hands’ Such Passion (Simcoe IPA "Conditioned on heaps of passion fruit purée"). J. Wakefield Brewing's neon-pink Dragon Fruit Passion Fruit Berliner gets plenty of hype, although I’ve yet to try it.

When I got home and opened one of them, that pervasive tropical aroma reminded me that I had a gallon of leftover base sour beer from Atomic Apricot. I scooped the pulpy interiors, seeds and all, into the jug for infusion.

Passion Fruit Sour Wheat

Appearance – After a few cloudy but delicious beer reviews, I thought it was time for something a bit more visually transparent. Faint haze, but I’ll take that in exchange for the beautiful head retention (thanks to both wheat flour and pre-acidification of the wort).

Pretty Passion Fruit Sour Wheat!Smell – The passion fruit comes through nicely, although nothing approaching the intensity of the apricot (which was over 2 lbs/gallon). The Brett doesn’t come through distinctly, a hint of rubber behind the fruit. Glad I added the fruit, it shines on a bland canvas.

Taste – Bright lactic-citric acidity, much mellower than the apricot. Nice tropical fruitiness, but I could see doubling it to four passion fruits per gallon. Beyond the fruit and acidity not an especially interesting beer. Maybe a hint of pale maltiness. The ECY Dirty Dozen seems reliable for primary fermentation, but sadly having 12 Brett strains didn't provide 12 times the aromatic complexity.

Mouthfeel – Light and crisp, but not thin and watery as even my favorite Berliners can be. Carbonation could be a notch higher, but I didn’t want to risk gushers.

Drinkability & Notes – A fun gallon of beer, glad I answered the calling of the eternal thought “I could ferment that!” I have the yeast/bacteria I harvested from this batch at work in something resembling a Berliner weisse with oat malt; it will be interested to see how it does as a mixed rather than staggered fermentation. Chad Yakobson's research suggests Brett produces less of several interesting esters when starting at a low pH, so that may account for the blandness.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Softer, Juicier, and Uglier APA

A delicious mango-y can of Tree House Julius IPA!I’ve always put appearance way down the bottom of the brewing-importance hierarchy. If an ingredient or technique benefits flavor/aroma/mouthfeel, but harms clarity or color, then I’m all for it! However, even I have to admit that I may have gone too far with this batch of New-England-style hoppy pale ale.

Dry hopping during active fermentation seems to disrupt flocculation, possibly by preventing the yeast cells from linking together(?). WYeast London III (WY1318) is a surprisingly flocculant strain when massive dry hopping isn’t involved, although not as much as the White Labs Dry English Ale (WLP007) used by Trillium. Rather than wait until fermentation was mostly complete (as I have been doing), I added the first dose of dry hops on brew day while waiting for the wort to cool a few more degrees for pitching the yeast. When I was ready for my standard dry hop addition, the beer already tasted significantly hoppier than it usually does at that stage.

My wort was also high in protein as a result of a grist containing nearly 50% wheat and oat malts. Unlike flaked/rolled oats, oat malt has plenty of husk to aid in lautering, but all of that huskless wheat and beta glucans from the oats combined to form a sticky mash that caused more grain than usual to make it into the kettle. The combination of hop, yeast, and protein haze is a muddy beer, which also has one of the most deliciously hoppy characters of any beer I’ve brewed! That extra protein provided a more substantial body than my previous Soft & Juicy IPA, which included flaked corn (maize).

How much does what you see change what you taste? For some beer drinkers cloudy suggests yeasty, rough, and poorly made, while others see artisanal, loaded with hop oils, and a pillowy body. This is where narrative, marketing, and expectations come into play. For me, the level of haze I "achieved" on this batch crosses the line into murky. Not the pleasantly hazy, cloudy, but still translucent body that my favorite IPAs from Trillium Fort Point, Tree House Julius, and Tired Hands Mago Tago possess.

I’ll have a better sense of how much of the haze is hop related, and how much is from the grain once I tap the saison whose wort I ran out before adding the hop-stand addition to this batch. I also ran off and diluted three gallons of wort before the bittering hops for a Berliner. Three very different beers from one mash, an unusually productive brew day!

Not exactly a looker...Softer & Juicier APA

Recipe Specifics
---------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.80
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.00
Anticipated OG: 1.056
Anticipated SRM: 4.5
Anticipated IBU: 39.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 61 %
Wort Boil Time: 65 Minutes

Grain
-------
50.0% 7.50 lbs. Rahr "2-Row" Brewer's Malt
33.3% 5.00 lbs. Rahr Wheat Malt
13.3% 2.00 lbs. Fawcett Oat Malt
3.3% 0.50 lbs. Weyermann CaraFoam

Hops
------
0.80 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 14.00% AA) @ 60 min.
3.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 15.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Brew Day Dry Hop
1.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
0.50 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 15.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
0.50 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 15.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
1.00 oz. Amarillo ( Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ Keg Hop

The inside of the Tree House Brewery.Extras
--------
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 5 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.

Yeast
-------
WYeast 1318 London Ale III

Water Profile
----------------
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
-------------------
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 155F

Notes
-------
Brewed 9/13/15

Recipe scaled to account for only the wort used for this beer.

Mash with 3.5 gallons of distilled, 5 gallons of filtered DC tap. 6 g CaCl, 7 g gypsum, 1.5 tsp of 10% phosphoric. Mash pH 5.42 (5.51 after sitting a few minutes).

Collected 8.25 gallons of 1.050 runnings with a 1.5 gallon cold sparge.

Steeped 0 min hops starting at 195 for 30 minutes in remaining wort. Pitched slurry from Chocolate Butternut Porter (WY1318) I had stored in the fridge for two weeks and decanted. - allowed to come to 64 F during the brew day. Added an additional 2 oz of Nelson to the fermentor! After 5 hours, pitched 6 oz of thick slurry.

9/16/15 Added the second dose of dry hops as the fermentation slowed.

9/22/15 Kegged with the third dose of dry hops, bagged, and suspended so they'll be high and dry when the keg is about half empty. Final pH = 4.54.

Softer & Juicier APA Tasting

Appearance – This beer is many wonderful things, but the clarity is not one of those. While my Soft and Juicy IPA skirted the hazy-murky line, the addition of 13% oat and wheat malts pushed this one firmly into the murky camp. Rather than a pleasing orange hue, the greater opacity leaves this one more dull grey. Wonderful head retention and lacing, for what that is worth.

Smell – The Amarillo and English yeast successfully temper the Nelson Sauvin, smoothing the more catty edge that can be one of the big reasons it is one of the more divisive hops. The nose is mostly hops: grapefruity, juicy strawberries, and slightly dank.

Taste – There are few beers I enjoy more than fresh, hop-saturated, and moderate alcohol. Really opens up as it warms, with that distinctive Nelson "gooseberry" character coming out even more. Surprising how bitter it comes across given the light bittering charge. Malt is subdued, but pokes through with a fresh breadiness occasionally. Slightly yeasty-sulfury, but nothing like the clarity would suggest.

Mouthfeel – The switch from flaked corn to oat malt addressed the thinness that was one of the glaring weaknesses of Soft and Juicy. Proteins and insoluble fiber from the other grains are a big help! Carbonation is a bit low (having some issue with that tap), but fine by me.

Drinkability & Notes – The perfect beer for a stoneware mug... I don’t mind some haze, but this one crosses that line into muddy. It doesn’t hurt the rest of the beer’s attributes, but it is a turn off for many people I’ve served it to. I might drop the late Columbus next time around as Nelson can bring sufficient dankness on its own (as it did in my Amarillo-Nelson Micro-IPA).

Appearance certainly isn’t the most important factor, but a beer shouldn’t be unappetizing visually. I’ll probably add a protein rest next time, and some more rice hulls…

I had plenty of time to take pictures while I waited for my growler fills.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Washington, DC Metro Beer Guide

Every few weeks I receive an email for someone planning a visit to DC wanting to know where to grab a few beers. I thought I’d flesh out my standard response and post it to save everyone the hassle. I limited each category to a maximum of five places because this isn’t intended to be a complete list, just a variety in terms of location/price/vibe. If you're looking for goings-on, DCBeer maintains a really helpful events calendar.

Brewpubs
The DC area seems to have more brewpubs that are serious about their food than most other cities. There is also a great culture of interesting session beers.

A bottle of Gene Turns 10K from BlueJacket, brewed in commemoration of my friend Gene's 10,000th RateBeer review.BlueJacket/Arsenal – Close to National’s (baseball) Park. Somewhat confusingly, BlueJacket is the brewery, and Arsenal is the co-located restaurant. They opened talking a huge game (i.e., 19 fermentors of various sorts, huge tap list, A-list collaborations), it took some time, but some of their beers are finally delivering on that promise. Beautiful vertical layout.

Mad Fox Brewing Co. – The most recent stop for local Johnny Kölsch-seed Bill Madden (who previously brewed at Capital City, and now defunct Vintage 50). Nice variety of mostly "to-style" beers, solid food, worth a stop if you are in Falls Church, VA (or near their new DC outpost in previous beer-desert Glover Park).

Franklins Restaurant, Brewery, and General Store – In 2006, I volunteered with head brewer Mike Roy a couple days at Milly’s Tavern in Manchester, NH. A few years later, I was glad he ended up brewing in Hyattsville, MD a few miles from my house (where he has really cleaned up the brewing side of things). Franklins' always had solid food, plus an adjoining general store with a solid selection of bottles (now augmented with some of their own).

Local paper had a blurb about Kodachrome Dream(ing), the collaboration I brewed with Right Proper.
Right Proper Brewing Co. – Next to the Howard Theater in Shaw. My friend Nathan Zeender left his post at the brewpub recently to oversee the new production facility in Brookland (which will have a tasting room). Luckily he was ably replaced by Bobby Bump, previously of BlueJacket, who continues to make a wide variety of pale/funky/fruity beers, some normal-ish stuff, and plenty of weird "others."

Production Breweries
The nation's capital hadn’t had a production brewery in more than 50 years until DC Brau opened in 2009. It has taken some hard lobbying (the original requirement was that they needed to install a drop ceiling!), but breweries are now allowed to fill growlers, give samples, and most recently sell pints! Still most of the local breweries are in Virginia, and to a lesser-extent Maryland.

Graffiti mural at 3 Stars, facing the train/Metro tracks.3 Stars Brewing Co. – The closest brewery to my house. They opened a few years ago with a mission to brew mostly strong beers. They still do, but I'm glad they are mixing in some lighter stuff (like Cognitive Dissonance, a snappy 3% ABV rye-Berliner). Also houses DC's only homebrewing shop, DC HomeBrew Shop.

DC Brau Brewing Co. – While big hop-bombs On the Wings of Armageddon and Solar Abyss account for much of their beer-nerd recognition, they also brew a solid, Pilsner, porter, and some other fun beers as well. Head brewer Jeff Hancock and his wife Mari are also great people, which never hurts my opinion of a brewery.

Lost Rhino Brewing Co. – Some of the equipment and talent from Old Dominion Brewing when they shacked-up in with Fordham Brewing in Delaware. Lost Rhino brews solid clean beers, but I also really dig the sours Jasper Akerboom and company are turning out!

Samples at Ocelot Brewing.Ocelot Brewing Co. – If you want strong and hoppy this is the place for you! When we stopped a few months ago they had 10 beers on, nine were 7%+ ABV, including five heavily hopped beers.

Port City Brewing Co. – 2015 GABF Small Brewing Company of the year! I'm especially fond of their porter, big and plenty roasty. Best wit in the area as well. Their hoppy beers tend to be more English-leaning.

Beer Bars
Not being a state results in some weird laws. The Brickskeller built its reputation (record for most beers available) by having a truck crisscross the country buying out-of-market beers. They closed a few years ago, but the tradition lives on and I’m often surprised by what is available at the better beer bars and stores (the prices can be shocking though).

Black Squirrel – Audrey invited me here early on when we both lived near Adams Morgan. They have three levels with their own bars, each of which has different beers on tap (70ish total).

ChurchKey/Birch & Barley – The big name in town is owned by the same group as BlueJacket (plus Rustico, GBD, Red Apron etc.). Huge beer list and prices to match. They do plenty of events and tap-takeovers as well. Birch & Barley is the fancy restaurant on the first floor of the same building.

City Tap House – I wanted to include something downtown because that is where many people end up. City Tap House is not my favorite bar, but it isn't a bad place to grab a pint and some food before an event. Jackpot, and Iron Horse are two other solid options if you aren't hungry.

Meridian Pint/Brookland Pint – In Columbia Heights and Brookland respectively, owned by the same people as Smoke & Barrel in Adams Morgan. All have solid tap lists with a good spread of slightly more obscure local releases, and interesting stuff from elsewhere.

Pizzeria Paradiso – I usually end up at the Dupont location, but there are two others as well (Alexandria and Georgetown). Midweek happy hour at the bar for half-priced drafts is the time to go. They don’t have a huge number of beers on tap, but they are usually well curated.

Bottle Shops/Beer Stores
Sadly the DC area is somewhat lacking for great places to buy beer to take home with you.

Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits – Plenty of singles, sadly not what it once was when I used to live over on that side of town. A few doors down in Magruder’s, which has a sizable selection of six-packs. A bit out of the way unless you are driving.

Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquors – They used to do a lot of "gray-market" stuff (I've seen Alpine, 3 Floyds, Russian River etc.), but not so any more. Despite the small size, their selection usually includes some more obscure bottles. An easy stop if you’re headed to Pizzeria Paradiso Dupont.

The Perfect Pour – In Columbia, MD it certainly the biggest selection around. Good variety, but watch the dates, and bring a second credit card. While you’re up there you can also stop at Frisco’s, Victoria Gastro Pub, or Maryland Homebrew.

Whole Foods P St. – Solid selection, right around the corner from ChurchKey. Several of the Northern Virginia Whole Foods have very good selections as well if you are headed out that way.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Microbe Overview: Yeast, Brett, Pedio, and Lacto

Earlier this year, the AHA requested some info on the various microbes involved in sour beer production for a post they were working on (Sour Microbes: Yeast and Bacteria Explained). I wrote up the summaries below for brewer's yeast, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus to help them out. Nothing ground breaking, but since I had it already hopefully other people might benefit form the overview (without the ultra-nerdy details of chapter 4 of American Sour Beers)!

Brewer’s Yeast - Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and S. Pastorianus (lager yeast)
Type: Yeast - Order Saccharomycetales (Family: Saccharomycetaceae)

Fermentables: Primarily glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, and maltotriose (also mannose, galactose, and raffinose. Lager yeast also can ferment melibiose.)

Important products: Ethanol, carbon dioxide, esters, and phenols (POF+ strains – mostly Belgian and Hefeweizen)

Oxygen: Beneficial for growth

Ideal temperature: 45-95F (strain dependent)

Speed: Fast

IBU Tolerance: High

Overall: Brewer’s yeast protects the wort and sets the stage for a traditional slow-moving mixed-fermentation duo of Brett and Pedio.

Brett - Brettanomyces bruxellensis (aka B. lambicus)/B. anomalus (aka B. claussenii)
Type: Yeast - Order Saccharomycetales (Family: Pichiaceae)

Fermentables: Primarily the same as Saccharomyces, but in addition dextrins up to 9-glucose chains. Some strains (beta-glucosidase enzyme positive) are capable of fermenting lactose, cellobiose (wood sugar), and gylcosides (from hops, spices, and fruit – which releases aromatics)

Important products: Ethanol, carbon dioxide, esters (create and destroy), phenols (converts what brewer’s yeast leaves behind into funkier forms), and tetrahydropyridines (toasty to mousy)

Oxygen: Beneficial for growth, but leads to acetic acid production

Ideal temperature: 58-85F (strain dependent)

Speed: Slow

IBU Tolerance: High

Overall: Works well on its own with a large enough pitch, or in tandem with any of the other microbes listed. Brett doesn’t sour the beers you brew, it makes the sour beer you brew delicious. Can do some of its best work without malt carbohydrates available to ferment (especially during bottle conditioning). More fermentables allow the production of more esters, but these fruity flavors are not driving traditional funky “Brett” character.

Lacto - Lactobacillus delbrueckii/L. brevis/L. buchneri/L. plantarum etc.
Type: Bacteria – Family Lactobacillaceae

Fermentables: Some species can only ferment relatively simple sugars, while others can ferment dextrins.

Important products: Lactic acid, ethanol, and carbon dioxide

Oxygen: Usually aerotolerant (doesn’t use oxygen, but isn’t harmed by it)

Ideal temperature: 70-115F (strain dependent)

Speed: Really fast

IBU Tolerance: Low to very low

Overall: Lacto is capable of sour a beer within 24-48 hours if given free reign. However, too much acidity can cause less desirable performance for the microbes that follow. Most strains do not thrive after primary fermentation is complete.

Pedio - Pediococcus cerevisiae et al.
Type: Bacteria – Family Lactobacillaceae

Fermentables: Complex sugars, some species are even capable of metabolizing starch.

Important products: Lactic acid, exopolysaccharides (EPS), and diacetyl

Speed: Really slow

Oxygen: Usually microaerophilic (prefers oxygen at lower than atmospheric concentration)
Ideal temperature: 60-80F (strain dependent)

IBU Tolerance: Moderate

Overall: Pedio should be used with Brett in most cases to clean up the EPS and diacetyl. Won’t lower the pH as quickly as Lacto, but can reach a lower final pH given enough time and complex carbohydrates.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cranberry Dark Saison Tasting

Cranberries pre-cooking.Hard to believe Alex and I are already talking about our eighth annual dark/funky saison! The bottle I’m drinking tonight is from batch #6 (recipe), brewed almost two years ago with the help of a few of the Modern Times Kickstarter  backers. A year later, I cooked down two quarts of fresh cranberries with orange zest to add to the fermentor. Applying heat accomplishes a similar effect to drying fruit, it destroys many of the brighter/fresher flavors, producing a richer singular flavor that usually meshes more seamlessly with dark beers.

Also hard to believe that in that time Modern Times has gone through such raid growth, recently announcing that they’re opening a second brewery with a restaurant in Los Angeles!

Dark Saison VI - Cranberry

Appearance – Foamed up slightly when I opened the bottle, which in turn churn up the sediment. Pours a hazy rusty-chestnut. Moderate off-white head, better than many sours (but still not great).

Smell – Mild aroma, with bready malt, and jammy red fruit. The Brett is wonderfully leathery, a hint of toasty oak as well. A hint of alcohol warmth towards the end of the glass. Certainly reminds me of the fall.

Cranberries post-saison.Taste – More oud bruin than dark saison (not that it is brewed to any sort of style-guidelines). Not too surprising given the base-malt-trio of Maris Otter, Vienna, and Munich. Rounded, malty, with that saturated berry-cherry fruit. It is obvious there is real fruit, but I’m not sure I would have been able to say cranberry definitively. Acidity is pleasantly puckering, but not aggressive or harsh. Earthy funk is subdued, allowing the fruit and malt to lead. Lingering bready-fruity finish.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body with less carbonation than I expected given what happened when I opened the bottle.

Drinkability & Notes – Cooking the cranberries softened their flavor enough that I would probably up the amount next time. I don’t taste any influence from the orange peel, which is nice because I was planning to add orange peel directly to the fermentor a few days before bottling Dark Saison VII!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chocolate Butternut Squash Porter Recipe

Like my annual slice of pumpkin pie, I think I'm going to enjoy pumpkin ales more than I usually do. I never really love the standard formula: caramel-sweet amber/orange ale, overbearing spicing (sometimes augmented with ingredients like gram cracker flavoring), and no pumpkin flavor. Skilled brewers can make it work, one of my favorites is Selin's Grove's Pumpkin Ale, served only on nitro at the small central-Pennsylvania brewpub. The creamy head and subdued spice aroma combine to make it one of my favorites of the classic formulation.

As far as clean pumpkin ales go, stouts and porters provide a better base. As pumpkin-spice-latte devotees have discovered, restrained roast is an easy pairing for warming fall spices (cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla). For beer, rather than add coffee to an amber base, I prefer chocolate and roasted malts. I brewed a small batch of Chocolate Pumpkin Porter seven years ago inspired by the description of Midnight Sun's TREAT (never having had it). Luckily I wasn't disappointed when I finally bought a bottle five years later!

For this batch, I originally intended to add canned pumpkin, but two local supermarkets weren't carrying it in early August. Instead I purchased two butternut squashes totaling 6.5 pounds. They are easier to dispatch than sugar/pie pumpkins thanks to smaller internal cavities, and their flavor is somewhat more characterful. Rather than roast the chunks of flesh, I steamed them, in the hopes of bringing out more of their squashiness.

With the flesh broken down enough to mash, I stirred in the Dutch-process cocoa powder, custom pumpkin pie spice mix, vanilla bean, and a half tin of black treacle (the English cousin of molasses - light molasses would be an acceptable substitute) and continued to cook the mixture a few more minutes. This took the place of the standard "blooming" process I usually execute with cocoa powder (rehydrating it with hot water). Unrefined sugar and vanilla compliment chocolate, they help to make it taste more deeply chocolaty. In this case I didn't want the treacle to be strong enough to identify, but something you'd miss if it was taken away.

I dumped the resulting "vegan brownie batter" into the fermentor and pumped the cooled wort on top of it. Squash has relatively little starch, so it isn't necessary to convert it in the mash. You could add it to the boil, but I find it imparts more flavor during extended contact in the fermentor (it settles out pretty well if given enough time). In the past I've added a spice tea at bottling/kegging when I want to taste the "true" spice flavor (as opposed to Belgian-style late-boil addition for spice complexity), but I wanted to try this method. At packaging I tasted the beer and decided it didn't need a spice boost.

This was only half of the batch, I left the rest as a plain porter - although I have a twist planned for it before it goes on tap... I'll talk about the base recipe (including stout malt) when I post the tasting notes for it.

Chocolate Butternut Porter Tasting

Appearance – As chocolate brown as a beer can be without being black. You get the feeling this would be a pretty ugly (muddy) beer if it weren’t so dark. Between the cocoa powder and the squash, there is plenty of haze when viewed at the margins. The head is creamy, but not as long-lasting as some of my other nitrogenated beers.

Smell – Rounded cocoa-roast leads, followed up by cinnamon (and other more nebulous fall spices). Like a spiced chocolate muffin, it doesn’t smell too sweet, with fresh bready maltiness filling out the background. Lots of different spice notes as it warms (nutmeg especially), luckily the clove is subdued. The squash comes through in the same way it does in pumpkin bread, as a pleasant sweet vegetable note.

Taste – Spices are saturated through the palate without overwhelming the other flavors. They aren’t as bright and distinct as when I’ve used a spice tea, but with such a complex beer this technique worked well. The chocolate is behind the spice, mixing with the roast. The treacle and vanilla are faint. Sweet enough to support the autumnal flavors, without being sticky. The squash flavor is subtle at best, but it adds a slightly fruity-savory flavor in the mid-palate. The flavors of the base beer itself are a bit lost with so much else going on, the hops and yeast are all but absent.

Mouthfeel – Really silky, one of the most viscous, unctuous, full bodied beers I’ve brewed! Especially considering the moderate alcohol. I’m sure the flaked rye and high FG helped, but I have to imagine the starches and fiber in the squash played a role as well. Carbonation is low, but the dense head only adds to the luxuriousness.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s a fun beer. Balanced, expressive, and drinkable for what it is. However, it’s such a rich/full beer that it isn’t exactly a second or third pint sort of beer. Glad I got it on early in the season so I can slowly enjoy it through the fall!

Chocolate Butternut Porter Recipe

Recipe Specifics
--------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.00
OG: 1.066
SRM: 43.0
IBU: 24.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

Grain
-------
66.7% - 10.00 lbs. Malting Company of Ireland Stout Malt
13.3% - 2.00 lbs. Flaked Rye
6.7% - 1.00 lbs. Weyermann CaraMunich III
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Weyermann Carafa II
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Simpsons Chocolate Malt
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Simpsons Medium Crystal
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Briess Midnight Wheat

Hops
-------
1.13 oz. Crystal (Pellet, 3.25% AA) @ 60 min.
0.50 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 8.00% AA) @ 60 min.

Extras
--------
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 6 min. (boil)
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 6 min. (boil)
6.50 lbs Butternut Squash
1 Vanilla Bean
5 oz Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
2.75 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
0.50 lbs Tate & Lyle's Black Treacle

Yeast
-------
WYeast 1318 London Ale III

Water Profile
----------------
Profile: Scandinavian RIS

Mash Schedule
------------------
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 158F

Notes
-------
Brewed 8/9/15

Made a 4L starter 24 hours in advance. Good activity quickly on the stir-plate.

2.25 g of chalk to the mash (dissolved in carbonated water first). Mash pH 5.34

Spice: 1.5 tsp cinnamon, .5 tsp grated nutmeg, plus .25 tsp allspice berries, and .5 tsp cracked ginger ground in a coffee grinder with 5 cloves.

6.5 lbs butternut squash peeled and diced, steamed with 1 cup water. Uncovered after 30 minutes, mixed in spices, 5 oz of Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, 8 oz of Tate & Lyle's black treacle, and 1 split vanilla bean. Cooked 5 minutes uncovered. Then pulled off heat to cool, covered.

Collected 7 gallons with 1.5 gallon cold sparge. First runnings 1.059.

Added 4.5 g of sea salt to the boil. Chilled to 64 F with recirculated ice water.

Racked 5.5 gallons to each fermentor, one had the cooled chocolate-squash-spice paste. Shook to combine, pitched decanted starter, left at 64F to ferment.

8/15/15 Upped to 68 F to finish.

8/30/15 Kegged both halves with 2.35 oz of cane sugar each.

9/13/15 Hooked Butternut half up to beer gas in the kegerator. FG 1.026 (61% AA, 5.3% ABV). Likely a little higher alcohol and attenuation considering I didn't take an OG reading after mixing in the squash mixture.

9/23/15 Tasting notes above.

2/9/16 Tasting notes and process for the "plain" half, revived with cold-steep dark malts in the keg.

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