Monday, January 30, 2017

LODO Festbier: Split Batch Experiment

Running off the HighDO wort.My first attempt at low dissolved oxygen (LODO) brewing was lackluster... generously (I dumped the last gallon of that Pilsner). I wanted to try the intensive process again, replicating both wort production and fermentation as close as I could to what is prescribed in the second version of On Brewing Bavarian Helles. Rather than brew ten gallons of LODO festbier, I split the batch pre-boil aerating half of the wort as a control. I boiled this "HighDO" wort harder and with a copper immersion chiller. The LODO half I gently simmered and then chilled through a stainless-steel Blichmann plate chiller (although it was brazed with copper). Post-chilling I treated the beers identically from cold fermentation through spunding.

At the start of the January meeting I roped 20 members of DC Homebrewers into a blind triangle tasting of these two beers (poured from growlers I had counter-pressure filled 90 minutes prior). Only 7 of 20 (P=.52) correctly selected the odd (LODO) beer out of the three samples. That is a number perfectly consistent with random chance, suggesting that my LODO and HighDO beers were indistinguishable to the average beer nerd. Of the seven who correctly identified the aberrant sample, only one preferred it (four preferred the HighDO, and two had no preference).

After a month of drinking the two beers, I was able to select and identify the beers in my single attempted triangle test. They are similar, but the LODO does have an ever-so-slightly maltier aroma to my nose. Flavors are nearly identical.

As a disclaimer, I intended this test to explore whether my kluged-process LODO made an incremental improvement to this pale lager. I'll say "yes" if you know what to look for, but in the barest of terms. What I’d love to see is someone with a dialed-in system try the same experiment!

A single experiment can’t prove or disprove anything. That's why replication is an essential (if unsexy) part of science. Even under rigorously controlled conditions statistics like this only provide a confidence interval that suggests that the results are not due to chance. Compound this with variability introduced by brewer, brew house, tasters, conditions etc. and you sometimes produce false positive and negatives. That said, blind taste tests are the best way to insulate results from expectation and bias. Triangle tests are a pain to conduct, and put a target on you from people who can swear they can taste the difference. I have a lot of respect for what the Brulosophy folks put themselves through for data (especially after participating a couple times)! Looking forward to hanging out with Marshall in New Zealand in a couple months between talks at NZHC 2017!

Tube ringer for White Labs.As a side note, Audrey got me this tube wringer for toothpaste, but it works perfectly to extract the last few billion cells from PurePitch packages. White Labs should probably license it and sell an official version!

LODO Festbier

Smell – Clean bready malt aroma. Pleasant waft of sulfur, although a few tasters felt it considerably stronger than I do. Faint grassiness of noble hops.

Appearance – Slightly-hazy deep yellow. Dense white head sticks around until the bottom leaving patches of lacing down the sides of the glass.

Taste – Malt flavor is well rounded. Crisp, but the 5% crystal malt adds a mild honey-like sweetness. Pleasant herbal hop flavor in the finish. Clean balancing bitterness. Retro-nasal brings the appropriate lager-light-egginess back. It had a flavor that reminded me of the doughiness of a no-boil Berliner weisse when it was young, but that has faded.

Mouthfeel – Medium body with moderately prickly carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – One of the better lagers I’ve brewed. Malty without being heavy. The sulfur is at the top of the my range, likely a result of the cold fermentation and spunding rather than the sulfite.

Changes for Next Time – Unlike my first attempt where the primary issue was double-dosing metabisulfite, this is a pleasant beer! Next time I’d reduce or eliminate the Carahell, and save the effort and brew it with the standard wort production (and warm up the fermentation towards the end)!

The LODO FestbierFestbier Recipe

Batch Size: 10.00 gal
SRM: 5.3 SRM
IBU: 17.5 IBUs
OG: 1.055
FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.5%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65%
Boil Time: 65 Mins

Grain
-------
75.5 % - 17.1 lbs Weyermann Pilsner
17.5 % - 4 lbs Weyermann Vienna
5.4 % - 1.2 lbs Weyermann Carahell
1.7 % - .4 lbs Weyermann Acidulated

Mash
-------
Sacch Rest - 30 min @ 152F

Hops
-------
4.40 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrueh (Pellets, 2.00 % AA) @ 60 min
1.60 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrueh (Pellets, 2.00 % AA) @ 10 min

Yeast
-------
White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager

Notes
-------
Brewed 11/14/16

Recipe above is the ingredients for the entire 10 gallon batch.

Made a 5L stir-plate starter. Fermented at room temperature for 36 hours, then crash chilled.

Boiled 18 gallons of water (8 distilled, 10 filtered DC) added 12 g of CaCl. Preboiled water, then added 7 crushed sodium campden tablets. Underlet mash after purging with CO2.

Mash pH 5.28.

Collected 7.5 gallons of wort as is, 4.5 aerated and left in an aluminum pot until the remainder came to a boil.

Adjusted 2.4% AA hop pellets down to 2%. Bagged.

LODO, 2.75 oz @ 60 min. 1 oz @ 10 min. Plate chiller. 1.056. Slightly sweeter, maybe could pass for maltier. A shade lighter.

Aerated, 1.65 oz @ 60 min. .6 oz @ 10 min. Immersion chiller. 1.054.

Chilled both to 46F, shook to aerate, pitched the decanted starter. Left at 48F to ferment.

11/20/16 Down to 1.032 (43% AA).

11/21/16 Started dropping 1F per day. Until it reached 43F.

11/24/16 1.024, still pretty yeasty with a small krausen.

11/27/16 1.019 (66% AA). Kegged into quadruple-purged kegs. Purged and pressurized head space. Left at 48F to carbonate. Both have some sweetness, so hopefully drops below 1.015 (73% AA).

12/3/16 Good pressure on both, 15 PSI. Removed spunding valve and began dropping 2F per day.

12/18/16 Attached to gas and dumped yeast from both. FG 1.013 (76.8% attenuation) on the LODO, 1.012 (77.8%) on the HighDO.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Borrowed Wort: Commonwealth Sour Brown

When I set out to visit Commonwealth Brewing Co. in Virginia Beach to collaborate on a sour brown, I tossed a sanitized carboy in the trunk. I brought home three gallons of wort and pitched my own microbes (Omega Lacto Blend and bottle dregs) in addition to their house ale yeast.

With all of the effort many brewers put into wort production for sour beers, I thought it was worth noting how little my "version" has in common with the wort that stayed at Commonwealth. Especially for sour beers, so much of the final character is dependent on the microbes, barrels, blending, and in this case (lack of) fruit! I'm not saying wort production is irrelevant, but getting the right fermentation is much more important than whether the beer is 10% or 20% wheat!

Home-Fermented Commonwealth Sour Brown AleThere are still a few bottles of both variants (Penthesilia and Hippolyta) available at the brewery's tasting room if you want to taste the beer (or steal the microbes)!

Home-Fermented Sour Brown

Smell – Red fruit, dusty Brett, and caramel malt. Vibrant, no oxidation. Faint alcohol as it warms.

Appearance – Deep clear brown with red highlights. The off-white head displays impressive retention for a sour beer.

Taste – Bright lactic acidity. Cherry and blue cheese funk from the Brett. Slight grape Fruit Roll-Up. Minimal sweetness, but some caramel malty-depth.

Mouthfeel – Light without being tannic or desiccant. I like a bit more heft.

Drinkability & Notes – Not hugely interesting, but a pleasantly drinkable dark sour that showcases a variety of classic Brett funk with balancing acidity.

Changes for Next Time – Shouldn’t come as much surprise, but I think this is a good illustration of why trying to “clone” commercial sour beers is a fool’s errand. Even with literally identical wort you can't do it without the other pieces of the process!

Staff of Ra (Sour Brown with Coffee)

Given the less-than-exciting trajectory of this batch as it approached packaging, I diverted a gallon to try a coffee-infused version. I know, listening to the so-called expert of American Sour Beers this might seem like a bad idea:

“The bold coffee and chocolate additions that work so well in big sweet stouts do not succeed when combined with a dry and sour base.”

My opinion softened after I split a glass of Lervig CafĂ© Sur, a unique sour pale with coffee while in Norway. I only risked a gallon, adding .5 oz of uncrushed Ceremony Thesis coffee beans (the same I used for this Hoppy Blonde) for less than a day…

Home-Fermented Commonwealth Sour Brown Ale with CoffeeSmell – The coffee adds a fresh toasty-roasty aroma that combines with the fruitiness, covering the majority of the funk (leaving just a bit of dust). Slight “green bell pepper” of oxidized coffee, it has faded from where it was a few months ago.

Appearance – Some light really brings out the red! Head retention is slightly less, but that may be thanks more to reusing the glass rather than the coffee beans.

Taste – The coffee is a good match for this beer, although they aren’t a fresh as I would have liked. It reduces the perception of the Brett. Acidity is similar. Coffee would be a waste of a more interesting base beer. I'd put it in the same category as dry hops for a sour, not what I would add to my favorite base beer.

Mouthfeel – Similar to the straight version.

Drinkability & Notes – The coffee adds some interest to what is an otherwise unremarkable base beer. This isn't exactly the right combination, but it is something I'll experiment more with in the future.

Changes for Next Time – A paler base beer might work better given the additive power of the dark malts and beans. Alternatively, a coffee with more dark fruit might have been a better match for a dark sour.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Courage RIS (No Brett): Tasting

Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone: No Brett or Oak.
The continuation of my Christmas eve tradition of drinking homebrewed Courage Russian Imperial Stout was beginning to look in doubt. After 2015 I was down to three bottles, so February 2016 I rebrewed a tweaked 10 gallon batch (recipe). Originally the plan was to give half the wort to my friend Scott, but when his plans changed at the last minute I split the batch with myself instead: half clean, half with White Labs Brett claussenii and oak spheres.

The funky-oaky half is ready to bottle this week. As with the original batch from 2007, once the gravity reached 1.020 I transferred the beer to a clean fermentor with one campden tablet (sodium metabisulfite) per gallon. This additional 20% apparent attenuation from Brett isn't guaranteed. Mike Karnowski, the brewer/founder of Zebulon Artisan Ales (and author of Homebrew Beyond the Basics), homebrewed a similar recipe a couple years ago and split it between five commercial Brett strains, but didn't see significant attenuation from any of them (not a bad thing) - I got to taste a sample of each at a bottle share while I was in town for the Asheville Homebrewers Conference!

Courage RIS 2016: Base

Smell – Expressive clean roasted nose. Charred cocoa, fresh bready malt, a hint of ethanol. There is a subtle dark fruitiness from the candi syrup, but not nearly the intense-raisin that many year-old dark-crystal-malt dependent imperial stouts fall. No noticeable oxidation. No hop aroma, unsurprising given the single early Columbus addition.

Appearance – Beautiful, opaque, black body. Voluminous mocha head (bigger than I like to see on what should be a low-carbed beer). Great retention despite the snow landing on it.

No better day than a snowy day for Imperial Stout!Taste – Flavor is a delicious blend of 85% cocoa chocolate bar, richly toasted malt, and subtle English ale fruitiness. Enough bitterness (hop, roast, alcohol) to balance the plum-sweetness in the mid-palate. It doesn’t taste like a 1.040 FG beer, but then it may grow sweeter as the bitterness drops off with time.

Mouthfeel – Thick, coating, rich. Carbonation is elevated from my preference (and the 2.1 volumes I targeted), but I wouldn’t call it over-carbonated in general beer terms.

Drinkability & Notes – Surprisingly drinkable for a beer this big in alcohol and sweetness. It maintains a fresh malt flavor from the Maris Otter and amber malts that plays off the firm Black Patent roast wonderfully. Without Brett the malt is much more in focus.

Changes for Next Time – This is it for me other than the carbonation (which is easy enough to swirl out). As big as it needs to be, with an intense maltiness that I don't think would be possible in a smaller stout. At 9% a 12 oz bottle is a reasonable serving, something I can't say for the many commercial stouts that don't achieve this flavor-saturation with 12-16% ABV!

Hopefully the next few years are kind to the remaining case and a half!

I drank my third-to-last bottle of the original on Christmas eve. Not much had changed since last year so it didn't seem worth writing up the full tasting notes. Carbonation was still pleasantly low, big dark fruit, gentle funkiness, no sign of impending oxidized-doom for the last couple bottles!

One of the last glasses of one of my favorite beers.

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