Thursday, January 31, 2008

State of the Blog

On the first Anniversary of the Mad Fermentationist I'd like to thank everyone who has read the Blog, posted comments, and emailed me, and especially to the people who I have met because of the blog.

I thought some of you might be interested in some stats from my first year of Blogging. I didn't start using Google Analytics until the start of March, so these stats are for the last 11 months.

Total Visits: 11,712 (32/day)
Pretty good, for my first year. However, this number has been more rapidly growing, this January I already have more than 2,000 visits.

Page Views: 22,435
Unique Visitors: 6,110

Direct Traffic: 2,908
Search Engines: 3,373
Referring sites: 5,431

Top Reffering Sites:
1st Northern Brewer
2nd Beer Advocate
3rd Basic Brewing Radio

From: 68 Countries
1st USA
2nd Canada
3rd Australia
4th UK
5th New Zealand
6th Sweden
7th Denmark
8th Norway
9th Ireland
10th Netherlands
11th Finland

Interestingly all are either English speaking, or Scandinavian.

About half of the visitors were from America
1st California
2nd DC (A good chunk of those hits are from me)
3rd Pennsylvania
4th Virginia
5th Minnesota
6th New York
7th Illinois
8th Michigan
9th Oregon
10th Massachusetts

Not surprising that a lot of those states have strong and active craft brewing and homebrewing bases. In case you were wondering I got the fewest hits from Hawaii.

Surprisingly I get more hits from Firefox (49%) than Internet Explorer (40%)

Operating System:
79% Windows
17% Mac
5% Linux

(Even had a few odd iPhone, Wii, and PS3 users stop by)

Things on tap for this year:
Cured Meat
Berliner Weiss (In Secondary)
Lambic (Brewed 18 months ago, blending/bottling in August)
Flanders Pale Ale (Brewed 6 months ago, bottling in August)
Plenty of other interesting fermentation experiments.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cottage Cheese - Not really fermenting

Making cheese involves first coagulating milk to remove the whey from the curd then fermenting it. I have already played with fermenting milk without removing the whey when making yogurt. So I decided to try my hand at a quick acid coagulated cheese before stepping into rennet coagulation, and fermented/aged cheese.

The procedure from Good Easts was pretty simple. I took a half gallon of skim milk and added .375 cups of distilled white vinegar. In yogurt the lactic acid bacteria create the acid that slowly coagulates the milk, in this case the acetic acid from the vinegar acts very quickly after a few minutes of stirring followed by 30 minutes of sitting. The curd clumped together in 6 or so large blobs each of which looked like warm mozzarella. This is very different than rennet coagulation which makes a solid coagulated block that needs to be cut before it is drained.

After 30 minutes I strained the curd from the whey through a tea towel laid on top of colander. Once most of the whey was gone, I rinsed the curd in cold running water for 5 minutes mixing it and squeezing it as I went to remove the acid and develop the curd. After that I squeezed the curd dry, broke it up, and tossed it with 1/2 tsp of kosher salt. I then added a few teaspoons of half and half (you could use anything from skim milk to cream) to give the cheese back some moisture.

The resulting cheese was somewhere between cottage cheese and ricotta, the curds were a bit too small and grainy, and it wasn't quite juicy enough for cottage cheese. Not to say that it wasn't a tasty snack, just that it wasn't just like commercial cottage cheese.

It was a worthwhile experiment, but yielding under 1 cup of cottage cheese for 1/2 gallon of milk it probably isn't worth the time or money to make regularly in place of commercial versions. Look for more information on cheese as I go forward, I hope to start with a soft cheese like camembert before moving onto firmer longer aged cheese.

Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone - First Tasting

The first official tasting of a batch I will hopefully still be drinking in 2017. My Courage Clone was brewed in July and bottled in November. It is still very young, but I thought it was worth trying to give a baseline for future tastings and make sure the Brett hadn't survived the Campden Tablets and gone back to work.

Appearance – Beautiful pitch black in my snifter. When held at an angle to the light the edges are dark brown, beers with roasted barley tend to be more red. The carbonation inflates a one-finger tan head. It tries to hang on for a few minutes, but rather quickly it falls to a light crème which sticks around for the duration

Smell – Some clean ethanol, and dusty cocoa powder. A bit of dark cherries, either from the candi syrup or the Brett, I can't tell. Not much funk, but there is a hint of earthiness as the beer warms. I also get a light coconut aroma. None of the classic stout coffee aroma, those come from roasted barley just like the red hues.

Taste – Good balance, but the alcohol is still a bit forward. It isn't hot or fusel-y, but at 11% abv it simply needs some more time to mellow. Solid bitterness, but nowhere as aggressive as the American interpretation of the style. The strong toastiness which I tasted in my last bottle is mostly mellowed, but there is still a solid malty base. There is a bit of tartness from the Brett, but again not much in the way of funk. As it warms there is just a hint of apple cider as well.

Mouthfeel – The carbonation seems to have gotten slightly stronger, but it is still in good shape. Medium body, a good level, but maybe a bit thin for a beer this big and contemplative. I won't declare that I'm in the clear yet from the Brett restarting, but in another few months if the carbonation still hasn't changed I will be.

Drinkability & Notes – It is certainly still drinking “young,” I think it just needs some time for the alcohol to mellow and some complexity to develop. I am surprised how little funk the Brett A gave to it, and with it hopefully dead it shouldn't develop anymore. This is one of my beers that I am most looking forward to aging, I've stowed 10 bottles at my parents' house to be consumed by me one a year as a Christmas treat when I go to visit them. Not much oak presence now, but it may shine through once the beer calms down.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Double Flanders Red Tasting

Finally a tasting (in fact two) of truly sour homebrew. This is a split batch that was started in August 2006 with WYeast's Roeselare Blend, that I first posted about last April. It is also the first of my beers aged with a toasted chairleg in the neck of the carboy.

The first beer is a straight Flanders Red which was bottled last August, while the second beer is the second half of that same batch aged on 4 pounds of blackberries for 4 months and was bottled at the end of December.

Plain/Straight-Flanders Red

Aroma -
Upfront it is a combination of cherries with a bit of barnyard funk. There are also some nice floral notes that must be coming from the Brett continuing to create esters from the alcohol and acids. No acetic/vinegar character, which is fine by me.

Appearance -
Light amber/orange/red depending on how much beer I am looking through. There is a bit of haze, but it is a pretty clear beer. It still hasn't developed much carbonation as it just barely manages to put up some patch bubbles. However, this mini-head has surprisingly good retention.

Taste –
Moderate soft sourness, that spreads out evenly over the palate. In addition to the variety of fruit flavors, there is also a nice vanilla/oak component. The finish lingers a bit, but it does not stay as long as most of the sharply sour/sweet commercial versions I have had. Again there seems to be no sharp acetic acid, just nice tangy lactic acid. It could use a bit more sourness and sweetness for the "style" but I think it retains balance since both are below standard levels.

Mouthfeel –
Very light carbonation, the low carbonation causes the body to seem thinner than it should. I believe this is a result of CO2 escaping before the beer was bottled. In the January-February issue of BYO Vinnie from Russian River suggested over priming barrel aged beers because most of the carbonation escapes during aging process, leaving it as still as wine (at bottling time beer normally has a bit less than 1 volume of CO2 still dissolved in it from fermentation). I believe this theory is confirmed by the Blackberry half of this batch which had active fermentation and achieved sufficient carbonation.

Drinkability/Notes –
This is a solid beer, and mild enough considering it is unblended, but it could certainly benefit from some added carbonation, complexity, and sourness. I think it is one of the better funky beers I have made, and very drinkable for the style.

Blackberry-Flanders Red

Aroma –
Big fruity/sour nose. I think the bigger nose on this one is due in part to the added fruit, but also in part to a higher level of carbonation. The same floral notes from the straight batch remain adding some nice complexity to the nose. This beer also has a hint of vinegar, but still nowhere near the level of many commercial Flanders Reds.

Appearance -
Deep-amber/burgundy. There is a thin white head, but retention is pretty poor. Hazier than the plain batch, but that is expected as it has only been in the bottle for a few weeks.

Taste –
Bright acidity upfront, deep earthiness in the back. Not too dry, there is a good fruity sweetness. Not much blackberry flavor, it is there but it definitely tastes fermented, not like fresh fruit. Much more sour and complex than the straight batch, I'm glad I didn't lower the amount of berries as I was considering doing.

Mouthfeel –
Solid carbonation, the body certainly feels a bit more substantial than the plain version. Once the beer went onto the blackberries it received a standard airlock, this kept some CO2 in the beer and made the same amount of priming sugar give me much more carbonation in the final beer.

Drinkability/Notes –
Delicious! I think it is much better than the plain half, and probably one of the tastier beers I have made to date. I think with a bit more age it will be hard to determine what is fruit and what is fermentation character, I think it is very nice that the beer shines through as well as it does, that was my main concern when adding fruit to a base beer that I had waited so long to mature.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Do you have a blog?

Another close to 50/50 split, although I suspect that people with Blogs would be more likely to answer. Glad there are both Bloggers and non-Bloggers alike visiting my Blog.

No 14 (48%)

Yes, fermentation related 13 (44%)

Yes, about something besides fermentation 2 (6%)

Here are some interesting fermentation Blogs/Posts that I enjoy:

Goat Yogurt - I Like It

My second attempt at making yogurt turned out pretty well. When I saw powdered goat milk at Whole Foods I was inspired to make some yogurt from just goat milk products.

As with my first attempt at yogurt making I took 2 qrt of milk (in this case whole goat milk) and heated it up to 120 degrees, but this time I also added 1 cup of dried milk. My honey didn't look too good, so in its place I opted to add 2 tbls of agave nectar (left over from my second sugar experiment). After the powdered milk dissolved I poured the mixture into my plastic container and put the heating pad on high for the night. By the next morning I had a nice big batch of goat milk yogurt.

The results were very smooth and creamy compared to my first attempt (probably as a result of more fat both in the milk and from the dried milk). I thought the flavor was good with a nice flavor/aroma reminiscent of a nice American Chèvre (not too much barnyard). The texture was still a bit loose, but this time instead of a lack of protein, I'd blame it on an excess of fat (fat molecules can get in the way of proteins trying to bond to one another). I thought this yogurt worked particularly well in savory applications like sauces for fish and roasted meat.

Next up I'll go for a more traditional recipe, in my attempt to get closer to the firmer texture of commercial yogurt.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

DC Homebrewers

Happy to report that I attended the first meeting of the DC Homebrewers club. Seemed like a really good group of people. I enjoy going to BURP meetings, but it was nice to attend a club meeting within walking distance of my apartment and with so many new people to talk beer with. If you are in the DC area come out for a meeting and meet some other local homebrewers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sour Beer Update

During my Christmas week in Massachusetts I had a chance to inspect and taste several of my long aging sour beers.

This was my first real taste of my Flanders Pale Ale (left), which was coming along nicely with a mild funky Brett aroma, but not much sourness yet.

My lambic had a rather strong fruity flavor and a nicely developing sourness, although nowhere near as strong as a commercial lambic. This beer is still in primary to take advantage of the autolysing yeast cake and looks about the same as it did the last time I saw it (bits of detached pellicle).

I bottled the second half of my Flanders Red which had been aging on 4 lbs of blackberries (left). I was pleasantly surprised that the fruit flavor was not as intense as I expected. The acids from the berries and the extra fermentation time with the fruit sugars added a good deal more sourness, with the fruit giving a nice winey complexity. Look for a full review in a couple of weeks when the beer is fully carbonated.

I also dropped off my Cable Car clone (left) for its year of souring. As you can see I got a full 5 gallons out of the 6 gallons I put into the three primary fermenters. The flavor going into secondary was excellent, a fruity combination of peaches, apricots, and oranges. I can't wait to see how this one tastes in 12 months after the Russian River bugs have their way with it.

Not crying over sour milk - Yogurt

My first foray into the world of fermented dairy. This is one the most diverse areas of fermentation including such standard items as sour cream, and buttermilk, gourmet items such as crème fraîche, cultured butter, and kefir, not to mention the literally hundreds of varieties of cheese.

My basic method was stolen from Good Eats, but it is pretty much the same method everyone else seems to use (except for the genius use of a heating pad to maintain the correct temperature).

I took 1/2 gallon of 2% milk (you can use use milk from any animal and with any percentage of fat you want) and heated it to 120 degrees. I then poured all of it except 1 cup into a cylindrical plastic container, the rest was blended with two 6 oz containers of store bought yogurt with live cultures (make sure the back says it "contains live cultures"). I poured the thinned yogurt into the container with the warm milk. I placed the container with lid on into a pot and wrapped it with a a heating pad set to high.

You would have to test out your heating pad to determine the correct setting to keep a liquid at 115 degrees and make sure that your heating pad doesn't have an auto-shutoff timer like the one I bought (luckily my mother was willing to swap).

I then went to sleep, when I woke up in the morning (8 hours later) I had a thick tangy yogurt like substance. I took a temperature reading and it was 114, pretty good for my first try. I opted not to add any powdered milk, which many recipes call for to add additional protein to enhance coagulation (acid coagulates protein, the same reaction gives the citrus juice marinated seafood in ceviche its "cooked" texture). The longer you leave the yogurt before putting into the refrigerator the more acid will be produced by the various lactic acid bacteria (including our beer souring friend lactobacillus), and the firmer the resulting yogurt will be.

After a few hours in the fridge to cool down (115 degree yogurt wasn't that appealing to me) the homemade yogurt had a creamy mouthfeel with a nice lingering tangy flavor. I thought it had a fresher "milky" flavor and aroma than commercial yogurt, which could be the result of the organic milk I used or just the fact that I have no experience critically evaluating yogurt. The yogurt kept well in the fridge until it was all gone (after 5 days).

I plan to add some dried milk to see how much of a thickening difference it makes. I also plan on playing with different brands of yogurt to inoculate. Much like sourdough you could continually save a cup of yogurt to inoculate your next batch, but I doubt I have the commitment for that.