Monday, October 27, 2008

The Plan: Wine Barrel Flanders Red

For a couple of years now I've been playing with oak cubes, oak chips, and oak chair legs, all in an attempt to replicated the magical flavor of commercial barrel aged beers. Well all of that seemed lame once my friend Eric suggested that we buy a used wine barrel and make a real barrel aged beer. We found a winery willing to sell us an old barrel and recruited enough friends to brew the required 60 gallons of beer.

If you have the room, a full sized barrel has several big advantages over a small (5-15 gallon) homebrew-sized barrel. The biggest is money, our barrel will cost $125 ($2.08/gal), compare that to the price of a new 5 gallon American oak barrel, $160 ($32/gal). One of the biggest problems with homebrew barrels is how quickly the wood flavor can overpower the beer, both because they are made from new oak and their high surface to volume ratio, a big used barrel avoids both of these issues.

However, using a used 60 gallon barrels is not without its difficulties. First off they are big, and once they are filled with beer it is extremely heavy (~600 lbs), you pretty much have to fill, age, and empty it in place. There is also the risk that the wood harbors bacteria or wild yeast, but that is not a big deal for a sour ale. I'm sure we will run into plenty of other issues we haven't even considered yet.

Originally we were planning to age an imperial porter in the barrel before doing a sour beer, but that plan was scrapped in the interest of avoiding the chance of 60 gallons of infected porter. A project like this can be risky as either the barrel or an infection in one person's contribution can ruin the entire batch.

We are getting the barrel (not sure of the grape type yet, but it will be a red) from Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Va. The winemaker, Curtis, was nice enough to include his services prepping the barrel right before we pick it up, so all we have to do is get the barrel in place and rack the beer into it.

My friend Nathan is going to store the barrel in his basement, where the temperature should be relatively steady over the next year. How much maintenance he will have to do while it is aging remains to be seen, but Nathan is a great brewer and we trust him to take good care of the barrel and the beer.

November 9th is the target date to get the beer into the barrel. Everyone will (hopefully) have their beer attenuated out, but many of them will still be young enough that they will not have dropped clean. We are also adding 5 gallons of unfermented wort to provide some easily fermentable sugars to get the microbes moving.

Our batch will be getting its Brett/Lacto/Pedio from 10 gallons of already aged Flanders Red. According to Wild Brews adding 10% aged beer is a common way for Flanders Red brewers to inoculate their "clean" barrels. I am contributing my most recent batch, as is my friend Scott (both batches are about 5 months old). I used the dregs from Lost Abbey Red Poppy to sour mine, Scott used Roeselare Blend for his, so we should have a healthy mix of different microbes.

The Recipe - 5 gallons:
The recipe is relatively open, giving a bit of choice to each individual brewer. We wanted to get this project moving quickly, so we decided against doing a bulk grain buy and a centralized yeast propagation, both of which we will probably consider next time.

OG 1.060
Base Malt (amount as needed to reach OG), equal parts Pils/Munich/Vienna (imported preferred, but domestic 2-row varieties are acceptable)
1 lb Wheat Malt
1 lb Medium Crystal (Crystal 60, or Caramunich)
.5 lbs Dark Crystal (Special B, CaraAroma, or Crystal 120)
Mash @ 157 for 60 min

90 minute boil with 15 IBUs of the hop of your choice to bitter (anything except citrusy American hops).

Clean yeast of your choice. We want the gravity going into the barrel to be ~1.025, so a lower attenuating strain is preferred. Most of the people I have talked to seem to be going with English or American Ale yeast.

We are looking to have a full 5 (10) gallons from each person to rack into the barrel, so that means brewing a 5.5-6 (11-12) gallon batch going into primary depending on the system. It is important to get, and keep, the barrel relatively full to hold the acetobacter to a minimum.

Assuming this batch tastes good in a year or so we will start thinking about what will go into the barrel next. Might be something similar, might be a big sour beer, might be something with some fruit, we will see. If the Flanders Red seems to be going well we may look into adding a bourbon barrel to the fleet to do something big, dark, and clean.

To read about filling the barrel read this post.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

BJCP Test Results

No more making fun of the BJCP and their styles guidelines for me, as I'm now an official part of it. For those who don't know, the BJCP is the main sanctioning body for homebrew competitions and beer style guidelines. Now I just need to judge in 19 more competitions and I'll be a "National" ranked judge (at my current rate of 1 per year it will take awhile). I'll be interested to see all the swag mentioned in the email (especially the wallet card).

Hi Mike,

I am sending out your results and info tomorrow from the exam you took in Rockville, MD on 6/14/2008. You should receive this info in less than a week. If you do not please let me know. Your packet will include your Certificate, Wallet Card, Judging Record, Cover Letter and, if you are a new judge, a membership guide. If your score resulted in a promotion, your new pin is also included.

Your exam results:
Written Score: 85
Tasting Score: 81
Total Score: 84
BJCP Rank: Recognized

Congratulations on being part of the BJCP,

Susan Ruud
Assistant Exam Director

Monday, October 20, 2008

Easy No Knead Sourdough Bread

I've alluded to this technique in the past, but now with the weather cooling down I thought a full post was in order. This method was adapted from the New York Times, but they use regular packaged yeast, and I find their dough a bit too wet to work with easily. Dan, my bread nerd friend, told me that their ratio of water to flour (the weight of the water is 85% of the weight of the flour) in the original recipe is far too wet, so I scaled back to a more manageable 73%. I also upped the salt by 1/4 tsp as sourdough needs a bit more salt than a standard bread.

Sourdough starter care.
My original homemade starter always had good flavor, but it had problems rising the dough, so I decided to start over with a commercial starter. I got a San Fransisco sourdough starter from Fermented Treasures 6 months ago, and it is still going strong. That said it has changed (more sourness), and at this point probably has a good deal of microbes from my kitchen, flour, and water.

I keep my starter in the fridge at all times. When I use the starter I simply replace the volume with equal parts (by weight) flour and filtered water (chlorine is bad for microbes). If I haven't used my starter in a week or so, I'll just discard half of it and add flour and water. Changing the ratio of water to flour in a starter will favor different microbes.

The starter can occasionally survive a few weeks of neglect, but I wouldn't make a habit of it. If your starter seems to be faltering take it out of the refrigerator and feed it every 12 hours for a few days and it should perk up.

15 oz bread flour (about 3 cups measured with the scoop and sweep method)
1.5 tsp salt
11 oz warm filtered/bottled water (1.25 cups, plus a tablespoon)
1/2 cup sourdough starter

Mix the salt with the flour, and the sourdough with the warm water. Then combine all the ingredients and mix for 20 seconds or just until all of the flour is wet. The more you work the dough the more even the crumb structure of the finished loaf will be. If you want a rustic loaf with some air pockets (like I do) work it as little as possible.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a tea towel, and leave it to rise at room temperature overnight (about 18 hours). The expanding bubbles of CO2, which the yeast produce, will do the work of kneading for you. The long rise also gives the acid producing bacteria from the starter time to produce the acids that define sourdough.

The next day dust the dough with a bit more flour and fold the sides into the middle to form a round loaf, dust a towel with stone ground cornmeal (other options include wheat bran, seeds, or coarse salt) and place the loaf onto it seam side down, putting more cornmeal on top then fold the towel over. The cornmeal prevents the loaf from sticking to the towel, and helps to enhance the flavor and appearance of the crust.

Let the loaf rise until it has doubled in size again (about 3 hours for my culture). After 2 and a half hours put a cast iron dutch oven with a lid into your oven and set it for 425 degrees (it is important to put the dutch oven into a cold oven so it doesn't experience thermal shock). If you have an enamel coated dutch oven you might try setting the oven to 450-500. If the bottom crust is getting too dark try lowering the temp and visa versa if it is not getting enough color.

When the dutch oven is rocket hot, place (toss) the dough, seam side up, into the dutch oven, and put the lid back on. Bake for 25 minutes, during this time the lid will trap moisture from the dough which will allow the crust to stay stretchy as the bread continues to rise. Then take the lid off and turn the oven up to 475. Take the loaf out of the oven once it is brown and crusty, 15-20 more minutes.

Put the loaf on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it. The crust on this bread is better than on any other bread I have baked, crunchy and flavorful. The acid in the dough also helps it to stay relatively soft for 48+ hours if wrapped tightly, although the crust tends to lose its crunch after just 12.

Sometimes I sub in 50% whole wheat flour if I want something with a bit more soul, and I also do a rye variation that turns out pretty well.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dark Orange Rosemary Saison

Brew days on someone else's system are always fun. I met Noah and Alex at a NOVA HomeBrew club meeting a few weeks back when I went to pickup my share of a bulk grain buy. Noah has a very nice keggle HERMS system, way more advanced than my little stove top setup. Water is heated with electric elements in the keggle and cooler (right), this hot water is pumped through the outside of the copper counterflow chiller (middle) and back into the tanks. At the same time wort from the mash tun (left) is pumped through the pipe in the center of the chiller in the opposite direction and returned to the top of the mash tun. A temperature sensor allows Noah to dial in the mash rest temperature.

The recipe we brewed was a joint effort inspired by The Lost Abbey's 10 Commandments (formerly Pizza Port SPF 8). The grain bill is mostly pilsener, with some caramel malts for flavor, and Carafa Special II for color without too much roasted flavor. The saccharification rest was a few degrees higher than I would do on my system because Noah's system takes 15 minutes to go from the protein rest to the target saccharification rest, giving the beer time in the lower end of the saccharification range.

For hops, we used a couple ounces of Amarillo pellets as a first wort hop addition. Amarillo has some pine and citrus characteristics that should compliment the spicing and yeast. We decided to skip any late boil additions in favor of letting the yeast and spices provide the aromatics.

We spiced the beer with a combination of orange and rosemary. For the orange we zested two Valencia oranges. Rosemary is very potent, so we used the leaves off of just one sprig for 11 gallons of beer. Both were added at flameout to protect as much of their aromatics as possible.

We also blackened a pound of Thompson seedless raisins in a pan. Once they had taken on some color we deglazed with the final runnings which we had been boiling down for an hour. We used a stick blender to puree the raisins and wort, the puree was added at flame out along with the spices.

Alex and I are each fermenting 4 gallons of the batch with Wyeast's VSS Biere de Garde strain (supposedly from Fantome). In addition Alex is fermenting 3 gallons that also got the dregs from a couple sour beers along with the Biere de Garde strain (hoping it will be ready in 6-9 months).

Dark Saison

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 11.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 29.50
Anticipated OG: 1.072
Anticipated SRM: 22.6
Anticipated IBU: 25.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73 %
Wort Boil Time: 100 Minutes

13.00 lbs. Belgian Pilsener
13.00 lbs. German Pilsener
1.00 lbs. Carafa Special II
1.00 lbs. CaraWheat
0.50 lbs. Special B Malt
1.00 lbs. Raisins Blackened

2.00 oz. Amarillo First Wort Hops

Zest of 2 Valencia Oranges @ 0 Min.(boil)
1 Sprig of Fresh Rosemary @ 0 Min.(boil)

WYeast 3725 Bier de Garde

Water Profile
Profile: Vienna

Calcium(Ca): 7.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 3.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 3.2 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 5.8 ppm
Chloride(Cl): 5.0 ppm
biCarbonate(HCO3): 9.0 ppm

Mash Schedule
Protein Rest 20 min @ 130
Sacch Rest 90 min @ 152
Mash Out 15 @ 168

10/11/08 Brewed with Alex and Noah on Noah's system

Vienna VA well water, which Noah told us is similar to Pilsen.

2 Valencia oranges zested, 1 sprig of fresh rosemary.

Seedless Thompson raisins blackened in a skillet until they took some color then deglazed with the final runnings, which we had been reducing for an hour.

Divided three ways, aerated all three with pure O2. Pitched yeast cake from one of Noah's beer into all three. One got dregs from Alex's Berliner Weisse (Wyeast Blend), Temptation Clone (RR Chips), and my Mo Betta Brett Clone 2 (Brett A). In secondary the funky version also received about .5 oz of medium toast French oak that I soaked in port for a couple weeks.

Big krausen by 24 hours at ~75 room temp. After another 24 hours I gave it some heat with the heating pad set to low to get the temperature up a bit (wort temp around 84).

10/18/08 Down to 1.010 (86% AA, 8.2% ABV), pretty good for 1 week. The krausen has fallen, but it still looks cloudy so the yeast may still drop it another few points.

10/19/08 Transferred to secondary, 3 gallons straight, ~7/8 gallon dry hopped with .5 oz of Amarillo.

11/02/08 Bottled the plain batch with 2.5 oz of white sugar (2.5 volumes CO2), and the dry hopped batch with 7/8 oz of sugar (3 volumes CO2). Both taste good, slightly resiny, with a toasty malt backbone.

2/08/09 Finally took a FG reading... 1.003 (96% AA, 9.1% ABV). It doesn't taste infected, so that is one heck of an aggressive strain.

2/09/09 1st and 2nd Tastings

5/12/09 1st tasting of the funky portion

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Duck Confit for Cassoulet

Along with four breasts of duck prosciutto my two ducks also provided me with four legs for confit (using another great recipe from Charcuterie). The legs got a quick dusting with 1 oz of kosher salt along with pieces of garlic, bay leaves, black pepper, and cloves. After two days of curing in the refrigerator they had given up a bit of moisture, but didn't look too different.

The next step was to render out some duck fat from all of the fat and skin that I had harvested from the ducks. To do this I added a cup of water and brought the mixture to a bare simmer. After 2 hours I strained out the what remained of the skin and chilled the fat.

I then cooked the duck legs submerged in the fat (along with a bit of lard) in the oven at 200 degrees for 6 hours. This low slow cooking makes for some incredibly moist and flavorful meat.

After letting the legs stay under the fat for 4 days in the refrigerator I was ready to make Cassoulet. Cassoulet is one of the big French culinary classics, up there with Beef Bourguignon, Coq Au Vin, and Bouillabaisse. I decided to go with a recipe from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook.

The first step was to simmer 5 cups of white beans (which I had already soaked overnight), 2 lbs of pork (I used shoulder, but belly is preferred), a piece of pork rind/skin (I used a piece left over from making bacon), a quartered onion, thyme, peppercorns, salt, and enough water to cover. After 1 hour the beans and pork (meat and rind) were mostly cooked, I discarded everything else (reserving the cooking liquid).

To further add some Maillard reaction flavors I browned 6 sausages (I used German pork sausages) in a bit of the duck fat.

I then browned 3 sliced onions and a clove of garlic in the same pan. Once they were cooked I pureed them with the cooked piece of pork rind.

Once I had the duck, sausages, puree, beans, reserved cooking liquid, and a large pot it was time to build the cassoulet. I used my 5 qrt cast iron dutch over, but it was just barely large enough. I layered it (bottom to top) beans, duck, puree, beans, sausages, puree, beans, pork, puree, beans. I then added the reserved liquid from the beans to cover. Cooked with the lid on for 1 hour at 350 followed by another hour at 250.

After the cassoulet cooled, I put it into the refrigerator overnight. When ready to eat you could just reheat at 350 for one hour with the lid off to crisp the top. However, I didn't have 8 friends to join me for dinner so I just portioned out the cassoulet and reheated it depending on how much I needed. Here I was cooking for my roommate and a friend.

The tender meat and creamy beans were terrific. The flavor is mostly a reflection of the quality of the ingredients and your technique, not over spiced, not too heavy. The one let down was the sausages, which were a bit too dry. My friend Zach (a chef) suggested I try Andouille next time, so that's what I would suggest going with.

If you are looking for something to drink with your cassoulet I would suggest a beer with some maltiness to complement the meat, but still enough dryness to clean the pallet. I though dubbels fit the bill nicely, particularly a bottle of Westmalle Dubbel I had with it one night.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Duck Breast Prosciutto

Here is the process (adapted from Charcuterie by Polcyn and Ruhlman) that I went through to make a simple and tasty cured meat, duck breasts that taste amazingly like an aged ham. The great think about using duck breast instead of a hog's leg is that the higher surface to mass ratio means that the cure and aging take about a week instead of months. The size is also much more manageable, and duck breasts are much easier to find.

I bought two whole ducks (regular Long Island, but something more interesting would work just as well), and took off the breasts and legs. I reserved the four legs for confit (along with all the fat and skin not attached to the breasts).

The four breasts were rinsed, patted dry, and then packed in kosher salt. I put down 1/3 of the salt in the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish, laid the breasts on skin side up not touching, then covered them with the remaining salt. In all it took almost an entire 5 lb box of salt.

After 24 hours in the refrigerator I took the breasts out of the salt. They were noticeably firmer, and a darker shade of red. The salt was the consistency of wet beach sand from the moisture it had drawn out of the meat. I rinsed the breasts in cool water to remove the excess salt and then patted them dry. I gave them a light dusting with white pepper. Other spices could be used either in the cure or afterwards, but I wanted to see how the flavor of just the duck would be on my first try.

I wrapped each breast in a layer of cheesecloth, secured with some string (pink string optional). I then hung the duck breasts in my chest freezer and set it for 50 degrees. A cool basement in winter would probably work as well.

After 7 days hanging in the cool, moist spot then were firm, but not leathery or hard. They smelled meaty, but still very clean/fresh.

Sliced thin on the bias the meat tastes like a slightly gamier version of dry cured ham (Prosciutto, or Serrano). The texture is a bit chewier than cured ham, but that may just be because I am not getting it sliced as thin as a meat slicer would. The flavor is meaty and salty on its own, but also compliments cheese, bread, or fruit (apples or melon) very nicely. It also complimented the flavor of the Dock Street Illuminator Doppelbock that I am drinking while writing this.

When Scott and I were smoking the bacon we also put one of these breasts on for the first hour at 200 degrees. The result was a salty, slightly chewy piece of meat that very closely resembled a Smithfield Ham in appearance and flavor. The dry cure was probably a bit too heavy handed for this application, but a brine would have been perfect.

Beer Brewers for Obama

Speaking of obscure political buttons, my friend Noah gave this one to me the other day.

Who wants an Anheuser Busch distributor heiress as first lady anyway?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Where are you from?

Here are the results of where visitors to this site are from, always happy to see people from all over the world chiming in.

Northeast 16 (11%)
Mid-Atlantic 15 (10%)
Mid-West 30 (21%)
South 18 (12%)
Mountains 4 (2%)
West Coast 25 (17%)
Canada 7 (4%)
Other No. America 2 (1%)
South America 2 (1%)
Oceania (Is it still called that?) 3 (2%)
Asia 0 (0%)
Europe 16 (11%)
Other 4 (2%) (Feel free to chime in where you are from)

I use Google Analytics as well, and so I thought it would be interesting to compare where computers are connecting from against what people responded.

84% North America
10% Europe
4% Australia/New Zealand
1% South America
1% Asia

Seems pretty similar to me, although I wonder if those hits from Asia are people or bots.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sour Beer Update X 6

The Flanders Red (right) is down to 1.009 from an OG of 1.068. It is starting to develop some nice sourness and a cranberry fruitiness, and the buttery flavor that I got last time I took a sample is gone. This is shaping up to be a good one if it doesn't dry out too much.

Big Funky (left) is at 1.020 (pushing 12.5% ABV) from an OG of 1.120. I was excited to see that it has dried out from where it was going into secondary (1.040). The flavor is pretty smooth and it is developing some nice dark fruit character, but still no sourness. It still needs considerably more time, but it seems to be headed in the right direction.

My mother also sent me some photos of the beers aging in their closet.

Looks like the Cable Car Clone (right) is developing a nice pellicle after adding the DME pick me up. I'm hoping it is ready to bottle by the end of December, but it may need another few months.
I can't really see into the Lambic (front center) through the krasuen strained plastic.

The Blueberry Lambic seems to be getting a really vibrant color, can't wait to get that one bottled in a couple months.

The pluots in the Flanders Pale looks to be swollen and starting to get some bacterial/yeast growth on them. Certainly looks like it will take awhile for them to fully break down.

Aging Wine with Ultrasonic Waves

Here is an interesting story from The Telegraph about a machine that vibrates bottles of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) for 30 minutes supposedly making them taste as if they have been aged for years or decades.

What is the "science" behind this amazing invention you ask, "Inventor Casey Jones says the £350 gadget uses ultrasound technology to recreate the effects of decades of ageing by colliding alcohol molecules inside the bottle." It goes onto discuss the effects, "The look and bouquet of the drink is improved and because of the chemical changes, the alcohol is easier to absorb by the kidneys and therefore, hangovers are virtually eliminated."

First off since when does the kidney absorb alcohol? The liver absorbs and processes alcohol in the blood stream. Generally this sort of off-kilter claim is a red flag that something is going on.

Their explanation just doesn't hold water, what in the world would alcohol molecules bumping into each other accomplish? Ethanol is ethanol, you aren't going to change that with 30 minutes of vibration. They might be talking about higher (fusel) alcohols, as far as I am aware they can mellow slightly through oxidation and esterification, but if you ferment something too warm or fail to cut off the heads and tails of a distilled spirit correctly these headache inducing compounds will always be present.

The article states that it would work on whiskey as well, but as the old joke goes: What do you get when you age a bottle of 20 year old of whiskey for 10 years? A dusty bottle of 20 year old whiskey. It is the oak and the oxygen that enhance the flavors of something aged in a barrel, not just time.

Even if it could make a bottle of wine taste 10 years older, most cheap wine doesn't turn into a great wine with a couple years of age. Great aged wine (or beer) is very good when fresh, but improves with age. No amount of age will fix a poorly made alcoholic beverage.

It disappoints me that this sort of junk can make its way into a reputable newspaper. When did a paper doing a story on a product become free advertising with no critical thinking or research into it?