Saturday, February 28, 2009

Honey Wheat Flower Sour

Orange Blossom Honey SourWith quite a few sours under my belt I thought it was time to do something really off the beaten path. My idea was to do a beer somewhere between Hanssens Mead the Gueuze, Russian River Temptation, and Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs. That is to say a pale American sour flavored with honey and flowers. Flowers and honey seem like natural companions as honey is nothing more than the concentrated nectar of thousands of flowers (I'm about to start a beekeeping class, so more on insectoid slaves to come).

I started with a base similar to my Flanders Pale, but lower gravity (to allow room for the gravity from the honey). I also included some honey malt to boost the sweet honey aroma of the finished beer, and 6 grams of chamomile for its floral juicy fruit aroma.

I fermented the beer with a slurry made from some 3rd generation 1056 (American Ale yeast) and the dregs from a bottle of New Belgium's (magnum opus) La Folie and my Temptation clone (but the dregs from your favorite unpasteurized sour beers or a pack of Wyeast's Roeselare Blend would work just as well). The dregs got a week in a starter to multiply before the 1056 was added to the mix.

After two weeks fermentation seemed to be about finished, so I added 1.5 lbs of local orange blossom honey to the primary fermenter. According to The Compleat Mead Maker orange blossom honey can be a combination of any citrus honey (it also says that it is a great candidate for mead). I had to give the beer a brief stir to get the honey to dissolve. I may add another .5 lbs of the honey in a couple months to give the bacteria and wild yeast a snack (feeding sour beers seems to help smooth the character faster than age alone).

Once the beer gets close to being ready to bottle I will add more flowers. At this point I am planning on splitting the batch to try a few different things including dried flowers like jasmine, marigold, lavender, and chrysanthemum (I'll leave some as is as well).

Funky Flowers

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.00
Anticipated OG: 1.056
Anticipated SRM: 4.9
Anticipated IBU: 15.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 min

5.50 lbs. German Pilsener
3.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
1.50 lbs. Orange Blossom Honey
0.50 lbs. Crystal 10L
0.25 lbs. CaraPils
0.25 lbs. Honey Malt

0.63 oz. Amarillo @ 50 min.

6.00 gm Chamomile @ Flameout
More Flowers to come in secondary

WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
60 min @ 156

2/01/09 Took the dregs from a bottle of La Folie and Temptation clone and added them to ~3 cups of starter wort. Saw some activity after a few days. 5 days later added a few cups of 1056 slurry from the wee heavy.

Brewed 2/07/09 with Brian and Alex.

Mash pH 5.3 with no adjustments. Collected 6.75 gallons of 1.036 wort.

Added four 100% chamomile tea bags at flame-out. Gravity at pitching ~1.044

2/21/09 Poured 1.5 lbs of orange blossom honey into the primary fermenter and gave it a gentle stir to distribute.

2/28/09 Racked to secondary, already down to 1.012.

3/21/09 Light tartness with some subtle honey/bready flavors. Certainly needs more time, but not unpleasant as it is.

Added 2 oz of 88% lactic acid to the beer to up the acidity.

8/10/09 Update: Racked 3 gallons to tertiary and added 5 of Hungarian House Toast oak cubes. The other 2 gallons were racked onto ~5 lbs of white peaches (sliced and then mashed up a bit with my auto-siphon) from the farmers market. Good fermentation after 12 hours.

10/27/09 Bottled with .4 cups of table sugar. Honey flavor is coming along. No fresh yeast, but it is young enough that it should not have a problem carbonating.

1/06/10 First tasting, of the non-peach half and it is doing well, but could use some more age.

1/07/10 Racked the peach portion off the peaches to let it clear up a bit before bottling.

4/24/10 Bottled peach half with 2 oz of cane sugar.  Aiming for medium-high carbonation.

7/8/10 First tasting of the peach half, nice big peach flavor, honey comes through slightly.

6/15/11 Tasting comparing this to the other peach beer I brewed, the white peaches still stand up well.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review: Radical Brewing

Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing is the sort of homebrewing book that I wish I could write. While it does include some basic instructions for the new brewer the main focus is on things that fall outside the realm of "traditional" brewing. Topics covered include using raw grains, sugars, fruit, herbs, spices, liquors, as well as interesting technique, recipes, and history.

It is the perfect book to flip through for inspiration when you feel like you haven't brewed anything really interesting in awhile, but it is not the sort of book that I would recommend to someone who has just started brewing beer at home.

The first few chapters of the book contain a basic look at the malt and hops, and how to brew and taste beer. If this was your first book you would probably be able to make a decent beer, but a book aimed at beginning brewers will contain more basic information that would prove helpful.

The rest of the chapters each take an element of beers/brewing and run with it, with the recipes in each chapter giving an example of how to use the ingredient/technique discussed. The first of these is an attempt to cover some of the most basic styles (blondes, stouts, brown ales etc...). That said even these most basic recipes are probably complex than any recipe in How to Brew, how can you not love a book that includes a 1.085 Brett spiked IPA as a "Basic Drinker"?

Some chapters look at a technique. Lagers get a chapter covering how they differ from ales (including how to do a traditional decoction mash), but most of the book is primarily about ales. The chapter on brewing big beers is a good read for anyone who wants to do strong beers of any sort. Mosher covers the basics like correcting hopping rates to deal with the high gravity, pitching lots of yeast, and waiting plenty of time, but also looks at old mashing techniques like the parti-gyle and doble-doble for achieving a high OG without a 4 hour boil.

Other chapters look at groups of beer styles. For example there are a couple that look at different Belgian beer styles (variations on wits are given almost an entire chapter). There are also chapters on beers that bend style guidelines (gratzer, pilsener wine, and Black Ship Pirate Stout), and historical beers (including gruit, kvass, colonial ale, and kotbusser). Many of the weirder foreign/historical styles are given both in an authentic form and a "cheaters" version which is easier to pull off (and probably more to the average homebrewer's palette).

Other chapters look at a class of ingredients. Grains besides barley (including oddballs like wild rice, kamut, and millet), herbs/spices (including basil, cubeb pepper, and sassafras) and honey (with recipes for honey beers, and meads). It is hard to say more about these chapters as there isn't an underlying theme or topic, just a shotgun blast of possibilities. The suggestions I have used have worked out well for the most part, but often there are no firm recommendations for how/when to use many of the ingredients.

The book finishes up with some odds and ends like things to do with a group of brewers, pairing beer and food, brewery building, and growing/processing your own ingredients. This is a great place to look when you feel like you are in a rut with the hobby.

Accuracy: The actual content of the book is terrific and accurate as far as I can tell, but the editing is the biggest weak point Radical Brewing. The numbers in particular are just off all over the place. Mainly this takes the form of bad metric/standard/percentage conversions in the recipes (how hard could that have been to double check?). The estimated ABV also seems to be lower than it should be for most recipes given the OG.

This caused me a serious problem on a wit a few years back. I made the Wit Guy White Ale exactly to spec, hitting just .002 above the suggested OG of 1.052. After 14 days of fermentation the beer was down to 1.019, that seemed a bit high, but it had held stable for 5 days and was at 4.6% ABV (well above the recipe spec of 3.6-4.2% ABV) so I decided to bottle it. Needless to say WLP400 is well known for stuck fermentations and I ended up with 2 cases of massively overcarbonated beer (it ended up down to 1.013). This is the sort of minor editing mistake that can cause major issues for the new brewer.

The author does maintain a list of errata that you can reference any time you want to make a recipe (not that the ABV issue is even mentioned), but this is a pain to check if you are just flipping through the book.

Nearly 130 recipes in total. Most of them have all of the details spelled out, but some of them are just variants of other recipes in the book, for example the Schwarzbock recipe is just a paragraph suggesting adding more carafa, base malt, and hops to the Schwarzbier recipe on the previous page.

The recipes and variants cover just about every conceivable type of beer from bitters, to lambics, historical beers, and style crushing creations like a chanterelle beer. Any time I feel like I want to brew something fun I'll flip through Radical Brewing until a recipe catches my eye.

Basically all of the recipes are all-grain, but most have a mini-mash or extract plus steeped grain option as well. One thing that might bother some people is that the author never gives a specific yeast strain suggestion. Most beers call for a country of origin, such as Belgian or English.

It is the perfect book for skimming. loads of charts, recipes, drawings, graphs, and text boxes. It is also not a very technical book so the reading is a it more enjoyable than How to Brew or Designing Great Beers. The text is well written and brimming with excitement, far better editing than the recipes received.

That said because of the huge variety of topics the organization can be pretty confusing. For example sugars are covered in the Bent Beers chapter, but a Belgian , Big Beers, or Historical chapter would have all been equally valid places to put it. I think trying to get all of these topics neatly organized into logical chapters was an impossible task from the start.

This was a harder book to review than any of the others I have done so far because it covers such a huge range of topics and doesn't have any major take away points.

After one or two "normal" batches of beer many new brewers seem to get the urge to brew something really out there. This often results in terrible beer. This would be a perfect book to pick up if you have a crazy idea that you want to refine into something that might actually be drinkable when you are done.

It is One of the most inspiring books I have, and a good replacement for the Complete Joy of Home Brewing fan who feels that the other books on their shelf don't have too many formulas and not enough fun.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blogging Around

My first attempt at guest blogging has been posted over at My Year Without Sugar. The blog is dedicated to having a diet free of refined sugars. Something I don't consciously try to do, but my taste in food and drink tends to lead me in that direction. Nicole (the blogger) asked me to put something together to clarify if/when/how sugars are used in commercial brewing. Most of the article will be pretty basic if you are an experienced homebrewer, but the rest of the blog is certainly worth checking out if you are considering cutting down on your refined sugar consumption.

In addition to that some of you may have noticed a new blog (BrewLocal) has appeared on my profile. I can't go into the full details about it at this point, mostly because I'm not sure exactly what (if anything) it will end up being. What I can say is that it will be a joint project with my friend Nathan (who you might remember from posts about sausages, bacon and barrels). The blog isn't even available to view yet, but once things get rolling over there you'll hear about it here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy

With the fun of getting the wine barrel Flanders Red going still fresh in our minds we decided to get another barrel to fill the second slot of the barrel rack (for symmetry). My friend Tim was able to pick up a bourbon barrel for us, so the the only question that remained was what type of beer to fill it up with.

After some vigorous debate wee heavy won out and a recipe was agreed upon. Instead of relying on the traditional method of kettle caramelization we decided to go with some Munich and melanoidin malt for breadiness and some crystal 90 for caramel sweetness. We kept the hops (25 IBUs @ 60 minutes) and yeast character (1056/1728) to a minimum to help showcase the malt.

We decided to go with a more standardized recipe this time compared to the free form Flanders Red because we won't be able to hide a muddled flavor behind the funk. Unlike the sour beer we decided to have every batch of the wee heavy fermented out before it was racked into the barrel to ensure that it doesn't sit on too much trub while it ages.

It was interesting to taste everyone's, brewed and fermented, batches side-by-side. They were all similar, but there were some noticeable differences in the levels of toastiness, caramel, body, and bitterness. The resulting blend was good, but a bit mild. Hopefully the oak and bourbon will add complexity while the oxidation caused by the small amount of air that permeates the wood will increase the dark fruit character.

The barrel is from the only bourbon distillery outside of Kentucky, A. Smith Bowman in Fredericksburg, Virginia. They are the makers of Virginia Gentleman among other moderately priced liquors. I would have liked to have gotten my hands on a freshly dumped barrel from Kentucky, but living in DC we went with the best option available. The 53 gallon barrel had a big boozy nose and looked nice and charred on the inside.

The projected 55 gallons brewed was exactly the right amount of beer to fill the barrel to the brim (which took about 90 minutes even with two auto siphons going). There is one more batch being brewed that will be used to top off the barrel as the beer slowly evaporates. After sitting for an hour some beer forced its way up into the blowoff tube bringing with it a small fragment of the charred oak from the inside of the barrel.

I am a bit concerned about infection on this batch for a couple reasons. The barrel sat empty or with just a bit of water in it for a few months, it is hard to know what microbes might have moved in during this time. With so many people blending batches (even with a crew of experienced brewers) that just one infected batch will ruin the whole thing (although every batch tasted clean to me). The final concern is that the bourbon barrel will be sitting with just a thin piece of aluminum foil separating it from the wine barrel (which is by now teaming with funk). We considered adding some campden tablets to ward off infection, but in the end we decided to just roll the dice and hope for the best.

We're not sure how long it will take
in the bourbon barrel to get to the flavor we want, but most commercial breweries who do this sort of thing seem to age 3-9 months. We are still debating what beer to put into the barrel next,Doppelsticke, Adambier, Russian Imperial Stout, and English Barleywine have all been suggested. With how boozy the barrel smelled I think we might need to get moving on the next beer soon to make sure it is ready before the wee heavy gets too much barrel character.

Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00

Total Grain (Lbs): 18.69

Anticipated OG: 1.097

Anticipated SRM: 20.4

Anticipated IBU: 25.0

Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %

Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes


82.8% 15.00 lbs. Maris Otter or Golden Promise

11.0% 2.00 lbs.
Munich Malt
2.8% 0.50 lbs. Crystal 90L
2.8% 0.50 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
0.7% 0.125 lbs. Chocolate Malt


Enough clean bittering hops @ 60 min. to get to 25 IBUs (I used 1 oz of Galena)



1.00 Unit(s) Whirlfloc @15 min.


Everyone used either American or Scottish ale yeast (most went with 1056 or 1728)

Mash Schedule


Sacch Rest 60 min @ 155

Notes (on my 5 gallons)


Brewed 1/25/09 by myself

Extended the boil the get better efficiency.

Added 2 lbs of malt extract (my mash tun wasn't big enough for 18.5 lbs of grain) to the final running to dissolve.

Aerated then pitched onto most of the yeast cake from a batch of Hoppy Brown Ale.
Good strong fermentation.

2/05/09 Racked to secondary and added 1L of bottled water, still about 2L short of a full 5 gallon carboy.

Topped off with boiled/chilled water. Gravity down to 1.028.

2/21/09 Racked my 5 gallons plus 50 gallons more (brewed by Alex, Dan, Eric, Nathan, Noah, Scott, and Zach) into a 53 gallon Virginia Gentleman barrel in Nathan's basement.

3/17/09 Great aroma out of the barrel (caramel/vanilla/malt), but the beer itself has yet to pick up much wood/bourbon character. The beer has cleared considerably, but still tastes "young."

2/20/10 Bottled with 150 g of corn sugar per 5 gallons plus 130 g of rehydrated champagne yeast. It was nice, but may have too much bourbon barrel character after more than a year of aging. Racked a ~1.080 porter into the barrel. FG 1.014.

After a couple months the beer started to taste a bit fruity, then a bit sour, then like a cross between an oud bruin and an old ale. I think it is delicious, but it certainly is not a wee heavy any more, details here. Luckily the base beer wasn't too far off a high gravity oud bruin, so we added some additional dregs and gave it more time. After 9 months in the barrel it had an amazing depth, complexity, and firm lactic acidity.

3/20/10 We bottled 45 gallons with corn sugar and champagne yeast, aiming for 2.2 volumes of CO2. A bit more bourbon character than I would have liked, but it should be great once it carbonates.

5/20/10 First tasting, what a gorgeous beer.

That is so pretty though, huh?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Review: Brew Like a Monk

Brew Like a Monk (BLAM) by Stan Hieronymus is a book that has revolutionized the way American homebrewers brew Trappist style beers. It focuses on the six Belgian styles produced by Belgian Trappist and Abbey breweries, Dubbels, Tripels, Strong Darks, Strong Goldens, Blondes, and Belgian Specialties (like Orval).

Brewing like a monk does not necessarily mean brewing clones of their beers, it mean brewing with simple recipes, locally available ingredients, and to taste (not necessarily style). The two major tenets of the book are to make your beer dry enough (by using the right grain, mash, yeast, and sugar) and to get the right yeast character (by fermenting at the right temperature with the right strain). There are plenty of other suggestions, but these are the two most important concepts in making beers like the ones you buy from Belgium.

Content: BLAM starts off with a brief introduction where the author covers what Trappist beer really means, and the history of homebrewing Belgian styles (including a funny Chimay Red clone from 1978 that calls for among other things black patent, brown sugar, and regular dried brewer's yeast).

The first two chapters cover the Trappist beers on the market today. The first is a history of monastic brewing in Belgium, including a surprising look at how young some of these beer styles are. The second chapter is a great look at the six Belgian Trappist breweries, Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Achel, and Chimay and their beers (including the seldom discussed Petite Orval and Chimay Dorée). Hieronymus covers the history of each brewery and the development of their beers over the years. The basic stats (OG/FG/IBU/SRM) for each beer are given, and one beer from each brewery is given a full profile with malt/yeast/fermentation/packaging (although some of the info differs slightly from the basic stats, probably because the analysis was done at different times). The information is terrific for anyone looking to clone the beers with a full profile, but I wish he had gone to the same length for every one of the beers, as combined the Trappists only brew fewer than 20 beers.

The next four chapters are similar to the second but cover abbey (beers with monastic backing), Belgian, and American interpretations of the Trappist styles. La Trappe, which has since regained its Trappist designation, is briefly discussed in the abbey ales chapter. These chapters contain brewery and beer profiles that are solid, but not as deep as the Trappist chapter. Beers covered in depth include Duvel, Affligem Blonde, Nostradamus, Grand Cru of the Emperor, St. Bernardus 12, Ommegang, and Damnation. The quick look at these other breweries probably won't give you much new info if you are already a Belgian beer nerd, but if you aren't there will be plenty of interesting tidbits.

The rest of the book is devoted to the production of the various Trappist styles at home. It starts off with a discussion of water profiles (including the numbers for wells located close to each of the Trappist breweries). Then malt selection is covered, most of which (Dingemans and Castle) are widely available these days in America. It is interesting to read the different tactics brewers use when selecting their malt bills. Sugars are covered in detail, from the worthlessness of clear candi sugar (it is pure sucrose just like table sugar according to the tests Victory Brewing had run on it) to unrefined and caramelized options. Despite its depth this section is devoted to replacing the flavor of dark candi syrup (which was not available in the States at the time), with the current availability of Dark Candi's products much of this information about sugars is more interesting for doing things besides replicating authentic Belgian flavors.

Hops are covered briefly, the gist is that most of the breweries use continental hops, but a few have cut costs by using high alpha acid varieties from the Pacific Northwest. The general advice is not to make the beer too hoppy, but that often fresh they do have more hop character than what we taste after they sit for a few months during shipping. For the spice section the main advice is to avoid using them at a detectable level. Farmhouse Ales is a better source for using spices in Belgian beers as they are more common in Saisions than in the styles covered here.

Next comes one of the best chapters, Yeast and Fermentation. It contains information about which commercial strains come from which Trappist breweries, and has great charts that give the expected flavors from fermenting both Wyeast and White Labs strains at different temperature ranges. The general suggestion is to start most strains off cool, then let the temperature ramp up as fermentation progresses. This regiment lowers the production of fusel alcohols (a common homebrew problem) while encouraging strong attenuation and ester formation. I particularly like the chart of the differences between the three Trappist breweries (Westvleteren, Achel, and Westmalle) which all use the same yeast, but with different fermentation temperatures.

The next chapter covers bottle conditioning (only a couple Trappist beers are ever kegged). The main advice is to re-yeast, and give them plenty of priming sugar to get higher carbonation than you would for most other styles (for safety this requires getting some thicker glass bottles if you want to match the 4+ volumes that many breweries aim for). It is also common practice to let the beers carbonate in a warm room to speed up the process.

The last chapter before the recipes covers what American homebrewers most often mess up when they try to brew these styles (or at least were before BLAM was written). Some of it is also aimed at judges who do not appreciate the wide variety of commercial beers that are grouped together in a single style.

Accuracy: This is a well researched and well edited book. I only have a few minor points of correction.

I would advise against trying the method for making dark candi sugar at home provided on page 169. The flavor is good, but the sugar is nearly unfermentable. The problem is that it starts with Karo which contains quite a bit of dextrin (which are too long for yeast to ferment).

I wish the book did a better job explaining that the percentage of sugar listed in various places is by extract, not by weight (I remember spending quite awhile trying to figure that out at one point).

Recipes: The final chapter presents the recipes. There is a great summary on pages 221-223 which lists the main take away points of the book, I often reread these pages before formulating any Belgian recipe.

Like Wild Brews most of the recipes are presented in a loose form, but comes with a larger discussion of how to brew the style before getting to the recipe. Three of the recipes are from commercial brewers (Vinnie Cilurzo, Tomme Arthur, and Ron Jeffries), and three are from homebrewers. The recipes all look pretty good, and I have based several recipes off them with good results. I do find it odd though that in a book that preaches simplicity in recipe design it has a dubbel recipe with eight malts and a dark strong with six.

The beer profiles scattered through the book are also a good resource for designing your own recipes. If there is a beer featured that you want to clone or imitate a characteristic of it help to look at the malt/hop profile.

Readability: I think this book is well put together, and clearly heavily influenced by Designing Great Beers. The charts are well done particularly the incidence/average malt usage ones for each style in the recipe section. The book does a good job telling a story and making you want to brew innovative flavor driven beers, but still somehow stick to the monastic roots of the styles.

I am not a big fan of the way some beer profiles are splattered through chapters besides the ones focusing on breweries and commercial beers, this can lead to some unnecessary page flipping. I think the book could use a few more sub-headers in each chapter to make finding specific sections a bit easier.

Overall: Brew Like a Monk is a must read/own for anyone interested in Belgian beer. I have recently been flipping through Jackson's 6th (and final) edition of Great Beers of Belgium and I have been disappointed how little he goes into the process of making the beers. If you are interested in recipe design and the day to day workings of Belgian breweries this is the book to pick up.

This is another book that has a weak spine, so be gentler with your copy than I have been with mine.

Stan Hieronymus also maintains a blog that covers the Belgian beer scene in America that is worth checking out (although it isn't updated very regularly).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Easy No Knead Sourdough Rye Bread

Rye is a pretty interesting grain. It has much more character than the other grains we eat, having what some people describe as a slightly spicy flavor. These days though, most people don't see it outside of the occasional pastrami or corned beef on rye, but it has a varied history in both baking and brewing.

While rye may bring good flavor to your bread or beer it can cause some problems that other grains do not unless it it properly handled. When brewing a low temperature (~100 F) step is often added to the mash to help break down the sticky beta glucans (long chains of glucose) for improved wort flow during the sparge. When baking a sourdough starter is the most common leavening used because it lowers the pH (due to its lactic acid bacteria) making it so the amylase enzymes in the rye do not break down the gluten (which gives bread its structure).

Here is a variant of the easy no knead sourdough bread recipe I posted back in October tweaked to make a tasty rye bread.
7.5 oz of bread flour
7.5 oz of whole rye flour
1.5 tsp of table salt
1.5 tbls of caraway seeds (more or less as desired)
11 oz filtered/bottled water (1.25 cups, plus a tablespoon)
2 tbls of sourdough starter

(If using) Toast the caraway in a small pan over low heat until they begin to smell good (2-3 min). You can skip this step, but I think it really enhances the flavor of the finished bread.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and caraway. In a separate bowl dissolve the sourdough starter into the water. Then combine the dry with the wet, mixing for 20 seconds or until there is no dry flour visible. The dough may seem a bit stiff now, but as the starch molecules hydrate the dough will become softer.

Set the dough aside in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and then a tea towel for 18-24 hours in a cool spot. You could add more sourdough starter and save a few hours here (as I do in my standard sourdough recipe) but with my starter I find a longer rest gets the flavor where I like it. As always you should adjust the times based on how quickly your starter works and how much sourdough flavor you like.

Flour a surface and turn out the shaggy mass onto it, adding more (wheat) flour on top. Fold the dough back onto itself a few times until it loosely resembles a ball. If the loaf is too sticky to work with (it should be tacky) or if it won't hold its shape you can fold in a few extra tablespoons of flour (this can be due to the protein content of your flour or the humidity). On a clean surface roll the dough ball between your hands for a few seconds to form a smooth outer surface. I used semolina on this loaf, but cornmeal or flour could be used to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel.

Cover and leave the loaf to rise until it doubles in size (1.5-3 hours). When it has almost doubled in size place a dutch oven in a cold oven and set it for 425 F. If you have an enamel coated dutch oven you might try setting the oven to 450-500 F since the lighter/glossy surface will transfer heat at a slower rate. Once the oven has preheated wait another 10 minutes for the dutch oven to heat through.

With a shaped loaf (unlike my standard sourdough recipe) you need to slash the top to allow for oven spring and for steam to escape. I like a few parallel cuts with a sharp knife held at a 45 degree angle (1/8 inch or shallower). Place the loaf (as gently as possible) into the dutch oven.

Bake 25 minutes with the lid on, then raise the temperature to 450 and remove the lid, bake until the crust is golden brown and crunchy (20-25 min).

This rye bread is great for sandwiches, I particularly like it with corned beef, mustard, and young sauerkraut (cabbage sprinkled with ~.5 tsp/cup of kosher salt and left to wilt for 6-12 hours, you can rinse/dry it before using if too salty for your taste).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: Wild Brews

Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrows is a book bent on demystifying funky beers. It covers everything from the classic sours like Gueuze and Flanders Red, to the modern style busting creations of breweries like Lost Abbey, Russian River, and De Proef. It does not cover the two German origin sours, Berliner Weiss and Gose, which the author states are outside the scope of the book.

As you can see from the cover this is one of my most used and abused books. It does a good job covering the basics, but it also has enough in-depth information and rare situation suggestions (like how to select an oak barrel) that I keep coming back to it even after years of playing with Brett, Pedio, and Lacto.

Content: The book is not divided by style as you might expect, instead each chapter covers an aspect of the beers or their production.

The book starts out with a quick review of the style guidelines for Flanders Red, Flanders Oud Bruin, Lambic, Gueuze, and Fruit Beers. This chapter gives a nice overview, but probably won't be too interesting if you have read through the BJCP style guidelines or drank your share of sours.

The book then goes on to the history of sour beer in Belgium (touching on some obscure styles like Faro). One of the most intriguing stories is about how Alexander Rodenbach (the founder of the brewery of the same name) studied brewing in England. You can still see the similarities in the two countries beers when you look at two classic barrel aged beers like Gale's Prize Old Ale from England and Goudenband from Belgium. Both are malty, low on bitterness, dark, and characterized by their mildly funky flavors.

The book then goes onto a chapter about drinking the great variety of wild beers available today. This section is made up of small profiles of breweries/brewers and of their funky beers. It covers Belgian producers both big and small, then moves onto the other Europeans, and finally Americans. There is some great history on the Belgian brewers and blenders, but the American industry is moving so quickly that this section is already missing some things. I would also have liked to hear more production advice from the brewers, many of whom Sparrows talked to while writing the book.

Next is a section on all of the microbes that play give sour and funky beers their sour and funk. There is lots of great stuff (much of it adapted from Raj Apte). I especially enjoy the chart of the different esters Brett can make, and the horrific descriptions of what some of the acids taste like before they are esterified. For example Isovaleric Acid has a rancid or horsy aroma, but combined with a molecule of ethanol to form Ethyl Isovalerate it has a pineapple or Tutti Frutti aroma. It even gives some time to the minor players like enterobacteria and oxidative yeasts, besides Brettanomyces, that generally are not talked about. There is a handy chart at the end of the chapter that gives you each microbe's ideal conditions.

The bulk of the book is then taken up with the details of how to go about producing the beers. This includes grist composition, mashing options, hops, barrels (and barrel alternatives), spontaneous fermentation, controlled inoculation, blending, bottle conditioning, and so forth. There is a load of great information here both on how professional brewers do these things and suggestions for the best ways to replicate those methods/conditions at home. This is also one of the only print sources with an in depth discusses doing 100% Brett beers. There are lots of great tips that are applicable if you are looking to make any classic sour beer style or your own wild creation.

Accuracy: Despite only being 4 years old, the information about commercial beers is starting to get a little dated (some of the beers are no longer produced and there are many new ones are not mentioned) and there are some minor mistakes (describing Mo' Betta Bretta 100% pilsner malt for example). That said most of the commercial information is still perfectly accurate, or at least gives you a good reference for the way things were in 2005.

I would also quibble (much as I did with How to Brew) over some minor technical points, for example the oxygen permeability numbers. I just don't see any way that Flanders Reds could have so much more vinegar character than Lambics, yet get so much less oxygen (acetobacter needs oxygen to convert ethanol to acetic acid). I suspect that because the beer does not touch the tops of the giant wood vats the wood there does not swell and thus lets in more O2 than the math suggests.

Other than these few minor issues the book is very accurate, which is a good thing because when you are aging a beer for 12 months you'd be pretty upset if it didn't turn out well.

Recipes: At the end of the book there are 10 recipes. They cover all of the traditional styles plus some of the more modern American/Belgian sour beers that have been invented in the last decade. They are written in a rather loose form (giving a percentage of the different malts, target IBUs, mash temp, finishing hop suggestion, and ballpark figures for the aging time/temp) which I like. I also like the optional suggestions for blending or adding fruit that are provided with most of the recipes.

Several of the recipes on my blog are influenced by these recipes (Lambic, Cuvee Tomme Clone, and Flanders Pale), but with my own tweaks. Even for recipes that I've gotten from elsewhere or crafted myself I often look at the optional suggestions when I am considering adding fruit or blending.

In my experience brewing sour/wild/funky beers is more about technique than it is the malt or hop bill. Many great sour beers are made using a brewery's standard house beers as the base, it is the application of microbes, time, wood, and blending that are the most important in determining how good the finished beer will be. So even if you want to make your own recipes or get them for somewhere else Wild Brews will have the information to help you to brew those beers better.

Readability: This is where this book can fall a bit flat. There are several spots where information is repeated because of the way the book is structured (particularly between the Beer Souring Microorganisms and Wild Fermentation chapters). I also find it annoying to have to read through every chapter to pull out the information about one style. There is also some information that seems out of place (like the section on fruit coming in the production chapter before the sections on mashing, boiling, and fermentation).

It may also be a bit too technical in some spots for a person who is looking to brew their first sour beer. That said this is not a book aimed at people just brewing their first batch of beer, so I don't think it should be dumbed down. I enjoy the discussion about ester formation and the charts about when different microbes are dominant in the wort in a traditional lambic fermentation, but things like this probably are not necessary for someone with a moderate interest in brewing sour beers.

Overall: Wild Brews is a great book that every person who is interested in brewing funky beers should pick up. I would even suggest it to any beer lovers or homebrewers who have an interest in drinking sour beers, but no intent on brewing them, because most of the book focuses on how different commercial breweries practice their craft.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dark Saison - 1st and 2nd Tastings

Saturday my friend Alex came over to lend a hand while I was brewing a sour honey wheat. While he was here he dropped off a couple bottles from his half of the dark orange rosemary raisin sasion we brewed together in October. You may remember that we split the pitched wort each taking half home to ferment, age, and bottle. I thought it would be interesting to taste my first bottle of his along side a bottle of mine.

The two beers seemed like they would probably be similar. They started as the same wort from the same mash/boil, and had the same yeast pitched from the same yeast cake, and both have similar final gravities (1.003 for mine, 1.004 for his).The biggest difference was fermentation temperature, mine peaked around 84, while he got his into the low 90s. While these temperatures might sound high, the yeast was Wyeast's VSS 3725 Bier de Garde, which they say performs well at up to 95 degrees. The only other major difference between the batches was how they were aged, his got six weeks in secondary including one week at 40, while mine just got two weeks at room temperature.

Mine (left)
Appearance – Nearly opaque-black, with just a faint rusty highlight when held to the light. A rocky, one finger tall, tan head with good stability. Mine appears to be the more carbonated of the two beers (but not by much).

Smell – The rosemary is certainly upfront, with some light roasted coffee following behind it. Not a particularly Belgian aroma (not much yeast character). Solid aroma, but I think the rosemary is covering up the yeast character.

Taste – The citrus is more prominent in the taste than the rosemary. Pretty dry (but not as dry as the hydrometer indicates), yet very malty. Despite the lack of sweetness it still has good balance because of the low IBUs. Finishes with a bit of alcohol warming (much more after it has a chance to warm up).

Mouthfeel – Good prickly carbonation, medium-light body (particularly for such a big beer).

Drinkability & Notes – As this beer ages the herbs/spices have become more integrated into the malt and yeast character, if that continues it will become an even better beer with time. This one will probably be doing very nicely by next Christmas.

Alex's (right)
Appearance – The color is virtually identical to mine. The head looks the same as well, except for the fact that it is a bit creamier and about 1/3 the size right after pouring. However, after getting the chance to sit for 5 minutes while I concentrated on mine the head actually doubled in size. Both beers have good lacing, but this one is particularly sticky.

Smell – I get the rosemary here, but it is mingled more with an assertive spicy/peppery yeast character. The coffee character seems more subdued.

Taste – The alcohol is a bit more upfront in this version (probably due to the higher fermentation temperature). I don't get much of the citrus, but I get a hint of the raisins which was missing from mine.

Mouthfeel – The mouthfeel is creamier and a touch fuller due to the lower carbonation, a bit more satisfying for a big beer like this.

Drinkability & Notes – This one tastes like it needs more time than mine for the alcohol to calm down, but I think that next year it will be better than mine because of the bigger yeast character.

It is surprising that you can split a wort, and pitch yeast from the same yeast cake yet get such different beers. It makes you appreciate how difficult the idea of cloning a complex brew like 10 Commandments really is (and what a challenge it is to brew a beer like this consistently). I may try a bottle of each of these again next winter to see if they diverge or converge over time.

With how dry both of these got I am going to guess that the portion of the batch that we infected, with the dregs from a few bottles of sour beer, will not be getting that funky (not much is left for the wild microbes to eat). Although that may also mean that it won't need much more than the 3 months it has already had in secondary.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: Designing Great Beers

Designing Great Beers (by Ray Daniels) is a book written to teach homebrewers how to create their own recipes. It was one of the most important books in my development as a brewer because after reading it (as you might expect) I began creating most of my own recipes. It is hard for me to remember that before I read this book I didn't know more than the basics of recipe design.

It is not a gripping read that you won't be able to put down, and reading it will probably not have you brewing better beer immediately, but with some work you will learn how to construct your own beer recipes.

Designing Great Beers is divided into two major sections, simply titled Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 1 covers the various aspects of designing a homebrew recipe. This including selecting malts (for gravity, color, and flavor), hops (for bitterness, flavor, and aroma), yeast (for flavor and attenuation), and a water treatment (for mash pH and flavor). It also takes you through a process to balance these different components into a complete recipe.

Daniels introduces the concept of
BU:GU, that is the ratio of bitterness units to gravity units (BU=IBUs, GU= Original Gravity - 1 X 1,000 that is to say a beer that starts at 1.050 has 50 GU). This is a valuable (if over simplified) tool for quickly thinking about the sweet/bitter balance. This is one of the best mental tricks I know of for thinking about beer recipe design, and helps to show why for example a 1.050 American pale ale with 50 IBU (BU:GU = 1) tastes so much bitterer than a 1.100 English barleywine with 50 IBU(BU:GU = .5).

Like How to Brew this section contains many charts and tables about the various ingredients, but looking at them in 2009 they are a bit outdated. They are missing many hops/malts/yeasts that were not commonly available when the book was written (Amarillo, Carafa, and too many yeast strains to mention). There is also a short section on the fermentability of malt extracts, but overall this is a book aimed at people who are either all-grain or partial-mash brewers.

There is also a clear exclusion of ingredients with a Belgian origin (in the yeast chapter Irish gets a bigger section than Belgian). He also very much disparages the use of refined sugar (a hallmark of many Belgian styles) "In general, these [refined] sugars should be avoided or restricted as they add little, if anything, to the character of the beer."

Designing Great Beers like How to Brew contains lots of technical information that most brewers will never use (calculating beer color, charts about the percent of beta acids different hop varieties contain, and predicting original gravity). If you have never learned the math (or at least the concepts) behind the calculations then learning them may help you understand recipe design, but trying to learn them could give you the uncomfortable feeling that you are back in 9th grade algebra.

Designing Great Beers contains very little advice on the brewing process, so this would not be a good book for someone just starting out in the hobby or looking to make the jump to all-grain. I would suggest brewing a few kits or well tested recipes before you start inventing your own. It is hard enough to figure out if your technique is correct without having to worry about whether your recipe is the problem.

I'll cover the Part 2 under Recipes.

No major complaints here, but things like ingredient quality and style guidelines have changed over the last 15 years since the recipes that Daniels analyzes were entered in the NHC. Even so he mainly sticks to well established styles, so most of his advice is still rock sound. Due to the fact that this book is aimed at more experienced brewers I feel that this is not a double standard compared to the treatment I gave Complete Joy of Homebrewing, which had some similar issues but is aimed at people who have no background in homebrewing.

Designing Great Beers does not contain a single recipe. What it has instead are detailed discussions of every aspect of recipe design for close to 40 styles and sub-styles. Each chapter starts with a brief historical look at how a group of styles developed (Stouts for example broken down into Classic, Foreign, Sweet, and Imperial). This first section often includes a few charts to track how a style's IBUs/Gravity/ABV changed through the years. This can be interesting, but can be skipped over if the history doesn't interest you.

Each chapter then goes on to discuss how to pick a malt bill, hopping schedule, water treatment, and yeast for the style. Each chapter contains a malt chart that was made by analyzing beers that made the Second Round of the NHC in 1993 and 1994. It contains the range and average percentage for each malt and the incidence of use. This gives a good overview of how different styles are built. The problem is the information is from the mid-90s, and for some styles the recipe design reflects the poor quality of some ingredients at that time (the bock recipes don't contain much Munich malt, although Daniels points out that this is not authentic). I'd also complain that sometimes he is looking at a sample of beers that is just too small, in one case just 3 beers.

Daniels does a very good job picking apart the different strategies that brewers use to tackle the same style when there are enough examples in the sample. When looking at Milds he breaks out Pale Milds (Crystal vs. No Crystal) and Dark Milds (Crystal + 1 Dark Grain, Dark Grain without Crystal, and Two Dark Grains then by the dark malt selected for each). As detailed as that is he often neglects to give a color recommendation for the crystal malt, something that can have a huge impact on the character of the beer.

My major complaint, again, is that there is not a single Belgian beer included. It may just be that the author is not a big fan of the style, or it may be that Belgian beers are considerably harder to crack with this method of analysis, but I would have liked to see a few looked at (or at least a discussion of a general way to tackle them).

Each section is well put together and coherent, but can be a bit dry unless you are in the process of actively designing a recipe. At the end of each chapter there is a great half page bulleted summary of his "best recommendation" for each facet of recipe design for the styles included in the chapter.

This is not the sort of book that I pick back up to pass an hour, but I think it is a perfect reference book when I am sitting in front of Promash trying to figure out what sort of hops I want to use to bitter my Vienna lager. Since I can't find a better place to put this, I will note that the spine of the book is a bit delicate, my copy now has a few free floating pages near the center.

I would love to see this book revised based on a sample of current NHC second round beer recipes (although with the popularity of Jamil's recipes it may just look like Brewing Classic Styles in graph form). I'd also like to see it expanded to a greater variety of styles. Even if you are not interested in creating recipes for classic styles the techniques in this book can be applied to get that crazy beer that is in your mind into bottles.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Munich Helles - Recipe and Tasting

Sometime even I need to have something around to drink that isn't 100 IBUs, sour, or 12% abv. Munich Helles is the everyday drinking beer of Munichers (beside dunkel) was originally brewed as a reaction to the exploding popularity of Pilsners in the early 20th century, but with a balance towards malt instead of hops.

This is the type of beer where lagers really show their strength, they let the subtle malt and hop flavors through where an estery ale would cover them up. I love a good doppelbock as much as anyone (I've got one lagering now), but a clean ale yeast would do almost as good a job in such a big malty sledgehammer of a beer.

Not too much to say about this recipe other than it is based on Jamil's from Brewing Classic Styles. I changed the hops around based on what I had on hand, but pretty much anything continental would do fine since they are primarily there for bitterness. I changed the yeast to WLP833 Bock because I wanted to use this batch as a starter for a doppelbock. In addition I made some small changes to the malt bill and mash to suit my system and the lower attenuating yeast.

The most important thing I can say is that brewing a great pale lager requires good basic brewing technique. A strong boil (to remove the DMS from the pilsener malt), a big starter (to ensure a quick start to fermentation), and good temperature control (for low esters) are the most important things to focus on. I did some minor water adjustments (CaCl in the mash, phosphoric acid in the sparge) to keep the pH down, a necessity when brewing such a pale beer in DC.

Tasting 2/02/09

Appearance – Golden (not as dark/red as the picture suggests) with a thin white head. Head retention and texture are pretty good, but it isn't as thick as I wanted. Right out of the fridge the beer has a bit of haze, but it clears up as it warms (a short protein rest might not be a bad idea next time).

Smell – Clean lager aroma with just a hint of sulfur. The bready malts are there, but it is pretty mellow. A hint of herbal hops chase the malt, but only for the first few minutes. Rather simple combination of aromas, but all the right elements are there.

Taste – The malt plays the lead in the mouth, big and bready. Just barely enough bitterness to balance out the beer, and not any more. Good balance, just a hint of sweetness. Not a complex beer, but the flavors go together so well.

Mouthfeel – Crisp medium-light body with medium carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – A great easy drinking lager, probably the best I've done. One of the only beers I have made that I could give to an average American “beer” drinker and get a good reaction.

Hell of a Good Helles

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 3.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.84
Anticipated OG: 1.049
Anticipated SRM: 4.9
Anticipated IBU: 17.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 105 Minutes

6.00 lbs. German Pilsener
0.65 lbs. German Munich Malt
0.19 lbs. Melanoidin Malt

0.75 oz. Tettnang @ 50 min.
0.38 oz. Spalter @ 50 min.

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 Min.
0.35 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 Min.

White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager

Mash Schedule
60 min @ 148

Made a 3 pint starter 11/08/08, left at room temp it seemed to be fermented out by 11/10/08 so I put it into the freezer at 55 degrees.

Brewed 11/11/08 by myself

Added 1/2 tsp of CaCl to the mash and 1/2 tsp of phosphoric acid to the sparge. Collected 6 gallons of 1.031 wort.

Chilled down to ~68, strained, then let settle before racking into a 5 gallon better bottle. Then I put the carboy into the 48 degree freezer to drop the rest of the way,

After ~7 hours I pitched the mostly decanted starter which had also been sitting at 48 degrees.

Good krausen after 24 hours.

11/16/08 Down to 1.018. Racked to secondary, still cloudy and slowly fermenting, but I needed the yeast cake.

11/30/08 Moved out of the freezer to let the cider freeze.

12/04/08 Put back in the freezer and crash cooled to 34.

1/18/09 Bottled with 2.5 oz of cane sugar

1/30/09 Good carbonation and great clean lager flavor.