Monday, December 21, 2009

Clear Sugar Experiment - Bottling

Over the weekend I bottled the "Clear" Sugar Experiment that I posted about last week.  Sunday I wanted to brew a Belgian Strong Dark based on De Struise Pannepot, and I needed the yeast harvested from the experiment to pitch into it.  The experimental beers had hit a gravity around 1.006 (~90% AA) and they looked clear, so I didn't think it was necessary for them to sit longer than two weeks in primary.

The experimental sugars were used for the priming dosage for their respective batches.  I haven't done this two previous sugar experiments, but when we are talking such minute differences, the extra work seemed worth it.  I weighed out the sugars based on how much would be needed to give the equivalent carbonation of 1 oz (28 g) of sucrose.  This worked out to: 28 g of table sugar, 28 g of clear candi rocks, 39 g clear candi syrup, and 33 g of corn sugar.  Finally for the batch that received no sugar I went with 46 g of DME, just to keep it completely sugar free.  I am a bit concerned that priming in this way could induce some variability if I didn't work things out exactly right, but it seemed worth doing since the amount of sugar added for carbonation is equivalent to 28% of the sugar added to the wort initially.

After the sugars were weighed out, I dissolved them in enough water to make ~10 tbls of liquid.  Each glass got two minutes in the microwave to dissolve the sugars and make sure everything was sanitary (as usual the candi rocks were the biggest pain to get dissolved).

Each sweet syrup had enough sugar to carbonate 120 oz of beer to 3 volumes of CO2 (assuming I did my math correctly). Since each contained 10 tbls of liquid this means that 1 tbls would be enough to carbonate 12 oz of beer (convenient how that worked out).  So I used a tablespoon and funnel to dose all of the bottles with the sugar solution (2 tbls in each bomber).

Next I siphoned directly from the five jugs into the bottles (a Mini Auto-siphon is a must if you want to do something like this since it fits into the mouth of 1 gallon jugs), and capped them.  The yield was a perfectly even two bombers and five 12 oz bottles per jug (just over 4 gallons total). The small amount of leftover beer tasted pretty good (fruity, clean pils malt, hint of hops etc...), if still a bit yeasty. 

I'm looking forward to a full blind taste test on these in a couple weeks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wine Barrel Flanders Red Tasting

After the tasting of the dry hopped version of our group's Wine Barrel Flanders Red, I thought it was only fair to give a review of the “plain version.” Needless to say I am floored by my first attempt at barrel aging, and can't wait to see how it develops with more time in the bottle (it was just bottled 6 weeks ago!).  The portion aging on sour cherries is tasting terrific as well, but it will be another few months before I bottle it.

On a side note I really like these Ivrig tasting (fine... wine) glasses I picked up at Ikea last weekend. They are perfect for swirling, and do a great job keeping the aromas in (and for $2.99 each, hard to beat). 

Wine Barrel Flanders Red

Appearance – One and a half finger slightly off-white head. The bubble structure is a bit open, but the retention is pretty good for a sour beer (that is to say not terrible). There is even a bit of lacing. Beautiful clear, amber-ruby-auburn colored liquid, a really stunning looking beer.  

Smell – Some deep sour tones, but no vinegary (acetic) notes as most of the big name Flanders Reds have (not that I am complaining). Overripe cherries are the primary fruit note, and they are backed up by a wet earthy (borderline moldy) oaky basement aroma.  

Taste – Just beautiful, deep (not not over the top) sourness balanced by just a touch of sweetness. The acid is lactic, but I get just a hint of the sharper acetic giving it a great lingering tart finish. The cherry character is not as big as it was in the nose, but it is still there bringing with it that same dank, earthy, woody complexity from the aroma. It is hard to tell just where the beer ends, and the wine character from the barrel begins. Much drier than most Belgian examples of the style (because we didn't blend in sweet young beer, or saccharin), and much less acetic than most American examples, both of which are fine by me.

Mouthfeel – Pretty thin, but there is still some residual body there. Not much tannin from the oak, I guess the wine stripped most of it out before we got the barrel. The carbonation is restrained, which I enjoy, but might be a bit low “for the style.”

Drinkability & Notes – It is remarkable what a few friends, a barrel, and some microbes can create in a year. I could easily drink a couple of these in a row.  Even without the opportunity to blend, I think this is better than 75% of the sours I have tasted from American breweries (although I might just be a little biased...).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Candi/Table/Corn Sugar Belgian Beer Experiment

A couple years back I did two split batch sugar experiments (the original, the sequel).  They focused on the more interesting sugars out there, including unrefined sugars, caramelized sugars, and sugars from plants besides the classic sugar beet/cane (date, agave, and gur).  All well and good, but it left a big gap when it comes to how different plain/white/refined/pure sugars compare when used in brewing beer. The one "plain" sugar I try didn't get the same temperature controls and ended up tasting a bit hot/cidery.

Many Belgian beers, particularly the paler and stronger ones, get dryness (and a boost in alcohol) from the addition of relatively flavorless sugars.  For years Americans brewers (both home and craft) used the expensive and difficult to dissolve candi sugar rocks.  For the most part this changed a few years back when Brew Like a Monk was published with the claim that not only do brewers in Belgium not use candi rocks but also that the rocks are simply recrystalized sucrose (that is to say white table sugar).  As a result candi rocks and tablet sugar seemed like they would make an interesting head-to-head match, but I wanted to try some other options out as well.

A couple years back the company that imports an authentic and excellent dark candi syrup began importing a clear candi syrup that is partially inverted (supposedly making it easier on the yeast to ferment).  It hasn't gotten the same press/hype as the dark syrup, but I thought it was worth a try.  This is apparently what many Belgian brewers are referring to when they talk about candi sugar, so despite the high cost (~20X) compared to table sugar it might be the key to nailing sugar heavy styles like Tripel and Belgian Strong Golden.

Lastly the old priming sugar stand-by, corn sugar (glucose), seemed like a good candidate to throw into the mix.  The claim here is that much like the inverted sugar glucose is easier on yeast because they don't need to employ the enzyme invertase to ferment it.  In addition to these four experimental portions I wanted to leave one gallon as a control without any sugar to see how the gravity and flavor would fare compared to the rest. 

I didn't want to do anything too fancy with the recipe because if there are flavor differences they will most likely be subtle at best.  As a result I went with a base wort made from 100% pilsner malt, and a light hand with some Willamette hops near the start of the boil.  For yeast I went with my old friend Wyeast 3787 (Westmalle), fermented cool at the start and ramping up toward the end of fermentation to ensure complete attenuation.

I brewed in my friend Scott's garage on a snowy Saturday in early December (he was brewing a porter on his system at the same time).  The brewday was relatively uneventful (aside from a tasty bottle of TPS Report, a GABF Gold Medal willing 100% Brett rose petal aged beer, from TriNity Brewing and a flat bottle of Lost Abbey Angel's Share that we had to sic my carbonator cap on).  I want to figure out given the standard homebrewer single-infusion process which sugar makes the best beer, so I skipped a protein rest despite the fact that it might have added some extra nutrition (FAN).  I did add some yeast nutrient as I usually do, which will help to make up for it though.

For introducing the sugar I wanted to balance suggestions to add it before fermentation to replicate the most common fermentation procedure with my concerns that having five separate aerations, pitches, fermentations etc... could introduce too many uncontrolled variables into my process.  I chose to inoculate the entire batch and leave it to ferment for 24 hours before adding the sugars (which I had weighed out so they would contribute the same gravity to each portion of the beer).  While only about 10.1% by weight the sugars (depending on the type) each account for 15.7% by extract, more than enough to get a good impression of impact of each variety.

I'll have a full tasting in a month or two after the beers bottle condition (of course using the respective sugars to add the fermentables for natural carbonation). 

White Sugar Showdown

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal):         4.80   
Total Grain (Lbs):       11.12
Anticipated OG:          1.069   
Anticipated SRM:           3.4
Anticipated IBU:          24.0
Brewhouse Efficiency:       73 %
Wort Boil Time:             75    Minutes

89.9% - 10.00 lbs. German Pilsener   
10.1% - 1.12 lbs. Cane Sugar  

1.50 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.40% AA) @ 60 min.

1 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.(boil)
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.(boil)

WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 60 min @ 149

Brewed 12/05/09 at Scott's.

1.4 qrt starter made the night before with a 3 month old smack pack.  Not much activity as of brew day.

Water was treated with fish-tank chlorine remover, no other water adjustments as mash pH was ~5.2

Collected 6.5 gallons after batch sparge.  Solid boil.  Ended up a bit higher gravity than I was originally aiming for.  Chilled to 68, drove home, shook to aerate and pitched the starter into the 6 gallon better bottle.

I was a bit concerned about the yeast, so I placed the carboy in a pot and put it on the radiator overnight.  No action by the next morning, but soon after that the fermentation took off like a rocket.

At ~24 hours racked to secondary adding:
Clear Candi Rocks 101 g (1.045)
Table Sugar 101 g (1.045)
Clear Candi Syrup 142 g  (1.032)
Corn Sugar 120 g (1.038)

Sugars dissolved in 8 oz of water, heated in the microwave to dissolve and sanitize.

12/12/09 Put back on radiator to ensure fermentation finishes up, temp ~75F.

12/17/09 Took off radiator to give time to settle before bottling.

12/19/09  Bottled with the sugars below, dissolved with water to make ~10 tbls of liquid.  Should provide about equal carbonation... hopefully.
Clear Candi Rocks - 28 g same
Table Sugar - 28 g same
Clear Candi Syrup - 39 g same
Corn Sugar - 33 g same
None - 46 g DME

3/10/10 First tasting.  Very similar, although the candi rocks came out a bit over-carbed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dry Hopped Flanders Red Tasting

It is rare that you taste a beer that combines sourness with hoppiness well. The general issue is that when you sour a hoppy beer the hops fade by the time the microbes do their work. There are a few notable exceptions, like the amazingly drinkable Cantillon Cuvee des Champions, El Rojo Diablo from Bullfrog, and New Belgium Le Terroir, their secret?  A minimally hopped beer that is dry hopped after it has time to age/sour. This is a great technique because it allows you to add a fresh hop flavor to a beer that has already had plenty of time to mature.

The problem is that if you dry hop a whole batch of homebrewed sour you'll either have to drink it quickly (the horror) or keep drinking as the hops fade and oxidize (the real horror).  A few years back I played around with a way to get around this when I bottle hopped some of my Mo Betta' Bretta clone. The results were good enough that I thought I would give it another whirl with the wine barrel Flanders red we bottled a few weeks back. I opted for four hop cones in each bottle (which sounds like a lot when you consider that it is equivalent to ~200 hop cones in a 5 gallon batch), one cone each Simcoe and Amarillo and two home grown Cascades.

The only real draw back from this method is that the beer will start to foam when you open it, so be prepared with an over-sized glass and some sort of strainer when serving.

Dry Hopped Flanders Red

Appearance - Slightly murky, ruddy brown/red (what do you expect from all those nucleation sites). This bottle didn't gush nearly as badly as some of my other ones have.  The off white head pours pretty big, and sticks around for a good while.

Aroma - Big citrus (grapefruit especially) from the hops mingling with the fruitiness and funk from the bugs. At 6 weeks in the bottle (and on the hops) the hop aroma is just as fresh and alive as it was a month ago when I drank the first bottle (this one is my last).  The hops do cover up some of the subtle barrel/fermentation notes, but the added complexity is well worth the price.

Flavor - The hops almost seem to temper the sourness compared to the non-dry-hopped version (tasting soon). Big citrus remains with a touch of red wine fruitiness. No big funky flavors, but some hints of damp basement peak through from time to time.  The balance is the most striking thing to me, there is still enough malt and just a touch of sweetness to support the sourness, without being overly sweet like so many commercial Flanders Reds.

Mouthfeel - Still has a bit of heft to the body despite the Brettanomyces activity, but it is far from being a thick beer. Some of the carbonation was knocked out by straining the beer to remove the hops, but it is still adequately prickly.

Drinkability/Notes - Something about the combination is so quenching, but at the same time draws you back for another sip. This is one of those beers that no matter how slow I try to drink it I end up finishing my glass faster than I should. This might just be the best beer I have ever had a hand in brewed (I am now tempted to shove hop cones into some of the already carbonated bottles, but that could make quite a mess).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chile Cocoa Coffee Vanilla Maple Bourbon Imperial Stout

Well not all in one beer, obviously.  Two weeks ago I racked my Breakfast Stout Riff Imperial Stout to four 1-gallon jugs and added the flavorants.  Then yesterday I bottled the four gallons of finished beer (ended up with about seven 12 oz bottles and a bomber of each).  My samples of the variants at bottling were very promising, all of them seemed to have a good balance, but carbonation and time will help them along.

I didn't do anything to sanitize the additives, I'm relying on the ~10% alcohol and ~45 IBUs that the base beer to provide its own protection.

For the "Dessert" portion I added 1.5 oz of cocoa powder, made into a paste with hot water, along with 2/3 of a split Moroccan Vanilla bean.  I also decided to add .5 oz of bourbon (Makers Mark) soaked oak cubes to compliment the vanilla flavors (artificial vanilla flavor is made from wood).

The "Canadian Breakfast" portion got a touch less chocolate paste (1.375 oz), along with 2 oz of the bourbonized maple syrup, and 1.25 oz of the cubes that had been soaking in it (which spent several months in bourbon before that).  24 hours before bottling I added 2 oz of whole El Salvadorian coffee beans to the fermenter.  That is about double what I would normally use because of the lower surface area (in the past I have done coarse crushed beans), if nothing else it made transferring the beer off the coffee much easier.

This is the only one that saw significant fermentation in secondary, it also had by far the largest yeast cake in the bottom of the fermenter.  I am hoping that the sugars from fermentation were completely fermented out before I bottled, despite the fact that it was pretty cold in my basement the last few weeks.

The "Mexican" portion got a got the least cocoa (1.125 oz) I mixed the 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon into the paste as well.  The dried chiles (1/2 ancho, 1/2 guajillo) were thrown is as well along with the remaining 1/3 of a vanilla bean from the Dessert portion. 

Next to the three flavored stouts the plain portion tasted pretty bland, but it will be interesting to try next to the other three.  In particular I am looking forward to seeing how it tastes once it has some age on it, and as a control to see just what characteristics are from the coffee/chocolate, and what is from the roasted malts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What sort of recipe do you brew most often?

Your own - 51%
Someone's recipe w/ minor tweaks - 29%
Original recipe from a book/internet - 9%
Homebrew shop kit - 5%
Clone recipe - 2%
Recipe from someone you know 0%

In my mind there is a continuum when it comes to how people design recipes.  Almost everyone start out brewing recipes and kits to the letter, this takes the lowest amount involvement and can make some very tasty beers.  After that most people begin to make subtle tweaks, changing a finishing hop, or swapping base malts, relatively minor changes, but it allows you to feel some control and ownership over a batch.  After that some people start synthesizing recipes by combining the grain/hop/yeast bills from multiple recipes to craft something that gives what they are looking for.  Finally there are those that start with an idea (original or not) and build a recipe based on general concepts and specific ingredient preferences that they have learned from experience and research. 

All of these methods are perfectly valid, and at various points I have (and still do) practice all of them.  That said, the batches I have enjoyed most over my time as a homebrewer tend to be the ones I spent the most time designing.  This is not always true of course, and it certainly could be a result of some cognitive dissonance on my part, but I'd like to think it is because I know what I like to drink better than someone else does.

I am often let down when trying to brew someone else's a recipe exactly.  I find many recipe are too heavy on the crystal malt for my taste, or for whatever reason just don't match the vision of the beer in my mind.  This is especially true for random authorless recipes off of websites and message boards.  I have had better results brewing recipes from the homebrew big names like Denny and Jamil, but I have made several (like Denny's RyePA, and Jamil's Amber) that I did not care for.

Despite the 0% showing there was actually one person who indicated that they mostly brew recipes from people they know.  I don't do this as often as I should, but I have had much better results with this than brewing recipes from books or the internet.  It is very nice to taste a beer before brewing it so you know you enjoy it, a nice bonus is that it enables you to ask all the questions you want of the person who brewed it. 

Part of my goal with this blog is to give the why just as much as the what when it comes to my recipes.  Hopefully that helps those who want to brew them to better understand the reasons behind the malt/hops/yeast choices.  I also hope that it makes it easier to tweak the recipes for you own tastes if that is what you want to do.  I also realize that some of you are just looking for a spark of inspiration, so hopefully reading about my thought process will help you as well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Double Berliner Weisse Tasting

At just over six months since brew day my second batch of Berliner Weisse is still pretty young by sour beer standards. The recipe I used was nearly identical to that of my first batch of Berliner Weisse, but I took half of this batch and added Cabernet juice to give it a twist.  Both halves of the batch turned out well, but the Cabernet juice didn't have as much of a flavor impact as I expected (and the impact it did have was not as bright and fresh as I had hoped). 

Berliner Weisse isn't exactly my choice for winter drinking, so most of this batch will probably hang around my basement until next summer.  I may break out a bottle in a couple months to send to the National Homebrew Conference (NHC), I've been meaning to enter a couple beers to see how they fare.  As a result of its subdued flavor and potent acidity I will also blend some with other beers that need more sourness.

Berliner Weisse

Appearance - The beer pictured on the left.  Clear straw yellow, not many beers on this side of Budweiser. A small white head forms, but quickly dissipates.  Glad to see the starchy haze has completely cleared up (or settled out).

Aroma - Clean lactic aroma with a slight wheatiness.  Not a complex aroma, but then that may come with some more age as the Brett from the bottle dregs continue to work.

Flavor - Bright, clean, with just a touch of wet hay from the Brett. Sour, but not quite as saliva gland punishing as the Cabernet laced half. The dry cereal character this beer had right after it was bottled has mostly faded, but there is still a hint of Cheerios.

Mouthfeel - Certainly thin, but no unpleasant dryness or tannic character. Nice assertive carbonation, but might be a slightly low for the style (which is what I was aiming for since I don't like aggressive carbonation).

Drinkability & Notes - I think it is just as good as my first batch. Still needs a few months, but it is almost there.  The acidity may mellow a bit as well as the Brett continues to work in the bottle, but it is very drinkable as is (assuming you don't mind sour).

Cabernet Berliner Weisse

Appearance - The beer pictured on the right. Clear light reddish-amber, no longer the beautiful pink it appeared in the fermenter. The same lackluster head featured in the straight version, between the acidity and the low gravity there isn't much hope for a great head on a Berliner Weisse.

Aroma - Similar sour aroma (ethyl lactate?) with just a hint of Concord grape juice. The grape character just does not have the volume or character I had hoped for.

Flavor - Forceful sourness up front, probably closer to commercial Gueuzes than the few Berliner Weisses still produced (I'm sure the acids and sugars in the juice contributed to the additional sourness). Not much grape character, but the flavor is just a bit deeper and sweeter than the plain.

Mouthfeel - A little bit fuller, and the carbonation is a lighter than in the other version.

Drinkability & Notes - Needs a better grape character, next time around I'll have to go with fresh/frozen fruit (that always seems to give me the best results). Still not a bad beer, but sadly that First Blush juice doesn't seem like a great idea for a beer this delicate.