Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Blog 2010

It is hard to believe that I have been blogging for nearly three years.  Every year around the end of January I have posted some information gleaned from Google Analytics that I find interesting, along with the numbers from the previous years.  Here are the posts from my first and second years if you are interested in looking at them.

Posts: 103 (2nd year: 84, 1st year: 80)
Posts about beer 95 (2nd 53, 1st 53)
Clearly I have been a bit lazy on the non-beer fermentation front, but hopefully I will remedy this deficiency in 2010.

Total Visits: 80,516 - 224/day (2nd: 39,861 - 109/day, 1st 11,712 - 32/day)
It is always nice to see those numbers continuing to climb, thanks to all of you who have posted links and told your friends about the blog. This January I already have nearly 10,000 hits, so hopefully site traffic keeps trending up.  The spike in April was from my Beer Wars Rant which received lots of links and buzz on the internets.

Page Views: 141,229 (2nd: 71,63, 1st: 22,435)
Unique Visitors: 34,538 (2nd: 21,219, 1st: 6,110)

Direct Traffic:  18,233 (2nd: 9,042, 1st: 2,908)
Search Engines: 38,020 (2nd: 16,030, 1st: 3,373)
Referring Sites: 24,605 (2nd: 14,779, 1st: 5,431)

Top Referring Sites:
1st Beer Advocate (2nd) (2nd)
2nd Homebrew Talk (4th) (7th)
3rd Rate Beer (7th) (5th)

As you might be able to tell from the numbers I migrated over to posting on Homebrew Talk instead of Northern Brewer (which was the top referring site the first two years).  The switch was not an intentional decision on my part, just something that happened over time.

People from 129 (2nd: 109, 1st: 68) countries visited.
1st USA (1st, 1st)
2nd Canada (2nd, 2nd)
3rd UK (3rd, 4th)
4th Australia (4th, 3rd)
5th Sweden (6th, 6th)
6th Denmark (5th, 7th)
7th Norway (9th, 8th)
8th New Zealand (7th, 5th)
9th Italy (8th, 17th)
10th Germany (10th, 13th)

Looks pretty stable this year, although clearly my popularity continues to rise in Scandinavia, while New Zealand isn't keeping up with the others.

About 83% (2nd, 82%, 1st: 85%) of the visitors to the blog were from America.
1st California (1st, 1st)
2nd Pennsylvania (2nd, 3rd)
3rd Illinois (4th, 7th)
4th New York (3rd, 6th)
5th Massachusetts (7th, 10th)
6th Washington (10th, 12th)
7th Virginia (6th, 4th)
8th Texas (6th, 13th)
9th Colorado (11th, 11th)
10th DC (9th, 2nd)

The list looks pretty stable, but Illinois and Washington are the two biggest climbers this year.

In case you were wondering the state I got the fewest hits from was North Dakota with 24, taking over the a spot held by Wyoming the last two years.

In the browser wars Internet Explorer lost even more ground this year to 28% (2nd: 36%,1st: 40%), and Firefox edged up slightly to 50% after 2 years at 49%.

Operating System:
72% Windows (2nd: 76%, 1st: 79%)
23% Mac (2nd: 19%, 1st: 17%)
4% Linux (2nd: 4%, 1st: 5%)
.2% iPhone (2nd: .5%, 1st: .05%)

Not sure what it says about my site, but that is certainly a lot more Apple users than a random sampling of the population would produce.

Besides the main page, the most viewed articles have gone to the my no-knead sourdough recipe, water treatment guide, and my Berliner weisse recipe.

The number of subscribers to my feed has really exploded over the last year, growing from 250 to over 1,600 today. A site called FriendFeed seems to be responsible for a good chunk of that growth (hello to anyone on there).  The total number of feed views was 148,508 which is just above the views for the actually website.  I didn't start using FeedBurner to track feed usage until the middle of 2008, so I don't have the hard numbers for the first two years (but I am sure I have gotten more growth on it than anywhere else).

Things on tap for year four of the Mad Fermentationist:
Sour beer solera barrel project.
Brewing my first batch of sake in the next couple months.
More homemade cheese and cured meat
More sourdough recipes (now that the weather is cooler I have been baking a lot, just not posting)
Bottling the group sour wee heavy (and racking a big porter into the barrel funkify)
Plenty of updates on all of the sours aging in my basement and all of the clean beers I have in the works.
The return of the Fermentationette's Farmers Market Lunch posts

As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, complaints etc... please email me at [email protected]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Double Sour Brewday

Two days after the bottle dregs from Cable Car and Deviation were pitched into the small starter I started to see faint signs of life.  I was pretty excited because with such old/sour beers there is no telling what if any microbes would still be alive.  A couple days later my hopes were dashed by a strong aroma reminiscent of nail polish remover (ethyl acetate most likely) emanating from the starter.  The chemical/solvent aroma only got more intense over the following few days, forcing me to dump the bugs we had pinned our brewing hopes on.  The blame, sadly, most likely falls on the acetobacter that I got a whiff of in my glass of the Russian River Deviation.

Luckily a couple weeks earlier I had received a vial of Al B's Bugfarm #3 in the mail.  Al is a great homebrewer (if his beer from the Brett 100% Swap is any indication), he is also a microbiologist obsessed with gathering and preserving different yeast and bacteria strains from a variety of sour beers.  Every once in while he sends out the call for people willing to try out his latest microbe blend, for free! (with the understanding that you'll send him a couple bottles in return once his investment matures).

Here is the list of microbes in this batch of slurry.  Some of the more interesting strains include Brett and Pedio cultures from Rodenbach, Russian River, Fantome, Cantillon, Allagash, New Belgium, and Drie Fonteinen (talk about a who's who of excellent funky/sour beer producers) not to mention additional oddball strains from kombucha and sourdough.  Al intends each tube for 5 gallons, so I stepped the slurry up in a starter the night before we brewed.

Devin and I planned to make 10 gallons of wort using a big mash tun that I had built years ago, but only used once (it was constructed from a 17.5 gallon marine cooler and a CPVC manifold, but living in an apartment down in DC it didn't seem worth the space it takes up).  Doing such a large batch on my system can only be accomplished by collecting a smaller volume of runnings pre-boil, assuming poor efficiency, and diluting to hit the target volume post boil, since I only have a 10 gallon boil kettle.

Our plan worked pretty well (except for when, halfway through the sparge, the manifold detached from the spigot).  In the end I had to scoop the mash into my usual 5 gallon mash tun to complete the sparge (somehow we still managed to get 60% efficiency).

With such a complex bunch of bugs in our employ we decided that it wasn't worth doing too much with the grain bill.  The recipe was pretty simple, basemalt (split between German Pils and Maris Otter for complexity), wheat malt, and some rolled oats (we were inspired to add the oats part way though the mash, with all those bugs I don't really care whether they converted fully or not).  The hops were similarly restrained with just 13 IBUs of Willamette added near the start of the boil.

After chilling, the wort sat in the kettle for a couple hours (while I was enjoying some miracle fruit) before I had a chance to rack/dilute it, you can really see the difference between the top and bottom of the wort (top/clean half on the right, bottom/truby half on the left).

On top of liking sours, Devin enjoys weird/interesting/unique/crazy beers in general... so we have been throwing around a some ideas on what to do with 5 gallons of the batch; flowers, pineapple/orange/guava juice, or starfruit.  We will probably wait until the summer when good produce is in season to decide the fate of this batch

The other 5 gallons will be left plain and used as a starter for the next barrel project, a solera that Nathan and I are going to house in my basement.  The idea will be to pull ~5 gallons every 6 months or so and replace it with a fresh batch of beer.  That way each pull is a slightly different blend and we will always have some great sour beer on hand.  Obviously there will be a lot more on this project to come over the next few months as we figure out the details.

Devin and I both had high hopes for the dregs from those amazing beers, but I think with Al's Bugfarm this batch will still be fantastic.

Deviant Cable Car (No More)

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 10.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 25.00
Anticipated OG: 1.056
Anticipated SRM: 5.0
Anticipated IBU: 13.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60 %
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

68.0% - 17.00 lbs. German Pilsener
20.0% - 5.00 lbs. Maris Otter
8.0% - 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
4.0% - 1.00 lbs. Oatmeal

1.50 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.40% AA) @ 75 min.

1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 17 Min.

Al B's Bugfarm #3

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 70 min @ 154
Mash Out - 15 min @ 169

Made a 1/3 L starter the night before with most of the tube of Al B's Bugfarm #3.  No Yeast nutrient added to the starter, shook vigorously for a few minutes before and after pitching the tube of slurry.

Old Fashion Quaker Oats added with 20 minutes left in the mash as a mid-mash decision.

Mash tun issues with my big one, so I ended up having to scoop the mash into my old tun half way through the sparge.  Collected about 9 gallons of 1.054 runnings in the big kettle, plus ~1 gallon of the final runnings into my small kettle.  Brought the final runnings to a boil and added them to the main kettle after 20 minutes.

Chilled to ~65.  Let sit several hours in the kettle after it had chilled (during the miracle fruit tasting).  Added the starter and topped off with filtered water to 5 gallons in each carboy.  Left at 63 degrees upstairs.

Solid fermentation activity after 12 hours, but it never got really raucous.

1/30/10 Racked both batches to 5 gallon better bottles.

2/20/10 5 gallons went into the solera barrel to get it going.

6/30/10 Defrosted four 1 lb bags of guanabana/soursop puree from Goya.  Topped off with beer to 3 gallons.  Racked the rest of the beer into two 1 gallon jugs.

7/15/10 Added 1.5 lbs of frozen/defrosted yellow peaches to one of the gallon jugs, skins on pits removed.

7/26/10 Racked the 2 1/4 gallons I could get off of the guanabana, dumped the puree, and racked the beer back into the carboy to continue aging.  Gravity down to 1.008, nice complex tropical addition to the flavor. 

Blended the soursop portion with 2 gallons for the Quick Oud Bruin that had been aged on blackberries and black raspberries, and left for some additional aging.

2/15/11 Bottled the plain and Peach gallons.  Yielded ~10 bottles of each.  Forgot to note how much priming sugar we used, probably around .75 oz of table sugar for each one.

6/9/11 The plain portion turned out well. Balanced acidity, lots of complex fruit flavors, just a touch of vinegar.

6/15/11 The peaches add a layer of complexity without overwhelming the base beer, although I think they could have been a bit stronger.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hoppy French Saison Tasting

I've been enjoying the Hoppy Saison I brewed back in November one on tap for more than a month now, but I'm just getting around to putting the description down on (internet) paper.  I think it turned out pretty well, the appearance in particular is striking (just look at that head!).  This beer is a great example of how simplicity (2 malts, 1 hop, 1 yeast) can create complexity that you cannot get by adding every malt available at the homebrew store.  Brew simple!

Hoppy French Saison

Appearance – Stiff-peaks-egg-white-head, with enough stability for it to sit above the rim of the glass for a couple minutes while I took pictures. Terrific retention, thick lacing, probably the best head of any beer I have brewed. Sitting beneath the head is a clear, golden yellow, sunshine body.

Smell – Some nice herbal/spicy saaz notes mingle with the fruity (pear, hints of banana) yeast character. Not as much peppery-ness as I would have expected from a saison yeast, but there is a bit hiding behind the hops and esters.

Taste – The combination of spice and fruit from the nose continues in the mouth. Nice solid rustic bitterness on top of a slightly bready malt base. There is even a touch of malty/honey sweetness, surprising, but not unpleasant. Just a hint of ethanol on the end, with the high attenuation this ended up at 6.5% ABV.

Mouthfeel – Moderate carbonation, more body than the low FG (1.002) would suggest. Could be more carbonated, but my tap system seems to be knocking out most of it (thus the huge head). No astringency, just a nice crisp dry finish.

Drinkability & Notes – A perfect ray of sunshine on a dark winter night, easy to drink yet plenty complex. Works well as a breather when there are so many strong/dark/thick/boozy beers to try this time of year (not that I am complaining). A warmer ferment would have gotten this more saison-like, but I think it is great as is (Belgians aren't exactly style obsessed). It will be interesting to see how this beer works with the big, dark saison we pitched onto the yeast cake.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Miracle Fruit Sour Beer Tasting

I was reading an article in the New York Times back in May about miracle fruit, a berry that has the ability to trick taste buds into interpreting sour as sweet, when I immediately thought "should be interesting with a sour beer." If eating this berry can make lemons, limes, taste like sweet candy, what would it do to a Kriek or a Gueuze?

I had two options for berry procurement, fresh or tablet.  You can order either form online, but the fresh berries are extremely perishable (must be consumed immediately or frozen) and are pretty expensive due to a high minimum order ($44 for 20) plus expedited shipping.  So I went with tablets, I got mine from Think Geek ($15 for 10), my friend Tracy Jill had coincidentally just brought some from Amazon, the boxes looked different but the tablets inside were identical.

I thought trying miracle fruit would be a fun group activity (more foods/beers to sample and people to discuss the experience with), so I convinced eleven friends to come over for a Saturday afternoon tasting (with the stipulation that they each bring something sour to eat and drink).  After sampling some of the items to give us a "before" comparison we each took a tablet and let it dissolve on our tongues, which takes about three minutes (the tablets have a slightly sweet, mildly tangy flavor).  At that point the active molecule from the fruit (miraculin glycoprotein)  is ready to go to work playing with your taste buds (the mechanism by which it accomplishes this is still up for debate). 

We started with the foods, the citrus was generally excellent (particularly the white grapefruit and Meyer lemons).  The tablet did not completely wipe out the sour sensation for me (particularly on the back of the throat), but it did a pretty good job making sour taste sweet. I also enjoyed the yogurt (which was wonderfully sweet and creamy) and the salt and vinegar chips, which took on a sweet barbecue like flavor flavor.  Several people even enjoyed a sip of distilled white vinegar, I was turned off by the sherry vinegar (which still had a strong vinegar flavor in my throat and aroma in my nose) and so skipped the distilled. The sour candy, olive, apricots, and Granny Smith apples didn't do much for me.

For some of the really sour things (lemons especially) my brain was confused if I was tasting something really sour or sweet.  I can only liken it to touching really cold water and for a moment not being able to tell whether it is hot or cold (just extreme). 

Next we moved to the beers, which people had been generous enough to bring with them.  There were a couple beers that the tablet had little effect on (Sam Adam's Winter, Olde Towne Amber, and a couple homebrews), but the sour beers really did change considerably.

Cantillon Kriek - Still had a bit of an acetic sour edge despite the added sweetness.  It also smelled a bit like nail polish remover (which sadly is the same direction the Cable Car-Deviation starter went...). 

Lindemans PĂȘche - Tasted like the heavy syrup from a can of peaches, way too sweet for me to enjoy.

Selin's Grove Framboise - This is also a pretty sweet beer to start, but it didn't take on the aggressively sweet character with the miracle fruit. 

My Sour Cherry Flanders Red - Came close to what a Lindeman's Kriek tastes like without miracle fruit, despite the high acidity of that beer normally.

Girardin 1882 Gueuze - This one was really enjoyable, no acidity, but it still had all sorts of complex earthy funk. 

Gueuze Fond Tradition - Similar to the Girardin, but with more oak and fewer complexities.

Founders Breakfast Stout - There was quite a bit of debate on this one, most people didn't think it tasted much different, but several people thought it tasted much more like an iced mocha Starbucks concoction than it normally does.  I thought a few drops of lemon juice helped to add some sweetness to it and bring it more in line with what others were describing.

In general I enjoyed the Gueuzes over the fruit beers (but I won't say that any of them were necessarily "better" than they would have been without the miracle fruit), it would have been interesting to try some other styles like a Flanders Red without fruit, or something from one of the big American sour brewers, but after after 30-45 minutes the effects of the miracle fruit began to fade.  It was interesting to taste things again as they slowly regained their acidity.  We had all been impressed by the lemon kombucha when we first tasted it, but as our flavor trip wore off we realized that it hadn't actually been that sour to start.

It was certainly a fun way to spend the afternoon, and luckily no one complained of stomach issues, despite the assault of high acid foods in such a short amount of time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pannepot Clone (Cuvee Tomme Again)

About a month ago, the Saturday before Christmas if you want to be precise, DC was hit by the biggest snow storm since I moved down here in 2006.  The next morning I took my shovel and carved a path through the snow from my backdoor to the garage so I could brew up a batch of something strong and dark.

I wanted to create something inspired by the most interesting new Belgian brewery to open in the last ten years,  De Struise Not only are their beers unique, but pretty much everything I have had from them has been darn near perfect.  While Black Albert, their Royal Belgian Stout, is the beer that garners the most hype, I think their best offering is a slightly sweet, spicy, Belgian Strong Dark called Pannepot (Old Fisherman's Ale).

Luckily for me Struise had PDFs posted on their website (that have since disappeared, but can still be grabbed using the Wayback Machine, translation required) that listed the ingredients used in each of their beers as well as the color/gravity/IBUs, making a clone recipe pretty easy to piece together.

My version of the recipe starts out simple enough with lots of pils malt.  I was inspired to use a blend of German, Belgian, and French pils by an interview I heard with Ron Jeffries (of Jolly Pumpkin) on the Jamil Show, in which he said that uses a blend of different base malts to hearken back to the days before consistent malt modification and to provide a more balanced malt foundation.  On top of the base malts I used some Crystal 120 (I would guess that the original uses Special B for its "Caramel mout", but I didn't have any on hand), a touch of dark malt (a blend of Carafa, Chocolate, and Coffee malts), and some dark candi syrup.  Pannepot also contains a bit of flaked corn to boost fermentability, which I also used awhile back on my Big Funky.  The hops are pretty restrained at less than 30 IBUs for a 10% ABV beer, so I didn't mind swapping Willamette and Saaz in for the Bramling Cross and Hallertau Mittelfruh called for. 

For yeast Struise uses T-58 (a dry strain that seems to be gaining in popularity), but I had some Wyeast 3787 around (which is very similar) from my Clear Sugar Experiment, so I decided to use that instead.  I was able to dig up the fermentation schedule for Pannepot posted by one of the brewers (reproduced at the end of the post), but I am not sticking too it very closely.

The big twist compared to other Belgian Strong Darks (Quadruppels) is the spicing: cinnamon, coriander, thyme, and orange zest.  Each spice/herb seems like it could pair with the other three individually, but I will be interested to see if they all four meld harmoniously in the finished beer.  I used a light hand with all of them, so worse comes to worse they will probably be playing around below the flavor threshold (which is fine since Pannepot does not have distinct notes from any of them).   

A few years back one of my first sour beers was inspired by Pizza Port's (now Lost Abbey's) Cuvee de Tomme, a strong dark Belgian aged in bourbon barrels with sour cherries and several strains of Brettanomyces.  It turned out to be one of the better batches I have made, so I though I would give the same treatment to half of this batch.  The base beer is pretty close to what I used back then, with some dark sugars, and a touch of dark malt.  Other than the base beer the biggest change compared to last time was the switch I made from dark sweet cherries (all I could find at the time) to sour cherries (which are used in the commercial version), hopefully this change will up the acidity and complexity of the beer.  It will be interesting to see if any of the spices are apparent after the fruit/wood/bugs have time to impact the beer (Struise uses the same blend of spices in Aardmonnik - Earthmonk, a tasty Flanders Red/Bruin, so I do have high hopes).

For the microbes I added the last of the Wine Barrel Flanders Red culture (which started out as Wyeast Roeselare Blend and the dregs from a bottle of Lost Abbey's Red Poppy) that also went into my Sour Cider a couple months back, as well as a touch of Al B's Bugfarm #3.  Normally I like the add the bugs in primary, but in this case where I wanted to leave half the batch clean I had to wait until secondary.

In slightly related news I think I accidentally drank the last bottle of my first Cuvee de Tomme inspired beer a few months back, I need to come up with a better way to inventory my batches so I know how much I have left.  

Pannepot Clone (Cuvee de Tomme again)

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 16.75
Anticipated OG: 1.096
Anticipated SRM: 22.9
Anticipated IBU: 25.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74 %
Wort Boil Time: 95 Minutes

59.7% - 10.00 lbs. French Pilsener
11.9% - 2.00 lbs. German Pilsener
11.9% - 2.00 lbs. Belgian Pilsener
9.0% - 1.50 lbs. Dark Candi Syrup
3.0% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 120L
3.0% - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Corn
0.7% - 0.13 lbs. Carafa II
0.4% - 0.06 lbs. Belgian Chocolate Malt
0.4% - 0.06 lbs. Simpson's Coffee Malt

2.00 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.40% AA) @ 45 min.
0.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet 3.10% AA) @ 15 min.

0.25 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 min.
1.00 Whirlfloc Fining @ 10 min.
3.00 gm Coriander Seed @ 2 min.
5.00 gm Fresh Orange Zest@ 2 min.
1.00 gm Cinnamon @ 2 min.
1.00 gm Thyme @ 2 min.

WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 80 min @ 155

Brewed 12/20/09

Could have sworn I had Special B on hand, but I couldn't find it, Crystal 120 is close enough.

Half candi syrup added to pot during sparge. With that sugar, 7 gallons of 1.062 wort collected. Second half of candi syrup added with 20 min left. Not sure if this will do anything, but I do seem to get more dark fruit from earlier additions, and more caramelized sugar from late.

Orange peel was fresh zest, spices pre-ground, thyme crushed.

Chilled wort to 70. Yeast cake from 2 of the 5 jugs of the white sugar experiment. Pitched while giving 80 seconds of pure O2. Left at ~63 ambient for fermentation to start. Moved up to radiator after 24 hours to get it up to 75 degrees.

12/24/09 Temperature dropped to ~50 while I was out of town.

12/30/09 Temp back up to 75 on my return. Still some krausen, but the gravity is down to 1.028.

1/07/10 Racked 2 gallons into two 4L jugs, placed in the basement for a few weeks of cold conditioning before bottling.

The rest of the batch racked onto 2 lbs of local sour cherries that I had vaccupacked/frozen during the summer. It got the remainder of the dregs from the Wine Barrel Flanders Red, as well as a touch of Al B's Bugfarm #3. ~1/2 oz of bourbon soaked oak as well as 1/3 cup of Maker's Mark that they had been soaking in was added as well. Left upstairs at ~62 degrees to get the bugs/yeast working on the cherries. Should be ready to bottle next winter.

4/24/10 Bottled the plain half with 1.5 oz of cane sugar.  Aiming for medium carbonation.  The cherry half is still fermenting.

7/22/10 First Pannepot tasting, good but a bit boozy.  Gravity got down to 1.010, (90% AA, 11.5% ABV).

11/22/10 Bottled the cherry/sour portion.  2.25 gallons with 1.375 oz of table sugar.

1/27/11 The sour/cherry version turned out well, nice cherry character, well balanced.  Not as sour/funky as I wanted, but I'm not surprised since I waited until after primary fermentation to add the bugs (and the base beer was more fermentable than I was anticipating).
Notes on Pannepot:
Old Fisherman's Ale is a dark ale brewed with spices. Pannepot is a term that describes the Fishing Boats from the village of De Panne. Brewed and bottled on the Deca Brewery in Woesten-Vleteren.
EBC:99, IBU:27, OG:1100, FG:1025, ABV:10%
Hops: Bramling Cross, Hallaertau MF

Our dark candi syrup is 73% fermentable
yes, we pump over from open to closed vessel...
1st fermentation is temperature controlled at 75° F
2nd fermentation is temperature controlled at +- 62° F
1st fermentation : 4 to 5 days max open
2nd fermentation : 2 weeks
lagering : 6 weeks
warm room : 1 week
cold ripening : 6 weeks

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Are you a member of a local homebrew club?

Yes (One) - 48%
No (Not Interested) - 29%
No (None in my area) - 16%
Yes (Multiple) - 4%

The results of the poll are pretty evenly split between the Yes's and the No's.  I'm not in love with the idea of homebrew clubs in general, but I think they can be very helpful, particularly for new brewers. They are great places to meet like-minded people, especially if you don't have enough friends willing to come over and drink your beer.  Sharing your beers at a homebrew club is also a great way to get feedback on them, although in general people seem to be much kinder to beers in person than they are when judging a competition (so don't expect a completely honest evaluation). 

I am in the small group of brewers who are members of more than one club.  I am a member of BURP (Brewers United for Real Potables), the big/old/established DC area club, as well as DC Homebrewers one of the newer homebrewing clubs in the country (founded just two years ago).  I enjoy being a member of both of the clubs, but for different reasons.  BURP has some fantastic brewers, and a huge wealth of experience (that said most of the members are pretty style obsessed, and many of the members are a bit slow to warm up).  DC Homebrewers on the other hand has a lot of people just getting into the hobby, there is a lot more creativity and a much more open/social/accepting environment at the meetings (that said since there are so many new brewers the overall quality of the beers is not as good, but seems to be steadily improving).  It is interesting to be in both clubs, getting to take advantage of the effort that has gone into building BURP over the last 30 years, while getting to participate in DC Homebrewers as it takes shape.

If anyone would like to chime in on their favorite aspects of their hoembrew club (particularly how competitions are run because I am going to be the co-chair of the competition committee).  I'd also enjoy hearing from anyone who answered "Not Interested" that has something specific that turned you off to homebrew clubs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Funky Flower First Tasting

A month or so back I was lucky enough to be at a tasting where my friend Dyan opened up a bottle of Hanssens Mead the Gueuze. It was a very nice beer, a combination of lambic sourness and honey sweetness, with some of the inherent complexities from both disparate elements. My Funky Flower attained a similar result, but with a very different strategy since I added honey a beer as it soured rather than a blending of finished mead and gueuze. 

Recently, I was happy to hear that the DC Homebrewers club is going to hold a homebrewing contest in a couple months to celebrate the annual early spring blooming of the cherry blossoms... with the stipulation that every entry has to use either flowers (other than hops) or honey in the formulation. It seems like this beer (with both honey and chamomile) will be a perfect candidate to enter into the competition. 

Appearance – Slightly hazy lemon-gold (honey colored?) with a thin, wispy white head. Some small streams of bubbles float lazily to the surface of the beer. A nice looking beer on first pour, but the poor head retention is a surprise given the large percentage of wheat and what looks like solid carbonation. 

Smell – The honey component is surprisingly potent, provinding a beautiful floral-waxy scent. Certainly some hints of citrus (not sure if it is from the bugs or the honey). There is also a slight hint of smokey-phenol, probably from the wild yeast. Nice aroma, glad there isn't too much funk to interfere with the delicate honey notes. 

Taste – Nice bright acidity, but it fades quickly giving way to some balancing sweetness (probably from they honey malt). The floral honey comes through in the finish, but not nearly as strong as it was in the aroma. There is some of that “young” sour wheaty/cheerio flavor that many of my beers develop during their first few months in the bottle, but in this case it is rather subdued. Not much from the chamomile, maybe just some juicy-fruit complexity, but I think that is alright. 

Mouthfeel – Medium, with moderate carbonation, both of which suit this beer well.  

Drinkability & Notes – A very pleasant beer, but it just doesn't have that special something to make it great (yet). At just about a year since brewday it is coming along nicely, but I think it needs more time to develop some more complexity. The lactic acid I added to this did it's job very nicely, although it does make me feel a bit dirty cheating like that. The portion aging on fresh cut white peaches is coming along nicely (huge fresh peach aroma), I'll probably bottle it in a couple weeks so it is ready for the summer.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cable Car Clone Comparison (plus Deviation)

For several months, my friend Devin and I have been toying with the idea of fermenting a beer using the dregs from my bottle of Lost Abbey's Cable Car (a soured blend of Red Barn, Avant Garde, and Amigo Lager made for The Toronado) and his bottle of Russian River's Deviation (a blend of Beatification PH1, Orphan Ale (no idea), a newer Beatification, and Sanctification, bottle conditioned with additional Brett for Bottleworks).  Finally a few days ago we had the chance to get together to drink the two bottles, and pitch the dregs into a starter to get the bugs moving.

At this point we have not finalized the recipe for the beer that the starter will be pitched into, but we are probably going to do something on the light/pale side to allow the character of the fermentation to shine through.  Once the microbes from the dregs show some activity (which may take awhile since both bottles were a couple years old) I will be feeding them with another dose of wort to make sure there are enough cells for a healthy fermentation.  We will also be pitching some fresh ale yeast since I doubt much Saccharomyces is alive after so long in the bottle.

Opening the bottle of Cable Car also gave us a chance to see how my Cable Car clone, from two years ago, stacks up against the real deal.

Cable Car vs. Cable Car Clone

Appearance - Right off the bat the beers look nearly identical in terms of color and clarity, but mine (right) has significantly better head formation and retention.  We were shocked at how close the color was, which suggests that I probably constructed malt for the component beers bills pretty close to those of the originals. Both are pretty nice looking beers, but I think mine was the better looking of the pair.

Aroma -While Cable Car expresses a raw funkiness, with lemon peel, farmyard, earth etc... my clone is mellower with some honey notes along with a milder, fruitier (cherry/peach) tinged funk.  To get it closer I might back down on the honey malt and/or toasted malt if I ever brew this again (but I only used 2 oz and 6 oz respectively).  Each is aromatic and complex in its own way, but truth be told I would lean towards the Lost Abbey version with its more expressive funkiness.

Flavor - Certainly in the same ballpark, but Cable Car certainly has a firmer lactic acidity than my clone.  I wish I had added the microbes in primary instead of waiting until I blended the base beers.  Each has many of the same complexities from the nose (the original remains funkier, while mine is fruitier), but luckily the flavor of my version sheds the honey character from the nose.  Mine is probably the more balanced of the two, but I have to again side with the (tangier) commercial offering. 

Mouthfeel - Similar, but mine has a bit more carbonation (which at least partially explains the better head retention).  Both are on the thin/crisp side, but neither of them is overly thin or drying.  I like a firm carbonation in a pale sour beer, so I would take mine on mouthfeel.

Drinkability/Notes - Both are easy to drink, and balanced, without any major flaws, they just don't strike the same balance. While certainly not identical I think I got just about as close as I could have without having access to the actual microbes and barrels that Lost Abbey uses. Not a bad effort at such a complex beer, and if I brewed it again I might be able to get even closer with a few minor changes. 

So comparing the two beers I would say that mine wins on appearance and mouthfeel, while the Lost Abbey's takes it on aroma and flavor (the two most important categories), and they are tied on drinkability.  I'd certainly say it is worth brewing the clone if you've got the effort and don't have access to a bottle of the original.

Sadly the bottle of Deviation blew the other two beers away with more aromatic complexity, a deeper acetic tinged acidity, and better drinkability... sometimes I hate Vinnie.

Update 1/14/10:  Sadly the starter is smelling like nail polish remover... I guess the tinge of vinegar I tasted in the Deviation was a sign of some acetobacter that was just waiting for some oxygen to spring into action.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone - Tasting 2009

Well a year has passed since my last tasting of the Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone I brewed back in July 2007.  The last year was kind to this batch, making it more drinkable while also giving it a boost in complexity.  I have been behaved and still have enough bottles for a sample each year until Christmas 2020 or so.  

Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone

Appearance - Deep black liquid, a nice looking stout, nearly opaque with a hint of garnet at the bottom.  The thin brown head has surprising longevity and really enhances the appearance of the beer.  Hopefully additional age will not damage the head formation/retention. 

Aroma - Big toasty aroma with bitter cocoa, dusty barnyard.  Once it warms there is a nice sweetness and just a hint of ethanol as it approaches room temperature.

Flavor - Lingering burnt coffee earth in the finish with the suggestion of burnt marshmallow.  Not much alcohol or bitterness smooth.  There is no negative oxidation, but a hint of coconut which is either from the oak, or some minor oxidation starting to set in.  It will be interesting to see how these components change over time.

Mouthfeel - Firm carbonation medium body, not quite as rich as I think a beer like this should be.  I am glad I didn't let the gravity get any lower before I stopped it with metabisulfite. 

- Very good but I bet it will be even better next year mellowed but concerned it might get too sweet as the hops continue to fade.  Looking back at last year's notes it doesn't seem like the changes have been major, which is a good sign for the long term stability of this batch.

Sorry for the extended gap in my posts, but I was up in Massachusetts visiting my family for the Christmas to New Years week.  I did get my hands on plenty of tasty bottles (for inspiration), and brought back down a couple cases of homebrew, now that I have the space to keep them down here in DC.  Hopefully this winter I will have time to revisit some more strong beers from years past to give an impression of how they have aged.

I also got a chance to drink a bottle of Fuller's 1998 Vintage Ale that my friend (and former partner in brewing) Jason and I had been sitting on for a couple years (Fuller's conservatively estimated that the beer was best before the end of 2001).  I'll only say that I hope my beer holds up as well when it is 11 years old, the dark fruit and port flavors were fantastic, marred only by a touch of papery oxidation.