Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Munich Porter Tasting

A few months back my friend Nate and I brewed a batch of dark ale with Munich malt accounting for most of the grain bill.  The result of our collaboration was supposed to be a rich roasty porter, but the Briess chocolate malt and roasted barley were so light that the result doesn't have the roasted flavor/aroma we were expecting.  The Munich malt provides a great toasty/bready backbone, but the coffee/chocolate character just isn't there.  These malts are interesting and could add good dimension to a porter/stout, but you'd have to use a much higher percentage or combine them with darker grains to hit a classic flavor profile.

Seeing the DC Brau sticker on my keggerator reminds me to mention how excited I am about the opening of DC's first production brewery in something like 40 years.  They are hoping to start brewing in the next few months, canning a Belgian Pale and an IPA and doing some seasonal release bombers.  I've known Jeff (the brewer) for a couple years, and gotten the chance to try some of his homebrew (like a wonderfully funky blended Lambic) as well as a test batch of a brown (with plenty of brown malt) he did for the new brewery.   

Munich Porter

A glass of Munich PorterAppearance – At first glance it is an opaque dark brown, but held to the light it is a surprisingly clear leathery amber. The tan head pours with decent height, but quickly slips to an 1/8 inch covering that lasts until the glass almost empty.

Smell – Light chocolate (sort of like a cheap candy bar) with a hint of spice from the Willamettes. Rich bready tones (fresh crushed grain) and a subtle creaminess come through as well.

Taste – Well rounded breadiness with a subtle mocha character in the finish. The roast is not nearly as potent as I was intending with ½ lb chocolate and ½ lb roast barley. It has a nice balance with a kick of bitterness at the front and a moderately sweet finish. The Wyeast 1968 London ESB did it's job, leaving a malt tipped beer despite the 40 IBUs. The character is not unlike an Imperial Mild.

Mouthfeel – Beautifully creamy with nicely subdued carbonation. The flaked oats and wheat really helped, I like the fullness from the beta glucans in flaked grains more than from the dextrins in carapils and other crystal malts.

Drinkability & Notes – Not a bad beer, but not really what Nate and I were aiming for. The Briess chocolate/roast are good, but didn't have the impact I'd expected.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Farmers Market Fruit and Homegrown Hops

Sour Cherries, Blackberries, and Black RaspberriesWhen it comes to buying non-traditional (odd) ingredients for brewing I tend to skip the homebrew store and shop at the places that specialize in them, spices at spice stores, weird sugars at ethnic markets, fruit at farmers markets etc...  Yesterday morning I walked over to the local farmers market (during halftime of the England Germany match) to buy some fruit.  The Takoma Park Farmers Market isn't as big as some of the other ones around DC, but located just a few blocks from my house it is more than convenient.  I've found that in terms of price and especially quality that buying fruit at farmers markets is the way to go over supermarkets.

I picked up 2 qrts of sour cherries, and 1 qrt each of blackberries and black raspberries. The big argument for purees/juice is that they are more consistent than fresh fruit, but when you taste beers made from fruit like this there is no comparison between it and the processed/packaged/pasteurized products.

Cascade Hop CloseupDespite buying all this fruit, at the moment I don't have any beers ready for it, so I froze it all.  A quick freeze is important if your goal is to preserve the delicate cell structure of the fruit, but when adding fruit to beer I actually want the cells beat up to give the yeast/bacteria easy access to the sugars within.  Vacuum-packing the fruit is the best option for long term storage in the freezer, but with such delicate fruit the pressure of the suction will actually squeeze juice out of the fruit if you don't freeze it first.  I also gave the fruit a quick rinse in cold water before freezing so it is ready to use after defrosting.

I'll probably combine the blackberries and black raspberries in a Flanders Red (the blackberry Flanders Red I brewed ~4 years ago is still one of my favorite batches).  Some/all the sour cherries might find their way into half of my Berliner Lambic in a couple months.  I try to buy all of my fruit for a year's worth of sour fruit beers in the summer, so I may have to go back and pick up some more in the next few weeks.

Cascade on the left, Golding on the right.On a different note my friend Devin just picked up 4 lbs of frozen soursop at a Asian market to add to the pale sour he and I brewed a few months ago.  I've never tasted it, but the Wikipedia description makes it sound like a great addition to the beer "A combination of strawberry and pineapple with sour citrus flavor notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana."

Speaking of local ingredients, I'm also having great luck with my first year hop plants.  The rhizomes were given to me by Roy (a homebrewer who lives on Capital Hill).  Considering it isn't even July yet and they are just covered with burs and cones I'd say they are having a great first year.  They get much more sun than the 5th year plants that are still growing at my parents' house, so I am worried about how they will do in the high heat of the DC summer.  The cascade on the left is in the lead but the Goldings (I think that's what they are) on the right is doing pretty well.  Hopefully I'll get enough to do a fresh hop harvest ale of some kind in a month or two.

Anybody out there doing any fruit buying, or hop growing?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

NHC 2010 Final Round Results

Out of the six beers I entered in the first round of the National Homebrew Contest only my Berliner Weisse was selected to move on to the next round. In the East region it had scored a 40.5 and won its category, but against 29 other great sour beers I was doubtful that it would have the same luck in the finals.

It only takes one bottle to enter the first round, while the final round requires three.  Sadly after the first round I was down to my last 12 ounce bottle (being such a low alcohol beer I put most of the Berliner into bombers and 750s).  As a result I needed to re-bottle some of the beer before submitting it.  I had split off a portion of the same batch and added Cabernet juice.  The grape character was very light and after doing a few test blends, I decided to blend in a small portion (~25%) of the fruited version for added depth and complexity.  This ratio works out to about 3 oz of grape juice per gallon, for the blend I submitted.  I took the simple approach to re-bottling, getting everything cold/wet and pouring into the new bottles (not much foaming so I don't think I lost much carbonation).

As you can see below, despite giving the beer only 29/50, the judges comments were pretty positive overall.  In fact I really don't disagree with much that they said (except the comment that there was a surprising amount of sweetness with the final gravity at 1.002).  It was a nice touch to have Stan Hieronymus, who just wrote a book (Brewing with Wheat) with a section on the style, judge my beer along with another National ranked judge.

Here are the sheets if anyone wants to read over the comments for themselves (or just take a look at the different format from the usual BJCP sheets).  

A refreshing beer - a bit too much sweetness/citrus hint of lemonade.

Very drinkable. Might be a little big for style.

I was happy to see that Remi Bonnart won Brewer of the Year (Best of Show) with a Flanders Red. Sours really seem to get a lot of respect when it comes to beer judging. 

Hopefully the new batch of Berliner I have fermenting downstairs will be able to make it as far as this one did.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

DC Homebrewers Anniversary Stout Tasting

Back in February I managed to convince  dozen or so other members of DC Homebrewers to come over to my house to brew an anniversary beer despite the massive amount of snow we'd been hit with.  We came up with the recipe on the fly based on the ingredients that everyone brought.  We tried to focus on local ingredients like homegrown hops, smoked malt from a Virginian distillery, yeast from a DC brewpub, and wildflower honey from Maryland.  I brought a few tester bottles to the June meeting last night, the people who tried it seemed to enjoy it, but we'll see how it ages over the next five years (after this preview we'll be drinking only a few bottles at the February meeting every year until it runs out).

Drinking on a roof deck is worth the heat.DC Homebrewers Anniversary Smoked Stout

Appearance – Dark brown with a thick tan head. Carbonation looks a bit stronger than I would have expected for a beer that only got 2.25 oz of cane sugar for priming.

Smell – Nice blend of dark malt and light smoke. Not much honey or hop presence in the nose.

Taste – Good balance, with the dark malt mingling nicely with the sweet smoke. The roast character leans towards lighter roast coffee, and heavily toasted bread, no burnt/charcoal etc... The hop bitterness is there to balance the beer, but it doesn't take much since it is pretty dry (thanks to less than 2% crystal malt and the highly fermentable honey). Slight alcohol warmth in the finish, but I think its in character for a beer just above 8%.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is a bit higher than I anticipated, which makes the beer seem lighter (not so bad on a hot June night). Body is light for a big stout, but it isn't thin.

Drinkability & Notes – Tasty, glad too many brewers in the brewhouse didn't spoil the beer. Hopefully this is just the first in a series of anniversary beers for the club, glad so many people were able to contribute and attend.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Audrey's Amber - Strong Belgian Ale

Last spring my girlfriend Audrey and I brewed a Lemon-Pepper Single for our first joint brew (she had helped out on parts of several brews, but that was the first one where she was involved in every step).  She tends to like Belgian style beer, Ommegang, Unibroue, and Goose Island are the breweries she tends to go for when left to her own devices (although she also comes home with a six-pack of Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye and New Holland Dragon's Milk).  This time around Audrey wanted to go a bit darker and stronger to make a beer that would hold up well enough to bring with her when she heads off to Tufts for grad school this fall.

I encouraged Audrey to keep the recipe pretty simple, a blend of Pils and Munich accounted for 90% of the grain, with some flaked barley for body and head retention and a few ounces of chocolate malt for color (despite an estimated color of 16 SRM the beer looks closer to 20, brown more than amber).  We used Willamettes and US Fuggles to bitter (just working through the last of the 2008 crop) and a touch of Saaz near the end for a faint spicy aroma.  I forgot to check which yeast we used last year, and Audrey picked out White Labs 550 (the same La Chouffe strain we used for our previous collaboration).  While the color, alcohol, and yeast might lead some people to call this a Dubbel, it lacks the dark fruit character that dark crystal malt or dark candi syrup usually provides.

This batch also marks the first of what I hope will be many partial batch Brett'd beers.  I got a culture of Brett bruxellensis from White Labs and made a starter that I'm hoping to keep going indefinitely.  I'm planning on pulling a gallon off of any beer that seems interesting to try some relatively quick Brett beers without lactic acid bacteria.  For this one I added the Brett along with the primary yeast (I'm going to wait to bottle until the gravity is stable), but eventually my goal is to do some Brett finished beers by adding Brett at bottling (although that will probably wait until I have a corker).

Audrey's Belgian Amber

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.25
Anticipated OG: 1.071
Anticipated SRM: 15.6
Anticipated IBU: 29.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74 %
Wort Boil Time: 95 Minutes

67.9% - 9.00 lbs. French Pilsner
22.6% - 3.00 lbs. German Munich Malt
7.5% - 1.00 lbs. Flaked Barley
1.9% - 0.25 lbs. English Chocolate Malt

1.38 oz. Willamette (Pellet, 4.00% AA) @ 80 min.
0.63 oz. US Fuggle (Pellet, 4.00% AA) @ 80 min.
0.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 2.90% AA) @ 15 min.

0.25 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 Min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 Min.

White Labs WLP550 Belgian Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 70 min @ 150

1.5 L started 5/14/10 with a bit of yeast nutrient. Fermenting well by the
next morning, shook every 12 hours or so.

5/16/10 Brewed with Audrey

Added rice hulls, but still had a bit of a slow sparge. Fly sparged, collected 7 gallons of 1.054 wort.

Good strong boil. Could only chill to 72 due to warm tap water.

Pitched ~1 L of starter into 4 gallons. 1 gallon got a cup or so of yeast starter plus half a cup of Brett B starter.

Good strong fermentation after 12 hours, ~67 ambient.

5/23/10 Racked to corny keg for secondary, still has a bit krausen, but I needed the carboy. Gravity still 1.020 (72% AA), left warm ~75-80, hopefully should drop a few more points.

5/30/10  Lots of CO2 to vent when I returned from Florida, looks like fermentation is complete.

6/2/10 Moved down to the basement where it is slightly cooler.

6/5/10 Racked the Brett portion to another 1 gallon jug, pitched the dregs into the Session Brett Belgian Pale Peter and I brewed.

6/13/10 Bottled ~4 gallons with 1 5/8 oz of table sugar and 2 7/8 oz Demerara (out of table sugar).  Aiming for ~3 volumes of CO2.  Might be a bit higher since there seemed to be more CO2 than I was used to in suspension. Down to 1.010 (8% ABV, 86% AA).  Did an extra through job stirring the dissolved sugar into the wort after the inconsistent carbonation with last year's batch.

8/5/10 First tasting, nice carbonation, good blance of fruit/spice/malt.

10/14/10 Bottled 7 bottles worth of the Brett'd portion each with 1/2 tsp of table sugar, a bit band-aidy but hopefully that will pass with more time.

3/9/11 The Brett'd portion is doing well. Some earthy funk, but it isn't too aggressive.  Nice balance of fruit, malt, and funk.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Session Brett Belgian Pale

Orval is one of those beers that beer nerds love.  Dry, hoppy when fresh, funky when aged, complex but still drinkable etc... Bam Beer from Jolly Pumpkin is in the same realm, although it develops a bit more sourness as it ages and has a lower gravity/alcohol (much like the elusive Petite Orval, which may or may not just be watered down Orval depending on who you are talking to).  I combined the ideas of these beers to make a Brett spiked Belgian Pale that I'm hoping will be ready to drink in just a couple months.

The malt bill is pretty straight forward, mostly Pils with some Vienna for malty depth, and wheat malt for added head retention and a bit of body.  The hops were all Saaz, I even made an addition at 10 min (something I avoid in most funky beers) since I am only planning to let this one sit in secondary for two months before drinking.  I fermented it with the Belgian Ale (White Labs 550) and Brett B yeast cake from 1 gallon of Audrey's Amber.

Unlike most funky/sour beers I mashed this one pretty low to just give the Brett a small snack, hoping for some funky/rustic complexity without letting the beer get too funky.  I want this to be a beer that will be ready to put on tap in late summer and early fall. 

I may add some dry hops right before drinking, but I'll wait to see how the beer develops. 

Session Brett Belgian Pale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.50
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated SRM: 3.5
Anticipated IBU: 32.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Min

52.9% 4.50 lbs. French Pilsener
23.5% 2.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
23.5% 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt

1.88 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 10 min.

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

White Labs WLP550 Belgian Ale
White Labs WLP650 Brettanomyces bruxellensis

Water Profile
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 75 min @ 147

Brewed 6/5/10 with Peter

Batch sparged, run-off was a bit slow, but otherwise the brew was uneventful.

Added 2 g of gypsum to the kettle to boost the hops.

Chilled to 80 left in basement for 3 hours ~75 degrees. Shook for two minutes and pitched the remains of the 1 gallon of Brett B spiked Audrey's Amber.

Good strong fermentation after 12 hours. Looked pretty much fermented out after one1 week, but with a small krausen still sticking around.  Left aluminum foil on for the duration of primary fermentation.

6/22/10 Racked to a keg, gravity down to 1.006.  Topped off with CO2, but left in the basement for the Brett to do a bit of work.

1/13/11 The funk character overwhelms the rest of the beer pretty much.  Some malt shows through, should try the recipe again with a milder strain of Brett.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sake Fermentation and Racking

Sake after primary fermentationWhen we last left off I had just finished adding the final steamed rice and water infusion to my first batch of sake.  After that last addition I stirred the sake once or twice a day for the following six days.  This ensures that the rice, enzymes, and yeast are evenly distributed (allowing the enzymes to continue slowly breaking down the rice starches into sugars and the yeast in turn to ferment those sugars into alcohol).  All this at a lager-like ambient temperature of 50 degrees, which keeps the yeast calm and clean.  Wyeast recommends a minimum temperature of 60 for the sake #9 strain, but the fermentation was so intense at first that I should have used a blow-off tube even with two gallons of head-space.

A sample of unfiltered/unpasteurized 
Sake.After the sixth day of stirring I left the sake alone for an additional two weeks to complete fermentation.  With only a few days of fermentation left I raised the ambient temperature to 53 degrees to encourage complete fermentation.  At that point most of the rice had settled towards the bottom of the fermenter (with just a scattering of grains floating on the surface).

Two weeks after the last day of stirring I pulled a sample to check the gravity and flavor.  The milky liquid was slightly sweet with good body (from the suspended rice particles), the gravity was a shockingly low .994 (less dense than pure water).  Better to have a fully attenuated beverage rather than a sweet Mirin-like result.  It was a bit boozy, but for such a young/strong beverage it was actually pretty pleasant.

Filling the paint strainer up with the 
rice-Sake mixture from the fermenter.Two days later I had time to separate the liquid sake from the spent rice solids.  To accomplish this I had bought a nylon paint straining bag from Home Depot (the same ones some people use to filter hops out of their wort before fermentation).  Traditionally a cotton joso bag is used for this process, but this is a bit tougher to find (and it doesn't have an elastic band at the top to secure it to the bottling bucket).  With the sanitized nylon bag in place on my bottling bucket it was a simple task to scoop the contents of the fermenter into the bag.  I left the last pint or so of thick rice/yeast slurry in the fermenter (it seemed to be stuck to the bottom and I couldn't see any reason to bring it along).

Separating the Sake from the riceI then gathered up the bag and spent ten minutes squeezing (with my well sanitized hands) as hard as I could to extract as much liquid as I could.  The kitchen filled with the intoxicating scent of fruity esters and sweet, grainy alcohol.  The droplets of sake dripping back into the bucket had me a bit worried about oxidation, which might be one of the reasons sake tends to age poorly compared to beer and wine.  It strikes me that there must be a better methods of accomplishing the same result (but I can't think of what it would be).  I kept squeezing until the only thing coming out was a thick starchy liquid.  The rice goo left in the bag can be discarded (although there are apparently a few traditional uses for it).

The spent rice after the Sake was squeezed 
out.The result of my effort was about two gallons of super cloudy sake which I transferred into two 4 L jugs (plus a single 12 oz bottle that I tossed in the fridge for sampling in a few weeks).  The jugs went back into the fridge at 53 then I dropped the temperature to 40 to help it settle for a few weeks before packaging and pasteurization. 

My plan at the moment is to bottle a portion cloudy (Nigorizake), let some settle and dilute with water to reduce the alcohol to ~11% so I can carbonate it, and add bentonite finings to the rest for clear full strength sake (Genshu).  It will be fun to get multiple end products from this batch, especially since it will allow me to compare the different sake styles from the same "mother" batch for comparison.

The sake was fianlly bottled and pasteurized a few weeks later.

Two gallons of Sake resting in the 
fridge.5/22/10 The airlock had a bit of starchy sake in it and fermentation was raging after only 12 hours.

6/05/10 Raised temp to 53

6/10/10 Pulled a sample down to ~.994. Looks like most of the rice has settled out.

6/12/10 Scooped most of the sake/rice mixture through a nylon pain strainer into a bottling bucket. Left a bit of the most yeast/rice heavy sediment behind. Squeezed the bag until I collected slightly more than 2 gallons of sake. Seems like quite a bit of oxidation would occur. The final squeezes looked very milky/starchy. 2L put back at 50 degrees to settle out a bit, 1 bottle stuck in the fridge for samples.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Citra Pale Ale Tasting

I've really been enjoying my keg of Citra Pale Ale over the last few weeks, so I wanted to make sure to do a review before I kicked it.  I was aiming for a light, crisp pale-ale, something hoppy but still drinkable enough for 90 degree days.  It was also an opportunity to try out a hop I had never used before.

Citra Pale AleCitra Pale Ale

Appearance – Slightly hazy golden yellow, looks like summer to me. The head pours an inch or two thick (white and dense), but over a couple minutes it sinks to a wispy covering. Not sure if the low-protein corn adjunct contributed to the poor head retention.

Smell – For a single hop beer it has a very complex nose with loads of fruit (mango, orange, and apricot most prominently). There is a bit of pine, but it seems like Citra would be a good match for something like Simcoe that is more resiny.

Taste – Nice bright hop character, but not as dominant as it is in the nose. Moderate balancing bitterness, but not quite as prominent as I was aiming for (hop bursted beers often seem to have a milder bitterness than an IBU calculator would suggest). The finish has a nice toasty breakfast cereal note that I'll attribute to the Golden Naked Oats.

Mouthfeel – Moderate carbonation with a nice softness/creaminess that wouldn't be out of place in a stout. Very nice. 

Drinkability & Notes – The bitterness combined with the relatively dry body makes for a crisp refreshing beer. I've taken to blending this one with a splash of my Golding Medal Bitter, to add a bit more malt depth and better head retention, but on its own it is a really solid pale ale. I'll have to add some Citra to the mix the next time I brew an IPA or DIPA.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lambic Summit Report

Returning home at 2 am on a Wednesday night could have seemed like a terrible idea, but after getting to try some of the most fantastic Gueuzes and fruit Lambics I have ever sampled, it seemed like a terrific idea.  Sadly in my hurry to get out the door, I left my camera (and raincoat) sitting on my bed (thankfully Ryan_PA sent me a few shots he took).

From left to right: Frank, Dan, Armand, JeanAlex, Devin and I were able to get to the UPenn Museum Upper Egypt Room right on time, just as everyone was getting settled in for the Lambic Summit (surprisingly we didn't hit too much traffic on the way up from DC).  The 2 oz samples were brought out one by one, with the brewers/blenders Frank Boon (Boon), Armand Debelder (Drie Fonteinen), and Jean Van Roy (Cantillon) talking about their beers in turn.  There wasn't much back and forth between the Belgians because the moderator (Dan Shelton, of Imported by Shelton Brothers fame) seemed more interested in giving his opinion than sparking discussion. 

Here is a short list of notes that I scribbled on the flavor of the beers as well as some of the interesting things the men responsible for creating them had to say.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze (1999)
Soft, earthy, lemon rind bordering on mineral, really complex. The decade since this was blended as mellowed the sourness, leaving it only mildly tart.  Armand noted that this is one of his favorite blends.  To have a case of this...

Boon Oude Geuze
Urinal mostly, with a bit more sourness than the 3F, but not much. Frank Boon said their brew days last about twelve and a half hours, and the beer is 18 months old on average at bottling. Boon does most of
their aging in large oak tuns unlike the other two who use smaller barrels primarily.

Cantillon Classic Gueuze

There is always something that feels a bit wrong about drinkings beers this good from little plastic cups.Closed nose. A bit horsey, with moderate sourness. Slightly mineral, but overall pretty clean. The keys to brewing good Lambic according to Jean are raw materials (they use only organic ingredients, except the fruit on some beers), time (lots), and patience.

Drie Fonteinen J&J Blauw

Beautiful head for a Gueuze. Lots of lemon peel, dank, earthy, nice tangy sourness. Pretty aggressive oak character, one of the best I've tried. This was mostly 4 year old Girardin when it was blended in 2003, along with some 1 year old Lindemans for carbonation.  A special blend for a marriage, lucky couple.

Boon Kriek

Melted cherry lollipop with some butter. Sweet, really sweet. This is the cheapest line of Boon products, flash pasteurized and back sweetened with artificial sweetener (a modern variant of saccharine). There is a long history of sweetening Lambics (according to Frank some breweries used to use concentrated wort that was boiled down for 24 hours) but that doesn't make the beer taste any better.

Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek

Nice light barnyard (like the Classic) but with the addition of nice fresh cherry, and more oak. Slightly sweet, nut nowhere near the Boon. Jean suggested aging the beer 2-3 years to mellow the fruit character a bit. They use "wild" Schaerbeekse cherries in this beer, which I was unaware of (Turkish cherries are used in their regular Kriek I believe he said).  Lou Pepe is a colloquial term for grandfather.

Lambic Summit ProgramDrie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek

Wheaty with lots of overripe cherry. Nice hint of funk, but not as much as the Cantillon. Not as fruity as when I've had it before, maybe this is an older batch.  The discussion turned to the Schaerbeekse cherries used to make this beer, which are not as sour as American sour/pie cherries (this confirms a suggestion I heard a few years back to blend sour and sweet cherries to mimic the character of Belgian sour cherries).

Boon Framboise

The best of the three Boons. Nice bright raspberry flavor, and not nearly as sweet as the Kriek. They use ~330g of fruit per liter of 7-8 month old Lambic. Frank likes Framboise young, although I've had some excellent old bottles of old Rose de Gambrinus (which incidental was brewed with a blend of raspberries and cherries until 2004-2005 when they switched to Hungarian raspberries which have more color than the old Belgian raspberries).

Cantillon Pinot d'Aunis

This had a fantastic spicy nose that at first I thought was fresh wood until Jean said it was from the grapes. The Pinot d'Aunis grape is usually used in wine blends, seldom on its own. It would be great to see this one done on a larger scale (Vigneronne uses Italian grapes while Saint Lamvinus uses French grapes). Cantillon has recently started experimenting with frozen fruits, which allows them to stagger production a bit more instead of having to deal with the glut of fresh fruit towards the end of summer to add to their beers (and the glut of bottling the follows 2-3 months later).

The men of Cantillon, Boon, and Drie Fonteinen, plus Dan Shelton
Drie Fonteinen Druiven Geuze Malvasia 2002

Lots of dank basement oakiness, very mild grape character (and subdued in general). Rather tannic, but a good balance for one of the sweeter 3 Fonteinen beers of the night (Armand thought it was pretty strong alcohol wise due to the addition). This was a rarity also because it was made with 100% Lambic brewed at 3F, with 60L of the Tuscan red grape juice added per barrel (if I heard correctly).

Cantillon LH12
This one was aged for 61 months in used Cognac barrels in the "optimal" part of the cellar where the temperature and humidity are perfect. It had a big Cognac/wood/barrel character and a nice sharp, lightly-acetic, base (after that long I was surprised there wasn't more earthy/fruity funk). Virtually no carbonation, this was unblended straight from the oak. 50 Degrees North 4 Degrees East was a similar release, but was blended and contained beer that spent only 2 years in barrels.

Spirit'Armand (Drie Fonteinen Distilled Gueuze)
Sharp and boozy, but I got just a hint of Gueuze fruitiness. I'm not a big fan of hard liquor, but there is certainly a chance that this could be refined into an interesting beverage.  It was made from heat damaged Gueuze that resulted from a thermostat malfunction at the warehouse. The short video below is of Armand talking about it (again thanks to Ryan).

Several more videos have been posted on YouTube.

Sadly the nitty-gritty of wort production, inoculation, aging etc... wasn't really touched on.  The questions from the audience tended to be on pretty bland subjects (one person asked three times about why there are beers labeled Oude Kriek, but not Oude Framboise... Government red tape).  There was also too much discussion about why Cantillon isn't part of HORAL (Jean doesn't want to be part of a group started to protect traditional Lambic brewing with breweries that do mostly sweetened Lambics). The importer for Boon beers also wanted to rehash whether or not the awful Boon Kriek had artificial sweeteners in it (who cares when a beer is that unpleasant to drink?).  Apparently the better/unsweetened Boon Lambics only just got import approval, so they weren't available for this event (to contrast that Jean mentioned that several of the Cantillon beers served "Do not exist.").

One of the more interesting topics was what the three breweries had to do during the lean years of Lambic sales to stay in business.  Cantillon opened their museum, Drie Fonteienen opened a restaurant, and Boon made more commercial products.  It shows just how poor the market was for these beers as recently as 20 years ago, it was also nice to hear all of them express appreciation for the enthusiasm (deep pockets) of American beer lovers.

Jean mentioned that he really enjoyed a rhubarb lambic (Zhwanze 2008) that he had made, seems like something worth a gallon test batch (although I didn't care for Haandbakk).  It was great in general to hear that there is still that drive for experimentation and improvement, not just reliance on tradition.

After the three hour event we made a quick stop at Monk's Cafe for samples of Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze (their take on a Gueuze) and Veritas 007 (Duck Duck Gooze aged on Cabernet Franc grapes from what I understand) before heading back to DC.  Both beers were excellent, but not as good as the Belgians.  The DDG had some interesting funky complexities, and a nice bright acidity that wasn't too heavy handed.  The Veritas was more acidic, with the subtle wine character mingling nicely with the fruity complexities of the base beer.  It was terrific that Monk's was only charging $6 a tulip for these two when bottles go for $30 at the brewery and several times that on eBay.  They had some stronger/darker beers on as well (Angel's Share and the Bruery's Melange #3), but after a night of light/tart beers a sip of each was more than enough for me (sadly Oude Tart from the Bruery event the previous night had kicked before we arrived).

A very inspiring night indeed, time to start a renewed effort at making my own blended sour beers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Three Year Old Scandinavian Imperial Porter

Is there anything sweeter than cracking open an old homebrew and having it taste just like you were hoping? I wasn't planning on doing a review of my Scandinavian Imperial Porter, but when I cracked it open I just had to jot down some notes (especially since my last review of it was nearly 3 years ago).

The malt bill for this batch was a bit cluttered:
62% base malt (MO + Munich + Dark Munich)
11% crystal malt (CaraVienna + CaraMunich + CaraAroma)
11% specialty (Flaked Rye + Brown)
9% roasted (Black Roasted Barley + Black Patent + Chocolate Rye + Chocolate)
7% Honey (Greek Heather Honey)

A much as I preach brewing simple, sometime you get lucky and a stupid batch with 13 fermentables works perfectly well. Shame I didn't brew more of this, especially now that I'm down to my last bottle...

Scandinavian Imperial Porter 6/8/10

Appearance – It pours with a satisfying viscosity. Oil spill black, with virtually no head or visible carbonation.

Smell – Big dark fruit (plum, raisin, fig) after more than three years the aroma is showing hints of oxidation, but it doesn't detract. A bit of coffee-roast mingling with bready/toasted/biscuity malt. The bourbon shows up as well (vanilla-tobacco), adding a hint of ethanol to the finish.

Taste – Rich, complex, fruity, dark and licoricey without being burnt or acrid. The sweetness helps to tame the alcohol (and visa versa). There is a lot going on, but sadly the heather honey is still lost in the shuffle. I might have gone higher than 37 IBUs if I was intending on aging it this long just to leave a bit more bitterness. The wood/tannin character carries through in the flavor helping to cut the sweetness. 

Mouthfeel – Thick/creamy body (love that flaked rye), it has enough body that I don't miss the carbonation.  I had a carbonated bottle awhile back, but it must have been a fluke because this one only has slightly more CO2 than dead flat.

Drinkability & Notes – Just a terrific combination of complexity and drinkability. The sweetness does reduce the appeal a bit, but it helps to counter the lack of carbonation. I'll have to revisit this recipe at some point and streamline the recipe.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lambic Summit Preview

Tomorrow night the UPenn Museum in Philadelphia is hosting what sounds to be the best Lambic tasting on record.  While rumors of the beers that will be served are impressive, the guest list Armand Debelder (Drie Fonteinen), Frank Boon (Boon), and Jean Van Roy (Cantillon) is even more exciting.  I doubt that I'll be able to glean too many techniques from the discussion, but it should be entertaining (and delicious) regardless.

Until a few hours ago I wasn't planning on making the two and half hour (without traffic) drive from DC up to Philadelphia on a Wednesday night after work, but I have some very persuasive friends.  After the event we're planning to make a quick stop at Monk's Cafe for Tomme Arthur night (aka a sample of Duck Duck Gooze).  I'm not looking forward to the drive back down to DC early Thursday morning.

Anybody else going?

Monday, June 7, 2010

RauchDunkel - Smoked Dark Lager

Immersion Chiller CloseupInspired by my favorite pale session smoked beer (Helles Schlenkerla Lager) and a sample of Denison's Dunkle I decided to brew a smoked dark lager.  Doing low gravity smoked beer is a balancing act, too much smoke can destroy drinkability, while not enough and the smoke character disappears after the first few sips.  The biggest problem is that the smoked malt itself is variable, mellowing with time and exposure to the air (smelling and tasting it before finalizing your grainbill is important). 

Equal parts Vienna/Munich/Pils is a base malt combination that has worked for me in a couple beers (e.g. Flanders Red), so I just swapped out the pils for Weyermann Rauch (beechwood smoked) malt.  I was planning on using carafa special for adding color without much roast flavor, but when I looked through my specialty malt box on brewday the closest thing I could find was chocolate rye (which is dehusked and so has a similar character). I went pretty easy on the hops (all Saaz), since I didn't want the bitterness to get in the way of the malt. 

Racking Beer into a Better BottleThis was my first time using Saflager W-34/70 (a dried lager yeast) and I was less concerned with achieving an ultra clean fermentation because the complex malt and smoke will help to cover up some minor fermentation sins.  Fermentation took longer than I expected to take off, which was probably due to under-pitching by about 50%.  I pitched the yeast into the wort once it reached 50 degrees (which took several additional hours in the fridge post cooling with my immersion chiller), which is also a couple degrees lower than the yeast lab recommends.

When the beer is done lagering it should be a perfect beer to have on tap for the summer, the dark malt and smoke will be a nice match for grilled food and barbecue, and the low alcohol will keep it refreshing.  Some time this summer I'm planning on smoking some malt myself, but I'll talk about that another time (happy to take any malt smoking tips that anyone has though).


Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.38
Anticipated OG: 1.047
Anticipated SRM: 19.9
Anticipated IBU: 22.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

32.0% - 3.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
32.0% - 3.00 lbs. German Munich Malt
32.0% - 3.00 lbs. Weyermann Smoked Malt
4.0% - 0.38 lbs. Chocolate Rye

2.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 2.80% AA) @ 45 min.
0.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 2.80% AA) @ 10 min.

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 11 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 11 min.

Saflager Weihenstephan - W34/70

Water Profile
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 60 min @ 153

Brewed 5/20/10 by myself

Batch sparged collected 7.25 gallons of 1.035 wort.

Hops adjusted down from 3.5% AA, ~18 months old.

Dissolved Whirlfloc and Yeast Nutrient in warm wort before dumping it into the boil.

Chilled to 80 (ground water is around 70 these days), strained, left most of the trub behind leaving closer to 4.75 in the fermenter, put into fridge at 50.

8 hours later gave it 60 seconds of O2, and pitched the dry yeast straight in.  Left it rehydrate and gave it a shake an hour later.

36 hours later there still weren't any signs of fermentation, so I gave it a swirl and upped the temp to 55. 8 hours later a small krausen had formed.

12 hours after that strong fermentation, backed down to 53 degrees.  Good strong fermentation.

6/11/10 Up to 56 to make sure it finishes out.

6/13/10 Racked to a keg.  Flavor was good, a bit of tea like flavor from the hops.  Audrey thought it had a bit of tartness, but I couldn't pick up on it.  Lagers are often a few tenths of a pH point lower than ales, so that may have been all it was.  Put of gas and shook several times to get some CO2 into solution then moved to the fridge at 40 degrees to lager.

7/3/10 Moved to keggerator and hooked up to gas.  Keg seemed to be leaking, not much pressure left.

7/15/10 Tasting of this one, turned out to be a great beer.  Subtle smoke, nice dark malt character, balanced, great with food.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Harvesting Sour Beer Bottle Dregs

I've soured beers using many different microbe sources, but I've had the best results from pitching the bottle dregs from good commercial sour beers.  The bottle dregs (yeast sediment) at the bottom of a sour beer contains the microbes responsible for transforming the bland wort into a complex finished beer.  The bugs are often more aggressive/hardy and produce more complex byproducts than their "domesticated" brothers available from Wyeast and White Labs (and for about the same price the bottle dregs come with a beer to drink).

Russian River Bottle CollectionFresh bottles are your best bet for harvesting. They contain the highest viability cells and they will have a more representative selection of the the microbes that went into making the beer (instead of just the cells that could survive a couple years in an alcoholic low pH beer).  This isn't always an option, but if you are buying a bottle specifically for the dregs it is certainly worth seeing if the bottle is dated.  You can certainly use dregs from older bottles, but I would avoid anything older than 2 years unless you are pitching dregs from multiple bottles.

To harvest the bugs, let the bottle sit upright for a couple of weeks to allow most of the cells to collect at the bottom.  Pour off the beer into a glass with a single slow pour, leaving a half inch or so of beer.  If you have a batch ready, swirl the remaining beer and pour the dregs directly into the wort/beer (in general I like to add the dregs along with the primary yeast strain at the start).  If you don't have a beer ready, prepare a cup of starter wort to pitch the dregs into (if you can convince a few friends to bring over a bottle or two of sour beer to share to add more dregs to the starter all the better.)

If you decide to make a starter with the bugs don't worry about how it tastes/smells, unless you get terrible off-flavors, since the various microbes take a long time to reach their potential.  Generally I'm happy skipping a starter, but the one time I would highly suggest making one is when you plan to do a primary fermentation with just bottle dregs (my friend Dan did this to wonderful effect with his Table Sour using the microbes propagated from a bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek). 

The list below covers both sour beer with a variety of wild yeast and bacteria and those funky beers that contain just yeast (including Brettanomyces).  It is by no means a complete list of usable bottled beers, but a good selection that should include a few bottles that just about everyone can find. There are a number of sours out there that are pasteurized, so be careful, some in this category include most Belgian Flanders Reds (Rodenbach, Duchess etc...) the sweet fruit Lambics (Lindemans, Liefmans etc...) and some American sours (New Glarus). I tried to void listing one-off and special release bottles to reduce clutter, but most small breweries do not sterile filter or pasteurize their beers.

An expanded version of this list is available on a dedicated page!

Beers with both Brett and Bacteria

  • Allagash Brewing Company – Coolship Series, Gargamel, Victor Francenstein, Vagabond
  • Alpine Beer Company – Ned, Ichabod 2007/2009, Chez Monieux, Briscoe
  • Avery Brewing Company – Brabant, Quinquepartite, Sui Generis, Dihos Dactylion, Meretrix, Immitis, Muscat d’ Amour, Récolte Sauvage
  • Bavik – Petrus Oud Bruin, Petrus Aged Pale
  • Birrificio Loverbeer – Anything
  • Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij – Anything
  • Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) – Abbaye De Saint Bon Chien
  • Brasserie Fantôme – Anything
  • Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen – Anything except Beersel line
  • Brouwerij Boon – Oude Series
  • Brouwerij De Keersmaeker/Mort Subite – Natural Oude Gueuze, Natural Oude Kriek
  • Brouwerij Girardin – 1882 Gueuze (Black Label)
  • Brouwerij Lindemans – Cuvée René Oude Gueuze, Cuvée René Oude Kriek
  • Brouwerij Oud Beersel – Oude Gueuze, Oude Kriek
  • Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck N.V. – St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition
  • Brouwerij Timmermans-John Martin N.V. – Oude Gueuze, Oude Kriek
  • Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. – Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale
  • Boulevard Brewing Company – Love Child Series
  • The Bruery – Oude Tart, Hottenroth, Sour in the Rye, Marrón Acidifié, Tart of Darkness
  • Bullfrog Brewery – The Jaspers, Liquid Sunshine Reserva, Frambozen, Magic Beans, El Rojo Diablo, Blue Cheer, Black Cherry Bomb, Beekeeper
  • Captain Lawrence Brewing Company – Cuvee de Castleton, Rosso e Marrone, Flaming Furry, Little Linda's Liquid, Barrel Select Series
  • Cisco Brewers – Woods Series
  • Cigar City Brewing – Sea Bass –they claim it did not have Brett, early batches of Guava Grove used yeast including Brett from St. Somewhere, but newer batches do not
  • Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – Surette, Pure Guava Petite Sour, L’Brett d’Or
  • De Dolle Brouwers – Pre-1998 bottles were fermented with a mixed culture supplied from Rodenbach
  • De Ranke Brouwerij – Cuvée De Ranke, Kriek De Ranke
  • De Struise Brouwers – Struiselensis, Dirty Horse
  • Brouwerij De Troch – Cuvée Chapeau Oude Gueuze
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales – Festina Lente
  • Freetail Brewing Co. – Fortuna Roja, Ananke, Woodicus, Bandito
  • Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof – Berliner Style Weisse Brettanomyces Lambicus Special Edition
  • Geuzestekerij De Cam – Anything
  • Gueuzerie Tilquin – Oude Gueuze Tilquin à l’Ancienne
  • Hanssens Artisanaal – Anything
  • HaandBryggeriet – Haandbic, Haandbakk
  • Ithaca Beer Company – LeBleu
  • Jackie O's Pub and Brewery – Dynamo Hum, Cab Cherry Man, Brown Recluse, The Grand Wazoo, Quincedence, Chunga's Old Bruin
  • Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – Anything
  • Mikkeller – Spontanale
  • New Belgium Brewing – Pre-Lips of Faith series corked and caged La Folie
  • New Glarus Brewing – R&D Gueuze, R&D Bourbon Barrel Kriek
  • Odell Brewing Co. – DeConstruction, Friek
  • Panil – Barriquée (North American version)
  • Picobrouwerij Alvinne – Alvino, Kerasus, Morpheus Wild, Cuvée Freddy
  • Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey – Red Poppy, Cuvee de Tomme, Duck Duck Gooze, Cable Car, Framboise de Amorosa, Veritas Series, Sinners Blend 08 and 10, Isabelle Proximus
  • Russian River Brewing Co. – Supplication, Temptation, Beatification, Consecration, Sanctification, Framboise for a Cure, Deviation, Toronado 20th Anniversary Ale
  • Southampton Publick House – Berliner Weisse
  • Telegraph Brewing Company – Reserve Wheat Ale, Petit Obscura
  • Trinity Brewhouse – TPS Report, Old Growth, The Flavor, Brain of the Turtle
  • Upland Brewing Company – Fruit Lambics, Dantalion
  • Upright Brewing Company – Four Play
  • Weyerbacher Brewing Co. – Rapture, Riserva

Beers with Brett
  • Allagash Brewing Company – Confluence, Interlude
  • Avery Brewing Company – Fifteen, Dépuceleuse
  • Boulevard Brewing Company – Saison Brett
  • Brasserie d'Orval S.A. – Orval, Petite Orval
  • Brewery Ommegang – Ommegeddon, Bière de Mars
  • The Bruery – Saison de Lente, Saison Rue, Various 100% Brett versions
  • Bullfrog Brewery – Undead Ed
  • Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – Wild Wild Brett Series
  • De Dolle Brouwers – Stille Nacht Reserva, Oerbier Reserva
  • De Proefbrouwerij – Flemish Primitive Series, Reinaert Flemish Wild, Signature Ale, Le Deux Brewers, Monstre Rouge, Broederlijke Liefde
  • Evolution Craft Brewing Company – Fall Migration 2011
  • Goose Island Beer Co. – Matilda, Juliet, Sofie
  • Hill Farmstead Brewery – Art, Flora
  • Ithaca Beer Company – White Gold, Brute
  • Jackie O's Pub and Brewery – Funky South Paw
  • Mikkeller – It’s Alright!, It’s Alive!, USAlive!, Yeast Series: Brettanomyces
  • New Glarus Brewing – R&D Golden Ale
  • Odell Brewing Co. – Saboteur
  • Southampton Publick House – Trappist IPA
  • Stillwater Artisanal Ales – Barrel Aged Stateside Saison and Barrel Aged Cellar Door (Others?)
  • Saint Somewhere Brewing Company – Anything
  • Surly Brewing Company – Five
  • Victory Brewing Company – Wild Devil, (Helios is now sterile filtered before bottling)

Beers with Bacteria
  • Professor Fritz Briem – 1809 Berliner Style Weisse
  • Raccoon Lodge and Brewpub – Cascade sour beers
  • Yazoo Brewing Company – Fortuitous

100 Gallons of Sour BeerI'll try to update this list from time to time, but please post a comment if you have used the dregs from these or any other sour beers to good or bad effect. You can and should also consider using the dregs from previous batches of homebrew, this can be a good way to start up a "house culture" that will give your sours a signature character.

If you are interested in harvesting the dregs from clean beers the process is a bit more complex since sanitation and cell counts are more important.  Yeasts from Bottle Conditioned Beers has results from culturing many clean beers (and a few sours), but it hasn't been updated in years.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ever Brewed Sake?

Mixing the sake by hand after each addition of rice is one of the oddest steps in sake production.Never, but I like to drink it - 49%
Never, I'll stick to beer - 41%
Yeah, once or twice - 7%
Yeah, three or more times - 1%
156 Votes

Seems like there is some solid interest in sake drinking (and I was impressed that three people had brewed sake three or more times), so hopefully most of you have been enjoying the play-by-play on my first batch.  The process has been pretty interesting for me so far, and it has really made me appreciate how relatively simple making other alcoholic beverages (beer/mead/cider) is in comparison. 

To the people who have brewed sake, how did it turn out?  Any tips or pitfalls?

I'm planning on splitting my batch to get some different styles (clear/cloudy/carbonated etc...).  Since I have extra koji spores I may even brew a second batch in the fall/winter, depending on how well this batch turns out.  At this point though I doubt it will become a yearly thing like my annual batch of cider.