Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brett Stock Ale: 4 Years

Not a great shot of the Brett Stock Ale, but it shows off the ruby highlights.Before moving down to DC I enjoyed a couple months of unemployment between when my previous employer (a purveyor of no-verification loans) went belly up and my new job started.  I'd been thinking about making a beer with Brett since soon after I started brewing, but I had hesitated, not wanting to risk letting the bugs make the jump to my clean beers.  Not knowing when I'd be able to brew after moving I decided to spend my last few days in Massachusetts brewing four sour/funky beers to leave at my parents' house to ferment/age.

One of those beers was a Old Ale with Brett C, something the English traditionally called a stock ale.  This is the sort of beer that is perfect for blending; it has big complex flavors, but not the amount of sweetness you'd expect from a strong English ale.  Historically this blending was done to order by a publican, but there are still a couple of bottled blends available like Olde Suffolk from Greene King (I wish they bottled the funky "5X" portion, 12% ABV, two-year in oak). 

Funky Old Ale

Appearance – Deep brown with a wonderful clear garnet highlight when held to the light. A hard pour produces an inch of head that fights to maintain verticality, but steadily sinks to a light-tan ring over five minutes.

Smell – Vinous, port-like, slightly dusty/musty, just a hint of toasty malt (or is that oak?). Certainly smells like an English strong ale rather than anything from Belgium, despite the Brett (the claussenii strain was originally isolated from a stock ale).  As it warms there is a slight alcoholic sharpness to the nose.

Taste – The dank cellar quality comes through stronger in the flavor than it did in the aroma, but it is still backed up by some of that aged-wine character.  Not much bitterness remains after the years, but it doesn't take much to balance the small amount of residual sweetness.  The finish is short, almost abrupt.  As the beer warms the flavor becomes spicy from a combination of the oak and alcohol.

Mouthfeel – The body is a bit thin.  For a big beer like this a thick creamy body would have been nice, but it isn't unpleasant as is.  The medium-low carbonation is perfect, glad the Brett was finished when I bottled.

Drinkability & Notes – Too easy to drink, the lack of body means that the flavor doesn't linger to reveal all of its complexity. Certainly a beer that is built for blending with a fresh/sweet ale, something I may try out with one of the last few bottles.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pliny the Younger Clone Recipe

I first sampled Russian River's Pliny the Younger at a BeerAdvocate American Beer Fest about five years ago.  I've had samples of it a couple more times since that night, mostly from growlers, but that first sip left an indelible stamp on my tongue.  The hop flavor was dominant, with complex citrus and fresh pine, while the beer was still remarkably smooth and easy to drink.  Over the last few years I've made a handful of attempts at replicating PtY using information gleaned from talks, articles, and emails from Vinnie; the beers were good, but not quite there.

Adding the first of two HopShots to the boil.After I finally bought a kegging system last year, my hoppy beers got considerably better.  I credit a couple techniques that kegs allow me to do for this improvement.  The ability to flush the keg with CO2, which reduces oxidation preserving a fresher hop character.  Keg hopping, which allows the beer to remain in contact with the dry hops until second before serving.  Force carbonation, which enables quicker, more reliable carbonation of strong beers.  With the kegs (not to mention the moratorium on Younger growler sales this year) I thought it was time to give a clone another shot.

I've learned to anticipate 20% lower efficiency when brewing a big IPA as a result of the huge amount of wort lost to the hops.  I used half a sack of Great Western 2-row (paler than their pale malt) along with a small amount of carapils (for added body).  I mashed just under 150 to ensure the targeted 85% attenuation of the original.  The high attenuation keeps this beer firmly in the DIPA category where a sweeter beer would come across as an American barleywine.

The other big change I made was switching to hop extract for part of the bittering addition.  Extract adds IBUs without contributing vegetal matter to the kettle, which steals wort and can give grassy flavors at high levels.  I was originally planning to derive all the bitterness form extract (20 ml), but right before brewing I realized that the two Northern Brewer HopShots I purchased were 5 ml each not 10 ml; I decided to add 2 oz of Columbus to augment the bitterness from the extract.

Small bowl of bittering hops, big pot of flameout hops.For hop aromatics I added a total of 9 oz of Amarillo/Centennial/Simcoe at the end of the boil (with 3 oz of the blend at flameout, at the start of chilling, and three minutes into chilling).  I stirred the wort continually as it cooled to speed up the cooling process, reducing the amount of hop aromatics driven off.  I've had the best luck using pellets for late additions since they contribute their flavor quicker than whole hops, and don't suck up quite as much wort.

With the wort cooled I pitched a decanted starter of White Labs 001, the same strain Vinnie uses for his hoppy beers.  He has suggested not pitching "too much" yeast as the cells will strip out some of the bitterness from the beer.  Not knowing exactly what this meant and not wanting to stress the yeast, I made a 2.5 qrt starter, a bit short of the 4 qrt starter that yeast pitching calculators suggest for a beer this gravity.  Luckily fermentation started after 12 hours, and was going strong after 24.  My basement is in the high 50s this time of year, perfect for keeping the strong fermentation just below 70 degrees. 

To help boost the attenuation, Pliny the Younger includes some easily fermented refined sugar.  I could have added this to the kettle, but I wanted to cut the yeast a break and give them time to reduce the gravity of the wort significantly before adding the cane/corn sugars.  Too much osmotic pressure from concentrated sugars can put a lot of stress on yeast (enough sugar can exert so much pressure that it make a liquid shelf-stable, as in the cases of honey and maple syrup).

The original dry hops schedule (at the bottom of the post) calls for four separate dry hop additions.  That sounds like too much time/effort/risk for me, so I simplified to one dry hop addition and one keg hop.  The same amount/timing worked well on the great Double IPA I brewed last winter, so it seems like a good idea for this one.

Hoping to have a party when this one is ready since this is a beer best consumed quickly (and for safety reasons not all by me).

Even after straining you can see the hops in the chilled wort.
Pliny the Younger Clone

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 27.19
Anticipated OG: 1.094
Anticipated SRM: 6.6
Anticipated IBU: 199.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 48 % (65% including second runnings).
Wort Boil Time: 95 Minutes

92.0% 25.00 lbs. American 2-row
3.7% 1.00 lbs. Corn Sugar
3.5% 0.94 lbs. CaraPils
0.9% 0.25 lbs. Cane Sugar

10 ml HopShot @ 90 min.
2.00 oz. Columbus (Pellet 13.00% AA) @ 60 min.
4.00 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 6.90% AA) @ 0 min.
3.00 oz. Centennial (Pellet, 8.80% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 12.20% AA) @ 0 min.

Dry Hops
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) 
1.00 oz. Centennial (Whole, 10.50% AA)
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA)

Keg Hops
1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA)
1.00 oz. Centennial (Whole, 10.50% AA)
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA)

0.50 Unit Wirlfloc @ 12 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 12 min.

White Labs WLP001 California Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Pliny the Water

Mash Schedule
Sacc Rest 15 min @ 143
Sacch II 60 min @ 149
Sacch III 5 min @ 156

12/14/10 2.5 qrt starter made, crash chilled to 37 three days later

Brewed 12/19/10

Mash water 4.5 gallons filtered DC plus 3 gallons distilled, 7 g gypsum.

Initial mash temp was a bit low, heated up some water and boosted the temp closer to the 150 I was initially aiming for. 2.5 gallons (inc 1 gallon distilled and 3 g gypsum) added before the wort was run off.

About 1 gallon short on pre-boil wort, so I stole 1 gallon of runnings from the small beer.

Totaled 8 gallons pre boil ~1.065.

3 oz of hops at flameout, waited 5 min before starting the chill, added 3 oz more hops after about a minute, waited 3 minutes added final dose of 3 oz of hops. Cold ground water ~50 F, lots of stirring, cooled quickly.

The mash was capped and I used the second runnings to make an American Bitter.

1.084 post-boil, pre-sugar.

Chilled to ~64, strained, pitched the decanted room-temp starter, and gave 60 seconds of oxygen. Left at ~63 ambient to start fermentation.

Good fermentation after 24 hours, moved to ~59 ambient.

12/21/10 Measured fermentation temp at 68, which is spot on for what Vinnie suggests.

12/22/10 Added the sugars boiled in 1 pint of filtered water for a few minutes to dissolve.  Cane/corn sugar represent 11% of the fermentables by extract.

12/28/10 Down to 1.014, 85% AA, 10.6% ABV.  Right on target.  Krausen already dropped, but I'll give it a few more days to ensure the fermentation is complete before racking.  Nice lingering bitterness, nice aroma, but despite the huge late hop addition the citrus/pine/tropical aroma isn't as powerful as I expected (the dry hops will fix that).

12/31/10  Flushed a sanitized keg twice with CO2, pumped the auto-siphon in the keg, then flushed the keg again.  Racked to ~4.75 gallons of the beer into the keg, then sealed it up and flushed the headspace two more times.  Left at cool room temp for a day or two more before chilling.

1/2/11 Moved the keg to 35 degree fridge to help the yeast flocc out before adding the first dry hop addition.

1/10/11 Moved keg out of the fridge, allowed to warm for a few hours, drained 1 pint of yeast/trub through a tap, added the first addition of dry hops (weighed down by marbles).  Left at room temp ~64 F.  Beer tastes good, firm bitterness, but not nearly enough hop aromatics.

1/26/11 Removed first dry hop addition, added second dose.  Moved to kegerator and hooked up to CO2, vented, and left to carbonate.  Hopefully ready for a sample in two weeks.

3/1/11 About as close as I could expect to get without getting the exact details from Vinnie. Could be slightly drier, and a bit danker, but it has a hugely complex pine/citrus nose and loads of bitterness.  Well worth trying if you have an iron liver or lots of hophead friends.

Actual dry hop schedule per Vinnie.
DH 1 Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial for one week and remove
DH 2 Amarillo, Centennial for one week and remove
DH 3 Simcoe for one week and remove
DH 4 Simcoe, Amarillo Dry Hop in Keg

I think an ounce of each of the hops at each addition would be about right if you want to go this route.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Courage Clone Tasting 2010

I can't believe this big funky stout is already three-and-a-half years old.  I've been drinking just one bottle every winter when I visit my parents for Christmas, a nice treat after the long drive up from DC to Massachusetts.  Luckily I've got enough left for another few years.

Stout foreground on a Christmas tree background.Courage Russian Imperial Stout Clone

Appearance -Pitch black, and opaque unless held right up to a light.  The tan head is pretty thin, with tight bubbles and decent retention. A longer lasting head would certainly be nice, but the beer still looks like a winter night.

Aroma - Over-roasted coffee, cocoa nibs, and starting to develop some tobacco.  Behind the dark malt there is some damp basement/oak.  A toasty character from the amber malt adds complexity to the dominant dark malts.

Flavor - Smooth dark malt roast, with some vanilla (I assume from the oak).  There is some alcohol in the finish but not too much for a Christmas beer. The combination of oak/vanilla/ethanol gives the impression of smooth bourbon.  The hop bitterness has fallen off over the years, but the combination of roast/oak/alcohol are still enough to balance the residual sugars (the better than average attenuation from the Brett A helps the balance as well).

Mouthfeel - Moderate body for such a big beer with a bit more carbonation than I like in a substantial beer like this,  I get a bit of drying tannins from the oak.

Drinkability/Notes -Getting to a very enjoyable point, but it still tastes like it can take some more age.  As it warms I get more complexity and the the body smooths out, I like this beer more every year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

BBR Kvass and Barrels

The apple brandy barrel (right) was originally a bourbon barrel before Laird's got their hands on it.A few weeks ago Nathan and I recorded a double dose of interviews with James and the gang for the Basic Brewing Radio podcast.  Both episodes have since been posted.  The first interview covers the three kvasses we brewed (and I'm sure you've heard enough about).  We sent samples of each down for the guys, and they seemed to enjoy them.  The second interview goes into our group barrel aging projects.  The samples of those seemed to be appreciated as well.  James always does a great job keeping the interview focused and moving (and editing out my um's and ah's.)

Saison Vautour is ~25% rye, and perfectly funked.Speaking of barrels, on Saturday Nathan and I brewed a dark saison at McKenzie's Brew House (winners of three of the last four GABF gold medals for saison).  Today half the batch is going into a three barrels to funk/sour over the next few months (where they'll be fed various sugars).  Their bottled saison was as funky and complex as anything I've tasted from Fantome, and the sour Baltic Porter was a revelation in complex woody/fruity funk.  While we were up there we procured one of their apple brandy barrel already had one beer aged in it.  The current plan is to start another solera with a strong golden sour. 

In other barrel related news we're just about three weeks out from bottling the porterish-stout that has been sitting in a second use bourbon barrel for the last year or so.  Next in will be a moderately strong malty brown.  The Belgian pale/single in the wine barrel is being lapped because it is still a bit sulfury, and not sour enough despite more than a year of bugging. 

More on all of those things later.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Beer Word Trends (Thanks to Google)

Google recently released a simple little tool that essentially lets you run trends on word usage over the last 500 years.  The tool searches over 500 Billion words contained in 1 million of the books they have scanned. I just played around with it for a few minutes and found some interesting beer related trends.

Beer and Ale had similar usage rates 200 years ago, with beer now the dominant term (lager is surprisingly unpopular).

There was a large spike in homebrewing interest during prohibition and then it crashed back down until the early 1990s.

Interest in wine is more variable than beer over the last 300 years.

There were spikes of interest in hops around 1700 and 1800, anybody have a theory on this one?

That's all I found, if you find any other good ones leave a comment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bière de Garde Tasting

I usually try to keep session beers on tap, but at ~8% ABV I broke that rule when I put on the Bière de Garde I brewed near the start of September. It has been a good complement to the ~4% Bretty Belgian Single, especially since my father and my housemate have been doing their fair share of the heavy lifting.

Bearded Guard - Bière de Garde 

Appearance – Clear chestnut-brown body topped with a dense off-white head. The head slowly trailing sticky lacing behind it down the sides of the glass.

Smell – Big toasty malt aromatics (rustic bread) mixed with strong fruity esters. The fruit character is dark enough (almost reminiscent of brandy) to match well with a bigger/darker beer, not nearly as fresh-grape-ish as it was in the lighter beers I've done with the Wyeast Kolsch strain.  Maybe a hint of spice from the hops, but not much.

Taste – Dry upfront, but with a nice lingering toffee sweetness in the finish. The malt comes through more than the fruit, with complex toasty aromas. It smells like a loaf of bread that has a couple of spots on the bottom that are almost charred. Enough bitterness to balance the slight bit of sweetness, but no more. A bit of warming alcohol in the finish as it comes up to temp.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, with a lively carbonation that ensures it isn't too heavy. Just about right, but if it was bottle conditioned I might have gone slightly higher on the carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – I think this is a great beer, sort of a French Doppelbock. A bit maltier and sweeter than most of the commercial versions of the style, but nothing objectionable when there is snow on the ground.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adjusting Recipes: Volumes, Efficiency, Extract

They didn't always have brewing software...With nearly 100 homebrew recipes posted on The Mad Fermentationist over the last four years it was time to post a guide on how to adjust them for different setups.  I post the recipes as they were brewed with the actual volume and efficiency rather than converting them to a consistent format, and I realize that this can be a hassle.  Whether you want to brew a batch that is a different volume, your efficiency is different than the recipe, or you brew with extract, this guide will show you how to adjust the recipes to suit your system.

Many of these calculations are easy to do with a copy of BeerSmith, ProMash, BeerAlchemy, or one of the dozens of other programs/websites/spreadsheets designed to do recipe calculations.  However, I think it's important to develop some instincts on how recipe adjustment works.  Fairly frequently I hear someone complain that they accidentally doubled the hops (for example) and didn't realize until it was too late (and the wort was in the fermenter).

To convert a recipe to a different volume multiply each of the ingredient (hops, malt, sugars, spices, fruit etc...) by the size of your batch divided by the size of the recipe.  For example: if the recipe is designed to produce 5 gallons of wort and you want to brew 10, multiply the weight of each of the malts (adjuncts, sugars, spices, fruit) by 10/5 = 2.

For the hop additions rather than doubling the weight of each addition double the amount of alpha acids contributed by each addition.  To do this take the weight of each hop addition in the recipe and multiply it by the percent alpha acids called for and the ratio of the batch sizes, then divide by the percent of alpha acids in the hops you are using. If a 5 gallon recipe calls for 1 oz of 5% AA hops and you want to brew 10 gallons with a 4% AA hop the formula would be: (1 oz * 5% AA * 10/5)/4% AA = 2.5 oz of 4% AA hops.  The same formula can be used to adjust a recipe for lower/higher AA% hops in the same size batch.

Here is an example of scaling a recipe from a four gallon batch to a five gallon batch.  Let's assume that the Magnum hops are 12% AA and the Saaz are 4% AA.

German Bitter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00 to 5.00
Anticipated OG: 1.044
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

69.2% - 4.50 lbs. French Pils (4.5 lbs * 5/4 = 5.6 lbs French Pils)
15.4% - 1.00 lbs. German Wheat Malt (1 lbs * 5/4 = 1.25 lbs German Wheat Malt)
15.4% - 1.00 lbs. German Munich (1 lbs * 5/4 = 1.25 lbs German Munich)

0.38 oz. Magnum (Whole 14.50% AA) @ 75 min. ((.38 oz * 14.5% AA * 5/4)/12% AA) = .57 oz of 12% AA Magnum
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Whole 3.30% AA) @ 5 min. ((1 oz * 3.3% AA * 5/4)/4% AA) = 1 oz of 4% AA Czech Saaz

0.50 Wirlfloc @ 15 min. * 5/4 = .628 Whirlfloc
(For finings I usually wouldn't bother with this conversion for a small change in volume.)

WYeast 2565 Kolsch (5/4 =1.25 times more yeast)

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 90 min @ 148 (no changes, except to use more mash/sparge water to hit your desired pre-boil volume, which in turn depends on your boil-off rate.)

To adjust a recipes for your efficiency multiply all of the grains/malts by the efficiency listed in the recipe divided by your expected efficiency.  You only need to adjust the ingredients in the mash, no changes to other fermentables (such as sugars or fruit) or other recipe parameters such as hops, yeast, or finings.  Some sources recommend only scaling the base malt to adjust for efficiency, but if you are extracting fewer sugars from the mash you are also extracting less flavor/dextrins from the specialty malts.

Let's look at a recipe that calls for 10 lbs of pale malt and 1 lb of crystal 80 with 70% efficiency.  If you are expecting 75% efficiency you'd multiply each of the malts by .70/.75 = .933.  So you'd use 10*.933= 9.33 lbs of pale malt and 1*.933=.93 lbs of crystal 80.

Here is an example of converting the five gallon recipe above from 70% to 80% efficiency.

German Bitter

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Anticipated OG: 1.044
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70% to 80 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

69.2% - 5.60 lbs. French Pils  (5.6 X .70/.80 = 4.9 lbs French Pils)
15.4% - 1.25 lbs. German Wheat Malt (1.25 X .70/.80 = 1.1 lbs German Wheat Malt)
15.4% - 1.25 lbs. German Munich (1.25 X .70/.80 = 1.1 lbs German Munich)

Hops (no changes)
0.57 oz. Magnum (Whole 14.50% AA) @ 75 min.
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Whole 3.30% AA) @ 5 min.

Extras (no changes)
0.63 Wirlfloc @ 15 min.

Yeast (no changes)
WYeast 2565 Kolsch

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 90 min @ 148 (slightly less mash and sparge water will be needed to hit your pre-boil volume to account for less absorption by the grain.)

If you brew relying on malt extract for the bulk of your fermentables you can still make most of the recipes I've posted.

To determine the amount of liquid malt extract to use multiply the amount of each base malt by the efficiency of the recipe, if using dry malt extract multiply that number by .84 (this accounts for the more concentrated sugars in DME compared to LME).  Make sure to pick an appropriate malt extract(s) (pils, English pale, pale/light, smoked, and/or Munich) to replace the base malt called for by the recipe.

Remember that wheat and Munich extracts will replace both the wheat malt or Munich as well as some of the pils/pale in the recipe.  In general I recommend against using darker extracts as they tend to be less fermentable, and it is hard to know the proportions of the malts used (or with some manufacturers even what those malts are).

Any caramel (including Special B), crystal, roasted malts/grain (roasted barley, Carafa, chocolate, pale chocolate etc...) can be crushed and steeped in the amount listed by the recipe without adjustment. 

If you are doing a full boil there is not need to adjust the hop additions.  If you are doing a partial boil the only hop issue of great concern is that IBUs saturate the wort around 100.  So if you end the boil with 2.5 gallons of wort the most bitterness you can have when you dilute the beer to 5 gallons is 50 IBUs (100*2.5/5 = 50).  For a long time it was assumed that there was lower hop utilization as the gravity increased, but from what I have read recently this is not the case (namely John Palmer's about face on the issue).

German Bitter (5 gallons Extract)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Anticipated OG: 1.044
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

I would look at the wheat first since it will contribute to both the wheat and pils.

15.4% - 1.1 lbs. German Wheat Malt
We'll imagine our wheat DME is 50% wheat and 50% pils.  So 1.1 (weight of the grain) / .50 (percent of wheat in the extract) * .8 (efficiency of the original recipe) * .83 (DME conversion factor) = 2 lbs wheat DME

69.2% - 4.9 lbs. French Pils
Since the wheat extract was 50% pils we can subtract the equivalent of 1.1 lbs that it already added, leaving us with 4.9-1.1 = 3.8 lbs.  Using pils DME 3.8 (weight of the grain)  * .8 (efficiency of the original recipe) * .83 (DME conversion factor) = 2.5 lbs of pilsner DME

15.4% - 1.1 lbs. German Munich Malt
Using 100% Munich LME 1.1 (weight of the grain) * .8 (efficiency of the recipe) = .9 lbs Munich LME

In this case there are no grains that need to be steeped, and there is nothing wrong with that.

0.57 oz. Magnum (Whole 14.50% AA) @ 75 min.
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Whole 3.30% AA) @ 5 min.

0.63 Wirlfloc @ 15 min.

WYeast 2565 Kolsch

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 90 min @ 148

There are some limits to extract with steeping grains. Many specialty malts like Victory, biscuit, amber, brown, melanoidin, as well as unmalted adjuncts (corn, wheat, rice, rye, and oats) need to mashed with an enzymatic base malt to convert their starches to sugars.  Malted grains like rye, wheat, and oats have enough amylase enzyme to self-convert. Partial mashes are relatively easy to accomplish without any special equipment.  In fact partial mashes are just like steeping except that you have to put a bit of extra effort into using the right ratio of grain to water (between 1 quart per pound and 2 quarts per pound) and holding the right temperature (~150 F) for at least 30 minutes.

To convert an all-grain recipe to partial mash simply use as much grain as you want (making sure there are two pounds of enzymatic malt for every one pound of something else) and then use the method above to convert the remainder of the base malt to extract.  You may need to add more extract depending on the efficiency of your partial mash (if you are lazy or don't know your efficiency you can keep extra DME on hand and add more to adjust as needed).  Once your mash is complete remove the grains and add the extract and any additional water, continuing with the rest of the recipe as instructed.

If you need to make more than one of these adjustments the order doesn't matter, so you can adjust for volume and then efficiency or t'other way round.  Hopefully this little tutorial will help give you an idea on how to convert and adjust recipes for your system.  If anything wasn't clear, or if I missed your particular situation please send me an email at [email protected] and I'd be happy to update this.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Funky Date Dark Saison Tasting

Appearances can be deceiving, it looks like an Irish stout, but it has a big fruit character and almost no roast.After posting the recipe for the dark saison we brewed a few weeks ago it seemed like it was about time I posted a first tasting of the dark saison Noah, Alex, and I brewed last fall.  It had a complex grain bill, red wine deglazed dates, and a touch of black cardamom.  It was fermented with 3711 (French Saison), along with dregs from several sours we drank during the brew. 

Dark Fruit Saison II

Appearance – A hard pour produces a two-finger-dense-tan (Guinnesque) head. Decent retention paired with some lacing, but it's not nitro foam. The beer itself is a few shades darker than Guinness, deep leathery brown, but clear when held to a light.

Smell – Big dark spicy nose with just a touch of tobacco (it's amazing what 3 grams of black cardamom can do in 15 gallons). Not much sour/funk in the nose, but there is some beautiful dried/red fruit . There is a light ethanol nostril burn, but at a year old I still consider a 10% sour a toddler.

Taste – I'd call this beer tart bordering on sour. The roast is long and on the light side of coffee/chocolate. There is a red wine character that is really nice (can't wait to see how the 3 gallons on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes turns out).

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, perfect for a big Belgian. Moderate carbonation, about right for the body and complex flavors.

Drinkability & Notes – The flavors are great, but it certainly needs another year or two to mellow/meld and round some edges, but it is getting there. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fig Honey Anise Dark Saison

Black Mission Figs and Canadian Figs.When most people think about saison they are imagining Saison Dupont (pale, moderate gravity, relatively hoppy, peppery yeast) while in fact saison has a huge range, from featherweights like Dupont's 3.5% ABV Avril to a darker 10% ABV beer like Fantôme Spéciale De Noel.  In my opinion the only constraint for calling a beer a saison is that it is fermented with a saison yeast strain.

After successes with our first two dark winter saisons Alex and I (Noah moved to Colorado a few months ago) decided on a similar plan for the third in the series.  This year we opted to add figs (instead of dates or raisins), buckwheat honey, and warming spices (cinnamon and anise).

The malt bill was similar to its forebears, but we reduced the original gravity to produce a more drinkable beer.  The high lovibond crystal malts will provide some dark fruit character to complement the figs, and the Carafa will add a light roast without causing the dry finished beer to be harsh/acrid.  For some body we added steel cut ("Irish") oats to the mash, but not before gelatinizing their starches with a quick boil (a step you can skip when using oats that have been rolled or flaked).

We only used one of the jars of buckwheat honey.For additional fermentables we added buckwheat honey, the darkest most flavorful varietal we could get our hands on.  After smelling the musty honey (not too far off of dark LME) we cut back the amount to lend a rich earthiness (hopefully without letting it get too funky).  When Nathan and I were brewing with Terry at Bullfrog Brewing he mentioned that he used a small amount of buckwheat honey (~3%) in his 2008 GABF Gold Winning Beekeeper (a sour barrel aged saison) along with a more substantial addition of a milder honey (~7%), I've been looking for an excuse to play with the ingredient ever since.

A small amount of bitterness was all we asked from a single addition of Simcoe hops.  In a big complex beer the hop variety is of little import, so I used up the last of my 2007 "hop crisis" order.  Fermentation was ably carried out by the yeast cake from the Petite Funky Saison I'd brewed a few weeks earlier (with added dregs from a couple commercial sours).

So far this has been a great yearly tradition that I'm hoping we'll be able to continue for a few more falls before we get bored of the dark fruit saison concept.

Funky looking fermentation on Dark Saison III.Dark Fruit Saison III

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 25.94
Anticipated OG: 1.066
Anticipated SRM: 22.6
Anticipated IBU: 22.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67 %
Wort Boil Time: 85 minutes

61.7% 16.00 lbs. German Pilsener
15.4% 4.00 lbs. German Munich Malt
8.1% 2.10 lbs. Fig Puree
3.9% 1.00 lbs. Steel Cut Oats
3.3% 0.84 lbs. Buckwheat Honey
2.9% 0.75 lbs. Carafa Special II
2.9% 0.75 lbs. CaraMunich
1.9% 0.50 lbs. Special B

1.25 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 11.00% AA) @ 70 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 10 min.
1.00 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 min.

2.00 gm Anise @ 5 min.
1.00 gm Star Anise @ 5 min.
0.50 gm Cinnamon @ 5 min.

White Labs WLP565 Belgian Saison I
White Labs WLP645 Brettanomyces claussenii

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 90 min @ 156

Brewed 11/13/10 with Alex

Chalk and baking soda added to the mash to make sure the pH doesn't go too low.

Oats were steel cut and boiled for 15 minutes to hydrate/gelatinize before adding to the mash about 10 minutes dough-in.

Batch sparged with 180 degree water.

Hops ~3 years old, adjusted down from 13.6% AA.

Spices ground in a coffee grinder for 10 seconds before adding.

Half Black Mission figs, half Canadian. Both organic from the CO-OP. De-stemmed, and halved. Boiled in the the final runnings for 15 minutes, then pureed with a stick blender. Added with 10 minutes left in the boil.

Organic buckwheat honey warmed in a pot of water to loosen, then added after the end of the boil (2 minutes into chilling).

Chilled to 72, then pitched half yeast cake from Bretted Saison (along with dregs from Supplication and Consecration). Shook to aerate.

Fermented for 10 days on a heating pad set to low to try to keep the fermentation temp above the ambient ~63 degrees.

12/14/10  Racked to secondary with .75 oz of dark rum soaked American oak cubes.

10/15/11 Blended some, and bottled the remaining 2.25 gallons with - 1 5/8 oz cane sugar.

5/3/12 Tastes great, although the carbonation isn't quite as strong as it could have been.The buckwheat honey softened out nicely from some earlier samples.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What is the best beer for a cold winter night?

My case of Expedition #8728, bottled September 16th, 2008 (According to Bell's Batch Finder).Imperial Stout - 26%
Barleywine - 18%
Belgian strong dark - 14%
Old ale - 6%
Anything barrel-aged - 5%
Dark sour - 5%
Holiday spiced beer - 5%
Wee heavy - 4%
Smoked beer - 4%
Double IPA - 3%
Doppelbock/Eisbock - 2%
Something light (to brighten things up) - 1%

Even big sweet wintery beers should be brewed to have some balance, something many brewers seem to have forgotten.  While I enjoy some barleywines, wee heavies, and doppelbocks all too often they are sticky sweet (especially after a year or two once the hops age out).  Imperial stouts have an advantage over these other big beers, while their high hopping rate balances the residual sweetness early on the roasted edge from the grains assists as the beer ages.  The polyphenols contributed by the dark grains also help fight oxidation, allowing big stouts age more gracefully than their pale counterparts.  I had a hard time making that my answer (it seems too obvious), but I've got a two year old case of Bell's Expedition Stout in my basement (and it's the only case I've purchased in about four years).

Belgian strong darks are the other strong contender for my cold weather drinking dollars.  Rather than being balanced by hops or roast the best ones are fairly well attenuated (something brewers of other strong ales should take note of).  Dark sours have a similar "problem" I enjoy drinking them year round, so I don't view them as a special winter only treat.  To me a wintery beer should feel rich and substantial, a higher final gravity enhances that character.

I enjoy the rest of the styles listed, but either they aren't wintery enough (smoked beer, DIPA, old ale), or they aren't my favorites (barrel-aged beers tend to be too boozy, holiday ales are frequently over-spiced).  Even the best examples of each of those just don't say winter like top shelf imperial stouts (although I guess barrel aged Imperial Stouts can as well...).

What says "winter" to you about the beer style you picked?  Were you thinking of a specific beer/batch or the style in general?  Did I leave out your favorite winter beer style? Post a comment and let the rest of us know what you were thinking.

Last week I finally had a chance to bottle my Smoked Baltic Rye Porter, and Sour Cherry Quad which should make for some good cold weather sipping in a month or two.  My Biere de Garde on tap is just about carbed, which should be a good beer for the holiday season.  I'm hoping to get a couple batches brewed in the next few weeks before the holidays arrive (although the starter of WY2001 I started last night hasn't taken off yet).

The December poll is up on the blog, "What is the toughest type of beer to brew?"