Monday, January 31, 2011

Making White Wine Vinegar

White wine vinegar about to start, malt (beer) vinegar a year into the process.
About a year ago I started a half gallon batch of malt/beer vinegar (my first batch of any type of vinegar).  I pitched a baby mother (acetobacter culture) harvested from a bottle of sherry vinegar, but after six months the "vinegar" just tasted like stale beer.  Luckily in late September my bug-man (Matt) handed me a small culture of the bacteria he uses to make vinegar.  I pitched it into the growler, and just four months later the vinegar has a sharply acetic flavor.  I strained the liquid through cheesecloth into an old 750 ml bottle for storage.  Time to fry some fish and chips now that I've got the homemade vinegar to spritz on it (Planning on some coleslaw as well, any other ideas?).

The same night, I happened to be racking my first batch of wine (a German white), and had an extra half gallon that couldn't fit into the secondary. I decided the best use of it would be to pour that extra wine into the last cup of dregs from the malt vinegar (and replace the rubber band and cheesecloth).  With the acetobacter culture already established it shouldn't take more than a few months for it to convert the ethanol in the wine into acetic acid.  I added the wine before sulfite/sorbate "stabilizing" additions, so there won't be any chemicals to disrupt the microbes.  In a couple months this vinegar should be ready for vinaigrettes and marinades. 

Once the white wine vinegar is ready to bottle either my sour cider or (watered down) sake will be the next meal for the bugs (after that I might even make vinegar from mead if I ever get around to making another batch).  Not really sure what I'm going to do with all of that vinegar, but I'm looking forward to figuring it out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sour Cherry Belgian Strong Dark Tasting

One of my first sour beers was inspired by Lost Abbey's (Pizza Port's) Cuvee de Tomme, their Belgian Strong Dark aged in bourbon barrels with sour cherries and Brett.  My results were great, the subtle dark malt mingling with the bourbon on the tongue, while the cherries and funk came through in the aroma.  After drinking the last bottle of it I decided I had to brew something similar again.  With my Pannepot clone on the schedule I thought I'd take half the batch and give it the same cherry/bourbon/funk treatment.

Earlier this year De Struise released a funky barrel aged version of Pannepot called Pannepot Wild, haven't had it, but it gets mixed reviews (at least compared to how well their other beers are generally rated).

Nice looking beer, and the taste isn't too bad either.Cuvée de Pannepot

Appearance – Appears an opaque reddish-brown in the snifter, but clear amber-orange when held to the light. The head is slightly off-white, with tight bubbles that have good retention.

Smell – Macerated sour cherry and vanilla, with just a touch of earthy funk. The sour cherries come through much better than the sweet cherries that I used in the previous version.

Taste – Bright cherry tartness, but not enough for me to call it sour. The malt/beer character comes through in the vaguely sweet finish, lingering briefly before the cherries return. The cherry is deep and complex, with a bit of almond from the stones. The alcohol doesn't really come through despite the 11% strength. I would have liked some more dark sugar/malt character, but some more age may bring out additional complexity.

Mouthfeel – Creamy medium-low carbonation, decent body despite the low finishing gravity.

Drinkability & Notes – Turned out well, well balanced for such a strong beer. The base beer was more fermentable than I expected and I waited until secondary to add the bugs so it didn't end up as funky/sour as I wanted, but it is still really good as is.  It should age well since it has bugs, dark malt, fruit , and loads of alcohol, which should all either help to reduce oxidation or promote positive flavor development.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brewing Saison at McKenzie's

Which American brewery makes the best saisons?

Southampton Publick House (their brewer literally wrote the book on the style)? Upright or Stillwater, since they focus on saisons?  Maybe one of the breweries with the best ratings: Ommegang (Hennepin), Boulevard (Saison Brett), or The Bruery (Saison de Lente, and Saison Rue)?  I bet not many of you said McKenzie's Brew House despite the fact that their Saison Vautour has won three of the last four GABF golds for the style (I'm not a huge believer in competitions, but 3 out of 4 is saying something). It's interesting how beer hype/publicity works sometimes.

Ryan Michaels, the head brewer at both McKenzie's locations, was gracious enough to let Nathan and I kick around some ideas with him and then join him and Gerard, (the long term assistant brewer) at the Malvern PA location to brew a darker take on saison. I think part of the reason that their beers don't receive the publicity they deserve is that some beer nerds stopped paying attention to Mckenzie's a few years ago when their previous brewer Scott "The Dude" Morrison left.  Another contributor to their sleeper status is that McKenzie's doesn't announce bottle release days, they just quietly put batches up for sale at the pubs as they are ready.

Their process has slowly developed into something a bit different from the standard saison brewing procedure.  The recipe for Saison Vautour is fairly simple: mostly pils, with some rye malt for rustic character, and sugar to ensure high attenuation with White Labs Saison II.  In 2007, the first year they won gold, the beer was clean (just Saccharomyces) and fermented in stainless.  That version is one of their house beers, dry, big pepper, bright, easy to drink.  The 2009 win was for the same beer with an accidental dose of Brett in the bottle (they now only bottle funky/sour beers).  The 2010 version was started in stainless for a few days then pumped into barrels where the resident microbes went to work.  The bottle of the barrel aged version we sampled was hard to call a saison, since it had a nice sourness, big farmyard funk (think Fantome on a good day), and loads of complexity (thankfully the judges at GABF are given more license to select the best beer than BJCP judges have).

McKenzie's sour barrel program isn't too much different from our own.  They add the dregs from good sour beers they drink, and the bugs are further disseminated by a thief carrying them from one barrel to the next (like a bee exchanging pollen at each flower it visits).  Ryan even paid me the compliment of dumping the dregs from a bottle of Funky Dark Saison into one of his barrels (yes I realize how nerdy it is that I'm excited to see the sludge from one of my bottles going into a barrel).

We got a chance to try a good number of their beers while we were at the brewery, and from bottles we took home.  Their Biere de Garde was one of the best I've had, they add a small amount of black pepper added to simulate the flavor of being boiled in a copper kettle (an idea stolen from Tom Baker).  Their sours have a style all their own, with beers like a soured Baltic Poter (Oer Faute), a tart low alcohol Grissette (Grissette), and Tristessa probably the best funky/hoppy beer I've tried (they couldn't get the hop sock out of the barrel so it has stayed in there for a few more beers).  They age in a combination of used French oak from a local winery and American oak spirit barrels (we purchased one of their used Laird's apple brandy barrels while we were up there).

The beer we helped to brew was a brown saison. Most of the color came from dark candi syrup with some Munich and CaraMunich for added maltiness and dark fruit respectively.  We were aiming for a slightly higher gravity, but the efficiency tanked (for unknown reasons) and we ended up adding some extra candi sugar to the boil to get back up to a respectable level.  For hops, just a small bittering dose of Goldings near the start of the boil. 

Ryan pumped the yeast into the tank where it mixed with the beer as it exited the heat exchanger in the low-60s.  After the beer fermented for two days, half of it was moved into two wine barrels and a second-use apple brandy barrel.  Each barrels will be fed with either honey (wildflower, buckwheat) or jaggery (Indian palm sugar) as they continue to slowly ferment.  When the beer is ready Nathan and I are planning to go back to assist with blending/bottling.  The plan for that isn't set; the clean beer might be served on tap, the barrels could be bottled separately, or blended together depending on how they taste.

Nathan and I brought along a carboy and took home 5 gallons of the pitched wort.  We used the yeast cake and 2 gallons of the beer as a starter for our Golden Apple Brandy Solera, but that will have to be another post.

McKenzie's Dark Saison

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.25
Anticipated OG: 1.062
Anticipated SRM: 14.8
Anticipated IBU: 21.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 49 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

74.0% - 11.29 lbs. German Pilsener
10.6% - 1.61 lbs. Maris Otter
5.3% - 0.81 lbs. German Munich Malt
1.9% - 0.29 lbs. CaraMunich Malt
5.3% - 0.81 lbs. Pale Candi Sugar
2.9% - 0.44 lbs. D2 Candi Sugar Syrup

1.06 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellet 5.00% AA) @ 70 min.

White Labs WLP566 Belgian Saison II

Water Profile
Profile: Pennsylvania

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 150

12/18/10 Brewed at McKenzie's.

Our 5 gallons of wort received the dregs from a few McKenzie's beers we drank.

1/23/11 Racked 3 gallons to secondary (3 gallon glass carboy), the other 2 gallons and the yeast cake into the apple brandy barrel beer.  Still tastes clean, nice peppery character from the yeast.

1/25/11 Good timing on this post, I just heard that the clean version is on tap at McKenzie's!

10/15/11  Blended some, bottled the remaining 2 gallons with 1.5 oz of cane sugar. Has some oak character despite not having had any added.

4/5/12 A tasting, finally. Amazingly complex, apples, oak, lambic funk, malt. A beautiful beer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Smoked Rye Baltic Porter Tasting

A Baltic porter with some smoked malt and flaked rye was the last in my series of four beers with Wyeast's Kolsch strain. I drew inspiration from a alder wood smoked porter I brewed a couple years back, and a Scandinavian Imperial porter I brewed four years ago.

The plan was to brew something that had a big smoke character; the aroma is there but despite 6 lbs of Weyermann smoked malt the flavor isn't as strong as I was aiming for.  One of the big problems with using commercial smoked malt is that the flavor it imparts fades as it ages (and there is no easy way to know how fresh it is).  Now that I have a smoker, once the weather gets nicer, I'll find the time to put it to use on a few pounds of malt .


A Snifter of Smoked Rye Blatic Porter.Appearance – Deep brown, bordering on black. Held at a angle some amber light shines through. The big tan head exhibits good retention, lasting almost till the bottom of the glass. Nice looking porter.

Smell – Woodsy smoke, hints of bacon/sausage (but not nearly as strong as something like a Schlenkerla). There is a freshness to the aroma, it has a hint of herbal hops, and lacks those dark fruit flavors that I've come to expect in a big dark beer. Some dark chocolate comes through, but it isn't what I would call roasty.

Taste – Smooth mellow coffee/cocoa roast. No harsh or acrid roasted notes, the dehusked Carafa really did a nice job. The smoke seems less intense in the flavor than it was in the aroma. Sort of a bitter-sweet balance, it may not stay that way as it ages and the bitterness drops off (we'll see). The kolsch yeast did a good job keeping clean and out of the way, not as fruity as it was in the lower gravity beers.

Mouthfeel – Full body without being syrupy. The flaked rye really adds its character here. Moderate-low carbonation, just the way I like a big/dark beer.

Drinkability & Notes – For a relatively young (about 4 month old) high gravity beer it is nicely rounded and mellow. The smoke has come out more as the beer sat in the bottle for a couple months and cleaned up. It isn't as rich or complex as I expected, but that may come with a bit more age.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Putting Beer Marketing Before Flavor (Rant)

Short's Bloody Beer, DFH Liquor de Malt, and Bell's Batch 6000.I realize this blog primarily documents my homebrewing and fermentation exploits, but I’m also a passionate craft beer consumer. Craft beers often inspire me and gives me the chance to see how flavor combinations work before brewing a 5 gallon batch of something I won't enjoy. There are such a great variety of breweries out there that focus on different types of beer (which is terrific). It is great to live in a country where different breweries focus on German lagers, English ales, Belgians, sours, super hoppy beers, or create beers of their own styling.  Near the end of his life Michael Jaskson said, "The U.S. is the best place in the world to be a beer-drinker." I couldn't agree more.

There are however a couple of craft breweries that need to cut the crap and put the beer first rather than brewing beers based on a stupid gimmick (ingredient or process) or just a catchy name (that is what the Macros do best).  Beer should be about the sensory experience primarily, not the story. My problem isn't “extreme” beer,  there are plenty of crazy beers that I love: Sanctification, Canadian Breakfast Stout, Bon Chien, Abrasive… powerful, complex beers that still put flavor first.  Brewers should make decisions based on what is best for the beer, not the marketing.

The beer that prompted this post was Genesis 15:15 from He’Brew, a beer made with 15 malts, 15 hops, and fermented to 15% ABV (Edit: plus pomegranates, figs, dates and grapes...). To me it’s like a restaurant marketing their new meatball by saying it has 30 ingredients (but not what they are) and half your fat for the day.  Adding more malts and hops doesn’t lead to a more complex beer, it leads to a muddled mess unless you know exactly what you are doing. Bell’s took a similar approach with Batch 10,000 but added an additional 100 malts and 50 hops. On a certain level they get some credit for doing something so over the top (especially as an homage to homebrewer’s cabinet cleaning recipes) but I can’t imagine that they decided on that recipe because they thought it would make for the best tasting beer.

Dogfish Head is probably the poster child for this junk. Beers like Sah’tea, I imagine the thought process was something like: "Why don't we take a traditional Finnish style (Sahti) that is almost extinct, double the alcohol, and add tea masala because the name of the style sounds like tea…"  They built their reputation by tweaking beers with one weird ingredient or technique (Chicory Stout, 60 Minute etc…) it seems like now they are just brewing things that will either be cool to show on Brew Masters or get written up in the New York Times.

Short’s Brewing certainly deserves a mention as well, since this sort of garbage makes up half their portfolio. They do everything from Bloody Beer (all the flavors of a bloody Mary in beer form) to Key Lime (with limes, gram cracker, and marshmallow – I don’t even think there are marshmallows in key lime pie…). One of this year’s new releases is a cream ale with pistachios (Pistachio Crème Ale), does anyone think that sounds like something they want a case of?  The best beer I've had from them was barrel aged Sustenance (which was unintentionally sour).

This isn’t just an American problem (although we are the ones who started it). European breweries like Brew Dog (all those 30%+ ABV ice distilled beers), Mikkeller (1000 IBU, Black), not to mention some of the weird stuff exported from Italy/Belgium that they can't sell much of locally.  It seems like even more of a shock in Europe where there are centuries old breweries that haven't expanded their recipe portfolio beyond a handful of styles. 

I’m not saying that I haven’t had any good beers from these breweries, just that I tend to avoid them unless I’ve heard good things about a particular beer. I think recently there has been far too much buzz about one-offs, collaborations, weird ingredients, and market driven ideas. Brewing something new is a lot of fun, but making great beer takes refinement and fine tuning that it is impossible to get in special one-batch-only releases.  With so many great beers fighting for shelf space I can understand why cramming in yet another pale ale into the market won’t cut it, but many breweries would be served well by focusing on improving their core brands and seaonals rather than releasing zany one-offs.

There are some breweries that really seem to get it, Firestone Walker, Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin, Great Lakes, Surly, Cantillon, and Troegs (to name just a few). They experiment, but they do it the right way, experimenting quietly (either with a tasting room, or local keg/bottle releases) with flavor first beers that strive to be balanced and drinkable first and foremost. Their beers are not always great (although sometimes they are), but they are rarely bad, and all of them seem to be getting better and more consistent as time goes on. 

I think similar advice is valuable for homebrewers. You can try to brew some wild stuff if you want (and you should), but always focus on the flavor of the beer rather than using an interesting technique or ingredient for its own sake.  Brewing is a craft, it is about process, technique, ingredient selection, as well as experimentation and recipe design.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sour Brown - Barrel Day #3

Tim's peristaltic pump in action.After 10 months in our group's funky bourbon barrel, the flavor of the Stout Porter was getting close to where we had hopped.  The oak/booze character was much mellower than the Wee Heavy's (which got the first dip); gone are the big wood and coconut notes, replaced with more subtle tones of vanilla and spice.  The roast character is subdued as well, and with the gravity still at 1.014 it isn't too thin/dry (which was my biggest concern at the outset).

With our old pump man (Noah) moved to Colorado, Tim brought his new (used) peristaltic pump.  It has a few advantages compared to the homebrewer "standard" March pump.  A peristaltic pump does not need to be primed, and it does not touch the beer (other than the special $5/foot tubing it requires).  The tubing can't handle high temperatures though, so it wouldn't work for moving wort around in the brewhouse.  AJ used a similar pump in his lab when I was visiting him to analyze the alcohol content of an ice concentrated beer.

We bottled the porter with 120 g of corn sugar for each five gallons of beer (actually it was for every 41 lbs of beer since we were using a high capacity scale to measure it).  That amount of sugar should get the beer to 2.0-2.2 volumes of CO2.  Carbonation on the low side seemed like a good idea for such a rich, complex beer.  We also added a total of 10 g of rehydrated Champagne yeast for the 40 gallons of bottled beer to ensure rapid carbonation.

Several hundred, cleaned and sanitized bottles.For the most part we used standard cap-able 12 and 22 oz bottles, but we gave the corker a workout with enough 750s to give one to everyone.  I also had a few 375 ml bottles I'd saved from old Lost Abbey and Russian River beers that I saved for myself.  Instead of using the Champagne corks that Nathan and I had used a few times in the past we went with Belgian corks that seemed like a better fit for the bottles.

Those old 375s RR and LA used are probably my favorite bottles.

I racked half of my share onto 2 lbs of sour cherries I had purchased at the farmers market, and frozen, last summer.  Nathan racked 4.5 gallons of his double share onto 4 lbs of Cabernet grapes.  The combination of dark fruit, roast, and sour should make for some very intense and interesting beers.  Bullfrog Brewing had a similar combination in their Black Cherry Bomb (which I've heard good things about, but haven't gotten a chance to try).

Lots of yeast gunk still coming out on the third rinse.With all of the porter racked out we decided to give the barrel a rinse before filling it back up for a third time.  After two years filled with beer there was a considerable amount of trub/yeast at the bottom and stuck to the sides of the barrel.  This buildup could lead to off-flavors (from autolysis), and might also block the small amount of oxygen that usually diffuses into the beer through the wood.

Many sour beer breweries put their barrels though intense procedures to clean them; Cantillon agitates barrels filled with hot water and pointed chains to remove any beerstone; Rodenbach manually scrapes their large oak tuns every couple batches to expose fresh wood.  We didn't want to kill the microbes since they had done such a great job on the first two beers, so the water we used was only 150 degrees (the microbes can be a quarter inch into the wood so some should have survived).

The recipe for the third beer into the barrel was based on the one we used for the Wee Heavy, just dialed down to a lower original gravity.  Again we used Tim's pump to help move the beer from the carboys, kegs, and buckets to the fermenter along with an auto-siphon.  One gallon of leftover porter was pitched back into the barrel to ensure some microbes were ready to work.

Barrel Sour Brown

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.30
Total Grain (Lbs): 31.50
Anticipated OG: 1.069
Anticipated SRM: 22.8
Anticipated IBU: 11.6
Brewhouse Efficiency: 62 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Mashing my 10 gallons of brown for the bourbon barrel.Grain
79.4% - 25.00 lbs. Maris Otter
12.7% - 4.00 lbs. Dark Munich Malt
3.2% - 1.00 lbs. Crystal 90L
3.2% - 1.00 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
1.6% - 0.50 lbs. Chocolate Malt


1.00 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 7.00% AA) @ 45 min.

Safale US-05 Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 155

Brewed 12/20/10 by myself

Subbed in 2 oz of light roasted barley for 2 oz of the chocolate malt.

No water treatment.

Batch sparged with 4 gallons of 190 F water. Collected 8 gallons of 1.080 wort, plus one gallon of weaker second runnings. Mixed two gallons of water into the second runnings since I didn't get as much wort as I had expected. Brought both portions to a boil.

Yeast cake from Second Runnings Pale Ale pitched.

1/15/11 Racked to the barrel after rinsing it out with hot water to remove the crud.  Filled nearly to the top, not expecting an aggressive fermentation since all of the beer had been fermented out.

3/25/12 Bottled, aiming for medium-low carbonation with wine yeast. Racked one of my shares (~4.5 gallons) onto about two pounds of previously frozen sour cherries I picked up at the farmer's market last summer.

8/30/12 Bottled the portion that was on cherries with 2 5/8 oz of table sugar and 2 oz of medium density Brett Brux Trois slurry.

10/25/12 Tasting notes on the clean version. Couldn't be happier with this one, bright fruity, malty, wonderfully rounded.

10/23/13 Tasting notes on the cherry portion. It is as good as the plain version, but with the fruitiness of the fresh sour cherries adding their own character (while lightening the malt and barrel characters).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brett Brux Belgian Pale Tasting

One of the most important factors in making good sour/funky beers is using the right bugs (they are the ones doing the hard work after all).  I've slowly been trying to figure out which microbes impart characters I enjoy the most. The session Belgian pale that I brewed with my friend Pete last summer was my first beer with White Lab's Brett bruxellensis (a sister to the strain used in Orval).  It is supposed to impart a complex "classic" funk (the sort of leathery-horse-blanket-funk people imagine when they think of Brett), but I assumed it would be restrained (mellow even) in a low gravity (1.042) beer mashed at 147 (for high fermentability), boy was I wrong.

Brett Finish Belgian Pale

Yes that is a Curb Your Enthusiasm reference, with some poor spelling...Appearance – Pours from the tap with an attractive golden hue. Slightly hazy, but much clearer than it was when it was tapped. The head pours short, but it sticks around and clings nicely to the sides of the glass.

Smell – Big aggressive aspriny/yeasty/horsey funk. Slight toasty malt backbone. Not much else going on.

Taste – Complex funk, farmyard, hay, hints of fruit, minerals, slight urinal. Toasty/yeasty finish (the Vienna malt comes through nicely). The finish is pretty dry, but it isn't grating. Slight hop bitterness, but not much other Saaz hop character left (I was originally planning on drinking it fresher, but I kept waiting for the funk to get to a happier place).

Mouthfeel – Light body but it avoids being watery or tannic. Moderate carbonation.  About right for a borderline table strength beer.

Drinkability & Notes – Should have been a refreshing beer, but the aggressive funk gets in the way. Seems like a solid recipe, I think the issue may just be the strain of Brett Brux. I've used it on a few other beers and don't really love any of them. I might have to dump my culture and give the Wyeast version a shot in a few beers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bohemian Ale (Czech Pilsner Fail)

Distilled water, water salts, and pH paper.I've written in the past about batches of beer that failed to turn out well due to poor recipe design, and microbial invaders, but those aren't the only ways to screw up a batch...

For a few months I'd been thinking about brewing a traditional Czech/Bohemian Pilsner.  I ordered Saaz hops and Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt (although I didn't get my hands on their traditionally floor malted stuff) the only two ingredients needed for the clean/pale/spicy beer style.  I spent considerable effort researching/calculating water adjustments (to soften my water I cut it with distilled) and a decoction mash schedule (I attempted the Hochkurz Double Decoction).

Five days in advance I made a big yeast starter with a smack pack from Wyeast, it took three days to get going and when it did it looked/smelled a bit off.  No problem, I ran out to the homebrew store the day before I wanted to brew to pick up two fresh vials of lager yeast from White Labs.  I made a new starter, but 24 hours later it wasn't showing much activity when I pitched it into the 50 degree wort; at that point I wasn't too worried.  Two days later with no drop in gravity or pH I decided to cut my losses and pitched a packet of clean ale yeast.

You can see all the protein goo after I finished running off the mash.I'm still expecting this to be a drinkable beer, but it won't be quite as clean/crisp as I was anticipating.  Lesson learned, I'll keep a dry yeast on hand that can sub in for whatever I'm brewing (American, English, Belgian, Wheat, Lager etc...).

Bohemian Fail

 Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.00
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated SRM: 4.2
Anticipated IBU: 44.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 105 Minutes

100.0% - 10.00 lbs. German Pilsener

1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ First Wort
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 75 min.
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 23 min.
1.25 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 10 min.

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 17 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 17 min.

Safale US-05

Water Profile
Profile: Pilsen

Mash Schedule
Protein Rest 15 min @ 127 (Infusion)
Sacch I 45 min @ 144 Infuse (Infusion)
Sacch II 20 min @ 150 (Decoction)
Sacch III 30 min @ 158 (Infusion)
Mash Out 15 min @ 169 (Decoction)

12/1/10 Made a 2.5 qrt starter with a ~3 month old smack pack. No activity after 24 hours. Starter never really took off.

12/4/10 Made another starter with tubes of WLP800 Pilsner Lager Yeast and WLP802 Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast. ~2 qrts, put in fridge at 46.

12/5/10 Heated up 2.5 gallons of distilled with 2 gallons filtered DC tap. Added 1 g each CaCl and CaSO4 to the strike and sparge water.

Weyermann Bohemian Pils, I believe it is the non-floor malted type.

First decoction did not raise the temp as much as expected, only 150 instead of 158.  Added boiling water to get it the rest of the way.

Batch sparged with 174 degree water. Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.046 wort.

Year old 4% AA hops adjusted down.

3.5 gallons into the fermenter at 57 degrees. Put into fridge at 47.

Topped off with 1 gallon of chilled spring water and the starter to make 5 gallons. Starter looked less than active, but it seemed to be producing a small amount of CO2. Shook to aearate. Left at 48 ambient to get fermenting.

No activity after 48 hours, shook several times and upped temp to 55.

12/7/10 Gravity and pH stable. Pitched a pack of rehydrated US-05.

Good fermentation within 24 hours. Upped ambient temp to ~60.

12/19/10 Fermentation appears finished, most of yeast flocced out. Racked to a keg, dropped temp to 45, then 24 hours later to 35 to lager.

12/28/30 Sample was a bit buttery, so I pulled it out of the fridge and roused the yeast once a day for a few days.  Four days later the diacetyl was gone.

1/10/11 Back into the fridge until a tap frees up.

1/13/11 Put on gas to carbonate at ~20 PSI.

2/9/11 Turned out pretty well despite the fermentation fail.  Next time around (beside active lager yeast) I'm planning on switching the malt to the floor malted variety, and adding an addition ounce of Saaz at the end of the boil.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

East Coast Yeast Bugs

On our drive up to Boston today Audrey and I stopped to buy a handful of the first few commercial releases from Al Buck's East Coast Yeast lab at Princeton Homebrew in Trenton (the only place they are currently available).  Before this venture Al had been putting his considerable microbiological talents to isolating brewing microbes, giving away Bugfarms (custom blends of those microbes, we used III in our wine barrel solera), and winning homebrew contests.  His sour blends have always been balanced for more aggressive sourness and funk than the Wyeast and White Labs blends, so dregs aren't necessary.

Four East Coast Yeast VialsI picked up four of the strains/blends:

Bugfarm IV - A large complex blend of cultures to emulate sour beers such as lambic style ales. Over time displays a citrus sourness and large barnyard profile. Contains yeast (S. cerevisiae and S. fermentati), several Brettanomyces strains, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. The BugFarm blend changes every year and can be added at any stage of fermentation. Now producing Bugfarm 4 (includes a newcomer – Brettanomyces custersianus).

Brett Blend #1 - Three individual Brettanomyces isolates from lambic producers combined to give an aggressive brett presence in any beer. Vigorous, funky and acid-tolerant, the blend can be added at any stage of fermentation and is excellent for priming or re-yeasting.

Saison Brasserie Blend - A combination of several Saison yeasts for both fruity and spicy characteristics accompianied with dryness. Apparent Attenuation: up to 80%. Suggested fermentation temp: 75-85° F.

Scottish Heavy - Leaves a fruity profile with woody, oak esters reminiscent of malt whiskey. Well suited for 90/shilling or heavier ales including old ales and barleywines due to level of attenuation (77-80%). Suggested fermentation temp: 60-68°F.

I'm planning on using the Bugfarm for our second solera (a strongish golden ale that Nathan and I will be aging in our new apple brandy barrel).  The Saison blend and the Brett blend will be combined into a slightly strong rye saison.  I was hoping to use the Farmhouse Brett (the Saison blend plus a Brett), but it was sold out.  Finally the Scottish Heavy will go into a Scottish stout (followed by some sort of heather gruit).

Princeton Homebrew also had the Old Newark (the actual Ballantine strain) and the Trappist (I suspect one of the fabled Brewtek strains), but I didn't want to overbuy. The Princeton Homebrew website doesn't allow online orders, but you can arrange for Joe to ship you the East Coast Yeasts if you send him an email (joe at  The Bugfarm is $10, the rest are $8 (shipping is $8 uninsulated, or $15 insulated/iced), supplies are very limited.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Smoked Double Secret Probation Tasting

With a sizable backlog of cellared beers to sample, I thought I'd knock another one off the list by revisiting my Rauch Doppelsticke (literally Smoked Double Secret).  If you'd remember back to the summer of 2009, this beer was originally slated to be the second beer into our bourbon barrel, but after the Wee Heavy started to sour I just bottled it straight.  In a week we are going to bottle the second beer from that barrel (a porterish stout) so it seemed like another good time to revisit this one.

Double Secret Probation

Smoked Doppelstick in my Aecht Schlenkerla tulip.Appearance – Nearly opaque dark brown, but it has a luminous ruby glow when held to the light. Pours with two-finger-creamy-tan head that sinks slowly over a few minutes trailing a spotty lacing.

Smell – Good balance of rich “German” maltiness and subtle smokey complexities. The malt is a bit crackery, fresh, grainy.

Taste – Woodsy smoked malt start, but not to the level of being bacony or meaty. There is some dark fruit (raisin) complementing the bready malt. Just a hint of alcohol in the finish along with a touch of full city roast coffee. Slight lingering bitterness balances the moderate malt sweetness. Still tastes pretty fresh, no oxidation character (unless that's what the raisin is...).

Mouthfeel – Medium body, not too full/thick like many big German beers (thanks to close to 80% apparent attenuation). The carbonation is medium-low, just about right for a complex ale like this.

Drinkability & Notes – A complex yet drinkable beer as is, but it would have been great with a bit of oak/vanilla from a few months in a bourbon barrel. I love the flavor possibilities of big lagers, but they are often so sweet that the balance and drinkability of their smaller siblings is completely lost.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is the toughest type of beer to brew?

Clean (Pale lagers, Kolsch) - 39%
Sours (Lambic, Flanders Red) -  27%
High gravity (Anything 1.100+) -  12%
Yeast driven (Hefeweizen, Saison) - 5%
Hop bombs (American IPA/DIPA) - 4%
Non-Reihentsgabot (Fruit, spice, or herb laced) - 4%
Malt driven (Milds, Dunkle) - 2%
Other - 2%

I won't say that the results from this one surprise me, but for once I'm with the dissent.  With my brewing it's been the malt driven beers have always given me more problems than either sours or clean/pale beers.  Getting just the right balance of malty flavors in a session gravity beer (neither bland nor obnoxious) is something I have yet to consistently master.  Most other styles have something to camouflage their flaws (alcohol, hops, yeast, sourness etc...) but styles like English mild and dunkel have a clean/fresh malt character and not much else.

The "clean" lagers/ales are a similar category, but for whatever reason I've had better luck with my batches of  Kolsh/Helles etc... maybe because they are so bland I keep my recipes simpler.  Up until a year a go I probably would have rated hop driven beers as one of my biggest challenges, but since starting to keg those sort of beers have improved substantially. Non-Reihentsgabot beers also deserve a mention since they require not only a solid base beer but also layered complexity of adding a unique ingredient (especially when the ingredient(s) stray away than the handful of common fruits/spices historically used in brewing). 

Anyone have a particular style/flavor that has been their white whale, something you've tried repeatedly to brew without ever really being happy with the results?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Second Runnings American Bitter Recipe

There is so much toil that goes into to turning sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into sugar (i.e. growing/malting/kilning/mashing the barley) that it seems like such a waste to brew a big beer and then just throw away the still sweet mash.  To avoid squandering these free fermentables (after extracting the first runnings) I added sparge water and capped the Pliny the Younger clone mash with a bit of Cara 20 and Special Roast (for a bit more body and malt character) and ran off five more gallons of wort.

A big bowl of C hops.The gravity of the runnings pre-boil was only in the mid-1.030's so I decided to use a light hand with the hop additions... just kidding I blasted the wort with big American hops, including a couple ounces each of pungent Citra and Chinook at the end of the boil. I though the two hops would provide complementary characters with the Citra's big tropical/citrus nose and the Chinook's cattier/resiny hop punch.

The fun with this batch will really start when I serve it, gravity-cask style.  I shortened and bent the dip tube on the corny keg so that it draws beer from closer to the side (when the keg is lying on its side this will be the bottom).  I'll lay the keg down with the out post at 6 o'clock and connect a picnic tap.  To the in post I'll attach a gas corrector without tubing to allow air into the headspace to displace the dispensed beer.

The cask should be a fun (and less alcoholic) addition to a Pliny tapping party in a month or so. I'm carbonating the beer with an addition of sugar rather than force carbonating (to stay true to tradition), but I still flushed the keg with CO2 before and after filling to minimize oxidation.  I won't add the dry/cask hops until a couple weeks before tapping to ensure they impart the freshest aroma possible.

Second Runnings Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 26.69
Anticipated OG: 1.041
Anticipated SRM: 10.5
Anticipated IBU: 40.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 17 % (65% including first runnings)
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

93.7% - 25.00 lbs. American 2-row
3.5% - 0.94 lbs. CaraPils
1.4% - 0.38 lbs. Crystal 20L
1.4% - 0.38 lbs. Special Roast

0.50 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 13.00% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) Cask Hop
2.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 13.00% AA) Cask Hop

0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient Other 15 min.(boil)
0.50 Whirlfloc Fining 15 min.(boil)

Safale US-05 Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

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

Brewed 12/19/10

After the first runnings were drained for Pliny the Younger, I added 6 gallons of 160 degree water (with 5 g of gypsum).  Drained 1 gallon for Pliny then added 6 oz each Belgian cara 20 and special roast to the mash.

Let sit for ~60 min before running off. Collected 5 gallons of 1.034 wort Half flameout hops added at flameout, half after the chill started.

Chilled to 66, pitched onto ~1/2 of the yeast cake from the pils ale. Shook to aerate. Left at 63 ambient to start fermentation. Good fermentation after 24 hours, moved to ~59 ambient.

12/21/10 Measured fermentation temp at 68.

12/28/10 Down to 1.010, 75% AA, 4% ABV.  Right on target.  Krausen down, but I'll give it a few more days at 64 to ensure the fermentation is complete before racking.

12/30/10  Purged a keg with a shortened dip tube.  Racked the 3.5 gallons of beer into the keg with 3 oz of sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water.  Flushed headspace, pressurized.  Left at 62 to naturally carbonate for a few weeks before dry hopping.  Might be a bit over carbonated, but I figure I'll lose some when I dry hop.

1/26/11 Added dry hops.  Purged headspace, left at ambient ~60 F.

2/24/11 Hugely complex hop character, and the cask serving worked really well.