Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jasmine-Hibiscus Summer Ale Tasting

This batch started out as the second half of the same base beer that produced the Heather Gruit; the only difference between the two was that they had different flowers added at bottling.  It is amazing how much impact the flowers have on the entire character of the beer, from the appearance to the flavor. 

Hibiscus is an interesting flower (sepal technically, i.e the part of the flower that isn't the petal), widely used in beverages around the equator. The most notable characteristic is the bright red color the dried flowers impart to whatever liquid they are steeped in. The flavor of hibiscus is tart and cranberry like, making it an interesting addition to either a refreshing summer beer, or a holiday beer.

The aroma from jasmine flowers are most often imparted to green tea before brewing (although I've also seen them included in with the tea leaves).  The volatile compounds are very delicate so adding jasmine as late as possible in the brewing process is a good idea.

I'm really happy with how this one turned out, but the light/fruity flavor is hard to fully appreciate while the weather is so dreary.

The addition of hibiscus makes for a striking summer ale.Jasmine-Hibiscus Summer Ale

Appearance – Talk about a red ale! (Although if pushed I'd have to call it more pink than red). Almost clear, with a slight haze that will hopefully drop out with a bit more age. The head is tight/white and hangs around for a couple minutes.

Smell – Tart berry aroma with some floral aspects. The jasmine comes off slightly soapy, but the fruity hibiscus takes the lead. There isn't much of the yeast or malt character I smelled in the heather/lavender half of the batch.

Taste – Smooth and mild with a slight tartness that is only marginally stronger than the other half of the batch. This one tastes cleaner as well, it makes me wonder how much of that rustic character was the yeast and how much was the heather. Light cranberry flavor makes it really quenching. Subtle bready malt lets you know it isn't a “malt” beverage.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body with moderate carbonation. This one could use a bit more carbonation; spritzy complements a light/crisp beer like this.

Drinkability & Notes – This will be a great summer beer (not that I'm looking forward to the hot season here in DC). The lack of bitterness makes this something that can be drank quickly, while the flowers and slight tartness keep it balanced.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heather Ale Tasting

A few years ago Sam Adams ran a commercial that said,"Hops are to beer what grapes are to wine."  well obviously that isn't true, but hops and beer are certainly synonyms.  That hasn't always been the case though, 500 years ago brewers added lots of other herbs and spices that provided counterpoint to the malt sweetness of beer.  One example of that practice was the people of Scotland, who harvested heather flowers (tips) to add to their beers.

My first attempt at a heather ale turned out well, with a nice balance despite the lack of hop bitterness.  I've been told that heather (especially the stems) can be boiled to extract some bitterness, but I decided to steep the flowers in hot water to just extract the aromatics.  The balance comes from some acidity provided by Lactobacillus and tannins from a small amount of oak cubes added to the primary fermentation.  I was hoping for a bit more lactic sourness, but hopefully that will come with more time in the bottle.

Heather ale, a homebrewed gruit.Last week this batch took 4th place (out of 16 beers) in the DC Homebrewers Cherry Blossom competition.  Oddly that was the same spot my Honey Wheat Flower Sour landed last year.

Heather Gruit

Appearance – Hazy pale-amber beer (looks the part of a historic ale, a bit darker than I expected for just Maris Otter and wheat malt). The head is white and has decent retention despite the lack of hops.

Smell – Floral, meadow, a bit yeasty. The heather aromatics are at about the right level for me, although I think it may improve as they soften and integrate into the aroma over the next few months.

Taste – The heather permeates the flavor mingling with the earthy yeastiness and grainy malt. The lactic acid provides a slight lemony tartness, but it really isn't sour at all. It has a great fresh quality to it that goes perfectly with spring. No bitterness, but it doesn't taste sweet or unbalanced.

Mouthfeel – Moderate body with a slight tannic roughness. The carbonation is medium-low, which goes well with the historic quality of the beer.

Drinkability & Notes – I tend to like gruits with a few years of age on them, but this one has a mellow enough herbal character that it is drinkable just a few weeks after bottling. A nice complex, weird session beer. It will be interesting to see how this one changes as it ages.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Adding Flowers to a Gruit

Heather tea, took a lot to provide the flavor I wanted.About a month ago I posted the recipe for the base gruit I brewed.  It was a simple recipe, unhopped (obviously) but also without any of the other botanicals you'd expect in a gruit.  I should say that I'm using gruit in the generic sense to mean a beer flavored with something besides hops, and not necessarily the classic combination of bog myrtle, yarrow, and wild rosemary. A few weeks later when the beer had fermented out and was ready to bottle I spent a few hours making teas by steeping the various flowers, as well as tasting, blending, and bottling.

Lavender tea, color almost looks fake.The base beer was alright on its own, but a bit bland.  The Lactobacillus didn't add as much sourness as I was hoping for (especially considering there weren't any hops to inhibit it), but it did add a touch of acidity that helped balance the residual malt sweetness.  Similarly I couldn't taste the oak, but I suspect the tannins it added helped cut through the malt.  The Scottish Heavy yeast strain was pretty clean, but it did leave some earthy/rustic character that really made the beer taste more "historic."

To make the flower teas I used my French press.  With its built in filter it was a good choice, although it was a bit small for the amount of heather I used.  For all of the floral teas I used filtered water right off the boil, with a steep time of about 5 minutes.  Boiling did not seem to extract more desirable compounds than steeping, but that may not hold true if you are using other botanicals (flowers tend to have more delicate aromatics than barks or roots).

Hibiscus tea, the color of the finished beer wasn't that dark (but it is still eye-catching.)After smelling all of the teas I decided to pair heather with lavender for half of the batch.  Heather has a nice hay/meadow aroma and was used in many Scottish beers before hops displaced it.  The place I ordered from sells just the flowers (as opposed to the type sold at homebrew store that still has the stems attached).  It still took two ounces of heather steeped with enough water to extract 2.5 cups of tea.  Lavender is more potent (think potpourri or soap).  I had read that culinary lavender tends to have a more food friendly aroma, but I could only find English lavender (although that is one of the flowers Southampton uses in their excellent Cuvee des Fleurs).  I used just one tablespoon in half a cup of water, and then I only added two tablespoons of the resulting tea.

Jasmine tea, without the tea.For the second half of the batch I wanted to do something a bit more unique. I decided to combine hibiscus and jasmine flowers. Hibiscus is a traditional flavoring in Mexican sweetened waters (agua de Jamaica) and can often be found in a local market.  It has a great fruity, tart, cranberry flavor and imparts a beautiful garnet color (Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel uses it to great effect in Rosée D'hibiscus).  Jasmine has a very delicate floral aroma that is most often used in teas (Avatar IPA from Elysian Brewing Company uses it as well).  I used one ounce of each of these flowers, steeped separately with enough water to get 1.5 cups of extract.

After testing measured amounts of each of the teas on samples of beer I scaled up the ratios.  At that point I only added about 2/3 of the projected amount, giving me room to taste and adjust the blend.  In the end I left the flavors of both blends a little short of the where I wanted, counting on the carbonation in the finished beer to boost the aromas.  If I had been more ambitious I could have used my carb cap to carbonate samples before bottling.  I think this was a great way to take some control using ingredients that were new to me (and that don't have a commonly used amount).  Later this week I'll post reviews for both halves of this batch.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lambic/Gueuze Tasting - Almost There

Over the last five years I've become pretty adept at making sour beers, but a great homebrewed Lambic has always eluded me.  My first batch was one of the worst beers I've ever brewed, and the second (while drinkable) wasn't that close to the style.  In a couple weeks I'll be brewing my fifth Lambic (and the first to be spontaneously fermented... I hope), so it seemed like a good time to check in on my third attempt.

The beer I have in front of me was brewed nearly two years ago.  That sunny June day in Massachusetts was my first time executing a turbid mash (my first two shots at the style used the WYeast Lambic cereal mash).  The results were well worth the extra effort, the overall character of the beer is much closer to the commercial versions of the style than my previous batches were (although it is still a bit light on the acid).  The turbid mash provides more complex dextrins and starches that the Brettanomyces needs for its long, slow fermentation.

This beer received a long boil (more than five hours) with low alpha acid hops (historically some Lambics were brewed with 50% aged hops and 50% fresh low AA% varieties, before those varieties were displaced by high AA% cultivars).  I aged the beer on the primary yeast cake for 15 months before bottling (two gallons of this batch are still sitting on Cabernet grapes in secondary).

It's no Isabelle Proximus, but it is my best Lambic to date.Lambic Mark III

Appearance – The beer starts foaming as soon as the cap is removed. Pours a cloudy golden-yellow. The carbonation is strong enough that it stirred up the sediment making the beer hazier in the glass than it was in the bottle. The head is composed of coarse white bubbles; moderate-low retention despite the strong carbonation.

Smell – It has that great classic “Lambic” nose: funk (farmyard, damp basement), fresh lemon/grapefruit rind, minerals, and a bit of wheat. As it warms there is a slightly cheesy aroma that surfaces (in a good way). The Brett strains did their job admirably.

Taste – The flavor has a lot of the same complexities as the nose, especially the grapefruit pith and farmyard Brett. The acidity is soft and mellow (like fresh squeezed orange juice). The sourness is approximately 1.5 notches short of where I'd like it to be, but in reality it isn't too far away from the gentler vintages of Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze.

Mouthfeel – Light and spritzy, really nice. Luckily the mouthfeel does not come off as tannic despite the hot sparge (the long boil and aging supposedly help to prevent that).

Drinkability & Notes – I'm really happy with how this batch turned out. It certainly would have been a good candidate for blending with a sourer sour, but I didn't want to dilute that great funky nose. I just sent a bottle of it to the National Homebrew Contest (Tennessee region), although I added a few drops of food grade lactic acid to get it more on target with the style guideline.

I decided to drink the beer out of the Lost Abbey glass that my Heather Gruit won for me a few days ago in a local competition (although really it's just a filmy pretext to mention that if you haven't read Tomme Arthur vs The World it is the funniest web comic I've seen outside of an xkcd in awhile).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making a German White Wine

The box came with all of the ingredients, and even served to hold the bag of must while pouring.I've spent the last few years making alcoholic beverages out of a lot of different things at home (grains, sugars, fruits etc...).  Mostly beer, but I've also dabbled in mead, sake, ginger beer, and kombucha as well.  Wine is the only major class of undistilled alcohol I'm missing (although I've added wine grapes to a couple beers).  It probably took so long because I really don't drink wine more than once a month, and then only because someone else buys it or I open a bottle to cook with.  It's not that I don't enjoy it, I just enjoy beer much more (and great beers cost the same as cheap wine)

A year ago I read From Vines to Wines a book on making wine from grapes, but for my first batch I decided to go as fool-proof as possible by using a kit. Making a kit wine is about as simple as you can get, the juice has already been separated from the grapes, and the acidity and gravity of the grape juice (must) has already been adjusted.  Similar to mead making, adjusting these variables before fermentation is important because they allow for a healthy and complete fermentation (unlike brewing where the correct mash pH and the buffering power of the malt keep the pH in a healthy range for the yeast).

White wine before the start of fermentation.The WinExpert (Selection Original Liebfraumilch) kit I used suggested dissolving potassium sulfite (campden tablets) in warm water for sanitizing equipment, but after the first stage I switched to my usual Star-San.  Sanitation seems to be less of an emphasis in wine making, probably because you end up adding stabilizing chemicals to the wine which kill Brettanomyces and other spoilage microbes.

"Brew" day is easy, the kit I bought called for diluting the concentrated must with water, stirring vigorously to dissolve oxygen, and pitching the dried wine yeast.  One of the fining agents, bentonite, is hydrated in warm water and added to the must at this point as well.  I decided to rehydrate the yeast (Premier Cuvee) in warm water to give them a healthier start even though the kit didn't call for it.  It is important to note that six gallons seems to be the standard for home wine kits, so if you go that route you'll have more must than can comfortably ferment in a 6 or 6.5 gallon carboy (I bought a 7.9 gallon bucket).

Weird looking krausen, the low protein prevents it from growing as much as it goes on some beers.Fermentation started quickly and was bubbling rapidly after fewer than 24 hours.  Unlike wort, the must contains mostly simple mono- or disaccharides that the yeast make quick work of.  Just like beer the wine yeast have different suggested fermentation temperature ranges, white wine strains tend to be cooler while reds are fermented hotter (the ambient temperature for my batch was in the low-60s).  There was a great interview with Shea Comfort on the Sunday Session where he discusses the complementary fruity flavors that wine yeast can produce (I've been thinking of brewing a Flanders Red with BM45 since I listened to it).

After fermentation calmed down, but before the attenuation was complete, I racked the wine to a keg.  This seemed like the best option because I could flush the keg with CO2 so the amount of head space wasn't important.  I took the extra wine that didn't fit in the keg and used it to make white wine vinegar.

All of the chemicals that went into making this wine did bother me a bit.In a few more weeks the wine was completely attenuated and read to stabilize.  Unlike beer, which is protected by hops, wine is almost always guarded by sulfite and/or sorbate.  My kit came with these as well as another fining, isinglass (purified collagen extracted from fish bladders, which is also used to clear some English cask ales).  This is also the point that the wine is back sweetened, this is much easier to control than attempting to arrest fermentation at the right level of sweetness.  Being a German white the kit came with a large "F-Pack" of sweetened must (that tasted a bit riasiny), after adding about half of it a sample told me that it was sweet enough for my tastes.

The instructions called for me to rack the wine again a few weeks later before bottling, but I didn't get around to it.  At this point I'm a bit late to bottling, but it has taken longer than I intended to round up the 30 delabeled wine bottles, corks, and corker required to give it the "proper" treatment.  My initial plan was to just bottle/cap in bombers, but I decided to go that extra mile.

The samples of the wine have been good so far, nice tropical fruit aromatics, clean, and crisp.  The sweetness is subtle, chilled it should be a good summertime wine.  It certainly has been an interesting process, but I feel more like I've put together a bookshelf from Ikea than actually created something of my own.  Even brewing a kit extract beer feels like you are more involved (steeping, boiling, hopping etc...).  Making great wine is more about what leads to making the must (growing conditions, harvesting, crushing) than what the wine maker does during fermentation.  One of the things I love about brewing beer is that I can buy the same ingredients as the best breweries in the world.

WinExpert Selection Original Liebfraumilch

1/16/11 Sanitized with Campden tablets, 24 g in 1/2 gallon.

Microwaved 1/2 gallon of filter water for 4 minutes, added to primary with the packet of Bentonite.

Mixed in the concentrated must. Topped off with cool filtered water to 6 gallons. Stirred vigerously for a couple minutes. OG 1.088.

Hydrated the Premier Cuvee yeast and pitched. Low to mid-60s ambient temp.  Strong fermentation by the next day.

1/28/11 Racked to a keg for secondary. A bit late, was supposed to rack at 1.010 it was down to 1.004.

2/10/11 Gravity down to .998 (just under 12% ABV), just what is supposed to be. Added sulfite and sorbate and stirred vigorously. Added about half of the "F pack" since it was extremely sweet and tasted a bit raisiny. Added the Isinglass and stirred again, no CO2 coming out of solution by the end. Topped off with CO2 and resealed to allow to settle/clear.

3/27/11 Bottled, yielded 25 corked 750s.  Easy since there was no priming or racking needed, wine looked crystal clear.  Last two bottles got a a bit of air in the line, so i stuck them in the fridge for early samples.  I was a few weeks late on bottling, but the wine seemed to be fine.

4/27/11 A month out from bottling it is clear, clean, and plenty fruity.  I wish it wasn't quite so sweet, despite the 1.004 finishing gravity (the simple sugars kill me).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Berliner Weisse Tasting

At nearly 11 months since brewing I'm a bit behind on the first tasting of my most recent Berliner Weisse.  This batch was brewed to a slightly higher gravity (1.045) than a traditional Berliner Weisse, but the half I'm tasting here was diluted to a more standard 1.033.  The stronger portion of the batch is still sitting in secondary with various microbes and some oak cubes.  This probably would have been the better post to link to my Berliner tasting/interview with BBR

Berliner Weisse is still an underserved style, even though it is pretty easy to brew compared to other sour styles.  My version has a bit more acidity and funk than most of the commercial versions I've sampled, but it has always gone over well at competitions (and more importantly I like it).  I'm hoping I have similar results in a few weeks at the 2011 NHC first round (I'm sending to Nashville, TN).  Is anybody else sending beers there? I'm entering categories 17a, 17b, 17e, 22b, 22c, and 23.

Berliner Weisse 3

Wish my Berliner Weisse was a bit clearer, but that will come with more time.
Appearance – The carbonation is strong enough that the bottle starts foaming up when I crack it open, not surprising with 3.6+ volumes of CO2. Pale (Budweiser) yellow with a slight haze even at cellar temps. The swirling bubbles keep the stark white head inflated.

Smell – Tart apples, slightly musty, and floral. A bit cleaner than my last Berliner, but still has plenty of aromatic complexity.

Taste – The acidity comes through as the dominant character on the first sip, tart up front and acidic in the finish. The wheaty/doughy malt comes across as a bit sweet despite how dry the beer is.

Mouthfeel – The high carbonation helps to prevent it from feeling too thin (not tannic or astringent), crisp is probably the right word.

Drinkability & Notes – Really drinkable if you like sour. I'm really happy with how this one turned out. I think Berliner Weisse is the first style that I've dialed to the point that there isn't anything I would change on my next batch.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Maintaining Brett and Lacto Cultures

Brewing sour beer can get expensive with things like oak barrels, a second set of gear, and fruit. I think it is worth spending the extra money for anything that will improve the quality of the beer (especially when you consider how much top-shelf commercial sours can cost), but there are some areas where saving a few bucks doesn't mean sacrificing anything. One of those areas is maintaining your own microbial cultures, which not only saves money but also adds convenience and allows spontaneity when brewing sours.

Maintaining cultures is only something I would suggest if you brew sours regularly and know which strains have the right flavor contribution and fermentation characters for you. If you are just starting out brewing sour beers I’d suggest experimenting with different strains and seeing which ones work for your palate and brewing style before choosing which ones to maintain.

If you want to keep cultures on slants or streaked on agar plates that is an option. This method has never appealed to me because it takes special equipment (although not much) and time to build a culture back up to a pitchable quantity. If this is something you are interested in then I would suggest picking up a copy of Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White. Even if you want to follow my “lazy” method, it might also be worth keeping plates so that you can start over with a known culture if the microbes in a starter die or mutate.

My two microbe starters, Brett B and Lacto.There are two options for keeping pitchable microbe starters on hand, you can either opt to propagate the individual strains separately or as a single mixed culture. Individual strains can be easier to maintain because each microbe has certain ideal conditions that may be at odds with another strain. Separate cultures also give you more flexibility if you want to make a beer with Brettanomyces, but not Lactobacillus (for example). Alternatively, maintaining a mixed “house” culture allows for more complexity because a huge variety of different strains can be maintained in a single vessel. There is no reason that you couldn't do both, or a hybrid method such as having a single culture with several strains of Brett, or both Lacto and Pedio.

I use growlers to store my cultures, although 750 ml bottles or one gallon glass jugs would work as well. No matter what vessel you select or what type of microbes you are growing make sure that you use a stopper and airlock to prevent oxygen and other microbes from getting into your culture.

I'm probably more lax with my sanitation then I should be, sanitizing the mouth of the fermenter (even flaming it as yeast ranchers do) would be the best process. You are afforded some protection compared to culturing brewer's yeast because the acid produced, high attenuation, and naturally funky character of the beers these cultures are used in will help to minimize the impact of any rogue strains.

I try to double the size of the cultures each time I feed them (something I picked up from keeping a sourdough starter). When I am ready to feed them I decant off enough of the spent wort so that when I double the volume I won’t risk the fermentation needing a blow off tube.

Brettanomyces – Brett is probably the easiest microbe to maintain because it is content slowly fermenting the complex dextrins in the wort. I feed my Brett B culture once every two months with ~1.030 wort (either malt extract or boiled down final runnings). I include 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient (I like WYeast’s version) per quart. Once the starter wort is chilled add it and shake the culture to dissolve oxygen, which promote cell growth. I keep it at cool cellar temps to slow the growth.

Lactobacillus – Lacto likes simple sugars, so I use preservative free apple juice plus 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient per quart. Apple juice comes pasteurized so it can be opened and added directly to the starter (although you could also dilute it up to 50%). Unlike yeast Lacto does not need oxygen to reproduce, but a small amount will not hurt it. I have read that some people decant their starters to avoid getting the malic acid from the juice into their beer, but the small amount has never caused a problem for me. Refrigerator temperatures are a good idea to slow their life cycle and keep them from dying between feedings. Adding some chalk can help to buffer against the lactic acid produced by the culture (Lacto doesn’t do well below pH ~3.8 per Vinnie).

Pediococcus – Haven't tried Pedio yet, but either malt or apple juice based starter with some yeast nutrients should work well for it. There is some debate over whether Pedio benefits from the presence of oxygen or not, although I think you are safest without since some sources say that it can produce acetic acid when given access to air. Your only real concern here is that, like Lactobacillus, it will produce a lot of lactic acid, so some chalk wouldn't be a bad idea (optimal pH for growth for P. damnosus is 5.0-5.5). I wouldn't worry if the culture smelled buttery since there is no Brett in there to clean up the diacetyl it produces.

Mixed Microbe Culture – A mixed culture should be kept in the refrigerator because the cold helps to retard the bacteria, preventing them from overwhelming the slower growing yeast. Starting with the slurry of a favorite batch is a good idea since you know how it is a good blend of microbes. Another is to keep an "everything" culture where you pitch in dregs from commercial and homebrew allowing the cultures that thrive to become dominant. Either way, I would still pitch fresh brewer’s yeast in addition to the culture to ensure a healthy primary fermentation.

For any type of culture it would be a good idea to feed it a few days before you want to use it just to make sure that the microbes are active before they are pitched. This is especially important if you are doing a 100% Brett fermentation or a similar technique where you are relying on the microbes to start fermenting quickly.

I asked Al Buck of East Coast Yeast for his opinion on this topic and it confirmed my feelings, "An easy thing to do is periodically decant off "old" starter media from the sediment and add fresh media w/ plenty of nutrients added - say every other month or so. Refrigerate afterwards until ready to use. What will happen over a couple of years is anyone's guess."

Both Al and Russian River have distributed cultures dried onto oak cubes/chips. This method allows for easier distribution of a culture, but they still need to be refreshed regularly. This method is a bit more time consuming since you’d need to start a fermentation from the chips, allow them to soak, and then dry on a rack every few months.

If you notice any issues with your cultures (no longer active, off flavor/aroma/appearance etc...) I would suggest dumping it and starting over from a fresh culture. The small cost of a new culture is dwarfed by the wasted money and effort of a poor batch.

Last summer I started a Berliner Weisse with my Lactobacillus starter. Coincidentally I just did an interview with James and Andy for Basic Brewing Radio on the style with some talk about keeping the culture going.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Belgian Dubbel with Brett

A full glass of Brett Belgian BrownIt is nice to have starters of various microbes on hand if you like brewing funky beers.  When I have a bit of extra wort or beer from one batch or another that isn't headed the right direction or maybe just seems like a good candidate for some funk then I have the microbes to take advantage of the situation.  I feed the Brett/Lacto starters every month or two, either with extra starter wort, or boiled down final runnings from a batch of beer.  The Lacto in particular should probably be fed more often, but it seems to be doing fine after 6 months.

Last spring Audrey wanted to brew a Belgian Amber for her May 16th birthday.  We came up with a recipe and brewed it, but it turned out more brown than amber.  I decided it would be fun to steal a couple quarts and add some Brett Brux starter to see what sort of character we would end up with. It is fun to see how the beer changed with the addition of some funk compared to the clean portion.

Brett 516

That didn't last long, nice lacing though.Appearance – Brown at the top of the tapered glass, but amber towards the bottom. Clear when held to the light, with small bubbles rising slowly though it. The head is off-white, with fine bubbles, and good retention (beautiful lacing). Nice looking beer.

Smell – Nice combination of fruit (red grapes), spicy/dusty Brett, and a bit of bready malt. Complex and funky without being too aggressive.

Taste – Dry, with more earthy funk than I got in the nose. The finish is long and slow, with leather, hints of toasty chocolate malt, and prunes. Minimal bitterness, and only a suggestion of its alcoholic strength.

Mouthfeel – Feels a bit fuller than a beer this dry should be up front, but the finish is thin. Medium carbonation, any more and it would get in the way. Just slightly astringent from the dryness.

Drinkability & Notes – At almost a year old this beer is doing well. The White Labs Brett Brux in secondary did much better in this beer than when I used it in primary for the Brett Pale Ale.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rye Saison with Brett

Nate giving the Brett Blend #1 a shake before pitching it into the wort.After sampling the most recently bottled batch of McKenzie's Saison Vautour while I was visiting the brewery, and getting some details on how it was made from the Ryan and Gerard (the brewers) I was inspired to brew something along the same lines.  The mash for their saison is mostly pils, with a healthy portion of malted rye, and some table sugar in the kettle for improved fermentability.  It starts fermenting in a conical fermenter with White Labs Saison II for a few days before it is pumped into a well used oak wine barrel to dance with the resident house bugs (souring doesn't take long, we got to sample the batch that was in the barrel and after just a few months it was about ready to bottle).

My friend Nate and I had been looking for something to brew together since we made a Munich (Malt) Porter about a year ago.  He is a big fan of saisons that have a bit of a funk, especially The Bruery's Saison de Lente (which incidentally should be out again shortly if it isn't already), so he certainly liked the plan.

For the last few months the rollers on my five-year-old Barley Crusher mill had not been grabbing and feeding the grain through well (causing frequent stops and starts). To try to fix this I completely disassembled the mill to clean it for the first time since I bought it, but when I put it back together I must have tightened the rollers further than they had been (I really need to buy a feeler gauge set).  As a result my efficiency for this batch jumped to 80% from my usual 70%.  This was not a big deal since we had originally been planning on adding about 10% table sugar, luckily we checked the pre-boil gravity and skipped it.

Pitching the Brett into the Rye Saison.I wanted to get the Farmhouse Saison blend from East Coast Yeast, but Princeton Homebrew was out by the time I stopped by.  Instead I picked up the Saison Brasserie Blend "A combination of several Saison yeasts" and the Brett Blend #1 "Three individual Brettanomyces isolates from lambic producers".  Usually I'm an advocate of adding Brett along with the brewer's yeast in primary fermentation, but for this beer I wanted a restrained funk (and Brett Blend #1 sounds like it imparts a lot of character).  After pitching the yeast I placed the fermenter in my boil kettle and onto the radiator, at 82 F (wort temperature) it fermented hard and fast with a huge krausen. After it fermented out we racked to secondary and pitched the Brett.  I'll give it a few months to dry out and get funky before we bottle it.

Bretted Rye Saison

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 12.00
Anticipated OG: 1.069
Anticipated SRM: 4.5
Anticipated IBU: 34.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

75.0% - 9.00 lbs. German Pilsener
25.0% - 3.00 lbs. Rye Malt

1.50 oz. Styrian Goldings (Pellet, 4.95% AA) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Styrian Goldings (Pellet, 4.95% AA) @ 10 min.

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

East Coast Yeast - Saison Brasserie Blend
East Coast Yeast - Brett Blend #1

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 75 min @ 150 F

Brewed 2/6/11 with Nate

Based loosely on McKenzie's Saison Vautour.

Slow sparge, but it didn't stick. Sparge water ~180 F.

Collected 7 gallons of 1.053 runnings. Originally planned to add ~10% sugar, but the gravity was already high enough from just the mash.

Chilled to 75 F, pitched the ECY Saison Brasserie right from the package. Put on radiator inside two kettles to keep the temp up and somewhat stable.

Blow-off tube going by the following morning. When I got home from work that day the fermentation had calmed down, I measured the wort temp at 82 F.

2/24/11 Down to 1.010, racked to secondary and pitched Al's Brett Blend #1 (beer tasted good but a bit more banana than I like is a saison, that ester should age/ferment out though).  Left at cool room temp ~62 F.

5/1/11 Still around 1.008, still needs more time to attenuate.

9/25/11 Down to 1.004, close enough.  Bottled with 4 oz of cane sugar.

12/8/11 Carbonation and more time turned this into a great rustic saison, full tasting notes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Which brewing upgrade would you choose?

AJ's Brew House, big and decoction ready.Brew better beer - 31%
Have more time to brew - 28%
Have more space to store fermenters/bottles - 16%
Brew bigger batches - 8%
Skip kegging/bottling - 8%
Buy cheaper ingredients - 6%

Just a bit of fun with this poll.  Not surprised that "Brew better beer" came out the winner (no one thinks that every batch they brew is perfect). 

Time and space are obviously limitations for many brewers.  After spending the last 18 months living in a house after years in an apartment it is still a relief not to worry about where to store an extra case of beer (to make things even easier I'm planning to get an A/C unit and some insulation for my basement bottle/barrel room before the summer heat hits).  It is certainly nice not having to store fermenters or bottles at my parents' house 500 miles away like I was doing for awhile.

Finding time can be annoying sometimes (I know a lot of people have it worse than me), but I usually don't have much trouble blocking off a Saturday to brew every few weeks (it helps that I don't have a kid, dog, long commute, or many friends who aren't into hanging out while I brew).  I've also been brewing on the same basic system long enough that for most batches (not counting decoction or turbid mash etc...) I'm on autopilot and can get other stuff done during the mash/boil.

I'm still kicking around the idea of constructing a bigger system, but I brew too much beer as it is.  It would be fun to do split batches (sour half and leave half clean for example) or fill barrels easier.  I'm sure I'll make it there eventually.  The thing I like about five gallon batches is that I can still lift everything on my own and move it around to solve problems as needed. 

Kegging/bottling certainly isn't my favorite activity, but it doesn't seem to bother me as much as some other people.  Obviously cheaper ingredients would be nice, but I'd rather brew better beer than cheaper beer (and honestly this is a pretty cheap hobby compared to a lot of others).

Post a comment with your reason for picking the option you did.  What ticks you off about bottling? How big do you wish your batches were?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Drinking Pliny the Younger Clone

After two weeks on three ounces of dry hops at room temperature, followed by another month on three additional ounces of keg hops my Pliny the Younger Clone is finally ready to drink.  I took a bit of a risk throwing a party before doing this tasting, but as luck would have it even a party full of 30 beer nerds wasn't able to go through a keg of 10.5% ABV beer (or the cask of the second runnings American Bitter).

The general assment from my friends who have tried the Russian River beer was that my attempt was pretty damn close.  My friend Dyan thought that mine was slightly sweeter than the original; I agree, but I'm not sure if that sweetness is from the residual unfermentables from the malt (1.094 to 1.014 is pretty dry), or whether it is an impression from the fruity hops.  I find the hop character of my version to be a bit more towads the fruit (citrus and strawberry) and not as heavy on the pine as the original.  I actually thought that the aroma of the DIPA I brewed a year ago was closer (both had Amarillo/Simcoe, but that one had Columbus instead of Centennial).

Pliny the Younger Clone

Pliny the Younger Clone, or as Audrey dubbed it- Pliny's Second Cousin Once Removed.Appearance – Slightly hazy golden body, with a few little hop flecks. Decent tight white head, falls slowly trailing a nice lacing behind.

Smell – Danker than I remembered with both pine and citrus (grapefruit especially). There is a fruitiness that comes across almost as strawberry fruit roll-ups. A clean ethanol burn blends with the hop aromatics.

Taste – Nice balance, just enough sweetness to balance the lingering bitterness. The saturated hop character carries through, with a hugely complex melange of orange, grapefruit, pine, fruit, dank, and grassy hops. The bitterness lingers long into the finish helping to cover the light alcohol character.

Mouthfeel – Medium-low carbonation, with a medium body.  The bitterness hangs around for a few minutes, certainly maxes out the IBU scale.  Thin enough to guarantee that it isn't an American Barleywine.

Drinkability & Notes – Drinkable for such a big beer, but it is still a big beer.  I'd actually prefer a bit lower gravity for a Double IPA, but this is a terrific beer.