Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BYO American Saison Article

Bottle and barrel of Mckenzie's Saison Vautour.Out now is the July-August Issue of BYO which includes an article, "The Cult of American Saison," that Nathan and I wrote. We talked to the brewers from St. Somewhere, Stillwater, McKenzie's, Upright, De la Senne, and Pretty Things and got some great quotes on how they see and brew the style.  We had a hard time keeping this one under our 3,500 word limit because we ended up with so many topics that we just had to include (yeast strains, Brett, malt choice, hops, spicing etc...).

Last week I sent in another article, an introduction to brewing sour beers, that will be published in a couple months (talk about shoehorning, trying to condense what is currently a 60,000+ word draft in progress of my book down to ~4,000 including three recipes was painful).  I'm going to have to find more granular topics to cover in the future...

If you want to subscribe to BYO please do so through my blog (it doesn't cost any more and I get a cut). If you already subscribe and enjoyed the article send them an email to to let them know so they keep letting me write.

If anyone has suggestions for articles they'd like to see please post a comment.  Nathan and I have been discussed doing dark lagers or gruits, and I'd like to write one about spontaneous fermentation (but that will probably have to wait until my DCambic is finished).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bourbon Barrel Sour Cherry Porter Tasting

Bourbon, sour cherries, porter, and pie... can't go wrong.A strong dark beer isn't most people's ideal summer beverage, but tasting a dark sour seemed like a good excuse to drink down in my (now temperature controlled) barrel/bottle/fermentation room.  When I bought my house in 2009 I was hoping the basement would stay at a relatively moderate temperature during the summer, sadly now (well into my second summer here) I've come to accept that it needs a bit of help a few months of the year. So I installed a small A/C unit in the one window the room has.  I'll do a more complete post about it once I install additional insulation.

I posted a tasting of the straight version of our group's second bourbon barrel beer a month ago.  This portion of the batch sat on just under 1 lb of sour cherries per gallon for two months before bottling.  Audrey used the other bag of sour cherries I froze last summer to make a delicious cherry pie (great pairing).  I need to get down to the farmer's market before the sour cherries are gone for another year (or get serious and go to a pick-your-own orchard).

Bourbon Barrel Sour Cherry Porter

Appearance – Beautiful dark brown beer (the sad thing about adding cherries to a dark beer is that you don't see their color contribution). Pours with a two-finger tan head, which recedes slowly leaving some lacing behind.

Smell – Cherries, chocolate, slight oaky/bourbon, leather, touch of sourness. Complex, potent, really captivating aroma.

Taste – The sour cherries have a slightly cooked, but mainly fresh character. The sourness is well balanced, tart, not sharp or aggressive. The bourbon barrel porter flavors comes through in the finish, mocha roast, with well integrated barrel character.  The funk is minimal, but I wouldn't call it clean, just restrained.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, the sourness keeps it from seeming thick or stodgy. Moderate-low carbonation, just enough.

Drinkability & Notes – Couldn't be happier with the way this beer came out, the cherries lift the beer up adding complexity without getting in the way of the other flavors. Despite the heat the sourness keeps this drinkable.

Couldn't resist this shot of the sour cherry pie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Triple Decocted Czech Pilsner Recipe

One of the decoctions boiling away on the stove.A few months ago my first Czech Pilsner stumbled out of the starting blocks, with the yeast failing to start fermenting. After pitching lager yeast for a second time I ended up resorting to a pack of US-05 to get it going.  It ended up being a solid beer, but since then I’ve been looking for an excuse to brew the recipe again. When I found out that Pilsner Urquell was putting on a Czech Pilsner homebrewing contest in DC I was ready to go.

Czech Pilsner wort in my fermentation fridge.Other than pitching active yeast... I tweaked the process/ingredients in a couple places to try to improve on my first attempt. I swapped out the "regular" Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt for the floor malted version which is supposed to impart greater maltiness (and added 1% acid malt to ensure proper conversion pH with the soft water). I also stepped up from a double decoction to a triple using the mash schedule suggested by Weyermann (which surprisingly did not include a protein rest). My final alteration was to add a flameout hop addition to bolster the spicy Saaz aroma, especially because this beer will spend 8 weeks lagering before I put it on tap.

The contest isn't being held until August 10th, but I’d like to get the beer on tap a few weeks before then to give me time to dial in the carbonation. At that point I’ll also decide whether it is worth fining the beer with gelatin, and/or adding a Saaz hop tea to boost the aromatics. Hopefully all the effort pays off and I win the grand prize (a trip for two to Prague), but with 50 entries I'm going to need a lot of luck.

Chilling with my new recirculating pump.This was also my first time using my new submersible pump to chill the wort.  I used ground water to knock the temperature down to 80 before switching over to pumping ice water through my immersion chiller.  It worked really well allowing me to get the beer down to pitching temperatures despite my 70 degree tap water.  I'll be using this pump for ales as well this summer as my tap water climbs up into the 80s.

Anyone else enter in DC? Chicago? New York?  The event requires that the brewers show up with their entries, so I'm hoping everyone brings extra to share with the other contestants.  I'm also hoping Pilsner Urquell brings some of their more traditional beers that are usually only available in and around the brewery.

Protein goo left on the surface of the mash after the first sparge.Bohemian Lager

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.13
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated SRM: 4.0
Anticipated IBU: 42.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

98.8% - 10.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted BoPils
1.2% - 0.13 lbs. Acid Malt

1.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.90% AA) @ 75 min.
1.25 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.90% AA) @ 30 min.
1.25 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.90% AA) @ 10 min.
1.25 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.90% AA) @ 0 min.

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

WYeast 2001 Urquell Lager

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC diluted with 66% distilled

Mash Schedule
Acid Rest 90 min @ 101 (Infuse)
Sacch I 45 min @ 148 (Decoction)
Sacch II 30 min @ 162 (Decoction)
Mash Out 10 min @ 170 (Decoction)

4/23/11 Made a ~3 qrt starter with a 2 month old smack pack. Good activity within 24 hours. Fermented out in 5 days, at which point I crash cooled it to drop out the yeast.

Brewed 5/1/11

Decanted yeast and put it in the fermentation fridge at 45 F to start bringing it up to fermentation temp.

6 gallons of Distilled water to cut 2 gallons of DC water. Mashed with 3 gallons distilled, plus 1 gallon filtered DC. Added 2 pints distilled plus 1 tap to the first decoction (pulled 10 qrts of mostly grain). A bit over the temp target on my first rest ~155, so I left it for 25 minutes and then proceeded to the boil. A few degrees low on the Sacch rest ~147.5. Added an extra 5 min.

Collected 6.75 gallons of 1.047 runnings with a batch sparge, great efficiency due to decoctions, mash-out etc... Added a bit of extra filtered tap water at a few points to dilute the boil.

Chilled to ~50 F, strained, allowed to settle for 10 minutes before racking to the fermenter. Left quite a bit of trub/hop residue behind. 60 seconds of pure O2, then pitched the starter, which I had fed 2 pints of wort once it had been brought to a boil. Boiled 2 qrts of water to add the following morning to get the gravity down to the target gravity.

24 hours later some activity at 45 F ambient.

Four days into fermentation I started raising the ambient temp by 1 F a day to prevent the yeast from cooling as the slowed down. Four days in 46, five 47, six 48, seven 49, eight 50.

5/11/11 Moved out of the fridge for a diacetyl rest. Ambient temp ~65 F. Fermentation appears to be about complete.

5/17/11 Moved to a keg, gravity down to 1.012. Just a hint of sulfur. Dropped temp to 33 F to lager for a couple months before serving.

7/11/11 Moved to the kegerator and hooked up to 10 PSI.  Really murky/yeasty on the first few pours, hopefully just the yeasty trub kicked up from moving it.

7/12/11 Added 3/4 pack of Knox gelatin hydrated in 1/2 cup of room temperature water and then dissolved with 3/4 cup of boiling water. Already tastes much cleaner/crisper after settling overnight.  Still waiting on the hop tea...

7/21/11 The gelatin did a great job clearing it, although it is not quite as brilliant as Pilsner Urquell.  The flavor, and the malt in particular is great, but it is slightly more buttery than I wanted.  We'll see if that changes over the next few weeks before the competition.

7/27/11 Steed 1 oz of hops in 1 pint of water just off the boil. After 10 minutes strained through cheesecloth and added the hop tea to the keg.

8/10/11 Made the final round at the Pilsner Urquell Master Hombrewer Competition (top 6), but failed to medal.  Really happy with the way it turned out, cleaned up nicely, and has a great hop aroma.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peach Beer - Yellow vs White

The aroma of a ripe local peach has few equals, but what kind of peach is the best choice to add to a sour beer?  Yellow peaches have a classic focused peach aroma and solid acidity, while white peaches tend to be less tart with a more intricate aromatic character.  Two-and-a-half years ago I brewed a sour honey ale, half of which was aged on white peaches, a year later I brewed a golden sour, a gallon of which was aged on yellow peaches.  Tasting these two beers side-by-side begs the question: which peach variety marries better to the complex character and added acidity of a sour beer? 

White Peach Honey Wheat

Appearance – Slightly hazy yellow-gold beer. A moderate pour inflates a fine-grained white head, but it falls after only a few minutes.

Smell – The aroma is saturated with fresh peaches, covering up most of the honey complexities that the peach-less version exudes (although as it warms some sweet-waxy aromatics tease out).

Taste – Enough lactic sourness that my mouth involuntarily chews a couple times after the first sip. The fresh peach flavor is the dominant character here again, nicely lingering into the finish (with the addition of a bit of coconut). The fermentation character is clean, with minimal Brett funk. 

Left - White Peach Honey Wheat; Right - Yellow Peach Golden SourMouthfeel – Crisp and light, with moderate carbonation. Refreshing, a good match for the peach flavors. 

Drinkability & Notes – A great beer that still hangs onto its freshness despite its advanced age. The white peaches are still so alive it is hard to remember they were picked two years ago. This beer shares a lot in common with Dogfish Head Festina Peche, although the DFH beer is less acidic/complex.

Yellow Peach Golden Sour

Appearance – Golden-orange and perfectly clear. The white head has slightly better retention, but it still sinks to a thin ring while I still have half a glass left.

Smell – Despite the fresh fruit added, it has a more singular “cooked” peach aroma (like a peach pie). The aroma also has some tart apples, a bit of malt, and Sweetarts.

Taste – The sourness is slightly softer and it has a more nuanced character (less lactic, more malic). The peach flavor too is subtler and allows some malt character to come through. The funk is mild, but present as additional overripe fruit and damp oak flavors.

Mouthfeel – Slightly heavier body, the carbonation is prickly. The mouthfeel goes well with the more savory less refreshing flavors this one possesses.

Drinkability & Notes – An easy drinking sour beer, but I think it could have used a bit more peach. The yellow peaches match well with the flavors of the beer, adding complexity without overwhelming. The peach flavor already seems to have mellowed from when it was bottled, surprising given how much younger this one is.

In the end either white or yellow peaches can work, it is more a matter of what what you can get fresh and what sort of peach flavor you are looking for.  If forced to choose I'd take the white peaches because they have more punch and depth than the yellow peaches.  That said, a blend of the two beers is wonderful, so mixing fruit varieties is another option worth considering.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Visiting Madrid, Granada, and Seville

Audrey and I on a street in Toledo.At the end of May Audrey and I spent nine days in Spain, starting in Madrid before traveling south to Granada and Seville.  Spain is a striking country, with a complex history, rich culinary tradition, and wonderful wine, but finding a good beer was next to impossible.  Almost every street has at least one cerveceria (beer bar) and I saw more people drinking beer than anything else, but the only beers available at most restaurants were bland pale lagers. Ordering a "cerveza" would result in a Cruzcampo, Alhambra, or another fresh, clean, pale lager (often served in an attractive stemmed glass).  The experience conjured up visions of the pre-craft beer US, with lots of beer, but few interesting options.

Mezquita and 1925 before the tapas arrived.We did bump into a few somewhat interesting local beers like Mahou Negra (a dunkel), and the oddly named Alhambra Mezquita (mosque) which I can only describe as an old ale lager. There were a couple bars we walked by that advertized a selection of imports, often on display in their windows were 10-20 imported beers (Chimay, Franziskaner, even the exotic Budweiser). The last night of the trip we stumbled into the local mega-department store looking for a few bottles of wine to bring home, what I found were bottles of Westmalle Dubble for 1.60 euros (~$2.25) each (a good deal even with a bad exchange rate).  Spain certainly wasn't a beer desert (like India was), and it seems like a country that is ripe for a craft beer explosion.

Cured ham and sausage made from those same pigs.The red wine was cheap and generally very good, but when it is nearing 90 degrees that isn't my beverage of choice. Sadly sangria, the Spanish solution to that problem, was hit-or-miss. At some restaurants it tasted like wine with a subtle citrus flavor and light sweetness (wonderful), while other time it either tasted like Hi-C (too much sugar, and with extra fruit like watermelon) or one that tasted oddly of Butterfingers.

The food was similar to the sangria in that some places were great, while others were lackluster. My normal scheme when traveling is to find restaurants that look like the locals go to them (trying to avoid eating in touristy areas or places that look gimmicky). For the most part this landed us at small bars and restaurants where the food fell between iffy and decent. I was disappointed how little variation I saw in things like tortilla (potato omelet) and bocadillos (sandwiches).  We did have some great meals thought, fish soup in Granada, roast suckling pig in Madrid, stewed partridge in Toledo. We also got a number of great tapas on Calle Navas in Granada (like shredded spiced meat mini-sandwiches). It is a great concept to be able to get a small plate of food to try something, and then move on if it wasn't especially interesting or well-done.

The intricate windows at the Alhambra.It was a busy nine days, but we got to see and do almost everything we had wanted to. 

A few general observations:

Picasso's Guernica at the Riena Sofia in Madrid is still relevant and powerful.

Why are Europeans so obsessed with bottled water, I thought they were supposed to be environmentally conscious?

The architecture, fountains, and carvings of the Alhambra in Granada were stunning.

The number of times our servers disappeared for 30 minutes or more when we wanted more food, or were looking to pay was astounding.

Demonstrators in a square in Granada.The public transportation systems were clean, on time,and  reasonably priced (compared to America).

Spain would be a difficult place to visit for a strict vegetarian, almost everything had a bit of jamon (delicious thin-sliced salt-cured ham).

Despite my Catholic upbringing, looking at a saint's 400 year old arm bone in a gold case at the Seville Cathedral was still creepy.

The language barrier (I took Latin in high school, Audrey knows Arabic and French) didn't create much trouble for us.  We learned a few key phrases, and hand gestures were sometimes required, but often the people we met spoke some English.

It was interesting to see young people out in the streets peacefully protesting, trying to change their government.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sour Golden Ale Tasting

A year and a half ago my friend Devin and I brewed a 10 gallon batch of golden sour ale with Al's Bugfarm III (back before he started East Coast Yeast). Half of that batch had the honor of being the starter for the first solera Nathan and I brewed (which is now overdue for its first bottling) while the other half was split into several fractions. The problem with splitting a batch of sour beer both with someone and between several variation is that you don't end up with that much when the beer is finally ready (I only got five bottles of this “straight” variant).

I really like the SAVOR glasses this year, especially for this golden sour ale.Deviant Cable Car (No More)

Appearance – Perfectly clear golden-orange, but the thin white head leaves something to be desired (especially surprising with both wheat and oats in the grist).  

Smell – Overripe stone fruit, citrus (especially orange), and that distinct "sour beer" acid aroma. There is some basement must, but not quite to the the level of being funky. Not much malt aroma despite the Golden Promise and Maris Otter used as the base malts.

Taste – Bright crisp lemony tartness up front, with a moderately dry finish. The sourness is refreshing, not harsh or biting. The fruit from the nose comes through fresher in the flavor.   There is some lingering toasty mustiness, reminiscent of pipe tobacco.  Just a touch of cider vinegar in the finish as it warms.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is present but low, I think having it a bit bubblier with such bright refreshing flavors/balance would have enhanced the character of this one. The mouthfeel is somewhere between medium and light, which works well in this beer.

Drinkability & Notes – A unique fruit character for a sour beer, complex and yet still very refreshing. I'm excited to see how close the yeast character in the solera mirrors this beer (samples have suggested that they are close).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hallertau Tradition Session Lager

I view parti-gyle wort a lot like leftovers, it may not be ideal, but  it can be delicious when prepared correctly (not to mention it's free).  Unless the big beer is high gravity there probably will not be enough fermentables left in the mash for a second batch, but there is almost always enough to do something with (like make a starter or a small experimental batch).  Extracting the second runnings is easy, after the wort for the first beer is collected just continue sparging into another vessel.  It may seem like a chore to tack on an extra couple hours to a brew day, but think about it as saving a few hours compared to a second complete brew.

Like cooking leftovers, one thing to consider is taking the small beer in a different direction rather than making a smaller version of the big beer.  With food there are a few dishes that are magnets for leftovers: sandwiches, frittatas, fried rice, and quesadillas; learn a few template recipes and you'll never throw out a hunk of roast or extra grilled vegetables again.  In the same way if you keep some spare hops and yeast on hand you'll always be prepared to put second runnings to a good use.

I try to do lagers in sets of two to get full use of the fermentation/lagering fridge.In the case of 6.5 gallons of 1.032 wort harvested from the mash of the DCHB English Barleywine, the easiest thing to do would have been to turn it into a bitter, but I had just put my Styrian Golding Bitter on tap (not to mention that I was out of English Ale yeast).  Instead I decided to open a pound of Hallertau Tradition (a higher AA% Mittelfrüh replacement) that had been sitting in my freezer for a few months and a pack of S-23 dried lager yeast to turn it into a pale session lager.  I had good luck with another dried lager strain (W34/70) in a Smoked Dunkel last summer, but this was my first time using S-23.  I am hoping that the toastier pale and Munich malts add some complexity in place of the clean/sweet pilsner malt that pale German lagers are usually built upon.

Hallertau Session Lager

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.80
Total Grain (Lbs): 25.00
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated SRM: 14.0
Anticipated IBU: 42.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 22 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

62.0% - 15.50 lbs. Maris Otter
18.0% - 4.50 lbs. American Pale "2-row"
20.0% - 5.00 lbs. German Munich Malt

0.50 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.50% AA) @ 40 min.
1.00 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.50% AA) @ 20 min.
1.00 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.50% AA) @ 10 min.
1.00 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.50% AA) @ 0 min.

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.(boil)
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.(boil)

SafLager S-23 W. Euro Lager

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
75 min @ 154 F

Brewed 5/8/11

Added 6.5 gallons of 175 degree water to the DCHB 2nd Anniversary Barleywine mash, stirred and left for quite awhile before draining.

Chilled to 50 F then pitched 1 pack of rehydrated S-23. Put in fridge at 50 F ambient to ferment.

After 24 hours it seemed to be barely starting, I gave it a shake, 12 hours later it was going strong.

5/17/11 Moved out of the fridge, ambient basement temp ~65 F to finish fermenting and reduce any diacetyl. Attached an airlock.

5/29/11 Racked to a CO2 flushed keg for secondary. Clean, nice hop character, should do well. Put in the fridge at 34 F to lager for a few weeks.

7/4/11 Put on tap at 10 PSI to carbonate.

7/30/11 Great summer lager, with enough hop and malt to keep it interesting.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How do you usually brew?

Batch sparging really doesn't look like much.Mashing
Extract - 11%
Partial-Mash - 14%
All Grain Single Infusion - 59%
All Grain Step Infusion - 14%
All Grain Decoction - 6%

Fly Sparge - 24%
Batch Sparge - 66%
No-sparge (BIAB) - 10%

427 Responses

I'm always amazed by the huge variety of ways in which homebrewers accomplish the same basic tasks.  One of my favorite things about brewing at a friend's house is seeing what techniques/equipment they use (I've picked up a lot of things that have made my brewing easier and beers better).

It is interesting to see the high number of readers who primarily brew all-grain, and the decent percentage of those who perform multi-step mashes.  I would like to know how these results compare to these percentages among all homebrewers (I tend to think this blog attracts a more advanced subset of brewers).  I mostly do single infusion mashes although I certainly take the extra time to do multi-step infusion/decoction mashes when the malt needs it, but these days you really have to go out of your way to get malt that won't work well with a single infusion.  It would be interesting to brew the same recipe only switching the mash regime to really find out for myself how much of an impact it really makes.

I'm also surprised at how many people batch sparge, I had assumed it would be closer to even with fly sparging.  I tend to batch sparge because it is a bit quicker and lets me avoid worrying about the pH and gravity of the runnings.  BYO and BBR did one of their collaborative experiments on sparging a few months ago, you can also listen to the full analysis of the results (overall there was a lot of consistency between the different methods).  One of the great things about this hobby is that there is so much flexibility to create a process that works for you. 

Part of the motivation behind this poll (besides curiosity) was that I've been considering posting extract equivalents for some recipes.  However, most of my recipes include specialty grains that should be mashed due to the amount of starch they contain (and I figure most partial-mash brewers know how to swap out some of the base malt for extract).  If you'd like me to post extract versions of my recipes when possible, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sour Cider Tasting

Late in 2009 I "brewed" my fourth annual batch of cider, it was fermented with hefe weizen yeast plus a variety of souring microbes from the slurry of our first barrel aged beer.  Without the unfermentables of a beer I expected a light tartness at most, with more funk (I've noticed that Brett seems to be able to do its thing without much to work with, something lactic acid bacteria are unable to do).  There is some precedence for wild and funky ciders from Spain, although I've been underwhelmed by the few Basque ciders I've sampled (regrettably I didn't get the chance to try any more while I was in Madrid/Granada/Seville last week).

A sour cider doesn't look any different than a standard hard cider.Sour Cider

Appearance – Perfectly clear “cider” yellow (love that pectic enzyme). With a hard pour it is initially able to inflate a half inch head, which quickly recedes.

Smell – Some fresh tart apples, but more reminiscent of going to a pick-your-own orchard after half the apples have been knocked to the ground. There are aromas that are earthy, hay-like, yeasty, and toasty, really complex (but not wholly appetizing).

Taste – The flavor is more restrained than the nose, and only slightly tart. The apple flavor is mild, but cleaner and fresher than the aroma. There is some of that toasty/yeasty character in the finish, but it is at a level that adds complexity. The finish is dry, but not bone dry.

Mouthfeel – Prickly carbonation pierces through the light body. Certainly more carbonation than many ciders (especially the Basque version which are generally still to petillant), but not to the point of being Champagne-like

Drinkability & Notes – Worth the wait, it has really improved over its first five months in the bottle. Hopefully the aroma continue to evolve and mellow between now and the fall. I think this sour cider concept has some merit, but I would probably go with a milder strain of Brett like claussenii the next time I brew one. I might add some malto-dextrin as well to encourage the production of more acidity.