Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wet Hopped Peach Amber Tasting

A glass of amber peach ale.Brewing a “local” beer for the homebrewing class I taught was a lot of fun. It gave me an excuse to try a couple techniques that I might not have otherwise (bittering with homegrown hops and adding peaches to the end of the boil). I really didn't have a perfect vision of what I was trying to brew, I just adapted to the ingredients and situation I was given. This was also my first time dry hopping with wet hops.

Mid-Atlantic Harvest Ale

Appearance – Pours amber-brown with significant haze. The head is dense, off-white, and long lasting. It certainly gives off that “local” vibe, even if the amber color comes from an English malt...

Smell – Fruit (although not peach specifically), earthy hops, and a nice toasty malt character all come through. I'm surprised that it isn't hoppier given the dry hopping, but as it warms some of the Cascade citrus does start to come out.

Taste – Similar to the aroma the flavor is a complex blend of malt, hops, and peach (stronger than in the nose). Enough bitterness to balance the malt, but not enough to make the beer actually taste bitter. I like the balance of the flavors for a harvest-time beer, a bit more substantial than most fresh hopped beers.

Mouthfeel – Medium body with slightly stronger carbonation that I usually aim for (which puts it about average for an American ale).

Drinkability & Notes – Not far from a rustic version of Magic Hat #9. The fruit adds a layer of complexity onto the malt and hops without stealing the show.  I wish the Cascade was a bit more prominent, but otherwise I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Brewing Fire-Pit Gruit

Fire Brewing with Marty and Martin.While the basic steps that go into brewing haven't changed much over the 6,000+ year history of the beverage, the ingredients and equipment certainly have. As a result, the beverage we call beer today doesn't share much in common with what was being brewed and drank 1,000 years ago. The most significant change to the ingredients over that time has been the dominance of hops over all other brewing herbs. Hops are the perfect spice for beer, they add bitterness, aromatics, boost head retention, inhibit Lactobacillus, and grow like weeds in northern climes (the same places where barley thrives and grapes do not). Even so, it is nice to try the alternatives sometimes to see what the other options are (even if just to affirm your choice).

Over Labor Day weekend I drove from DC out close to the border between Virginia and West Virginia to brew with one of the homebrewers who attended Brewing Locally. When Marty mentioned that he and his friend Martin brew gruit over an open fire, it sounded like an event that I couldn't pass up witnessing for myself. The combination of an arcane beer style, and an crazy brewing technique was something that seemed right up my alley.

Adding the pre-measured herb blend.Traditionally blends of herbs called gruit were used to balance the sweetness of the malt as well as their supposed medicinal benefits. I have brewed a couple non-hopped beers (Heather Ale, and the Winter Kvass), but I have yet to brew one with the classic combination of herbs that make up gruit.  Martin and Marty both seem confident that these herbs (yarrow, sweet gale, wormwood, marsh rosemary etc...) have a stimulative effect compared to drinking a couple hopped beers (hops being a sedative). I haven't noticed much difference, but for more information of these herbs and their supposed effects you can read Stephen Harrod Buhner's Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers.

Martin and Marty buy their herbs in bulk from an online spice/herb shop for the most part. The only one of the mainstay herbs that is hard to come by is marsh rosemary, which they buy for $10 a jar from a Canadian who forages for it (Labrador tea was suggested as the best easily accessible alternative). They have also started to grow some of their own and forage for local equivalents.  The most important aspect of brewing a good gruit is avoiding over-spicing (as most of the handful of commercial examples I've tried have been), which is something that the various gruits they served (classic, sage, burdock root etc...) avoided. They are still tinkering with the timing, sometimes adding all of the herbs near the start of the boil, others saving the more aromatics herbs for a later addition.

Propane is so popular with brewers because it is clean, easy to control, and compact, but it also adds ~$4 a batch onto my cost. Brewing over a fire has a romantic appeal, it makes brewing seem more like an event and less like a chore. If you want to brew over a fire you'll need something to suspend the kettle over the fire and a way to adjust the heat. A more complex rig could have a winch to raise and lower the fire, but in Marty's case he simply pulls the kettles partway off the fire when they threaten to boil-over. Another advantage of brewing over a fire is that it is easy to brew a couple batches at once over a single fire (we brewed three 10 gallon batches). Building guitars for a living and having a house out in the woods Marty has a lot of extra scrap wood to burn, but if you didn't you'd probably lose most of your savings from not buying propane by buying wood.  Martin has a web page with details of his slightly more elaborate fire-brewing rig.

They do not get a smoky flavor from boiling over the fire, or any additional caramelization (or melanodins) from the intense heat as far as I tasted.  The soot from the fire does blacken the kettles, but this isn't a big deal.  The biggest disadvantage is that tending the fire to ensure that it is hot enough to boil the wort is one more thing to worry about.

To cool the beers they simply leave the kettles covered overnight before transferring the cool wort to carboys and pitching yeast the next morning. The wooden lids are not tight fitting, which allows ambient air to be sucked in as the wort cools and contracts.  As a result of this (and the lack of preservative hops) all of the beers I tried had a wonderful refreshing tartness that mingled surprisingly well with the herbal bitterness. Sour and bitter and not normally flavors that combine pleasantly, but it this case the bitterness comes through in the front with the sourness holding off until the finish.

A bottle on Martin's gruit that he sent me home with.It was a terrific way to spend a day, capped off with a delicious dinner of venison (which Marty had hunted) roasted in a pot over the same fire we were using to brew. Not sure that I'll be building a fire in my small backyard to brew anytime soon, but it certainly inspired me to try my hand at a traditional gruit.

Martin's Classic Gruit
10 gallons:
Mash 1/2 a bag (25 lbs) of American pale malt in the low 150s F (strike water ~165 F).

After 60 minutes of conversion, run-off, batch sparge, then bring wort to a boil.  They do not recirculate which leaves the beer hazy, and looking like a medieval beverage.

3 oz yarrow and 1 oz wormwood for bittering near the start of the boil.
1/2 oz each of myrica gale (sweet gale) and marsh rosemary (or Labrador tea) as finishing in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

Allow to cool naturally overnight.  In the morning rack to fermenters, pitch US-05, and allow to ferment.  When fermentation is complete prime and bottle.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Golden American Wheat Tasting

A glass of golden American wheat beer.After two years of kegging, the biggest complaint I have about having beers on tap is that I tend to drink them rather than opening up bottles.  This is a result of how easy it is to pour a glass of beer, and that I am often waiting for a tap to open up for a beer that is ready to force carbonate.  Having more taps might help the situation, but that will have to wait.

Audrey and I bottled our most recent collaboration (a golden American wheat) six weeks ago and this is only the second bottle I've opened.  It may simply need more time, but the flavors still haven't come together for me.  It has some earthy/spicy components that I'm struggling to identify; at first I worried that some Brett snuck into the beer, but it isn't developing that way. 

I think everyone has some ingredients that always work and others that just never seem to taste right to them.  For example, The Henley of Thames strain (WLP023/WY1275) has always given too much mineral from my tastes in an English ale.  With this as my first try at a 100% Willamette beer, I'm suspecting that it may be a hop that doesn't mesh well with my taste buds solo.

Audrey's Golden American Wheat

Appearance – Pours slightly hazy, not surprising for a beer with 50% wheat malt. The color is about what we were aiming for, deep gold headed towards light amber. The head is thin, but dense and long lasting.

Smell – The aroma is odd at first with some assertive yeastiness. That quickly evaporates leaving a slightly spicy, bready aroma. The aromatics continue to change as the beer warms, gaining subtle floral and citrus notes.

Taste – It is confusing where the clove/pepper character came from considering we fermented with US-05 in the mid-high 60s F. The malt character is nice, crackery, doughy, with some light caramel. More bitterness than most American wheat beers, but that is the balance we were looking for.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, somewhat thicker than most moderate gravity wheat beers.  Middle-of-the-road carbonation, especially compared to the many gassy wheat beers.

Drinkability & Notes – An interesting beer, not as clean as I was expecting, but more layers to the flavor and aroma than I anticipated. I think the spice character can be attributed to the "spicy woody" Willamette hops, although I'm reluctant to say for sure as this was the first beer I brewed with them and nothing else. Not one of my favorite batches, but there really isn't anything really wrong with it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Galaxy Hopped Double IPA

Lining up my ingredients so I don't miss anything.The third (and final) in my Southern Hemisphere cycle is a double IPA that I hopped with Galaxy.  Galaxy is a variety that is supposed to provide a similar character to Citra's big tropical fruit.  Hill Farmstead has gotten rave reviews for their use in Galaxy Imperial Single Hop IPA, which (even though I haven't tried it) was enough to convince me to try brewing this beer.

At this point I've got my process for brewing DIPAs figured out::

1.  Use moderate carbonate water (diluting with distilled/RO as needed) plus a gypsum added to boost the sulfate content to ~150-200 ppm.  Carbonate keeps the pH up which causes mash/flavor issues in a pale beer.  Sulfate helps with the impression of hop bitterness (you can go higher, but I'd avoid the massive levels in Burtonized water which taste minerally).

Swirling foam circle as the wort was coming to a boil.2.  Produce a highly fermentable wort, mostly pale malt plus a small addition of cara/crystal for body, with a moderate mash temperature (148-151 F), and a small amount of refined sugar (either in the boil or added to primary).  A crisp/dry beer accentuates hop bitterness, too much sweetness and you end up with a beer that tastes more like an American barleywine than a DIPA.

3.  I like Columbus hops to bitter because of their their slightly aggressive character.  If you use a really clean hop like Warrior or Magnum the bitterness will taste lower than the IBUs suggest.  If you want to use up "clean" low-cohumulone varieties then toss in a bit of Chinook to add sharpness. 

4.  I avoid mid-boil additions saving all of my hops for a big flameout addition.  I stagger these hops over a few minutes post-boil and into chilling to capture a range of volatile compounds.  I tend to use pellet hops in the boil because they absorb less wort and seem to impart their oils quickly, use the freshest best smelling hops you can (you can get away with lesser hops for bittering).  Keep this addition to three hops or less unless you really know what you are doing, too many hops reduce complexity giving your beer a more generic hop aroma.  If you are looking for a good combination then check the list I've been keeping at the bottom of this previous DIPA post of what great commercial (D)IPAs are hopped with.

Vigorous boil to isomerize those alpha acids.5.  Chill the wort as quickly as possible to prevent the dissipation of the hop aromatics.  For me this means constantly stirring the wort to increase exposure to the immersion chiller, but a more advanced chilling rig could result in a better hop aroma.

6. Ferment with a clean, attenuative American ale yeast strain (an attenuative English strain could work as well).  Pitch the reccomended number of cells, but no more (hop compounds stick to yeast cell membranes and drop out of solution when they flocculate).  Keep the temperature of the wort under 70 F during fermentation to minimize fusel alcohol production.

7.  Double purge everything the fermented beer touches (keg, siphon etc...) with CO2.  This is one of the big advantages of kegging, as it allows you to reduce oxygen exposure (the musty smell of oxidiazed American hops is one of my least favorite beer characters).

8.  After fermentation is complete cold condition for a few days to remove most of the yeast before dry hopping, this prevents the yeast from stripping the dry hop aromatics from the wort. You could add gelatin to speed this up, but I haven't found that this to be necessary. 

Looks like more than 3.5 oz of dry hops in the sock.9.  Warm the beer back up to cellar temperature while dry hopping to increase the rate of aromatic extraction.  I like whole hops (usually the same varieties I used at flameout) because they are easier to contain in a weighted nylon bag/sock.

10.  Keg hop as the beer force carbonates at serving temperature to add more hop aroma and help to retain that hop aroma longer.  Sometimes I just leave the dry hops in as the keg hops, but if I want it really hoppy I'll remove the dry hops add a second dose to the keg.

11.  Serve as quickly as possible, if you are drinking your first glass of a hoppy beer more than five or six weeks after brewing then you are taking too long.

Excited to see if Galaxy is worth the hype (pre-dry hop sample was excellent), espeically since they are becoming easier to find (at the moment only $16.40/lb on HopsDirect - no affiliation).

Galaxy Big DIPA

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.88
Anticipated OG: 1.082
Anticipated SRM: 6.1
Anticipated IBU: 131.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

93.7% - 13.00 lbs. American Pale Malt (2-row)
3.6% - 0.50 lbs. Table Sugar
1.8% - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 10L
0.9% - 0.13 lbs. CaraMunich

3.00 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 11.20% AA) @ 75 min.
3.50 oz. Galaxy (Whole, 14.90% AA) @ 0 min.
3.50 oz. Galaxy (Whole, 14.90% AA) @ Dry Hop

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

WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Pliny the Water

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 45 min @ 150

Brewed 8/18/11

Mash water 50/50 filtered DC tap water and distilled with 3 grams of gypsum added.

Fly sparged with 5 gallons (cut with 40% distilled, 4 g of gypsum, and 1/4 tsp of phosphoric acid),

Collected 7 gallons of 1.052 ruunings, brought to a boil and added the sugar.

Chilled to 65 F

12 oz of medium yeast slurry from Nelson Jr. which had been fermenting for 10 days and appeared finished. Shook to aerate. Left at 65 F ambient to ferment.

9/9/11 Racked to a CO2 flushed keg, left at 35  ambient to crash out some yeast before dry hopping. Down to 1.012.

9/19/11 Took out of keg and dry hopped with the remainder of the Galaxy before purging the head space again.

11/21/11 Took a bit longer than intended to get around to tasting this batch. Happy with the way the hops turned out, big pine and citrus, but it is a bit bigger than I tend to like. Great by the half pint, but working through 5 gallons will take some time.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Session Beers, Saisons, and Etiquette

I haven't had the chance to brew yet this month, but I've kept busy by doing three interviews for various online media outlets.  I always enjoy the chance to talk about brewing (it's such a refreshing break from writing about it).

First my friend Nathan and I recorded an episode about saisons with James and Andy for Basic Brewing Radio.  It ended up not being an especially technical discussion, focusing on the inspiration behind farmhouse-style brewing and the huge range of beers it includes.  While talking we drank two excellent Brett'd saisons that Andy had sent (the one with oatmeal cookies in the mash was surprisingly good). 

Last week I recorded an interview on brewing session beers for the Beersmith podcast.  This one wandered into more technical subjects, but was also contained more general discussion of why low gravity beers have such a long history and resurfacing interest.  Brad gave me a copy of his Beersmith 2.0 as a thank you for appearing.  I'm still playing around with it to see if it is worth the effort of switching over after six years of using ProMash.

I also talked to Helena over at CHOW's Table Manners for an article she was writing about the etiquette of tasting bad homebrew.  Manners are not really something I ever thought I'd be quoted about (rather than being proud, my mother seemed almost suspicious). 

In addition, I'm happy to report that I recently got the go ahead to write three more articles for BYO on: Blending Beers, Spontaneous Fermentation, and American Dark Lagers (with Nathan).  They are still figuring out the schedule for next year's issues, so I'm not sure exactly when they'll appear (although the Intro to Sour Brewing article that I submitted a couple months ago should be coming out shortly).
All of that has distracted me while a bathroom remodel going on at my house has prevented me from brewing.  Luckily this weekend I'll get back into things with our first ~20 gallon pull and replace for the wine barrel solera followed by brewing a smoked roggenbier at my friend Scott's place.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Homebrewing with Local Ingredients

Trying to brew and teach at the same time is pretty tough.
On August 14th I taught my first homebrewing class, with the bucolic backdrop provideded by Purcellville Virginia's Mountain View Farm.  It seemed obvious that being on a working farmthe subject matter would be brewing with local ingredients.  I'm an advocate of buying ingredients at places that specialize in them, which ensures they are fresh and high quality.  In the same way that I don't buy malt extract in the baking isle of the supermarket, I don't buy spices or fruit at the homebrewing store (or a supermarket for that matter).  Obtaining the freshest, highest quality ingredients is the quickest way to improve the beers you produce.

The turnout for the class was great, people asked insiteful questions, and seemed to enjoy the demonstration (not to mention the samples I brought).  During the class I finally opened up the growler of Quick Sour Bruin that I'd been sitting on; it had really improved with a moderate sourness and expressive coffee and bready malts (although having to wait a year really defeated the pourpose of the quick souring method).

The wheat had a few bits of other grain mixed in.
The Peach American Wheat I brewed during the class used as many local ingredients as I could get my hands on.  The farm I was brewing on primarily grows vegetables, so another local farmer provided the raw wheat.  I've read plenty of debate about whether unmalted cereal grains, that haven't been flaked/torrefied, need to be boiled before conversion.  Some brewers point out that for many grains the gelatinization temperature (that is the temperature at which the starches burst and become accessible to enzymes) is within the saccharification range.  While this is true, that is the temperature required for the pure starch to gelatinize, more heat/time is required when the starch is constrained by proteins.  This is the reason why you can thicken a sauce with corn starch without bringing it to a boil, but a flour thickened sauce requires a few minutes at a boil to fully thicken.

Sadly I wasn't able to get any local malted barley for the fill-out of the grist, although a few weeks later I did pick up 50 lbs of Valley Malting pale malt (from Massachusetts) that I'll be brewing with soon.  Brewing with local malt really isn't any different than brewing with any other malt, although Nick (the owner of DIY Brewing Supply where I bought the malt) suggested adding a short protein rest to the schedule when using this particular malt.

Audrey was a big help cutting up the peaches and keeping an eye on things while I was talking.
The same farmer who brought the wheat also came with a few pounds of his yellow peaches.  While I'm usually an advocate of adding fruit after primary fermentation is complete, for this batch I wanted to add it during the class.  I added the sliced up peaches (pits removed, skin left on) to the kettle once I got the chiller running post-boil.  This will give less of a fresh fruit aroma to the beer, but it should provide a complementary fruit character to the citrusy hops.

I brought the first harvest of dried hops from my hop bines, and a couple weeks later dry hopped with half a pound of wet hops from the second harvest (both additions were a combination of Cascade and Willamette).  One of the great advantages of homegrown hops, and wet hops in general, is that they haven't been exposed to heat while drying.  This leaves the most delicate aromatics intact, but by adding them to the boil (even at flame out) these volatilize.

Here is the outline of the topics I tried to cover during the class:

Unmalted grains
Any starch containing grain can be used (wheat, rye, oats, corn, spelt, buckwheat etc...)
Flaked or torrefied grains can be added directly to the mash with malted grain
Raw grains must be boiled to gelatinize their starches before mashing
Pale American 2-row malt has enough enzymes to convert half of its own weight in unmalted grains

Other sources of starch
Includes root vegetables (potato, sweet potato), and squashes (pumpkin, butternut)
Generally steamed or roasted before mashing
Most squashes can be added to the boil or fermenter since they are relatively low in starch

Other sources of sugar
Includes honey, maple syrup, sorghum syrup, and molasses
Can be added right to the boil or fermenter
The later in the process they are added the more of their aromatics will survive into the beer

First time I've dry hopped with wet hops.Wet (undried) hops
Fresher “green” flavor
Usually added at the end of the boil to preserve their aroma
Weigh 5-6 times more than when dried
Must be used within a few days of harvest (or dried)
Less predictable alpha acid percentage

Added near the end of the boil provides a more “integrated” character (good for adding low level complexity), but difficult to control how much character it contributes
As a tea (steeped in hot water) or tincture (vodka extraction) gives a brighter more assertive character (good if you want to be able to identify the herb/spice) and allows you dial in the flavor by tasting as you add

Fresh fruit
The riper the fruit is (even slightly over-ripe) the better
Added at the end of the boil the heat and fermentation destroy or drive off delicate aromatics, but there is no risk of contamination from wild yeast and bacteria living on the skin
Added to the fermenter preserves more delicate aromatics, but there is some risk of contamination (especially in low alcohol beers)

Wild yeast and bacteria
Harvested from the air
Best to capture when the weather is cool (less acetobacter and mold)
Leave hot wort out overnight covered with cheesecloth
Propagate and sample before using
Harvested from grain
Best for Lactobacillus (produces mostly lactic acid)
Add malted grain to a starter, hold at 110-120 F for three days before using

I'm hoping to run another class in the Fall/Winter in collaboration with Mountain View Farms, but this one will probably be setup as more of an introduction to brewing.

Local Peach Wheat Amber 

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 12.25
Anticipated OG: 1.050
Anticipated SRM: 10.0
Anticipated IBU: 23.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 56 %
Wort Boil Time: 65 Minutes

81.6% - 10.00 lbs. American Pale Malt (2-row)
16.3% - 2.00 lbs. Raw Wheat
2.0% - 0.25 lbs. Pale Chocolate Malt 

1.25 oz. Homegrown Mix Dried (Whole, ~5.00% AA) @ 60 min.
1.25 oz. Homegrown Mix Dried (Whole, ~5.00% AA) @ 0 min.
8.00 oz. Homegrown Mix Wet (Whole, ~1.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

DCL Yeast S-04 SafAle English Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 152

Brewed 8/14/11 at Mountain View Farms

Used DC water cut with 3 gallons o f distilled. Boiled milled raw wheat for 20 minutes before combining with the malted grains and water to stabilize.

Hops (Cascade and Willamette) were dried on my fan drying rig.

Batch sparged, collected about 6 gallons of runnings. Added three pounds of sliced/pitted yellow peaches after chilling for a few minutes.

Ended up with about 4 gallons of wort after the boil, chilled to ~90 F and then racked to a sanitary keg for the ride home. Chilled in fridge for 3 hours, then added 1 gallon of chilled water to cool it the rest of the way.

Chilled to 73 F then added 1 gallon of chilled distilled water to drop the temp into the high 60s. Shook to aerate and pitch 1 pack of rehydrated US-05.  Solid fermentation by 18 hours at 65 F ambient.

9/4/11 Dry hopped with 1/2 pound of wet hops just off the bines in my backyard.

9/12/11 Bottled with 3.25 oz of cane sugar, aiming for 2.2 volumes of CO2. Only down to 1.017, not as dry as I expected.

9/29/11 Solid beer, peach and the hops are a bit more subtle than I expected.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What is your favorite Brettanomyces?

Nice looking pellicle on my Dark Saison III.
White Labs Brett B - 16%
Wyeast Brett B - 16%
Other - 14%
Wyeast Brett L - 13%
White Labs Brett C - 10%
Wyeast Brett C - 7%
Wyeast Brett A - 4%
East Coast Yeast Brett Blend #9 - 4%
White Labs Brett L - 3%
Brett Drie - 3%
East Coast Yeast Brett Blend #1 - 2%
Allagash Brett - 2%

It's great to live in a time and place where there are so many strains of Brettanomyces readily available (both from yeast labs and bottle dregs).  Just like the Saccharomyces used by brewers, all of the available strains of Brett fall into two closely related species, but instead of ale (cervisea) and lager (pastorianous) they are funky (anomalous, which includes claussenii) and funkier (bruxellensis, which includes lambicus).  Ale yeast is comprised of a huge range of different strains (think that Saison Dupont and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are both fermented with it) in the same way within these two Brettanomyces species there are a wonderful variety of characters (so for example the strains that two labs market as Brett lambicus can be completely different from one another).  There are also a few other species of Brettanomyces that are just starting to be used intentionally in brewing (there is B. custersianus in our Strong Golden Solera as part of the East Coast Yeast Bugfarm IV).

The way in which "new" Brett strains are developed is different from brewer's yeast.  Most ale and lager strains are the result of slow mutation starting from another strain, usually at a brewery where long-term repitching under certain conditions and harvesting methods cause a mutated version of the strain to become dominant.  With Brett, in most cases new strains are either discovered accidentally (as Allagash's Brett was in a batch of saison) or isolated from a wild fermented beer (Avery's Brett drie was cultured from a bottle of Drie Fonteinen J & J Oude Geuze Blauw).  Now it is true that some Brett strains go through the same process as brewers yeast in the cases of breweries like Jolly Pumpkin and St. Somewhere who do not start over from a cultured strain (Lambic brewers fall into this category as well since cells live in the barrels waiting to work in the next batch along with whatever microbes happen to fall into the wort as it cools).

For the commercial strains, I tend to like the Wyeast more than White Labs in general (especially the WY Brett L cherry funk compared to the WL's full on funk assault), but my favorite is White Labs Brett C (which has just the right balance of fruit and funk for my tastes in most applications).  It works well in both English and Belgian styles, and I've even had good luck using it in 100% fermentations.  The Brett B strains are pretty similar with the Wyeast being slightly less aggressive in my experience.  I had a chance to use the WY Brett A strain for a few beers before it was discontinued, but it was pretty similar to the WL Brett C with a bit more funk.

I'm looking forward to seeing how my first beer, a rye saison, with ECY Brett Blend #1 is when I bottle it next week. I also love dregs from sour beers, but they are harder to judge because you don't know exactly what cells are alive (I also like to use a few bottles in combination to ensure a variety of microbes).

I'm interested to hear what all of the people who picked "Other" wanted to vote for, I assume you weren't all going for the Brett strain Wyeast includes in their Berliner Blend.  I didn't include other commercial breweries' cultures because for the most part they either have a house culture that is one of the ones mentioned, or that has mutated, but isn't controlled/banked/available  I'd also like to hear any comments on what it is about your favorite strain that does it for you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ultra Low Alcohol IPA Tasting

I'm shocked by how delicious my first foray into low-alcohol beers, a Nelson and Amarillo hopped micro-IPA, turned out. I was just hoping that this second runnings batch would be quick way to get something hoppy on tap, but it ended up as one of the more interesting things I've brewed in recent memory. For this tasting I was also able to get my hands on a bottle of Mikkeller's Drink'in the Sun (a similar 2.4% Amarillo hopped American wheat) to sample next to mine.

Two hoppy American wheat ales.Nelson Jr. Micro-IPA

Appearance – Looks like a hefeweizen, cloudy-yellow, thanks to all that wheat malt and dry hops. Solid head retention and nice lacing (again credit to those same two factors).

Smell – Pungent, over-the-top, resiny, lemon, berry, spring-time sort of hop nose. Otherwise unremarkable, clean fermentation character, minimal malt, and not surprisingly no alcohol. While there isn't much going on other than the hops, that isn't to say it is simple.

Taste – Firm bitterness, similar balance to a fresh top-shelf IPA/DIPA (it is surprising how bitter 35 IBUs taste in a beer this small). The hop aromatics continue their dominance (orange, strawberry, and pine in particular), but a hint of malt comes through as well. I miss the bigger malt in the middle of the palate where the beer seems to disappear before the bitterness kicks in on the finish.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, very nice considering the low starting gravity. Moderate carbonation (I find that too much or too little carbonation can detract from the body of a beer).

Drinkability & Notes – No one would mistake the flavor for a DIPA or even an IPA, but it could most likely pass for a 3.5-4.0% ABV extra pale ale. This batch was good enough that I'll probably try something similar in a couple months with a more purposefully designed mash (mostly Vienna with a bit of crystal I'm thinking) for more malt character.

In comparison the Mikkeller is thinner (although at 1.010 the final gravity is only a few points lower), highly carbonated, lager-like, and doesn't have nearly the hop character. It is a bit unfair to compare a beer that was brewed less than a month ago in my garage to one that was shipped from Belgium who-knows-when, but when I pay $5 for 11.2 ounces of 2.4% ABV beer I expect better.