Thursday, March 29, 2012

Elderflower Sour Golden Ale

Not a bad looking glass of elderflower infused golden sour.This elderflower infused sour ale is last of the four beers that Nathan and I made from the first pull from our solera wine barrel. This version was inspired by the aggressively flavored Cantillon Mamouche lambic. We recently did a tasting of this beer, and the two of the other versions, with James and the rest of the crew on Basic Brewing Radio.

Elderflower Golden Solera

Appearance – Looks similar to the other versions of this beer (other than the one on Cabernet grapes) brilliantly clear golden-yellow with a quickly receding white head.

Smell – The elderflowers add a soft fruity/floral character that blends nicely with the wine barrel. It is amazing how dissimilar the aroma is from the unexpected green pepper character I smelled in Cantillon Mamouche. Not sure if that is a result of the amount of flowers added or that we used dried and they used fresh. There is still some fruity-funk from the bugs as well.

Taste – The acidity comes across as almost citrusy. It is very front of the tongue, bright, crisp, and sharp. Reminiscent of lemonade, minus the sugar. The fruitiness is really nice from the barrel, Bugfarm, and flowers. The finish lingers with the floral character featuring more prominently.

Mouthfeel – Firm carbonation, although well short of being spritzy. The body feels surprisingly full for a dry/sour beer.

Drinkability & Notes – Very enjoyable, although I could stand a slightly more aggressive elderflower flavor than the one ounce for three weeks delivered. The flowers do obscure some of the more complex fermentation flavors of the plain version, but their flavor makes up for it. Interestingly, the floral character seems to have built as the beer as aged in the bottle, with some of the “young” flavors cleaning up over the last few months.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bourbon Brett Oatmeal Barley Wine

Barrel aging is a lot of fun, and really isn’t that much more challenging than using a carboy or bucket (if you have the space for it). After three beers each aged for a year each in our first barrel, which previously held bourbon at A. Smith Bowman, the oak and spirit characters it once imparted are now almost completely depleted. It could certainly continue to age beers that benefit from a lighter touch of oak, but we thought it would be more fun to start over with a fresh barrel from the same distillery (originally we were hoping to score a port barrel from a local vineyard, but their timing didn’t match with ours).

Our old bourbon barrel, the new one looks exactly the same.I’ve received a couple emails recently requesting a detailed explanation of the process that we go through when preparing a new barrel. So here is is:

1. Remove the wooden bung
2. Rack beer into the barrel
3. Affix a new bung that allows carbon dioxide to escape

We do not rinse, burn a sulfur wick, or otherwise clean or sanitize the barrel before filling. The most important thing to do is have the beer ready to go into the barrel as quickly as possible after the barrel is emptied. If you obtain a barrel which previously held wine or beer and are not able to fill it within a couple days, then it would be a good idea to rinse the barrel. If you need to hold the barrel for longer than a couple weeks, then you should consider either burning a sulfur wick or filling with a holding solution composed of water, citric acid, and metabisulfite. Your goal is to prevent the growth of microbes like Acetobacter and mold which can cause off-flavors. Spirit barrels are safer for longer (which is good since burning a sulfur wick in one can have explosive consequences), but they too will eventually dry out which can cause them to leak when finally filled.

The new convertible bungs we now have on our four barrels.For the closure, previously we have used standard #10½ rubber bungs affixed with water-filled airlocks. However, after recently talking to Vinnie of Russian River, I picked up a couple of these that convert between waterless airlocks to solid silicone bungs. It will be nice not to worry about a dry airlock allowing a free flow of oxygen into the beer (virtually guaranteeing acetic acid production).

Since we were starting over with a clean barrel, we thought it was a good opportunity to also pitch a new culture. The previous barrel had a resident culture that produced a wonderful, mostly lactic, sourness and did not completely dry out the base beer. The character shares a lot of similarities with beers from Raccoon Lodge, where they pitch their sour beers with a house strain of Lactobacillus in the absence of Brett. Nathan is planning to use our retired barrel to help start his barrel program at the brewpub where he'll be brewing, Right Proper.

Most of the oud bruin we transferred out of the old barrel went into bottles, but as usual some people put part of their shares onto fruit. I moved one of my two shares (4.5 gallons) onto 2 lbs of sour cherries, Nathan went with raspberries, and Alex is considering peaches or pumpkin. One of the most enjoyable parts of these barrel days is getting to try variations on the beers that other people have done previously. This time Jeff brought both cherry and raspberry versions of the wine barrel aged Belgian single, both of which were very nice.

That is a lot of grain for one 10 gallon batch.For the new barrel we wanted to pair the vanilla and coconut aromatics we got in the first beer aged in the original barrel with the cherry-pie aromatics of the Brett lambicus strain from Wyeast (the White Labs version of the strain is much funkier, and would not meld as well). To support the bold character of the fresh barrel the six of us agreed on an oatmeal barley wine recipe that included a hefty dose of crystal malt. Since we are not pitching lactic acid bacteria, we were able to add more hop bitterness than we would want in a truly sour beer. For subsequent fills we may pitch additional microbes transitioning to sour beers, but it will be another year before we have to make that decision.

For the primary fermentation on my 10 gallon share I didn’t have enough ale yeast to pitch, so I augmented it with some lager yeast. As strange as an ale-temperature lager yeast fermentation may sound for a barley wine, it is actually how Thomas Hardy’s Ale is produced according to Barley Wine. When I tasted my portion of the beer after primary fermentation was complete it had a slightly fruity character (along with big caramel), but otherwise tasted unremarkable. On top of that, the Brett will both destroy and create esters, making the primary fermentation character far less important than it would be in a clean beer.

An 8 gallon bucket serves as a great primary fermenor for these strong beers.Barrel Brett Barley Wine

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 42.00
Anticipated OG: 1.090
Anticipated SRM: 21.0
Anticipated IBU: 45.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 62 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

81.0% - 34.00 lbs. Maris Otter
10.1% - 4.25 lbs. Crystal (Various)
8.9% - 3.75 lbs. Quick Oats

3.01 oz. Crystal (Whole, 6.15% AA) @ 70 min.
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 70 min.

1.00 Unit Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

Safale US-05
Saflager S-23
White Labs Southern German Lager WLP838

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

Brewed 2/20/12 Used a blend of several medium to dark crystal malts including CaraMunich, CaraVienna, Valley Malting Dark, Simpsons Dark, and Golden Naked Oats.

Collected 9 gallons at 1.102 with a batch sparge. Collected 3 extra gallons of final runnings and boiled those separately for 20 minutes.

Chilled to 70 F, shook to aerate, and pitched a blend of rehydrated US-05, S-23, and a passed its best by White Labs Southern German Lager.

Left at 63 F, good fermentation by 24 hours. At that point I moved it to the basement to restrain the lager yeast from getting too fruity.

3/22/12 Kegged, flushed with CO2, sealed.

3/25/12 Racked into new bourbon barrel. Alex made 5 gallons with Wyeast Brett lambicus (WY5526) that will serve to get the rest of the batch going. The barrel was about 3 gallons short of being full.

Eventually dumped as a result of timing issues...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nelson Nectar - India Amber Ale

Some beer nerds talk as if the only hoppy beers worth drinking are from the West Coast. It is hard to argue that anyone brews better hop focused beers than Russian River, Alpine, Lagunitas, and Ballast Point. However, there are a number of great East Coast beers that are nearly as good. While they are still packed with hop bitterness and aroma, they tend to have a bit more malt flavor than the West Coasters. Recently I got to drink an Alchemist Heady Topper and a Hill Farmstead Edward next to each other. Despite the differential between their alcohol contents, I though both beers had similar balances of bright American hops noses with a subtle bready malt.

Weighing the gypsum and calcium chloride to add to the water.It is also the time of the year for one of the more established East Coast hop bombs, Tröegs Nugget Nectar. As much as I enjoy it fresh, the high finishing gravity (1.018 by my measure) means that Nugget Nectar tends to fall off quicker than drier IPAs. The residual sweetness is in spite of a grist that contains no crystal malt (the color comes from darker base malts - Munich and Vienna). I decided to brew a batch loosely inspired by it, but drier and with a unique hop bill.

When I posted my tips on brewing better hoppy beers a few months ago, Shaun Hill (of Hill Farmstead) chimed in on the blog's Facebook page to suggest that, in addition to sulfate, he thinks using chloride is key to treating the water he uses for hoppy beers. He wouldn’t give me his specific target, but I decided to try increasing the chloride in my water. I never understand why some homebrewers talk about the ratio of sulfate to chloride for water treatment. Having a beer with 10 ppm sulfate and 5 ppm chloride will not have the same character as one with 200 ppm sulfate and 100 ppm chloride, even though both have the same 2:1 ratio. After diluting my tap water to bring down the high level of carbonate, I added 8 g of gypsum and 3 g of calcium chloride. This yielded approximately 145 ppm sulfate and 60 ppm chloride. Don’t treat your water without having a decent idea of what minerals are already in it.

A closeup shot of the HopShot's gooey hop resins and alpha acids.Many breweries (Russian River, Surly etc.) use hop extract to bitter their hoppy beers for both practical and flavor considerations. Hops suck up wort, lowering your efficiency and adding cost (but on a homebrew scale, who cares?). Some brewers also claim to taste the chlorophyll extracted from a large bittering charge contributes a grassy or vegetal off-flavor. I used hop extract in my Pliny the Younger clone, but it was not the sole source of bitterness. Northern Brewer suggests that 1 g of their HopShots, boiled 60 minutes, will contribute about 10 IBUs to five gallons of wort. I decided on 8 g at 60 minutes, with no other hops added until flame out. I'm interested to find out if it contributes a noticeably different character to the beer, and if it tastes as bitter as I expect for 80 IBUs.

The aroma hops were a bit of an experiment. I fell in love with the unique fruity character of Nelson Sauvin in my first attempt at a Micro-IPA. This time, rather than pairing it with Amarillo, I added Ahtanum and Simcoe to see how Nelson works with a bolder citrus hop character. Otherwise the process was very similar to those I’ve used on hoppy beers in the past.

With the huge dose of hops the boiled wort isn't the prettiest sight.Blazing World #1

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.34
Anticipated OG: 1.070
Anticipated SRM: 12.2
Anticipated IBU: 80.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 61 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

78.2% - 12.00 lbs. French Vienna Malt
16.3% - 2.50 lbs. American Pale Malt
2.4% - 0.38 lbs. Cane Sugar
2.4% - 0.38 lbs. Crystal 120L
0.6% - 0.09 lbs. Pale Chocolate Malt

8.0 ml.     HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
1.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
1.00 oz. Ahtanum (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
0.50 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 14.00% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
1.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Start of Chill
1.00 oz. Ahtanum (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ Start of Chill
0.50 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 14.00% AA) @ Start of Chill
2.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Ahtanum (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

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

WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Pliny the Water
Calcium(Ca): 90.0 ppm
Magnesium(Mg): 5.0 ppm
Sodium(Na): 10.0 ppm
Sulfate(SO4): 145.0 ppm
Chloride(Cl): 60.0 ppm
biCarbonate(HCO3): 65.0 ppm

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 154 F

3/1/12 Made a 1.2 l starter on the stirplate. Seemed finished after 48 hours, so I allowed it to settle until brewday.

3/4/12 Brewed by myself.

Filtered DC water cut with 50% distilled. Added 8 g of gypsum and 3 g of chloride for the entire 10 gallons of prepared liquor. Aiming for ~90 PPM Calcium, 145 Sulfate, and 60 Chloride.

Batch sparged with 185 F water. Collected a total of 7.25 gallons of 1.058 runnings. Added the sugar to the start of the boil.

8 ml of HopShot extract added to the kettle for bittering.

Half of the flameout added for a 30 minute hop stand. The rest were added at the start of the chill.
Chilled to 64 F stirring constantly. Strained to remove the bulk of the hops. Oxygenated for 60 seconds with pure O2. Topped off with ~.3 gallons of spring water to reach 5 gallons. Pitched the decanted starter.

Left at 63 F ambient to start fermenting. Good activity by 24 hours. Ambient temperature rose slowly to around 70 by the end of the second week.

3/23/12 Bagged and weighted the dry hops, and placed into a keg. Flushed twice with CO2, then racked the beer in. Purged the head space twice, then left at room temperature for dry hopping. At 1.016 (77% AA, 7.1% ABV) the beer was slightly sweeter than I intended, although that may have also been because the bitterness was a bit lighter/smoother than I wanted.

4/19/12 Great tasting hoppy beer. Could use slightly more bitterness, say 10 ml of hopshot, and could be a few shades darker. Otherwise it is just a matter of tweaking the hop profile based on what direction I want to take it.

5/13/12 Brewed a second iteration of this recipe.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hybrid Wine-Beer Sour Tasting

I’m not a frequent wine drinker. While I don’t mind the flavors of a big red wine, they have a tendency to overwhelm my palate to the point where I can only taste three things: dark fruit, tannins, and alcohol. The New York Times had an interesting article a couple years ago on how diluting beverages like wine, coffee, and whiskey with water can help bring out subtle flavors and aromatics. 

To create this wine-beer hybrid, Nathan and I aged four gallons of our red wine barrel aged sour beer on a gallon of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (the last of a five gallon bucket). The beer dilutes the intense flavor of the grapes, which helps my palate pull out lighter and more interesting flavors usually obscured in wine by their high concentration (oddly). Unlike water though, the beer adds its own flavor, preventing the combination from tasting thin or watered down.

Cabernet Sauvignon "Golden" Sour

A glass of wine-beer hybrid.Appearance – The light pink head evaporates almost instantly leaving a beer that looks more like a rosé.I'll admit that a stable head would be nice, but it certainly adds to the vinous vibe.

Smell – The aroma is rich with grapes, but it doesn’t smell like wine. The fruit is lighter and fresher than red wines tend to be. The Cabernet gives a complex blend of aromatics, grapes sure, but also cherries and raspberries. Brett funk makes an appearance as well, with more classic leathery funk than the other version of this beer. Just a hint of vinegar is released when I swirl the beer.

Taste – Solid tangy lactic sourness, along with a big fruit character. Similar grape character and level to Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, bold, but not dominant. In the flavor the fruit comes across even more like raspberries than in the nose; I'm not sure what fruit I would guess was added. Not sure if the slightly toasty flavor is from the malt or the Brett. A wisp of residual sweetness helps to balance the acidity. The grapes mostly obscure the oak flavor, but I’m sure the barrel helps the beer taste more wine-like.

Mouthfeel – Moderate body, although it feels a bit fuller than the non-fruited portions of the batch. The prickly carbonation is just about right for my tastes.

Drinkability & Notes – I couldn’t be happier with the way this portion of the solera turned out. It is interesting that diluting the grapes compared to a wine actually brings out more of the subtle flavors from the fruit. I’ll have to buy another bucket of frozen grapes the next time I have a couple sour beers ready for fruit.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What beer serving method is best?

On Tap - 52%
On Cask - 28%
In a Bottle - 19%

I think the answer to what is the best serving method for beer is so much more complex than my simple poll allowed. Expectations differ by the type of beer, where I am drinking, and the brewery. I think each method has times when it is the best and the worst.

When the right beer is served on cask, and it’s done correctly, there are few better drinks. However, too often in America casks are served by bars that don’t treat them correctly. My primary complaint is that casks are served too warm; there is a big difference between cellar, and room temperature. Other problems include murky, oxidized, or otherwise off tasting beers being served on hand pump and gravity pour. Not many breweries have large cask programs, so many bars around here are desperate for beers to put on cask. The result is that many have styles on that don’t benefit from the serving method; I once had a weizenbock on cask at a local bar, bad choice. Imported beer on cask are always a risk; English milds and bitters rarely travel well. The only time I order a cask is if it is a local moderate alcohol beer or at a bar that takes their casks seriously.

Draft beer tends to be the most consistent since it is usually stored cold and sold relatively quickly. However, they have their share of problems as well. Many bars only have a single serving temperature, which tends to be too cold for most beers. I really respect a bar that can keep their draft list tight and well chosen rather than having 50, 75, or even 100 taps. The more handles you have the more likely it is that some of the kegs will sit around for too long. Off-flavors from poorly cleaned lines are a big problem, although it seems like, at least here in DC, beer bars are taking the quality of their draft beer more seriously. When buying a draft, I usually go for IPAs and other beers that are best fresh. I also am a big fan of small samples, a chance to try an interesting beer without investing in the now universal bomber.

The thing I really like about bottles is that many breweries indicate on them when the beer was packaged (I hate best buy dates, seriously a year for Pilsner Urquell?). However, many brewers' bottles still do not have this basic piece of information. Bottles have a tendency to sit around too long, especially at places with extensive selections. A deep bottle list makes much more sense for liquors, which can sit indefinitely. Like drafts, I would like to see a well chosen and frequently moved beer list, especially of things that need to be served fresh. No problem having a big backlog of stouts, strong Belgian beers, sours and others that have a long shelf-life, but don’t carry 15 IPAs in bottles on top of a deep draft list.

This is all to say that what I choose to buy and drink is highly situational. In most cases I avoid bottles when I am out because I can generally buy the same beer at a store for less than half the price (and take a look at the bottling date before I buy). There are also some breweries that just do not have their bottling where it needs to be. A beer is fine on draft, while bottles are infected or have carbonation issues.

For my homebrew, I try to keep the beers in my kegerator restricted to only those that are best consumed quickly and in quantity. I bottle anything that will not be harmed by months or years of aging. The rare occasions I put beer on cask it is for parties when I know we’ll be able to work through the large quantity of beer in a reasonable amount of time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Easter Spiced Pomegranate Quadruppel

I tend to deflect most requests to brew a batch of beer for someone else’s event. So little of the cost of a batch is the ingredients, the real expense is the time and effort I spend both in brewing and planning. However, I’ve made a couple of exceptions recently. First there was the parti-gyle (should I say "combined grist brewing" as Ron Pattinson suggested in the comments) English Oatmeal Porter that I brewed with my friend Nate. However, I ended up with close to five gallons between the two batches, so not exactly an act of charity.

Quad waiting for the addition of water and pomegranate.A few months ago I bumped into my neighbor Dan. He remembered that I was a homebrewer and offered to start rinsing and saving empty bottles for me. Dan homebrewed while he was a grad student, but hadn’t made a batch since getting married, leaving grad school to become a reverend, and having kids. He hasn't lost his interest in good beer though, he and the reverends he works with hold weekly meetings at Pizzeria Paradiso (one of the three or four best beer bars in DC). It was at one of these meetings while planning their annual Easter Vigil that they struck upon the idea of brewing a batch of beer to serve to the several hundred attendees.

I kicked a couple of ideas around with him over email. My assumption was that they’d want something light and accessible for such a big group, maybe toss in some biblical spices? A couple weeks ago he and one of the other reverends came over to drink a few homebrews and plan the recipe. Dan and Tommy were especially intrigued by my Sour Cherry Bourbon Porter. In the end they decided on a Pomegranate Cardamom Quadrupel. We chewed on a couple malts, their favorites were CaraMunich, for dark fruit flavor, and just a touch of Carafa Special II, for darker roasted coffee aromas. Pomegranate is one of the few fruits mentioned in the bible, which is why He’Brew uses it in their beers so frequently. It is also suspected of being the fruit that Eve ate from the tree of knowledge (apples were unknown in the dessert of the Middle East).

I realize religion is beyond this blog's usual purview, so I apologize. I was raised Catholic, but haven’t been a religious person for the last ten years or so. Oddly I don't have a particular memory of losing faith, it was a gradual erosion until one day it was the only honest choice remaining. However, unlike many atheists, I still think that religion can be a force for good in the world, although that certainly isn’t always the case. My central concern is that having faith in something (including, but not limited to a god) makes a person an easier target to be taken advantage of or misled. That said, faith also makes it easier to convince people to help others or sacrifice for the benefit of society. Reverend Dan seems like the sort of person who is doing things the right way. In the hours we spent together brewing, he didn't ask me about my beliefs or suggest that I come to his church. When several of his young kids came across the street for awhile to watch the brewing, they were well behaved and inquisitive about the biology of fermentation.

After a standard mash and boil, at flame out we added a small dose of white cardamom. Not to be confused with the smoky turpentine notes of the black cardamom that Noah, Alex, and I used in the second iteration of our annual Dark Saison. White cardamom is most often associated with Scandinavian baked goods and coffee (previously I also used a pinch in my Scandinavian Imperial Porter). It is always easier to under-spice, and add more later rather than risk adding too much. For yeast we used the Belgian strain from the Westmalle Trappist Abbey, White Labs 530, naturally. The pomegranate flavor was contributed by tart, raisiny pomegranate molasses that Dan's wife procured from a local Turkish market. We added a total of one pound split between the secondary fermentors. Hopefully it will be enough to add a slight tartness, à la Ommegang Three Philosophers.

My payment for the time and effort will be a six-pack taken from the batch at kegging. Talk about a selfless act, especially considering how good the sample we pulled tasted!

Russell's Quad

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 39.38
Anticipated OG: 1.082
Anticipated SRM: 22.7
Anticipated IBU: 24.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 55 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

83.8% 33.00 lbs. American Pale Malt
5.1% 2.00 lbs. Beet Sugar
5.1% 2.00 lbs. CaraMunich Malt
5.1% 2.00 lbs. Pommegranate Molasses
1.0% 0.38 lbs. Carafa Special II

2.50 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ 65 min.

0.50 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 10 min.
1.00 Unit(s)Whirlfloc @ 10 min.
0.5 g Cardamom Seed @ 0 min.

White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 152

2/2/12 Made a 1.5 l starter with 2 tubes of 530 on the stir plate.

Brewed 2/4/12

Batch Sparged with 180 F water. Collected 9 gallons of 1.092 runnings including 2 lbs of table sugar added to the boil, plus 1 gallon of final runnings (boiled separately on the stove).

.5 grams of ground white cardamom added in the last few seconds of the boil

Chilled to 67 F, 60 seconds of oxygen for both halves of the wort. Pitched half the starter, not decanted, into each half. Left at 63 F to ferment.

2/20/12 Fermentation appears complete, racked to secondary.

2/17/12 Racked both halves to secondary.

3/1/12 Added 10.6 oz of pomegranate molasses to one carboy and 5.3 oz to the other. Added one gallon of distilled water between them to top-off to the target volume.

3/22/12 Kegged, the half with more syrup had more trub. Good flavor, hint of sweetness and tartness.

Dan said the beer got excellent reviews at the Easter Vigil, glad the beer was ready in time!

7/23/12 The bottles ended up a bit over-carbonated, but otherwise the beer is very good. Fruity, spicy, slightly tart. Substantial, but well balanced.