Monday, December 30, 2013

Oerbier Reserva Inspired - Dark Sour Beer

Racking from the kettle to the primary fermentor.Dark-strong-sour beers have some serious magic in them. They age gracefully practically forever, developing deep complexities. De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva is one of my favorites: tart, vinous, blue-cheesy, warming (but not hot, despite 13% ABV), and lightly oaky. Russian River Conseration, BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien, The Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme, and Boulevard Love Child are a few others worth seeking.

For the first Modern Times brew-with-Mike Kickstarter reward, I decided to brew something along the same line. I don’t know the recipe for the base Oerbier, but I’d assume a selection of specialty malts and some candi syrup are involved. In a beer like this, the specifics of the fermentables aren't terribly important as the bugs and wood will change their character. I also aimed for substantially less alcohol (8-8.5% ABV) to make it something I can drink with a bit more regularity.

For almost their first 20 years, De Dolle pitched a culture they picked up at Rodenbach. When the source dried up, they continued to repitched the culture, which eventually resulted in bottles exploding as the yeast became more attenuative and alcohol tolerant. The remaining bottles were transferred to used red-wine barrels to create the first batch of Stille Nacht Special Reserva. The result was so good they've released several versions of Stille Nacht like this (although I enjoy Oerbier Special Reserva more). A house Brettanomyces strain for these beers was re-cultured from an old keg returned from Finland.

Luckily the De Dolle's brewer’s yeast strain is purportedly available from Wyeast (3942, Belgian Wheat), unluckily the night before brewing I managed to knock my precariously balanced 5L flask off my under-sized stir-plate. A good reason to always keep a selection of dried yeasts on hand!

The two isolates from The Yeast Bay.Rather than risk pitching bottle dregs from such a strong beer, Nick from The Yeast Bay offered to culture and isolate the dregs from a bottle of the 2012 vintage that I shipped to him. The two yeasts he isolated turned out to be not particularly attenuative, which may not be the worst thing for a strong beer like this. I pitched both strains because multiple Brett isolates generally preform better than one. I saved some of each culture for single Brett trials when I get to it though.

I added a few Port-soaked oak cubes I’ve had sitting in a mason jar for a couple years when I racked to secondary. I always have oak cubes sitting in a variety of liquors, ready to add when I need them. Another nice thing to have on hand.

Hopefully this batch turns out well, we've got 30 bbls of a similar recipe (with different microbes) aging in red wine barrels at the Modern Times Beer Fermentorium!


Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.00
Anticipated OG: 1.070
Anticipated SRM: 20.9
Anticipated IBU: 13.7
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

63.3% - 9.50 lbs. American Pale Malt
18.3% - 2.75 lbs. German Munich Malt
6.7% - 1.00 lbs. Candi Sugar Syrup D90
5.0% - 0.75 lbs. Biscuit Malt
5.0% - 0.75 lbs. Crystal 60L
0.8% - 0.13 lbs. Carafa Special III
0.8% - 0.13 lbs. Sauer(acid) Malt

0.63 oz. Palisade (Pellet, 6.50% AA) @ 60 min.

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


DCL Yeast T-58 SafBrew Specialty Ale
Yeast Bay DDOSR C1
Yeast Bay DDOSR C2

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 151 F

11/13/13 Made a 3 L stir-plate starter of Wyeast 3942, nearly 3 months old. Started quickly.

Broke it...

5 gallons of mash water, w/ 3 g CaCl. 4 gallons sparge water with 3 g of CaCl. 2 tsp of phosphoric acid added to the batch sparge. Collected 7 gallons of 1.053 runnings. Added D90 candi syrup.

Chilled to 70 F. Added 1 packet of T58, and pitches of two isolates from Yeast Bay of De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva (DDOSR C1, and DDOSR C2).

12/7/13 Racked to secondary with 1 oz of Port-soaked French oak cubes.

Added dregs from Modern Time Empty Hats as there wasn't much funk.

10/23/15 Added 16 oz King's Orchard Montmorency Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate (equivalent to ~10 lbs of cherries!)

9/10/16 Bottled resulting 4.5 gallons with 92 g of table sugar.

5/15/17 Tasting notes. FG 1.011, ~8.5% ABV including the cherry concentrate.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rum-Raspberry Sour Brown Tasting

I have a complicated relationship with fruited sour beers. When I’m buying I shy away from them because the fruit tends to conceal the interesting flavors from the fermentation and barrel. Some of them are so delicious though, that I can’t help myself. When I drank Jester King’s Atrial Rubicite earlier this year it was one of those “wow” beers for me, saturated with concentrated raspberries (from hundreds of pounds of fruit in each barrel), without being sticky sweet like New Glarus Raspberry Tart.

For my take on the concept, I soured a brown base for four months in a third-use five-gallon rum barrel. When it had extracted sufficient character from the toasted oak, I racked four gallons onto 14 lbs of frozen/defrosted raspberries (purchased for $50 at Trader Joe’s on the way home from proposing to Audrey… I’m romantic). Considering a gallon of beer weighs a little over 8 lbs, adding 3.5 lbs of raspberries to it is pretty significant.

Recently someone asked me where I get the ideas for my recipes. In this case, in addition to the Jester King beer, I’d read that a compound (ethyl formate) found in both rum and raspberries is what the center of the milky way smells like, talk about brewing a clone!

The last bag of raspberries from that day, forgotten about in the freezer since April.Intergalactic Raspberry Sour Brown

Appearance – Light pink/tan foam floating on a ruby-brown body. Mild haze when held to the light, but pretty clear. Not actually that much redder than some of my Flemish reds. The head dissipates fairly quickly.

Smell – No getting around that this beer is all about the fruit. The aroma is saturated with jammy raspberries. It is good, but a bit seedier than I intended, thanks to five months spent on the fruit (I would have preferred only three, but I was in San Diego at the time... the sacrifices I made!). As it warms the vanilla from the barrel peeks out, but otherwise there isn’t much else going on.

Taste – Tart, but not forcefully sour. The fruit carries through nicely, unlike many raspberry beers that impress in the nose and fall flat on the tongue. There is a hint of toastiness, I suspect from the oak. Fresh and lively. Not much Brett presence yet, shares many similarities with the rounded lactic acidity from our bourbon barrel (no coincidence considering it got dregs from the Sour Brown from it).

Mouthfeel – Medium-full for a sour beer (not chewy, but enough body to support the fruit and malt). The medium-low carbonation is all I need in a dark/sour beer.

Drinkability & Notes – Despite the intense fruit flavor, it is easy to drink. The added lactic acid from fermentation really helps the fruit to pop. It would be a perfect beer to pair with a rich dessert, loads of flavor and enough acidity to cut through without providing a double-dose of sweetness. Mine is not quite as vibrantly colored as Atrial Rubicite, but nearly the level of raspberry aroma and flavor. It’ll be interesting to see how the gallon I reserved without fruit tastes.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Brett/Rye Farmhouse Ale (Not a Repost)

Three fermentors of the same saison, each with different Brett strains.Going back to one of my favorite combinations: saison with rye malt in the mash and Brett in the fermentor! My friend Nate and I were both furloughed from our federal government jobs for a few weeks in October, during that time we decided to enjoy a sunny afternoon drinking beer, eating fried fish, and brewing. A couple years ago, we brewed a similar batch, that we wanted to refine. Young it was enjoyable, but it became obnoxiously horsey/rough/funky as it aged. That character could have been the result of several things, but I suspect it was simply the strains we pitched.

We split this batch three ways to try three different Brett blends, each with the same combination of saison ale yeasts. The Brett we pitched came from bottle dregs (from the abovementioned drinking), and a couple isolates that Bootleg-Biology Jeff dropped off a few weeks prior.

As with hops, sugar, and other ingredients, split batches are a great way to learn about microbes. This is especially handy with mixed-fermentation beers as the feedback loop is so long. If a batch takes a year or longer to be “ready,” the tweak and re-brew method could take a decade to arrive at the ideal formulation and process. As fun as the single-strain Brett experiments that I’ve done in the past have been, mixing strains is where things tend to start getting interesting!

Brett'd Saison - Furlough Edition

The two-month-old pellicle on one of the Brett'd saisons.Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 21.40
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated SRM: 4.0
Anticipated IBU: 30.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

42.1% - 9.00 lbs. German Pilsener
28.0% - 6.00 lbs. American Pale Malt
18.7% - 4.00 lbs. Rye Malt
9.3% - 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
1.9% - 0.40 lbs. Sauer(acid) Malt

5 ml HopShot (Extract) @ 45 min.
4.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 2.80% AA) @ 10 min.

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

White Labs WLP585 Belgian Saison III
White Labs WLP568 Belgian Style Saison Ale Yeast Blend

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 147 F

Brewed 10/8/13

Stir-plate starter made the morning of, 2L with two Saison III and one Saison Blend.

4 g of CaCl to 8 gallons of pre-boil filtered DC water.

Mash pH measured 5.6 initially, so we added 2% acid malt. Should drop it to 5.4 at room temperature.

Added 4 g of CaCl and 1.5 tsp of phosphoric acid to 8 gallons of filtered DC water for the sparge.

Chilled to 78 F and pitched the starter. Very clear wort, left a gallon or so with the trub behind.

Pitched a half bottle each of 100% Brett Nanus and Naardenensis into one third of the batch, two Bootleg Biology Pithos isolates into another third, and dregs from a Dark Saison IV into the final third.

Placed at 68 F to begin fermenting.

12/2/13 Still sitting in primary, ambient is upper 50s F.

12/7/13 Racked to three 3 gallon secondaries.

8/7/14 Bottled each aiming for 2.8 volumes of CO2. 2 7/8 oz table sugar n DS4, 2.75 in Nanus/Naardenensis, and 2.3 oz in Pithos.

5/12/15 Tasting notes on all three versions.

The DS4 version ended up being one of my favorite batches of funky saison!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Calculating ABV for Sour Beers

Yesterday I got into a discussion about what adjustments needed to be made to accurately determine the alcohol content of a sour beer. I’d always assumed that the souring process didn’t have much effect on the standard method, using a formula that takes into account the OG of the wort and the FG of the beer, but I’d never spent any time looking into it.

When we calculate the amount of alcohol in a beer we are judging the relative density of the wort before- and after fermentation. This reduction in density (specific gravity) comes from a couple sources (including yeast biomass growth), but most of it is from the conversion of sugars in the wort to ethanol and carbon dioxide by fermentation. I’d always read that the CO2 escaping into the atmosphere was the main cause of the reduction in density during fermentation.

During a clean fermentation a single molecule of glucose is fermented to create two molecules of CO2 and two molecules of ethanol. So our formula is only valid if one molecule of CO2 produced always means the creation of one molecule of ethanol. Luckily alcoholic fermentation is the same regardless of which brewing yeast (Saccharomyces or Brettanomyces) is responsible. However, these aren’t the only microbes at work in a sour beer.

The production of lactic acid by homofermentative strains of lactic acid bacteria utilizes sugar to make lactic acid and essentially nothing else (no CO2 is produced). This could theoretically lead to a higher FG than otherwise as these sugars would not be available for alcoholic fermentation, but it wouldn’t disrupt the calculation of ABV because these microbes don’t generate carbon dioxide as a byproduct. So our original assumption is still valid.

The heterofermentative production of lactic acid produces 1 molecule of lactic acid, plus 1 molecule each of CO2 and ethanol from each molecule of glucose. As a result you’ll still get the same gravity drop for each unit of alcohol produced. The molecule of lactic acid is incidental, similar to homofermentative lactic acid production.

This spurred a question about what was really causing the gravity of the wort to drop as it is fermented: the loss of CO2, or the addition of ethanol? To get a lower density we either need to decrease the mass, or increase the volume (because density is mass/volume). As I’ve never finished with more beer than the amount of wort I started with, I assumed that the loss of weight to gaseous CO2 made sense.

It turns out that fermentation converts sugar into 51.1% ethanol and 48.9% CO2 by weight (a mol of ethanol weighs 46.07 g, a mol of CO2 weighs 44.01 g). A 20 L batch with an OG of 1.050 weighs 21 kg (water weighs 1 kg/L, this wort is by definition 5% denser than water). If fermentation generated 5% alcohol by volume, this would be 1 L of ethanol (which has a density of .789 kg/L). So .789 kg of ethanol. This means that we've fermented 1.544 kg of sugar, and created .755 kg of CO2 in the process. If the total volume remained constant, we'd have 20 L of beer with a weight of 21-.755 = 20.245 kg, divided by the weight of 20 L of water (20 kg) gives us a gravity of 1.0123.

Plugging those numbers (OG=1.050, FG=1.0123) into an alcohol calculator I get 4.95% ABV. Which is almost exactly what we'd expect given that 5% ABV was one of the conditions I specified. This indicates that most the gravity lost is in fact a result of CO2 leaving the beer.

However, it brings up an interesting question, if we are creating 1 L of alcohol, why don’t we see a volume increase as a result of fermentation? When you add rum to a Coke, it certainly seems like it would have the same effect on the volume as adding an equal amount of water. It turns out that when you mix equal parts water and ethanol the volume increases only 1.92 fold. So we’ll only get 92% of the increase from adding the ethanol, .92 L in this case (close enough that we don’t notice a difference mixing spirits with water-based drinks).

If we simply added the same 1 L of pure ethanol to our 20 L of 1.050 wort, we'd have a resulting density of ((.789*1)+(1.05*20))/20.92 = 1.042. So the addition of alcohol is not itself enough to account for much of the drop in gravity we see during fermentation.

In a fermentation we aren’t just adding alcohol, so we’d also need to consider the reduction in volume from the sugar that is fermented (1.544 kg in our case - the sum of the CO2 and ethanol created by our hypothetical fermentation). I couldn’t find similar numbers for maltose, so I’ll treat this sugar as if it were sucrose. When you dissolve sucrose in water, approximately 54% of the volume is added to the volume of the solution. Sucrose weighs about .869 kg/L, so our 1.544 kg of sucrose would take up 1.778 L dry, the loss of which from the wort would result in a .960 L decrease in its volume).

So the loss of volume attributed to the destruction of sugar (.96 L) during fermentation completely cancels out the volume gained (.92 L) from the resulting ethanol, which is why we don’t see a noticeable volume increase (or decrease) during fermentation!

When trying to determine the ABV of a sour beer specifically, there are four other factors you might consider.

1. Highly acidic beers are around 1% lactic acid. As the formation of lactic acid doesn’t directly lead to anything entering or leaving the fermentor, we know the mass of the beer will remain constant regardless of how much lactic acid is created. Any change in the beer’s density would purely be the result of a change in the total volume.

1 molecule of glucose goes to create 2 molecules of lactic acid in homofermentative lactic acid production. Glucose has a density of 1.54 g/ml, and a molar mass of 180.16 g/mol. Lactic acid has a density of 1.2 g/ml and a molar mass exactly half that of glucose, 90.08 g/mol (which makes sense). In a 20 L batch of beer, 1% lactic acid by volume, would be 200 mL of lactic acid. The equivalent of 240 g of lactic acid, or 2.66 mol. This would require the fermentation of half that number of glucose molecules, 1.33 mol, which is 155.59 mL.

If we assume glucose behaves similarly to sucrose when dissolved in water, the loss of wort volume attributed to 155.59 mL of glucose converted to lactic acid would be 84.02 mL. I can’t find a number for what happens to volume when you mix lactic acid and water, but even if we assume the entire volume of lactic acid goes to increasing the beer’s volume, we’d be increasing the volume of the beer by 115.98 ml, just .58%. This is the equivalent of causing the 5% ABV calculated to be .03% too high (the larger volume with the same mass would indicate a more substantial reduction in gravity than would have been actually caused by alcoholic fermentation).

2. Acetic acid production by either Acetobacter or Brettanomyces consumes a molecule of ethanol along with a molecule of oxygen. This reduces the alcohol content, but also raises the mass slightly as the oxygen comes from the atmosphere. It seems like without the carbon atom of the CO2 released during fermentation the gravity would rise slightly less than what is lost during fermentation, causing an infinitesimally small over-estimate of the ABV. Acetic acid is legally limited to.15%, so it shouldn’t play a major role anyway (even if flavor wasn't a consideration).

3. Ester formation by Brettanomyces could have a small impact on alcohol content because esters are formed by combining an alcohol with an acid (e.g., ethyl lactate is a combo of ethanol and lactic acid). However, all of these are present in parts per million at the most, making their presence too low to substantially impact ABV calculations.

4. While not specific to sour beers, evaporation from a barrel reduces the amount of both water and ethanol a beer contains. As ethanol has a lower boiling point than water, it would tend to evaporate at a faster rate. The humidity in the room apparently plays a role in the relative evaporation rates as well (higher ambient humidity reduces the evaporation rate of water). At 70% humidity, the loss of alcohol and water is supposedly about equal.

In relation to these various areas, when compared to the errors in calibration and measurement I don't think it is necessary to make special considerations for the ABV calculations of mixed fermentation sour beers. This has been one of those things I spend hours thinking about only to come to the conclusion that I was better off ignoring the whole thing.

That said, this isn't exactly my area of specialty, if anyone sees any issues with my assumptions, data, or math, please let me know! I'm sure I've oversimplified some things, like the sugars, or how a water molecule is added when some polysaccharides are split, but I think I'm close enough to prove the point.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Simcoe & Sons Pale Ale Tasting

After posting earlier this week about the IPA I have fermenting with Conan, it seemed like a good time to knockout the tasting notes for the American pale ale I fermented with the pitch initially. This is a beer in the “new” American mold of Hill Farmstead Edward, Half Acre Daisy Cutter, and Tired Hands HopHands. As my friend Nathan refers to them, aromatic pale ales. That is to say: hopped for gigantic aroma, without excessive bitterness. He’ll have his own version on tap at Right Proper when they finally open their doors in a few weeks.

Simcoe & Sons Pale Ale

Appearance – Hazy. Conan is not a flocculant yeast strain apparently. Blonde body supports a small, tight, snowy head with fine retention.

Smell – Ripe summertime peaches. Wow! One of the most unique aromas I’ve had in a clean/hoppy beer. This is the sort of nose I strive for. While I enjoy the “nose in the hop bag” effect that some hoppy beers exhibit, I’d rather get the volatile aromatics without all the vegetable matter.

Taste – Similar to the aroma, saturated with juicy peaches and apricots. To the point that I could probably pass it off as a fruited pale ale. The hops become more resiny through the sip, lingering as a firm bitterness. The malt stays out of the way for the most part, adding an ever so faint toastiness. Very bright, crisp, and balanced.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, doesn’t taste the 1.015 FG I measured it at. Carbonation is about where I like it, medium-ish.

Drinkability & Notes – Like a good Belgian beer the yeast combines, not with spices in this case, but with the hops to create a profile that is difficult to attribute to one or the other. I’m officially a Conan believer (although I want to try the other isolates out there). Interested to see if the IPA fermented with the yeast harvested from this batch exhibits a similar aroma, or if different hops radically change the perception.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conan the IPA (and Yeast)

There are too many ale yeast strains to count. While they’re all members of the same species (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), they contribute a huge assortment of flavors and aromas. This is because over millions of fungal generations, brewers around the world have placed selective pressures on them based on their own preferences, process, and equipment. One strain that is rapidly gaining popularity is named Conan. Its sudden spike in popularity is in large part thanks to the reputation of a beer fermented with it, Heady Topper from The Alchemist.

Conan is rumored to have an English origin, and gained a foothold in New England thanks to its use by Greg Noonan at Vermont Pub & Brewery. The general description of the yeast is appealing, mostly clean, but with a citrusy/apricot character. A more flavorful alternative to the straight-ahead Chico strain (WLP001/WY1056) favored by many breweries for their “American” style beers.

Heady Topper is an IPA that is completely saturated with hop aromatics, while not being gratingly thin or overly-bitter. In a beer with that much aromatic punch, how much difference could the yeast possibly make? The amazing thing about aroma is that small additions can greatly influence the overall perception. For example, the same four oils account for most of the aromatic compounds in every hop variety, but small fractions of other compounds create each hop's unique impression.

In his book IPA, Mitch Steele reports that The Alchemist uses a relatively low pitching rate (less than a .5 million cells per ml per degree Plato), fermenting at 68 F for a few days then up to 72 F. Elsewhere it has been reported that as the generation count rises, the attenuation drops. This is a larger concern for craft breweries, as few homebrewers reuse yeast for more than a couple of generations. A yeast which requires a bit of special attention.

Waiting for the Conan to drop out of my IPA.Several small yeast labs, including GigaYeast (GY054 Vermont IPA) and The Yeast Bay (Vermont Ale), have cultured the strain to allow us to pitch Conan without the effort of growing it from a can of Heady Topper. I got a vial of East Coast Yeast's version, Northeast Ale, and decided to try it in a pale ale, and then repitch into an IPA. For whatever reason, reports have been that the ECY culture isn’t as attenuative as many brewers expect it to be. I experienced only 71% AA in the pale ale, and have yet to take a final reading of the IPA. Luckily the pale ale doesn’t taste overly sweet or thick.

In his article Vermont Cult Clones in the October 2013 issue of BYO, Dave Green mentions that "[I]n my conversations with the brewers it was indicated that Conan is no longer the strain that is being used." However there isn’t an explanation of whether this means that The Alchemist is no longer using the original isolate because it mutated, or if they have switched to a different yeast strain. (Luckily down in the comments, Art filled me in on his conversations with the author of the BYO article and John Kimmich of The Alchemist. Apparently they are still using Conan for Heady Topper, it is Hill Farmstead that is no longer using Conan, something I wasn't aware they did in the first place).

The IPA recipe below was tossed together with what I had on hand. Apollo and Pacific Jade hops purchased for Modern Times test batches never brewed, and CaraRed left-over from my Red Rye IPA. I’ll be interested to see how it all comes together!

Conan the IPA

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 14.13
Anticipated OG: 1.075
Anticipated SRM: 5.0
Anticipated IBU: 74.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 79 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

85.0% - 12.00 lbs. American Pale Malt
7.1% - 1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
3.5% - 0.50 lbs. Table Sugar
3.5% - 0.50 lbs. CaraRed
0.9% -  0.13 lbs. Sauer(acid) Malt

2.00 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 11.9% AA) @ 45 min.
1.00 oz. Apollo (Pellet. 13.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Pacific Jade (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ 0 min.
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Apollo (Pellet. 13.00% AA) @ -15 min.
1.00 oz. Pacific Jade (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ -15 min.
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ -15 min.
1.00 oz. Apollo (Pellet. 13.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Pacific Jade (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00%) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Apollo (Pellet. 13.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
1.00 oz. Pacific Jade (Pellet, 11.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00%) @ Keg Hop

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

East Coast Yeast ECY29 Northeast Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

Brewed 11/3/13

Water 50% filtered DC Tap, 50% distilled. 6 g of epsom salt and 6 g of CaCl added total. 2 tsp of phosphoric acid added to the sparge water. Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.055 runnings with a fly sparge, then added the sugar.

Half aroma hops added at flame out, the remainder 15 minutes later. Did not start chilling for another 15 minutes.

Chilled to 70 F. Pitched 3/4 cup of loose slurry from "Simcoe & Sons Pale Ale." 45 seconds of pure O2. Left at 63F ambient to ferment.

Good fermentation by 12 hours.

10/9/13 Raised ambient temperature to 66 F to help it finish out.

11/11/13 Added half of the dry hops to the primary fermentor.

11/16/13 Added three droppers full of BioFine Clear. Dropped temperature to mid-50s to help clear before kegging.

11/26/13 Kegged with the remainder of the dry hops. Still pretty cloudy. Got down to 1.012 (84% AA, 8.3% ABV), happy to see it that low!

1/6/14 Tasting notes, the Pacific Jade (I suspect) added a spicy edge that doesn't mesh well with the fruitiness of the other hops and the yeast. it is still a pleasant IPA, but not my favorite batch.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Focus on Brewing pH - American Pale Ale

It seems like there is always some new aspect of my brewing process to focus on. Most recently it's been getting control of the pH of the wort. I thought I'd walk you through my standard process, and give you a few reasons why you might consider doing something similar. There are plenty of more in depth science-heavy reads out there, but I wanted to do something a bit more accessible.

A day or two before brewing, I use the EZ Water Calculator to make a game plan. I like this free spreadsheet because rather than take into account the SRM (color) of the beer, it uses your recipe, which more accurately predicts the mash pH. The spreadsheet allows me to determine how I'll treat my water. I usually aim for the low end of the pH range for pale beers, 5.3-5.4 when measured at room temperature, a bit higher for anything roasty.

In the case of this hoppy pale ale (and those like it), I prefer to use a combination of methods to lower the mash pH. To halve the ~80 PPM of pH raising carbonate in my filtered DC tap water, I dilute with an equal volume of distilled water. That way I'm not forced to add an excessive amount of salts or acid (either of which can harm the flavor of the beer) to lower the pH into the ideal range. Depending on your water profile, you might need no dilution at all, or an even higher percentage.

I know that some people like to think of the balance between sulfate and chloride as a ratio, but that isn't entirely accurate. Having 10 PPM sulfate and 5 PPM chloride won't have the same flavor impact as 500 PPM sulfate and 250 PPM chloride. Sulfate enhances the perception of bitterness, while chloride boosts body and the perception of sweetness. Normally I'd add gypsum for sulfate, but I was out, so I added  Epsom salt in addition to the calcium chloride.

While I'm heating up the mash water I'll weigh out the salts on a scale with a .1 gram resolution. Only half of the total calculated amount goes into the strike water, I save the rest for the sparge water. I usually leave out the acidulated malt from the grist initially. I'd rather take a pH reading and add the "right" amount if it turns out to be too high, rather than risk having to deal with a pH that falls too low. Municipal water profiles shifts throughout the year, so even a perfect calculator wouldn't always be accurate if it relied on a yearly average profile.

After mashing in, I allow it to sit for between five and ten minutes to allow the various chemical reactions that impact pH to occur (mostly calcium and magnesium reacting with phosphates from the malt lowering the pH). At that point I pull a sample, cool it in a clean/dry ramekin to around room temperature, and measure its pH with my just-calibrated meter (Hanna Instruments HI 98107). When this one dies I'll probably get one with a .01 resolution to get a bit more precision. pH strips aren't very accurate and tend to go bad quickly if not stored with a desiccant, but they are an option.

If the reading does not fall within my targeted range, I jump into action. If the pH is too high, this usually means adding acid malt (~1% of the grist for every intended .1 drop). I'd add additional salts only if I want more minerals and would have added them to the boil anyway. If the pH is too low I add chalk (which should ideally be dissolved in carbonated water first) or baking soda (which can be added directly to the mash).

Having a mash pH in the correct range helps the enzymes responsible for the conversion of starches into sugars, and also gets helps the pH to fall into place further down the line.

With the mash resting, I start heating the sparge water. Adding the reserved minerals, and enough phosphoric acid to lower the pH to under 6.0. Having a lower pH sparge is good insurance to prevent tannin extraction. This is especially important with a fly sparge, and even more so if you aren't monitoring the gravity of the runnings. Even if you batch sparge (like I usually do), acidifying the sparge will help you hit the ideal boil pH.

Having a boil pH around 5.1 enhances hot break formation (which helps produce a clearer beer) and creates a smoother hop bitterness. I know some brewers are more fanatical about this, but I tend to pull a single sample early in the boil, measure it and add acid if warranted. I'm too lazy to track it any more once I start adding hops.

If the pH is kept in line on brew day, and a healthy fermentation ensues, the finished beer’s pH should be in the ideal range (low 4s - flat, room temperature) by the time you are ready to keg or bottle. For a pale beer, having a suitably low pH gives it a crisp and refreshing balance. A low pH also improves the resistance of the beer to unwanted spoilage microbes. For darker beers I find that a slightly higher pH gives a more rounded mellow flavor, canceling out some of the sharper acrid charcoal flavors, shifting the roast perception to smoother coca and coffee flavors.

All of this gets easier as you go, learning what treatment works for your water and the types of beer you tend to brew. You can always experiment adding small amounts of acid to a glass of the finished beer to judge for yourself how it changes the perception.

This batch is pretty representative of where my head is at these days on hoppy beers. Not too strong or bitter, but with loads of saturated hop flavor and a big fresh nose. It was my first time fermenting with East Coast Yeast's North East Ale (apparently their isolate of Conan). Luckily early tastes are much better than my attempt to isolate the strain!

Also a reminder, if you use a plate chiller, recirculate hot water and PBW after flushing with water. I generated two gallons of this greenish water while cleaning up after this batch.

Simcoe & Sons Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.11
Anticipated OG: 1.058
Anticipated SRM: 5.1
Anticipated IBU: 56.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 95 Minutes

85.5% - 9.50 lbs. American Pale Malt
9.0% - 1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
4.5% - 0.50 lbs. Belgian CaraVienna
1.0% - 0.11 lbs. Sauer(acid) Malt

0.63 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 11.9%AA) @ 60 min.
2.5 ml HopShot (Extract) @ 60 min.
2.01 oz. Mosaic (Pellet 0.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.75 oz. Simcoe (Whole 0.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole 10.00% AA) @ Hop Back
1.25 oz. Simcoe (Whole 14.00% AA) @ Hop Back
.625 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop (Primary)
.625 oz. Mosaic (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop (Primary)
.75 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Dry Hop (Primary)
.625 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
.625 oz. Mosaic (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
.75 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 14.00% AA) @ Keg Hop

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

East Coast Yeast - ECY29 North East Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

10/15/13 Made a 1.25 L stir-plate starter for the month old yeast vial.

10/16/13 Brewed by myself

Mash water filtered DC tap cut with 50% distilled. Added 3 g of Epsom Salt and 3 g of CaCl. Same deal for the sparge water.

Mash pH = 5.5 at room temperature. Added 1% acid malt to lower the pH to 5.4

Acidified batch sparge water with 2 tsp of phosphoric acid.

Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.044 runnings.

Bitter with 1/2 a HopShot, plus the Columbus.

0 min hops were allowed to hop-stand for 30 minutes.Couldn't get good flow through the HopRocket, so after the first gallon or so, so I dumped the hops back into the kettle along with the trapped wort, and went directly to the plate chilled. Got it down to 70 F.

45 seconds of pure O2, and pitched the whole starter. Left at 64 F to ferment.

Increased to 68 F after three days.

10/20/13 Dry hopped in primary with .75 oz Simcoe, and 5/8 oz each of Citra and Mosaic (2012 harvest). Fermentation appears mostly complete.

11/3/13 Racked to a flushed keg with the same amount of dry hops again (2013 harvest). Only got down to 1.017 (71% AA - 5.4% ABV), but it tastes much drier. After calibrating my hydrometer, it turns out it actually finished at 1.015 (74% AA - 5.6% ABV), which makes a bit more sense.

11/21/13 Tasting Notes. Amazing peach character thanks to the combination of yeast and hop aromatics. Despite the lackluster attenuation, doesn't come off sweet.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

North Carolina IPA Tasting

I’ve brewed more IPAs than any other style (so long as you don’t consider “sour beer” to be a style). My standard recipe template is yellow to pale-gold, with a malt bill that gets out of the way of an aroma-drenched hop bill. Sometimes it’s nice to be kicked out of my rut though, so I played along with the Riverbend Malt House Homegrown IPA kit. It included some of their darker grains (similar to Munich and Chocolate), but no crystal malt, so it avoids being sticky sweet.

The hops ended up being all-Chinook after I tossed the less-than-great smelling whole Cascades from Echoview Farms (they have some pelletized Nugget hops available now on their website).

A big mug of North Carolina IPA!North Carolina IPA

Appearance – The amber-golden body is towards the hazy end of the IPA spectrum, but still appealing. A few weeks in the keg has really cleared this one up. The white head is luscious, creamy, dense, and long-lasting.

Smell – Bright, but not overwhelming, resiny hop aroma. Grapefruit and pine mostly. The grainy malt comes through well, more East Coast than West Coast (unsurprisingly). The US-05 adds its slightly peachy edge, especially as the beer warms. A bit restrained as far as my IPAs go, but probably hoppier than half of the commercial IPAs I try.

Taste – Well balanced. Malty without being sweet. Hoppy without being harshly bitter. The hop flavor is well saturated, thanks to the bonus 5.5 oz of Chinook I added on the hot-side, but the North Carolina hops carry the aroma nicely. Clean otherwise, no issues with the fermentation or sanitation.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, not quite as crisp as my standard IPAs, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing in a beer like this that has more malt character. Medium-low carbonation, judging from the pour rate I think the dry hop sock is partially covering the dip-tube. I won’t do anything about it unless it gets worse.

Drinkability & Notes – I’m pleased with the way this batch turned out, but that took a bit more effort on my part than a kit recipe ought to. I’ll give both products a tentative recommendation, but I'd be hesitant if you couldn't inspect them before purchase.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sour Experiment #1 - Two Week Sour

Lacto starters souring on top of the HLT to stay warm.One of the most annoying (and intimidating) aspects of brewing sour beers is how long they take to ferment. Sure there are shortcuts, like sour mashing, but rarely do the results approach the nuances of long-aged mixed-fermentation beers. One of the last things I did while I was at Modern Times in August was to taste the four versions of a beer I brewed with an experimental souring technique two weeks earlier.

Souring a beer before the alcoholic fermentation is a good idea, but a sour mash presents three major issues:

1. After souring the mash, it can be difficult to separate the wort from the spent grain.

2. Exposure to air during souring can lead to the growth of unwanted aerobic microbes that produce off-flavors.

3. Allowing the pH to drop too low can cause fermentation issues for most ale yeasts.

Wort souring in their water baths.To remedy problem #1, I dipped into my bag of tricks and pulled out the sour worting technique I used a few years ago. After a single-infusion mash, I collected the reddish wort and heated it in the kettle to near boiling to ensure any microbes from the grain were dead. With this method the wort is drained with a standard temperature and pH, so there are no issues lautering as usual.

To address problem #2, I ran the wort through the plate chiller (aiming for 115F), and into four plastic carboys, each of which had been flushed with carbon dioxide (back at home I miss the plumbed CO2 lines at the brewery). Flushed kegs would work equally well.

To achieve the acidity, I pitched one carboy each with a starter of Wyeast Lactobacillus, a starter made from the microbes living on pale malt, a starter from the microbes living on acid malt, and a small hop-sock of crushed acid malt. For the grain starters I followed a similar protocol to the one used for that previous sour worting batch. My goal was to determine which of these microbial sources produced the best results.

Transferring the soured wort off the grain bag.To maintain the temperature in Lactobacillus’s ideal range, I placed each carboy in one of the pilot system’s vessels, filled with 120F water. At the start and end of each day for three days I removed the carboys, reheated the water, and replaced them. I also insulated the rig with blankets to help maintain temperature. Usually they'd be down to about 100F by the time I reheated. I didn’t have room for the fourth (pale malt starter) so I left it under the blanket.

The results were surprising. After three days, the least sour of the bunch was the Wyeast Lacto, clean and pleasantly tart. The two grain-starters were next (despite the temperature difference), they were still clean, but a bit more lactic. The grain bag was the most acidic, but also had a slightly stranger aroma that was more in line with what I expect from a sour mash but luckily not as cheesy or intense. With acid production complete (pH 3.4-3.5), I boiled each in turn with a small dose of hops and yeast nutrient. During each boil I cleaned and sanitized the fermentor, refilling it with 68F wort post-boil.

Heating the soured wort.To resolve problem #3, rather than fermenting with pH sensitive Saccharomyces, I opted for a 100% Brett fermentation with the BSI Brett Drie we had on hand for production brews of Neverwhere, Roraima, and Southern Lands. Brett works quickly at a pH as low as 3, and produces interesting flavors too.

The four versions, the color difference is all the microbes and fermentation.My last day working in San Diego I racked each of them to a Corny keg, and shook in carbonation. The pale malt starter and the steeped acid malt were my favorites. Each had a nice acidity with a pleasant Brett character. I had skipped boiling the Wyeast Lacto portion and the result was a subtle raw graininess similar to what I taste in my no-boil Berliner weisses. The acid malt starter had an unpleasant aroma not present before the Brett fermentation, just sort of rough. With that interesting range of characters, we decided to blend the three we liked to make 15 gallons of beer to serve at the Tasting Room Grand Opening.

Reviews were mostly positive on Untappd, "I'm not one for sour beets, but this is fantastic! Tickles the taste buds in the back of your mouth in just the right way." - Stephanie P. "Had it 3 times so far might get another" - Heather H. Both included pictures of the finished beer as well, something I never got to see for myself!

I had a beer at GABF from TRiNiTY Brewing (7 Day Sour) that used a similar technique, but fermented with a mixture of Brett strains post-kettle-souring. The result was terrifically funky, and brightly acidic. I think I’ll have to try something similar, integrating a strain like Brett Drie/Trois which ferments quickly, with others that produce more classic Brett aromatics.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bourbon Barrel Cherry Brown Tasting

The sour brown I'm drinking now was the third and final beer aged in our bourbon barrel, which will be onto its new life aging Nathan’s beers at Right Proper, when they open later this fall! The barrel started life aging a wee heavy, but after heading sour we rolled with it, adding bottle dregs from sour beers. The base for this cherry-spiked version was a slightly lower-gravity recreation of that initial wee heavy.

I’ve always wanted to know what microbe(s) are in that bourbon barrel. It does such nice things to stronger-darker beers. Luckily Nick of The Yeast Bay agreed to take a look at the dregs (along with trying to isolate the Brett from De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva for me). If he can get something, it should be a good microbe for the second use spirit barrels at Modern Times after the Imperial Porter et al. have drunk their fill.

Sour brown, aged in bourbon barrels, then aged on sour cherries.Sour Cherry Bourbon Brown

Appearance – Great head retention, especially for a sour beer. It leaves dense, creamy, off-white lacing behind. A quick glance returns an impression of a russet beer. Holding it up to the light reveals the beers true color, beautiful crimson.

Smell – The first whiff I get is toasted malt and subtle oak, but those are followed by a vibrant fresh sour cherry. The fruit is balanced by a subtle earthiness, but this is not a beer that showcases Brettanomyces’ character. The flavors extracted from the bourbon barrel are much subtler than they were on the previous two batches, but hints of vanilla emerge occasionally.

Taste – Firmly sour, but like the other beers from this barrel, the flavor is not overly dry. This balance works well with the rich bready maltiness. The cherry flavor comes on in the mid-palate and continues into the finish. Juicy. The wood character melds with the fruit, but takes a backseat. Not a beer resplendent with complexities, but the flavors that are there are complementary and potent. Still tastes very fresh, despite having been brewed two months short of three years ago.

Mouthfeel – Full, but not sticky or cloying like some high gravity Flemish reds/browns. Medium-low carbonation suits this beer well, much higher and it could take a turn towards the harsh.

Drinkability & Notes – As with the non-fruited version, I’m really happy with the way this one turned out. I’ll be sad to see our little barrel crew disband in the next few months, but I’ll have beers (and friends) to remember it by for a long time!

Monday, October 21, 2013

North Carolina Malt and Hop IPA

Ecoview Farms Hops, and Riverbend Malt House grain.When I teach classes of new homebrewers (last two are tomorrow), one of the reasons I invoke to justify my claim of it's hobby supremacy, is that you can buy the same ingredients (malts, hops, and yeast) that are used by the best commercial breweries. This is unlike wine, where the highest quality grapes aren't commonly available to home winemakers.

Is that enough though? When I add fruit to a beer, rather than an aseptic puree like many craft breweries, I go to my local farmer’s market for fresh fruit. Using ingredients often not available in the quantity required by a large production brewery. Why not do the same for malts and hops?

For one thing, in many places local malts and hops aren’t options. Luckily, I’ve brewed with locally grow wheat, but malting requires greater infrastructure. A distillery in Virginia malts and smokes their own grain, which we added to a DC Homebrewers Anniversary Stout with pleasant results. I brewed a dubbel with a couple malts from Valley Malt in Massachusetts, with delicious results. I‘ve never used local hops other than homegrown, and that has always been with mediocre results.

When I was contacted a few weeks ago by Echoview Farms in North Carolina which offered to ship me a few ounces of hops, and a sack of malt from Riverbend Malt House, I was intrigued. I wasn’t ecstatic that they sent me ingredients with a set recipe, rather than a selection of base and specialty malts, but I still gave it my best shot. It seemed like an easy way to get back into homebrewing after my summer in San Diego.

The Riverbend Malt before I ran it through my mill.When I opened the sack of mixed malts, I was a bit confused about whether the grain had already been milled or not. Some of the husks appeared cracked, while others were still intact. Rather than risk poor efficiency, I (re)milled. It was a shame that all of the malt was mixed together because it made it difficult to taste and evaluate the individual grains. Which ones would I order again?

Despite being for an IPA, the recipe contained a grand total of 4 oz of hops, including none proposed for dry hopping. Compare that to my last IPA, 5 oz of dry hops alone. When I opened up the package of Chinook, they smelled great. Sadly the same couldn’t be said for the Cascade. They were shipped in a large Mylar bag, which didn’t seem to be vacuum-packed or flushed with non-reactive gas. Probably no thanks to the three delivery attempts by UPS looking for a signature at the same time each day, the Cascade smelled like overripe hot chile peppers by the time I picked them up. They also seemed to contain excessive moisture.

The iffy Cascades are on the left, the repakaged Chinook are on the right.It is always important to evaluate your ingredients. Rather than adding the suspect hops to the beer and having to choke down the result, I threw away the Cascade, and took a few ounces of 2012 harvest Chinook from the freezer to use in the boil. I repackaged the North Carolina grown Chinook for dry hopping in the keg, where they could have the largest impact on the aroma.

Despite my complaints, the beer is actually tasting pretty good as it continues to force carbonate. It has a fresh mildly grainy malt flavor, and a nice citrusy hop aroma. Full tasting notes should be up in a couple weeks.

I think brewers are accustomed to a certain level of consistency from their brewing ingredients. The question is will these small producers be able to compete both in terms of flavor, but also things like packaging, protein levels, extract yield, and consistency. For small hop farms and micro-maltsters to truly thrive they have to produce ingredients that are more than a novelty (local) product. Sure I use fresh fruit because I like to support agriculture in my area, but the results are also better than anything that comes out of a can or bottle!

North Carolina Grown IPA

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 12.12
Anticipated OG: 1.059
Anticipated SRM: 10.0
Anticipated IBU: 70.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

74.3% - 9.00 lbs. Pale Ale Malt (6-row)
16.5% - 2.00 lbs. Heritage Malt (6-row)
8.3% - 1.00 lbs. Appalachian Wheat Malt
1.0% - 0.12 lbs. Chocolate Malt (350 SRM)

1.50 oz. Chinook (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ -15 min.
2.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

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

Safale US-05 Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 155 F

Brewed 10/2/13 by myself

Mash water, 2 gal filtered DC water, 2 gal distilled, 4 gypsum, and 2 g CaCl.

Mash pH = 5.4 at room temperature, measured with meter.

Sparge water, 2 gal filtered DC water, 2 gal distilled, 2 gypsum, and 4 g CaCl. 1/2 tsp of phosphoric acid to drop the pH to 6.0 at room temperature.

Collected 6.75 gallons of 1.048 runnings with a double batch sparge.

Added 1.5 tsp of phosphoric acid to the wort pre-boil to lower the 5.5 pH to 5.3. Huge hot break, lots of protein.

Ended up using Chinook hops from Pacific NW in the boil. Added 2 oz at flameout, waited 15 minutes, added another 2 oz, waited another 15 minutes before chilling.

Only able to drop the temperature to 75 F. Gave 45 seconds of pure oxygen. Pitched a rehydrated pack of US05. The post-boil pH was 5.2.

Left at 65 F to ferment. Good fermentation by the next day.

Left at that temperature for the duration.

10/15/13 Kegged with the NC Chinook. Tastes very good!

11/7/13 Tasting notes, worth the effort, balanced compared to my usual IPAs.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Crafting a Nation: Movie Review

Over the last 10 years, there have been several documentaries which examine American craft beer. The first one I watched was American Beer, shot on a road trip to numerous great breweries. A few years ago I reviewed Beer Wars, which examined the economic struggle between large and small breweries. A couple months ago the production company behind Crafting a Nation sent me a DVD copy to review. I finally got around to watching the end of it during my flight to GABF.

Crafting a Nation’s focus is on the rather serious endeavor of opening a brewery. It paints a vivid picture of the time, money, and hope that craft brewers invest into their businesses. However, it fails to put much emphasis on the beer itself; the story it tells is primarily an economic and personal one. I understand that not everyone wants to watch 95 minutes about the brewing process, recipes, etc. but there was virtually nothing about beer itself outside a dumbed-down opening overview of the brewing process.

On the positive side, the movie was beautifully shot, the sound was clear, and it tells a well-developed narrative. The primary focus is on Black Shirt Brewing Co. Through the course of the Crafting a Nation we return to see their progress and setbacks, culminating with the opening night of their tasting room. Over more than half an hour of screen time though, we hear that they are planning to brew a red ale (which apparently describes all of their beers). That is literally all of the information about their beers presented in the movie. More time is spent talking about issues with the water line, wiring, family, and credit card scanner. I know from Jacob's experience with Modern Times that this is pretty accurate in terms of the time spent on brewing tasks, but that doesn't make it interesting to watch.

The secondary focus is on the brewers of St. Louis, brewing in the shadow of Budweiser. Urban Chestnut, 4 Hands, Schlafly etc. There are some interesting discussions about the differences between opening a brewery recently, and in the early days when the public was less interested in local beer.

Many other breweries are seen briefly. Always nice to see Jester King and some other fun Texas breweries. It seems like they must have recorded dozens of hours of footage judging from the variety of breweries visited and people interviewed. It was nice to see so many fresh faces. Moonlight’s Brian Hunt provided some of the more interesting perspective in the film. When the Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River, Jim Koch of Boston Beer, and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head made their appearances, they were relatively brief.

There is a focus on using local ingredients in Asheville, NC, but the problem is that this isn’t the case for many breweries. Even those breweries shown using local hops often only have enough for just one batch of wet-hopped beer a year. A chef talks about how he likes local ingredients, and buys local beer to pair with his food, the problem is little of that local beer is made with local ingredients.

Consistently the message of Crafting a Nation was that craft breweries are good for the economy and that buying local is the big reason. However, there really isn’t much about why the beer these brewers produce is better than macro-brewers. I think the movie may oversell the economics. As the percentage of craft beer by volume increasingly comes from large expansions by the top 20 craft brewers, the number of jobs per barrel of beer will decrease with economies of scale – 100,000 jobs at 5% of the market, doesn’t mean 500,000 jobs when and if craft beer reaches 25% of the market.

For me the advantage of craft brewers is that they can brew beers that suit the local palate, or a small subset of the population. They can use ingredients that are too scarce, expensive, or time consuming for larger breweries to utilize. They can serve beers either incredibly fresh or beautifully aged, which becomes more difficult the larger a brewery grows. These are the sorts of things this movie was missing.

We see barrels at Russian River, but no discussion of what is in them, or why barrel-aged beer is interesting. No mention of the effort expended to fill and blend the barrels. There are lots of shots of brewing, but no one really talks about their process.

I’m unclear exactly who is the intended audience for this movie. It doesn’t seem like a movie that really tells you much if you are already invested in craft beer. I'm not sure there is enough there to convince someone who drinks only Bud Lite to change their buying habits. In many ways Crafting a Nation seems like a lobbying effort. There is no discussion of the final product, just the people who have taken financial risks to open breweries. There is a slight “government get out of the way” bent to several moments, but that isn’t the real focus.

I’m less interested in beer based on who brewed it, and more on the processes, ingredients, and results. If SAB Miller brewed beers that tasted as good as those from my favorite craft brewers, I’d buy them (I had no problem going out of my way a few weeks ago to sample four Bourbon County Stout variations from the AB InBev owned Goose Island). In terms of percentage, Boston Beer is closer to the global AB InBev production than a 17,000 bbl/year microbrewery is to Boston Beer. I think the biggest advantage of small breweries is their size, and as craft brewers continue to grow, they slowly lose that edge.

Even if the goal for the movie wasn't to spend too much time on of the nitty-gritty of production, I would have been interested to hear why these brewers chose to brew the styles/recipes they did. What inspires them? What did the brewers who’d succeeded wish they’d done differently? What about brewers whose breweries failed?

The movie is worth seeing if you want to hear a few personal stories behind breweries, just don’t expect to take anything away from it in terms of how to brew, or what to drink. I’m still waiting for a movie that really captures what craft beer is about, clearly beer needs to be a big part of that!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brettanomyces nanus - 100% and Bottle Conditioned Beers

Here are the final tasting notes from the first round of the “new” Brett species from East Coast Yeast. Today’s tasting is of two beers fermented with Brettanomyces nanus, a strain originally isolated from a bottled beer from Kalmar, Sweden. One batch was a saison, which received the strain at bottling, while the other was fermented with B. nanus, and nothing else. As with the note I gave with the tasting notes for B. naardenensis and B. custersianus, these are just the tasting notes for one strain of what could be a very diverse species.

Al warned me about trying a primary fermentation with this one, citing poor attenuation. The strain struggled, but made it to nearly 70% apparent attenuation. While this doesn’t sound too bad, talking about attenuation alone isn’t enough to tell you how sweet a beer will taste, even holding bitterness and original gravity constant. I mashed the 100% Brett beer at 146 F for 75 minutes, generating a high proportion of simpler sugars thanks to the work of beta amylase. While these shorter sugars taste sweeter than longer sugars and dextrins, they are also easier to ferment, and thus tend to yield a drier tasting finished beer. However, low attenution of a highly fermentable wort will come across much sweeter compared to a beer high in dextrins that is fermented with a more attenuative strain to reach the same attenuation.

100% B. nanus

A glass of golden 100% Brett nanus fermented beer.Appearance – Slightly hazy golden yellow. Leaves great lacing as the white head quickly shrinks to a wispy covering.

Smell – Big aroma, lots of fresh white grape juice. Floral-sweetness. Some faint earthiness. Not a complex aroma, but there is a lot of it.

Taste – Sweetest of the bunch thanks to only 69% apparent attenuation, but not sticky sweet. It actually goes well with the fruitiness, but the overall result is mediocre at best. The flavor might excel in a beer with a more substantial malt character, or a sweet holiday beer.

Mouthfeel – Fuller than any of the other examples in this series, with medium carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s alright, but not great. Worked much better in the mixed fermentation where the brewer’s yeast ensured complete attenuation (how the tables have turned).

B. nanus Finished Saison (Winner)

Lomaland test batch finished with Brett nanus.Appearance – Pours clear, and yellow. Big, dense, white head.

Smell – Nice mix of fruity-floral and funky. The funk isn’t aggressive, but it is a bit stranger than the “classic” Brett bruxellensis – hey and farmyard. It is more mousy, not unpleasant as is, but we’ll see if it increases with more time in the bottle.

Taste – Balanced, spicy (both clove and black pepper), light citrus, and some funk. The finish is dry, but not overly so. Light mineral. A good complementary flavor to the primary saison fermentation.

Mouthfeel – Firm carbonation, very light mouthfeel

Drinkability & Notes – Nice beer, interesting flavor, earthy, subtle, complementary Brett character.Yesterday my friend Nate and I brewed a "furlough" saison, adding both Brett nanus and B. naardenensis along with the primary yeast to a portion of it.

Updated Tasting Notes 11/18/15

Monday, September 30, 2013

Brettanomyces naardenensis - 100% and Bottle Conditioned Beers

Here is the second in my series of three “other” Brett species tastings (B. custersianus last week, and B. nanus next week). Brettanomyces naardenensis was originally isolated from a soda producer. The exact context is not available, but it is certainly the strangest source of a brewing microbe I’ve used. The culture I used in all of these beers came from East Coast Yeast.

This tasting is a good example of how Brett can continue to slowly change a beer in the bottle. When we tasted through all of these beer at Modern Times, the saison bottle conditioned with B. naardenensis was the least popular of the six. It was strongly “footy” as someone described the unappealing sweaty aroma. A couple months later the beer is much better, mellower, and actually pleasant!

100% B. naardenensis

Appearance – The haziest version so far. It looked clear in the bottle, so it may just be that this strain is particularly easy to accidentally rouse.

Smell – Bright indistinctly-citrusy fruit, with chemical and sweaty elements. Not entirely unpleasant, but it telegraphs “weird.”

Taste – Surprisingly tart for a 100% Brett beer. It is certainly not a full-blown sour, but tangy. Tastes lactic to me, but it is hard to be sure. Otherwise the flavor isn’t hugely exciting, although I get a bit of the strawberry that the ECY description mentions. A bit too sweet. The finish is slightly goaty

Mouthfeel – Medium body, somewhat thicker than I’d prefer. Solid carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – Meh. An interesting result given the acidity, but not a really great beer to drink. Could do well with a more complex malt bill and some more bitterness to fight the sweetness.

Bottle Conditioned w/ B. naardenensis (Winner)

Saison finished with Brettanomyces naardensis.Appearance – Beautiful streaming lines of bubbles rising through the crystal clear yellow body. Solid retention and lacing from the white head.

Smell – My first impression was that the smell balanced the peppery phenolics of the saison yeast (WY3711 – French Saison) with additional fruity and phenolic from the Brett. However, when I opened a bottle of the “clean” saison (same batch, with no Brett added at bottling), it had little of the character of the version with B. naardenensis.

Taste – For how weird the 100% fermentation with this strain is, the flavor when bottle conditioned is pretty restrained. The inverse of the way things normally work. Not much fruit or classic Brett character. I know some people hate the descriptor “rustic,” but that is exactly what this beer is. The Brett provides an edge of interesting hard-to-pin-down (Spice? Mineral? Fruit?) character without getting in the way.

Mouthfeel – Thin, crisp, very good medium-high carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – The B. naardenensis did a very nice job as a saison enhancer, boosting the character of the primary yeast without making it taste like a “Brett” saison. I'll be interested to see how this beer continues to change.

Updated Tasting Notes 11/18/15 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brettanomyces custerianus - 100% and Bottle Conditioned Beers

Before I headed off to Modern Times for the summer, I bottled two batches that I had split three ways each. One batch featured three “new” species of Brett as the primary/sole fermentor. The other batch was the second iteration of Lomaland, which I split three ways during packaging to showcase the same three species for bottle conditioning.

All of the strains of Brett available to brewers until recently have fallen into only two species. Brettanomyces bruxellensis (including B. lambicus) and Brettanomyces anomalus (including B. claussenii). Just like ale or lager yeast, Brettanomyces species can have considerable intraspecies variation. These are simply three individual isolates of three additional Brett species (i.e., B. nanus, B. naardenensis, and B. custersianus) sent to me by Al Buck of East Coast Yeast. There is most likely strong variation within each of these species, so take them as single data points.

This mega-tasting will span three posts each covering the two beers fermented with a species. Tonight’s featured player is B. custersianus. It was originally isolated from South African bantu beer, which made from malted millet.

100% Brett custersianus (Winner)

100% Brettanomyces custerianus fermented golden ale.Appearance – Golden yellow, ever so faintly foggy. Nice dense white head, good retention and lacing.

Smell – The nose has a lot of fruit, ripe or even over-ripe mango especially. There are some white grapes too. The sort of fruits that don’t quite smell bright and vibrant, bordering on being slightly weird solvent-perfume-ish.

Taste – Minimal acidity, as you’d expect in a 100% Brett beer. The flavor starts mildly fruity, but slowly fades to a more traditional Brett funk. Pretty dry beer. Not much hop character remains, and the malt adds a faint graininess, but mostly stays out of the way. Luckily no weird off-flavors.

Mouthfeel – Medium-high carbonation, causing it to slowly fizz up when I opened the bottle. Tastes about right to me for a beer like this. Medium-thin body, lightly tannic.

Drinkability & Notes – Young this beer was remarkably clean and lager-like. It reminded me of Pilsner Urquell in a weird way, even had a touch of diacetyl. Glad to report that time in the bottle really brought out some pleasant and unique flavors. Like Brett bruxellensis var. Trois/Drie, I’d expect this one to pair nicely with some fruity hops.

Saison w/ B. custersianus

Saison bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces custerianus.Appearance – Despite being two different batches, many of the ingredients were the same. As a result this beer looks similar, maybe a touch more yellow, and a hair clearer. Head retention isn’t quite as good though.

Smell – Smells like an even-fruitier version of Wyeast 3711 French Saison (the primary yeast strain). Hints of pepper, and a little musty farmyard in the nose. The fruitiness is almost artificial, candied pear I’ll call it. Nice blend of aromatics.

Taste – Where the flavor balanced the Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces characters, in the flavor they clash. The earthy Brett muddling up the bright fruitiness. The peppery spice from the nose comes across more clove-like. Not offensive by any measure, but not particularly pleasant either.

Mouthfeel – Thin, lively, and crisp. No complaints here as far as a Brett’d saison goes.

Drinkability & Notes – I think this is a strain that works better (at least in this case) alone than it does in tandem. Its character as a secondary yeast, at least after 7 months, doesn’t take over the way more traditional Brett strains do. There are so many new Brett strains becoming available, I'm looking forward to seeing what brewers figure out works best for each one!

Updated Tasting Notes 11/18/15