Thursday, June 27, 2013

My First Week At Modern Times!

Already two days into my summer working at Modern Times, so I thought I'd share a few photos I took yesterday. Wort production is on a 30 bbl (930 gallon) Premier brewhouse. They are known mostly for brewpub systems, this is as big as they get.

Yesterday and today head brewer Matt, and brewer Alex knocked out 30 bbls of Blazing World, our amber IPA. Both batches are currently sharing space in a 60 bbl fermentor. They've shown me the basics, but I'm a long way from having any idea what I'm doing. The first batch was a bit darker than we wanted, so the brewers eliminated the Carafa from today's batch to compensate. Below you can see the color differential from the first runnings to the final.

Many of the Modern Times beers are bittered with hop extract (to improve utilization and minimize loss to hop absorption). Plenty of ACTUAL hops later in the process though, although Matt is threatening a test batch of a "synthetic" IPA.

One place we add hop aromatics is in the hop back. Here I am breaking up the 12.5 lbs of Simcoe and 10 lbs of Mosaic for today's batch. In a few weeks we'll be receiving our 2013 harvest Nelson Sauvin (which is the only hop in the whirlpool and the primary dry hop). Some of it will be whole leaf, which will makes us the only American brewery using it in that form!

 Jacob hard at work in his makeshift office.

Here is the coffee roaster, which Amy uses to heat and cool 3.75 lbs of beans per batch. It takes awhile for her to produce the more than 20 lbs of coffee (Sumatra/Ethiopia blend) that is added to each batch of Black House, our oatmeal stout.

Yesterday was the soft launch for the four core beers. To celebrate the six of us visited three local bars after work. We started at a bar on a pier on Shelter Island. Fortunate Islands (the hoppy wheat) is my favorite so far, it has a huge nose from the Citra and Amarillo, really fresh and bright.

Followed by two more stops. Drinking beers at some of the world's best beer bars that a few months ago I was brewing in my five gallon cooler mash tun and serving on the kegerator in my living room is a bit of a weird feeling.

Matt, Alex, Derek, Jacob, and Amy have done a remarkable job turning what I sent to them into four really solid beers. There is still work to be done on each, but from what I have tasted of the second batches, we're headed in a very good direction! I'm especially happy with the progress of Lomaland saison. The batch on tap now was the first batch brewed. Knockout was too cold (~60 F), which caused a lethargic three week fermentation with 95% Dupont and 5% Westmalle. The result was a character that has hints of a hefeweizen's banana and cloves. The batch in the tanks now was knocked out in the mid 70s, fermented in 6 days, and has the classic earthy character of Saison Dupont.

In addition to the hard work being done on the beers, Derek and Amy have taken charge of making the tasting-room as excellent as the beer. Here they are in action, using Post-It notes to create a "satirical" rendering of Bubbles and his owner. Tasting room should be open in the next month or so; the draft system (including two counter-pressure growler fillers) was installed today! That big stack of old books will be turned into the bar. Cans will follow sometime after the tasting room is up and running. It'll be a busy summer!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Grapefruit American Pale Ale Tasting

I'm flying to San Diego tomorrow, still packing, so just enough time tonight for a quick review of the grapefruit-zest infused American pale ale that Audrey and I brewed a few weeks ago. The goal was to brew a recipe concept I’d been thinking about for a while and give her a full keg to enjoy while I’m gone.

Grapefruit American Pale Ale, with an actual grapefruit.Grapefruit Pale Ale

Appearance – Wheat beer level of haziness persists, even as this all-barley beer warms. Still young, it should clear up with a couple more weeks of cold conditioning in the keg. The solid white head exhibits decent retention, minimal lacing.

Smell – Despite the “classic” American hops (Chinook and Cascade), the nose suggests newer more dramatic varieties thanks to the fresh citrus (grapefruit) zest. Still comes across mostly as hops though; I doubt I could have said with certainty that it contained grapefruit zest if I hadn’t known. Very slight solvent aroma, maybe just the association with the “citrus oil” spray that we use to clean our counters? Pretty straight forward aroma, not much malt or fermentation character.

Taste – Despite the hop/citrus forward nose, the flavor features toasty malt. The beginning of the finish suggests lemonade for a second, bright and light, lingering on the palate with a firm hoppiness. Reasonably well balanced, it is bitter without being rough.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, perfect for a “summertime” pale ale. Medium carbonation, could be a bit higher.

Drinkability & Notes – An easy to drink, bright, refreshing, citrusy pale ale. Not quite as much grapefruit character as I was going for, which may have taken a bottle of grapefruit juice added directly to the keg. While waiting for this batch to ferment I drank a few bottles of fresh Dogfish Head 60 Minute with a splash of grapefruit juice added to the glass. A few drops of Bittermens Hopped (Palisade) Grapefruit Bitters works too, although I enjoyed the added acidity from the juice.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sour Times at Modern Times: The Plan

Thursday will be my last day at my "real" job until September. After nearly seven years working for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I decided to treat myself with a summer “living the dream.” Friday I'll be flying to San Diego, where for the next two months I’ll be brewing at Modern Times! Luckily my boss and wife are supportive. While I’m sure I’ll get to pull some levers and learn the basics on the 30 bbl production brew house, most of my summer with be devoted to brewing pilot batches on the 20 gallon system, and getting the sour/barrel program up and running.

Despite the temperate local climate, I pushed hard and got Jacob to install a dedicated temperature controlled space for the aging sour beers. This has two benefits: first a stable temperature in the mid-low 60s F lowers the risk of Acetobacter producing offensively vinegary beer in any of the barrels; second it helps to physically (and mentally) separate the souring microbes from the rest of the brewery. If we have blow-off from primary fermentation in barrels, or pull samples, they’ll be less of a risk of those microbes finding their way into the beers that pay the bills. The room has space for about 120 ~60 gallon oak barrels (on racks stacked five high), hopefully by the time I leave in August we’ll be around 50% capacity.

It seems like just about every new craft brewery is opening with plans for a souring program, so what will make Modern Times’ sours different? How can we hope to catch up to the quality of American breweries that have a decade (or longer) head start on us?

Microbes: We’ll start a very organic sensory-driven microbe selection process. During my first month I’ll be getting a lot of carboys and growlers filled with moderate gravity/IBU wort. Each fermentor will be inoculated with microbes obtained from a unique source: yeast labs, hobby-microbiologists, bottle dregs, spontaneous inoculations etc. That way, when the local wineries start having freshly dumped barrels available in August we’ll be ready to inoculate with a wide range of cultures. As this first generation of beers ferment and age, we’ll evaluate, propagating the best barrels forward. I want to encourage barrel-to-barrel variation, and develop a variety of cultures ideally suited for different beers.

Base Beers: We plan on brewing four 30 bbl batches of wort for sour beers this summer alone. Each will be a different recipe. Eventually some barrels will be aged on fruit, dry hops, spices, blended, while others are left plain. This will be driven by the flavors produced by the microbes in each barrel. The plan for those four initial batches is: Belgian single, lambic-ish, malty and red, and a wild card brown or bière de garde most likely.

Fruit: Being in southern California we’ll have access to a huge variety of amazing produce pretty much year round. You’ll be seeing lots of sour beers that take advantage of this. We’ll be small enough that farmers markets and eventually direct farm-to-brewer relationships for interesting varieties will be possible. As much as I enjoy sour beers made with sour cherries or raspberries (I’m sure we’ll do some) I’m more excited to add as many different fruits as I can. As with the other aspects, sensory will be the key, I don’t want to match fruits to beers before I taste either.

Me: Hopefully the skills I’ve developed brewing sour beers at home over the last seven years (and researching a book the last two plus) will give us a jump start on every aspect of the process. The other brewers (Matt, Alex, and Derek) are no slouches either, and as a team effort I have a huge amount of confidence in the sour beers we’ll be able to produce. I won't guarantee those first batches will be perfect, but I'll do my best to get them as close as I can.

A sample of Modern Times Neverwhere, pre-dry hopping.All of this doesn’t even touch on the other side of the Modern Times funky/sour program, stainless steel fermented Brett beers. The guys already have a batch of Neverwhere, my 100% Brett IPA recipe, on dry hops (Citra, Centennial, and Chinook). While most of the batch will be served on tap, we are planning to bottle a limited amount. My original batch held up surprisingly well when I bottled some of it from a party tap with a bottling wand jammed into it, but if you are lucky enough to get one it certainly won’t be a beer to sit on for long! The yeast harvested from Neverwhere will be pitched into be a slightly darker, lower gravity, and maltier beer, that is no less hoppy (heavy on the Motueka). Then we may try a pre-souring followed by 100% Brett beer after that to get something sour released before the first of the barrel-aged beers are ready in a year or so.

I’ll continue to update this blog all summer, but the format and timing of those posts probably won’t be what you’ve come to expect. If there are any aspects of the process you’d like to hear more about, please let me know. If you find yourself in San Diego, swing by the brewery and say hello!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sour Dubbel with Plums

Fruit can be a crutch for brewers producing sour beers. When I drink Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen, I’d rather have the gueuze than the kriek. As good as the Cantillon Zwanze releases and the weird Drie Fonteinens (like Malvasia Rosso) are, I’d rather drink their best straight gueuze any day. The flavors of their base beers are so intricate and compelling, that I’d rather enjoy them unadorned. My sour beers on the other hand are solid, but without the volume to blend frequently, they have yet to meet that lofty standard. Fruit has the ability to elevate what is an enjoyable result, into one possessing flavors that few people have tasted before in a beer.

This dubbel started life almost two years ago. Brewed with pale and dark crystal from Valley Malting, two types of dark candi syrup, and fermented with WLP545 (Belgian Strong Ale). Half was served clean on tap soon thereafter. The remainder was soured with the dregs from several bottles of sour beers, including De Dolle Oerbier Reserva and Russian River Consecration (two of my favorite dark sours). It was aged on two varieties of plums. A true dubbel!

Dubbel, soured on plums.Dubbel Plum

Appearance – At first glance the color is a somewhat uninspiring maroon, but held to the light the body glows ruby-red, gem clear. The beige head has solid retention, with pretty lacing trailing behind as it recedes.

Smell – Juicy plums, mixed with damp basement funk. Honey, allspice, plum brandy, and a faint tinge of soapiness. More balanced fruit character than the Nectarine sour that I always associate it with, despite similar ratios of fruit to beer. Some fruits are simply more aromatic than others.

Taste – The sourness is balanced, lactic, very side of the tongue. It is hard to determine exactly where the actual fruit stops and the dark crystal malt and candi syrup take over. It starts fresh plum, gradually sweetening and transforming into prunes and raisins. The finish lingers with toasted oak and malt.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, slightly sticky, a nice match for the darker flavors. Carbonation is medium-low, enough to lift up the aromatics, but not disrupt the mood. Luckily the tannins this beer exhibited young have all but faded entirely.

Drinkability & Notes – One of the more unique sour beers I’ve brewed in terms of what is in the glass. The flavors interweave nicely, with the microbes, malt, and fruit all sharing the spotlight. It is in the same family with my favorite commercial dark sours, not too acidic, rich funkiness, but not quite on their level of depth (yet). This one should have good aging potential, and I’m excited to see how it fares in the years to come!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Acid Malt Sour and Nectarine Tasting

It is easy to settle into a rut when it comes to brewing sour beers. These beers can take so much time, and are inherently so risky that many brewers (including me) latch onto the first technique that produces enjoyable beer. My standard technique is to pitch all of the microbes (including a healthy dose of brewer’s yeast) into primary, and rack to secondary a few weeks later for long term aging.

When I heard that Ithaca adds (added?) a large percentage of acid malt to Brute to sour it, I was suspicious. Given the logarithmic nature of pH, I found it hard to believe a beer as sour as Brute could be fermented with nothing but ale yeast and Brett (in the absence of lactic acid bacteria). So a couple years ago I decided to give a similar process a try. The wort on brew day didn’t taste particularly sour, but I was surprised by the end result.

I aged half the batch on white nectarines, a fruit that I’ve used before with great results, and one I’m sure will find its way to work into a few barrels of sour beer at Modern Times!

Acid Malt Sour, in a Ikea wine glass.Acid Malt Sour

Appearance – Crystal clear burnt golden colored body supports a small white head. Decent retention for a sour beer, especially considering some of my other recent efforts.

Smell – The aroma is fruity (apples and pears) and lactic, like a soured version of Duvel. There is some toastiness in the aroma, which I wouldn’t have expected from the grist (Pils, acid, and wheat malt), possibly from the Brett. The right notes are there, but the volume could be turned up. As it warms some floral tones appear and it starts to show its strength (although it doesn't taste the 8.2% ABV that the hydrometer suggests).

Taste – Snappy, tangy lactic acidity. The fruitiness from the nose remains, but here it is layered with clay. A hint of the spice from the saison strain primary remains as well. Still tastes very fresh, the Brett did its job nicely in that department.

Mouthfeel – Medium body, fuller than most sour beers (a trait it shares with Brute). Mildly prickly carbonation, about right.

Drinkability & Notes – A very solid, if subtle, golden sour. The acid malt did its job providing enough lactic acidity, and the Brett finished things out as expected. This method doesn’t save much (any?) time over a classic mixed fermentation, but it might be fun to try with 100% Brett!

Acid Malt Sour infused with Nectarines.W/ White Nectarines

Appearance – Nearly identical appearance, although not quite as clear. Not sure if the fruit caused the haze or if that is a result of the shorter time in the bottle.

Smell – Huge fresh nectarine aromatics. On first whiff you might be fooled into thinking you are opening a can of peaches in heavy syrup, but as it opens up the aroma gets fresher and more nuanced (pear, tropical etc.). I also get hints of the underlying Brett complexity, but this is really a showcase for the fruit.

Taste – The flavor is very juicy, with nectarines specifically (more clearly than the aroma) lasting into the finish. Very fresh and vibrant tasting. Similar level of acidity to the straight version, which is an indication that there weren’t a lot of lactic acid bacteria at work when all that simple sugar from the fruit was added.

Mouthfeel – Feels lighter than the plain version. The added water from the fruit seems to have thinned out the body more to where I usually expect my sours to be. Carbonation is similar to the fruit-less portion, but on this one I wouldn’t mind slightly more bubbly.

Drinkability & Notes – Terrific fruit character and a base beer that stays out of the way. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about it as the nectarine-aged wine barrel single, but it is pretty damn good. I think we can agree there are enough sours aged on cherries and raspberries; go to your local farmer’s market, try some samples of the “other” fruit, and buy a few pounds of your favorite to toss into a sour!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mulberry DCambic Tasting

With the mulberry tree in the backyard of my DC home burdened by thousands of deep purple berries, it is time to drink a bottle of the beer I brewed with the fruit I harvested a year ago. I aged this half of my spontaneously fermented “DCambic” on a couple pounds of the often ignored forage-able fruit for nearly five months before bottling in March.

Mulberry DCambic

Appearance – What the white head lacks in retention and lacing, the body redeems with its glowing burgundy hues. Dazzlingly clear. Strikingly similar to my Cabernet sauvignon solera, just a couple shades darker.

Smell – The mulberries are prominent in the aroma, but like the raw fruit, their character isn’t particularly distinct. Jammy stone-fruit, plum especially, slightly cooked, with some earthiness too. The local flora provide some complementary aromatics, hay especially, and some indistinct citrus.

Taste – Like the clean version, the sourness is pleasant, but soft. The fruit flavor provides some sweetness and uniqueness, but also covers much of the character of the “wild” fermentation. The fermentation does show through in the finish with minerals and lemon zest. Some vanilla notes come through, despite not being aged on oak (or vanilla beans), origin unknown.

Mouthfeel – Mildly tannic, helps provide a surprising amount of body to a very low FG (1.002) beer. Solid carbonation, mildly prickly, doesn’t get in the way.

Drinkability & Notes – A really fun beer, more interesting than most of the sours I've brewed, even though you might not agree from drinking it blind. A few weeks ago I had the chance to share a bottle of it with Megan Parisi (of Bluejacket), and she enjoyed it enough to go back for seconds (with a bottle of Southampton Black Raspberry Lambic sitting open). Looking forward to drinking her beers when the brewery opens later this year!

While I enjoy this batch, I think mulberries would work even better in a beer with a more assertive malt character. They can’t carry a beer in the way raspberries or peaches can, but they’d work well at a lower rate to add complexity without overwhelming.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grapefruit American Pale Ale Recipe

Inspiration is impossible to control. Sure you can sit down with pen/paper or brewing software and try to come up with a great recipe idea, but in my experience that usually results in gimmicks or repetition. You never know when you’ll be struck with a really good idea. For me, unsurprisingly, it is often while drinking a delicious beer or reading about brewing, but that isn't always the case. For example, this batch was conceived while sucking on grapefruit cough drops to fight a sore throat (not nearly as weird as the story behind Evil Twin's Soft DK...).

After the bolt of inspiration that brings the recipe concept, it is the time to sit down to focus on defining the target characteristics and writing a recipe that will achieve them. In this case I wanted some bitterness, subtle sweetness, bright citrus aroma, and crisp balance. I considered using a sour beer base, but grapefruit has bitterness too, so I ended up choosing a pale ale. I also wanted something I could turn around quickly.

Cascade, Chinook, and Grapefruit Zest.I selected American "2-row" brewers malt, to impart a clean/crisp malt underpinning. I didn’t want a big caramel flavor, so I opted for a small amount of CaraVienna for a hint of sweetness. The only other specialty malt was acid malt, and only enough to lower the mash pH, and hopefully add some crispness to the finished beer.

While "grapefruit" is a common descriptor for the aromas of numerous American hops, there are a few varieties that standout. I selected the two I associate with the flavor most, loading in Cascade and Chinook at a 2:1 ratio. I didn't want to only rely on the hops alone though, so I mixed the zest harvested from four ruby red grapefruits into the dry hops. Audrey and I then peeled the fruit (discarding the pith), bifurcated each globe, stabbed each half a few times, and dumped all eight into the wort.

Grapefruit halves, with some stab marks to speed yeast access.The idea of a hoppy beer with citrus has been done before: Tyranena Scurvy IPA (orange peel) and Hill Farmstead-Tired Hands Delicado (lemon zest) for example. Sadly I've never had the chance to try the special grapefruit'ed version of Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point, which draws rave reviews. In my recipe I'm hoping for enough grapefruit aromatics to show through for the citrus to be identifiable, but not enough to obscure the fact that this is a firmly-hopped pale ale.

The dry hops and grapefruit only went into the beer yesterday, so I’ll give them about a week to infuse before I keg and force carbonate. Hopefully it’ll be one of those "I can’t believe I didn't think of this before!" sort of results. I won’t have long to enjoy this batch though because I’m less than three weeks away from flying to San Diego for the summer. Hopefully it'll last Audrey until I return!

It would be fun to try something similar with piney hops and spruce tips as well, but that will have to wait until next spring.

Grapefruit Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.88
Anticipated OG: 1.055
Anticipated SRM: 4.2
Anticipated IBU: 46.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78 %
Wort Boil Time: 60 Minutes

96.2% - 9.50 lbs. American "2-row" Brewer's Malt
2.5% - 0.25 lbs. CaraVienna
1.3% - 0.13 lbs. Acid Malt

0.63 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.00% AA) @ 20 min.
0.63 oz. Chinook (Whole, 11.50% AA) @ 20 min.
0.75 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.00% AA) @ 10 min.
0.75 oz. Chinook (Whole, 11.50% AA) @ 10 min.
2.00 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 11.50% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Cascade (Whole, 8.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Chinook (Whole, 11.50% AA) @ Dry Hop

1.00 Whirlfloc Fining @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
4 Grapefruits zest/flesh

WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

Brewed 5/27/13 with Audrey

Made a 1 L starter the night before, yeast pack was 5 months old.

2 g of gypsum added to the mash and sparge. Filtered DC water, un-cut as the base.

Batch sparged. Collected 6.75 gallons of 1.044 runnings.

Chilled to 70 F, shook to aerate, pitched the whole starter, and left at 64 F to ferment.

6/2/13 Added the zest of 4 grapefruits plus the dry hops in a weighted bag. Added the 4 peeled and cut in half grapefruits to the fermentor too.

6/20/13 Happy with how it turned out, although the grapefruit isn't as potent as I had hoped for.