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 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dry Hopped Sour - Two Ways

With the popularity of both hop-forward IPAs and sour beers, it is surprising that so few brewers add aromatic hops to their mixed-fermentation beers. I suspect that many brewers are scared off of brewing a hoppy sour after hearing that hops can inhibit souring bacteria or that sourness and bitterness clash (both of which are true).

The key to success is the way in which the ingredients are brought together. In the case of the two beers I'm drinking tonight, Nathan and I allowed the base beer to sour in a wine barrel for more than three years (solera style) prior to dry hopping briefly right before bottling. This is the easiest way as it imparts a huge aroma, but minimal bitterness. As an added bonus, Brettanomyces scavenges oxygen as the beer ages in the bottle, protecting the hop character from “turning” as it does in so many IPAs.

A glass of wine barrel solera, dry hopped with Sterling.Solera on Sterling

Appearance – Ever so faintly hazy vibrant yellow. The retention of the white head is rather brief, typical for a long-aged sour.

Smell – Subtly herbaceous compared to the straight bottling. Not enough to cover the underlying vinous/citrus or faint maltiness. Very clean, no big funky Brett character, considering the age and fermentation.

Taste – Firm acidity, that fades to a bit of the classic “Cheerios” character in the finish that I get in my young/pale sours. The winey notes from the barrel and the hay and lemon from the microbes get along nicely with the hops. Comes across very lambic-like, positively Hanssens-esque I’d say.

Mouthfeel – Dry, but not thin. Solid carbonation. Nothing I would change.

Drinkability & Notes – The lingering cereal note in the finish detracts from the drinkability slightly, but this is still an excellent beer. When the hops were a little fresher I didn’t pick up that toastiness, and hopefully it will clean itself up with a couple more months in the bottle.

A glass of wine barrel solera, dry hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Nelson Sauvin.Solera on Citra/Mosaic/Nelson

Appearance – Ditto, other than pouring with a slightly smaller head.

Smell – Wow. An aroma that doesn’t just leap, but explodes out of the glass. Huge juicy layers of peach and tropical fruit. When I shared this beer with a couple of the brewers at Modern Times, they doubted that there was no fruit added. At once both reminiscent of the hops used and completely unique. Considering the hops went in four months ago, they still come across fresh. The only shame is that the base beer smells excellent on its own, and the hops obscure most of it.

Taste – The acidity comes across as mellower than the Sterling’d portion. Rounder. Tangy certainly, but the less aggressive. The “Cheerios” character is nowhere to be found. The bright fruitiness lasts through into the finish, fresh squeezed orange juice especially.

Mouthfeel – Feels fuller, sticky, almost oily. Carbonation is similar.

Drinkability & Notes – It is remarkable how beer that spent three years together and then received identical treatment other than the hop varieties could diverge so wildly. This is one of my favorite sour beers I’ve ever brewed, complex, drinkable, and surprising.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Modern Times Pilot System Brew Day

I thought it would be fun to walk everyone through a typical batch on the small Modern Times system (if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you probably saw a lot of this already). During my two months working at the brewery, I brewed on the ~23.5 gallon pilot system about 15 times. Some of those batches were true recipe pilots intended for eventual scaling, while others were experiments, or food for our souring microbes.

This will probably be a bit more practical than the production batch brew day walk through! I know there are homebrewers out there with systems that are similar to this one, but there are a few neat things we are able to do at a brewery that no one has at home. It is much more advanced than my usual rig. The stand was built by a local homebrewer (John McKay), and he outfitted it primarily with components from Blichmann Engineering. He's built several similar systems, including one that Coronado Brewing uses for their pilot batches.

The mill is the same one I use at home, a drill powered Barley Crusher. It would certainly be nice to have a mounted and motorized mill, but this one gets the job done. Base malt is usually easy to come by, but I did my best to avoid taking sacks of malt that were earmarked for an upcoming production batch. If we had a specialty malt on hand for I'd take a few pounds, but for anything else a trip to the local homebrewing store (Home Brew Mart) was required.

The system came with a propane regulator and burners, but my first job was to switch it over to natural gas. Natural gas is much less expensive and doesn't run out or lose pressure like propane. The pressure is lower though, so it requires a larger diameter hose to produce the same amount of heat. After getting accustomed to how easy it was to deal with, I'll certainly be switching my homebrew system to natural gas when I get around to overhauling it.


Here is the empty 30 gallon mash tun with false bottom. Rather than the manifold I use, this is piece that separates the wort from the spent grain. Seemed very effective, no stuck sparges, even when using a high percentage of oats or wheat. Brewhouse efficiencies hover between 75-80%, pretty good considering how hoppy many of the beers we brew are.

Rather than starting with cold tap water and using the burner to heat it to the strike temperature, we can simply steal hot water from the brewery's hot liquor tank. It can be heated slightly more, or mixed with cold water as needed to achieve the target temperature (about 10 F above the intended mash temperature, with a 1.3 qrts/lb ratio). The large diameter hose helps speed things up too.

After mashing in, we insert a temperature probe into the thermowell and set the associated controller to the target mash temperature. When the temperature falls below the set point, the controller opens a valve that allows gas to flow to the burner (ignited by the pilot light). The march pump circulates the wort continuously from under the false bottom and back into the top to prevent the wort from scorching.

A second temperature probe measures the temperature of the wort flowing out from under the false bottom. The goal is to run the pump fast enough that this temperature closely matches that of the mash itself. The pump on the right is only for water, while the one on the left is for wort.

After a 45 minute rest (the wort has been recirculating this whole time, so there is no need for additional time spent vorlaufing), it is time to sparge. A few minutes before the rest is complete, the brewer fills the pilot's HLT with hot water from the brewery's HLT. The system is equipped with an AutoSparge, which operates with a float (similar to a toilet's tank). Rather than rely on it, I tended to match the flow in from the HLT with the flow out to the kettle, using the AutoSparge as a safety in case I got distracted and wandered off.

Here is the control panel with its two Love controllers and a bunch of switches (from top to bottom they control the main power, temperature readouts, gas valves, and pumps). While it was nice to have all this automation, it also makes life more complicated when something stops working. For my last couple brews the controller responsible for the mash tun stopped reading correctly, meaning I had no way to turn that burner on. Luckily with 20 gallon batches, you don't lose more than a couple degrees over the duration of the mash rest. The issue may have been the probe, with all the heat and water the risk of damage to them seems substantial.

Empty boil kettle with HopBlocker. No pouring the wort through a sieve like I do at home, this inverted metal cup prevents most of the hops (even pellets) from being transferred out of the kettle after the boil.

Here's a rolling boil with some good hot break. At most we aim for 23.5 gallons post-boil, which means starting with about 26 gallons (accounting for evaporation, and losses to trub). Hops came either from the commercial stock, homebrew odds-and-ends, samples, or were specifically purchased if we needed something we didn't have on hand. After the boil ends, we manually whirlpool the wort, and then allow it to settle for 20 minutes before running off.


Knocking out wort into one of the four insulated 27 gallon More Beer conical fermentor. Impossible to see in the photo, but chilling water comes through a pipe connected to the cold liquor tank, which always has water held in the high 40s F. The CLT pump really shoots water out through a 1/2" opening, so I needed to pin the hose carrying the spent water to prevent it from whipping around. Makes knocking out 20+ gallons of wort quick, usually15-20 minutes. There is a slot to insert one of the probes to monitor the temperature of the wort as it exits the chiller.

When it is available, we take a few cups of dense yeast slurry from one of the yeast brinks, or big fermentors. Barring that, we'll either make a starter, or when pressed for time... buy a whole bunch of White Labs vials.

The cold boxes are set to around 40 F to store kegged beer, which is too cold for fermentations. The solution was to attach a heat bands to each fermentor, then cover in adhesive-backed foam insulation. A Ranco temperature controller probe inserted through a thermowell turns the heat on when the temperature falls too low. We were actually having the opposite problem when I left, with a nearly full fermentor, and booming fermentation, the insulation was actually too effective, trapping so much heat that the temperature would climb into the mid-70 F. A cooler knock-out may be the solution, setting the temperature in the low 60s F initially, allowing it to climb to the high 60s F on its own before ramping up the setting on the temperature controller to hold it there.

I also learned the valuable lesson about the heat bands. The first batch fermented set to medium, which was enough heat to cook the krausen onto the inside of the conical. That was not a fun hour of scrubbing.

After emptying and scrubbing out the boil kettle and mash tun, we flush the plate chiller with a hose, and then run hot water plus caustic through it. While that was running for 15 minutes, there is just enough time to clean the floors (floor drains are another big help). On good days I went from milling grain to completely cleaned up in about five hours, not too bad for quadruple the volume I brew at home!

After fermentation is complete, we turn off the heat wrap and allow the beer to crash cool. When it is ready to keg, we attach a hose to the racking arm, rotate it up, and push with a couple PSI of carbon dioxide pumped in through a bayonet affixed to the top of the conical. Makes it easy to transfer wort, no pump to prime, and less exposure to potentially damaging oxygen. Then it's as easy as shake carbing and attaching the liquid out to one of the taps in the tasting room!


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Working at a Startup Craft Brewery

I'm back from my summer in San Diego, two months working for Modern Times. Came back to my old desk and 6,900 emails earlier today at my real job. For the last few weeks in California I was having so much fun that I stopped posting on the blog, sorry about that. While I was out there I detailed a brew day on the brewery's "main" system. So to follow up on that, I thought I'd give an overview of what day-to-day life is like at a startup craft brewery when you aren't brewing. I think many homebrewers don't have a clear image of what goes into working at a new craft brewery.

A few years ago a brewer, although I can't remember who, told me that far from being a glamorous job, brewers are glorified janitors. After working at a brewery, I wouldn't dispute that characterization. There is of course cleaning the mash tun, fermentors, kegs (using a three keg washer), the random mess that comes from boxes constantly arriving (full of stuff from McMaster-Carr, brewery schwag, hops, microbes etc.), not to mention the floors. Sure there are days when the brewers get announced and a round of applause when they walk into Toronado, but that isn't most days.

We used six different products/methods in various combinations to clean and sanitize the brewing equipment:

Caustic (Shear 250) - Strongly base (the opposite of acid). Caustic is probably the most dangerous thing in a brewery to human skin (as anyone who has seen Fight Club is likely aware). This makes sense as organic compounds (like yeast residue) are the prime target of caustic. If you do get caustic on your skin, quick action and rinsing with something acidic (like beer) are essential. Its effectiveness increases as the water temperature rises, to a point (around 140 F was what Alex suggested). The caustic laced (2-4%) hot water is run in a CIP (clean in place) loop that sprays the kettle, mash tun, or fermentor. When cleaning is complete on one vessel, the caustic can be pumped over to another and reused. After rinsing with hot water, the pH of the tail-end of the final rinse is checked to ensure it is equal to that of tap water, ensuring that all traces of caustic have been removed (caustic tends to float).

Oxidizer (SB Brewery Cleaner) - Similar to the PBW (or OxiClean Free) that many homebrewers use. An oxidizer helps to boost the action of caustic, although it could be used on its own. Used where there are especially nasty deposits that even caustic would have trouble removing without assistance.

Phosphoric/Nitric Acid (Acid #14) - Diluted with cold water, this acid blend helps to remove inorganic calcium oxalate, commonly called beerstone. The low pH shines the stainless steel while removing places for unwanted microbes to hide. When dumping spent chemicals it is important to remember that bleach plus acid releases chlorine gas (which killed many people during the trench warfare of the first World War).

Peracetic Acid - The no-rinse sanitizer of choice for fermentors at Modern Times. It takes a surprisingly small amount mixed with cold water to effective kill microbes. When exposed to water or the atmosphere, peracetic acid breaks down into acetic acid (aka vinegar). Luckily such a small amount is not a concern for the flavor of the beer. Like homebrewing, sanitizer is not used on surfaces that contact wort prior to chilling. Surfaces that touch boiling or near-boiling wort are not a contamination risk. Remember to always dump any sanitizer that might be trapped in the racking arm of a fermentor before pumping the beer or yeast in. Unlike homebrew-sized fermentors, you can't really look into the sanitized conical or shake it to ensure it is empty.

Iodophor - I tended to use this for Corny kegs, carboys, and accessories on the Pilot system. It is relatively skin safe, so I tended to use it anytime I'd have to touch the sanitizer. It was also kept in spray bottles to sanitize sample ports, gaskets, clamps, and the tops of filled Sanke kegs.

Heat - As I mentioned in the brew-day post, water from the hot liquor tank is often used to pasteurize hoses and smaller vessels (e.g., yeast brink). Heat has the benefit of killing microbes down in small cracks and crevices where it is impossible to guarantee sanitizer would reach.

What You'll Do

If you are coming onto an established brewery that does several brews a day (our head brewer was overseeing more than 40 batches a week when he left Lost Coast), your experience of day-to-day life will be quite different from mine. When I left, there were only a couple big batches brewed each week. With sales steadily growing, the tasting room now open, and canning starting in the next couple weeks, brewing will become more frequent.

In addition to cleaning, most of my days were spent brewing 20 gallon batches on the pilot system (I'll walk you though one of those next week), helping to build out and paint the brewery, getting microbes started for the barrel program (30 wine barrels are arriving shortly), writing, organizing, and other miscellaneous projects. Luckily I was spared the sales work that the other brewers are doing, visiting local bars to give samples, working with our sales reps, and working the tasting room. The brewers also spend time monitoring fermentations, carbonating beers, filling out kegs, working on paperwork for taxes, ordering ingredients/equipment etc. Drinking and evaluating our beers was an important part of all our jobs, but not huge time-wise.


Just like any job, brewers have a set of gear that makes their job safer and more comfortable. There is no perfect wardrobe for every brewer, but here is what worked for me:

Boots - The single most essential item for any brewer. Everyone has their own tastes, but footwear need to be water- and chemical-proof at a minimum. You need protection from the near boiling liquids and caustic/acid that flow (sometimes unexpectedly) across the floor. Mine are 6" laceups, which served me well (and quite reasonable at about $30). Alex preferred tall slip-on rubber boots, while Matt wore low slip-on leather boots (when he wasn't walking around in flip-flops, the California brewer look as he called it).

Socks - Up through college I wore tube socks. I never really liked them (they tended to end up bunched around my ankles), but it's what my mother bought and I didn't realize there were options. Since then I've become a convert to shorter socks. Turns out they are an unsurprisingly poor pairing with over-the-ankle boots. After a couple days I bought socks tall enough to prevent the boots from rubbing against my calves. You'll be standing and walking around a lot, so the more comfortable your feet are, the better.

Pants - There are different schools of thought on pants, I wore shorts on days I wasn't going to be dealing with heavy-duty cleaning, but most days called for jeans/dungarees. Essentially whatever you're comfortable in accepting that you might bump against a hot piece of metal, or receive a brief spray of caustic...

Gloves - The brewery has a couple pairs of chemical resistant gloves floating around for measuring out the dangerous cleaning products. You need a combination of safety and dexterity, gloves aren't much help if they protect your skin, but prevent you from moving dangerous liquids carefully. Some brewers also have more maneuverable gloves to make handling scalding hot hoses easier.

Safety Glasses - Always good to have some eye protection when working with dangerous chemicals. It only takes a single drop to the eye to cause serious problems (luckily the emergency eyewash station hasn't needed to be deployed yet).

T-shirts - As a brewer you are generally required to wear t-shirts from the brewery, or breweries you've previously worked at, bars where your beer is served, or obscure industry-specific suppliers. Luckily you acquire these for free at a relatively brisk pace. Really dress-code depends on the place and who you interact with.

I learned a lot this summer thanks to Matt, Alex, and Derek. I really appreciate the time they took to answer my questions, and help me when I had no idea what I was doing (aka most of the time). Hopefully some information on sours and Brett flowed the other way as well. I'll be writing another, more philosophical post here about what I learned, and probably some sort of wrap-up post for the Modern Times blog about what I accomplished.