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