Tuesday, January 28, 2014

American Sour Beer: Book Pre-Orders

Stand-in American Sour Beer cover.The book (originally codenamed Mad Fermentation, now officially American Sour Beer: Innovative Techniques for Mixed Fermentations) that I’ve been researching and writing for more than three years is available for pre-order! Not exactly breaking news considering it has been listed online since October... but I’d been reluctant to spread the word too much because the cover is a stand-in (the actual one has been mocked-up, but not shot) and the listed release date is overly optimistic (the current projection is May/June).

Tweets/links/posts started flying on Friday about the release, so I decided it was time to loop everyone in. Sunday ASB briefly peaked at #373 on Amazon (not bad out of over 8,000,000 books – top .005%). It’s also been battling How to Brew for the #1 spot on their beer books list (a testament to the lasting popularity of the book that taught me the basics). Last night Charlie Papazian randomly (no kidding) showed up at the DC Homebrewers meeting at Bluejacket, I took the opportunity to razz the president of the Brewers Association about my momentary lead over Joy of Homebrewing.

As the release date draws closer, the blog will be getting some trimmings that didn’t make the final cut (e.g., kvass, gruit, saison, pairing etc.) as well as some online appendices (commercial microbe descriptions and viable bottle dregs) that I will continue to update. I’m really happy with the way all 400 pages of what remained is coming along! The copy editor is about half-way through his review, with a goal of being completely finished in a week or so. From there it’ll be a jump to layout, graphics, indexing, final review etc. Excited to read the forward as well, and odds are you will be too when you hear who’s writing it!

So order now, or wait for the AHA pre-sale (about two weeks before the release) or the ebook (which is coming eventually) if you’d prefer! You’ll be sick of me soon enough. I’ve got articles for BYO (solera-style blending) and Zymurgy (mashing sour beers) in the works, plus I’ll be at NHC Grand Rapids (hopefully presenting) and later GABF this fall! You’ll start seeing ads in the brewing magazines in a couple months, and I’m sure I’ll be making the rounds on the homwbrewing-podcast-circuit.

In the meantime, please tell your brew-buddies about the book, post it to your homebrew club’s discussion forum, name your first-born after it etc. Any added publicity would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rhubarb Berliner Weisse Tasting

The color appeared much more vibrant in the bottling bucket, than it does in the glass.Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten rhubarb… in something other than strawberry-rhubarb pie. It is one of the few vegetables that manages to thrive in sweet applications (as opposed to the many savory fruits - e.g., tomato, and chile peppers). Rhubarb stalks have a fruity flavor, acidity, but not much sweetness.

Rhubarb contains oxalic acid, the same compound in sorrel, which is added to BlueJacket’s Sidewalk Saison. Oxalic acid can cause health problems in large doses, but it is concentrated in the rhubarb leaves, with malic acid (also found in apples and grapes) the predominant acid in the stalks. Malic acid is often converted to lactic acid by both malolactic bacteria, which are sometimes used in wine fermentations, and by the lactic acid bacteria commonly found in mixed-fermentation sour beers. Lactic acid tastes "softer" than malic, whose sharp flavor I associate with SweeTarts candy.

When I bought a few pounds of rhubarb this past spring, I was planning to add it to last years' Dark (Red) Saison V, but after tasting how acidic it was already, I added membrillo (quince paste) instead. This Berliner weisse hadn't soured as much as I wanted after a year, so I decided it was a good opportunity to use the rhubarb I had cleaned, vacuum-packed, and stored in the freezer. Like most things beer, I wasn't the first to brew a sour beer with rhubarb. The two most popular are probably Cantillon’s annual-experimental Zwanze (both 2008 and 2012), and New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb, the former dry and sour, the later sweet and tart. I wasn't even the first homebrewer, what with Ryan Brew's Rhubarb Berliner Weisse.

Rhubarb Berliner

Appearance – “Wine-cooler" pink as a friend described it recently (the photo doesn't do it justice). Not quite clear, but pretty close. The bright-white head unsurprisingly fizzes away within a minute of pouring. The second pour, containing the dregs, actually appears pinker than the first.

The color was a bit less orange and a bit more pink/red to my eye, but the intensity is about right in this photo.Smell – The aroma is clean, lightly doughy, and fruity. Rhubarb is tricky to describe, it isn’t distinct/powerful like cherries, raspberries, or peaches. It certainly shares some subtle similarities to its frequent companion, strawberries, but considerably milder. Luckily despite the similarities in appearance to celery, it has none of its green-vegetal character.

Taste – I added about 1.5 lbs/gal of rhubarb, and while the oxalic/malic acid enhanced the acidity it didn’t make the beer excessively sour. The fruity flavors meld well with the mellow base beer, not obscuring its mild wheaty flavor. The Brett (mostly Trois/Drie) adds a softy farmyard-hay flavor, nothing aggressively funky. The soft red-fruitiness lingers into the finish. Dry, but the fruitiness prevents it from coming across overly so.

Mouthfeel – Light, crisp, and spritzy, as it should be. About the maximum amount of CO2 (3.4 volumes) I’d put in a bottled beer, on opening foam starts to slowly build in the neck.

Drinkability & Notes – Probably not the ideal time of year to drink this light and refreshing, but that isn't stopping me from enjoying it! With the added flavor of the rhubarb I don’t miss the decotion mash I usually perform for  Berliners (this was my first batch with a single-infusion mash). I still need to write up notes on the plain half, we'll see if that holds true.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tasting Conan the IPA

I usually schedule at least two batches for each pitch of yeast I buy, especially when I get my hands on an interesting strain. When I received a vial of East Coast Yeast Northeast Ale, I knew that I had to ferment something Heady-Topper-esque with it, but I started with a pale ale (Simcoe & Sons recipe). With how well that batch turned out, I had nothing but high hopes for the IPA recipe that followed (hopped with Apollo, Pacific Jade, and a touch of Nelson Sauvin).

Half pint of Conan the IPA.Conan the IPA

Appearance – The dry hopping contributed a minor haze to the golden body. The addition of Biofine Clear (silicic acid - a vegan-friendly alternative to gelatin or isinglass) doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference compared to the clarity of my usual IPAs. The thin white head deflates quickly, trailing coating-lacing behind.

Smell – Over-ripe tropical fruit and citrus are the leaders. The fruitiness is so intense that it almost reads artificial. Smells boldly hoppy, but clear that it is very different than the fresh peach aromatics I detected in Simcoe & Sons. There is also a mild peppery spice, hard to say if it is the Pacific Jade (which some sources describe as "fresh citrus and crushed black pepper") or the yeast.

Taste – Similar hop character to the aroma, big fruit, that is well saturated through the flavor. The phenolic (spicy clove and pepper) flavors are somewhat more pronounced, which makes the flavor palette come across like a subdued Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse. Not unpleasant, but not what I expected. Otherwise, clean, minimal alcohol presence, no diacetyl et al. Sticky, resinous, lingering bitterness, without much sweetness. Not over-the-top bitterness for an American IPA, but more aggressive than many.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, especially for an 8%+ ABV beer. Solid carbonation, enough to send out the aromatics without being too prickly on the tongue.

Drinkability & Notes – As I near the bottom of the half-pint the flavor seems to improve: the hops taste brighter, more citrusy, but a hint of spice always lingers in the finish. It is a mostly present beer, drinkable enough, but it doesn't wow me like the hop character of an IPA should. While the repitch attenuated like I hoped it would (1.075 down to 1.012), the flavor profile isn’t as magical as is was with Simcoe, Mosaic, and Citra.