Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Funky Dark Saison 6 - The Unknown

Dark Saison 6, still sitting around in primary, after fermentation is complete.Another year, another batch of funky dark saison, our sixth so far! For this iteration Alex and I decided to go with our lowest OG to date, 1.051. Mixed-fermentation beers often overshoot the alcohol content you'd expect from a similar gravity clean beer because of the high attenuation of Brettanomyces. While ale and lager yeast are only able to ferment carbohydrate chains up to three glucose molecules long (maltotriose), Brett is capable of tackling chains three times that length (aka "unfermentable" dextrins). In doing so it continues to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide long after a standard fermentation ends.

For this batch we decided to ferment with slurry from two of the three variants of the Furlough Rye Saison. One appropriately contained dregs from Dark Saison 4, the other had two isolates from the Bootleg Biology's Pithos Blend. Using either yeast slurry or established sour beer is a great source for bugs because it allows you to taste what the microbes have already accomplished. It is like getting a writing sample rather than a transcript; it allows you to personally evaluate each applicant. Alex and I are hoping we get some of the tartness from the DS4 culture, while the Pithos elevates the earthy funk.

As for our usual addition of dried fruit, I'm planning to give this batch a bit more time before I decide. Maybe cranberries, I want something bright to help cut through the rich flavors from the raisiny Special B and D180 candi syrup. My half of the last batch, Dark Saison 5, is still sitting on quince paste (membrillo). It already tastes great, I'm just waiting for the temperature in my basement to rise a few degrees so I can be sure fermentation is complete before bottling.

Dark Saison #6

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 19.25
Anticipated OG: 1.051
Anticipated SRM: 17.6
Anticipated IBU: 18.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

26.0% - 5.00 lbs. Maris Otter
26.0% - 5.00 lbs. German Munich Malt
26.0% - 5.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
10.4% - 2.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
5.2% - 1.00 lbs. D180 Candi Syrup
5.2% - 1.00 lbs. Special B Malt
1.3% - 0.25 lbs. Acidulated Malt

1.00 oz. Horizon (Pellet, 10.00% AA) @ 45 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 75 min @ 153 F

Brewed 12/8/13 with Alex and the MT Kickstarter Crew.

4 g of CaCl added to both the carbon filtered mash and sparge water. Otherwise untreated.

Collected 11 gallons of 1.045 runnings with a batch sparge. Plus an extra gallon of final runnings.

D180 candi syrup added near the start of the boil.

Topped off with the final runnings with 15 minutes left in the boil.

Chilled to 75 F, shook to aerate, pitched 5 oz each slurry from two versions of Furlough Rye Saison (White Labs Saison III and Saison Blend) with DS4 dregs and Bootleg Biology Pithos Isolates. Very clear wort. Left at 67 F ambient to ferment.

4/30/14 Racked to secondary finally, and added ~15 Hungarian oak cubes from our homemade red wine (Cellar Craft Showcase Red Mountain Cabernet).

10/7/14 Cooked down 2 qrt of cranberries with the zest from two oranges for 25 minutes. Added to the secondary.

 4/12/15 Added 2 g of rehydrated Champagne yeast. 1.006, I'll let it warm up for a few days to make sure it really is done. Tastes very nice!

4/16/15 Bottled with 4 1/8 oz of table sugar. Aiming for 2.8 volumes of CO2.

9/28/15 Tasting notes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Double - Weizen Trippelbock Tasting

Usually I don’t have the opportunity to drink successive batches of a recipe side-by-side because by the time I rebrew, the previous batch is long gone. Not this time! I saved the last bottle of bourbon-soaked-oak aged Wheat Triplebock to drink along side the updated version (Weizen Trippelbock) that I aged in a first-use five-gallon Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky barrel. Nearly four years passed in between brewing the first and second batches, so not exactly a perfect comparison for purposes of recipe tweaking.

The recipes were nearly identical, with the only substantial change being a minor reduction and substitution in the amount of Simpsons ~158L Extra Dark Crystal malt (6.35% to 3.9% plus 1% Simpsons Dark Crystal malt). Otherwise I was already pretty happy with the original recipe, which was inspired by Steve Berthel’s Bourbon Cask Aged Wheat Trippelbock from The Livery. Berthel has since left The Livery, which means I will probably never get to try the original (although we can all hope New Holland brews something similar with him on board).

In addition to being fun to taste similar batches brewed four years apart, these two also highlight the difference between aging on oak cubes and in a barrel. Honestly there isn’t some huge flavor advantage to the barrel-aged over the cubes. The biggest mistake many homebrewers make when using either small barrels or barrel “alternatives” is time. If a brewery barrel-ages their beer for six-months or a year, you aren’t going to extract the same compounds by aging your homebrew for only a few weeks with a higher oak-to-beer ratio. Cubes are cheaper and easier, but in some ways they actually better replicate a large barrel. With a small barrel it is easy to overdo the barrel/spirit character, with cubes you can reduce the amount and extend the aging.

This tasting also brings up one of my favorite topics, high alcohol beers! One of the back-handed compliments I can give to a strong beer is that it “hides its strength.” I realize phrases like this are used as actual compliments by many beer drinkers, so let me explain. If a 10% ABV beer tastes like it could be 6% ABV, then I’d rather drink a full pint of 6% beer than a 10 oz. tulip of the strong beer. When a beer is loaded with alcohol I want it to taste like it, not with hot fusel alcohols, but huge flavors, intense maltiness, viscous body, and depth of character that forces me to slow down and pay attention. Brewing a 15% ABV double-extra-imperial stout that tastes like it's 10% is certainly a feat of technical brewing prowess, but so is brewing Bud Lite...

Wheat Triplebock (Older)

Appearance – Dark tan head, only a few centimeters thick, but tight bubbles. The beer is dark brown, nearly black. Looks like a porter.

Smell – Loads of raisin, plum, vanilla, well-aged liquor. Bready maltiness to the extreme. The first signs of floral-perfume alcohol from age, but no other signs of oxidation. Varied aroma that keeps me coming back.

Taste – Big flavors. Lots of dried fruit, charred oak, caramel, and toasted malt. Finishes sweet, but not sugary. The light tannins always helped balance this portion compared to the version without oak. The alcohol is subdued, but it is mildly warming. There is a background hint of soy sauce as it warms, starting to show its age.

Mouthfeel – Almost syrupy, stick-to-your ribs, thick body. Carbonation is perfect, subtle, but present.

Drinkability & Notes – This one aged into a champ, and that's a feat considering it took a silver medal at a local competition in its first year (as an eisbock). Packed with flavor. While it is great now, I think it might be a year or so passed its peak, on the gradual down-slope. It isn't falling apart by any means, but the positive effects of oxidation are beginning to be overshadowed by the negatives.

New Weizen Trippelbock on the left, older Wheat Triplebock on the right. If you were wondering, the different names/spellings have no significance whatsoever!

Weizen Trippelbock (Younger)

Appearance – The head and beer itself of this batch are a few shades lighter thanks to the lower amount of Extra Dark Crystal. Looks more the part of a traditional bock-relative. The head is coarser, not nearly as attractive. This beer doesn’t have a lot of carbonation, but produces a thin cascade of bubbles after a hard pour.

Smell – No surprise, much fresher, cleaner maltiness without as much dark/dried fruit. There is a subtle dried-plum aroma, but it is behind a mellow-caramel (doesn't smell like burnt sugar). The spirit/vanilla aromatics are mellower as well surprisingly, while the clean ethanol is more present.

Taste – The flavor leans more caramel, less dried fruit, similar to the nose. Despite being more than a year old, it tastes brew-day-fresh in comparison to the more than five-year-old beer. Malty and sweet, but mellower than the previous. The alcohol is a bit more apparent, warming, but not hot. It is over 11% ABV.

Mouthfeel – Full, but just slightly less-so. The carbonation is low, but not non-existent. Any lower and it would actively detract, but I'd say it could still benefit from just a touch more.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s a solid beer, but lacks the depth and assertiveness I demand in a beer with this much alcohol. Hopefully another couple years of aging will give it more depth, but for a third batch I'd go back closer to the original recipe, say 5.0-5.5% Extra Dark Crystal.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scottish Stout Tasting – Body & Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel of beers is one of the more complex aspects of brewing. I often see it simplified as final gravity equals body. Sure mashing toward the upper-end of the saccharification range results in more alpha amylase activity, which produces a higher proportion of unfermentable dextrins, which in turn leaves both a higher final gravity and a thicker body. However, this is not the same as using a lower attenuating yeast strain, which will leave a higher percentage of fermentable sugars behind. Assuming identical original and final gravities, a hotter mash will produce a beer with more body, while a less attenuative yeast will produce a beer with more residual sweetness.

Carbohydrates aren’t the only source of body in beer however. Proteins from the malt and glycerol from the brewer's yeast are also options for enhancing body. Beta glucans, a type of soluble fiber, gets a “maybe.” While grains that contain beta glucans (like oats) tend to create a silky body, there hasn’t been enough study yet (to my knowledge) to conclusively state that beta glucans are the source.

Carbonation plays a tricky role. In a beer that has a thick body already, I find that higher carbonation wrecks the mouthfeel. There are few things more disappointing than an over-carbonated imperial stout for example. However, for a beer that is thin, higher carbonation can actually improve the body by distracting from the watery mouthfeel. Think gueuze or Berliner weisse. Tannins from oak play a similar role, a small amount can enhance body, while excess leave a rough dryness.

Scottish Stout, next to a dying fire.All this is to say that despite a relatively high final gravity (1.017), and moderate-low carbonation, the body on my second batch of Scottish stout didn’t reach quite where I wanted it. Could it be excessive oak tannins? Or was it the lack of protein from the highly-modified Maris Otter? Or maybe my expectations are too high for a beer that is only 5.4% ABV? Otherwise it is a very enjoyable beer, and hopefully I’ll get just a bit closer next time.

90/- Scottish Stout #2

Appearance – The head is a stout-appropriate tan, and wonderfully dense, sticky, and lasting. The body is black, with only a hint of ruby at the bottom where the light can make it through. Held at an angle the beer looks to have dropped pretty clear in the keg.

Smell – The nose is lightly roasted coffee to start. Nothing reads burnt or charcoal (although the fireplace is adding a hint of smoke). There is a deeper maltiness behind the roasted barley that you wouldn’t have in say an Irish Dry Stout, toasted bread and toffee. Otherwise it’s clean without much identifiable character from the yeast or hops.

Taste – Starts out malty and rounded, distinctly Scottish to me. The finish is long and blends caramel and coffee, lingering and evolving for a few seconds after each sip. It isn’t a rich black coffee, more a Frappuccino - mellow and inviting, but not especially complex in terms of roast. Hop bitterness is low, but it doesn’t come across overly sweet thanks to the roasted barley and toasted oak.

Mouthfeel – The carbonation is perfect, very light, nothing to disrupt the body. Sadly the body itself is underwhelming. Not thin or watery by any means, but not substantial enough for the flavors.

Drinkability & Notes – Perfect beer to drink on a snow day. Loads of flavor, without too much alcohol. Begs for another sip each time. Maybe next time I’ll add 10-15% flaked oats or rye to enhance the body. Otherwise, just about there!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Scottish Stout - Adjusted and Re-Brewed

I have a mixed relationship with beer styles. As much as I think they stifle creativity, and convince people to brew/drink beers that don't suit their tastes perfectly, they are also a wonderful guide to which combinations of malts, hops, yeasts, and techniques have been found to work.

Rather than start off every batch with a completely original thought or with my target set squarely on one of the 74 styles recognized by the BJCP (not counting the six "open" categories), sometimes I take an established style and give it a twist. This might take the form of swapping the hops (Riwaka-hopped hefeweizen) or changing the yeast strain (barleywine second-runnings lager). For this batch I made a second attempt at a concept I first brewed a few years ago, a Scottish ale with extra roasted barley, a 90 Shilling Stout.

Racking Scottish stout to the keg.That first batch yielded a decent result, but relying solely on boiling down the first runnings to a syrup proved insufficient to create the bold caramel maltiness and body I expect in a Scottish ale. So for this batch we (I brewed with my good friend Scott - who you might remember from our Smoked Roggenbier) opted to add 8% British caramel malt.

I'm trying to be better about noting exactly which malts are used in my recipes. In some cases the maltster-to-maltster differences are quite significant in terms of color and flavor. I happened to have one pound of a few different versions of roasted barley on hand, so Scott and I had a tasting to pick which ones we wanted to use. We opted for mostly Muntons, along with a bit of Weyermann for its sharper, more acrid notes. The Briess was too pale and mellow for this beer.

In addition to the changes to grain bill yeast (ECY Scottish Heavy previously), the only other significant alteration from the first batch was the addition of a small amount of oak to the primary fermentor. When oak is exposed to fermentation (compared to oak aging) an additional flavor compound is created. In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee describes furfurylthiol as having a coffee-like flavor. Hopefully this add a bit of the rustic charm that the Traquair House beers absorb from primary fermentation in ancient oak vats.

Expect tasting notes shortly as this one has already been on tap for nearly a month.

Scottish Stout #2

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 23.75
Anticipated OG: 1.060
Anticipated SRM: 32.9
Anticipated IBU: 23.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

86.3% - 20.50 lbs. Maris Otter
4.2% - 1.00 lbs. Muntons Roasted Barley
1.1% - 0.25 lbs. Weyermann Roasted Barley
4.2% - 1.00 lbs. Simpsons Carastan Malt
4.2% - 1.00 lbs. Crisp Crystal 75L

1.50 oz. Perle (Whole, 8.85% AA) @ 60 min.

1.00 tsp. Yeast Nutrient @15 min.
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.75 oz. Medium Toast French Oak 17 days (primary)

WYeast 1728 Scottish Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 156 F

12/28/13 3 L stir-plate starter made with 2 month old yeast pack, started quickly.

Brewed 12/29/13 with Scott in the rain.

2 g of CaCl added to both the mash and batch sparge.

Boil 1.5 gallons of first runnings down to a syrup, ~1/2 gallon.

Added back to the rest of the wort at flame-out.

60 seconds pure O2 after chilling to 65 F.

Added steamed honeycomb oak to primary. Left at 60 F ambient to ferment.

1/14/14 Kegged and hooked up to gas. FG 1.017 (72% AA, 5.6% ABV)

2/13/14 Tasting notes. The caramel flavor from the malt gave it much of what the first batch was lacking. The body is fuller as well, but it could still be a bit thicker. Maybe some flaked grain next time around?