Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Solera Pull No. 2 - Straight and on Flowers

One of the great skills of the lambic brewers and gueuze blenders is identifying which barrels are best blended, fruited, dry hopped, saved, or served straight. It isn’t that the “best” beer is used for one application and the second best for another, they’ve learned what flavor work best for each application (or specific fruit). Instead of deciding on brew day what ingredients you’ll add to a batch of sour beer, try drinking a sample and imaging what flavors might enhance its positives and conceal its flaws (if either is required).

Here is a tasting of two versions of the second pull from the wine barrel solera in my basement!

Tasting the second pull from the solera Nathan and I started back in 2010!Solera Pull #2

Appearance – Slightly cloudy, appears to be yeast particulate (clearly I didn’t stop the pour early enough). Vibrant golden-yellow body. The white head is unremarkable, sinking to a thin ring after a few minutes of inspection.

Smell – Despite an additional pitch of Wyeast B. bruxellensis this wine barrel has consistently produced beers been less funky than most of my batches. It shares many similarities with Petrus Aged Pale rather than a lambic or gueuze. The vinous barrel shows through nicely, really the star of the aroma.

Taste – The flavor starts and ends with bright acidity. Very lactic, and firm while sidestepping harshness. There is a rounded malt flavor that compliments and even balances the acidity successfully. Fruity, faint Granny Smith? There just isn’t as much character here as I’d expect from the second pull from a solera fermented with ECY Bugfarm, I need some funky, earthy, citrusy something!

Mouthfeel – It has a medium-light body with moderate carbonation. Not light and spritzy enough for a lambic, which further enhances the Flemish-pale vibe.

Drinkability & Notes – A solid beer, but I think this one excels as a base for other flavors (with fruity dry hops for example it was transformed into one of my favorite beers). It doesn’t have the complexity that a sour needs to stand on its own. It’s probably passed time for another pull, or a decision that the solera has run its course.

While brewing the classics is always fun, I think most homebrewers enjoy venturing off the well-trod path occasionally. When Nathan (now a "savant" according to the WaPost) and I started our two soleras a few years ago we decided to use it to experiment with some of the more interesting concepts we could come up with: roasted butternut squash, cinnamon, and nutmeg; infused with elderflowers; aged on Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes etc.

This is the same beer as above, but this five gallon portion was aged on one ounce each of dried chrysanthemums and jasmine flowers. We racked out of the barrel in May, 2013 into a carboy with the flowers and bottled a few weeks later.

Flora Solera

Gorgeous pour of the solera aged on chrysanthemums and jasmine flowers!Appearance – A bit more careful on the pour on this one and it has a stunningly clear golden body (thank you protein-munching bacteria). Head retention is actually pretty good for a sour beer, better than the plain portion.

Smell – While it might look like a lager, it certainly doesn’t smell like it. The mums lead with their weird-floral-herbaceous character. I don’t pick out the jasmine distinctly, but I suspect it is keeping the beer more towards the floral than the herbal. Relatively straight ahead sour beer behind that, it projects a touch of acetic/vinegar.

Taste – Big acidity leads. No vinegar, but loads of lactic. The result is a firm acidity, but none of the sharpness I get in the finish from vinegary beers. The jasmine adds a juiciness to the mid-palate, while the mums contribute an interesting almost toasty finish. The flowers combined to add some interest to the relatively bland base.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, works well with the slightly elevated alcohol. Firm carbonation, but nothing disruptive.

Drinkability & Notes – Intriguing, but not likely an experiment I’d repeat. The jasmine and mums don’t blend harmoniously with the base beer, they stick out too much. So many interesting flowers available, this likely won’t be the last time Nathan and I brew something “weird” like this!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Priming Barrel-Aged and Blended Sour Beers

In the Packaging chapter of American Sour Beers I included formulas designed to estimate the amount of carbonation that will be produced by the microbes when blending similar sour beers of different gravities. While I believe it is important to understand the logic behind the math, it is certainly much easier to simply plug in the numbers rather than solve equations by hand. A few weeks ago someone emailed a question about the formulas, which sparked me to put together an easier method. I finally found time to refine it, so here I present my Blending Priming Calculator spreadsheet! Unlike the formulas in the book, it can determine carbonation for a blend of up to five beers.

These formulas are only exact if the wort for each component is identical. Having the same carbohydrate profile ensures that the remaining dextrins in one batch would be fermentable by the bacteria and Brettanomyces present in another. You’d expect the final gravity of the blend to approach the final gravity of the driest component, which is why this component must be entered in a specific position in the spreadsheet. Even then there is no way to guarantee the accuracy of the calculation because more attenuative microbes could be "hiding" in a younger/sweeter component.

To use the spreadsheet, start by selecting the number of component beers you will be blending from the drop-down list. This selection controls which formulas are used from the hidden Calculations tab.

Input the peak temperature the beer reached after the gravity stabilized (this is the same as all other priming calculators). If you ferment a beer through a warm summer and it continues to ferment into the fall, but stops before winter, you’d note the temperature it was when you stopped seeing the gravity drop (assuming it didn't get warmer after that). If the beer fermented all winter, but aged into the hot summer, you'd note the hottest temperature it reached during the summer.

I’ve noticed anecdotally that long-term aging in a barrel knocks about half of the assumed residual carbonation out of the beer. The "Residual CO2 Volumes" in red will calculate automatically. If you happen to own a capable CO2 meter (aren't you lucky!), you could override these calculation and simply enter the measured volumes of CO2 in row 5.

At this point enter the current gravity reading for each component and the volumes of beer that you plan to include in the blend. With those pieces of information entered you can see how much residual carbonation the blend will contain at bottling, and after it completes bottle-fermentation (assuming no priming sugar).

Input the target volumes of CO2 desired, and the formulas will display how much table or corn sugar would be required to carbonate the beer to that level. As we are assuming the fermentation of dextrins from the blended beers, it may take 6-12 months of cellaring to achieve full carbonation (as is carried out by traditional Belgian gueuze blenders).

I’ll certainly update this spreadsheet as I think of improvements (and hear your suggestions). At a minimum I'll add a metric tab as the metric formulas are already presented in the book.

Check out the updated/enhanced version of this spreadsheet from Jeffrey Crane of Council Brewing:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Saison 'Merican - Hoppy Funk

Spent hops left in the kettle after this saison.Brewing with newly developed/discovered ingredients is a necessity if you want to keep up. Sometimes I envy the people brewing 15 or 20 years ago when you knew what malts, hops, and yeasts were going to be available. These days it seems like every year there are 15 new yeast strains, 10 malts, and 5 hops. Then you find a great ingredient, but all of a sudden it's impossible to get your hands on again (looking at you Wyeast Brettanomyces anomalus, Golden Naked Oats, and Riwaka). Is it really practical (or even worthwhile) to brew with every new release under experimental conditions?

As much fun as I’ve had with split batch experiments to tease out the contributions of various sugars, hops, Brett strains, etc., in the end I’m not sure how well stripped down recipes answer the question of how to maximize an ingredient. Does using a crystal malt as the lone specialty grain in a low hopped beer really give you an accurate idea of what it will add to a hoppy porter? More than simply tasting and smelling the malt itself? Rather than trial The Yeast Bay’s Saison Blend in a bare-bones classic Dupont-style recipe, I opted to take their “grapefruit and orange zest” description to heart and load up on bold hops! The aroma blend (2:1:1 Mosaic, Citra, and Nelson Sauvin) was cribbed from the dry hopped solera that Nathan and I bottled last year (which skewed deliciously peachy).

This is the fuzzy looking rye malt, I tossed the last pound.The concept for this batch was heavily influenced by the hoppy-funky saisons that Prairie Artisan Ales has released (e.g., Hop, ‘Merica, Potlatch). Basic Brewing Radio has an excellent interview with their founder/brewer Chase Healey (James shipped me a couple bottles of their beer as well). I was surprised to find out Prairie dry hops as if they were IPAs and then pitches Brett at bottling with the beer already below 1P (1.004). I decided to do something similar, by keg-conditioning on the dry hops. I find that Brett produces an assertive character much more rapidly under pressure (key when you are looking to drink a beer like this while the hops are still fresh).

The rye malt from a previous batch, looks much more normal, no fuzz.The only unexpected variable was the Thomas Fawcett rye malt (freshly delivered from Rebel Brewer). My first whiff was a bit musty, but not in a bad way. It wasn’t until after brewing that I took a closer look at the remaining pound and noticed a dusty coating (compare to say the rye malt in my Whiskey Barrel Rye Stout). Luckily the beer tastes fine, and I haven't started hallucinating....

Saison ‘Merican Tasting

A glass of saison on a sunny afternoon, pretty sight!Appearance – The beer itself is not too far from orange juice (extra pulp). Hazy, but with a luminous quality. The head is billowy, sticky, and very bright white. Looks like a cross between an IPA and a rustic saison, no complaints here.

Smell – One of those magic sorts of smells with aromatics coming from the hops, saison yeast, Brettanomyces, and malt to form a unified wave of citrus, mango, and funk. Bold and inviting. The divisive Nelson “stink” starts to poke through as the beer warms.

Taste – The hops play lead despite being off them for more than a month, with loads of juicy tropical fruit. They dissolve into the funkier aspects in the finish (nothing too aggressive, more towards hay than horse stall). The saison yeast plays a supporting role with mild pepper. Much more citrusy than then blend in the solera, which I attribute to the yeast as well. Dry, but not bone dry thanks to the Golden Naked Oats. Moderate bitterness lingers for a moment, leaving me with the need for another sip.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, with medium-high carbonation. I was aiming slightly fuller than the classic saison to support the elevated hopping rate, and it works well.

Drinkability & Notes – An unequivocal success! One of the best saisons I've brewed (or tasted). This is exactly the sort of beer I love to drink, so much going on in such a neat little package. Not the sort of funk-bomb you need to struggle through, but enough to let you know it’s not a "Belgian IPA." I'll certainly be brewing this one again before too long.

Saison 'Merican Recipe

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.75
Anticipated OG: 1.054
Anticipated SRM: 4.2
Anticipated IBU: 37.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 77 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

74.4% - 8.00 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pils
18.6% - 2.00 lbs. Thomas Fawcett Rye Malt
4.7% - 0.50 lbs. Simpsons Golden Naked Oats
2.3% - 0.25 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated

0.75 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 13.30% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Mosaic (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
1.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 0 min.
2.00 oz. Mosaic (Whole, 10.00% AA) Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Citra Whole (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.

The Yeast Bay Saison Blend
White Labs WLP644 Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. Trois
Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. CB2 (Jason Rodriguez isolated)

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 75 min @ 148F

Brewed 5/4/14 by myself

Thomas Fawcett Rye Malt (smelled a bit musty).

2 g each CaCl and gypsum to the mash and sparge water. 1/2 tsp 88% lactic acid added to fly sparge. Collected 7.5 gallons of 1.046 runnings. Better efficiency than expected.

Added 0 min hops and allowed to stand for 20 minutes before starting the immersion chiller.

Chilled to 75F. Shook to aerate. Pitched tubes of The Yeast Bay's Saison Blend, White Labs Brett Trois, and dregs from my Single bottled with CB2. Left at 70F to ferment. Added 1/2 gallon of spring water to lower the OG.

5/15/14 Down to 1.011, 80% AA (tastes pretty good). Racked to a flushed keg with dry hops and 3
oz of table sugar. Left at warm room temperature.

5/20/14 Removed the dry hops, left at room temperature to continue conditioning.

6/4/14 Put on gas in the kegerator.