Monday, July 27, 2015

Apricots, Lactobacillus, and Hops

Love the orange color the apricot added!As fun as it is to talk about being inspired by astrophysics, architecture, travel, and art (Nathan's dry hopped tripel inspired by Gauguin's paintings of Tahiti) the best beer ideas usually come from drinking delicious beers! The flavor concept for this batch came from a homebrewed Citra apricot sour saison that a fan (thanks Aaron!) sent me last year.

I’ve combined fruity hops and actual fruit a few times (e.g., grapefruit, Cascade, and Chinook, papaya and Citra) but never in a sour beer. With so much being added to the aroma, I didn’t want to waste the time it takes to achieve a perfectly-balanced subtly-funky mixed-fermentation sour. So I opted for a quick souring method (went on tap less than two months after brew day).

I diverted 5 gallons of wort from my Northeast IPA recipe prior to adding any bittering hops. I opted for 100% Lactobacillus followed by a big pitch of Brettanomyces. The acidity came form a package of Omega’s Lacto Blend that founder Lance Shaner sent to me a few months prior. All I can say is “wow!” I knocked out warm, and left the wort at 80F and within 24 hours the pH was already down to 3.3! The risk with a strain this aggressive is that you can over-sour if you don't monitor closely. Rather than pasteurize the wort, I simply cooled it slightly and pitched a starter of East Coast Yeast Dirty Dozen (a blend of 12 Brett strains) that Al had sent. 

Lance (who also broke the Brett Trois isn’t Brett news) has been making waves recently by claiming that Lactobacillus cultures from some labs have a not-insignificant yeast population. I’ve heard similar things from several skilled microscope-wielders over the last couple years. Once purified, Lance found that none of the Lactobacillus cultures achieved more than 11% apparent attenuation. He contends that complete attenuation (as I achieved in my 100% Lacto batch) indicates the presence of yeast (full attenuation with Lacto would necessitate production of an undrinkable amount of lactic acid - which I clearly did not achieve).

I’ve been listening to The Sour Hour, and heard Cory King from Side Project (episode 3) and Tim Clifford from Sante Adairius (episode 5) both use apricot puree for Abricot Du Fermier and West Ashley respectively (as does host Jay Goodwin for Rare Barrel's Map of the Sun). All three use (loads) of Oregon Fruit Products, but I went with three 49 oz cans of Vintner’s Harvest (9.25 lbs of fruit added to 4 gallons of beer). I hadn’t used commercial fruit puree in more than eight years years because of how painful it was to separate from the beer without losing 20% of the batch. Sad to say, my opinion isn’t changing after this batch. On a homebrew-scale, it is just so much easier to transfer off of whole or sliced fruit (which makes up for the additional work of getting the fruit into the beer). Luckily the flavor from the puree is really nice!

I waited for the fermentation on the fruit to calm down, then added two ounces each of Amarillo and Citra. It’s the same fruity combination we use for the Modern Times Fortunate Island recipe (as does Kern River for their Citra DIPA). The brightness of the Amarillo tempers Citra, which can become dank on its own. That's an IPA-level dry hopping rate, but with so much fruit it was necessary to get it to come through at all! Oddly (and thankfully), dry hopping tempers the perception of acidity for me.

The result is an intensely sour and fruit-forward beer in relatively short order. If you don’t have Dirty Dozen, something like 3711 French Saison would work well. The extra gallon of the base beer is currently sitting on the interiors from two passionfruits; no dry hops planned!

The puree mostly sank eventually.Apricot Atomic Sour

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 12.25
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated SRM: 3.7
Anticipated IBU: 0.00
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70%
Wort Boil Time: 30 Minutes

81.6% - 10.00 lbs. Rahr 2-Row Brewers Malt
8.2% - 1.00 lbs. Flaked Corn (Maize)
6.1% - 0.75 lbs. Weyermann CaraPils
2.0% - 0.25 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated Malt
2.0% - 0.25 lbs. King Arthur All Purpose Flour

2.00 oz. Citra (Pellet, 12.00% AA) Dry Hop Secondary
2.00 oz. Amarillo (Pellet, 10.00% AA) Dry Hop Secondary

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 8 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 8 min.

OYL-605 Omega Lactobacillus Blend
ECY34 East Coast Yeast Dirty Dozen

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 30 min @ 154F

5/23/15 -  L starter of ECY Dirty Dozen and .5 L starter of Omega Lacto Blend.

Brewed 5/24/15

Note: this recipe was actually double everything listed, half was run off after 30 minutes for souring.

Mash was 3 gallons of distilled, plus 4.25 filtered DC tap. 2 tsp of 10% phosphoric acid. 6 g each CaCl and Gypsum. Mash pH = 5.33 after 5 minutes of recirculation. 1 gallon of distilled added as a cold sparge. 120 PPM chloride and 140 PPM sulfate, including mash and sparge water.

Boiled 30 minutes without hops. Ran-off 5.5 gallons at 1.052 and 90F. Added 17 g of 88% Lactic Acid to lower the pH to 4.34. Tasted ever so slightly tart. Pitched the Lacto starter. Left at 80F to sour.

5/25/15 24 hours later, already at 3.29 pH! Moved to the basement at 63F to cool for 6 hours before pitching Brett.

6/20/15 Racked 4 gallons of the sour half onto three 49 wt oz cans of Vintner's Harvest Apricot (~9.25 lbs total - 2.3 lbs/gallon). Racked the rest to a one gallon secondary. Brett is more fruity than funky at this point. At 1.008.

7/7/15 Added 2 oz each Citra and Amarillo loose to the sour/apricot portion. Flushed head space with CO2, left at 65 F.

7/14/15 Kegged. Clogged the flow-control faucet. Switched to standard Perlick. Final pH 3.19.

7/22/15 Added the meat from two passion fruits to the one gallon of remaining non-fruited beer.

8/11/15 Tasting of the apricot dry-hopped version. Wow, big acid, fruit, and fresh hoppiness. The apricot turned the sourness up more than than I expected.

10/27/15 Tasting notes for the passion fruit version. Could have added more, but it is refreshing and pleasant as is.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Don’t Waste Your Beer Money!

Homebrewing is a hobby that always has a shiny new piece of gear to buy with your beer money. Now that I make a little bit of money from the hobby (between writing, consulting, hocking t-shirts, and Amazon Associate Links like those below) I get to write-off what I spend. This forces me to actually track my spending more closely than I did when I was brewing purely for the love of the beer. It also means I sometimes get some ingredients or equipment for free that I wouldn't have otherwise purchased.

Here’s a list of nine things that I don’t think have provided a good ROI (return on investment) - or wouldn't had I purchased them. I’m certain a few of you will disagree with every one of the items on the list. If I'm missing some big advantage, an alternate use, or if they've improved, let me know! Also, feel free to post a comment if you’ve got anything that you’ve been disappointed with, save the rest of us a few (hundred) dollars!

1. Thermoworks Thermapen ($96.00): A fast/accurate digital thermometer certainly isn’t the worst thing to spend your money on, but an upgrade of a couple seconds or a few tenths of a degree doesn’t justify five times the price! My Thermapen lasted for only two years before a wire broke and it stopped working. Even before that the swivel started to become a bit sticky. I’ve had much better luck with Thermowork’s Super-Fast® Pocket Thermometer. Compare its specs (5-6 second readings, ±0.9˚F/±0.5˚C) to the Thermapen (3 second readings, ±0.7°F/±0.4°C), not bad for less than 20% of the price! Without moving parts the Pocket is also less prone to breaking, mine is going strong after nearly five years of double duty brewing and cooking (my circa 2008 Thermapen wasn’t waterproof like the new ones, so they may now better handle the rigors of sticky wort).

2. HopRocket ($124.99): When we started developing the hoppy beers for Modern Times, Jacob bought me a Blichmann HopRocket to better replicate the character they’d get getting with a hop-back at the brewery. Three years later we’ve independently come to the same conclusion: hop-backs generally aren't worth the hassle! I never got much character out of the hops compared to whirlpool (hop-stand) and dry hopping. I stopped using mine after trying it without dry hops. At the brewery they’ve found they get a better character from moving the hop-back additions elsewhere. My chilling process is much easier now that I can simply recirculate hot wort through the plate chiller to sanitize, rather than filling and draining Star-San.

3. 5 lb CO2 tank ($65.00): If you have enough room, there is no reason not to get a bigger CO2 tank. CO2 prices aren’t linear like propane or gasoline, it is really the activity of filling that comprises most of the price. A 20 lb CO2 tank often costs only a only few dollars more to fill or swap than a 5 lb tank. It’s also nice to have  extra CO2 because one of the biggest pains of owning a kegerator is getting to the gas supplier during their limited hours. I kept my original 5 lb aluminum tank for flushing carboys/growlers, and mobile dispensing.

4. Ultra Barrier Silver™ Antimicrobial and PVC Free Beer Tubing (~$3.00/ft): This high-end beer line doesn’t seem to be any more impermeable than standard tap lines. I had a keg of carbonated water on that I could taste the pine and citrus that were in the beer I ran through the line previously (despite cleaning and sanitizing with alkaline brewery wash and Star-San). Beer line cleaner removed the flavor, but if I have to use it between each batch I don't see the advantage compared to standard tubing at less than 1/3 the price!

5. Brewery-Specific Cleaners ($12.99): In most cases, Oxiclean Free will do the same job for half the price of PBW. Nice to have something a bit stronger around for when you need it, but in most cases a long soak in hot water and Oxiclean gets rid of fermentation crud. Beer line cleaner is a stronger option for really tough jobs if you don’t mind the extra precautions necessary when working with caustic. I’ve been disappointed in the keg/growler tabs from Craft Meister, it takes them so long to dissolve even with agitation that the water cools off significantly by the time they are fully dissolved (their powdered cleaners seem fine if unremarkable – although I don't like the packaging).

6. Overpriced homebrew store ingredients: There are plenty of ingredients at your local homebrewing store that are over-priced compared to a readily available alternative. If you want to dry out a strong/pale beer like a tripel or double IPA skip the clear candi sugar or dextrose and add some table sugar. Avoid the over-priced "brewing" spices sold and visit an ethnic market (Latin, Indian, or Asian especially) or a specialty spice shop. Prices will be lower, and more importantly quality/freshness will be better. Same goes for pricey fruit purees, they are easy to add, but painful to separate from the finished beer.

7. HopShot ($3.99): So many delicious IPAs are bittered with hop extract. On a commercial scale, compared to "actual" hops, extract is less expensive, more consistent, and increases yield. Virtually all of the beers brewed on Modern Times' 30 bbl system receive a can or two of hop extract at the start of the boil. Russian River, Hill Farmstead, Stone, Tired Hands etc. all use hop extract for at least some of their beers. I've had good results with Northern Brewer's HopShots a few times. However, I found that the packaging wasn't consistent. Some syringes contained a fresh smelling golden serum (top). while others were murky brown and smelled oxidized (bottom). The "dark" syringes also tend to leave small "tar balls" in the hot break and stuck to the sides of the kettle. Someone needs to improve on hop extract for homebrewers!

8. Perlick 650SS Flow Control Faucet ($54.50): When I upgraded my kegerator earlier this year, I bought a couple flow-control taps to allow me to serve highly carbonated beers without excess foaming (I hoped). The problem is that the Perlicks clog very easily compared to standard Perlicks. The lever mechanism, even when fully open, creates such a small gap that any hop particulate or fruit pulp becomes lodged (requiring disassembly and cleaning). Nathan had similar complaints for the ones they use at Right Proper, but also mentioned they'd gotten them replaced with a newer model that doesn't have the same issue. Although, even when they aren't jammed the pour doesn't seem to be any smoother than the standard Perlicks. 650SS are also not recommended for sour beers anyway...

9. Glass Carboy ($27.05): Glass has the unfortunate ability to shatter without a warning dent. The shards themselves can cause serious injury (to both beers and human flesh). I still have a couple glass carboys that I use as a last resort, but I'll never buy more if/when they break. I've had good luck with 8 gallon wine buckets and now Speidel 30L fermentors for primary fermentation (it is nice to not worry about blow-off 98% of the time), and kegs and plastic carboys for long term storage.

Bonus! Oak barrels: This one might surprise many of you, but I think most homebrewers would be best served skipping oak barrels. They are expensive, unwieldy, and prone to leaking, oxidation, and mold. If you want oak character, add oak cubes. If you want spirit or wine character, blend your favorite commercial example into the fermented beer. Sure barrels are pretty and they can be a great excuse for a group project, but on average I haven't found the beers I've aged in them to be significantly better than those aged in carboys or kegs. When the barrels and technique are on, they do have another level of character that can't be matched, but those are few and far between.

If you want to make brewing more affordable, focus on items that allow you to buy malt and hops in bulk (grain mill, vacuum packer, etc.). Buy gear that will last , rather than items that will need to be replaced. They may be more expensive initially, but better to get something that will last 20 years, rather than saving 50% for something that will need to be replaced in five years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Meadowfoam Honey Oatmeal Stout Tasting

Thistle filled with oatmeal stout!After six months, I’m pretty happy with my stout faucet and beer gas setup on the new kegerator. The only two exceptions are that the first tank of beer gas kicked before I served an entire keg; most likely that was the result of a regulator leak. I gave each of the fittings a turn and so far so good with the second tank. My other complaint is the dripping from the faucet, the small reservoir above the restrictor plate holds about a teaspoon of beer that slowly drips out over half an hour following each pour. Otherwise it pours a beautiful beer!

This Meadowfoam Honey Oatmeal Stout (recipe) is the second beer through after my Vanilla-Coconut Milk Stout. I’m thinking of brewing a Chocolate Pumpkin Porter next for the fall…!

Meadowfoam Honey Oatmeal Stout

Appearance – Beautiful depleted-uranium dense mocha head. The black beer yields amber highlights around the edges. Clear when it is thin enough.

Smell – High-quality chocolate bar, fresh toasty graininess. A hint of Raisin Bran. Also a touch of vanilla/floral, which I’ll generously attribute to the honey. Not a loud aroma, mostly thanks to the nitro (low carbonation means fewer CO2 bubbles to carry volatiles up to your nose).

Taste – Smooth cocoa roast, toasty, malty. More semi-sweet than dark chocolate. I can talk myself into tasting a hint of vanilla, but the honey is mostly a letdown. A hint of charcoal in the finish. Low bitterness, with plenty of sweetness, but it isn’t nearly as sticky as the milk stout.

Mouthfeel – I really like the thistle glass for nitro (I bought this one from Cristal Blumenau during our Brazil trip). Rather than allow the foam to float up out of the way with each sip (like a pint glass) it funnels the foam towards your mouth. Getting a bit of the head with each sip really enhances the creamy impression. Faint residual carbonation, tastes like maybe 1.2-1.4 volumes.

Drinkability & Notes – A nice stout, despite the July heat. The honey doesn’t come through as distinctly as I would have liked, but it adds depth to the chocolate. The raw honey itself wasn’t as punchy as the Meadowfoam honey that Ken Schramm passed around at NHC 2014, which is likely part of the problem. Next time I’d up the amount to two pounds, and try a different supplier.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mad Fermentationist Shirts!

Order Here!

For my first few years of this blog, I didn't make a dime from The Mad Fermentationist. Since then I've generated some beer money with ads for Brew Your Own, and American Sour Beers. I generally treat the blog more like a hobby (writing what I want/when interests me), but despite my efforts with social media, the book, and magazine articles the blog is still the most important connection to all of you. No plans to stop anytime soon!

While I was hanging out in the White Labs Tasting Room last month with James, Steve, and Andy (of Basic Brewing) before the start of the National Homebrewers conference, we ran into Marshall Schott and a few of the other guys from Brulosophy. They invited me to participate in two of their experiments: Fermentation Temperature and First Wort Hopping. I was impressed by how well brewed the beers were, and found both triangle tests to be really challenging (I was one for two - and probably not on the one you'd assume). During the Grand Banquet, we got to talking about blogging and branding, and Marshall suggested I talk to a designer he knows.

Tyler Schmidt and I emailed back-and-forth 20 times over a couple weeks, me providing ideas/concepts/suggestions, and him sending back sketches and samples. I was really happy with the two resulting logos! I thought it would be nice to have some t-shirts printed up for myself (and anyone else who wants to buy one). I’m doing it through Teespring, which was another suggestion from Marshall. If you’re interested, follow this link and reserve a shirt. Once sales ends in two weeks, the company will print all of the shirts and mail you yours. I get a few dollars for each shirt sold, and you get a cool shirt (and the knowledge that you helped support the blog)!

If you’re in the DC area you can save on shipping and pick-up your shirt from me at the August or September DC Homebrewers club meeting. I’ll make sure to bring a few fun sour beers to share at those meetings as well! Exact meeting dates/locations aren’t announced until closer to the date, so sign up for the email list.

Thanks for all the support, comments, and emails over the years! I wouldn’t have kept writing if I didn’t have so many positive experiences come out of it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Alsatian Funky Saison Tasting

I flavored this Alsatian Saison recipe with German hops (Hull Melon, and Hallertau Blanc) and French wine (Maison Trimbach Gewurztraminer). It was the third batch fermented with my "house" funky saison culture. I'm really happy with the way the blend of microbes is working together, despite my abuse (harvesting from the kicked keg). This batch did have sulfurous edge after keg conditioning, but venting the head space a couple times over a few days fixed that.

Not sure of the next stop for my house saison culture - I'm quickly running out of regions that produce both interesting hops and wine grapes. Maybe back to America, with a red wine, or an English saison with a touch of gin?

Alsatian Funky Saison

Appearance – Foggy pale yellow beer with a stiff white head, decent retention, and nice lacing. A nice rustic look, glowing despite the clouds and light summer rain.

Risked my camera out in the rain for this shot of my Alsatian Saison!Smell – More vinous than the New Zealand Saison, thanks to a more winey-wine, and grape notes from the Hallertau Blanc. Mineral-funkier as well; luckily the sulfur is completely gone. Balanced, not a big nose, but very pleasant. Not assertively hoppy after 10 weeks in the keg.

Taste – Wine-forward, good white wine, no white grape juice. Dry, without being a desiccant. Finishes crisp and bright, lemons and farmyard. Lingering on the funk keeps it from being really refreshing though.

Mouthfeel – Smooth lean mouthfeel, prickly carbonation. Lively and crisp without being watery or tannic.

Drinkability & Notes – The “new” German hops provide nice flavors and aroma, but they aren’t turned up the way American and New Zealand hops are. Still a nice wine-saison-funk hybrid, a pleasant moderate-alcohol variant for summertime consumption.