Monday, September 28, 2015

Cranberry Dark Saison Tasting

Cranberries pre-cooking.Hard to believe Alex and I are already talking about our eighth annual dark/funky saison! The bottle I’m drinking tonight is from batch #6 (recipe), brewed almost two years ago with the help of a few of the Modern Times Kickstarter  backers. A year later, I cooked down two quarts of fresh cranberries with orange zest to add to the fermentor. Applying heat accomplishes a similar effect to drying fruit, it destroys many of the brighter/fresher flavors, producing a richer singular flavor that usually meshes more seamlessly with dark beers.

Also hard to believe that in that time Modern Times has gone through such raid growth, recently announcing that they’re opening a second brewery with a restaurant in Aneheim!

Dark Saison VI - Cranberry

Appearance – Foamed up slightly when I opened the bottle, which in turn churn up the sediment. Pours a hazy rusty-chestnut. Moderate off-white head, better than many sours (but still not great).

Smell – Mild aroma, with bready malt, and jammy red fruit. The Brett is wonderfully leathery, a hint of toasty oak as well. A hint of alcohol warmth towards the end of the glass. Certainly reminds me of the fall.

Cranberries post-saison.Taste – More oud bruin than dark saison (not that it is brewed to any sort of style-guidelines). Not too surprising given the base-malt-trio of Maris Otter, Vienna, and Munich. Rounded, malty, with that saturated berry-cherry fruit. It is obvious there is real fruit, but I’m not sure I would have been able to say cranberry definitively. Acidity is pleasantly puckering, but not aggressive or harsh. Earthy funk is subdued, allowing the fruit and malt to lead. Lingering bready-fruity finish.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body with less carbonation than I expected given what happened when I opened the bottle.

Drinkability & Notes – Cooking the cranberries softened their flavor enough that I would probably up the amount next time. I don’t taste any influence from the orange peel, which is nice because I was planning to add orange peel directly to the fermentor a few days before bottling Dark Saison VII!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chocolate Butternut Squash Porter Recipe

Like my annual slice of pumpkin pie, I think I'm going to enjoy pumpkin ales more than I usually do. I never really love the standard formula: caramel-sweet amber/orange ale, overbearing spicing (sometimes augmented with ingredients like gram cracker flavoring), and no pumpkin flavor. Skilled brewers can make it work, one of my favorites is Selin's Grove's Pumpkin Ale, served only on nitro at the small central-Pennsylvania brewpub. The creamy head and subdued spice aroma combine to make it one of my favorites of the classic formulation.

As far as clean pumpkin ales go, stouts and porters provide a better base. As pumpkin-spice-latte devotees have discovered, restrained roast is an easy pairing for warming fall spices (cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla). For beer, rather than add coffee to an amber base, I prefer chocolate and roasted malts. I brewed a small batch of Chocolate Pumpkin Porter seven years ago inspired by the description of Midnight Sun's TREAT (never having had it). Luckily I wasn't disappointed when I finally bought a bottle five years later!

For this batch, I originally intended to add canned pumpkin, but two local supermarkets weren't carrying it in early August. Instead I purchased two butternut squashes totaling 6.5 pounds. They are easier to dispatch than sugar/pie pumpkins thanks to smaller internal cavities, and their flavor is somewhat more characterful. Rather than roast the chunks of flesh, I steamed them, in the hopes of bringing out more of their squashiness.

With the flesh broken down enough to mash, I stirred in the Dutch-process cocoa powder, custom pumpkin pie spice mix, vanilla bean, and a half tin of black treacle (the English cousin of molasses - light molasses would be an acceptable substitute) and continued to cook the mixture a few more minutes. This took the place of the standard "blooming" process I usually execute with cocoa powder (rehydrating it with hot water). Unrefined sugar and vanilla compliment chocolate, they help to make it taste more deeply chocolaty. In this case I didn't want the treacle to be strong enough to identify, but something you'd miss if it was taken away.

I dumped the resulting "vegan brownie batter" into the fermentor and pumped the cooled wort on top of it. Squash has relatively little starch, so it isn't necessary to convert it in the mash. You could add it to the boil, but I find it imparts more flavor during extended contact in the fermentor (it settles out pretty well if given enough time). In the past I've added a spice tea at bottling/kegging when I want to taste the "true" spice flavor (as opposed to Belgian-style late-boil addition for spice complexity), but I wanted to try this method. At packaging I tasted the beer and decided it didn't need a spice boost.

This was only half of the batch, I left the rest as a plain porter - although I have a twist planned for it before it goes on tap... I'll talk about the base recipe (including stout malt) when I post the tasting notes for it.

Chocolate Butternut Porter Tasting

Appearance – As chocolate brown as a beer can be without being black. You get the feeling this would be a pretty ugly (muddy) beer if it weren’t so dark. Between the cocoa powder and the squash, there is plenty of haze when viewed at the margins. The head is creamy, but not as long-lasting as some of my other nitrogenated beers.

Smell – Rounded cocoa-roast leads, followed up by cinnamon (and other more nebulous fall spices). Like a spiced chocolate muffin, it doesn’t smell too sweet, with fresh bready maltiness filling out the background. Lots of different spice notes as it warms (nutmeg especially), luckily the clove is subdued. The squash comes through in the same way it does in pumpkin bread, as a pleasant sweet vegetable note.

Taste – Spices are saturated through the palate without overwhelming the other flavors. They aren’t as bright and distinct as when I’ve used a spice tea, but with such a complex beer this technique worked well. The chocolate is behind the spice, mixing with the roast. The treacle and vanilla are faint. Sweet enough to support the autumnal flavors, without being sticky. The squash flavor is subtle at best, but it adds a slightly fruity-savory flavor in the mid-palate. The flavors of the base beer itself are a bit lost with so much else going on, the hops and yeast are all but absent.

Mouthfeel – Really silky, one of the most viscous, unctuous, full bodied beers I’ve brewed! Especially considering the moderate alcohol. I’m sure the flaked rye and high FG helped, but I have to imagine the starches and fiber in the squash played a role as well. Carbonation is low, but the dense head only adds to the luxuriousness.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s a fun beer. Balanced, expressive, and drinkable for what it is. However, it’s such a rich/full beer that it isn’t exactly a second or third pint sort of beer. Glad I got it on early in the season so I can slowly enjoy it through the fall!

Chocolate Butternut Porter Recipe

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.00
OG: 1.066
SRM: 43.0
IBU: 24.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

66.7% - 10.00 lbs. Malting Company of Ireland Stout Malt
13.3% - 2.00 lbs. Flaked Rye
6.7% - 1.00 lbs. Weyermann CaraMunich III
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Weyermann Carafa II
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Simpsons Chocolate Malt
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Simpsons Medium Crystal
3.3% - 0.50 lbs. Briess Midnight Wheat

1.13 oz. Crystal (Pellet, 3.25% AA) @ 60 min.
0.50 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 8.00% AA) @ 60 min.

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 6 min. (boil)
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 6 min. (boil)
6.50 lbs Butternut Squash
1 Vanilla Bean
5 oz Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
2.75 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
0.50 lbs Tate & Lyle's Black Treacle

WYeast 1318 London Ale III

Water Profile
Profile: Scandinavian RIS

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 158F

Brewed 8/9/15

Made a 4L starter 24 hours in advance. Good activity quickly on the stir-plate.

2.25 g of chalk to the mash (dissolved in carbonated water first). Mash pH 5.34

Spice: 1.5 tsp cinnamon, .5 tsp grated nutmeg, plus .25 tsp allspice berries, and .5 tsp cracked ginger ground in a coffee grinder with 5 cloves.

6.5 lbs butternut squash peeled and diced, steamed with 1 cup water. Uncovered after 30 minutes, mixed in spices, 5 oz of Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, 8 oz of Tate & Lyle's black treacle, and 1 split vanilla bean. Cooked 5 minutes uncovered. Then pulled off heat to cool, covered.

Collected 7 gallons with 1.5 gallon cold sparge. First runnings 1.059.

Added 4.5 g of sea salt to the boil. Chilled to 64 F with recirculated ice water.

Racked 5.5 gallons to each fermentor, one had the cooled chocolate-squash-spice paste. Shook to combine, pitched decanted starter, left at 64F to ferment.

8/15/15 Upped to 68 F to finish.

8/30/15 Kegged both halves with 2.35 oz of cane sugar each.

9/13/15 Hooked Butternut half up to beer gas in the kegerator. FG 1.026 (61% AA, 5.3% ABV). Likely a little higher alcohol and attenuation considering I didn't take an OG reading after mixing in the squash mixture.

9/23/15 Tasting notes above.

2/9/16 Tasting notes and process for the "plain" half, revived with cold-steep dark malts in the keg.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Double Lemon Berliner Weisse Tasting

Here’s a double-tasting of this split-batch lemon Berliner weisse. I added strips of fresh lemon zest to the batch shortly before bottling. I racked the entire batch to the bottling bucket, primed, and bottled half. I then pulled a sample and dosed with True Lemon to boost the citrus flavor. Once I determined the ideal ratio for my palate, I scaled it up, dosed the remainder, and continued bottling.

Lemon Berliner

Appearance – Pours and looks like a macro lager. Hard to get an all-malt beer any paler. Brilliant clarity, but the head retention fizzles within a couple minutes. This was the first Berliner where I added lactic acid to drop the pH prior to pitching, it helped the head retention somewhat without harming the clarity. I was hoping for a better head, but the oils from the lemon may have worked against me.

Lemon Berliner Weisse, ready to drink.Smell – The nose is fresh, bright, and vibrant. The lemon zest comes through nicely, but it allows some classic Berliner weisse character through as well. Mildly doughy, although that aspect has faded as the beer aged. Brett is subdued, which is more to-style than some previous iterations.

Taste – Refreshing acidity, balanced lemon oil, and hay-like funk. It is mild and drinkable compared to some of my more aggressive Berliner weisses (Batch #4 recently got the stamp of approval from a German friend of the family, although it was also his first example of the style). While more acidity or funk would make for a more interesting beer, this is just an easy beer to crush (sadly this is my last bottle).

Mouthfeel – Crisp and light, without becoming thin or tannic. Firm carbonation, about as high as I’m comfortable with in a bottle conditioned beer.

Drinkability & Notes – The lemon zest brightness is a welcome addition to the base Berliner. Glad an idea that seemed so obvious actually worked so well! It would be an easy beer to serve to someone who enjoys a slice of lemon in their seltzer water.

Double Lemon Berliner

I swear this is a different beer.Appearance – Essentially identical. Just as light, clear, and the head falls just as quickly (even a little faster).

Smell – The aroma is big lemonade. Not fresh-squeezed mind you, more Country Time. Not unpleasant or off, but it has that near-artificial one-note thing that “lemon” candy and drinks exude. Sadly that aroma overwhelms the delicate flavors of the base beer. Almost spicy.

Taste – Similar to the nose, big lemon, not much else. The acidity is there at a similar level. A less sweet Mike’s Hard Lemonade (not that I've had one in a decade)? The finish is a bit muddy, not as crisp and refreshing as the other version.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is slightly lower as a result of the nucleation/foaming that occurred when I added the powder directly to the bottling bucket. Next time I’d dissolve it first. Actually glad it eventually carbonated (it was nearly flat for several months).

Drinkability & Notes – The “True” products certainly hold an appeal in terms of ease, price, and potency. However, I think they would be better suited as an accent in an already flavorful beer (e.g., adding a citrus note to an IPA). Plenty of bottles of this half left…

For anyone who isn't a true Mad Fermentationist nerd, I finally located the glass that was used for the cover of American Sour Beers! It's a Sahm Sensorik Pokal, but sadly I haven't found a consumer source that sells them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

French Blonde Ale Recipe and Tasting

When whirlpooling goes right.I have difficulty when I need to bring beer to an event that isn’t beer-centric. Most of my bottled beers are intended for slow consumption, and are thus strong, sour, weird, or some combination thereof. I usually keg my daily drinkers for consumption within a couple months. If I happen to have a suitable beer on tap I’ll fill a growler, but often what I have is a session IPA, something roasty, and a tart saison. Not exactly gateway beers for many people!

Every Labor Day for the last 20+ years my wife’s family has thrown a big barbecue in her ancestral homeland of northeastern Ohio. It involves a rib cooking contest, penny scramble, and cases of Bud Light, Yuengling, and occasionally some Great Lakes. In previous years I’ve brought a mixed-six to share with the handful of uncles, cousins, and siblings that lean towards beer nerdery. For this year's festivities, Audrey and I decided to brew a batch specifically for the event. The goal was something that would be accessible and appealing to people who like BEER: refreshing, moderate alcohol, low bitterness, and clean fermentation. At the same time, I didn't want to brew an American Lager.

Wort in one of the two fermentors, waiting for yeast.The recipe was really simple, meaning ingredient quality was especially important. I wanted to show off one of my favorite base malts, Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner. Hops were restrained, Sterling for both bittering and a touch of aroma. The yeast was an accidental purchase, I was intending to buy White Labs French Saison Ale for a consulting job, but mistakenly selected White Labs French Ale. The description matched the “clean” requirement, not too different than a German/Kolsch ale strain.

Luckily the beer was a hit! Mostly thanks to Audrey’s expert sales role convincing grandparents and third-cousins to try it. We drove home with an empty keg after draining the last quart into a water jug for her uncle to enjoy during the cleanup.

This was surprisingly my first time serving a keg away from home, glad I had my 5 lb aluminum CO2 tank retested after getting a new 20 lb tank for the kegerator. To keep the keg cool we placed it in a small plastic trash can with a big bag of ice and a gallon of water. Pours were predictably a little foamy by people more accustomed to pouring macro-lagers from hand-pumped kegs, but it was otherwise a great excuse to share my passion!

I’ve still got the second keg of this batch on tap, although it was dry hopped with an ounce of Jarrylo (its parentage looks like a royal family - Summit is both the mother and paternal grandmother).

Rib Burn-Off Blonde

Appearance – I had been hoping for a bit more clarity from the gelatin for presentation purposes, although no one seemed to mind. Likely my fault for not crash chilling in conjunction with fining. Beautiful bright yellow color and a thick gorgeous head and lacing. A looker, even in a plastic cup!

A glass of French Blonde at the Rib Burn Off!Smell – What I really like about the Floor-Malted BoPils is that it doesn’t come across as grassy as Pilsner malts often do. The flavor has more inside-of the baguette (not the toasty crust, just a pure bready-grainy expression). The yeast is clean, but slightly fruitier than American Ale. Sterling provides a restrained citrusy-spice. Fresh, bright, fancy beer.

Taste – Love the balance, malty without being sweet. Low-gravity beers need a boost to compensate for less total malt, characterful base malt can go a long way in that regard. The acidulated malt keeps it from being stodgy, keeps the finish quick. Worked well with the wide range of foods served.

Mouthfeel – Crisp without being astringent. I incorporated some of the techniques I’ve been working on for IPAs (high chloride water, hotter mash) to ensure it didn’t end up too thin despite the low gravity. Carbonation was about right for me, which likely means a little low for people accustomed to BMC seltzer.

Drinkability & Notes – Always good to know I can brew something light, low-hopped, and clean! Probably the least exciting recipe I’ve made in recent memory, but in some ways it is the sort of beer that is becoming harder and harder to find compared to a great IPA or bourbon-barrel RIS. I enjoyed the non-dry hopped version more than the one I have on at home. The Jarrylo at such a low level comes across as a fruity yeastiness. It covers up the wonderful maltiness, replacing it with bruised orchard fruit.

Rib Burn-Off Blonde

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 13.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 20.50
Anticipated OG: 1.043
Anticipated SRM: 2.8
Anticipated IBU: 20.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72%
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

97.6% - 20.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner
2.4% - 0.50 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated Malt

1.13 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 8.00% AA) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 8.00% AA) @ 10 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 5 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.

White Labs WLP072 French Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 35 min @ 155F

Brewed 7/18/15 with Audrey

7 g CaCl added to the mash. No additional acid.

First runnings 1.040. 3 gallons of cold sparge water, filtered, otherwise untreated. Collected 14.5 gallons at 1.039.

Chilled to 70F in the kettle, settled 20 minutes, ran into fermentors, pure oxygen for 45 seconds each, pitched yeast (one vial for each 5.5 gallons) directly. September Best By date. Left at 64F ambient to ferment.

Good fermentation by 24 hours

7/23/15 Warmed up to 75F to ensure fermentation is complete.

7/28/15 Back to 64F.

7/30/15 Dry hopped one fermentor with 1 oz of Jarrylo. The other half got the Brulosophy Gelatin Method: 1/2 tsp of Knox gelatin dissolved in cold/filtered water and slowly heated to 150F in 10 second bursts.

8/3/15 Kegged both, topped up with CO2, put into fridge.

8/8/15 Hooked up the "dry hopped" keg to gas. Final pH 4.19, FG 1.014, 3.8% ABV.

9/1/15 Dumped a couple pints, and then shook CO2 into the Burn Off keg.

9/6/15 Served at the Rib Burn Off.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Minimal Sparge: An Easier Way to Brew

For most of my first nine years homebrewing I produced wort with the standard "American" process. I mashed in a five gallon cooler fitted with a homemade copper manifold, recirculated by hand, manually fly/batch sparged, and chilled with an immersion chiller. It is a process (detailed here) that is simple, reliable, hands-on, and which makes good beer. My equipment was starting to show its age and I wanted to move to 10 gallon batches anyway, so about a year ago I began researching the alternative methods and options out there.

There are many aspects you can prioritize when deciding how to brew: cost, efficiency, time, effort, control, quality, quantity, repeatability etc. You can’t pick all of them though! There are $2000 kit that automatically brew a couple gallons at a time with high repeatability. There are $200 system that brew beer that takes a day of manual labor. The system attributes I wanted to focus on were maximizing quality while minimizing effort. I was fine spending a bit of money on the setup, clearly brewing is something I’m hooked on. I was fine sacrificing some system efficiency for reduced effort. I also don’t mind longer brew days, if it’s time I don’t have to do anything!

What I ended up with is a method I’m calling “minimal sparge.” Compared to my old rig, the new system requires less time/effort/equipment, while producing more consistent wort. Compared to Brew in a Bag (BIAB), it produces cleaner wort (thanks to automated recirculation), and avoids the hassle of hoisting the hot grain bag out of the kettle. In exchange it requires more equipment, a separate kettle and mash tun plus a pump. Minimal sparge avoids the monitoring (temperature, pH, and gravity) required for fly sparging and the second/third vorlauf for batch sparging, while improving on the efficiency of traditional no-sparge.

Minimal Sparge Process
Step 1 - Place the false bottom in the mash tun and fill with 85% of the water required for the batch (16-17 gallons for an 11-12 gallon batch). Treat with minerals and acid as desired while heating to the target strike temperature.

Step 2 - Run the pump as the target temperature approaches to evenly distribute the heat. Once the target temperature is achieved, turn off the pump and stir in the entire grain bill (easy thanks to the loose mash). Turn the pump back on for five minutes to thoroughly mix the water under the false bottom into the mash. Adjust the temperature as needed by turning on the burner or adding cold water.

Step 3 - Adjust pH as needed. I aim for ~5.5 for most beers, slightly higher pH than traditional. With so much water diluting the buffering powers of the malt it takes a lot of acid to drop the pH to the "ideal" low end of the range. This can result in an overly acidic tasting finished beer, especially if you have water with high residual alkalinity.

Step 4 - Once the mash converts (I usually wait 30 minutes) turn on the pump for 10-15 more minutes until there aren’t any large chunks of husk in the wort. With the thin mash conversion can take slightly longer than usual, but 60 minutes is still overkill unless you are using a large percentage of unmalted adjuncts.

Step 5 - Move the output from recirculating back into the mash tun over to the boil kettle. Start the burner on the kettle once you have a gallon in there.

Step 6 - When the top of the grain bed is visible, stop the pump and add the remaining 15% of the water (I use untreated directly from the hose/filter or RO/distilled). Continue runoff until you reach your target pre-boil volume.

Wort drained down to the grain bed. 

That's it as far as this method is truly concerned, but here are my last few steps as they stand.

Step 7 - Boil, adding hops, sugars, spices etc. as desired. I bag my hops to make it easier to deal with draining the wort later.

The vigorous boil.

Step 8 - Chill, I’m enjoying the switch to a recirculating immersion chiller. It isn’t quite as quick as the plate chiller I used for the first few months with this system, but it is so much less effort to clean (and makes it easier to use my submersible ice water pump for summertime chilling). I run the recirculation for a few minutes first to sanitize the lines/pump before I turn on the water.

Step 9 - Allow the chilled wort to settle for 15-20 minutes. I don’t think trub causes any issues for the beer (Brulosophy Trub Experiment), but clearer wort means more beer out of the same fermentor and purer yeast to harvest. Draw off the clear wort from the side pickup. I start the boil with the pickup pointing slightly upward, and push it down with a sanitized thermometer tip near the end of the runoff.

So far I’m happy with the the beer and the brew days. If I’m on my game (i.e., brewing solo in the morning) I can go from collecting water to cleaned-up, with 11 gallons of beer in the fermentors in four to five hours. Despite that relatively short time, the ease of the system provides plenty of time for what I think are the important aspects of brewing: evaluating ingredients, monitoring pH, preparing the yeast, sanitizing fermentors etc. Brew day shouldn’t be stressful, especially if the extra running around and monitoring doesn’t improve the quality of the beer!

General Thoughts
I think that the best fly or batch sparging can hope to do is approximate no/minimal sparge with higher efficiency. More aggressive sparging comes with the risk of extracting unwanted tannins/polyphenols. On a homebrew scale that risk/effort isn’t worth the savings a couple pounds of grain! With this system my efficiency is consistently 72-75%, even a little better than what I often got with more intensive sparing methods!

The cold-water sparge was inspired by Kai’s look into the technique. Essentially he found that while it slows runoff, it doesn’t hurt efficiency compared to traditional hot sparging. From a practical standpoint it means that I don’t need a separate hot liquor tank. I’m not in a huge hurry during the sparge because the wort is still coming to a boil anyway. As an added benefit the cold water cools the grain bed as it flows through, making it easier to dispose of the spent grain during the boil.

I’ve found that it helps (on any system) to make slightly oversized batches so you don’t have to get every drop of wort out of the mash tun and kettle. I use enough water to get 14.5 gallons to the kettle when I only need 13.5. That is enough to have 12 gallon at the end of the boil, which allows me to get 11-11.5 gallons of wort into the fermentors which in turn yields two full five gallon kegs without having to tilt the fermentor and risk disturbing the yeast cake. Sure this means using a little extra of everything, but it is worth it for me.

You can construct a similar system with gear from a wide variety of manufacturers, but here is what I use:

2 – 20 gallon Northern Brewer Mega Pot 1.2
2 – Blichmann Burner (with leg extensions)
2 – Bargain Fittings Side Pickup
1 – Northern Brewer False Bottom
1 – March 809HS-PL Pump (I mounted mine in a plastic toolbox)
1 – Imperial Sparge
1 – Apex 7612-50 NeverKink Hose
1 – Camco 40631 EVO Premium Water Filter
1 – MoreBeer Immersion Chiller with Recirculation Arm (50' x 1/2")
Various fittings (ball valves, Blichmann QuickConnectors, Hex Nipples etc.)
Heat resistant tubing

(I get a small kickback on the Amazon links at no extra cost to you, even if you order something I didn't link to - pretty sweet deal for both of us!)