Monday, November 28, 2016

Testing Alternative Brewing Cleaners

Cleaning is as important as sanitizing. Without a debris-free surface a sanitizer loses most of its efficacy. This is worse for some than others, StarSan supposedly retains more sanitizing power in the presence of organic material than Iodophor for example, but it is never ideal. While scrubbing with a mesh pad to remove krausen and residue is fine for stainless steel and glass, the less abrasion applied to plastic the better because scratches provide shelter for microbes. The best solution is a soak or recirculate hot water laced with cleaner. Commercial breweries use caustic, but the care required for safe handling means it generally isn't used at home (although it is available as line cleaner). Most homebrewers use longer contact with milder alkali percarbonate cleaners like Five Star PBW (.75-1.25 oz per gallon - $6.75/lb) or OxiClean Free (1-2 oz per gallon - $3.66/lb) for their fermentors, gear, and kegs.

What the cleaners were up against.I had a bunch of dirty one-gallon jugs from splitting five gallons of wort nine ways (three yeast each fermented at three starting pH values) for my December BYO Advanced Brewing article (subscribe) Acid Tolerance of Brewer's Yeast. I realized I had four alternative cleaning products on hand. I took five of the jugs, dumped out the beer, and let them dry for three days to give the cleaners a real challenge.

All prices listed are for "reasonable" 3-5 lbs containers (most links support the blog). Although suggested concentrations vary (listed), I used 1 fl oz per gallon (8 ml per L) for all for a fair comparison.

Hot Water
For a control I filled one jug with hot (110F/43C) tap water water. Even after a week it really didn't seem any cleaner. The krausen ring was still almost completely intact.

Seventh Generation Free and Clean Natural (~.3 oz per gallon - $4.84/lb)
After a week soaking with Seventh Generation DetergentThe 2X version is suggested by BetterBottle at a rate of 1 oz in 6 L. It is enzyme-based and won't degraded plastics like long-exposure to alkali cleaners can. While it removed most of the krausen ring, some remained even after a week (pictured). I wasn't even able to rinse the rest off with hot water, it required another soak with a different cleaner. It might do a fine job on fresh krausen, but even with triple the suggested usage it was the worst performer of the cleaners.

Craft Meister Alkaline Brewery Wash (1-2 oz/gallon - $5.70/lb)
This is a PBW competitor manufactured for brewing. It did a good job, with the sides looking completely clean after 12 hours without any scrubbing or agitation. I don't care for their packaging though (it leaked in transit, and doesn't seal tightly enough to prevent moisture ingress during storage).

Blu Aktiv Brewery Cleaner (1-2 oz/gallon - $8.25/lb)
I've been using this for about a year after the company sent me a sample of their more eco-friendly (no EDTA or NTA, low phosphate) brewery cleaner. Luckily it still performs admirably, and cleaned the fermentors in similar time to the Craft Meister. However, for me the greenness likely won't be enough to justify the added expense and effort to procure once my supply is depleted.

Logic One Step (.5 oz/gallon - $6.00/lb)
I used OneStep on my first two batches as both cleaner and sanitizer. While it isn't certified as a sanitizer, there are many brewers who use it like one with good results. The surprise was that it removed the fermentation residue in about six hours, beating the two specialized cleaners! While it is twice as expensive as OxiClean Free, the suggested rate is considerably lower.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Voss and Muri: Kveik Strains

The most enjoyable aspect of traveling to talk about brewing is the front-row seat to local beer culture. Whether Brazil, Fargo, or New Zealand (March 2017), the Internet and travel allow homebrewers to get excited about styles and breweries that aren’t available locally. However, wherever I visit I’m interested in how brewers are using local ingredients, sensibilities, and tradition to create something unique!

Jars and tubes of Voss and Muri kveik brought back from Norway.While I was in Oslo and Drammen last spring for Norbrygg Hjemmebryggerhelgen (travel log) there was plenty of American-style (and American) craft beer available, but what caught my tongue were beers brewed with recently publicized kveik strains. Alu by Norse with its balanced smoke, juniper, and orange-peel yeast was a particular standout (and some bottles do make it across the ocean). Unlike the stories of Belgian saison brewers trading strains between farmhouses, with little to connect the history to the present strains, many of these multi-strain Saccharomyces cultures were obtained from farm-brewers within the last decade!

Rather than parrot the hard work that Lars Marius Garshol has done on kveik, I'll direct you to his fantastic Lars Blog (I’d imagine his book is even better… but I can’t read Norwegian). I appreciate both his process posts, as well as technical information like this one about the genetic lineage of kveik! Lars also provided a good looking recipe and instructions in Denny and Drew’s Homebrew All-Stars (where I’m featured as well).

I brought back yeast samples from Norway courtesy of two homebrewers… but you can buy your own for a few dollars from either The Yeast Bay (Sigmund’s Voss Kveik) or Omega Labs (Voss Kveik). One of their most unique traits is a pleasantly clean fermentation at temperatures in excess of 100°F (don't ask me how Norwegian brewers maintain fermentation temperatures that warm). These strains are good options for those who do not have access to temperature control in the summer, or want to co-ferment with Lactobacillus.

Homebrew fermented with Muri at 40C/104F.Petter Fornes, one of the homebrewers I met, provided homebrewed samples of two of the most prominent strains fermented at both ale and elevated temperatures. As suitcase-dynamics would have it, I could only fit two more bottles in my checked bag. The other four I was forced to sample in my hotel room before heading to the airport, so excuse the brief tasting notes!

1. Voss, 40°C/100°F: Lager-like, doughy, citrus
2. Voss, 40C (underpitched): Clean, no sulfur, orange, fruity
3. Voss, 20°C/68°F: Sulfur+, smoother, less fruit
4. US-05, 20C: Darker color, stone fruit, cleanest
5. Muri, 20C: Light sulfur, brandy, peach, dry/bitter
6. Muri, 40C: Stone fruit, mild sulfur, bone dry

Before I pitched the strains into a more traditional wort (I'm thinking darker with eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, from my backyard and home-smoked malt), I wanted to step them up in a bland un-hopped wort (diverted from the Grapefruit-Quinoa sour). Summertime temperature in my back hall was 30°C/85°F, so that seemed like a good place to start. Un-hopped turned out to be a mistake with the Muri developing a prominent (although pleasant) lactic character. The Voss has a slight tartness, but still retained enough of its character to be worth reviewing.

Voss (NCYC 3995)

Smell – Doughy, orange. Bright, fresh, but not much going on.

Appearance – German-Pilsner yellow, with mild haze. Solid white head, OK retention and lacing.

Voss-kveik-fermented beer. Unhopped.Taste – Rather than Grand Marnier (common descriptor), it is closer to fresh slices of orange reminds me of soccer practice. Bare tartness. Mild apple cider. Refreshing, doesn’t need any bitterness.

Mouthfeel – Light, but not obnoxiously thin. Above-average carbonation helps fill in the body (as does the extra protein from the quinoa).

Drinkability & Notes – Easy to drink, no rough edges.

Changes for Next Time – Next up something more along the lines of the traditional juniper-smoke route! Might make for an interesting citrus-forward IPA as well…

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Commonwealth Penthesilia: Cherry-Date Sour Brown

I’m all for avant-garde brewing. Pushing boundaries. Trying something unique or weird that doesn't make complete sense to see if it works. That isn’t where you start for you start a commercial sour beer program though! When I collaborated with Commonwealth Brewing Co. a few weeks after they opened fall 2016, we opted to brew a sour-brown/oud-bruin (original post). When it came time for fruit, Greg and Jeramy added hundreds of pounds of cherries and dates to the tart red-wine-barrel-aged base to create Penthesilia. A combination so obvious that I can’t believe no one else has brewed one before (that I'm aware of)! Assertive cherries are perfect in brown-to-black sour beers, playing off the malt rather than dominating (as they often do in pale sours). Dates are like a character-booster for dark candi syrup and 80L+ crystal malts (I’ve enjoyed dates in dark beers for years, Funky Dark Saison #2 and #8).

If you’re within drinking-distance of Virginia Beach, a trip to Commonwealth is well worth it for bottles of this beauty and its sister Hippolyta (the same base with jammy blackberries and Fig-Newton-y figs). If you are reading this post long after it is published, it’d still be worth a stop for Fernweh (white-wine-barrel tart pale they are releasing 11/3) or one of their delicious hoppy beers!

A bottle (and glass) of Commonwealth PenthesiliaCommonwealth Penthesilia

Smell – Dark cherries lead, thankfully nowhere near cough syrup! Behind that is loads of dark fruit and caramel. Hints of vanilla and almond. Distant Brett earthiness. Faint ethanol as it warms.

Appearance – Opaque brown. The off-white head fades pretty quickly leaving nothing behind. As a side note, this gold-accented beauty of a chalice from the brewery is the second flashiest in my collection.

Taste – Rich, dense, and fruity. Like the aroma, the cherry is the most prominent character. Bright and fresh. Then there is a flash of lactic acid. Finally, a big, long, lingering finish of caramelized-dates, nuttiness, and finally toasted oak. Mildly sweet (more than most American sours), which works well with the fruit and malt. Slight warming alcohol.

Mouthfeel – Enough heft to support all of the malt and fruit. Carbonation is above what I prefer, but then I tend to like lower than most. That said, there is enough body that it doesn’t read thin or spritzy.

Drinkability & Notes – I wanted to wait for cooler weather to post my notes on this flavor-packed fruit and malt bomb. The fermentation takes a back seat, but what shows through is good, no acetic, no discordant funk, sour enough without being sharp.

Changes for Next Time – A portion aged in bourbon (or another spirit) barrel might be a nice kick given the firm fruit character, but it is wonderful as is! I think one of the most interesting areas for brewing experimentation is blending of several characters, rather than a sledgehammer of a single flavor. I really appreciate a two-fruit beer with malt, barrel, and microbe characters all melding together to create (obvious) harmony!