Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Honey Oat Tart Saison

I've already heard from homebrewers who have fermented batches with Bootleg Biology Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend. A few have reported more acidity than I'm accustomed to achieving with my house culture. It was surprising then when my most recent batch of saison became rather tart despite the calculated 70 IBUs of flame-out hops. I suspect on a homebrew scale the formula used by Beersmith overestimates the bittering contribution of whirlpool additions, but I'm surprised that the Lactobacillus was able to fight though even if it is just 35 IBUs. Adapting perhaps as I keep pitching it into well-hopped beers? Last year for Homebrew Con I brewed a somewhat similar hoppy saison that only dropped to a pH of 3.87 compared to 3.75 for this batch.

Honey is usually a rather delicate flavor. I went above 30% by extract for a split batch of sour beer with five varietal honeys, and none of them were boisterous. I was surprised how much character I got form only 7% Spanish rosemary honey. Audrey and I were in Savannah in the fall and stopped by Savannah Bee Company. In addition to a dozen honeys for tasting they also had a mead bar and a variety of honey-infused cosmetics. The rosemary honey had a bright-herbal flavor and in typical homebrewer fashion I thought "I can ferment that." I added it after primary fermentation peaked to avoid any undue CO2 scrubbing.

I didn't realize this beer ended up over 8% ABV until doing the calculations with the honey added, and how much drier it ended up than its sister Queensland NE-Australian-IPA. S-04 only made it to 1.018, the house combo took it down .010 lower.

Honey Bunches of Saison

Smell – Honey (herbal, floral, not much beeswax) comes through well despite the comparatively small amount; quality over quantity. Alcohol as it warms, not surprising given the 8.1% ABV. Mild citrus, I assume from the yeast and its interaction with the Australian hops. Grain is subtle.

Appearance – Mild haze on the clover honey colored body. The dense, white head lasts a few minutes, remaining as a patchy covering.

Taste – The most acidic beer from my house culture so far, but still more tart than sour. Low bitterness despite the calculated IBUs. Honey is there again, bright and pleasant adding herbal notes that cut though the citrus of the hops. Mild cereal finish with lingering fruity sweetness. The yeast ends up a little buried, not much funk or spice apparent, only a mild earthiness.

Mouthfeel – Light body without being watery. Moderate carbonation, would have been nice bottle conditioned and a bit spritzier.

Drinkability & Notes – If anything too drinkable for the amount of alcohol. It doesn’t have the depth I look for in a big saison but it also doesn’t have the heat. Falls in the Boulevard Tank 7 genre of, "oh I didn’t realize it was that strong."

Changes for Next Time – This one could have stood up to a small dry hop charge given the characterful honey. Barring that, I might actually pull back the honey to 8 oz to let the base beer breathe. A lower OG as well, or bottle conditioned to give the Brett more time to make it interesting.

Honey Bunches of Saison

Batch Size: 6.00 gal
SRM: 3.6
IBU: 69.2
OG: 1.064 (1.069 w/honey)
FG: 1.008
ABV: 8.1%
Final pH: 3.75
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74%
Boil Time: 60 Mins

71.4% - 10 lbs Rahr Brewer's 2-Row
14.3% - 2 lbs Dingemans Pilsen
14.3% - 2 lbs Bob's Red Mill Quick Steel Cut Oats

Sacch Rest: 45 min @ 156F

2.00 oz Galaxy (Pellets, 14.8% AA) @ Flame-out (30 min Hop Stand)
2.00 oz Vic Secret (Pellets, 17.8% AA) @ Flame-out (30 min Hop Stand)

Mineral Profile
8 g Calcium Chloride @ Mash
5.5 g Gypsum @ Mash

*Do not increase if your water is lower in carbonate.

1 tsp 10% Phosphoric Acid @ Mash
.5 Whirlfloc @ 5 min
.5 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min
.685 lbs Rosemary Honey @ Fermentation day 4

House Saison Blend

Recipe scaled to be brewed as is.

Brewed 3/11/17

Mashed with 3 gallons distilled, 4.5 gallons DC filtered, 8 g CaCl 5.5 g gypsum, 1 tsp of phosphoric acid. pH 5.44. Sparged with 1.5 gallons distilled. Hops are 2016 harvest.

Collected 7 gallons of 1.060 wort.

Chilled to 68F.

Pitched 1 L of House Saison culture. It was 3 months since harvesting, so I made a small starter with wort from this batch at the start of the boil. Left the saison at ~67F ambient to ferment.

3/15/17 Added 11 oz of rosemary honey from Savannah Bee Company.

4/8/17 Kegged with remaining 1 oz of honey and 2 oz of table sugar.

4/29/17 Chilled and connected to CO2.

I get a commission if you buy something after clicking the links to MoreBeer/Amazon!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sapwood Cellars: Maryland Brewery in Planning!

I’m founding Sapwood Cellars, a brewery in Maryland, with my friend and fellow homebrewer Scott Janish! We'll produce a spectrum of barrel-aged bottle-conditioned mixed-fermentation beers along with fresh hoppy ales for onsite consumption. I’ll post occasional updates to The Mad Fermentationist along with the usually scheduled homebrewing content. However, if you don't want to miss a single development, sign-up for the email list at Sapwood Cellars or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Expect a wide range of beers, especially releases that evolve from batch-to-batch with a focus on experimentation, local ingredients, and education. We’ll be almost as open about the Sapwood Cellars beers as we are about our homebrews. You’ll get to read about both our thought and brewing processes as always, with the added fun of tasting the results!

I never had a long-term plan for brewing because it was a hobby. I liked drinking beer, so I took a homebrewing class my senior year at Carnegie Mellon. I enjoyed brewing, so I started a blog. I had fun blogging, so I wrote a book. I’ve had a couple offers to brew professionally over the years, but none of them were tempting enough for me quit my day job. Founding a brewery comes with extra headaches and risks beyond brewing, but ownership will allow me to brew with fewer compromises. At first we’ll be more like professional homebrewers, rather than the next large regional craft brewery, but we’ll follow the brewery where it takes us!

Partnering with Scott makes the numerous tasks and significant risks manageable. When we first met I was impressed by his IPAs, and we bonded over hop oil calculators. His deep-dives into mouthfeel, hop chemistry, and a variety of other topics on his eponymous blog continue to impress. I got lucky and he'd been quietly considering opening a brewery on his own right before I floated the idea of teaming up last summer.

In February, while I was recording The Sour Hour, I mentioned the brewery because I assumed we’d have a logo and polished website by the time the episodes aired in late-April... our placeholder splash page is up, a logo is in the works, and it’s only late-May. Given the uncertainty of our timeline, I’m not going to guess at when we’ll be brewing or serving beer but we're charging ahead on all fronts!

Head over to Scott’s blog to read his side of the story!

Drinking NEIPA at NHC Baltimore.


Sapwood Cellars

Our Story
Sapwood Cellars is a Maryland brewery-in-planning dually focused on barrel-aged mixed-fermented beers and fresh hoppy ales. Founded by two passionate homebrewing ultra-nerds, we share a love of brewing science, local ingredients, and the craft of beer production. You may have read our blogs, magazine articles, or book on American sour beers, but likely haven’t tasted our beer. Follow along as we continue to brew peculiar beers, with the added enjoyment of drinking the results!

Expect beers that are balanced, drinkable, and highly aromatic without tongue-scraping bitterness from hops or piercing sourness from mixed-fermentation. Beer should be a pleasure to savor, not a challenge to conquer.

Sign-up for email updates to keep tabs on our progress, learn about opportunities to help, and be the first to know when beer is available!

Our Name
All wood first starts as Sapwood, which is the delicate new growth just under the bark. It plays an integral part of a tree’s maturation by carrying water between the leaves and roots, carefully distributing built-up reserves to the roots and leaves as the seasons demand. Eventually, Sapwood hardens into the heartwood of which barrels are made. Sapwood ties together the two sides of our production: Sap for the fresh IPAs and Wood for the acidic barrel-aged beers. Cellar is the brewer’s term for the fermentation space but also evokes the cool quiet resting place of barrels.

Who We Are
Mike Tonsmeire - [email protected]

A homebrewer since 2005, Michael writes The Mad Fermentationist blog and the Advanced Brewing columnist for Brew Your Own Magazine. His book, American Sour Beers (Brewer’s Publications, 2014) is a resource for homebrewers and craft brewers alike. He worked as a consultant for Modern Times and a dozen other craft breweries.

Scott Janish - [email protected]

A homebrewer since 2012, Scott writes for his own hop-focused blog, ScottJanish.com, with a focus on academic research and applying the latest science to brewing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Oerbier Special Reserva-Inspired... Originally

De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva is a personal favorite. Strong, malty, funky, vinous, and each vintage is a bit different. I'm not usually a fan of vertical tastings, especially for precisely-controlled beers (I don't get much out of comparing ten vintages of Bigfoot!), but splitting bottles from all eight releases of Oerbier Special Reserva was a fun way to spend an evening a with friends!

Microbes isolated from De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva.I wanted to have my own lower-alcohol inspired-by stockpile of something similar. Without much to go on I sent a "Brewed In 2010" bottle to Nick at The Yeast Bay so he could revive De Dolle's house-Brett. Normally I'd just pitch dregs, but I didn't have much hope given the alcohol and age. I then built-up Wyeast’s supposed isolate of De Dolle’s brewer's yeast (3942-PC), soaked oak cubes in Port, and ordered ingredients for a rich-malty base beer (my recipe) - that recipe was a draft for what eventually became Modern Times Empty Hats.

That's about when things started going wrong:

The 5 L flask filled with Saccharomyces fell off the stir-plate and shattered.
    Luckily I had T-58 on hand (a cache of dry yeast is invaluable).

The two isolates Nick pulled from the old/strong beer didn’t seem to do anything over a year.
    Empty Hats dregs to the rescue (which seemed appropriate).

Even with dregs the beer wasn’t developing interesting aromatics.
    Tart cherry juice concentrate thanks to King Orchards.

Bad beer happens. If you've never brewed an off batch, either you have and can’t taste it or you're the world's best and most boring brewer! One of the keys to brewing sour beer is learning which bad beers are worth trying to save, and which should be dumped. I’ve had a few of both. If a beer is OK the easy solution is to add fruit or hops for intrigue. If the beer just isn’t coming along, aging with additional microbes is my usual route. If you detect off-fermentation character (e.g., nail polish, vinegar) there isn't much hope other than blending.

Three-and-a-half years later a train-wreck has become something weird and interesting! Glad to be a homebrewer with some extra storage space and no deadline. If you want to hear more about the batch, listen to my interview with Drew Beechum on Brew Files episode #3.


Smell – Rich savory cherry (think venison roasted with cherries and spices). Salivary-inducing acidic aroma. Hint of praline. Clean coconut-ethanol high-note as it warms. Subtle earthy Brett.

Appearance – Clear brown with ruby-amber highlights. Thin off-white head, decent retention for a sour beer (returns on a swirl after it falls).

Taste – Toastiness of the malt is still there with mushroom-earthiness, and the dried cherries. Spice from the oak. Bare butterscotch diacetyl (or more likely oxidized caramel malt?). No sign of the alcohol, but at "only" 8.5% that isn't too surprising. Port-like with acidity in place of sugary sweetness.

Mouthfeel – Medium-low carbonation, nice for a big/dark/sour beer. Pretty good mouthfeel thanks to rather moderate attenuation (FG 1.011).

Drinkability & Notes – A sipper, but that isn’t surprising giving the intensity and variety of flavors. Big, bold, sharp, weird character from malt, microbes, wood, and fruit that mostly work together.

Changes for Next Time – Impossible to replicate this one, but it turned out well despite all the twists and turns. 16 oz of sour cherry concentrate did well in a complex beer that I didn’t want to dilute.  I finally gave Nick a bottle of this batch as a thanks when I visited him in February.

Nick giving me a tour of his home-lab.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Craft Brewers Conference 2017: Recap

With the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) back in DC for 2017 I was asked to sign copies of American Sour Beers as I have at Great American Beer Festivals and Homebrew Cons before. All of these events are under the umbrella of the Brewers Association which also houses my publisher, Brewers Publications. That was only good enough for a day pass to the expo, so I applied for and received my first media pass for the full experience!

CBC is a bigger, more expensive version of NHC. Rather than homebrewers from around the country, there are thousands of professional brewers. With those larger brewery budgets come more vendors, sponsors, and events.

Drinking beer at Smithsonian Natural HistoryWelcome Reception at Smithsonian Institution

The last time I was drinking beer in a museum it was seven years ago at the Lambic Summit at Penn Museum. Drinking (mostly) solid local beer is the crowded Smithsonian Natural History Museum didn’t quite measure up. Although I had fun chatting with Brewmaster Alexis Briol from St. Feuillien (a technician as he described himself) and a many other people I ran into! We should have headed over earlier to the Smithsonian American History Museum which was much mellower, and had a better selection of beers.


In a move that would be nice for NHC, seminars started a bit later in the day. While there were a few technical topics that piqued my interest (e.g., A Practical Perspective on Foraged and Agriculturally Based Beers, and How Dry Hopping Affects IBUs and Bitterness) most were on the less glamorous areas of safety, regulations, and business (e.g., Contract Details for Purchasing Equipment in the Brewing Industry, China Market Overview: Export Opportunities & Trademark Issues, Arming Reps for Success in Today’s Beer Market). The National Homebrewers Conference tends to be far more about brewing itself, CBC more about topics specific to craft brewing (surprise!). I can always download and listen to the seminars later if something becomes more relevant. The State of the Industry is available on the Brewer's Association website.

Book signing at CBCSigning Books

Always nice to sit next to John Palmer while signing books! Excited for the new edition of How to Brew as well! I answered a few questions for John about sour beers over the last year, humbling to have input on the fourth edition when I learned to brew from the third! Also fun to talk to Brian Burke who is opening Burke Brewery in Massachusetts (a family name and location, not sure if any relation - but hopefully enough for a free pint once they're open anyway).

BrewExpo America

The Expo was out of control. Two gigantic halls, hundreds of vendors, many with bottling lines, brew houses, and other equipment set up. However, photos were not allowed so nothing I can show here.

I did stop by the Sahm booth when I saw a copy of American Sour Beers up next to the Sensorik, the same style as on the cover. I signed their copy and took a business card... a few weeks later a box of glasses showed up that you'll be seeing photos of in tasting posts.

The most fun part of the whole thing was bumping into people I knew at the Expo and around town. Jeff from Bootleg Biology, Jeramy and Greg from Commonwealth, Blane from Sinistral, Matt from Modern Times, Adrian from Ocelot, and Garrett from Old Trade.

CBC-Week Events

So many brewers were in town every beer bar in DC had about nine events that week. I moderated a talk between Walt Dickinson from ABInBevWickedWeed and Nathan Zeender at the Right Proper brewpub. The bar was mobbed and acoustics weren’t great, but getting to ask those two about their views on house cultures, fruit, and growth was fun even if I was the only one who could hear their answers. Not surprising that Wicked Weed sold out given the massive scale they are expanding sour production, including contracting fruit like most breweries contract hops.

Stan and Scott talking hops.After that event I walked next door to Howard Theater for the Here We Grow featuring a band and beers brewed by 3 Floyds, Creature Comforts, Beechwood and other with the new Yakima Chief Cryo Hops lupulin powder (LupuLN2) and debittered leaf... promising stuff! I took home some samples of Citra and Mosaic to brew my next IPA with.  I also had the fun of introducing two of the biggest hop-nerds I know, Stan Hieronymus and Scott Janish.

The next day I was planning to stop by the Right Proper Brookland production location to chat with Fonta Flora, Scratch, and Jester King on my way to the conference. I left six hours later after trying a range of wonderful foraged beers with commentary from some of the best brewers in the country… never made it to the convention center.

Beer festival at 3 StarsI went back to work Thursday but that night I walked down the street to 3 Stars Brewing for an event that featured beers from Other Half, J Wakefield, Aslin, and a few others. Enjoyed getting to try a bunch of South African hops in Other Half’s Other Southern especially. The only beer I’d had with them before had actual passion fruit in addition to Southern Passion hops, not exactly a showcase for the hops. Was nice to try a few J. Wakefield beers and actual meet John after emailing back and forth a few times over the years.

Is CBC Worth $1650 for a Homebrewer?

No, but then that’s like asking if buying a 30 bbl brewhouse is a sensible idea for your hobby. I got much more out of it than I would have a few years ago, but that was because I kept bumping into industry folks! Not sure I'll make it to Nashville for 2018, but you never know!

The best beer I had all week.