Monday, August 14, 2017

Liquor, Barrel, and Wood-Aged Brown Ale

Removing the head from a barrel.Most of the events I do are 30-60 minutes, perfect for talking (ideally including questions from the audience). A few years ago I taught intro-to-homebrewing classes for LivingSocial, I quickly learned that 150 minutes was too long for a lecture alone. I added an extract brewing pantomime to demonstrate the key steps in wort production, brought ingredients to taste and smell, and loaded up with slides with photos to hold the audience's attention.

When Brew Your Own asked me to present on sour beers and barrels for their Boot Camp series, I knew I had to come up with ways to make it interactive to fill six hours! Obviously some of the time is me talking and flipping through slides and answering questions, but I wanted to mix in drinking and action. I've honed the sessions in Burlington and Santa Rosa, and I'm looking forward to the next two November in Indianapolis and February in San Diego!

Sour Beer Techniques
   Overview of wort production for sour beers
   Microbe selection, propagation, harvesting
   Capturing wild microbes
   Tasting and blending teas, tinctures, juices, wines, meads etc. into sours
   Tasting and blending three of my homebrewed sours
   Working with me on a custom sour beer recipe

Barrel and Wood Aging
   Discussion of barrel-aging and wood-aging techniques
   Tasting and blending wood teas with commercial beer
   Evaluating and inspecting a barrel from a local brewery (thanks FOAM and Rare Barrel)
   Hands-on leak repair tools and techniques
   Installing a stainless steel sample nail
   Removing and reseating the barrel's head
   Tasting a batch split between barrel – liquor – wood

Speaking of which, I thought I'd post a mini-tasting of that split batch for those of you who can't make it to the Boot Camps. This batch is a somewhat extra-hefty 15 gallon batch of English brown: infused with malt whiskey from Balcones Distilling, aged in a 5 gallon Balcones malt whiskey barrel, and aged on a medium toast American oak honeycomb from Black Swan Cooperage!

Big Brown Barrel-Off

From left to right: Barrel, Liquor, OakAppearance, all three look nearly identical. Deep dark brown with a three finger tan head. Beautiful lacing, although it appears too quickly as the head drops in just five minutes.

Balcones Malt Whiskey Barrel (pH 4.38)

Integrated slightly spicy oak and spirit. Brighter than the liquor, less dark fruit and sugar. Notes of toast and light roast coffee come through from the malt much better. Fresh plums. Drier than the liquor infused thanks to the oak tannins. A more balanced beer that I could consider drinking more than 6 ounces of in a sitting. Likely could have sat in the barrel longer if I knew I was going to sit on it for a year.

Balcones Malt Whiskey Infused (pH 4.32)

When this beer was young it was really raw and boozy. Both classes had sizable contingents that guessed this was from the whiskey barrel. It is still potent with a mild ethanol warming, but it has rounded out with dark sugar and caramelized plum joining the rich malt. Still a little dry, but age has really brought the flavors together. Nice vanilla as it warms, almost bourbon-soaked chocolate brownies.

Medium Toast American White Oak HoneycombBlack Swan Honeycomb Oak Aged (pH 4.42)

Had and continues to have an off-putting phenolic character that reminds me of cheap wood. On the edge of plastic. The flavor is bland and the oak again dominates. I’ve had some wonderful results from oak aging beer with cubes, staves, and spheres… I’m not adding honeycomb to that list. It didn’t appear to be well toasted (in fact none of the sample from their mixed pack appeared well toasted).

An interesting comparison to see what stays the same and what is different. I've had good luck with barrel-alternatives, but I've gone back to cubes after the results from the honeycomb.

The first two were kegged when the third half went into the barrel.Recipe

Batch Size: 15.00 gal
SRM: 22.1
IBU: 38.3
OG: 1.065
FG: 1.010
ABV: 7.2%
Final pH: Above
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 65 min

65.2% - 23 lbs Rahr 2-Row Brewer's Malt
22.7% - 8 lbs Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark
3.5% - 1.25 lbs - Briess Flaked Soft Red Wheat
2.8% - 1 lbs Simpsons Dark Crystal
2.1% - .75 lbs Weyermann Caramunich II
2.1% - .75 lbs Weyermann Chocolate Wheat
1.4% - .50 lbs Dingemans Mroost 1400 MD (De-Bittered Black)

Mash In - 30 min @ 156F

2.75 oz Columbus (Pellets, 13.00% AA) @ 60 min

14 g Calcium Chloride


1 Whirlfloc Tablet @ 5 mins
1 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 mins

WLP023 White Labs Burton Ale

Yeast harvested from 2 gallon batch Audrey brewed three weeks prior.

9/10/16 Brewed

All filtered DC tap water with 14 g of CaCl. Minimal sparge with about 4 gallons of cold water.

Chilled to 80F with ground water, left at 65F for 12 hours to chill the rest of the way before pitching.

9/27/16 Kegged 4 gallons plain with 4 oz of Balcones Malt Whiskey, 4 gallons with one medium toast Black Swan White Oak Honeycomb (brief boil, decanted), and into a fresh Balcones Malt Whisky barrel (stopper had come off during shipping - smelled great still).

10/21/16 Kegged the barrel-aged version, nice strong spirit character.

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Burlington Boot Camp, not Santa Rosa obviously.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Azacca Brett Saison - Keg Transfers

As I continue to work on opening Sapwood Cellars (lease negotiation ongoing!!), Audrey has started to pick up the homebrewing slack. After her Dark Belgian Wheat she brewed Wit Lightning inspired by Belgian wit, but with citrusy hops (Azacca) replacing the spices. I took half of the batch and pitched Omega Labs C2C American Farmhouse and dry hopped with more Azacca to make a lightly funky saison... Saison Lightning.

Despite some fancier primary fermentors with spigots (Ss Brew Bucket and Speidel), my post-fermentation-transfer game is basic. I do most of my racking via gravity and auto-siphon. It gives me control, and I haven’t had issues with oxidation on NEIPAs and other oxygen-sensitive styles as long as I purge the keg. Open transfers aren't really an option for carbonated beer though.

I wanted to combine Brett fermentation under-pressure and dry hopping. I did the first dose in primary to allow time for bioflavoring, but I wanted the Brett to have time to work before the final dose of hops to create developed Brett and fresh hops aromatics. My solution was to naturally keg-condition for six weeks and then jump the carbonated beer to a purged serving keg containing bagged and weighted hops.

When transfering carbonated beer between kegs, the goal is to have slightly more pressure on the filled keg than the receiving keg so that the beer is gently pushed from one keg to the other without the beer foaming. This is essentially the same method as counter-pressure filling a growler or bottle only on a larger scale.

Jumping from the carbonating keg (right) to the serving keg (left).

Step 1: Purge and then pressurize the receiving keg to the same pressure as the filled and chilled keg (15 PSI in this case).

Step 2: Connect the filled keg to a tap and dump the first pint to remove most of the sediment.

Step 3: Connect the two kegs from out-to-out post via a jumper line (a short length of tubing connecting two liquid quick disconnects).

Step 4: Connect the gas line to the filled keg to and increase the pressure slightly (17 PSI in this case).

Step 5: Connect a spunding valve to the receiving keg and set it to the same pressure as you pressurized the keg earlier (15 PSI).

Step 6: Wait for the transfer to complete (approximately five minutes).

Step 7: Disconnect the jumper line, gas line, and spunding valve.

Step 8: Connect the serving keg to the gas and serving line and enjoy reduced sediment beer!

This is also a great technique if you travel with kegs and want sediment free beer so yeast isn’t knocked into suspension during transit.

A glass of Brett saison dry hopped with Azacca.Saison Lightning

Smell – Varied aromatics of herbal lemongrass, apples, and pepper. Brett is subtle, behind the hops. Hops aren’t grassy or vegetal despite extended contact with the pellets in the keg.

Appearance – Slight haze, but overall it is a bright beer. Yellow gold. The white head is thick, but drops after a few minutes.

Taste – Similar to the nose with bright-integrated citrus notes on a peppery saison backdrop. The finish has a hint of earthy Brettiness. Deceptively complex because it is easy to drink. Mellow hop bitterness. Slight perceived sweetness thanks to the citrus character and slightly higher than expected final gravity.

Mouthfeel – Thin and crisp without harshness and tannic bite. Carbonation is a little low for a saison.

Drinkability & Notes – Crushable hoppy saison, has been a perfect beer to have on tap for summer. The hops cut through the Brett and everything works together.
Held up well in the keg so far (kicked the next day), which I assume means I didn’t introduce much oxygen when I jumped it over.

Changes for Next Time – Not much to change for this, although I'd lower the mash temperature if I was planning on the same timeline again. Could have given it another couple of months in the keg to condition before going onto the keg hops for a little more Brett character.


Batch Size: 5.75 gal
SRM: 3.4
IBU: 16.1
OG: 1.049
FG: 1.007
ABV: 5.5%
Final pH: 4.35
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78%
Boil Time: 90 Mins

65.0% - 6.5 lbs Dingemans Pilsen
25.0 % - 2.5 lbs Flaked Wheat
7.5 % - .75 lbs Dingemans Cara 8
2.5 % - .25 lbs Weyermann Acidulated

Mash In - 45 min @ 154F

1.00 oz Saaz (Pellet, 2.75% AA) @ 10 min
1.50 oz Azacca (Pellet, 15.00% AA) @ Whirlpool 15 min
2.00 oz Azacca (Pellet, 15.00% AA) @ Brew Day Dry Hop
3.00 oz Azacca (Pellet, 15.00% AA) @ Keg Hop

5.50 g Calcium Chloride


OYL-217 Omega C2C American Farmhouse

4/22/17 Brewed by Audrey

No sparge. Mash pH measured at 5.24. Collected 7 gallons of 1.039 runnings. A bit lower gravity than expected, extended boil to 90 minutes.

Chilled to 69F. No starter, pack less than a month old. 2 oz of brew day Azacca.

Left at 70F to ferment. Warmed up to nearly 80 for days 4-7. Then the weather cooled off.

5/6/17 Kegged with 3.75 oz of table sugar and was left to condition (no extra dry hops yet). A bit less attenuation than expected.

6/13/17 Moved the keg to the fridge.

6/16/17 Jumped to a freshly purged keg with more Azacca weighted with marbles and bagged in a knee high.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

BlackMan Yeast vs. Bottle Dregs

Barret and me.It feels like every other blog post or BYO Advanced Brewing article starts with me in some exotic location meeting an interesting person or drinking a mind-blowing beer that sparks an idea for a batch... this one starts October 2014 when I spoke at the Dixie Cup in Houston, Texas. It is the final competition in the Lone Star Circuit, and the banquet marks the end of the local homebrewing competition season. Among the highlights were a visit to St. Arnold's Brewing, listening to a fantastic presentation about hops, the rowdiest awards banquets of my life, judging a specialty category of "Best Beer to Chase a Hurricane," and a "barleywine breakfast" that was heavy on the vintage barleywine, light on the breakfast.

BlackMan Yeast samples and homebrew.One of the people I chatted with was Barrett Tillman, who was just getting Blackman Yeast running. Apparently I made a good impression because a few weeks later a box of samples showed up: both his first-and-still-only dried souring cultures, and a couple of homebrews (not to mention a note on what appeared to be on a surplus thank-you card from his wedding). Barrett's cultures are just brewer's yeast and bacteria (Lactobacillus and/or Pediococcus), bring your own Brettanomyces. It is a unique and interesting approach because Brett can come from so many sources and  provide such a range of flavors. As a power-user it is nice to have acid-production and funk as two separate dials (the same way I like my spice-rubs to be salt-free so I can add more without over-salting). To be as fair as possible, not wanting to judge his B4 Belgian Sour Mix on someone else's Brett, I added the bottle dregs from Barrett's delicious homebrewed Lambic for funk and to clean-up after the Pedio.

Mike and Anna.My friend Matt had been considering starting to homebrew, to entice him I invited him over to split a batch of pale sour beer. A few weeks earlier I'd been over to his house for a tasting and he'd selected a few choice bottles of De Garde, Cantillon, and Modern Times for dregs for the other half of the batch. I must have left the culture in the pressure-canned mason jar of wort with a loose lid for a few days too long before transferring to a bottle with an airlock, because by the time we gave it a smell it was pure malt vinegar. Since then I received a free sample of reCap mason-jar lids and water-less airlocks that are have hold up for two weeks without issue.

Luckily I'd also grabbed some dregs from more than a couple bottles of Hill Farmstead Anna that my friend Mike had stockpiled (including an especially good batch dubbed "magic" Anna). Hill Farmstead bottles their saisons with wine yeast, but the other microbes are likely doing most of the heavy lifting after long aging to this point.

When the two batches were ready Matt and I tasted them and made a few sample blends. It made sense, the BlackMan was more acidic, while the saison culture had better depth of funk and fruit flavors. However, when we blended them they each lost what was special. The combination didn't have the snappy acidity or the depth of funk-character. They were better left to stand on their own!

First pour of the two batches. M&M var. Black Man (Left)

Smell – Lemon and pineapple, has gotten much more interesting since bottling. Even a little farmyard.

Appearance – Similar appearance, clear gold on the initial pour, a little haze on the top-up. White head with poor retention.

Taste – Firm lip-smacking lactic acidity. Slight grain-cereal-yeastiness in the finish. Horse blanket as it warms, distant smoky phenolic.

Mouthfeel – Crisp without being watery. The acid is a bit grippy. Medium-plus carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – A more assertive beer in terms of acidity and aroma.

Changes for Next Time – Not much.

After topping-off, and with HDR.M&M var. Anna (Right)

Smell – Bright and restrained. Hay, old citrus. Slight honeyed malt oxidation.

Appearance – Similar, although with slightly better retention.

Taste – Soft lemon, lots of hay. Really mellow, like my favorite gueuzes. Lactic acid is tame in comparison, more tart-saison than American sour side-by-side, but it was quite acidic on the first sip. A little Orval in the finish.

Mouthfeel – Feels a little softer thanks to the lower acidity. Similar medium-plus carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes – This is about it for me when it comes to an unblended mixed-fermentation sour beer. A range of fruity and funk, some bright acidity,

Changes for Next Time – Not a wow beer that would show well at a tasting or festival, but the sort of beer I’d get a second pour of… if this wasn’t my second to last bottle.

Matt and Mike Sour

Batch Size: 12.50 gal
SRM: 4.0
IBU: 4.0
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.012/1.011
ABV: 5.5%/5.6%
pH: 3.04/3.30
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 mins

77.1% - 18.50 lbs. Weyermann Pilsner
8.3% - 2.00 lbs. Weyermann Munich Malt
6.3% - 1.50 lbs. Rahr 2-row Brewer's Malt
4.2% - 1.00 lbs. Weyermann Carafoam
2.1% - 0.50 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated
2.1% - 0.50 lbs. Gold Medal AP Flour

0.63 oz. Crystal (Pellet, 3.25% AA) @ 60 min.

1: Black Man Belgian B4
2: Starter of Hill Farmstead Anna dregs

Water Profile
6 g Calcium Chloride


1.00 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient @ 15 Mins
1 Whirlfloc @ 5 Mins

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 30 mins @ 158F

Brewed 8/2/15 with Matt and Chris.

Collected 15 gallons of 1.045 wort with 3 gallon cold sparge.

Bagged hops. Chilled to 85 F with ground water, then 75F with ice.

Pitched 1 L of HF Anna starter. The other half got Black Man Belgian B4, and dregs from a bottle of Barrett's 2013 Lambic. Left at 64 F to ferment.

Racked at some point.

1/2/16 BM is sharply acidic, a bit sulfury. HF is mellower, tart, fruity, sweet.

7/17/16 Bottled both. HF had a bit more than 5 gallons with 130 g of table sugar. BM had a bit less than 5 gallons with 125 g. Both got a splash of Right Proper's house Lacto/Sacch culture for carbonation.

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