April 1, 2014

Some updates

2014 has shaped up to be a busy year although we're only a quarter of the way into the year. Fortunately, I've been able to keep up with most of my brewing goals although I am maybe a beer or two behind where I'd like to be on my brewing schedule but I'm sitting on around twenty gallons of bottled beer and another twenty or so in fermentors. I'm trying to kill off the end of the black IPA I brewed last fall and the last few bottles of a handful of other batches. A significant volume of my supply of bottles includes beers that I don't mind aging, like my sours or big beers, but most of my brews going forward for 2014 are best fresh so I want to be able to start enjoying those beers right away. Clearing out the ends of these other beers will make room for more brewing, which means more meaningful content here. However, right now the fermentation chamber is filled with saison that's clearing up before dry hopping so today's post is just going to throw down some updates on smaller issues.

The hop garden

I've had a terrible time trying to grow hops in Texas. It's blazing hot during the summer and where I live is apparently open season for locusts, who can strip down a hop bines in hours. Admittedly, over the past four years that I've tried growing I have done a bad job of trying to water the hops daily and that's a recipe for dying plants in continuous time periods over 100F. This year I am committed to keeping out the locusts and watering the hops daily. I've rigged up a drip hose to fit over the raised bed where I grow hops so I can connect it up to the faucet and water the hops without having to stand there and try to spray water through the netting I constructed to keep out the locusts. Last year I only got like seven small hops off one of the cascade rhizomes so that was disappointing. This year I am hoping for better results. Here are the plants so far:

Sterling: There's one rhizome in here that's on its third growing season. It's a little slow to start off but once it gets growing it really gets moving. It's progressing nicely.

Nugget: There are actually two rhizomes planted together working on their second growing season. Last year this was a vigorous grower so I have high expectations for these plants.

Cascade: Like Nugget, there are two rhizomes in here on their second growing seasons. One of the rhizomes barely grew last year but this year it looks like both are growing happily.

Mt. Hood: One rhizome here and also on its third growing season. This plant takes off really early and each year it has produced plenty of bine growth until mid-summer where all the plants started dying back.

Hopefully I'll get a nice harvest off these plants this year. I'd like to do a harvest beer with a mix of all four, like a pale ale or maybe even a hoppy saison. We'll see.

The Petrus Pale Ale Clone

My last update on this beer was in July 2013 and not a lot has changed since then. In the early fall I added some extract and maltodextrin to feed the beer in hopes that some extra food would help move the beer along. It seems like it has although shortly after secondary fermentation seemed to start picking up steam it began developing an unpleasant taste, like a hot trashy kind of taste. I'm not sure what it is. It's probably some acid that hits the taste buds the wrong way. I tasted the beer last week and it's developing an acetic edge but the trashy flavor is starting to mellow. It reminds me of a saison I have from 2012 that developed a similar hot trash flavor that I've been sitting on in the bottles to see if it ages out. Part of me wants to dump this sour beer (and the saison, quite frankly) but it's not even a couple years old and I might as well see what happens.

Beer Travels 

In addition to my trip to Austin in February, my wife and I have some spectacular beer vacations lined up in the next couple months. We're hitting Portland, Bend and Seattle next month in a continuous eight day drink-a-thon. In early May we are hitting L.A. through San Francisco (up to Russian River). We're also hitting Las Vegas for my birthday weekend at the end of April but that won't be the all-out beer hunting of the other two trips. That will make for some fun adventures and some more posts in my string of vacation reviews.

Upcoming brews and various other upcoming posts

I have a backlog of beers I need to post reviews for, such as the year three lambic, gueuze, Lying Scorpion hatch chile blond and the Black Samurai Canadian Whiskey "Barrel"-Aged Dry Stout. I also have a few small projects and other things I want to post about so that's some upcoming content. Depending on my ability to clear out some of the brews as I discussed at the top of this post, I have a few good summer beers to brew. There's a couple saisons for the summer, a gratzer, an apricot blond and a kellerpils. We'll see if I can actually get all those beers brewed this summer. There's nothing wrong with holding on to some of those grains for next year but I'm sure by fall I'll have a completely different set of beers I'll want to brew for 2015.

March 28, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 7 -- week 11 of fermentation

If you have been following the spontaneous fermentation project I started earlier this year (or if you want to see what I am talking about you can see all the posts here) then you know I was diligent about taking daily pictures of the changes to the beer and posting them up but after a few weeks I gave it up because there just wasn't any significant day to day changes. That is still the case. The fermentation moves slowly but there has been enough change in the visual aspect that I thought it was a good time to take a few pictures and fill in what has gone on.

The picture below is the surface.

If you look back at week four, the last week of pictures, you can see these tan globs were quite small but clearly they are growing in size and they are quire foamy. I still don't have a good idea what this is. Here's a picture from the side so you can see what the underside of these things are. (The top of the picture is just below the surface.)

I've tried looking at pictures of different ferments (and not just beer) to get a sense of what's going on. I haven't ruled out mold but I feel confident it's actually just some weird saccharomyces fermentation. I found some pictures on a kombucha site of "bad" yeast ferments that look really close to what I have here. It's definitely not the weird pancake appearance of a kombucha scoby nor is it the jelly-textured vinegar mother of acetobacter. I read a research paper that studied Allagash's coolship beer and found that saccharomyces was fermenting as late as 3-4 months into fermentation, so that would match the timeframe for what is going on in my beer.

You can see there is no pellicle, which is unusual in my experience with sour brewing out of lab
cultures and dregs. Normally by this point there is enough oxygen seeping through the CO2 over the beer to see brett and/or bacteria form a pellicle. Nothing here. I believe the pellicle is absent because the foamy whatever-it-is is slowly pushing out CO2. Not like a vigorous fermentation but the airlock has some bubbles trapped in it (see the picture on the right) which happens when there is a slow release of gas under the airlock. That would certainly make sense with all that foam around the globs.

I'm still not brave enough to capture a taste. Maybe next month.

March 17, 2014

Melting Point Imperial Saison

I'm a huge saison fan but my favorite saisons are the very light, low ABV versions which offer all the thirst-quenching, summer-defeating attributes one needs in a hot Texas summer but packs enough flavor that it is still worth slowly exploring. I enjoy the bigger saisons that are easier to find on the craft market but few in that category compare to one of my favorite saisons, Dupont's Avec les Bon Voeux. Bon Voeux is Dupont's winter seasonal so unsurprisingly it is a beer with more heft than Dupont's other offerings. It is intensely complex. The Dupont yeast unleash themselves on this beer with a huge offering of fruit and spice. There's plenty of European hop in the mix and what seems to be a far more complex grain bill than the 100% pilsner Saison Vieille. It's also slightly tart, which helps make this 9.5% beer drink easily. It easily holds its own in terms of a complex beer against even the best imperial stouts.

Since I made it a point this year to brew more saison I couldn't help but add something in the Bon Voeux style to my brewing list for 2014. I didn't want to shoot for a clone.  Instead I wanted to look at Bon Voeux as an inspiration. During my research for this beer I used as a template a recipe from the Maltose Falcons which was itself inspired by but not cloning Bon Voeux. (The recipe has since disappeared from their website.) So perhaps my recipe is really twice removed from Bon Voeux.

This recipe has a lot going on but each piece plays a particular role. The grain bill features some specialty malts to add complexity into the maltiness from the munich. There's also plenty of hopping going on here. There's four hop varieties: one French; one noble; two American hops working together to blend the grassy and gentle character of continental hops with the fruity notes of American hops. Then the yeast, 3711, will drop its fruit and spice notes all over the beer. Complexity going everywhere. I also want to capture that tart edge that Bon Voeux enjoys that really awakens the flavors but I will do that by adjusting the water chemistry to a low ph. I toned down this recipe away from Bon Voeux's 9.5% ABV to make it slightly easier to drink through the summer.

FYI: There's nothing clever about this name. It gets stupid hot during the Texas summer so the name is a reference to how I feel most of the summer.

Melting Point Imperial Saison

Batch size: 3 gallons
Est. ABV: 7.9%
Est. OG: 1.068
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. Efficiency: 72%
IBU: 42.5
SRM: 5.9

The Grain Bill

5 lb. 8 oz. German Pilsner malt (2 SRM) 72%
1 lb. Wheat malt (2 SRM) 13.1%
12 oz. Munich malt (9 SRM) 9.8%
2 oz. Aromatic malt (26 SRM) 1.7%
2 oz. Biscuit malt (23 SRM) 1.7%
2 oz. Honey malt (25 SRM) 1.7%

The Mash

Single infusion mash for 75 minutes at 148F with 9.93 qt at 162F
RO water adjusted in Bru'n water to yellow bitter profile
Sparge with 3.39 gallons at 180F

Mash Water Profile

Calcium 53
Magnesium 10
Sodium 5
Sulfate 108
Chloride 45
Bicarbonate -44

1.1g gypsum
1g epsom salt
0.2g baking soda
0.9g calcium chloride
0.8ml lactic acid

Sparge Water

1.5g gypsum
1.4g epsom salt
1.2g calcium chloride
1.8ml lactic acid

The Boil

90 minute boil

0.50 oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 90 minutes 31.4 IBU
0.40 oz. Aramis [8% AAU] at 10 minutes 5.6 IBU
0.30 oz. Cascade [5.5% AAU] at 10 minutes 2.9 IBU
0.30 oz. Celeia [4.5% AAU] at 10 minutes 2.4 IBU
0.25 oz. Aramis [8% AAU] at flameout
0.20 oz. Cascade [5.5% AAU] at flameout
0.15 oz. Celeia [4.5% AAU] at flameout

The Fermentation

Pitch 64ml 3711 slurry at 70F and let free rise for 24 hours. The raise temperature to 85F for remainder of fermentation.

Dry hop schedule:

0.50 oz. Aramis
0.30 oz. Celeia
0.20 oz. Cascade

Dry hop for three days at room temperature.

Bottle to three volumes.

The Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Doughed in 3/16/14 at 10:30am

First runnings: 1.074 1.75 gallons
Pre-boil gravity: 1.043
Pre-boil volume: 5.35 gallons

Post-boil volume: 3.5 gallons
Post-boil OG: 1.058
Effiency: 71%

Pitched at 75F 3/16/14 at 8pm
Set temperature to rise to 85F on 3/17/14 at 8am
Kept temperature constant at 84-85F until 3/20/14 and let temperature come down to ambient

FG reading 3/26/14: 1.010 ~6.1% ABV. Will let the beer sit for another 7-10 days before dry hopping. Really good flavor. Nice mix of citrus fruit, grass and spice. Not quite as dry as Bon Voeux but some carbonation will help add to the dryness. 

4/2/14: Dry hopped with the above schedule. Plan on bottling after three days. Stable gravity at 1.010.

4/5/14: Bottled beer to 3.2 volumes CO2. Recovered 14 12oz. bottles and four 22oz. bottles. Racked one gallon into a secondary vessel with 0.30oz. medium oak cubes soaking in brandy with roughly 0.30oz. (by weight) of brandy from the oak cubes. Plan to start drinking in June and bottle the oaked version around early July.

March 9, 2014

Blacula Rye Porter Recipe

Blacula is the second beer beer to be aged for my 2015 blending project. Yeah. Blacula. I said it. Blacula. Blacula is an awesome 70s blaxpoitation movie and a fitting name for a dark beer that will slumber. Come on, it's not the worst name I've picked for a beer.

Blacula is a big 8% rye-supported porter--perhaps more appropriately labeled an imperial rye porter--designed specifically to age into a mellow porter with some hints of oxidation but a big bite of rye. The combination of Blacula and Old King Clancy should be interesting, not to mention how I end up blending them with young beer next year. While I expect Old King Clancy to add a lot of sweetness, I expect Blacula will be biting (get it?) or at least more balanced in what it adds. Not only is there a big slug of rye malt but rather than using lots of crystal and munich malt, as is common in porter recipes, I opted to go more roasty and nearer to a stout. Anyway, let's get to the recipe.

Blacula Rye Porter Recipe

Est. OG: 1.085
Est. FG: 1.020
Est. ABV: 8.1%
Bitterness: 42.3 IBU
Color: 39.6 SRM
Est. Efficiency: 72%
Batch size: 1 gallon

The Grist

58%  2lb. Maris Otter [3 SRM]
29%  1lb. Rye malt [4.7 SRM]
7.2% 4oz. Chocolate malt [350 SRM]
3.8% 2oz. Crystal 120L [120 SRM]
2%    1oz. Black patent malt [500 SRM]

The Mash

Single infusion of 4.31 qt at 163.7F for 152F rest for 60 minutes
Sparge 1.14 gallons of 180F water
Water adjusted in Bru'n water to black malty profile

Mash Water: 1.08 gallons

Gypsum 0.1g
Epsom salt 0.2g
Canning salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 0.1g
Chalk 0.5g

Sparge Water: 1.14 gallons

Gypsum 0.1g
Epsom salt 0.2g
Canning salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.6ml

The Boil

60 minute boil
0.25oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 42.3 IBU
0.15 tsp irish moss at 10 minutes

The Fermentation

Ferment with S-04 at 63F with rise to 66F once gravity dropped 80% to estimated FG. Age with 0.25oz whiskey-soaked oak cubes.


Brewday 3.9.14

First runnings: 1.073
Pre-boil gravity: 1.053
Pre-boil volume: 2 gallons
Pre-boil efficiency: 90%

Post-boil gravity: 1.084
Post-boil volume: 1 gallon
Efficiency: 71%

March 4, 2014

Water: The Book Review

Courtesy of Brewers Publications
I know I'm a little behind the curve here because Water has been out on the market for about six months. I finished it a month or so ago but for whatever reason I didn't get around to reviewing it before. Water is obviously about...water. It's part of the brewing ingredient series published by the Brewers Association along with Yeast and For the Love of Hops. (Will there be a grain book coming out?) Most homebrewers probably first interacted with the Brewers Association's publishing arm (Brewers Publications) through the style books published in the 1990s like Scotch Ale, Altbier and Barleywine. Their publications through the 2000s have been more in-depth and focused more on brewing technique over particular styles, such as Yeast, For the Love of Hops and Gordon Strong's book. The style-oriented books like Wild Brews, Brewing with Wheat, IPA and Brew Like a Monk have all been more in-depth and technique-focused than the smaller 1990s publications. Water follows suit.

Water is a highly technical book, at least as far as something that might be included as a homebrewing text. These Brewing Association books are written with an aim to reach both pro brewers and homebrewers as an audience. Increasingly, the books are turning more towards commercial brewing and Water spends a great deal of space dealing with issues homebrewers have little or no need to apply, such as dealing with caustic cleaners in waste water. The text is extremely technical and packed full of chemistry discussions and equations. For somebody like myself who enjoys understanding the science without an interest in performing the chemical equations by hand, I found myself glossing over a lot of the book. This book is a good read for somebody who has a greater love or professional familiarity with this level of scientific writing. I feel like this is a book I will come back to and digest slowly over years to come as I start looking into tweaking the finest points of water chemistry. I'm just not there yet.

I suspect most homebrewers will find the material in the first few chapters, introducing water chemistry concepts, useful but then get bogged down in the overly scientific discourse. It is less useful to have access to that kind of information when there are so many solid brewing water calculators (like the free and paid versions of Bru'n water) that explain the concepts more succinctly and do all the equations for us. Honestly I think the information is so technical it is more likely to turn off homebrewers from trying to deal with their water. A better use of money for many would be picking up the paid version of Bru'n water or another piece of software with water chemistry calculators included. I know there are some of you out there who digest science at a higher level than me and if that's you then the book will probably be a very interesting read.

I would have liked to see more discussion applying the water chemistry concepts to help guide us to produce better beer through water chemistry. The book does a great job of explaining why certain water conditions are important for producing good beer on a technical level, such as adjusting ph for mash and sparging conditions, how water relates to fermentation conditions and how water profiles affect beer color and clarity. What's largely missing is greater depth of information about how creating a water profile affects flavor/aroma attributes and how adjusting the water makes particular changes. There is a very small amount of application on the flavor aspect but it's a small amount of content and it didn't bring anything new to the discussion. Sure, it's well known that a higher chloride to sulfide ratio makes a beer more malty but what ratios produce what kind of results?

I think this gap in the content is well reflected by the issues raised across forums and podcasts discussing water after the book was released trying to figure out to make precise changes to water to produce certain results. I think the issue here, at least in part, is that the widespread focus on water is too new to have enough data to publish meaningful data. Even among commercial brewers there are many who at most filter their water and add calcium with little or no other adjustment.

The short version of the review: very technical discussion but adds little new ideas or information to the existing discourse on water chemistry. A good read for people who appreciate scientific texts but likely lacks the information about applying water chemistry concepts that most homebrewers seek. Not a bad way to spend $11 but probably money that could be better spent on quality water chemistry software.

March 3, 2014

Drinking in Austin: The 2014 Edition

My wife and I were able to carve out some time in our busy schedule to take a weekend visit to Austin for some drinking. If you've read about any of our other beer vacations then you know we come in to an area like locusts. We arrive and systematically consume as much beer as possible before moving on. This trip was just as meticulously planned as the rest but for whatever reason we ended up drinking a lot less than we usually do. Nevertheless, we scored some fantastic beers and visited some great breweries so it was great downtime and great drinking. Let's get to it.

Hops & Grain Brewing

Hops and Grain is a small(ish) outfit in east Austin that features a core line up of five beers with a wide array of brewery-only releases. On occasion one of these brewery-only releases makes it out of the brewery but the easiest way to track down their crazy options is to visit the taproom. Among these releases include their barrel aged and sour (and barrel aged) beers. What's most interesting about their special releases is that they use their Alt--the flagship beer--for so many of their barrel and sour beers. A soured alt isn't just another take on a Flemish red.

The recently expanded taproom is a nice and spacious. It's the exact opposite of the old taproom, which was small and ridiculously hot no matter how hot or cold it was outside. The new taproom has plenty of seating and lots of air conditioning. The expanded taproom was supposed to coincide with a changeover to a brewpub license so H&G could sell beer by the pour. What H&G apparently did not realize is that their current zoning prohibits them from selling beverages. So they can sell a glass with multiple free pours but they can't sell by the pour. So $10 gets you either three full pours (sort of) or six half pours. The barrel and sour beers only sell by the half pour regardless of which option you buy so it doesn't make much sense to get the full pours. You can also only get one of each of the barrel and sour beers although there didn't seem to be much control on that policy unless the bartender just happened to know that he had served you that particular beer.

We were fortunate to get our hands on SupPorter, a Baltic porter with coffee that is helping raise money for Whole Planet, a microlending organization that works to alleviate poverty. It has big coffee and chocolate character. It definitely isn't messing around with the coffee addition. It's a big 8% beer but goes down really easily, especially if you're a big coffee fan.

The two barrel/sour beers available were Funkin' Alt and ALTerFUNKtion. Funkin' Alt is a barrel-aged version of the Alt with some bacteria and brett. It has low acidity and moderate funk. The biggest change in the beer is the mellowing effect of time (and micro-oxygenation) which smooths out some of the chocolate character in the base beer. I believe these beers either go into new or extremely gently used barrels because the oak character is prominent without any spirit or wine coming in. There's lots of vanilla and some woody character. The taste of oak is unmistakable.

ALTerFUNKtion also begins life as the Alt but goes in as a second fill in the barrels that once held Funkin' Alt. It is more funky and definitely more sour with a less prominent oak character. There is obviously more brett involvement in this beer because the transformation of the malt character is more obvious on the funky barnyard edge. As much as it may look like a Flemish red and taste like a close cousin of that style, it is definitely a different beer. No obvious acetic character shows up. The funk and sour is far more restrained compared to most Flemish reds. The restrained sweetness from the Alt results in a beer that carries a different set of flavors from the crystal-forward recipes of many Flemish reds. It's a drier taste that might be mistaken for less complexity but is just more subtle.

512 Brewing Co.

I've been trying to get inside 512 Brewing for a long time. Almost as long as I waited to score access to Live Oak last year. This trip I finally scored tickets to the tour. What a surprise. The actual brewery is surprisingly small for how prominent they are here in Texas. I didn't get a picture of the whole brewery but it's very tightly fit together. They self-distribute all the beer they make, which relies on six core beers (Wit, IPA, Pale Ale, Black IPA, Pecan Porter and Cascabel Cream Stout) plus an anniversary beer and a few one-offs like Double Pecan Porter. The picture to your right is part of the small set of barrels 512 uses to release a barrel aged version of the Double Pecan Porter, plus some casks. 512's beers are solid on all fronts and they are doing great business producing beers that are high quality but approachable. Lots of the C hops up in their beers. No scrambling to find the newest hop to shove in their IPA, which is half of all sales (Pecan Porter is another 25%).

If you've been on one tour you've heard the standard, "beer is made of four ingredients..." speech. It's rare when you start hearing something new along the way. We were fortunate enough to get a tour from the head brewmaster, who did a really good job of balancing technical discussion with the basics. What I found surprising is how low Austin water is in minerals, although it is ground water. 512 only filters out the chloramine from the municipal water and adds a little calcium. Sure would be nice if I could get by on the same thing here.

Perhaps the best part of the tour is that it's $10 for a glass plus unlimited amounts of beer. Well, I imagine there is a limit but whatever it is I didn't get to it. I really enjoyed the Black IPA but my favorite drink at the brewery is a half and half of the Pecan Porter and IPA that they call "The Hamilton" after their distribution manager (I think that's who he is). It's a really interesting blend of citrus and pecan. However, aside from the beer I enjoyed talking to one of the brewers, who was extremely friendly. We talked about Portland, which will be a nice long visit in April.

Twisted X Brewing

Twisted X has been on my radar since I first tried their beers a few years ago. They finally moved out of their initial space northwest of Austin (Cedar Park) into a permanent home southwest of Austin (Dripping Springs). Twisted X refers to its beers as "Tex Mex" which they sort of explain on the website is due to their "Mexican-style lager" centered lineup.

The line up includes (moving left to right in the tasters) a Mexican-style lager, a jalapeno lager, an amarillo-forward IPA, a Vienna-style lager, an imperial schwarzbier aged in tequila barrels and a prickly pear lager (not shown). My wife and I were huge fans of the schwarzbier and that's what we were hunting down when we made the trip out to Twisted X. We were a little less impressed with the beer this time. It seemed like the tequila flavor was more dominant and distinctly fruitier than our initial interaction with the beer, so much so that it really took away from the beer. The rest of the beers are fine but honestly not something worth driving out of the way to find. The "premium" Mexican-style lager and Vienna-style lager are both explained on the brewery's website to replicate commercial examples from Mexico. That's accurate but I guess I don't see why I would drive out to the middle of nowhere to drink the same thing that I can find in every gas station and grocery store. The other beers might be slightly more exotic but they aren't done so exotically that I feel a future visit is necessary. It's too bad about the schwarzbier. We were so looking forward to it. I'd drink it again but it doesn't call out to me anymore.

Jester King Brewing

If you've read any of my past Austin drinking reviews then you know I have had an ax to grind about Jester King the past few times because I find many of their business practices more focused on creating a cult following and then draining those folks of money rather than making beers that stand up to the image Jester King has put out for itself. Since we were already near Jester King we decided to give them another shot and see if things had changed with their conversion over to a brewpub.

If you know anything about the recent hype around Jester King then you know they have moved into spontaneous fermentation and using local wild yeast over their prior use of commercial yeast strains. Surely, then, you know the massive hype among beer douches beer traders hunting down these spontaneous beers. There is definitely massive hype around these beers.

I was interested in trying some of the new beers because I actually do like several of Jester King's beers even if I rarely buy them due to price and various other complaints I've aired out enough not to need to repeat them here. We were able to score atrial rubicite and la vie en rose. Atrial is a highly sought after beer on the beer trading market. It's a spontaneously fermented beer with raspberries. After the barrels are drained they dump the base beer for la vie en rose on the raspberries and let it ferment out. I have to say, I just don't get the hype. These are some mediocre at best beers.

Atrial has a huge raspberry character to it. It's surprisingly sweet for being a spontaneously fermented beer (but I don't know how long it aged or aged on the fruit). The sourness is "tart" and it seems like it's all coming out of the raspberry. There's some funk in there but it's not necessarily a pleasant funk. It's not typical brett character (and not the brett character in Boxer's Revenge, the sour beer Jester King makes with brett isolated locally) it's more like a wild sacc strain. It's not very strong in the beer but it's just sort of in the background. It reminds me most of saisons brewed with the Dupont strain on the cool side. There's just sort of a weird muddled funk.

La vie en rose is lighter with far less raspberry character. There's actually not a lot going on with the beer in general except for the yeast character is very pronounced. A little acidity but lots of that muddled funk character. My wife said it smelled and tasted like piss. She wasn't wrong, really. It was one of the less pleasant beers I've ever drank.


Whip-In/Kamala Brewing (Formerly Namaste Brewing)

Ok, back to happier times. Whip In was a pretty badass place before they started brewing but they have really taken that dingy place to a new level with their beers. Initially releasing their beers under the name Namaste Brewing they ran afoul of Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head owns the trademark to the term Namaste for brewing purposes. When Whip In's brewers scored medals at the GABF they ended up on DFH's radar and the race was on. DFH said either stop using the name or limit yourself to only selling onsite. The Whip In owner pointed out how ridiculous it is that a white guy can legally own the name of a word that has religious meaning in another culture--the culture of the owner of Whip In--for its own profitability. Then the Whip In feller gave in. They rebranded themselves Kamala Brewing. Kamala is the Hindu goddess of greed.Our bartender the night we visited is also a brewer and said at the end of the GABF he was rolling around the conference with the medal for their ESB and came across somebody from DFH. The DFH guy saw the label on this bartender's shirt that he was from Namaste Brewing and that led to the whole mess.

Kamala Brewing is dumping out some great beers on a half barrel system. Yes, a half barrel. They are looking to upgrade to a three barrel system. That's a tiny system but they are working it really well. There were two beers on tap from Kamala that night so I had to give them a whirl.

Smoked Austiner is a smoked berliner weisse. I'm not a huge berliner weisse fan but I really liked this beer. The smoke came and cleaned up all the things about berliner weisse I dislike and left behind a pleasantly tart and smoky beer that was dangerously easy to drink.

The other beer was Shiva Love, an imperial oatmeal stout with strawberries. I've had strawberry stouts before and liked them well enough. This one was incredible. The stout came out boldly with the roast, coffee and chocolate you expect but with the creamy oatmeal edge. Surprisingly, the strawberry flavor and aroma was really powerful. Strawberry is tricky to work with because it's not a fruit with a lot of acidity so once you ferment out the sugar there's not a lot to drive the fruit flavor. Like New Glarus's fruit beers, Kamala killed off the yeast before adding fruit so the beer would stay sweet enough to keep that fruit flavor up in your face. The pours were expensive but really worth it.

And some other great beers worth mentioning...

Among our drinking around town there were some beers we came across separate from an associated brewery visit worth mentioning:

  • Live Oak Schwarz Rauch (at Austin Draughthouse): Live Oak is well-regarded for their German-style brewing for good reason. Their regular schwarzbier is their spring seasonal and a tasty beverage with a subtle smoky tone but the addition of rauchmalz really picks up the smoke flavor and brings it to the forefront. It's a good smoked beer that balanced a solid smoke character while allowing the rest of the beer to shine. I believe this beer was either a substitute spring seasonal or a one-off variant released for the season.
  • Real Ale California Common (at Craft Pride): Real Ale was often disregarded by craft drinkers as one of those breweries with good but boring beer. Their core lineup harkens back to their 1990s founding although those beers are fantastic examples of the craft styles popular at the brewery's inception. They have been stepping up their game over the past several years by releasing beers out of their barrel program and their "Brewer's Cut" series which releases beers in styles more popular today. The newest Brewer's Cut is the Cali Common with a nice hop punch and unmistakable lager character. I really liked this beer although Cali Common is a style I rarely reach for.
  • Infamous Sweep the Leg (at Craft Pride): Infamous is a new brewery in Austin and I've heard comments ranging from average to great about their products. Sweep the Leg is a peanut butter stout. I haven't been a huge fan of many of these kind of stouts (e.g. graham cracker stout, smores stout) and I think that has a lot to do with the execution rather than the idea. This beer was surprisingly good. The peanut butter taste was distinct and just what it should be. Not sure on the process but I was fairly certain peanuts were used. Not sure whether actual peanut butter went into the beer or peanuts plus diacetyl created that flavor. The stout character itself isn't very interesting but it works well with the peanut butter because the beer acts like a platform for the peanut butter character rather than trying to compete for attention. Not the kind of beer I would want to drink in large quantity but one I am glad I got to try. I'd like to see what else infamous is doing.
  • Austin Beerworks Lotion in the Basket (at Craft Pride): I haven't been overwhelmed by ABW beers I have tried but I actually really enjoyed this one. It's hard not to like a beer with a Silence of the Lambs reference. This beer is a zwickelbier/kellerbier, whatever you want to call an unfiltered pilsner. While pilsners are normally crystal clear with smooth, clean flavors, an unfiltered pilsner has a little more edge and some subtle complexity normally missing from lagers. This was no exception. A well-made pilsner with bright noble hop character and grainy malt takes on a slightly rough hop character and showcases more rawness in the grain that could put this beer closer to a saison (but minus the yeast character) than the sharp and clean character of a modern pilsner.
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (at Whip In): BCBS is a well-sought after beer and while I love it in the bottle, this was the first time I found it on tap. Delicious. The draft version seemed smoother and less boozy than the bottled version. That may have just been my perception in the moment. 
  • Real Ale 2006 Sisyphus (at Whip In): Real Ale Sisyphus is Real Ale's American barleywine released once annually at extremely reasonable prices ($16 per four pack) especially when compared to many barleywines currently sold for $10+ per bomber. Plus, it's one of the few quality barleywines sold in a 12oz format. Sisyphus is honestly one of the best kept secrets in craft beer. Whip In apparently is keeping a horde of kegs of the stuff in its cold storage because this keg was from 2006 and I had the same thing last summer when we visited. American barleywines are not known for aging well but this one sure is. I don't know whether it is the beer, the storage method, or both, but this one really holds up. Hop flavor and aroma are surprisingly punchy and fresh although the bitterness is subdued. Nice aged malt character behind it. 
  • Real Ale Codex Tripel (at Whip In): See, I told you Real Ale is stepping up their game as a major player in the Texas craft scene. Real Ale produces a tripel (Devil's Backbone) as part of their regular line up. It's a pretty good version of the style. Absent the obvious munich character of Chimay White, it is more akin to Duvel. Real Ale took this beer and dumped it into barrels with some brett and slept on it for two years. What came out was an amazing beer with big oaky tannins are huge brett funk. It's the kind of brett beer you aspire to brew. The funk is strong and complex but removed of the funky flavors that can be off-putting to people (often described as fecal-y, mousy, etc.) in brett beers. The oak comes through very cleanly. I suspect this beer was aged in new barrels rather than spent spirit or wine barrels. Hard to find but worth finding in Texas if you can.
So that was Austin. I'd like to get back down one or two more times this year but we'll see. We are traveling from Portland (and Bend) to Seattle next month and LA to San Francisco in May. That's a lot of time out of the office and a lot of money spent on vacations, so we'll see what our budget looks like for the rest of the year. Plus, I have to have some time to brew and drink my own beer.

February 18, 2014

Lambic Solera Update #18 -- Two month into year four (or thirty-eight months into the solera)

I have fallen behind on updating the lambic solera after I brewed the fourth batch going into the fermentor in December 2013 but I am going to get some updates written on this ongoing project while the spontaneous lambic I brewed last month is being less interesting. This update will just review the early fermentation. I'll have to come back around in a week or two to post some tasting notes on the most recent bottling. Normally I try to taste the new lambic bottling around a month after bottling but with the crazy weather last month and this month I've been hit with what feels like a constant stream of bad allergies and a cold. That makes it hard to get really good flavor and aroma analysis out of the beer so I've held off on cracking open Year Three. I did break open a bottle of the gueuze back in December so I'll talk about that here.

First, let's talk about that gueuze. The gueuze was mildly carbonated, which wasn't too surprising. I find sours usually benefit from a few extra weeks of conditioning before the carbonation really sets well in the beer. The flavor and aroma was really surprising. It was very low in acidity and funk. It was almost identical in flavor and aroma to a dry mead. It had a strong honey flavor, which I think was driven by the older vintages but still, where the hell did Year Three go in the mix? Based on my very rough calculations, the blend should have included 40-45% one year old lambic (from Year Three) and from tasting Year Three at bottling there was plenty of acidity. However, none showed up in the gueuze. While it was a tasty beverage it just wasn't what I was expecting. I know gueuze often ages at the brewery for three to six months before shipping out so maybe this is merely part of the evolution of the blended beer that occurs during that aging. I'll probably wait a couple more months before cracking open another bottle.

Alright, so let's talk about this fermentation. If you recall, Year Four was the first time I attempted a turbid mash. This fermentation was definitely different from the prior fermentations. In the past the years with fresh saccharomyces additions (Year One and Three) saw the typical saccharomyces krausen rise within a day or two and after a couple weeks a pellicle would show up. Year Two, which did not have fresh saccharomyces, never showed a krausen. There was just a lot of bubbling from the bottom of the fermentor for several weeks and then a pellicle formed. Year Four did not get fresh yeast but unlike Year Two, there was something slightly krausen-like and plenty of gunk was added to the top of the fermentor. This krausen showed up after almost two weeks after I added the wort to the fermentor and stayed around for a few days. I was starting to get worried when nothing appeared to be going on with the beer but eventually it did kick off. A couple weeks after activity died down a thin, bubbly pellicle showed up.

The aroma changes in the beer during the past couple months was unusual and interesting. In prior years the mix of old lambic and fresh wort had an aroma of lactic acid, cherry and grainy, fresh wort aroma until fermentation knocked out all the fresh aroma and the funky, acidic aroma of sour beer took over. In Year Four it started out with the same aroma but after a few days it developed into a really unpleasant, trashy smell. I started to get concerned. Once fermentation became visible the foul aromas went away and it became very wheat and yeast in aroma. As the pellicle appeared it turned into a combination of the usual sour beer aromas but some of that weird, unpleasant smell remains.

Definitely the most unusual fermentation in the solera's history. I am going to carry on my expectations that this beer will turn out as tasty as the prior years. I will be very sad if the solera takes a turn for the worse and I have to start over. Not the worst thing to have to do but I'd hate to have to choose between drinking or dumping five gallons of crappy sour beer and then waiting another year to get another beer into the solera.

Below is a picture looking down the mouth of the better bottle. You can see the dense layer of junk all the way down and then the very filmy pellicle covering the beer.

February 12, 2014

I Pee, Eh? Black IPA Diagnostic Notes

Brewed in November, I waited on posting tasting notes in hopes that the beer would improve enough I could justify to myself posting a more glowing set of tasting notes. It didn't, so I should go ahead and cough up the admission that I screwed this one up. This black IPA came out of dry hopping with fantastic aroma and flavor. I was really excited for it. Then it carbonated and turned into a total diacetyl bomb. Rather than just put up tasting notes I thought it made more sense, both for myself and for readers, to discuss the problems as well as the sensory perception.

A brief and incomplete overview of diacetyl

In a typical fermentation, diacetyl begins life as acetolactic acid, which is naturally produced during fermentation.It is unavoidable to find acetolactic acid in fermenting beer. It is just something created by the yeast. During fermentation and the clean up period, the yeast will break down the acetolactic acid and the precursors to acetolactic acid and prevent diacetyl from forming, at least at a level that we can taste. It is commonly a failure to perform a diacetyl rest or prematurely removing beer from the yeast that will leave excessive acetolactic acid in the beer. Acetolactic acid then oxidizes into diacetyl, primarily when oxygen is exposed to the beer during transfer or packaging. Once diacetyl is there, it is hard to get it out of the beer. Yeast can break down diacetyl but it is a slow process and in most packaged beer there is not enough active fermentation to get rid of all of it.

However, fermentation conditions can produce more acetolactic acid than the yeast can chew up, such as mutant yeast cells, underpitching, oxygen exposure during anaerobic fermentation, excessive fermentation temperatures, premature flocculation, poor nutrients in the wort, overpitching and pitching at temperatures over 70F. (See http://www.draymans.com/articles/arts/03.html) Even in fermentations where excessive acetolactic acid is created, sufficient contact time with active yeast can often break down enough of the acid to drop diacetyl below the flavor threshold or leave it at low enough levels the beer is still drinkable.

Diacetyl can also be created in beer through infection. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) like lactobacillus and pediococcus also create diacetyl through their fermentations (think of the buttery taste in yogurt or sourdough bread) well above what saccharomyces can prevent or break down. You can often tell an infection-caused diacetyl problem because other sensory cues will identify the problem, such as acidity, thinness in the mouthfeel, cloudy appearance and other off flavors.

What (likely) happened in this beer

I am fairly confident that this beer did not suffer from an infection. There are no other off flavors in the beer, no unusual cloudy character or excessive carbonation. Additionally, the level of diacetyl has been reducing in the beer. I would expect an infection to continue to chew on the beer and produce more diacetyl. That is clearly not happening.

So that leaves a fermentation problem. I know the beer was properly pitched and aerated like every other beer I brew, so I feel confident scratching out an anomalous fermentation condition as a culprit. What I did with this fermentation is ferment it at 60F with S04, which is very cold for an ale yeast but within this strain's ability to ferment. I chose a cold fermentation to get a clean yeast character and keep as much of the hop aroma from blowing out of the airlock. I fermented the beer for about seven days, cold crashed and then racked off the yeast to dry hop at room temperature for five days. Fermentation was definitely over before racking but I believe the error was not performing a diacetyl rest (by warming the beer) for a few days before racking. Once racked over, oxidation of the acetolactic acid could begin. Why didn't I detect diacetyl in the beer while dry hopping? Oxidation of acetolactic acid into diacetyl doesn't happen that fast. That's why bottle conditioned beer that shows diacetyl almost always goes into the bottle without diacetyl but opens after a few weeks of conditioning with diacetyl.

I would have fixed the problem by warming the beer in a diacetyl rest for a couple of days at the end of fermentation before cold crashing the beer. Easy problem but I got too caught up thinking about preserving the hop character that I forgot about the needs of the yeast. A couple extra days would have been the difference between a great black IPA and a butter bomb.

How the beer turned out

Early on this beer was a total butter bomb but after a few months the diacetyl has toned down considerably. It drinks now like a hoppy English porter with some diacetyl in the background. Disappointingly, the remaining diacetyl muddles the hop flavor and aroma. Diacetyl seems to play better with English hop varieties but among the fruit and pine of American hops it creates sort of a muddled fruit flavor. It's not a great beer by any stretch but at least it is drinkable now. It was really good going into the bottles so the recipe is solid and worth a rebrew.

February 10, 2014

Black Samurai Oak Aged Dry Stout

Why doesn't love a little blaxploitation like Black Samurai? I certainly do. The movie titles are entertaining enough to deserve some homebrews as homage; plus, with How I Met Your Mother ending (a source of many of my brew names) I need to tap a new source for comedic beer names.

This bad mother of a stout is somewhere in the vicinity of a dry Irish stout. It actually began life as a very simple dry stout recipe but while I was working on designing recipes for 2014 I realized I had more spare ounces of grain in the back of my fridge than I thought. So I've tried to shove some of these leftover grains into my recipes this year so I can get rid of them. Here, I added some leftover biscuit malt and carapils. Both additions will add useful contributions to the beer.

I also intended from the outset to do a pseudo-barrel aging on this beer with some oak cubes soaked in Canadian whisky. I thought the drier Canadian whiskey would be a nice touch in a less potent stout. Bourbon can sometimes be overwhelming, plus there are just so many dang bourbon barrel aged beers out there.

That's about all the set up this beer needs. Here comes the 2.5 gallon recipe.

Black Samurai Oak Aged Dry Stout

Batch size: 2.5 gallons
Est. ABV: 3.8%
IBU: 40.6
SRM: 21.9
Est. OG: 1.041
Est. FG: 1.012
Est Eff: 72%

The Grist

3 lb. US 2 Row (2 SRM) 72%
8 oz. Flaked Barley (1.7 SRM) 12%
6 oz. Roasted Barley (300 SRM) 10%
2 oz. Carapils (2 SRM) 3%
1 oz. Black Patent (500 SRM) 1.5%
1 oz. Biscuit malt (23 SRM) 1.5%

The Mash

Single infusion with batch sparge
Mash 6.25 qt 60 minutes at 156F
Sparge 3.11 gallons at 180F
RO water built to black malty profile in Bru'n water

Mash water: 6.25 qts

Gypsum 0.1g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Canning salt 0.3g
Calcium chloride 0.1g
Chalk 0.8g
Lactic acid 0.5ml

Sparge water: 3.11 gal

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.6g
Canning salt 0.6g
Calcim chloride 0.2g
Lactic acid 1.6ml

The Boil

60 minute boil
0.50oz Belma [12.10%] at 60 minutes (40.6 IBU)

The Fermentation

Pitch S-04 at 64F until 90% of estimated FG reached then raise to room temperature. Once fermentation is complete add 0.65oz. Canadian whiskey-soaked oak cubes for 6-8 weeks. Bottle to 2.3 volumes.

Brew day & fermentation notes

Ended up with way, way too much wort. Collected 3.4 gallons in the fermentor, even after extending the boil for an extra hour (before adding hops). Really humid today so that killed boil off and I accidentally added an extra half gallon of sparge water.

Ended up with OG of 1.037 and 3.4 gallons, good for 87% efficiency. We'll see whether the beer ends up too thin or very low on alcohol. Personally I'd rather have less alcohol and enjoy all of the sensory aspects of the beer.

2/15/14: FG at 1.013, good for 3.1% ABV. Added 0.80 ounces (by weight, not volume) of canadian whiskey aged with medium toast oak chips. May add more at bottling to enhance "barrel" flavor. Flavor is good: roasty, chocolate, coffee. Light body, maybe a little too light due to the excess volume. Still expect a very drinkable beer.

3/3/14: Stable FG. Bottled with 2.6 ounces of table sugar. Body is thin but the flavor is nice for a small beer. Lots of chocolate and coffee. Oak tannins show up and the whiskey flavor is mellow and appears strongest in the aftertaste.

February 3, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 7 -- week 4 of fermentation

This week will roll the beer through a month of its journey. Interesting things are going on, although I don't know what exactly is going on, so it's worthwhile to keep recording this journey on a daily basis.

Day 22

You can see the beer still has a cloudy appearance. It's not quite as murky as it was a couple weeks ago but still not a clear beer as you would normally experience in a typical clean fermentation. Even the lambic solera isn't quite this murky although both had the same grain bill and same turbid mash.

Day 23

Here's that mysterious clump floating on the surface of the beer. I still can't figure out what it is. It doesn't look like mold but it seems to be active.

Day 24

If you look at this closer picture, although it's a pretty bad picture, you can kind of tell there's some bubbly foam around the edge of whatever it is. This is the activity that I'm seeing.

Day 25

This is a much better picture. You can see the foam around it more clearly. You can also see off to the right there is another smaller blob. There's actually three blobs.

Day 26

Here you can see all three blobs. They all have that foamy appearance and they are slowly expanding in size.

Day 27


Same thing in this picture. I keep snapping pics of the blobs because it's the only visible activity. They are growing. Whatever it is, it's doing something to the beer.

Day 28

 If you compare this picture of the main blob to the beginning of the week or prior weeks you can definitely see it is growing in size.

January 26, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 6 -- week 3 of fermentation

So at the conclusion of the last part I mentioned that the last week ended boringly and I might not keep this going. But then it seemed something actually was going on and I noticed it the next day while I was trying to decide whether I should bother taking a picture. It looks like there is some surface activity so onward we go.

So here's where we are in the dreaded lambic chart:

Right in the midst of saccharomyces-dominated fermentation time. It certainly looks like the bulk of what could have been sacc getting busy occurred in the first and second weeks but who knows what's really going on here.

Day 15

Alright, if you look right in the middle of the picture, past all the stuff stuck to the inside of the carboy there is a clump of tan stuff that appears to be growing (it's in between the two flash glares) on the surface of the liquid. There are a few of these clumps growing on the surface.

Day 16

Same thing today, you can see one of these clumps growing at about 2 o'clock from the flash glare on the left.

Day 17

 And again same thing, you can see that same clump slightly above the middle of the picture. At first I just thought these things were clumps of the yeast falling off the inside of the carboy back onto the surface but that doesn't explain the tendency to form together nor does it look like the krausen residue inside the carboy is changing shape. Not sure what is going on but it seems like something is going on.

I tried to get a sniff of what's going on. Unfortunately I used a rubber stopper on this beer and it's really hard to get aromas past that rubbery smell it leaves in the mouth of the carboy. From what I could get other than rubber it didn't exactly smell great in there but I'm not worried. There is a long way to go. The surface is sort of oily amongst tiny dots of what I imagine are organisms floating on the surface. I'll try to get a picture of the surface through the mouth tomorrow.

Day 18

Here's the top of the fermentor again. You can see the clumps still floating around on the top of the beer. They don't seem to be growing or shrinking in size.

Day 19

Here's another shot from above. No visible changes going on.

Day 20


Today's shot is looking down the mouth of the better bottle. Thanks to the flash you can see there is an oily film of what is probably a pellicle starting to form on the surface. Could be bacteria or wild yeast. Who knows.

Day 21

Here's another picture of something funky going on. Right in the middle of the picture you can see what looks like a clump of snot right at the edge of the liquid. That's a really accurate picture. I have no idea what that is but it's the last whatever from the stuff that was floating around on the top of the beer all of last week.

I guess I'll keep letting this ride out with the pictures. See what's going on. It looks like a pellicle might pop up in the next few weeks. I might dare to take a taste next week.

January 22, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 5 -- week 2 of fermentation

Today's post picks up where the last post left off, on day eight of the spontaneous fermentation.

Day 8

Curiously, it seems like whatever was building up steam over the past two days has given up. Over the course of the day the white foam has started breaking down and retracting back into the beer. Underneath the surface the beer is still cloudy, which suggests there is more to come.

Day 9

Pretty much identical to yesterday. No change.

Day 10

What look like may be yeast rafts (yeast clumps holding on to bubbles on the surface) seem to be growing in size today. This is the same side of the fermentor as yesterday's picture so you can compare the two fairly closely. It's not much in the way of activity but it's something.

Day 11

No noticeable change here. Those yeast rafts seem a little bigger but maybe they are just more spread out. What was at the top of the screen in yesterday's picture is at the bottom of today's picture. Since there isn't anything interesting changing today I thought I would pull back and show more of the surface in a single picture.

Day 12

Keep hoping for some change but nope, it looks like everything is staying pretty much as it is.

Day 13

Still pretty much the same. You can see the beer is still pretty cloudy.

Day 14

Here you can see the surface is clear and stable. Other than the cloudy appearance, this beer fermented out very similar to any clean beer. The krausen was much more bubbly than the usual foamy krausen, so that was different, but otherwise this fermentation hasn't been anything unusual in appearance.

Really uneventful week. Since it looks like nothing interesting can be observed I will continue to take pictures but not post them up unless or until something starts to change in the appearance. Hopefully the next week will have something interesting to offer.

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