June 28, 2015

Book Review: IPA by Mitch Steele

I know I am late to the party reviewing this book. It was published in 2012 and there are a lot of reviews out there. I picked this up about six months ago and meant to write the review earlier but just didn't get around to it before. Actually I thought about passing on writing a review of IPA because there are so many reviews online but in my opinion IPA has been unfairly criticized so this review is really more of a defense of the book than piling on to what you have likely already read about IPA.

IPA, or fully titled Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, by Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing is unsurprisingly a book about IPA. When Brewers Publications put out its style books in the 1990s there was no IPA book. IPA was instead lumped in with pale ales in Pale Ale. In the 2000s Brewers Publications released additional style books including Brew Like a Monk, Wild Brews, Farmhouse Ales and Brewing with Wheat that were expanded and designed with a different feel. IPA is not officially part of the 1990s style series but reads like a supersized version of those books. If you have read any of the 1990s style books then you know they were roughly evenly split between history and brewing practices. IPA follows suit in the same pattern although it is at least twice the length of those older style books.

The first two-thirds of the book traces the history of IPA from its English roots into modern craft variants. Steele openly draws heavily from the work of Ron Pattinson (of the blog Shut Up about Barclay Perkins) and other members of the Durden Park Beer Circle. Significant space is allocated to displacing the oft-repeated myth about IPA and its design to survive the boat ride to India. However, within the 185 pages of IPA history there is plenty of knowledge to gleam about brewing practices of the past in England, Scotland and here in the United States. This section ends at its natural destination in the present discussing modern IPA variants.

The remaining 100+ pages discusses IPA brewing techniques and a lengthy section of model IPA recipes provided by stalwarts of IPA on both sides of the Atlantic. There are no shocking techniques discussed for brewing IPAs but it is more technical than most of the 1990s style books which discussed brewing at a beginner's level. The recipes represent a nice span of English and American IPAs both new and old. Personally I would have liked to have seen more technical details from the breweries about brewing IPAs but these books are written for broad appeal and Steele strikes an acceptable median here. Overall IPA is far superior in depth and usefulness in comparison to those 1990s style books and holds its own with the quality of the other post-90s style books released by Brewers Publications.

Criticism of IPA typically revolves around three points:

1. There is too much space given to the history of IPA;
2. The recipes do not include specific volumes;
3. The book lacks discussion about the newest, most hyped IPAs and the hops giving rise to those beers.

Each of these points are completely accurate but the reason why they are treated as criticism are not meaningful. Certainly it would be great to see this book, like every other Brewers Publication book, turned into a 1000 page tome with explicit detail so that no other book would have to be published on the subject for another twenty years. Of course, that book would be a challenge to publish and certainly would not be a $25 book. Accepting that it is a 300 page $25 book, let's deconstruct these criticisms.

The length spent on history is certainly voluminous but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The incorrect story about IPA's beginnings continues to be treated as unqualified truth and the only way that myth will die is with a resource such as this book presenting a more authoritative and substantiated explanation. No book could rightfully be treated as the definitive guide to IPA without a strong refutation of that myth. Moreover, there is actually a lot of worthwhile brewing knowledge packed into the history, especially for those of us interested in brewing historical styles or adopting historical brewing practices into our own brewing. I am sure for people who were just looking at how to brew an imperial IPA with simcoe, citra, amarillo, centennial and mosaic, this section was a complete waste.

It is true that the recipes included in the book do not have specific grain or hop volumes and that requires a little work to fashion a clone recipe but there is a good reason for this. These recipes were designed on commercial systems that develop beer differently than our homebrewing systems. It would be impossible for Steele to sort out recipes accurately designed for all readers. IPA is a resource for those brewing seven gallons and seven barrels. Quite frankly, it is not that difficult to figure out how to adapt the information into complete recipes. Additionally, some of the breweries who offered recipes are less candid than others about recipes so the amount of information provided may be all Steele had available to publish.

And sure, IPA does not tell you how to go to your local shop and buy the ingredients to clone Heady Topper or whatever the IPA of the month happens to be. If the book had focused on the long list of IPAs loaded up with the same group of hops used in all the other hyped IPAs then it would be worthless in a couple years when everybody dumps their Citra in favor of whatever new hop becomes all the rage. There are enough recipes available here that any brewer can take the most hyped hops of the year and assemble a great recipe.

I've seen some of this criticism levied on the low volume of information about brewing IPAs as though the secret processes that make world class IPA were left out. I do not think that is accurate. IPA as a style receives so much focus and new IPAs focus so much on squeezing out every whiff of hop character that the small details really make the difference between a great IPA and the top of the market such that every component of the brewing process has to be at the top of the game. There is no secret sauce. Some of those details are specific to your brewhouse and you'll only figure out the optimal technique through luck or experimentation. One brewer's optimal sulfate level for IPA might not be right anywhere else or for any other IPA.

If you are looking for a book on IPAs to tell you how to make Pliny or Heady Topper every time then this is not the right book. That book has not been written. However, if you are interested in better understanding IPA as a style and thinking beyond Citra and Mosaic then this book is good value.

June 21, 2015

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 16 -- Eighteen Months

I decided this month I'd give this beer a taste and make a definitive decision on what to do with this beer. It's been long enough that if I'm not seeing something worthwhile develop then that is unlikely to change and I should use the carboy space for something else. This sampling was not encouraging so I decided letting whatever I captured on that bitterly cold night just isn't getting it done and it's time to admit failure. However, rather than dump the beer I decided to send in reinforcements and see where they can take the beer. Ultimately I may end up dumping this beer but for the cost of a few pounds of grain and some propane I had fun with it and learned something new so even if this beer ends up flavoring my backyard it wasn't a complete failure.

The sample I drew this month was a natural progression of where the beer was last time I tasted it a few months ago. The ph is still around the mid-4 range and gravity is still right at 1.010. By those metrics and the traditional lambic grist, this is just a generic wheat beer with a weird flavor. The flavor is what made me decide to pull the trigger. It was about as close to pure apple juice flavor as one can get. It tasted exactly like generic apple juice with a little malt mixed in. It was sweet, bland and apple-y. If you have ever had one of those Woodchuck graffs it's similar to that but if you cut it with unfermented apple juice so it had less malt flavor. Just not something I want or need in any volume. Visually the beer is reasonably clear with a slight haze, similar to an unfiltered wheat beer. The islands of yeast are still there, always mocking me.

I suppose it's worth diagnosing where things went wrong with this beer. My mistake was going forward with a brew day on such a cold day. By the time the boil ended it was about 8pm and the temperature had dropped into the twenties with an aggressive wind. The combination of those two things might not have been a problem except five gallons of wort is too little volume to cool at a reasonable rate under those conditions, especially when I broke it up among several vessels. The wort was freezing at the surface in less than an hour which meant I was getting very little contact time for microorganisms to descend into the beer and what was getting there was either dying by freezing or not having an opportunity to start building colonies right away. These conditions resulted in little opportunity for a wide range and sufficient numbers of microorganisms necessary to make good beer. That would explain why I ended up with little to no lactic acid bacteria or oxidative yeast needed to create a wonderful sour beer. The absence of pellicle in turn meant no regulation of oxygen contact and the apple juice flavor is likely due to oxygen exposure.

Rather than dump the beer and start over I decided to culture some reinforcements and see what happens. I whipped up six ounces of 1.030 wort and dipped a store-bought nectarine in the wort. It destroys the localness of the beer but I am more interested in gaining a good mixture of microorganisms than terrior. I let the wort sit overnight in a mason jar and then sent the open jar outside for several hours in the morning. There was clearly activity by the smell and after a couple days the aroma of lactic acid was assertive. Several days later a thin ring on the inside of the jar at the surface suggested a krausen had come and gone and left a thin layer of creamy white yeast at the bottom of the jar. After seven days the jar's contents registered at 3.6 ph. I added another six ounces and let the jar sit for two more days. Another krausen ring appeared at the ph clocked in just below 3.6 ph. Today I unloaded the contents of the mason jar into the spontaneous beer.

I have hope the reinforcements will get in this beer and make something work. The bacteria are apparently aggressive so sourness will hopefully develop. I'd like something more than sour apple juice so I am also looking for some activity from brett and its friends to throw up a pellicle and go to work on the available flavor compounds. If I don't see a pellicle within the next few months then I will consider pitching some brett to help the beer along. Hopefully I won't have to mess with this beer anymore and I'll be able to bottle something decent next summer.

June 9, 2015

Sanskrit Saison with buckwheat, golden raisins, ginger and green cardamom

There was a time, shortly after I started brewing, where it seemed like all saison recipes had spices in them and more than likely the spices were coriander and orange peel like some misunderstood witbier. Then there was a wholesale rejection of the idea of using spices in saisons and with the return of popularity of saison/farmhouse/whatever the acceptability of spicing saison has returned. It's been a while since I have used any spices in my saisons; not because I oppose their use but because I just haven't felt the need in a long time. Over the past few months I have been mulling over the idea of taking a stab at playing with some spices in a saison and a trip to a local Indian grocer gave me the inspiration to go for it.

There's a small Indian grocery store close to my office owned by a couple who have run the store for a long time. They stock all sorts of spices and regional ingredients. They also have a halal butcher, which is the only place one can find good goat meat in the area. I guess if you follow halal then it's the only place to find any good meat in the area. Everything is incredibly cheap there and I have a pantry stuffed full of spices acquired there. I thought it would be interesting to spice a saison out of ingredients available at this shop.

My immediate thought was to scrap any spice combination that would resemble the chai masala spice blend commonly used in beer. I don't mind chai masala but I would rather select spices that will work with the dryness of saison and the citrus/fruit/spice/earthy character of the yeast. I also decided to avoid anything too gimmicky that would make for a beer with a reasonably probability of getting dumped, such as curry powder or curry leaves.

In the end I opted for:

  • Unmalted white wheat from Ukraine: I like adding wheat to saisons for some body and the store sold wheat so I thought it made sense to pick some up.
  • Buckwheat from Russia: I thought this was an interesting ingredient that would add some nutty and earthy notes to the yeast phenolics.
  • Ginger: Ginger is a basic ingredient in many Indian dishes and also has a long history of use in saisons so it was an easy starting point for spicing the saison. The spicy/sweet flavor works really well with citrus, which is perfect for the lemony notes of 3711.
  • Golden raisins: Golden raisins have a nice subtle honey flavor that also plays really well in saisons. I've seen plenty of commentary that raisins are easily overdone so they will go into the beer with serious restraint.
  • Green cardamom: Cardamom works well with almost anything as long as it is used in moderation. It's herbal, citrusy and slightly floral. That's all perfect to integrate into a saison. 
The combination of ingredients isn't terribly exotic but my goal is to brew a saison I'll enjoy drinking with subtle spicing effects rather than get bowled over by spices. If I like this beer then maybe I'll try my hand at a winter beer with other spices from the shop like cassia, star anise, mace and so forth.

Sanskrit Saison with wheat, buckwheat, ginger, golden raisins and green cardamom

Batch size: 3 gallons
Est. OG: 1.053
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. ABV: 5.7%
Est. IBU: 25
Est. SRM: 3.3

Grain Bill

83.3% 5 lb. German pils malt (2 SRM)
12.5% 12 oz. White wheat malt (1.7 SRM)
4.2% 4 oz. Buckwheat (2 SRM)

Mash & Sparge

Decoction mash
Infuse 12 qt at 156F for 146F rest for 40 minutes
Decoct 3 qt and boil for 160F rest for 30 minutes
Sparge with 2.68 gal of water at 180F

Water Profile: Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter

Ca: 52
Mg: 10
Na: 5
SO4: 115
Cl: 46
Bicarbonate: -92
PH: 5.3

Mash Additions

Gypsum 1.5g
Epsom salt 1.2g
Canning salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 0.9g
Lactic acid 1.5ml

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 1.3g
Epsom salt 1.1g
Canning salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.8g

Boil Schedule

90 minutes

0.30 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 90 min 21 IBU
0.10 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 20 min 4 IBU
12g golden raisins, chopped at 10 min 0 IBU
0.7g ginger at flameout
4g green cardamom at flameout


Ferment with 100ml slurry of 3711 at 78F

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/31/15.

First runnings: 1.066
Pre-boil gravity: 1.041
Pre-boil volume: 5.1 gal
Mash efficiency: 91.7%

Post boil gravity: 1.055
Post boil volume: 3.5 gal
Efficiency: 86.6%

Gravity check 6/10/15: 1.008
Cardamom flavor is dominant. Complex and interesting but the cardamom probably needs some time to age out.

Bottled 6/14/15. Cardamom assertive but already mellowing out. Racked one gallon to jug and added Oud Beersel dregs.

May 29, 2015

Be Cool Pale Craft Lager

One of the most interesting trends in brewing right now is the whole craft lager thing that is taking lagers beyond the constraints of the mass-produced lager or the delicious but stuffy continental European styles. The most prominent substyle of whatever we are calling the craft lager style is certainly the India Pale Lager, or IPL. It's unsurprising that American brewers went after transforming lager styles in the same way brewers in the 80s and 90s took English styles and transformed them into hoppy beers flush with American hop varieties. With the popularity of IPA it should be no surprise that commercial brewers went right for the gold mine in craft lagers with IPLs. However, there are lots of interesting and delicious craft lagers that are not so closely tied to IPA and fall more in line with APAs that feature the big hop flavor and aroma of APA but with the malt character and smooth hop bitterness of a German or Czech lager. This particular beer is designed to be in that amorphous APA-like craft lager (APL?) with a mix of American and European hops with a fruity profile.

The genesis of this beer goes back to GABF and an idea born at the end of some solid drinking during the members only session with my wife and the husband and wife team who own the majority interest in Denver's new Tiny Ass Brewery. BSG gave away samples of the Irish Stout pale malt and we decided since we had exactly the same grain from these samples that we would do a head to head brewing competition using the grain. The rules we set out were simple: only this grain can be used for the beer (which ensures a small one gallon batch of ~5% beer); the only manipulation to the grain would be smoking it (so no use of the oven to make specialty malts out of it); the only ingredients permitted are malt, water, yeast and hops; and it has to be a lager. He went straight for the idea of smoking the grain. That's something I would have done but I decided if he was going to take my route in the competition then I would take a page out of his book and brew something hoppy.

The recipe mostly speaks for itself with its lengthy hop schedule but I thought I would make a couple notes about the beer. The hop combination is an adaptation of the hop schedule from my kellerpils and Melting Point Saison which gave me some experience with Aurora and Celeia hops, which have a nice fruity character that seem perfect for a craft lager recipe. I thought those hops would pair nicely with cascade. There is also a small amount of dry hops out of my garden which is an unspecified blend of cascade and mount hood. (The bines were too intertwined to pick out which hops were which so I just dried them all together.)

The other issue to point out (if only for my future reference) is the balance of bitterness. I wanted to capture a firm bitterness in this beer but balance it against the malt to get a crisp character rather than the aggressive bitterness of an IPA. I agree with the general consensus that craft lagers, even IPLs, shouldn't have the same aggressive bitterness as an IPA as it defeats the delicateness of a lager. To accomplish that mix I am using a modified version of a Pilsen water profile with slightly more sulfate. Normally pale ales use a very hard water supply with a huge amount of sulfate but I felt like I got excellent hop character out of my kellerpils and felt like that was a better starting point than a harder water profile. There does not seem to be much discussion about the right water profile for the craft lager styles although everybody seems to agree it does not need the aggressiveness of an IPA or APA.

So with all that in mind, here comes the recipe.

Be Cool Pale Craft Lager

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.052
Est. FG: 1.016
Est. ABV: 4.7%
Est. Color: 3.6 SRM


1 lb. Irish Stout Malt [2 SRM]


1 gallon mash water
0.63 gallons sparge water
Water adjusted to custom water profile in Bru'n Water

Water Profile

Calcium: 7
Magnesium: 3
Sodium: 2
Sulfate: 19
Chloride: 6
Bicarbonate: -128
PH: 5.2

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.1g
Epsom salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.1g
Lactic Acid: 0.7ml

Sparge Additions

Epsom salt: 0.1g
Lactic acid: 0.3ml

Mash Schedule

1. Add 1 gallon at 130F for 122F rest for 12 minutes
2. Decoct 1.31qt and boil
3. Return decoction to raise temperature to 146F for 40 minutes
4. Decoct 0.89qt and boil
5. Return decoction to raise temperature to 158F for 30 minutes
6. Sparge with 0.63 gallons at 180F

Boil & Hop Schedule

60 minute boil

0.15 oz. Celeia [4.5%] first wort hop for 13.8 IBU
0.07 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60 minutes for 15.8 IBU
0.20 oz. Aurora [8.25%] at 10 minutes for 11.1 IBU
0.20 oz. Cascade [5.5%] at 10 minutes for 7.4 IBU
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 10 minutes for 3 IBU
0.30 oz. Aurora [8.25] at 0 minutes for 0 IBU
0.10 oz. Cascade [5.5%] at 0 minutes for 0 IBU

0.10 oz. Cascade dry hop for 3 days
0.20 oz. Aurora dry hop for 3 days
0.20 oz. Cascade/Mt. Hood home-grown hop mix dry hop for 3 days


Ferment with slurry of Budvar 2000 with oxygen at pitching
Pitch at 50F and begin raise 1 degree every 12 hours 3 days after fermentation begins until reach 60F.
Raise to room temperature at 90% attenuation and leave for 2 weeks with dry hopping the last three days.
Bottle and carbonate for three days. Then lager in bottles for three weeks.

Brew Day & Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 12/15/14.

First runnings: 1.063
Pre-boil gravity: 1.045
Pre-boil volume: 1.5 gal.
Mash efficiency: 93%
Post-boil volume: 1.2 gal.
Post-boil gravity: 1.055
Efficiency: 91%

12/30/14: FG: 1.015
1/1/15: Dry hopped

May 26, 2015

Proletariat Sour Rye Pale Ale with Tempranillo-Soaked Oak

This sour rye pale ale is the second beer in my new sour blending program. In the intro post I discussed my desire to add rye to the mix and to include a beer with some bitterness over strictly lactic acid production. This beer fits that role. It is designed closely upon Firestone Walker's Barrelworks Agrestic, which is a soured version of their flagship Double Barrel Ale (DBA). DBA is an English pale ale at around 30 IBU with a lot of vanilla-oak character from their union fermentation system. Thanks to the apparently alpha acid-resistant lactobacillus in their possession they have no problem souring this pale ale. Agrestic also has brett, further drying out the beer and transforming all that oak and hop flavor into an interesting complexity of funk. The bitterness in Agrestic is present but does not clash with the acidity. Instead it melds well and creates a more interesting acid profile. That is my goal here.

The recipe for this rye pale ale used the Can You Brew It? recipe as a starting point for this recipe. I substituted out some of the pale malt for a blend of flaked rye and rye malt for some complexity to the rye flavor with rye making up approximately 30% of the grain bill. For this first batch I opted for a lower IBU target at 24 just to make it a little easier on the mixed fermentation culture. For the flavor additions I have targeted 30 minutes and whirlpool. Firestone Walker uses lots of mid-boil hop additions, although they have mostly fallen out of favor in homebrewing, so I have followed suit with a 30 minute addition. Both the 30 minute and whirlpool additions will be experimental hops 4190 which are reported to be the mix of character from Fuggles and Cascade. I thought that split the difference between an English-influenced pale ale and an American-influenced pale ale. EXP 4190 doesn't seem to be too popular of a hop and that's probably because Fuggles isn't a very popular hop. I picked these up on a deep discount so if they aren't impressive hops I won't feel bad about sacrificing them for brett to manipulate.

The hard work in this beer will be performed by the dregs of a bottle of Firestone Walker Barrelworks Lil Opal (2013) aided along with some fresh US05. I am most interested in culturing the lactobacillus from the beer so I can take advantage of the hop resistant strain employed in their Barrelworks program. I also want the brett, of course. I believe I will end up with some saison yeast in the mix as well which is fine. I'm fermenting this beer far cooler than I normally ferment saisons and do not expect the saison yeast to be too dominant. The starter smells strongly of the cheesy acidity of lactic acid so I think the lactobacillus has held up and is hungry for a larger buffet.

I've long wanted to try to produce a wine barrel-aged sour beer (without the barrel) and picked the more neutral tempranillo for this beer. Tempranillo is predominately leather-earth and berries which I expect will play nicely with the brett funk and add some fruitiness to the overall flavor. I have some oak cubes that have aged in a mason jar with tempranillo wine for about eight months and plan to unload all the oak (I believe it is an ounce of cubes) and all the wine (the mason jar is close to full) into the beer as it goes into the fermentor with the expectation of getting back out of it a hint of the wine and oak. I can always add more if I want before bottling.

Proletariat Sour Rye Pale Ale with Tempranillo-Soaked Oak

Batch size: 5 gallons
Est. ABV: 5.5%
Est. IBU: 24.4
Est. OG: 1.054
Est. FG: 1.012
Est. SRM: 9.1

Grain Bill

57.1% 6 lb. U.S. pale malt [2 SRM]
19.0% 2 lb. Flaked rye [2 SRM]
9.5% 1 lb. Rye malt [4.7 SRM]
9.5% 1 lb. Munich malt [9 SRM]
2.4% 4 oz. Crystal 80 [80 SRM]
2.4% 4 oz. Crystal 120 [120 SRM]

Mash Schedule

75 minute mash at 152F
Infuse 13.65 qt at 166.6F
Sparge 4.62 gal at 185F

Water Profile

Calcium: 50
Magnesium: 16
Sodium: 10
Chloride: 50
Sulfate: 110
Bicarbonate: 33
PH:  5.4

Mash Additions

Gypsum 1.1g
Epsom salt 2g
Canning salt 0.3g
Calcium chloride 0.9g
Chalk 0.3g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 1.5g
Epsom salt 2.8g
Canning salt 0.5g
Calcium Chloride 1.2g

Boil Schedule

60 minute boil
0.37 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60 min 15.1 IBU
1.00 oz. EXP 4190 [3.6%] at 30 min 9.3 IBU
1.00 oz. EXP 4190 [3.6%] at whirlpool 0 IBU

Fermentation Schedule

Pitch 1/2 packet of dry US-05 and 12oz. starter from bottle of Lil Opal

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/12/15.

Accidentally substituted a pound of munich for pound of two row.

First runnings:1.079
Pre-boil volume: 6.5g
Pre-boil gravity: 1.046
Mash efficiency: 80%

Post-boil volume: 5 gal
Post-boil gravity: 1.051
Brewhouse efficiency: 68%

Pitched 1 l. acidophilus at 130F as wort cooled. At 100 pitched slurry grown from FW Lil Opal.

Pitched half packet of US-05 approximately 24 hours later.

May 17, 2015

Belgian Brown Sour Batch 1

This brown ale is the first brew for my sour blending project. It was originally crafted for a prior blended beer with brettanomyces that turned out pleasant enough that I thought it deserved a spot in this new project. This brown ale doesn't fit in any classic style. It's not quite a dubbel although it proudly uses a Belgian trappist strain (WY 1214) and special B but without candy syrup or other crystal malts typical for the style. It's not hoppy enough to be an American brown ale and lacks pretty much anything aside from the color that resembles an English brown ale. So it's a Belgian brown ale by default. I am unconcerned with the style identification of this beer; I only point this out to avoid misleading anybody into believing this is a sour dubbel recipe.

This beer will play the role of one of the core beers in my sour blending process by providing acidity, malt character and brett complexity. As discussed in the introductory post to the project, each beer brings distinct elements so they can be blended together across a wide range of flavor profiles, ABV, color and body. This beer will be the easiest to acidify as it is the lightest on IBUs and ABV although the grain bill and yeast flavor compounds will provide a flavor profile similar to but distinct from Flemish reds.

For this batch I am taking up a new (for me) approach to souring this beer. I am pitching WY 1214 and a starter of lactobacillus grown from lactobacillus acidophilus pills I picked up at a local health food store. I know a number of people have had good luck sourcing lactobacillus this way and it is good insurance that the beer will develop some sourness as I do not have enough sour beers on hand to culture enough dregs for a five gallon batch. I will be massively underpitching the brett, pedio and whatever else is in the dregs. I do not expect brett to find a problem picking up steam and fermenting out this beer but I am concerned that the beer won't sour sufficiently without some extra help and the lactobacillus pitch in the beginning will go a long way towards that goal.

The lactobacillus comes from a bottle of straight lactobacillus acidophilus in which each pill supposedly has one billion cells. I pitched four pills into a 500 ml starter of 1.030 wort approximately twenty four hours ahead of pitching everything into the wort. I am not entirely sure how much growth I will get but as long as I can get the cells active and healthy they will be in good shape to compete with the yeast.

Sour Belgian Brown Ale Recipe

Batch size: 5.5 gallons
Est. OG: 1.050
Est. FG:1.010
Est. ABV: 5.3%
Est. IBU: 13
Est. SRM: 16

Grain Bill

45% 4 lb. 12 oz. U.S. pale malt (2 SRM)
26% 2 lb. 12 oz. Munich malt (9 SRM)
23.7% 2 lb. 8 oz. Vienna malt (3.5 SRM)
3.6% 6 oz. Special B (180 SRM)
1.7% 3 oz. Black patent malt (500 SRM)

Water Profile

Water profile designed on amber malty profile in Bru'n Water

Mash Water - 4.49 gal | Mash ph 5.4

Gypsum 1g
Epsom salt 0.9g
Canning salt 0.5g
Calcium chloride 1.8g
Chalk 0.5g

Sparge Water - 4 gal

Gypsom 0.9g
Epsom salt 0.8g
Canning salt 0.4g
Calcium chloride 1.6g

Mash Schedule

Single decoction schedule
Mash in 4.49 gal at 158F for 150F rest for 40 minutes
Decoct 2.82 qt and raise to boil
Add decoction to raise to 158F for 35 minutes

Boil Schedule

60 minute boil
0.25 oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 minutes
0.15 oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 20 minutes

Fermentation Schedule

Pitch 1.7 liter starter of WY1214 and 500 ml starter of lactobacillus grown from four tablets of l. acidophilus at 65F and hold for 24 hours
Free rise to 75F for remainder of fermentation
Pitch bottle dregs when fermentation is complete

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 4/4/15
First runnings: 1.070
Preboil gravity: 1.035
Preboil volume 7.6 gal
Mash efficiency: 80%
Postboil gravity: 1.055
Postboil volume: 5.25 gal

Pitched lactobacillus around 120F during cooling and let cool at ambient. Pitched yeast when cooled to 70F approximately six hours later.

4/10/15: Gravity 1.009

5/6/15: Added approximately 50ml of slurry of Oregon Special (mix of dregs from Ale Apothecary Sahalie, Double Mountain Tahoma Kriek, Anchorage Andronomous, Deschutes Armory, De Garde Desay Petit)

May 9, 2015

Back at it in Oregon -- 2015 Part 3

In this final post I'll chat about my time at Ale Apothecary and the Deschutes production brewery. I'll hit off Deschutes first.

Our friends at Deschutes suggested we take the tour to see the new bottling line that spits out a six pack of beer in half a second (twice as fast as the old system). The tour begins at the original 50 BBL brewhouse at the production facility. It's still used to make a few of the beers, particularly the darker beers. I spied some interesting notes on a nearby whiteboard. The tour guide said they weren't trying to hide anything so I promptly took this picture.

These notes contain the mash and kettle additions used to create Obsidian Stout, Black Butte Porter, Abyss and Dissident. Thanks to the neutral water profile of Bend water, these dark beers are sufficiently acidified by the dark grains and as you can see only gypsum is added to adjust the water to hit appropriate mash ph with kettle additions on the two bigger beers. I thought I would take a minute to convert this picture into useful brewing information for people attempting to clone Deschutes beers or just trying to dial in a good water profile.

Bend's water supply is:

Calcium 7.8
Magnesium 6.7
Sodium 10.67
Sulfate 1.12
Chloride 2.6
Bicarbonate 85
Ph 8

(This data came from the most recent source I could find: https://thebeerdetective.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/bends-water-quality/.)

To adjust the water profile to match these beers on a five gallon batch you will need to add gypsum in the following amounts to the mash:

Obsidian Stout: 1.74g
Black Butte Porter: 1.29g
Abyss: 2.58g
Dissident: 1.93g

Plus Abyss has a 0.38g kettle addition and dissident has a 0.26g addition.

What's maybe most interesting is the notes for Dissident that discuss "sour wort." It appears that Dissident is soured in the mash and then again in the kettle. The brewery's website only mentions fermentation by brett so the combination of this information suggests Dissident gets all its sourness pre-boil with additions, scaled to a five gallon batch, of 5.36 ounces in the mash and 12.39 ounces in the kettle. That doesn't seem like much but keep in mind that this sour wort is going to concentrate through the boil (lactic acid boils above 212F) and it is already some sour stuff. Ale Apothecary, whose head brewer came from Deschutes, also uses a sour wort that is down around 3 ph so if Deschutes is using a similar sour wort then they are probably seeing a moderate sourness (the beer also receives cherries which add additional acidity). Something to consider, particularly as Dissident is a 100% Brett fermented beer.

The Ale Apothecary

The only two ways to visit the magical palace of Ale Apothecary is to either join a tour of breweries that goes out there or schedule a personal visit which Paul Arney, owner of Ale Apothecary, consistently refers to as a "quick show and tell." With CBC occurring the prior week I was concerned he might be behind on brewing chores and unable to make time for us. I invoked all sorts of despicable tactics to beg into a visit while we were in Bend. We exchanged some emails and texts but as the week went on it seemed like it just wasn't in the cards. Then the text came Thursday morning, asking if we could arrive at noon. Yes, obviously. But I was more like:

So we made the drive out to Ale Apothecary, which is located at his house a little ways outside of Bend. There are no street signs and we lost both GPS and cell service so figuring out where to go turned out to be a challenge. Eventually we found it on one of the side streets. There is a weather worn sign that quietly reads: "Apoth?" I guess so.

We pulled in to the gravel driveway and took a peak inside a barn door to a small building and found Paul at work using two pallet jacks to stack barrels in a very tight space. This building was actually the detached garage to the house. It's maybe 600 square feet. Everything is on wheels so he can maximize use of the space. It's tightly packed with upright barrels, barrel racks, the brewhouse, a rack of carboys, bottling space and blending tanks. The pictures on the brewery's website make it seem like there is a lot more space and that the sign is easier to read. Don't be fooled, he has this place filled with equipment like a game of Tetris. There is another warehouse hidden somewhere in town with more barrels where most of the aging occurs.

from thealeapothecary.com
The brewhouse is an unusual set up. The kettle is custom-built equipment of the most unusual combination.  The metal work on the bottom was crafted by an actual blacksmith. The brickwork was provided by a guy who makes pizza ovens and the top copper component was made by a still fabricator. Truly an unusual system.

Paul Arney is an incredibly nice guy who oozes passion about what he does and why he does it. He's a former brewer for Deschutes who turned down a promotion and decided to divert his knowledge and talents to his own business. It is readily apparent that he has all the technical knowledge of a pro brewer but the experimental mind and a willingness to trust his processes to produce the right beer. I've never heard a brewer talk about "magic" in his brewing process with such reverence and casualness. It seems at ease not knowing every detail of the biological processes going on in his beer (referring to it several times as "magic") but also understanding that those same processes are incredibly important. His processes, like his brewhouse, is unusual to commercial brewing.

His beers begin life in two upright barrels used as mash tuns. Previously he used Briess two row as the base for his beers (in his words, because it's the closest he could get to a small malting business) but has recently began purchasing grain from a local malting operation. The beers are mashed overnight. The mash targets the low 150s and overnight cools into the 140s. Paul says the mash works like sort of a reverse step mash with alpha-amylase activated first and beta-amylase as the beer cools. There is also a grey layer on top in the morning, which he attributes to microbial activity (or part of the magic) during the mash. There is no adjustment to the water profile. He just uses Bend's naturally soft water.

The long mash is an important component of the brewing process both for its scientific and magical properties. Part of it is a technical necessity because the deep and narrow mash tun design makes for poor sugar extraction. A longer mash helps the enzymes do their work. The long mash also allows greater color extraction and some oxidation, which adds to the sensory attributes of the final product. This effect is part of the magic. The wort is then drawn off and boiled as in any other brewhouse.

Overall the brewday is about forty hours from mash-in to transfer to the fermentors. (This includes the overnight rest.) There are a few reasons for this. The limited production space limits how much wort can be produced in the mash tuns or kettle at a given time. He also has to align bottling with brewing so there is fresh yeast available for reyeasting beers at bottling which means there has to be some transfers into his bottling tanks and/or barrels contemporaneously with brewing. His operations consist of himself plus two part-time employees so the work can be done only so fast.

Freshly boiled wort for most of the beers is fermented in two puncheons (84 gallon barrels) turned upright with the heads removed. The open top is covered by nylon netting and then later covered with the barrel head to limit oxygen exposure. The mixed fermentation culture in these barrels is a combination of yeast and bacteria that span homebrewing strains, strains from Deschutes and whatever has blown in from the ambient environment through open windows. It took approximately four months to develop this culture, which is balanced between sourness and funk. After primary fermentation the beer is transferred to barrels where it will age for around a year.

Some of the beers, like El Cuatro, are fermented in their own upright barrels. El Cuatro is fermented in a brandy barrel with lacto and brett. No hops are added to the wort so lacto has free range to acidify the beer. The beer comes out of the barrel with quite a bit of alcohol heat but full of a really great plum and cherry flavor. Newer batches of El Cuatro are blended with Sahalie to temper some of the heat. We were treated to samples of both the blended and unblended portions. The blended beer is a completely transformed beer. It is less acidic and Sahalie's citrus/herbal/pine notes blend with the plum and cherry flavors of the base beer to create an incredibly complex beer. I agree with Paul, it's impossible to say which version is the better beer. They are both just great beers in their own right.

Some of the beers are dry hopped. Those that are dry hopped, such as Sahalie, are dry hopped in the barrel. Ale Apothecary only uses cascade hops from a local farm and the hops are left in contact with the beer for a month. Brewing lore says hops in contact with beer for that length of time produces grassy and vegetal notes. Here, there is some truth. The Ale Apothecary beers with more hop character, particularly Sahalie, have a slightly grassy character but it is really more herbal like saaz hops than vegetal. The cascade grapefruit flavor is still there. It's pleasant and unusual.

When it is time to bottle, the beer is transferred into blending tanks where they are blended with the final components before delivered into bottles. Among the barrels of beer there are barrels of wort soured exclusively by lactobacillus. Paul was clear that this isn't beer--it's sour wort. The language was very similar to the sour wort mentioned on that Deschutes white board so I have to wonder about his connection to that process as Deschutes. The barrel aged sour wort on hand was about eighteen months old and down to a tart 3 ph. We were also given samples of the sour wort, which had the unmistakable cheesy aroma of lactic acid. It was incredibly complex for something fermented only with lactobacillus. I've had sour beers with less character.

The sour wort is boiled with various sugars and added to the bottling tanks at a rate of five gallons to 2BBL. The sugars prime the beer and the sour wort adds structure to the beer. I mentioned the sour wort addition as a ph adjustment and Paul was quick to clarify that he is not concerned with ph, just with the structure the added acidity provides. However, he did point out that he targets around 3.7 ph for most of the beers with a few going lower, like El Cuatro around 3.5. Many consider 3.7 a high target for sour beer, which can drift down to 3 (and occasionally a little lower), but balance and complexity are the goals for The Ale Apothecary. The tanks are then reyeasted and the beer is bottled. Paul isn't concerned with blending batches, aside from El Cuatro, for consistency. He is happy to let each release have its own distinct and evolving character.

The beers produced through this process are among the most complex I've ever come across, if not outright the most complex. They are not the most sour or the most brett-forward but the overall character of the beer is deep and unique. Unfortunately there is no desire to expand The Ale Apothecary so wider distribution is improbable and the prices will likely remain at the wallet-punishing price of $30/750ml. I'm glad I bit the bullet and enjoyed a couple bottles while in Bend and brought home the dregs in a mix of a few sour bottles picked up along the way.

May 3, 2015

Back at it Oregon -- 2015 Part 2

In the last part I reviewed my playtime in Portland and Hood River and now it's on to Bend. We spent a week in Bend--actually staying in a time share in Redmond just north of Bend. Last trip we conquered the Bend Ale Trail so this time we came equipped knowing what we wanted to enjoy and gave ourselves the opportunity to relax and just enjoy the scenery and the beers we wanted to revisit. The time share where we stayed was, like much of central Oregon, covered in juniper trees full of juniper berries ripe and at arm's length away. I plucked a couple ounces of berries and brought them home. I'm not sure what kind of beer I will brew with them but it's something to mull over (no pun intended).

10 Barrel Brewing

I have mixed thoughts about the 10 Barrel acquisition by AB InBev. Apparently so do people in Bend. After the acquisition, I'm told, the Bend pub dried out but people slowly came back. When we visited it was crowded and there were no protesters to be found. Bend is serious about its local-first attitude so I wasn't too surprised by people scurrying away after the acquisition and a little surprised that they were moving on like nothing had changed. The beers were still good. I still enjoyed the Night Ryed'r rye porter and cucumber berliner weisse. My wife tried out their peach pepper berliner weisse and although it wasn't what I was in the mood for it was an interesting beer. I wonder if all of the AB InBev acquisitions are coming out with more pumpkin and peach beers to spite the parent's advertising.

Good Life Brewing

We enjoyed a few of the beers at Good Life last year and decided to come back and revisit some beers. They have upgraded the taproom to a more service-forward model that featured fewer Good Life beers and more guest taps. I'm not sure if the decision to serve less house beer in the taproom was motivated by a desire to sell more beer to distribution (or a need to fulfill distributor orders) or attempting to improve sales through diversification. It looks as though a distillery is moving into the space as well--probably contracting wort production from Good Life--so that will be an interesting development. This trip we revisted the 29ers brown ale which is somewhere between an English and American brown ale and tried out G 2 imperial IRA collaboration with Terminal Gravity. We thought the G2 was a little thin and flat in malt flavor so we made a blend of 25% 29ers and 75% G2 and that made an excellent beer. I saw the waitress eyeballing us during our blending and she didn't seem to find it amusing.

Crux Fermentation Project

Crux has made good use out of the old ARCO transmission station they converted to a brewery and even if you don't like the beer the food made in the tiny kitchen in the corner is worth the trip to the Old Mill district. We revisted the Banished Freakcake oud bruin and hefeweissen but had a better time gulping down the black IPA American stout Let's Get Roasted and Banished wild golden sour ale collaboration with Crooked Stave. The golden sour ale was very interesting. When first served the flavor was somewhat muted with a cider-like taste. As it warmed the cider flavor mellowed into golden raisin and showed off more complexity with funk and oak. It's hard to say I've seen a beer change so much over the course of warming. I realized all of the beers at Crux are served way, way too cold. You really need to order a beer and give it a good 10-15 minutes to warm up to really enjoy it.

Boneyard Brewing

Boneyard makes interesting use of the taproom which only serves samples (or a flight of samples) or fills growlers to go. No pints are served and no bottles are sold. Growler fills are reasonable, particularly considering they are draft only and growlers are the only way to get their beer without drinking at a bar. Boneyard is best known for their hoppy offerings although they are no slouches to other styles such as their Backbone chocolate espresso stout or their habanero-infused rojo beers. We put down a full growler of Armored Fist imperial black IPA and a growler of Notorious triple IPA. There is good debate whether Notorious is better than Pliny the Elder at its own game and I tend to agree. There, I said it.

Deschutes Bend Pub

The Bend pub is Deschutes' original location where the pub continues to brew mostly pub exclusives including one of the original Deschutes beers, Bachelor Bitter, which can only be found at the Bend pub. The Bend pub produces an interesting line of beers in addition to offering the standard line up, including Bad Attitude baltic porter, Ranch House saison and a smattering of IPAs with new hops like Clemintina IPA with clemintina hops. The Bend pub also features cask ales and I sucked down a couple Bachelor Bitters on cask that were really pleasant. I also enjoyed Chucklehead, a berliner weisse with spruce tips, fir tips and juniper berries. It was nicely balanced and tasted a lot like my hike along the Deschutes River smelled. I also developed a solid half and half with Obsidian stout on nitro and Inversion IPA. All the roast of Obsidian with the herbal, woodsy hop character of Inversion.

One thing I find wise about Deschutes is that they interrelate some of their bigger beer offerings with their staples, for example, Mirror Mirror barleywine is based on Mirror Pond Pale Ale. It allows the brewers to work with the ingredients and flavors already known in the beers they brew every day and makes cross-selling the bigger beers easier for people who are already familiar with the core line up. This is true for Jubel 2015, recently released, which takes the winter ale Jubelale to greater proportions into a 10% ale with intense caramel, raisin, fig and spiciness that is reminiscent of Jubelale but also doesn't feel like it's just a scaled up version.

Following this same vein, Deschutes also releases bigger beers that are pub exclusives, brewed at the pubs and generally only available for sale at the pubs. This includes current release (with dwindling supply) The Specialist that takes Bachelor Bitter to barleywine status (imperial bitter, according to Deschutes) and then aged in a combination of bourbon, pinot and sherry barrels. It is wonderfully malty with a clear barrel influence. The pinot barrel is the loudest but the bourbon is in there adding caramelly sweetness and the sherry is rounding out the fruit flavors in the beer. I've seen reviews come down on this beer that it isn't terribly impressive but I think those reviews are wrong and will be absurdly wrong after a year or two of aging.

I'll put up a third post on this trip with some brewing info gleamed from the Deschutes production facility and my glorious trip to Ale Apothecary.

April 30, 2015

Back at it Oregon -- 2015 Part 1

I sure seem to be on the road tasting beer a lot recently. This time my wife and I took an early anniversary trip to Oregon (Portland, Hood River and Bend) where we flew into Portland and drove to Bend through Hood River and around the wondrously enormous Mount Hood. We scheduled the trip prior to realizing that CBC (Craft Brewers Conference) would be held the prior week in Portland and we would be landing into the end of CBC week. That meant lots of traffic that weekend all over Oregon but also some cool events in Portland we could slip into. Like the other recent trips, we spent more time enjoying beer and less time on brewery tours hearing about the four ingredients in beer so I will try to compact my notes about this trip into information that might be interesting for readers but also catalogs my adventures for my own recollection. We did spend some time touring Deschutes in Bend and a particularly special visit to Ale Apothecary that I will spend a little more time discussing. I'll stick those at the end if you are just waiting for more brewing knowledge. But for now we start at...


Deschutes Portland Pub

If you read the posts about my last whirlwind tour of Oregon then you already know my wife and I are big fans of Deschutes and spend a lot of time drinking their beer and eating their food. I won't spend too much time gushing over Deschutes (I did plenty on the last review posts) but the food, service and beer really makes it a worthwhile stop. The Deschutes pubs feature the standard line up as well as releasing their own limited run of beers, such as the collaboration Kiss from a Rose farmhouse ale with rose hips and brett and oatmeal pale ale on nitro. With CBC in town there was a special set of offerings and we snagged an incredible pour of 2012 Abyss.

The Commons

The Commons moved to a new location near Belmont Station and Cascade's Barrel House which will give them far more space for both brewing and drinking. There isn't much seating at the new location and with the combination of CBC and Friday night it was a packed house. Still, the beers are great and there is always a good mix of beers on tap for anybody looking for Belgian and German beer styles. Many of the beers made available in the taproom are one off beers or indeterminately available so you never know what you might find on tap. This time I had to hit some saisons with both a rye saison and a saison with experimental hops that I failed to identify.

Our favorite beers from our sampling were:
  • Bourbon barrel aged Little Brother quad: I'm not often a fan of bourbon barrel aged beers because I find the bourbon tends to be too heavy handed. This beer is well done with a portion of the batch aged in Heaven Hill barrels and then blended back with non-barrel aged beer to balance the flavors. The bourbon was present but did not overwhelm the fruit flavors and phenols present in the base beer.
  • Mimosetta: A collaboration with Green Bench Brewing in Florida, this farmhouse ale is 100% brett fermented with kumquats, producing a dry beer with restrained acidity from the fruit but plenty of citrus and tropical fruit character that tasted expectantly similar to a mimosa.
  • Highest Common Denominator vermouth barrel aged doppelbock: I can't say the combination of herbal vermouth and malty bock ever occurred to me but it really works. On its own vermouth is intensely herbal but diluted it brings a woodsy, herbal character that isn't terribly far away from some of the continental European hops. The combination of the slightly boozy doppelbock and vermouth produced a cocktail-like beer with a depth of flavor most cocktails could only hope for.

Cascade Barrel House

Barrels of deliciousness at Cascade
Our trip to Cascade's barrel house was doubly valuable because Cascade was running its sour and wild invitational where we snagged some excellent beers from Cascade and other sour brewers. Thanks to the invitational we were able to try out great beers from Block 15, 7venth Sun and a couple Lost Abbey beers I have long been on the hunt to taste (Cuvee de Tomme and Framboise de Amorosa). Framboise de Amorosa is probably the best raspberry beer I've ever had and among the best fruited beers I've ever had.

Cascade's fruit beers are nothing to snuff at with great fruit offerings like apricot, elderberry, cranberry and black cap raspberry. Cascade served up some of their aged fruit offerings which I tended to like less than the fresher fruit beers. Some fruit beers held up better than others and none better than the 2013 Manhattan NW which is a spiced blonde ale aged in bourbon barrels with tart cherries and nouyaux that not only tasted similar to a manhattan cocktail but held up great fresh and distinct flavors. We also tried Aviation Tartini which is a blend of sour blond and wheat ales barrel aged with gin botanicals from Aviation Gin. I'm not a big gin drinker but I enjoyed the herbal character in this beer as it is far more subdued than gin.

Before leaving Portland...

I'd also like to recognize the excellent Belmont Station in Portland. We didn't have a chance to drink in the tasting room at Belmont Station but we unloaded a good chunk of cash in the bottle shop where the selection was extensive and the service was helpful without being overbearing. We picked up some tasty beers such as J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in port barrels, Hacker Pschorr's excellent doppelbock Animator and Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta.

Hood River

Hood River's best known brewery is probably Full Sail, with operations on both sides of I-84 running into town. Full Sail proudly boasts itself as "independently owned" although it's going to have to paint over that signage with its recent acquisition by a private equity firm. What's interesting about Full Sail is that nowhere we went in Portland, Hood River, or Bend had Full Sail on tap and I can't recall seeing it in the bottle shops we visited. It's probably out there--somebody is buying all that beer they brew--and we didn't go into too many bars not connected to a brewery but it seems like a brewery almost thirty years old would have a larger footprint in Oregon more similar to Deschutes. From what we saw it's easier to find Full Sail in Dallas than it is anywhere in Oregon, minus Full Sail's tasting room. We passed on Full Sail to go across the street to...

Double Mountain

Double Mountain doesn't get too much chatter itself although the brewery is putting out some interesting beers. The bulk of Double Mountain's line up is hoppy beers that fail to rate highly on the rating sites because they aren't imbalanced beers or chasing whatever the hop of the month is. The hoppy beers focus on the classic hop flavors of the pacific northwest with heavy pine and herbal notes mixed with citrus. The rest of the beer selection is fleshed out with some brewpub staples, an interesting mix of Belgian beers and most interestingly their excellent steam beers. The food, by the way, is nothing to complain about.

This trip we sampled some interesting beers:
  • Biere de mars: This malty biere de mars is brewed with the Ardennes yeast which gives it a peppery character. It was an interesting representation of the style. It was probably my least favorite of the four beers we had because it was the least interesting of the options and not because it wasn't a great beer.
  • Pale Death Belgian imperial IPA: The heyday of Belgian IPAs may be over but Double Mountain is unforgiving in continuing to put out the style. This hefty 9.3%, 93 IBU imperial IPA is probably the most similar to the current demand for tropical fruit-forward IPAs with big tropical fruit flavors but more balanced than many other DIPAs. The Belgian yeast character is present and the malt can still be identified in the beer. The balance in a beer this big with that much bitterness is truly exceptional.
  • Gypsy Stumper IPA on cask with simcoe hops: One thing I really like about Double Mountain is the opportunity for cask ale. This cask ale is Double Mountain's standard IPA with its tangerine and forest character smoothed out in the cask with simcoe hops. I'm not a huge fan of simcoe but it worked out well here with simcoe rounding out the pine forest character in the base beer.
  • Eight & Easy Cali Common: For its recent eighth anniversary Double Mountain released a California Common, continuing its excellent steam beer offerings. This pale steam beer was fermented in the 60s with a Bohemian lager strain and the result is an interesting blend of apple, pear and tropical fruit. It is tough to relate this beer to Anchor's flagship but in my opinion a far superior beer.
  • Tahoma Kriek: Tahoma Kriek is an interesting take on kriek. The surprise starts with the pour. It's completely blond. This kriek is a 10% Belgian blonde aged with ranier cherries, which are yellow with pale flesh. The beer is aged for thirteen months with the cherries and brett lambicus. It is not what you expect from a kriek. The sourness is more subdued due to the lack of lactic acid bacteria and the cherry flavor is more gentle. Ranier cherries have a softer, sweeter flavor with an interesting caramel note that comes through in the beer. B. Lambicus helps along the cherry flavor and adds a layer of funk. It's not my favorite kriek but it's an interesting kriek and I'm glad I got to try it out.
  • Devil's Kriek: Devil's Kriek is what you expect. Red, sour, funky with big cherry flavor. The base beer is a Flemmish red ale which brings along acidity and funk to the party. This kriek was then aged twelve months on Bing cherries. Unlike tart cherries the Bing cherries do not add as much acidity and retain some sweet flavor, producing a beer that is certainly more tart than the Tahoma Kriek but not quite as sour as many other krieks on the market. It's pleasantly sour and balanced. Many krieks with Bing cherries develop that unpleasant cherry medicine flavor but this kriek completely avoids that problem. A really well made kriek and worth hunting down.

Solera Brewery

Solera is actually a little south of Hood River in Palmdale but it's close enough to get lumped in here.  Solera has such an interesting mix of the local working class population and beer tourists enjoying great beer and great scenery. I'm still blown away by the beers they brew and the fact that a sour brewery survives in a place without a snobby craft beer scene to support it. On this visit we were lucky enough to hit:

  • 2013 kriek: Significantly more sour than either Double Mountain offering with a huge cherry flavor. 
  • Heavy Heart wee heavy: A nice malty contrast to the other beers. 
  • Good Smoke smoked porter with cherrywood-smoked malt: Good Smoke is assertively smoky but not undrinkably so. The cherry flavor is present and the smoke is a touch harsh compared to beechwood or oak but it is a great smoked porter if you are in the mood for some smoke.
  • French Tickler grisette: A nice light Belgian ale with rustic and complex yeast character and light grainy flavor makes for an easy drinking 4% beer.
  • In Bloom saison with citra and oats: A saison with citra's expected passionfruit flavor and a silkiness from the oats. It's a good saison although I'm not a huge fan of citra in my saisons.
  • Sublime sour blonde with keffir lime leaves: Easily the best Solera beer we sampled, this sour beer is moderately sour with lime-forward citrus flavor. The lemony acidity pairs naturally with the lime-flavored oils from the keffir lime leaves. The lime flavor is present but does not dominate the beers and adds a gentle sweetness. This has definitely inspired me to play around with keffir lime leaves. If only I trusted that I could grow a keffir lime tree...

Before moving on...

Now is as good of time as any to talk about a few random beers that I tried in various places worth calling out:

  • De Garde Tableau Rouge: De Garde makes some great sour beers at extremely reasonable prices. It's almost mysterious how they are selling these great aged sours at half to a third of what many others are charging. Sure, some of the beers are lower ABV than other sours but grain just isn't that expensive. Tableau Rouge is a 5% ABV red sour with firm acidity, moderate funk and pleasant cherry and berry fruit notes.
  • De Garde Petit Desay: Petit Desay is a tart saison fermented in foeders at a low ABV with a complex mix of saison yeast character with a nice balance of both esters and phenols hyped up by solid acidity.
  • Gilgamesh Mamba: Mamba is hopless--so by legal definition it is not a beer--bittered and flavored with a combination of black tea and tangerine. It is an interesting ale, perhaps we should call it a gruit, with articulate tangerine and black tea flavors. 
In the next part I'll get to work on my time in Bend and probably put in a third part discussing some brewing with Deschutes and Ale Apothecary.

April 16, 2015

Review of American Sour Beers

I've been sitting on this book for about a year and for one reason or another it has taken this long to pour through the book. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book or my interest in the subject matter, I just had a lot going on and my usual reading activity (cardio days at the gym) didn't happen as often as it should have last year. I am pretty sure everybody who wanted to read this book has read it and formed their own conclusions so maybe this review isn't of much value. Nevertheless, it's getting written and you're either reading it or not.

American Sour Beers by Michal Tonsmeire is a moderately lengthy tome on the brewing of sour beers with a focus on techniques implemented by American craft brewers and American homebrewers. The source material for the book is a collection of material ranging from Tonsmeire's personal communications with brewers to material pilfered from brewing podcasts, books, magazines and websites. Although a significant amount of the content will not be new to anybody who has spent a decent amount of time taking in Tonsmeire's blog and other sour brewing resources, it is conveniently collected in a single place and interwoven with content gleamed from his contacts at breweries in his clear and easily digested writing style. There is a lot to like about the book. There are a few things I did not care for that are most likely the result of the editorial stylings of the Brewer's Publications than Tonsmeire's authorship.

American Sour Beers is a process-driven manual for sour brewing with the bulk of the content dedicated to understanding various processes used by commercial brewers and homebrewers. The book contains plenty of introductory material about sour styles and souring critters but the focus is upon each step of the process from wort production to fermentation to aging and into blending and packaging. The best material in the book is the lengthy section on commercial souring techniques. It highlights many of the predictable players in commercial sours in America but clearly explains the process in a way that makes many of them adaptable to homebrewers (or other commercial brewers). Many American sour brewers adopt heavily from European influences but many identified in the book have designed processes and beers that drift heavily from their origins and have uniquely American identities. It would be easy to look at the multitude of techniques presented and develop a unique combination that could be a house process for any brewery or homebrewer. I feel confident that any homebrewer with a small amount of experience could follow a number of processes presented and produce a nice sour beer.

There are some issues with the book that I feel derive directly from editorial style on the part of the Brewer's Publications. BP likes to produce books that range from the inexperienced homebrewer to the moderately experienced commercial brewer. That is a huge chasm to fill in a single book and the effort of trying to cover material from the very basic to the relatively advanced means breadth wins mightily over depth. Scientific discussion is eschewed for more digestible content which sometimes feels like opinion over objective discussion. BP also likes to cover a broad range of content to fit as much of the BJCP approved style guidelines into the book.

You can see these issues all over American Sour Beers. A considerable amount of space is wasted drawing out introductory material and discussing styles already well-covered in Wild Brews and Brewing with Wheat that could be reduced with generous referrals back to those two books (and encourage their sales) as a healthy portion of that content is cited from those two books. Even if the recipes section there are recipes lifted directly out of Wild Brews.There is rarely deep discussion of any particular subject or process beyond the commercial brewing process and discussion on a scientific or advanced level occurs in few places.

Some sections that desperately need more content, like blending, gets the short shrift to include a misplaced section on 100% brett beers (a new style for the 2014 BJCP guidelines) that show little to no sourness or funk. Pages are wasted learning how to drink beer out of a glass that could have been better spent on some of the other topics. Honestly I could have overlooked much of the usual BP breadth-over-depth style if more time had been allocated to blending. Blending, a huge topic for sour brewing with very little material in print or online, gets just eleven pages. I don't know how the editorial decision was made there.

Overall it is a well written book and a good resource for any sour brewer. I wish it had been better focused with less duplicate content from other BP books but that is what should be expected from BP books and should not reflect too heavily on Tonsmeire. He has done the best job of any of the BP authors to try to write a detailed book around Brewing Publications' terrible editorial vision for their books. This book will undoubtedly take the place of Wild Brews as the go-to manual for sour brewing and Tonsmeire is the right guy to have written this book. If you haven't read this book and brewing sour beer is in your current or future homebrewing then you are doing yourself a disservice not picking up this book.

April 4, 2015

Sour Blending Project: The Intro

My 2014 west coast beercations inspired me to delve deeper into the world of blending beer and particularly blending sour beer. I was particularly captivated by the blending programs at Firestone Walker that produce incredible blended sour beers and clean beers out of a range of base beers both barrel aged and non-barrel aged. What is most captivating about Firestone Walker's program (aside from the quality of the beer produced) is the range of base beers tapped for the blended products. The clean anniversary ales assemble everything from porters to barleywines to IPAs into a complex mix while the sour blends are comprised of base beers beyond the typical replication of Belgian sour beer styles. Most notably among the sour beers is what is probably the flagship for their sour program: Agrestic. Agrestic is a blend of barrel aged, soured Double Barrel Ale (DBA). DBA is an English-style pale ale fermented partially in a Burton Union system. It is sweet with oaky vanilla and hoppy with English hops. It's not a beer many would consider a good base for a sour beer but it converts into something unique and wondrous. Inspired by these unusual blends I set out to put together a sour blending program of my own which would include a wide range of base beers that can be combined into a multitude of both blended and unblended sour beers that would deliver beers beyond the expected lambic and Flemish brown and red styles.

My vision for the project is to take a set number of base beers and then split them up across smaller fermentation vessels where I could create a library of base beers with a range of ages and oak treatments. By brewing each base beer every nine to twelve months at five gallons I could sour them in a large vessel and then peel those beers off into one gallon jugs where they can continue to age with no addition or the addition of various oak varieties that have themselves spent time absorbing different wines and spirits. That would in turn allow me to blend individual base beers of multiple vintages as well as blend the different base beers together out of a variety of vintages and treatments. Given my limited space at this time I do not know how many one gallon jugs I can store so early batches will likely have to remain in their five gallon fermentors. I'll just have to see how much space I can occupy with this project.

Rather than start out picking particular styles to flesh out the project I opted to identify the attributes I desired in the base beers and then sought to fit beers into those attributes. So I selected:

1. Rye: I'm a big fan of rye and it tends to work effectively in sour beers (e.g. Bruery's Sour in the Rye).

2. The ability to blend the individual base beers across its own vintages and in conjunction with the other base beers: I mentioned this above but it's worth repeating that I want the beers to be interesting enough on their own to blend within their own vintages but flexible enough to be blended together in various combinations to produce an interesting range of beers.

3. A wide range of maltiness: Consistent with the goal of creating a range of beers I want to run the gamut of very dry, crisp sour beers to the maltier end of the spectrum in the vein of Flemmish reds.

4. A range of body among the beers: I enjoy a dry, spritzy sour beer but sometimes it is nice to find a sour beer with more body so keeping beers with a range of body will help add another dimension to the flexibility of the set of base beers.

5. A range of flavor profiles: I want something different than a handful of brown/red ales or a handful of pale/blonde ales. The base beers should run the gamut of styles as distant as possible while still maintaining their blendableness (not a real word) so the different combinations can capture a broader range of styles.

6. Flexibility to be soured or bretted in different ways: I want the flexibility to use different souring blends and brett strains across different brews of each respective base beer to further expand the variability among the library of beers in the project. I don't want to be trapped into having each beer have the identical fermentation profile.

7. No black/dark brown beers: I find souring beers using significant portions of highly kilned grains is tricky as some brett strains can take the flavor compounds from the darker grains and turn them into some really unpleasant rubber flavors. I don't want to have to worry about whether the rubber flavor will strike or whether I will have to age it out. So that strikes stouts, porters, schwarzbiers and similarly colored beers.

With the combination of these attributes I designed four beers that would give me a wide range of color, body, maltiness, ABV and flavors:

Rye pale ale: This beer will be roughly designed on Firestone Walker's Agrestic, which is based on DBA, which is more English than American. The hops will provide restrained acidity but also provide different flavor compounds to drive a different flavor profile from the typical yeast compound flavor development. This beer will otherwise provide the rye character and moderate the other attributes with mid-range ABV, malt character and body.

Belgian brown ale: This recipe is the same I used in a blended beer several years ago that isn't quite a dubbel but uses some unmistakably Belgian ingredients to make a brown ale. Belgian yeast will provide a platform for the typical sour beer flavors and low hopping will provide maximum sourness. This brown ale will provide more of the malt character than the pale ale but without using the typical caramunich/caravienne to get there.

Adambier: I am also going to use my adambier recipe adopted from the recipe for HOTD Adam in Barleywine to bring the upper limit of ABV and maltiness to the recipe. When soured I expect this beer to be similar to BFM's Bon Chien and I may have to poach the dregs of a bottle of it to find bacteria comfortable souring a beer that big.

Saison: A session-strength saison will provide the bottom end of the range of maltiness and body. The saison can be a good platform for brett character and some opportunity to use some different spices and hops for further complexity.

I expect most of the blends will use the pale ale and/or brown ale in one form or another with the adambier and saisons pulling the blends away from a mid-range amber or brown beer. I won't really know what the blends will look like until I have enough stock to start putting them together so it will be at least nine months (but more likely over a year) before I have anything to blend. So the first step will be getting some of these beers brewed. I will start off with the pale and brown ales and expect to get those brewed shortly.

April 3, 2015

Los Angeles had beer. I drank it.

I feel like the general opinion about Los Angeles and craft beer is that it is at worst a dead space or at best a small second fiddle to San Diego. Of course Orange County's The Bruery could be regarded as a life raft for the greater Los Angeles area. This impression of Los Angeles is wrong. LA might be less developed than its companions in San Diego and San Francisco but there is an exploding number of breweries opening all over the greater LA area. It will only be a matter of time before southern California is a single thicket of craft breweries running from the Mexican border at San Diego and coursing up the major freeways into Los Angeles where the growth seeps out into the inland areas around Riverside and more distant communities in Antelope Valley as it begins its inevitable flow into the San Francisco area. There are already pockets of brewery concentration in some parts of the LA metro area and the spread across the rest of the region seems inevitable.

I found myself in LA this time tagging along on my wife's business trip to visit friends we made on our trip last May to The Bruery anniversary party. We were lured in with the promise of gaining access to his cellar. I also wanted to check out some more breweries in the area and we had some other plans that ultimately fell through. The feller of the couple we met last year is opening a brewery in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles (Transplant Brewing Co.) so I was interested to see his space and talk a little about the brewery plans. It looks like it will be a very nice space with a roomy taproom.

We were definitely treated to wondrous access to his beer cellar. I do not get into the whole beer trading scene so it was nice to gain access to many beers that are not readily available in Texas and generally are tough to come by without delving into the world of beer trading. Between a couple bar visits and his personal cellar I was able to enjoy my first Fifty Fifty Eclipse (green wax) and Dark Lord (2011). That Dark Lord is intensely sweet. We also sampled Winefication 2 and Melange 10 from The Bruery which were both excellent. Cascade Raspberry and Rare Barrel Forces Unseen were two sour beers that helped cut some of that sweetness. I finally pulled in a taste of a Cantillon beer (Rose de Gambrinus) which isn't the most exotic Cantillon offering but clearly demonstrated the quality of what I have been missing. I also had my first taste of a Hill Farmstead beer (Excursions One) which I thought easily lived up to the hype associated with their beers. He also shared with us bourbon barrel and brandy barrel variants of Bravery Brewing The Shroud (imperial stout) which he had a hand in producing. Not a bad group of beers at all.

We did find room for a few breweries so let's move along to talking about those experiences.

Hangar 24 Brewing

Hangar 24 is situated in Redlands in the inland empire. The Redlands has a long history of association with citrus fruit so it is no surprise that Hangar 24 opted to include oranges in its flagship beer, Orange Wheat (which is quite good). Hangar 24 is located across the street from the municipal airport presumably in an old hangar. Our cellar-bearing amigo is a member of Hangar 24's membership society and enticed us to come out Saturday morning to the release of their imperial stout Hammerhead barrel aged and then treated to a variety of additions. I had never been to one of these releases before because most breweries in Texas are not licensed for direct sales to consumers and those that are do not drop these releases anywhere close to where I live. It was an interesting experience and people were quite sharing with their beer.

Hammerhead is a solid bourbon and rye barrel-aged imperial stout and we were treated to several variants including chai tea, mocha and coffee. The coffee beans came from a local roaster who had barrel aged the green coffee beans in Hangar 24's used barrels before roasting. The roaster also brought out cold brewed coffee from the beans which had a very woody character that was too lumbery in my opinion. Unfortunately the variants we liked best were only available by allocation to the members so we only brought home a bottle of the normal version.

We also tried the double IPA which was nice but my favorite beer was a seasonal release called Vinaceous, an old ale with red wine grapes. It was all the maltiness of a barleywine (or old ale, whatever) with the fresh berry flavor of the wine grapes. A fantastic beer sold at a very reasonable price at the brewery. It is a great beer on its own but I would be interested to see this beer aged in barrels, possibly red wine, rye whiskey, or new oak barrels. If logistics had played in my favor I would have brought home some bottles to age and see how the flavors develop.

Monkish Brewing Co.

On Sunday we ventured to Torrence, which is an industrial and business park filled city which has become a hub for breweries. There are a number of breweries in Torrence within a very short drive which is nice for Los Angeles traffic. Rotating through the breweries seems common for the area as we saw several of the same people at each brewery.

Monkish first came onto our radar at the last Bruery anniversary party where we enjoyed Seme Della Vita, a tripel with pistachios and vanilla. Monkish is all Belgian, all the time. There is even a sign in the tasting room that says NO IPA although they do a series of Belgian pale ales single hopped with a rotating cast of the hops you are most likely to find in an IPA these days. Monkish does some solid brewing that ranges from abbey styles to saison to renditions of those Belgian beers that do not tightly fit any particular style. Monkish likes to play with flowers a lot in their beers with hibiscus and rose hips regularly added. I trust that their floral beers are as balanced as the other beers although we did not try them out.

My favorites were the saisons and Seme Della Vita. The saisons are well balanced between yeast character, hops and other additions. The basic saison Demure is a nice saison while the flavor gets turned up with brett additions in Hem & Haw and Funky Habit, both saisons of a darker persuasion with Orval-like brett presence. Monkish's saisons are good examples of beers that are complex without having to punch you in the face with the flavors. I enjoy that.

The other beers we tried and liked were Select Monk 3, Anomaly, Shaolin Fist, Koine and St. Citra pale ale. I would happily drink anything coming off their taps.

Absolution Brewing Co.

Absolution was my first foray into Torrence on my last trip and I was pleasantly surprised by the beers they were producing. Their beers are mostly a combination of hoppy beers brewed in an English meets west coast fusion that pairs west coast hopping with English malts. I'm not sure how well received that is on the west coast but I'd imagine they would fly very well on the east coast. I imagine people either love or hate them depending upon how dry their prefer their IPAs. From my limited experience Torrence appears to be a cloister of breweries less interested in pounding out one formulaic IPA after another and more interested in doing something different so maybe they have a less polarized reputation. The taproom had a decent amount of people so it can't be turning too many people away.

Last trip I savored their white wine barrel-aged saison and dubbel on cask so this trip I turned to the hoppier options. I had Angel's Demise IPA on cask with citra and warrior hops in the cask, Crimson Angel red ale on cask, Possessed Joe coffee porter, Revelation Rye IPA and a California common that may not have had a specific name. The coffee porter was excellent and the other beers had a really nice balance of hop expression and maltiness that clearly is not west coast style but also clearly not English either. These beers are a nice set of IPAs particularly for people like myself who enjoy the taste of hops without the heavy-handed bitterness of IPAs. They aren't quite pale ale malty but almost that malty. Good stuff.

Smog City Brewing Co.

Smog City is another Torrence brewery. Their range of beers have no specific theme but run the gamut of light to dark and malty to hoppy. The taproom provides the standard beers along with seasonals and experimental beers. We were running out of time when we got to Smog City so we didn't try too many of the beers but they seem like they have a good range of beers that I wish I had better explored. The taproom has a weird set up that seems to give up a lot of opportunities for seating and feels somewhat unwelcoming but you'll get over it with some beer.

We only had time to sample the award winning coffee porter (and award winning for good reason), the coffee porter with additions of orange cinnamon and vanilla that was interesting but not a beer I would want in large quantities. I'm not big on cinnamon so that's really my preferences and not a fault of the brewers. I also gave the zwickel rendition of the Little Bo Pils which is a nice Czech pilsner but with the rough-around-the-edges character of a zwickelbier or kellerbier.

Phantom Carriage

I saved the most amusing for the end. This Torrence brewery has been open for just months and has a horror movie theme. It is dark and given a spooky atmosphere with a dim taproom surrounded by barrels. The dour environment makes people talk in hushed tones as though they are scared to disturb the horror. There is a theater room showing old horror movies and a barrel room that is extremely dark. It's damn funny. I told you they are doing it differently in Torrence.

Here's the best part about Phantom Carriage. It's all sour ale and saisons. They brew sour beer in house with a range of guest taps and a reasonable bottle list of sours and saisons.

I apologize for the shoddy photography but I think it's readable. These are their beers. It's an ambitious lineup for a brewery with a soft opening just four months ago. I will say that the house beers did not overwhelm me. The latter two on the list were good beers but the biggest issue with the whole range was that they just lacked the complexity that those styles are begging for. I suspect these beers are all just too young to have developed complexity and Phantom Carriage needed to start putting beer on tap. I really hope they are able to raise the bar on those beers because I would love to make this a regular stop and help drive traffic to them.

Overall a great trip and I am looking forward to seeing Phantom Carriage develop and my friends at Transplant Brewing build into their space and get some beer on tap.