August 12, 2017

Just the Tip Mixed Fermentation Saison Tasting Notes

If this isn't the weirdest beer I've ever brewed then it's definitely on the short list. I brewed this beer right at the beginning of 2017 using fir tips clipped off the in-laws' Christmas tree. I used my mixed saison culture which I am still in the process of exploring. I've figured out it really benefits from age. Very young it showcases some berry and tropical fruit. Then it takes on a cluttered, too-many-expressive-yeast flavor with a weirdly sweet brett barnyard funk. With some time the beer dries out with a lot of berry and hay with some tropical fruit in the background. This is exactly what I love in brett'd beers. I mean, I like Orval's barnyard funk but when it hits that really dry character where you can feel tannins on the tongue, that's when I really enjoy it. So that's why this review comes eight months after the brew day. 

Appearance: Pilsner yellow with a snow white head. The beer is a little undercarbonated for the style so the head comes out thick but with large bubbles. Over time it mellows into a thinner but lasting layer of white foam. Fairly hazy which is likely why it appears so light in color.

Aroma: Overripe blueberries sitting in a barn recently full of goats. It's funky and fruity. An herbal but earthy and slightly cheesy aroma like an aged blue cheese. Damp forest. Minor notes of tangerine, cherry, dried wild flower, gravel. As the beer warms an herbal and licorice aroma emerges.

Flavor: Berries, hay, sweet cherry, ripe tangerine, oregano and subtle licorice. Aftertaste is long, lingering and complex. Lemon, blue cheese, pine, black tea, grapefruit pith. Fades into a lasting lemon, blueberry, black tea flavor. Hops are nowhere to be found. Grain struggles among the mixture of flavors. Sort of a bland malt in the background if you go looking for it. There is grain somewhere in there but it's covered up by a lot of disparate flavors. As the beer warms a little of the sweet brett funk emerges.

Mouthfeel: Moderate thickness but thicker than most saisons. Slightly slick but a lot of drying tannin feeling on the tongue. Prickly with slight acidity. Tongue is left feeling both dried out and slightly slick. Slight numbing sensation. Unusual. As it warms the numbing reduces dramatically along with the slickness.

Overall: In tree tip beers I've had in the past I've always tasted herbal and citrus notes. Here, that's mostly missing. Perhaps this is because the tips from the Christmas tree were extremely young or maybe my mixed saison culture is just weird like that. I think this beer is still a few months away from getting from like to love on the fermentation character. It's an unusual beer which I'm glad I tried brewing but one I'm not sure I would rebrew. There's something fun about the weird mixture of flavors but it's definitely not a beer I would race to drink all night. 

July 18, 2017

Azacca single hop NE pale ale recipe

I always try to start a blog post with a brief discussion of the style or something about the following recipe to make the post slightly more interesting to read than a bare recipe. For the NE IPA or pale ale style I'm not sure there is much more to be said that isn't currently part of a polarized discussion thread on one of the many brewing and beer forums around the internetz. You hate or love the style. Local breweries are either great or awful at them. You love the $60 can trade market or think it's the worst. I'm somewhere in between on the style but find the trade market one of the worst parts of craft beer right now.

I guess if I had anything unusual to say about the style it's that I hope it finds paths to stretch beyond just trying to be as murky as possible. I think paths exist using hops and other grains other than the small number that dominate the style that may breed completely new beer styles. Not just for more murk or fruit flavor. Why can't the style's smoother mouthfeel apply to darker beer styles? What would happen if a brewer lent the style's mechanics to a lower ABV pale ale with noble hops? 

Today's recipe does not answer these questions. It's a basic NE style pale ale with just azacca hops. The ingredient choices fell on utility; it's just ingredients I need to use up in the house. I opted for the NE style over a drier west coast pale ale because I still want to explore understanding the water profile that makes the style work. It's a nice summer beer to brew. It will feed my free party pig as something to sip through July. 

Azacca Single Hop NE Pale Ale Recipe

Batch Size: 2.25 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.1%
Est. IBU: 41
Est. OG: 1.050
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. SRM: 5
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt30270.60%
White wheat malt8211.80%
Flaked oats8111.80%
Crystal 204205.90%
Water Profileppm
NE IPA Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.7g00.8g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.6g
Calcium Chloride1.7g1.8g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.6ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 6.38 qt
Sparge volume: 1.74 gal
Infuse 76.38 quarts at 167F152F60
Sparge 1.74 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Azacca [10.30%]0.3ozFWH31.6
Azacca [10.30%]0.5oz59.5
Azacca [10.30%]1.2ozWhirl?
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 40ml yeast slurry
Pitch at 65F1465
Dry hop 2 oz azacca hops3Ambient
Package in party pig

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed 6.17.17.

First runnings: 1.080
Preboil volume: 3.4 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.038
Mash efficiency: 82%

Postboil gravity: 1.050
Postboil volume: 2.25 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%

June 7, 2017

Barrel Aged Americanized Oud Bruin Recipe

Having passed a couple clean beers through my two gallon wheat whiskey barrel (imperial stout and adambier) it's time to turn the barrel over to sour beer. For the whiskey barrel I wanted to do something different from my other sour projects that could stand alone as an interesting beer distinct from the other beers shaping up in my sour beer blending project or my lambic-inspired spontaneous beers. I settled on an American rendition of oud bruin, which is among my favorite sour beer styles and the only one I haven't brewed yet. My sour blending project includes an oud bruin recipe heavily adapted from the Goudenband-like recipe in Wild Brews but I wanted something in the vein of Americanized oud bruins which tend to be darker and favor a combination of roasted and caramel malts instead of letting crystal malt do all the heavy lifting. The small amounts of roasted malt brings out a different set of flavors that plays really well within the darker sour style.

Americanized Oud Bruin Recipe Design

Having settled on a style it was time to formulate the recipe. I knew my target was a beer that leaned more into the roasted malt flavors than the crystal malt. I wanted to capture the dark cherry, raisin, dark chocolate and cola flavors found in some of these beers like two of my favorites, Oud Bruin from Funkwerks and River North Oud Bruin. The color should be like the oozing center of a molten lava cake.

Working with roasted malt in sour beer is tricky. Too little and it's just a color adjustment. A small amount with a fair amount of crystal malt gets closer to the burgundy-type sour beers, like those brewed by Crooked Stave. Too much and the beer becomes ashy and in my experience lends itself to that terrible tire fire flavor. 

I sketched out an initial grain bill and then set out to check my work against more established recipes. I looked at the recipe for this style in American Sour Beer and the Rare Barrel recipe floating around online. I also checked what I know about La Folie (which is pretty much within this style) and the two mentioned above. I realized my initial recipe was pretty close to the Rare Barrel recipe (maybe I already had it floating around in my head) minus its use of spelt malt. I felt like I was on the right track and made a few minor adjustments. The rest of the recipe is pretty much in line with other beers in this style. IBUs around 25 and fermented out with my Oregon Special mixed sour culture.

My plan is to brew this beer every year in the barrel for as long as the barrel continues to produce good beer. If the time comes where the barrel gets acetic and I can't restore it then I'll probably take off a head and convert it into a small mash tun. 

Barrel Aged American Oud Bruin Recipe

Batch Size: 2.25 gallon
Est. ABV: 7.3%
Est. IBU: 24
Est. OG: 1.071
Est. FG: 1.015
Est. SRM: 25
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pilsner malt40266.80%
White wheat malt10216.70%
Vienna malt63.56.00%
Crystal 804804.20%
Chocolate malt2.63502.70%
Aromatic malt2262.20%
Black patent malt1.45001.50%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Brown Malty Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.4g00.3g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.4g
Calcium Chloride0.9g0.7g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 7.8 qt
Sparge volume: 1.5 gal
Infuse 7.8 quarts at 167F150F75
Sparge 1.5 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.25oz6024
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Oregon Special
Pitch 300ml slurry
Pitch at 70F?Ambient
Bottle to 4 vol CO2 with 2 oz table sugar

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 3.26.17

First runnings: 1.070
Preboil volume: 2.9 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.053
Mash efficiency: 70%

Postboil volume: 2.25 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.069
Brewhouse efficiency: 70%

Racked to barrel on 4.2.17

May 9, 2017

BA Mebier -- Whiskey Barrel Aged Adambier Recipe

This is beer #2 for my two gallon whiskey barrel after a seemingly successful imperial stout made its way into the barrel. The imperial stout just made its way into the barrel yesterday so I wanted to brew this adambier to get into the barrel as soon as the stout is ready to get out. This adambier recipe is based upon my non-barrel aged adambier recipe which itself closely tracks the early Hair of the Dog Adam recipe found in the Barleywine book. In my opinion it's not too close to HOTD Adam mostly because it lacks the peat malt. It's more of an amorphous strong ale with some German-ish ingredients. I liked the first rendition and felt like it would be a good candidate for another clean run through the barrel.

For the barrel version I dropped the gravity slightly but otherwise maintained the recipe. I want to avoid a beer that is too boozy but at the same time has enough heft to avoid turning thin and hot after extracting whiskey from the barrel. I know high gravity BBA beers are still all the rage but I'll take a well executed barrel aged beer at 8% over 18% almost any day. Additionally, I expect I'll need this beer ready to go into the barrel in a couple weeks and don't want to worry about coddling a double digit OG beer along and have to decide between too much whiskey in the stout and racking the adambier too early. Otherwise the only other meaningful change is subbing out the yeast for London Ale III which did a nice job with the stout.

Whiskey Barrel Aged Adambier Recipe

Batch Size: 2.25 gallons
Est. ABV: 8.4%
Est. IBU: 42
Est. OG: 1.088
Est. FG: 1.025
Est. SRM: 12.6
Expected Efficiency: 65%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt612280.90%
Munich malt0593.70%
Roasted barley0.73000.50%
Caramunich II9346.70%
White wheat malt1128.20%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Amber Malty Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.7g00.1g
Canning Salt0.3g0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride1.4g0.2g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.3ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 3.4 gal
Sparge volume: 0.42 gal
Infuse 3.4 gallons at 169F156F75
Sparge 0.41 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
90 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.37oz6030.5
Opal [6.5%]0.42oz2012.3
Irish moss0.5tsp150
Opal [6.5%]1.13oz00
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 1 cup slurry from imperial stout
Pitch at 70F2070F
Age in barrel until flavor is right
Bottle to 2.3 vol CO2 with 1.3 oz table sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 2.9.17

First runnings: 1.077
Preboil gravity: 1.075
Preboil volume: 3 gal
Mash efficiency: 73%

Postboil gravity: 1.083
Postboil volume: 2.25 gal
Efficiency: 61%

Sent to the barrel on 2.24.17. FG ? The beer is murky from movement and my refractometer reading says the beer is stalled at 3.5%. Impossible because it doesn't taste sweet and the alcohol is definitely present.

Bottled on 4.2.17 with 2 oz table sugar.

April 24, 2017

Diabeetus Juice barrel aged imperial stout recipe

Does the world need more barrel aged imperial stout? I suppose it does if I need to pull out the whiskey character out of this whiskey barrel I bought. This barrel is a mere two gallon barrel from a young distillery near Dallas that produces a wheat whiskey and vodka. It's a solid barrel; not one of the thin barrels retailed to bars and consumers to age cocktails and spirits countertop. The long term plan is to use the barrel for aging sour beer but it needs at least a couple runs of clean beer to strip out most of the liquor and more assertive oak character. Imperial stout is a good first run because it's heavy flavors hold up.

My goal with this imperial stout is to balance the extreme attributes of the beer. I quickly tire drinking the super sweet, diabetes juice BA imperial stouts that are all the rage right now. I like the more bitter chocolate and coffee flavors over fudge and Starbucks mocha found in the sweeter variants that goes overboard in sweetness with the oak and whiskey draped assertively on top. I want the oak and whiskey present but just as I like the sweetness under control I don't want the stout to taste like a cocktail. So this recipe is lots of roasted malts and sits on the lower end of the ABV for the style so it further attenuates. 

But first, the barrel needs preparation.

Preparing the whiskey barrel

Soaking the barrel in water
Due to the size of the barrel and my plan to put to use for sour beer I needed to prepare it appropriately. That means prepare it initially for any kind of beer and second to restrict oxygen ingress. 

The distiller told me he emptied the barrel about two months prior and it probably didn't need to be soaked to swell the staves but I didn't want to take a chance. I gave it a quick soak to the heads for four hours on each side. The result, a nicely soaked barrel. I let it dry out on the exterior for a few days so I can wax it.

Once the barrel was dry on the outside I set out to wax it. Like many homebrewers I opted for the cheap route of parrafin wax. The wax melts down easily on the stove and I painted it on with a paintbrush after using masking tape to block off the portion I wanted unwaxed.

Given the small size of the barrel I knew I needed to wax most of the barrel to properly regulate air ingress. I don't find a compelling reason to allow even more airflow into the beer just because it's in a barrel. The barrel wax calculator here affirmed my idea. I ended up waxing the entire barrel minus a square around the bung hole.

I thought I had some pictures after waxing but I guess I didn't take any. It's sort of a messy look because I didn't flame the wax to melt in down. I might do that after the barrel is full. Putting a flame to a sealed cask full of alcohol vapors seems like a really dangerous thing.

The picture to the left is the barrel after waxing and wrapped in saran wrap. I wrapped it in saran wrap for a couple reasons. First, if it managed to leak after swelling and waxing the saran wrap would help keep a leak from turning into a mess too quickly. Second, the wax is crumbly and the saran wrap would help keep that from making a mess while moving the barrel around. I don't expect it to add any oxygen barrier nor do I think it is necessary beyond the wax.

I don't have a stand for the barrel but it sits comfortably on a folded bath towel. I added a rolled towel on each side on the counter to keep it from rolling over. It's janky and looks janky but I'll worry about finding a nicer support after I move it to a permanent location. 

Barrel aged imperial stout recipe

Batch Size: 2.25 gallons
Est. ABV: 9%
Est. IBU: 56
Est. OG: 1.089
Est. FG: 1.021
Est. SRM: 55
Expected Efficiency: 62%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt64268.00%
Munich malt12912.20%
Roasted barley93006.10%
Flaked barley513.40%
Crystal 12041202.70%
Chocolate malt63504.10%
Black malt35002.10%
Aromatic malt2261.40%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Black Malty Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.6g00.2g
Canning Salt0.6g0.2g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.1g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 3.1225 gal
Sparge volume: 1.01 gal
Infuse 3.1225 gallons at 166F152F75
Sparge 1.01 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
120 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.6oz6056.7
Irish moss0.5tsp150
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 1 smack pack
Pitch at 70F2070F
Age in barrel until flavor is right
Bottle to 2.3 vol CO2 with 1.3 oz table sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 1/28/17.

First runnings: 1.083
Preboil volume: 3.1 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.072
Mash efficiency: 69%
Post boil volume: 2.2 gal
Post boil gravity: 1.087
Efficiency: 59%

Racked to barrel 2.9.17. Flavor is great. Nice mix of sweet malt, caramel, coffee, chocolate, roast. Strikes right balance. Sweetness and roastiness balanced as hoped. Picture below of my fancy AF racking.

Bottled 2.24.17. Tasted two days ago and it was lightly barrel-y with a strong vanilla flavor. Let it ride and tasted today. Firm whisky/barrel flavor without being overwhelming. Another day and it's probably undrinkable. Tastes firmly of whisky, coffee and chocolate. Very happy with this. After racking out sent an adambier into the barrel.

Bottled with 2oz table sugar and added KV-1116 to bottles to ensure timely carbonation.

April 11, 2017

Robot Geisha Belgian Pale Ale Review

This is a long delayed review on this beer with the tasting notes flowing from early bottles on both the version with and without the Ethiopian coffee. This Belgian pale ale was primarily an experiment on multiple fronts:

  • Putting to use the jarrylo hops that have sadly sat in my freezer for too long;
  • Seeing what a light roasted coffee would bring to a beer;
  • Checking out how a Belgian pale ale would taste with a fruitier hop profile more in line with popular American pale ales than the typical Belgian pale ale with more restrained hop character;
  • Keeping my culture of WY1214 going.
So let's see how I did.

Robot Geisha Belgian Pale Ale (no coffee)

Appearance: Predictable copper color one expects in a pale ale. Slight haze. Head is huge, slightly off white with big, rocky bubbles. The head hangs around to the end of the glass with sticky lacing. It isn't the prettiest lacing, like Duvel, but leaves behind a huge archipelago of lacing.

Aroma: Mellow fruit is first to arrive but doesn't go on the attack like an American pale ale. The banana is there along with an Orange Julius-like orange aroma followed by honeydew, pear, lemon and strawberry. There's a little pepper in the finish if you're looking for it. Very little grain aroma but it has a lot of competition.

Flavor: Like the aroma the hops are first to strike. Banana is more prominent and slightly more banana candy than real banana. Orange is next with a really sweet and smooth orange flavor, like orange creamsicle. Melon salad, lemon, pear. Just a hint of grassiness that acts as a bridge between the fruity hop flavors and the rest of the beer. Grain hits in the middle with wheat bread, caramel and a touch of honey. The yeast make an appearance at the end with some pepper and clove. As a whole, it's kind of like your mom gave you a piece of really soft wheat bread with Dole fruit cocktail--minus the cherry--poured on top. But less sweet.

Mouthfeel: Moderate body a touch thicker than really dry west coast pale ales. The finish turns really dry which helps evade the sweet fruit flavors from giving the beer illusion of a heavier body. 

Overall: I was led to believe the jarrylo hops would be all fake, plastic-y banana. I was pleasantly surprised to find very little of that here--although there was some. (As the hops faded in the bottles over months the fake banana dropped off and very little banana flavor remained. The orange marmalade flavor of triple perle remained.) This beer was better than expectations but not necessarily something I would be wowed by ordering blind. I wasn't in love with the jarrylo hops and wouldn't acquire more but the beer itself could easily be a good base for a nice Belgian pale ale or saison either with a different hop or adjusting the other hops to accommodate for its absence. 

Robot Geisha Belgian Pale Ale with Ethiopian Natural Processed Coffee

Appearance: Same appearance as the coffee-free portion with a slight haze.

Aroma: Similar aromas with a soft mixed berry aroma in the mix. Aromas are less distinct and the grain-based aromas are slightly more prominent.

Flavor: Like the aroma, the same flavors are present but less distinct. Citrus outweighs the softer fruit flavors from the hops. Under the fruit cuts a smooth coffee flavor and an earthy blueberry flavor not unlike mosaic hops. There is tartness at the end provided by acids from the coffee.

Mouthfeel: Slightly heavier than the non-coffee portion with slight prickly acidity.

Overall: An interesting but not preferred beer. The coffee flavor is nice and adds an interesting element to the flavor profile. The problem is the acidity in the coffee. It's not a strong acidity in the flavor but the change to ph definitely mutes a lot of delicate flavors. A washed Ethiopian coffee would have been a better choice for this beer. A natural processed coffee might sit better in a sour beer where the acidity would add acid complexity.

March 28, 2017

Ground Cherry Pale Sour Recipe

Here's a sour beer I've wanted to brew for the past three or so years. It harkens back to a time where I was more enamored with the idea of brewing sour beer with fruit and especially fruit that didn't come from generic supermarket varieties. That's a problem because I'm a terrible gardener and to procure enough fruit for beer requires a bush or tree that would require years of development. I went on the hunt for fruit that would survive Texas summers without too much coddling and wouldn't require years of development before I could even get close to fruit.

What I found was something called a ground cherry.

WTF is a ground cherry?

Ground cherry is a small fruiting plant similar to a tomatillo. It grows like a tomatillo plant and develops small fruit that grow in husks, like a tomatillo. There are a few varieties around the world but the two most common are Aunt Molly (which have a citrus-y flavor) and Cossack Pineapple (you can figure that out). It's most similar to a gooseberry in both appearance and flavor, although it is less acidic (and not actually a gooseberry).

Picture of the plants--not mine
It grows across a wide range of environments. With some watering it survives into the triple digits during summer and hangs on until temperatures drop to 40F like tomatillos and tomatoes. The plant gains its name from the way the fruit grows and drops. Midway through maturity the stem supporting the husked fruit gives and the fruit drops to the ground. It takes an additional few weeks for the fruit inside to reach maturity. The green half-mature fruit is full of solanine, which is the poisonous compound in tomato plants and other related plants. This goes away as the fruit matures into a brighter color, orange for Aunt Molly and goldenrod yellow for Cossack Pineapple.

The fruit is interesting for sure. I opted for the Cossack Pineapple, which at full ripeness has a pineapple and vanilla flavor with a hint of tomatillo. When it's still a little green the vanilla is less present with more of a pineapple-tomatillo-green tomato flavor. Culinary applications range from use like tomatoes or tomatillos in salsas or salads to berry-like applications like pies and tarts.

The fruit grow to between green pea and marble size; that means to procure a decent volume of fruit you need a lot. The good news is that this plant has a high yield of fruit, even with moderate growth. The challenge is that it grows and drops fruit the entire growing season which means collecting fruit and probably freezing to get a decent yield. It's taken two years to collect one pound but that is one plant the first year and two plants the second year, minus the volume I ate instead of setting aside for beer. To obtain enough in a single year for a five gallon batch I would need several healthy plants and keep from eating too many. 

The inside of the fruit contains a lot of seeds which may be an issue for beer. I'm slightly concerned that the seeds risk bleeding excessive tannins into the beer. I could try pureeing the fruit but I'm concerned that will tear up the seeds and straining them out would be an absolute PITA. Instead I plan on giving the fruit some pulsed chops in the food processor to break them apart and then plan to avoid long contact time with the sour beer.

Ground Cherry Sour Beer Recipe Design

Nothing to exciting about the recipe design. I wanted to keep the beer pale and fairly neutral to let the fruit flavors shine. While some fruit play nicely with darker sour beers, the flavors of these ground cherries are more compatible with the flavor profile of a pale sour beer with little to no specialty malt. 

I am also still trying to use ingredients on hand so the grain bill was mostly built out of a "what can I sling together to get in the vicinity of what I need to brew" than trying to craft the perfect recipe. I have a clump of white wheat malt which will make up the bulk of the grain bill. Of all the beers I've had with a strong pineapple flavor, they all seem to have a large portion of wheat so I felt this was a good fit. The rest of the recipe is designed to keep on the path of a lighter beer with low IBUs and only a little munich malt to add a little maltiness around the pineapple and vanilla flavors.

Ground Cherry Pale Sour Beer Recipe

Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.3%
Est. IBU: 15
Est. OG: 1.052
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. SRM: 4.7
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pilsner malt14246.80%
White wheat malt12239.90%
Munich malt4913.30%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow balanced Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.2g00.2g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.4g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 0.58 gal
Sparge volume: 0.9 gal
Infuse 0.58 gallons at 167F150F75
Sparge 0.9 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.06oz6014.9

Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Oregon Special
Pitch 100ml slurry
Pitch at 70F?Ambient
Add 1lb ground cherries
Bottle to 4 vol CO2 with 1 oz table sugar

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 3.26.17.

All that wheat turned into a stuck mash. Not fun.

Preboil volume: 1.4g
Preboil gravity: 1.035
Mash efficiency: 79%

Postboil volume: 1.00 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.043
Brewhouse efficiency: 60%

Yikes to that efficiency. I'm not terribly worried about this batch having too low of gravity because it's mostly a vessel to test out the ground cherries, otherwise I would have hit it with some DME at the end of the boil.

6.13.17: Tasted beer, already pretty sour and flavorful so time for some fruit. I had the fruit frozen so I gently warmed in a pan before transferring to the food processor to puree. That turned one pound of tasty whole ground cherries into this puree.

Not the best looking puree but it tastes pretty good. They held up well to freezing. I could only fit about 12 oz. of the puree into the fermentation vessel. I'll let it ride for a few weeks and then taste. If it needs more fruit I'll have to rack over to another gallon jug with the remainder. Not my preferred course of action though. 

March 20, 2017

Lambic Solera Part Twenty-Three: Bottling Year Six, Blending Gueuze 2

It took me two months to sit down and write this post because writing it meant accepting a seven year old brewing process had officially ended. I brewed the first batch of this solera in December 2010 after taking my last law school final for the semester. It was older than my marriage, older than my law license and older than most of my friends' kids. I don't know if it's the longest continuous solera on the homebrewing level but it was probably one of the oldest. (Undoubtedly surpassed at some point in the future with the growing number of excellent sour homebrewers.) My lambic solera taught me a lot about brewing sour beer over its six years which produced six annual bottlings, two fruited bottlings and two blended gueuzes for a total of about twenty-two gallons of lambic (or lambic-inspired beer...whatever).

It was a difficult decision to end the solera. The lambic coming out of the solera had reached a great plateau and I chose to stop the solera by choice rather than because the quality had declined to a point where I had to. Ideally I would have kept the solera going for as long as it continued to produce great beer but as I've mentioned before my wife and I are moving to Denver next year and I need to wind down beer production. In Denver I will probably eschew starting a similar solera. Not because I didn't like it but because I want to make room for some other brewing projects. I still want to set up my sour blending project and I want to play with spontaneous fermentation. Those will take up a fair amount of space and produce a good amount of beer. I also have acquired a small barrel (posts on that coming soon) so that's more sour beer to brew.

For today's post I'm just going to discuss bottling Year Six and Gueuze 2 along with my initial impressions of the beer. I'll follow this up soon with a much longer post discussing all the important lessons I learned along the way with the lambic solera. The final post will be tasting notes on Year Six and Gueuze 2 later in the year which will be the final post on the lambic solera.

Bottling Year Six

The carboy of Year Six looks right in line with previous years, particularly those with the slightly darker red wheat rather than white wheat. In the picture below of all three vessels you can see the six gallon Better Bottle with Year Six next to Year Five (which had some white wheat) and Year Four. The vessels are dusty as hell--that's because they age next to cat litter. Much funk to be had. ZFG.

Like Year Five and Four, which were turbid mashed, I felt like the beer was somewhat unfinished after a year. The turbid mash really seems to stretch out smoothing out the flavors in young brett fermentations I really dislike (hot trash, muddiness). I expect, like it's two older siblings, it will break stride somewhere around August.

The flavor is a little unfinished due to the age but one thing that stuck out to me was that it seemed fruitier than previous beers. In the finish I thought it had a brandy-like flavor. Then I remembered I had added brandy along with the oak cubes on this batch. It's definitely the most aggressive addition of spirits or wine among the six years. It's wonderful but definitely adds a different dynamic.

Like each of its predecessors this lambic (or lambic-inspired beer, if that chills your heckles) was mostly bottled in 750ml champagne-style bottles with the remainder going into other thick walled bottles. I bottled it with one ounce per gallon of table sugar as I have in the past which seems to shoot a little low on carbonation but I felt like consistency prevailed over risking some overcarbonation. Approximately four gallons were bottled straight as Year Six.

As an aside, have you ever thought about how awful it would be to try to clean seven year old krausen out of a Better Bottle?

I cleaned out the trub every other year of the solera but never tried to clean out the trub because, well, I wasn't sure how and I wasn't sure if I could do so without risking causing an unwelcome infection or introducing unwelcome flavors from a cleaning agent. So I just left it and kept refilling wort. You can kinda see in the picture to the right I cleaned the Better Bottle pretty well and yet that krausen didn't budge.

Filling with moderately hot water and oxyclean for several days and repeated scrubbing with a bottle brush eventually got most of it out. Not sure I got enough out that I would ferment clean beers in it but enough that I feel safe fermenting sour beer without the remnants of the lambic solera krausen overtaking the culture added with new wort.

Blending Gueuze 2

Normally I am a solid proponent of blending to taste rather than blending everything you have because you don't want leftover beer. That's not what I did here. Like Gueuze 1, I decided to let the lambic solera and each of its vintages be what they were and blend the gueuze with all the beer it had to offer. That meant creating a blend of 50% Year Six, 25% Year Five and 25% Year Four. 

Year Four and Five from the solera taste well into their age with flavors similar to their bottles but a little more mellow, probably from slightly more oxygen exposure through the airlocks and silicone stoppers than the bottle caps. (In the picture, Year Five is on the left, Year Four on the right.) There is a noticeable color difference. Some of that is age but some of it is a difference in wheat. Year Five is mostly white wheat while Four, like Six, are more red wheat. I definitely feel the red wheat brings more wheat flavor, which I like. 

My initial impression of the blend is promising. The brandy flavor of Year Six definitely appears but far more subdued than Year Six on its own. It works in the mix. The flavor is deep with funk, lemon, hay, gentle phenolic spice, honey of well-aged beer but also prickly with young acidity. It is more complex than Gueuze 1 and I suspect the aged hops drive that complexity even more than the turbid mash. Like its components, I expect this beer will hit its stride in eight or so months. 

Finishing bottling the solera

Ended up with a lot of bottles. Year Six on the left, Gueuze 2 on the right.

So from here I expect to have tasting notes around August when the beers are in their prime. I cracked open one bottle of Year Six with the Super Bowl, as I do every year with each vintage, and it is promising but definitely still needs some time to smooth out its rough edges. The brandy was more subdued with some carbonation and I think it will be just fine in the end. 

Next post will be an assemblage of thoughts on the solera process, brewing lambic-style within a solera, what I thought about the changes I made each year and some other general thoughts I've been mulling for the past seven years. 

March 14, 2017

One Gallon Spontaneous Fermentation #2: January 2017

This batch will follow the same technique as the previous turbid mash/spontaneous fermentation batch brewed in November 2016 with a little adjustment to the hops due to inventory and adding oak. I had hoped to brew another one gallon batch last month but we haven't had a consistently cold winter where I could find time to brew and it would be within the right temperature range. We have a cold streak so it's as good of a time as any to brew more beer. As this batch will closely follow the last batch's recipe I won't waste space duplicating the recipe. I'll just note the changes and use this post to track the batch from brewday through fermentation and aging.

Changes from Batch 1 to Batch 2 of One Gallon Spontaneous Fermentation Recipe

Two small changes to the recipe: (1) adjusting hops to the aged hops on hand; and (2) adding oak. The oak addition will be light. Three medium char oak cubes are steamed in the microwave to remove some of the fresh oak flavor. I find this is about the right amount to gain minimal oak flavor and a good balance of tannins. 

A lot of aged hops for one gallon
Hops will include a blend of 2011 Belma, like batch 1, and a mix of 2014 Cascade and Mount Hood from my garden. I wish I could say I had some better explanation for the combination of aged hops but there it is. I had less of the 2014 mix than I thought. I had 0.25oz of the 2014 Cascade/Mount Hood blend. I added 0.25oz of 2011 Belma. I'm only using 0.50 oz of aged hops for this batch because I fear the Belma may still have too much alpha acid left behind.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 1.5.17.

Sent outside at 4:28pm. Transferred to heated cooler at 5pm. Realized the volume was significantly low at this point and added waves of hot distilled water from 5-5:30pm to get up to one gallon of wort. This explains the variance at the 5:30pm reading. I added about a third of a gallon of water so clearly my boil off calculation was way off.

Day ended up colder and windier than expected but even with approximately ten degrees cooler ambient temperatures the wort was only a handful of degrees below what batch one's warmer evening produced at similar intervals. Here's the cooling:

Time                            Ambient             Wort

Fermentation Notes

2.14.17: Gave a quick taste. Tastes very similar to other wild/spontaneous cultures. Muddled estery profile with banana, melon, cherry, strawberry, peach. Muddled bottom end with musty, generic phenolic spice. Slightly mushroom-y. Apple juice-y. Still fairly sweet and thick like a hefeweizen with a big sweet orange slice. Not far from the batch coolshipped in November 2016 but less bitter, likely due to dialing back the hopping rate.

7.17.17: Approximately seven and a half months old. Appearance following batch 1. Clear beer with thin, white pellicle. Flavor is bitter, thin, some acidity. Fairly clean flavor. No expected brett flavor. Thin body. Definitely needs some additional time. 

March 8, 2017

Just the Tip -- Mixed Fermentation Saison with Fir Tips

Here's another rummage-around-the-house foraging beer. In December I helped my wife and her family pick out a Christmas tree. As we were unloading it from the car I noticed all the young tips at the end of the branches. I pulled one off and rubbed it between my fingers. It has that citrusy aroma one expects in the greener, bushier tips on a spruce or fir tree but also the woody, spruce-like aroma of the wood. Reminded me a lot of chinook hops. I immediately thought, "I could put this in beer." After unwrapping gifts on Christmas I asked if I could trim off all the tips for beer. I was approved and hacked up the tree. After trimming as much of the tips as I could without knocking off ornaments I ended up with approximately half an ounce of fir tips.

I settled on shoving these fir tips into a mixed fermentation saison. Initially I resisted the idea of treating another saison as a dumping ground for weird ingredients but a couple reasons justified the decision. First, I need to further explore my mixed farmhouse culture and this is a good opportunity to see how it plays with other flavors. Second, that woods/citrus/resin flavor is not entirely out of place for the style, especially within the realm of the more unusual Fantome offerings. Additionally, later on that day I visited my parents who it turns out grow Meyer lemons and gave me a large bag. I want to brew another saison with the lemons and blend at least some of each of these beers. (More on the Meyer lemon beer in another post.) 

Designing the Saison with Fir Tips recipe

Normally spruce tips or fir tree tips are harvested for beer in the spring when they are bushy and green with a flavor that leans more citrus than woodsy. I get that this is the "wrong" way to do this. This is purely an experiment for the sake of experimenting. I smelled the tips on the Christmas tree, liked what I smelled and decided to see what happens. 

I want the recipe to be fairly basic so the fir tips do not fight too many other flavors. The grain bill is a very simple 75% pale malt/25% unmalted wheat grist. Hops are minimal with a charge of Opal in the whirlpool with the fir tips. Opal has a earthy flavor that I expect will round out the fir tips just a little. My initial run with this mixed saison culture is very fruity in an overripe berry flavor. I'm not entirely sure how that will mix with the fir tips but it's just a gallon of beer. If it sucks it can flush out my kitchen sink drain. 

Batch Size: 1.1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.0%
Est. IBU: 26
Est. OG: 1.054
Est. FG: 1.016
Est. SRM: 3.6
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt112277.80%
Unmalted wheat8222.20%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter Profile
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.5g00.2g
Canning Salt0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.3g0.1g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.6ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction with cereal mash
Mash volume: 1.125 gal
Sparge volume: 0.5 gal
Boil wheat with 1.5 qt water21230
Add remaining water and bring to
infusion temperature
Infuse 1.125 gallons at 158F146F45
Decoct 27 oz and boil15
Return to mash156F30
Sparge 0.50 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.13oz6026.5
Opal [6.5%]0.1ozWhirlpool0
Fir tips0.5ozWhirlpool0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Saison AF
Pitch 100ml
Pitch at 70F9070F
Bottle to 3.5 vol CO2 with 1.6oz sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 12.28.16

First runnings: 1.0578
Pre-boil gravity: 1.045
Volume: 1.5 gallons
Mash efficiency: 82%

Post-boil gravity: 1.050
Post-boil volume: 1 gallon
Efficiency: 68%

Added water at end of boil--approximately 1/4 gallon to get up to one gallon post-boil.

1.26.17: After what seemed like a month of fermentation things appear to have tapered off. A slight taste is the emergence of the fruity yeast profile with what I assume is the fir tips in a herbal, forest-y flavor that is far less aggressive than pre-fermentation. Very oily and slightly tongue numbing--hope that is excess oils pulled from sampling from the top of the beer.

3.31.17: Gave the beer another taste today. Beer is dry with a nice range of fruity flavors, moderate herbal flavor and a twinge of brett on the end. Far less tongue numbing sensation but slight remnant. Will probably let it go another three or four weeks to mature before bottling. 

February 7, 2017

A 2016 Attempt at Spontaneous Fermentation

Winter has finally shown up with an end to 70F+ November days. Nights finally drop into the thirties which is a good range for throwing out a coolship. So far I haven't had good luck with attempts at spontaneous fermentations but I will take blame for those misfires. Some were experiments of just leaving wort out to see what happens. Then there was the batch two years ago that I cooled too fast and ended up with a poorly attenuated and bland. In between that time and today a lot of great information is available about the mechanics of coolships and spontaneous fermentation (largely thanks to Milk the Funk) that hopefully will help get something at least drinkable.

Tackling spontaneous fermentation is a big goal for my homebrewing. I am very happy with the results of my other mixed fermentation beers, both using lab blends and blends of dregs. Spontaneous fermentation carries such an allure as an interesting process and cool factor (pun not intended) that I can't resist.

What I don't want to do is keep throwing five gallon batches at the process to get it right. I mean, I should, but I don't have the space for that many carboys to see how they pan out. Plus, that would means blending even larger volumes and that's just more than I am prepared to tackle. So one part of my continued experimentation is seeing if it is possible to effectively coolship smaller volumes. It would be a lot easier to manage a full spontaneous fermentation project (dare we call it lambic??) in one gallon increments instead of five to ten. The obvious problem is that smaller volumes cool faster than larger volumes of wort and the cooling rate affects the mixture of yeast and bacteria. Adjusting the surface area to slow cooling rates risks reducing innoculation rates which diminishes the biological diversity. So that is an issue. 

Attempted technique to coolship one gallon of wort

Using the information on the MTF Wiki on coolships I worked out some numbers to try to get this even close to a range that makes sense. As the wiki explains, one of the big problems on a homebrew scale is the dimensions of many commonly used vessels play against our favor by allowing cooling to occur too fast with too little innoculation. Kettles are often a great option because the geometry more closely matches commercial-sized coolships.

For one gallon batches I typically use my five gallon kettle which doesn't work here as a very good coolship. The size of the kettle is good but with so little liquid inside the liquid dimensions change to favoring a large surface to volume ratio that is good for innoculation but bad for controlled cooling. I also worry that the distance between liquid surface and the top of the kettle may act as a shield from inviting the right guests.

My solution for this problem is to transfer the wort to a six quart stock pot from the kitchen. The dimensions more closely align with a normal brewing kettle full of wort and the metal is thicker which will help retain heat slightly better. I'll also wrap it with towels to help insulate and slow cooling.

I am still concerned the cooling will go too quickly in the stock pot, especially through the 140-60F range where the good inoculation happens. To cure that problem I will transfer the wort to my two gallon cooler mash tun because it has superior insulation. The liquid dimensions will be about the same so it's all upside. I'll preheat the mash tun to avoid temperature loss through the transfer.

Quick note on the recipe

For this recipe I will follow fairly typical lambic wort production technique. The biggest exception will be using pale malt rather than pils malt merely because I am trying to work through the sack of pale malt in the house. Hours of turbid mash fun. The only suitable aged hops I have on hand are from my homegrown hops. Most of my older hops are cascades which are a little higher in alpha acids than typical lambic hops but not so high I think it will be a problem.

One Gallon Lambic Wort Recipe #1

Batch size: 1.1 gallons
ABV: 4.4%
SRM: 3
Est. OG: 1.47
Est. FG: 1.002

Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale Malt10250.00%
Unmalted wheat10150.00%
Water Profileppm
Yellow Bitter--Brussels
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt.4g.4g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda.3g
Calcium Chloride.3g.3g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid1.2ml

Mash schedule

Mash water volume: 1 gallon
Sparge water volume: 0.85 gallons

1. Begin heating all mash water
2. Dough in 25 oz at 131 for rest at 113F for 15 minutes
3. Raise mash water to boil
4. Add 25 oz boiling mash water to raise to 126F for 15 minutes
5. Remove 13 oz from mash and add to kettle #2. Raise and hold at 190F
6. Add 38 oz boiling mash water to mash to raise to 149F for 45 minutes
7. Remove 38 oz from mash and add to kettle #2. Continue to hold kettle #2 at 190F
8. Add remaining 38 oz mash water to mash to raise to 162F for 30 minutes
9. Begin heating sparge water to 190F
10. Transfer liquid in mash tun to kettle #3 and begin heating to boil
11. Add contents of kettle #2 to mash tun and rest for 20 minutes
12. Drain contents of mash tun to kettle #3 and continue to heat
13. Sparge as usual and combine all runnings

Boil schedule

90 minute boil
0.70 oz aged hops at start of boil

Cooling schedule

1. Transfer wort to six quart stock pot, straining out hops
2. Wrap/surround stock pot with towels and place outside
3. When temperature of wort declines to 170F heat one gallon of water to 160F
4. Pour water in two gallon cooler to preheat cooler
5. When wort reaches 155F remove water from cooler and transfer in wort
6. Wrap cooler with towels and replace outside until wort is below 50F
7. Transfer to fermentation vessel

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed 11.19.16

Preboil volume: 2 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.028
Mash efficiency: 78%

Hops: 0.55 oz mixed 2014 cascade and mt. hood from garden plus 0.15 oz 2011 belma

Recorded temperatures for several hours roughly every thirty minutes. Did not expect to drop temperature so quickly. Transferred to cooler after one hour (11pm). Preheated cooler with approximately one gallon of water at 160F and sat in the cooler for ten minutes. Water dropped to 144F before dumping.

Sent outside at 9:55pm, brought in at 9:30am the following morning. Temperatures dipped in the very early morning to mid-30s so the wort probably got down to similar temperatures before the sun came up and started to warm. I went to bed around 2:30 so that's why readings stopped.

Temperatures were consistently dropping by four degrees once the ambient temperature held constant at 37F and the wort temperature coasted into the mid-eighties. Projecting that data forward the wort likely hit the mid to upper thirties sometime around 6:00am. Cooling is not linear so it possible the cooling slowed later in the night to less than eight degrees per hour and the wort never dropped below the final reading the following morning at 47F. 

11/19/16 9:55 PM39F212F
11/19/16 10:30 PM39130
11/19/16 10:50 PM39114
11/19/16 10:55 PM39113
11/19/16 11:20 PM38103
11/19/16 11:55 PM3792
11/20/16 12:25 AM3784
11/20/16 1:00 AM3777
11/20/16 1:30 AM3773
11/20/16 2:00 AM3769
11/20/16 2:20 AM3766
11/20/16 9:21 AM4747

Fermentation Updates

Within five days active fermentation appeared with fluffy white krausen. Went away after a few days. Approximately a week later the same thing happened. 

12.19.16: Thirty days out tasted the beer. Sweet-sour. Bitterness is prevalent, somewhere between APA and IPA. Mildly phenolic. Lingering mushroom flavor. Tastes similar to other wild yeast cultures. So far none of the weird clumps that plagued my last attempt at a spontaneous fermentation.

7.27.17: Approximately nine and a half months old. Thin, white pellicle. Aroma is funky, slight cherry pie. Taste is thin and bitter; slight acidity. Mushroom/earthy flavor lingers. Mouthfeel is thin. No expected brett flavor yet, despite aroma. Could be good, could be bad. Definitely needs more time. Not thrilled with the thin mouthfeel.