December 21, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Twenty - Beginning Year Five

It's almost hard to wrap my head around the idea that this little Better Bottle has been quietly producing lambic for four years and buried somewhere within the beer I'll bottle today is beer that dates back to that first brewday. Each brewday has made another change towards a more traditional lambic process and each beer coming out of the solera has been significantly different from its predecessor. With a traditional grist and the laborious turbid mash already part of the solera's brewday, I am running out of steps to further the authenticity of this beer short of spontaneously fermenting it (which is not something I am interested in integrating into this particular project). One area that I can take the beer more authentic is the use of aged hops in the boil. I have some 2011 East Kent Goldings that I have left at room temperature for a couple years that are slightly cheesy in aroma and should be a good fit for this beer.

Along with the new addition to the brewday it is also time to completely empty the solera to clean out the massive layer of trub and add some new saccharomyces and oak. I do this every other year to keep the solera in good health. I don't necessarily fear autolysis from the trub buildup but it just takes up too much volume if I let it go more than a couple years. I also like to add fresh saccharomyces and oak to put back some new flavor contributors. I believe the saccharomyces-created esters and phenols are important components of the brett flavors. I hypothesized a couple years ago when I added new saccharomyces that the years without a healthy saccharomyces fermentation would be less complex and less preferred by tasters than those years with fresh saccharomyces. The Year Four pull will provide a data point to compare against Year Three (which had fresh sacc) and Year Two (which did not have fresh sacc). More on that later.

Like the preceding years, I will break up the brew day and bottling across two posts. Today's post will cover the brew day and the subsequent post will discuss bottling, initial flavor impressions and some general thoughts about solera brewing for those currently enjoying their own solera and those considering starting their own.

2014 Refill Recipe

The recipe for this refill is pretty much the same as last year's but I am just doing my normal three gallon refill instead of last year's four gallon batch to make up for the enormous pile of trub I cleaned out of the fermentor. Otherwise, the only major changes here is the use of aged hops in the boil and I am adding some fresh saccharomyces to get some more flavor compounds in the beer for brett to play with.  In Year Three I added a Belgian strain from an Austin brewery that I didn't love when brett manipulated it so I am going back to a more trustworthy strain. Year Five will include a pitch of Wyeast Belgian Abbey 1214.

So here's the recipe.

Batch size: 3 gallons
Est OG: 1.046
Est FG: 1.009
Est IBU: 0
Est SRM:  2.8


2 lb. Unmalted white wheat [2 SRM]
3 lb. Avangard Pils malt [2 SRM]


6.25 qt. mash water
4.5 gallons sparge water
Water adjusted in bru'n water to yellow balanced profile

Water Profile

Calcium: 51ppm
Magnesium: 7ppm
Sodium: 5ppm
Sulfate: 75ppm
Chloride: 63ppm
Bicarbonate: 0ppm

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.5g
Epsom salt 0.4g
Canning salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.7g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 1.4g
Epsom salt 1.2g
Canning salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 1.9g
Lactic acid 2.4ml

Mash and Sparge

Turbid mash based on schedule in Wild Brews

1. Dough in 1.25qt at 146F for rest at 113F for 15 minutes.
2. Infuse 1.25qt at 150F for rest at 126F for 15 minutes.
3. Remove 0.625qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
4. Infuse 1.875qt at 188F for rest at 148F for 45 minutes.
5. Remove 1.8qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
6. Infuse 1.875qt at 202F for rest at 162F for 30 minutes.
7. Remove 2.28qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
8. Add kettle liquid to mash to raise to 172F. Rest for 20 minutes.
9. Sparge with 4.5gal at 190F.


90 minute boil
2 oz. aged EKG hops from 2011 at 90


Cool wort and rack onto three gallons of existing lambic plus pitch half of a wyeast 1214 smack pack. Age until Year Six.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 12/20/14.

I always forget how much of a PITA the turbid mash is, especially because my calculations always seem to be off on the first couple steps and I need to add more water to account for grain absorption. I just need to redo my math on the infusions but I forgot to do that ahead of the brewday and ended up adding more heated water after the second infusion to get the mash temperature up to 126. And oh how I forgot how much not fun it is squeezing runnings out of a dry mash. I had to use a strainer and a couple measuring cups to drain out enough runnings to move them over to the kettle. The picture to the right is the first extraction on its way to its 190F hold.

You can see how milky this stuff is coming out of the mash. As it gets up around 190F it starts to turn more of a brown color and develops a more gravy-like consistency. That shouldn't be too surprising because one way to make gravy thick like it's supposed to be is to add wheat flour.

I also forgot how difficult it is to sparge this stuff. The enormous amount of starch is begging for a stuck mash.

The picture to the left is the grain bed after sparging. You can see on the top there is a thick layer of gunk covering the grain. This is pretty common in any mash but it is abnormally thick here. It's about 1/2-3/4 of an inch thick. At least I kept most of it out of the brew kettle.

Every year I think about how much I should undergo this turbid mash because it's a challenge and with how little I have been able to brew this year it's a good time to spend a whole day brewing beer. Then I get in the middle of the turbid mash and wonder why I put myself through such an arduous process. Year Three was the first turbid mash and with its bottling later in the day I'll decide whether it's worth my time to keep it up.

The boil isn't too exciting; it's a very normal boil To the right are the aged hop pellets. The most interesting part of the boil was adding the hops. While dropping hops in the boil usually lets off those nice grassy and fruity aromas, these hops let off a very strange aroma of cheese and dead grass. Strange takes a different meaning in sour brewing, what with all the mouse taints and horse blankets.

That's it for today's post. The next half of this post will discuss the bottling and some initial tasting notes.

December 4, 2014

2014 Brewing Year in Review/2015 Brewing Goals

As with the past several years, I conclude/begin my homebrewing year in mid-December with the brewing of the next year's lambic solera filling. With the end of the 2014 brewing year approaching, it's that time for another reflective post of this year's brewing and setting out next year's brewing goals.

Overall 2014 resulted in far, far less brewing than I had anticipated with roughly half of the brews I put on my schedule never coming to fruition. Much of that had to do with the time spent in beer travels this year to Portland, California (Orange County up to San Francisco), Austin and Denver (GABF). I drank a lot and took some time off to recover once I returned home. As a result I drank less beer at home than normal. I am trying to avoid brewing beer that should be consumed fresh if I do not believe I will drink it fresh and that was primarily the reason several beers went unbrewed.

On the other hand, 2014 produced several great beers. I bottled my first gueuze and locked in my lager brewing technique. Those are the year's greatest accomplishments. I also brewed my first coolshipped beer but the jury is still out on how that beer is going to turn out. I suspect it is never going to sour but I am willing to wait it out. I was particularly happy with my pilsner. I was worried about brewing a beer that requires that level of technical precision but not only did I avoid flaws but it turned out very well. I am also happy with the way Melting Point Imperial Saison turned out although I might tweak that recipe in the future.

The 2015 brewing year will be about picking up the pieces of the past and building upon them for long term future projects. I have several beers that will see packaging in 2015 including Year Four Lambic Solera, a blending of 2014's rye porter and old ale, Lucky Pierre Brett Farmhouse Ale (from 2013) and the brett portion of Tropic Bling (Funkwerks Tropic King clone) aged on bourbon-soaked cubes. I also have several beers from 2014 to brew, including a pale ale, gratzer, rye saison, doppelbock, sour mashed rye stout, tmare pivo and a rebrew of the Tropic King clone.

Additionally, I have several long term projects continuing or starting in 2015. The lambic solera will get Year Five filling. I also plan on starting what I plan on becoming a long term sour beer blending program. 2015 will start out two of the base beers, which I am still tinkering with. Ultimately I plan on this project relying on four or five base beers but that is also something I am still tinkering with. Right now the two beers for 2015 in the project will be an oatmeal pale ale and a Belgian brown ale with later additions of a rye saison, a wheat saison and my adambier. I'll get more into this program as I solidify plans.

Of course I also have several other recipes in mind for the year that will be new beers. Right now these include an Indian-themed saison, a Belgian quad, an old chub clone, pilsner, wheat saison, steam porter and a wheat wine. I am not sure how many of these beers will actually make the cut for 2015 with all the other beers left to brew in 2014 and all the aged beers getting bottled. There is also a small batch of an atypical lager that I will be brewing in a one-on-one competition. I'm committed to the competition but still working on the recipe so I'll keep quiet about that for now. I also have another beer that has to stay a secret for now but I'll talk about that when the time is right. Many of these beers will be small batch beers so that should help justify brewing a few of these beers.

Heading into December I have a very busy brewing schedule, which makes up for the long drought through the end of the summer and early fall. In addition to the biere de mars currently in the tank I have the rebrew of the lambic solera coming up plus another three beers I have to get fermenting between now and mid-January and I only have space to brew each of them in succession of each other, minus the solera brew. So 2015 will probably work out to a lot of brewing early in the year with a tapering off as the year progresses.

As an aside, I've added Brain Sparging on Brewing to Facebook so those of you who use Facebook to follow blogs can use that instead of RSS. Find the blog on Facebook here. 

November 28, 2014

Ratchet Biere de Mars Tasting Notes

This is a review I thought I would never write. This strange biere de mars recipe, converting a dunkelweizen into a biere de mars, came out in early pours as a just awful cloying mess. All the munich, crystal and wheat malt just came together to make a sweet beer and then when I used the Hacker-Pschorr lager yeast with it's terrible attenuation it pushed out a beer that was like drinking carbonated caramel syrup. I pushed aside the bottles for almost a year in hopes that something salvageable would emerge. Thankfully, it has.

Appearance: Very dunkelweizen-like with a dark caramel color and heavy haze. Thick cream-colored head hangs around before slowly retracting back into the beer. A wisp of foam follows the beer down to the bottom of the glass.

Aroma: Peach, pear, cherry, caramel, toffee, wheat bread, banana, white grape, slight hay and funk notes.

Flavor: Caramel and apricot notes dominate followed by white grape and wheat bread. Hints of melon, banana, cherry, berry jam and port. Curious leather note. Grain character is mild and the hops are nonexistent in the flavor (or aroma). Sweet alcohol notes are present in the background. Very sweet taste, almost cloying but tolerably sweet, especially on a cold night.

Mouthfeel: Predictably heavy. The wheat and residual sugar leaves behind a beer with a very chewy mouthfeel. The beer comes on almost undrinkably heavy at first but the beer lightens up on the tongue. There is a dryness after the beer is swallowed that seems out of place but helps balance the beer.

Overall: I wouldn't say this beer is among my favorite but it is a nice beer to have in rotation as a cold winter night sipper. It has aged well into something I can safely move off the dump list to the hold-and-age list. There has definitely been some oxidative effects in the bottle that have transformed the cloying sweetness into a port-like beer. It reminds me a little of Bruery's Sucre but like a poor clone attempt. Still, not a bad comparison to be able to make.

November 15, 2014

Czech It Uut Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager)

My first interaction with the Czech dark lager style was two years ago when I was judging a local homebrewing competition and my partner and I had a flight of specialty beers, one of which was described as a "modeled on U Fleku" to which both my partner and I asked, "What the heck is a U Fleku?" I did some quick googling and we tried to judge the beer the best we could. After that I spent some time trying to figure out what this dark Czech lager style was.

Czech dark lager is not one style; there are multiple dark Czech lager styles. The beers range from under 3% ABV to 7% ABV and may run from sweet to dry maltiness and gently hopped to bitter to aromatically hopped. The styles may have historic connections to German Munich dunkel and schwarzbier styles and may be stylistically similar to those styles but they can also fit somewhere in between those styles in a way that would be very out of place for either German style. However, the range of Czech dark lagers have been compressed into a single style in the 2014 BJCP guidelines but I suppose that is better than their total absence from the 2008 guidelines.

Stan Hieronymous's book For the Love of Hops includes a recipe from a Czech brewery for a tmavé pivo and this recipe served as the inspiration for my own recipe. The included recipe is on the higher end of the gravity range with a moderate sweetness and bitterness in the Tmavé Speciální Pivo style. The recipe provider points out that the recipe is not like most Tmavé Speciální Pivo beers that are sweet and this one should be considered bittersweet. I tracked the available recipe closely with an altered hop profile based on what I have available for European hops. I expect the styrian celeia will add some fruity and floral notes that diverge from the base recipe but with the hop schedule I do not expect to taste much of the hops.

Czech It Uut Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager) Recipe

Batch size: 2 gallons
Est. OG: 1.057
Est. FG: 1.018
Est. ABV: 5.1%
Est. SRM: 22
Est. IBU 35

Grain Bill

75.4% 3lb. 4oz. German pilsner malt (2 SRM)
11.6% 8oz. Caramunich III (56 SRM)
10% 7oz. Munich malt (9 SRM)
3% 2oz. Carafa III dehusked (525 SRM)

Mash Schedule

Add 6.46qt water at 156F for 144F rest for 40 minutes
Decoct 1.67qt of mash and boil
Return to raise mash to 158F for 30 minutes.
Sparge with 1.15 gallons of water.

Water Profile

RO water adjusted with Bru'n Water to Pilsen profile with mash ph at 5.2.

Calcium 7ppm
Magnesium 2ppm
Sodium 2ppm
Sulfate 10ppm
Chloride 6ppm
Bicarbonate -60ppm

Mash Water Additions

Epsom salt 0.1g
Chalk 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.4ml

Sparge Water Additions

Epsom salt 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.9ml

Boil Additions

90 minute boil

0.20oz. Belma [12.10%] at 90 minutes
0.15oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 60 minutes
0.15oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 30 minutes
0.25tsp. Irish Moss at 10 minutes

Fermentation Schedule

Pitch slurry of WY Budvar 2000 at 50F, let rise to 52F.
Ferment at 52F until 75% expected attenuation then raise incrementally to 64F for diacetyl rest.
Bottle to 2.3vol of carbonation with 21 day conditioning.
Lager bottles for 21 days.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 11/15/14

First runnings gravity: 1.063
Pre-boil gravity: 1.046
Pre-boil volume: 2.5g
Mash efficiency: 74%
Post-boil gravity: 1.058
Post-boil volume: 2.2g
Brewhouse efficiency: 81%

Pitched slurry from Biere de Mars Attacks! and set fermentation chamber to 52F.

Bottled 12/6/14. FG: 1.015.
Racked 1 gallon on 1 oz. Makers Mark soaking in oak.
Lager in bottles.

October 30, 2014

Biere de Mars Attacks!

My first attempt at a biere de mars was a compilation of leftover ingredients cobbled together out of leftover ounces of hops and a dunkelweizen that never got brewed (see Ratchet biere de mars). Although it eventually turned into an interesting beer, it is barely reminiscent of the French biere de mars style that is a cousin to the German marzen (and not too far off from vienna and oktoberfest beers). I wanted to give this style another go with a legitimate biere de mars recipe, hence this recipe was concocted. Originally I planned to brew this beer in March 2014 but I never got around to it so I am brewing it now because I have the room to brew this one gallon recipe and I need to grow up my lager yeast for several other lagers I want to brew in the coming months.

This recipe is modeled upon the biere de mars recipe in Farmhouse Ales but with an unusual mix of French Aramis and Celeia hops to create an unusual citrusy take on the biere de mars style. Saaz and Saaz-like hops might be more appropriate for the style but I don't think the citrus notes from these hops will be entirely unusual. New Belgium's excellent biere de mars had lemon peel and lemon verbana and those lemony flavors worked well. I expect to capture the same compatibility but with a slightly different flavor profile.

Biere de Mars Attacks! Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.067
Est. FG: 1.014
Est. ABV: 7%
Est. IBU: 31.4
Est. SRM: 19.8

Grain Bill

48.6% 1 lb. 4 oz. Belgian Pilsner [2 SRM]
29.2% 12 oz. wheat malt [2 SRM]
19.5% 8 oz. Munich malt [9 SRM]
2.7% 1 oz. black patent malt [500 SRM]

Mash Schedule

60 minute mash at 152F
0.8 gallons infused at 164F
0.8 gallons sparge water at 180F

Water Profile

Bru'n Water Brown Balanced
RO Water adjusted

Calcium: 59.1
Magnesium: 10.4
Sodium: 15.2
Sulfate: 70.7
Chloride: 54.8
Bicarbonate 31.4

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Baking soda 0.2g
Calcium chloride 0.3g
Chalk 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.2ml

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Calcium chloride 0.3g
Lactic acid 0.4ml

Boil Schedule

90 minute boil

0.15oz. Celeia [4.5% AAU] FWH
0.10oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 min
0.07oz. Aramis [8% AAU] at 20 min
0.10oz. Celeia [4.5% AAU] at whirlpool
0.03oz. Aramis [8% AAU] at whirlpool


Pitch 60ml Buvar WY2000 yeast at 52F with oxygen.
Hold temperature at 55F until attenuation reaches 75% of expected attenuation.
Raise to 62F at 1.020 gravity for diacetyl rest.
Hold until gravity is stable.
Lager 2-3 weeks.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 10/30/14.

First runnings gravity: 1.074
Pre-boil gravity: 1.047
Pre-boil volume: 1.4g
Post-boil gravity: 1.038
Post-boil volume: 1.1g

Brewhouse efficiency: 70%

10/30/14: Pitched lager yeast at 50F and raised temperature to 52F on temperature controller.
11/3/14: Raised temperature through day to 55F.
11/4/14: Raised temperature to 64F for remainder of fermentation and diacetyl rest.
11/15/14: Bottled to 2.8vol. FG: 1.016

October 28, 2014

Book Review: Beer for All Seasons by Randy Mosher

I received an advanced copy of Randy Mosher's new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What to Drink and When to Drink It which apparently is already out in digital formats with hard copy publication anticipated for spring 2015. It's not a homebrewing book but Randy Mosher is well known in homebrewing circles so I thought a brief review here would not be inappropriate. Beer for All Seasons is exactly what it sounds like. It is a book about drinking beer around the seasons that discusses both beer styles commonly associated with the styles and popular beer events in each season around the world. Overall, it's a visually stunning and well-written guide that appears to target the casual craft beer drinker or neophyte to an obsession with beer.

Like many beer-related books, Beer for All Seasons begins with an exposition of beer's history and particularly its historical attachment to the seasons. It covers all the expected subjects about the history of beer from early historic sources through modern brewing. What I like most about this section is Mosher's ability to be factually accurate, sometimes in very precise ways, without making the book too droll for the book's target audience. The tall tales of brewing that often get tossed into these kinds of books because they are passed from one source to the next like beer folk tales are largely absent. Instead you can tell legitimate research went into the book. The history is brief and not all-encompassing but it is broad enough to give readers an idea of beer's history. Beer for All Seasons then turns to discussing the purpose of beer and how beer has been consumed through history as a basis for the book's thesis that beer should be a seasonal beverage. It ties historical seasonal drinking against the modern desires for different flavor profiles across the seasons (e.g. darker, richer beers in the winter).

The book next turns in a more technical aspect in a slightly jumbled manner. The book first turns to discussing the four well-known brewing ingredients and a survey of the brewing process that could easily fit in the introductory materials in any homebrewing book. Then the book shifts into discussing proper methods to taste beer before shifting back to brewing to discuss the major international brewing trends before shifting back to a survey of common beer styles and then shifting back into discussing how to serve beer in both proper glassware and briefly how to pair with food. All of the information presented is excellent information in a very easily digestible manner except the jumbled feel of the section. This seems like information that could have been placed at the back of the book to maintain the smooth flow of discussion about the seasons of beer. It also seems like the section should have discussed all of the brewing pieces and then moved into tasting the beer. The flip flop between subjects doesn't make sense.

Beer for All Seasons then turns to its stated purpose, which is a discussion of beers and beer events in each season. Each season gets a discussion of some styles commonly associated with the season along with a long list of beer events and how to pair beers with the season's holidays and popular foods. Some seasons are brief (like spring) while others are well-explored (like summer). There are some interesting tidbits along the way, such as the discussion of historical English winter ale drinks like Flip and Bishop. The book concludes with an extended list of beer events on a monthly basis. Spring gets slighted as a season with bock being its only thorough beer discussion although spring has a historical attachment to brewing beyond drinking doppelbock and maibock. That's my one real gripe with the content.

Overall, it's a great introduction to the concept and drinking of beer by the seasons. It's succinct with useful information, especially for somebody trying to get their feet tongues wet with beer travels. I would recommend this book for anybody trying to get to know more about beer although if you've subscribed to a beer mag or two for any length of time then most of the information in this book may not be new to you. The book recommends a good number of seasonal beers and like any beer guide it has a limited shelf life because many of those beers will not be with us in a decade or two. Many of the beer events have more staying power, as some have been around for decades or even hundreds of years. Collectively, even where particular events or beers have gone by the wayside the book will still have good value because the information about the books and why certain beers were selected for discussion in this book will continue to be useful for future readers. So its shelf life may not be eternal but it will persist longer than many other beer guides out there.

October 18, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 13 -- Week 38 (and on...)

Over the past few weeks what I have dubbed zombie jellyfish have continued to get bubbly but nothing particularly interesting is going on with the beer. I decided to play around with the beer a little and try to figure out what's going on. I'm really trying to drink down my supply of homebrew so I haven't brewed since mid-July and that is making me sad. So working on this beer is a nice project to keep the brewing itch subdued. I decided to try pulling a yeast culture out of the fermentor and try to put together sort of a side beer I can play with and taste without ruining the big batch.

My process was simple. A basic starter of DME cut with table sugar for a 1.044 gravity will form a breeding ground for whatever I got out of the fermentor. I added approximately 0.15 oz. of Belma hops to help fight off some of the bacteria and see if I could produce a mixed culture suited for brewing versus the base beer which was gently hopped. I used a straightened out paper clip as an inoculation loop. My hypothesis was that I would gently break off a small piece of one of the zombie jellyfish and transfer it to the starter wort. Surprisingly, the jellyfish attacked the paper clip.

No, actually I was surprised because the damn things are solid. I tried to pull off a piece but the whole thing lifted up and then slid off the paper clip. I was expecting more of a gelatinous texture. I wish I could have taken some pictures but my hands were full. I tried to fish out a smaller clump but I couldn't reach any. So I am working on the assumption that I scrapped some cells off the clumps I touched. I then inserted the end of the paperclip in the starter wort and swirled it around.

After two days there was visible signs of fermentation, including CO2 output and the aroma of fermenting beer. No krausen but definitely something fermenting in there.The foam was white and reminiscent of soap bubbles. The spontaneous beer went through a similar stage without ever producing the typical creamy krausen of a cultured fermentation so perhaps this is just normal for wild yeast where there is a lot of CO2 but not quite the volume of top fermenting yeast necessary to produce it. In addition to the foam on top there was also a layer of trub building up. No layer of yeast but it was unmistakably trub as the liquid began to clear up as fermentation went on.

The aroma was bready, spicy and woody. The best I can describe it is like a blend of saaz hops and yeast fermentation. Really unusual but not unpleasant. I actually liked it.

By day four most of the activity had died down and the liquid had dropped fairly clear. Then these white chains began to form in the beer. You can kind of see them in this second picture if you look past the small bits clinging to the interior of the flask.  I marked one with a red arrow but you can kind of see that there were quite a few.

At first I thought it was the start of another yeast fermentation because saccharomyces can sometimes develop that wispy appearance on the surface before krausen starts to form but they didn't seem to expand beyond roughly half an inch in length. They were just multiplying and then floated on top. Not really sure what that is.

I cold crashed the starter in my fridge for a couple days to drop everything out and try to get an idea of the quantity of yeast in there. Not a visibly large layer of yeast. I tested the gravity and tasted it.
According to my refractometer, the gravity went up. That didn't make a lot of sense. However, it was very sweet, with a little peppery spice. So at a minimum the gravity is still very high.

I left this to sit while I left town for GABF and checked on it a couple weeks after that. Gravity still shows up some 0.2 gravity points above the starting gravity. (I feel like I misread the OG reading...) It is sweet but less sweet than before. The flavor is all banana like a weizen strain gone nuts. Checked gravity a few days later and no change. The starter has dropped clear so I'm not sure there is even any more activity. My thought is that the primary yeast that I captured in coolshipping this beer are just terrible malt sugar fermenters and I'll have to wait for brett or whatever to show up in force and dry this beer out. I'm going to dump this starter. I will just watch the main batch for activity.

While I was at it, I checked in on the full batch on 10/14/14 and the gravity is 1.010. It is still somewhat sweet but it is starting to get some funky flavors going on. So I still have hope that this is going somewhere interesting. I'm surprised there is zero perceptible acidity to the beer after ten months. I guess I picked a bad time to try to try to pick up bacteria out of the air but I am going to let this beer keep going and see what happens.

October 7, 2014

GABF Recap

I just got back Monday evening from six days in Denver for GABF and as always in Denver I had a blast. I got to try an enormous amount of beers and out of all the beers I tried I only had one beer that was bad and a small handful that I didn't care for. I went to a couple events and several other breweries and bars and had a great time. We avoided a lot of the places we expected to be swamped and I'm glad we did. We were able to enjoy an onslaught of delicious beers that way. Before discussing the places and beers I want to thank Jared and Chandler, our gracious hosts from Tiny Ass Brewery, and everybody who worked and volunteered to make GABF a great event. I'll highlight the places we went and, to the extent that I remember them, some of the great beers we came across.

First I'll start off with the bars:

Hops and Pie

Hops and Pie again rewarded me with delicious pizza and beer. Tuesday night they featured a Crooked Stave tap takeover that featured all sorts of delicious beers from Crooked Stave and other breweries they distribute in Colorado. Many good beers were sampled but the favorite of the bunch was Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett, an oak aged baltic porter with brett. Good stuff.

Lucky Pie

More delicious pizza here but the best item on the food menu is the fried cheese curds. Holy crap they are delicious. Had an interesting cask version of Left Hand's Chainsaw Ale (ESB) with cedar and cinnamon. Good stuff.


Small tap list but a great selection going on. I can always count on Freshcraft to tempt me with way too many beers. You know you're in for trouble with Avery Rumpkin on tap and following it with a 2009 keg of Alaskan Baltic Porter. The 2009 Baltic Porter aged really nicely with big notes of smooth roast and dark chocolate.

World of Beer

I am not a big fan of the local World of Beer location. There is a stage upstairs that directs all the sound down right in front of the bar which makes it hard to order beer, let alone have a conversation. However, they do bring in some good beers with some fun events so I try to pick times where the band isn't there. The lower downtown Denver location is nice and on Thursday they had an Upslope tap takeover. In Dallas we only get Upslope's most basic offerings--which are good--but at the tap takeover they had thirty different beers from Upslope along with a few other fun options like Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy with pumpkin spices. There was a nice Upslope blackberry Belgian pale ale and a wine barrel saison (that they claimed was sour but wasn't) that was pretty good, but the top pick was a plum cardamom rye saison that did an excellent job of balancing the plum and cardamom so you could tell each was present but neither overwhelmed the rye or yeast character.

Now on to some breweries/brewpubs:

4 Noses Brewing

This small Broomfield brewery focuses on making standard-style beers very well. Sure, there are the obligatory imperial stouts and IPAs (which are good) but their core lineup includes more simplified lager and ale styles. Their lagers are particularly solid and there are a few lagers out of the normal German and Czech styles. For as much as I am a fan of sours and saisons and all sorts of crazy beers I am also a fan of a really well constructed beer in the more traditional styles.

Wild Woods Brewery

Wildwoods is a laid back brewery in Boulder with a small core lineup and an interesting mix of seasonals and one offs. Their beers are inspired by the outdoors and each beer is constructed to acknowledge Colorado's flora and outdoorsy attitude. There are no safe bets on the menu. No IPAs with an avalanche of popular hops or flabby blond ales to appeal to the Coors drinkers. At the same time, Wild Woods is careful in its use of interesting ingredients to create well-integrated flavor profiles. Favorites here were the S'mores Stout with cocoa nibs and some sort of dark candy treatment and the Ponderosa Porter, a rye porter aged on oak and vanilla beans.

Baere Brewing Co.

Baere Brewing is a small brewery in Denver that focuses on Colorado ingredients introduced through a wide range of beers. We only stopped in for the berliner weisse, which is quite good. They offer several house-made syrups but we tried it plain. The board listed the berliner weisse as having brett and while there is a little funk to it there is no big brett character (nor should there be). The acidity was bright and citrusy. I'm not a big fan of berliner weisse as a style but this is a really good example of the style. I wish I had checked out some other beers from these guys.

The Post Brewing Co.

Post is a brewpub in Lafayette that serves up chicken with a southern feel with an interesting mix of simple but very well constructed beers that pair nicely with their fried chicken. Let's get one thing straight: this place knows how to cook fried chicken. We have some solid fried chicken in Dallas and Post blows them away. They aren't doing too bad with their beers, either. Howdy, their American pilsner, took silver in the American-style pilsner at GABF. It is flawlessly smooth but keeping things interesting with some great malt flavors.

Horse and Dragon Brewing Co.

Horse and Dragon is practically in Funkwerks' backyard in Fort Collins, tucked away on the back side of the industrial park from Funkwerks. It's a fun little place with an interesting mix of German styles and classic American craft styles. It's owned by a husband and wife team and they are genuinely concerned about making sure people have a good experience and a good beer. The stout is chocolaty and complex and the Sad Panda coffee version adds further complexity and gentle coffee flavors. I also really enjoyed the Keller Kolsch which had a really pleasant hop presence that made it an interesting take on the style.

Fort Collins Brewery

Fort Collins Brewery continues to earn its spot as one of my favorite Colorado breweries. The food, service and beer is all still excellent. If there is a better brewery in the country making smoked beers I have no idea who it is. This trip FCB offered an interesting smoked IPA with grain smoked over fruitwood (which I wrongly picked up as oak) with fruity hops to create a smoky but fruity beer rather than the earthy/piney/herbal flavor profile of other smoked IPAs I have tried. There was also a smoked marzen which had that classic rauchmalz flavor paired up with caramely malt. The pumpkin stout featured nicely balanced spices and Trend, the sour black IPA, was really interesting. The sour black IPA was moderately sour and gently bitter with dry hopping to bring back freshness in the hop flavor. Not a style I expected to see soured but it really worked well. If I had to guess I would say they toned down the bittering addition to encourage and then balance the sourness.


How much more can I gush on Funkwerks than I have in the past? I'm going to try. Several new (for me) beers were available which meant I was prepared to get my drink on. Motueka is a delicious single hopped saison with Motueka hops with a delicious citrus and passionfruit flavor. Nelson Sauvin always wins me over with the big melon and white wine flavors. Dahlia is an excellent dark Belgian ale with rich chocolate and raisin flavor. Raspberry Provincial, which won a medal at GABF, is a delicious berliner weisse with raspberries. The oud bruin is deliciously sour with big cherry and chocolate notes. My favorite was Remi's Rye, Funkwerks' pro-am beer with a big hit of rye. It's definitely on the malty side of saison with an unavoidable rye punch and citrusy yeast esters.

Ok, I will say some negative things. I am sad that Casper, the lighter saison, no longer seems to be a part of the production line. I am unsure whether White has been moved out of the production line but it also was missing from the taproom in both draft and bottle. They had Tropic King on nitro, which I ordered because my wife likes the beer and often likes nitro (neither of which am I a huge fan) and I had to say the nitro pour really ruins the beer. All the flavor is muted and it turns into a pretty boring beer. So definitely not my thing but it was worth giving a try.

River North Brewery

River North was my first stop in Denver on Tuesday where they were offering a variety of barrel aged versions of their saison. My first experience with River North was a couple years ago with Unified Theory, their barrel aged imperial white. I was hooked right away so I was stoked to try these saisons. The base saison, J. Marie, is a straightforward saison with two grains (I am guessing pilsner malt and wheat malt), one hop and saison yeast. It's a little mild on the yeast flavor for my tastes but an excellent beer for barrel aging where it can let the barrel character manipulate it without competing with too much yeast character.

J. Marie was served along side four barrel variants: whiskey; barrel & brett; white wine; and tequila. The white wine barrel version seemed to be the least favorite. It was a little too heavy on the chardonnay and the beer was lost underneath the wine and oak. The whiskey barrel version was everybody's favorite except me. It was interesting with sweet vanilla undertones but I like my saisons on the drier side so I found other beers to love. The barrel & brett version was dry and oaky with a healthy amount of funk. The wood and funk was supported by a grainy backbone that let all the complexity shine through. My favorite (and my wife's least favorite) was the tequila barrel aged version. The tequila gave the saison a drier feel and the citrusy tequila added a nice fruity element that really woke the saison up and made a very good beer excellent. The oak was more subtle in this version and although I thought the tequila was well balanced my wife and others found it too heavy on the tequila. Tequila-aged saison is definitely on my to-do list.

Another delicious beer we sampled was Barrel Blonde, a barrel aged blonde. At first I thought the idea was a wasteful way to use a barrel but it is actually a very nice beer. The base beer is malty but simple enough to let the nuances of the oak come through in a way heavier or more complex beers tend to overwhelm. Woody vanilla notes with hints of fruit made it a pleasant and interesting beer.

And last the events:

Beers Made by Walking

Outside of GABF our beer-saturated group knocked out Beers Made by Walking at Wynkoop, which was a charity event that challenged its brewers to brew beers inspired by ingredients in the brewery's native habitat. The event must have undersold because the crowd seemed light but that was a bonus for those of us who were smart enough to attend because we were able to sample as much beer as we liked. The beers included a number of unusual ingredients, many of which I had never tasted before like paw paw fruit, horehound, stinging nettle and wild carrot seed. For the sake of space and memory I'll just mention the beers that were particularly interesting:

  • Bonfire Brewing Bushwaker blonde with juniper and sagebrush. Deliciously herbal beer which, like River North's Barrel Blonde, used a simple base to let the interesting ingredients shine through. The juniper was restrained to allow the sage to intermix. 
  • Boulder Beer Co. Spikeberry Saison with dried elderberry, yarrow, prickly pear syrup and hops grown on site. An interestingly complex beer with floral, fruit and herbal character well-mixed to create a distinct saison that could easily pass as a tea-infused saison with a very complex tea blend. 
  • Breckenridge Brewery High Mountain Harvest double IPA with raspberries. What's interesting about this beer is that all the bitterness disappeared. There was an unmistakable herbal hop character to it but the bitterness disappeared. I suspect the acidity from the raspberries was covering up the bitterness but it's unusual to lose so much IBU to fruit. Even the brewers were mystified by what they had created. 
  • Copper Kettle Brewing Horehound Chocolate Stout with Hershey's syrup and horehound. Ok, I said horehound a lot while I was drinking this beer. Horehound tastes like a very anise-forward root beer, which is a very medicinal kind of flavor. In the stout it came across like licorice and mint, which was very interesting. 
  • Fonta Flora Brewery Salted Sunflower Saison. I actually didn't like this beer but I thought it was interesting. The sunflower seed flavor came through very distinctly, which wasn't too bad. The problem with the beer is that the salt was noticeable in the flavor and gave the beer a heavy mouthfeel. I think the sunflower seeds would be interesting in a beer where a nutty flavor would be more in line like a brown ale or amber ale.
  • Former Future Brewing Golden Feather Batch II brewed with peaches and lavender and aged in a sherry cask. The fruit and flower notes survived the aging very nicely and the sherry cask flavors were also prevalent. The combination of flavors produced a beer with gentle light stonefruit flavors, which is unusual in brewing where dark stonefruit is a more common flavor profile.
  • Fremont Brewing Imperial IPA with spruce tips and elderflowers. Spruce and elderflower is an interesting mix of herbal, floral and woody character. It was surprising to find these flavors well integrated into a beer that could easily overwhelm the elderflower or be overwhelmed by spruce. Fremont did an excellent job of blending hop flavor with both the spruce and elderflower.
  • Horse & Dragon Perambulation amber ale with juniper and cedar. This beer had a unique profile. The malty amber ale brought out the expected herbal juniper flavors but the fruity flavors of cedar came out more than the woody notes I often find in cedar beers.
  • Pateros Creek Brewing Hike to the Falls milk stout with juniper and sage. Another beer with the juniper and sage combination but unusually placed in a milk stout. The herbal character worked well with the chocolate and roast notes of the milk stout. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
  • Scratch Brewing Wild Carrot Seed amber ale with wild carrot seed roots and seed. I didn't know what wild carrot was (it's also called Queen Anne's Lace). The seed is actually a small fruit and it tastes like a very peppery carrot. That flavor came through in the beer and surprisingly the carrot flavor did not seem as unusual as expected. 
  • Wild Woods Brewery Roasted Root amber ale with chicory and burdock. Neither ingredient are popular brewing or culinary ingredients although you can find some coffee/chicory blends and a few chicory beers out there. Chicory has a coffee-like flavor but it is more earthy and less chocolate. Burdock, on the other hand, has a earthy root beer flavor when roasted. The combination of the two in this amber ale produced a beer with roasty, earthy and herbal flavors that was really delicious. 

Great American Beer Festival

We only attended the member's only Saturday session where we saw the award stickers go up on the beer lists. We had a plan to tackle New England and midwest beers because we have very little exposure to those but somehow we ended up spending a lot of time in the west coast regions, which was fine because we were able to find many of our favorite beers from the west coast. Overall GABF was very smoothly run and we were able to try almost everything we wanted due to the short lines. Often we walked right up and tried beers, even at breweries with significant hype.  The worst part was the line getting in. It took us about an hour from the time we parked to get in and we got there about half an hour before the doors opened. Fortunately we were able to get beer so quickly that it made up for the line. One hidden gem seemed to be the pro-am booth, where there were several excellent beers but it wasn't very easy to see where the beers came from so I had a couple of my favorite beers over there and sadly no idea who to thank for them. At any rate, here is the list of beers we tried:

  • Pro-am (unknown): sour beer with cherries; double IPA aged in tequila barrels
  • 10 Barrel Brewing P2P Stout
  • Central Waters Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter; Sixteen
  • Jack's Abby Oktoberfest; Fire in the Ham
  • Troegs Troegenator
  • Two Goats blonde doppelbock; bourbon barrel aged oatmeal stout
  • Karl Strauss Red Trolley
  • DC Brau The Citizen; Penn Quarter Porter
  • New Helvetia Thurston
  • New Holland Blue Sunday
  • Cigar City Blue Sound
  • Atwater Brewing Blueberry Cobbler Stout; Vanilla Java Stout
  • Horny Goat Oktoberfest
  • Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  • Upland Campside
  • Nebraska Brewing Co. Apricot au poivre saison
  • Allagash Coolship Resurgam
  • Saranac Pale Ale
  • Kamala Bitterama; Smoked Austoner
  • Base Camp Rye Pilsner
  • The Commons Flemish Kiss; Myrtle
  • AleSmith 2014 Old Ale
  • 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat; Monk's Blood
  • Bottle Logic Lagerithm; rice lager
  • Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta; Tripel
  • Heretic Tafelbully; Gramarye
  • Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
  • Rare Barrel Egregious
  • Societe Brewing The Harlot; The Butcher
  • Firestone Walker 17; Agrestic
  • New Belgium Leopold's Love; La Terroir
  • Deschutes Planet Rouge; Fresk Hoptoberfest; Dinkel Doppel Bock
  • St. Arnold's Pumpkinator; Bishop's Barrel 4; Bishop's Barrel 2 with brett
  • Real Ale Imperium
  • Noble Ale Works Naughty Sauce
  • Karbach Hellfighter 007
  • Lakewood Rock Ryder
  • New Glarus IPA
  • Breakside Passionfruit Sour; IPA
  • Bend Brewing Co. Salmonberry Sour
We made good use of our time. My favorites were St. Arnold's Bishop's Barrel 2 with brett, Deschutes Planet Rouge, Rare Barrel Egregious, The Commons Flemish Kiss, Heretic Tafelbully, Logsdon Tripel, Central Waters 16, Central Waters Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter and the mystery tequila barrel double IPA. The Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter was the winner out of all of them but many good beers were had.

September 22, 2014

Aurora Hops and Celeia Hops

I am fairly inexperienced compared to many homebrewers when it comes to working with the ever growing array of hop varieties available for brewing. A combination of factors keeps my homebrewing limited to a small but slowly growing group of hops that I have gotten to know well at the expense of getting to play around with all of the wonderful hop varieties available to us. I don't brew hoppy beers very often and I mostly brew small batches these days that require little in the way of hopping. I also like to buy in bulk where I can to reduce the cost per ounce. The problem in trying to select hops to work with is that the descriptions provided by retailers tend to be ambiguous (and provided verbatim from the wholesalers) so it's risky for me to buy a pound of something I might use for a year or two without knowing if I am going to like it. There are reviews around the internet but the further you get from popular varieties the less detailed and clear the reviews become. So I thought I would add some detailed notes on a couple hop varieties I have explored that I found very difficult to find detailed notes on. These are Aurora (sometimes listed asStyrian Aurora, Super Styrian or Styrian Goldings Aurora) and Celeia (also listed as Styrian Celeia or Styrian Goldings Celeia).

Aurora and Celeia are both Slovenian hops born out of the breeding programs in Slovenia that tend to get very little interest. Slovenia has been slowly feeding styrian varieties into the world but they tend to be overwhelmed by interest in new German hops on the European side and all of our American and southern hemisphere hops from the new world. The Slovenian hops unsurprisingly provide good attributes for lagers with smooth bitterness and mellow flavors. However, there are some interesting flavors across the different varieties that make them more useful than just bittering.

Aurora Hops

Aurora was originally known by its name Super Styrian when it was developed in the 70s. It is one of the two most grown varieties in Slovenia (Styrian Goldings being the other). It is a cross of a native wild male and a female Northern Brewer so it is actually unrelated to Styrian Goldings. It shares some of the attributes of Styrian Goldings but unlike Styrian Goldings it is a high alpha hop, which makes it an effective bittering hop. It has low co-humulone, which makes for a smooth bitterness desired in lagers and other European beers. However, it has interesting flavor and aroma attributes that make it an interesting late or dry hop addition.

Aurora features flavors popular in New World hops with a unique twist. Aurora is big on citrus punch, floral notes, pineapple, mango and a heft of spice and herbal character expected out of the styrian family of hops. What makes it unique among many of the desired tropical-flavor hops is that the flavors are undeniably present without being aggressive. The herbal/spicy character helps keep Aurora in check compared to American or NZ/AUS tropical hops that are more assertive. That balancing effect makes Aurora a good beer for lager styles where the brewer wants some of that citrus character without the hops bowling over the malty smoothness. It might be the best hop out there for the new hoppy IPL style. It also works well for saison, pale ales and would do nicely in a mix with other hops in an IPA/DIPA.

Celeia Hops

Celeia, aka Styrian Celeia, is a daughter of Aurora, Styrian Golding and a Slovenian wild hop. Unlike Aurora, Celeia has low alpha and low co-humulone, so it is a suitable hop for European styles looking for a gentle bittering charge without the sometimes pricy cost of noble varieties. Like Aurora, it comes out of the Slovenian hop fields and shares the herbal/spicy/citrus character of the Styrian family.

It is definitely a different hop than Aurora. While Aurora has a well-balanced mix of flavors, Celeia is slightly more aggressive in aroma and flavor. It is also less complex, with assertive notes of lime, floral and an herbal background. The lime and floral dominate, making it an unusual mix of flavors. It's a hop without many great homes, unfortunately. The herbal notes are slightly too noticeable to mix well into a hoppy ale with a fruit forward character but way too fruity for a dank beer. It's too flavor aggressive for many lagers. I suppose it could work well at low volumes. It does ok in saisons when blended with other hops where a little herbal character is welcome among a lot of fruit. It plays acceptably with Aurora although the combination really pushes the floral notes in a way I don't exactly love. A mix with Opal seems to restrain the lime and floral. I am sure other herbal/spicy/grassy hops would help bring Celeia into line with more of a Styrian Golding or Mt. Hood profile.

September 4, 2014

Labor Day 2014 Drinking in Austin

I took the opportunity to roll into Austin for some beer and relaxation over Labor Day weekend with my wife and another couple. We struck all our usual spots (Bangers, Craft Pride, NXNW, Hops & Grain, 512 Brewing, Austin Draughthouse and Pinthouse Pizza) and made a very brief visit to Jester King to pick up some bottles for a very specific trade. (We tried Snorkel, which is their saison with oyster mushrooms. It was what you would expect from a beer with mushrooms. It was mushroomy.) Rather than write reviews of these places that read nearly identical to the prior reviews of the same brewpubs and breweries, I thought I would do something a little different this time. Rather than break out individual beers or experiences I am just going to lump together the brewing curiosities in one pile and the brief reviews of interesting beers in another.

Interesting Brewery Notes

While mostly ignoring the tour at 512 Brewing I spent some time looking at the clipboards attached to the fermentors in hopes of gleaming something more interesting than the four mystic ingredients that make beer. The surprising find was the expected FG for 512's pecan porter. The pecan porter is a fairly straightforward robust porter with, unsurprisingly, pecans. It's their best seller and a really good beer. The target FG is 1.019 on this beer. That's pretty high for a 6.5% beer. You would expect the beer to be much sweeter especially when paired with the description of "copious amounts of crystal malts." As homebrewers there is a current of thought that beers need to be drier than this FG to avoid the dreaded "extract twang" or overly sweet beer. I am confident, but unable to verify, that the high FG is in part from mashing high to create dextrins rather than unfermented but sweet sugars. That can help create a beer with a higher FG but not necessarily a sweeter taste. The important takeaway is that FG is not always a reliable metric for the sweetness of the finished beer nor should we fear a higher FG merely because of the number.

Perhaps more advanced (and interesting) is the tidbit about barrel fermentations I picked up from Hops & Grain. Hops & Grain does some interesting beers on their pilot system that are fermented in barrels rather than just aged in them. The barrels often are new barrels so the tannic character is more assertive. As you can see from the picture on the right, the barrels are aged in exposed conditions. These barrels sit in the taproom, which is air conditioned, but other barrels with primary fermentation sit in un-air conditioned areas that get up to 100F during the summer. Our tour was led by the brewer responsible for these beers so we were able to grab some information about these beers. He acknowledged the less than ideal temperatures but pointed out that at 50-60 gallons it takes a lot to move the temperature of that volume. I found it surprising that with fermentation creating heat plus the ambient temperature that the temperature would exceed the limits of the yeast. He said he will cool the beer below desired fermentation temperatures before filling the barrels so the key fermentation time (days 1-3) will stay cool. After that it is less important. It makes sense. The several beers I have tasted from the barrel program have clean fermentation character so I have to assume he is right about his process. This isn't entirely applicable to homebrew because we tend not to brew even at this 2BBL volume but for those people filling full-sized barrels or working in warmer clients then there may be something to take away.

Interesting/Awesome/Unique Beers from the Trip

I tried to pick out the most interesting and delicious beers that had some unique character to discuss for brewing's sake.

  • Flix Brewhouse Selvatica Barrel-Aged Sour: A sour beer with mild funk character. The acidity is punchy and makes it easy to drink, which was a welcomed first beer in Austin in the stupidly hot weekend. I found the beer slightly watery, which I have experienced in my own beer as well as other sours. I believe this watery character comes from low carbonation. That is the only time I have experienced that problem in my sour beers and it seemed to be a problem here, too. In spite of that problem, it was extremely refreshing.
  • Southern Star Buried Hatchet with Coffee served on cask: I'm a sucker for a coffee stout and anything in cask so this beer was right up my alley. The gentle carbonation allowed the roast and toffee notes to come through with a creamy texture that made for a very mellow and inviting stout that avoided feeling too heavy on a hot evening. It's an excellent reminder that we do our stouts and porters a disservice by overcarbonating them.
  • Real Ale Nokken: Real Ale took their blonde barleywine and slipped it into red wine and white port barrels for an eleven month slumber. The beer was served in a mere five ounce pour but it is potent as heck, which made the five ounce pour a reasonable size. The underlying beer was like a mellow barleywine. The caramel-malt intensity of a typical barleywine is subdued without going into a bland malt character. The beer that came out of the barrels is nothing short on flavor. The malt character is intensified with gentle fruit notes from the wine and port. The barrel is obvious, with smooth vanilla and a big tannic finish. Real Ale does not fear freeing the tannins in their barrel beers, like some Firestone Walker offerings, and it works well to give a beer full of sweet flavors a nice dry finish. I really enjoy port barrel-aged beers.
  • Hops & Grain Coffee Porter: Hops & Grain makes an excellent robust porter (due to be released in can format this fall) that gets a healthy dose of coffee for one of my taproom-only favorites. The roast-forward robust porter is neither swallowed by the coffee nor overwhelms it with its own roast character. I've discussed this beer in the past so I won't go back into too much detail. I wish I could find more robust porters in general and especially blended with a nice addition of coffee. 
  • Hops & Grain Hoppy Brown Del Roble: This hoppy brown ale was the barrel-fermented offering in the taproom and demonstrated the ability to ferment a beer very clean at those warmer ambient temperatures. Hop flavor was distinct and crisp while the dark malts provided caramel and subtle chocolate notes. Big oak flavor and a tannic finish helps distinguish the beer. Hops & Grain, like Real Ale, does not fear letting the oak have a big voice in the beer and lets the tannic finish fly without tasting or feeling woody.
  • Whip In/Kamala ESB with earl grey tea and wild rice: The wild rice is a new addition (at least for me) in this GABF medal winner. The ESB with earl grey has interesting earthy tea notes mixed with a classic ESB flavor. The wild rice adds an interesting nutty character that works extremely well with the grassy English hops, earthy tea flavor, caramel and malt flavors.
  • Whip In/Kamala Sour Quad: Sour quads are tough to find around Texas but pair two things I love into a single beer so I had to give this one a go. Another fantastic beer from the brewers in the tiny brew house at Whip In. The rich fruit and caramel flavor survives nicely through the brett fermentation although the funk is definitely there. The souring helps ferment out the typically sweet quad into a nice tart acidity. 
  • Circle Alibi on cask with cucumber and mint: With that weird mix of stuff I had to give it a try. Alibi is an American blonde ale of moderate means taken to a strange place in this rendition. My wife described the flavor as "foot fungus" but she's not a big fan of cucumber or mint so take that for what it's worth. There is a strong vegetal character in the beer but it is not really fungus-y. It's similar to what you get in a cucumber and mint infused water. An interesting vegetable-forward beer that was pleasant on a very hot day.
  • Karbach Pontificator Smoked Doppelbock: Austin was doing a great job of serving up beers that bring things I love together and this was no exception (although it should be said that Karbach is a Houston brewery). This malt bomb brings serious smoke with a mix of rauchmalz and cherrywood-smoked malt. The cherrywood a more aggressive smoke than beechwood but not quite the assault of peat smoke. The cherry flavor is subtle but present and plays very nicely with the caramelly munich malt flavor.
  • Odell Trellis Pale Ale: Speaking of beers with random green stuff in it, Odell took an entire herb garden and unloaded it on this unsuspecting pale ale. They added coriander, cilantro, pineapple mint, lavender and rose petal. It is herbal, citrusy, grassy with a hint of spice. For as much as this beer tastes like an herb bouquet, you can actually taste the malt underneath. The hops are hidden among the herbs but overall it is a very well integrated beer.
  • Real Ale Imperium Wild Ale: And last but not least a return to talking about Real Ale and their love for tannins. Imperium is Real Ale's Lost Gold IPA stuffed into barrels for six months with wild yeast (presumably of the brett variety). The output is a surprisingly tart beer with a healthy amount of funk. Some of the malty sweetness survives although the hops are almost non-existent. You can catch a little hop flavor but it is hard to pick out over the lemony acidity, funk and that dry, tannin finish. It is similar to Jolly Pumpkin beers but with more acidity and more oak tannins. 

September 2, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 12 -- week 34 of fermentation

It's been a month since I last posted about this project and something new has happened so it's time for a new post. I'm not sure what is going on but something is definitely changing. There is definitely some kind of fermentation activity. Or my yeast have become zombies and awoken from the dead.

When I last wrote about this spontaneous fermented beer, the jellyfish-like clumps of what I believe are yeast had been quietly floating on the surface while the liquid surface began to develop small clumps of tiny bubbles. The jellyfish had a dry surface texture as one would expect from their constant exposure to the air. The airlock showed slow bubbling, which in combination with the small clumps of bubbles suggested either fermentation from inside the beer or off-gassing of CO2 due to rising summer temperatures.

I first noticed something had changed a few days ago when I walked past the airlock and it was completely still. No more gas was leaving the fermentor. I figured whatever was going on had run its course and now the beer was just silently stewing like all my other aging beers. I topped up the airlock just to make sure it wasn't too dry. Nothing looked out of place. Today I saw more bubbles in the airlock so I took a peek at the beer. The jellyfish are alive. Or undead. The dry, still top layer has disappeared into a wet, fresh yeast appearance and there is bubbling in the surface, suggesting either fermentation has restarted within the zombie jellyfish or fermentation from below is increasing and the off-gassing is disrupting the jellyfish slumber. Small clumps of bubbles on the surface remain. Here's a picture:

I forgot to take a picture for the last update but you could really see how dried out the jellyfish were before this sudden turn of events. Well, at least something interesting is going on again. Below is the picture from update 10 (23 weeks). You can see the jellyfish were a little less bubbly before. The contrast between now and at 23 weeks isn't as dramatic as the contrast between now and a couple weeks ago but if you look closely at the picture above there is more bubbly texture than there was at week 23. This is the same jellyfish in both pictures.

August 22, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 11 -- week 30 of fermentation

Not much is new about this beer. Surprisingly it is still not showing any sign of pellicle although the floating islands of whatever have been on the move and shuffled around. The surface is increasingly developing an oily slickness. I forgot to take a picture. (Sorry)

What is new is that I broke down and pulled a sample to taste that was large enough to get a good test of the aroma and flavor. The PH using test strips looks to be in the low 4 to upper 3. It is very clear with some white specks floating in it. The aroma is phenolic and a little rubbery. Not really pleasant. On the other hand, the flavor isn't too bad. It has that wheat beer sweetness to it like a hefeweizen, which is unsurprising given the grain bill. There is definitely some fermentation flavor. There is a moderate amount of fruit. It is fruit salad-like, similar to a saison yeast. Banana, melon, citrus fruit, tropical fruit. Subtle clove, pepper and nutmeg. However, those flavors are mild like a saison strain diluted with a lot of neutral ale yeast. What is particular interesting is that it also has a lager yeast character to it as well. Taken as a whole, it might best be compared to a lager yeast fermented at warm temperatures. If it wasn't as sweet (and I didn't fear bottle bombs) I would think about bottling at least a potion of this beer as it is. Definitely not as bad as I had expected.

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