September 18, 2016

Robot Geisha Belgian Pale Ale--Some With Ethiopian Coffee

This summer has inadvertently turned into the summer of hoppy beers as made efforts to clear out some of the backlog of hops in the fridge and try to give myself a crash course in hoppy beers--something I haven't brewed very much in the past. For this beer I've selected a style for which I am about five years too late to the party--Belgian pale ale--but a style that I still enjoy when I find a good one. This beer is a mixture of purposes: brewing a fruity pale ale; an excuse to revitalize my culture of WY1214; and an excuse to make a hoppy beer with coffee.

The interesting part of the recipe is the hop combination so let's get right into that. What I'm looking for is a fruit forward flavor that compliments the Belgian yeast flavors without completely overwhelming the yeast while providing a complex hop profile that showcases fruit without falling into the abyss of hops like citra that beat you in the face with its fruitiness. So the hops include aramis, belma, triple perle and jarrylo. Aramis will provide high citrus notes of lemon along with the noble-ish spicy/grassy hop flavor. Triple perle will lend softer orange citrus notes with some melon. Jarrylo furthers the orange flavor with some spice and pear. Belma will fill in the gaps with subtle floral and strawberry flavors. All flavors that should be right at home with the yeast. This hop combination has a lot more in common with the NE pale ales that are all the rage than the typical BPA recipe with more restraint and typically continental hop varieties.

A portion of this batch will get hit with some coffee. I've been meaning to brew a coffee-infused hoppy beer for a while (I know, I'm a couple years behind here, too) and now that I roast coffee at home I have very little reason not to do this. My choice of coffee here is a natural processed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe roasted to a medium roast. With this coffee I want to bring in its big blueberry flavor and subtle earth and phenolic spice, all of which should work nicely with this recipe. My concern here is about the roast. Typically this coffee would be roasted extremely light (a city roast) to preserve the origin flavor but those lighter roasts are a greater risk of tossing out green pepper flavors so I'm going to take it to a medium roast (in a city+ or full city roast) to stave some of that off. I'll get more roast flavor which is okay too. I'll add the coffee by preparing one ounce of coarsely ground coffee to eight ounces of water overnight in a cold brew method and then add the strained cold brew to one gallon of beer at bottling. 

Belgian Pale Ale Recipe

Batch Size: 3 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.1%
Est. IBU: 23
Est. OG: 1.049
Est. FG: 1.013
Est. SRM: 7.5
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt48279.90%
Unmalted wheat828.90%
Caramunich 37567.80%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Pale Ale Profile
PH: 5.4
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt1.5g02g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.7g
Calcium Chloride0.9g1.3g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.4ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single Infusion at 154F
Mash volume: 2.11 gal
Sparge volume: 2.86 gal
Infuse 2.11 gal at 168F15475
Sparge 2.86 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.2ozFWH14.6
Belma [12%]0.13oz608.6
Belma [12%]0.25ozWhirlpool0
Aramis [8%]0.5ozWhirlpool0
Triple Perle [9%]0.5ozWhirlpool0
Jarrylo [16%]2ozWhirlpool0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1214
Pitch 100ml
Pitch at 65F165F
Ramp over four days to 80F4Ramp
Hold at 80F for three days380F
Rest at ambient 2 weeks14Ambient
Cold Crash132F
Bottle to 2 vol CO2 with 2oz sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 9.2.16

Here comes dat grist...
Attempted to gelatinize the unmalted wheat by adding to mash liquor and raising to a boil, then cooling to three degrees below target strike temperature. At fifteen minutes into the mash the temperature read 155F so just a touch above target. Next time likely bring down five degrees.

First runnings: 1.066
Pre-boil gravity: 1.036
Pre-boil volume: 4.75 gal
Mash efficiency: 85%
Post-boil volume: 3.3 gal
Post-boil gravity: 1.044
Efficiency: 71.5%

Hops...all pellets but the belma in the measuring cup
Initial taste seems a little sweet. Hopefully the yeast will dry this out nicely and some of the bitterness will appear. Hop flavors are soft but nicely complex as I had hoped. There is a strong banana flavor, I assume from the jarrylo. I don't know know that I love it but it seems right among the hop flavors. Sweet orange follows the banana and is followed by melon. Optimistic about this beer.

Gravity tested 9.14.16 at 1.008 good for approximately 4.5% ABV. Flavor is fruity with lots of orange citrusy flavor. None of the fake banana appeared in the initial sample. I don't feel like the beer needs more hops. It is a good balance of hop flavor and yeast character. Nice balance of malt and hops. It has a little alcohol burn to it which I expect will go away in a few days.

Bottled 9.17.16. The day before coarsely ground 0.80 oz. of Ethiopian coffee and added to 6 oz. RO water. Let sit overnight. Bottled beer to 2.4 vol with one gallon getting the coffee addition.

September 6, 2016

Not Applicable Nugget Amber Review & More on Nugget Hops

Let's first get into reviewing this nugget amber lager I brewed a couple months ago and then talk about my larger thoughts about using nugget as something more than a cheap bittering hop alternative.

Appearance: Dark amber beer, almost brown. Thick tan head erupts and lasts with the beer to the end with fantastic lacing. Clarity is moderate; could be clearer if I had lagered it or if it had hung out in the fridge for more than twenty-four hours. Bottles with more time in the fridge were clearer with a brighter amber color.

Aroma: Hops dominate the aroma. Generic forest aroma, generic tea, dried peach, subtle resin, minimal baking spices. Behind the hops there is malt sweetness, caramel, biscuit crust, toasted almond.

Flavor: Hops at the forefront of the flavor. Taste is strongly like a fresh, complex peach tea but with hoppy bitterness instead of tannins. Peach and pear fruit. Forest-y flavor behind the tea feels heavy up front but lightens in the finish, reminiscent of the dank notes in mosaic hops. Grain flavor lacks sweetness, like caramel without the sweetness. Dry bread crust. Lager-like crispness rather than subtle sweetness from amber ales. 

Mouthfeel: Spritzy mouthfeel. Moderate body while the flavor makes it feel thinner than it is. Bitterness present in the mouthfeel. Appropriate body for a lager. 

Overall: Decent beer but nothing special. Did a great job of showcasing the hop although it either needs an ale yeast to leave behind more balancing sweetness or less bitterness. It's imbalanced towards sweetness. As it is it tastes like a scaled down amber IPA but with some restraint to the bitterness it would be a pretty good hoppy amber lager. It isn't quite dank like amber/red beers with simcoe, columbus and so forth but it's definitely along that line. 

Now let's talk nugget hops.

In the recipe post I talked about the vague descriptions of this fairly old and well-used American hop that makes it difficult to really appreciate what it offers beyond a fairly smooth bitterness. Nugget hops are a strange fit in today's world of beer. It's not high enough in alpha acid to seek out for bittering. The flavor isn't as punchy as the popular fruit hops nor is it dank enough to provide the opposing note like simcoe. It's a hop, like many older hops, that struggles to stay relevant. There is value in this hop even if it's not in the fruit-overload beers. 

Nugget will never rise to the top of the heap of popular hops because it fails to bring any major flavors. It's a lot of subtle flavors mashed together. Descriptions of woodsy and tea are accurate. It's woodsy like a forest of unassuming-smelling trees, like oak, where the smell is a mixture of dried leaves, wood and dirt. It's not the pine forest of chinook hops. The tea flavor is not generic swill tea. It's a good quality tea flavor. You don't get that drying sensation of tea so it's a different experience. There's also fruit but it's subtle peach and pear, which are themselves subtle fruit flavors. They are fairly present in this beer because I used a big pile of hops but otherwise I doubt the fruit flavors would appear within normal hop rates for non-IPA beers. It's a little dank but not within the same class as columbus or simcoe. As a whole, it reminds me a little of the spice mix in particularly floral pumpkin beers but without tasting like a shitty pumpkin beer.

At normal hopping rates this hop gets lost even in a single hop beer but overloaded with big late and post-boil additions the flavor can be aggressive and subtle flavors can be competitive. The peach and pear flavors are nice even if they don't punch you in the face like citra (and lacks the cat piss flavor citra sometimes has). Nothing offensive pops out in the flavor by using a large amount in late additions but because it's a moderately high alpha acid hop one must be mindful of the bittering potential.

This hop could be used in a number of styles for flavor, particularly if you aren't afraid to be heavy-handed with the additions. I will probably attempt an all nugget saison to see how the flavors cut against the often citrusy saison yeast. I think it would make a good beer and probably even better with nugget mixed with European hops that can round it out with some floral and light citrus flavor. With heavy-handed additions it works well in these amber beers similar to columbus or simcoe, although large additions are definitely necessary for big hop flavor. In moderate amounts I could see it flavoring American renditions of English bitters (in place of say, Fuggles) but a beer that immediately feels like an American beer pretending to be an English beer. It certainly works in amber/red beers where the dank flavor could be extended by columbus or simcoe or the fruit flavors accented by the addition of any number of citrusy hops. 

Nugget probably gets its best use in blends with other hops. It's a hop that doesn't stand out on its own in any spectacular amount but has a low level of lots of desirable hop flavors. For that reason it's a great option to add depth and volume to a hop blend. It fits with the high notes of fruity hops as well as the low notes of dank hops. It gets out of the way of grassy or floral hops. It fills in the voids in the range of hop flavors without muddying the flavors you want in the forefront. I suspect a citra/nugget/simcoe IPA with nugget used at a lower rate than the other two would provide a lot more complexity than citra and simcoe by themselves. 

August 20, 2016

Test Pale Ale 1 for Sour Blending Project

This recipe is an attempt to figure out the right balance between hopping rates and mixed fermentation for the sour pale ale (Proletariat) as part of my evolving sour blending program. As a whole I think the initial recipe for the pale ale was right where I want it on the grain bill but the rest of the recipe and process needs a little work. A substantial problem is that the beer developed too much ethyl acetate due to underpitching and prolonged exposure to air before a pellicle showed up to regulate oxygen ingress. That's an easily fixed problem. The other problem is that the hops seem to add nothing to the beer. There wasn't any identifiable flavor left behind, no tannic presence and the IBUs did nothing to stop the beer from drifting down to the mid 3 ph range. So that's what I want to work on with this recipe.

The initial recipe targeted a similar hop schedule to the Can You Brew It DBA recipe (which is the base beer behind Firestone Walker's Agrestic, which is a major influence on this homebrew) but clearly did not get close to where it needed to be. I toned down the IBUs out of caution for the LAB so the beer would develop some sourness (24 IBU compared to 30 IBU in DBA) which was clearly unnecessary. I also used a gentler flameout addition and that likely played a role in minimal residual flavor and the biotransformations of hop compounds I had hoped for. So my target now is to get closer to the DBA schedule and see what happens. 

The rest of the recipe is fairly unremarkable. Proletariat actually contains rye and some different grains but because I'm just interested in the hopping here I used grains I had on hand to cobble together a pale ale recipe. I'm pitching my sour mixed culture (Oregon special) because I have some slurry on hand and I'm starting to understand how it develops beer so I can remove another unknown factor. I expect to let this age out eight to twelve months. Well here it is...

Test Pale Ale 1 for Sour Blending Project Recipe

Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 4.9%
Est. IBU: 30.6
Est. OG: 1.048
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 12
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt14267.90%
Unmalted wheat4213.60%
Crystal 12011203.30%
Chocolate malt0.53501.60%
Water Profileppm
Brun Water Pale Ale
PH: 5.4
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt.5g.6g
Canning Salt.2g.2g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride.1g.1g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single Infusion at 150F
Mash volume: 0.65 gal
Sparge volume: 0.84 gal
Infuse 0.65 gal at 166F15075
Sparge 0.85 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
EXP 4190 [3.6%]0.2oz6013.8
EXP 4190 [3.6%]0.4oz2016.8
EXP 4190 [3.6%]0.4ozWhirlpool0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Oregon Special Slurry
Pitch 300ml
Age 1 yearAmbient
Bottle to 3 volumes
1.5 oz table sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 8.20.16

First runnings: 1.074
Preboil gravity: 1.037
Preboil volume: 1.3 gal
Mash efficiency: 72%
Postboil gravity: 1.050
Postboil volume: 1 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 75%

July 19, 2016

Not Applicable Nugget Amber Recipe

Like many homebrewers I tried growing hops as another way to expand my involvement in the hobby. I'm a terrible gardener and my first several years were plagued (literally) with sequential years of droughts that brought locusts to chew up my plants. I'm starting to get some hops from the plants so it's time to start thinking about their use. I started trying to grow hops at a time when I wasn't a big fan of hoppy beers so I selected hops for their ability to grow in Texas plus the more gentler flavors that match my preference for brewing Belgian beers. Of the four varieties I selected, three were good choices (Mt. Hood, Sterling and Cascade) while the fourth, Nugget, has turned into something of a head scratcher.

I initially picked it because it is supposed to grow well in warmer climates and it's a higher alpha hop so I could use it for bittering if I want. I've yet to actually get any hops off this plant so I'm not really sure what I can get flavor/aroma-wise from it. I don't love the idea of using homegrown hops for bitterness without testing the alpha content so I'd like to find a good use for them as flavor/aroma hops. I'd hate to toss out a five year old plant without really giving it a chance.

Nugget has a solid history as a bittering hop but not much as a flavor/aroma hop. It gets panned pretty hard as anywhere between completely worthless and just not a great flavor. All descriptions tend to detail it as woodsy and herbal but not quite as woody as Chinook nor as herbal as Saaz or German noble varieties. Descriptions of the hop tend to be vague like:

  • "Nugget can be used as a bittering hop. It has pleasant, mild, herbal aromas. Aroma: Mild, pleasant, herbal aromas." -YCH Hops
  • "Its a dual use hops that has green, herbal aroma. It has a relatively low co-humulone oil content. The myrcene oil is on the high side, which helps provide some of the woody tones." - BeerLegends
  • "A very popular high-alpha hop giving clean bitterness and delicate herbal aroma. Versatile!" - Northern Brewer
  • A true hop-lover's hop, Nugget is woody, resiny and plenty bitter. Used mainly as a bittering hop due to its high alpha acidity, Nugget is sometimes used as an aroma hop to balance out the floral and citrus notes of other hop varieties." - Brooklyn Brew Shop
Basically everything boils down to the vague "woodsy" and "herbal" descriptions, which explains very little. The absence of commercial beers featuring nugget in late additions leaves few avenues but to brew up a beer myself.

I bought some Nugget for a prior recipe with enough left over to put together this test recipe out of the rest to try to explore the flavor and aroma more clearly. Taking a guess from the descriptions and typical hop pairings I opted for an amber/hoppy red recipe along the lines of the ambers and red IPAs that are frequently described as dank (from hops like Columbus and Simcoe). I'm also trying to use ingredients on hand so I pulled from my existing grain inventory and some 34/70 slurry I have on hand. This yeast seems to make a clean, crisp hoppy beer in the 60s as well, if not better, than neutral American ale yeasts like 1056/001/US-05. It may not be the greatest amber recipe every concocted but it should be a good palate for the hops. My plan is to use a large volume of hops in whirlpool and dry hopping with the ability to dial back on the dry hops if the hop flavor is overwhelming from the big whirlpool addition.

Nugget Amber Recipe

Batch Size: 2 gallons
Est. ABV: 4.6%
Est. IBU: 35.5
Est. OG: 1.046
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 15.9
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt28270.80%
Unmalted wheat8214.20%
Crystal 604607.10%
Crystal 12041207.10%
Black patent0.55000.80%
Water Profileppm
Brun Water Pale Ale
PH: 5.2
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt.8g1.1g
Canning Salt.1g
Baking Soda.4g
Calcium Chloride.5g.6g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single Infusion at 152F
Mash volume: 1.1 gal
Sparge volume: 1.5 gal
Infuse 1.1 gal at 169F152F60
Sparge 1.5 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Nugget [13%]0.25ozFWH35.5
Irish Moss0.25tsp100
Nugget [13%]1.75ozWhirlpool0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: 34/70 Slurry
Pitch 300ml
Cold crash 140F
Dry hop 1.5 oz Nugget 3Ambient
Bottle to 2.3 volumes
1.5 oz table sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 7.10.16

First runnings: 1.075
Preboil gravity: 1.038
Preboil volume: 2.5gal
Mash efficiency: 75%
Post boil gravity: 1.046
Post boil volume: 1.85gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 68%

Gravity right on target, lost a little volume to the hops and a little excessive boil off. First attempt using new cereal killer mill. With adjustment and cereal mash of wheat could have cleared higher gravity and diluted down if desired.

7.21.16: FG reading 1.011 good for 4.5% ABV. Cold crashed overnight to 37F and then cut cooling and dry hopped in the morning.

Flavor pre-dry hopping exceeded expectations. Malt flavor is pretty much what one expects in a basic amber. Hop flavor is more noticeable than expected. Flavor reminds me of Mosaic but without the blueberry and less complex. It's also less punchy than Mosaic. Some peach and pear in the background. I don't see a problem drinking this beer in my future.

Review and discussion on nugget hops at:

June 8, 2016

Tropic Bling 2.0 -- Mixed Fermentation Clone of Funkwerks Tropic King

I know Funkwerks is a subject of divided feelings among saison fans due to their usage of 3711 and relatively tame beers compared to many of the mixed fermentation saisons that are all the rage (happily) these days. Still, I like their beers and think they do an excellent job, if not the best in the country, at the type of beers they intend to brew. A few years ago I whipped up a clone of Funkwerks Tropic King that came pretty damn close to the actual beer. Tropic King is my least favorite of their beers but my wife really enjoys it so I endeavored to attempt a clone. The first batch turned out well but the source for 3711 (an older bottle of Jester King pre-intended mixed culture) has some wild yeast and it turned into a strange peppery beer. I peeled off a gallon and added some bourbon-soaked oak to it. It's been sitting ever since because I haven't had a need or serious desire to do something with it. I have this older beer sitting around and the grains and hops to make a second rendition of the clone so it's time to get all these materials put to good use. I've been building up a mixed fermentation saison culture with dregs from Logsdon Seizoen, St. Somewhere Saison Athene, Fantome Printemps and Perennial Aria. I want to give this culture a whirl and this seems like as good of an opportunity as any.

My vision for this beer is to take the grain and hops from the existing clone recipe but revise it using my mash schedule, water profile and obviously the different yeast culture. Once it's all brewed I'll make some decisions about blending it with the older batch. Whether I end up using all of this batch in the blend of part of it will depend on what I get out of this batch. I intend to age this for a few months to ensure gravity stability and then dry hop, blend and bottle. Funkwerks also does, or at least did, barrel age some of the Tropic King and blend it back into fresh Tropic King to make what they call Exotic King and that idea will carry forward with the blend. It's what I originally intended when I peeled off that gallon and oak-aged it. 

Tropic Bling 2.0 Mixed Fermentation Clone of Funkwerks Tropic King

Batch Size: 2.5
Est. ABV: 6.2%
Est. IBU: 25
Est. OG: 1.053
Est. FG: 1.006
Est. SRM: 6.1
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Belgian Pale Malt312375.00%
Wheat Malt526.20%
Munich Malt13916.20%
Water Profileppm
Brun Water Yellow Bitter
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt.7g.6g
Canning Salt.1g.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride.5g.4g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid.6ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single Infusion at 146F
Mash volume: 1.5 gal
Sparge volume: 1.4 gal
Infuse 1.5 gal at 159F146F45
Decoct 1.4 qt to raise to 156F156F30
Sparge 1.4 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Rakau [12.7%]0.18oz60 min.17.9
Rakau [12.7%]0.18oz10 min.6.5
Opal [6.5%]0.33ozFlameout0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Mixed fermentation culture
Pitch 250ml slurry
Age at ambient120+Ambient
Dry hop 0.33oz Rakau for 3 days3Ambient
Bottle to 3.5 volumes, blending with 1 gal older batch
4 oz table sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 6.8.16.
First runnings: 1.078
Preboil gravity: 1.053
Preboil volume: 2.8gal
Mash efficiency: 80%
Postboil gravity: 1.058
Postboil volume: 2 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 63%

Added half a gallon of water. Ended up at 1.046 and 2.5 gallons.

10.12.16: Added dry hops. Tasted aged portion. Surprisingly thin flavor. Musty brett and hay. Some acetic acid. Less impressive than I expected after three years of aging but think it will work well as a component in the blend.

10.17.16: Bottled. Tasted aged portion and it was way too acetic/ethyl acetate. Had to get dumped. As sad as I was to dump three year old beer it was better to bottle two good gallons than bottle three bad gallons. Bottled targeting 3.5 volumes of CO2. Initial taste was musty and overripe fruit. Looking forward to tasting a bottle in a month or so to see how I like the yeast blend before committing another batch to it.

May 23, 2016

Beer in Hawaii (well some of Hawaii)

In April I spent some time in Hawaii--mostly in Maui with a little time on the big island--so naturally I had to seek out some beer to drink and a brewery, if convenient. I managed to do both so here comes another non-homebrewing post about drinking beer in places I don't call home. Hawaii is an interesting place from a sociological perspective. It is dissimilar from the rest of the nation. Not only because it's economy and culture is closely intertwined with its identity as an island environment but because the overarching culture is a mixture of native, American, Latin American, Asian and various other island influences. As a result the growth of the domestic craft brewing industry into Hawaii has not raced forward at the same speed it has in this country but it definitely present and growing. So let's talk a little about craft beer generally in Hawaii and then talk about my experiences at two of the Maui Brewing Co. locations.

So having only been to Maui and the big island I can't speak to craft beer across the entire state but from my experience on both islands I would hardly expect much difference on the other islands. It wasn't hard to find craft beer on either island, on draft or in bottles/cans. It's definitely out there but the surge of local breweries has not yet happened. Part of this, as I said, is undoubtedly the melting pot of Hawaii's culture. One cannot overlook the presence of wine and spirits as well. There is a fair amount of wine imported (and very little produced within the state) for tourists, especially at nicer restaurants and resorts. Beer is still treated in many of those locations as they are in any other state, as an obligatory offering because some people don't like wine. The far larger market is spirits and cocktails. This should be unsurprising. With a history of growing sugarcane there was easy access to production of rum and vodka and the large number of fresh fruits makes cocktails alluring. I had some great cocktails with fresh fruit and no matter how much you love beer you would do yourself a disservice to go to Hawaii and not enjoy the availability of fantastic fresh fruit. 

Craft beer isn't new to the state but the boom of more local breweries certainly is. As I said it wasn't hard to find local beers and that was true even in small grocery stores. I believe Kona Brewing is the oldest active craft brewery in the state, opening in 1994. They brew lots of easy drinking beers, including some that include local ingredients like coffee and passion fruit. I believe Maui Brewing is the second oldest (but I may be wrong) having opened their first location in Lahaina in 2005 and now continue to operate that location as a brewpub with the main brewery in Kihei (both in Maui). Maui Brewing similarly produces easy drinking beers often with local ingredients. Kona was actually easier to find on Maui, even within a mile or two of Kihei, which I assume is due to Kona's longer presence across the state. Both of these brewers distribute into many other states. There were some other Hawaii breweries we found and tried out. For the most part the beers were average to good with plenty of old school brewpub-type beers or similar beers with local ingredients. Lots of beers with tropical fruits, coffee and honey, but not quite as many as I expected to find. I think this reflects non-tourist drinking trends that favor more approachable beers rather than the current craft beer wave that demands weird ingredients at every turn (not that it is a bad thing). Competitors into the market were unsurprisingly larger west coast breweries (primarily California and Oregon). 

Maui Brewing Co.

Our best craft beer experiences in Hawaii were at the two Maui Brewing locations so let's talk about those. We stumbled into going to Maui because it was close to where we stayed initially in Maui and we wanted some beer so it just made sense to check it out. We get their canned beer in Texas with sporadic availability. I like some of the beers in can but between homebrewing and not seeing their beers on tap I don't drink their beers at home as often as I could.

The production brewery is the newer location in Kihei on the southwest side of the island. It's a semi-touristy area that's more touristy the closer to the ocean you get (unsurprisingly). The production brewery is tucked away in the back of a business park. It looks like many newer  breweries in other states. Big building built for large production on a nicely landscaped location in a business park with a good sized taproom and food trucks parked outside. The taproom offers a large number of beers (over thirty) mostly unavailable beyond the two breweries. More local ingredients and a wide range of styles. This could very easily be a major craft brewery anywhere in the country. 

The brewpub in Lahaina, the original location, is a smaller location in a strip mall that easily looks like many other mid-2000s brewpub. Small brew system (I swear I took a picture but it's not on my phone) plus a large restaurant space. The beers on tap are mostly the same as the production facility. The food was outstanding. Plenty of local ingredients and delicious. THey served sauteed ferns. That was both cool and delicious.

What I liked about both taplists was both the diversity of beer styles brewed very well and the greater commitment to brew within a local identity. Sure, there were big dark beers and IPAs but they didn't just knock off imperial stouts and west coast IPAs like many other breweries or use local ingredients like gimmicks. I really felt, especially with the taproom-only beers, like they were really embracing those ingredients as serious ingredients and putting their own takes on styles. I'm pretty sad I can't find several of those beers at home. (We took home what we could.) So here were the standouts for my wife and I:

Imperial Coconut Porter: Maui Brewing is pretty well known for their coconut porter but they brew a very nice taproom-only imperial version that was fantastic. I'm badly allergic to coconut so I can't consume it but I took the risk and gave it a little taste. Excellent chocolate and coconut flavors. Dangerously smooth at 9%.

Pau Hana Pilsner: Yeah, a really tasty bopils. I drank the hell out of this. I was a little concerned I would get some kind of Budweiser knock off but it was everything a bopils should be. Crystal clear with articulate malt flavors balanced by sufficient bitterness and spicy hops. I drank this beer the most but it was second favorite by very little.

Hop Kine IPL: This is the spring seasonal and sees limited can releases although I'm not sure the cans leave Hawaii, let alone Maui. (I saw it beyond the brewery on Maui.) It's pretty much what you expect from an IPL with a good mix of PNW hops. It was like an old school PNW hop-loaded IPA remixed as an IPL. I really like that kind of beer. I'm still down for some cascade and chinook.

Doubleshot Doppelbock: This is a truly interesting beer. It's the winter seasonal although Maui doesn't get much winter beyond the tops of the volcanoes. This beer is truly unique. First, it's not your usual darker doppelbock. It's a pale doppelbock so it's missing the heavier caramel flavors which helps out a beer that is a winter seasonal in name only. Doppelbocks aren't natural destinations for coffee beers--but there are some others--but I really enjoy the pale beer/coffee combination. This particular coffee beer is made with locally grown yellow caturra coffee. Yellow caturra is a rarely grown coffee with yellow, rather than red, coffee cherries. It's distinct from the usual Arabica beans with a strong honey and spice flavor. So the sum total of this beer is a smooth, strong pale lager with coffee and honey flavors. It feels like as close as you can get to a winter-flavored beer in Hawaii.

POG IPA: This beer haunts my dreams it's so damn good--and I'm not even a big IPA fan. Depending upon your age you might remember playing a game called pogs with circular cardboard discs. Those discs, modeled on old milkcaps, were promotional materials for POG juice, which is a blend of juices from passion fruit, orange and guava cut with water sweetened with sugarcane. It's served as the in-flight treat on Hawaiian Airlines between the islands. It's only barely more interesting than any other sweetened and diluted fruit juice. 

So Maui Brewing thought it would be fun to brew a beer replicating this now-famous juice. It's a seemingly typical IPA hit with late El Dorado and Enigma hops so it's already fruited up. Then they add a mixture of local passion fruit, orange and guava. 

The depth of fruit flavor is amazing. It's complex and deep with so much to offer but not bowling you over the way so many DIPAs do. The acidic fruits temper the bitterness and mellow the hops. The fruit is present, articulate and integrated without overwhelming the beer or getting lost in the beer. It is perfectly balanced. It gets right what so many fruited beers get wrong. It's definitely beer but definitely fruity. It might be the only time I think juicy is an appropriate descriptor for a beer. It's the standard that all fruited clean beers should be judged. I'm serious. I don't use memes lightly. We only found this at the brewpub towards the end of the trip, otherwise I would have consumed a lot more of this. So much more.

Honorable mentions:

Both taprooms offered a pretty good hefeweizen. It wouldn't go on the shortlist of the best hefeweizens I've ever had but it wasn't that far off the list, either. I drank a fair amount of this as well. Nice balance between banana and clove. I like a little more banana personally but I think I'm in the minority on that. It was a touch thin as well but Hawaii is not the place for heavy beers. It is brewed exactly right for its location.

I also have to give mention to Mana Wheat, the American wheat with local pineapple. This beer is canned but I don't think we see much of it in Texas, if any. It's exactly what it says it is. The pineapple is well placed and light. It's probably the best pineapple beer out in the market. I'm a sucker for wheat beers (minus that hellspew white IPA bullshit) and obviously not afraid of a fruit beer so this beer hits on all levels. It's hard to put it on the same list as that POG IPA and one of the things I like most about pineapple is the firm bite of the pineapple fruit so having it juiced into this beer makes me miss just a little about the fruit.


Those were my fairly brief beer experiences in Hawaii. I am interested to see how craft beer develops in Hawaii. The opportunity to use locally grown ingredients is still wide open (Hawaii produces a lot that we don't normally think about--like a Macadamia honey mead which I regret not trying out) and they have a serious opportunity to set off a wave of craft brewing among the Pacific Islands that can wash back lots of other delicious beers with interesting ingredients to us. Since Hawaii seems to be the only place I can snap a decent picture I'll leave you this last picture of sunset at a restaurant overlooking the ocean in Lahaina.

May 8, 2016

Sour Blending Project: First Year Blending

It's been a little under a year since I brewed the first renditions of the two base beers for what I hope to shape into my house sour beer blending project and now it's time to start blending and see where I need to make adjustments. After attending the New Belgium Sour Symposium I was full of ambition to blend sour beer and as I usually do let my ambitions run wild and tried to bite off more than I could chew. To help organize this rather lengthy post I'll quickly run through the two base beers and explain through the naming conventions, talk about how the base sour beers developed and then run through each of the blends I created.

A Recap of the Base Sour Beers and Naming Conventions

Originally I envisioned this project to have four base beers with two of those beers forming the core of the project. I thought this was too much to start with and paired down to the two core beers: a pale ale and and a style unspecific Belgian brown ale. 

The pale ale, which I guess we can call a sour pale ale, was brewed in the image of Firestone Walker Agrestic and Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga rather than the style that is forming around the term "sour pale ale" which is either a dry hopped sour beer or a kettle soured pale ale. Agrestic and Luciernaga begin life as a pale ale that with time and brett lose hop flavor and aroma and the bitterness from the hops melt away into a tannic presence. Both of these beers lose their bitterness but not before restraining the lactic acid bacteria so there is good balance to the beer. This is definitely not one of those wretched sour IPAs with clashing bitterness and acidity. This beer was fed oak cubes soaked in Tempranillo wine and fermented with dregs from a bottle of Firestone Walker Lil Opal and a Jolly Pumpkin beer (I forget which one). 

The Belgian brown ale is a beer I brewed in an earlier blending project and lucked into creating a really great recipe by accident. It's a good recipe clean but turns over a lot of interesting flavor to brett. It's not quite an oud bruin, Flemish red, or dubbel; and there's not really a Belgian brown ale style that squarely fits this recipe. It's probably most akin to Leffe Brune and similar beers. This beer was fermented with my Oregon Special mixed culture which includes, among other things, Ale Apothecary and De Garde dregs. 

When I started brewing these beers I didn't have names put together for any of the beers. Shortly afterwards I gave the pale ale the name Proletariat after a joking response on Facebook to a post by Mike Karnowski who was considering what to call his saison-like beers. He didn't feel like farmhouse or saison was appropriate but wanted something that reflected the rustic nature of the beers and their inspiration from nineteenth century working class beers. I jokingly suggested Proletariat ales. Then I decided I liked the name and took it for myself. 

I didn't have a name for the brown ale until blending day when I decided to give it the name Bourgeois and subsequently name everything with the blending project something related to the Soviet Revolution. Not because I'm an avowed communist. I have a general interest in history and political science and there's lots of interesting options for names with the subject. Plus, it gives a convenient naming convention for the two beers. Proletariat Pale and Bourgeois Brown. That makes it easy to identify each beer. 

How the Two Beers Turned Out

Pale ale on the left, brown ale on the right

The first step in any blending is to taste the available blending components. It's necessary to identify whether the components are ready to blend, whether they should be blended, what are the positive attributes and the shortcomings. Beers should not be blended blindly or to hide flaws. Blending should create the best beer possible. So here's what I ended up with.

Bourgeois Brown Ale

I expected this beer to develop a good amount of acidity and a prominent brett presence, hopefully with some of that evergreen forest character Ale Apothecary possesses. What I got in return was somewhat on the mark. The beer developed a good amount of acidity with ph reading at 3.4 although it tastes far less acidic. The aroma is herbal in ways that remind me of Ale Apothecary and De Garde. The flavor is strongly earthy in a good way. The malty backbone is present but transformed away from the sweet caramel flavors towards stonefruit and darker caramel flavor, similar to a Flemish red but less obvious. The yeast character dominates. It could pass off as a brett heavy oud bruin. I'm happy with how it turned out. This beer is a lock.

Proletariat Pale Ale

This beer I expected to be less acidic with a firm tannic presence due to the oak cubes, wine and hops. I wanted to see the red wine and oak present but not dominant in the flavor and some of the hop flavor transformed into something interesting. What came out was not what was expected. The ph is only 3.8 but it is sharply acidic by taste. The wine is prominent in the aroma, which was a positive. The flavor is funky in that classic brett barnyard funk. Rye spiciness is tucked away in there. The tannins are present but slightly harsh. Flavor is slightly off in a way that suggests to me this beer needs just a couple more months to smooth out. By the time the beers are blended and bottle conditioned this beer should be hitting its stride. 

I'm not as happy with this beer. I think it needs a little more hops and a little less oak. The biggest problem I suspect is that when I initially pitched I underpitched on everything. The US-05 was underpitched and the initial round of dregs only included the fairly old Lil Opal dregs. I think it took a while to form a pellicle and as a result the beer oxidized a little more than want. That led to more acetic acid production and staling of hop compounds. I added the JP dregs after a few months which helped along the pellicle and sour/funk. On the next round I will probably just prop up some JP dregs or maybe Crooked Stave dregs and pitch appropriate volumes.

Pale ale on the left, brown ale on the right. Difference in color is obvious

The Evolving Ideas for the First Blends

I like to come into blending days with ideas about what I want to happen but those ideas have to be loose until the beers are tasted. The best blends may not be what was expected. I also tend to drift across ideas during the year or more time between brew and blending so where I started is almost never where I end up. In this case I trimmed down to just having these two beers so my initial ideas of blending four beers together all went in the trash (at least for now). My ideas for the bulk of time was to create a blend from the two beers together and optionally create an alternate blend if a good secondary blend presented itself. I also wanted to hold off some of the Proletariat to blend into the next year's Proletariat similar to how Firestone Walker creates Agrestic by blending one and two year old beer together. Whatever excess Bourgeois remained would maybe go on some different spirit-soaked oak cubes for future blending. 

As blending day approached my ideas changed. After tasting some of the foeders from New Belgium's Oscar and finding that wonderful blackberry flavor so well situated in the beer I decided to try to make a really out there blend with blackberries and maybe include some dry hopping and/or spices. I also recognized with the pending relocation away from Texas in 2018 I probably would not have a chance to rebrew either of these beers until I get settled in Denver so setting aside beer for a rebrew of at least Proletariat didn't make sense. (I need to draw down some of my supply of beer and I have several other beers to brew in the meantime.) I still expected to blend a simple blend of the two beers and whatever leftovers I had would just be set aside with the rest of my supply of aging beers to go into some future unknown blend. 

After tasting the beers I had pretty clear ideas about what to do. I let ambition take over and decided to do as much as I could with these ten gallons of beer. What I ended up deciding upon was this:

1. Blend of Proletariat and Bourgeois

2. Blend of Proletariat and Bourgeois with blackberries, Belma hops and black pepper

3. Bottle some of Bourgeois straight

4. Reserve the remainder of Proletariat for future blends. 

This may not sound like a difficult task but once I started considering the mechanics of the blends I knew I was in for trouble.

Putting Together the Blends

My first task was to figure out the two blends and second to figure out how to actually make this work. I put together different blends with pipettes in tasting glasses to find what I liked best. For the regular blend I decided on approximately 60% brown and 40% pale ale. This blend best captured all the great flavor of the brown ale while cutting in more acidity from the pale ale and adding some of the wine aroma. The flavor of the pale ale mostly faded behind the brown but acted like a support structure for the malt flavor from the brown ale. A really nice mix. 

The second blend, which would get the mixture of blackberries, Belma hops and black pepper, went in 75% pale ale and 25% brown. Here I wanted to let the acidity be more prominent and have the brown ale round out the pale ale with a little earthiness that would work well with the blackberries and pepper. The rye flavor and black pepper would integrate well and the melon-strawberry Belma flavors would work as a mellow bonding agent for all the flavors. I settled on the combination of blackberries, Belma hops and black pepper by thinking through what would complement blackberries in the beer blend and then what I had in the house that would complement the combination of blackberries and the beer. 

My priority was making the best of the two blends.I had to figure out how much blackberry I had and how much beer I could add to them to get a good blackberry flavor. Then I could figure out how much beer to use in the regular blend. Whatever was left of the brown would get bottled and the pale ale would go into gallon jugs. What I ended up with is:

Packaged Beer From Bourgeois From Proletariat Total Volume
Regular Blend 3.5 gallons 2.5 gallons 6 gallons
Blend with fruit/hops/spice0.5 gallons 1.5 gallons 2 gallons
Straight Bourgeois1 gallon N/A 1 gallon
Reserved ProletariatN/A 1 gallon 1 gallon

One challenge in getting this done was that the better bottles used as fermentation vessels do not have gallon markers so I had no way to precisely mix beers together without moving them to a vessel with markers. Another challenge was trying to move the beer without repeatedly stabbing each beer with a siphon as I created different blends out of concern of unnecessarily aerating the beer. Thankfully I have two eight gallon bottling buckets and could siphon each beer into its own bottling bucket with priming sugar. Then I could keep them entirely separate and just gravity fill from there. First I bottled the gallon of Bourgeois straight out of its bottling bucket and did the same with the reserve gallon of Proletariat into a gallon jug. Then I piped the appropriate portions of the fruit/hop/spice portion into a better bottle and added its adjuncts. Then I piped the remaining Proletariat into the Bourgeois, gave it a careful stir and bottled it all. This was several hours of siphoning and bottling. Everything bottled was bottled to target 3.5 vol CO2 although it will probably end up closer to 3.

Piecing Together the Fruit/Hops/Spice Blend and Sampling at Bottling

To figure out the exact proportions of blackberries, Belma hops and black pepper I started off thinking about the intended result. I wanted the blackberries to be recognizable but slightly less prominent than what would be expected in a fruited sour. The goal was to taste blackberry but not be entirely sure whether the flavor comes from actual blackberries or from some fermentation or aging effect. The hops should play a close second with the black pepper a distant third with just a peppery finish.

Berries are often added to sour beer at a rate between 0.5-1 lb/gal. I wanted to hit right in the middle and opted for 12 oz (0.75 lb.) per gallon so 1.5 lb in two gallons.

Dry hopping sours inevitably requires a large amount of dry hops because the acidity diminishes the presence of the hop oils. (Think about how little oil you taste in a vinaigrette.) 1 oz/gal is a common ratio. I wanted a little less hop prominence with an already mellow hop so I went 0.4 oz/gal for 0.8 oz in total.

Rates for black pepper in beer are all over the map with the only agreement residing somewhere around the need to use a lot more pepper than most other spices. I opted for what I considered to be a low amount at 3.5g/gal for a total of 7g.

All of the adjuncts went into the blend at the same time and sat together for five weeks. The berries need about 4-6 weeks to get good extraction. It's a long time to dry hop but Ale Apothecary dry hops for a full month and seems to get interesting flavors out of it. I'll admit I was concerned that the pepper would get too much extraction over time but fortunately that did not happen.

Blend with dry hops, blackberries and black pepper. Hops and berries are floating. Pepper is...who knows?

I ended up with about 2.5 gallons of beer out of what should have been two gallons. In retrospect I think I had a little extra Proletariat that went into this blend. More sour beer is rarely a problem. Overall I'm really happy with this blend. The initial tasting is promising. The aroma is probably the weakest part of the beer. It's a little acetic although I expect this to smooth out with a month in the bottle. The smell is "heavy" rather than the bright fruity aromas of the usual fruited sour. Forest, mixed berries, generic spice, earthy and a touch of generic hop aroma. The appearance is hazy and a reddish brown about the same color as when it went into the carboy. The blackberries added very little color or added the same color. The flavor is consistent with the aroma. Acidity remains sharp with flavors of mixed berry salad, earthiness, slight melon, a touch of generic hop flavor,  with mixed berry juice and the desired touch of pepper in the finish. The mouthfeel is fairly heavy for a sour beer with slight oiliness, all likely from the hops. Expect that to lighten with carbonation. The interesting thing is that every time I took a taste of the sample I pulled it tasted different. Sometimes the berry was more prominent, sometimes the pepper showed up, sometimes the earthiness, sometimes the acidity.

Pretty much the color of the pale and brown blended together. You can see how opaque the beer is. Milkshake Sour???

Lessons Learned So Far

So far I'm pretty happy with what I have and what I've done. I will certainly adjust how I fermented Proletariat to get a better fermentation process out of it. Additional adjustments may be made around how I am hopping it. The blackberry/hops/pepper blend is interesting and I may decide to keep up that blend as well. It's always so ambitious and so much work to do multiple blends and packaging at once but also rewarding to create so many different beers.

So the blends need some names. The regular blend was named 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. It's the event that put the proletariat and bourgeois in conflict with each other so in a sense it reflects the blending of the two beers. The adjunct blend is named Trotsky because just as Trotsky ended up outside of the party mainstream, this combination of ingredients is also pretty far outside the mainstream of even sour beer.

With expansion of this blending project on hold until I relocate to Denver in 2018 I'll have some time to mull over how these blends develop in the bottle and where things go from here. Right now I think I still want something close to the original idea with four beers in the project. The adambier, which was going to be the high gravity beer in the project will probably remain but get brewed in three gallon or less batches because I'm really enjoying my 4-5% ABV sour beers and don't feel the need to get too far beyond that. Instead of dedicating an entire saison to this project I will probably just rope in various mixed fermentation saisons in its place. I think there is still more for me to learn about the interplay between Proletariat and Bourgeois and perfecting Proletariat without needing to rush into dedicating more beers to this project. But just like these blends, by the time I'm brewing these beers in 2018 I may have some very different ideas.

Review posts on the three bottlings to follow.

April 25, 2016

Hanging out with Eric and Lauren Salazar at the New Belgium Sour Symposium

New Belgium puts its sour beer program on tour each year with its Sour Symposiums, offering a rare and direct insight into the history and mechanics of its sour beer program presented by Eric and Lauren Salazar. The focus of the event is La Folie and provides the opportunity to taste beer drawn from some of the individual foeders and get a taste (pun intended) of what makes the La Folie blend. Given the rarity of the event and the information gleaned I thought it was worth sharing my notes here. I'll touch on a few pieces of the history Eric and Lauren shared and then move on to discussing the La Folie blend, how Lauren thinks through the blend and then my tasting notes on the individual foeders.

The History 

In the beginning, in 1998, it was just seven barrels (not foeders, just regular ass barrels) which has grown into a massive space of foeders (and some barrels) especially with the expansion over the past few years. The barrels had been inoculated with various microorganisms but the character of their sour beers really developed after an account returned a keg of Fat Tire that had soured and they used some of this sour Fat Tire to further inoculate the beers. (This story is believable but I do wonder, just a little, whether this is some fanciful storytelling to create a nice link between New Belgium's core beers and the sour beers.)

The first bottling from the sour program was La Folie in 1999. The staff felt confident they would knock out the bottling and party afterwards. A hot tub was rented. Nobody got in the hot tub. Instead of an easy bottling session the staff was subjected to a complete nightmare. Everything seemed to go wrong. The bottling run was small to begin with but was further depleted due to problems packaging the beer. That first year La Folie went into a corked and caged 750ml champagne style bottle. The problem was that the corks they purchased were too big (likely designed for the mushroom-style Belgian bottles) and the corks were cracking the bottles. Yikes.

That kind of mistake seems so obvious in 2016 but looking back seventeen years ago there were very few people available to teach how to do these things and perhaps more importantly what not to do. They were learning by trial and error and most of what has become the pool of knowledge between Eric and Lauren was built by trial and error through the years. There were some times where people were able to teach important lessons. For example, when Lauren first experienced a pellicle her first impression was that this was not a good thing and spent some time stabbing the pellicles. Vinnie Cilurzo quickly set her straight when she brought up the mysterious film on her beers. So let's talk about some of the things they learned that helped develop their sour program.

The New Belgium Sour Program

I don't want to repeat too much of the basic info that's available about their sour program but just enough to provide a jumping off point to discuss some of the info I obtained that isn't floating around the intertubes and other media. New Belgium brews two beers for its sour program, Felix and Oscar. Felix is a pale lager while Oscar is a dark lager closely modeled on 1554. The beers are fermented with lager strains, centrifuged and then top up the foeders as necessary. The blended beers produced from these two base beers are blended out of the foeders, pasteurized and bottled.

New Belgium's sour beer program is unique in many ways, at least among American sour brewers. Their core use of foeders creates a different aging environment from most and their choice of base beers is also atypical. The overall process and choices they have made is a function of lessons learned over almost twenty years plus undoubtedly Bouckaert's experience at Rodenbach. Their attitude about secondary fermentation is also unique. While most sour brewers think about brett as driving flavor in sour beer, the Salazars look at brett primarily as a mechanism to prevent acetic acid. One has to imagine at least part of this attitude comes from using foeders that were often discards from the wine industry of various quality and the large surface of the beer in those vessels. But before discussing the foeders a little more let's go back and talk about those base beers.

The use of lagers as a base for sour beer certainly cuts against the common attitude that one wants a POF+ saccharomyces strain as a primary strain (POF+ = phenolic off flavor positive) because brett will take those phenols and make lots of fun spicy, earthy, barnyardy flavors out of them. The foeders create some of those flavors (and in some more than others) but much of New Belgium's sour beer character is something different from the expected barnyard blast (a good beer name). They get a lot of other flavors and more subdued phenolic compounds that allow them to stand out among a growing sea of sour beers. So then we turn to the foeders and how they affect the base beer. It was clear from tasting individual foeders and seeing Lauren's notes how different each foeder is although each receives the same base beer.

The foeders all have their own backstories and some came from some rough histories where most people would probably steer clear of a barrel with that kind of rap sheet. Eric and Lauren are patient and know how to make foeders loving environments. That loving environment clearly plays a role in the development of the beer inside and that's not just the foeder itself but where it resides in the brewery and how temperature and humidity in that exact location may play a role. It's not clear exactly how different the microorganisms within each foeder differs but the difference is likely not substantial given their use of good foeders to innoculate new foeders that enter the brewery. I also assume that part of what was a very obvious concern for acetic acid production has to do with the use of questionably treated foeders which may have adopted an unhealthy community of acetobacter in which brett is critical to keeping those jerks at bay.

While we're talking about the foeders it's worth sliding in this small but seemingly useful tidbit I picked up. Lauren came over to my wife and I late in the session and we chatted a little. Her voice was going out at the end and lots of people wanted to talk to her so I tried not to woo her to stay and talk to me about the many questions I had and just picked the one I thought was most useful. Eric had pointed out that during the 2013 expansion of the foeder inventory that they had figured out by trial and error that twenty percent was the magic volume of beer from good foeders to innoculate the incoming foeders. I asked her what misses they had experienced at other volumes. Her answer was that anything less than twenty percent led to too slow of a secondary fermentation and they ended up with oxidation (presumably that acetic acid) and any larger volume had no greater effect so it was just wasting good beer that could go out to customers.

Here's why I felt that small piece of information was so important:

1. Obviously for anybody trying to inoculate a new fermentation vessel has one of the best data points here in how much beer is best to make that vessel a good home. Even a normal WL or WY pitch may not be an ideal volume to protect the beer from negative effects of oxygen exposure, particularly if the beer is going into a barrel where the native population may be oxygen-loving.

2. For anybody running a solera it's a good basis for how much beer to leave behind in the solera when pulling beer. American Sour Beer points out that New Belgium sometimes draws to a far lower point in the foeders but if you're working on a solera that is a non-porous vessel (i.e. not wood) and you are not leaving behind trub with the next fill then it's probably a good volume to avoid oxidation issues.

3. It draws into question the typical homebrewing (and sometimes commercial brewing) concept of unloading a small amount of dregs into a beer to trigger that wonderful secondary fermentation. Certainly at a small level our oxygen exposure risks are less and in a less porous vessel the risk is further diminished but I count myself among the number of brewers who have seen a batch get oxidized and develop either oxidized flavor or acetic compounds from lazy pellicle formation. We should probably think carefully amount either creating starters or pitching a larger volume of dregs than a bottle or two into five gallons. (I know many are not so casual about sending in the troops but there are sources online perpetuating this casualness.)

Something to think about at least. I wish I had the opportunity to ask more about what went wrong for them than all the things that went right because that's where the most important lessons reside, at least in my opinion. Part of the reason why I blog is to catalog what went wrong for me so I can help others not make those same mistakes. But I wanted to be respectful of her time and health. I should point out that American Sour Beer speaks on this subject at points out in the New Belgium section that ten percent was the amount used. This seems to be a trial and error correction on New Belgium's part. I don't think the book is wrong for the time the information was given to Michael Tonsmeire but I promise this information came directly out of the mouths of Lauren and Eric. I think this is just a testament to how much they focus on learning from their trials and errors.

Let's then move along to talk about blending a little. I wish Lauren had talked a little more about her paradigm on blending. She gave the same flower analogy I believe she gave on one of the Sour Hour episodes that she starts with the middle of the flower--what the beer should be--and adds the beers from the different foeders like adding petals to the flower. She disclaims the analogy as girly but it makes sense. Blending beer, in my opinion, is just like building a recipe. You should start with what you want that beer to be and work backwards. I think her voice was starting to go at this point so she turned to encouraging us to taste and blend the foeder samples given to us. I don't have any mystic gems from her about blending so I'll just offer this picture of her notes on the final blend for 2015 La Folie. Note the smile and indifferent faces that describe her feelings on the beers.

Tasting the Foeders

This was awesome and honestly the main reason why I wanted to come to this event. The opportunity to break down a blended sour beer into its components and really understand the experience and mindset in blending the beer is truly incredible, especially when it comes to walking the path of somebody as knowledgeable and experienced as Lauren. We were only given four of the twenty-six foeders that go into the blend but they were clearly key components of the blend and could be identified as pieces of La Folie's character. Overall it was most surprising how much each foeder differed from one another. There was clearly some common ground in the base beer but the differences were apparent. Three of the four beers did feel incomplete like they needed the blend to become a complete beer. One was great on its own and I would happily buy that as a standalone beer. Unfortunately I don't think New Belgium makes any single releases aside from the Leopold barrel series.

These are my notes from the four foeder samples. I apologize that the notes are not as lengthy as I would have liked. I was trying to take notes on the beers while taking notes on the presentation and then after the presentation it got very loud and Lauren came over so I wanted to stop and talk to her.

Sure Thing #01 - Firm but soft sourness, recognizable part of La Folie acid character, slight vinegar note. Mild dark fruit flavor and aroma. Good base component for a blend.

Bill Weathers #32 - Moderate acidity and aroma; interesting and prominent blackberry flavor, cola and cocoa. Complex enough that it could (and should) be released on its own as a standalone beer.

Lion's Breath #10 - Mild acidity, typical brett funk character prominent, herbal/floral note. Recognizable within La Folie flavor profile. Complex and brett forward.

Short Round #21 - Most aggressive acidity of the four; tangy lactic acidity. Some brett funk aroma; large cola flavor. Balanced with Sure Thing creates good balance of complex acidity without sacrificing a firm acid profile.

My blend was:
  • 30% Sure Thing
  • 30% Bill Weathers
  • 20% Lion's Breath
  • 20% Short Round
Comparing my blend against La Folie it was clearly less complex although in fairness I had far fewer options. My blend was considerably less acidic but more brett forward with the blackberry note from Bill Weathers far more prominent in the blend. I liked my blend a little more than La Folie if only because I really enjoyed that blackberry character and wanted to restrain the acidity to let it shine through.

Concluding Notes

Good news, Clutch is making a return later this year and Lauren promises the sour portion will be larger for a greater sour profile. I'm really excited. Clutch is one of my favorite beers.

I cannot overemphasize how much the oak plays a role in the flavor profile of New Belgium's sour beers. They have a real sense of being lived in like the microbes have balanced out in the environment and developed their own distinct community. Gone is the aggressive and dominant sourness often found in younger sour beer programs (both pro and at home). Instead they have a softer acidity and more rounded brett character than I've only myself really found in my sour beers reaching three years of age or my lambic solera right around year four.