July 30, 2014

Lying Scorpion Hatch Chile Blonde/Pale Ale Tasting Notes (Brew 2)

I'm a bit late on the tasting notes for this beer since I brewed it back in August last year. Thankfully, the beer really holds up well over time with the hatch chile flavor staying nice and vibrant. These notes are from much earlier tastings that I just never got around to typing up.

Appearance: Nice copper color in the pale ale range. Relatively clear with minimal haze. Tight white head lingers for a reasonable amount of time. Overall, a fairly typical appearance for a pale ale. I don't know why I refer to this beer as a blonde since it is very much a pale ale.

Aroma: Hatch chile aroma is very evident. Vegetal but not offensive. Clearly a pepper aroma rather than the cooked corn-like vegetal aroma/flavor you get from a flaw. Hints of caramel, bread/toast and subtle fruity notes.

Flavor: Hatch chile flavor hits in the front with a distinct flavor profile. Slight roast note from the roasted peppers. Grainy, sweet pale malt flavor comes through with caramel and a noticeable sweetness. Fruit esters appear just slightly in the finish with an equal minimal hit of heat. The beer is a little too sweet. Not quite cloying, just a few gravity points too high.

Mouthfeel: Slightly too full for a pale ale. Otherwise, pretty typical for a pale ale. Easy drinking without any serious heat from the chiles.

Overall: This is one of the fan favorites among my homebrew. The hatch chile flavor comes through perfectly. S04 was the wrong yeast choice here because it left the beer less attenuated than I had desired. I am also still using my old recipe which uses carapils and entirely too much at that. In the future I will probably rework the grain bill to a more simplistic pale ale or even try to drag it more into a blonde by using pilsner malt as a base. After a few months the sweetness mellowed which helped give the beer a slightly drier feel.

July 22, 2014

NYE Saison Recipe & Brewday

Last year my wife and I spent New Years Eve with a group of friends who are nice folks but not the beer geeks that we are. Nonetheless, we decided it was a good time to break open our three liter bottle of Chimay Gran Reserve from 2010. Not only was it hilarious to pour but it was fantastic. That beer ages brilliantly. This group is primarily a wine and liquor group but we are slowly teaching them to love good beer. I decided for this NYE I wanted to pop open some homebrew and a wine-like saison would be a good crossover beer with some gentle oak notes and a little chardonnay from some oak cubes I have been aging on chardonnay for a few months. I am brewing the beer now so it will have some aged character to it. Saisons age well, especially when they do not rely too heavily on hops. Hops tend to fade and sometimes that can fade into a bland or unpleasant flavor. We recently opened a three year old bottle of Ommegang Hennepin that we kept forgetting to open and it was unexpectedly pleasant. All of that in mind, this beer will get some dry hops before going into the bottle.

The vision is of a beer with some noticeable oak and Chardonnay character mixed into the fruit/spice yeast profile with the fruity esters and wine flavors balancing the dryness of the beer with some grassy/spicy/citrus hop character laid over it. A mix of forest and wine country. A good beer all around but a fine opportunity to present a beer that will appeal to other kinds of drinkers. The recipe is one part inspiration from Firestone Walker's Lil Opal and one part using up leftover ingredients I already owned. Like Lil Opal, it is primarily based on pilsner and a mix of malted and unmalted wheat but I am going for a more complex hop flavor with a mix of newer European hops that offer an interesting take on the traditional noble character. These kind of leftover beers are nice when brewing on a small scale because it's cheaper to buy grain by the pound than the ounce which results in a library of several ounces of various grain that beg for use. By keeping around some excess base malt I can sneak in a spare beer here and there at a very low cost since I am saving money by buying grain by the pound. I've wanted to do a saison with some chardonnay character for a while, so all in all this beer is a great excuse to accomplish several goals. Let's get to it.

NYE Saison Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 8.5%
Est. OG: 1.079
Est. FG: 1.015
SRM: 5.2
IBU: 38

The Mash

RO water used for mash and sparge.

Single infusion mash of 3.91qt at 155.2F for 145F rest for 60 minutes.
Decoct 0.80 qt and bring to boil. Return to mash for 156F rest for 30 minutes.
Batch sparge with 1 gallon of water at 180F. Mash PH: 5.4

Mash water additions:

Gypsum: 0.4g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Calcium chloride: 0.3g

Sparge water additions:

Gypsum: 0.5g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.3g
Lactic acid: 0.5ml

The Grain Bill

72.4% 2 lb. 3 oz. Belgian Pilsner malt (2 SRM)
10.6% 5 oz. German Pilsner malt (2 SRM)
8.3% 4 oz. Wheat malt (2 SRM)
4.3% 2 oz. Unmalted wheat (1.6 SRM)
4.3% 2 oz. Munich malt (9 SRM)

The Boil

90 minute boil

0.17 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 90 minutes (35.4 IBU)
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 10 minutes (2.6 IBU)
0.15 oz. Opal [6.5%] at 0 minutes (0 IBU)

The Fermentation

Fermented with 0.7 package of 3711. Pitch at 70F and free rise to 85F. Hold until fermentation ends. Add 0.25 oz. medium oak cubes soaked in chardonnay. Age until November. Dry hop with 0.10 oz. Celeia and 0.15 oz. Aurora. Bottle to 3.0 volumes CO2.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 7/22/14
First runnings: 1.082
Pre-boil gravity: 1.045
Pre-boil volume: 1.8 gallons
Mash efficiency: 77.6%
Post-boil volume: 1 gallon
Post-boil gravity: 1.080
Efficiency: 72.6%

Pitched 1/3 smack pack of 3711 at 75F. Held temp at 75F for 16 hours then free rise to 85F for remainder of fermentation.

July 14, 2014

Bottling Bucket for Small Batches

One problem that has vexed me for some time is trying to bottle out of the standard 7.9 gallon bottling bucket with small batches. When you're bottling as little as one gallon of beer it's easy to end up losing 5-10% of the batch to the bottling bucket if you aren't carefully tipping the bucket and try to work as much of the beer into the bottles as you can without oxidizing the beer by splashing it around. Giving up 5-10 ounces to the bucket is no big deal with a five gallon batch where you are talking 1-2% of the whole batch. However, when you're pulling eight to ten bottles in an entire batch then losing 5-10 ounces often means losing an entire bottle of beer.

Two challenges created by the typical bottling bucket are the size of the bucket and the typical placement of the spout hole. The size of the bucket means the beer awaiting packaging ends up in a wide and shallow shape. The need to start tipping the bucket towards the spout while bottling starts early in the bottling run which means you're trying to balance the bucket and fill bottles. That creates a lot of opportunity for the bucket to rock back and forth and oxidize the beer. Not good. The spout is usually placed roughly two inches from the bottom of the bucket, which means as you tip the bucket forward you create dead space where the beer gets trapped in the bottom of the bucket beneath the hole in the back of the spout.

My solution was to obtain a smaller bucket and convert it into a bottling bucket for small batches of homebrew. Honestly, I have no idea why I didn't do this before. The bucket I chose was this two gallon white paint bucket from Home Depot. (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Leaktite-2-gal-Bucket-2GL-WHITE-PAIL/202264039) I believe this particular bucket is not designed with a lid that can be reused (like most paint buckets) so it may not be a great option for a fermentor. I don't need a lid for bottling so it isn't a problem. It is HDPE #2 so it is food grade. (If you are looking for a bucket to use as a small batch fermentation vessel, there are good food grade buckets available from restaurants, bakeries, etc. that have resealing lids.)

Converting the bucket to a bottling bucket is really simple work. Just drill a hole. I drilled the bucket to fit the standard bottling bucket spout. To drill the hole I used a one inch spade bit. A couple of pieces of advice. First, make sure you secure the bucket before drilling. The spade bit will vibrate the plastic and try to twist the bucket. That will cause a larger hole than what you want. Also, if your drill has adjustable torque you need to adjust the torque down so the bit doesn't dig into the plastic so hard it cracks or rips the plastic. Once the hole was drilled I filed off some loose pieces and smoothed out the exterior of the hole with some fine grit sandpaper to make sure the spout forms a tight seal.

I set the middle of the hole at one and a half inches above the bottom of the bucket, which gives me enough clearance to set the bucket on the counter with the spout turned upright and the bucket can sit even while filing. You want to make sure you give yourself enough room on the inside to be able to turn the nut to completely seal the bucket. If you drill too low you may find yourself digging into the plastic to tighten the nut, which damages the smooth surface you want on the plastic. 

The hole doesn't have to be perfect and it probably won't be because the plastic on these buckets is more pliable than your typical bottling bucket and that makes drilling a perfect circle more challenging. All you need is a hole big enough for the back of the spout to fit but small enough that it forms a watertight seal. I put some colored paper in the bucket against the hole so you can see that I didn't do a perfect job. It seals just fine.

Then I used a measuring cup to add water and did a rough job of marking it off in 32oz. intervals. I measured after drilling with the spout attached because the spout will hold a little liquid and I only need to know the volumes with a spout attached. Pretty obvious. The bucket holds a little over two full gallons.

There you go. A really easy build. I know, it's not the awesome work some of you guys and gals do on your brewing systems but for those of us who are not technically capable this is an easy fix to a problem that had annoyed me for a while.

July 7, 2014

Proposed BJCP Updates

At the National Homebrewers Conference this year, Gordon Strong announced a major upcoming revision to the BJCP Style Guide. The revision will be the first since 2008. Over the past six years we have seen the explosion of IPA and its variants, two waves of saison trends, the year of imperialization of everything, barrel aged everything, the year of Belgian yeast in everything, and several other trends. Undoubtedly the world of craft beer has expanded over that time period as much as it will likely expand in the next six years. In light of all those trends, we were long overdue for an overhaul. The 2014 BJCP overhaul includes an expansion of the number of styles, revisions and clarifications of style identifications, reorganization of styles and updates of archetypical examples of each style. The new guidelines offer over 100 beer classifications (plus mead and cider) with considerable expansion in the IPA department.

I have mixed thoughts about the overhaul. There are some changes I like and some I really dislike. BJCP has opened up the proposed draft for commentary on the BJCP forum (www.bjcp.org) where you can also find a copy of the proposed draft (you must log in to the forum to view). I would encourage people to voice their opinions although it seems like a foregone conclusion that the basic structure of the guidelines will remain as is and the general defense seems to be that any problems can just be judged around. So I thought I would open up another avenue for my opinion by posting it here. Feel free to tell me if I'm being a jerk or wrong.

Positives of the 2014 BJCP Revisions

Recognition that BJCP guidelines are used globally: BJCP guidelines have been used for homebrewing competitions around the world for several years in spite of the current guidelines' focus on American brewing and beers widely available to Americans. The new guidelines are more expansive and incorporate a slightly expanded set of brewing regions and styles but where this recognition really shines is opening up the descriptions of the styles beyond narrow American interpretations.

Expanded style definitions: The explanation of each style is beefed up over the current version and it is organized more closely with the format of the BJCP judging form. Importantly, the style definitions are more broadly defined which allows brewers greater justification for recipe variations with less fear of penalty for brewing to taste rather than a seemingly arbitrary paragraph of descriptors.

Improvement in accurate style definitions: The style definitions are also more accurate (but still include several inaccuracies) than they were in the past.

Recognition of both new and historical styles that are gaining popularity or are already popular: Styles like Gose reborn from the past and new(er) styles like wheatwine have received appropriate placement as independent styles that do not have to fight over the old specialty category for attention.

Specialty category expansion: The specialty categories have broken out various major subsets and new classifications like "experimental beer" and "mixed-style beer".

Recognition that IPA needs more space: In many competitions IPA receives several times the number of entries of other styles. Add to that the popularity of all the IPA variants and you have a style begging for more opportunity to expand out and give better opportunities for good beers to receive respect.

Negatives of the 2014 BJCP Revisions

Guidelines written with the judges and competition organizers in mind: Wait, hear me out. The BJCP guidelines are naturally intended to allow judges to judge competitions with an agreed set of rules (no matter how right or wrong they are). However, we cannot ignore that participants design and submit beers based on the style guidelines as well. The defense often raised that judges can judge beyond the defects in the guidelines is true as long as one ignores that participants cannot do the same or hope that judges will judge in the way they want or that certain specialty styles will be included by the organizers. Dismissing criticism of the styles in a way that ignores the effects on competitors is, in my opinion, a huge mistake.

Superfluous style abound: While some of the style expansion makes a lot of sense, on the other hand many of the styles seem like splitting hairs where there is little meaningful division. For example, the English styles include golden ales (with an admission that these are bitters), three other bitters styles and English strong ales, which include ESBs and English pale ales. Why? Further, why is there a distinction between brown ales and English dark mild? Why three different Scottish styles? How does an English strong ale category include anything stronger in all other English categories? If it exists, why do we still need old ale? Why doesn't English barleywine fit in that category? Why American strong ales for beers that could easily go into an IPA, DIPA or American barleywine classification? IMO these are unnecessary divisions. Sure, for example, British homebrewers may take issue with their historical bitter divisions being consolidated but given that there is no serious distinction to the variants in the commercial market (historic or modern) it makes little sense to force homebrewers anywhere to try to sort it out.

The style expansion (and existing superfluous styles) recognizes the difficulty in trying to fit an amorphous world of beers into tight classifications that do not exist anywhere but in the classifications. However, instead of trying to craft an increasing number of classifications to fit everything into a home it could have been easier to group styles together in a single style grouping that pairs beers with similar attributes together.

Inconsistent approaches to styles: Some styles are given wide latitude while others are fit into tighter molds although in practice these approaches do not make sense. For example, IPA is turned into a nearly limitless classification while saison is dumped into one category with a limited description although it is a style with vast expanse. (Given the growing popularity of the style it would have made sense to give saison the same treatment as IPA.) Some brewing regions receive careful division of each of their popular styles while others have all their beers lumped together. Moreover, some classifications rely more heavily on identification by location or attributes while other classifications, such as American Wild Ales, focuses more on brewing technique than particular attributes in the final product or use of particular ingredients. I am not opposed to the focus on brewing technique. I actually think those broader categorizations would make judging similar beers easier and more friendly to both brewer and judge.

Inconsistent approaches to different brewing regions: Major brewing regions, like England and Germany, receive a large number of styles. As do Belgium and the US. However, while we see Czech beers recognized in the new guidelines, other areas like Scandinavian countries receive little to no recognition. Australian and New Zealand brewers get to savor their local equivalent to English golden ales while their craft styles are left out.

Some specific examples of these issues:

  • English styles over-divided: I mentioned this above but there is little reason why three different bitter styles continue to exist when there is so little distinction between them in commercial practice or any historical meaning. Reduce English golden ales and ordinary bitters in one style and best bitters and strong bitters could fit together under one style classification. Wrap old ale into the English strong ales classification. 
  • Scottish styles over-divided: For a nation with a brewing history that largely emulates British brewing, it makes very little sense to dedicate four styles to them, especially when three of them are basically repeats of the same description with slightly higher gravity. The three Scottish ale classifications could be reduced to a single classification. At very least, there is little reason to force three different classifications for some nod to history when the descriptions are so identical. It reads like the authors couldn't distinguish any significant difference beyond alcohol but Gordon Strong was convinced to use three classifications by Ron Patterson. Not a particularly meaningful justification for the surplusage.
  • Czech styles...is there a need?: Certainly some Czech styles are distinguishable from German styles--particularly pilsner--but the amber and dark styles are so close to the German styles that it seems like a single continental dark lager classification could have accomplished twice as many classifications. That doesn't mean Czech styles are not relevant or quality styles but when two regions brew nearly identical beers it makes little sense to try to draw a fine line between the two where the same fine distinctions are not made in other classifications. 
  • Kellerbier style arbitrarily classified: I am obviously a fan of the kellerbier style, considering I have one lagering right now, but I am not sure it makes sense to give it a classification. One problem, identified in the style guidelines, is that the beer is a beer that rarely leaves the brewery's local area and when it does it often loses the qualities that make it a unique beer. That makes it difficult for judges to understand the style and for homebrewers to gain a sense of what beers in that style should express. That is disadvantageous to both sides. Additionally, the Czech pilsner classification identifies this kind of unfiltered pilsner as a part of the Czech pils classification rather than a kellerbier, suggesting that only German lagers should be entered as kellerbier. Easy fix here is to identify in the Czech pilsner description that unfiltered versions should be entered as kellerbier. Also, I also wonder whether this classification will be used as a way to gain an advantage in the guidelines for those of us who bottle condition and have a harder time producing brilliantly bright beer. Since kellerbier is unfiltered it can be slightly hazy so any lager that fails to drop bright can be entered as a kellerbier instead of the regular style. 
Messy Belgian classification: I already mentioned that I think the saison classification is too limiting but I also think it is misclassified in its overall classification. Setting low ABV saisons against big BDSAs within the abbey classification makes little sense. It's not a good grouping because people who like saisons are not always the biggest fans of the abbey/trappist styles and vice versa. It makes more sense to put together a classification with biere de garde, saison and witbier. Each have a rustic character and history that make them a good grouping. Maybe biere de garde could fit with the abbey/trappist styles but saison and witbier are definitely different beers from the other more refined Belgian styles. 

Some of this is a matter of opinion but I suspect after a few years we will find the style guidelines needing a retooling over several of these issues in addition to whatever changes are necessary due to the inevitable shifts in styles. What are your thoughts?

June 21, 2014

Petrus Aged Pale Clone Update #5

I've mentioned this beer off and on as a problem child in my sour brewing. It wouldn't sour for the longest time and after doing the unthinkable--picking up the fermentor and shaking the shit out of it--I finally triggered the brett and bacteria to do their thing. This beer has been a problem child the whole time. This beer is now named Problem Child.

Problem Child is definitely an incredibly acetic beer. I tasted the beer and tried to identify it. I smelled it against some malt vinegar in the kitchen and it was very similar. I drank a little kombucha yesterday and the flavor and aroma was identical. It's not awful but the acidity is very sharp and the flavor is the same sort of funky earthy/vegetal/barnyard mix you find in kombucha. Not really something I want to drink an entire glass of by itself. I put roughly half a gallon on a half gallon of currant juice. I want to see if cutting it with fruit flavor makes it more enjoyable to drink. If so then I might split most of the batch up among different fruit. If it isn't great then I'll keep it around as an acid beer to mix into blends where the acidity isn't as bright as I would like. Not what I hoped for with this beer but sometimes with sour beer you just have to roll with what you get.

June 17, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 10 -- week 23 of fermentation

It's been a couple weeks since my last update on this project but I've observed a changed condition in the beer and that seemed like a good reason to make another update. In the last post I discussed the strange jellyfish-like growths floating on the surface, along with some colorful pictures. On the surface of the beer, which I apparently did not photograph, there were the whatever-they-are things floating on top and otherwise the surface had a slight sheen but was otherwise like any other beer.

However, this weekend I noticed patches of tiny bubbles forming on the surface. Some of these bubbles seem to be coming off the jellyfish but their presence next to the patches may be unrelated other than the floating blobs happened to be in the right place. Most of the swarms of bubbles are independent of the blobs. I suspect these bubbles might be caught under a translucent film. I'm not sure at this point whether the bubbles are merely offgassing CO2 as the temperature rises in the house with the progression of summer or something biological.

You can see the edge of a blob on the left and some of the clumps of small bubbles in the middle. If you look at the surface as a whole you can tell there is some kind of oily film on the surface.

June 14, 2014

I Hate This Place Kellerpils Recipe

Living in a town called Keller, I thought it made sense to try brewing a beer in the technique of the same name. "Keller" is German for "cellar" and refer to beers that have been lagered. However, the term is not generally used for modern lagers, rather it is generally used along with "zwickel" to identify beers that are unfiltered and unpasteurized, leaving behind a beer that has naturally clarified by lagering but not filtered or fined like modern lager styles. Kellerbier is generally served on a gravity pour from a lined barrel, not too different from English cask ale. It's fairly clear, since it undergoes some lagering, but lacks the clarity of filtered lagered. Like cask ale, it is low in carbonation because it is traditionally aged in unbunged casks so no carbonation forms. However, you may find some served with a cask-like level of carbonation, particularly those given the zwickel name.

Kellerbier has been adopted as a particular style of (flavor) hoppy and orange-ish German beer that is unfiltered; however, I am using the term "keller" in reference to the technique of creating a lager-like beer without filtration and served by cask. The base beer for this particular recipe is a bohemian pilsner rather than what has been deemed kellerbier as a specific style. It is an untraditional marriage of a non-German lager style with German verbiage. I am not creating a kellerbier, merely a bopils brewed and served using keller technique. This recipe is an adaptation of the kellerpils recipe from Victory in For the Love of Hops.

Although this beer was designed with the keller serving method in mind, it's a fairly straightforward pilsner recipe that could be adopted for bottling or kegging. It's a bohemian pilsner recipe at its heart but I've adopted a little German influence with some first wort hopping and a newer noble-like variety for the big hop finish at knockout. So it's also a little all-over-the-place. Maybe calling it "fairyly straightforward" is incorrect. However, this recipe is 100% pilsner malt. There are lots of pilsner recipes out there with munich malt, melanoidin malt and even old 1990s recipes with crystal malt out there. I prefer my pilsners a little drier and to develop those melanoidins through a decoction mash rather than specialty malt.

The danger in using straight pilsner malt is that the malt flavor in the beer can be very one note so I've combined two different pilsner malts from two different parts of the world. Here I have blended American and Belgian pils. I admit that's unconventional for a bopils. I wanted to get some floor malted pils and mix it with another variety but I couldn't find the floor malted in stock at the time I bought my grain for the year (it seems to come and go at various shops) and took what I could get. It will certainly be an interesting experiment.

Kellerbier is most commonly served out of a gravity keg but I am going to employ my free party pig, sans pressure pouch, to accomplish roughly the same technique that I have used to treat the party pig as a cask for English/American beer styles but leave out the regulator piece and carbonate it down to around one volume so it will pour easily. Plus, a little priming will help consume the oxygen trapped in the pig during packaging so that will help the beer stay fresh while it ages. I hope to be drinking this end of July or early August, right at the midpoint of our ridiculously hot summers.

Last note before getting into the recipe: I said above that I live in Keller, Texas. I hate living here and frequently tell people that. The name of the beer is meant to impugn the city's good name rather than honor it by brewing a beer in the technique of the name. Suck it, Keller. The long term plan is to move to Denver but financially we have to stay put for a while.

I Hate This Place Kellerpils Recipe

Batch size: 2.5 gallons
Est. IBU: 43.6
Est. SRM: 3.4
Est. OG: 1.046
Est. FG: 1.008
Est. ABV: 4.9%

The Grist

3 lb. 4 oz. Briess Pilsner malt (2 SRM)
1lb. Dingemans Pilsner malt (2 SRM)

The Mash

Decoction mash with RO water adjusted in Bru'n water to target Pilsen profile but acidified to target 5.2 mash ph.

Mash Schedule

Infuse 8.5 qt at 128.6F for 122F rest for 15 minutes
Decoct 2.95 qt and boil, return to mash for 148F rest for 30 minutes
Decoct 1.28 qt and boil, return to mash for 156F rest for 30 minutes

Mash Water: 8.50 qt

0.1g epsom salt
0.1g chalk
1.1 ml lactic acid

Sparge Water: 1.70 gal

0.1g epsom salt
0.1 calcium chloride
0.9 ml lactic acid

The Boil

90 minute boil

0.15 oz. Spalt [4.5%] first wort hop 20 minutes (3.8 IBU)
0.40 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 90 minutes (39.8 IBU)
1.00 oz. Aurora [8.25%] at flameout (0 IBU)
0.20 oz. Spalt [4.5%] at flameout (0 IBU)

The Fermentation

Pitch 1.2qt starter of Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager
Ferment at 52F with diacetyl rest at 1.020 gravity
Lager 2-3 weeks
Re-yeast at packaging

The Brewday

Brewed 6/14/14

Had issues getting hitting the last rest after returning the final decoction. Had to pull a second decoction to raise temperature. Ended up mashing like 146F for 35 minutes, 152F for 10 minutes and 158F for 15 minutes. Should be ok.

First runnings: 1.053
Second runnings: 1.018
Pre-boil gravity: 1.035
Pre-boil volume: 4 gallons
Mash efficiency: 88%

Added 20 minutes to boil time to reduce volume to 3.5 volumes

Post-boil gravity: 1.048
Post-boil volume: 2.5 gallons
Efficiency 75.8%

Pitched yeast at 65F with fermentation chamber set to 52F.

6/20/14: Raised temperature to 55F

6/21/14: Gravity 1.014. Raised temperature to 59F for diacetyl rest.

6/30/14: Cooled to 37F to lager. Gravity dropped to 1.012. Tastes malty and grassy, slightly herbal hop flavor. 

7/12/14: Bottled/casked to 2.0 volumes. FG: 1.012.

June 7, 2014

Mebier Tasting Notes

I brewed this adambier at the beginning of the year with the expectation that the beer would undergo some aging before cracking it open. I kept it in the fermentor for a couple months and then another three months in the bottle before busting them open. The recipe was loosely based on the early Hair of the Dog Adam recipe in Barleywine from Brewers Publications. Having tried HOTD's Adam since brewing this beer, it is not too far off the mark minus my version's lack of minerally peat smoke flavor that dominates HOTD Adam.

Appearance: Dark reddish brown with a light tan head. Clarity is good but might be a touch better if I had fined and/or lagered the beer. The head is tight and laces slightly.

Aroma: Caramel, toffee, apricot, grain, molasses and cherries dominate but the aroma has whiffs of other stone fruit and berries.

Flavor: Much of the same flavor as the aroma but the caramel and grain character is more prevalent. It is a touch sweet but not cloying. The beer is smooth and mellow, from aging, although there is a lot going on in the flavor.

Mouthfeel: Moderate body and extremely smooth. It is deceptively smooth for a bigger beer.

Overall: Overall really happy with the beer. I wish I had obtained better efficiency on this batch and I would have liked it to dry out a little further. I used S04, which is less attenuating than S05 or some of the other English strains, but that is something else I can tweak in a second rendition. I definitely want to make some minor tweaks to the recipe and rebrew but I will try it out with a strain with better attenuation. I'm not sure how much flavor the yeast drove into this batch so I may have to pick out an expressive but attenuative English strain to keep the flavor profile similar but with better attenuation. I like this beer enough that I am strongly considering it as a contender for a new blending/sour project going forward. 

June 1, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 9 -- week 21 of fermentation

It's been two and a half months since I've updated this project. Sour beers don't progress visibly like clean beers so I didn't want to show pictures of the same thing over and over again. I wanted to wait to post up some more pictures until I had something new to show from the last update. In the last update I discussed the weird yeast-colored pads floating on top. They are still hanging around the top of the beer but they are developing into jellyfish-like pads with the tendrils hanging down in the beer.

Weird, right? I'm not entirely sure what's going on here. I know there are some people on the interwebz who insist the tendrils mean mold and it's undrinkable but I don't think that is anything more than baseless speculation. I've continued to try to find somebody mentioning something similar but I've seen some non-beer fermentations that appear to be in the same ballpark (e.g. sherry flor) that makes me think I'm probably not going to die if I drink it.

I checked the ph with test strips and it came up in the low 4.something, which definitely suggests it is at least acidic enough that it shouldn't be risky to drink. I tasted a drop off of the test strip. Nothing too unusual in the flavor. Sweeter than I expected but tasted like a very boring wheat beer. No remarkable fermentation flavors. Definitely no perceivable acidity. (If I stop posting then everybody was wrong, something does grow in beer that can kill you.)

Overall I'm perplexed by what is going on. Aside from the mystery jellyfish, there is no pellicle although the surface has a slight oily appearance. The beer is still cloudy, which could be starch from the turbid mash or continued fermentation from something else (or both). 

May 29, 2014

Purchasing an Erlenmeyer flask in Texas

I've seen a few threads about the homebrewing forums discussing an alleged bizarre law in Texas the requires individuals to have a permit to purchase an Erlenmeyer flask, commonly used to make yeast starters. I first heard about this alleged law a couple years ago at a homebrew shop in Fort Worth when a group of engineers from the local highway department lab stopped in looking to purchase some equipment and one made a comment about being surprised that the flasks and other equipment were sitting out in plain view for sale. I figured since the topic has recently revived I would take my skills as a Texas lawyer into play and address the subject.

It is fact. In Texas, an individual must obtain a permit from the Texas Department of Public Safety to purchase an Erlenmeyer flask, among other equipment typically used in the production of meth and other illegal drugs that can be produced from commonly available ingredients. Many of the other pieces of equipment regulated under the same statute include the kind of equipment you saw in Breaking Bad in the original RV lab.

As an aside, if you have a Bunsen burner to heat flasks and/or to create an upward draft for your home yeast lab, that is also regulated under the same statute.

In 1987 (and amended in 1989) the state legislature passed a law regulating the purchase and acquisition of chemicals and equipment commonly used in the production of meth and other illegal drugs. Under this law, businesses and individuals who purchase identified equipment and/or chemicals must obtain a permit prior to placing an order or accepting delivery of such items. The seller must report the transaction to the Texas DPS who records the transaction in a database. The permit requires the holder to perform certain security measures to prevent theft. The permit is free to acquire so long as the applicant agrees to the security measures and authorizes the DPS to inspect the location where the equipment is used and stored. A permit lasts one year, after which a new permit must be issued before new purchases may be made.

This statute would require homebrewers acquiring Erlenmeyer flasks to first obtain permits and for homebrew shops to report any transaction to the DPS. Because the homebrew stores take delivery of the equipment from their wholesaler, they must also have a permit and store the equipment appropriately. 
I've seen comments from people that people who make meth do not shop/steal from homebrew shops so there's no reason for the homebrew stores to be concerned. I know personally that one of the local homebrew stores has a sign out that the Idophor is not the type of iodine used to make meth so there's no reason to steal it. I asked about it and they told me they have had some bottles of the fairly cheap sanitizer disappear out the door. Even if the premise of the comments was correct, it still isn't a good idea for stores to expose themselves to liability under the statute for keeping the Erlenmeyer flasks on the shelves. Who knows when a DPS officer might walk in, even if it's just to buy some brewing supplies.

In all likelihood, the DPS probably isn't going to come bust down a homebrewer's door for buying an Erlenmeyer flask without a permit but with the DPS who really knows. Better to get that permit than face the long list of penalties in the Health & Safety Code. If the crackdown comes it will most likely fall on the stores, who are more of a risk of selling to the wrong people or having their inventory stolen.

May 19, 2014

Yellow Umbrella Apricot Blonde Recipe

This beer was among my intended brews for 2013 but I never got around to brewing it but I already had the grains so it needs its turn. It's a really light blonde ale with some apricot tossed in, which will make for a nice, tart summer beer. It's based on Dry Dock's apricot blonde but stocked up with Belma hops and a little lighter on the ABV. I thought about subbing in saison yeast over a clean ale strain but with several other saisons for the summer I wanted something a little different in the pipeline. Nothing too exciting here, just a straightforward blonde ale as a backdrop for the apricots.

The name? One of the last few HIMYM references I can pick up since the series ended last month. Blonde=yellow. Yellow umbrella was the visual icon for the mother. Kind of phoning in this name. HIMYM fans: love/hate the finale? Lots of twitter fury about it. I dunno, I thought all the characters ended up where they should. I mean, not the mom, but the main characters. Anyway, let's get to the recipe.

Yellow Umbrella Apricot Blonde Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 6.5%
Est. OG: 1.065
Est. FG: 1.016
IBUs: 29.6
SRM: 5.5

The Grist

89.6% 2 lb. 4 oz. US 2 Row [2 SRM]
5.2% 2 oz. Crystal 20 [20 SRM]
5.2% 2 oz. Carapils [2 SRM]

The Mash

Single infusion of 3.14 qt. of water at 164F for 60 minutes at 152F
Sparge 0.91 gallons at 180F
Water profile: Yellow malty (Bru'n water)

Mash Water

0.784 gallons

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 0.4g

Sparge Water

0.91 gallons

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.2g

Calcium chloride 0.5g
Lactic acid 0.5ml

The Boil

60 minute boil
0.03oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] first wort hop (6.8 IBU)
0.10oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 minutes (18.7 IBU)
0.10oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 5 minutes (4.1 IBU)

The Fermentation

1/2 packet US-05 fermented at 65F for ten days
Add two pounds of apricots for three weeks
Bottle to 2.5 volumes

Brew Notes

Decided to give this beer a sour mash treatment so I mashed half of the grist and water, sparged and brought it to a quick boil. Cooled to 120F and added some uncrushed grain in a half gallon growler. Strapped on the heating belt and set it for 90F. Let it sit for approximately 2.5 days. Sour portion was incredibly tart.

Topped up kettle pre-boil to account for some boil off from sour wort preparation.

5/21/14: Pitched yeast around six p.m. Sunday. Active fermentation began Monday evening with peak activity reached Tuesday evening. Definitely a delayed fermentation due to the inhospitable ph.

5/25/14: Beer is still cloudy with yeast and there is a little airlock activity continuing. Surprised that the massive overpitch wasn't enough to produce a faster fermentation.

5/28/14: Beer cleared up around 5/26. Added 1 lb. apricots to beer. Expect to let ferment and soak up all the apricoty goodness for 3-4 weeks.

May 18, 2014

California Alcoholiday -- Part 2

After thankfully avoiding a hangover from all that delicious beer, we hit the road to travel from Anaheim to San Francisco. By taking the 101 we could hit both Firestone Walker locations along the way. On our last evening in San Francisco we drove out to Russian River before sadly returning to Texas. San Francisco is a fun town with lots to see and do so we didn't do much drinking in favor of eating delicious food like the legendary San Francisco sourdough. My wife had some actual business work to do in San Francisco so we didn't have time to trek around to breweries although we would have loved to have hit 21st Amendment and Rare Barrel. I'm not disappointed that we hit Firestone Walker and Russian River. That's a pretty good trip by itself.

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Barrelworks is the second Firestone Walker facility and manages two barrel programs for Firestone Walker. One is the strong ale barrel program that produces the anniversary ales (and presumably some of the other barrel-aged strong ales) and the other is the brett and sour program. The anniversary ales see limited distribution across the Firestone Walker distribution map but the brett and sour beers have extremely limited distribution, some never making it out of Barrelworks. It's definitely worth checking out. There are eighteen taps that assemble various sour and brett beers along with several of the Firestone Walker strong ales plus random one-offs and vintage releases of different beers. You can also buy a few beers to go, including some of the anniversary ales if you are willing to pay a hefty sum. The oldest anniversary ale for sale is 13, which sells $110 per 750ml. They sell a boxed set of 13, 14 and 15 which goes for a cool $300.

Barrelworks is located in Buellton a little north of Santa Barbara on the 101. It appeared to be a wine-heavy area of California (but not quite Napa or Sonoma) which makes a lot of sense for a brewery with a strong desire to acquire wine barrels. It's a cool location, you enter the tasting room directly through rows of barrels. I guess they trust that nobody is going to open a barrel and take a straw to it. (Sorry for the terrible picture quality.)

Right now they are remodeling the restaurant but the tasting room is still functional. The tasting room only pours tasters. No regular-sized pours. I get it. You don't want to serve a 6oz pour of a limited beer to somebody who takes one sip and hates it so you end up pouring it out. Plus, most of the people stopping by were tourists and it's not the wisest idea to load people up on alcohol and send them packing, especially when you can't at least give them the option of eating a meal with it. It worked out well because we were able to try everything we wanted and take an extra swing at our favorites. So in no particular order, here comes our favorites:

  • 2013 Lil Opal: Lil Opal is the barrel/sour/brett version of what is now being sold as Opal, Firestone Walker's saison. The regular version is bright and citrusy but a touch too sweet for my tastes. (Big Opal is a wheatwine used in the anniversary blends.) Lil Opal is aged with brett lambicus and lactobacillus and produces a beer that is tart but not full on sour and adds dryness and funk that makes Opal my kind of saison. The 2013 is a blend of two year old American oak-aged beer and eight month old French oak-aged beer. The oak is present but not oppressive. The tannins help dry out the beer. For what it's worth, we also tried the 2014 which is a one year old blend of 75% American oak and 25% French oak. It was more oaky and lacked some of the brett complexity of 2013. We took a bottle home and expect to let it linger in the cellar for a while.
  • Agrestic: Firestone Walker bills this beer as a Flemish red but I'm not so sure I agree. It is a sour beer with a red color but the flavor profile is very different from any Flemish red I have experienced. It begins life as DBA which is then transferred to a tank and soured with lactobacillus. Then it moves to oak with brett lambicus for fourteen months in barrels that are 40% American oak and 60% French oak. It is pleasantly sour with some brett funk but the flavor profile is largely nutty, woody and spicy, rather than the typical cherry pie and barnyard character in Flemish reds. A really interesting rendition of a sour beer.
  • Sour Opal: As you can imagine, this is Opal given a full sour treatment. I'm not entirely sure how the process differs from Lil Opal but it is full on sour thanks to a two year aging process that I assume is also lacto and brett (maybe also pedio) but with more opportunity given to lacto to bring more sourness to the table. It has a unique flavor profile with lots of tropical fruit with a little cherry and white wine. It's aged in Viognier barrels, which is a chardonnay-like white wine. Probably my favorite of all the beers.
  • Feral One: A crazy blend of sour beers. This is a blend of "Sour Opal (American Sour Ale - 30%), SLOambic (Fruited Sour - 14%), Agrestic (American Wild Red Ale - 16%), and Lil' Mikkel (Bretted Saison - 40%)." Really complex stuff. The first two beers bring a lot of fruity flavors while the latter two bring earthy, funky notes. When you think about how much blending of barrels went into each of the component beers you realize just how much blending really went into this beer. It shows. It is layer and layer of flavors. I wish I could have ordered a full pour of this just so I could continue to taste it as it warms to see how the flavors develop. 
  • Saucerful of Secrets: Something in the Belgian quad area, this beer was brewed back in 2008 as a production-scale version of Sean Paxton's (The Homebrew Chef) same-named beer and barrel aged. I believe I recall the bartender saying the kegs they were serving were brandy barrel-aged but information online suggests the beer was only bourbon barrel aged. At any rate, it was velvety smooth and full of molasses, toffee, chocolate, maple syrup, stone fruit and a bucket of other flavors. You can tell this beer used to be far sweeter before time and barrel aging tamed it into a drier beer. Honestly, this is what I imagine Sam Adams Utopia wants to be. Utopia is like a sugar coma wrapped in a bottle of white dog whiskey. This is smooth and pleads you to drink more. Sean Paxton makes the recipe available on his blog so I might have to take a swing at brewing my own and giving it years of aging. Maybe a sour version as well?
Barrelworks really encouraged me to think about my own anticipated blending projects and how I want to brew going forward. As much as I enjoy experimenting with brewing different styles I find myself increasingly wanting to pair down to a smaller set of recipes and putting together a similar library of vintages and variants on those recipes that I can then blend back into even better beers.

Firestone Walker (Production Facility)

Firestone Walker's main facility is located in Paso Robles, getting deeper into Coastal California's wine county. Unfortunately we didn't get to Paso Robles until the evening so we didn't have a chance to take the tour. I was disappointed because I wanted to see the union system but not too disappointed because I was so enamored by the beers at Barrelworks. Firestone Walker has built out a very nice restaurant across the street from the brewery in addition to the tasting room inside the brewery. The tasting room was also closed so we helped ourselves to the restaurant. We helped ourselves to some more beer and food. The food portions were very large but we were a little disappointed that the food was a little bland. Service was very good and if you buy a tasting tray they will give you a discount on beer to-go or merchandise so I bought an awesome shirt. I had a laser-like focus on drinking one of the beers at Paso Robles and it didn't disappoint:

  • Unfiltered DBA: Unfiltered DBA is Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale, fermented in the Firestone Union system. While regular DBA is 20% union-fermented and 80% steel vessel fermented, the unfiltered version is 100% union-fermented. It is far more vanilla-oaky than the standard version and there's more complexity thanks to bypassing filtration.

Russian River Brewing Co.

You know you love beer when you go to wine country to drink beer (and no wine) and you're far down the rabbit hole when you hit Russian River. Russian River is in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County. Sonoma is next door to Napa and they are similar communities. Russian River is in the downtown touristy area but inside it is relaxed and you quickly forget you are in the middle of pretentious wine country. Everybody was friendly and several people on the bar were excited that we were there for the sour beer.

Does Russian River need any introduction? RRBC is well known for their infamous Pliny the Elder IIPA (Double IPA? What are we calling them now?) and their stunning sours. Half the line up in the taproom is Belgian/sour while the others are a mix of hoppy beers and various American beer styles. I found good stuff to enjoy on both sides of the menu. Let me get this one out of the way: I tried Pliny but it wasn't one of my favorites. I'm not big on IPAs and even less on double IPAs. I can appreciate the hype. It's Simcoe and Columbus on overload and that's an interesting earthy/dank combination. Not my favorite though. I preferred Blind Pig, which is more citrus-forward. Anyway, these were my favorites:

  • Janet's Brown: I know, the recipe is everywhere and it seems like everybody but me has brewed it. Clones continue to win awards because it's an excellent beer. Complex chocolaty malt meets an interesting mix of Northern Brewer's pine/mint and cascade's grapefruit. 
  • Defenestration: A hoppy Belgian blonde. Unmistakable Belgian yeast esters mixed with fruity hops. An interesting fruit salad with a refreshing hop herbalness.
  • Rejection: A Belgian black ale. It's their Valentine's Day beer. Smooth with fruity esters and dark chocolate malt profile. 
  • Sanctification: Sanctification is billed as a 100% brett fermentation beer, although that's not entirely true. It's fermented with brett B, C, L plus 30% of the pitch is their house culture (the funky bunch) that adds more brett plus lacto and pedio. It's citrus and funk with a little sourness. It's the mildest of the sour beers from Russian River but the flavor profile is complex.
  • Consecration: A dark ale soured in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with currants. It has a sharp acidity and a flavor profile full of spice, chocolate, red wine, currant, funk, tobacco and a hint of leather. 
  • Supplication: The winner of the night, a brown ale soured in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries. The cherries are assertive and rounded out by the fruity Pinot flavor. The caramel malt survives in the background while lots of brett funk fills the void between the two. Delicious stuff.
Here's a few pictures of the barrels and the brewhouse to close out the adventure. Good times at all places. After this trip  I will be stuck at home for a while so I will return to posting about homebrewing. It's good, we are developing too much of a backlog of beer in the house so this will give us some opportunities to drink down the supply.

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