September 18, 2015

Swordfight 3 Spiced Belgian Blonde

For a long time craft beer poisoned the well of spicing beers by relegating their use largely to pumpkin beers and overly spiced Belgian beers. That period where so many domestic takes on Belgian styles tasted of coriander and more coriander almost drove Belgian styles right out of the craft market. Even during that first wave of saison popularity every saison was coriander galore. The era of coriander drove me away from spicing my own homebrewing but I've realized after drinking quite a few spiced beers over the past year or so that I really enjoy what spices bring to the table when done appropriately. I've been thinking a lot about brewing a non-saison Belgian beer with some moderate spicing and I need a big pitch of Belgian yeast for another beer later this years so the time is right to get a lighter Belgian beer brewed with spices.

For this beer I opted to assemble hops, lemon peel, coriander and star anise around WY1214 for a complex mix of fruit and phenolic spice. The late addition hops will be a gentle dose of Belma hops to lay a soft melon character that I hope will meld the flavors together. Coriander is a good base for spicing Belgian beers and contributes a citrus element that the trappist/abbey yeast lack. The lemon peel is a different approach to the usual orange peel. I want the lemon to brighten up the coriander with a small amount of peel. The star anise is a way to add complexity to the phenolic character and help balance against these other fruity spice additions. As a whole none of the spices should overwhelm the yeast character or the beer as a whole.

My goal for this beer is to create a beer that is easy to drink and versatile to add fruit or sour while also having enough complexity to drink on its own. I will bottle part of this batch straight while the rest will go on plums. I might sour the plum portion. 

Spiced Belgian Blonde

Batch size: 2 gallons
Est. ABV: 4.7%
Est. IBU: 25
Est. SRM: 3.4
Est. OG: 1.046
Est. FG: 1.010

Grain Bill

3 lb. 8 oz. US Pale malt (2 SRM)

Mash Schedule & Volumes

Mash in 4.38 qt at 167F for 75 minute 150F mash
Sparge 1.76 gal at 180F

Water Profile & Additions

Water profile modified Bru'n Water yellow malty

Water Profile

Ca: 50
Mg: 5
Na: 5
SO4: 55
Cl: 72
Bicarbonate: -92
Ph: 5.3

Mash Additions

Gypsum: 0.3g
Epsom salt: 0.2g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.6g
Lactic acid: 0.6ml

Sparge Additions

Gypsum: 0.4g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.9g

Boil Schedule

60 minute boil

0.15 oz Belma [12.10%] at 60 min (18 IBU)
0.10 oz Belma [12.10%] at 20 min (7.3 IBU)
0.20 g star anise at 20 min
2 g lemon peel at flameout
1.6 g coriander seed at flameout
0.10 oz Belma [12.10%] at flameout

Fermentation Schedule

Fermented with WY1214 at 70ml slurry. Pitch at 64F and keep for twelve hours. Raise temperature on fridge to 72F let free rise to 72F. Let rise to 78F after four days of fermentation.

Brewday Notes

Brewed 9.17.15

Preboil volume: 2.6g
Preboil gravity: 1.038
Mash efficiency: 77%

Postboil volume: 2.2g
Postboil gravity: 1.046
Brewhouse efficiency: 80%

September 4, 2015

Fake Fox Rye Saison Tasting Notes

I've had brewing a low ABV saison (often referred to as a table saison) on the to-brew list for a long time and this was my first swipe at one. Overall I'm pretty happy with the recipe for Fake Fox rye saison and it seems to be quite a crowd pleaser. So let's get into it.

Appearance: Pours a touch darker than pure-pilsner blonde. The head is snow white and rocky, leaving beyond moderate lacing while the head survives to the bottom of the glass. The beer initially poured quite clear but as the sediment was aroused into the beer on the second pour from the bomber it became slightly cloudy. Without the yeast kicked up it definitely did not suffer from any protein haze from 33% rye.

Aroma: The prominent aroma is rye, somewhere between rye bread and rye crackers. Subtle malt sweetness. The hops are tucked in but present with peach, apricot, cherry, melon, white grape and some pine. Yeast character mingles with the hops with pepper, lemon, orange and tropical fruit salad.

Flavor: Rye crackers covered in apricot preserves comes first. Citrus fruit, melon and pepper follow with a a graininess and finished with a touch of malt sweetness. Early tastes when the beer was first poured were on the sweeter side but as the beer warmed the hop bitterness appears and makes the fruit character more vibrant and moderates the rye. The finish develops some of the earthy, tea and pine notes from the rakau hops.

Mouthfeel: The risk with low ABV beers is avoiding a thin mouthfeel and this beer is miles off. The light malt bill plus the rye creates a nice mouthfeel that feels as dense as a beer twice its gravity but doesn't feel heavy on the tongue. There is a moment where the rye sits heavy on the tongue but it's wiped away by the carbonation and then you're left with just a little of that rye slickness in the finish.

Overall: I'm happy with this beer. It's pretty much on the mark for what I wanted. The initial draft of the recipe was heavy handed with hops but I dialed it back in the final recipe. I could go a touch heavier on the whirlpool hops. This is probably the first beer I've had that I liked with rakau hops and I think the aurora hops did a nice job of downplaying what I don't like about rakau and playing up what I do like. I would use rakau again but probably not in equal proportions. I might also play with mixing in cascade, which also works wonderfully with aurora, for a little grapefruit to punch up the citrus notes. If I were judging this beer as it is I'd probably go upper 30s and maybe low 40s but with a little cascade--maybe in a dry hop--I could easily make this a mid-40s in saison. At least as long as I picked up a judge with a love for rye.

What I probably like most about this beer is how well the rye works. I really enjoy rye in a beer but to be heavy handed with it you really have to be careful because the great mouthfeel and body on this beer easily turns into an unpleasant oil slick on the tongue. Even in big rye stouts going 30% rye is just too much.

August 16, 2015

Pivo Kielich Grodziski #2

Polish brewing history is mostly a nonexistent topic outside of a very small group of beer historians aside from grodziski, the oak-smoked wheat beer developed in Grodzisk, Poland. Grodziski (sometimes spelled grodziskie or the German gratzer) has been saved from the obscurity shared by many Polish and German styles crammed out by the more popular German styles known today. Grodziski survived through the Cold War in an industrialized fashion that turned the 100% oak smoked wheat beer into a part-wheat malt, part-rauchmalz beer. It nearly died in the mid-1990s only to be revived by the hard work of Polish homebrewers who have not only kept the style alive but turned it over to craft brewers who have spread the message of grodziski. My research does not entirely agree with those Polish homebrewers and I'm not sure the Cold War industrialized version of the style is the best style to have brought to the forefront but that is perhaps a discussion for another time.

I've brewed a grodziski in the past in a slightly bigger variant than most recipes seem to follow and although I was happy with that effort I wanted to try my hand at a smaller version to cap off the rest of summer with a lower ABV version and play around with a different hop profile. So this beer clocks in a little below 3% ABV and relies on those wheat proteins to keep the beer from getting too watery. For late hop additions I've opted to combine opal and celeia hops. I am hypothesizing that the earthy opal and floral celeia will come together like an aggressive noble hop. I'm not entirely sure how the lime flavor from celeia will play into the flavor profile.

Pivo Kielich Grodziski #2 Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 2.7%
Est. IBU: 34.5
Est. SRM: 2.4
Est. OG: 1.028
Est. FG: 1.007

The Grist

1 lb. Weyermann oak smoked wheat malt (2 SRM)

The Water

Water profile based on Bru'n Water Yellow Balanced profile with RO water
Mash volume: 42 oz.
Sparge volume: 1 gal.
Mash ph: 5.5

Mash Water Additions:

Epsom salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.2g
Chalk: 0.1g
Lactic acid: 0.2 ml

Sparge Water Additions:

Epsom salt: 0.3g
Calcium chloride: 0.5g

The Mash

Single infusion 42 oz. at 167F for 153F rest for 75 minutes

Sparge with 1 gallon water at 180F

The Boil

60 minute boil

0.11 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60 minutes 29.1 IBU
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 15 minutes 5.4 IBU
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at whirlpool 0 IBU
0.17 oz. Opal [6.5%] at whirlpool 0 IBU

The Fermentation

Pitch 1g dry US-05 and ferment at 65F
Bottle to 3 volumes

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 8/16/15
Preboil volume: 1.2 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.020
Mash efficiency: 65%
Postboil volume: 1 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.024
Efficiency: 64%
Bottled 8/26/15. FG 1.002.

August 7, 2015

Sanskrit Saison Tasting Notes

I brewed this beer at the very end of spring and have been slowly consuming it through the summer but I've been delayed in posting my tasting notes partially because I haven't had a chance to sit down and pour over my thoughts on the beer and partially because I wanted to see how it developed before locking in thoughts on it. As a recap, Sanskrit is a moderate ABV saison with a pils base plus unmalted white wheat, buckwheat, golden raisins, ginger and green cardamom. It was an experiment picking out ingredients at my local Indian grocery store. Well, let's see how it turned out.

Appearance: Pours an orange-ish color not quite a pale ale; much darker than a typical pilsner/wheat saison. It's cloudy, almost murky. Some of the cardamom seeds made their way into the bottles and a few small seeds hover under the surface. The surface is covered with a lasting white head. It pours frothy but descends into a thinner layer that lingers with a good amount of lacing.

Aroma: The aroma is a complex mix of floral, earthy, fruity and bready. The dominant aromas are citrus fruit with a distinct lemon presence and cardamom floralness. The golden raisins provide a sweet, fruity aroma. There is a earthy bread aroma underneath it all that is decidedly buckwheat. Hints of pepper, clove, oregano in the background.

Taste: The flavor is assertively cardamom with a big lemon-floral flavor. The buckwheat shows up next with its earthy flavor. The golden raisins have disappeared into a subtle white wine flavor while the ginger makes an appearance in the finish with a little of the fresh ginger heat. Some pepper appears in the aftertaste. The yeast is somewhere in here but it is repressed by the dominant cardamom flavor. Beyond the buckwheat the grain character is mostly lost. However, it is complex and unique.

Mouthfeel: Surprisingly full. This beer is 12% unmalted wheat and 4% buckwheat so some body is expected but it is almost stout-like in body. Like hefeweizens with 50% wheat malt are desperate for this kind of body. It hangs on the tongue with a slightly oily finish. As the beer warms there is a numbing sensation that I believe is the fault of the cardamom. At cooler temperatures there is a subtle burn from the ginger.

Overall Impression: It's a really interesting beer. There's so much I like about the flavor combination but a few things I really dislike about the beer. I think the ingredient combination is excellent but with some tweaks. The glaring error is the amount of cardamom. This beer needs half as much cardamom. I really enjoy the buckwheat and plan to play with it in more beers in the future but it seems to add so much body to the beer that the wheat could be cut down or outright eliminated to get a drier mouthfeel. I would definitely rebrew it with those changes. I still have a gallon that has been hit with dregs from a bottle of Oud Beersel gueuze, LambickX kriek and some lactobacillus from a probiotic source so I'm interested to see how brett and friends manipulate all these flavor compounds.

July 21, 2015

Touring Boulevard Brewing

Boulevard's top selling beer is still its flagship Unfiltered Wheat but someday that position may get squeezed out by its popular Tank 7 saison (and its funked up Saison Brett cousin). Boulevard built itself into one of the largest craft breweries in the country on the back of its classic craft line up but its largely Belgian-influenced Smokestack Series is what is keeping Boulevard competitive in a craft industry always reaching for something new and interesting. Boulevard might not throw down the most exotic beers, even in the Smokestack Series, but each beer in the series is interesting and extremely well designed. From looking at the core lineup of beers, one would never guess that it was Belgian beer that inspired founder John McDonald to open a brewery. The core beers are primarily inspired by styles from the United Kingdom but in the nineties when Boulevard was getting up and running these were the styles that a craft brewery could sell. It was no surprise then that when Boulevard looked at expanding its selection through the Smokestack Series that it started with several Belgian-influenced beers.

I like Boulevard's beers, even the non-Smokestack beers, so if the opportunity presented itself to visit I wanted to take it. I visit western Missouri from time to time and I've been lobbying to open that opportunity and finally got the chance this year. Boulevard sets out three tour options. Based upon our schedule we were not able to book the most elusive tour and happily settled in the Smokestack tour. The Smokestack tour is a $20 tour through the brewery with some areas they don't show on the normal tour followed by a paired tasting with Smokestack beers. They then opened up the taps in the taproom and gave us a discount on merchandise, which includes beer. (I picked up a couple Love Child #5 and a Saison Brett at a very reasonable price.)

Photo courtesy of Jared at Tiny Ass Brewery

The tour was pretty much what one expects and really we didn't see too much that was different from other tours. We were taken into the room with the centrifuge and filtration system, which is not usually a stop on many brewery tours. I didn't get pictures like I should have but it's a nice brewery. There are several meeting spaces (available for rent) in the brewery that were really nice. From the picture above you can see the brewery from the parking lot. There are actually two buildings here. On the right with the smokestack is the original building--a former railroad building--which includes the original brewhouse that is now used for experimentation. On the left is a much larger and newer building with the new brewhouse and packaging lines. They are connected by a walkway on the second floor with yellow glass. You can kind of see it above the black delivery truck and to the right of the tree. The building on the left is long and you don't see much of it in this picture. A third building is in the works behind the original building that will further expand production. It's financed by Duvel Mortgaat through their partnership. Duvel Mortgaat apparently really enjoys Kansas City and their relationship with Boulevard. They are moving their stateside offices into KC.

I had hoped to corner a brewer and capture some brewing information about some of the Smokestack beers but I wasn't sure if there were any brewers around. Boulevard takes safety very seriously with the tours and I suspect brewing is scheduled around the tours to minimize risk for guests and employees. When we went into the hop freezer I struck gold with brewing data. Right in front of me was a one page breakdown of the recipe for Tank 7. It had everything. Even the water profile. So I snapped a picture. Unfortunately the picture is unreadibly blurry. I tried to fix it in photoshop but I just can't get it to a readable place. If you have some ideas please post in the comments. I'd love to be able to fix the photo and post it here. Since I don't have that available, I'll just add a recipe I located online that claims to be straight from the brewery. It's missing grain and hop numbers but if you know your system's efficiency then you can calculate the appropriate volumes for your brewhouse.

Pale Malt - 77.5%
Flaked Maize - 20%
Malted Wheat - 2.5%

Mash in:
145 and rest for 50 minutes.
154 - 25 min
163 - 15 min
Mash off at 172

We look for a beginning of boil gravity of 1063 and boil for 70 minutes to look for in 1067 at the end of the boil.

Magnum - 6 IBU at 208F
Simcoe - 5 IBU that 15 After beginning of boil
Amarillo - 15.7 IBU that 5 before end of boil
Amarillo - 10.7 IBU in the whirlpool

We cool the wort  to 66F, pitch with a high gravity Trappist strain (I suggest Wyeast 3787) and let it rise  to 70F. We ferment at 70F until we reach 1028, then we ramp the temperature to 73F for the remainder of fermentation. FG at 1009.

Dry Hopping
Amarillo .089 kg / bbl (7.6 grams per. Liter)
The two things that probably jump out as unusual about the recipe is the yeast strain and the base malt. I believe the same Belgian strain is used across all of Boulevard's Belgian-inspired beers and in combination with Amarillo there is a citrusy character that isn't too far off from what one gets from many saison strains. It's short on the phenolics typically more assertive in a saison but it undoubtedly works. Boulevard also seems content using pale malt as a base in Belgian beers that normally employ pilsner malt. I think this is obvious in both Tank 7 and Long Strange Tripel which are slightly sweeter, heavier and less grainy than pilsner-based versions of farmhouse ales and tripels. It works for both beers even if they are not stereotypical examples of either style. Certainly the folks at Duvel Mortgaat know something about Belgian beer and don't seem to mind.

July 18, 2015

Exodus 2.0 Red IPA Recipe

Back in 2010 I designed an Irish red ale called Exodus. It was my second recipe I designed and sort of a miss. It was more of a brown ale but it wasn't a terrible beer. Just not so interesting that I wanted to rebrew it. My wife has gotten into the whole west coast red ale/red IPA style so I decided to repurpose the name for a new version of the recipe transformed into a more extreme red ale style.

But of course I had to take it in an unusual direction.

Many of the red IPAs I have tried (which admittedly isn't all that numerous) have focused on the typical citrusy hop character that readily identifies west coast hop bombs. I decided instead to take a different direction with the hop profile in favor of a mix of citrus, herbal and pine with the citrus character taking a backseat. It isn't quite dank but it also isn't bright citrus either. Somewhere in between. Part of the reason I chose this path was to explore a different hop profile than the typical citrus/dank/tropical profiles that dominate most hoppy commercial beers.

Another reason is that I thought it would be interesting to do a faux barrel aged version with a faux cocktail barrel. I have a manhattan that has been aging with Hungarian oak cubes for a few months and I plan to add some of the manhattan plus the oak to part of this batch to create something close to a cocktail barrel aged IPA. I usually oppose the idea of barrel aging hoppy beers because it means letting the hop character fade away but cocktail barrels are freshly dumped before use in beer (in the rare chance you find such a beer) and it does not take long for a beer to absorb the cocktail and oak character so long aging is unnecessary. So for that reason I plan to leave the oak in contact with the beer for no more than two weeks. The herbal character of the vermouth and bitters should interact nicely with the herbal and woodsy notes of the hops to create more complexity. Or it could just be a huge mess.

Exodus 2.0 Red IPA Recipe

Batch size: 2 gallons
Est. OG: 1.057
Est. FG: 1.014
Est. ABV: 5.7%
Est. IBU: 70.9
Est. SRM: 14

Grain Bill

72% 3 lb. 8 oz. Two row (2 SRM)
10.3% 8 oz. Vienna malt (3.5 SRM)
7.8% 6 oz. Crystal 60 (60 SRM)
5.1% 4 oz. Unmalted wheat (1.7 SRM)
3.7% 3 oz. Crystal 120 (120 SRM)
1% 0.1 oz Black malt (500 SRM)

Mash Profile

Single infusion 75 minute mash at 152F
Mash water volume 6 qt. infusion at 169F
Sparge water volume 2.92 gal. at 180F
RO Water adjusted to pale ale profile in Bru'n Water

Water Profile

Calcium: 160
Magnesium: 18
Sodium: 26
Chloride: 55
Sulfate: 308
Bicarbonate: 162
PH: 5.4

Mash Water Additions

Gypsum: 2.4g
Epsom salt: 1.1g
Canning salt: 0.4g
Calcium chloride: 0.2g
Chalk: 0.8g

Sparge Water Additions

Gypsum: 4.8g
Epsom salt: 2.1g
Canning salt: 0.8g
Calcium chloride: 0.4g

Boil Profile

60 minute boil

FWH 0.2oz. Triple Perle [8.9%] 13 IBU

60 min. 0.2oz. Nugget [13%] 25.8 IBU
20 min. 0.2oz. Nugget [13%] 10.4 IBU
20 min. 0.25oz. Cascade [5.5%] 5.5 IBU
20 min. 0.25 oz. Triple Perle [8.9%] 10.7 IBU
10 min. 0.3 tsp Irish moss
Whirlpool 0.6 oz. Cascade [5.5%] 0 IBU
Whirlpool 0.75oz. Triple Perle [8.9%] 0 IBU
Whirlpool 0.25oz. Nugget [13%] 0 IBU

Fermentation Profile

Pitch 42ml US-05 slurry and ferment at 66F.

After fermentation ends transfer one gallon to oak/manhattan for cocktail barrel aged version.

Bottle all at 2.3 vol. with 0.84 oz. table sugar per gallon.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/16/15

Realized after sparging that I had overcalculated sparge volume by a gallon. Added extra hour of boil time before taking pre-boil gravity reading to correct for extra volume. Started hop schedule after first hour.

First runnings gravity: 1.081
Pre-boil volume: 2.9g
Pre-boil gravity: 1.043

Post-boil gravity: 2.25g
Post-boil volume: 1.056

Mash efficiency: 68%
Brewhouse efficiency: 75.3%

Final gravity 5/26: 1.010
Apparent attenuation: 82%
ABV: 5.99%

July 13, 2015

Book Review: The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth

I'm always suspicious about books with titles like "The ... Bible" and "The Definitive Guide to..." because they are almost never so expansive or so well researched that it deserves its self-ascribed opinion that it is the final word on the subject. (It's a lot like restaurants that slogan themselves "authentic" or "real" because it's usually not. Those are restaurants I'll drive past every time.) So when I gained access to an advance copy of The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth I was concerned that this book would not only not live up to its own name but would deserve to be buried in the desert with all those old Atari E.T. games nobody ever bought. I'm not sure it's the final word on beer but it's a much better book than what I expected. Overall, it would be a pretty good read for anybody looking at the broad sea of craft beer and trying to figure out where to wade in.

"The Beer Bible" is written by Jeff Alworth who is a beer journalist with articles published in several well known beer mags and also writes Beervana, a blog about beer in the Pacific Northwest. Alworth's experience in beer journalism shines through in the text. It is well organized and easy to read (unlike my own writing). That's helpful when you're strolling through a 600+ page book. It's a thick book but it's truly the length one needs to cover the breadth of of content Alworth committed to discuss. You've undoubtedly seen those craft beer guides that are 150 pages and the explanation for each style is a short paragraph. That won't happen here.

The bulk of "The Beer Bible" is an encyclopedia of beer styles with seventy-five pages at the beginning discussing the history of beer and tasting beer and bookended by another fifty pages of discussion about storing and drinking beer. In a sense it is the inverse of various beer drinking books (like Randy Mosher's recent "Tasting Beer" or "Beer for all Seasons") that focus less on the styles and more upon understanding and drinking beer. "The Beer Bible" is really more like a massive expansion of the BJCP guidelines with some added content about beer history and beer cellaring. So it's a great book to help somebody understand what styles are on draft at their local craft bar but not particularly useful for helping that person learn to experience what they ordered. The tasting section is just a handful of pages. So that's why I think the "bible" term is an overreach. I can't see how a book becomes the definitive beer book without more discussion on experiencing beer. I could fairly describe this beer as "The Beer Encyclopedia" or something similar.

Because the bulk of the book is an exploration of beer styles, it's worth discussing it more specifically. The 464 pages dedicated to beer styles covers all the BJCP styles along with a handful of other styles. Each style is given an explanation, a brief history and some interesting tidbits before tossing out some examples of the style. Alworth does a good job of acknowledging the inaccurate but oft repeated mythologies of porter and IPA but leaves behind a few other mis-characterizations of other styles and brewing regions. France probably gets the worst abuse with its entire brewing industry reduced to biere de garde plus ripping off Belgian wit. As a whole, however, it is a solid exposition of styles and probably the best single source of style discussions I've seen published.

Although I think this book is a good resource for a craft beer amateur, I have a serious problem with it. The whole time I read the book I had a feeling of deja vu like I had read all of this before. I had. "The Beer Bible" lends so heavily from several Brewers Publications books that it reads like a massive edit of several of those books together filtered into the BJCP guidelines. The wheat beer section reads like an abbreviated "Brewing with Wheat". It's not just lazy writing; it's exploitative. Sure, these books are cited in the bibliography but that is no excuse for heavily leaning on these other authors' works in such a blatant manner. (I would not be surprised to see the Brewers Association contact their attorneys over it.) That's what's so damn frustrating about this book. It's an easy read and full of good information so I want to recommend it but on the other hand I hate to recommend that kind of work.

July 8, 2015

Fake Fox Rye Saison

When I was last in Oregon the time share in which my wife and I stayed had a golf course with a pond. The pond attracted geese so the property managers had put out a fake fox to scare them off. Most of the geese were unperturbed by the fake fox but a few would try to fight it. I didn't realize, driving by, that it was fake. The time share is out in the middle of nowhere so it's possible there was a fox or coyote or something trying to eat the geese. We don't have geese in Texas so there are no fake foxes. We decided to take a walk down to the pond to see if we could spot the fox and make a new friend. As we approached we discovered the fox was a fake fox. I'm pretty sure a couple geese laughed at me.

I brewed this saison after a long weekend of yard work. There is a lot of romanticization of saison about how these seasonal workers were treated to these wondrous artisan ales all day long. The truth is really that these poorly paid, poorly treated seasonal workers scraped by and drank this beer because it was all there was to drink. Their lives were no more romantic than our own seasonal workers who are unpaid and work long hours picking crops only to drink cheap beer at the end of the day and largely remain invisible in our society. This romantic view of saison is craft beer's fake fox. So I named this beer Fake Fox half out of a nod to the story from Oregon and half as a poke at the romanticization of saison.

This saison is a light, low ABV saison with a big rye charge and a hop profile that balances fruity Aurora against the apricot and spice character of Rakau. I'm not completely sold on this hop combination but I am trying to clear out some small amounts of hops taking up space in my freezer.

Fake Fox Rye Saison

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 3.6%
Est. SRM: 4.1
IBU: 26
Est. OG: 1.037
Est. FG: 1.009

Grain Bill

15 oz. Pils malt (2 SRM) 62%
8 oz. Rye malt (4.7 SRM) 33.3%
1 oz. Munich malt (9 SRM) 4.7%

Mash Schedule

Single decoction mash
Infusion 3.6 qt. at 157.8F for 144F rest for 40 minutes
Decoct 0.75 qt. and bring to boil for 158F rest for 30 minutes
Sparge 0.9 gal at 180F

Water Profile

Magnesium: 10
Sodium: 5
Sulfate: 105
Chloride: 46
Bicarbonate: 1
Ph: 5.3

Mash Additions

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

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 0.4g
Epsom salt 0.4g
Calcium chloride 0.3g

Boil Schedule

90 minute boil

0.07 oz. Belma [12.1%] at 90 minutes for 19.2 IBU
0.10 oz. Aurora [8.25%] at 5 minutes for 3.5 IBU
0.10 oz. Rakau [12.1%] at 5 minutes for 5.1 IBU
0.10 oz. Aurora [8.25%] whirlpool for 0 IBU
0.10 oz. Rakau [12.1%] whirlpool for 0 IBU

Fermentation Schedule

Pitch 13ml of 3711 at 70F and raise to 85F and hold until fermentation is complete.
Cold crash and bottle to 3.0 volumes.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/3/15

First runnings: 1.045
Pre-boil volume: 1.7 gal
Pre-boil gravity: 1.030
Mash efficiency: 98.6%

Post-boil volume: 1.1gal
Post-boil gravity: 1.038
Efficiency: 80.8%

Gravity reading 5/5/15: 1.006

June 28, 2015

Book Review: IPA by Mitch Steele

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

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

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

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

Criticism of IPA typically revolves around three points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 21, 2015

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 16 -- Eighteen Months

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

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

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

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

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

June 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

In the end I opted for:

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

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

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

Grain Bill

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

Mash & Sparge

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

Water Profile: Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter

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

Mash Additions

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

Sparge Additions

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

Boil Schedule

90 minutes

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


Ferment with 100ml slurry of 3711 at 78F

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/31/15.

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

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

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

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

May 29, 2015

Be Cool Pale Craft Lager

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

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

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

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

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

Be Cool Pale Craft Lager

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


1 lb. Irish Stout Malt [2 SRM]


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

Water Profile

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

Mash Additions

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

Sparge Additions

Epsom salt: 0.1g
Lactic acid: 0.3ml

Mash Schedule

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

Boil & Hop Schedule

60 minute boil

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

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


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

Brew Day & Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 12/15/14.

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

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