September 4, 2014

Labor Day 2014 Drinking in Austin

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

Interesting Brewery Notes

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

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

Interesting/Awesome/Unique Beers from the Trip

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

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

September 2, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 12 -- week 34 of fermentation

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

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

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

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

August 22, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 11 -- week 30 of fermentation

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

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

August 16, 2014

I Hate This Place Kellerpils Tasting Notes

I have been desperately waiting with both fear and anticipation to try out this kellerpils. Two months of waiting since the mid-June brewday to figure out whether my first attempt at one of the least forgiving beer styles would be a glorious accomplishment of a delicate and refreshing beer for the hot summer or an utter failure of diacetyl and fermentation mishaps that I would have to drink to punish myself for not treating the beer with the respect it deserves. I had a lot of fear about brewing a pilsner for my second lager attempt because it's such an unforgiving style, even if brewed in a keller format that is forgiving towards imperfect clarity and imperfect lagering. However, I'm happy to say it's a pretty glorious beer.

Appearance: Pours extremely foamy out of the cask, resulting in a big glass of perfect white foam that slowly unveils the predictable yellow beer. Once the beer settles it presents a straw yellow beer with a lasting white head. The head doesn't do a great job of creating lacing on the glass but it lasts down to the very last sip. Light carbonation creates a minimal amount of bubbles along the bottom and sides of the glass. Clarity is not great for a lager and moderate for an ale. This would be a huge flaw for a lager that should feature brilliant clarity but produced in the keller style it was not fully lagered, which leaves some of the powdery lager yeast in suspension. The aggressive early pours from the cask also kick up some of the yeast and add to the moderately cloudy appearance.

Aroma: The beer has a gentle mix of aromas but you can smell them coming out of the glass. Hop aroma hits you first. I opted not to go the traditional saaz hop route and it is obvious. There is the expected spicy/herbal Saaz-like aromas but they are wrapped up in Aurora's complex fruity and floral character. Lime, pineapple, mango and passionfruit appear but with greater restraint than the fruity flavors of American or southern hemisphere hops. The lime character is pleasantly milder than Styrian Celeia, which is all lime all the time. There is also a gentle floral aroma. A nice sort of American/Czech blend of character that reminds me of the IPLs floating around. Under the hops appears the grain with notes of straw, cracker, bread crust and a hint of white grape.

Flavor: While the aroma tells you the beer is going to punch you with hops, the grain hits you first. It is more grainy than the typical BoPils (due to using American pilsner malt) but not offensively so. Grain, hay, white bread, bread crust, cracker, slight caramel and toffee notes. Then comes the hops with a flavor that matches the aroma. As the beer warms the lime fades and the spicy notes become more evident. While the beer is smooth up front, as the hop flavor hits there is also a distinct bitterness that balances the beer and presents a lasting bitterness that lingers after swallowing. Slight fruity esters appear in the middle of the flavor expression. It's pleasantly gentle and helps smooth the transition from grain to hop flavors. It's not the smooth perfection of a lagered pilsner but the flavor has a nice rustic element to it that makes it obviously a BoPils but also obviously something different than the norm.

Mouthfeel: Light but not watery. Early into the pour the creamy head gives the beer more body and a very smooth, creamy feel. As the head reaches a more moderate tone the light carbonation becomes more obvious and it develops a more expected lager mouthfeel. Not quite as crisp as the usual pilsner but definitely not as heavy on the tongue as an ale. The lingering bitterness gives the feeling of cleansing the palette and preparing you for the next gulp.

Overall: Really happy with this beer. It's not a traditional BoPils by any means but it delivers exactly what it should. A crisp and light beer with a fairly robust flavor that makes it a great summer beer when I'm not in the mood for the usual saison or sour. It's exactly what I envisioned. The party pig cask packaging has turned out fantastic. It gives the beer a little more body and mellows the bitterness but did not give the beer the heaviness of cask ale. Good stuff.

I really like this beer and would be very happy to rebrew it exactly the same way. I do miss some of the saaz character in a BoPils and I would like to try both a more traditional hop profile and blending Aurora with Saaz to bring out more of the herbal side of hops. This beer would fail in competition as a BoPils with the undoubted comments that it should be lagered more and styled as an IPL but within the unbound terms of keller style it is justifiably labeled a BoPils with an unconventional hop choice. It's probably too hoppy for a BoPils but I'm not concerned with fitting into style guidelines as much as I am about making delicious beer. And I have.

 If I wanted to bottle this beer with the normal carbonation level I would reduce the IBUs slightly to account for the bitterness accentuation brought by a higher level of carbonation. However, I am so happy with the party pig (maybe even more than using it with ales) that other than bottling a bottle or two to share with people out of the house I don't see a reason not to use the party pig. I definitely see more kellerbier in my future.

August 6, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Nineteen - Forty-Two Months

It's been a while since I've updated about the solera. I didn't get to taste Year Three until the end of May and I just recently opened my second ever bottle of the gueuze so I wanted to wait to make an update until I could add those notes. The solera has lost the offensive trashy smell from early in the year and now has its typically delicious acidic and cherry aroma. It looks good and it is sporting its usual thin white pellicle.

Lambic Solera Year Three Tasting

If my math is correct, after the prior to two years of removal and replenishment of beer, the Year Three beer should be an average of about 1.7 years old. With annual pulls on the same schedule, the solera will top off around 1.9 years and should get into that range on the next pull. There is definitely an interesting mellowing character in this year's pull and its flavor says a lot about the gueuze's character because it's 60% of the gueuze blend.

Appearance: Low carbonation but not still. Light straw color with reasonable clarity. Slight haze.

Aroma: Lactic acidity, barnyard, honey, melon.

Flavor: Honey and funk, sort of like a bretted mead. There is acidity but it is more restrained than the last two years. Acidity becomes more noticeable in the bite as well as the flavor as it warms.

Mouthfeel: Prickly from the acid and moderate body. Almost a white wine mouthfeel but with some carbonation.

Overall: An interesting and unexpected result from the solera. I don't know where all the honey flavor came from. It wasn't quite this big on the honey note at bottling so it is something that is maturing in the beer. My speculation is that the saccharomyces I added with Year Three's replenishment was responsible for that turn. I wish there was more acidity in the beer to make it a little less mead-like but overall I'm happy with it.

Gueuze Tasting

If my math is still correct this blend has an average age of 2.6 years, which is pretty old for a gueuze blend. It is 50% Year Three, so it would be surprising if the Year Three honey character isn't predominant in the blend. The first tasting I made was a couple weeks after bottling and it was very similar to Year Three. I wanted to give it several months to meld together before retasting to see if it melds into something distinct from its individual components.

Appearance: Low carbonation. Slightly darker hay color than year three. Relatively clear with minimal haze.

Aroma: Barnyard funk, lemon rind, grapefruit, cherry, honey.

Flavor: Honey note has drifted off from the early tasting. Acidity is bright and punchy with a big lemony flavor. Brett funk wraps around it with subtle hints of other citrus fruit, cherries, leather, honey and hay. Slight herbal note.

Mouthfeel: Slightly watery, which is the only thing I dislike about this beer. It could have used a little more carbonation to give it some snap to compensate for the thin body but it is not so watery that it is unenjoyable. The acidity is very prickly.

Overall: Certainly a good blend. The flavors came through nicely once the beer had some time to come together in the bottle.  I feel good about the blend. It's certainly one of the best beers I have ever put together, if not the best. Better than the sum of its parts although the original Year One batch was not far off. A little different from other gueuze I have tried but honestly I would put it up against several commercial examples (maybe not against the well-known Belgian blenders).

August 3, 2014

Melting Point Imperial Saison Tasting Notes

When I went to Portland in April, shortly after bottling this saison, I had a suspicion that I should stick the bottles in my fermentation chamber while they carbonated in case something bad happened. It was a fortunate decision because one of the 22oz bottles blew up and the shrapnel seemed to have caused a couple other bottles to explode. I came home to a really nasty mess in the chamber. Fortunately most of the batch survived and I am both saddened with the loss of several bottles but pleased with the outcome of the survivors.

Appearance: Slightly hazy with a yellow color just slightly more coppery than goldenrod. Snow white, fluffy head lingers over the beer. Typical saison appearance.

Aroma: Gentle but present hop aroma with floral, citrus, spice, grass and a hint of pine. Clearly a noble hop-dominated profile rather than the more aggressive versions of these hop aromas produced by American hops. Surprisingly the cascade hops integrated very nicely and do not overwhelm the European hops. There is just a hint of something out of place in the mix of floral and citrus fruit. Hop aroma battles with the aroma from yeast compounds, bringing in lemon, pepper, clove, grapefruit, slight peach and pear notes. Combined the aroma is bold for a saison.

Flavor: Complex flavor profile with waves of flavor combinations. The hops strike first with a flavor profile very similar to the aroma with a mix of grainy pilsner flavor and a hint of honey. Then the yeast come through with the citrus fruit salad mix of fruit and a dose of pepper with some of the sweeter malt flavors. Then the hop bitterness becomes more noticeable and rounds out the experience with another dose of grainy pilsner, tart citrus fruit and herbal spice. There's a lot going on here and it's difficult to try to capture the entire experience in a single pass. As the beer warms some of the biscuit comes out and the fruit flavors from the esters become more distinct and easier to identify.

Mouthfeel: Definitely heavier on the tongue than my usual saisons but it is neither cloying nor what you would generally consider a heavy beer. It feels like a beer a little under its 1.010 FG but definitely not mistaken for a saison at 1.002. Carbonation is spritzy but not excessive. The finish is slightly astringent, as intended, which helps reset the palate for the big dose of flavor.

Overall: Pretty happy with this beer. I am still mixed on my thoughts about the Celeia hops and maybe that is something I would consider changing out in this beer. I am not a big fan of floral hops but I think they work well in blends. Maybe its the combination of lime and floral that I find weird and slightly out of place in the aroma. Aurora brings some of the same character but with more herbal spice than floral with the lime. I like them better so maybe that will be a change for the future. Otherwise the beer is exactly as I had hoped. It's hoppier than the Dupont Avec les Bon Voeux that inspired this beer but it's more appealing as a summer beer that way. A less hop-forward version would probably be a nice variation for winter months.

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.

Final gravity reading 8/3/14: 1.011. 86% Attenuation. Fruity and spicy, as expected. Hops and yeast come through clearly. Nice distinct flavor profile. Excited to see how this one ages out. Plan on adding oak in 1-2 weeks.

9/10/14: Added approximately two ounces of chardonnay that has soaked on medium oak chips for eighteen months. Beer is delicious and clear. Chardonnay is extremely oaky so it should dilute well. Will retaste at bottling in early November to see if it needs more wine.

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. ( 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 ( 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 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.

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