October 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


October 7, 2014

GABF Recap

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

First I'll start off with the bars:

Hops and Pie

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

Lucky Pie

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

Freshcraft

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

World of Beer

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

Now on to some breweries/brewpubs:


4 Noses Brewing

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

Wild Woods Brewery

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

Baere Brewing Co.

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

The Post Brewing Co.

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

Horse and Dragon Brewing Co.

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

Fort Collins Brewery

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

Funkwerks

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

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

River North Brewery

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

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

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

And last the events:

Beers Made by Walking

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

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

Great American Beer Festival

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

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

September 22, 2014

Aurora Hops and Celeia Hops

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

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

Aurora Hops

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

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

Celeia Hops

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

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


September 4, 2014

Labor Day 2014 Drinking in Austin

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

Interesting Brewery Notes

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

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

Interesting/Awesome/Unique Beers from the Trip

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

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


September 2, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 12 -- week 34 of fermentation

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

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

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



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


August 22, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 11 -- week 30 of fermentation

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


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

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. (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Leaktite-2-gal-Bucket-2GL-WHITE-PAIL/202264039) I believe this particular bucket is not designed with a lid that can be reused (like most paint buckets) so it may not be a great option for a fermentor. I don't need a lid for bottling so it isn't a problem. It is HDPE #2 so it is food grade. (If you are looking for a bucket to use as a small batch fermentation vessel, there are good food grade buckets available from restaurants, bakeries, etc. that have resealing lids.)

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

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

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

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

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


 
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