September 25, 2010

The Brewing of an Oud Bruin – Part 1

I have recently decided to make a long term project of developing an oud bruin that is economical and possibly faster than a normal oud bruin, since it is a beer that takes over a year, if not two, to come together as a great beer. Hopefully I will have put something together within a six to seven month timeframe. When it comes to sour beers, I enjoy slightly to moderately sour beer. Tart, is probably a more accurate description of my preference. My goal here will be to produce something along the lines of Petrus Oud Bruin, which is agreed upon as a not very sour beer. Personally, I really enjoy this beer. It’s one of the few sour beers that can be found in Texas. (I have found the New Belgium sours and we are awash in the Lindeman’s lambics. The two non-fruit limbic produces, the gueuze and faro are both enjoyable.) The benefit of taking inspiration from Petrus Oud Bruin is that since it is not extremely sour or terribly brettanomyces flavored, the process can be shortened to reach the final product. (Petrus Oud Bruin is safely better described as complex and tart than the mouth puckering sour of many other sour beers.)

What is an oud bruin, anyway?

An oud bruin is a Flemish beer style that translates as “old brown”. It is actually an aged pale ale made of all or mostly pilsner or pale malt. It is usually hopped to 25-30 IBUs and then left to age with saccharomyces, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus for a year or more in oak casks to develop into a sour beer. This hopped sour beer is then blended with a fresh, young malty brown ale. As it ages in the bottle the brett will continue to consume residual sugars and add more brett flavors to the beer.

This beer is different from the Flemish red ale style of beers. Oud bruins are traditionally East Flemish beers, while the red ales are West Flemish beers. Red ales are more vinous, like wine, and considerably more sour. They are not traditionally blended beers. It starts and finishes as the same red ale. This beer also takes over a year to produce. There is disagreement over what is an oud bruin – some classify both browns and reds as oud bruins, some switch the characteristics across the names, some treat all of them as red ales. There’s a good reason for the confusion: some producers of both styles label their beers as the opposite of what the characteristics of the beer should make it. Even Petrus Oud Bruin describes itself as a “Flanders Red Ale” although it is not. I’m not really sure why there is confusion across the names. It’s likely that the appellation “oud bruin” applied to all sour red-brown beers, with West Flanders more commonly making them in the red style and East Flanders in the (probably cheaper) brown/blended style, and in the beer categorization of the late twentieth century labels got all mixed up.

Let’s chat about blending!

Blending of beer is generally attributed to English beer but it was adopted by Belgian brewers and publicans that learned in England or from the English. To be very brief and unfair to the larger history, I’ll limit the discussion to porters, because that’s typically where the blending process is considered to have originated. When porters first hit pubs, they were sent out from breweries in casks, like all other beers. Casks are porous, being made of wood, so they allow spoilage microorganisms, such as brett, to get into the beer, especially since casks would be reused and these guys would take up residence in the casks in between use. If beer wasn’t quickly drank, it became “sick” and soured. Generally this is avoidable in most beer styles, but for some reason the English people got a real hankering for soured beer. The problem is that properly soured beer takes a long time to mature, so they were rare products. Traders began buying casks of beer and aging them for sales to publicans (bartenders of pubs). Eventually brewers and publicans realized they could just age beer themselves and cut the middlemen traders out.

Since soured beers were rare, they could demand a higher price. Also, since the publican or brewer had to sit on the investment (the cask) instead of quickly selling it to buy more beer to sell to their patrons, it demanded a higher return to make the aging a profitable market. Since us working stiffs couldn’t afford to buy aged beer all the time, publicans would offer several products. Young beer would be sold cheapest; aged beer would be the most expensive. In the middle were blended products that combined the flavor of the old beer with the sweetness of the new beer.

This process is still continued by some of the Irish Stout producers. Guinness, for example, sours a portion of the wort to give the stout that bitter taste. I’m not entirely sure why porters developed a craze for old beer, but it did. Then porter died off, replaced by the next fad. This process of aging beer probably employed more than just porter. I also suspect that publicans blended whatever they could get their hands on. Pale Ale and Stout? A black and tan! So on and so forth. The Belgians picked up this concept and have used it to give us gueuze, oud bruins, and probably some other stuff I’ve never heard of. One important difference is that English blending often occurred in the pub (like ordering a black and tan at a bar), while Belgians took to blending both in the pubs and in the bottle.

While I’m not necessarily interested here in discussing the intricacies of Belgian blending practices, it is worth pointing out that any time you bottle (or cask, keg, etc.) a beer with brett and associated bacteria with beer fermented with only saccharomyces eventually brett & co. will eat up whatever is left over time, giving the beer a more sour/tart flavor as it stays in the bottle. The significance for this purpose will be to try to diminish brett from taking over in the bottle and making the final oud bruin product more sour than preferred.

Building the Concept

So now that I have the basics down, it’s time to start mapping out the recipe. I know that I need two recipes: the pale ale and the brown ale. The pale ale is straight forward as far as the pre-fermentation recipe goes, but it needs to age in a way that will impart some brett and acid characteristics along with some slight oak flavor. It needs to age, but since the goal is to reduce aging time, I will want to find ways to cut down the time. The brown ale just needs to be something nice and malty. Because the aged pale ale will add a lot of flavor, it is not necessary to make the brown ale either chocolately or hoppy. I also plan on making this a four gallon batch – three gallons brown and one gallon pale ale. The reason is that I can use a gallon jug for the pale ale so I don’t have to use up a bucket or corny keg for a long period of time for a 1-1.25 gallons. The brown ale will be brewed in a keg, but it shouldn’t be there for more than a month.

Starting off with the aged pale ale, I’ve adopted the recipe from Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow. The grain bill is 90% pilsner and 10% carahell. To be honest, I’m not really sure what carahell is, but since it’s a cara, it must be for head retention. I’ll use my trusty supply of Fuggles, because that’s what I have, I’m cheap (I said it before!) and Belgian beers often use English hops. I’d rather use EKG, but I have Fuggles. So here’s the one gallon pale ale recipe:

Grain bill:

2 lb Pilsner

.25 lb carahell

Boil Additions (90 min boil):

90 min .25oz Fuggles

15 min .13oz Fuggles

5 min .07oz Fuggles

OG 1.061

FG 1.016

IBU 26.7

ABV 5.88

So far, a pretty generic blond, right? So it needs some sourness, some slight oak flavor, and some brett flavor. To get sourness, I am going to do a sour mash of about 32 ounces. I may change this number depending on how my sour mash limbic-esque beer turns out. (In that case I soured 1/6 of the mash.) The sour mash will get added at the start of the boil. For oak I plan on adding a small amount of oak chips after primary fermentation is complete. Maybe just half an ounce. Since they will be fresh oak chips, they will impart a lot of flavor so I don’t want to go overboard. Now, what about yeasts? I plan on doing this 100% brett. I am going to culture from a bottle of Orval and build up a good size starter, because using brett for primary fermentation requires a high pitching rate and lots of aeration. Primary brett fermentation will allow some brett flavor to come through. I will ferment the pale ale for 6 months. Around month 5 if the beer looks and tastes ok then I’ll brew the brown ale and prepare for mixing.

The brown ale is pretty basic, too. I know a lot of oud bruins use corn as an adjunct but I’ve passed on the corn this time.

Grain bill:

3 lb Munich

1.75lb Pilsner

1.25lb Vienna

Boil Additions (90 min boil):

90 min .5 oz Fuggles

10 min 1 tsp Irish Moss

Ferment with WY1338

OG 1.055

FG 1.016

IBU 14.4

ABV 5%

This one will probably stay in the fermenter to age for about a month before it gets mixed up, just to make sure all those young beer components have been cleaned up. As you can see, more Fuggles make their way into the recipe. You don’t want to add more hoppy flavors to this beer because the aged pale ale will add enough flavor that you wouldn’t want hops to compete for flavor (ruining all the hard work in aging the pale ale.)

Blending Time

My concern with blending beers in this case is that in the course of bottling, the brett from the aged pale ale will start chomping on the leftover sugars in the brown ale and cause bottle bombs. Two things will help deter that event. First, I will be bottling in champagne bottles. I am going to use plastic corks and wire cages, because I don’t have a corker and it’s way cheaper to reuse corks. Champagne bottles are produced with the ability to withstand 9 vol. of CO2, which is way more than I should ever get. Also, I will cold crash the aged pale ale. I don’t have much fridge space to be able to cold crash a keg or bucket, but the gallon jug does fit in the fridge. Cold crashing will help reduce the brett in suspension, resulting in a lower concentration of brett in the bottles. Since brett is a slow moving yeast, the saccharomyces from the brown ale will eat all the sugar they can, carbonating the bottle, and hopefully leaving the brett very little remaining to consume.

Once it is bottled, I will wait a few weeks before giving it a go. Since I am only making four gallons, I will want to be slow in my consumption of this beer. Well, assuming it is good. If it sucks I’ll drink it down fast to make room for better stuff. I hope it turns out ok, so I can see what long term effects the brett will have in the bottle.

Wrapping Up

So that’s Part 1 of this adventure. I probably won’t get around to brewing this until November or December because I already have a lot of brewing left to do for the year, so I will end up with a completed product by the middle of next year, just in time to celebrate the end of the school year. I plan on walking through the whole process with careful notes so I can replicate the process in the future, as well as sharing what I learn.

September 13, 2010

Thoughts on Conceptualizing a Recipe

I don’t believe myself to be a wizard of brewing. In truth, I’ve been homebrewing for just a little over a year. However, I have a voracious mind that loves to learn and retains substantial amounts of what I learn. I have spent a lot of time soaking in a lot of brewing knowledge. One area of knowledge that I think all brewers eventually migrate to is figuring out how to make an awesome beer. Some people want a “house brew” that they always keep on hand, some do it because they want to have their own take on a particular style and others – myself included – build recipes because it feels more rewarding to make things that are truly his or her own. That’s not to say from time to time I don’t appreciate the economy of cloning beers you drink a lot. I do have three five gallon batches of clone waiting to be made.

Whatever your reason, there’s a lot of great reading on building recipes, ingredients, processes, etc., both online and offline. I think most people turn to Daniel’s Designing Great Beers and Mosher’s Radical Brewing as two staple books on designing recipes. There is also a very long list of books relevant to specific types of beers available. You can find many of these books online through Amazon or other online retailers. Personally I find Designing Great Beers incredibly helpful. It’s not the most interesting read but it is tremendously helpful as a starting point for a recipe of many basic beer styles. (Again, there are many great books out there, I just happen to own Designing Great Beers and find it most helpful. I’m not on the take.)

There is also lots of great software and websites that can help you build recipes. I use beersmith and find it incredibly helpful. I’m not especially mathematically oriented, so if not for this assistance there is no way on earth I would go through the mental anguish of figuring out IBUs or gravity calculations by hand. I’d just rely on other people’s recipes and make those. I strongly encourage anybody interested in building recipes to give some of these software options a whirl. Most I’ve run across are either free or have a trial period. Even when you have to purchase them, they are not incredibly expensive.

Ok…so those are some initial considerations. As I’ve said before, when you do anything you’ve got to come at it with a plan of attack. Here, sort of a recipe for a recipe. Think about what you are trying to accomplish. I find there are a few options one must weigh to figure out what components will build the recipe that he or she desires. Before I get into them, there are two obvious and overriding concerns that should be briefly addressed. Your ability to build a recipe will inevitably be limited by the ingredients and equipment you can both afford and obtain. With online ordering, you can no doubt find pretty much any equipment or ingredients you need (except for those seasonal items when you’re out of season), so often it comes down to a financial issue. Of course, if you’re trying to come up with a quick recipe to use an aging sack of Maris Otter and you don’t have a local shop with a wide selection, you may want to avoid building a recipe with items you’re unwilling to take the time to locate. (Additionally, there are other questions, like extract vs. all grain, what style to make, batch size, etc. but I assume you already have that in mind BEFORE starting to flesh out the recipe.) That said, let’s mosey on into the big picture…

1. Clone vs. Originality

(Again, no ill words will be spoken against clone beers. They have their place and merits.) I think this represents the first fork in the road to figuring out what kind of recipe you want to build. If you are after a clone, you are either searching for an existing clone recipe (or kit) or you are trying to deduce the original to make your clone. In that first case, you just need to find the appropriate existing recipe and your job is complete. If you are trying to deduce a clone recipe, obviously the original is going to guide you towards your recipe. On the other hand, if you are looking to make an original recipe then existing recipes, both commercial and those of your fellow homebrewers, can act as much or as little as a guide to making your own recipe.

I think this one speaks for itself, but you should decide whether you are trying to make an exact copy of a beer you like, something in the neighborhood of a beer (or several beers) you like, or something completely different. So, if you like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (SNPA) and you want to make something like it, you might look at clone recipes or recipes purporting to be similar to SNPA. You would have to decide whether you want to go exactly like SNPA, something like SNPA but clearly different, or something stylistically similar but very different. If you decide you want to make something like SNPA but use a very different grain bill, your motive and your work product are inconsistent and you’re likely going to be disappointed that you didn’t get something SNPA-like. Moving on…

2. Rigid adherence to style guidelines v. Style guidelines as a loose framework

This is another basic question worth asking. The style guidelines offer strict specifications for beer styles, including common grains, hops, alcohol content, color, mouthfeel, etc. These can be helpful starting points to figure out what kinds of ingredients and goals (such as IBUs, ABV, SRM) you want to use. However, you may want to follow the style guidelines very strictly. You may feel that your stout just won’t be a stout if you don’t adhere to the guidelines. I do find the guidelines useful starting points but I don’t feel like they must be rigidly adhered to when making beers for your own consumption. After all, many commercial varieties (even those that beer drinkers consider within style) do not fall within any official set of guidelines. I fail to see how following the guidelines makes your enjoyment of your beer any more or less rewarding.

The other side of that discussion is that there is a specific situation where the guidelines may need to be closely adhered to: when you are making the recipe with competition in mind. In that case you probably do want to consider what judges are mostly likely to score well within the style guidelines. Otherwise, who cares if your brown ale has too much chocolate malt in it if that’s what you enjoy?

3. Simplicity vs. Creativity

This is another basic question that you should answer before you start to pick out base grains. Are you trying for simplicity – something basic that you can easily make and enjoy – or something wild and creative? Neither is better than the other, it is just a function of your brewing needs and preferences. If you are trying to spit out a simple pale ale to have something to enjoy you may not need to contemplate complex mash schedules or a lengthy grain bill. On the other side, if you are trying to make a complex barleywine then you may want to consider a triple decoction mash and using a hopback or dry hopping or using exotic specialty malts. You can make great beer either way.

4. Process vs. Ingredients

This question may be precluded by your skill level and equipment, but otherwise it’s a question of how much time you want to invest in physically producing results in your beer versus letting modern ingredients produce results. If you are an all-extract brewer then extract will have to be a substitute for the mash – that’s a situation where equipment and preferred brewing technique preclude questions of whether or not you want to mash grains. However, that aside, this is an important question of how much time you want to put into the process. A good example of what I mean is using acid malt to take the place of an acid rest during the mash process. Other examples include using cara grains as a replacement for mashing procedures to improve head retention and mouthfeel, adding lactic acid to beer instead of performing a sour mash or adding flavor extract instead of doing a secondary.

I don’t consider one option a cop out over the other. You may not have the desire to spend the time to allow the process to produce a result, but you should carefully consider the quality of the ingredient-driven option. Sometimes each option produces similar quality, other times one is a lesser substitute. Cara grains, in my experience, do a significantly better job than adjusting the mash to produce body in the beer. However, I find fruit flavor extracts tend to have a harsh chemical/fake taste to them for several months that eventually fades into a more realistic flavor. You may prefer the ease of the flavor extract and choose to wait for the flavor to balance instead of messing around with adding fruit to the secondary, which can be a pain in the ass.

5. Selecting Ingredients: Simplicity vs. Complexity

You will also have to decide whether you want to go for simplicity within the recipe or complexity. Do you want a small number of grains to carry the day, or toss in everything and hope for a nice blend of flavors? If you look at a lot of homebrew recipes, you’ll find that most recipes either use a small number of grains or they look like somebody picked out a little of everything the homebrew shop had available. You can be incredibly simplistic in your recipe (as simple as the single malt-single hop/SMaSH technique) or be very complex.

However, I do believe there is a line often crossed that takes recipes in the wrong direction of complexity. When I see session beers with 7 grains and 4 types of hops, I generally pass it by. Same with big beers with 12 grains and 7 types of hops. The reason is that there is a point where you are just adding stuff to add it and the flavor added by 4 grains that are 2% of the grain bill isn’t going to allow you to enjoy the flavor of those grains and they are going to muddle together into a bland or worse – weird – flavor. Seven kinds of hops? That’s hop soup. You’ll never enjoy those hops, you just get something really high in IBUs.

Certainly, there is a time and a place for complex recipes, but it’s easy to overdo it. I mean, you just don’t need a brown ale with 3 base grains, 5 specialty grains and 3 kinds of hops. Less really is more. Especially when you consider that your beer’s flavor is a component of your mash process, grain bill, hops, hop schedule, yeast, age, fermentation temperature and anything else you add to the boil or after the boil. That’s a lot of things that can add flavor without having to jam everything you can find into a recipe. You can make a flavorful brown ale with 3-4 grains and a couple types of hops. Ultimately it will be up to you to decide what flavors you want to bring to the recipe, but don’t feel like you have to load up on grains or hops to make a beer complex or for that matter, delicious. Do feel like all those other things I mentioned have a part to play and take advantage of what they bring to the flavor.

September 1, 2010

Partigyle Experiment: Take One Recap

Well, that partigyle was a great experiment. I enjoy brewing "firsts" because it takes me back to that first brew, when I really had no idea what I was doing.

Since the first post was written on the fly while I was working on the process, I wanted to sort of recap the process into more of a how-to explanation. I relied upon beersmith to do all the hard work, so unfortunately I can't give you all the awesome math behind the calculations in step 3.

Step 1: Come up with a realistic goal. If you're trying to make a 6% partigyle out of a 12% beer, you're not going to end up with much beer unless you are willing to add DME to the partigyle boil to up the OG. (Which, IMO defeats some of the purpose of the partigyle.) Rather, aim for 3-4% ABV and 2-3 gallons of beer (unless you are trying to make a table beer of 1-2%).

Step 2: Boil the wort down to 1.020-1.030 (depending on your goal) before you even start trying to calculate your recipe. If you are starting out with several gallons of 1.010 you're going to boil for a while before you get into a decent gravity.

Step 3: Once you have the wort down to an acceptable gravity, piece together a makeshift recipe by duplicating your original recipe, with the same grains, and reduce them down until you come up with a post-boil OG roughly .010 more than your pre-boil gravity (this may need to be adjusted based on your boil volume, boil time, equipment, etc.) at the pre-boil liquid volume. Then add your hops and other additions to get to your desired IBUs.

Step 4: Make beer!

Step 5: You may find yourself a little low on wort after the boil from what you were expecting. Don't worry, just top off until you get the right volume.

Step 6: Aerate, pitch, and ferment.

Step 7: Bottle/keg and enjoy.

Hope that helps!