November 18, 2010

Sour Mashed Fake Kriek (Updated version)

(I tried following a sour mashed fake lambic-style kriek concept I borrowed from some other homebrewers. I wrote an original post and updated with some nonsense, but I have since reviewed some ideas so I wanted to write an updated, more accurate version for attaching to the menu on the right. I copied some of the text and rewrote some portions.)

Pretty much everybody loves krieks, except for the anti-fruit-in-beer folks. This is especially true of significant others that maybe just don’t like beer, but do enjoy the fruity taste of a kriek, or some other fruit-flavored beer. I believe for most of us, at least those of us in the US, our first stab at a kriek is the Lindeman’s stuff. I find that most homebrewers take that first step into the world of brewing lambics, realize lambics require years of aging, and inquire about how to speed up the process. The next step involves trying to sort out how Lindeman’s makes their product, only to learn that their fruit lambics are backsweetened and not at all representative of the “real” lambic krieks on the market.One can use cherries in many kinds of beers; and not all krieks are lambics. There are cherry wheat beers, cherry stouts, cherry brown ales, cherry porter, etc. Krieks, as a specific subset of cherry beers, are more accurately limited to cherry beers made with a sour base beer. To that extent, krieks are commonly made with lambic, gueuze (blended lambic) and oud bruins. I have never heard of a true Flanders red used to make a kriek, but they are probably out there.

A great cherry beer can be made without being a lambic. You can get reasonably close by using a solid 60% barley/40% wheat beer with low hops. Similarly, you could capture something similar to a sour brown/oud bruin based-kriek by making a malty brown ale (again with low hops). Just add cherries. Unfortunately, without any souring process, you will have a difficult time getting the complexity and refreshing tartness of a real kriek.

I wanted to try to make something in the neighborhood of a lambic kriek. Below is the process and recipe I followed.

Base Recipe

A true lambic would include 60% malted barley and 40% unmalted wheat. Simple two row or pilsner can work for the malted barley. Lambics also take advantage of aged hops (read, old ass hops left laying around) to obtain some of the antibacterial benefits without too much bittering. They use complex mash schedules (known as a “turbid mash”) and spontaneously ferment. Unless you live in Brussels, you’re not going to spontaneously ferment with the same bugs – or flavor – that they get in Brussels. Since I didn’t want to use unmalted wheat, didn’t have aged hops, didn’t want to follow the exhaustive turbid mash schedule, and wouldn’t spontaneously ferment, I had a lot of changes to make.

(If you want to alter any of my steps by being more authentic, you can buy unmalted wheat at most health food stores, many homebrew shops sell aged hops, Wyeast published a turbid mash schedule on their website, and you can buy many different sour/lambic blends from yeast suppliers to get the same/similar blend of bugs that appear in Belgium.)

The key to the flavor of a lambic is the naturally created lactic acid and the complex flavors of brett, so I needed to figure out a way to mimic those characteristics as much as possible. The brett flavors are out. In the future I may take another stab at this by using brett as the primary yeast to get some of those flavors. (Part of my concern with doing that is when you add more sugar from the cherries the brett may not take off as quickly to ferment those sugars as it does as a primary strain. Of course, there is only one way to find out...) However, brett and tart cherries do have some similar flavors, so by letting brett go I can keep some of the flavors through the cherries. The sourness is a must, but there is another option available. By sour mashing some of the grain, I could introduce sourness quickly and naturally, without the time delay. So actually a very simple recipe was created:
Batch size: 3 gallons
ABV: 6.51% (pre-cherries)
SRM: 4.2
IBUs: 8.2
OG: 1.064
FG: 1.014
Grain bill:
4 lb Pilsner
2.75 lb malted wheat
Boil volume: 3.43 gallons
Boil additions:
90 minutes – 1.25 oz aged Fuggles
Yeast: WLP 575 Belgian blend
Regular mash schedule: basic triple decoction. (A step mash or single infusion could also be used instead.)

I executed a sour mash on half a gallon and a pound of pilsner. (See my explanation of the sour mash process for step-by-step instructions.) I let it sit for three days before completing the regular mash and boiling. When doing a partial sour mash, it is important to remember to adjust your mash and sparge water needs because you’ll be adding the wort from the sour mash back into the kettle to reach your full boil volume.

Fermentation & Adding Cherries

I let this beer ferment out for two weeks before adding cherries. When I was developing this recipe, I admittedly did lean on several other people who have done basically the same thing (so I admit, this was not a novel idea when I developed my process.) The problem I ran into time and time again is that they either had access to fresh cherries, frozen cherries, or expensive canned cherries/puree. Although you can make cherry beer using sweet cherries, krieks are traditionally made with sour cherries, like what you would use in a cherry pie. I live in Texas, which is not cherry country. Cherries are not plentiful, even in health stores or farmer’s markets. The most commonly available products were canned cherries, canned cherry pie filling, or fresh sweet cherries. I did find some cherry puree available at local homebrew shops and health stores, but by the time I bought enough for my small three gallon batch, it would have been over $30 for the cherries, making it a very expensive batch of beer. I looked online, but even the cheapest sources would have been roughly the same when shipping was factored in.

When setting out to buy sour cherries for making kriek (or any other cherry beer) fresh will always be best. Many people swear by that Oregon cherry puree. Many commercial breweries use it, so it’s considered quality stuff. Frozen cherries are similarly thought to be a solid option as well. Cherry juice is often discouraged because it is commonly a blend of cherry juice with apple or grape juice. It may also have sugar added (risking cider-y flavor) and/or have preservatives that will put your yeast to sleep. Canned cherries are a viable option, so this is where I went.

You can buy canned cherries at any grocery store. Be careful though, there are two different kinds you can buy. In the baking goods aisle, you will find cherry pie filling. This filling tends to be cherries floating around in a sugar-oil-water mix. The problem is that you don’t really want the extra sugar giving a cider taste and oil will make your beer slick and lose head. Cherry pie filling often also has artificial flavors and preservatives that will stop fermentation. If you look in the canned fruit area, usually near canned vegetables, you should find canned sour/tart cherries in water. Check the label, it should just be pitted cherries and water. You can even buy the store brand, which makes it very, very cheap.

The rule of thumb with cherries is 2lbs. per gallon of beer. You may want to go more or less depending on how much cherry you want.

When I initially added cherries I added 2lbs per gallon, so I added roughly 6lbs. I added them straight out of the can. This did not get me much color or cherry flavor. I then added two cans of the Oregon brand canned tart cherries, which I did crush and boiled briefly to pasteurize them after I exposed them to the open air and stuff in my kitchen while crushing them. This seemed to help get more fermentation going, but still not much. Incidentally, I developed a mold problem. I then added an entire quart-sized jar of pure cherry juice. That seemed to develop a stronger cherry flavor and color. I will add another jar and hopefully after a final round of fermentation it will be as much cherry as I wanted in the beginning.

The issue with canned cherries is that most of the juice is lost, which is where most of the flavor comes from. On the other hand, I suspect using just juice would contribute a less fresh-cherry flavor. Next time I brew this (as a 3 gallon batch) I would use at least two jars for more cherry flavor, and perhaps only 1.5-2lbs. of canned cherries. I would also freeze the cherries (out of the can!!) and mash them up a little before adding them, so whatever flavor is available will get out there.

November 16, 2010

Running extra wort and future uses

In keeping with my desire to maximize cost-savings in brewing, one thing I like to do is sparge a little extra wort once I have my boil volume. There are actually a lot of very good uses for a small amount of extra wort. I will identify a few of those and how I go about saving it.

The Process

Very simple, actually. Once I run off my boil volume, I add more sparge water and run off about a gallon of wort. The lower gravity the beer, the more you need to run off and the less return you will get out of this process. The reason is that each time you take new runnings the sugar content is going to be less and less, so by the time you are taking runnings beyond your boil volume it is a very diluted wort. The lower gravity your beer is going to be, the less sugar you start with so the more diluted this last running will be. At any rate, I take a gallon or so out and boil it down to 1.030. You will need to use your hydrometer and either cool the sample or adjust for the temperature. I just adjust for temperature until I get somewhere in the 1.030-1.040 range.

Once I reach the proper gravity range, I cool the wort and pour it into tupperware containers and toss them into the freezer. It helps to label what beer they came from, but it is not absolutely necessary. I find those reusable containers from pre-sliced deli meats to be great for this purpose. You can freeze about .5 liters in them. They are easily stacked and fit in small spaces, so it is easy to work them into the freezer. I find that these containers handle the swelling from freezing and do not leak from defrosting. I previously used this process by sealing the wort in freezer bags but those bags develop small holes from the expanding and contracting during the defrost cycling in the freezer.

Whenever you need to use it, give it a quick boil and cool it down. I find with tupperware the wort can sometimes be hard to get out so I minute in the microwave will dethaw enough to get it out.

So that is the process. Really simple. You may want to boil it down to an even higher gravity and add water later. At some point I will probably adopt that process instead as I run out of freezer room. That is something to think about.

Possible Uses

1. The most obvious use is for making starters. Although some people do can wort for this use, I lack canning equipment and the fear of botulism scares me away. Plus, freezing is much easier. If I need to make a starter I can just pull out a container of wort and have a starter within about the same time as using DME, but without the added cost of buying DME.

2. Making graff. Graff is fermented cider made with some portion unhopped or lightly hopped beer. Woodchuck cider is actually graff; that is why it is so much sweeter than other cider products on the market. Graff is not only tasty, it is also much easier to ferment than straight cider because the malt portion adds minerals yeasts use during fermentation that apple juice lacks. The malt portion contains unfermentable sugars so it will add sweetness to the apple juice, which will otherwise ferment out and become very dry. Generally graff recipes contain 10-25% wort.

The recipe is super easy. For one gallon follow this process (for more gallons just multiply by the number of desired gallons) Buy one half gallon bottle of apple juice. Store brand is fine, although you may prefer using a juice that is a specific kind of apple or a blend of apples. The only restriction is that you need to buy juice that does not have any preservatives in it. You will often find apple juice contains Ascorbic acid, which is vitamin C. That is ok, but anything potassium or sodium based should be avoided. I know store brand juice is typically juice concentrate, water and ascorbic acid. Preservatives will severly slow or stop fermentation (hence the reason why they are added). Also buy one can of frozen apple juice. You can also use store brand. Similarly, watch out for preservatives. Because both of these products should be pasteurized, there is no need to boil or apply heat. Just add the juice and concentrate to the fermenter. If by chance you have bought unpasteurized juice, you will need to at least bring it up to 160F to pasteurize it and kill off any wild yeast (unless you want the wild yeast flavors).

At this point you have super strong apple juice. Boil up some frozen wort, cool and add to the fermenter. For one gallon I find .5 liters is enough to add some sweetness and flavor to the graff without taking away from the apple flavor. Top up with water and ferment with whatever your preferred yeast. I often use 1338 because it is very neutral, but others use wine yeast, champagne yeast, Nottingham, US-05, US-04 and various English yeast strains.

Unlike regular cider, which will ferment completely dry if you do not stop fermentation, you can let graff ferment out completely and still bottle carb with priming sugar without worrying about bottle bombs or having an unpalatably dry product, thanks to the unfermentable sugars from the wort. If you do want it to be sweeter, you will need to stop fermentation early, in which case you cannot safely bottle carbonate. If you do let it ferment out, you will probably want to let it bulk condition for 4-5 weeks. Otherwise, you will get an off smell from the graff often referred to as "rhino fart".

Do not feel like you can only use neutral wort for graff. Feel free to experiment. Right now I have a graff fermenting that is using some extra wort from a Belgian quad I brewed, so the graff will have small amounts of flavor coming from aromatic malt, special B, crystal 120 and biscuit malt. I almost fermented it with a Belgian yeast, but logistics called for using 1338.

3. Yeast harvesting. You can also use the wort for bottle harvesting and catching wild yeasts. Having a little wort on hand makes it easy to bottle harvest without worrying about whether you have DME on hand to make a quick starter. You can also use your extra wort as a medium for catching wild yeast.

I feel like there are some more uses that aren't coming to mind. At any rate, this is a pretty simple process that pays off. I haven't bought DME in a long time because of it. I can run off extra wort with sparge water while waiting for the main brew to start boiling and take care of boiling the extra wort during the first half of the main boil.

November 13, 2010

Brewing of an oud bruin part 2

Due to my wild ale experiment taking up my gallon fermenter, I haven’t started in on this project yet. I have also been gearing up for a move out of my apartments and trying to focus on studying for finals, so brewing has had to take a back seat. I haven’t forgotten about brewing, I just haven’t had time to do it all. I have done some additional research into my methods, so I have tweaked some ideas and recipes. Here are some updates from part 1.

1. I will use three oak chips soaked in a little vodka. Additional research suggests that oak chips are extremely potent their first go in a beer. I do want some hints of oak but it should take a back seat to the brett flavors. The cool thing about the oak chips is that I can keep them in the fridge and repitch them to add brett to future beers.

2. I modified the brown ale recipe to add some tradition into the recipe. Recipes in Wild Brews go heavy on pilsner, but I figured I already have lots of pilsner in the aged pale and I wanted to add some complexity in the malts since the faster process won’t contribute the complexity from long fermentation normally associated with the aged pale. I’m still out on the corn, well, because I don’t want to use corn.

3. The aged pale ale will ferment from 2-6 months, depending on when the FG readings stabilize near what beersmith suggests is FG. Using brett as the only strain usually does not superattenuate so I shouldn’t have too much problem getting down to where I need within a reasonable period of time. I may continue to age solely to allow brett to break down the last of the unfermentable sugars and let the flavors blend. However, if the oak starts to get overpowering I’ll have to fish out the oak and I may stop the aging at that time.

Here’s the revised recipe components for the brown ale:


Pale malt 3.5lb

Vienna malt 1lb

Munich malt 1.25lb

Caramunich 1lb

Caravienne 1lb

Special B .25lb

Hop additions:

.75oz at 60 min

.25oz at 10 min

I developed this recipe by blending the concepts in Wild Brews with some of the information I found online for recipes. The Special B will help add complexity by adding hints of its usual flavors without making any of them too prominent. I may make further changes since I won’t brew the brown ale until at least the early part of next year and maybe as far out as early summer.

I am still somewhat undecided about how sour to make the aged pale. I’m thinking ¼ sour mash (so 32oz.) but part of me wants to go higher and do half. I feel like that is rather aggressive for souring but that half gallon in 4 gallons of final product will amount to 12.5% sour mash for the whole beer, which isn’t too much. Part of me even wants to do more than that, like sour mash half the grain for a few days and then either do a long acid mash or dump the sour mash in at the beginning of the regular mash. Maybe I will just let the sour mash get really, really sour. Decisions, decisions…

Anyway, those are some updated thoughts I wanted to catalog. I hope to brew the aged pale within a few weeks, maybe as a study break over Thanksgiving, so I will update the process then.

November 8, 2010

Dog Tails Saison Recipe

Ah, saisons. What a creative, inventive, almost indefinable style. I couldn’t help but take a stab at whirling up my own version of this beer style this summer. Saisons belong to the genus of beers known as “farmhouse ales” of the Belgian and French countryside. Because the warm summers in this region would prevent fermenting in acceptable temperature ranges, they were often brewed in the winter or spring to be drank in the summer. They were brewed on farms based upon whatever grains were available, which meant there was no definitive recipe or grain bill. They are often composed of the usual barley-wheat mix of Belgian beers, but they can also include any kind of grain imaginable. They are usually straw-colored, due to the grains, and cloudy as a result of bottle conditioning and the yeast used. They are commonly spiced; with everything from black pepper to fruity spices. Fruit are generally not seen in saisons, but I am sure it has been done. They can have various “wild” flavors, but generally not sourness. It was likely that spontaneous fermentation was the most common fermentation method, so various bacteria would play a part, providing their own flavors. As the saisons aged, brettanomyces likely would have added some additional flavors. Saison yeasts tend to be somewhat spicy, like some abbey yeasts, but often more subdued and less estery. It tends to be low alcohol and low to moderate hopping. (There are some winter saisons that are brewed in the fall or even in the spring beforehand and cellared until winter, but these beers are not what most people think of when they think of saison. They are more like the winter warmer beers.)
I tend to think of saison as a style only because most commercial versions adhere to a general barley-wheat mix and the necessary touch of the saison yeasts. However, in its truest form, I think of saison as more of a methodology, or merely an attitude, of making beer. Saison was functional. It was meant to be light, low alcohol and refreshing, to quench the thirst of the farm workers. It is a beer developed in an area that was not dominated by abbeys, to provide the great Belgian abbey and trappist beers, nor was it among the lambic region where those tart, aged beers reigned. It is not a particularly commercial area, so it mainly relied on local brewing and local ingredients. As a result, saisons tended to be a varied and imperfect, with a hint of complexity brought on by successful (and probably some unsuccessful) spontaneous fermentation.
Commercial examples of saison range from hands down the best, Saison Dupont (and it’s organic version, Fouret) and Hennepin, to tiny brewhouse versions. I discovered Le Merle Saison, from the US, to be a very enjoyable and straightforward saison, in the Dupont and Hennepin variety. Craftbrewers in the US make me nervous about saison. It’s a style where lots of spices can be added and you can get really creative by trying to introduce wildness to the beer. US craft brewers have a tendency to try to overdo spices so you end up with something that tastes a lot like soup or sour fruit juice. I find a lot of wits to be that way. (Although, that is also true of many Belgian wits.) Trying to make your beer wild (or sour) is the new go-crazy-imperial-double-OMG thing to do, and a lot of US craft brewers are trying to get into it. Some with amazing results, others completely missing the mark. It’s hard to try to capture a particular kind of “wild” flavor that is native to a different part of the world. If you try to introduce microorganisms native to your part of the world, it’s just going to taste different. So when craft brewers try to introduce local microorganisms, it often just tastes bad. I had a Texas saison that had tried to make the beer interesting by getting some wildness in it, but instead it was just really goaty, to the point of being hard to finish. Imperial Goat Ale?
Ok, ok, enough rambling. On to the recipe.
I followed the standard barley-wheat combination. I also added a little sugar to add dryness to the beer. You’ll find that I did use a little coriander, to add another flavor into the overall flavor, but without letting it overpower. I also tapped into my trusty Fuggles collection. If you wanted to do something similar, any English or German hop varieties would be appropriate. You could also go with US varieties and see how that works out. It’s also another 3 gallon batch, so if you want to scale up to 5 gallons just multiply all the quantities by 1.66 (or use your software to scale for you). I couldn’t help but make this beer a little more potent, so it’s a 7% beer.
OG: 1.070
FG: 1.015
ABV: 7.11%
IBU: 27.7
SRM: 4.4
Grain bill:
5.70 lb Pilsner
.60 lb White Wheat
.30 lb Vienna
Mash: Single infusion of 8.25 qt at 170 to mash at 158 for an hour
Boil time: 90 minutes
Boil additions:
90 min: .75oz Fuggles
15 min: .5 oz Fuggles, .15 tsp coriander seed (crushed), .60 lb table sugar
5 min: .5 oz Fuggles
Yeast: bottle harvested from Foret
Fermented: three weeks in primary in upper 70s to low 80s.
This was my first attempt at bottle harvesting. I found that as long as the yeast were started in a small container of wort and stepped up in small increments I could grow up enough to create a 1L starter in about a week. I am pretty sure the yeast in Foret is the same as Saison Dupont, which is also available from Wyeast and White Labs. I will definitely be washing this yeast and adding it to my frozen yeast bank.
I fermented this beer warm, because that’s typical for the style. It also helps saison yeast complete fermentation and make a dry beer. Saison yeast get a bad rap for giving up in the middle of fermentations, so I wanted to make sure I kept them in line.