March 17, 2012

Less than exciting updates

It's spring break. I came into the week expecting to get completely caught up on school work and spend some time relaxing, learning about beer, writing about beer and putting together my garden. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I have been incredibly swamped by this disaster of a paper I wrote about before. I'm on my third rewrite and each time I've thrown out the majority of the paper and started anew. That doesn't sound so bad except the first draft was thirty pages of heavily cited writing and I'm fourteen pages into the third draft and only about five of those pages were carried over from the second rendition. And I still have other course work to do for next week. *Sigh*

So although I had hoped to put together a well researched and thought out post, all I really have time for are some more brief updates.

I've been pretty disappointed with my last few recipes, especially a black ale attempt at a schwartzbier. I went way too heavy on the roasted barley (should have used carafa instead...) and it's not great. I needed to make a good chocolate addition that somehow didn't make it into my recipe. I have a dubbel sitting a couple of weeks into fermentation that I hope will turn out better and make me believe I can make a good beer from time to time.

My sour/funk beers all seem to be progressing nicely. I can't tell what's going on with my most recent attempt. It's only a few weeks old so it's a little early for any pellicle production or other clear bacterial activity but I suspect a pellicle is about to form in the next few weeks. I promise I will disclose this very interesting project as soon as I have the opportunity to sit down and write more than a few quickly slopped together paragraphs.

The Bluebonnent Homebrew Competition is in town next weekend. Unfortunately, thanks to this stupid paper, I won't have time to go. However, I hope everybody has a great time.

I am still waiting to receive my rhizomes from thymegarden.com this year. I spoke with them on Monday and they said orders were going out to the southern states this week so they should arrive any day.

I am happy to report my garden is at least somewhat put together. I am planting separately in grow bags so I have some of my plants in the bags. I am going to build a raised bed around them to provide some shade from the sun and help contain the plants and give them access to a trellis system. So far I have a container tomato plant that is already starting to grow tomatoes (ok, one tomato), a couple green bell pepper plants, rosemary and I found hatch chiles so I have a couple of those. My sterling is enjoying the warm spring and substantial rain we have received. It already has two shoots with green vegetation. I saw a couple more shoots trying to peek out of the ground. So that's encouraging. I had a mt. hood rhizome that I thought died off last summer that I replanted in a pot in the garage over the winter. I gave it some rooting fertilizer even though I thought it would die. Surprisingly it looks like it is developing a bit of a root system (or I forgot what it looked like). No shoots on it but I plan on planting it with my other mt. hood rhizome when it arrives. Maybe the older rhizome will produce some shoots next spring.

March 7, 2012

My new sour project

Before I get into the subject of this post, I'm happy to see that this is my 101st post on this blog. I started blogging in May of 2009 so I guess that's not really a lot of posting over almost three years but some of my early posts were really long (and admittedly, poorly written) and it took a while to learn enough to write semi-competently about homebrewing.

I also realized today of the thirteen gallons of beer fermenting/aging in my house, just one lowly gallon is neither sour nor funky. I'm not sad about that. I'm still sitting on a little over thirteen gallons of bottled beer in the house so it's nice to be able to periodically supplement my clean beers and mead with an infusion of funky or sour beer (currently about two gallons of bottled beer is lambic and about two and a half is the blended brett brown; both projects are listed to the right). I'm very excited for all these beers to be ready for consumption.

My next to most recent sour project (it's too early to write on the most recent) is a sour brown. It's not a sour brown in an oud bruin sense, it's more in line with the American-style sour browns. Like most American beers, they tend to have more complex grain bills. This beer was a good opportunity to branch out and try more specialty malts and a different technique. This project is partially a take on New Belgium's Clutch which is a blend of a sour brown (20%) and stout (80%). I really like it; it might be my favorite NB beer. Unlike Clutch, which is a higher ABV beer, both the sour and stout portions will be around 5% to make a lighter beer. I think Clutch uses an imperial stout, but I will use a Belgian stout instead.

My plan is to let the sour portion age for 9-12 months and then split the batch. Most of it will be bottled straight. A small portion will be blended with a gallon of Belgian stout to get a similar flavor profile as Clutch. I will rack out the straight sour portion, then fine with gelatin, cold crash, rack out, add campden, let sit for 24 hours, then blend in the Belgian stout and bottle. I am going to brew a separate batch of the Belgian stout in the coming months to see how it tastes. That should give me an idea of the ratio of clean to sour beer to see if an 80/20 mix is correct for my beers or if I should go more sour. I would be willing to go as far as 66/34 (1 gallon stout, 1/2 gallon sour) if the flavor is right. That would still leave half a gallon of straight sour and 1.5 gallons of blended beer. It's most important that the beer tastes right but if I end up with more sour and less blended but better tasting beer I would be happy with that as well.

Here is the recipe for the sour brown:


Grain bill:
1.25 lb pilsner malt
.25lb crystal 120
.25lb caramunich
2oz carafa III
1oz chocolate wheat

Mash at 154F for an hour. Batch Sparge

Boil 90 minutes with:
.10oz EKG[5%] at 60 minutes
.15lb table sugar at 10 minutes

One gallon post-boil volume
Est ABV: 5.49%
IBU: 8.7 (the sourness will help add balance)
SRM: 44.9
OG: 1.059

I did a primary fermentation with WLP575 to produce some good ester character. I racked off the trub. Then I added the dregs of a bottle of my lambic with Wyeast 3278 and Lindeman's Cuve Rene gueuze dregs in secondary. After a couple weeks a good pellicle started to form. I used Belgian yeast to get some ester production because brett will use those esters to develop flavor complexity. I racked off the cake because I want the beer to be sour with less funk than the lambic. Since brett will chew up the dead saccharomyces to produce really funky flavors I wanted to reduce that opportunity as much as possible. This is the same reason why flanders reds and oud bruins are usually racked to secondary before getting hit with a blend of souring critters (although the oud bruin shouldn't have any brett flavor).

Not a mind blowing beer, but there were some of new things/rare occasions about this beer. I had never used carafa malts or chocolate wheat. It had been a while since I racked a beer to secondary and there wasn't fruit involved. The last time I used dregs in a beer was when I started my lambic solera in December of 2010. It's definitely the first time I've used the dregs of my own beer to inoculate another beer.

Ideally I would like this beer to be ready for bottling around November or December for a couple of reasons. First, I think it will make an excellent winter beer. Second, come mid-December I will graduate law school and begin the terrible six week process of preparing for the bar exam. However, I would rather let this beer go 12 or even 18 months to develop a good flavor profile. I suspect it probably won't need that long because WLP575 tends to make a dry beer so there may not be a lot left to take so long to chew up and turn into a nice sour. I will probably sample around November and make the decision to either bottle or let it ride until next March (the next time I could reasonably deal with it) and sample again to see if it's ready or needs more time.

March 1, 2012

Return of the hop garden

Last year I attempted to grow sterling, mt. hood and kent goldings. A combination of poor planning, poor soil, my inability to be patient, a terrible grasshopper infestation and a horrifically hot and dry summer managed to kill off the kent goldings and mt. hood. The sterling grew decently but I didn't water it enough and one day grasshoppers stopped by and ate every leaf. Every one of them. I thought I had killed it, too, but when it started to cool off in September a little growth started back up.

I made the mistake of planting in the Texas soil, which is known for being very clay-filled and hard to grow, especially with the tremendously hot and long summers. (That's why many attempted settlements in the Dallas area failed.) I dug up the mt. hood and saw what looked like some live root growth so I repotted it this winter in hope it will keep growing and maybe produce a bine or two next year. I dug up the sterling yesterday and happily saw about a dozen shoots.

This year I decided to make another attempt at growing hops but avoid the problems of growing in the soil. Instead, I am planting in grow bags and then I am going to put the grow bags together into sort of a raised bed, surrounded by a wood frame with a trellis above it. The idea is that the hops will grow up strings and then branch out horizontally and provide some shade for the roots below. Since the HOA doesn't permit building higher than the fence I will have to top out at around seven feet so I need to fool the hops into thinking their are taller than they are to stimulate growth. Once the hops grow about four feet I will remove the leaves and coil the bine around the base of the plant and let it regrow up so instead of a seven foot plant it will think it is about eleven feet.

I have my sterling plant from last year but I have also purchased cascade, mt. hood and nugget to grow this year. I buy from thyme garden, which is reasonably priced and produce rhizomes in great condition. I haven't received the rhizomes yet but I hope to receive them in the next couple of weeks. In addition to the hops I am growing rosemary, tomatoes and bell peppers. I am trying to find some hatch green chiles to grow, since those are extremely tasty. I might grow something else, such as jalepenos, depending on how much room I end up having for more grow bags. My thought there is that the extra plants, in addition to producing tasty produce, will also help provide shade for the hops.

Spring break is coming up in a couple of weeks so I hope to have the time to get to building. I'll shoot up some pictures as soon as it's done.