April 29, 2013

Hot Carl 2.0 Tasting

I bottled this beer very early April after dry hopping with Belma. When I bottled it there wasn't a lot of flavor going on but the Belma hops added some interesting melon flavors to the beer. After a few days in the bottle a massive pellicle formed in each bottle. This weekend I decided to give it a taste and see how it's progressing.

Appearance: Brilliantly clear and yellow. The beer pours an initially fluffy white head but the head quickly disappears. Beer almost looks still but there are a few bubbles floating around in the beer.

Smell: Funky, brett aromas dominate with some melon notes. The melon notes are coming from the Belma hops but the funky, barnyard aroma lets you know there is a lot of funk coming your way with this beer. Since it's a wild beer it's hard to know if it's brett or some other wild yeast putting out those flavors/aromas. The aroma isn't overpowering and some of that might be due to the lack of head and low carbonation.

Taste: Lots of funk. The melon flavors from Belma come through slightly but the funky yeast character is driving the beer. No malt character comes through but the yeast provides enough flavor that it's an interesting beer. There's leather, horse blanket, and lots of character that's a complex mix of musty cellar and barnyard. Fortunately no fecal character in the flavor. The funk is dominant, like in Orval or Saison-Brett, but not overwhelming.

Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is dry and probably would be a little thin if not for the low carbonation. For whatever reason the organisms in the beer under-produced CO2 so the beer did not carbonate well. The low carbonation actually helps the body of the beer. The beer feels dry on the tongue, which is likely a combination of hop character, the lack of residual sugars and yeast compounds. It's not quite tannin-like astringency. It has a similar mouthfeel to Orval but without the intense carbonation.

Notes: I was expecting to taste a bland beer with some dry hop notes but that's definitely not what this beer is. The Belma hops are subdued as many other people have suggested although I didn't find them quite as subdued as others have. Maybe that's my low interest in IPAs coming through. The yeast character is an interesting turn of events. I planned on drinking this beer quickly to enjoy the dry hop character but I'm more interested in the funk in this beer so I plan on slowly working through the remaining bottles to see how it matures. I'm a little disappointed about the low carbonation but it's a fair trade off for the funky flavor. I guess the wild character came through in this beer after all.

April 23, 2013

One gallon brewing, why the heck would you do that?

I've written for the past few years about my one gallon brewing set up with varied success. I feel like I finally have a good handle on the process and technique and it's about time I organize my thoughts along the same line as the sour mash/sour wort resources I put together a couple years ago. So this is the first step in trying to make everything look a little more organized (plus I think the new blog design lends itself well to a new writing project).

Why I started brewing one gallon batches

When I started brewing I was in law school, which meant I was drinking to relax at the end of the week but usually my "wild" drinking would be a few beers at home with my wife on Friday and Saturday night. Drinking a handful of beers each week makes a five gallon batch with about fifty bottles last for a long, long time. I wanted to brew more often than we could drink down our beer. So I started looking for ways to cut down on the size of a batch without having to give up quality or buy a lot of new equipment. This was before a lot of homebrew shops started selling kits for one gallon batches.

I started to scale down from five gallons to three gallons to two and a half gallons to two gallons before going as low as one gallon. While I tend to brew some two gallon batches these days a lot of my brewing is still in the one gallon batch basis. Out of a gallon you can get between eight and ten bottles, depending upon how much beer you are willing to leave behind to avoid trub in the bottles and how close to one gallon your post-boil volume actually is. At the time I had a little over thirty gallons of homebrew plus some commercial beer so with my wife and I going through eight to twelve beers per week we could drink several bottles of a one gallon batch plus some other beers and I could brew every few weeks. It made a lot of sense under the circumstances.

Now that I have a little more free time and our beer supply is about half what it was at the time I am brewing some two and three gallon batches but I am keeping the one gallon system in constant rotation. For my personal benefit, one gallon batches are still a good way to play with new recipes or try out a technique that I want to experiment with but not necessarily get stuck with several gallons. I also have really come to enjoy the value of very fresh beer and brewing those smaller batches allows me to always have a supply of fresh beer available without worrying that good beer is lingering in the bottle because I have too much beer on hand. I know, first world problems...

Why you might want to start brewing one gallon batches

You might have similar brewing preferences to mine that interest you in small batch brewing. You may have some other reasons why you would like to brew on a smaller system even if it's not as small as one gallon. Here are some reasons why you might want to adopt one gallon brewing:

  • You don't have the resources for brewing larger batches due to your home, finances, free time, etc.
  • You prefer to experiment and not have to commit to five gallons of an experiment that may or may not work out;
  • You want to work on a recipe or technique and don't want to brew large batches every time you want to tweak the recipe or process;
  • Your spouse/significant other told you that you can't take up the house with brewing stuff;
  • You don't drink that much beer but you want to brew;
  • You do drink a lot of beer but most of it is commercial beer but you would like to dabble in homebrewing to supplement what you buy and learn more about brewing;
  • Nobody will drink your homebrew but you;
  • Sometimes it's too cold or too hot to brew anywhere but on the stove;
  • You want to be more like me;
  • You want the challenge of learning a new brewing system but don't have the resources or desire to scale up to a larger size;
  • You don't want to make a big financial commitment to a hobby; 
  • Your free space at home is already filled with beer you bought;
  • It's just more convenient for you.

 What's the difference between one gallon brewing and five gallon brewing?

In my opinion there is no difference between one gallon and five gallon brewing except the size of the equipment and the volume of beer produced. Despite what you might initially think it is not any easier or less time consuming to brew one gallon than it is five gallons. Any shortcut or simplified process you can do with one gallon you can do with five or ten gallons. Your time savings brewing a smaller batch are marginal compared to five gallons. You spend a little less time milling grain, less time heating mash water, bringing wort to a boil, sparging and cooling the wort. You are really talking about shaving off maybe an hour at best if it takes you a long time to heat and/or cool on your brew days. If you don't mill your own grains and you can hit a boil on a five gallon system fairly quickly you may save much less time. For the hour you save you will spend essentially the same time mashing, boiling, cleaning, sanitizing, etc. It's actually more time efficient to brew on a larger scale.

What do you need to brew one gallon batches of homebrew?

Basically all the same equipment you need for any other size of brewing. The good news is that for one gallon brewing you already have most or all of the equipment you need around the house, especially if you are already brewing on a larger scale. If you are contemplating going right into one gallon brewing you can use items around the house instead of buying other equipment. For example, you probably already have a small stock pot in your kitchen as part of a pots and pan set even if you have never brewed before. Realistically you can use that 1.5 gallon stock pot for boiling most batches of beer. You can employ some other saucepans for other uses.

I don't know who first decided five gallons was a good amount of beer for a homebrewer but I strongly disbelieve that the amount was chosen for a reason other than convenience. Most of the equipment used for five gallon brewing already existed for other uses and five gallons was a convenient place where all that equipment could be used. There were already five and six gallon carboys used elsewhere. Large food grade buckets are easily obtainable. Turkey fryers are conveniently sized for brewing. Even an electric coil stove can eventually get six gallons of wort to a boil. Other small pieces like airlocks, thermometers, hydrometers, etc. were available for lab and kitchen purposes. I am most convinced the common size of glass carboys, once routinely used as secondary and often primary fermentation vessels, had the most to do with the batch size.

Similarly, one gallon brewing is easily accomplished using kitchen components readily available in most kitchens and easily acquired where they are not ready. Most homebrewing equipment can be used without modification. Like the five gallon batch, one gallon brewing is a convenient size due to available fermentors. While I have fermented one gallon of beer in as large of a fermentor as a 7.9 gallon bucket, smaller fermentors tend to be easier to work with. There are several small fermentation vessels available for one gallon brewing but the easiest to work with is a five liter wine jug. It fits more than a gallon so there is enough headspace to usually not need a blowoff tube. I'll address the necessary equipment in more detail in another post.

Fortunately for those of us that like to brew small batches, homebrew shops are beginning to make it easier to brew on a smaller basis. Even a year ago it could be challenging to find shops that would sell grain in single ounce quantities that you want for small batch brewing. Otherwise you end up with a library of grain at home that you may not need or want. Now many shops openly sell by the ounce and it's not uncommon to see one gallon brewing equipment kits for sale along with one gallon recipe kits. Brooklyn Brew Shop was the first that I know of to really push these products out there (although I think their products are severely overpriced) but now Northern Brewer proudly advertises similar products. I don't think you have to restrict yourself to buying either an equipment kit or recipe kit specifically made for one gallon brewing. In future posts I'll talk about putting together your own equipment and how to purchase ingredients and recipes for one gallon brewing.

April 20, 2013

Ugli Ass American Wheat Recipe Brewday

This American wheat recipe was designed to be a light, refreshing beer with a combination of citrus peel and hop character. The primary influence for this beer was Thirsty Planet's Yellow Armadillo wheat, which is a well balanced American wheat with lots of citrus notes. However, while Yellow Armadillo gains its citrus notes from hops I decided to try for a more complex flavor by blending three types of fresh citrus fruit peel with Belma hops. The grain bill is a simple American wheat grist to stay out of the way of the hops and peel. S-04, still in use as my house yeast, is also in use to provide a neutral yeast profile to let the hops and peel shine through.

I'm still undecided about whether I like these Belma hops but it's only my second beer using them. I'm letting Belma hops carry the whole hop schedule with first wort hopping, a 10 minute flavor addition and a knock out addition for aroma. The melon character from Belma should work nicely with the citrus notes to create a more complex fruit flavor than the fruit peel alone. Even if the Belma hops underperform and I don't get too much character out of them the citrus peel should be enough to make the beer interesting to drink.

Rather than using just orange peel I am using a blend of three citrus fruits together. I didn't source anything prepared or special for this beer, I just looked around the kitchen and peeled what was there. So I am using a small amount of both sweet orange peel and lemon peel. The lemon peel will add a little tartness and refreshing character. I didn't want to use too much lemon peel because, like other more acidic citrus fruits, it
can turn into an unpleasant bitterness in beer at fairly low amounts. The bulk of the citrus peel comes from an ugli fruit, also sometimes known as unique fruit, but it is classified as a Jamaican tangelo. It is a hybrid of grapefruit, orange and tangerine. It is sweeter than a grapefruit but not quite as sweet as a tangerine. The flavor reminded me of Five Alive, which was a citrus fruit juice made of a blend of five citrus fruits. I don't think they make Five Alive anymore. It's too bad, I really liked it as a kid in the 80s. We tasted a sample at the grocery store and decided to give one a try. It's very juicy but also very expensive. We paid $2 for one fruit but they often sell for several more dollars per fruit. Still, at that price I wanted to get as much as I could out of the fruit so I zested the whole thing and used a portion in this beer. It's known for having a fragrant rind so I'm hoping it will produce some good flavor in this beer.

In total I am using 1.5 ounces of peel. Fresh fruit peel has to be used in larger quantities than dried peel, just like how fresh herbs have to be used in larger quantities than dried herbs. The reason is that the flavor components generally sought after are the essential oils in the fruit or herbs. Dried peel has all the moisture removed so the weight is less even though the amount of oils are the same as the same surface area of peel in fresh peel. So when measuring peel or herbs by weight you have to compensate for the extra water weight and use more peel when fresh. 1.5 ounces of dried peel would be an overwhelming amount of peel for two gallons of beer. Well with all that in mind here's the actual recipe.

Ugli Ass American Wheat Recipe

Batch size: 2 gallons
ABV: 4.6%
SRM: 4.3
IBU: 26.5
Est. OG: 1.048
Est. FG: 1.013
BU:GU: 0.557

Grist:

1.75 lb Pale malt (2.0 SRM)
1.5 lb White wheat malt (2.4 SRM)
0.25 lb Munichmalt (9.0 SRM)

Mash:
1.15 gallons dough in at 167.8F
Mash 60 minutes at 154F
Sparge 1.51 gallons at 170F

Water:
All RO water

Mash additions:
Gypsum 0.4g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Kosher salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.5g

Sparge additions:
Gypsum 0.5g
Epsom salt 0.5g
Kosher salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.6g

Boil:
60 minute boil
0.2 oz. Belma [12.1% AA] @ first wort hop - 24.5 IBU
0.05oz. Belma [12.1% AA]@ 10 min. - 2 IBU
0.15oz. Belma [12.1% AA] @ knockout - 0 IBU
1 oz. fresh ugli fruit peel @ knockout
0.25 oz. fresh sweet orange peel @ knockout
0.25 oz. fresh lemon peel @ knockout

Fermentation:
Pitch slurry of S-04 at 63F
Ferment 10 days at 63F
Raise to ambient (~73F) for four days
Bottle at 2.5 volumes for 2-3 weeks

Brewday Notes:

Brewing beer and cooking Thai food makes for interesting aroma combinations.

Post-boil gravity was 1.040, a little below the expected 1.048, and the total volume was a little below two gallons, which makes for some pretty bad efficiency. That's something I need to look at with this beer and potentially with my process.

Gravity reading 4/27/13: 1.010 -- so around 3.5% ABV. A little low for the beer but given the lower SG not unsurprising.

April 19, 2013

More Vegas drinking for 2013

When most people think of drinking in Vegas they think of free drinks in the casino, shots at the bar and over-priced, watered-down drinks in the extremely expensive clubs. Depending on how much of the 90s you remember, you might think of Vegas drinking through the eyes of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, there actually is a growing recognition in Vegas that people coming to town actually would like to drink a beer that isn't an industrial lager. Over the past four years there has been a noticeable expansion of beer options and beer availability on the strip (as well as off). Sadly, not all of it is what one could hope for. Many casinos have simply tagged one of their bars with a patio as a "beer garden" but still serving the same industrial lager brands as before. However, there are some legitimate beer bars on the strip growing up. As I recognized back in 2011 there were already solid beer locations on the strip at The Pub at Monte Carlo and the Burger Bar between Mandalay Bay and Luxor but there are also beer-centric locations at the Wynn and Public House at the Venetian. Gordon Ramsay Burgr had a decent selection, as did Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesar's Palace (can you tell we are Ramsay fans? The food lived up to the high expectations we had for his food.)

The Public House at the Venetian has a west coast-focused tap list with a smattering of European offerings. What's most interesting about this place is that they always keep a sour tap and a cask. Since my wife and I are fans of both we tried to help as much as we could to drain the keg of Bruery Sour in the Rye and the cask of Lagunitas Sucks cask hopped with Citra. We also scored Innis & Gunn aged in rum barrels and the Innis & Gunn stout aged in Irish whiskey barrels, although for the $12 twelve ounce bottle we found at Public House we found a significantly better deal on it at Gordon Ramsay Burgr in Planet Hollywood with $7 twelve ounce pours. The flagship Innis & Gunn beer is very sweet, almost cloyingly so, so it helped that we were drinking a sour beer to help cut the sourness. The stout was fantastic and far better balanced.

In addition to the expanding beer drinking there is a growing list of local Las Vegas and Henderson breweries helping supply the strip with local options. Sadly, most of these breweries don't produce great beer. The bartenders never seemed to recommend them and from our few attempts to try them we weren't overly impressed. Both Beer Advocate and Ratebeer suggested a consistent opinion (not that I place much reliance on the reviews at either site). We did drink a lot of Sin City weisse, which is one local beer that is very good. It's not overly banana, which makes my wife happy. Personally, I prefer a little more banana in a hefeweizen but this beer easily holds its own against many German hefeweizens. If you do look for Sin City, there are locations in the Miracle Mile, Flamingo and Venetian. The Flamingo location is the best. They have the best deals on beer and the most fun environment. You can get Sin City beers at some of the other beer bars around the strip.

Aside from the Innis & Gunn, Bruery and cask Lagunitas, we weren't as impressed by the beer selections along the strip as we had been in the past. I think a lot of this had to do with the arrival of Firestone Walker in Texas. Before a few months ago, Vegas was one of the few places I travel I could find Firestone Walker so I was always happy to find it on tap in Vegas. Now that we have it locally I don't see any reason to taste it at $9 per pint. So that cut down on a lot of the beers I normally try to hunt down on the strip. I did also enjoy a couple Utah beers, including Epic's Brainless IPA, a very good Belgian IPA, and Uinta Brewing's Anniversary Barleywine, a well-balanced American barleywine.

Unfortunately we only had three days in Vegas and had a lot planned so we didn't get to beer hunt as much as we could have. I was happy with what we found but there's still several places I want to check out. Several off-the-strip places continue to elude me, including Aces and Ales, Ellis Island Brewpub (which I hear is not that great) and Hofbrauhaus. Still, I had great time as always and had some great beers (and a lot of free scotch in the casinos). If you come to Vegas and come from somewhere without Firestone Walker access you should not ignore their beers. Utah is also starting to put out some good beers that make their way to Vegas so they should not be ignored, either. Epic, Uinta and Squatters all put out great beers. Wasatch isn't too bad but not in the same class as the other three.

April 12, 2013

Can I use lactose to backsweeten my sour beers?

So I took a look at the stats on my blog this week and among the other data I don't pay much attention to is the search terms that brought people to my website. Sometimes I look at these terms just to see what people want to read more about and maybe what I'm rambling about that nobody cares to read. One thing that comes up a lot in the search terms is something about using lactose to backsweeten sour beers. While I don't want to start going SEO crazy here if people are looking for the information I should provide a concise answer.

The answer to your question is no, you cannot use lactose to backsweeten sour beer. 

Lactose is milk sugar and as a sugar it is subject to fermentation as long as you give it to an organism that has the enzymatic capability to ferment it. Good friend saccharomyces cerevisiae, responsible for fermenting clean beers, cannot produce the enzymes that break down lactose into smaller sugars it can metabolize. That's why your milk stouts are milk stouts: the lactose doesn't ferment. However, brettanomyces and souring bacteria do produce the enzymes that break lactose down into sugars they can metabolize. If you're not so sure I'm right, just smell some old milk. It's sour because lactobacillus and other common bacteria get in the milk and ferment out the lactose into lactic acid (among other things). If you're still not sure, just smell some sour milk alongside a sour beer. You'll notice the same lactic acid aroma in both. In milk the lactose is fermented into lactic acid. In sour beer the starches and sugars are fermented into lactic acid.

Steps you can take to backsweeten your sour beer

In this post I discuss three methods to blend clean and sour beer but you can adopt for backsweetening sour beer instead of blending:

  • use heat to pasteurize the beer, then backsweeten to your preference and add fresh yeast to bottle;
  • filter your beer and then backsweeten and re-yeast to bottle;
  • use a combination of gelatin, cold crashing and campden to stabilize the beer, then backsweeten and re-yeast to bottle.
In the comment on the post somebody pointed out that you can also avoid messing with the beer in the above methods by kegging. You can certainly keg the beer and add sugar at kegging to backsweeten so long as you can keep the keg cold so no further fermentation occurs. Of course, that only works if you have a kegging set up at home (which I don't).

The simplest method of backsweetening is to just add some sugar to your glass and pour the beer in with it. It isn't as glamorous as the other methods since you can't just crack open a bottle and pour but at least you don't have to worry about using any funky process or screwing up your beer. If you backsweeten too much in the bottle you can't take the sweetness back out but you can always dose your glass to taste and get it right every time. It's also a good option if you want to be able to see how your sour beer evolves and share it with people who may not like their sours backsweetened.

April 11, 2013

Yeast Project: Throwing in the towel (ish)

So I went to bottle the experimental runs of several strains remaining and saw all are developing a pellicle. I didn't want to rely on likely infected samples to judge the quality of the strains nor did I want to wash and store infected yeast for later use. I let the batches sit too long with only foil covering the mouth of the jars I used as fermentors so I'm not too surprised they got infected.

Looking around at all this I realized I'm really biting off more than I can chew with this project and I don't have the time to really assess these strains. I've been thinking over the past few weeks that all the apricot and diacetyl flavors I kept getting in strain after strain was a result of stressed conditions, rather than the yeast's normal flavor profile. I would probably need to brew several small batches to develop some healthy yeast and really see what the strains can do. Right now I don't have the time for it even though I'd like to just hang out and brew all the time. So I am going to do a better job testing out the two brett strains I first got and maybe brew a couple small all brett beers. It's too bad I don't have the time to do a better job with this project because I was given several other brett strains.

I won't say I will never come back to these strains, I'd actually like to have a yeast bank with a few "house" strains. As it is I have many strains banked and in all honesty I'll probably never get around to reusing all the strains I have. I want to do a better job of understanding how to manipulate yeast for different flavor profiles and I feel like trying to go for quantity of strains is interfering with developing quality of understanding.

Unfortunately I still don't think I'm in a place where I can share the strains I received but maybe down the road I will be able to be a more sharing guy.

April 9, 2013

Hot Carl loves the bottle

So I wouldn't normally update about a beer I just bottled but I happened to check in on the wild ale I bottled after dry hopping with Belma hops and was shocked to find some serious pellicle action in the bottle. I'm used to seeing pellicles in the bottle on my sour beers but I've never seen them rise up so quickly or get so thick. Here's a couple pics I snapped on Monday.

This first picture is the neck of a 22oz bottle. You can see the pellicle is very fluffy and dense. I'm used to seeing very flat, patchy bottle pellicles.


This second picture is a half-filled 22oz bomber so there's a much larger surface area on the beer. I've never seen anything like that in a bottle. The picture isn't great but you can sort of make out large bubbles in the center of the picture.


So that sort of changes my plans on drinking this beer very soon to take advantage of the dry hopping. What I will probably do is crack open a bottle in a couple weeks and see if it is worth drinking now. I suspect with all that activity whatever is getting busy in the bottle might be producing a weird flavor now and I'll have to wait it out to see what happens with this beer. Can't say I'm disappointed that it has taken an unexpected turn but it's definitely unexpected.

April 8, 2013

For the Love of Hops Review

For the Love of Hops is Stan Hieronymus's new brewing book, (obviously) tackling the subject of hops. It is the newest book in the Brewers Association's line of books focusing on brewing ingredients (following Yeast and the upcoming Water). I have mixed feelings about this book but it's worth a read.

At least half of the book discusses the hop industry and agriculture, from its history to the way new breeds are designed, grown and sold. It's interesting reading but makes a very salient point that hops are not only a food product but a very temperamental one that changes based on growing location (even down to different locations in the same field), seasonal conditions, harvest time, treatment after harvest and stability on the shelf. The book discusses the dual markets in hops: the alpha acid market, which trades as a commodity where farmers are growing for maximum alpha acid yield, and the aroma market, where farmers are growing for maximum sensory perception. The alpha acid market is largely driven by large breweries who contract out their needs and the farmers seek varieties with maximum yield so they can generate as much profit as possible per acre. The aroma market, however, is driven by the craft industry and principally by the US craft industry.

As much as I was interested to read about the industry and the importance of how future varieties are likely to appear, for a homebrewer the information was not particularly useful because I'm not going to contract my hop purchases with a farmer nor am I going to be contacted by one of the farms to test out new varieties. I'm buying on the retail market beneath the spot market. I'm not even close. Still, the information was interesting and I can appreciate a more robust outlook on hops now but this part of the book is at least half of all the material, which left much less room for discussing brewing than I had hoped.

The parts of the book relevant to brewing had some very good pieces of information I didn't know but at the same time there were several times where the book glossed over going into any depth on brewing aspects. The Brewers Association books are notorious for not giving specific details on techniques or recipes, instead offering ranges, but I found this book to be particularly unspecific with hopping techniques. I think there was one page where the book discussed ranges of hop volumes commonly used at different additions. It gave the impression that this book was written with craft brewers as an audience rather than homebrewers but failed to direct the information to both audiences as Yeast did.

What makes up for the slightly disappointing brewing discussion is the large section of brewery recipes for hoppy beers. Fortunately, it's not a list of west coast IPAs. Instead it includes both east and west coast styles along with some pale ales and several hoppy German brews. The recipes are written in the brewer's original volumes so there is some conversion work to do to scale down to homebrew level. Nevertheless it's worth the work because the recipes represent a solid foundation for building your own interpretation of these styles. There's also several lager recipes for styles it's often hard to find a tested recipe for.

All in all the book is worth a read and I think it's worth the money to put in your brewing library. It may not be a book I consult frequently for brewing but now that I am starting to dabble in lagers and hoppy beers I expect the pages of recipes to become dog eared in little time. I think what I was expecting most and found the least was an extensive discussion of brewing techniques, such as more explicit analysis of how different additions create results in the beer and how to put together different blends of hops for a desired effect. Maybe that information doesn't exist anywhere that explicitly because which hops work best together and in what sequence is a huge matter of opinion and my expectations for this book were wildly off.

April 5, 2013

Salivator Doppelbock

I've always been a fan of the rich malt bombs known as doppelbocks but it took my wife a little while to come around to the German parity of other malt bombs around Europe like scotch ales, quads, biere de gardes and barleywines. She went from almost spitting out her first sip of Optimator to raving about Live Oak's fantastic doppelbock, Liberator when we hit the Live Oak tour early last month. Unfortunately it's hard to find many doppelbocks in the Dallas area, even during the traditional lenten season. We have Optimator and Salvator available year-round. While they are both great beers and staples of the style I miss having some variety available. Now that my wife will enjoy some doppelbock with me and I have temperature control available for lager brewing I decided to take my first leap into lager brewing with confidence by taking on a bigger style than the typical session strength lagers. I'm equipped with the avalanche of lager production knowledge from New Brewing Lager Beer and ready to take the icy plunge.

Doppelbocks are normally given a name with an -ator at the end. This beer was named in honor of somebody who I won't name (not my wife) who spent his whole first time drinking drooling and complaining that the alcohol made him salivate. Hence we decided to call this beer Salivator in his honor. If I had the artistic skill to make beer labels I'd make a drooling goat on the label since bock beers are often associated with goats since bock is German for goat. Ok, enough personalizing the beer, let's talk about some beer.

When I sat down to plan out this beer I thought about what style of doppelbock I was after and what flavors I was looking for. I think of doppelbocks as falling into two camps. There's the Salvator style, which is very sweet and bready. It reminds me a lot of English barleywines. Then there's the Optimator style, the more common of the two, which is more focused on darker malts and carries those raisin, chocolate, coffee, prune, plum flavors. I like both but the darker take on the style seems like a more interesting brewing experience. When I looked around at different recipes to use as a template it made the most sense to follow Kai Troester's recipe which is itself a modification on Optimator. The modifications I made to his recipe were slight and really only reflected the ingredients available and my brew set up. His recipe should be a good backbone to evolve a recipe towards my own preferences.

This recipe will not only be my first lager but it will also be my first attempt at using one of the strains from my yeast project for a full scale beer. It took a little over two weeks to grow up a pitchable quantity of yeast just for one gallon of lager. I'm rolling out this Pschorr strain (which is effectively the same as East Coast Yeast's Festbier strain) so I'm hoping it does the job. Maybe a less significant milestone is that this beer represents my first beer using Bru'n Water for my water profile instead of EZ Water Calculator that I have used for the past couple of years. I'm hearing a lot of good things about Bru'n Water. Ok, the beer has a fancy back story and now I've talked about my objectives with the beer so let's move on to the details.

Finally, the actual doppelbock recipe

So I'll start off with the basic recipe details and then I'll separately talk about the lager process and the mash. This recipe is just a one gallon recipe.

Numbers:

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.08
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. ABV: 9.2%
IBU: 18.5
SRM: 17.8
BU/GU: 0.23
Efficiency: 74%

Grain bill:

76%  2lb., 6oz Munich II (9 SRM)
16% 8oz pilsner malt
4%   2oz caramunich II
2%   1oz caramunich III
2%   1oz aromatic malt

Mash:

Water profile: See below
Infuse 6.25 quarts of water at 155F for 35 minutes at 147F
Decoct 1quart and raise to 158F for 15 minutes, then boil for 10 minutes
Add decoction to mash to raise to 156F for 40 minutes
Batch sparge with 3 quarts at 170F
Pre-boil volume: 1.27 gallons

Boil:

90 minute boil
0.10oz Belma [12% AAU] at 60 minutes
0.05oz EKG [5% AAU] at 60 minutes
1/4 tsp Irish moss at 10 minutes

Fermentation:

Cool wort to 46F
Pitch Pschorr lager yeast from 1 liter starter with nutrients and a lot of aeration of wort
Maintain at 46F until gravity reaches 1.018 then raise to 65F for diacetyl rest until gravity reaches terminal gravity

Transfer to secondary for lagering
Lager at 38F for three weeks
Fine with gelatin the last two days
Bottle with fresh yeast and age bottles for 4-6 months

Now some more details about the process

The recipe

The recipe for the grain bill is almost identical to Kai's recipe but instead of the caraaroma he uses I went with aromatic because I couldn't find caraaroma at the time I bought the grain. I know the two are different but aromatic works well to create a malty feel in a beer so it's a good fit in the recipe. Kai's design is to create complexity by layering in different munich malts, which makes a lot of sense. I've seen many doppelbock recipes that have a lot of US/UK crystal malts and special B. I see where the special B would work in creating those raisin flavors but I'm suspect that the flavor profiles of US/UK crystal varieties are the correct flavor profiles in a doppelbock. I chose not to add any special B into the recipe because Kai discusses that the fruit flavors should develop by aging the beer so I'll trust he knows what he's talking about and if I want more raisin I can always make that decision the next time I brew this.

I thought I would comment briefly on the hops as well. I wanted to slowly put all these Belma hops I have to work in bittering additions. The problem is that my scale only measures in 0.05 ounce increments (it does grams but I don't want to go back and forth between ounces and grams during the brew day for fear of accidentally adding too much or too little of an ingredient, which I have done before). At 0.10 ounces I'm too low on IBUs and I couldn't get enough by adding the hops earlier in the boil so I'm just supplementing the Belma with a little EKG out of my stash of EKG that I also need to use since it's a 2011 batch. Any other hop would have worked fine as a bittering charge.

The water

As I said earlier, this is my first attempt at using Bru'n Water instead of EZ Water Calculator to develop a water profile. Bru'n Water is a fantastically complex tool but is set up to allow very easy adjustments because it has basic beer types you can select for a water profile rather than the typical process of picking a geographic water profile and hope you know the appropriate way to adjust that water to your needs. It's definitely a more complex tool and suggests more work adjusting the mash and sparge to meet the appropriate style water profile. Using the "brown malty" profile and inputting the grains for the beer I will adjust the distilled water I use for brewing with:

Mash adjustments:
0.8 grams epsom salt
0.4 grams kosher salt
0.4 grams calcium chloride
0.4 grams chalk

Sparge adjustments:
0.4 grams epsom salt
0.2 grams kosher salt
0.2 grams calcium chloride

Which gives me an overall profile of:

Calcium 44ppm
Magnesium 13ppm
Sodium 26ppm
Sulfate 51ppm
Chloride 72ppm
Bicarbonate 81ppm
Mash ph: 5.5

The mash ph is a touch too high, I want it down around 5.2-3. The amount of lactic acid I need to adjust the mash is so small I would never be able to measure it so precisely that I could make the addition without getting the mash too acidic. Normally I would contemplate an acid rest to make this adjustment but because of the mash technique that's not a viable option. Instead I will use a little white vinegar to make a very small addition and measure the ph with the vinegar additions with those low tech ph strips. Vinegar isn't a great option for acid additions because it has a distinct flavor but when adding a few milliliters it won't make a noticeable flavor impact.

The mash

The traditional mash process for a doppelbock would be the full triple decoction mash with an acid rest, a protein rest and saccharification rests in the high 140s and again in the high 150s. I opted to adjust to a less involved mash schedule here for a few reasons. The major reason is to avoid the protein rest. After talking to the brewers at Live Oak, who make fantastic German lagers, they only deploy a protein rest when using undermodified pilsner malt because the undermodified malt has excessive protein that needs to be broken down. The concern with using a protein rest on well-modified malt is breaking down the grain too much and losing the body and head that a small amount of protein provides. Since I'm not using undermodified malts I wanted to skip the protein rest.

That creates a problem for performing an acid rest around 90F. I can't do a decoction that jumps from 90F to 147F because I would have to boil so much of the grain in the decoction I would have very little enzyme remaining to convert the rest of the mash. Munich malt isn't known for it's powerful diastatic power so denaturing a lot of the enzyme in the decoction would only add to that problem. I could do an infusion to make the jump but I couldn't get enough water in the acid rest to activate the enzyme responsible for the acidification. I'd just have damp grain. I could start the mash on the stove and go through the acid rest and apply direct heat to move up to 147F. Although this is a plausible solution the danger is that the heating would be too slow and I would end up with a short protein rest as the mash heats through the 120-136F range but if I heat too fast I might overshoot my desired saccharification temperature and end up getting too warm. It's more of a danger on a smaller batch where there is less thermal mass to keep an even heat. I'd probably consider this approach on a larger batch of beer but given the greater risk of problems on a one gallon batch it doesn't make sense. Instead I'll just add the acid to adjust the ph and go from there.

So having stripped out those steps I am infusing directly into a first saccharification rest and then I will perform a decoction to move up to 156F. That will allow me to get some of the benefit of a decoction mash without inviting the problems discussed above. I'll have to pull the decoction a few minutes into the mash so I can give it a little bump up to 156F to complete conversion and then give it time to boil to break down the grains. The total mash time is 75 minutes, which should ensure complete conversion between the two rests. Then I'll sparge out and get to boiling.

Fermentation and Lagering

The magic of lager beers is all in the fermentation and lagering. It's also where the flaws in the beer can appear. I'm particularly concerned about avoiding diacetyl because it's a terrible flaw and my wife is particularly sensitive to it. To make my life easier and avoid running two fridges unnecessarily I am going to use my kitchen fridge as a fermentation chamber. We keep our fridge at 46F which is right at the bottom end of the temperature range for this yeast (at least according to ECY). I plan on letting it ferment down to 1.018 and then bring it up to 70F for a diacetyl rest while fermentation ends.

Once fermentation ends and the diacetyl rest is complete it will be time to lager. Normally I'm not a secondary kind of guy but I want to harvest all that delicious lager yeast so I'm going to rack to a second fermentor to lager so I can wash the yeast. I plan on lagering at 38F for three weeks in my normal fermentation chamber. I'm pretty sure I can maintain that temperature. I'm not sure if I can get it lower but I'll see how it does at 38F before trying a colder lager. Three days before the end I'll fine with gelatin for some extra clarity. I'd like to lager the doppelbock for several months but I can't afford to give up my fermentation chamber for that long. I think I'll have a decent beer after the lagering and fining. I'm going to age the beer until November so that will be more than enough time to let age assist the beers in further clarifying and developing a mature flavor. I'll probably put the bottles in the fridge in October so they stay at 46F for a month and smooth out just a little before consumption.

Brewday Notes

Trying to measure tenths of a gram is virtually impossible. Lots of eyeballing the amounts. On a plus side, my mash temperatures were right where they should be so it seems I finally conquered my problem with low mash temperatures on my smaller batches. On the other hand I ended up with way, way too much wort so I will have to boil longer to get down to the right volume.

Gravity readings:
First runnings: 1.056
Pre boil: 1.040
Adjusted "pre boil" after initial boiling to reduce the wort volume: 1.065
Post boil: 1.072

Visible signs of fermentation by 10-12 hours.

Fermentation Notes

Gravity reading 4/12/13: 1.050 - about what I expected after a week, expecting another 2-3 weeks of fermentation at 46F. Will check gravity again next week. Some foamy krausen on top but not a thick layer like ale yeast. Flavor is young beer -- yeasty, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, slightly acidic.

Gravity reading 4/23/13: 1.034 - roughly halfway through expected fermentation after a little over two weeks. Looking for gravity to drop below 1.020 before contemplating warmer temperatures for diacetyl rest. No perception of diacetyl in gravity sample. Tasted sweet, bready, caramel. Visible signs of fermentation continue -- bubbling up from bottom of fermentor and thick krausen -- so no concerns yet of stalled fermentation at this temperature.

Gravity reading 5/1/13: 1.022 - gravity is dropping about a point per day which is a little slower than anticipated but I am fermenting on the very low side for this yeast so it's not alarming. I intend on checking back on this beer on Saturday and hopefully it will be sitting at 1.020 or a little lower and I can pull it out for the remaining fermentation to occur during a diacetyl rest and help clean up the beer a little before lagering.

Gravity reading 5/6/13: 1.019 - gravity is still dropping which is a good sign. It's at the point where I want to go ahead and let it ferment at warmer temperatures so I will let it finish fermentation at 70F and try to get it down close to the expected 1.011 FG before lagering. The krausen mostly dropped out over the weekend but I'm not sure that means anything with lager yeast.

Gravity reading 5/8/13: 1.018 - slight drops in gravity at warmer temperatures. I'm looking at a few weeks of warm aging before I have space to lager this beer for a few weeks so I'm not too worried if it takes a while to get closer to expected terminal gravity. Likely will not check gravity again for another week.

Gravity reading 5/11/13: No change in gravity so I am going to assume this beer is done fermenting. I snagged a 75% apparent attenuation which I feel is pretty good for the strain and what I gave it to work with. Will look at lagering once fermentation chamber is free in 10-14 days.

April 1, 2013

Wild Ale 2.0 -- Eight months

Some time in February I tasted this beer and it was identical to the flavor in January. Sort of empty, like a Coors. Sometimes wild/sour beers run out of fermentable sugars and starches and you can't get the beer more funky or more sour without refilling the tank. I suspected this might be a problem keeping this beer from getting funky. So to remedy the situation I boiled a combination of simple sugars and maltodextrine and added it to the fermentor. It's been about six weeks and there's basically no change in flavor. There's a slight fruity character that could easily be mistaken for a mediocre Belgian strain or even an English strain fermented a little warm. I made the decision to throw in the towel on expecting something exotic in this beer.

I guess the brett and at least some of the bacteria did not make it through the freeze. It's still technically wild because the yeast that did ferment out the beer was from a wild source. I don't love the strain(s) enough to keep it around but it does illustrate a technique to take a completely wild, mixed culture and freeze out most or all of the bacteria and some wild yeast, like brett. I have no idea how many strains of what is alive in that beer but since there's clearly a pellicle it's probable that there is more than just one yeast strain alive, although wild saccharomyces strains can form pellicles on their own.

So I still have this gallon of beer. I could dump it but it's not that bad of a beer. It's not that interesting so I don't really want to drink it as is. I decided it would be a perfect platform for trying out these Belma hops. I picked up a couple pounds after the 2012 harvest when they were being sold for $5-6 per pound but never used them. I've also never dry hopped before so I could salvage this semi-failed experiment into something more interesting. I added 0.20 ounces (equivalent of 1oz/5 gallons) and I'll let it go for ten days, mostly because I have a lot going on the next few weeks and I have some other brewing work to do before I get around to bottling this beer (I have a lot of yeast test batches to bottle and I'm trying to get my doppelbock brewed so it can age a little before the winter.)

These Belma hops are interesting for sure. I can agree with everybody else's reaction that they are very mild hops. The aroma lacks that bold hop character of either citrus and/or pine of American hops or the grassy and floral notes of European hops. There is some citrus, floral and grassy notes but the aromas I pick up most of all are strawberry and cantaloupe. The fruity notes are dominant but still gentle in comparison to some of the other fruity hops out there. I can see how that character could get lost in a beer, especially with the help of bolder hops. I'll report back with my findings on this beer in a few weeks.