January 21, 2019

One Gallon Spontaneous Fermentation Batch #3

Although this is my third attempt to successfully brew a small batch spontaneously fermented beer, it's my first attempt in Colorado. I'm closing in on two years since I brewed the first two attempts so I've had a chance to see how they developed and adjust processes. As I discussed in this update post on those two batches, I never saw much sourness develop. The post was briefly discussed on milk the funk and a few people commented that the hopping rate was really high which certainly could be a reason. I've had some time to think on these beers and how I want to adjust the process and recipe going forward. I don't want to create acid bombs but at the same time some acidity is an important part of the flavor and structure of these beers.

Changes to Batch #3 from batches #1 and #2

This batch will take on two changes from the prior batches to test increasing the acidity of these beers. First, I will reduce the hop rate. I think the commentors on Milk the Funk are at least partially correct that the hopping rate has a negative effect, even using aged hops. I've been using aged American hops which are higher in alpha acids and it's easily possible these hops still have a lot more alpha acid left behind than online calculators state. I will cut the volume in half and see how that affects the beer. My suspicion is that this is not a complete answer for the lack of acidity. I expect that some amount of hop tolerant lactic acid bacteria should have found their way into the beer even if they are late bloomers like pediococcus. 

My other thought here is that the first two spontaneous fermentations cooled too quickly and landed at too cool of a temperature by the time I racked them into fermenters in the house. Each batch was cooled for about eight hours in temperatures running from 35-45F and the beers cooled down to the forties fairly quickly. By comparison, lambic brewers tend to land in the sixties overnight although ambient temperatures are comparable. This difference is easily explained by the difference in volumes. By cooling down to a lower temperature and staying there for several hours I wonder if the bacterial load collected as the wort cools is not getting a necessary opportunity to multiply. If their numbers are low then they might lose the competitive battle for resources as the beer warms back up inside the house. To deal with this issue I will brew this batch during warmer temperatures when the ambient environment is in the upper fifties so the beer will cool to the sixties and cool a little slower. 

Otherwise this batch will keep all the attributes of the prior batches. I'll follow the recipe outlined for batch 1 but reduce the blend of aged American hops down to a mere 0.30 ounces. I will also use pils malt from local maltster Root Shoot rather than the pale malt used in batch #1.

Spontaneous Fermentation Batch #3 Brewday

Brewed 12.14.18.

Turbid mashes are one of those processes in brewing that gets a little easier and quicker with experience. I recall that first turbid mash feeling like I was constantly juggling temperatures and not really sure how to extract runnings from those early infusions. Now I know what to expect and these brew days run smoother but not necessarily faster. It's still several hours of mashing and not just a set it and forget it kind of mash. Nevertheless everything ran smoothly. 

Those milky first runnings
With the mash and sparge finally complete after four hours it's time to get the boil moving. As with the earlier batches of spontaneous beer and the last three years of my solera, I'm using aged hops. I've cut back from using 0.70 oz./gal. to 0.30 oz./gal. for this batch to hopefully develop more acidity than the last two batches. This batch has a combination of 2013 homegrown Cascade and 2011 Belma.

Aged hops waiting to join the boil

At the end of the ninety minute boil the wort makes its way out to my backyard to cool. I decided the best place available on my property for inoculation is the small patio outside my bedroom. It sits beneath two aspen trees near a wooden fence and a pergola so between all this wood there should be plenty of opportunity to pick up a healthy blend of microorganisms.

The wort took exactly three hours to drop from boiling to 59F. In the past two batches I moved the wort between vessels to try to slow cooling and left the wort out for a long period of time. As mentioned above, one of my concerns about the lack of acidity is that I left the wort in cool temperatures for too long which may have stunted early bacterial growth and resulted in insufficient acidity. I tracked the cooling temperature in fifteen minute increments which produced an expected cooling curve.

TimeWort (F)Ambient (F)

The cooled wort was then transferred into a 4l carboy while filtering out the hops. I added roughly eight ounces of distilled water to top up the batch to one gallon. I sent it to the fermentation chamber with the temperature set to 69F. I'll keep it at that temperature for a few days to ensure it doesn't get too cool in the basement then cut the heat and let it work at ambient, which is in the low 60s/upper 50s right now.

Fermentation Notes

Day 3: Already showing signs of fermentation. I'm holding the temperature at 72F right now to get things moving.

Day 15: Activity has dropped off and the beer has dropped fairly clear. The aroma is musty, old wet sponge and rotting fruit with an underlying bright navel orange that is nice despite all the weird aromas around it. Although old wet sponge and rotting fruit doesn't sound like a good direction for a beer, this does not strike me as terribly different from other spontaneous experiences.

January 14, 2019

Barrel Aged Americanized Oud Bruin Batch 4 Recipe

Sometimes in homebrewing, especially sour brewing, things don't work out the way you want them to and you have to adapt to what happens rather than what you want to happen. I feel that is where I've landed with this string of barrel aged sour beer. After racking out batch 3 to bottles I wasn't in love with the sample I took from the bottling bucket. I'm not sure if that is a result of filling the barrel after moving it and leaving it full of a sanitizing solution for too long or if it's time to rethink filling this barrel. As a result of my uncertainty I've elected to follow the same process a fourth time to see if I can steer this project back on track. If not, I may consider changing my fermentation blend from my house culture to a lab blend. My house culture is sensitive to oxygen and throws too much acetic acid if given the chance and a two gallon barrel (plus all the racking) is a really good opportunity for oxygen exposure. Alternatively I may change my process to primary ferment in the barrel and then rack out to bottles after two or three months. For now, we'll see what happens with the current process.

Barrel aged oud bruin batch 4 process

This beer follows the same process and recipe for the prior three batches so I'll just link to the original recipe post for the oud bruin and talk about the process. As in the past I brewed the beer and sent it to glass for a month before transferring it to the barrel. I racked out Batch 3 immediately before racking in Batch 4 to the barrel along with priming sugar to help consume any air picked up by racking and hopefully reduce acetic acid production. This beer will age in the barrel for three months before heading to bottles for extended aging.

With each batch of this Americanized oud bruin I've had a small amount of beer that wouldn't fit into the barrel. I've collected this beer for additional aging in smaller vessels and added the excess from each batch into a growing blend of beer. After racking Batch 4 to the barrel I have enough excess beer to fill this 64oz growler. I'm not sure what I'll do with this beer (or if it's even worth drinking or blending) but I'll keep this beer as blending stock.

Freshly filled barrel with Batch 4 and the companion excess beer

For batches 2-4 I've set the brewday ahead of bottling day by about a month to ensure I do all the racking at once. For Batch 5 I'll wait to make that decision until I've tasted a bottle of Batch 3 to help make a decision about whether to stay the course or change the process.

Barrel aged Americanized oud bruin brewday and fermentation notes

Brewed 12.11.18. Did a lousy job taking notes this brewday. Procured 2.3 gallons of 1.071 gravity wort. Pitched house sour culture.

Racked to barrel with 1 oz. table sugar on 1.14.19. Beer smelled and tasted similar to previous batches. Racked excess 0.25 gallons to excess container with 0.25 oz table sugar.

December 16, 2018

Keptinis Inspired Brown Ale Recipe

Some of the most interesting research in beer and brewing right now is coming out of the important work of a handful of people exploring and writing about brewing traditions in northern and eastern Europe and west Asia. There are many pre-industrial brewing traditions in these areas which are largely undocumented outside of their local oral histories. Not only is this research interesting in its own right, but it's extremely important because many of these beers and brewing traditions are dying off. Once people stop brewing these traditional beers they are usually lost to time. At best might be preserved by a mention or two in a beer history or brewing book.

Among these traditional beers and brewing practices are brewing techniques involving baking the mash either to maintain heat or to caramelize the mash to create darker beers. Maybe the most extensive writing on the subject (at least in English) comes from Lars Garshol's excellent blog. He made the point on an episode of the Milk the Funk podcast that historically a large metal kettle for brewing would have been prohibitively expensive for most people so either adding hot stones to a mash vessel or baking the entire mash was a more affordable option. (This is probably true for most of Europe at least at some point in time.) Not wanting to play with red hot stones, I thought playing with baking a mash might be a safer option to take a first hand look at these alternative mash techniques.

Brewing a keptinis inspired beer

This beer will roughly follow the instructions Lars provides for keptinis, a Lithuanian farmhouse beer that is close to a porter or brown ale through baking a mash of light malt. This style of beer is raw ale. It won't be boiled although a hopped sparge addition will add bitterness and protection against infection. Lars takes instruction from an experienced brewer who uses more rustic methods than I do here. The process is simple:
  • Mash in as usual
  • Bake entire mash for extended period of time
  • Boil sparge water with hops
  • Break up baked mash and transfer to mash tun
  • Sparge as usual
  • Collect runnings and pitch yeast
The recipe posted on this page calculates out to a higher ABV beer than I want to make so I've adjusted down from what beersmith calculates as a 9% beer to a 5.7% beer. I won't know how much this brewing process affects mash efficiency. 

Figuring out the mash

One challenge with this process is not knowing how to emulate the oven conditions of the Lithuanian brewhouse. The recipe calls for a starting temperature around 700F which is a little high for my kitchen oven. I'm also not entirely sure how much adding the cooler mash would drop the temperature or how much it would fall over the course of three hours. I would also need to account for the difference in mash size and how that would change the cooling of the oven.

As a compromise I've adopted a modification of my baking procedure for bread. I'll preheat the oven to 500F and then cut it to 450F when I add the mash. I'll drop the temperature periodically if it seems the mash is drying out or turning too dark too quickly. My suspicion is that in the case of the much larger (50kg) mash in the Lithuanian recipe the oven is losing a fair amount of temperature to the initial presence of the mash. The temperature of that mash is probably closer to 450F than its higher starting point. I figure this temperature does a good job baking bread from fairly wet dough and creating a nice caramelized crust so it's at least a good starting point.

Keptinis Inspired Brown Ale Recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallons
Est. ABV: 5.7%
Est. IBU: 33.3
Est. OG: 1.061
Est. FG: 1.018
Est. SRM: 4.2
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pils malt702100.00%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Brown Malty
PH: 5.8
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.7g0.2g
Canning Salt0.5g0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride1.1g0.3g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 14 qt
Sparge volume: 0.86 gal
Infuse 14qt at 159F14960
Preheat oven to 500F
Once mash temperature stabilizes dropoven to 450F
Bake mash 3 hours at 450F?
Boil 0.45oz Belma with sparge water212F30
Sparge 0.86 gal180F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch Slurry from prior batch
Pitch at 64F767
Bottle to 2.2 volumes

Brewing the Beer 

Brewed 11.14.18.

The first thing I can say about this beer is that it is an impressively messy brewing process in a home kitchen. I underestimated the translation of mash tun volume to the pots and pans I could fit in my oven which required me to top up the baking mash after an hour to fit everything due to the water volume. Pulling out baking pans full of boiling mash is not a fun or clean task. Neither was adding more of the mash which splattered all over the inside of the oven. I expected the baked vessels would need a hardcore cleaning but I didn't expect to have to do the same for the oven. I would definitely recommend testing out what you can really get in your oven before committing to the mash.

I ended up using a mixture of pyrex baking dishes, a dutch oven and a small metal bread pan. This presented its own challenge because the different size, surface area and material resulted in the several vessels reaching their final destination at different times. I also think I took the recommendation of adding a lot of water to the mash a little too seriously because even the smallest vessel (the bread pan) needed more than three hours to bake.

One of the finished baked mashes on my dirty stovetop

The entire mash and sparging took seven hours which is about as long as a turbid mash brewday. There's no boil time to add on top (although the wort still needs to chill) but I'd venture a guess I'm going to spend more than ninety minutes cleaning the mess left behind. Had I added less water to the initial mash I think I could have cut a couple of those hours off but it will take some fine tuning to assess how low the water volume can be to avoid too much burning or scorching to the baking mash.

Baked mash mixed together in the mash tun awaiting sparge
Steamy brown first runnings

Despite the mess, the baked mash really works. From 100% pilsner malt I developed a solidly brown wort that tastes a lot like something in the brown ale to porter category. Adding the hop tea cut the sweetness and gave it a slight vegetal taste.

Tasting Notes

Reviewed 12.1.18.

Appearance: Beer pours a rich dark brown with a thick appearance slowly building a tan head. The head first appears thick but deflates back into the beer to remain a thin off-white cover. The beer is quintessentially brown like a dark caramel. The appearance is dense and opaque. Not murky like a questionable hazy IPA but opaque like a brown fog.

Aroma: The aroma is aggressively caramel right up front like hot caramel sauce ready to pour over ice cream. It is sweet and rich with a candy-like quality. Other aromas sit well in the background of toasted bread crust, orange, papaya and cassia. 

Flavor: The flavor is complex with immediate competition of caramel sauce, toasted bread, orange, cassia, walnut, molasses and a surprising woodiness. There is a hint of butteriness and breadiness that follows that this yeast strain can throw. As the beer warms the caramel gives way to more burnt notes that are not acrid but more like the deep caramelization on grilled fruit. With further warmth walnut and molasses take over the flavor. The beer is sweet, although less sweet as it warms, but it is not cloying. This beer tastes like it should be really sweet but somehow it just isn't.

Mouthfeel: The body is full and soft but not heavy like it's appearance or flavor suggests. It reminds me of a beer with a generous amount of oats but it's just pilsner malt. 

Overall: I'm honestly blown away but how good this beer is. The flavor is so deep and complex it's crazy to look at the sack of pilsner malt and think that made this beer without any help from specialty malts. I'm a fan of brown ales but this beer is radically different from any brown ale I've ever tasted. It aligns very well with how Lars describes what he tried from experienced brewers and I'm particularly grateful for his clear explanation of how to brew this beer. 

This is definitely the most unusual process for brewing I've ever attempted and that includes turbid mashing. Baking the mash for this beer is strange and challenging for a regular kitchen but the raw ale aspect is just as unusual. There is no weird fermentation character or sourness to suggest not boiling the wort had any detrimental effect on the quality or cleanliness of the wort. I am absolutely intrigued by both the mash procedure and the raw ale process involved here. I have a lot of beers in the pipeline for now but I definitely need to work in some other raw ales.

December 2, 2018

London Fog Vaguely Related to English Bitters and Summer Ales Recipe

I don't feel any qualification to speak at length about English beer styles. I have comparably little experience drinking them and most of my experience comes from drinking questionable Fuller's bottles or American renditions which come heavy on the crystal malt. I never developed a passion for these styles which may be due to my lack of experience exploring them. Nevertheless, I have real admiration for English brewing ingredients. English malts tend to offer some of the deepest malt character that can swallow up unsuspecting hops. English hops, on the other hand, are subtle and light. London Ale III is one of my favorite yeast--for some inexplicable reason--which drives me to drink more Boddingtons than I can otherwise justify. While I don't feel driven to master English styles I do feel a growing desire to better understand brewing with their ingredients.

Within that paradigm I wanted to create a beer somewhere within the range of English bitters but without the darker malt or brewing syrup flavors--something closer to an English summer ale but not quite within that style either. I just want to strip down to a simple concept that lets the hops, malt and yeast each have their own room to breathe. I'm keeping this within the ABV and IBU range for an English bitter. I don't need to reinvent the wheel here.

As a result this beer is really simple. My new local homebrew shop carries the Warmister pale maris otter which is a nice floor malted base malt so I've selected that to carry the entire grain bill. For late hops I'm using First Gold pellets I picked up a while back. I can't recall having ever tasted them but the combination of citrus and floral descriptors seems like a good fit for an interesting but simple beer. London Ale III will ferment this beer out over a water profile slightly favoring a drier beer. It's maybe best described as a low ABV blonde ale with all English ingredients.

My goal for this beer is twofold. First, I want to create a pleasant beer to drink in its own right that may earn regular rotation on tap. Second, this beer is a good starting point to continue to explore English brewing ingredients and techniques. I plan on brewing some other English inspired beers like stout/porter and brown ales where I can continue working my way through English specialty malts. I want to get some English inspired beers in rotation on my taps but I also want to better understand these ingredients and techniques to see how they may improve other beers I brew. But for today let's just see how this beer goes.

London Fog Recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallons
Est. ABV: 3.6%
Est. IBU: 31.2
Est. OG: 1.035
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 3.8
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Warmister Pale Maris Otter403.5100.00%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow Balanced
PH: 5.47
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.3g00.7g
Canning Salt0.1g0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.4g0.9g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction mash
Mash volume: 5 qt
Sparge volume: 2.96 gal
Infuse 5 qt at 172F156F45
Sparge 2.96 gallons of 180F water170F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12.10%]0.35oz6031.2
First Gold [7.5%]0.6ozFlameout0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 1l
Pitch at 64F1564

Fermentation and Brewday Notes

Brewed 10.30.17

Preboil volume: 4.1 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.027
Mash efficiency: 70%
Postboil volume: 3.4 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.032
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%

Tasting Notes

Reviewed on 12.1.18.

Appearance: Pours with a thick snow white head that leaves generous lacing as the head recedes with the beer. The beer is a straw yellow with slight haze. The head maintains a lasting rocky presence to the end of the beer, leaving lacing all the way down the glass.

Aroma: Country white bread leaps out of the glass followed by a gentle floralness and a husky graininess. Slight fruit notes as the beer warms with cantelope, tangerine, navel orange. The floral hops turn slightly grassy with warmth and a touch of black pepper appears.

Flavor: The bready yeast flavor hits first followed by a more welcoming country white bread flavor. The aftertaste keeps all the hops, first with floral flavors and a brief punch of bitterness but as the beer warms turns slightly grassy with soft melon and orange. There is a touch of sulfur in the aftertaste of the beer that goes away as it warms. Overall the flavor is well balanced between sweetness and bitterness without yielding in either direction.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with a prickly pop of bitterness with coolness. As it warms the bitterness mellows and the mouthfeel is a little smoother. 

Overall: Fairly happy with this beer. It's not a beer that wows but it has some good flavor that develops as the beer warms which is always pleasant. It hits all the marks for what it should be although I would like for it to have just a touch more hop character so maybe a dry hop addition would give this beer the slight pop to take from a really good beer to a great beer. 

November 26, 2018

Hoppy mixed fermentation saison experiment 1 recipe

Now that I'm situated in the new home it's time to start propagating those mixed fermentation cultures and resume brewing these long fermentation beers. I've brewed the first iteration of my barrel oud bruin in the new house so now it's my farmhouse/saison mixed culture's turn. I'm still learning this culture's quirky behavior so for this recipe I've opted for a simple recipe to explore how it interacts with hops. My last two beers with this saison culture were fairly weird beers and not a great opportunity to learn nuance of the culture. (This take on Funkwerks Tropic Bling and this really weird prickly pear beer.)

This recipe is more of an attempt to start work on a standard recipe for this culture. A simple grain bill and enough hops to keep some bitterness as it ages and give the culture lots of opportunity to play with the flavor components in the hops. Some of my favorite beers are brett IPAs like Stone Enjoy After and once hoppy brett saisons, so it only makes sense to give this culture an opportunity to produce the same type of beer. The hops I've selected for this recipe are leftover hops from the freezer. I'm less interested in the particular flavors elicited by these hops and more what the culture will do in the presence of a hefty amount of late addition hops. 
After this batch I'll probably take up a few more experiments, like mixing fresh and aged hops, before turning to perfecting a particular bill of hops.

The two issues I am most interested to see are: (1) how much this culture changes the flavor of the hops; and (2) how the culture's flavors integrate with the remaining hop flavors. This culture develops a unique flavor profile dominated by a hay and blueberry flavor. That brett hay note works really well with hops but I'm less certain how the blueberry flavor will mix with the hops. I could see it overwhelming the hop flavors over time or blending together into weirdness. 

Hoppy mixed fermentation saison experiment 1

Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.5%
Est. IBU: 38.3
Est. OG: 1.052
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 3.6
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pils malt202100.00%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.3g0.3g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.2g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.4ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction mash
Mash volume: 3 qt
Sparge volume: 0.74 gal
Infuse 3 qt at 163F148F35
Decoct 0.6 qt and boil10
Return decoction 158F45
Sparge 0.75 gal180F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma 0.17oz6038.3
Mt. Hood 0.50ozFlameout0
Rakau 0.36ozFlameout0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Saison AF
Pitch 1l
Pitch at 64F3070
Age 9 months27070
Bottle to 3 volumes

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed 10.15.18.

November 5, 2018

Barrel Aged Americanized Oud Bruin Batch 3 Recipe

It's time to give my small barrel it's first Colorado fill and third iteration of this Americanized oud bruin recipe. I'm still working on the difficult relationship between my sour culture, which will easily go acetic, and my small barrel which has a lot of surface area and thin staves. Between batch 1 and batch 2 I shortened the barrel time considerably which seems to have helped the acetic issue by getting the beer out of the barrel earlier. On the other hand, it's less mature going in the bottles which means I'll need to stockpile those bottles and brew this beer more frequently. I may decide to start bottling half the batch and put the rest into one gallon jugs for later blending or bottling. For now I'm going to keep running this beer right into bottles until I feel overwhelmed by volume or decide the beer is better as a blending component than an individual beer.

Like batch 2, I've kept the initial recipe going. I feel like the recipe is a lock although the barrel aging is an ongoing development. As I mentioned in the tasting notes for batch 2, the amount of acetic acid was much less than batch 1. I believe this is due partially to pitching a large healthy starter of my sour culture (which becomes acetic very easily without a good early fermentation) and partially keeping it in the barrel for less time. Batch 2 stayed in the barrel for six months after a month primary in glass. This batch will have a month in glass but only stay in the barrel for three months. 

Barrel aged Americanized Oud Bruin batch 3 recipe

Batch Size: 2.25 gallon
Est. ABV: 7.3%
Est. IBU: 24
Est. OG: 1.071
Est. FG: 1.015
Est. SRM: 25
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pilsner malt40266.80%
White wheat malt10216.70%
Vienna malt63.56.00%
Crystal 804804.20%
Chocolate malt2.63502.70%
Aromatic malt2262.20%
Black patent malt1.45001.50%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Brown Malty Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.4g00.3g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.4g
Calcium Chloride0.9g0.7g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 7.8 qt
Sparge volume: 1.5 gal
Infuse 7.8 quarts at 167F150F75
Sparge 1.5 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.25oz6024
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Oregon Special
Pitch 300ml slurry
Pitch at 70F?Ambient
Bottle to 4 vol CO2 with 2 oz table sugar

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 8.19.18.


First runnings: 1.075
Preboil gravity: 1.053
Preboil volume: 2.9 gallons
Mash efficiency: 70%

Postboil gravity: 1.066
Postboil volume: 2.2 gallons

Racked to barrel 9.14.18.

Bottled 1.14.19.

Initial impressions at bottling: Nice chocolate and stone fruit flavor comes through but at the same time has an acetic sharpness and slight vegetal funk I don't like. I noticed before racking the barrel seemed about 80% full which is either a poor job filling the barrel or the drier Denver climate is taking an angel's share out of the barrel. Will need to watch out for that when racking out the next batch.

Bottled roughly two gallons of beer with 2.5 oz priming sugar.
October 15, 2018

Melon Haze: Belma and Triple Perle Hazy Pale Ale Recipe

Every time I started writing this post I started complaining about how I dislike the limited range of flavors among hazy IPAs and trying to intellectualize it. There's no need to intellectualize it. I am just not a big fan of the citra/mosaic/simcoe flavor combination that seems to dominate the style. There are plenty of other hop flavors available if we're willing to explore beyond what is easiest for breweries to sell in limited batch runs of hazy IPA. This recipe seeks to take a different stab by chasing down melon flavors using two of the most melon-y hops out there. Could be good, could be awful.

There's not too much to say about the construction of this recipe. I've adopted the hazy pale ale recipe in full from the azacca hazy pale ale I brewed last year and swapped out the hops. My selection of Triple Perle and Belma stem in part from wanting to clear some of these hops out of the freezer and in part because they have compatible melon flavors. Belma adds some strawberry while Triple Perle adds some orange. The fruit flavors are all mellow and should make for a pleasant summer beer. If it's a little too mellow then it might get some glass blending with more punchy IPAs or DIPAs.

I found a local homebrew shop selling grain from Root Shoot Malting in Loveland, Colorado and picked up their Genie Pale for the base malt on this beer. They describe it as more flavorful than normal two row with bready and honey flavors. The honey flavor definitely leaps out of the mash tun after milling without even getting water in the tun. I get grainy more than bready but maybe a whole grain bread? 

Belma and Triple Perle Hazy Pale Ale Recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallon
Est. ABV: 4.8%
Est. IBU: 35
Est. OG: 1.048
Est. FG: 1.012
Est. SRM: 4.8
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Two row pale malt4269.40%
Unmalted red wheat11212.00%
Crystal 20L6206.60%
Water Profileppm
NE pale ale water profile
PH: 5.52
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt1.0g01.0g
Canning Salt0.6g0.6g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride1.1g1.1g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.9ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction mash with cereal mash
Mash volume: 8.64 qt
Sparge volume: 2.14 gal
Infuse 3 qt with wheat and boil 30 min21230
Add cereal mash to 5.64 qt mash water
Infuse mash with 8.64 qt total at 160F152F60
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12.10%]0.35ozFWH31.2
Belma [12.10%]0.25oz54
Belma [12.10%]1ozHopstand0
Triple Perle [8.9%]1ozHopstand0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 1L starter
Pitch at 64F1264
Dry hop 1.5oz Triple Perle and 2oz Belma372

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed 7.13.18

Preboil volume: 4 gallons
First runnings gravity: 1.067
Preboil gravity: 1.038
Mash efficiency: 70.8%

Did a lousy job keeping notes on this brewday and fermentation. Nothing particularly unusual happened here.

Tasting Notes and Thoughts

Notes from tasting approximately six days after putting keg on tap.

Appearance: Thick white head with a fairly typical pale ale-copper color. It's hazy but not that hollandaise thick appearance of a lot of NE IPAs. Carbonation looks good. Plenty of lacing left in the glass as I make my way through the beer.

Aroma: Orange marmalade, cantalope, honeydew melon, grapefruit, lemon. Like most of the hazy beers the aroma is overwhelmingly fruity with the grain character lost in the aroma. Definitely a sweet aroma. As the beer warms the aroma relaxes and gets less sweet. The orange marmalade aroma mellows and some of the caramel and bready notes squeak out.

Flavor: Hops definitely dominate with a strong juice medley of cantalope, honeydew, strawberry, orange and grapefruit. Some grassy hop notes appear in the finish. Like the aroma, as the beer warms the grain flavors are more noticeable. Multigrain bread, slight notes of honey. Overall flavor is sweet and juice-like as it should be for the style.

Mouthfeel: Appropriately moderate for the style. Beer feels heavy and juice-like. Carbonation is light and the foam is creamy which is likely due in part to trying to balance my kegerator and getting foamy pours. The pale ale feels a little heavy on the tongue in the finish as is normal for these beers.

Overall: This beer delivers everything it's supposed to and it's nice to see this hazy style with a different flavor combination. There's nothing that stands out about the beer which is how I feel about the hazy styles in general. It avoids the gritty or oily feel of a lot of these beers. It's pretty much everything it should be but I don't feel any excitement about it. That's probably my issue with the hazy style rather than any gripe about this beer.

September 25, 2018

Swordfight 4: Another Belgian Blond with Meyer Lemon Leaves Recipe

As I discussed in my last post, I've moved off to Denver and starting off a second chapter in my brewing. While I spent the first nine years exclusively bottling (yes, really) I now have a home with a kegerator which gives me the opportunity to brew beers for tap in addition to bottling beers for aging. For my first batch in the new house and the first kegged batch I opted to reach back to my very first homebrew experience. In July 2009 I brewed this fairly awful Belgian blonde extract kit I bought at a ridiculous markup from the local homebrew shop. I've since brewed two all grain batches (Swordfight 2 and Swordfight 3) and decided to take a third stab at a recipe for this legacy beer. Like prior batches, this beer targets the loose Belgian blonde style in the vein of Leffe Blonde, Chimay Doree (Chimay Gold) and all those middling ABV Belgian blondes that were left in craft beer's discard bin at the end of the 2000s. Light, fruity and dry--this style makes an excellent summer beer (although I'd happily drink it any time) so it's an opportune time to brew it.

Developing the Belgian blond recipe

Meyer lemon leaves
In the past I've spiced this beer with some of the more common Belgian beer spices. For this version I opted to look to my own garden for a milder spice component to mix with a late hop addition. Here I opted to blend a small amount of leaves from my meyer lemon tree. Citrus tree leaves generally carry a similar fruit flavor as the tree's fruit but with an herbal flavor. Lemon tree leaves are not as well known for cuisine as certain types of lime leaves (particularly makrut limes) but they are used in some manner virtually everywhere lemons grow. For this beer the yeast will do most of the heavy lifting in the fruit flavor area so the leaves will be a slight addition to round out the yeast flavor with a little herbal and citrus flavor. Similar to the typical coriander and orange peel approach but with a slightly different flavor.

Otherwise this recipe is a straightforward rendition of the style. Pilsner malt with a little wheat. Light hopping. I'm bringing back around WY1214 for this beer. It's such a finicky yeast but I really want to learn to tame it. I've added a little table sugar although I've cut down the typical percentage because I've dropped the ABV down from the style's typical 5.5-6.5% to 5%. I don't want the beer too thin but it needs to be a little lighter than an all grain beer. 

Swordfight 4: Belgian Blonde Ale Recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.5%
Est. IBU: 27.4
Est. OG: 1.049
Est. FG: 1.007
Est. SRM: 3.4
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Belgian pilsner412280.90%
Unmalted red wheat12213.50%
Table sugar515.60%
Water Profileppm
Modified Bru'n Water Yellow Balanced
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.6g00.5g
Canning Salt0.1g0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.9g0.8g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid1.1ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction mash with cereal mash
Mash volume: 8.92 qt
Sparge volume: 2.05 gal
Infuse 3 qt with wheat and boil 30 min21230
Add cereal mash to 5.92 qt mash water
Infuse mash with 8.92 qt total at 160F148F20
Decoct 1.71 qt and boil
Return decoction to raise mash158F40
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12.10%]0.3oz6024.2
Belma [12.10%]0.2oz53.2
Meyer lemon leaves1.5g00
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1214
Pitch 1L starter
Pitch at 64F164
Free rise to 72F1572
Cold crash135

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 7.6.18.

Too excited about getting to brew again to take notes.

Tasting Notes and Thoughts

Tasting about two weeks after putting the keg on tap.

Appearance: Pours a light gold color with an icy white foam. Foam is fluffy with nice lacing. Hangs on to the bitter end. Beer is slightly cloudy.

Aroma: Whole wheat bread, lemon, hay, strawberry, clove and a little banana. A mild herbal note appears as the beer warms.

Flavor: Spice hits first with clove, pepper and a generic phenolic flavor. Lemon and a light herbal tea follow along with graininess, hay, white bread. The beer ends with an angel food cake-like flavor followed by a subtle lemon aftertaste. As the beer warms the herbalness comes out more but does not dominate. Bitterness is mild but there is a touch too much alcohol heat for the ABV.

Mouthfeel: Light body appropriate for the style but maybe a little too thin. It's helped out by the softness of the foam. Carbonation is spritzy but doesn't distract. 

Overall: The lemon leaves added a subtle character to the beer but it was such a mellow flavor that it didn't stand out as anything special. On one hand I think using a larger volume might help but on the other I fear it would add too much herbal flavor. I can't say the leaves added a preferable flavor over lemon peel or any of the common lemon-flavored brewing herbs. 

I wasn't a fan of how much phenolic flavor and how little fruit flavor I got out of fermentation. I think I fermented a little too cool for what I wanted from the yeast but the yeast were pretty old so there might have been some petite mutations changing up the character. I feel like I don't love the flavor I get out of brewing with the Chimay strain so I'll probably try out some other Trappist/abbey strains on subsequent brews.

After a couple more weeks on tap the spice mellowed and the lemon came through more. More banana in the aroma as well. I like it a lot more after additional age seemed to smooth out the beer but I still feel like I should try out some other yeast strains. 

September 14, 2018

This homebrewing blog isn't dead, it just looks that way right now

Mason jars of mixed fermentation slurries had the easy part of the twelve hour ride. Wedged tightly in an overpacked trunk with jars of lemon preserves and fermented chiles, they fought for space with hop crowns, toiletries and a small oak barrel. In the cabin I balanced driving alone with two allegedly drugged cats, a litter box, food and water bowls and piles of pillows packed to form makeshift cat beds. Instead, the older and heavier cat calmly napped for hours at a time in my lap, cutting off circulation to my legs. Meanwhile, the other cat raced laps around the dashboard and seats, yowling constantly. The xanax did nothing. For most of the drive her only moments of silence involved seeing an eighteen wheeler which, for some reason, mesmerized her. Music and phone calls only made it worse. Eventually, somehow, we made it one piece. This concluded months of work packing, preparing one home for sale and finding another to buy. It would begin months of unpacking and making repairs on a house eighty years older than the one we left. But at least my wife and I are approaching being done with everything on the new home.

Hopefully that gives some insight into the long absence from blog posts here. I haven't given up on the blog. Instead, the move gave me an opportunity to rebuild my physical brewing space along with rebuilding my approaches to brewing. These changes will affect the content here so I wanted to carve out a post not only to announce my return to posting regularly but also what those future posts will entail.

New homebrewing space

The new home offers a lot of new and different brewing opportunities. At the old house my homebrewing equipment was jammed into a small closet with pieces of brewing equipment and boxes of bottles littered around several other rooms. I know a lot of homebrewers can relate. Here I have a large closet and office/brewing space in the basement where I can keep everything nicely organized. With more space also comes the space to keg beer which is a huge change for me. I've brewed for nine years and bottled exclusively, which is a pretty crazy concept for a lot of homebrewers.

The other big difference with the move is the change in climate which opens a lot of doors. Growing brewing ingredients is not the easiest task in Texas where it is hot much of the year and the lower latitude forecloses the option to grow many of the fruit and other ingredients I might want to add to beer. I tried growing hops for year with little success. I could get bine growth but not great cone production. At the new house I have a nice garden space and I've brought along my hops (three of four survived the mid-growing season move). I want to look at growing some beer-friendly fruit and herb. Colorado also gives access to a wide range of fruit both for purchase and to forage. My neighborhood is full of all sorts of fruit trees.

So what does this mean for my brewing and ongoing content here?

Homebrewing in Colorado

With new space and new packaging options I've thought about what I want to do with my homebrewing and all these new opportunities. There's no radical shift in brewing paradigm or drinking tastes. This isn't going to suddenly become an all IPA blog. Instead I viewed the move as an opportunity to think about what I want to brew rather than what can I brew and what do I have space to brew.

I am still very committed to continuing brewing mixed fermentation farmhouse and sour beer. I will resume my mixed fermentation saisons on a smaller batch size as I work to understand my finicky saison mixed culture. The sour blending project will continue as well as I work to perfect brewing the two core beers and their blends. With more cool weather in Colorado I want to resume work brewing spontaneous beer.

With better growing conditions I want to do some expanded work with brewing ingredients beyond the traditional four. I don't want to jam fruit into every beer or turn out a pile of garden beers but I like the option to do some of those things. More importantly I'm excited to finally see productive growth out of my hops. I've been hopeful that I would get a good crop one year in Texas so I could brew a fresh hop beer. I'm looking forward to finally making that a reality.

The biggest change in my homebrewing will undoubtedly be the transition to kegging my beer. For years I developed small batch recipes and brewing so I could turn through bottles of beers not well suited for aging before they fell off. I had to do that between the rate I drink beer and not having space to keep all the bottles cold. I've purchased some three gallon kegs which will let me turn through batches a little quicker than the usual size but this is still three times the batch size of my former typical volume. I want to start brewing my non-mixed fermentation and non-aging beers for keg rather than bottle.

Along with the change in volume I also thought about what kinds of beers I want to put on tap. These days I drink a lot more low ABV beers than racing for fifteen percent pastry stouts and eight percent DIPAs. I feel like both craft beer and homebrewing has raced away from many of the old craft styles in favor of those high gravity and hazy beers. In doing that we've left behind a lot of brewing techniques and beer flavors. I want to plumb the depths of those older styles and find forgotten flavors and brew wonderful low ABV beers.

As a whole my brewing strategies and preferences will mostly remain the same--so where does that take this blog?

Resuming this homebrewing blog

I fully intend to resume blogging here on a regular basis. This isn't the sputtering promise to revive a homebrewing blog that marks the penultimate post of a dead homebrew blog. With the move complete I can get back to brewing and writing about brewing. I want to do a better job adding visual content and nudging content to social media but we'll see how that goes. I'm pretty bad about taking time to snap pictures during the brew day but I'm going to try to get better about that. I'm accepting what most brewing blogs did years ago and move tasting notes on beers into the same post as the recipe. I want to treat recipe posts as evolving posts and add notes and tasting notes with time rather than treat posts as static content. I haven't entirely thought through how it makes the most sense to make those changes and make the changes visible. 

Content-wise I don't expect too much change. The mixed fermentation posts will continue and hopefully become more frequent with more people in the area to enjoy sour beer and help drink through my batches. The big change with the recipe posts will be a shift in the non-mixed fermentation beers towards more session/low ABV beers and three gallon batches rather than one gallon. Expect you'll see more posts about beer styles nobody cares about anymore than a slew of hazy DIPAs and Betty Crocker porters. 

I'd like to intermingle posts about homebrewing and beer other than just recipe posts but I don't want to drift too much into just pouring out a stream of conscious of random brewing thoughts. So we'll see how often I feel like my beer and brewing thoughts might be interesting to anybody else. 

This is probably enough for now. I should have a recipe post for my first kegged beer up in a few days once I have a chance to edit down the post. 

April 18, 2018

Update and Blend of Spontaneous Beers from November 2016 and January 2017

With the move to Denver inching closer every day I'm running out of time to give my last few sour beers the kind of bulk aging time I want. Especially the two lambic-ish spontaneous beers I brewed in November 2016 and January 2017. For ease of reference I'll refer to these batches as spontaneous beer 1 (November 2016) and spontaneous beer 2 (January 2017). I haven't done a good job of noting anywhere that I've added a few tasting notes from samplings but there are some notes on their respective posts. Neither beer is exactly successful but neither are complete misses. I want to see what happens if I bottle and continue to age the beers. I also have some thoughts on the coolship process for these small batch spontaneous fermentations that probably apply on some level to batches in the five to ten gallon range more common for my fellow homebrewers.

Quick overview on the process behind these beers

The primary goal for these beers is to test whether I could spontaneously ferment small batches which will allow me to create several base beers to blend within a reasonable volume. I modeled these beers reasonably close to lambic production techniques. Both beers were turbid mashed, used aged hops and coolshipped. The grain bills are very similar except I used pale malt over pilsner because I had a sack of pale malt on hand.

For the coolship procedure I first put the beer out in the boil kettle. As it approached 130F I preheated my small batch two gallon mash cooler and transferred the wort to the cooler for the remainder of the cooling process to slow the rate of cooling. This is atypical for lambic production but with the small volume of wort I had concerns the wort would cool too quickly to gain good innoculation.

Here is the rate of cooling for spontaneous beer 1:

And here is spontaneous beer 2:

The good news is that the cooling rate was fairly repeatable with this process. While both batches fermented out just fine, neither developed any meaningful sourness.

Results of spontaneous beers 1 and 2

Both beers developed interesting flavor but completely lack sourness, surprisingly. My suspicion for the cause of the resulting beers is that neither spent enough time in the bacteria-friendly zone (90-120F) and more time in yeast-friendly temperatures (40-90F). The fix, if this is true, is to get the beer to cool even slower through the mid-range temperatures with an end temperature closer to 60-65F. So once I'm set up in Denver to start brewing I'll change my approach and test cooling at ambient temperature closer to 55F and see if that makes an improvement.

Let's get back to the beers at hand.

Spontaneous beer 1 is actually coming around pretty nicely. It has a huge brett barnyard funk but as that fades I'm rewarded with orange, lemon, dustiness, minerality and a touch of acidity that wasn't there a few months ago. The orange flavor is pretty cool. I don't think I've ever experienced such a clear orange flavor in a sour beer.

Spontaneous beer 2 has taken a weird turn. Just a few weeks ago the beer was developing a nice cherry pie flavor with a little acid. Today it tastes watery and empty. Like all the flavor, all the body and all the acidity just left behind some mushroom-y flavor, a little mineral and a moderate punch of lingering tannins. What happened to this beer? No idea. Hard to believe this is even the same beer. Like a mushroom flavored Topo Chico. Hopefully this is just a phase that will turn around soon. It's just started to get consistently warm so maybe that is the motivating factor here.

If I did not want to treat these beers as experiments I'd bottle beer 1 and hang on to beer 2 to see if it comes back around but would otherwise probably dump it.

Blending spontaneous beers 1 and 2

Given that these beers are going into bottles mostly for the sake of seeing how they develop, I took the lazy approach and blended for volume over flavor. I made a 50/50 blend of the two beers to produce the greatest number of bottles. I tasted the blend before committing to it and felt it was decent enough to blend, not really knowing what might happen as the beers get time to fully mature. While I could have bottles these separately, blending them adds another opportunity to explore how two fairly different beers might play against each other in the bottle.

Despite being a 50/50 split, beer 2 really dominates somehow. Like the watery flavor and texture of beer 2 dilutes everything about beer 1 which is somewhere in the background but completely oppressed. If I didn't know better I would think the blend is 90% beer 2 and 10% beer 1. Something weird is definitely going on with beer 2.

The beers were bottled into 750ml bottles with priming sugar targeting four volumes of CO2. I'll probably wait until late summer to check in on these bottles out of hope there is some lazy LAB that will sour the beer in another home.

Lessons learned with these batches

Overall these beers are encouraging that I'm heading in the right direction from earlier, worse attempts to spontaneously ferment lambic-style wort. The greatest lesson for me is to continue working on temperature as a factor in the coolship process. Thankfully Denver has a lot of cool nights so finding an evening even in May or June might be feasible for an early coolship experiment. 

Additionally, I feel the use of aged American hops worked well enough in these beers. I will probably play around with hopping rates in the future to strike the right balance between residual hop character and excessive bitterness or tannins. I look forward to my homegrown hops growing better in Denver and producing hops I can age and experiment further with how different hop varieties might result in different flavor in spontaneous beer. 

A question for the readers:

Have you ever experienced a sour beer go flavorless and watery out of nowhere like this? If so, did it improve? What do you think caused it? 

I have experienced something like this once. Early in my homebrewing days--I don't think this beer even made it to the blog--I had the terrible idea to brew a brown ale and add amaretto liqueur to it to get an almond flavor. The beer was fine when I added the amaretto but by the time it carbonated in the bottle it just tasted and felt completely empty, much like beer 2. Like 90% carbonated water and 10% brown ale. So weird. In that case I don't think it was an infection from the amaretto but I could be wrong. No amaretto was injured in the making of this spontaneous beer.