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. 

March 10, 2018

Pre-prohibition Pilsner Inspired Recipe

For some reason way back in 2014 I decided I really wanted to brew a pre-prohibition pilsner. What started as a simple recipe turned into a research project in which I tried to uncover some of the original pilsner recipes from local Fort Worth's only pre-prohibition brewery. After locating some information about the brewery I struggled to find recipes. Having failed to identify recipes, which were probably very simple anyway, I've shelved the research and just moved forward with brewing the recipe so I can clear it off my brewing to-do list. I will likely come back around and use the research notes on a separate post but for now let's just talk about this pre-prohibition pilsner inspired recipe.

Some thoughts on pre-prohibition pilsner and other beers

Pre-prohibition pilsner suffers the same fate as virtually all beers from that era. They are all treated as mild curiosities despite amounting to, in some cases, hundreds of years of North American brewing history. Meanwhile, brewers plumb the depths of European beer history looking for obscure styles and more ways to incorporate hype-earning nostalgia into beer marketing. 

It's actually easy to see why American pre-prohibition beer styles get so little love. Their history is dominated by the same industrial light lager brewers that squeeze craft beer out of the markets. They are also often considered "not real" versions of their German or English counterparts. Shiner Bock, for example, arises from early post-prohibition attempts to return to brewing pre-prohibition styles. Sure, it is not a good version of a German bock but it is a pretty good example of an American bock of the type worked out by eighteenth century brewers trying to emulate the German style. (And if you feel Americanized versions of these beers are inauthentic then you should feel the same about German pilsner as an inauthentic version of Czech pilsner.)

Additionally, the basis for many of these recipes arises from a need to work around available ingredients which is rarely a problem in today's brewing. Corn appears in many pre-prohibition recipes because it was available and helped cut the domestic barley supply, which often included protein-heavy six row, to create lighter beers. Some of the older recipes, particularly English derived recipes, contain all sorts of bizarre substitute ingredients. These types recipes aren't sexy and can be more of a pain to brew. Adding a cereal mash for adjuncts takes time that a straight malt-based pilsner doesn't need.

Nevertheless, we should not be so cavalier about throwing away this part of our brewing history. These beers were built out of the same ingenuity to make the best beer out of the available ingredients and equipment that led to the historical European beers that brewers crave emulating. Why can't a homebrewer or small craft brewery consider corn and other pre-prohibition ingredients? Not all of us have fallen spruce trees or chanterelle mushrooms in our backyard.

Designing this pre-prohibition pilsner inspired recipe

Having failed in my research I turned to taking a more liberal approach to designing my pilsner recipe. As usual I did not constrain myself to trying to brew a perfectly historical pilsner. Rather, I let historical sources guide my path with a fair amount of veering--hence calling it an inspired recipe and not a historical recipe. 

While many pre-prohibition pilsner recipes split their grain bill between six row pale malt and corn I opted for two row pale simply because it's what I had on hand. For corn I discovered my parents tried growing corn around the same time I started researching this project. They let me have quite a bit of their meager harvest which I froze to eventually make this beer. It's sweet corn rather than the starchier corn generally used in brewing. Because this corn is much softer than starchier varieties I opted not to mill it before the cereal mash. Instead I boiled it and then mashed it by hand with a meat tenderizer. I would use something less manual for a larger batch but on this one gallon homebrew recipe it wasn't much work.

Added the hand-mashed corn to the mash tun--the liquid from the cereal mash went into the rest of the hot liquor


Homebrew recipes for this style often insist Cluster is the only appropriate hop for the style. Authors advancing this position often rely on the contention that Cluster was the dominant native hop grown before prohibition therefore it must have been used in the style. While I am confident there were many pilsners using Cluster in whole or in part I find it difficult to believe all American brewers relied exclusively on this hop. Hops were imported from Europe and there undoubtedly was some planting of German and English hops on this side of the pond. I chose a hop somewhere in the middle of American fruitiness and German grassy/floral by selecting Mt. Hood. It's not like Cluster much at all but I don't like Cluster.

The water profile is the yellow bitter profile in Bru'n Water. It's not what I would normally use for a German or Czech pilsner but I wanted something a little closer to what local water is like after boiling. I want a little more sulfate and bicarbonate to give the hops a little more pop.


Pre-Prohibition Pilsner Inspired Recipe



Details
Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.4%
Est. IBU: 36.5
Est. OG: 1.051
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 3.3
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Two row pale malt18277.70%
Sweet corn7122.30%
Water Profileppm
Modified Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter
PH: 5.33
Calcium49
Magnesium10
Sodium5
Sulfate108
Chloride45
Bicarbonate-83
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum0.4g0.3g
Epsom Salt0.3g00.2g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.1g
Chalk
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.4ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction mash with cereal mash
Mash volume: 3.47 qt
Sparge volume: 0.62 gal
Infuse 1 quart with corn and boil 30 min21230
Add cereal mash to 2.47 qt mash water
Infuse mash with 3.47 qt total at 156F148F20
Decoct 0.50 qt and boil
Return decoction to raise mash156F40
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Mt. Hood [6%]0.25oz6028.3
Mt. Hood [6%]0.2oz108.2
Mt. Hood [6%]0.1oz00
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: 34/70
Pitch half dry packet
Pitch at 62F1565
Lager at 35F335F

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 2.22.18

First runnings: 1.054
Preboil gravity: 1.033
Preboil volume: 1.7 gal
Mash efficiency: 82%

Postboil gravity: 1.054
Postboil volume: 1 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 76%

Lagered 3.10.18 to 33F for three days.


December 11, 2017

Throwback Imperial Stout + Pastry Stout Variants Recipe

What do you do when you're handed an imperial stout recipe from 2007 but expected to brew like it's 2017? A couple of pals started homebrewing not terribly long ago and over a fair amount of beer I suggested we should brew a recipe on our respective systems as a friendly competition. Over still more beer that became brewing an imperial stout plus a couple variants from each side. Eventually they plucked out a recipe (and brewed it weeks before me) from somewhere that has all the trappings of an imperial stout recipe from the last decade. Chinook hops, lots of bitterness, a load of chocolate malt. It fits in the Stone IRS, Great Divide Yeti mold that has lost favor to its sweeter, barrel aged, pastry stout younger sibling. While I could have brewed this recipe as intended and picked some adjuncts for the variants that fit 2007, where's the fun in that?

The real challenge in this beer is that I have about five weeks to brew, condition and carbonate a 10.5% beer. I'm fermenting it with WY1318 for maximum 2017 love but my culture is old and needs a couple step up starters to handle the volume. I'll pump the wort full of oxygen for a fast and healthy fermentation. To cut down conditioning time I will prepare adjuncts for the variants that I can add at bottling so I can maximize time in the bottle for good carbonation. 

Working 2007 stout into 2017 stout


The lesser challenge with the adjuncts is working that sweet on sweet pastry stout flavor on top of the base recipe. At 100 IBUs, even on a 10.5% beer is a firm amount of bitterness. It's the kind of stout that tastes good up front but really smooths out over a couple of years. Even the 9% imperial stout I brewed earlier in the year for the first run through my whiskey barrel was a mere 56 IBU. Great Divide Yeti is 12% and only 75 IBU. Yikes. Any adjuncts added to the beer risks exposing the bitterness. Adding cocoa risks turning into a mouth of bitter chocolate rather than the rich chocolate syrup of a modern stout. Coffee? Day old, thrice reheated pot of gas station coffee. 

To combat the bitterness I've opted for a few modifications to help improve the maltiness of the beer. First, I've opted for WY1318 over the recipe's Nottingham because WY1318 is great at teasing out malt flavor without making a beer flabby. (One of the reasons it is great for hazebro NEIPA.) Second, I've opted for a chloride-forward water recipe to accentuate malt and roundness over bitterness or dryness. Third, where it fit in the recipe I opted for specialty malts with fuller flavors over flatter American specialty malts. Fourth, I've opted to make my adjunct-laden variants with components that will add sweetness. 

I made a few switches in the hop schedule so I could use hops I had on hand rather than buying more. I left the hop schedule essentially the same but struck out the centennial and CTZ for my seemingly endless supply of belma and added back in a little extra chinook to keep the rougher bitterness of CTZ.

Pastry stout variants


Variant number one is a take on BVDL aka marshmallow handjee aka bourbon vanilla dark lord, which is among the sweetest beers I've ever had and therefore a perfect path for this beer. I have the necessary ingredients on hand to emulate this beer. I have a jar of Buffalo Trace that has soaked oak cubed for several years and some vanilla beans that I bought with no specific purpose in mind. The vanilla bean will soak in the bourbon while the beer ferments and then I will add it at bottling. 

Variant two will mix rye, oak and coffee. For this variant I emulated whisky barrel aged coffee by soaking unroasted Mexican coffee beans in rye whisky that soaked with oak cubes for three years. Then I roasted those beans, blended them with the same beans roasted without the whisky at a 2:1 (whisky:non-whisky) ratio. I then made a concentrated cold brew and added in more of the oak-soaked rye whisky.

Throwback Imperial Stout Recipe



Details
Batch Size: 2 gallon
Est. ABV: 9.7%
Est. IBU: 100
Est. OG: 1.110
Est. FG: 1.028
Est. SRM: 49
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter50365.40%
Simpsons Golden Naked Oats12109.80%
Thomas Fawcett Crystal II3652.50%
Briess Crystal 12031202.50%
Swaen Biscuit Malt12239.80%
Briess Chocolate Malt63505.00%
Thomas Fawcett Roasted Barley63005.00%
Water Profileppm
Modified Bru'n Water Black Malty
PH: 5.4
Calcium80
Magnesium5
Sodium22
Sulfate29
Chloride41
Bicarbonate219
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum
Epsom Salt0.5g00.2g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.7g
Calcium Chloride0.8g0.3g
Chalk1.2g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 9.55 qt
Sparge volume: 0.87 gal
Infuse 9.55 quarts at 172F15660
Sparge 0.87 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Chinook [13%]0.3ozFWH32
Opal [6.5%]0.13ozFWH7
Chinook [13%]0.37oz3027.6
Chinook [13%]0.33oz2019.3
EXP 4190 [3.6%]0.78oz2013.7
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 2l starter
Pitch at 65F1565
Bottle with variant additions2170

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 11.26.17

Preboil volume: 2.95 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.066
Mash efficiency: 70%
Postboil volume: 2.1 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.105

12.2.17: Gravity reading says the beer is down to 1.010 which seems unlikely. I think the refractometer is giving some wrong results due to the color of the beer. Definitely has the bitterness I expected although there are some nice chocolate and coffee flavors that have sweet roundness to them.

Also combined one Madagascar vanilla bean with 75ml of Buffalo Trace bourbon that sat on a load of medium American oak cubes for several years. Plan to let that ride for the week and add at bottling at a rate of 1ml/1oz of beer. Next Saturday I'll brew a condensed cold brew coffee.

12.10.17: Bottled beer to 2.2 volumes of CO2. Added champagne yeast at bottling to help advance carbonation.

Through the last week I ended up adding a total of eight grade B Madagascar vanilla beans to the bourbon. That bourbon was added at a rate of 20ml/22oz bottle of beer.

I used a combination of faux barrel aged coffee and unadulterated Mexican coffee at 0.50oz faux barrel aged coffee and 0.25oz regular. I made a cold brew of approximately six ounces and blended in 50ml of oak-soaked rye whisky. The combination was added at a rate of 16ml/22oz bottle of beer.

Beer is definitely old school imperial stout. Bitter but has a nice malt flavor. Neither of the additions were as potent as I wanted. Likely because the bitterness is fighting with the sweetness. I expect the flavors will become more cohesive over time.



November 2, 2017

Sombrero Saison: Mixed Fermentation Saison with Grapefruit peel, Orange peel, Prickly Pear and Lavender

While I consider myself among those who despise the way saison/farmhouse beers are treated like a dumping ground for unusual ingredients, I can't ignore my own hypocrisy. I've treated saisons to weird ingredients--but I treat many styles that way. It's not that I oppose the introduction of weird ingredients into saison (like Fantome's many mysterious but wonderful additions). I just dislike that when many brewers want to play with strange ingredients they turn to saison. It's unnecessary as Scratch Brewing and others following their lead fantastically prove with their unusual beers branching out across many styles. Unusual concoctions can make sense in any style when there's a clear concept.

Still, this beer seems kitsch, even for me.

Grapefruit and orange peels, prickly pear and tequila. It's an unnecessarily large pour of simple syrup away from a cheap Mexican resort cocktail. I can feel you judging. I get it. It's the kind of beer that I want to throw in the trash when it's a lazy remix of a cocktail or overly boozy. But if the flavors are threaded together correctly it could be a complex saison/farmhouse beer with an obvious Mexican feel. It's either great or gross. Hey, Fantome did a tequila barrel aged saison recently. Why can't I follow the ghost's lead?


Sombrero Saison's Not-So-Mysterious Origins


This beer's origins began five or six years ago when a waive of prickly pear saisons came in vogue. I decided I wanted to hop on that train but couldn't find reasonably priced prickly pears. I eventually found some, stuck them in the freezer and never put the beer into my to-brew list. As I started thinking about winding down my kitchen and brewing supplies in advance of next year's move to Denver I decided I should go ahead and use these prickly pears. I started thinking about what I already have available to avoid buying more ingredients. I already had some fruit peels in the freezer and tequila which has been sitting on oak cubes for several years now. These ingredients go together well so it's a good start.

I thought about how these ingredients might play with the predominately berry and hay flavors of my mixed saison culture. This still seems like a good idea. A good mix of flavors, especially with some late addition hops to add to the fruit flavors and some minor herbal notes. Still, it seems to lack some balance in the phenolic side of things. My saison culture with the right amount of age loses that brett barnyard funk in favor of the dried hay/old unused barn smell. So I started digging around for possible spices.


Here comes the lavender. 


I planted a little lavender plant among the ground cover in my yard intending to use it in a beer but never finding a home for that floral soap flavor I so rarely enjoy in beer. In Brewing Local, Stan Hieronymous mentions that a long boil on lavender causes it to lose the floral flavor in favor of a cinnamon-like spice flavor. A gentle spice is exactly what I want to help tie together all these flavors. I don't want to specifically taste this ingredient. I want it to help glue everything else together.

Sombrero Saison One Gallon Recipe


Details
Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 4.8%
Est. IBU: 35
Est. OG: 1.047
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 3
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pils malt10257.10%
White wheat malt4214.30%
Unmalted wheat8128.60%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter
PH: 5.4
Calcium50
Magnesium10
Sodium5
Sulfate110
Chloride46
Bicarbonate-36
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum0.2g0.4g
Epsom Salt0.2g00.4g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.3g
Chalk
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.1mL
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 2.19 qt
Sparge volume: 0.93 gal
Infuse 2.19 quarts at 167F15075
Sparge 0.93 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Aurora [8.1%]0.22oz6034.9
Lavender leaves0.6g600
Cascade [5.5%]0.25ozWhirl?
Fresh grapefruit peel4gWhirl
Fresh pink navel orange peel3gWhirl
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Saison AF
Pitch 40ml yeast slurry
Pitch at 65F12065
Add 1.3 lb prickly pear 30Ambient


Brewday & Fermentation Notes


Brewed 11.2.17

First runnings: 1.063
Preboil gravity: 1.030
Preboil volume: 1.4 gal
Mash efficiency: 65%
Postboil gravity: 1.042
Postboil volume: 1 gallon

Pre-fermentation flavor is herbal, slight citrus, bready. May consider adding a second equal addition of fruit peels with the prickly pear. Not as citrusy as desired.

This is one green beer.

Bottled 4.7.18

Bottled with 1 oz table sugar to approximately 3.0 volumes.

At five months this is a little early for this beer because the mixed culture holds on to its weird sweet barnyard flavor for a lot longer; however, I needed to bottle beer ahead of the move and it can continue its slumber in bottles.

The beer is a shade darker than magenta, promising to stain anything it touches. You can see from this classically awful photo that it has a color a little lighter than a pinot noir but in smaller quantities it is a brighter, pinker beer. You can see the green color I discussed before is gone although I'm not sure if it would still be green if not for the overpowering color of prickly pear.

This is one weird beer--even for me. At this pre-carbonation, under-aged status it is just really weird. The aroma is a mix of that sweet barnyard that my culture throws early that will hopefully go away plus parsley, blueberry, orange, honeydew melon and a subtle floral and cinnamon. Kind of like a cheap berry juice drink for kids left out on the counter for too long.

That pretty well describes the flavor except it tastes more floral and vegetal. I know some of that is just the flavor of prickly pear but I can't help but feel the lavender is also flexing its muscles. The more I drink the more herbal-lavender it gets.

I opted not to add tequila as planned. I added some of the oak-soaked tequila to a sample but the tequila flavor was lost even at a fairly high ratio. It started feeling boozy but not much flavor. If anything, it made the herbal-floral flavor stand out even more. I did try adding a little lime juice to a sample which seemed to help round out the herbalness a little. After drinking four ounces the herbal flavor started to feel heavy. Also, my tongue is a little numb.

I'll leave these in bottles through the summer at which time they will be closer to ten months old which is about the time the sweet barnyard flavor cuts out completely. I'm interested to see where this beer goes but honestly it is probably not one I will brew again. An interesting experiment for sure.





September 8, 2017

Barrel Aged Americanized Oud Bruin Batch 2 Recipe

When I brewed batch 1 of this barrel aged Americanized oud bruin I planned to keep it in my tiny two gallon whisky barrel for about a year. That was March. I checked on the beer earlier in the summer I was both pleased with the flavor and concerned about the tannin content of the beer. The beer is progressing nicely but the tannins are already at the top end of my preference. I need to pull it early and age it outside the barrel or just bottle it. That leaves the barrel available for a new batch which brings me to this post.


Changes between batch 1 and batch 2 of the oud bruin recipe


So far I feel the batch 1 oud bruin recipe hits all the desired notes although I am continuing to learn and understand my sour culture. It's thrown a few acetic beers which I don't like. I am in the process of determining whether it is (1) my fault from underpitching and letting the beer sit too long without developing a pellicle to regulate air exposure; or (2) if it has too much lactic acid bacteria activity early on which is delaying pellicle formation and allowing acetic fermentation; or (3) the culture just has too many acetic acid-producing microorganisms. For this batch I hopped the starter to approximately 20 IBUs which should help knock back some of the LAB and make way for more yeast production early in fermentation. The culture has some de Garde dregs to it and I know at the time the dreg beer was brewed that was something de Garde dealt with as well. The starter smells cleaner, more yeast-forward. Not so much of the acid aromas as in prior starters with this culture.

Otherwise batch 2 will be identical to batch 1. I expect with the barrel having received now three beers the tannins will reduce and this batch will be good for a longer stay in its oaky home.

Barrel Aged Americanized Oud Bruin Batch 2 Recipe



Details
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
Calcium60
Magnesium5
Sodium16
Sulfate50
Chloride60
Bicarbonate85
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum0.4g0.3g
Epsom Salt0.4g00.3g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.4g
Calcium Chloride0.9g0.7g
Chalk0.3g
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 & Fermentation Notes 

Brewed 9.6.17

Preboil volume: 3gal
Preboil gravity: 1.054
Mash efficiency: 75%

Postboil volume: 2.1 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.070
Brewhouse efficiency 67%

Aggressive fermentation--seems probable underpitching on prior uses of the mixed culture caused slight acetic character. Far more aggressive fermentation than other batches.

Failed to take good notes on this one. Bottled April 2018. Went in the barrel 10.17.17.

Tasting Notes

Barrel beer b2 hanging out with the starter for batch three
Tasted on 8.17.18. Approximately three months in the bottle. 

Appearance: Somewhere between cola and dark chocolate brown with a light brown head. Beer was nice and clear until I unloaded the dregs which added some haze. The head is a light brown that initially stood tall but collapsed. After a few minutes only a ring of head remained with a lazy patch in the middle.

Aroma: Dried cherries, vanilla, cinnamon, whiskey, chocolate syrup, roasted marshmallow, aged balsamic vinegar. There is a clear acetic note to the beer but it doesn't dominate the aroma. As the beer warms it develops a whiff of an interesting cigar tobacco aroma.

Flavor: First flavor is moderate acetic acid immediately followed by milk chocolate. Background notes of vanilla, dried currants, chocolate truffle, prune, cabernet savignon wine, cherry juice. Some lumber taste in the finish. The warmer it gets the more the beer opens up and some brett funk shows up. The acetic acid doesn't go away but it's much less sharp. 

Mouthfeel: Initial hit of acid is sharp on the tongue and throat but not intolerable. Mellows with warmth. There is a tannin presence to the beer and the tongue is left with some astringency. Fuller mouthfeel than typical for sour beers, even other barrel aged sour beer.

Overall: Less acetic than batch 1 which is a real aggressive acetic bomb. This beer reminds me a lot of the new single foeder variants of New Belgium Oscar but a little more acetic. I like this considerably more than batch 1 if only because it is less acetic. I feel the wood carries over too much. It adds a nice body but the astringency and lumber taste in the finish really lingers. If the acetic acid and wood character were turned down this would be a fantastic oud bruin. I might brew an English brown ale to put on tap and blend some of this and batch 1 with the clean beer to help balance the oak and acidity. I'd score this a 26 but the flaws are not in the recipe, just with dialing in the barrel aging. 

For now it tastes like a beer on it's way but still getting dialed in. I feel like six months is too much time for wood contact and it's probably also too much time in that small barrel developing acetic acid. Next batch will spend the same month in glass primary but hang out in the barrel for three months. That will allow me to produce this beer four times a year.




August 12, 2017

Just the Tip Mixed Fermentation Saison Tasting Notes

If this isn't the weirdest beer I've ever brewed then it's definitely on the short list. I brewed this beer right at the beginning of 2017 using fir tips clipped off the in-laws' Christmas tree. I used my mixed saison culture which I am still in the process of exploring. I've figured out it really benefits from age. Very young it showcases some berry and tropical fruit. Then it takes on a cluttered, too-many-expressive-yeast flavor with a weirdly sweet brett barnyard funk. With some time the beer dries out with a lot of berry and hay with some tropical fruit in the background. This is exactly what I love in brett'd beers. I mean, I like Orval's barnyard funk but when it hits that really dry character where you can feel tannins on the tongue, that's when I really enjoy it. So that's why this review comes eight months after the brew day. 

Appearance: Pilsner yellow with a snow white head. The beer is a little undercarbonated for the style so the head comes out thick but with large bubbles. Over time it mellows into a thinner but lasting layer of white foam. Fairly hazy which is likely why it appears so light in color.

Aroma: Overripe blueberries sitting in a barn recently full of goats. It's funky and fruity. An herbal but earthy and slightly cheesy aroma like an aged blue cheese. Damp forest. Minor notes of tangerine, cherry, dried wild flower, gravel. As the beer warms an herbal and licorice aroma emerges.

Flavor: Berries, hay, sweet cherry, ripe tangerine, oregano and subtle licorice. Aftertaste is long, lingering and complex. Lemon, blue cheese, pine, black tea, grapefruit pith. Fades into a lasting lemon, blueberry, black tea flavor. Hops are nowhere to be found. Grain struggles among the mixture of flavors. Sort of a bland malt in the background if you go looking for it. There is grain somewhere in there but it's covered up by a lot of disparate flavors. As the beer warms a little of the sweet brett funk emerges.

Mouthfeel: Moderate thickness but thicker than most saisons. Slightly slick but a lot of drying tannin feeling on the tongue. Prickly with slight acidity. Tongue is left feeling both dried out and slightly slick. Slight numbing sensation. Unusual. As it warms the numbing reduces dramatically along with the slickness.

Overall: In tree tip beers I've had in the past I've always tasted herbal and citrus notes. Here, that's mostly missing. Perhaps this is because the tips from the Christmas tree were extremely young or maybe my mixed saison culture is just weird like that. I think this beer is still a few months away from getting from like to love on the fermentation character. It's an unusual beer which I'm glad I tried brewing but one I'm not sure I would rebrew. There's something fun about the weird mixture of flavors but it's definitely not a beer I would race to drink all night. 
July 18, 2017

Azacca single hop NE pale ale recipe

I always try to start a blog post with a brief discussion of the style or something about the following recipe to make the post slightly more interesting to read than a bare recipe. For the NE IPA or pale ale style I'm not sure there is much more to be said that isn't currently part of a polarized discussion thread on one of the many brewing and beer forums around the internetz. You hate or love the style. Local breweries are either great or awful at them. You love the $60 can trade market or think it's the worst. I'm somewhere in between on the style but find the trade market one of the worst parts of craft beer right now.

I guess if I had anything unusual to say about the style it's that I hope it finds paths to stretch beyond just trying to be as murky as possible. I think paths exist using hops and other grains other than the small number that dominate the style that may breed completely new beer styles. Not just for more murk or fruit flavor. Why can't the style's smoother mouthfeel apply to darker beer styles? What would happen if a brewer lent the style's mechanics to a lower ABV pale ale with noble hops? 

Today's recipe does not answer these questions. It's a basic NE style pale ale with just azacca hops. The ingredient choices fell on utility; it's just ingredients I need to use up in the house. I opted for the NE style over a drier west coast pale ale because I still want to explore understanding the water profile that makes the style work. It's a nice summer beer to brew. It will feed my free party pig as something to sip through July. 


Azacca Single Hop NE Pale Ale Recipe



Details
Batch Size: 2.25 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.1%
Est. IBU: 41
Est. OG: 1.050
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. SRM: 5
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt30270.60%
White wheat malt8211.80%
Flaked oats8111.80%
Crystal 204205.90%
Water Profileppm
NE IPA Profile
PH: 5.5
Calcium100
Magnesium12
Sodium29
Sulfate67
Chloride134
Bicarbonate55
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum0.2g0.2g
Epsom Salt0.7g00.8g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.6g
Calcium Chloride1.7g1.8g
Chalk0.3g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.6ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 6.38 qt
Sparge volume: 1.74 gal
Infuse 76.38 quarts at 167F152F60
Sparge 1.74 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Azacca [10.30%]0.3ozFWH31.6
Azacca [10.30%]0.5oz59.5
Azacca [10.30%]1.2ozWhirl?
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 40ml yeast slurry
Pitch at 65F1465
Dry hop 2 oz azacca hops3Ambient
Package in party pig

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed 6.17.17.

First runnings: 1.080
Preboil volume: 3.4 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.038
Mash efficiency: 82%

Postboil gravity: 1.050
Postboil volume: 2.25 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%


June 7, 2017

Barrel Aged Americanized Oud Bruin Recipe

Having passed a couple clean beers through my two gallon wheat whiskey barrel (imperial stout and adambier) it's time to turn the barrel over to sour beer. For the whiskey barrel I wanted to do something different from my other sour projects that could stand alone as an interesting beer distinct from the other beers shaping up in my sour beer blending project or my lambic-inspired spontaneous beers. I settled on an American rendition of oud bruin, which is among my favorite sour beer styles and the only one I haven't brewed yet. My sour blending project includes an oud bruin recipe heavily adapted from the Goudenband-like recipe in Wild Brews but I wanted something in the vein of Americanized oud bruins which tend to be darker and favor a combination of roasted and caramel malts instead of letting crystal malt do all the heavy lifting. The small amounts of roasted malt brings out a different set of flavors that plays really well within the darker sour style.

Americanized Oud Bruin Recipe Design

Having settled on a style it was time to formulate the recipe. I knew my target was a beer that leaned more into the roasted malt flavors than the crystal malt. I wanted to capture the dark cherry, raisin, dark chocolate and cola flavors found in some of these beers like two of my favorites, Oud Bruin from Funkwerks and River North Oud Bruin. The color should be like the oozing center of a molten lava cake.

Working with roasted malt in sour beer is tricky. Too little and it's just a color adjustment. A small amount with a fair amount of crystal malt gets closer to the burgundy-type sour beers, like those brewed by Crooked Stave. Too much and the beer becomes ashy and in my experience lends itself to that terrible tire fire flavor. 

I sketched out an initial grain bill and then set out to check my work against more established recipes. I looked at the recipe for this style in American Sour Beer and the Rare Barrel recipe floating around online. I also checked what I know about La Folie (which is pretty much within this style) and the two mentioned above. I realized my initial recipe was pretty close to the Rare Barrel recipe (maybe I already had it floating around in my head) minus its use of spelt malt. I felt like I was on the right track and made a few minor adjustments. The rest of the recipe is pretty much in line with other beers in this style. IBUs around 25 and fermented out with my Oregon Special mixed sour culture.

My plan is to brew this beer every year in the barrel for as long as the barrel continues to produce good beer. If the time comes where the barrel gets acetic and I can't restore it then I'll probably take off a head and convert it into a small mash tun. 


Barrel Aged American Oud Bruin Recipe



Details
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
Calcium60
Magnesium5
Sodium16
Sulfate50
Chloride60
Bicarbonate85
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum0.4g0.3g
Epsom Salt0.4g00.3g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda0.4g
Calcium Chloride0.9g0.7g
Chalk0.3g
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 3.26.17

First runnings: 1.070
Preboil volume: 2.9 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.053
Mash efficiency: 70%

Postboil volume: 2.25 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.069
Brewhouse efficiency: 70%


Racked to barrel on 4.2.17

Racked onto 1/2 pound Turkish figs in glass on 10.8.17. Out of the approximately two gallons that went into the barrel I recovered approximately 1.75 gallons. Beer is a touch acetic. I probably left the beer in the barrel a little too long given the size of the barrel. Probably need to target racking in new beer every four months and replenish the angel's share after a couple months with some fresh wort. Intend to bottle this batch in one or two weeks depending upon how quickly I see fermentation activity from the figs.

Bottled 10.17.17 with 2.6 oz priming sugar, targeting 4 volumes of CO2.
May 9, 2017

BA Mebier -- Whiskey Barrel Aged Adambier Recipe

This is beer #2 for my two gallon whiskey barrel after a seemingly successful imperial stout made its way into the barrel. The imperial stout just made its way into the barrel yesterday so I wanted to brew this adambier to get into the barrel as soon as the stout is ready to get out. This adambier recipe is based upon my non-barrel aged adambier recipe which itself closely tracks the early Hair of the Dog Adam recipe found in the Barleywine book. In my opinion it's not too close to HOTD Adam mostly because it lacks the peat malt. It's more of an amorphous strong ale with some German-ish ingredients. I liked the first rendition and felt like it would be a good candidate for another clean run through the barrel.

For the barrel version I dropped the gravity slightly but otherwise maintained the recipe. I want to avoid a beer that is too boozy but at the same time has enough heft to avoid turning thin and hot after extracting whiskey from the barrel. I know high gravity BBA beers are still all the rage but I'll take a well executed barrel aged beer at 8% over 18% almost any day. Additionally, I expect I'll need this beer ready to go into the barrel in a couple weeks and don't want to worry about coddling a double digit OG beer along and have to decide between too much whiskey in the stout and racking the adambier too early. Otherwise the only other meaningful change is subbing out the yeast for London Ale III which did a nice job with the stout.

Whiskey Barrel Aged Adambier Recipe


Details
Batch Size: 2.25 gallons
Est. ABV: 8.4%
Est. IBU: 42
Est. OG: 1.088
Est. FG: 1.025
Est. SRM: 12.6
Expected Efficiency: 65%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt612280.90%
Munich malt0593.70%
Roasted barley0.73000.50%
Caramunich II9346.70%
White wheat malt1128.20%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Amber Malty Profile
PH: 5.5
Calcium56
Magnesium5
Sodium10
Sulfate57
Chloride67
Bicarbonate18
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Gypsum0.9g0.2g
Epsom Salt0.7g00.1g
Canning Salt0.3g0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride1.4g0.2g
Chalk0.4g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.3ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 3.4 gal
Sparge volume: 0.42 gal
Infuse 3.4 gallons at 169F156F75
Sparge 0.41 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
90 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.37oz6030.5
Opal [6.5%]0.42oz2012.3
Irish moss0.5tsp150
Opal [6.5%]1.13oz00
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1318
Pitch 1 cup slurry from imperial stout
Pitch at 70F2070F
Age in barrel until flavor is right
Bottle to 2.3 vol CO2 with 1.3 oz table sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 2.9.17

First runnings: 1.077
Preboil gravity: 1.075
Preboil volume: 3 gal
Mash efficiency: 73%

Postboil gravity: 1.083
Postboil volume: 2.25 gal
Efficiency: 61%

Sent to the barrel on 2.24.17. FG ? The beer is murky from movement and my refractometer reading says the beer is stalled at 3.5%. Impossible because it doesn't taste sweet and the alcohol is definitely present.

Bottled on 4.2.17 with 2 oz table sugar.