December 28, 2011

Lambic Solera Update #5: Year One Complete/Year Two Begins

It's finally here and I don't mean the big box of grains for 2012 brewing that also came today from Brewmaster's Warehouse. I mean the day I can finally sample that lambic from December 2010 and replenish the solera. I am soooooo excited! As a result of my week in Colorado and trying to get things done around Christmas I ended up a little late on brewing the second batch of lambic. I decided I would pull four gallons of beer and replenish the full volume. In subsequent years I intend to pull just three gallons so the beer will average out in the solera just a little younger the first few years but I think after four or five years (I forget what the calculator I used said) it will be about the same down to hundredths of a year.

My plans for the four gallons include: keeping one gallon aside to make gueuze in two years; one gallon on raspberries for six months to create a framboise; and two gallons of straight lambic. Even though unblended lambic is normally flat I intend to carbonate at bottling because it's my beer and I'll drink it however I want. I bought enough raspberries to do just a little over one pound for one gallon of lambic. I have prepared the raspberries by freezing them and currently they are in a saucepan with a little water waiting for bottling time to approach. I am going to heat them to pasteurization and then add the berries and water to the jug/carboy with the lambic so I'll have a little more than a gallon but one can never have too much lambic.

Today is also my first use of a turkey fryer to boil. I am still using my stove to heat strike water, decoctions and sparge water but after my 7.5 gallon boil last December for the lambic put a stove burner on the road to a quick death I decided using a turkey fryer for the boil process is a lot cheaper than the money we spent replacing the coil, wiring assembly and infinity switch for that stove burner. By using the stove for the mash and sparge water I can limit the use of propane and reduce heating costs. Thankfully I was able to obtain my propane tank and turkey fryer for free my trading in some points I had on an account for amazon gift cards which I used to buy more homebrew equipment. I will probably also continue to do batches under three gallons on the stove since they don't put a lot of pressure or long term heat on the stovetop (bringing 7.5 gallons to a boil on the stove took multiple pots and about an hour and a half, plus the hour and a half boil, all of which was after heating the strike water, three decoctions and sparge water). Unfortunately going to the fryer means my first boil kettle, an eight gallon steamer pot, will probably not see a lot of use since it is too thin of metal to survive on a fryer and my steel five gallon kettle does all the rest of the stove top work. Possibly in the future I'll move to a house with a stove that can accept a canning element, a heavy duty electrical coil with support so extra weight from a canning kettle doesn't damage the stove top, so I will have some flexibility with electrical brewing. I might also come across a skillful homebrewer that can install some electrical heating elements and I can wire a future home for electrical brewing. My house now doesn't have a reasonable place to stick a 220v outlet for that kind of brewing. Well that's all future stuff so let's get back to the lambic.

I continued to follow my 60% pilsner/40% wheat malt grain bill this time. I am still not ready to do a full on turbid mash, hence the wheat malt instead of unmalted wheat. In the future I might try the turbid mash. I did a triple decoction with rests at 97F, 122F, 148F and 158F. I did this to ensure the wort going to the bugs with a lot of precursors for flavors as well as a well converted mash with both simple sugars and complex sugars. The complex sugars will be broken down by brett so the final beer won't have the thick mouthfeel and caramel flavors usually produced by a decoction mash. Although unconverted starch is beneficial for brett to produce more interesting off flavors I like to do the decoction mash and to an extent the decoctions get my beer part of the way there. This year, unlike last year, I am going to add a tablespoon of whole wheat flour towards the end of the boil so I will increase complexity and get some unconverted starch back in the beer to give brett more things to play with. It may not produce the same results as a turbid mash but I think it's close enough to produce a good beer. I don't want too much unconverted starch in the wort because brett takes a very long time to work through the starch and convert it to sugars and I want to stay on my annual schedule without risking that starch going into the bottle.

The boil was to be expected; the turkey fryer reached boil much faster than my stove so I cut off a good thirty minutes off my brew day. I added the wheat flour at about ten minutes remaining. I hopped the beer with half an ounce of kent goldings. Since these hops are fairly fresh and I did not "age" them in the oven they might impart a little more bitterness than I want but I think my lambic blend should survive. By the time the boil was finished the raspberries had started to dissolve into the water, now a deep red color. I won't pasteurize them until it's almost bottling time so they will stay as clean as possible. Just because my lambic is sour doesn't mean I want to get a nasty infection screwing up the flavor.

I took care of some other work while the fresh wort cools. Out of concern for acetobacter turning my lambic being reserved for gueuze I added some corn sugar (boiled in water to make a syrup) to create some fermentation and push out some CO2 until the pellicle can reform. The raspberry fruit mush/juice turned out to be quite a bit, probably around 20-25% of a gallon so although I know the fruit will continue to break down and turn into trub I suspect I'll get more than one gallon out of it. That's good because as I said before, you can never have too much lambic.While moving the full fermenter downstairs to the kitchen I got to enjoy the delicious smells of the lambic. It smells so good. It smells tart but with a big cherry aroma. My mouth was salivating the whole way down the stairs. It made it hard to concentrate but I was able to lug the six gallons of lambic down the stairs.

I gave the lambic a little taste during bottling. It's phenomenal. Tart with a prominent cherry flavor. I can't wait for it to carbonate. I ended up with a good number of bottles along with the framboise and gallon held off for gueuze. I ended up with way more wort than expected so I'll end up with more lambic than I expected. Once again, there's nothing wrong with more lambic.
December 27, 2011

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Seven

And then there was the last brewery: New Belgium. I like a lot of NB's beers; I don't drink as much of their beers as I used to -- both because we have access to more beers in Texas than we did ten years ago and because I have found others I enjoy more -- but the visit to the brewery reminded me how good some of their beers are. The brewery tour is an excellent tour. It's an hour and a half and they give you a lot of beer along the way. Plus, there's a slide at the end.

Whether you like or dislike NB's beers, you should appreciate that they have a solid vision of their business strategy and care about running business ethically, rather than just based on making more money than everybody else. After a year of employment, all employees obtain partial ownership in the business. That's really cool. I have spent several years working with employee benefits and I can say it's almost unheard of to vest benefits after only a year. They also spend a lot of time and money charitably operating bike runs for charity across the nation. Instead of dumping the waste water from brewing -- it takes eight gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, according to them -- they have an on-site water treatment plant that treats the water before it goes to Fort Collins's sewer system and they also take methane from the waste and use it to power generators that help power the plant. They are also incredibly generous with their time and beer for the tours.

We started our tour in the tap room. It smelled strongly of yeast hard at work, which is always a delicious smell. We drank some Old Cherry, which is a winter seasonal made with...cherries. It's very good. It's not a sour so it's a good cherry beer for people who love cherries but don't like sour. It's just a hint tart from the natural acids in the cherries. It's also not cloyingly sweet like the Lindeman's kriek (or similar backsweetened lambics). Sadly, it's only kegged and as far as we could see, didn't make it out of Fort Collins. I was told that Clutch was out, which also made me sad because I had really been looking forward to trying it. I also tried the Prickly Pear-Passion fruit saison, which was tasty although like many of NB's beer sort of stripped down for the sake of shelf life. I wish it had a little more rustic character. It wasn't as good as what we had at Funkwerks but it was good enough I walked to the very end of the B terminal of the Denver airport to drink more at the NB taphouse at the airport.

While at the taproom I overheard some other people asking the bartenders about some future NB plans, so I want to share those here. First, NB is considering a taproom in Old Town Fort Collins (sort of the old school main street) but it's not definitive. Second, NB intends on building a second brewery to improve distribution but they have not chosen a location so anybody who tells you they know where is wrong because not even NB employees know. (There are probably multiple sites being considered and various levels of work being done to see how feasible/profitable it would be. My guess is it would be somewhere on the eastern seaboard since there is a lot of beer culture out that way -- so a large market -- and that's the area furthest from Colorado so it would make distribution easier to distribute to the east.)

You can see one of the brewhouses (there are two) from the tap room. It's crazy, the whole thing is operated from two desktop computers. They were brewing when we were in the tap room. It's very automated. Two guys sat at the computers running everything. This is a picture of the brewhouse; I didn't get a picture of the computers. Sorry.

Ok, so on with the tour. The tour starts with a sampler of Abbey, which was the first beer produced by NB. They tell the story of how the owner biked around Europe drinking beer and learning about beer and was prodded to start a Belgian-style brewery in the US. The couple who own the brewery converted their basement and kitchen into the first NB location before building the current brewery, referred to as "the mothership". I suspect it's probably more difficult to start a brewery in your house in Fort Collins, let alone most other cities. After story time we were given a sampler of Snow Day. I'm not as much a fan of Snow Day as I was 2 Below. However, it's a good beer (I just don't like the hoppiness) and it's good in a sampler volume. Anymore and my taste buds get burned out.

The first place we stopped was outside of one of the labs. I believe this is the yeast lab, but it may be one of the quality assurance labs. It's not a great picture but you can see all sorts of scientific stuff going on here. It's on the way to brewhouse two, which is the brew house we were shown since they were currently operating out of the brewhouse one, visible in the picture above. Had people been working in the lab I probably would have bugged the tour guide -- who was very cool and very knowledgeable -- to talk to them about some of the more technical aspect of their brewing practices. Alas, nobody was home so we continued on to the brew house.

Along the way to the brew house there was a window into one of the rooms with fermenters. I'm not sure what the significance of the guitar was. I forgot to ask.

In the bottom of the brew house they told us all the typical stuff about how beer is made ("beer is made with four ingredients..." you're homebrewers, you know the rest) so I looked around at the equipment. The glycol plate chillers, etc. You can see here a fresh order of Chinook came in. NB uses pellet hops. The work floor of the brew house was really clean and very organized, unlike some of the smaller breweries (especially Avery) that were more dirty and had sacks of grains lying around everywhere. This cart full of hops was the most out of place thing I saw the entire trip.

After they showed us the bottom of the brew house we went upstairs where you can see things going on and receive more beer. Upstairs was another bar where instead of serving us beer we were taught how to pour from a tap and allowed to pour our own beer. I zeroed in on the Abbey Grand Cru because I had never had it before. It was really good. I was expecting it to be over the top and boozy like many beers labelled "grand cru" but it was smooth and easy to sip. It was like Abbey but with strong fruity notes of cherries and apricots. I might have to try to snag a bottle or two.

In addition to getting yet more beer you can see the top of all the brew house vessels and there are windows so you can see what's going on. There are four vessels but I only got pictures of three. The first is the mash tun, which I didn't get a picture of. The second is the lauter tun. This is the picture to the right. You can see the rakes turning the mash to stir up mash and get those sugars off the grains. These are some huge vessels. They extend from a few feet off the floor on the first floor to about five feet up on the second floor and these are some tall ceilings. They are probably thirty feet tall and maybe twenty feet in circumference.

Next the runnings are mixed together in this waiting tank where the wort is kept hot until the boil kettle is available for the next batch to boil. This runs contrary to a lot of homebrew wisdom about wort darkening as it stays warm. If you're doing an hour boil and getting ten barrels of beer to a boil that's a long wait (at least an hour!) so either they calculate the wait time into the color of beer or it has a minimal effect.

Finally the beer makes it to the boil kettle. They had just filled the kettle and it was just starting to simmer a bit, which is why the picture is so unclear. (Evaporated water) Obviously after the kettle it is cooled and then goes to one of thirteen fermenters. Some of the fermenters are small, like in the picture above. Some are massive fermenters outside that stand probably 100 feet in the air. After fermentation the beer goes to one of eight bright tanks to clarify before going to the bottling or canning lines.

After having a drink with the vessels we were taken the the separate building where the bottling occurs. They are currently replacing the canning line so we were shown the bottling line. Before we got to the bottling, the tour guide stopped to offer us some Fat Tire. This isn't just Fat Tire, it was Fat Tire that had been bottled about thirty minutes before they opened the bottles to serve us. It was a different beer than what we usually get. The hop flavor and aroma was much more distinct than the regular bottle of Fat Tire. For me it was a real eye opener about how much of the quality of beer is lost in transport, sitting in warehouses, more transport and sitting at a retailer before it makes its way to my glass. As a homebrewer, that relates to how we store our own beer. Jamail and some others really preach about homebrew not sitting at ambient temperatures but I had usually disregarded that as dated misconceptions about the stability of beer but I think that might be one area where I should rethink my beliefs. My beer usually sits in my guest bathroom/fermentation room at ambient temperatures. It's out of the light but generally sits anywhere from the high 60s to high 70s, depending upon the time of year. Those are really warmer temperatures than beer should be kept. If I had a basement I'd keep it down there but it's rare to find a basement in Texas. I wish I had space to keep all my beer at cellar temperatures once it conditions to an optimum flavor profile but I just don't.

After sipping on fresh Fat Tire they brought us to the windows overlooking the bottling line. I have two pictures: one from the bottom level and one from above. You can see a net on the left of the picture from the ground floor. Within that net is a ping pong table. At the time we were observing, the two guys that maintain the system were playing ping pong. Apparently there was a problem in the line and it was stalled and for whatever reason, it was not their responsibility to fix it. From the picture from the second floor there's a TV screen towards the left of the picture. This screen shows what's running, how many bottles have been filed and how many will run before a new beer is loaded. I don't remember exactly what it said but I seem to remember that they run almost 100,000 bottles of the same beer before changing to something else. This bottling system is enormous.

After watching the bottling system not do anything we went down to one of my favorite parts of the tour: the barrel room.

To the left is a picture of the massive barrels -- foeders -- where NB ages its sour beers. Although I was hoping to get a glimpse of Peter Bouckaert doing something Belgian, the room was empty except for our tour. The barrel room is the least...New Belgian-y of the whole place. NB is bright and colorful but here in the barrel room it is poorly lit, very warehouse-like and slightly dank. Below this picture is another picture of the foeders; you can see the heads of some of my tour-mates to give you an idea how tall and massive these things are. You can also see the huge wench used to move the foeders around.

Amongst the barrels you get your final sample of beer. We were able to sample La Folie, right among the foeders. Really cool. The tour guide told everybody to wait to taste so everybody could taste at once so people could see how each other reacted. There was a lot of looks of displeasure. I had tried La Folie back in 2009 or 2010 and had really not liked how acetic it was. When I tried it this time I picked up a strong green apple tartness with some slight lactic sourness and dark malts. I definitely liked it more than I remembered but probably not enough to buy it again. I don't know, the green apple flavor just doesn't win me over. I think it's worth trying but unless you are a tremendous sour fan (particularly of the Flanders red variety) you might want to split a bottle among many friends. I don't get a lot of brett flavor in La Folie so it's possible that they sour their beers strictly with bacteria and no brett. Some bacteria, like lacto, can run its course in 3-6 months so it's very possible.

So my tour guide and previous tap room bartender had told me Clutch was out, but here I was standing in front of a Clutch tap next to the La Folie tap. I asked if there was any Clutch left and my wife added that I had been desperate to try it and talked about it nonstop. The tour guide was generous enough to pour a sample which killed the keg. So it is possible I got the last distribution of Clutch, ever. (Although there are probably kegs kept aside for employees, the owners,  tasting against future versions, etc.) Clutch is really smooth and not at all sour. The beer is a blend of stout and dark sour. The stout is probably more like the Belgian stouts, which lack the Roasted Barley/black malt acridness and sharp coffee flavors of British and Irish stouts. It was smooth and chocolate-y with some coffee flavors. There was only a slight tartness at the end of the taste. It wasn't green apple-tasting so the "dark sour" is either something entirely different from La Folie or one component of La Folie, if La Folie is a blend of multiple beers.

At the end of the tour you get to go down a windy slide. It's a lot of fun. You must go down the slide to complete your experience (unless you are wearing a skirt -- that might be too revealing). Then you return to the tap room to enjoy more beer. When we returned to the tap room we tasted some more beers. We tried Frambozen fresh, which had a much brighter raspberry flavor than we've found in the bottles. Like the fresh Fat Tire, probably a function of storage conditions and age. We also tried a stout which was brewed as a small batch served only in the tap room of a prize-winning homebrew recipe from either an employee or a friend of the brewery (I forget which they said). It was an excellent stout. We also tried a beer that I believe was listed as a Lips of Faith beer (although it does not appear on the website) which was Jared's Smoked Porter -- a smoked peach porter. When I saw that I was like, "hey, I brewed a smoked peach porter two years ago," and it was somewhat similar to this NB beer, except admittedly the NB version did a much better job of bringing out the peach flavor. I'd like to think they nicked the idea from my blog but I'm probably not the only person who has ever thought of a smoked peach porter. It was at least cool that I came up with something unique that a brewery is now producing in a very similar form. After another round of Old Cherry we decided to leave.
December 21, 2011

Homemade candy syrup mead

So a while back I attempted to make Belgian dark candy syrup from table sugar but it ended up with a caramel taste rather than the raisin/toffee flavors of dark syrups. Rather than make another caramel-flavored dubbel, I decided to try using it in a mead. I used one pound of the caramel syrup with 2.25 lbs of honey and a teabag of black tea (and enough water to get to one gallon) to make a mead. I fermented it with bread yeast, which was able to handle the 12% ABV.This was my first time using black tea to provide tannins which actually worked out very well to add body and flavor depth.

There's nothing really special about the process involved but I thought the caramel syrup warranted some discussion. The mead is still very young so it has that harsh alcohol bite. It's somewhat drinkable though so I have had some tastes. At cold temperatures it is more alcohol-y and the caramel comes through in an nondescript sweetness. At room temperature, especially with some swirling to better expose to oxygen, the sweetness mellows as the caramel flavor comes out in some complexity along with the honey flavors.

It's definitely a sweet mead, even though it's not backsweetened, thanks to the unfermentable caramelized/meloidanized sugars. I'm not really a fan of sweet meads but I do actually enjoy this mead in small quantities. It would also be good in desserts, over ice cream, in place of brandy in recipes, etc.

I'd certainly make it again, it's worth tasting. It's a good way to use up a homemade D2 that didn't get the flavor depth you were hoping for.

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Six

The day after our visit to the mountains my wife had some business to attend to so we found ourselves back at Fort Collins. Naturally, we had to drink some more beer. We were planning a trip to New Belgium the next day so we were looking for other places to go. I suggested Fort Collins Brewery, which is right up the street from Odell's. I had seen something about saisons brewed in Colorado and did a little google action to locate Funkwerks which happened to be down the street from Fort Collins Brewery. So we hit up both of these breweries. We came back to Funkwerks the next night with some of our friends, so the Funkwerks pictures are actually from the next night.

Fort Collins Brewery

Fort Collins Brewery (FCB) has a nice brewhouse/taphouse with a restaurant attached. In the taphouse you can watch the brewing process while you enjoy the beers. The staff was really friendly and gave us some pointers on the New Belgium tour and what to look for in the tap house. That shows what a great environment those breweries have all developed amongst each other. I was led to believe that the beers from FCB were average but they were actually really good beers. We had a sampler of both the regular offerings and the seasonals/specials. There were many we really enjoyed. The Red Hot Chili Porter was excellently balanced. I'm used to chile beers being based on a lager or blonde ale so it was cool to see it in a richer, chocolatey beer (although that night I went on to try the Mexican chocolate stout at Wynnkoop that had chile as well). The 1900 Amber Lager was crisp and my wife really liked the pomegranate wheat. The double chocolate stout was delicious. The smoked amber was really interesting and not at all overpowering with smoke flavor. Our favorite beer was an espresso amber. The espresso really came through with all the unique flavors of espresso, not just a coffee flavor. The espresso, which is an easily overpowering flavor, was well balanced. I feel like there were some other beers we really liked. There wasn't a single beer we felt needed work; even the hoppy beers were well made although they were not our favorites.

I really appreciated that FCB took a style -- amber -- and had really worked it over into multiple iterations of the same beer, each subtly related but distinctly different at the same time. It's especially bold that they chose amber lager as their flagship even though the massive New Belgium brewery in town has its amber lager as its flagship beer (Fat Tire).


Funkwerks is a tiny brewery sitting in an industrial part of town just on the edge of where Fort Collins starts to turn a little more modern. It is brightly painted, which either represents its "funk" or acts as a way to let people know where the brewery is (or both?). Funkwerks is an all-saison brewery. What's especially interesting is that within Funkwerks is another brewery, Crooked Stave, which sells through the Funkwerks taphouse. I neglected to ask whether Crooked Stave borrows space for its barrels and taps at Funkwerks or if Crooked Stave also brews and bottles off Funkwerks's brewhouse. I suspect Crooked Stave's entire physical presence is located within Funkwerks although the Crooked Stave website indicates they are going to build a separate tap house. I wonder if they will also move into a brewhouse there as well. Since I sampled beers from both breweries I'll discuss both.

Crooked Stave focuses on beers on the wilder side, barrel aged beers and brett beers. They use a lot of barrels for having such tiny production. The beers were also considerably more expensive than any others we tried; I don't know if that's because of the cost of aging and the barrels or simply because the owner thinks the beers are worth more because they are fashionably barrel aged. I forget the names of the beers we drank from Crooked Stave, I know one was Surette and the other might have been the Surette Reserve or Wild Wild Brett Orange. The beer I believe was Surette was a crisp, saison-like beer with a slight tartness but big brett character. It reminded me a lot of my brett saison. No oak or acetic character from the barrels. The other beer, which I think was W.W.B.O. was definitely more complex with a distinct apricot-like flavor. While more complex, the beer seemed too complex for its own good. There was a lot going on and it seemed like each flavor was fighting for dominance. Maybe an adjustment would allow one or two flavors to emerge and the rest can add complexity to those flavors.

Here is a picture of Crooked Stave's barrel room in the Funkwerks brewhouse. You can't see it in this picture but a few of the barrels were wrapped in saran wrap (cling wrap, for you Europeans). I'm not sure if that's added precaution during transportation or if they use the wrap as an added protection against aeration.

Other than this barrel room, the taps and merchandise for sale in the taproom, I didn't see any other Crooked Stave activity in the building (although it's possible they have a separate brewhouse in the back that wasn't visible to us.

Crooked Stave is coming up on its one year anniversary and they are set to release some new beers next year. I believe they only distribute in Colorado (we did find both Crooked Stave and Funkwerks in the Denver area) so try to snag some of these beers at Total Beverage or your local bottle shop. If you live in Colorado (since they cannot/will not mail beer) Crooked Stave is offering a membership where you get a bottle or two of each new beer released next year plus opportunities to buy up the first releases of each new beer before it goes to the distributor. It's $300 for the year but I've seen more money spent on less interesting beer...

Ok, on to Funkwerks itself. Funkwerks, as I said before, is all saison. They do a lot with saison. A sessionable saisons (Casper), to a more mainstream saison (Saison), to a very spelty saison (Helter Spelter), to some interesting munich-y saisons (I forget the names) and some other saisons I don't remember (I drank a lot, sorry). One slight departure is that they make a wit (White), but they ferment with saison yeast so it has a really different flavor and body. It's hard to say which saison I liked the best. I know my wife really liked Casper. I think my favorites were Helter Spelter and White. One of the darker saisons was our least favorite but I have had less desirable saisons for sure. It's hard to pick out favorites because all the beers were really well made and it is obvious Funkwerks has taken the time to explore and develop the saison style. I'm a big, big fan of saison so I couldn't be happier to sit in an all-saison brewery and sip on beer. (My only complaint is that they need cooler shirts. I wanted to buy one but they were all pretty boring. I ended up buying a church key to replace the crappy wallet-style bottle opener I got for free from Marlboro a long time ago that does a terrible job at opening bottles.)

On our second trip, after New Belgium, we drank some beer and I asked if we could duck into the brewhouse for a quick picture if I promised not to touch anything. The bartender was kind enough to go back and ask the lone brewhouse worker if we could take pictures. Not only did he agree to let us come back but he took pictures and let us climb up on the actual brew system and took our picture. It was cool climbing up into the brew system with the mash tun on one side and the boil kettle on the other. (Sorry, I don't want to put up the pictures out of caution for my future legal career. People find everything on the internet these days and I don't want somebody to get the idea that my passion for beer equates to a passion for being wasted frat boy-style.)

I highly recommend a stop by Funkwerks if you are in Fort Collins (it's on Lincoln, on the way to all the other breweries) and if you can find their beers, give them a go. They run around $10-13 for a 750ml, which is kind of pricey (to me) but I think the beer is worth it. Plus, the champagne style bottles are incredibly easy to reuse for saison/sours/Belgians/mead/cider with some plastic champage corks and wire cages. Hopefully as production increases the beers will drop in price. It was definitely cheaper to drink off the tap and I do know that they produce plenty of kegs of their beer (we have pictures with them) so you might be able to score some delicious saison on tap in Colorado.
December 20, 2011

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Five

The next day we went up to Breckenridge where, surprisingly, Breckenridge Brewing is not. It's in Denver. It's ok, we had a great time tubing in Frisco (just a bit down from Breckenridge) and stopped off at Dam Brewery on the way back. I'm going to skip the next couple of afternoons to load in some other small breweries we hit along the way since those breweries will take some time to address.

Dam Brewery Restaurant

Dam Brewery is in Dillon, just a bit outside of Breckenridge and Frisco. The brewery, which is a brewpub, sits just off a dam in town. They take great liberties with the use of "dam" in phrases where "damn" might be used. Their beers suffer from the same mediocrity as many brewpubs, which is a real shame. There were a few of beers out of their regular rotation we really liked. The irish stout and brown ale were both nice renditions of the style. The real winner is the light lager. I'm serious. It was crisp but had a really good flavor with a bit of depth. It was like what Miller would taste like if it was loaded with flavor. Seriously, if Dam Lyte were mass produced, it would demolish Bud, Miller and Coors at their own game in no time at all. A star quality light lager.

Rock Bottom Brewery Restaurant

Rock Bottom was one of our destinations in the Denver Airport while waiting for our plane home. Rock Bottom is a brewpub chain owned by the same holding company as Old Chicago, which boasts a solid beer list and great deep dish-style pizza. Rock Bottom's beers were, well, very mediocre as well. I had a wit which was very average but my wife had a kolsch that was good, but not great. The food was delicious.

Boulder Beer Co.

We also caught this place in the airport. It's a shame we didn't make it to the actual brewery. I believe there was food available at the airport location; if so, Boulder Beer wins for the best brewpub we visited. Good stuff. All the beers we tried were good. The clear winners for us were: Obovoid, an oak-aged oatmeal stout; Singletrack copper ale, a sessionable amber with good flavor depth; and Dazed and Infused, a dry hopped pale ale with good fruity notes. Some of the others we tried were a little hoppy for our tastes but obviously well made beers.

Wynnkoop Brewing Co.

Wynnkoop is a small brewery/pool hall/brewpub in Denver. I neglected to try the chile beer although I realized upon returning home that it actually is on my beer list. Colorado is big on its chile beers, which is awesome and as much as I enjoy a chile beer, I find it to be a style I easily tire of drinking.

We did try to ESB (on cask) and schwartzbier which were both tasty. The ESB was not as good as Left Hand's but hey, Left Hand started out with their ESB as their flagship beer so they definitely have a perfected recipe. What's cool is that they have guest taps with other Colorado breweries. These were the real stars. One was an apricot blond from Dry Dock Brewing with a strong tart apricot taste. The #1 award has to go to the guest Mexican chocolate, pepper, cinnamon stout from Copper Kettle Brewing. It was powerful in taste with an incredible balance of sweet, roast, cinnamon and exactly the right amount of heat at the end. I don't know how much I could drink of it but I could definitely enjoy one or two of those every once in a while. It was the 2011 GABF Gold winner for spiced and herb beers with good reason. If there was a beer worth cloning, that would be it.

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Four

Next to me as I type is a small batch of a simple hefeweizen that started to ferment overnight. It really reminds me how great beer smells as it ferments and how much I miss the smell in the house. I guess I just need to brew more often. Anyway, the next day we took the drive from just outside of Denver to Fort Collins, a not too terrible drive. This is our first of three trips to Fort Collins, Colorado.

Odell's Brewing

Odell's was our first stop. Odell's has a nice brewery and tap room. My wife and I split two samplers, one of their regular beers and one of their pilot beers and special beers. We agreed that Odell's beers were either really good or really mediocre. The star beers (as I remember) were the bourbon barrel stout, the wild ale (which seemed to be just brett) and the double black IPA. Surprisingly, the double black IPA was hands down our favorite. It's surprising for us because we're not IPA fans. However, it was really smooth, chocolatey and although clearly hoppy, not smack you in the face hoppy like IPAs usually are. In spite of their beers being hit or miss (not just the pilot beers but also the regular offerings) it's worth sampling.

We also took the brewery tour. A couple of really interesting things about their brewery are worth noting. First, Odell's does not pasteurize their beers as a matter of taste. That's a fairly bold step to take because it limits the shelf life of the beer (at least in their opinion, I don't know, I have unpasteurized homebrew that's 1.5 years old) but since they say it gives their beer a four month shelf life, they can only distribute so far from the brewery without cutting off key selling time while the beer is riding a truck out to its destination.

Second, Odell's has a really cool policy with their 5 barrel pilot system. The pilot system is open to all employees who are allowed to brew anything they want (although I suspect the use of bacteria is probably restricted) and if those beers are worth drinking, they go to the tap room. That's pretty cool because you get some interesting beers in the tap room, like a beet porter (which was interesting), but once the beer runs out that's it, unless they decide to do another run. Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has a brewing science program and they are allowed to do runs on the pilot system. The tap room had a tripel that the students brewed; it needed some work. Still, it's really cool that they are so open with the system.

Coopersmith Pub & Brewery

Coopersmith is a brewpub chain in Colorado, specifically the Fort Collins area. They brew, have a pool hall and serve food. I was expecting something BJ's-like but actually the brewing was a lot more central to their business. We went to the store in Old Town Fort Collins (a kind of old school main street) which spans two storefronts; one a brewpub, one a pool hall with more fermenters. We only sampled a few beers, which were not necessarily great beers but definitely better than what I've had from BJ's. The chile beer was pretty good but the rest were fairly pedestrian. They definitely care about their beers but like many brewpub chains it seemed like they were trying to make a variety of beers while making it cheap enough and plain enough that non-beer geeks would drink them without finding it too shocking (sort of the Sam Adams approach to beers). I wish they had had a few special beers that they put some serious technique into for the beer geeks because they obviously had the set up to do something really great.

After Coopersmith we tried to get to New Belgium's tap house but we didn't realize they close at 6pm and we got there just after they locked the doors so we stood outside the doors, being mocked by the people inside enjoy beers. We'll come back.
December 19, 2011

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Three

Left Hand Brewing

Our next location in Colorado (after sampling a little homebrew cider) was Left Hand. We get some of Left Hand's beers in Texas, so I was excited to try more. Although we did not take the tour we did spend some time in the tap house. I drank Sawtooth, Left Hand's ESB, on nitro. It was a really delicious session beer. I also sampled a barleywine, which I don't believe makes it out of the brewery. It was a great, smooth, complex barleywine. The tap house was very busy early Friday night but the people were very friendly (on both sides of the bar) and we had a great time. We didn't take the tour because my friends in Colorado and my wife took the tour when she visited in August. Next visit I would like to take the tour. Great beer. I also saw that Left Hand is going to bottle/can the milk stout on nitro so that will be pretty cool since it seems most bars are selling the milk stout on draft by nitro rather than CO2.

Oskar Blues Brewing

Next we visited Oskar Blues. More specifically, we visited the separate tap house for dinner. Although Old Chub was calling out to me, I decided to swill some Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter because it was on my list of must-try beers (for good reason -- excellent smoked porter). The tap house did not have some of the more unique OB offerings but my wife did try their smoked porter, which was also pretty good (but not as good as Alaskan's). The waitress cautioned that the OB smoked porter contained meat, but I'm pretty sure that's not true. I think she just believed that because of the taste. Anyway, I had a great time tasting the beers and the food was delicious. Definitely worth the visit, especially if you can score some of OB's "oddities" that don't get canned.

This ended day one. We were all pretty buzzed and full. What is immediately apparent is that the good people of Colorado appreciate all the good beer available to them and are happy to take advantage of it. Back in Texas, well, everybody is still downing Miller and Coors before it warms up and they can taste it.
December 18, 2011

Brewery Excusions in Colorado: Part Two

Avery Brewing

My first destination -- straight from the airport -- was Avery Brewing. I'm a fairly new drinker of Avery beers (although I'm not really sure why). Some of their over the top beers are, well, too over the top in my opinion but I've really gained a new appreciation for their beers. In the tap room I sampled Freckles Saison, Eighteen and Eremita II. All great beers. Unfortunately I don't remember much about Freckles; I seem to believe it had some sort of interesting fruit or spice addition. Eighteen is a dry hopped rye saison. Very good. The dry hopping was subtle and worked really well with the spiciness from the rye. Eremita II is a sour beer that is only available in the tap room, which is incredibly disappointing (unless you live near Avery). It's tart but pristine; there's no off flavors. It reminded me of a lambic but without the cherry undertones that usually develop in lambic. I don't know if they soured without the assistance of brett or if the brett was just subdued. A nice tart beer, for sure, especially for a brewery that only dabbles in sours.

Avery's tap room releases new beers almost every Friday so it's a great place to visit. The tour is a less impressive. Avery's current location (they are moving soon) is the original location in a business/industrial complex and as the brewery has grown they have leased out the next warehouse so the brewery is sort of slapped together rather than a sleek operation. To get from different parts of the brewhouse you have to go outside. The brewhouse is definitely messier than I expected but the operation has a nice atmosphere where you can tell everybody gets their hands dirty making a great beer. If you looked at the operation and had no idea otherwise, you would never expect that the brewery pumps out so much beer and so much high quality beer at that. The tour was not particularly different from any other tour you might go on but you get a sense that the people working there really care about the quality of the beer.

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part One

Most people go to Colorado to enjoy the snow and ski/snowboard. I spent six days traveling across the state to sample beer and learn about the multitude of breweries happy to call Colorado home. By several maps I found, there are over 140 breweries in the state, not including BJ's several locations. While I didn't get close to visiting all of them, I did knock out twelve, which is pretty good. I drank a full three gallons of beer and my wife downed just a bit over two. It's not that we were trying to get drunk, we just wanted to sample so many beers.

The breweries we experienced were: Avery, Odell's, Oskar Blues (only the separate tap-house), Rock Bottom, Funkwerks, New Belgium, Dam Brewery, Left Hand, Boulder Brewing, Coopersmith, Wynnkoop and Fort Collins Brewing. This long, thirst quenching adventure really gave me some new perspectives on brewing. I wanted to share some of the things I experienced, learned and tasted along the way. Some specific beer reviews will go on my beer review blog (I Reviewed Beer) for beers that really stood out as unique or incredibly well put together, but many will get quick hits along with their respective breweries. I am putting these brewery reviews on this blog because I think these adventures reflect more on my brewing than simply sampling beers.

I've broken out each brewery into a separate entry although some are certainly longer than others. Unfortunately I didn't make careful notes or take pictures at all the breweries or about all the beers I drank but I will try to recall as much as possible and include the pictures and notes I do have (courtesy of my smartphone).

One of the most important takeaways from the trip was really appreciating the importance of the brewing process. Over 140 breweries use the same water source, the same techniques, the same equipment and the same ingredients to produce wildly different beers from the technical precision of Coors in Golden, CO to the amazingly complex and craftily balanced Mexican Chocolate Chipotle Stout on a guest tap at Wynnkoop to the rustic saisons at Funkwerks to the quaffable Old Cherry at New Belgium. It reminds me that I need to take more care about sanitation, temperature control, yeast pitching rates, etc.

I also took away an expanded appreciation for different beers and ingredients, which in turn extends my ever-growing list of beers to try brewing. That makes me really excited for the prospects of brewing ever better beers. It was also encouraging to see a beer that I thought nobody else would be foolish enough to try making appear among the Lips of Faith series at New Belgium. It was encouraging to know that sometimes as homebrewers we can really be innovators of beer, rather than just following in the footsteps of the professionals. (Although I don't take credit for New Belgium's beer I would like to think I thought of it before their brewers.)

It will probably take me a week or two to draft out all the Colorado blogging so I expect to be very active here for the rest of my short winter break from school. I also have some brewing to do and write about, so I hope to make up for the lackluster posting I've done over the past few months.
December 2, 2011

Beer, Aging and Why It Doesn't Survive Like Wine

Aging beer is a subject of contention for some, especially when it comes to homebrew. Certainly those big commercial beers can improve after a year or two of aging, but most people agree there's a point where beer ages in a bad way and goes bland or over-oxidizes. It's one of the reasons why beer is distinguished from wine, which can be aged sometimes for centuries. Wines get more valuable with age and are considered superior beverages, at least in part, due to their ability to improve with age.

Differences between wine and beer

This ignores some of the realities between wine and beer. Wine, at least modern wine, is assisted with additions of chemicals that improve stability by killing off bacteria and yeast. We don't often make those additions to beer. Additionally, wine yeast are badasses, some produce a compound that kills other yeast so the chance of wild yeast infecting the beer goes down. One substantial difference is that wine is low is extremely low in proteins, which are a major part of the breakdown in the quality of beer over time. Additionally, the higher alcohol percentage tends to prevent any bacteria or wild yeast from surviving in the harsher conditions.

Commercial beers tend to have the yeast and much of the protein removed from the beer (you need some to produce head retention) to assist in quality control and stability over time. Some even do have head stabilizers and other chemicals added to clarify and stabilize the beer. Although this helps stabilize the beer, even beer under pressure in bottles will experience some destabilization as the proteins break down into less enjoyable flavors. Like wine, those beers corked will have micro-oxygenation and develop a changing flavor over time. For beer, that combination of protein destabilization and oxygenation often results in bland flavor over the long term rather than the development of interesting, sherry flavors in wine.

Beer is best stabilized in cooler temperatures, even cooler temperatures than wine. For people who think wine is best aged, no matter what only need to stick a corked bottle in their garage or room temperature house for several years and give it a taste. Even wine stored in the 70s or above will destabilize at those temperatures. Beer, again due to the proteins, but also hop compounds, needs even colder temperatures to prevent destabilization. If one wants to age beer, room temperature is fine to produce beneficial flavor compounds from aging but typically after 2-3 years the process reverses and starts to produce bland beer. (Sours, which are dryer and already have some of the proteins broken down and consumed are more stable and can survive longer.)

Homebrew and its survival

Homebrew is even less stable since we tend not to add stabilizers, filter, or cold store our beers. Instead we are at risk of the same destabilization along with autolysis, increased protein destabilization (often because we have more remaining in our beers) and warmer conditioning temperatures that accelerate destabilization. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves wanting to make those big beers and then age them. Bigger beers tend to survive the aging process better because the alcohol wards off the effects of random bacteria and wild yeast in our beer and they hold up against destabilization better. In fact, they often improve from aging. In writing this, I am currently enjoying a delicious BGSA that is about 18 months old. It has definitely mellowed and improved with time. But it's 10% ABV. There will come a time when that beer has aged too much. The best thing you can do for your beer is age it a sufficient amount of time (which depends on the style and ABV) and then let it remain cool at refrigeration temperatures to inhibit further aging. That can be difficult when you have limited refrigerator space and/or no cool basement.

It's my experience that beers in the 5% range reach the limit of beneficiary aging around 9 months. After that they begin a slow decline into bland. That doesn't mean the beers go bad you just might notice the flavor changes for the worse and over time it becomes less enjoyable. But you could enjoy that beer right into a couple of years of age. It seems to me each percent of alcohol above that adds another 3-4 months. Obviously cool aging will delay aging and slow the destabilization. Anyway, that's just my experience.

November 22, 2011

Slow month for brewing, busy month for school

This has been a particularly busy month which is why I haven't had a chance to write anything since the beginning of the month. I have a solid week of studying (minus a little turkey time) and then two hardcore weeks of studying intermixed with four finals. I'll be especially happy when this semester ends for a couple of reasons. First, it's the last heavy load semester of classes and second, the day after finals end my wifey and I are going to visit friends in Colorado and cram in a cool eight brewery tours in six days. It's the perfect time to go and get all those rare tap house-only Christmas beers/winter warmers. When I return I will get to brew the second year of the lambic solera and take my first taste of that beer, so I'm excited both to get to brew a big batch and to taste the lambic. I also hope to get another small batch or two fired up if I have the time. Unfortunately I have a lot of non-brewing stuff waiting to get done over the break and next semester.

I am excited for December to roll around because that means it's time to break open my winter saison, which I brewed all the way back in March to give the brett time to wear out. The beer has a little cinnamon and a big helping of homemade candy sugar so I have high expectations for the beer. There's also a hoard of beers to open in my beer stash. My bottle of Petrus oud bruin I bought back in May will get opened up after my last final. I also have a couple bottles of Goudenband and Liefman's kriek I'm very excited to try. I also have a wit, Blanche de Namur, that looks interesting, the new Ovilla Quad, one of my winter favorites, Affligem Noel, a year old bottle of Scaldis Noel, a Jester King collaboration hoppy wheat, and not to be left out, a vienna/rye I brewed at the beginning of the month but lost the time to bottle.

December will also mark the opening of the first Specs Liquor in the Dallas area. Specs is a south Texas chain of liquor stores that sells a great selection of beer, wine and liquors. They are also extremely reasonably priced for the selection they offer. I'm excited to hit those great deals.

I will also promise to release more posts next month, including the tasting, bottling, replenishing and final decisions about the lambic solera for year one. I will include the vienna/rye blond recipe and some tasting notes, tasting of the winter saison, some thoughts on the legal intricacies of opening a brewery, and hopefully a lot more, including what I learn and taste at all those brewery tours. I hope I can get everything done with my abbreviated winter break -- I am losing a week to some week-long winter session classes -- and start anew for the spring.

Into 2012

As with 2011 I expect to do a lot of brewing in the early part of 2012, namely because the cold temperatures makes keeping batches cool considerably easier than the warmer months. So for now there is definitely a fruit hefeweizen and a black ale waiting to be made. I plan on doing a fruit version of my saison -- probably apricot -- and maybe another winter version. I also want to brew up more gratzer, more green chile beer, a wit, a dubbel, a dunkelweizen and if I find the time and space, an oud bruin that will sit for a year until early 2013 after I complete the bar. Most of those beers will be small batches since I still have a good 16 gallons in bottles, plus 9 gallons in the fermenters. I'll also be rebuilding my hop garden and ordering some more rhizomes in the hopes that the summer of 2012 will be less brutal than 2011.
November 3, 2011

Homebrew and Cooking

I've been somewhat neglectful in making regular posts here, as I've said before, thanks to my very busy schedule this semester. Unfortunately that also means I haven't been brewing very much, either. Recently I did make a vienna/rye blond using the last of the pound of fuggles hops I bought in 2010 and the beginning of a pound of Goldings I just bought last month. I will hold off on posting the recipe until I have a chance to taste it and see if it is worth admitting to creating it.

So I want to approach a slightly different subject about homebrew -- using it in your food. Now of course, you can also cook with commercially purchased beer but if you're like me, you have more homebrew hanging around than commercial beer. It's also a good way to move through a batch of homebrew if you've made five gallons but you're getting tired of drinking it. It's also a good way to use a batch that didn't come out perfectly. I don't mean the nasty, infected batch of ESB will make great food but a beer that's under-hopped for your taste or too roasty or whatever can have a better life in your food than being drunk as that disappointing batch.

Homebrew food recipes

There's a lot of information about cooking with beer and I think the best sources of recipes will be brewery websites (Left Hand, for example has excellent recipes on its website) and beer magazines, such as Draft or All About Beer because they tend to be vetted recipes by people who know beer. There are also plenty of blogs dedicated to cooking with beer that are worth browsing. You will typically get recipes that list a particular beer or two as the right beer for a recipe. You can usually substitute a similar homebrew and get a tasty dish. If you look other places on the internet, you may get recipes that disappoint. The reason is that many recipe sites refer to beer generically (so you would only want to use light, yellow beer like an American Pilsner or a Kolsch) or in unclear terms (like "dark ale") that could mean anything. I have found some knock outs, like this London Broil Braised in Stout that was delicious with my Left Hand milk stout clone. However I have also found some terrible recipes that I had to save by completely changing the recipe midway through cooking. (I found a porter-based BBQ sauce recipe that tasted like a funky, too spicy chinese marinade. It took a lot of additions to make it less Asian and worth consuming. I'll spare you the link to that one.)

You don't need a fancy recipe to use your beer in food. You can make simple dishes with the addition of beer that will spice up your food. A couple of things to consider. First, adding beer to food will add calories, so be mindful that each 12oz bottle is adding about 150-300 calories (or more, depending on the beer) so if you're trying to eat healthy you probably want to go easy on the beer. Second, when you cook down or reduce beer, like anything else you concentrate the flavor (because you are boiling out the water). So a moderately hoppy beer will get more hoppy -- in bitterness -- and a malty beer will get more malt -- in sweetness.

Rather than give you some specific recipes (I don't have many to offer), I'll give you some ideas to experiment with. One thing that helps make food interesting without having to spend a fortune or hours in the kitchen is to add flavor ingredients to normal foods or processes. For example, you can take a bottle of BBQ sauce from the store and simmer it with a bottle of beer to infuse some flavor of the beer into the sauce. This might work well with a porter or stout, but could also work with a brown ale, pale ale, etc. You can also add beer to stew, soup, chili, etc. Rice can also be cooked in a combination of beer and water, although I would probably go with something crisp or moderately hoppy so the rice doesn't get too sweet. A blend of olive oil and IPA could make an interesting salad dressing or base for a pasta dish.

Experimenting with homebrew

If you are prone to cooking from scratch, you can also add beer into many recipes. It can work as a substitute for honey, sugar, molasses as long as you use a malty beer. You may have to reduce it first so it doesn't make the recipe too watery. You can add it into sauces, whether it is a marinade or BBQ sauce, a tomato sauce, or really anything else that might need a little kick. Again, just be mindful that you're not making the dish too runny or watery. For marinades you can typically just add the beer directly to the marinade and then add the meat. If you are making a BBQ-style sauce I find the beer can be added and a little water substituted out to keep from having to boil out excess liquid. If you are a fan of using a slow cooker/crock pot, beer can be added for an extra flavor component. Don't limit yourself to typical styles though. Beer can also be used as a substitute for water in bread products, adding interesting flavor. It can go into bread, cornbread, waffle batter (especially a good Belgian beer), cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins and so on.

When you're experimenting with recipes I find it's most helpful to add a small amount of whatever you're adding -- in this case beer -- mix well and then taste to see if you like it and if it needs more or if it will need other ingredients paired with it to balance the sweet/sour/bitter/etc. flavors brought out by the beer. You can always add more beer but it's hard to cover it up when you add too much. Another important consideration is when in the process you add the beer. When you are cooking -- when you're using heat -- time is important. The longer the beer cooks several things happen: the flavors will meld better, the beer flavors will concentrate (especially hoppy bitterness), and if you're applying a lot of heat, the sugars may start to caramelize. You can always start off by adding beer at the end of the cooking process to see how it tastes and try making the recipe a second time by adding the beer earlier and decide which you prefer. Typically when you make something more liquidy, such as a marinade or stew you're safer adding the beer early in cooking because there's so much liquid that it won't concentrate the beer as much. However in something thicker, where the liquid has been cooked out, or a small amount is made to provide a light coating, there is a greater chance of concentration and timing will be important.

Anyway, I hope that is useful on some level. As I discover/create new food recipes I'll try to write them down and add them along with the homebrew recipes.
October 25, 2011

Solera-style oaking?

Oak aging is all the rage in brewing. Everything gets oaked these days, even beers that normally need to be drank young. Harpoon last year released an oak-aged dunkelweizen; it was incredible but probable wasn't really "aged" because weizen beers lose a lot of their flavor quickly and this one had all the great flavors and aromas of a dunkelweizen but with delicious oak notes.

Using oak in homebrew

I think of oak as being used in two ways. One is oak aging: where beer is stored in oak barrel (or devices designed to mimic cask aging) to produce both the oak flavors and an aged flavor in the beer, such as sherry notes from slight oxidation, some acetic character, smoothing out of alcohol notes, etc. This sort of aging can run from months to years and depending upon the newness and quality of the barrel will produce different effects. On the other hand, oak (by chips, cubes, strips, dowels and so forth) can be added to the beer to produce only oak flavors and will produce those notes in a matter of a few days (if the oak is very new) to weeks or months (if the oak is a bit aged).

The two products produce different results in beer as a result of different processes involved. Neither is better than the other but you can't do one and get the effect of the other. A Flanders red might be oak aged in a way that creates both oak flavors and acetic character from access to small amounts of oxygen. That oak aged dunkelweizen had to have oak added to the beer to create oak flavors without losing the fresh wheat beer flavors (although I might be wrong -- large scale breweries can do different things than we can at the homebrew level; certainly as homebrewers to recreate this you would not barrel age).

Using small oak products in homebrew

One of the problems with using oak chips or cubes (especially chips) is that the first few times you use them you get a lot of woody flavor and it is very strong. Over time they mellow and create more barrel-like flavors. You can steam them or boil them to sanitize but also to draw out some of the harsher, young wood flavors. I've boiled chips for hours and still had a lot of wood taste overpowering the vanilla-like flavors normally perceived in oaked beers. This is a problem I set out to overcome.

Sometimes chips and cubes are soaked in various alcoholic beverages, from vodka to whisky to scotch to wine, in an effort to both sanitize the wood and bring some of the flavor from the alcohol into the beer. This is very common with sours, trying to mimic the effect of barrel aging in wine barrels, to beers aged in bourbon barrels. This works well for its intended effect but typically doesn't help with the woody flavors, since people tend to let the oak sit for a week or two. As a side note, one thing I have had good success with is soaking oak chips in liquor or wine and then adding it back to the main bottle it came from to create complexity in the parent beverage. A cheap, jug chardonnay will improve dramatically with some oaking, as will a cheap scotch or whisky. It won't make it a $100 bottle but it will add a few dollars. It's a good way to let the alcohol pull out some of the oak flavor and woody flavor and pass it on to a liquid that might sit for a while and help the woody notes dissipate so it is less noticeable.

Another risk of adding chips and cubes, especially chips, is that it is so easy to over oak a beer. If you over oak, especially with young oak that has a lot of woody notes, you can be forced to wait months for the oak and wood notes to mellow. Even then you may not get rid of the woody character. This is typically less of a problem with sours that get aged for months or years on the oak but it could be a real problem for that oaked IPA you're trying to make.

So my goal was to create a way to:
  • add oak to beer without getting the woody character
  • add oak to beer with a more mellow, aged flavor
  • control the amount of oak addition
  • be awesome.

Reusing oak long term

Given my interest in solera-style brewing (see the lambic solera process) I thought about how that might be used to accomplish my goal. I've created an oaking solera. I took some oak chips and boiled them for about an hour, draining the water and adding fresh water, to get rid of some of the woody character. I then added vodka to both sanitize and draw out the flavor and color of the oak. I will let the vodka sit, causing a mellowing of the flavor, and add just the vodka to brews as necessary to create the oak flavor. I can let the oak sit essentially forever, pulling off what I need and adding fresh vodka as I use it. If the oak flavor gets too mild, I just add a little more oak. By letting it age in storage over time I get the effect of long term aging without tying up a beer to get it done. It won't quite give the same flavor as oak aging but closer than adding fresh oak. (I could always add a hint of sherry to get that slightly oxidized flavor.)

The benefit of separating the oak and having it always available is two-fold. First, I have less of a risk of over-oaking because I can add, taste and repeat until it reaches the desired point. Second, I can add oak in the bottling bucket, or even individual bottles, to create a batch of beer that is partially oaked and partially un-oaked for greater variety.

One concern is whether adding vodka will just result in boozy beers. My hope and expectation is that the oak will be concentrated enough that it will only take a few drops per bottle to create sufficient flavor. If not then I might have to rethink the applicability of this approach. Possibly giving the vodka a quick boil to drive off the alcohol will produce the flavor without the booze. That's something I'll have to test when the time comes.

Of course, these are my expected results. I just started this and have not yet tried the end result, although I intend on making an addition to a mead I have aging very soon. I want to give the oak a little time to lose the woody character. So I guess once I have some opportunities to experiment with this I'll report back the results.
October 20, 2011

Pumpkin beer tasting

After roughly six weeks between fermenter and bottle conditioning it was time to taste my pumpkin beer. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. It's a somewhat bland beer. The spicing was fairly weak, as was the pumpkin flavor. For a first go, I can't be too mad. It's not a bad beer, just kind of bland. I will probably experiment with adding some spice blends in the glass to see if I can improve upon it. That way I can have a better recipe for next year. In addition to upping the spice, I think I would like to add a little roasted barley to get some roasty flavor and probably use real pumpkin instead of the canned stuff.

Oh well. It was a good learning opportunity. Not every recipe can be a knock out. My wife likes it so I'll let her drink the vast majority of the beer. I'll sample enough from her beers to try to get a good spice complex.
October 14, 2011

Monacle - Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale

I feel as though I have neglected my poor blog after having gone almost three weeks without a post. Part of that is just due to the busy nature of this school semester. Part of it is because it's been a while since I brewed so I don't have anything new to offer. I do, however, have some older recipes I meant to post but didn't for whatever reasons. So here's a recipe I crafted last winter and brewed in February during the massive snow storms we had.

Scotch ale

Scotch ales are delicious beers with a solid alcohol presence and a big, bold malt flavor. If you think of Scottish beers like Belgian beers, scotch ale (sometimes referred to as wee heavy) is like quads/dark strong ale. It is the highest alcohol and boldest flavor. That doesn't mean that a scotch ale should burn going down. The malty backbone should provide a sweet and complex flavor that is aided by the warmth of the alcohol. Because these beers are 7% or more they are good beers for aging and often because of how strong they are, they need to be aged. It's a style that doesn't need oak or barrel aging but develops nicely with it.

There is a lot of debate over whether scotch ales need a smoke element to the flavor. Some people think they should include peat malt, which lends a very distinct smoke flavor. Others think no smoked malt should be used but a good scottish yeast strain should create smokey phenols. Still others prefer no smoke flavor at all. Commercial scotch ales, like scotch, range from very smokey to no smoke at all. It's just a question of preference. Personally, I like enough smoke to make the flavor interesting (but more smoke in my scotch) but not overpowering. I find adding a little smoked malt adds that flavor without being offsetting. If you want smoke flavor but don't want to buy an entirely new strain of yeast for one beer I would recommend, as I do here, using a little smoked malt and fermenting with a neutral strain. Although English beers are known for their esters and diacetyl, scottish beers should be neutral or phenolic.

It is also very common of this style to see the first runnings boiled down to a syrup to create caramelization and then sparge additional water to produce the appropriate boil volume. I chose not to do that here and instead opted for a triple decoction mash, which produces similar effects but should offer improved mouthfeel. If you want to boil down first runnings you may want to substitute crystal malt or carapils to make for a thicker beer.

Monacle Wee Heavy Recipe

This recipe is for a lighter alcohol scotch ale. It is easily adjusted up if you prefer a stronger brew. It is also a one gallon recipe, so scale as necessary.

ABV: 7.68%
SRM: 16.8
OG: 1.085
FG: 1.026

Grain bill:

2.5lb Maris Otter
4 oz Munich
2 oz Amber Malt (may substitute appropriate lovibond crystal malt)
1 oz Roasted Barley
1 oz Smoked Malt

Triple Decoction mash at 122/148/158 (alternatively you could boil down your first runnings to create caramelization and then add water back to boil volume)

Boil volume: 1.14gal

Boil additions (60 min boil):
.45oz Fuggles 4.5 AA at 60 min
.07oz Fuggles 4.5 AA at 15 min
.15 tsp Irish moss at 10 min

Ferment 4 weeks with 1338

I will probably tweak this recipe before I brew it next to improve mouthfeel. I might also try boiling down the first runnings. Anyway, it's a good solid recipe. If you decide to make a scotch ale, I do recommend brewing more than a gallon because you'll want to age some of it and one gallon just doesn't cut it. I've drank about half of the batch and I'm trying to ration out the rest because it's tasty (and I'm trying to cut back on how much I drink) and I want to see how it improves over time.
September 28, 2011

Homebrew & Health/Calorie Conscious Diets

I'm always amazed when I read homebrewers talk about how much they brew and how quickly they drink through it. Some people seem to drink beer at lightning speed and some people seem to have quite a few visitors that help eliminate their beer. When I hear how much people are drinking I am at first envious (because I like drinking beer) but then glad I don't because there's no way I could drink that much without getting enormously fat. I don't do manual labor so I sit most of the day, I don't have a particularly fast metabolism, and I eat poorly when I drink too much. I seem to believe most people who drink a lot are also overweight but it doesn't seem like that is always the case.

It often comes up on the boards that some homebrewers are trying to cut weight and beer is a big struggle. Yes, beer is a big problem when you are trying to cut your caloric intake for several reasons. First, alcohol is not processed into useful nutrients so it is "empty calories". Second, alcohol is a depressant that slows your metabolism and makes you more likely to want to eat and eat poorly. Third, beer is full of sugars that the body doesn't need but will readily store. Forth, most people drink at night when the body is least likely to need the calories so it is more likely to convert them to fat. Homebrew and craft beer tend to exacerbate the problem because we tend to consume beer that is in higher alcohol content (therefore more calories) than the typical mass produced lager.

One thing that helps is limiting your intake. I guess this is the obvious answer. The less you drink, the fewer the excess calories. Personally I only drink on three nights of the week (Friday-Sunday) and I try to limit Friday and Saturday to no more than three drinks and no more than two on Sunday (one if I can help it). Roughly once a month I attend pint night at a bar on a Tuesday because we get to drink beer and take home the glasses (and it is very reasonably priced).

Another thing that helps is to become proficient at brewing (and drinking) lower ABV beers. I know, those imperial beers are calling out to you. There are many sessionable beers with great flavor and I think the immediate future of craft brewing will be making lower ABV beers that are very flavorable but still easy to drink that will expand the options greatly.

Obviously working out and eating healthy will go a long way towards cutting weight. Avoiding eating late at night, especially while drinking, can have a very big impact. Including sufficient exercise and eating healthy are critical factors that usually require major lifestyle changes beyond just beer consumption. However they can be done if you are willing to commit the work to make the changes.

I'd love to hear other people share their tips on balancing a love of beer with a healthy lifestyle.
September 26, 2011

Blended Brett Brown -- attempted oud bruin with no sourness

I am compiling this recipe and the process into a single post for easy reference. The following posts explain the overall process I used to make a very good brett beer using a blending process of an all brett, somewhat sour beer and a sweeter Belgian brown. I intended to follow the process laid out in Wild Brews as explained as Petrus's process for their oud bruin. I didn't add any souring bugs and the sour mash I did on the brett portion resulting in a sour brett beer but there's not enough sourness (not much of any) in the final process so it's not appropriate to call it an oud bruin.

This process has a decent description of building a starter for brett (from Orval dregs), a sour mash, blending and stabilizing sour/brett beer for blending to make it safe for bottling.Part 4 has the final recipe for the 1 gallon brett ale and Part 7 has the final recipe for the 4 gallon Belgian brown. You can disregard the recipes given before although it might be helpful to see some alternatives and notes why I changed the recipe over time.

This beer is good. It's slightly caramelly with a good brett flavor. It's slightly one-dimensional but it's been in the bottle for about four months and it's starting to meld into a slightly more interesting beer. It might be a good beer to blend with cherries or raspberries to produce a complex but sweeter fruit beer that might appeal to people who enjoy the flavor of sours without the actual sourness (such as the Lindeman's fruit beers).


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 - brett starter and sour mash

Part 4 - pale brett ale recipe

Part 5 - 1 month update

Part 6 - 2 month update

Part 7 - brown ale recipe

Part 8 - blending

Part 9 - first tasting
September 25, 2011

Watersports Kolsch recipe

I realized I haven't added a "normal" beer recipe in a while so I wanted to throw one up. This is a kolsch recipe I made for my wife, who is a big kolsch fan. She really liked this recipe and said it's her favorite but part of that is probably just her being nice. Anyway, the recipe is simple to allow the kolsch yeast esters to blend with a clean malt flavor and a slight grassy flavor and aroma from Saaz.

Kolsch is a light, German blonde ale that is very lager-like due to the cooler fermentation and typically low yeast flavor, although for this recipe and my available temperature control techniques I fermented slightly warmer to get more yeast flavor. It is a good option for brewers who lack very cold basements or fermentation chambers that allow for lager production. Ideally you should ferment a kolsch in the upper 50s to low 60s but you can produce good beer with kolsch yeast into the mid-60s. If you do not want to use kolsch yeast and get that slight fruity and spicy flavor from the yeast you can ferment with a good neutral strain (1338 would work, so would 05 or a neutral American strain).

Watersports Kolsch Recipe

This is a three gallon recipe, so scale as necessary.

OG 1.047
FG 1.012
IBU 25.8
SRM 4.2
ABV 4.49%

Grain bill:
4lb Pilsner malt
.5lb Munich malt
.5 Wheat malt

Infusion mash at 154 with 6.25 quarts. Sparge to 3.6 gallons pre-boil.

Boil additions:
.75oz Fuggles at 60 min
.25oz Saaz at 15 min
1 tsp Irish moss
.25oz Saaz at 5 min

Ferment for 1 month with Wyeast 2565 in mid-60s.

If you can cold crash before bottling it will help add clarity to the beer. You can also ferment this lower if you prefer less yeast flavor. Personally I found it just a little too estery for my tastes but that is easily adjustable based on fermentation tastes. If you are like me and you don't have a fermentation chamber with controlled temperatures in the 50s and 60s, this would be a good beer to brew in the early part of winter when it is cool through the day and then let it condition in the colder mid-winter months before bottling.
September 17, 2011

Attempting a more D2-like Candy Syrup

In my last post I discussed whether homebrewers could reproduce a syrup with the complexity -- and fermentability -- of D2. After a great deal of research, I decided to give it a go.

Dark Candi D2

Dark Candi claims that D2 is produced solely by repeatedly heating and cooling beet sugar, with no acid or amino acid additions, which would make it fairly difficult to make regular old beet sugar produce maillard reactions or rapid caramelization. Dark Candi labels D2 as highly fermentable, which makes their claims very accurate. If you caramelize sugars or brown them through maillard reactions, they are no longer fermentable. There are other Belgian syrups, made for breweries, that seem similar to D2 and provide some additional information on the make up of these sugars. They tend to be almost entirely maltose (the sugar produced by hydrolysis -- mashing) with a small amount of maltriose (a similar sugar) and fructose.

This suggests one of two things. Either D2 is created by adding enzymes to sugar beets to "mash" them and create maltose, which can then be refined down to a cleaner product, or D2 is a product of the sugar beet refinement process that is less refined than the pure white sugars. Belgium has several unrefined beet sugar products (such as beet molasses and sugar beet syrup) that are commercially available that may be the basis of D2. I'm not sure that maltose can be produced by any other process than hydrolysis so I suspect there is a complex mash and refinement process involved. Either way, it has to be less refined than the white crystal end product because you can't produce that kind of color without caramelization or maillard reactions.

One other unique piece that I suspect is that D2 is made, at least in part, by boiling sugar in a vacuum. Beet sugar is normally refined by boiling in a vacuum. It makes sense that D2 would be made the same way, since it would allow for creating different products at different temperatures that, when boiled under normal conditions, may help produce that chocolate-like flavor D2 has that most homemade syrups lack.

So those two elements being true, it is highly unlikely homebrewers will be able to produce a candy syrup like D2 because we lack access to unrefined beet sugar products (at least most of us in the US) and I don't know of many people with the ability to cook in a vacuum. However, there is hope yet. I wanted to combine my suspicions with elements that would be available to the typical homebrewer to see what I could get.

Attempted Recipe

So maltose is a combination of two glucose molecules, which made me want to use corn sugar (which is individual molecules of glucose) as the base, rather than sucrose (which is both fructose and glucose). To make it less refined and add color -- so less caramelization would be necessary -- I am adding regular cane molasses from the grocery store. I will not be attempting to create maillard reactions by adding DAP or some other ammonia source because D2 claims not to do this (and the molasses may provide some amino acids necessary to create maillard reactions). I am also adding a lot of water early on to keep lower temperatures and possibly create more precursors to flavors at higher temperatures.

This recipe creates 4 ounces of sugar in about 6-8 ounces of syrup.

3 oz corn sugar
1 oz cane molasses
Filtered water


I combined 2 cups of water, 3oz of corn sugar and 1oz of light molasses (non black-strap molasses) over medium heat. I stirred every couple of minutes for the first 15 minutes. Began to boil after about seven minutes. Cooled saucepan in water for 5 minutes with an additional half cup of water. Began to sputter and spray liquid at the end of the 15 minutes. The consistency is still very watery. Taste is slightly rummy and very sweet.

Returned to heat for another 25 minutes. The long cooling process has already darkened the syrup from where it was when I started. It has a slight rummy flavor developing but right now it is mostly sugary-sweet with lighter fruit flavors. At the end of the 25 minute period it appears to have boiled off most of the second water addition. The flavor is slightly more intense. It is starting to develop some darker fruit flavors and a hint of raisin, maybe chocolate. It's hard to tell since it is still very watery. I added another half cup of water and cooled the saucepan in water for another 5 minutes.

Returned to heat for 45 minutes. It has cooked down to a thick syrup with a good dark, rummy flavor. I cooled it back down with 1/4 cup of water and a water bath for another 5 minutes. It still needs to cook down some more for the dark flavors to emerge well.

Repeated process but had to add water in 1/4 cup after 15 minutes and 1/2 cup after another 10.

Poured into pre-heated mason jar. Added 1/2 cup water to saucepan and turned up heat to boil to remove residual sugars. Boiled water down for several minutes until there was only a thin layer, so as not to add unnecessary water content.


The resulting flavor is interesting. It is full of dark fruits, raisins, rum and some chocolate. I took it off the heat before it started to burn so it did not develop the toffee-like flavors that table sugar starts to make as it gets the really dark color as it starts to burn. The color is very, very dark, like D2 but without the burnt flavors and aromas that normally accompany producing sugar at that color. This makes me believe that I am right that D2 is either mashed, a less-refined sugar beet product, or maybe a combination of several products in the process of refining sugar beets.

I would be interested to see what would happen if you mashed sugar beets with some 6 row and boiled down the resulting wort. Also, some Asian food stores carry a maltose syrup, like honey, that is made from rice that might produce a more D2-like product. I also intend on trying to find this syrup and trying it out. Maybe mix it with a little molasses.

Ultimately I think my product in this test is closer to D2 but definitely not quite there. I would say it is 80-90% there, which is pretty good and much cheaper.
September 14, 2011

Is homemade candy syrup/rocks as good as D2?

Most people search out homemade candy syrup recipes to replicate D2 syrup because it's so damn expensive. I've yet to find anybody who claims to have reproduced anything exactly like D2. Although it's easy to produce the caramel, dark fruits and rummy flavors, D2 also has a chocolate-like flavor that nobody has been able to crack. Dark Candi, the manufacturer, claims it is only beet sugar processed by heating and cooling repeatedly. No additives. Dark Candi is very hush hush about the process, for good reason.

I've written before about making beers with homemade syrup and my processes to make it. I am happy with them. I made a dubbel that was straight pilsner malt and homemade amber-ish syrup. It produced a delicious caramel flavor. I've also made my winter beer, a dark saison, using a darker syrup. It is delicious and fairly close to D2 but still missing the dark chocolate flavor.

I think it's interesting and worthwhile to create beers using various darkness of caramel/candy syrups. It gives you an opportunity to create a beer that is different from everybody else. What kind of interesting mild could be created using light to dark syrups? Can a light candy syrup add better flavor than honey? So on and so on.

However, I'd like to give the repeated heating and cooling process a try. Let's see what I can do.
September 9, 2011

Future Brewz

So I guess I have abandoned my idea of not brewing a lot. I mean, it was a good idea, considering how much beer we have on hand (currently about 22.5 gallons bottled, 9 gallons in fermenters) but it was unrealistic, given how much I enjoy brewing. I should use up the grains I have before I go into next summer's hiatus (hopefully) so here is my likely schedule moving forward:

  • Apricot hefeweizen (3 gallons): I already have the grain for this beer so it needs to be made. I had planned on doing a watermelon wheat over the summer but it was just way too hot to control the temperature to do a hefeweizen so once it cools off I want to make a fruit hefeweizen so this will satisfy my desire. Apricot makes for a good beer and it's fairly underutilized so it will make for a good, interesting hefeweizen. Likely brew time: November
  • Apricot brett saison (2 gallons): using my very nice brett-saison culture I'm going to turn out a couple gallons of brett saison with apricot. Yep, more apricot action. Since this beer will take about nine months to produce it will be a nice light, but interesting summer beer for the 2012. Likely brew time: November
  • Black ale (1 gallon): My wife is a big schwartzbier fan but without lagering abilities I'm stuck doing a 1554-like black ale instead. I already have the grains for this beer, so it also needs to be made. Likely brew time: November
  • Vienna/Rye blond (2 gallons): I bought the grains for this to be made in the summer but again, I didn't drink enough to make room for it. This beer is going to combine the spicy rye notes with a healthy dose of hops to make for a nice beer when I get in the very rare mood for a hoppy beer. Likely brew time: March
  • Lambic solera replenishment (4 gallons): December will make 1 year for the lambic, which will be time to drain some out and add fresh wort. I expect to do this in December but if the beer needs to go longer I'd rather let it keep aging than get a less than great beer after already investing a year. Likely brew time: December
I'd like to work on some Belgian styles (specifically Belgian blonde and dubbel, maybe a quad) but we'll see how that works out.
September 6, 2011

Experience Brewing Pumpkin Ale

The homebrew boards are aflame with discussions of pumpkin ales and brewing techniques. There's a lot of discussion over whether the spices are enough to create a pumpkin ale or if the pumpkin is necessary. There's controversy over when to add pumpkin, if you need to roast it, etc. So in light of all of that discussion I decided to add some details to my experience brewing my pumpkin ale.

I did roast the canned pumpkin. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot of lost volume. Obviously the canned pumpkin has a lot of water content that gets lost during the roast. After roasting I added the pumpkin to the mash. I was sort of surprised by how easily it dissolved into the water.

That led to something I didn't consider. The pumpkin would add to the overall volume. As a result I ended up with a lot more than two gallons so I had to reboil about a quarter of a gallon down to a very thick almost caramel-like consistency and added it into the fermenters. Since I was using two 5l jugs I had limited space and as it is I still have more than two gallons.

The pumpkin also provided an...interesting mash experience. I mashed BIAB-style so I should have had no problems with stuck mashes or sparges due to the pumpkin. No, actually the pumpkin gummed up the grains so much I couldn't get the nylon bag to drain. I had to cajole it with a spatula and spend a lot of time breaking up the clumps of grain to get it to drain. Eventually after several dips in the sparge water it thinned out enough to drain on its own.I saved the grain to make bread. I hope that it carries a little pumpkin flavor into the bread.

The wort pre-boil tasted like wort with squash in it. Not really a pumpkin flavor as much as a generic pumpkin flavor. If you have never tasted pumpkin before it is pie you may not be aware that the spices in the pie really enhance the pumpkin flavor and turn it into something much less squash-like. As the boil concentrated flavors it began to get more of a pumpkin aroma. When I added the spices at 5 minutes before the end of the boil it was like all the pieces came together and it got a really good pumpkin pie aroma. The taste post-boil was strongly pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin beer no pumpkin

I think the pumpkin is a necessity. Otherwise, you just have a beer with spices in it. The spices might remind people of pumpkin pie but I think a more discerning palate would disagree that it tastes like pumpkin. It seems to me that a beer with spices and no pumpkin is just a winter warmer. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not the same thing.

I'll see how the flavor is once fermentation is done and the beer has had a chance to settle and mellow. I pitched the beer on the cake of a one gallon 60 shilling ale so it had a good chunk of yeast to work through it. It appears fermentation is close to finishing already, thanks to the low ABV and massive yeast count. I'll probably let it sit 3-4 weeks in the fermenter before I taste it to see if it needs more spice. If it does I'll let it go another week or two and try again. Then 3-4 weeks in the bottle. That should make the beer ready to drink mid or late October (maybe early November) to bridge the gap between Oktoberfest and winter beer.

Next year I would like to remake the beer. Although I would probably look at using fresh spices (e.g. cinnamon stick over cinnamon powder that is of an unknown age) over dried as much as possible. I might also play with adding vanilla, as that seems to be a fairly popular ingredient this year. I also would definitely like to try using fresh pumpkin instead of canned. Not that I am disappointed with the canned pumpkin but I think fresh pumpkin would add a fresher taste and hopefully is easier to deal with.

Anyway, I hope some of this is helpful and best of luck to everybody brewing those pumpkin beers.