December 27, 2012

Homebrewing Deconstructed: That infection looks like...

This is one of those things I read homebrewers say that makes me want to punch babies in the eye. You've seen it before: some homebrewer gets an infection, posts pictures asking what it is and people roll up proclaiming it's X bacteria or yeast based on the way the pellicle looks.

You cannot tell what an infection is by looking at the pellicle with the naked eye.

You cannot.

No. You can't.

There is simply no way to eyeball a pellicle and know what is underneath. Many bacteria and wild yeast create pellicles. They can create pellicles that look the same, especially if your infection is caused by multiple organisms. Lots of bacteria will make white or white-ish pellicles. You cannot just look at that and decide it's lactobacillus. You would have to take a sample, look at it under a microscope and be able to determine exactly what you have (which may be a difficult task itself). If you could, breweries dealing with infections could just brew a batch, wait for a pellicle to appear and then diagnose the problem by looking at it. Ever heard of a brewery doing that? No, I haven't either. They send cultures to a lab to diagnose under a microscope.

Part of what fuels this nonsense is the belief that the only organisms that can live in your beer is saccharomyces cerevisiae, brettanomyces, pediococcus, lactobacillus and acetobacter. This itself is untrue, but people think there's only three things that will form a pellicle and that means you have a one in three chances of guessing correctly. Well, that's not true at all. Lots of other stuff does live in beer and will form a pellicle. Some non-brettanomyces yeast can live in your beer and will form a pellicle. There are lots of bacteria that can also mix it up in your beer. Not just pedio and lacto.

It doesn't really matter whether you think you have a lactobacillus infection or a zymomonas infection. Your sanitation procedure should still be the same. However, you can avoid sounding foolish by not looking at pictures of pellicles and proclaiming to know what it is.
December 22, 2012

"Barley Wine" Book Review

Festive cover
I picked up a couple homebrew books as a Christmas present to myself and Barley Wine by Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell was the first of the two I knocked out. I picked this book up because I didn't feel like I knew enough about barleywines and it would make for some interesting reading. I liked it enough to give it a brief review, so here goes.

Barley Wine is about brewing, obviously, barleywines. It's one of the Classic Beer Style series published in the 1990s by the Brewer's Association. You can definitely tell it's dated material, not only by the absence of discussion of the 2000s but also by a lot of the brewing discussion. There's a lot of debunked homebrewing mythology asserted and just some old school bad advice worth ignoring. Curiously, the book really wants you to use wine yeast in your barleywines so you don't get a stuck fermentation. It never really addresses why you can't just pitch a sufficient amount of ale yeast in the first place, but I guess there just wasn't enough good yeast around at the time. The recipes in the back of the book almost all contain some extract in them which seems standard fare for older homebrewing materials.

All that aside, the book actually is well written and does a good job of detailing the history of barleywines and some of the challenges faced when brewing these larger beers. The historical discussion is about half the book and the homebrewing advice that follows is somewhat more basic than I was expecting. Still, the book was a worthwhile read and does contain some good recipes and general information on some commercial versions. The information on the commercial recipes comes in the less specific recipe descriptions common to the Brewers Publications books published over the past ten years, such as Wild Brews, Brew Like A Monk, Farmhouse Ales and Brewing with Wheat. However, Barley Wine is considerably shorter and less detailed than the four more recent books. For that reason, it's probably over-priced at $14.95 although the books in the Classic Beer Style series often run on sale throughout the year (I picked it up on sale myself) and you can find used copies of all but Lambic cheaply on secondhand book sites.

What probably surprised me the most about the book was how basic most of the commercial barleywine recipes are/were. A lot of the recipes were straight two row or two row with some munich malt or crystal malt. A lot of times barleywines are cast as kitchen sink recipes, with all kinds of specialty malts thrown in. Certainly, there are some of those floating around but it goes to show that even big, complex beers like barleywines don't need enormously long grain bills to produce a good beer.
December 21, 2012

Lambic Solera Update #13 -- One Week into Year Three

I know a week is fairly early to provide an update into an annual brew process but with it being the supposed end of the universe, it may be my last opportunity (true story, I have actually spoken to somebody who genuinely believes 12/21/12 is the end date). Actually, the reason I wanted to go ahead and post is because there's a pretty interesting event already taking place and something I wanted to note.

As far as the note, I realized after filling up the fermentor that I have a bit more headspace than I did before I cleaned out the better bottle. Of course, the obvious explanation is that three to four inches of trub takes up a lot of room. At first I thought I had brewed too little fresh wort but looking back at the first year it seems about right. Next year I should consider brewing an extra quarter gallon or so to try to squeeze in a little extra beer since I don't get a really violent primary fermentation to need the extra headspace. The first year I had tremendous krausen but neither last year nor this year produced the same vigorous krausen.

Early pellicle

The primary fermentation this time produced about an inch of krausen and lots of airlock bubbling, but as usual nothing spectacular occurred. What is surprising is that after just days following primary fermentation a pellicle has already formed and the beer is already starting to get funked up. It's surprising to see the pellicle form so quickly, especially since the headspace should be full of CO2 so that protective biofilm should be less relevant. I didn't open the fermentor or move it around, so I'm somewhat surprised but happy to see it survived the cleaning process and seems to be content providing more fantastic lambic. I would have snapped up more pictures to show the progress but I've been struck down with the flu the past week so I wasn't very functional.

So far, neither the year two reserve nor the blackberry lambic show any sign of pellicle. Also not a problem, but here are pictures of each of the reserve jugs and the blackberry:

Year One Reserve -- Lots of Pellicle
Year Two Reserve -- No Pellicle

Blackberry Lambic -- No Pellicle

Last Friday I broke open a bottle of lambic from last December's bottling and a bottle of the raspberry lambic bottled over the summer. Both are very good. I like the brighter acidity of the raspberry but I feel like the fruit overpowers the more subtle flavors of the straight lambic that just can't be beat. The acidity in both is much softer which is nice, although I did also enjoy the more bracing acidity after it was freshly bottled about 13 months after the initial brew. Looking forward to tasting a year two bottle against a year one bottle in a few weeks.

I'll probably update the project again in a few weeks as I taste. Hopefully the pellicle will develop some more so I'll have another interesting picture to post.
December 13, 2012

Lambic Solera Update #12 -- Brew #3

The day of reckoning is here. No, it's not the Mayan end of the world, it's time for another play day with the lambic solera. Today I am racking off a gallon for next year's gueuze, racking a gallon onto blackberries, emptying the solera, cleaning it, racking the lambic back in and brewing a new batch of lambic to fill the solera. Quite a busy brew day.

This Year's Recipe

Each year I have added to the recipe as my brewing skills have increased. The first year I did a 60% two row/40% wheat malt recipe with a triple decoction mash. I was happy with it but decided the next year to do the same thing but add some wheat flour towards the end of the boil to make sure plenty of starch gets into the fermenter. This year I am going straight two row and unmalted wheat, which is far more traditional. I know the turbid mash is the appropriate traditional process but so far I've been happy with the decoction process but maybe next year I will switch over when I don't have so many things to do on a single brew day.

Batch size: 3 gallons
SRM: 3.3
IBU: 8.6
ABV: 4.39%
OG: 1.046
Est. FG: 1.012 (pre-souring)

Water profile: Brussels
Five gallons of water, 1.56 gallons in mash, 3.44 gallons sparged

Water additions (mash):
1g chalk
2g calcium chloride
2g epsom salt
1g kosher salt

Grain bill:
3lb Belgian pilsner
2lb Unmalted wheat

Mash schedule:
Dough in 1.56 gallons for 95F rest 30 min
Decoct 1.8 quarts, raise to 156F 10 minutes, then boil 10 minutes
Raise mash to 122F for 60 min
Decoct 2.26 quarts, raise to 156F 10 minutes, boil 10 minutes
Raise mash to 148F for 15 min
Decoct 1.22 quarts, raise to 156 F 10 minutes, boil 5 minutes
Raise mash to 158F for 45 min

Sparge with 3.44 gallons at 178F

Boil volume: 4.5 gallons
90 minute boil
Boil additions: EKG 0.25 ounce at 90

The Brew

My ghetto fabulous milling set up
There's not a lot of exciting stuff to say about the brew. It's very basic, aside from the decoction mash, which I have become fairly proficient at completing. Just lots of cleaning and sanitizing equipment. Since the decoction process is so involved it's hard to get a lot done at the same time but since I've done a few I know where I have free time and where I don't. That said, I really forgot how involved the process is. I usually skip the protein rest these days but with the unmalted wheat I thought a good long sixty minute protein rest was a good idea even though the whole mash process was about two and a half hours, plus milling and sparging.

I had a little boil over on one of the decoctions but I didn't lose very much wort. I'm usually pretty good about catching those but in this case I was caught off guard while cleaning up in the house. Overall, not a bad boil process.

First runnings
Boil bitches!









Racking and Bottling

Nothing really exciting to explain about racking or bottling. It's all very basic stuff. I'm continuing to bottle lambic in champagne bottles. I know the beer is stable enough that I could just use regular long neck 12oz bottles but I like adding a little fanciness. The bottles were bottles with some extra champagne yeast and 1.3 ounces of priming sugar per gallon. I know straight lambic is usually served still or near-still but it's my beer and I'll carb it if I want to. I've been happy with that combination so no reason to make a change. I ended up with four 750ml bottles and two 330ml bottles.

The gallon saved for next year's gueuze was also racked with an ounce of priming sugar. I did this last year to help produce a little CO2 cover for the beer. It seemed to help delay oxygen exposure in the gallon from last year so again, no reason to change the process.

The blackberry gallon was prepared similar to last year's raspberries. The blackberries were already frozen so I thawed them out, hit them with a little pasteurization and dropped them off in the fermentor and added beer on top. Good looking stuff.
Blackberry on the left; lambic for next year's gueuze on the right

Today's Filling

So much trub...
After racking out all the beer I had to clean out the better bottle. Other than my small one gallon jugs that I clean with a bottle brush, I have never had the joy of cleaning out a carboy. What a chore. It was extra fun (read the sarcasm) because it had two years of trub sitting in the bottom plus two years of krausen stuck to the top. I tried to clean as best as I could with a combination of bottle brush and lots of hot water. I gave it a good star-san sanitation just to make sure I wasn't introducing something foul from my water. Then I racked the remaining three gallons back into the better bottle along with the fresh three gallons.

I added some washed yeast from my supply of South Austin Golden Strong yeast. I added it back in to make sure I get decent fermentation since the saccharomyces that came in the lambic blend is no doubt all or almost all dead. This strain does a good job of pumping out esters so it will also help provide some tasty treats for the brett strains to manipulate over time.

Not too bad of a clean up
I also added some oak I had discussed in a post a couple weeks ago. I took an ounce of oak chips and gave them a good boil for several hours over several changes of water to eliminate some of the oak character. I then soaked them in Canadian whiskey for a couple weeks. Now I am one to say adding oak to lambic for the purpose of adding those oaky flavors is not appropriate for the style as one usually does not taste oak in lambic. While oak barrels are used in lambic brewing for aging vessels, lambic brewers use well worn barrels with no oak character remaining. Ok, so what am I doing here?

My goal is not to carry oak flavor into the beer. Instead, I want the oak to supply wood sugars and other flavor compounds that brett will manipulate into other flavors. I don't want the vanillin adding vanilla-like flavor. Instead, I want brett to create funk. That's why I boiled out a lot of the vanillin. I also used liquor to help extract more of the oak character and maybe seep in some of the liquor. I didn't add the liquor, just the chips. I do not expect to be able to taste either. Instead I'd like to see brett manipulate the herbal and smoky flavors in the whisky. Canadian whiskey isn't used in brewing because it's not a particularly bold flavor or highly thought of liquor. However, I have quite a bit of it because it's cheap and goes well into a whiskey and coke. So it was already available and I thought the milder flavor would be more beneficial than a bolder whiskey like bourbon or rye that might come through in the beer but I wanted something for brett to play with so I wanted something less neutral than vodka. I know some people will probably wince at the idea of adding cheap canadian whiskey to lambic and reasonable people will shake their heads at the whole idea but half the fun here is in the experimentation.

The Future

I couldn't help but give the lambic a little a taste. It's funky with a soft sourness. The acidity is a lot less sharp than the first year's pull was when I bottled it. It has since softened a bit as well.

The solera will sit for its usual year slumber until next December. At that time I will have six gallons in the solera plus one gallon of three year old lambic and one gallon of two year old lambic. The two year contains some of the first and second year, so it will actually be a little older than two years. The solera will be about 1.25 years old. I plan on taking three gallons from the solera and blending it with the two and three year old gallons to produce five full gallons of gueuze. After that I will refill the solera and continue as usual.

I am toying with a couple other ideas. I might take out a fourth gallon and beginning the gueuze process all over again. I might restart the same year or wait until the following year. I'm pretty sure I'll want to make another gueuze but I haven't decided which year to start over. If I decide to delay a year I am also toying with the idea of taking a forth gallon and putting it on fruit or maybe even dry hopping it. I'll have twelve months to think on it so no rush.

The gallon I bottled this December will get a few weeks in the bottle to carbonate before sampling but I will post up a tasting on it, probably some time in mid-January. I'll probably do a side-by-side comparison with last year's bottling to see how the lambic has changed between years.

The gallon on blackberries will sit for 5-6 months and get bottled sometime early summer. I'll also let it sit a few weeks to carb up. I'll probably compare it against the raspberry from last year and see how the different berries work. Maybe I'll try a little glass-blending of the two. That could be pretty good. I'll also update this stuff as it occurs.

December 11, 2012

Carburetor -- Stout/Sour Blend

About a year ago I was fortunate enough to sample what I think is one of New Belgium's best beers: Clutch. Clutch is a blend of an imperial stout and the dark sour beer used in other New Belgium sours like La Folie. Clutch is 80% stout, 20% sour. I visited Fort Collins last December and on the New Belgium tour I pestered the tour guide to give me a sample out of the Clutch tap hidden away in the barrel room. It's a delicious blend of flavors. The only time I found it locally in the Dallas/Fort Worth area was on New Years Eve last year at Meddlesome Moth, a gastropub in Dallas owned by the same folks who own the Flying Saucer chain.

Building the Concept

Ever since I tasted those delicious beers I set out to create a beer of my own in the same idea of blending sour and stout. Rather than brew a big 9% version like Clutch I decided I would take it to a more sessionable place, so I opted for a lighter 5.5% Belgian stout and an intensely dark sour beer. The biggest contributor to the decision to create an easier drinking version was at the time I started working on the plan, about a year ago, most of the homebrew in the house was high ABV and I wanted to work on more beers in the 5% and lower range. I wanted something that had the traditional stout flavors with the complex sour flavors and just a hint of Belgian yeast character.

Carburetor...makes you thirsty?
New Belgium named Clutch after a Maryland band and although they are very big into biking I thought if you're going to make a Texan version of the beer you have to look around at our community full of big pick up trucks guzzling down gas like there is no tomorrow. So I gave the beer all auto part names. So the Belgian stout is Motor Oil -- because it's dark and thick -- and the sour portion Battery Acid -- because it's acidic -- to come together as Carburetor. There's no relationship between the beer and carburetor. I just think it's a funny word.

I decided to work off a Belgian stout, rather than something more neutral because I wanted the yeast character to add some flavor complexity to make up for what might be missed not using a bigger stout that would carry more character than your standard Irish or English stout. Sour beers are very thin, which meant the stout needed lots of body so plenty of adjunct and mashing high would help keep some mouthfeel. Having never built a stout recipe, I started looking at a lot of Belgian stout recipes, particularly Boulevard's Dark Truth (which is actually more of an imperial Belgian stout, but I enjoy the flavor enough to use it as a starting point). The end result is Motor Oil. Based on the recipes I looked at I decided to make the grain bill more reliant on an American or British version of a stout than load it up with the typical Belgian specialty grains like caramunich and special B. I didn't want it to taste like a heavy oud bruin by the time it was all blended together.

The sour beer I decided I wanted to sort of go all over the map to put together the flavors I wanted instead of trying to tie it down to a particular style. So Battery Acid ended up with a German Pilsner base, C120, caramunich, carafa III and chocolate wheat. I wanted a grainy base with some raisin and caramel notes but I wanted it really dark without contributing more acrid malt flavors so I opted for carafa III and chocolate wheat for color. That chocolate wheat is good stuff. Very tasty and very smooth. I fermented it with a Belgian strain to get the esters available for brett to work into more complex flavors. I then racked out of primary and pitched the dregs of a bottle of my lambic solera to sour it. I didn't want a funky, lambic-like sourness in the beer but it's the only sour beer I had on hand that I knew would be viable. By racking off the trub I expected more sourness and less funk.

Putting the Pieces Together

I brewed a test run of the stout in early 2012 and although I really liked the flavor I wasn't in love with the mouthfeel. It wasn't thick enough and ultimately it led me to realize I had some temperature control issues with my one gallon system that I have since fixed. I brewed Battery Acid back in February 2012 and pitched the lambic dregs in March. It developed a nice pellicle after a couple weeks and sat quietly getting acidic. I tasted it a couple months ago and it was a fantastic blend of sour, cherry, raisin, caramel and a hint of carafa flavor. It's so good I'm half disappointed I'm going to blend some of it. I rebrewed the stout at the end of November with the plan to complete blending mid-December.

My initial plan had been to blend the entire gallon of stout with half a gallon of sour, so it would be 33% sour to 67% stout. Over the past year I went as far as wanting to blend all of it 50%/50% to as little as 20% sour. Ultimately I decided to go with my initial plan. It will be easiest to divide a gallon of sour beer into two halves. Ideally I would rather be able to take samples of the two beers and make different blends and see which I like but only having a gallon of each means I don't have a lot to lose. So the final plan is blend a gallon of stout with a half gallon of sour and bottle half of Battery Acid straight. It's the best of both worlds.

I will rack out Battery Acid to my bottling bucket and add priming sugar and champagne yeast for carbonation and bottle half straight. Then I will add more priming sugar and Motor Oil, give it a gentle stir and bottle the blended Carburetor. Wait. I know. You're wondering how I will blend live sour beer and unsour beer in a bottle and not create a cataclysmic explosion. I skipped over that part.

When blending a sour beer into a clean beer you have a couple options. You can bottle in really thick bottles and hope you drink your beer fast enough that it doesn't explode on you first. If your clean beer is fairly dry, like a saison, there's not as much leftover sugar or starch to consume but a stout is full of starches and unfermentable sugars so that's not an option here. The other option is to stabilize the sour beer before blending. If you have a fancy set up you can filter the beer and/or pasteurize. That's what New Belgium and many other commercial brewers do. Since I can't flash pasteurize my beers I have to go with more rudimentary methods.

I borrowed a method from Michael Tonsmeire, who writes and appears online frequently under the name Oldsock. He is a brewing genius, especially when it comes to sour beers. It works like this: you take your sour beer, add finings and cold crash. This process tries to knock out as much of the brett as possible. Finings will attract the yeast, making them larger chunks of matter and more likely to fall to the bottom of the fermenter. Once the beer clears at cold temperatures for a few days, rack out to another fermentor and add campden. Let it sit for twenty-four hours, then blend and bottle. The campden will do two things. First, campden does a neat thing to yeast where it prevents them from reproducing. That means any brett coming through won't be able to reproduce and any eating it does will be a very slow process. Second, campden kills bacteria. So all the souring bacteria will die off and leave a more stable beer. I tried this process once before except I didn't have any finings to add. As a result, a bit of brett got into the final beer and has made some very well carbonated but after 18 months, incredibly delicious beer. Fortunately I bottled it in champagne bottles. The finings, it seems, are really important and cannot be skipped.

The easiest way to use finings is gelatin. I've never used post-boil finings before so this was a new one for me. I followed the advice of Greg Noonan in New Brewing Lager Beer to add one gram of gelatin to two ounces of water. Let bloom at room temperature for one hour and then heat to 150-160 and add to beer. Swirl gently for a couple minutes and then cold crash. I followed this process and shoved my sour beer into a fermentation chamber at 42F. I left it there for three days. It's hard to tell on a beer that is midnight black whether it is clear or not. I had to judge based on the increasing thickness of the trub.

Next I racked off the trub into a fresh fermentor and bombed it with campden. Since I only had a gallon of beer and a whole tablet of campden is good for five gallons, I only added a quarter of a tablet I crushed and added to the fermentor. I let the campden sit for another three days even though you really only need one to let the campden dissolve and then degas the sulfur. I let it sit so long just because I had my last final coming up and didn't have time to bottle beforehand. I'm glad I let it wait the extra couple days because there was still a bit of sulfur in the beer I gently stirred to degas. Seemed to work ok.

Bottling was tricky because I wanted to bottle both the sour straight and the blend. I had to reyeast the sour portion and make sure I primed for both bottling runs. I added 1.3oz of priming sugar for the gallon of sour beer. That will carbonate to about three volumes with some extra sugar to make up for the CO2 lost during aging and with all the racking and stirring to get to bottling. I added a slug of champagne yeast from the fridge. Both priming sugar and yeast were added at the beginning of racking out so it would mix well. I ran off five bottles of the sour beer and then stopped. Oddly enough the sour portion seemed really dark in the fermentor during aging but after cold crashing it turned a dark brown and by the time I bottled it was about the color of an oud bruin. I then added another ounce of priming sugar (in boiled water) and racked the stout into the bucket and once it was all in the bucket together I gave it a couple swirls just to be sure it got mixed. I then bottled another fourteen bottles.The stout portion came out of the fermentor a strange purple color but once mixed turned out a nice black color.

The sour portion tasted pretty much the same as it did last week. I'm pretty happy with it. The blend seems right around where I wanted it to be. The coffee and chocolate flavors come through. There's a good hit of acidity on the back -- a little more than Clutch -- and there's a bit of a smack in the face of roast that Clutch doesn't have but I think it very intriguing. I'm excited to see how this beer develops in the bottle after carbonation. I'll update with a tasting on both after each conditions in the bottle for a few weeks.

December 7, 2012

Homebrewing Deconstructed: There is no reason to secondary

One of the common myths rolling around these days is that there is no good reason to use a secondary -- and I mean that in terms of a second vessel to bulk age your beer, not an actual second fermentation. It is the replacement groupthink for the older belief that you must always secondary after a week or your beer will taste like beef broth. In trying to smash the old idols homebrewers inadvertently rebuild the same idea just in reverse.

Why a secondary used to always be "required"

I haven't been brewing long enough to know when or where it started but it the general premise was that you had to do primary fermentation and once that ended you needed to move your beer to another vessel because keeping it in contact with the yeast for a couple weeks would make your beer taste like beef broth from autolysis (after yeast die they release compounds that have a beef broth-like flavor). The major reason given for this belief was that once upon a time homebrewers didn't get access to very good yeast so they died quite quickly. I suspect this is myth itself. People were brewing for thousands of years before the 90s/early 2000s and I've yet to see any ancient text that talk about beef broth-flavored beer.

It's more likely that homebrewers did what they still do: looked at what commercial brewers do and try to emulate it. Commercial brewers do rack to bright tanks after fermentation ends. However, commercial brewers operate on a very different scale. The amount of beer and yeast they have in a fermentor is substantially more than we carry in our buckets and carboys. The pressure from all that weight is different. Using massive cylindro-conical fermenters means all that pressure bears down on a relatively small cone of yeast. The pressure and weight increases the heat in the cone and that accelerates yeast death. There are several other reasons they use secondary vessels that we do not.

Some time in the mid-2000s some homebrewers tried leaving their beer in primary for several weeks and discovered no ill effects. Thus the no-secondary movement began.

Why a secondary is not required


Once we agreed that three weeks sitting on the trub would not create a big bucket of vegemite (a British food product actually made from autolyzed yeast that tastes a lot like beef broth), the tide started to swing towards an equally monolithic position that secondary is never, ever required (and its corollary myth that you need to leave your beer in primary for a month). However, there are some good points on why a secondary is usually not required.

Other than the dreaded fear that autolysis occurs almost immediately, a secondary was championed as the best way to get clear beer because somehow not having trub at the bottom of fermentor meant it could get clearer than in primary. That's sort of like saying a lake or river can never be crystal clear because there's rocks, sand and dirt at the bottom. You know that is not true. Similarly, you can clear out your beer in the primary just the same. Once heavy particles like yeast and proteins descend to the bottom of the fermentor they do not have the power to defy gravity nor is there a limit on how much heavy material can stay at the bottom of a fermenter. If that was true, liquids like whole milk would never naturally stratify. Same goes for those crystal clear lakes with miles of dirt and rock beneath it.

Another reason given sometimes was that you needed to transfer to secondary to add post-fermentation additions like dry hopping. Again, there is no basis for this premise other than a lot of people said it. Hops, fruit, oak, etc. work the same way whether there is an inch or a millimeter of trub beneath the beer.

You can produce delicious, clear, healthy beer with only your primary vessel.

Why a secondary is sometimes a good thing

There are a few reasons why you might decide to secondary your beer anyway:

  • You want to yeast wash and add post-fermentation additions but don't want to fight through the additions to get to the yeast. It is a lot easier to yeast wash without fruit hanging on top of it. You also have the benefit of not having to worry about whether your post-fermentation additions might bring an infection. Although proper sanitation usually avoids that problem, it's not really easy to sanitize dry hops and I've seen a few infections related to them. 
  • You are making post-fermentation additions and your primary vessel won't fit the trub, beer and additions. This is pretty easy to do when you're adding fruit, especially if you are using a primary vessel with very little headspace to begin with.
  • You plan on using a particular kind of secondary vessel, like a barrel. You don't usually want to do a primary fermentation in a barrel because you either chose to lose beer to blow off or have more headspace than suggested. Using it as a secondary vessel allows you to fill it full without headspace or blowoff problems.
  • It is a strategic part of a sour or funky beer. Some sour beers are aged on the trub, like lambic, but others are racked to secondary, like Flanders reds. The presence of the trub can increase the funk and the absence can help emphasize a cleaner sourness. A secondary vessel helps limit access to trub.
  • Similarly, it is a strategic decision to split beers and age differently. If you want a beer partially on one fruit and partially on another, again you'll need secondary vessels.
  • You lager or cold crash your beer but then move it to the area you bottle/keg and in the process of moving the fermentor you are swirling trub back into suspension. The whole point of lagering and cold crashing is to get all that crap at the bottom of the vessel. If you are carrying the fermentor around and putting all that stuff back in suspension you're just wasting time and electricity. If that's a problem then consider using a secondary vessel to limit how much stuff can come back into suspension when you move the fermentor. 
  • You think your beer tastes better for it.
You might think, ok these are all really obvious, Captain Obvious. That's true; however, the point of these deconstructed myth posts isn't to say anything groundbreaking. It's just about deconstructing those bumper sticker-style rules where people just throw out a generic rule without applying it to the situation at issue or having a more robust and helpful conversation. Some of these myths get thrown around as absolute rules when that's not the case. I've read more than a few times where somebody has talked about racking to secondary to add post-fermentation additions and here comes multiple people to scream about how there's no benefit to it. Well maybe there is and maybe there isn't.
December 5, 2012

Homebrewing Deconstructed: Four Week Primary

One of the big ideas floated around over the past 3-4 years after people realized transferring to secondary was not necessary was that an extended primary is beneficial and should be done. It was sort of replacing one blindly accepted practice with another. It has started to fade as its most ardent supporters have been challenged to prove up their position and people are embracing the idea that fresher beer is sometimes best. I'll admit, I was hooked on this train as a new brewer and rode it for a while. I've also hopped of that train (sort of).

The idea behind the extended primary is that it gives your yeast time to clean up any undesired fermentation by-products and drop clear. There is a certain logic to it and it seems fairly reasonable given the old belief was the 1-2-3 system of one week in primary, two in secondary and three in the bottle (another belief worth deconstructing itself). If you are spending three weeks between primary and secondary, an additional week in primary isn't that big of a deal. The idea gained steam when some homebrewers left some beers in primary for an extra week or two and decided their beers tasted better that way. Then the whole thing snowballed as the new belief challenging the old primary and secondary paradigm.

The big criticism usually came from the supporters of the secondary-is-a-must camp that if you left the beer on the yeast you will get autolysis and your beer will taste like beef broth. There's a lot of misinformation on autolysis out there but suffice to say I have lambic two years in on the trub and it definitely has no beef broth flavor. I've left big Belgians, with no brett to mask autolysis flavor, in primary for three months with zero beef flavor. I can appreciate that commercial brewers do worry about autolysis. The difference is that they are fermenting in enormous cylindro-conical fermenters with substantially more beer on top of the trub. The combination of pressure from all that beer plus the conical shape results in a greater concentration of pressure and heat that can accelerate yeast death. Lambic brewers ferment right in those barrels and that's a 59 gallon primary where the trub might sit for years. Still a bigger system than an ale pail or carboy. Autolysis isn't necessarily a myth but it's pretty hard to treat brewing yeast so poorly at the homebrewing level you're going to get noticeable flavor from autolysis after a few weeks.

There are a couple reasons why that extended primary is a good thing. First, if you are brewing a bigger beer you need more aging time no matter what vessel it is in. Even a beer in the higher single digit ABV can benefit from some extended aging, whether it is in primary, secondary or lagered. Many commercial brewers do put their bigger beers through some extended aging and/or lagering for clarity and smoothness. Even ales. So there's that. Second, if you are mistreating your beer the extended time will help clean up some off-flavors that never should have been there in the first place. If you are stressing your yeast by under-pitching, under-aerating, or supplying insufficient nutrients, you risk creating off-flavors in your beer. Yeast will continue to take up some of the byproducts over time and fix your problems. So if you are doing that, then yes, you need the extra time. However, the more effective solution is to treat your beer right in the beginning.

Some beers are harmed by the extended aging. This is particularly true of weizen beers because the esters and fresh wheat flavors fade over time and rather than having a good mix of wheat, clove and banana you end up with sort of a bland clovey beer. The same is true for hop flavor/aroma-forward beers. Those late addition hops fade over time so unnecessary aging can drain out some of the flavor and aroma. Some beers, especially lower ABV beers, do have a certain freshness early on that gets lost over time, even week by week.

That's not to say you can't enjoy your beer more as it ages. All us beer snobs cellar beer because the flavors develop over time. Some higher ABV beers, as I said before, really mellow with age. Hell, I just knocked off the end of two 10%+ ABV Belgians that were two and a half years old that didn't mellow for over a year. Jamil Zainasheff had a medal winning BDSA after aging four years. The distinction I draw here is that if you treat your fermentation process properly you don't need to age every beer four or six weeks and some beers will be worse off for it. Don't believe just because somebody copies and pastes pages of bullshit over and over on forums about how you need to wait eight months for your beer to be done makes it truth. 

If you want to do an extended aging because you think it makes your beer taste better, that's ok. It is your beer and you should drink it how you like it. My belief is that you should understand why you are doing it and do it for a particular purpose, not because somebody told you that you should. It is also my belief you should make the best beer possible and do so by employing the best processes out there, not whatever will cover up other mistakes.
December 3, 2012

Random Rambling about 2013

I've been trying to keep a steady pace of posting twice a week on Monday/Tuesday and Thursday and one of the ways I get that done is to write drafts on the other days of the week when I have the free time and inspiration. This post was actually written late Saturday night, while I was being supercool and studying for finals. Did I mention I'm also drinking a little beer? This brief study break will be the most exciting part of my night. I know this is not the most exciting post. I have a couple finals early next week so I don't have time to whip out anything more in depth. I have a lot of beer stuff going on the second half of December so I promise better content soon.

I'm currently drinking a 750ml of the blended brett brown beer that started off as some half-ass idea of an oud bruin. I didn't do a great job of stabilizing the brett portion so over time it has chewed up some of the sugars in the clean portion and made some overcarbed bottles. Fortunately the beer is still pretty good. I brewed the brett portion back in January 2011 and finally blended early June 2011 after I came back from my honeymoon. For a while the beer was really funky. My younger brother said it tasted like how the family dog smells. He wasn't entirely wrong. It was pretty funky, just like the dog. About six months ago I opened a bottle and it was in a weird funky-cherry place. It wasn't terrible but didn't taste "complete" which is a problem for a lot of brett beers when they go through evolutions of change in the bottle. Now the beer has risen to a spectacular place. It's full of funky cherry like a lambic but with the malty character of an oud bruin and no sourness. It's quite tasty. Sadly, while this beer is rocketing up towards deliciousness the dog's health is declining fiercely. It's too bad. She used to be a really entertaining and playful dog. Now she looks like life kinda sucks but she's trying to get better. She's still awesome in my book. So Bitey, this awesome beer deserves your name even if it doesn't taste like you any more.

I posted here about my end of 2012 and 2013 brewing plans. I intend to keep those plans -- at least loosely on that schedule -- but I already have some additions I'd like to add. Obviously I need to do some more work on my yeast project but that's not really making drinkable beer as much as just trying to catalog what I have. I picked up some DME so I can brew some really simple beer and reduce the amount of trub I ended up with in the first round. I have also been playing with the idea of brewing a barleywine and along with it trying another partigyle brew. I am tinkering with a one gallon barleywine/two gallon dark mild partigyle split. The recipe as it is now is mostly about trying to use up odd ounces of different grains I have in my fridge that are 1-2 years old and just need to get used. The mild will go into the party pig as a test run on the cask idea  I wrote about back in September. I planned to try out an ESB for my after-bar exam party in the party pig but I'm thinking a house full of people is the wrong time to see if an experiment is a good idea.

So I'd like to brew the partigyle in January so I'll have time to drink all the mild (a 3% beer is very easy to put down) and fill the ESB and condition it before the party. The problem is that the lambic solera is going to suck up a lot of my gallon fermentors in a couple weeks. Currently I have two committed to the stout-black sour blend and one free gallon fermentor (I will write about this separately next week). I need all three to complete the blending process, which I will do the week after next, but two will go right into service on the lambic the same week. One will house a gallon of lambic for next year's gueuze blending. One gallon is getting blackberries for six or so months. That leaves one fermentor available for all my gallon batches. The barleywine will need to age for many months and I'd like to hit it with oak and some dry hops before bottling, so that will require keeping it in a fermentor so it will be close to ready to drink after bottling so the dry hops can be enjoyed. I'm trying to use up another five liters of jug wine as I can but that's a lot of wine to put into food. So I need another free fermentor available for other beers. The partigyle would use both a jug, for the barleywine, and my bucket fermentor, for the mild. The only fermentor left would be a corny keg and it's really hard to rack out a small batch from a corny keg. I've tried.

Losing the extra gallon fermentor would set me back on the coffee oatmeal stout and losing the bucket will interrupt current plans for brewing the black IPA and American wheat. We are thinking about pushing the party back to April when it will be warm enough to enjoy the outdoors so I may delay the American wheat. That's something we just started discussing. It probably would be helpful to brew a little less while studying for the bar but I don't want to end up not brewing all the beer I would like next year. We'll see.

The next big thing on the horizon is the third brew on my lambic solera. It's going to be a massive brew day. My wife will be off of work to help out, which is good because there is going to be a massive amount of work involved. Of course I will be brewing the new three gallon batch, complete with a triple decoction mash, which will take several hours and the decoction mash will be a busy process by itself. I'm also draining the entire fermentor so I can empty the huge amount of trub (it's 3-4 inches tall) and give the fermentor a good cleaning out. I'm losing a lot of room in the fermentor to trub and I don't know if it will support another year of trub. Plus, after a couple of years it's about time when autolysis might start to be a real concern, especially for the first year's dead yeast trapped under all that trub. I will then siphon off two gallons into the two gallon fermenters and bottle a third gallon. Then sanitize the solera fermentor, add the remaining beer back in and add the fresh wort. I'm also going to give it a helping hand of some fresh saccharomyces. I'm going to hit it with some of the South Austin BGSA yeast I have just to make sure it gets healthy fermentation and the excellent ester profile from that yeast will help add nice flavors for brett to manipulate over the years.

When I first brewed the lambic I added a small amount of oak chips I boiled forever and soaked in some chardonnay. I know, oak flavor is not meant for lambic. I agree. The oak chips were devoid of oak flavor. I added them to give brett another source of food and try to leach out some of those tannins into the beer. Since I've been happy with my lambics so far I felt like the oak was at a minimum doing no harm and at a maximum adding complexity, so I decided I should add more after recleaning. This time I decided to go a little unconventional and after boiling out a lot of the color and flavor from the oak chips I added it to some Canadian whisky.

Okay, if you punched yourself in the face after reading that know there was a deliberate reason. Canadian whisky, unlike Scotch or Bourbon, is a milder blended whisky. I think adding scotch to beer is dumb because you'll miss all the subtle scotch flavors under the beer. Bourbon is simply too sweet to make sense. American rye whisky, like Wild Turkey, would be too much rye character. It's not as smooth as a blended scotch. It often has herbal and smoky notes from the rye but not as much rye character as an American rye whisky. My goal is to really use the whisky as a device to extract more color and flavor out of the oak and impart just a little extra something for brett to play with. I don't expect to taste any of the oak or whisky in the final product. I thought it would be an interesting experiment and I found two 1.5 liter bottles of the stuff in my liquor cabinet so I wouldn't miss a few ounces in the service of lambic.

Who knows, maybe brett and Canadian whisky is an unknown combination of awesome. I plan on extracting the chips for the lambic. The remaining whisky will either go down my gullet or if it tastes pretty good it might go into another homebrew. Maybe a stout. Anyway, I'll write more about the lambic rebrew and the Canadian whisky-oak chips later.

November 29, 2012

Dunkelweizen + Pumpkin Pie Spices = My New Pumpkin Beer?

I wasn't very happy with my last attempt at making a pumpkin beer and although I had wanted to give it another try this year there were too many other beers I wanted to brew and usually fall means Oktoberfest and lots of commercial pumpkin beers so not a lot of homebrew gets drunk in our house this season, anyway. Well this year we didn't seem to find as many oktoberfests or pumpkin beers as we had hoped. One excellent pumpkin beer we found was a brand new beer by local brewer Lakewood Brewing Co. called Punkel, which is a Dunkelweizen with pumpkin spices. Punkel definitely lived up to our own hype; it's delicious. Although there's not a lot of weizen yeast character coming through it is probably more of an American-style dark wheat beer in the same way American wheat beers sometimes call themselves hefeweizens.

A few weeks ago I looked around at my current bottled homebrew and realized we're actually running short on beers my wife will drink and since I had meant to brew a dunkelweizen earlier in the fall I thought it would be fun to make a proper German dunkelweizen and add pumpkin spices. We also have important friends coming into town in three weeks -- the feller who made we want to try homebrewing and his wife -- and I'd like to have some good beers for them to try since it's been a couple years since they tasted our beer. Three weeks is really fast to push out a beer but a weizen can definitely ferment fast and as a low gravity beer it should be ready in the bottle in a couple weeks. I've never pushed out a beer that fast so we'll see how it goes.

The recipe below is my standard dunkelweizen recipe, which I really like. I keep thinking about adding a touch of chocolate malt to give it a slight roast edge but my wife thinks it's perfect so I keep it as is for her. The pumpkin spices were selected by looking at a lot of recipes and figuring out which ones were described to have the same characteristics I like in pumpkin beers. I prefer the more earthy spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, than the more fragrant spices, like ginger and allspice, that can make pumpkin beers taste a bit like potpourri. As usual, this is a one gallon recipe.

This will be my first attempt using my new two gallon cooler as a mash tun for my smaller batches. I am using a bag to hold the grains, rather than rebuild the spigot, so it will be more of a BIAB technique but I'm really hoping it will hold a consistent temperature better than using a pot on the stove, which was getting cool too fast.

Pumpkin Dunkelweizen

Batch size: 1 gallon
ABV: 5.55%
IBU: 17.4
SRM: 12.4
OG: 1.056
Est. FG: 1.013

Water Profile - Munich. Started with RO water and added:
2 grams chalk
0.5 grams calcium chloride
1.5 grams epsom salt

1lb Wheat Malt
0.5lb Munich Malt
0.25lb C60L
0.25lb Pale Malt

Mash Profile - Double Decoction
Infuse 0.63 gallons at 119F for 113F rest for 25 minutes
Decoct 1.10 qt and raise mash to 148F for 30 minutes
Decoct 0.49 qt and raise mash to 158F for 30 minutes
Sparge with 1.58 gallons at 178F

Boil time: 60 minutes
0.25oz Saaz [4%] at 60
1/2 tsp spice addition at knock out (see spice recipe below)

Ferment at 66F with WLP300 for one week, bottle condition at 4 volumes for 2 weeks.

Spice recipe:

1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp clove

Mix together and add appropriate amount to beer. I only needed a very small amount of this spice blend but I didn't have an easy way to mix it in a much smaller quantity. You can scale the recipe up if you need to make a larger blend. Having extra on hand not only means you're ready for another batch but it also means if the spices are too weak before bottling you can make a spice tea and add in the bottling bucket until you are happy. Alternatively you could use the store bought pumpkin pie blend but I find it tends to be a little to floral for my taste.


Fermented four days at 66F, raised to 69F for two days, let free rise last day. Bottled with 1.25oz corn sugar in weizen bottles. Added a few extra ounces of water to the priming sugar to make up for excessive trub. Obtained 7.5 16.4oz bottles. Will carbonate for two weeks at room temperature ~70F.

Spice blend tasted good at bottling. No potpourri flavors. Flavor begins with a clovey dunkelweizen flavor that is slightly muddled and then finishes out into a great pumpkin spice flavor. Aftertaste of spices remains with a slight tannin astringency on the tongue. Looking for the flavors to blend a little better after carbonation and expect carbonation will help scrub the remaining tannins off the tongue.
November 27, 2012

Motor Oil Belgian Stout

I brewed this beer almost a year ago in January of this year and although I was happy with the flavor, one thing I really disliked was that it seemed thin. (I know, smart people are going to scroll down to the recipe and point out that there isn't any flaked barley but not all stouts actually do use flaked barley and the oats and wheat is almost 20% of the grain bill, that is definitely enough body-adding grain.) It was what set me down the path of recognizing my stovetop BIAB method for one gallon batches wasn't producing the kind of beer I wanted. This second batch is getting mashed in my new two gallon cooler, which seems to be doing a better job of maintaining temperatures.

The first run of the recipe earlier in the year was just to see how it tastes in preparation for it's final destination. I like the flavor, it has some good roast character mixing with chocolate, raisin, oat-silkiness, some bready wheat character all over great Belgian yeast esters. However, it was not intended to be a stout all on its own. This beer is one half of a blended stout and sour beer based loosely on New Belgium Clutch, which is a blend of an imperial stout and the dark sour beer they use in their sour beers (most prominently seen in La Folie). It is a delicious blend of 80% imperial stout and 20% sour. So I began conceptualizing a more session-strength version of this blend, using a more moderate Belgian stout and a darker sour beer. The dark sour beer was brewed in the beginning of this year and innoculated with dregs from my lambic. I published the recipe for it under the name Battery Acid. I'm still considering the proper blending percentages. I've thought as high as 50/50% and as little as 75/25 with 25% sour. Since the stout portion won't be done for a few weeks I'll have time to lock down how sour I want it to be and how much of the sour portion I want to bottle straight. I'll write separately about that when the time comes.

So today I'll just post the recipe for a tasty, wheat-driven Belgian stout. It uses a lot of unconventional grains for a stout. I blended the concepts of the usual Irish and English stouts with new wave Belgian stouts, in particular Boulevard's Dark Truth, which I enjoy a lot. The recipe uses chocolate wheat, which is a fairly new grain and one that gets universal appreciation. It is smooth and chocolately and bready all at the same time. It's quite tasty. It's a good mix with chocolate malt to get those chocolate flavors but limiting the roasty character of chocolate malt. Although I haven't used it in a dunkelweizen it would probably be fantastic.

Anyway, here's the recipe for one gallon:

Motor Oil Belgian Stout
Est. ABV: 5.51%
IBU: 35.2
SRM: 54.3
OG: 1.054
Est. FG: 1.012

Water Profile: London
RO water adjustments:
Chalk: 0.5g
Calcium chloride 0.5g
Epsom salt 0.5g
Baking soda 2g
Kosher salt 0.5g

Mash water: 0.63 gallons at 170F -- mash 60 min at 158F
Sparge water: 1.57 gallons at 174F

1lb Marris Otter 49.26%
0.25lb Crystal 120l 12.32%
0.25lb Flaked oats 12.32%
0.13lb Chocolate malt (350 SRM) 6.4%
0.13lb Chocolate wheat malt 6.4%
0.13lb Wheat malt 6.4%
0.07lb Carafa III 3.45%
0.07lb Roasted barley 3.45%

Boil additions for 60 minute boil:
0.4oz EKG [5%] at 60 minutes

Pitch on cake of South Austin Golden Strong yeast at 75F, ferment at ambient for three weeks.

This recipe is one of my more complicated recipes. I am usually an advocate of less-is-more when it comes to recipes because too many grains tends to produce a muddy beer when people try to add too many flavor components. I'll rationalize this one: MO is your base grain, which you need. The oats add body to the beer and if it wasn't oats, I'd add flaked barley. The chocolate malt, chocolate wheat malt and wheat malt should be thought of as two flavor components rather than three. The wheat and chocolate wheat malts produce body and breadiness. The chocolate wheat and chocolate malts come together as a blend of chocolate flavors with some roast but a bit smoother than chocolate malt on its own. The crystal malt and roasted barley are flavor additions and the carafa III was to get it over-the-top dark, there's no significant flavor addition there. So the resulting flavors you get are: raisin/caramel from the crystal, roast from the roasted barley, bready from the MO wheat and chocolate/coffee from the chocolate malts and mouthfeel from the oats. Those are four distinct enough flavors in a balance that isn't muddy but rather distinct. It's definitely on the edge of too much going on, especially with the yeast, but doesn't reach muddy. It may be too much with the sour beer added but we'll see.
November 23, 2012

Yeast Project Post #2

I decided to start the project by testing three strains: RAM-1 (WLP 300); RAM-2 (Stroh); and RAM-10 (Blatz). I figured the two probable lager strains would be good to test side-by-side and the WLP300 sample would be a good benchmark for my process, since I know what that strain should produce.

Overall Process

I first needed to grow the cultures in a small volume of wort, so each received 10ml of 1.040 wort with manual aeration (shaking). Part of the culture will then be moved to a 90ml solution of 1.030 to grow for a fermentation test. Once the 90ml starter is fermented, the liquid will be decanted and 13oz of 1.040 wort will be added. The fermentation will occur at 61F for five days, followed by one week at room temperature. The beer will be siphoned off, gravity-tested and bottled. It will be conditioned for three weeks as usual. The remaining cake will be rinsed and then stored for either further tests or addition to my frozen yeast bank. The beer will be tasted for flavor profile (the worst part of the project!).

Depending on the strain and results, additional small fermentations may be done to test the strains productivity at higher or lower temperatures. Lager strains may get a test at a higher temperature to test upper limits of usefulness but probably not lower. I hope to be able to identify the lager strains by esters produced in the low 60s due to their usual clean performance in the 50s.The ale strains will probably undergo testing at 61F, 68F and some in the mid-70s, depending on the strain and how it performs at lower temperatures. If it produces undesired esters at 68F, no reason to test it at 75F.

Notes for RAM-1, RAM-2 and RAM-10 -- 11/1/12

Since I just brewed the mesquite porter I was able to coax out some additional runnings from the grains and boil it down to a useful gravity. I went ahead and hopped the wort for convenience and minor bacterial defense. This same wort will be used in the final fermentation tests, too. It's not an ideal environment for any of these three yeasts but it's mild enough to allow yeast flavor to come through.

10ml cultures
Each culture received 10ml of wort at 1.040 with shaking for aeration. RAM-10 (Blatz) showed the quickest sign of reproduction with a small dusting of yeast on the bottom of the vessel and obvious CO2 production, roughly 24 hours after pitching. Both RAM-1 and 2 are lagging roughly 42 hours later but showing some signs of CO2 production (or just air venting back out of the liquid when I shake it). The worts in 1 and 2 are more clear, suggesting less yeast activity. My source says it may take as much as five days for solid growth to occur.

RAM-10 already smells like a drier beer with some light-struck character, like corona. Since it was showing positive signs of significant growth I removed roughly 4ml and added to a 90ml 1.030 starter, receiving shaking (I'm feeling like I have a lot of plates spinning now).

Notes for RAM-1, 2 and 10 -- 11/2/12

I woke up this morning to some happy looking yeast. Each vial, when shook for aeration, produced positive pressure in the vial, which suggests significant fermentation has occurred/is occurring. The RAM-1 smells like hefe yeast, as it should. RAM-10 continues to smell Corona-like. RAM-2 smells more clean with a slight fruity character.

The starter of RAM-10 is also showing signs of bubbling. There's a thin layer of bubbles growing on the top but it doesn't look like krausen, yet. I'm keeping an eye on krausen growth to try to determine if this is a lager or ale strain.

Notes for RAM-1, 2 and 10 -- 11/3/12

RAM-10 has developed a nice, thick layer of yeast at the bottom of the starter. At the end of the day both RAM-1 and 2 were showing good signs of fermentation so I added them to their own respective 90ml starter. The RAM-10 starter lost the skunky smell and is starting to exhibit a slight fruity-ester character and some of the smell of well, a lager.

Notes for RAM-1, 2 and 10 -- 11/4/12

RAM-10 has a very thick layer of creamy white yeast. It appears to be ready to be stepped up. RAM-2 is showing some signs of fermentation in the starter. RAM-1 is showing some, but slightly less than RAM-2. I will probably hold off on stepping up RAM-10 so I can do all three at once and put them in the fermentation chamber as the mesquite porter is coming out.  

By the end of the evening the starters looked inactive so I put them in the fridge to cold crash and expect to get fresh wort in there for a fermentation test tomorrow. 

Notes for RAM-1, 2 and 10 -- 11/5/12

Poured out the starter liquid today and added fresh wort of 13oz to each starter. Will ferment at 65F for three days, then let rest at room temperature for a week. Added 13oz of 1.040 wort with aeration and yeast energizer at 1pm.

Tasting notes on starters: RAM-1 tasted like light struck porter with hints of banana and clove, just as should be expected from a hefe strain. RAM-2 had strong caramel and apricot flavor, slightly reminiscent of steam beer. RAM-10 was similar to RAM-2 but with less caramel, more apricot and a slight skunky character like the initial starter.  

Roughly six hours after adding fresh wort there is a thick layer of foam in each vessel. Perhaps each yeast actually is an ale strain and it is krausen on each. Could still just be escaping CO2 crowding into a foam.

Notes -- 11/8/12

After three days at 65F I let the temperature rise to 69F with the intent of letting it rise to 75F (or as warm as it will get at room temperature). I will let it stay at these temperatures for seven days and then test the FG and bottle. RAM-1 looks fairly clear with a good compact cake of trub with lots of yeast. RAM-2 also looks clear but with a little less yeast. RAM-10 has very little yeast in the cake but the walls of the jar are lined with yeast. I wish I could get them to fall off into the cake to try to keep a larger volume from the batch.

Notes -- 11/15/12

Today I bottled each beer as a sample. I ended up with around 8-10oz in each bottle because I was trying to leave as much yeast behind as possible. I haven't quite decided how I am going to try to wash the yeast down to an amount I can put in my frozen yeast bank but I have plenty of time to figure it out and for now the cakes are sitting in mason jars under sterilized water in my fridge. The leftover runnings I used from the porter didn't make a great test wort because there's a lot of unfermentables in it and I added way too many hops so it's pretty bitter. I'll just buy some DME at the homebrew shop next week and make my life a whole lot easier.

I tested the beers for gravity and sensory perception. Results were not too surprising:

  • RAM-1 (WLP300): pretty much what was expected, some clove and banana underneath the porter and hops. Hefe yeast does not belong in a porter. FG was 1.012.
  • RAM-2 (Stroh's): strong caramel aroma, some yeast esters, slight diacetyl. Tasted same as it smelled. FG was 1.011.
  • RAM-10 (Blatz): intense aroma apricot and caramel, sort of an apricot cobbler aroma. Taste was less apricot-y with slight skunky character. FG was 1.012.
November 19, 2012

Hop Garden Follow Up

This year I had committed to building a nicer garden and making a more serious attempt than I made last year to grow hops. (The build appears here.) Overall I was dissatisfied with the development -- I got no hop cones -- but I am holding out hope that I have some good root crowns in the dirt for next year.

I planted four varieties: cascade, sterling, nugget and mt. hood. The cascade never made it more than a few inches before it died off. The sterling actually had some great bine growth for a while but once the locusts set in early summer it struggled to grow back from that terrible plague. The mt. hood also had some decent growth but never got more than four feet off the ground. The nugget also performed poorly, getting only about eighteen inches off the ground.

I'm a pretty bad gardener, so I'm not too surprised I didn't do well. I should have done a better job of keeping them fertilized and I need to figure out a better method to keep the locusts away from the plants. Next spring I will probably try to enclose the garden with mesh. My rosemary bush did well and my pepper and tomato plants did ok initially but once the summer heat set in they stopped producing to then start up late summer. Now we are reaching cold weather and I have all these half-grown tomatoes that are probably not going to make it all the way to maturity. The bell pepper and hatch chiles produced a little but the cold is sapping their strength so what's on the plants now will likely be the end. Only the jalapenos are proudly giving the cold nights (upper 30s) the cold shoulder (terrible pun) and growing tall and proud.

Next year I will take another stab at cascade and replant some more peppers early in the season. I debate back and forth with myself about leaving out the peppers so the hop plants have unfettered access to the sun but once it hits triple digits in the summer I think the ground shade is important to keeping the roots cool. By that time the hops should be several feet in the air and should have no problem getting sun on the leaves.
November 15, 2012

Wild Ale 2.0 -- Four Months

It's been a couple months since I checked in on this beer. I try to ignore it because I'm expecting a two year aging process before bottling. The aging process isn't particularly exciting but it's interesting to peek my head in every once in a while and see where things are.

The last update in September only showed a very thin pellicle. Today the pellicle is thicker with some big bubbles. It is still fairly loose, it doesn't have that tight appearance pellicles often get although it is more opaque and dense. The beer is still extremely clear beneath. I know the description is much less interesting than a picture but it's hard to get a really good picture in the mouth of a gallon jug and the sides of the fermentor in the headspace has all the junk leftover from krausen so I can't get a great picture from the outside.

Right now my plans haven't changed for this beer, I still expect to let it ride out two years. I expect to wait to taste it until twelve months have gone by and then most likely give it another six months until I start thinking about bottling it. If the flavor is good at eighteen I'll probably go ahead and give it a bottling but I'm not opposed to letting it go all twenty-four months. I am still holding on to hope that the beer will develop into something excellent and I will want to commit another two years to a larger five or six gallon batch.
November 12, 2012

Yeast Project: RAM-4

RAM-4 is identified as a "super-attenuative" saccharomyces strain cultured from spoiled beer from the UK. Although I suspected the strain might actually be brett, on further research tracking down what little information is available about the strains I obtained (at least to my non-biologist, non-scientist resources) it is a saccharomyces strain. It's just not saccharomyces cerevisiae var. cerevisiae. It's something else.

It's saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus, or sometimes referred to simply as saccharomyces diastaticus. I had never heard of this strain before but by deploying some late night google-fu I found that it is actually discussed in some brewing literature, less so in homebrewing literature, and some scientific work. One article referred to it as a "ninja yeast". Let me tell you why: Saccharomyces diastaticus has a power that saccharomyces cerevisiae usually lacks: the ability to metabolize dextrins and starches. While saccharomyces cerevisiae var. cerevisiae strains can only ferment certain sugars, this ninja yeast can absolutely dry a beer out. Even more than those badass saison strains like 3711. Ok, I thought that was pretty cool. Ninja yeast sounds badass. So why isn't this yeast deployed by brewers, especially those trying to make low calorie beers?

When Boston Beer Co. and Weihenstephan got together to create Infinium beer, one of the goals was to create a very light, dry beer. They contemplated the use of saccharomyces diastaticus, as Weihenstephan has an extensive yeast bank and includes this ninja strain; however, Weihenstephan rejected it because the flavor was unpleasant. (Ultimately, they developed a mash method using un-kilned malt with more enzymes to dry out the wort better. They were limited in options due to the Reinheitsgebot that applies to Weihenstephan. For more information and a look at the patent application, see here.) Further research, including some writings by the well known Charlie Bamforth, explained saccharomyces diastaticus does a great job drying out a beer but produces a lot of phenols, particularly of the medicinal-flavored variety.

(As an aside, part of my research reflected that it is not uncommon to see Torulaspora delbrueckii bacteria used to promote clove flavor in wheat beers. I had never heard of that but I'll probably do some follow up reading on that.)

In fact, saccharomyces diastaticus is a major beer spoiler. Since it can chew up what our average saccharomyces cerevisiae var. cerevisiae leaves behind it almost always has an opportunity to turn your beer into a meal. It is likely the "wild yeast", or one of them, commonly infecting homebrew. I know personally I have had some infected beers that didn't turn sour but did dry out with terrible phenolic character. Saccharomyces diastaticus was probably getting nasty in my beer. Of course, this really goes back towards the argument I frequently make about infections and some of the homebrew folklore that, "the only things that can live in beer is saccharomyces, brett, pedio and lacto." That just isn't true. There is a lot of yeast, mold and bacteria that can survive at different times in the brewing process and many enjoy the anaerobic conditions of a sealed bottle or keg.

Rather than make a lot of medicine-flavored beer, this strain is being looked at for fermentation in ethanol production for industrial/transportation uses since it is able to consume more than other saccharomyces strains but unlike brett, will not take as long or metabolize the ethanol into acid. So that's pretty cool but it doesn't help out my brewing unless I'm brewing beer to run my car -- and I am not.

So bringing all this full circle to the yeast project, I do not intend on experimenting with this strain, at least not yet. I already know what infected beer tastes like, I'm not really in the mood to deliberately make more. So there's really no value in popping this yeast out and letting it loose. I'm not a believer that once a strain gets free in your house it will take over but there's just no value in producing bad tasting beer for the sake of making bad tasting beer. (Your house, equipment and body are constantly covered in a nice layer of yeast and bacteria anyway.) Maybe at some point I will get bored and give it a try but for now the culture will sit lonely in the back of my fridge. I thought the research was far more useful to myself and other brewers so I wanted to share that and explain why there is no test batch for this strain.
November 7, 2012

Beer Cellar?

Like most beer snob/connoisseurs I have a small collection of beer I've accrued but haven't drank yet. I don't get into all the trading because I don't have time to track down beers to be able to trade (we don't get a lot of trade-worthy beers in the DFW area) but I do have some stuff I've acquired in other parts of the country. Some of this stuff is beer I bought purposely to age, some I bought with the intent of drinking right away but haven't and a few beers just got forgotten about for a while and haven't made their way into the fridge. So I thought I would just share what I'm sitting on. I know this isn't homebrewing-related but I'm putting in a lot of time on the yeast project (I'm currently fermenting three of the strains and organizing notes along the way) plus gearing up for my last round of law school finals.

  • Piraat 750ml acquired 12/10 (just forgot to drink when I bought it, now I'm just seeing where it goes)
  • Boulevard Brett Saison 750 ml acquired 7/09 (also bought and forgot to drink, now I am saving for next summer to break open against a 2013 bottle)
  • Rahr Barrel Aged Winter Warmer 2x22oz acquired 12/11
  • Franziskaner Dunkelweizen 16.9oz acquired 9/11 (also forgot to drink at the time and keep forgetting to just drink it)
  • Maui Brewing Coconut Porter 12oz acquired 9/11 (left behind and forgotten from a four pack)
  • Liefman Cuvee Brut 750ml acquired 9/11
  • Russian River Damnation 12 acquired 12/11
  • New Belgium Frambozen 6x12oz acquired 12/11 (bought last winter and forgot to drink it, probably past its prime)
  • Stone Collaboration Cherry Chocolate Stout 2011 12oz acquired 12/11
  • Lindemans Kriek 750ml acquired 10/11 (also a bought and forgot beer)
  • Blanche de Namur 750ml acquired 10/11 (also bought and forgot, the spices are probably a bit faded)
  • Liefman Goudenband 750ml acquired 11/11
  • Ommegang Aphrodite 750ml acquired 11/11 (early reviews said to age so that's what I'm doing)
  • Ommegang Three Philosophers 750ml acquired 12/11
  • Ommegang Hennepin 750ml acquired 12/11 (bought and forgot)
  • Ovilla Dubbel 750ml acquired 12/11
  • Leffe Blonde 750ml acquired 5/12 (bought and forgot)
  • Real Ale Sisyphus 12oz acquired 3/12 (I want to buy another bottle next year and taste vertically)
  • Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout 12oz acquired 3/12 (bought and forgot)
  • New Belgium La Folie 16.4oz  acquired 5/12
  • New Belgium and Lost Abbey Brett Beer (NB Version) 22oz acquired 7/12
  • Deschutes Collage 12oz acquired 7/12 (I acquired two bottles, the first was very rough, aging this for at least a year)
  • Great Divide Hoss 12oz acquired 8/12
  • Great Divide Hades 12oz acquired 8/12
  • Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire 750ml acquired 8/12
  • Dry Dock Vanilla Porter 22oz acquired 8/12
  • Lost Abbey Carnavale 750ml acquired 8/12
  • Goose Island Pere Jacques 22oz acquired 8/12
  • A'Chouffe McCouffe 750ml acquired 9/12
  • DeProef Zoetzuur 750ml acquired 9/12
  • Great Divide Wolfgang 12oz acquired 9/12
  • Ranger Creek Small Batch No. 1 12.7oz acquired 9/12
  • Ranger Creek Small Batch No. 2 12.7oz acquired 9/12
  • Ovilla Saison 750ml acquired 6/12
  • New Belgium Tart Lychee 22oz acquired 6/12
  • Widmer Kill Devil 750ml acquired 6/12
  • Ommegang Art of Darkness 750ml acquired 6/12
  • Left Hand Smoke Jumper Imperial Porter 22oz acquired 6/12 (need to drink before the smoke starts to fade)
  • Ranger Creek Mesquire Porter 22oz acquired 6/12 (also need to drink before smoke fades)
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru 2x750ml acquired 9/12
  • Schneider Weisse 500ml acquired 9/12 (will go into the fridge soon)
  • Schneider Aventinus 500ml acquired 9/12
  • Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero 22oz acquired 9/12
  • St. Arnold's Pumpkinator 22oz acquired 10/12
  • Full Sail Wassail 12oz acquired 10/12
  • Pike Place Brewing Naughtie Nelly 22oz acquired 10/22
  • Boulevard Yorkshire Stingo 750ml acquired 9/12
  • Eel River Raven's Eye 22oz acquired 9/12
  • Wasatch Devastator 12oz acquired 9/12
  • Le Petite Prince 750ml acquired 9/12
  • Wittekerke Winter White Ale 750ml acquired 12/11 (bought and forgot)
  • Great Divide Espresso Yeti 22oz acquired 7/12
  • Avery Nineteen Tripel 22oz acquired 9/12
That's a very rudimentary  list and I did a poor job of listing them in any fashion other than how I wrote them down as I tried to catalog them on paper some time ago. If you notice the acquisition dates tend to clump around certain months. That's usually when some new beer place has opened or somewhere was running a sale or I took a vacation. My wife and I really went on a tear buying beer this year but that was because we found a lot of great stuff we really wanted to try and it's always cheaper to buy a bottle and bring it home than buy a pint or half pint at a bar. Plus, we don't go out too much since we're both in school. We try to drink one bottle from our reserve each week and right now I'm trying to enjoy some of the beers that will decline with age, such as the smoke beers, so we can enjoy the full value of the beer. We'll probably scout out some winter beers in December but we're running really low on room for beer in the house so we'll need to drink down our reserve for a bit before we bring in another haul.
November 5, 2012

I got new yeast!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After a few weeks of work, I've been fortunate enough to obtain samples of several strains of yeast generally not available to the homebrewing public (I'm not even sure these strains are available to most commercial breweries, either). I am unbearably excited about them. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to say how I obtained access to these yeasts, except to say it was completely legal. I'm fairly confident my source would prefer I do not name names or share future generations of the yeast but I haven't been explicitly told not to.

Ok, so I'm not just trying to brag that I took down eleven rare strains, I fully intend to explore these strains and see how they perform at different temperatures. Since all the strains came from breweries I expect they will all make good beer and eventually find their way into several of my beers and into my frozen yeast bank. I'll start up a new page in the toolbar to the right to collect the experiments. I'll give you the breakdown of the strains I received and what little info I have at this point (I'm still trying to track down some history on these strains). I will identify the strains based on my own catalog numbers identified as RAM-# (RAM being the abbreviation for my usual interweb nom de plume on beer sites).

RAM-1 is actually a homebrewing strain; it is the White Labs Hefeweizen Ale strain (WLP300). This strain will act as sort of the control strain for the process. Since I know how it operates and what flavor/aroma it produces I can use it as a comparator for other strains to make sure my process is producing healthy yeast (and beer).

RAM-2 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain identified in origin from Stroh's Brewery in Canada. Since Stroh's is known for lagers, I suspect this strain is a lager strain.

RAM-3 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain identified in origin from Whitbread Exchange Brewery in Sheffield England, now defunct. I do not know if this strain is related to the Whitbread yeast sold as S-04/WLP007/Wyeast Whitbread.

RAM-4 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain either housed at a brewery or cultured from a beer brewed in the United Kingdom. The only notes available was that it came from a "super-attenuated beer" but since it was genetically verified as saccharomyces cerevisiae it is not brett, despite the notation.

RAM-5 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain originally from Pabst Brewing Company but identified as "Pabst Ale Yeast". I do not know if this strain was ever used to produce the Pabst Blue Ribbon Ale or another Pabst product.

RAM-6 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain of unknown origin but cultured from a trappist cheese. It may be a trappist strain in normal use or some other unknown or currently-unused Belgian saccharomyces cerevisiae strain.

RAM-7 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain identified in origin from the Pschorr Brewery in Munich, Germany. I do not know if this strain is an original Hacker Brewery strain or a different one used by Pschorr Brewery before it was merged with Hacker in the early 70s. I also do not know what products the strain may have been used to produce.

RAM-8 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain from an unknown brewery in Surrey, England. Not knowing what date it was cultured or preserved, I have no way of guessing the source.

RAM-9 is a saccharomyces bayanus or pastorianus strain identified as originating from the Whitbread Exchange Brewery in Sheffield, England. This strain may have been used to ferment lagers but guessing by the location and common use for these strains it is likely the strain was used to ferment cider and/or mead.

RAM-10 is a saccharomyces cerevisiae strain identified in origin from Blatz Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I don't know if this is an ale or lager strain but since Blatz is a lager manufacturer, my suspicion is it is a lager strain.

RAM-11 is a dekkera anomala strain from an unidentified brewery. The only note I have is that it is isolated from lambic. Dekkera is a spore-forming version of brett. Nobody seems to produce any anomola strains at the homebrewing level but Wyeast used to (apparently they found out it wasn't really an anomola strain and quit selling it?).

Last, RAM-12 is a brettanomyces custersianus strain originating from Bantu Brewery in South Africa. This brett type is sold by East Coast Yeast and ol' Al B at ECY says this strain produces a lot of fruit flavors with no funk and an increasing amount of acidity over time. My initial research suggests this strain will produce a lot of acetic acid if you give it the oxygen to make it happen. I do not know if this strain is the same as ECY's.

Well, that's all for now. I was offered many other beer and non-beer originating strains that I declined at this time. It will take me a lot of time to break down these strains and do some testing on them. Maybe in the future I will take another look at those other strains. I'll probably keep passing on the saccharomyces cerevisiae harvested from vagina and human feces and the lactobacillus harvested from a baboon's tooth. I could have said yes to the lactobacillus from a baboon's tooth but I declined. I mean, I am curious what flavors are available from that strain but I'm even more curious about who looked at a baboon and said, "I wonder what bacteria is in there and yes, I would like to get my hands in there and find out." Inquiring minds want to know...
October 31, 2012

Mesquite Porter

After what feels like a long absence from brewing, it's time to get another brew going. Today's brew is a tasty porter with the addition of the mesquite molasses I made here last week. I'm excited about this brew for several reasons. I'm curious to see how the mesquite adds (or detracts) from the beer. It's also my first attempt at using an english yeast strain. I'm also trying to move back into paying more attention to the water so this is my first beer in a long time that I am trying to completely build up from scratch. Well, without further blabber, let's get into the beer.

Recipe Concept

My initial concept for the porter was born from an idea of a recipe modification for two amigos in Colorado who were trying to put together a hazelnut porter. I liked the idea of the modification (you can find it here) and blended the idea with the porter recipe that won at the NHC this year, which wasn't too far off the modification I started with. Since I had acquired the mesquite pods earlier in the year I wanted to go ahead and use them on a beer that would complement the caramel/chocolate/coffee/vanilla/cinnamon flavors. I think the recipe is good on its own but the mesquite molasses just gives it that unique edge.

I don't like hoppy porters, so I just went with a basic EKG bittering and flavor addition to balance the beer and give it a hint of that softer EKG flavor. I definitely didn't think the hops would add any flavor to the mesquite molasses and would probably overshadow some of the finer aromas from it.

Although I have brewed porters in the past with very neutral strains, I went with an English strain to get a little authentic feel to the beer. English strains are picky about the temperature and will produce a lot of unwanted esters as the temperature approaches the upper 60s and beyond. Not everybody seems to be a fan of the esters in English beers. I don't necessarily blame them; the ester production from some English strains can be overly fruity and unpleasant, unlike Belgian or French strains that are usually sought for their expressive ester character. For this beer, I want to keep temperature down around 63F to keep the beer relatively clean with just a hint of fruity character.

The Water

For the water I began with distilled water and built up using the standard brewing salts. I sought a water profile similar to London, although porter is a forgiving style when it comes to water because the dark grains will help keep ph down. I only made mash additions to reach these figures (in ppm):

  • Calcium: 53
  • Magnesium: 12
  • Sodium: 54
  • Chloride: 40
  • Sulfate: 52
  • Alkalinity: 125
  • Residual Alkalinity: 217
  • Chloride:Sulfate: 0.78

The Recipe

Recipe size: 2.5 gallons
Est. OG: 1.055
Est. FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.23%
IBU: 25.5
SRM: 25.1
BU/SG: 0.463

3lb Marris Otter
4oz Crystal 80L
4oz Crystal 40L
4oz Chocolate malt
4oz Flaked barley
1oz Flaked oats

Mash water: 1.45 gallons
Salt additions:
  • Chalk: 2 grams
  • Epsom salt: 2 grams
  • Baking soda: 1.5 grams
  • Kosher salt: 1 gram
Dough-in at 166F
Mash 154F for 60 minutes

Batch sparge with 2.52 gallons at 178F

60 minute boil
0.60oz EKG at 60 minutes
0.25oz EKG at 15 minutes
Mesquite Molasses (from 1lb of pods) at 10 minutes

Pitch S-04 1 dry pouch at 63F
Ferment four days at 63F
Continue at room temperature for ten days
Bottle carbonate to 2.1 vol (1.77oz priming sugar)
Bottle condition three weeks at room temperature

Brewday Notes:

Efficient brew day; checked mash ph and was a little high, adjusted to 5.3 with acid addition.

Attempting to dry some spent grain in the oven to reduce the moisture content and improve quality of spent grain bread. Also ran off an extra gallon of wort for yeast project.

Airlock bubbling began about six hours after pitching.

11/2/12 - Increased fermentation temperature from 61-62F to 64F. Will increase to 66F on 11/4/12.

Hopefully the beer comes together nicely and the mesquite pods deliver. I have another beer planned for the mesquite pods that will be a truly interesting blend but I will have to see how this turns out first...

Tasting notes on 1/18/13