July 29, 2012

Under Construction

Please bear with me as I redesign the website. It was starting to get lengthy enough the lack of organization was making it really difficult to keep the good posts afloat and let some of my older, less accurate material sink to the bottom. I should have this done within the next week or two.
July 24, 2012

Lambic Solera Update #9: Taste the Raspberry

When I wrote the title for this post I thought of the line in the old Willy Wonka movie, "the snozzberries taste like snozzberries!" I sure wish I could get some snozzberries.

So not really any exciting updates going on but I did taste the raspberry lambic I bottled at the beginning of the month. If you recall from the post about bottling it here I decided to bottle with EC-1118 wine yeast instead of hoping the brett floating in the beer would do the trick. Sure enough, the bottle opened with a great corked *POP* and it had some good carbonation although it wasn't over the top. There's no head to speak of, which is entirely normal for sour beers. The color is a nice pink hue and there's a lot of raspberry aroma on the nose. The flavor is great. The lambic comes through as the dominant flavor but there's a nice raspberry finish. I had hoped for a little more raspberry flavor but I'm not disappointed with what I got. (Should have used more berries.) The acidity is just a touch more present than the straight lambic but it is softer here. The only real disappointment is I managed to pick up a lot of fruit material in the bottles. I really need to buy a  screen for my racking cane.

I also recently tasted another bottle of the straight lambic. The flavor is still the same: funk, cherry pie and acidity. The acidity seems a little softer -- not as much as the raspberry bottles -- but it seems like the additional age has smoothed out the beer a little. I'm not sure which I liked better: the younger lambic or older lambic. The beer after bottling had a good acidic punch to it but now it has more of a refined smoothness. I have done a good job of rationing my drinking so I can keep some bottles for the next few years to see how it progresses and do some vertical tastings but we'll see how thirsty I get in the future.
July 18, 2012

Miscellaneous Updates...Because You Know You Want Them

I don't have any one exciting thing to write about but I'm in the midst of collecting my thoughts together for a few longer posts so I wanted to take this opportunity to unload just general and miscellaneous updates about my brew hizzouse.

In the spring I wrote about a brown ale I made with the help of some probiotic supplements containing several lactobacillus strains and some non-beer saccharomyces strains. The old posts about it are here, here and here. I bottled this beer back in June with the hope of getting something with a berliner weisse-like tartness. Wrong. Instead the beer is very strange. There is zero sourness. It has a hint of diacetyl to it but what makes the beer strange is the texture. It has that sort of oily texture of diacetyl but without the flavor. It feels almost like a porter in the mouthfeel but the flavor is very mild. The word that comes to mind is that the beer almost has a ghost-like presence to it. It looks like beer, kind of tastes like beer, but doesn't feel like beer in the mouth. The beer flavor hits like an afterthought. It has a neutral taste, like water, up front. I suspect/wonder with absolutely no qualifications or research to prove it, that the lacto and yeast strains were selected for the probiotic supplement with the ability to break down starches and sugars into proteins. Proteins give beer body (think oat additions) without real flavor. It's very strange but I only had eight bottles so I guess I will drink the remaining six. It was worth the experiment. It leads me to reject those people who say lactobacillus acidophillus is a suitable lacto strain for lactic acid production.

The hops are growing slowly so I don't think I will have any hops this year but our summer season in Texas is very long (it can be in the 90s into October) so maybe there is hope. At a minimum I should have three solid plants next year ready to take advantage of an early beginning to the warm months.

I'm sort of glad I haven't had too much time to brew this year. I'm still sitting on 10.5 gallons of homebrew in the bottle that I need to cut down before I go on another brewing rampage. I still have several non-sour beers that are a couple years old that I need to consume before they really lose their flavor. A few homebrews are ok aging some more like my brett brown, lambic and a couple meads. Those beers alone are about half of my bottles but I am happy to let those beers continue to age. It's the two year old BGSA and tripel and the last few bottles of my winter brett saison, sour mash blond with cherries, wheat wine (it's at a good place now) and the probiotic brown. It's been hard to get to the homebrew since we've been finding so many good beers on tap locally (like this week's Belgian Independence Week celebrations) and in the bottle. We are slowly building up a very reputable beer cellar. Going to Colorado next month will only help expand it. At the top of my list are JP, RR and Lost Abbey beers but I have a long list of beers I'm hunting so we'll see what I haul home.

I recently picked up a medium-sized fridge on craigslist for $40. It's one of the few fridges I've seen that fits an ale pail, even with the airlock. The great thing is that the fridge was actually a kegerator and the previous owner was upgrading the fridge so he took the tower and tap but left the old regulator and a small CO2 tank (I think it's a 5lb tank?) with it. It also has the hole drilled in the top so I can also use it for a kegerator in the future. I was able to pick up a johnson digital controller for free by using a law school promotional program to get amazon gift cards. The fridge is a bit beat up but in good working condition. It's a nasty brown color but I found black chalkboard contact paper so I'm in the process of covering it in contact paper so it will look nicer. Plus the chalkboard paper will allow me to write notes on what's fermenting inside. I'll post some pictures once I'm done.

I decided to take down my beer review blog. I wasn't giving it much attention and I sort of lost interest in it. It's hard to write good reviews about a beer when you have several new beers and might have forgotten some of the highlights of the beer. I don't like to sit and write notes when I try beers at a bar so I only worked off memory. It's probably for the best; it lets me spend more time writing here.

I know I just talked about it but I'm really excited to go back to Colorado! Not only do I have a blast seeing friends up there but there's so many good breweries and bars to visit. I believe a return trip to Odell's, Left Hand, Avery, New Belgium and Funkwerks are in order. I'd also like to sneak in a return visit to Fort Collins Brewing and Oskar Blues. I think we are going to try to hit some of the Denver-area breweries like Breckenridge and Great Divide. I know there's lots of good smaller breweries in the area but our time is limited and we also want to do some non-drinking stuff from time to time. Maybe also some brewing if other people are up for it.

Right now the fermentors are full of the lambic solera (six gallons), one gallon of lambic from last year, two gallons of sour mashed brett saison (which is delicious, FYI), one gallon of sour brown, one gallon of perry (or something perry-like) that I will probably bottle tomorrow and one gallon of wild ale. So all abnormal stuff.

I have lots of beers waiting to be made. I still have a wit, spelt saison, dunkelweizen, ESB and Petrus pale ale clone in the wings. I need to bottle culture yeast for the spelt saison, petrus pale clone and wit. I need to make another batch of my hatch chile beer but I have had so many requests to try it I need to get more grain to do a larger batch. I also want to try making a porter and black IPA with some mesquite pods I recently purchased from a fellow homebrewer in Arizona. I want to brew another batch of the sour mash brett saison, more gratzer and I promised my wife an apricot blonde. I wouldn't mind doing an old chub clone too. But like I said, I need to drink what I have first.

On a final note, my wife and I are planning a big fiesta next February after I take the bar (but during the three month wait to hear results) and I want to brew some beers for the occasion. Most or all of the people will be craft beer drinkers so I can make more than a blonde ale but at the same time I don't want to go really crazy and not all beer drinkers will drink the same kinds of beers. I also, to be honest, do not want to have them drinking all of my lambic or beers I have in limited quantities. I am thinking about an ESB, a Belgian blonde ale or dunkelweizen, and a stout or porter. That captures everybody but the real hop heads but they can make do with the ESB. We bought the *big* bottle of Chimay for a toast, too. It's not the most cost effective way to buy beer (although we got it 25% off) but it's the most festive. Plus the bottle will serve as an awesome trophy of my accomplishment. It's a three liter bottle of Gran Reserve. It's a 2010 vintage so when it's opened in 2013 it will be between three and four years old. So I'll be interested in trying that out.
July 17, 2012

Wild Ale 2.0 -- Day Four of Fermentation

I checked on the beer over the weekend and while there was activity it wasn't really interesting enough to snap pictures. The beer developed a white foamy krausen that looked like a carboy freshly filled after sanitizing with starsan. Overnight on Sunday something changed and it decided to throw up a darker krausen that's stuck to the neck of the fermentor so it's hard to get a good picture now without disturbing it. Jerk. The beer is still very cloudy and the krausen has disappeared but small bubbles line the outer edge of the beer's surface so there is some slight CO2 continuing to be released.

There's no unusual smell or appearance to it but if the starter is any indication I will likely soon see a thin pellicle form as the CO2 blanket dissipates over time. I want to keep the stopper and airlock in place as much as possible to keep oxygen exposure to a minimum (I have no idea what's in the beer that might create bad flavors with the presence of oxygen, such as acetobacter or other spoilage bacteria). That means I probably won't have a lot of pictures, at least until a solid pellicle forms. Sorry, I don't want to ruin a year-long (or more) project just to snap pictures.

The tl;dr version is nothing unusual is happening. I will continue to keep an eye on it and report back when there are any changes.
July 14, 2012

Wild Ale 2.0 -- Hot Carl Returns

A couple years ago I became fascinated by the idea of culturing wild yeast. After a couple failed attempt I managed to harvest something functional off a peach I bought at the store (so the yeast and bacteria were probably a combination of local and foreign entities) and made some beer with it. It started off tasting fairly normal, then became really diacetyl-filled, then brett showed up and made it nice and funky. For more information about the original attempt with this beer -- named Hot Carl -- check out this old post.

A few months ago I found a mason jar of yeast washed from the original cake and decided to dump it because I didn't think I would want some more buttery, funky beer. I smelled the mason jar after I dumped it out and it had a nice tart cherry aroma. Damn. Fortunately, I had stored some of the yeast/bacteria/whatever at my super-secret frozen bank. (It's just my parents' chest freezer. For more information about making a frozen yeast bank, check out this threat at HBT.) Over the Mother's Day weekend I visited my parents and picked up a vial of Hot Carl and, as I've written almost nonstop this year, I got too busy to do anything with it for a while. In June I made a small starter and chunked the slurry from the vial and sure enough there was fermentation. Excellent.

I got more busy and couldn't make a beer to use it in so it sat in the kitchen for a while. It developed a thin pellicle and developed some ropiness. I tried to take a picture of the ropes but I couldn't ever get them mobile and take a picture fast enough. They looked like small pieces of floss. At first I thought some bug had gotten into it but no, it was just ropy.

Last night I used some leftover grains to make a one gallon batch of Hot Carl. Unlike last time where I bottled after a couple months, I plan on letting this beer ride out until it tastes good, so I expect it will go a year or more in the fermenter. The recipe isn't very interesting. I used 60% pilsner, 40% wheat to get to a 4.25% ABV beer and 25 IBUs of EKG hops. Mashed a little high. Basically it's the generic recipe for a wheat-based sour beer.

I pitched the slurry from the starter last night. The picture to the right is about fourteen hours after fermentation began. You can see the start of krausen, but what's really interesting is that it is snow white, rather than the off white color of normal yeast. I'll try to snap some more pictures during the day as it changes and keep an eye on it as it changes. I have a few long running projects on this blog, most notably the lambic solera, but the wild ale should be a nice addition and show how it develops over time. If the beer works out into something tasty I'll probably use the trub to start a five or six gallon solera of this beer as well.
July 13, 2012

Hop Garden...finally

Thanks to my ridiculously busy schedule this year it took a long time to get this garden put together. As you can see, it's not just a hop garden but there are hops. The plants, from left to right are rosemary, sterling hops, two bell pepper plants, nugget hops, two hatch chile plants, an open spot where my stupid cascade won't grow, a better bush tomato plant, two jalepeno plants, a black cherry tomato plant, a german queen tomato plant and mt. hood hops.

Mt. Hood in my hood
That mt. hood was doing really well but between the recent invasion of locusts and 100+ temperatures it's really struggling. After the locusts rolled through my hood they stripped the mt. hood of all it's leaves, so I just had some dying bines. With no leaves to breathe, it was on its way to death. So I did a couple of things. I used a rubbermaid tub to create a late afternoon shield for the root structure to keep it cooler. I also cut back all the dying bines so the plant would work on growing new shoots rather than try to keep the damaged ones alive. It worked, as you can see there are some new bines and they are growing inches per day. Hopefully these new bines will survive the heat better than the original bines. The temperatures have cooled down to the 90s during the day so that's helpful.

The sterling is starting to build up steam and grow north. I've been trying to clip off small new shoots coming off the main bines so it will force the plant to grow up on a few bines and get taller.

The nugget is growing steadily but seems rather cranky. I can't tell exactly what it's missing but it looks like it has a nutrient deficiency. Maybe it just needs a little more fertilizer. Maybe it just doesn't like me.

Each plant or set of plants are in five gallon grow bags together so they won't mix roots. The rest of the box is filled with mulch so the plants will keep cool roots in the raised box. The plants are purposefully misaligned so the pepper and tomato plants will provide the roots of the hops some shade and as the hops start filing in the trellis they will provide a little shade for the vegetables as those plants bloom.

The trellis at the top looks like garbage, I know. It's three smaller trellises from my original attempt last year that I nailed together. It looks bad and I'm sure it won't survive for too long. I figure it will give me a year or two of support then I'll tear down the trellis and build a nicer one. Just trying to save a little cash and use what I had on hand.

I think I'm the only person who can't get cascades to grow. Jerks. I'm holding out hope it will try growing a little more this summer. If not, I'll try again next year.
July 6, 2012

Lambic Solera Update #8: Raspberry Adventures

 So having passed the six month mark, it was time to bottle the delicious looking framboise gallon that I divided out at bottling in December. The beer developed a nice deep red color while the fruit turned almost white. Here are a couple of pictures: the first is in the bottling bucket; the second is a sample in a glass. You can see in the sample the beer is more pinkish in a smaller volume, as is typical for any beer.

The beer has a delicious lambic flavor with a raspberry background. I only used a pound of fruit for the gallon; I probably should have used a little more to get a more intense raspberry flavor but overall I'm happy with the sample. The raspberry did not make it too tart and it seems to be a little smoother in acidity as it has aged. (I am noticing the same effect in the bottles of straight lambic.)

In light of the low carbonation in the straight lambic bottles, I decided to add some wine yeast (EC-1118) at bottling. I've never dosed bottles with yeast, so that was a new one for me. It's easy to use dry yeast because you can just add a few yeast cells and move on. The rest of the sachet of yeast went on to ferment a nice perry-ish beverage made with store-bought pear juice (it's still in the fermenter). I haven't tried the framboise yet because it's only been in the bottle a couple weeks now. I'll make another update when I taste it.

So with the framboise bottled that leaves the gallon held in reserve for gueuze and the full solera. The reserved gallon is slowly building up a flat, bubbleless, patchy pellicle. Nothing really interesting there and even though I know it has another two years to go I'm excited. The solera itself is not very exciting at the moment. The pellicle on top is thin and bubbly but it looks about the same as it did last year at this time. Towards the end of summer it will probably develop that powdery look like it did last year.

My current plans for the 2012 release includes just three gallons instead of four I took last year. The main reason is the less I take out the overall older the beer will be averaged out across years. After roughly six years the average age will be 1.9 years old (adjusting for the four I took out the first year) if I only take three. If I continue to take four, the average age will be just shy of 1.5 years. Not a huge difference in the grand scheme of things but that's about five months difference, which is a lot of time for the flavor to continue to develop. It also means that as the beer sits in the bottle it breaks into the two year age.

I thought I would drink through the lambic in a hurry but I really haven't. I brewed some crappy beers this spring and I've been punishing myself by forcing myself to drink them because they were crappy thanks to poor process on my part. I'm conditioning myself to be more strict about everything (brewing). So since I still have a lot of the lambic left I think I can get by with just three gallons. Plus, once I make the one year of gueuze I may decide the gueuze isn't worth holding back lambic, especially since the average age of all the lambic will be close to two years, so that means I'll actually bottle three gallons each year.

So out of the three gallons, one will be held for gueuze, one will be bottled straight and right now the plan is to put the third on blackberries. It's a relatively new idea so I haven't done much research on it. I'll poke around and see if blackberry is something others have found works in lambic. If not, I'll probably find another fruit to try. Maybe try dry hopping it with some hops, if I manage to get a harvest this year.

I'm also contemplating using unmalted wheat instead of malted wheat this December. I'm still on the fence about adopting this more traditional route. I think it will be good for the funky flavor elements since brett breaks those starches down. However, I think if I go the unmalted route I will want to do a turbid mash and I don't know if I'll have the time this December to give up a full day for a mash. (I'll take my last finals in December, then begin a six week bar prep program and somewhere in between try to take a few days off to relax.)