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
October 29, 2012

Future brew schedule

Ok, I'll admit, this post is really more for me than it is for you. I'm trying to map out my future brewing schedule with all the grains I have from my last big purchase at the end of 2011 and my most recent purchase I received last week. So this is my tentative schedule for the rest of 2012 and into 2013. Maybe it will entice you to come back and see what I've brewed as the year progresses...

November 2012
Brew Mesquite Porter - 2.5 gallons (done)
Brew Belgian Stout - 1 gallon (done)
Bottle Belgian Graff (done)
Bottle Belgian Stout/Sour Black Blend and Sour Black Straight(done)
Bottle Mesquite Porter(done)
(Possibly) Brew/Bottle Pumpkin Dunkel - 1 gallon (done)

December 2012
Brew Coffee Oatmeal Stout - 1 gallon (done)
Brew Lambic Solera Year Three - 3 gallons (done)
Bottle Lambic Solera Year Two (done)
Secondary Lambic Solera Year Two on blackberries (done)

January 2013
Brew American Wheat - 2 gallons
Bottle American Wheat
Brew Mesquite Black IPA - 2.5 gallons
Bottle Mesquite Black IPA

February 2013
Brew ESB - 3 gallons
Bottle ESB

March 2013
Brew Dunkelweizen - 1 gallon (done)
Bottle Dunkelweizen (done)

April 2013
Brew Apricot Blonde - 2 gallons
Bottle Apricot Blonde

May 2013
Brew Chile Blonde - 2.5 gallons
Bottle Chile Blonde

June 2013
Brew Doppelbock - 1 gallon
Lager Doppelbock

July 2013
Brew Smoked Saison - 1 gallon
Bottle Smoked Saison

August 2013
Brew Tropic King clone - 2.5 gallons
Bottle Tropic King clone

September 2013
Possible bottling of Petrus Aged Pale Clone

October 2013
Bottle Doppelbock

December 2013
Brew Lambic Solera Year Four - 3 gallons
Bottle Gueuze from Lambic Solera Year 1-3

I'm looking a little thin on the last half of the year but that's really intentional. My wife and I usually partake in the oktoberfest, pumpkin and holiday beers at the end of the year and tend not to drink a lot of homebrew, so there's no reason to brew a bunch of beer that won't be enjoyed fresh. I'm sure we'll end up with quite a bit of this beer left to push through the early fall. We're still sitting on a little over ten gallons in the bottle plus fifteen in fermentors. So we're not exactly thirsty here. Also, if the Petrus clone is ready for bottling that will be a five gallon injection into our supply.

I'm actually very excited about these beers. Most are on the lighter side, both in terms of color and ABV, which is nice because I can drink more without as big of a caloric hit and less fear of a hangover the next day. It's a good mix of regular beers with a few weird twists, like the smoked saison that will feature some munich malt I home-smoked over some mesquite. Hopefully I will have some hops grow next year on my plants and I'll contemplate a fall brew of either wet hops or freshly dried hops but we'll see whether I end up with locust-consumed bines absent hops or a nice batch of tasty hops.

I may tweak the calendar a bit as time goes on and my non-brewing schedule evolves next year. I'll take the bar at the end of February and then work for a few months on preparing my firm while I await bar results and hopefully I'll be able to open my firm late May and start making some cash to pay down these loans. I expect long, 60-70 hour weeks ahead of me (not too different from my current law school schedule), and lots of stress so I'll have to fit the brewing and bottling in as I can. After three and a half years of law school and neglecting friends, family and generally the world beyond home and school, I'd also like to see people and do things, so that will crowd out some of my brewing as well.
October 26, 2012

Mesquite Pods? Yeah, You Can Brew with Them.

Earlier this week I promised to write something more substantial later this week so here's what you get. This is actually the prelude to a porter I plan on brewing (hopefully) next week. I'm sitting on a brand new shipment of grains from Brewmasters Warehouse and my two pounds of Belma hops from HopsDirect and I'm itching to brew something and it might as well be now before the semester starts to wind down into studying for finals and, of course, finals. So I'm going to brew up a new porter that uses a mesquite molasses to create something really unique. Today I'll talk about the mesquite molasses and next week, assuming I brew, I will finish with the actual porter.

What the heck is mesquite molasses?

Mesquite pods among the leaves
Mesquite molasses is a thick syrup made by steeping roasted mesquite pods. What are mesquite pods? Mesquite pods are the seed pods on mesquite trees, which grow in the Sonoran desert in Mexico, the southwest US states and into the plain states. Mesquite is most commonly used as a smoking wood for BBQ and grilling and it's known for it's sweet, smoky flavor. However, mesquite flowers are the source of mesquite honey and the seed pods have been used as a source of food for humans and animals alike. The seed pods, shown to the right, are long and hard (like me). The actual seeds are protein-rich and can be ground into a flour used like any other. However, the seeds are incredibly hard and it requires more than a regular flour mill to break them down. For molasses purposes, the seeds are mostly useless. Instead, we are concerned with the actual pod casing and filler material, which is full of fructose -- sugar. They are 20-50% sugar by weight and very little starch, so it's practically the same as steeping crystal malt. The non-seed material is used to make mesquite molasses. People also make tea/coffee out of it.

If you decide to chomp on some pods, or the seeds inside, be aware that the seeds do contain an enzyme that inhibits conversion of proteins to amino acids so although they are not toxic and eating one or two won't harm you I would not make it a practice to eat them on a regular basis or in any quantity unless they have been cooked, because heat denatures enzymes (just like in a mash).

To make the molasses, which I will go into in greater detail below, you smash and steep the pods in water for an extended period of time to extract the sugars and flavors from the pods. The liquid is then reduced to a syrup. Most people will roast the pods in the oven to develop more complex flavor. The lighter roasts will produce more of a crystal malt/caramel flavor while a darker roast emphasizes more roasty character. Overall, the flavor produced is full of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon.

Mesquite molasses is often used as an alternative sweetener to honey or corn syrup, especially for the gluten-free folks. (The mesquite flour is also a good option for GF folks, if you can find it. It's usually only made in limited quantities in the southwest US.) Fortunately, it can also be used for brewing.

Obtaining Mesquite Pods

Mesquite pods reach maturity during the later part of the summer. If you live in a somewhat rural area in the part of Mexico or the US where mesquite grows, you may be able to forage for them yourself. I'm not an expert in this field, but as I understand it different species have some different flavors and a few are rather bland, so experimentation will be your friend. I didn't realize mesquite grew in my particular area (I live in a suburb of Fort Worth on the outskirts in a developing community and didn't realize the fields were full of mesquite trees) until I saw the pods hanging from the trees this summer. Instead, I arranged to purpose pods from another brewer on homebrewtalk (member GTG) for a very reasonable price. Next summer, you may find him or others selling or trading pods.

Pile of pods -- the small wholes are from Bruchid beetles
The internet may be a good way to track pods down if you lack direct access. If you live in a state where mesquite grows but you can't access any personally, craigslist or facebook might be a good way to find somebody locally who has some trees you can prune for free or on the cheap. Otherwise, you may be able to find pods for sale online away from the brewing community.

If you can pick pods yourself, you want to pick fresh pods off the trees, rather than the ground. The pods are a food source for Bruchid beetles, which are tiny, harmless beetles that consume the same sugars you want. They are more likely to get inside the pods on the ground and eat up the sugars. Do not harvest green pods, wait until late July through September when they are light brown or darker (may turn red). You only need two pounds for a five gallon batch so you don't need to strip an entire field. However, if you end up with too many there are some interesting uses for the syrup you can find online.  

WARNING: mesquite trees often grow in areas with poisonous snakes, like rattlesnakes. In grassy fields you may not see a snake kicking it on the ground beneath or around the tree until you step on it or near it. Be aware of your surroundings and if possible, wear boots or other clothes that can offer some protection from the fangs of an angry snake. Bringing a snake bite care kit might not be a bad idea as well.

Mesquite Molasses Recipe

After a light roast
Unfortunately I neglected to take pictures of the pods pre-roasting, but here's a pic of the roasted pods. I roasted them in two batches, one darker than the other, so I would have a complex flavor. My porter recipe is 2.5 gallons so I am only using one pound of pods. If you are looking at a five gallon batch, use twice as much of everything.


One pound mesquite pods, roasted
Half gallon of clean water


Cookie sheet or other flat pan safe for oven use
Kettle/pot one gallon or larger
Strainer or colander (you may want to use both if you have them)
Slotted spoon or other device to remove pods

Step One - Roast

First thing you want to do is roast those pods to develop deeper flavors. You can roast at different lengths of time to produce darker pods with more roast character. It is a very simple process. Rinse off the pods if you haven't already and spread them out on your cookie sheet. Heat the oven to 350F and put the sheet in the oven. Roast them for at least ten minutes. If you want them to stay light, take them out now. You can leave them as much as thirty minutes for a very dark pod. You'll want to check on them every few minutes after ten minutes to make sure they aren't burning and see when they have reached your desired level of roast. I've read some people say twenty minutes is a good mix of lighter caramel and more roasty character that works well in beer. Once you are happy with them, take them out of the oven and turn it off.

Alternatively, if you wanted to get some smoke in the beer you could smoke the pods.

Step Two - Steeping

The next step is pretty much like mashing. First break up the pods. The pods aren't as hard after roasting so you can break them up with a hammer, potato masher, or meat tenderizer. I found I could break them faster by hand by snapping them in my fingers but depending on how much you do and your process using a device to crush them may be faster. Basically you are just looking to break them up into inch-long pieces so the sugars can be extracted.

About 45 minutes into steeping
Using two quarts to one pound of pods, heat the water to around 150F and add the pods. Research indicates you need to steep between 130-170F but higher temperatures extract more tannins and you don't want that.  Steep for 90-120 minutes, stirring frequently.

Initially the aroma is kind of woody with a hint of vanilla and coffee. After about ten minutes the woody character starts to subside. After thirty minutes the vanilla, caramel and cinnamon really start to come out. Only a hint of woody character remains, which is unsurprising since it is a big pot of water and plant material. After an hour the woody character really disappeared and some roast character started to come out.

The recipes I found said to take the pods out at 90-120 minutes in and break them up and add for another 30 minutes. Then remove the pods, discard and raise the temperature just under boiling until the liquid reduces to a thick syrup. You want to reduce the liquid without creating burnt flavors or extracting tannins from the inevitably present small bits of pod left behind. If you don't get every tiny piece of pod out, it's ok, it will all end up in your trub in the fermentor.

Remaining liquid after removing pods after two hours
I let mine go the full 120 minutes because I had a lot of lightly roasted pods and my research suggests the less roasted they are the longer they need to steep. So I took them out after 120 minutes, tried to mash them up again and put them back for another 30 minutes. I tried to take them out and break them down in the food processor but they didn't process very well since the pods were wet and fibery. They just kept bouncing around in the processor, so I just dumped the pods back in for another 30 minutes of steeping. The extra thirty minutes went a long way towards creating a more intense color and flavor. By the end of the steeping the vanilla was less pronounced and the roast, caramel, coffee and cinnamon flavors become more dominant.

Add to a sturdy plastic container or a preheated glass container (preheat it so it doesn't crack). It's easier to transfer into a storage container when it's hot than when it cools, like any other thick syrup. Cool and refrigerate until ready for use. I do not recommend keeping it refrigerated for more than a few days because, like wort, it's a bowl of sugar ready for bacteria to consume and spoil. The more water you extract the harder it is for bacteria to ferment (like honey and maple syrup) but unless you can test the water content, I would not rely on that. If you need to store it for more than a few days, freeze it in a plastic container. You don't have to reduce it to a thick syrup, you can leave it more liquid-y and just account for the extra liquid in your mash or sparge water volume. If you plan on letting it hang out in your fridge for a few days I would reduce it to avoid creating a more welcoming environment for bacteria to spoil it. So if you oppose reducing it to a syrup, at least freeze it as soon as you can.

If you are an extract brewer, you can do the same process at the beginning of your brewing day and not reduce the liquid to a syrup, just using it as the water you steep your grains in and build your boil from there. The same can be done for an all grain brewer but as mentioned above, account for it in your water volumes.

Wrap Up

Here's the final product in the picture to the right. The overall process from breaking the pods to storage was about four hours (roasting took about another 45-60 minutes), so not a quick process but it's also not a heavily involved process, either. The flavor is full of caramel, cinnamon, coffee, vanilla and some of the darker crystal flavors of C120 and 150, so it seems like an interesting flavor combination for a porter. It's definitely different from the flavor of crystal malt itself. It's good stuff. If you didn't know what it was and the mouthfeel was thinner, it could pass as a really good coffee. You can see in the picture it's gone from light red to very dark.

I actually liked the flavor a little better in the earlier stage where the vanilla was more prominent but I think the end result will be better in a porter where it will play with the chocolate and crystal malt.
October 23, 2012

Perry re-update and EC-1118

I brewed this perry back in early August with EC-1118 champagne yeast left over from what I used to bottle the raspberry lambic over the summer. My initial tasting mid-September was incredibly disappointing. After another month of aging the perry has transformed into something quite pleasant. The pear taste has come through, the cider-y off flavor is gone and the rough yeast character is gone and replaced with a more mellow, pleasant biscuit character. So I've really come around on this drink.

So I'm happy time has fixed the perry, but I'd also like to chat a little about EC-1118. EC-1118 is a champagne yeast and as such it shouldn't be a surprise that the yeast produces a very noticeable biscuit character. I don't get the biscuit character when I use it in a very small quantity for bottling sour beers but it came through in a big way in the perry. It's definitely a yeast that requires some aging when used as a primary fermentor for fruit-based beverages or meads. At about a month it had a strong yeasty-bready character I read described as "brackish". That is more similar to the character I got from bread yeast after a few months (I'm still hoping that flavor goes away from bread yeast, too). After a couple months it mellowed into that more pleasant biscuit character. I assume the biscuit character continues to mellow for years because most champagnes do not have an assertive biscuit character.

I wouldn't use it to restart a stuck beer fermentation because it would likely mean you'll have to sit on the beer for a couple months while that brackish character mellows. Maybe not a problem for a bigger beer that would age anyway, especially give that those beers are the ones most likely to stall. That extra biscuit character might even be beneficial to a barleywine. An additional concern is that EC-1118 is a killer strain that will mess with the ale yeast.

However, I could see that ultimate biscuit character being pleasant in a mead or cider, especially since those are beverages that benefit from additional aging. My next mead will probably be a EC-1118 fermented mead.

Right now I am building up a starter of EC-1118 with some apple juice so I'll have a good supply of yeast to carb up the two sour beers I am bottling this fall/winter (the lambic solera and the sour brown/black/whatever). It smells pleasant with a strong biscuit aroma. I haven't tasted it but it does smell more pleasant than the perry initially tasted. Maybe the yeast flavor compounds just didn't meld as well with the pear flavors.

I know this really isn't the most interesting or exciting info to post but I thought it was a necessary update to the prior review and it's the kind of information I wish I could have found when I was researching EC-1118 in the first place. I promise I'll post something more substantive later this week.
October 18, 2012

Lambic Solera Update #11 -- It's Almost That Time...

Nothing exciting going on right now, as has been the case most of the year, because it's like watching paint dry. Nothing happens. However, I realized I haven't posted any pictures in a while so I thought this would be a good time to show off some beer porn before I make the next pull in December. I also have a couple updates following the pictures.

Lambic Solera

Here's the solera to the left. I know my picture-taking is terrible.You can see the top is obscured by krausen residue but the pellicle isn't particularly exciting right now and I don't want to open it up any more than I already have the past month or so. You can kind of see the thick trub left behind by two fermentations.

More lambic solera

If you pretend my picture-taking skills are not completely useless, you can see the beer is extremely clear.

Almost two years old
Below is the first year gueuze reserve. If you compare this picture to the pictures above you can see this beer is slightly darker, which is a natural effect of age on beer. The thicker white portions of the pellicle have slowly grown over the past year, which suggests there is a slow ingress of oxygen.

Yes, that is a jug from crappy Carlo Rossi wine. No, I didn't drink it. I used it for cooking.

Slightly darker than the solera
Yeah, sorry the pictures look like ass. I'm using my camera phone because it's higher resolution than my six year old digital camera and has better focus. I'd buy a newer and nicer camera but I really would only use it for taking pictures of beer. $100 could buy equipment or books for my upcoming legal practice and I need those more than a new camera. So just pretend like you're looking at the pictures after you've had a few beers and they would be fuzzy, anyway.

Just because I'm snapping pictures of all things lambic, here's a picture of the black sour I soured with the dregs of a bottle of the lambic. I added the dregs in secondary so it would be more sour than funky. It is damn delicious. I'm in love with my lambic but I really think this sour brown, maybe more of a sour black, is my best beer to date. I am kicking myself for only brewing a gallon of it, and most is going into a blend, but I don't think I have room for more sour fermenters. I currently have fourteen gallons of sour beer aging across five different vessels. If I added another large fermenter of sour beer I don't know where I would put it and still have room for some clean beers.

You can see it has a thick pellicle. I don't want to pull the stopper out since I recently broke the pellicle for a taste, but the pellicle is taut and powdery.

So with a couple months left before the end of year two I solidified my plans for the next pull. Last year I took four gallons out, put one on raspberries, two bottled straight and one set aside for gueuze. This year I am only taking three gallons. One will be set aside, one bottled straight and one aged six months on blackberries. I had planned on blackberries most of the year but it looked like blackberries were going to be expensive this year so I had started looking for alternatives. Last weekend I found blackberries frozen on the cheap so the blackberries are a certainty.

I am only pulling three gallons this year for a couple reasons (I feel like I have explained this before...). First, I still have about a couple gallons of the first year lambic in bottles so adding two more gallons between the straight and blackberry lambic will give me enough to drink for the next year. The next year's pull will result in five gallons bottled (two reserved plus three pulled) so I'll have a huge supply of lambic and don't need to worry about building up a supply year after year. Second, by cutting down the amount pulled from four to three I can increase the average age of lambic at each pull from one and a half to just shy of two years. So even though I get new lambic each year I will effectively have two year old lambic each single year.

As a bonus shot, here's a picture of my holiday beverage. It's a graff of store-bought apple juice and some spare runnings from a tripel I brewed back in 2010 that I froze. I'm fermenting it with the Belgian yeast I cultured from the South Austin Golden Strong Ale and used in the Petrus clone. I haven't decided whether to spice it yet. I'll see how it tastes without. I'm fermenting it at ambient temperatures because it's floating in the mid-70s in my fermentation (bath)room and that's a good temperature for this yeast.

I wasn't going to brew a holiday beer this year but I just bought two pounds of whole leaf hops -- the Belma I wrote about earlier -- and they are taking up more freezer space than I thought they would, so I needed to move some stuff out and frozen wort was an easy one to take out and use. It's about fourteen hours into fermentation as of this picture.
October 15, 2012

Petrus Aged Pale Clone Goes to the Secondary

I brewed this Petrus Aged Pale Clone following the recipe in Wild Brews mid-September. On Friday I racked it to a corny keg with the addition of half an ounce of oak and the dregs of a bottle of Petrus Aged Pale. I didn't realize until later that night that the bottle of Aged Pale I had was at least half a year old, if not older, and there may not be a lot of viable critters in the dregs. I plan on picking up another bottle this week and supplementing the fermentor with the additional dregs.

The sacc strain I picked up from the bottle of South Austin Golden Ale did a great job of fermenting the beer and leaving behind lots of good esters to work with the souring process. The beer went into the secondary at 1.007 so there's still some food for souring. I may add some maltodextrin along the way to add some extra food. I'll just have to see how it progresses.

I'm glad I was able to get a good amount washed out of the yeast. It's definitely a new favorite Belgian strain in my house so it will get added to my frozen yeast bank later this fall along with the Dupont strain I cultured and 3711 I plan on culturing out of a bottle of Jester King. I need to email the brewery and ask if they will disclose the identity of the strain.

Lakewood Brewing Company

I wanted to give a quick shout out to Lakewood Brewing Company, a new brewery located in the northeastern suburbs of Dallas. I went on their tour the weekend before last and although the tour isn't very exciting (it's the usual ten minute here's-how-we-make-beer speech) it's a lot of fun and their beers are delicious. $10 gets you four ten ounce pours over three hours and a nifty pint glass.

What I like most about Lakewood, aside from their delicious beers, is their very smart business model. Rather than just make a flurry of new beers of questionable quality, they make a very limited and precise set of beers. Their core beers are: Hop Trapp, a Belgian IPA; Rock Ryder, an American wheat-rye beer; and Temptress, an imperial milk stout. They do make some seasonable beers, such as a Vienna Lager for oktoberfest and an upcoming pumpkin dunkelweiss for the later fall. Although you might think such a small line up would make it hard to compete against breweries putting out a dozen different beers and a constant flow of limited releases, what Lakewood very smartly does is release different versions of their beers that can only be found on tap at certain events or locations. So you might Hop Trapp on cask with an extra hop added to the cask, Rock Ryder infused in-line through the draft line with prickly pear, or the Temptress with an in-line infusion of coffee. They are good about spreading out these special releases between their tours, beer events and some of the local growler fill spots (of which there are very few). It's an easy way to get that "limited release" vibe without having to design and brew several limited or seasonal releases on a small system. In my opinion it's an excellent business model for new breweries.

If you find yourself in Dallas looking for a good beer or two, you could do a lot worse than a Lakewood brew.
October 11, 2012

New hop variety -- Crazy cheap

With the 2012 harvest hitting the stores everybody is quickly draining the Amarillo and Citra supplies but I was alerted to a new strain selling at firesale prices.

Hops Direct is selling a new variety they developed called Belma. Their description:

Dual-Purpose variety. 
Dr. Shellhammer from OSU tested Belma™ and created a Pale Ale Malt. He noted the following description: A very clean hop, with a very orange, slight grapefruit, tropical (but not mango/guava, more like pineapple), strawberry, and melon.
Did I mention it is 12% alpha acid?

Now here's the best part: Hops Direct is selling the 2012 crop for $5.25 per pound. Leaf. That's right. $5.25 for a pound of hops. Shipping is very reasonable. If you buy more than one pound the shipping cost gets even more reasonable. I picked up two pounds. The first pound would ship for $10. Adding a second pound added $1 to shipping. Stupid cheap.

I haven't found a lot of information about how this hop works in beer but if the flavor or aroma is foul it will keep me stocked with bittering additions for a long, long time. I'll probably use this hop for a lot of bittering additions but I think it might show up in a saison or two and a black IPA I have in the works.

At $5.25 it probably won't last long -- they want to get these hops out and get positive reviews creating demand for them -- so if you are thinking about buying some 2012 hops you could do a lot worse than buying from hops direct and adding a pound of crazy cheap hops.
October 9, 2012

Wit Tasting

I brewed this one gallon batch of wit a little less than a month ago. Sadly the recipe needs a lot of work. The grain flavors are slightly murky, which tells me I had too much going on. I don't care for the yeast flavor I got out of that Adelbert's wit yeast, so I am going to dump it. It just doesn't have enough flavor. It's quite bland. The spicing came through very mildly; there's a slight bitterness from the grapefruit but as the beer warms the coriander and citrus flavors come out better.

What really has me down about this beer is how thin it is. There's really no reason for a beer that is 30% flaked wheat, 23% wheat malt and 8% oats to be anything less than very dense unless it became infected -- it didn't -- or there was a process problem. So I obviously have a process problem.

Since there is no sour or off yeast flavors to suggest an infection, the process issue has to be pre-boil, which means it's all about me. The most likely culprit is low mash temperature causing a highly fermentable beer. I tested my thermometer in several different temperatures (the fridge, room temperature and mash temperatures) with two other thermometers. Oddly enough, my brewing thermometer tested a few degrees cooler than the other two so I am probably mashing hotter than I thought. That should produce the opposite effect.

What is probably happening is the mash on these gallon batches is getting too cool as the mash goes on because it lacks the mass to retain enough heat and I am mashing in a pot so there is very little insulation to retain heat. So I guess I'm going to look into purchasing a two gallon water cooler to use as a mash tun.
October 3, 2012

Lauren Salazar Interview on Embrace the Funk

Embrace the Funk scored an interview over the summer with Lauren Salazar, the blending mistress -- formally the "Sensory Specialist" -- of the Lips of Faith series at New Belgium Brewing. If you haven't read the interview, you should take the time to read her thoughts here. There are lots of good nuggets of information in the interview. She discusses how important quality control is and how much time and resources are dedicated to the QC process.

She also talks about how the sour program at New Belgium works. There are only two sour beers that make up the whole process: Felix and Oscar (as in, Felix and Oscar the Odd Couple). Felix is a pale beer. Oscar is a dark beer. Both are aged in huge foudres, which are just giant barrels that stand upright. Since each is made of wood, you get some different flavors out of each due to the lifeforms in the foudre, age, oxygen exposure, etc. Interestingly as well, both beers are lagers. That defies the usual thinking, at least from homebrewers, on sour beers that you want to make ales with lots of starches and long chain sugars to give brett and bacteria something to consume. I guess that proves you can make interesting and very sour beers without all the turbid mashes, unmalted grains and so on.

When I first read the beers were lagers, my first thought was that the justification for using lagers as the base recipes would be to turn out sour beers quicker. That doesn't seem to be the case, because as she points out, some of the blended beer in La Folie is four years old and it takes at least a year for a foudre to reach a point where it is ready for use. Alternately, Jolly Pumpkin brews ales but ferments them very dry so they only need 3-4 months in the barrel so they can churn out beer quickly without needing a massive barrel/foudre cellar like New Belgium. Although  not addressed in the article, I suspect the reason they use lagers as the base beers for their sour program is for consistency and versatility. Since they use those two beers for a variety of beers in different blends it helps to have repeatable results and clean lagers make it easier to reach that result. Is it "cheating"? I don't really think so. It's consistent with the other statements Salazar makes in the interview about the significance of quality control and making sure each beer is great. Using clean lagers makes that job easier. It's also extremely consistent with her attitude about her beers in the most controversial statement in the interview, which I will turn to now.

Lauren Salazar says about the Lips of Faith beers:

[Flash pasteurization] locks the blend that I produce into place. So when people ask how long they should store La Folie, I tell them we already stored it for you. It’s been in barrels for sometimes 4 years, you bought it so you deserve to drink it, we did all that for you.
You know some people store beers like Geuze for a really long time and what they don’t realize is that blender painstakingly made that blend.  The blender tasted all their barrels and said “This percentage of this barrel, this percentage of this one etc..”. That person brought all those together, tasted it and said “Perfect.” But 3 years later, who knows what it’s like if its not pasteurized. So when you pasteurize you can definitely lock in the blend, but it can also oxidize.
To summarize, her position is that they want the beer to taste in your glass the way it tasted and the way they wanted it to taste when they bottled. I've read a lot of people criticize this statement, usually on the basis that blended beers mature with time and develop new, interesting complexity through the process so there is a benefit to aging. Some, like Mike T. at http://wwww.themadfermentationist.com, shrewdly observed that blenders, especially gueuze blenders, are acutely aware the beers are aged and blend with the aging effect in mind. It should be pointed out that recently, Mike T. posted the results of a blending of his own and remarked that there may be some validity to her statements because he liked some of the blended beers early on but as it aged and the souring bacteria and brett went to work on the clean portions her liked the beers less. Certainly there's a defense of her position that they want La Folie and other beers to taste how they envisioned the beer and they don't want to worry about people getting varied results and opening bottles X years old and being disappointed by how it tastes.

Personally, I don't think the support and criticism are far apart at all. I agree with both but there is an obvious connection lost between the sides. The purpose of blending is to produce a particular result out of multiple beers. That purpose does not always have to be to produce a beer for aging. There may be a goal of creating a stable and uniform beer ready to drink today. That is certainly the goal of blending batches of regular, clean beers (at breweries large enough to blend in the packaging line). There seems to be little reason why the same concept cannot flow to sour beers. In fact, the blend both sweet and sour beers together and not produce varied results across kegs and bottles (not to mention risking exploding bottles) requires pasteurizing or filtering the sour portion to produce a stable product. It's definitely not a New Belgium-only concept. The same idea is shared by the Flanders Red and oud bruin producers who blend their sour and clean beers together, such as Liefman, Rodenbach, Verhaeghe and Petrus. It's not just Lindemans and Timmermans pasteurizing their sour beers. 
October 2, 2012

Sour black? Black sour? ...Whatever it is, it's called Battery Acid

So last fall/winter I became incredibly enamored with New Belgium's Clutch, which is a blend of their sour brown ale and an imperial stout. I was fortunate enough to taste it on the tour in the barrel room itself and then subsequently found it on tap on NYE at Meddlesome Moth, a local gastropub. It gave the me the great idea to try my own hand at a similar brew. My first step in the process was to conceptualize and design the two parts of the beer. The second step was to get to work on the sour portion. I'll talk about the overall concept later on as I get closer to blending the final product. Today I'll just talk about the sour portion.

While Clutch is a blend of sour brown and imperial stout, I wanted to make something a little lighter by blending a session-strength Belgian stout and a sour portion. Since I would lose some of the more powerful chocolate and roast elements found in an imperial stout, I wanted to make it up by adding some darker malt flavors to the sour beer, rather than just doing a basic oud bruin-style sour brown. Instead I wanted to load the sour portion up with dark crystal malts to produce some dark fruit and caramel flavors. Carafa III would add some smooth roast notes and chocolate wheat would add a little body and extra chocolate-y roast.

Since I was happy with the flavor profile of my lambic I thought it would make a good jumping off point for souring this beer, so I used dregs from a bottle of lambic from my lambic solera. Rather than produce the funky lambic flavors, I fermented the beer out with WLP575 and then racked to secondary and pitched the dregs. The pellicle development was surprisingly consistent with the development in the lambic solera.

Without further blabbering, here's the one gallon recipe for this sour beer:

OG: 1.059
Est. FG: 1.017 (obviously pre-souring)
SRM: 44.9
IBU: 8.7
Volume: 1 gallon

Grain bill:
1.25lb. German Pilsner 59.52%
0.25lb. Crystal 120 11.90%
0.25lb. Caramunich 11.90%
2oz. Carafa III 6.19%
1oz Chocolate wheat 3.33%

Mash: single infusion 60 minutes at 154F

90 minute boil

Boil additions:
0.10oz EKG 5%at 60 minutes
1.5oz Table sugar at 10 min (other 7.14% of extract)

Pitched WLP575 at 70F and fermented for three weeks
Pitched dregs of lambic solera (combination of Wyeast Lambic Blend and Lindeman's Gueuze dregs) and aged for 10 months

Although I plan on aging the beer for another 6-8 weeks  I decided to give it a taste just to make sure it was a palatable beer. It tastes incredible! The aroma is cherry, lactic acid, stone fruit, roast and chocolate. The flavor matches the aroma with hints of brett funk more like flanders red and less like lambic. The carafa III comes through surprisingly noticeably but it fits ok in the beer. It is definitely sour and the sourness is magnified by the slightly bitter roast character but it really works together. I am looking forward to more of this beer. The plan is to take half the gallon and blend with the stout and half the gallon will be bottled straight. I'm excited to enjoy both sides.