August 31, 2013

Barrel Aged Beers: More Than Just Bourbon and Red/White Wine

Barrel aged beers are still the big thing in brewing, even with the rise of session beers. These days it's almost hard not to find beers barrel aged in red wine, white wine and bourbon barrels, and not just imperial stouts and sour beers. You can find almost anything run through a barrel. Even extremely light beers like pilsners and pale ales have been treated to barrel aging (and it pretty good effect). Now that everybody has a bourbon barrel, some brewers are turning towards finding something different to capture the barrel craze but create different flavors. Fortunately for homebrewers, we can reach similar results without having to convert our garages into barrel rooms.

Bourbon and wine barrels are easiest to find. Bourbon barrels are plentiful (at least if you can reach barrel dealers) because bourbon, by law, must be aged in new oak barrels for at least three years. That means most bourbon distillers are unloading barrels in a handful of years, creating generous turnover. The United States now has a large enough of a wine industry that wineries have plenty of new barrels to unload because wineries use barrels once or a small number of uses. Unlike domestic whiskey, which is far more concentrated in the midwest and Appalachian states, the wine industry is very spread out. That makes obtaining fresh wine barrels from local sources easy. However, other barrels are more difficult to find. Many barrel-aged liquors are produced in lower volumes and tend to be produced in a limited geographic region. If you're after Canadian whiskey barrels, for example, you're not going to find those locally in Texas. Conversely, if you want a tequila barrel you might find one in Texas but probably not near our northern neighbor.

Commercial brewers have no choice but to buy actual barrels to inject liquor/wine flavor into their beer. Barrels are practical storage vessels for beer, which gives them a utility beyond just flavor. It is also illegal for brewers to fortify their beers by adding liquor, so they have to rely on whatever the barrel will give up (although an argument could be made that the barrel is still fortifying the beer). However, as homebrewers, we don't have the same need to move our beer out of fermentors while they adopt new flavors. Nor are we at risk of a TTB raid if we add some liquor directly into our beer. Instead, we can soak some oak cubes or chips in liquor or wine and add those to the fermentor to replicate some of the effect of barrel aging (obviously any aeration caused by barrel aging would not be replicated). I'll leave the debate whether this process closely approximates barrel aging to another post (and I will discuss it soon) but if you are interested in trying to brew a tequila barrel-aged beer, you're probably not going to find a tequila barrel any time soon.

What beer to add to which "barrel"

Not all liquors or wines will go well with all types of beers. Pairing the base beer with the "barrel" flavor is a lot like any other flavor combinations you might create in other areas of brewing or cooking.The three easiest ways to start pairing barrel flavors with beer is to: (1) match the same flavor combinations you see in cocktails; or (2) match the flavor combinations you find in food normally paired with the liquor; (3) or pair similar flavors together to create complexity. For example, bourbon is often paired with cola, which has similar vanilla and caramel flavors you can find in imperial stouts. Makes it an easy combination. Pairing other liquors and wines with beers can be more complex. Below is a chart of various liquor and wine options and some examples of how to pair them.

Wine/liquor Flavor description Possible uses
White wine Range of flavors depending on the specific style; can range from sweet to dry; chardonnay is probably most commonly used and adds some buttery character along with the grape flavor and some sweetness depending on how dry it is Versatile use, common with sour beers and lighter colored beers but can be used with surprisingly good results with brown-colored beers (e.g. Hops and Grain Chardonnay Alt)
Red wine Diverse styles result in wide variety of flavor options; quality of wine may play a role in what flavors are contributed, will add tannins and general red grape flavors along with the specific flavors of the grape varieties used and any fermentation-created flavors Versatile use, common with sour beers and gaining use in very small quantities with light-colored beers where it adds some complexity without overwhelming; plays nicely with dark beers like stouts and quads; works well with many hop varieties
Bourbon Sweet whiskey variety mostly known for adding caramel and vanilla but some variants like Jack Daniels have unique flavor profiles; derives a lot of flavor from oak Versatile use, extremely common in imperial stouts but can be generally used in most beer styles; particularly dry beers may not benefit from the added perception of sweetness from bourbon; in small quantities can give oak flavor without adding strong bourbon flavor or sweetness, mirroring well-used barrel with most of the flavor already stripped out
US Rye whiskey Rye whiskey is more assertive than bourbon with a spicy, earthy rye character that some find harsh and unpleasant Can be used anywhere bourbon can be used but can give the impression of being more boozy because the flavor is more assertive; good starting point is any beer that could stand up to a rye addition in the grain bill, e.g. an imperial stout turned into a rye imperial stout would likely stand up to a rye whiskey barrel; careful putting beers with strong rye content in rye whiskey, use "barrel" sparingly; works extremely well in sweeter dark beers like porters and scotch ales where the more assertive flavor is balanced better than a beer like an imperial stout that already has a lot of aggressive flavor from dark malts
Canadian (blended) whiskey Blended whiskey with a mild flavor and subtle rye character; may range from very smooth to harsh depending on the quality (and cost). Most often mixed with cola, which makes it pair well with beers that have similar vanilla and caramel flavors, but also works in other traditional whiskey cocktails; less assertive in rye character than most US rye whiskeys Can be used like bourbon but will add less obvious flavors; can also be used in low amounts in lighter beers where it can add to grain complexity and some oak notes without being as assertive as bourbon or US rye whiskeys. Be careful about using low end Canadian whiskeys because they can be particularly harsh and add unpleasant character
Irish whiskey Irish whiskey tends to be very smooth and mellow in flavor which makes it a poor choice for beer because it lacks a particular flavor contribution and is not likely to stand out as an independent flavor contribution. This is a similar problem with Canadian whiskey and Scotch Even less assertive than Canadian whiskey so it will be hard to find an obvious pairing. May work best to round out grain complexity and some oak character rather than expecting it to make a distinct contribution to the flavor.
US blended whiskey Can have a wide variety of flavors from very aggressive oak or grain flavors to very mellow flavors similar to Irish whiskey and other blended whiskeys; most are not well known for their flavor profile, instead they are commonly used in mixed drinks for a generic whiskey addition Depending on the flavor profile it can be used like bourbon, Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey or Scotch
Scotch (blended) Like Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey and other blended whiskeys, blended Scotch has a mellow and smooth character than tends to lack an assertive flavor. Commonly used in Scotch-based cocktails Use like any other blended whiskey
Scotch (single malt) Single malt Scotch can range from smooth and mellow to aggressively smokey; tends to have a deeper flavor profile than Irish whiskey and blended whiskeys but the flavors are normally delicate and easily lost in a beer, probably too expensive to lose the flavor and end up with a more generic whiskey flavor Milder Scotches could be used like blended whiskey, some have interesting flavor profiles that could add gentle flavors as long as they are not easily overwhelmed by the beer; peated Scotches could be used to add smokey character to the beer but could probably obtain the same result with peat malt. IMO using single malts is not good value
Tequila Good tequilas will not contain the burn of cheap mixto; depending on the origin of the agave, tequila may be sweet and citrusy or earthy and herbal; pairs well with fruity flavors as well as coffee Tequila is easily overdone for Americans who tend to think of tequila as an unpleasant-flavored shot but in small amounts can add interesting earthy or citrus flavor; could work well with sours or yeast-forward Belgian beers; also works surprisingly well with beers with a light roast or coffee flavor like schwarzbiers, may be able to create a very unique stout/tequila combination
Mezcal Mezcal is thought of as cheap tequila because most mezcal is mixto, but mezcal is tequila made with agave other than blue agave (or grown outside of Jalisco); can range from tasting very similar to tequila to having a salty and smoky flavor; can be used the same way as tequila but holds up to earthy flavors better than most tequilas and is often served with a strange ground worm garnish Use similar to tequila; due to its pairing with earthy flavors may be interesting with sour beers or brett beers
Gin Gin is herbal with a strong juniper note, making it a good option for beers that can hold up to herbal additions; not just English beers that may have started life as gruit (or the traditional definition of ale) but also Scandanavian beers and hoppy beers where herbal and earthy notes are common Gin has not been well explored in beer but has appeared in some Scandanavian beers and a few gin barrel-aged IPAs; could be interesting with Belgian beers where spicy yeast notes could play well with gin; good starting point would be to find beer recipes using juniper and either layer gin barrel on top of that flavor or take out the herbs and substitute in gin barrel flavor
Sherry Sherry ranges from sweet to very dry, it has a diverse range of flavor from fruity and sweet to dry and nutty; sherry barrels are often used in Scotch aging where they impart fruity and nutty notes; could be used similar to white wine barrels but providing a different flavor profile from chardonnay or other popular white wines Not commonly used in beer, could be interesting for sour beers, big beers like Scotch ales or barleywines; would be careful about using sherry that has not been pasteurized or filtered because the sherry flor may be present and could go to work on the beer
Port Ports range in style from sweet to dry but most port is a sweet and heavy red wine; could be used similar to other red wines but where a bolder flavor may be desired Unexplored in brewing, port "barrels" could provide interesting red wine flavor; probably a good candidate for bigger beers where the beer's flavor can hold its own against the more assertive wine flavor of port
Madeira An unusual wine made to withstand warm temperatures, madeira is often very acidic with smoky, almond or caramel flavors; most commonly used in cooking these days in sauces and soups; commonly used in cooking with rich meats and earthy flavors Also unexplored in brewing, could provide an interesting wine flavor to beers with earthy notes such as brett beers; avoid madeira wines meant for cooking because they may have salt and pepper added
Rum Rum barrels are gaining popularity among brewers as an alternative to wine or bourbon; range from light rum that is fairly bland and sweet to darker rums with strong sugar cane or molasses flavor; works well with cola flavors like vanilla and caramel as well as fruity flavors like fruity cocktails, also works extremely well with mint in mojitos Light rum works as a more pleasant alternative than vodka for soaking oak for a barrel flavor without a strong liquor flavor; dark rums with molasses flavor, rather than just a strong oak flavor, can contribute a lot of interesting flavors that would pair nicely with darker beers
Brandy/Cognac Brandy is a distilled wine and usually is grape-based although there are some apple-based brandys on the market, can find other fruit-based brandy; often sweet with flavor that ranges from fruity to oaky; can be drank straight but also included in many cocktails Sweetness is diluted out with barrel aging, leaving behind fruity flavors along with oak; works with sours and Belgian beers but could be interesting with barleywines or German beer styles
August 25, 2013

Tropic Bling review

I turned Tropic Bling around fairly fast to try to make it available for the end of summer's heat. My use of Spalt instead of Opal hops made this beer slightly different from the actual Funkwerks Tropic King. It's missing the noticeable pungent earthy character of Opal. Otherwise, it's a pretty good clone.

Appearance: Hazy orange hue with a dense white head. I did a bad job pouring the bottle and ended up with some yeast in the bottom of the bottle but otherwise the beer has a nice look to it.

Aroma: Hop aroma dominates the smell with some pepper and citrus fruit notes coming off the yeast. The hop aroma is grass and apricot. It's missing some of the more pungent woody/earthy notes from the Opal hops I subbed out in favor of the Spalt hops I had lying around.

Flavor: Flavor starts off with malty sweetness and a hop flavor that mirrors the hop aroma. The sweetness is sort of different but since this saison uses two row instead of pilsner for the base malt it's going to carry a touch more sweetness than a pils-based saison. The flavor is sharply bitter on the back end, which I don't especially enjoy. It tastes a little like yeast bite, which might go away in another week or so. It's also hop bitterness, which is a little too intense and definitely isn't present in the true version of Tropic King. Yeast character is also a little more assertive than Tropic King.

Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is slightly watery compared to the true version but otherwise it is a fine beer. Probably should have mashed higher based on Funkwerks' mash schedule rather than my usual saison mash temperature around 148F. The slick oily character that was present before bottling has disappeared.

Drinkability: It's definitely missing the mark on a few key areas as a clone. It really needs the Opal hops at the flame out addition and letting the beer steep too long before it cooled seemed to have made it a lot more bitter than the true version of this beer. It also should have been mashed higher for more body. Water profile might have also played a role in making this beer more bitter on the back end, so I'll also want to take a look at Funkwerks' water profile for that beer to try to get more exact to their process and ingredients. Otherwise, as a beer in its own right it's a decent performance. Not great by any means but not a drain pour, either. It's a good exercise in comparing the difference between my normal brewing procedures and another brewery's procedures. It goes to show how much process really affects a beer.

August 22, 2013

Old School Hops: Posed for a Comeback?

Today's hoppy beers are an avalanche of new hop varieties, from fruity southern hemisphere hops to new, complex proprietary American strains to new German varieties exhibiting bolder noble qualities. However, before we had Riwaka, Amarillo and Citra we had American variants like Liberty, Nugget and Mount Hood. While some of these older American hop varieties continue to exist on the fringes of craft beer, they have definitely lost their footing as the workhorses of craft brewing. The 4 C's (cascade, chinook, centennial and columbus) arose as steadfast and permanent components of American craft brewing with their assertive flavor and versatility.

However, signs are pointing to a revival of the old school American hops outside of the 4 C's. Mitch Steele, for example, noted in his presentation at the NHC this year that Stone was giving some of these older hop varieties another look. I do not believe he is alone in that attitude. (Thirsty Planet in Austin makes an all-Perle IPA in its taproom that is an interesting take on a German-like IPA.) There are three very good reasons why these varieties will be revived:

  1. With the rise of proprietary strains it is becoming increasingly more difficult to locate the hops breweries are after. Old school variants are not proprietary so anybody can grow them, making them easier to source.
  2. New hop varieties tend to push a lot of fruit character. Older varieties tend to feature more of the grassy and herbal notes that can help round out a complex flavor with new fruity varieties.
  3. These strains grow well in many parts of the country, which will allow hop production to expand beyond the northwest. That will allow brewers to source hops more locally and even produce on their own grounds.
This phenomenon is not limited to just old school American hops. Brewers are taking a serious look at traditional hops from other parts of the world. Another area of particular focus is Alsace, home to French hop breed like Strisselspalt. The revival of interest in French hops for aroma purposes will likely encourage expanded French and Belgian hop production.

So that's all good and well for commercial brewers, but what about homebrewers? We have traditionally had access to these hops because they are easily grown but demand hasn't outpaced supply. These older variants tend to appear in pre-packaged beer kits and legacy recipes from the 1990s. However, you can still find many of them for sale at homebrew shops and the rhizomes are easily found each spring. The good news is that you can pick up those old school varieties for around $10-15 per pound at bulk hop vendors like and rather than the $20-30 per pound for some of the in-demand varieties.

Now is a good time to dust off those old homebrewing books and revive those 1990s hop combinations. Roll out those old hop varieties like Brewer's Gold, Cluster, Bullion, Glacier, Horizon, Liberty, Mount Hood, Northern Brewer, Nugget, Sterling, Summit, U.S. Tettnanger, U.S. Goldings, U.S. Fuggles, Vanguard, Warrior, Willamette, Perle and others. What old school hop varieties are you reviving?

August 18, 2013

Lying Scorpion rebrew

Lying Scorpion was one of the first recipes I designed and one of my first blog posts. It is a hatch chile infused blond/pale ale with a very basic recipe designed to put the earthy, vegetable flavor of hatch chiles forward without any interruption from assertive grains or hops. It was originally part of a split batch that went half on hatch chiles and half on limes (you remember when the whole lime beer thing was really popular in 2010, right?). Lying Scorpion was a huge hit and everybody (ok everybody but one person) who tried it begged for more. Unfortunately, I didn't brew much and by the time we started sharing it we were down to the last few bottles and promised some of the next batch. Unfortunately, it's taken me three years to get around to the rebrew. Too many other beers I wanted to brew.

There has been a slow growth of pepper/chile-based beer since I first brewed Lying Scorpion. Most of the beers have been in that mole stout variety although there have been a few jalapeno-based beers and some others focusing on spicier peppers. It's rare to find a pepper-based beer that focuses on a gentler, flavor-forward chile like hatch chiles. I don't mind spicy beers but I find they wear on the taste buds after a while. Hatch chiles are usually very mild so this beer had no heat whatsoever. It could easily be heated up with a blend of serrano peppers but personally I don't think it needs the heat.

This recipe uses a lot of carapils, which is a telling sign that I designed this homebrew recipe when I was very new to the process. I didn't bother to change anything about the recipe because everybody liked it the way it was. There is a touch of light sweetness from the carapils and C20 that helps round out the chile flavor. I didn't think it made sense to fix what wasn't broke. However, the carapils could easily be reduced in favor of more two row or C20.

Lying Scorpion Hatch Chile Blonde Ale Rebrew

Batch size: 2.5 gallons
ABV: 5.3%
SRM: 4.5
IBU: 20.3
Est. OG: 1.053
Est. FG: 1.013

Grain bill

85.2% 4lb. 6oz. US two row [2 SRM]
12.3% 10oz. Carapils [2 SRM]
2.50% 2oz. Crystal 20 [20 SRM]

The mash

6.41qt water at 163.7F infused for 60 minutes for 152F mash
2.17 gallons at 175F to sparge

Mash water

Water profile: Bru'n water yellow balanced

0.6g gypsum
0.5g epsom salt
0.1g canning salt
0.7g calcium chloride

Sparge water

0.7g gypsum
0.6g epsom salt
0.1g canning salt
0.9g calcium chloride
1.1ml lactic acid

The boil

60 minute boil
0.25oz Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60
0.5 tsp Irish moss at 10

The fermentation

Ferment at 62F with S04 (0.75 liter starter) for 5-7 days until fermentation reaches terminal gravity.

Take two fresh hatch chiles and three roasted hatch chiles and remove the seeds and stems. Add to beer at ambient temperature for 7 days. Rack off peppers and bottle to 2.5 volumes.

August 13, 2013

Lambic Solera Update #16 -- Two years, eight months

I have been blogging here at a furious pace of 2-3 times per week and although I enjoy writing about beer I feel like I have said a lot of what I had on my mind and for the past month or so I have felt like I had to keep that schedule and some of the content I have posted hasn't been great writing or very interesting content. So I intend to blog less frequently so I can focus on writing better content. That doesn't have anything to do with the lambic solera but it's a piece of housekeeping I wanted to drop before moving on to the substantive content.

Right now everything is working peacefully with the solera and its component reserves from years one and two. The plan remains to take two gallons from the solera plus the two reserves and blend to make gueuze at the end of the year. A third gallon will come out of the solera for a separate bottling so I have bottles of each year on their own. I still have 4-5 bottles of each bottling thanks to my unwillingness to share the lambic. So nothing new on that front but I had a chance to partake in the blackberry year two that I bottled in late May. Below is the review of the blackberry lambic.

Appearance: Color is a purple-pink with very little head. It is slightly hazy, likely a result of small bits of fruit and the continuing work of brett and pedio. Slight lacing from the initial pour. Not as dark as I thought it would be.

Aroma: Aroma is full of funk and lactic sourness. There is an unspecific berry aroma, like a mixed berry drink. In contrast, the raspberry lambic had a much more definitive raspberry aroma. This one is softer and less definitive.

Taste: The blackberry flavor comes through more definitively than it did in the aroma. The sourness has a sharp note in the beginning but fades into a more gentle sourness on the back end with less sharpness as the beer warms. Oddly, there is a bigger funk note in this beer than any other bottling. The unadulterated year two bottling is more funky than year one but this beer is even more funky than the non-fruit portion of year two.

Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is crisp and prickly from the acidity. Slight tannins on the back end, probably from the berry skins. The carbonation helps the beer retain a little body but is otherwise thin like the other lambic bottlings.

Drinkability/Overall Notes: Overall I enjoy this beer as a very different take on the solera with its big funk note. I think it would have a more crisp berry flavor with more acidity but it is nice to see evolution of flavor with the solera bottlings. I can envision a blend of year one plus the blackberry lambic to create a complex mix of acidity and funk that would elevate this beer to an exceptional beer but I only have a few bottles of year one left and it is such a great beer I don't want to give any of it up to blending (other than what is set aside for gueuze).

After a couple fruit lambics, the general consensus about the solera is that the beer is delicious enough on its own that the fruit hides some of the nuances of the beer. I tend to agree. I will probably forgo fruit in the future and bottle straight. I do want to try bottling some after dry hopping but I might do as little as half a gallon just to get enough of the unadulterated lambic into the bottle. Maybe I just need to start another solera.
August 7, 2013

Exotic Bling -- Funkwerks Exotic King clone-ish

Two weeks ago I brewed Tropic Bling, my clone of Funkwerk's Tropic King saison. As I discussed in the opening comments of the recipe, I am not a huge fan of Tropic King but I really like Exotic King, which is a blend of barrel aged Tropic King and fresh Tropic King. Tropic King is heavy on Rakau hops, which I don't love, but the barrel aging makes it a more mellow beer. The blending of fresh beer gives it a little fresh hop character without the assertive hop flavor and aroma in Tropic King. So when I brewed Tropic Bling I wanted to taste some of that barrel aged greatness of Exotic King but I'm not going to brew multiple batches so I am leaving the blending to the pros and going with a straight barrel aged batch.

The process

My Tropic Bling batch is 2.5 gallons. I am going to pull a full gallon off the batch for aging. Funkwerks barrel ages this beer in bourbon barrels for a few months (I believe the age it for three months). I want to replicate that process as much as possible, even though I do not have a barrel. However, I do have the last of a round of oak chips I bought that have been soaking in some Maker's Mark for several months. (I have a separate oak aging process that I intend to compare against barrel aged beers to compare the quality of my pseudo barrel aging process against actual barrels. I will post on that after I have enough data to make useful comparisons.)

Oak and whiskey for one gallon of aged saison
I have racked a gallon of Tropic Bling (which is pretty good in spite of my general ambivalence towards Rakau hops) into a 5l wine jug with a mere tenth of an ounce of the oak chips and a teaspoon of the Maker's Mark. My plan is to let it age for three months but I am going to taste it around the six week mark to see how oaky and bourbon-y it is. I don't want overwhelming oak or bourbon, just a bit of an aged character in the hops and malt paired with a slight barrel character. If the barrel character is too strong I'll go ahead and bottle and let it age away from the oak. If it's too mild, I can add more oak and/or bourbon.

I'm not hardcore committed to the three month mark but I assume Funkwerks knows the sweet spot for its beer better than I would. I'll bottle once I think it has a good flavor and put it aside with my other beers to enjoy slowly. I expect to hold a bottle or two until next summer when I brew another saison and then I can do some blending in the glass to see how it works as a blending beer. Who knows, I might end up making Exotic Bling a regular beer to blend with other beers. We'll see.

But if it sucks
In the jug -- it's on the dark side of saisons

If it doesn't turn out a great beer on its own I'll take a look at it to determine what it's missing. The fresh beer blending may be the key to Exotic King's flavor profile. If that's the case, I might hold all of the bottles until I brew some saison next summer or something else that will fill in the flavor. Maybe a hoppy saison or a pale ale. At a minimum, it's another data point on my pseudo barrel aging project so it's definitely a worthwhile project from that standpoint.
August 4, 2013

Wildfire Mesquite Smoked Saison Tasting

I've been really stoked about trying this beer because I've been waiting to brew it for over a year. Surprisingly, it is my first saison brewed with 3711 and the first beer to use my brew belt-like system of heating up the fermenting beer. It's been in the bottle for a mere fourteen days so it's fresh and full of flavor. Let's get to it:

Appearance: Pours a light, reddish hue with fluffy white head. The head is full of large bubbles and slowly descends over time into a small but lasting head. The beer maintains an orange-ish color with some haze. I did not cold crash this beer and it was only in the fridge for a couple hours before pouring so it may be slightly more hazy than bottles that will spend days in the fridge before consumption.

Aroma: Lots of fruity smoke pours out of the beer with hints of citrus, mellon, peach, pepper and a hint of lemon. The Belma hops are adding a hint of mellon aroma and the yeast is adding a little fruit and pepper but the mesquite is definitely driving the aroma with its sweet, citrusy aroma. I named this beer Wildfire because we gets some bad wildfires here in Texas and after they burn through fields of mesquite trees, this is what the air smells like.

Flavor: The smoke dominates the flavor but it isn't a harsh smoky character. It plays nicely with the saison character. The Belma hops are well hidden under the fruit notes from the mesquite and saison yeast. As the beer approaches room temperature the yeast character becomes more prominent in the flavor and the smoke becomes a little more subtle. A strong orange flavor also makes a presence at warmer temperatures. The flavor could use a little rounding out with some noble hops to add a little herbal or grassy character. The massive fruit character makes this beer feel like it is sweet although it really isn't.

Mouthfeel: Oddly, this beer feels heavy on the tongue. Smoke tends to make beers feel particularly heavy and this one is no exception. Saison yeast also like to toss out glycerides, which help add body, so the combination of glycerides, smoke and the wheat in the beer is giving this 1.008 FG beer the feel of a beer closer to 1.020. The beer leaves a feeling of dense oiliness on the tongue.

Drinkability: I like this beer a lot and aside from the tweak to the hops I think it is a solid beer. I would probably also look at trimming back the wheat or adding some table sugar to thin the beer out a little just because it has some serious body to it for a saison. As much as I like smoke beers I would probably only drink one of these before moving on to something else to scrub some of the smoke off the tongue. The flavor is intriguing and enjoyable so I am pretty sad that I only netted seven bottles of this batch. Definitely deserves some tweaks and a rebrew.
August 2, 2013

Many beers but few yeast strains

There are a lot of yeast strains available on the market. Even if you count the Wyeast, White Labs and dry Lallemand that are duplicates (or assumed to be equivalent) as a single strain, there are still a lot of strains available. Adding to those three major players in the yeast market are up and comers producing small batches of other saccharomyces strains and various sour mixes and brett strains. Commercial brewers have access to all the same strains we have, plus other strains available through the larger yeast banks, such as BSI. However, while homebrewers have a tendency to use lots of different strains, most commercial brewers maintain a single strain in the brew house or limit themselves to one or two main strains and use the occasional alternative for particular beers. (The Chico strain - WLP001/WY1056/S05 is probably the most common strain employed in breweries in the United States.) Should homebrewers follow commercial brewers and use fewer strains?

I do not believe homebrewers should imitate commercial operations blindly. Commercial brewers follow certain practices (and decline to adopt others) based on the limitations of their equipment, size and practical needs. While I do believe we should mirror their quality control processes and look at their other processes to improve our own, we do not have the same practical needs or limitations. Commercial brewers tend to use a limited number of strains as a practical matter. It's not like they can just throw some smack packs in the back of the fridge and pull them out as needed. They need consistency and timely production of beer. That necessitates using a minimal number of strains that will produce solid, repeatable results. It's not advantageous to pick a strain that dumps out a lot of diacetyl and needs a long clean up period when that means tying up a fermentor for an extra week or two. Homebrewers on the other hand do not have those restraints. We are free to experiment at will and sit on our beers until we are happy with them.

However, there are a couple reasons why it may make sense to limit the number of saccharomyces strains you use in your brew house. One very simple reason is cost. If you are buying a different strain each brew that's $3-10 you're adding to each batch (although if you are anti-yeast rinsing then you're not going to avoid that cost regardless). Second, it's hard to get a good understanding of a strain without seeing how it performs under different circumstances, especially if you have good control over fermentation temperature, pitching rate and oxygenation. Only using strains in the "preferred" temperature range leaves a lot of opportunity on the table. All but the most neutral strains can create a wide range of flavor profiles. Many strains, particularly English strains, can produce clean ale flavors in low 60s or upper 50s but become more expressive at higher temperatures. Trappist/Abbey Belgian strains can be spicy and witbier strain-like at low 60s but incredibly fruity in the 70s. Differences in attenuation can be accounted for by mashing higher or lower or even adding some table sugar during the boil or fermentation.

That isn't to say that homebrewers should throw out all possibilities and commit to one strain. Experimenting with new strains is fun and you might find a new saccharomyces strain you like better than your current favorites. However I suspect most homebrewers make the majority of their beers within two or three yeast profiles and you could probably find each of those profiles within one strain by adjusting temperature and other conditions. It's just a question of your ability to control those conditions and your desire to use technique or ingredient to create your beers. You're never going to make the Chico strain taste like a hot saison fermentation but you can probably ferment that saison strain at different temperatures to make a variety of Belgian-style beers.

Just something to think about.
August 1, 2013

Guest Blogging?

Guest blogging has become a pretty big deal in certain parts of the blogosphere for its SEO value (although there is some question about its value under Google's current Panda algorithm). I don't see a lot of it going on in homebrewing, which is fairly surprising because there is a healthy and active world of homebrewing blogs and homebrewers share a lot of content on homebrewing forums. (Worst all being HBT's bizarre policy of taking exclusive rights to your "article" in exchange for waiving a year of membership fee.) I thought I would throw open the doors of my blog to see if anybody had an interest in sharing content through guest blogs or collaborative blog posts on this blog.

Here's three reasons why you might want to post a guest blog instead of dumping your content elsewhere:

1. When you post content on homebrewing forums, you lose your rights to your own content. It's been a while since I have looked at the user agreements of some of the forums but it is very common on any message board to agree to give the owner unlimited rights to the content you post. You might not care if somebody else has the right to use your how-to guide to making beaver anal gland extract (it can be used to make artificial raspberry flavoring) today but in a few years you might feel differently. Especially if that website goes on to use your content for its own profit and removes any attribution to you. You might have a falling out with the message board (or get banned) and want to take your content back. You can't. Someday you may want to restructure that information into an article you would like to publish. You may not be able to have it published if the publisher requires exclusive rights because you already gave out licensing rights to the message board.

Regardless of guest posting, that is an excellent reason to put your content in a place you control and give out links to the information. I'm not anti-message board but I am in favor of protecting my own rights. If you want to guest blog here, I'll put up your post and not keep any other rights to repurpose the content. If you want to take it down someday, I'll take it down at your request. You can do whatever you like with your content.

2. You may want to blog but fear you will not keep it going beyond a handful of posts. It's very well documented that most blogs started do not make it past the two month mark. If you have spent some time searching out homebrewing information you have undoubtedly come across several blogs that lasted a few months and then went silent. What happens is the author starts with a lot of ideas and by the time the author has published all those ideas, it's been about two months and the author runs out of new content (and posting a lot of content to message boards further drains you of content for your blog). Sometimes the author wants to publish more but doesn't have time. Sometimes authors realize after a few posts they don't like writing as much as they thought they did.

If you have a good idea or two and want to see if blogging is for you then guest blogging is a good way to give it a try without committing to developing your own blog platform. Of course, you can always repost your content on your own blog if you decide that is something you want to do. So nothing lost by trying your hand at blogging here first.

3. You want to advertise your own blog/forum/podcast/vlog/social media/brewery. You may already run a blog, twitter campaign, video log, or other platform where you talk about beer, homebrewing, the brewing industry, etc. but you're looking for good opportunities to expand your viewers or subscribers within your niche. Guest blogging is a good way to develop links within the beer and brewing community as well as reach parts of the community you may not organically reach. This blog pulls in between 3,000-4,000 page views per month, so it's a decent amount of exposure.

If you have a new or up-and-coming brewery you are trying to spread the word about then putting up a guest blog would be a good way to spread the word about your brewery as well as give yourself some SEO juice. I am fairly wide open to ideas, even if they are fairly self-promotional as long as there is valuable content. It could be done as a Q&A format if you don't feel up to writing a lengthy post.

Get in touch

If you're interested in guest blogging you can contact me at my bedford texas law firm by email at Let me know who you are and what your idea is for a post. We can go forward from there.