January 26, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 6 -- week 3 of fermentation

So at the conclusion of the last part I mentioned that the last week ended boringly and I might not keep this going. But then it seemed something actually was going on and I noticed it the next day while I was trying to decide whether I should bother taking a picture. It looks like there is some surface activity so onward we go.

So here's where we are in the dreaded lambic chart:

Right in the midst of saccharomyces-dominated fermentation time. It certainly looks like the bulk of what could have been sacc getting busy occurred in the first and second weeks but who knows what's really going on here.

Day 15

Alright, if you look right in the middle of the picture, past all the stuff stuck to the inside of the carboy there is a clump of tan stuff that appears to be growing (it's in between the two flash glares) on the surface of the liquid. There are a few of these clumps growing on the surface.

Day 16

Same thing today, you can see one of these clumps growing at about 2 o'clock from the flash glare on the left.

Day 17

 And again same thing, you can see that same clump slightly above the middle of the picture. At first I just thought these things were clumps of the yeast falling off the inside of the carboy back onto the surface but that doesn't explain the tendency to form together nor does it look like the krausen residue inside the carboy is changing shape. Not sure what is going on but it seems like something is going on.

I tried to get a sniff of what's going on. Unfortunately I used a rubber stopper on this beer and it's really hard to get aromas past that rubbery smell it leaves in the mouth of the carboy. From what I could get other than rubber it didn't exactly smell great in there but I'm not worried. There is a long way to go. The surface is sort of oily amongst tiny dots of what I imagine are organisms floating on the surface. I'll try to get a picture of the surface through the mouth tomorrow.

Day 18

Here's the top of the fermentor again. You can see the clumps still floating around on the top of the beer. They don't seem to be growing or shrinking in size.

Day 19

Here's another shot from above. No visible changes going on.

Day 20


Today's shot is looking down the mouth of the better bottle. Thanks to the flash you can see there is an oily film of what is probably a pellicle starting to form on the surface. Could be bacteria or wild yeast. Who knows.

Day 21

Here's another picture of something funky going on. Right in the middle of the picture you can see what looks like a clump of snot right at the edge of the liquid. That's a really accurate picture. I have no idea what that is but it's the last whatever from the stuff that was floating around on the top of the beer all of last week.

I guess I'll keep letting this ride out with the pictures. See what's going on. It looks like a pellicle might pop up in the next few weeks. I might dare to take a taste next week.
January 22, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 5 -- week 2 of fermentation

Today's post picks up where the last post left off, on day eight of the spontaneous fermentation.

Day 8

Curiously, it seems like whatever was building up steam over the past two days has given up. Over the course of the day the white foam has started breaking down and retracting back into the beer. Underneath the surface the beer is still cloudy, which suggests there is more to come.

Day 9

Pretty much identical to yesterday. No change.

Day 10

What look like may be yeast rafts (yeast clumps holding on to bubbles on the surface) seem to be growing in size today. This is the same side of the fermentor as yesterday's picture so you can compare the two fairly closely. It's not much in the way of activity but it's something.

Day 11

No noticeable change here. Those yeast rafts seem a little bigger but maybe they are just more spread out. What was at the top of the screen in yesterday's picture is at the bottom of today's picture. Since there isn't anything interesting changing today I thought I would pull back and show more of the surface in a single picture.

Day 12

Keep hoping for some change but nope, it looks like everything is staying pretty much as it is.

Day 13

Still pretty much the same. You can see the beer is still pretty cloudy.

Day 14

Here you can see the surface is clear and stable. Other than the cloudy appearance, this beer fermented out very similar to any clean beer. The krausen was much more bubbly than the usual foamy krausen, so that was different, but otherwise this fermentation hasn't been anything unusual in appearance.

Really uneventful week. Since it looks like nothing interesting can be observed I will continue to take pictures but not post them up unless or until something starts to change in the appearance. Hopefully the next week will have something interesting to offer.
January 20, 2014

Old King Clancy Old Ale Recipe

I'm not a big believer that "old ale" really classifies as a style beyond being a strong ale/barleywine that has been aged. It seems odd that one can create an "old ale" that isn't very old but instead an approximation of some of the character of aged beer. I'm not comfortable calling a beer "old ale" unless it really has been aged or will be aged. This one will, so I'm ok with calling it as much.

Old King Clancy (a Canadian sex act, according to How I Met Your Mother) is the beginning of a larger brewing project for 2015. I want to do some blending of aged but not sour/brett beers both among themselves and with fresh beer. I haven't written about this project yet because it's something I have just started thinking about. I am also thinking about making a rye porter as another base aged beer in the project. Also playing with the idea of aging something Belgian or German for the project. I'm not committed to limiting myself to British beer styles. Once I hammer out more on that project I'll post about it in greater detail.

The recipe for Old King Clancy isn't a fancy recipe. It's based entirely on stuff I have on hand. It's pale malt plus some adjuncts. Oats for a little body. Piloncillo for sugar content and some dark sugar flavors. It's the same stuff I used last year in a barleywine and it turned into an interesting beer. A little molasses for color and flavor. I'm letting the molasses and piloncillo give the old ale some of those stone fruit flavors often found in dark English crystal malts. Not identical but similar. I'm going light on the hops. Most of it is bittering, designed to maintain balance after a year or more of aging. There is a small charge in the flavor timeframe. It's Belma, which is a weird addition for a British-style beer, but I'm hoping after all the aging the remaining hop flavor will be grassy rather than the more delicate fruit flavors. I'm also subjecting this beer to faux barrel aging with some oak cubes soaked in Canadian whiskey. Why Canadian whiskey instead of bourbon? It works better with the beer's name (unimportant) and will impart those barrel-type flavors without adding the sweetness of bourbon. Ok, let's get to the recipe.

Old King Clancy Old Ale Recipe

Est. OG: 1.081
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. ABV: 9.3%
Bitterness: 63.9 IBU
Color: 8.7 SRM
Est. Efficiency: 65%
Batch size: 1.1 gallons

The Grain Bill (and kettle sugar additions)

85% 3 lb US 2 row (2 SRM)
7.1% 4 oz Flaked oats (1 SRM)
7.1% 4 oz Piloncillo (50 SRM)
0.8% 0.5 oz Blackstrap Molasses (80 SRM)

The Mash

Single infusion at with batch sparge at 180F
5.2 qt mash water
1.96 gallons sparge water
RO water adjusted in Bru'n Water to amber malty profile

Single infusion of 5.2 qt at 157.6F for 75 minutes at 148F.
Batch sparge with 1.96 g at 180F for 168F sparging

The Mash

0.3g gypsum
0.3g epsom salt
0.1g canning salt
0.5g calcium chloride
0.1g chalk
0.5ml lactic acid

The Sparge

0.5g gypsum
0.4g epsom salt
0.2g canning salt
0.8g calcium chloride
1.1ml lactic acid

The Boil

90 minute boil
0.37oz Belma [12.1% AAU] at 75 minutes
0.10oz Belma [12.1% AAU] at 15 minutes
0.2 tsp irish moss at 10 minutes
0.5oz molasses at 10 minutes
4.0oz piloncillo at 10 minutes

The Fermentation

Ferment with S-04 at 64F until 90% FG reached. Raise to 70F until FG reached. Add 0.25oz Canadian whiskey-soaked medium char oak cubes to fermentor. Age at room temperature until ready for blending.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Returned to wet milling grain after several batches of not conditioning the grain before milling to see if it would improve efficiency. Remembered how awful it was trying to get wet grain out of the plate mill.

Terrible brewday, had problems keeping mash warm. No idea why this one was worse than any other.

First runnings: 1.066
Second runnings: 1.013
Pre-boil volume: 2.8 gallon
Pre-boil gravity: 1.037
Mash efficiency: 86%
Post-boil volume: 1.1 gallons
Original gravity: 1.090
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%

Overall acceptable efficiency on the beer, given the nightmare of a brewday.

Pitched S-04 at fermentation temperature.

2/6/14: FG reading: 1.011. Added 0.25 ounces of Makers Mark-soaked medium toast oak chips. Will age until next year's blending.

Bottled 12.20.14. FG: 1.011. ABV: 10.9%.
January 13, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 4 -- week 1 of fermentation

Well, I guess I don't need to be too worried whether I captured any life in the frigid coolship. There is definitely something growing in the beer although what it is and whether it will produce some sour beer is still a mystery. I tried to take a picture daily of the beer. In my usual fashion, the pictures are poor quality but hey, who else is showing you day by day spontaneous fermentation pictures?

The first day didn't show much activity so we'll skip ahead and talk about day 2.

Day 2

See all the specs? Those are alive. I mean, they are something growing. I used the flash on this picture, as you can tell, which highlighted the specs. If you look carefully you can see that some of the specs are white and some are a light tan color, like yeast color. The light tan specs are actually growing on the sides of the carboy where wort splashed up during transit. The white specs are actually on the surface on the beer. They are individually about the size of dried yeast cells, which makes me think it's sort sort of yeast. The wort is slightly murky and hazy, which suggests there is also bacterial growth within the depths of the wort.

Aroma is mostly fresh wort but there is a murky, funky edge to it.

Day 3

Is it possible my picture taking is getting worse?

No significant changes today. Whatever is growing on top is multiplying in numbers and getting more active. Pressure is definitely building up in the fermentor as some bubbles are appearing in the airlock. No change in aroma and no other change in appearance. The beer is still fairly murky under the surface.

Day 4


No, I didn't miss any days. This is really the evening of day four. Late last night whisps of white started showing up on the surface. By the this morning the foam was starting to appear. Now this is a full surface of fluffy white foam about half an inch thick. There is some slow bubbling in the airlock so there is some kind of fermentation going on. I'm not sure what is driving fermentation right now (my guess, based on time estimates and that dreaded chart is that it is bacterial) but it sure doesn't have the appearance of the tan stuff on the surface before, which was the usual color of yeast krausen. This stuff is snow white.

 Day 5

Activity is growing in the krausen on top. The foam is full of extremely large bubbles and it's now about three inches above the top of the liquid itself. The beer underneath is still the same murky consistency. Not sure if that is just a starchy haze or bacterial haze. Who knows. 

Day 6

The big bubbles are gone, having dropped out mid-day. What's left now is a fairly flat level of white foam. It's the same sort of foam you see on the top of a saccharomyces fermentation before the krausen breaks out. It looks like the initial wave of fermentation has come to an end and something else is about to start taking over the beer.  

Day 7

With some of that krausen residue on the roof of the carboy it's getting harder to get a good shot of the surface of the beer, so I apologize for the crappy picture here. It basically looks the same as it did the day before: light coating of white foam. It appears something is preparing to take over fermentation. It should be about time for yeast to start driving fermentation.

Summary for the Week

Glad to see there was some activity this week. If you disregarded the first day on inactivity then this week looked similar to what you would see in a regular beer fermentation (yeast growth followed by krausen) but in slow motion. What took a day or two here would normally occur over hours with a healthy pitch of saccharomyces. The other major difference is that after krausen drops in a regular beer you would see the beer start to clear out on the surface but here we have the start of something new going on. The krausen was more bubbly than a regular beer fermentation but I think I will see another krausen come along in a few days that will be more akin to the usual fermentation.

Now is probably a good place to review where I should be in fermentation. This is one of the few times where it actually makes sense to cite to the spontaneous fermentation chart that appears in Wild Brews, which also appears on Raj Apte's website but actually comes from a 1970s research article on lambic. (BTW: did Apte take his info about sour brewing down?) So here's the chart:

(Sorry it's so fuzzy. That's actually not my bad photography skills at play. It's the only copy of the chart I could find online at the moment. I'll try to get a decent photograph out of Wild Brews before the next post.) I added a red line at the one week mark. You can see that the chart lists kloeckera as active during the first week. Kloeckera is a wild yeast that gives off fruit and floral flavors. It has a low ethanol tolerance and ferments glucose so it's going to drop out fairly early. Assuming the chart is an accurate reflection of what is going on in this beer, I then can assume what I saw this week was probably a kloeckera-driven fermentation with some bacterial action going on under the surface of the wort. Week 2 should bring a saccharomyces fermentation so I'm looking forward to seeing how Week 2 compares to Week 1.
January 5, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 3 -- The recipe and brewday

In the first two parts of the series on this spontaneous fermentation project I discussed process and goals. Today's it's time to get into the recipe and brew day. I'm closely following the process I used to brew Year Four's wort for the lambic solera. Same basic grain bill and turbid mash I used there. It's a long process but it's an interesting way to spend the brew day. Having done it once I feel less apprehensive about trying it again. Anyway, let's get into the recipe.

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Recipe

Batch size: 5 gallons
Efficiency: 72%
Est. ABV: 6%
Color: 3.6 SRM
IBUs: 8.6
Est. OG: 1.058
Est. FG: 1.002

Grain bill

5lb unmalted red wheat [1.7 SRM] 45%
6lb Weyermann pilsner malt [2 SRM] 55%


Yellow balanced profile in Bru'n Water
5.7 gallons mash water
2.86 gallons sparge water

Water Additions:

1.7g gypsum
1.7g epsom salt
0.3g canning salt
2.3g calcium chloride

0.9g gypsum
0.9g epsom salt
0.1g canning salt
1.1g calcium chloride
1.5ml lactic acid

Mash Schedule

1. Dough in 1.3 gallons at 134F for 15 minute rest at 113F
2. Add 1.1 gallons at 148F for 15 minute rest at 126F
3. Remove 0.75 gallons and heat to 190F and hold
4. Add 1.65 gallons at 185F for 45 minute rest at 149F
5. Remove 1.55 gallons and heat to 190F and hold
6. Add 1.65 gallons at 195F for 30 minute rest at 162F
7. Remove 2.1 gallons and heat to 190F
8. Add contents of the kettle to raise mash temp to 172F for 20 minutes
9. Vorlouf
10. Sparge with 2.86 gallons at 190F


90 minute boil
0.2oz Belma [12.10%] at 90 minutes (8.6 IBU)


Cool in shallow pans exposed outdoors until 60-70F. Rack to fermentor and ferment until complete.

And the brewday...

Long ass turbid mash took most of the day. I started milling (by hand) at 1pm and didn't even start sparging until almost 5pm. Actually not terribly longer than a full blown decoction mash but it still makes for a very long brew day, especially because the wort needs to cool before it can go in the fermentor.

As my second turbid mash attempt it was more fluid (pun not intended) and quicker because I had better expectations of what was going on and how to time things correctly. Still not perfect but getting closer. Runnings were far more milky than the first turbid mash, which I take to be a good thing. The picture to the right is the first decoction. Look at all that sweet starch.

The decocted portion of the mash tastes very starchy, unsurprisingly. After the portion at 149F came in the decocted portion started tasting a little sweet, which is also unsurprising.

The next picture, on your right, is a picture of the runnings from the last decoction. The mash temperature at this point is 162F so conversion is complete and as you can see the runnings are extremely clear. The mash was very loose at this point, which also contributes to the clarity of the runnings.

It's another one of my classic terrible photos but you can see on the top of the picture that the measurements in the measuring cup I was using can be seen almost to the bottom.

I wish I could figure out how to get a decent video uploaded to blogger but honestly as dicey as my ability to take still photos is I'd probably film something that looks like the Blair Witch Project. The reason why is that as the decocted portion of the mash is heating up you can see all the starch rolling around in the kettle. It's very lava lamp-like.

Pre-boil volume: 7.4 gallons
Pre-boil gravity: 1.037
Mash efficiency: 67%

Way, way too much wort but the efficiency isn't too bad for a wort full of starch. I had to boil some of the wort on the stove to try to boil off more of the wort. My turkey fryer kettle only holds 7.5 gallons so it wouldn't all fit with a rolling boil.

The picture below is of my cheap ass coolships. Half the kitchen went into making this beer. Seriously.

It's in the mid-20s while I'm trying to cool the beer, which is helpful because the beer is cooling to room temperature fairly quickly. I'm concerned it's going to cool too quickly to get a good population. The wort is starting to get ice crystals after sitting out for about an hour. The most shallow vessel, a cookie sheet, froze over in about fifteen minutes. Definitely no overnight cooling going on. It's windy so at least that should help blow a lot of yeast and bacteria into the wort. If it warms a little later in the week I may draw some of the wort out and stick it outside for a few hours to collect a larger population.

Collected right around five gallons at 1.046 gravity. A little low on efficiency but again not surprising due to all the unconverted starch.


January 2, 2014

If your name is Adam, you should brew an Adambier.

Photo from homebrewchef.com
Adambier is one of those historical brew styles that are difficult to find and our understanding of the style is questionable at best. Adambier is an old German top-fermented style hailing from Dortmunder, home of altbier. Descriptions of Adambier range from something like a top-fermented doppelbock to a German version of a barleywine to a smoky version of a doppelsticke (a high alcohol, highly hopped version of altbier) to a big, dark brown beer that has soured. Given it's geographical origin, it was probably the same or very similar to doppelsticke. (Doppelsticke itself is a rare style designation. Among altbier there is a slightly bigger and more hoppy version called sticke alt and doppelsticke is an even bigger and more hoppy version.) What is generally agreed to is that adambier was an aged beer that was aged at least a year but would be aged up to ten years. That certainly gives credence to the idea adambier would be subject to souring bacteria and brett and over time the hop character would fade.

For most of us in America, our idea of adambier comes from Hair of the Dog's Adam which has been produced since 1994. It is not sour or hoppy by American craft standards. Instead, it is somewhere in the vicinity of a German barleywine meets a wee heavy and not considered a particularly accurate historical recreation. Still, it might be considered an American Adambier, if we were to agree such a style might exist.

I decided to brew an adambier mostly out of vanity. There aren't many beer styles with people's names in them and I'm fortunate enough that my first name is included in a beer style and my last name is Polish for chalice, so I guess I just have a name built for brewing. We don't get Adam or any other adambier here in Texas, so trying something remotely close to the style seemed like a good idea to get an opportunity to try something near the style. It's also going to be my big beer for the year.

My starting point for this beer was the Adam recipe in Barleywine which is explained in the book as one of the early homebrew recipes that formed the basis of Hair of the Dog Adam. It is not particularly German in its use of ingredients but it seemed like a good starting point for creating a beer that is somewhere in the vicinity of a German adambier but with an American twist. Given the opportunity for vanity to make this a mebier, I would like to work on crafting a really solid Adambier over the next few years. I will probably drift the recipe closer to a doppelsticke but we'll see how I like this recipe.

Mebier Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 9.5%
Color: 12.5 SRM
Est. OG: 1.091
Est. FG: 1.019
Est. Efficiency: 72%
Bitterness: 42.8 IBU

The Grist

79.5%  2 lb. 12 oz. US 2 Row (2.0 SRM)
9% 5 oz. White wheat malt (2.4 SRM)
7.2% 4 oz. Caramunich II malt (36 SRM)
3.8% 2 oz. Munich malt (10 SRM)
0.6% 0.3 oz. Roasted barley (300 SRM)

The Water

RO water adjusted in Bru'n water for malty brown profile
1.38 gallons mash water | 0.37 gallons sparge water

Mash Water Adjustments

0.3g gypsum
0.6g epsom salt
0.2g canning salt
0.6g calcium chloride
0.3g chalk
0.4ml lactic acid

Sparge Water Adjustments

0.1g gypsum
0.2g epsom salt
0.2g calcium chloride
0.2ml lactic acid

The Mash

5.5 qt infusion at 97F for 15 minutes
Decoct 1.53qt and raise to 158F for 15 minutes, then reach boiling
Return decoction and raise mash to 122F for 25 minutes
Decoct 1.91qt and raise to 158F for 10 minutes, then reach boiling
Return decoction and raise mash to 148F for 20 minutes
Decoct 0.83qt and boil
Return to decoction and raise mash to 158F 20 minutes
Sparge with 0.37 gallons at 180F

The Boil

120 minute boil
0.18 oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 minutes 32 IBU
0.17 oz. Opal [6.5% AAU] at 20 minutes 10.8 IBU
0.15 tsp irish moss at 10 minutes
0.50 oz. Opal [6.5% AAU] at 0 minutes 0 IBU

The Fermentation

Ferment with 30ml of S04 at 62F for two weeks (until 80% fermentation complete) then raise to 66F until final gravity then let free rise to ambient. Let sit at ambient for one month. Bottle to 2.8 volumes.

Brewday Notes

First runnings gravity: 1.072
Pre-boil gravity: 1.058
Pre-boil volume: 1.5 gallons
Mash efficiency: 69%
OG: 1.079
Post-boil volume: 1.1 gallons
Efficiency: 66%

FG reading 3/26/14: 1.023 good for 7.4% ABV