December 31, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 2

So Part 1 covered the first 2/3 or so of my trip through San Diego and at this point in the trip we moved north towards Orange County and eventually into the Los Angeles area. So I'll start moving north with a journey to Stone's brewing facility.

Stone Brewing Co.

Admittedly, I have not been a fan of many Stone beers in the past. I am only beginning to really enjoy aggressively bitter beers in the West Coast IPA and DIPA styles and that makes up a lot of what Stone brings to my local market. In my head I also associate all of their hoppy beers with the taste of centennial hops which I particularly dislike for their floral nature. I know that's really only prominent in Ruination IPA but it's taking some time to shake off the mental association of Stone beers and centennial hops. So I expected going to the source would change my mind about Stone. It did.

Stone's new brewing facility is a wondrously huge brewing mecca with a large brewhouse and a restaurant serving up all sorts of interesting Stone beers (and variations) and non-Stone beers. The food is delicious and pairs well with a wide range of beers. I would have liked to get into a tour of the facilities but we had limited time and I imagine the tours book up almost as quickly as the New Belgium tour. I really fell down on the job of taking pictures this trip. The Stone facility is a visually stunning place with views of the fermentors and decor in the Gothic style you would imagine goes along with the Arrogant Bastard label. Since I don't have pictures for you I'll just jump into the beer:

  • Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Belgian holiday ale
  • Stone Go To IPA with Lemon and Vanilla
  • Stone Smoked Porter with chocolate and orange peel
  • Surly Pentagram 2014
  • Stone Lupulin Loop Jarrylo
  • Stone Lucky Bastard (I know they intentionally misspell it in a different way)
  • Stone Master of Disguise
  • Stone Crime.
My favorites among the group were the Go To, Master of Disguise and Surly Pentagram. (I won't talk about the Surly beer because this is a review for Stone.) The Master of Disguise is a blond stout with coffee. The whole blond stout with coffee thing is interesting because you get the coffee flavor but, like Port Board Meeting, you don't have all the roast that normally comes along with coffee beers. So you get the flavor profile of a sweeter coffee drink (but without all the fat and sugar) rather than the delicious but different flavors of a black cup of coffee.

I was blown away by how much I liked the Go To IPA with lemon and vanilla. If you told me vanilla would work in an IPA I'd say you're full of crap. I'd be completely wrong. This variant on Go To was assertive with the lemon and vanilla with the lighter fruit flavors from the hops sitting in the background. It was a very lemon cake-like flavor. Both my wife and I loved the beer and drank quite a bit of it.

Then we decided to torture ourselves by trying Crime. Crime (and its companion Punishment) are heavily peppered beers using Arrogant Bastard variants as a base. When I ordered the bottle the bartender asked me if I knew what I was ordered. I laughed and said yes. I was not prepared. This 500ml bottle is based on Lucky Bastard (a blend of all the Arrogant Bastard variants) and aged in bourbon barrels with jalapenos, black nagas, Carribean red hots, Morgua scorpions and fatalis. For what it's worth, the flavor of the beer is incredible. It is fruity and the bourbon and malt flavors are present. But then the burn hits and stays with you. I drank 2/3 of the bottle while my wife put down the other third. We split a cheese tray along the way. Our stomachs were angry for a few hours. If I think about it, I can still feel the burning in my stomach.

The bartender said they made Crime and Punishment this unbearable because each prior rendition was mocked by consumers for not being spicy enough. So they went the other direction with it. I asked if anybody had ever just poured the whole bottle into a pint glass and put it down. He said a woman came in with two guys a couple weeks beforehand and she drank an entire bottle while the two guys refused to touch it. I would imagine most of the bottles get left behind half empty. We finished ours and snuck the empty bottle out as a trophy.

Alpine Beer Co.

Alpine Brewing is located in Alpine, California quite a bit east of San Diego. It's not quite as mountainous as the name suggests but it certainly has the feel of a small mountain community. I wasn't very impressed with the town and I was questioning my decision to drive out there when I found the brewery. There is a one-story building of moderate size with two Alpine Brewing signs on either end of the building with a book store and a barber in the middle. On the left is the restaurant where Alpine beers are served. On the right is the brew house where growlers are filled and (I believe) bottles are sold to go. The picture above is the brew house side of the building. The beers are well regarded so I figured I needed to go inside.The restaurant side is a small, sort of a dingy restaurant decorated in the way you would expect a brewer to style a bar, kind of like the restaurant from Office Space but only beer stuff on the walls. The food smelled good although I didn't try any.I will say this though: the service is really uneven. If you read some of the reviews online you almost start to wonder whether they are even true. They probably are.

Alpine is known for their hoppy beers and that's nearly everything they brew. There are a few non-hoppy beers and while some aren't too bad they generally are not worth your time. These guys are experts are hoppy beers and really shouldn't waste their time brewing some of these other beers. They do some interesting variants on these beers but in my opinion the line up would be stronger without these other beers. I understand you need a mix of beers for people who aren't big into hoppy beers but I don't know that the irish red (in particular) is really doing the brand any favors.

The beers we tried were:

  • Nelson rye ipa with New Zealand hops
  • Good barleywine
  • Alpine Ale pale ale
  • Willy wheat ale
  • Willy with vanilla
  • Hoppy Birthday pale ale
  • Mandarin nectar orange blossom honey blonde
  • Duet IPA
  • Pure Hoppiness double IPA
  • McIlhenney's Irish red
  • Captain Stout chocolate oatmeal stout
Nelson was the easy winner among the pack with a healthy dose of Nelson Sauvin hops. Tasty stuff. The rye pepperiness is noticeable even under all of the hops and provides a nice counterpoint to the sweet Nelson Sauvin hops. Duet is definitely on the short list of simcoe + amarillo beers that stand out of the long, long list of beers copying this combination. Now that Alpine was entered into business with Green Flash we might see these beers on a wider scale, possibly even out here in Texas.

The Bruery

Since we were in Orange County and our 2014 Reserve Society membership is running out it was an obvious decision to hit The Bruery tasting room. I did not realize that there are society member-only beers in the tasting room but that was quickly uncovered after we got our first round. So we did some tastings and here's what was consumed:

  • Melange 1
  • Blueberry Smoking Wood
  • Mole Smoking Wood
  • Mash and coconut
  • So Happens It's Tuesday with vanilla and cherries
  • Coffee Smoking Wood
  • Bierbara
  • Mash and Grind
  • Sourrento
  • Roble Blanco
Fan favorites this go round were blueberry Smoking Wood, coffee Smoking Wood, So Happens and Bierbara. I am probably on the short list of people who really enjoyed blueberry Smoking Wood but I thought it was an interesting beer with sort of a grilled blueberry cobbler flavor. I don't know that I could drink it all night but it was an interesting beer to try out. Coffee Smoking Wood was similarly an interesting mix of coffee and smoke. I like Smoking Wood a lot so I guess it isn't surprising I liked those beers. So Happens... with vanilla and cherries had the great flavors of Black Tuesday but without the heavy ABV, which is a nice change of pace from the ABV attack of Black Tuesday. Vanilla helps coax out some of the chocolate notes in a stout and when paired with cherries brings out a nice cherry chocolate flavor. Bierbara is an interesting beer with wine grapes, apricots and spices. I wouldn't say I loved the beer but it was an interesting flavor profile. Not quite a mulled wine but not quite obviously a beer, either.

Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant in Costa Mesa

I didn't know much about Karl Strauss prior to this trip except that my wife has fallen in love with Red Trolley, their flagship amber ale. I was assured I would enjoy the beers and as a selling point I was informed that they tap a cask on Thursday nights so I was sold. I don't believe any brewing occurs at the restaurants, it appears all the beer is made at the brewing facility in San Diego and shipped around the their restaurants. I'm usually suspect of that arrangement because it invokes the image of a BJ's or other "brewpub" with mediocre beer sent out from some contract brewing arrangement. However, Karl Strauss has done a great job of using the restaurants as brand ambassadors for the beer. The food is great and served in generous portions. The servers might not be cicerones but they have been taught about the beers and serve samples of what is normally paired with the dishes you order in case you want to order a beer paired with your food. They do a really good job of pairing.

Let's talk some beers:

  • Red Trolley cask with orange peel
  • Red Trolley
  • Fullsuit Belgian brown ale
  • Pintail pale ale
  • Five wee heavy
  • Wreck alley imperial stout
  • Tower 10 IPA
I drank a lot of the cask. The orange peel added citrus notes that paired well with the caramel sweetness of the beer and helped cut some of the sweetness with the citrus oils. Pintail pale ale offers an interesting mix of newport, cascade and amarillo hops that I enjoyed. I also really enjoyed the Fullsuit Belgian brown ale that takes a different direction than the usual Belgian brown ales. Rather than selecting a fruity Belgian strain Karl Strauss opts for a peppery strain (likely Ardennes) and ages the beer on French oak. The peppery yeast is prominent and the oak is gentle but present. Honestly I liked all the beers I tried and would happily return. It seems like Karl Strauss offers a wide range of beers at their brewery in San Diego so I'd like to check out what other kinds of weird things they are doing with their beers.

Absolution Brewing Co.

I found this little place in Torrence while my wife was in a business meeting and decided to check it out. I swear I took a picture or two here but it's not on my phone. The layout is the usual taproom/brewhouse set up with a thick rope delineating between customer and employee. Absolution's beers are an interesting mix. There are the usual range of styles (hefe, porter, stout, pale ale, etc.) along with some IPAs and a handful of Belgian beers. What's probably most interesting about their line up is that their IPAs are east meets west. English malt--usually Maris Otter--mixed with American hops. They are definitely out of place in the west coast where the IPAs tend to be drier but it's nice to have a different option on the market. They also barrel age a handful of beers and put a couple on cask so there are plenty of options to check out. I only had time to taste a couple beers but I would definitely go back and explore more taps.

The first beer I drank was a chardonnay barrel aged Trespasser saison. The base beer is a hop-forward saison with Palisades and Ahtanum offering citrus and melon notes. The barrel aging smooths some of the hop bitterness while adding a smooth chardonnay and oak edge to the beer. The chardonnay is balanced. The remaining hop bitterness does a nice job of balancing out the chardonnay that can come across as sweet in a beer.

Second was Winter Trespasser dubbel on cask. It's rare to find a Belgian beer on cask (at least where I find myself) and one reason why I believe that is the case is because Belgian beers generally benefit from a high level of carbonation that makes the fruity esters from the yeast stand out. Cask, on the other hand, smooths out some of those flavors and brings out the malt character. In an IPA the cask pour smooths the bitterness and brings balance to the malt and hops but the esters in a Belgian beer are more delicate and can get lost in that effect. I'm not sure what the original beer in this case is like but I did find the cask subdued the esters. They were there in the background but what replaced the big fruit notes was a dominant chocolate flavor like a very creamy milk chocolate. Some of the bready and caramel notes were present and gave a chocolate scone-like flavor profile. I wouldn't say this would be the way I would always want to drink dubbels but for this particular beer it was perfect.

Some other random beers...

We also checked out Neighborhood bar in the gaslamp district in San Diego and I enjoyed these other beers:

  • Lambicx
  • Lost Abbey Lost Gourd 
  • Almanac Tequila barrel Noir
  • Hess Umbrix rye imperial stout
  • Craftsman Holiday Ale
The big surprise of the lot was Hess Umbrix. A really nice rye imperial stout. Complex with a big rye flavor. I was also very happy to find Lambicx as we do not get it here in Texas.

Alright, so that's the fun I had in San Diego. I have return trips to Colorado and Oregon coming up in the first half of 2015 so that will be more drinking adventures for me.

December 29, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 1

Did you know border patrol sets up temporary stops on the highways between the San Diego and Los Angeles area? Neither did I until I went beer hunting in San Diego. San Diego is perpetually warm, which means mid-December is still a good time for IPA to quench your thirst. I'm not the biggest IPA fan although I have come around (somewhat) on the style. I can definitely understand why it is such a popular beer style in southern California. The dry and citrusy beers pair perfectly with the climate and their apparent affinity for Asian cuisines.

If you doubt my new found appreciation for hoppy beers then let me add--as a point of bragging--that I started writing this post at the tap room at Alpine Beer Company.

I tagged along to San Diego with my wife on one of her work trips. Her work sends her out to California, Denver and other places in the southwest so there are some great opportunities for us to share some time in these wonderful beer areas (partially on her employer's dime). So we hit several places in the San Diego area with a trip up through Orange County to The Bruery. I decided to slurp up some wifi at Alpine to start writing this post so I didn't get stuck trying to remember all the beers I drank a week later.

Green Flash Brewing Co.

I'll admit that I haven't been a huge fan of the Green Flash beers we get here in Texas. Sure, I like Le Freak but I hate the way each bottle pours out onto the counter rather than into my glass. Gushing bottles are a huge pet peeve for me. We don't get too many of their other beers so I thought it would be a good idea to see what else Green Flash has to offer before I declare them dead to me. I'm glad I did. The taproom, located in their San Diego brewery, has a wide array of beers to offer although as one would expect there are plenty of hoppy offerings to go around. Many of which I hope are someday exported to Texas.

The beers we tasted were:

  • Special cuvee trippel
  • Grand cru
  • Serrano double stout (on cask)
  • Crazy eight honey wheat wine
  • Road warrior rye imperial IPA
  • Cedar plank pale ale
  • Mosaic session ale
  • Symposium IPA
The beers I enjoyed most were the special cuvee trippel, the serrano double stout and the mosaic session ale. The serrano double stout was a nice level of heat without overwhelming the beer and a good mosaic beer can't be beat. The special cuvee trippel (their spelling not mine) was nicely balanced between spices and the yeast character.

The taproom list is pretty cool. It clearly identifies the beer along with the major flavor descriptors, which can be helpful for people who don't know what to expect from a beer just because it's described as "hoppy" or "juicy" (whatever the hell that means).

Alesmith Brewing Co.

Alesmith might be best known for their barrel aged line of high ABV beers but they have a nice line up of solid beers all the way around. Alesmith, like Green Flash, is located in the outer perimeter of San Diego but while Green Flash has a spacious building to themselves, Alesmith is tucked away in a business/industrial park like so many other breweries. The taproom gets reasonably busy with an after-work crowd during the week but keeps beer geeks happy on the weekends. The taproom features a number of taproom only beers, including random barrel aged versions of their beers. There are the malt bombs that everybody seeks but also some tasty hoppy beers to balance out the sweetness. (Sorry about the absence of pictures, I got very lazy about taking pictures after Green Flash.)

Beers enjoyed:

  • San Diego pale ale 3.94
  • Yulesmith
  • Evil dead read
  • Bourbon barrel aged nut brown ale
  • 2014 Decadence
  • X extra pale ale on cask
  • Anvil ESB
  • Double hammer head speedway stout
I'll talk a little about my three favorites. I really enjoyed X on cask. I have come to really enjoy the extra pale ale style (which I feel is just 1990s IPA with contemporary hop flavors) and I'm a sucker for a beer on cask so naturally I had a lot of love for this beer. Nice balance of pine and citrus without the overwhelming bitterness of a modern IPA. Going the other direction, 2014 Decadence was another favorite. Decadence is an annual release that changes each year and this year's release is a wheatwine, another favorite style of mine. The wheat pours out with interesting fruit and honey notes with a subtle layer of hops on top. Delicate flavors for a big 10% beer. Third was the bourbon barrel aged nut brown ale. Nut brown ales have fallen out of favor and have been relegated to "a good beer style for a new brewer" but it's a perfectly fine style when you want a little malt without more assertive flavors of a porter or stout. It's certainly not a style normally thrown in barrels but in this case it came out swinging with some caramel and vanilla notes intermingling with the base beer's cocoa and biscuit flavors. Interesting stuff and a nice change of pace from the usual BBA stouts.

Mission Brewery

Mission recently entered the Texas market with their comically large 32oz. cans but I haven't had an opportunity to explore their beers. Mission was only a few blocks off of our hotel in San Diego so we decided to stop in and check out some beer. Mission is located not far from the touristy gaslamp district in an old Wonder Bread bakery redeployed as a brewery with a serious 16th century sailing theme. Pirates and galleons as far as the eye can see. I swear I took some pictures here but they aren't on my phone so maybe the pirates absconded with them. The brewery set up takes advantage of the open space with a long bar on one side and the brewery on the other with a sturdy rope separating the beer making from the beer drinking. It's a fun little place but I can imagine it gets ridiculously busy on the weekends.

Mission is probably best known for their IPAs but the taproom features the full line of beers that range from the easy drinking lighter hefeweizen and blonde ale up to some excellent malty offerings. The taproom also has an interesting set of craft cocktails that seem to have a beer base and are fermented alongside the other beers on tap. I didn't get a chance to ask about them but they looked interesting. Anyway, here are the beers I checked out:

  • Steam Beer
  • Mission Holiday Ale BDSA
  • Bourbon barrel Dark Seas imperial stout
  • Brandy barrel Dark Seas 
  • Mission porter
  • Tominator doppelbock
  • Shipwrecked IIPA
My favorites were the steam beer, doppelbock, IIPA and both barrel versions of Dark Seas. I really enjoy a good brandy barrel aged beer (although I don't like brandy) so the brandy barrel aged Dark Seas was my favorite. I didn't know what to expect out of Mission but overall I was impressed by the beers. 

Societe Brewing Co.

Societe (pronounced like society) is an interesting brewing with soft application of a Victorian theme with beer names like Haberdasher and Roustabout. Their beers are all over the map but loosely categorized into hoppy, Belgian, malty and sour (although I do not believe any of the sour beers have been released yet). Societe carries a deservedly solid reputation in southern California brewing with sixteen beers in normal rotation. There is an unsurprising number of IPAs and other hoppy beers in the lineup but thankfully Societe stayed away from making an endless stream of double IPAs to cash in on easy sales. Instead the lineup ranges from light session beers to malt bombs and gently hopped to aggressively hopped. It's a testimony to the brewers' skills that they can regularly make such a wide range of beers with such skill.

Beers we enjoyed here:

  • The Jackeroo IPA with southern hemisphere hops
  • The Butcher imperial stout
  • The Haberdasher English IPA
  • The Harlot Belgian extra pale ale
  • The Debutante Belgian amber ale
  • The Spelunker brown ale
My favorites were The Jackeroo and The Harlot. Both beers were similar in big fruity flavors, one displaying those flavors from hops and one from yeast. I can't say I would call The Butcher my favorite stout out there but it certainly isn't among the worst I have had. Otherwise, I was generally impressed with the beers I tried. What I find interesting is that people tend to talk favorably about Societe but the ratings on the beers are lower than what you would expect from a well-regarded brewery. I think this is easily explained by looking at the specs on the beers. Most of the beers are in the 5-6% ABV range and hopped to a more approachable bitterness than most other IPAs around San Diego. They just aren't extreme enough to create the hype necessary to reach those higher rankings. Which just goes to show how silly beer rankings are.

Pizza Port Solana Beach

For most of us outside of southern California, Pizza Port and Port Brewing is something associated with the more famous Lost Abbey beers. However, all of these identities originate from the Pizza Port located in Solana Beach. Located in a shopping center on the Pacific Coast Highway, this place is tucked away in a beach-side, affluent community just north of San Diego. Although the business is successful, the Solana Beach location looks like a place that has been open for decades (and brewing beer for 22 years) with no renovations. It is disorganized and cluttered but I suppose that is part of the charm of this place. If you didn't know any better, you would probably assume this place is serving up good pizza (it was crowded inside) but lousy beer by the pitcher. Instead, they serve up good pizza with good beer.

We were hungry and needed to wind down on drinking by the time we got to Pizza Port so I just tried two of the beers available. One was the Gingerbread Chateu, a very busy saison with ginger, candied ginger, molasses and raisins. There was, as you can guess, a lot of ginger going on. It wasn't my favorite. I have a limited tolerance for ginger in my beer and this one exceeded that limit. The other beer was Gobble Gobble wheat ale with cranberries. It was a light American wheat with cranberries adding some tartness and fruit flavors over the wheat. It was interesting but easy drinking, which made it a good beer to pair up with pizza.

Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co.

So naturally we had to hit the Lost Abbey/Port Brewing location in San Marcos. Port Brewing and Lost Abbey are the same company brewing out of the same brewing facility. They are a spinoff from Pizza Port and although they brew some of the same beers as Pizza Port, their versions of the beers are slightly different from the original Pizza Port beers. Port Brewing/Lost Abbey is a distinct business run separately from the Pizza Port business. The Belgian/French beers brewed by this company are packaged under the Lost Abbey label while the other beers all go under the Port Brewing name. (For the sake of brevity, I'll just refer to this entity as Lost Abbey.)

Lost Abbey brews out of Stone's former brewhouse in the middle of a business park across several suites. The tasting room is largely a bar and some seating roped off from the brewhouse and fermentors. You can peek into the barrel room but it is made clear that customers do not belong there. The tap list offers a generous selection from both the Lost Abbey and Port range of beers and one can buy from a healthy selection of bottles from both. It is worth noting that the taproom closes early each evening so if you plan a visit be mindful of the hours and that traffic getting there can be brutal during the late afternoon.

The beers tasted:

  • Lost Abbey Gift of the Maji biere de garde with brett, frankincence and myrrh
  • Lost Abbey Devotion
  • Lost Abbey Avant Garde
  • Lost Abbey Lost and Found
  • Lost Abbey Witches Wit
  • Lost Abbey Road to Helles
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper imperial stout
  • Port Brewing Board Meeting brown ale with coffee and cocoa nibs
My favorites out these beers were Avant Garde, Board Meeting and Witches Wit. Avant Garde is an interesting biere de garde on the lighter end of the style that gives you a big helping of biscuity malt flavor with some light fruit notes on the edges. It's brewed with a lager yeast and there is an unmistakable lager yeast signature about the beer. Witches Wit is a solid wit (obviously) and spiced with coriander, orange peel and grapefruit peel. It's nicely fruity but you get some acidic bitterness from the citrus fruit and spruces up the beer. Board Meeting was a nice change of pace for coffee beers. While many coffee beers are made out of stouts that create beers with roast on top of roast, the brown ale offers a malty base that mellows the roast in the coffee. The cocoa then comes in and wraps the whole thing up into a complex truffle-like experience. I wish I had spent more time at Lost Abbey but with their tasting room hours it just didn't work with the schedule (and traffic).

Alright, this is a good stopping point for the first part of this beercation. Part two will feature Stone, The Bruery and a couple other places.
December 23, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Twenty Part 2 - Bottling Year Four

This year's bottling will be less interesting than the prior bottling so I'll keep this post as brief as I can. I am pulling three gallons from the solera (and replacing the same volume). Two gallons will be bottled straight and one gallon will be set aside for future blending into another gueuze. The first couple years I split a gallon off on fruit but I like the flavor of the lambic by itself so much I feel like the fruit takes away from the beer. I like the fruit versions I did but retrospectively I wish I had just kept all the solera bottlings sans fruit.

Year Four has a hardcore amount of funk and not particularly in a good way. It has a strange off-putting flavor that I'd consider a flaw. I think the airlock ran dry for a while during this year and the beer developed some acetic acid-based compounds. I also suspect the yeast I added in Year Three just wasn't a good fight and didn't play well with brett. It might improve with some time in the bottle and I'm not in a hurry to drink them so I'll just have to see what develops.

I pitched some WY 1214 into the solera with the fresh wort but after how Year Four turned out I am not very optimistic that Year Five will be free from the awfulness of Year Four. That might make Year Five the last year of this rendition of the solera and I will start a new one. It's often said that sometimes dumping a sour beer is part of the process. I'd hate for the solera to meet that fate but I am also not about to drink six gallons of unpleasant beer.
December 21, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Twenty - Beginning Year Five

It's almost hard to wrap my head around the idea that this little Better Bottle has been quietly producing lambic for four years and buried somewhere within the beer I'll bottle today is beer that dates back to that first brewday. Each brewday has made another change towards a more traditional lambic process and each beer coming out of the solera has been significantly different from its predecessor. With a traditional grist and the laborious turbid mash already part of the solera's brewday, I am running out of steps to further the authenticity of this beer short of spontaneously fermenting it (which is not something I am interested in integrating into this particular project). One area that I can take the beer more authentic is the use of aged hops in the boil. I have some 2011 East Kent Goldings that I have left at room temperature for a couple years that are slightly cheesy in aroma and should be a good fit for this beer.

Along with the new addition to the brewday it is also time to completely empty the solera to clean out the massive layer of trub and add some new saccharomyces and oak. I do this every other year to keep the solera in good health. I don't necessarily fear autolysis from the trub buildup but it just takes up too much volume if I let it go more than a couple years. I also like to add fresh saccharomyces and oak to put back some new flavor contributors. I believe the saccharomyces-created esters and phenols are important components of the brett flavors. I hypothesized a couple years ago when I added new saccharomyces that the years without a healthy saccharomyces fermentation would be less complex and less preferred by tasters than those years with fresh saccharomyces. The Year Four pull will provide a data point to compare against Year Three (which had fresh sacc) and Year Two (which did not have fresh sacc). More on that later.

Like the preceding years, I will break up the brew day and bottling across two posts. Today's post will cover the brew day and the subsequent post will discuss bottling, initial flavor impressions and some general thoughts about solera brewing for those currently enjoying their own solera and those considering starting their own.

2014 Refill Recipe

The recipe for this refill is pretty much the same as last year's but I am just doing my normal three gallon refill instead of last year's four gallon batch to make up for the enormous pile of trub I cleaned out of the fermentor. Otherwise, the only major changes here is the use of aged hops in the boil and I am adding some fresh saccharomyces to get some more flavor compounds in the beer for brett to play with.  In Year Three I added a Belgian strain from an Austin brewery that I didn't love when brett manipulated it so I am going back to a more trustworthy strain. Year Five will include a pitch of Wyeast Belgian Abbey 1214.

So here's the recipe.

Batch size: 3 gallons
Est OG: 1.046
Est FG: 1.009
Est IBU: 0
Est SRM:  2.8


2 lb. Unmalted white wheat [2 SRM]
3 lb. Avangard Pils malt [2 SRM]


6.25 qt. mash water
4.5 gallons sparge water
Water adjusted in bru'n water to yellow balanced profile

Water Profile

Calcium: 51ppm
Magnesium: 7ppm
Sodium: 5ppm
Sulfate: 75ppm
Chloride: 63ppm
Bicarbonate: 0ppm

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.5g
Epsom salt 0.4g
Canning salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.7g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 1.4g
Epsom salt 1.2g
Canning salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 1.9g
Lactic acid 2.4ml

Mash and Sparge

Turbid mash based on schedule in Wild Brews

1. Dough in 1.25qt at 146F for rest at 113F for 15 minutes.
2. Infuse 1.25qt at 150F for rest at 126F for 15 minutes.
3. Remove 0.625qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
4. Infuse 1.875qt at 188F for rest at 148F for 45 minutes.
5. Remove 1.8qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
6. Infuse 1.875qt at 202F for rest at 162F for 30 minutes.
7. Remove 2.28qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
8. Add kettle liquid to mash to raise to 172F. Rest for 20 minutes.
9. Sparge with 4.5gal at 190F.


90 minute boil
2 oz. aged EKG hops from 2011 at 90


Cool wort and rack onto three gallons of existing lambic plus pitch half of a wyeast 1214 smack pack. Age until Year Six.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 12/20/14.

I always forget how much of a PITA the turbid mash is, especially because my calculations always seem to be off on the first couple steps and I need to add more water to account for grain absorption. I just need to redo my math on the infusions but I forgot to do that ahead of the brewday and ended up adding more heated water after the second infusion to get the mash temperature up to 126. And oh how I forgot how much not fun it is squeezing runnings out of a dry mash. I had to use a strainer and a couple measuring cups to drain out enough runnings to move them over to the kettle. The picture to the right is the first extraction on its way to its 190F hold.

You can see how milky this stuff is coming out of the mash. As it gets up around 190F it starts to turn more of a brown color and develops a more gravy-like consistency. That shouldn't be too surprising because one way to make gravy thick like it's supposed to be is to add wheat flour.

I also forgot how difficult it is to sparge this stuff. The enormous amount of starch is begging for a stuck mash.

The picture to the left is the grain bed after sparging. You can see on the top there is a thick layer of gunk covering the grain. This is pretty common in any mash but it is abnormally thick here. It's about 1/2-3/4 of an inch thick. At least I kept most of it out of the brew kettle.

Every year I think about how much I should undergo this turbid mash because it's a challenge and with how little I have been able to brew this year it's a good time to spend a whole day brewing beer. Then I get in the middle of the turbid mash and wonder why I put myself through such an arduous process. Year Three was the first turbid mash and with its bottling later in the day I'll decide whether it's worth my time to keep it up.

The boil isn't too exciting; it's a very normal boil To the right are the aged hop pellets. The most interesting part of the boil was adding the hops. While dropping hops in the boil usually lets off those nice grassy and fruity aromas, these hops let off a very strange aroma of cheese and dead grass. Strange takes a different meaning in sour brewing, what with all the mouse taints and horse blankets.

That's it for today's post. The next half of this post will discuss the bottling and some initial tasting notes.
December 4, 2014

2014 Brewing Year in Review/2015 Brewing Goals

As with the past several years, I conclude/begin my homebrewing year in mid-December with the brewing of the next year's lambic solera filling. With the end of the 2014 brewing year approaching, it's that time for another reflective post of this year's brewing and setting out next year's brewing goals.

Overall 2014 resulted in far, far less brewing than I had anticipated with roughly half of the brews I put on my schedule never coming to fruition. Much of that had to do with the time spent in beer travels this year to Portland, California (Orange County up to San Francisco), Austin and Denver (GABF). I drank a lot and took some time off to recover once I returned home. As a result I drank less beer at home than normal. I am trying to avoid brewing beer that should be consumed fresh if I do not believe I will drink it fresh and that was primarily the reason several beers went unbrewed.

On the other hand, 2014 produced several great beers. I bottled my first gueuze and locked in my lager brewing technique. Those are the year's greatest accomplishments. I also brewed my first coolshipped beer but the jury is still out on how that beer is going to turn out. I suspect it is never going to sour but I am willing to wait it out. I was particularly happy with my pilsner. I was worried about brewing a beer that requires that level of technical precision but not only did I avoid flaws but it turned out very well. I am also happy with the way Melting Point Imperial Saison turned out although I might tweak that recipe in the future.

The 2015 brewing year will be about picking up the pieces of the past and building upon them for long term future projects. I have several beers that will see packaging in 2015 including Year Four Lambic Solera, a blending of 2014's rye porter and old ale, Lucky Pierre Brett Farmhouse Ale (from 2013) and the brett portion of Tropic Bling (Funkwerks Tropic King clone) aged on bourbon-soaked cubes. I also have several beers from 2014 to brew, including a pale ale, gratzer, rye saison, doppelbock, sour mashed rye stout, tmare pivo and a rebrew of the Tropic King clone.

Additionally, I have several long term projects continuing or starting in 2015. The lambic solera will get Year Five filling. I also plan on starting what I plan on becoming a long term sour beer blending program. 2015 will start out two of the base beers, which I am still tinkering with. Ultimately I plan on this project relying on four or five base beers but that is also something I am still tinkering with. Right now the two beers for 2015 in the project will be an oatmeal pale ale and a Belgian brown ale with later additions of a rye saison, a wheat saison and my adambier. I'll get more into this program as I solidify plans.

Of course I also have several other recipes in mind for the year that will be new beers. Right now these include an Indian-themed saison, a Belgian quad, an old chub clone, pilsner, wheat saison, steam porter and a wheat wine. I am not sure how many of these beers will actually make the cut for 2015 with all the other beers left to brew in 2014 and all the aged beers getting bottled. There is also a small batch of an atypical lager that I will be brewing in a one-on-one competition. I'm committed to the competition but still working on the recipe so I'll keep quiet about that for now. I also have another beer that has to stay a secret for now but I'll talk about that when the time is right. Many of these beers will be small batch beers so that should help justify brewing a few of these beers.

Heading into December I have a very busy brewing schedule, which makes up for the long drought through the end of the summer and early fall. In addition to the biere de mars currently in the tank I have the rebrew of the lambic solera coming up plus another three beers I have to get fermenting between now and mid-January and I only have space to brew each of them in succession of each other, minus the solera brew. So 2015 will probably work out to a lot of brewing early in the year with a tapering off as the year progresses.

As an aside, I've added Brain Sparging on Brewing to Facebook so those of you who use Facebook to follow blogs can use that instead of RSS. Find the blog on Facebook here.