December 19, 2015

2015 Brewing In Review/2016 Brewing Goals

Another year of brewing concludes this month and like each year I have blogged I am looking both backwards at the prior year of homebrewing and the next year of homebrewing. For those who haven't read prior years' reviews I count my brewing year ending with the rebrew for my lambic solera as the conclusion of the brewing year and pick back up in early January with the new year. When the lambic solera comes to a conclusion I'll probably stay on this schedule. It's already so close to the calendar year but it also coincides with all the great holiday season deals that I typically hit to stock ingredients for the next year's recipes. For now I'm still running by the lambic solera rebrews, recently posted, so let's get into the 2015 review.

My goals for 2015 centered largely around three goals:

1. Maintain the lambic solera;

2. Design and start an ambitious sour blending program; and

3. Brew (and drink) an ambitious amount of homebrew.

The first goal was easily met although I had some early reservations about the continuing quality of the lambic solera. Year Four was the first year to enjoy a full turbid mash and it took that vintage some additional time in the bottle to mature. For the first several months of 2015 I was uncertain I would want to go beyond Year Five.

The second goal was mostly accomplished. I designed the sour blending program and brewed the two core beers (a rye pale ale and a Belgian brown ale). These beers are awaiting bottling and seeking out their companions in the blending program.

The third goal was partially accomplished as usual. I always seem to plan out more beer than I can brew and consume. Much of this has to do with my enjoyment of designing recipes and wanting to explore new ideas. I still have a few recipes from 2014 carrying over that I am going to diligently try to get brewed in 2016.

Aside from these goals I spent a lot of time having good conversation and learning among the AHA forum and the Milk The Funk facebook group. Milk the Funk is probably the most interesting and advanced brewing forum on the intertubes and well tended by the admins who devote undoubtedly enormous amounts of time culling the facebook discussions and maintaining the expansive wiki. If you have any interest in the more bizarre end of fermentation and you aren't a member of Milk the Funk then you are surely missing out.

As a whole I'm happy with how the year turned out. Most of the beers were good to great which is a solid result for what were mostly brand new recipes.

Turning to 2016...

2016 will be just as ambitious as 2015 in terms of brewing although I am trying to restrain myself from getting out of control with brewing projects. Right now the goal for my wife and I is to pick up and move to Denver in 2018. Although this is still years away I have to account for that in my long term sour brewing and blending planning. I can only afford to devote so much space for hauling bottled beer to Denver so I need to start balancing what I can drink in the next couple years against what I really want to brew and how much of that will come to Denver.

The December 2015 lambic brewday is the last for this iteration of the lambic solera. It will be bottled as Year Six in December 2016. At that time I will have reserves from Year Four and Year Five to create a second gueuze out of the final three years as I did with the first three years. That will give me seven gallons of lambic. So that will be the final blending act of 2016.

The sour blending project begun in 2015 will be ready for its first bottling in 2016. Initially I had planned to get through three years of this project before moving but I think that's too ambitious and I won't get through that much beer if I am counting each year brewing five gallons each of the two base beers plus at least a gallon of the other two beers. The current plan is to blend and reserve parts of the 2015 base beers and see how those beers develop and adjust the recipes and blends and possibly brew the tweaked recipes late 2016 on a small batch level to see if I like those recipes better. I'll probably hold off on fully developing this project until the move to Denver where I will have more space and more brewing companions who enjoy sour beer.

I'm also really become interested in the mixed fermentation farmhouse beers hanging around these days and want to explore that in 2016. The plan is to use the Oregon Special culture I put together from dregs on my last trip to Oregon and see how that culture works around hops. Right now that culture is powering the brown ale in the blending project and it is a really interesting beer. It's got some De Garde and Ale Apothecary dregs in it and they are definitely driving the fermentation profile. I'm interested to see how hops restrain some of the assertive sourness and bring forward some of the funky yeast character.

Among all this sour beer I also have a few lagers and hoppy beers to brew just to keep something light and clean available. I have an excess of hops in the freezer to use up and it makes sense to put these to work both in saisons and some clean hoppy beers. These won't be terribly exciting but I'll stuff them in my party pigs-turned casks and let them break up the ocean of BBA stouts and sour beer that currently occupies most of my beer cellar.

So that's pretty much 2016. Lots of sour beer. Maybe a little not sour beer. The thirstier I get the more I can brew so I'll hope to be especially thirsty this year.

I do want to take this time to thank everybody who has read my blog through the year(s) and tolerated my lazy writing style and occasional bouts of garbage posting. I am posting less but trying to post in a manner more useful to myself and other readers. I hope to be able to post some interesting ideas in 2016 around experiences blending and pitting mixed cultures against hops so that might entice you to hang around for another year of posts.
December 17, 2015

Lambic Solera Update Twenty-One: Bottling Year Five and Brewing Year Six

Every year it seems crazier to me that I've been brewing and aging this beer for five years. The first brewday was in December 2010 right after fall finals in law school and five years later I'm whipping work as an attorney and brewing the fifth annual fill of this solera. For reasons I'll get into in a different post, Year Six will be the final brewday for the solera. It will be completely emptied in December 2016 in which I will blend a second gueuze out of Year Four, Year Five and Year Six as I did with the first three years and bottle the rest straight. I might do a final fruit addition out of part of Year Six as I did the first two years but the beer is already so complex I'd hate to lose that behind fruit. At any rate, this will be the last brewday post for the lambic solera.

I overlooked posting a review of Year Four between last December and this December. I still intend to make that post but I held off for a while to see how the beer developed. Year Four was the first attempt at a turbid mash and that beer took some time to mature and had some unpleasant solvent notes for about six months and really hit its stride mid-summer this year. I haven't opened a bottle at a place where I could sit down and write a deserved review so I haven't had a chance to put that post together. I will do that soon.

To catch up on the history of the lambic solera, I've attempted to add something new to the recipe each year:
  • Year One: Initial recipe was 60% malted barley/40% malted wheat with a triple decoction mash, pitched WY Lambic Blend with a small amount of chardonnay and well boiled oak chips.
  • Year Two: Same recipe and mash but with wheat flour added to the boil with nothing pitched or added to the fermentor other than fresh wort.
  • Year Three: Same recipe and mash but substituted unmalted wheat for malted wheat with no wheat flour added. Pitched a Belgian yeast cultured from a local brewery's bottle and some fresh oak chips soaked in whiskey.
  • Year Four: Same 60/40 malted barley/unmalted wheat recipe but conducted a turbid mash. No additions except the fresh wort.
  • Year Five: Same as Year Four but pitched WY1214. No other additions but fresh wort.
For Year Six I am following Year Five's recipe but adding brandy-soaked oak. I nice final hurrah for this beer. Rather than repost the recipe I'll just include a link to Update #20 which include the three gallon recipe for this year's brew. I'm pulling three gallons from Year Five which means by the time I add the fresh wort I will be nearly maxed out on space in the six gallon Better Bottle. I don't expect much krausen on this beer so there shouldn't be a problem with minimal headspace. I'm adding approximately a quarter ounce of medium char oak cubes and approximately four ounces of brandy in which the cubes sat.

Brewday Notes

Brewed 12.13.15--I forgot how much of a PITA turbid mashes are.

First runnings: 1.063
Pre-boil gravity: 1.035
Pre-boil volume: 5.4 gallons
Mash efficiency: 73%
Post-boil gravity: 1.064
Post-boil volume: 3.5 gallons
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%

Boiled 90 minutes with 2oz. aged EKG at beginning of boil.Check out how pale these have turned. They are from the 2010 harvest and came out of the freezer late 2011. You can see how the pellets have broken down into a powder. They smell like hay and lemons.

Bottling Year Five

Like Year Four I've decided to pass on doing fruit additions to the lambic solera. I'm glad I made this decision because the beers have turned out nicely complex and I don't think the fruit would have added to the beer anything more valuable than what the fruit would obscure. I will yield two gallons of bottled Year Five plus reserve a gallon for the second gueuze blending next December with the final three years.

Ran off three gallons from the solera, bottling two gallons and filling a 4l jug with the remaining gallon to blend next year. Added 1.1oz table sugar per gallon for priming and added a small dose of KV-1116 wine yeast to each bottle before capping or corking.

Initial taste (with priming sugar blended in) is promising. The aroma is honey, lactic acidity, pineapple, lemon, leather and restrained barnyard funk. Flavor is very similar. The acidity is prominent but balanced. Lots of honey and lemon. Almost a candy-like flavor. It has a lot of character from the aged portions but also a bit of raw and aggressive barnyard flavor that suggests it's not quite ready to drink. Year Four had this same flavor for several months in the bottle although it was more prominent in that year than this one. I'll expect to hold on to bottles until late spring before sampling. I suspect this is related to the turbid mashing leaving behind starches requiring a longer meal and more of the fermentation byproducts are left behind that would have been chewed up earlier in a beer with a simpler meal. This is my hypothesis at least. I can't say for sure.

All this said, I'm pretty happy with Year Five's early taste. It's very promising and unusually fruity. Perhaps that is the work of WY1214 pumping out lots of esters for brett to work with.
December 12, 2015

Pivo Kielich Grodziskie #2 Review

I've hung on to this review a little longer than I expected but hey I finally got to sit down with this beer and give it a fair review. My first rendition of a grodziskie was a little under 5% and actually too big for the traditional style. This second shot at the style was around a more historically accurate ABV at 2.7%. A very light beer. Let's get to this:

Appearance: Pours a very light yellow color, nearly an off-white. Early pours before yeast had fully settled had the color of egg whites. Slightly cloudy, less so as the beer has aged. Not as cloudy as one might expect for a 100% wheat beer. Pours a nice white head but quickly dissipates to thin white bubbles.

Aroma: Aroma is mild with mellow smoke, light orange, lime and melon. Not much going on there, honestly.

Flavor: Hop bitterness is immediate followed by a wash of smooth smokiness. Mild maltiness and wheat tangles with lime, orange, lemon, generic melon and minimal floralness. Hops definitely assertive in the flavor. Hop floralness and smoke linger in the aftertaste with smoke prevailing.

Mouthfeel: Body is thin but the wheat protein helps curb a sense of wateriness. It has the heft of a 4-5% barley beer although the flavor is much milder. It's an interesting sensory experience.

Overall: It's an incredibly easy beer to drink. It's the kind of beer you can drink by the liter--if you like smoked beer that much--without getting much of a buzz. I actually wish I had made the beer a bit bigger so the smoke flavor had some heft. I also wish I had opted for different hops. I'm just not a big fan of the celeia hops I used. That lime/floral mix isn't my favorite. It's also too assertive for this beer. Really dominates the flavor. I should have stuck to something noble or noble-like.
November 29, 2015

Spontaneous Fermentation Part 17--Twenty-One Months

A couple weeks ago I tasted this beer again only to find myself accepting that this beer has gone as far as it's going to get with the zoo drifting around inside it. Even the addition of playmates added over the summer had no perceivable effects on the beer. It tastes almost exactly like apple juice. I'm convinced I could have served it as apple juice and nobody would be the wiser. No grain flavor. Just apple flavor and sweetness. So I am accepting my fate that I failed to produce a worthwhile spontaneous fermentation. I added some dregs from a Jolly Pumpkin bottle and predictably it has already gotten busy and a pellicle formed in a matter of days, even taking over the floating masses of yeast. Maybe in a few months I'll have something I can salvage. Maybe a good base for fruit beers.

So what went wrong here?

The coolship innoculation was clearly the problem. I can eliminate all other factors with this beer. The grains, hops and water profile have all been used in both clean and sour beers. The mash profile was the same turbid mash schedule I use for my lambic solera. It was fermented in a better bottle, like my other sour beers, in the same space as my other sour beers.

The only variable is the microorganisms in the beer. Much discussion has been had around the intertubes about coolships over the past year, particularly about the mechanics of trapping the right volume of organisms and the right mixture. This project is a good example of why mere exposure to the outdoors is not enough to ensure a functional mixture exists in the beer. The night I brewed this beer was in the 20F range with an aggressive wind. I spread out the wort in several vessels to maximize surface contact but that allowed the beer to cool to quickly. It was freezing in less than an hour. If I caught much in the way of LAB it must have been outcompeted early on. I should have waited for a less windy day to brew and definitely should have kept the wort together in the kettle to ensure a slower cooling.

Well, maybe next time.
November 16, 2015

More Drinking in Colorado for 2015 Part 1

This is another block of posts outlining my journey drinking beer in Colorado. My wife and I have a good grasp on our routine when we visit the Centennial State. This trip we decided we wanted to blend some of our must-stops with some new locations. There is still a large portion of breweries in Colorado--even just Denver--that we have not visited and new breweries are constantly adding to that list. No matter how much people talk about the saturation of craft breweries there always seems to be more opening even in crowded markets like Denver and San Diego. Even Fort Collins, a relatively small town that basks in New Belgium and Odell's shadows, has a growing list of breweries. People talk about the craft beer bubble and how it is ever closer to popping but as long as breweries unload get profit margins there will be money and credit to go into opening new breweries and expanding old breweries. The bubble won't pop until the profits dry up to cause the flow of capital and credit to dry up. Then it will become a battle to survive--but we seem far from that point. Today's post isn't about the economics of craft beer. It's about drinking so let's get to talking about that.

Great Divide Barrel Room

My first trip to Great Divide was not a pleasant experience. The service was truly awful and it swore me off Great Divide for a long time. That's too bad because I enjoy several of their beers. I was assured the new Barrel Room on Brighton Street--practically across the street from Crooked Stave's location in The Source--would be a better experience. Thankfully, this was the case. Both the service and beers were great. The Barrel Room offers many of the Great Divide staples, like Hoss rye lager, while offering a broader selection of harder to find Great Divide beers. This location has a more inviting feel to it than the main location elsewhere in downtown Denver and I didn't feel like I needed to strap on a plaid shirt just to get served a beer. Let me talk about a few beers I had:
  • Colorado Fresh Hop: This beer is a fresh hopped schwarzbier (not to be confused with Great Divide's fresh hop pale ale) and a limited release. Schwarzbier isn't a style known for its hop character but the big hop character worked really well in this beer. It reminds me more of a hoppy porter than a schwarzbier but the smooth lager character was definitely present.
  • Kriek: Great Divide isn't well known for sour beer although I get the impression this is a direction the brewery wants to go. This sour beer wasn't bad and the cherry flavor was nice but there was a rough ethyl acetate edge to it that detracted from what would otherwise be a good but not necessarily outstanding kriek.
  • Barrel aged Yeti: Yeti is probably Great Divide's best known product, complete with its several variants. I think it is best in its variants where some of the bitter and roast is smoothed out. I've long wondered why Great Divide has slept on the rise of barrel aged imperial stouts but that slumber has come to an end. Barrel aged Yeti spent a year in whiskey barrels and it is just fantastic. The oak and whiskey is smooth and tempered. The alcohol is present but without feeling boozy, like a well-aged BCBS. The chocolate and coffee notes come forward in Yeti and mingle with the vanilla and spice from the barrels. Absolutely blows out oak aged Yeti.

Crooked Stave at The Source

If you're practically across the street from Crooked Stave then you pretty much have to stop in. I've written about my love for Crooked Stave enough in the past so I'll save space and get to the beers. We sampled quite a few beers and interestingly enough there were a few cherry beers on tap which was unusual. It's rare to see more than one cherry beer produced at a time. Maybe Crooked Stave came into a larger supply of cherries than expected. Anyway, I'll just point out the top three beers and move along.

  • Nightmare on Brett with cherries: Nightmare on Brett might be my favorite Crooked Stave beer. It's a baltic porter (or closely based on that style) with Yakobson's skilled hand producing the right balance of brett funk and lactic acid production. The base beer has that brett cherry pie character and adding cherries brings it to the forefront. It's dark chocolate and cherry. Who couldn't love that.
  • Mama Bear's Sour Cherry Pie: This is billed as a burgundy sour ale with cherries--it's actually Origins with cherries renamed as a standalone product. Like Nightmare on Brett, Origins is replete with brett cherry pie but it is a more acid-forward beer with a greater depth than Nightmare. Origins is one of the beers I think of that perfectly captures the description of vinous but adding cherries to it draws out more of the bready and caramel notes and lets the vinousness take a back seat.
  • Dialectic materialism: This beer is an imperial sour wit brewed in collaboration with Comrade Brewing in Denver. It's everything you would expect in an imperialized wit but soured with an addition of Riesling grape must. There's a lot going on here and much of the original wit character has faded out in favor of the white wine character and acidity. The name brought flashbacks of terrible high school English writing assignments while the beer reminded me how much I enjoy white wine grapes/barrels with beer.

River North Brewery

I've written about River North on several past trips so I'll trim down chatting about them. River North is getting ejected from its current location on Blake Street and we happened to be in town for the final weekend. From what I understand the river north district (or RiNo) is quickly converting into a sea of housing buildings that means tearing out buildings like River North's home. They will reopen in a more industrialized area, likely in an effort to avoid repeating their fate in river north. I hear rumors that the new taproom will have more taps and more space so that will certainly be a plus.

As part of their send off they created three beers under the name Funk the Man that are brett saisons released one at a time until the final weekend. I obviously had to give each one a whirl so here goes.

  • Funk the Man #1: Brett saison aged in cabernet barrels. What's not to like about saison aged in red wine barrels? Nothing. It's great. I'm not over the moon about River North's base saison (it's too sweet and too heavy) but brett works wonders on it. Add in the red wine barrel character and you have the recipe for a great beer.
  • Funk the Man #2: Brett saison with hibiscus. I wouldn't say hibiscus is a go-to ingredient for me but it works well here adding a floral balance to the funky brett character. It's not two things I immediately think of melding but it made a lot of sense in this beer.
  • Funk the Man #3: Brett saison with black currants. Currants are one of those fruits that always seems to pair well with brett and sour beers so no surprise it connects in this beer. The slight acidity from the currants helps punch up the beer and makes it similar to #1 but with a fruity and less vinuous flavor.

Beryl's Beer Co.

Beryl (pronounced like barrel) is a small brewery down the street from River North, Epic and several other breweries. Beryl has been open for a little over a year and brews a small set of beers that are primarily, but not exclusively, English in origins. They also put on a fair number of barrel aged beers, many of which are based upon their core beers. It's a smart way of getting lots of different beers out of a small number of recipes.

The star attraction is probably Riga, a baltic porter, that gets split out among several excellent variants such as coffee and different barrels. There's also a bitter (Antero Ale) that is good on its own and excellent in rye barrels. They also make a solid dampfbier that again gets the split treatment, such as a peach version and a blend of the dampfbier aged in red and white wine barrels.

If I wanted to toss a few grenades at the brewery I'd point out that the lighter beers have a minerally finish that one person describes as being seafood-like. That's not entirely inaccurate but it is a very brine-like salt-mineral finish. I'm not sure if it's something they are using for ph adjustment that is leaving behind an unnecessary flavor or something they actually desire in the beer. They also make 1876, an all-Colorado ingredient pale ale that not only had this mineral off flavor but had a very unusual and unpleasant malt character. Overall, however, I would definitely make this a return trip if only to hit Riga (and its variants) and Antero Ale.

Former Future Brewing Co.

I've seen Former Future's location several times on prior trips to Denver but hadn't made time to visit on the schedule. This time I made sure to allocate time for a visit. I had heard mixed reviews of their beers but after seeing one of the owners making his presence known on the Milk the Funk group I figured I needed to check it out. Former Future makes a dedicated effort to keep a sour beer on the taplist at all times so I felt confident I would have something to measure the assertive positions staked out by co-owner James Howat on MTF. Howat is staking himself out as something of an expert on sour brewing (you may have caught his NHC presentation) with heavy criticism of kettle souring. Former Future sells "Death to Kettle Sours" shirts and has ruffled quite a few feathers over their position on the technique. I am not opposed to kettle souring although I have to agree in part with their position. I have seen a growing number of poorly done kettle sours that suffer from off flavors at unjustifiable prices. Where I disagree is the idea that the baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater. There are ways to make those beers in less flawed ways. At any rate, if you're going to build your brand around the superiority of your beers over your competitors then you have set a high bar against which your beers must be judged.

Former Future plays deeply into an aviation theme in the taproom embracing aviation's mid-twentieth century heyday. The focal point is the bar, which is designed to look like the wings of an airplane. It is V shaped with the bartop constructed out of an actual airplane wing and riveted together (or designed to look that way). I'm not sure it's the most functional bar but it is one of the more interesting. Like many small breweries the taproom is open to the brewery in the back. It's mostly everything you have seen in any other brewery. One interesting difference is the long row of square fermentation vessels. These appear to be the type of fermentation vessels used by distilleries but I may be wrong on that point. I am fairly confident that there is no temperature control so they are left at the mercy of ambient conditions.

So let's talk a little about the beers.

  • Twin Ruby: The sour beer available was Twin Ruby, a sour red ale blended out of two red wine barrels. (I am fairly certain this is not one of the Black Project spontaneous beers.) It was good with balanced acidity and the red wine character comes through without overwhelming the beer. Tart berry and cherry flavors push against an earthy funk. The brett character is restrained and overall less complex than I expected. 
  • Putin on le Pitz: This pilot series beer is Former Future's imperial stout fermented with a Belgian yeast with cherries added. There was a nice balance of the underlying beer, yeast character and cherries. Probably my favorite of the two beers. 
We sampled a few other beers but found the other beers were underwhelming. Not bad and not flawed just not memorable beers. As a whole Former Future has a high ceiling for the quality of their beer but they haven't hit it yet. The Black Project beers may be at that upper limit but I felt like the beers I tried out of the Former Future label have room to improve. I would return but I would likely look for the sour and pilot offerings and pass on the others, at least for now.

Avery Brewing

Avery's massive new location opened the weekend I was last in Denver but we already had plans and with it snowing that day we just weren't up for standing in the snow to get in. So this was a new adventure for me. The old location was the generic brewery-in-an-industrial-park although Avery had grown so much it had taken over several adjacent suites. The new location is about as far from that as it gets. It's still in Boulder but it's an enormous freestanding building. There is a bar downstairs with a nice beer garden. Upstairs there is a restaurant with another bar (with good food), a shop selling merchandise and bottles, and an entrance to a walkway that walks you through the entire brewery until you get to more seating and a third bar. That doesn't even begin to capture the enormity of the brewing system.

The new brewery, aside from being an awesome place, has almost doubled production volume. The best part about the expansion is that Avery has expanded brewing volume and variety of its barrel program, making beers like Rumpkin a little easier to find beyond Colorado. The stream of sour beers coming out of Avery are top notch although still difficult to find. The Eremita series is taproom only and number eight was just as good as the earlier versions I've had in the past. It also allows Avery the opportunity to expand production of all of its beers which means the taprooms have long lists of fun beers to try like Semplice, a saison with lemon drop hops. The 22 anniversary ale is available in bottles and getting some distribution. It's a 100% Brett Drie fermented dry hopped ale. It's worth getting for drinking but also probably the easiest way to pick up the drie strain short of sending a bucket of cash to BSI for a pitch.

If you're anywhere near Boulder and not going to Avery you are severely missing out.

Upslope Brewing

I was underwhelmed by the first couple Upslope beers I tried but after going to a tap takeover they hosted last year during GABF my eyes were opened and I changed my mind about their beers. A few of their standard can offerings are still not my favorite choices but they do some really interesting stuff that I wish made it into the canning line. The brewery shares a building with White Labs and a coffee roaster. There is even direct access to coffee roaster from the taproom which is pretty cool. It's worth pointing out that there are two taprooms in Boulder but we visited the Flatirons location which I believe is the only one with brewing operations.

Alright, let's talk some beer. I really enjoyed everything I tried but there were some standouts and I'll just run through those:

  • Belgian pale ale: This one actually hits cans and it's a fairly straightforward BPA with trappist yeast and a little coriander but it's nice and crisp and the yeast character shines through nicely.
  • Thai White IPA: I'm not a white IPA fan but I actually liked this one which carries seven Asian spices along with a witbier yeast and a load of hops. It's interesting for sure. There is sort of a Thai curry element to it that adds a pleasant refreshing quality. It reminds me a lot of a green curry but without the spice.
  • Lychee IPA: This collaboration beer features lychee and azacca hops. I don't know if azacca is the new "it" hop but it's sure showing up everywhere. While this beer could have been a punch in the face of tropical flavors it's more nuanced with some gentle tropical and citrus flavors. I say gentle for an IPA. It's still punchy by any other standard but it isn't bowling you over with tropical thunder like most citra-ladden IPAs.
  • Fresh hop porter: This beer was on the short list for best beers of the trip. The underlying porter is nice and chocolate-y while the hops overlay a pleasant fresh quality and a gentle hop character reminiscent of a pale ale rather than an IPA. It's not a combination I would immediately think about but it works perfectly.  

Wild Woods Brewery

Wild Woods makes some truly interesting beers. Their command of unique ingredients puts to shame many breweries fumbling to shove these types of ingredients into casks where they don't make sense with the beer. While farmhouse ales have become the dumping ground for atypical ingredients (perhaps with good reason), Wild Woods takes to classic American craft styles like pale ale, IPA, stout, American wheat, porter and red ale, as opportunities to meld the local environment and the owners' passion for the local outdoors. It's the kind of thing that so easily drifts into the realm of gimmicky beers but here it seems authentic and well thought out. The IPA, for example, is hit with juniper berries. It's well balanced and the juniper berries add a nice herbal and spice quality that integrates into the beer rather than pumped in like an afterthought to create a little marketing buzz. I know you know that you have had those kinds of beers.

I've talked about Wild Woods previously so I'll avoid going back through other beers I've discussed and just talk about some new beers. There are some interesting seasonals going on right now like the Bourbon Bark Imperial Porter but the most interesting beer by far is Very Wild. Very Wild is a pale ale with pineapple weed and rose hips brewing in collaboration with Very Nice Brewing for this year's Beers Made By Walking that takes place GABF week. It's herbal, fruity, slightly floral and everything you expect in a pale ale. I had never heard of pineapple weed; it's a wild chamomile that tastes like a cross between pineapple and chamomile. You do get just a little pineapple in the mix but it's subtle and mixed with the fruit character from the rose hips. Definitely an interesting beer

Fort Collins Brewery

As I say every time I talk about this brewery, I must be one of the biggest proponents of this brewery that isn't on their payroll. They are probably best known for their standard beers--which are nothing to complain about--but the beers with less distribution are interesting and wonderful beers. Their barrel aging program is expanding and not just in the direction of barrel aged stouts. I've already talked about Fort Collins Brewery at length in the past so let's just get into the beers.

Plenty of good beers to be had with interesting beers like a barrel aged vienna lager and bock but two beers really stood out. One is Oldwyn's Wild Sister, an old ale with brett with a great balance of rich malt flavor dried out with brett funk. When I think of old ales as something distinct from barleywines, this is it. Second is Tart in Cheek, a sour pale with blood oranges and dry hops. It's an incredibly unusual mix of sourness, citrus, berry and grassy hops. There's so much going on in the beer at once.

And a couple other points...

I left a couple breweries we visited out of specific reviews because I've talked about them at length on previous trips. One is Left Hand which puts on great cask beers at the brewery and their new release Bittersweet is worth finding if you can. Funkwerks is the second brewery and it's a mandatory stop on our trips. So many good beers in the taproom but the standout is their Oud Bruin which is currently available and easily on the short list for best in this style. Also worth tracking down if you can.
November 7, 2015

Exodus 2.0 Tasting

Well it's about time I get around to posting this tasting review. Exodus 2.0 is the second incarnation of one of my earliest recipes, a poor rendition of an Irish red ale. This version was more closely based on a west coast red ale/red IPA with the specific purpose of getting hit with some oak cubes soaked in a manhattan-esque cocktail to create a faux barrel aged red ale. The manhattan-esque cocktail was a standard manhattan recipe but with twice the normal amount of bitters and a touch more vermouth so it would carry more of the herbal flavors rather than tasting like another bourbon barrel aged beer. So that goal led to brewing an unusual beer that complimented the faux barrel aging.

Exodus 2.0 West Coast Red Ale Tasting (no oak)

Appearance: Pours slightly red but more coppery. Thick tan head forms and hangs around in a thinner, flat appearance as the beer is consumed. Decent lacing in a pint glass. Slight haze.

Aroma: Sweet orange, herbal spice, caramel sweetness, melon. Sweet orange dominates followed by the herbal spice. Overall the aroma is underwhelming, especially for a would-be IPA.

Flavor: Candied orange hits big up front followed by a peppery, slightly herbal spice. Malty sweetness, caramel, toasted bread crust, generic breakfast tea, melon and citrus punch all follow. Malty sweetness and caramel hangs in the aftertaste. Lacks bitterness for a beer calculated at 70 IBU. Also lacks the typical hop punch of an IPA.

Mouthfeel: Slightly heavy on the tongue with a lingering oiliness on the backend. The carbonation is acceptable but a slight upward adjustment would help lighten the body more in line with an IPA.

Overall: Definitely misses the mark on any type of IPA or really for a west coast red ale, if that style means a less aggressively hoppy red ale. The hops bring out an interesting flavor but not one I'd want to drink over multiple pints, at least not without a bigger hop expression. However, the goal for this beer was not to produce this beer, only to produce the faux barrel version. So if it fails as a standalone beer that's fine. If I wanted to rebrew it as a beer in its own right I'd cut out the vienna to lighten the beer and be far more aggressive with hops. Triple perle and nugget just don't carry the aggressive punch of many other varieties. I did enjoy what triple perle brought. Nice orange and melon flavor.
October 11, 2015

Midnight Train Going Anywhere Kettle Soured Belgian Rye Stout

Belgian stout mostly dropped off as a style after that one year where it seemed like we were shoving Belgian abbey/trappist yeasts into everything. I guess our love affair with those yeasts just didn't have staying power. Most of the Belgian stouts have disappeared from the market but it's one of the few Belgian-yeast-in-everything styles that I really enjoyed and it's a nice variant on stouts that doesn't rely on adding more of the existing flavors but adds something different to the mix. As homebrewers we aren't confined by what we can buy but what we can brew so I decided it would be nice to put together something more roasty for the coming winter months (or in Texas, often winter month).

I also really enjoy a sour stout although in my opinion brewing them well is a real feat. Brett seems too tempted to take those roast notes and turn them into Goodyear tire flavor while too much acid can clash with the bitterness of the roast and make the beer too sharp. My previous attempts with souring a stout developed that rubber aroma and flavor shortly after bottling and hung around for a couple years. I've experienced both problems in sour stouts I've purchased.Yuck.

To avoid these problems I ruled out any use of brett in the beer and to use a pre-boil souring technique. Eliminating brett ensures a 100% exclusion of that foul rubber character so that was an easily solution to half the problem. I've wanted to play around with some of the probiotic lactobacillus sources available these days to kettle sour and this is as good of an opportunity as any. Many of the probiotic sources contain lacto strains that either drop ph like a rock (e.g. l. plantarum) or tend not to do much with the beer. I picked up a bottle of lactobacillus acidophilus pills at a local health food store to try out. In starter trials the strain cuts out after a few days right about 3.7 so that's perfect for my needs here. I'd want more sourness in other beers but because I want restrained sourness here (perhaps tart rather than sour) then this is exactly what I need.

So putting this all together it will be a low ABV tart Belgian stout with some rye. I love rye so that's really all the explanation that goes into that component. The rye will help add body to the beer rather than adding the usual flaked barley. The wort will be kettle soured until it hits 3.7 and then fermented out with WY1214 slurry. Some of the ingredients, like the carapils and biscuit, have been hanging around in my grain storage and needed to get used up.

Midnight Train Going Anywhere Kettle Soured Belgian Rye Stout

Batch size: 3 gallons
Est. ABV: 3.9%
Est. IBU: 20.9
Est. SRM: 31
Est. OG: 1.042
Est. FG: 1.012

Grain Bill

3 lb. US Pale malt (2 SRM)
1 lb. Rye malt (4.7 SRM)
8 oz. Chocolate rye malt (250 SRM)
6 oz. Roasted barley (300 SRM)
3 oz. Carapils (2 SRM)
2 oz. Biscuit malt (23 SRM)

Mash Schedule

Add 6.75 qt water at 168F for 156F mash for 60 minutes
Sparge with 2.62 gallons at 180F
Water Profile based on Bru'n Water black malty profile

Water Profile

Ca: 60
Mg: 5
Na: 22
SO4: 31
Cl: 42
Bicarb: 155
Ph: 5.5

Mash Additions

Gypsum: 0.1g
Epsom salt: 0.3g
Baking soda: 0.5g
Calcium Chloride: 0.6g
Chalk: 0.5g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum: 0.2g
Epsom salt: 0.5g
Calcium chloride: 0.9g

Boil Schedule

60 minute boil

0.25 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60 minutes (19.5 IBU)
0.10 oz. Cascade [5.5%] at 10 minutes (1.4 IBU)


Wort collected preboil and soured with 10 l. acidophilus pills. Boil when hits 3.7 ph.

Ferment with 100ml of slurry of WY1214.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Began mash on 10.9.15. Collected wort and added slurry of l. acidophilus plus five pills of l. acidophilus.

Droped ph to 3.9. Finished boil on 10.11.15. Preboil volume 3.1g and preboil gravity 1.043.

10.18.15: Gravity reading 1.014. 

Bottled 10/31/15. One gallon was bottled with 2ml oak-soaked bourbon per 12oz. One gallon bottled with 3ml oak soaked rye whiskey per 12oz. Rest bottled straight at 2.3 volumes.
September 18, 2015

Swordfight 3 Spiced Belgian Blonde

For a long time craft beer poisoned the well of spicing beers by relegating their use largely to pumpkin beers and overly spiced Belgian beers. That period where so many domestic takes on Belgian styles tasted of coriander and more coriander almost drove Belgian styles right out of the craft market. Even during that first wave of saison popularity every saison was coriander galore. The era of coriander drove me away from spicing my own homebrewing but I've realized after drinking quite a few spiced beers over the past year or so that I really enjoy what spices bring to the table when done appropriately. I've been thinking a lot about brewing a non-saison Belgian beer with some moderate spicing and I need a big pitch of Belgian yeast for another beer later this years so the time is right to get a lighter Belgian beer brewed with spices.

For this beer I opted to assemble hops, lemon peel, coriander and star anise around WY1214 for a complex mix of fruit and phenolic spice. The late addition hops will be a gentle dose of Belma hops to lay a soft melon character that I hope will meld the flavors together. Coriander is a good base for spicing Belgian beers and contributes a citrus element that the trappist/abbey yeast lack. The lemon peel is a different approach to the usual orange peel. I want the lemon to brighten up the coriander with a small amount of peel. The star anise is a way to add complexity to the phenolic character and help balance against these other fruity spice additions. As a whole none of the spices should overwhelm the yeast character or the beer as a whole.

My goal for this beer is to create a beer that is easy to drink and versatile to add fruit or sour while also having enough complexity to drink on its own. I will bottle part of this batch straight while the rest will go on plums. I might sour the plum portion. 

Spiced Belgian Blonde

Batch size: 2 gallons
Est. ABV: 4.7%
Est. IBU: 25
Est. SRM: 3.4
Est. OG: 1.046
Est. FG: 1.010

Grain Bill

3 lb. 8 oz. US Pale malt (2 SRM)

Mash Schedule & Volumes

Mash in 4.38 qt at 167F for 75 minute 150F mash
Sparge 1.76 gal at 180F

Water Profile & Additions

Water profile modified Bru'n Water yellow malty

Water Profile

Ca: 50
Mg: 5
Na: 5
SO4: 55
Cl: 72
Bicarbonate: -92
Ph: 5.3

Mash Additions

Gypsum: 0.3g
Epsom salt: 0.2g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.6g
Lactic acid: 0.6ml

Sparge Additions

Gypsum: 0.4g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.9g

Boil Schedule

60 minute boil

0.15 oz Belma [12.10%] at 60 min (18 IBU)
0.10 oz Belma [12.10%] at 20 min (7.3 IBU)
0.20 g star anise at 20 min
2 g lemon peel at flameout
1.6 g coriander seed at flameout
0.10 oz Belma [12.10%] at flameout

Fermentation Schedule

Fermented with WY1214 at 70ml slurry. Pitch at 64F and keep for twelve hours. Raise temperature on fridge to 72F let free rise to 72F. Let rise to 78F after four days of fermentation.

Brewday Notes

Brewed 9.17.15

Preboil volume: 2.6g
Preboil gravity: 1.038
Mash efficiency: 77%

Postboil volume: 2.2g
Postboil gravity: 1.046
Brewhouse efficiency: 80%

10.7.15: Checked FG at 1.009, pretty much dead on to the recipe. Initial tastes are a little strong on the star anise. Cold crashed for two days in preparation for bottling. Half will go on plums and the other half will be bottled straight.
September 4, 2015

Fake Fox Rye Saison Tasting Notes

I've had brewing a low ABV saison (often referred to as a table saison) on the to-brew list for a long time and this was my first swipe at one. Overall I'm pretty happy with the recipe for Fake Fox rye saison and it seems to be quite a crowd pleaser. So let's get into it.

Appearance: Pours a touch darker than pure-pilsner blonde. The head is snow white and rocky, leaving beyond moderate lacing while the head survives to the bottom of the glass. The beer initially poured quite clear but as the sediment was aroused into the beer on the second pour from the bomber it became slightly cloudy. Without the yeast kicked up it definitely did not suffer from any protein haze from 33% rye.

Aroma: The prominent aroma is rye, somewhere between rye bread and rye crackers. Subtle malt sweetness. The hops are tucked in but present with peach, apricot, cherry, melon, white grape and some pine. Yeast character mingles with the hops with pepper, lemon, orange and tropical fruit salad.

Flavor: Rye crackers covered in apricot preserves comes first. Citrus fruit, melon and pepper follow with a a graininess and finished with a touch of malt sweetness. Early tastes when the beer was first poured were on the sweeter side but as the beer warmed the hop bitterness appears and makes the fruit character more vibrant and moderates the rye. The finish develops some of the earthy, tea and pine notes from the rakau hops.

Mouthfeel: The risk with low ABV beers is avoiding a thin mouthfeel and this beer is miles off. The light malt bill plus the rye creates a nice mouthfeel that feels as dense as a beer twice its gravity but doesn't feel heavy on the tongue. There is a moment where the rye sits heavy on the tongue but it's wiped away by the carbonation and then you're left with just a little of that rye slickness in the finish.

Overall: I'm happy with this beer. It's pretty much on the mark for what I wanted. The initial draft of the recipe was heavy handed with hops but I dialed it back in the final recipe. I could go a touch heavier on the whirlpool hops. This is probably the first beer I've had that I liked with rakau hops and I think the aurora hops did a nice job of downplaying what I don't like about rakau and playing up what I do like. I would use rakau again but probably not in equal proportions. I might also play with mixing in cascade, which also works wonderfully with aurora, for a little grapefruit to punch up the citrus notes. If I were judging this beer as it is I'd probably go upper 30s and maybe low 40s but with a little cascade--maybe in a dry hop--I could easily make this a mid-40s in saison. At least as long as I picked up a judge with a love for rye.

What I probably like most about this beer is how well the rye works. I really enjoy rye in a beer but to be heavy handed with it you really have to be careful because the great mouthfeel and body on this beer easily turns into an unpleasant oil slick on the tongue. Even in big rye stouts going 30% rye is just too much.
August 16, 2015

Pivo Kielich Grodziski #2

Polish brewing history is mostly a nonexistent topic outside of a very small group of beer historians aside from grodziski, the oak-smoked wheat beer developed in Grodzisk, Poland. Grodziski (sometimes spelled grodziskie or the German gratzer) has been saved from the obscurity shared by many Polish and German styles crammed out by the more popular German styles known today. Grodziski survived through the Cold War in an industrialized fashion that turned the 100% oak smoked wheat beer into a part-wheat malt, part-rauchmalz beer. It nearly died in the mid-1990s only to be revived by the hard work of Polish homebrewers who have not only kept the style alive but turned it over to craft brewers who have spread the message of grodziski. My research does not entirely agree with those Polish homebrewers and I'm not sure the Cold War industrialized version of the style is the best style to have brought to the forefront but that is perhaps a discussion for another time.

I've brewed a grodziski in the past in a slightly bigger variant than most recipes seem to follow and although I was happy with that effort I wanted to try my hand at a smaller version to cap off the rest of summer with a lower ABV version and play around with a different hop profile. So this beer clocks in a little below 3% ABV and relies on those wheat proteins to keep the beer from getting too watery. For late hop additions I've opted to combine opal and celeia hops. I am hypothesizing that the earthy opal and floral celeia will come together like an aggressive noble hop. I'm not entirely sure how the lime flavor from celeia will play into the flavor profile.

Pivo Kielich Grodziski #2 Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 2.7%
Est. IBU: 34.5
Est. SRM: 2.4
Est. OG: 1.028
Est. FG: 1.007

The Grist

1 lb. Weyermann oak smoked wheat malt (2 SRM)

The Water

Water profile based on Bru'n Water Yellow Balanced profile with RO water
Mash volume: 42 oz.
Sparge volume: 1 gal.
Mash ph: 5.5

Mash Water Additions:

Epsom salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.2g
Chalk: 0.1g
Lactic acid: 0.2 ml

Sparge Water Additions:

Epsom salt: 0.3g
Calcium chloride: 0.5g

The Mash

Single infusion 42 oz. at 167F for 153F rest for 75 minutes

Sparge with 1 gallon water at 180F

The Boil

60 minute boil

0.11 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60 minutes 29.1 IBU
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 15 minutes 5.4 IBU
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at whirlpool 0 IBU
0.17 oz. Opal [6.5%] at whirlpool 0 IBU

The Fermentation

Pitch 1g dry US-05 and ferment at 65F
Bottle to 3 volumes

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 8/16/15
Preboil volume: 1.2 gal
Preboil gravity: 1.020
Mash efficiency: 65%
Postboil volume: 1 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.024
Efficiency: 64%
Bottled 8/26/15. FG 1.002.
August 7, 2015

Sanskrit Saison Tasting Notes

I brewed this beer at the very end of spring and have been slowly consuming it through the summer but I've been delayed in posting my tasting notes partially because I haven't had a chance to sit down and pour over my thoughts on the beer and partially because I wanted to see how it developed before locking in thoughts on it. As a recap, Sanskrit is a moderate ABV saison with a pils base plus unmalted white wheat, buckwheat, golden raisins, ginger and green cardamom. It was an experiment picking out ingredients at my local Indian grocery store. Well, let's see how it turned out.

Appearance: Pours an orange-ish color not quite a pale ale; much darker than a typical pilsner/wheat saison. It's cloudy, almost murky. Some of the cardamom seeds made their way into the bottles and a few small seeds hover under the surface. The surface is covered with a lasting white head. It pours frothy but descends into a thinner layer that lingers with a good amount of lacing.

Aroma: The aroma is a complex mix of floral, earthy, fruity and bready. The dominant aromas are citrus fruit with a distinct lemon presence and cardamom floralness. The golden raisins provide a sweet, fruity aroma. There is a earthy bread aroma underneath it all that is decidedly buckwheat. Hints of pepper, clove, oregano in the background.

Taste: The flavor is assertively cardamom with a big lemon-floral flavor. The buckwheat shows up next with its earthy flavor. The golden raisins have disappeared into a subtle white wine flavor while the ginger makes an appearance in the finish with a little of the fresh ginger heat. Some pepper appears in the aftertaste. The yeast is somewhere in here but it is repressed by the dominant cardamom flavor. Beyond the buckwheat the grain character is mostly lost. However, it is complex and unique.

Mouthfeel: Surprisingly full. This beer is 12% unmalted wheat and 4% buckwheat so some body is expected but it is almost stout-like in body. Like hefeweizens with 50% wheat malt are desperate for this kind of body. It hangs on the tongue with a slightly oily finish. As the beer warms there is a numbing sensation that I believe is the fault of the cardamom. At cooler temperatures there is a subtle burn from the ginger.

Overall Impression: It's a really interesting beer. There's so much I like about the flavor combination but a few things I really dislike about the beer. I think the ingredient combination is excellent but with some tweaks. The glaring error is the amount of cardamom. This beer needs half as much cardamom. I really enjoy the buckwheat and plan to play with it in more beers in the future but it seems to add so much body to the beer that the wheat could be cut down or outright eliminated to get a drier mouthfeel. I would definitely rebrew it with those changes. I still have a gallon that has been hit with dregs from a bottle of Oud Beersel gueuze, LambickX kriek and some lactobacillus from a probiotic source so I'm interested to see how brett and friends manipulate all these flavor compounds.
July 21, 2015

Touring Boulevard Brewing

Boulevard's top selling beer is still its flagship Unfiltered Wheat but someday that position may get squeezed out by its popular Tank 7 saison (and its funked up Saison Brett cousin). Boulevard built itself into one of the largest craft breweries in the country on the back of its classic craft line up but its largely Belgian-influenced Smokestack Series is what is keeping Boulevard competitive in a craft industry always reaching for something new and interesting. Boulevard might not throw down the most exotic beers, even in the Smokestack Series, but each beer in the series is interesting and extremely well designed. From looking at the core lineup of beers, one would never guess that it was Belgian beer that inspired founder John McDonald to open a brewery. The core beers are primarily inspired by styles from the United Kingdom but in the nineties when Boulevard was getting up and running these were the styles that a craft brewery could sell. It was no surprise then that when Boulevard looked at expanding its selection through the Smokestack Series that it started with several Belgian-influenced beers.

I like Boulevard's beers, even the non-Smokestack beers, so if the opportunity presented itself to visit I wanted to take it. I visit western Missouri from time to time and I've been lobbying to open that opportunity and finally got the chance this year. Boulevard sets out three tour options. Based upon our schedule we were not able to book the most elusive tour and happily settled in the Smokestack tour. The Smokestack tour is a $20 tour through the brewery with some areas they don't show on the normal tour followed by a paired tasting with Smokestack beers. They then opened up the taps in the taproom and gave us a discount on merchandise, which includes beer. (I picked up a couple Love Child #5 and a Saison Brett at a very reasonable price.)

Photo courtesy of Jared at Tiny Ass Brewery

The tour was pretty much what one expects and really we didn't see too much that was different from other tours. We were taken into the room with the centrifuge and filtration system, which is not usually a stop on many brewery tours. I didn't get pictures like I should have but it's a nice brewery. There are several meeting spaces (available for rent) in the brewery that were really nice. From the picture above you can see the brewery from the parking lot. There are actually two buildings here. On the right with the smokestack is the original building--a former railroad building--which includes the original brewhouse that is now used for experimentation. On the left is a much larger and newer building with the new brewhouse and packaging lines. They are connected by a walkway on the second floor with yellow glass. You can kind of see it above the black delivery truck and to the right of the tree. The building on the left is long and you don't see much of it in this picture. A third building is in the works behind the original building that will further expand production. It's financed by Duvel Mortgaat through their partnership. Duvel Mortgaat apparently really enjoys Kansas City and their relationship with Boulevard. They are moving their stateside offices into KC.

I had hoped to corner a brewer and capture some brewing information about some of the Smokestack beers but I wasn't sure if there were any brewers around. Boulevard takes safety very seriously with the tours and I suspect brewing is scheduled around the tours to minimize risk for guests and employees. When we went into the hop freezer I struck gold with brewing data. Right in front of me was a one page breakdown of the recipe for Tank 7. It had everything. Even the water profile. So I snapped a picture. Unfortunately the picture is unreadibly blurry. I tried to fix it in photoshop but I just can't get it to a readable place. If you have some ideas please post in the comments. I'd love to be able to fix the photo and post it here. Since I don't have that available, I'll just add a recipe I located online that claims to be straight from the brewery. It's missing grain and hop numbers but if you know your system's efficiency then you can calculate the appropriate volumes for your brewhouse.

Pale Malt - 77.5%
Flaked Maize - 20%
Malted Wheat - 2.5%

Mash in:
145 and rest for 50 minutes.
154 - 25 min
163 - 15 min
Mash off at 172

We look for a beginning of boil gravity of 1063 and boil for 70 minutes to look for in 1067 at the end of the boil.

Magnum - 6 IBU at 208F
Simcoe - 5 IBU that 15 After beginning of boil
Amarillo - 15.7 IBU that 5 before end of boil
Amarillo - 10.7 IBU in the whirlpool

We cool the wort  to 66F, pitch with a high gravity Trappist strain (I suggest Wyeast 3787) and let it rise  to 70F. We ferment at 70F until we reach 1028, then we ramp the temperature to 73F for the remainder of fermentation. FG at 1009.

Dry Hopping
Amarillo .089 kg / bbl (7.6 grams per. Liter)
The two things that probably jump out as unusual about the recipe is the yeast strain and the base malt. I believe the same Belgian strain is used across all of Boulevard's Belgian-inspired beers and in combination with Amarillo there is a citrusy character that isn't too far off from what one gets from many saison strains. It's short on the phenolics typically more assertive in a saison but it undoubtedly works. Boulevard also seems content using pale malt as a base in Belgian beers that normally employ pilsner malt. I think this is obvious in both Tank 7 and Long Strange Tripel which are slightly sweeter, heavier and less grainy than pilsner-based versions of farmhouse ales and tripels. It works for both beers even if they are not stereotypical examples of either style. Certainly the folks at Duvel Mortgaat know something about Belgian beer and don't seem to mind.

July 18, 2015

Exodus 2.0 Red IPA Recipe

Back in 2010 I designed an Irish red ale called Exodus. It was my second recipe I designed and sort of a miss. It was more of a brown ale but it wasn't a terrible beer. Just not so interesting that I wanted to rebrew it. My wife has gotten into the whole west coast red ale/red IPA style so I decided to repurpose the name for a new version of the recipe transformed into a more extreme red ale style.

But of course I had to take it in an unusual direction.

Many of the red IPAs I have tried (which admittedly isn't all that numerous) have focused on the typical citrusy hop character that readily identifies west coast hop bombs. I decided instead to take a different direction with the hop profile in favor of a mix of citrus, herbal and pine with the citrus character taking a backseat. It isn't quite dank but it also isn't bright citrus either. Somewhere in between. Part of the reason I chose this path was to explore a different hop profile than the typical citrus/dank/tropical profiles that dominate most hoppy commercial beers.

Another reason is that I thought it would be interesting to do a faux barrel aged version with a faux cocktail barrel. I have a manhattan that has been aging with Hungarian oak cubes for a few months and I plan to add some of the manhattan plus the oak to part of this batch to create something close to a cocktail barrel aged IPA. I usually oppose the idea of barrel aging hoppy beers because it means letting the hop character fade away but cocktail barrels are freshly dumped before use in beer (in the rare chance you find such a beer) and it does not take long for a beer to absorb the cocktail and oak character so long aging is unnecessary. So for that reason I plan to leave the oak in contact with the beer for no more than two weeks. The herbal character of the vermouth and bitters should interact nicely with the herbal and woodsy notes of the hops to create more complexity. Or it could just be a huge mess.

Exodus 2.0 Red IPA Recipe

Batch size: 2 gallons
Est. OG: 1.057
Est. FG: 1.014
Est. ABV: 5.7%
Est. IBU: 70.9
Est. SRM: 14

Grain Bill

72% 3 lb. 8 oz. Two row (2 SRM)
10.3% 8 oz. Vienna malt (3.5 SRM)
7.8% 6 oz. Crystal 60 (60 SRM)
5.1% 4 oz. Unmalted wheat (1.7 SRM)
3.7% 3 oz. Crystal 120 (120 SRM)
1% 0.1 oz Black malt (500 SRM)

Mash Profile

Single infusion 75 minute mash at 152F
Mash water volume 6 qt. infusion at 169F
Sparge water volume 2.92 gal. at 180F
RO Water adjusted to pale ale profile in Bru'n Water

Water Profile

Calcium: 160
Magnesium: 18
Sodium: 26
Chloride: 55
Sulfate: 308
Bicarbonate: 162
PH: 5.4

Mash Water Additions

Gypsum: 2.4g
Epsom salt: 1.1g
Canning salt: 0.4g
Calcium chloride: 0.2g
Chalk: 0.8g

Sparge Water Additions

Gypsum: 4.8g
Epsom salt: 2.1g
Canning salt: 0.8g
Calcium chloride: 0.4g

Boil Profile

60 minute boil

FWH 0.2oz. Triple Perle [8.9%] 13 IBU

60 min. 0.2oz. Nugget [13%] 25.8 IBU
20 min. 0.2oz. Nugget [13%] 10.4 IBU
20 min. 0.25oz. Cascade [5.5%] 5.5 IBU
20 min. 0.25 oz. Triple Perle [8.9%] 10.7 IBU
10 min. 0.3 tsp Irish moss
Whirlpool 0.6 oz. Cascade [5.5%] 0 IBU
Whirlpool 0.75oz. Triple Perle [8.9%] 0 IBU
Whirlpool 0.25oz. Nugget [13%] 0 IBU

Fermentation Profile

Pitch 42ml US-05 slurry and ferment at 66F.

After fermentation ends transfer one gallon to oak/manhattan for cocktail barrel aged version.

Bottle all at 2.3 vol. with 0.84 oz. table sugar per gallon.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/16/15

Realized after sparging that I had overcalculated sparge volume by a gallon. Added extra hour of boil time before taking pre-boil gravity reading to correct for extra volume. Started hop schedule after first hour.

First runnings gravity: 1.081
Pre-boil volume: 2.9g
Pre-boil gravity: 1.043

Post-boil gravity: 2.25g
Post-boil volume: 1.056

Mash efficiency: 68%
Brewhouse efficiency: 75.3%

Final gravity 5/26: 1.010
Apparent attenuation: 82%
ABV: 5.99%
July 13, 2015

Book Review: The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth

I'm always suspicious about books with titles like "The ... Bible" and "The Definitive Guide to..." because they are almost never so expansive or so well researched that it deserves its self-ascribed opinion that it is the final word on the subject. (It's a lot like restaurants that slogan themselves "authentic" or "real" because it's usually not. Those are restaurants I'll drive past every time.) So when I gained access to an advance copy of The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth I was concerned that this book would not only not live up to its own name but would deserve to be buried in the desert with all those old Atari E.T. games nobody ever bought. I'm not sure it's the final word on beer but it's a much better book than what I expected. Overall, it would be a pretty good read for anybody looking at the broad sea of craft beer and trying to figure out where to wade in.

"The Beer Bible" is written by Jeff Alworth who is a beer journalist with articles published in several well known beer mags and also writes Beervana, a blog about beer in the Pacific Northwest. Alworth's experience in beer journalism shines through in the text. It is well organized and easy to read (unlike my own writing). That's helpful when you're strolling through a 600+ page book. It's a thick book but it's truly the length one needs to cover the breadth of of content Alworth committed to discuss. You've undoubtedly seen those craft beer guides that are 150 pages and the explanation for each style is a short paragraph. That won't happen here.

The bulk of "The Beer Bible" is an encyclopedia of beer styles with seventy-five pages at the beginning discussing the history of beer and tasting beer and bookended by another fifty pages of discussion about storing and drinking beer. In a sense it is the inverse of various beer drinking books (like Randy Mosher's recent "Tasting Beer" or "Beer for all Seasons") that focus less on the styles and more upon understanding and drinking beer. "The Beer Bible" is really more like a massive expansion of the BJCP guidelines with some added content about beer history and beer cellaring. So it's a great book to help somebody understand what styles are on draft at their local craft bar but not particularly useful for helping that person learn to experience what they ordered. The tasting section is just a handful of pages. So that's why I think the "bible" term is an overreach. I can't see how a book becomes the definitive beer book without more discussion on experiencing beer. I could fairly describe this beer as "The Beer Encyclopedia" or something similar.

Because the bulk of the book is an exploration of beer styles, it's worth discussing it more specifically. The 464 pages dedicated to beer styles covers all the BJCP styles along with a handful of other styles. Each style is given an explanation, a brief history and some interesting tidbits before tossing out some examples of the style. Alworth does a good job of acknowledging the inaccurate but oft repeated mythologies of porter and IPA but leaves behind a few other mis-characterizations of other styles and brewing regions. France probably gets the worst abuse with its entire brewing industry reduced to biere de garde plus ripping off Belgian wit. As a whole, however, it is a solid exposition of styles and probably the best single source of style discussions I've seen published.

Although I think this book is a good resource for a craft beer amateur, I have a serious problem with it. The whole time I read the book I had a feeling of deja vu like I had read all of this before. I had. "The Beer Bible" lends so heavily from several Brewers Publications books that it reads like a massive edit of several of those books together filtered into the BJCP guidelines. The wheat beer section reads like an abbreviated "Brewing with Wheat". It's not just lazy writing; it's exploitative. Sure, these books are cited in the bibliography but that is no excuse for heavily leaning on these other authors' works in such a blatant manner. (I would not be surprised to see the Brewers Association contact their attorneys over it.) That's what's so damn frustrating about this book. It's an easy read and full of good information so I want to recommend it but on the other hand I hate to recommend that kind of work.
July 8, 2015

Fake Fox Rye Saison

When I was last in Oregon the time share in which my wife and I stayed had a golf course with a pond. The pond attracted geese so the property managers had put out a fake fox to scare them off. Most of the geese were unperturbed by the fake fox but a few would try to fight it. I didn't realize, driving by, that it was fake. The time share is out in the middle of nowhere so it's possible there was a fox or coyote or something trying to eat the geese. We don't have geese in Texas so there are no fake foxes. We decided to take a walk down to the pond to see if we could spot the fox and make a new friend. As we approached we discovered the fox was a fake fox. I'm pretty sure a couple geese laughed at me.

I brewed this saison after a long weekend of yard work. There is a lot of romanticization of saison about how these seasonal workers were treated to these wondrous artisan ales all day long. The truth is really that these poorly paid, poorly treated seasonal workers scraped by and drank this beer because it was all there was to drink. Their lives were no more romantic than our own seasonal workers who are unpaid and work long hours picking crops only to drink cheap beer at the end of the day and largely remain invisible in our society. This romantic view of saison is craft beer's fake fox. So I named this beer Fake Fox half out of a nod to the story from Oregon and half as a poke at the romanticization of saison.

This saison is a light, low ABV saison with a big rye charge and a hop profile that balances fruity Aurora against the apricot and spice character of Rakau. I'm not completely sold on this hop combination but I am trying to clear out some small amounts of hops taking up space in my freezer.

Fake Fox Rye Saison

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 3.6%
Est. SRM: 4.1
IBU: 26
Est. OG: 1.037
Est. FG: 1.009

Grain Bill

15 oz. Pils malt (2 SRM) 62%
8 oz. Rye malt (4.7 SRM) 33.3%
1 oz. Munich malt (9 SRM) 4.7%

Mash Schedule

Single decoction mash
Infusion 3.6 qt. at 157.8F for 144F rest for 40 minutes
Decoct 0.75 qt. and bring to boil for 158F rest for 30 minutes
Sparge 0.9 gal at 180F

Water Profile

Magnesium: 10
Sodium: 5
Sulfate: 105
Chloride: 46
Bicarbonate: 1
Ph: 5.3

Mash Additions

Gypsum: 0.4g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Calcium chloride: 0.3g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 0.4g
Epsom salt 0.4g
Calcium chloride 0.3g

Boil Schedule

90 minute boil

0.07 oz. Belma [12.1%] at 90 minutes for 19.2 IBU
0.10 oz. Aurora [8.25%] at 5 minutes for 3.5 IBU
0.10 oz. Rakau [12.1%] at 5 minutes for 5.1 IBU
0.10 oz. Aurora [8.25%] whirlpool for 0 IBU
0.10 oz. Rakau [12.1%] whirlpool for 0 IBU

Fermentation Schedule

Pitch 13ml of 3711 at 70F and raise to 85F and hold until fermentation is complete.
Cold crash and bottle to 3.0 volumes.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 5/3/15

First runnings: 1.045
Pre-boil volume: 1.7 gal
Pre-boil gravity: 1.030
Mash efficiency: 98.6%

Post-boil volume: 1.1gal
Post-boil gravity: 1.038
Efficiency: 80.8%

Gravity reading 5/5/15: 1.006
June 28, 2015

Book Review: IPA by Mitch Steele

I know I am late to the party reviewing this book. It was published in 2012 and there are a lot of reviews out there. I picked this up about six months ago and meant to write the review earlier but just didn't get around to it before. Actually I thought about passing on writing a review of IPA because there are so many reviews online but in my opinion IPA has been unfairly criticized so this review is really more of a defense of the book than piling on to what you have likely already read about IPA.

IPA, or fully titled Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, by Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing is unsurprisingly a book about IPA. When Brewers Publications put out its style books in the 1990s there was no IPA book. IPA was instead lumped in with pale ales in Pale Ale. In the 2000s Brewers Publications released additional style books including Brew Like a Monk, Wild Brews, Farmhouse Ales and Brewing with Wheat that were expanded and designed with a different feel. IPA is not officially part of the 1990s style series but reads like a supersized version of those books. If you have read any of the 1990s style books then you know they were roughly evenly split between history and brewing practices. IPA follows suit in the same pattern although it is at least twice the length of those older style books.

The first two-thirds of the book traces the history of IPA from its English roots into modern craft variants. Steele openly draws heavily from the work of Ron Pattinson (of the blog Shut Up about Barclay Perkins) and other members of the Durden Park Beer Circle. Significant space is allocated to displacing the oft-repeated myth about IPA and its design to survive the boat ride to India. However, within the 185 pages of IPA history there is plenty of knowledge to gleam about brewing practices of the past in England, Scotland and here in the United States. This section ends at its natural destination in the present discussing modern IPA variants.

The remaining 100+ pages discusses IPA brewing techniques and a lengthy section of model IPA recipes provided by stalwarts of IPA on both sides of the Atlantic. There are no shocking techniques discussed for brewing IPAs but it is more technical than most of the 1990s style books which discussed brewing at a beginner's level. The recipes represent a nice span of English and American IPAs both new and old. Personally I would have liked to have seen more technical details from the breweries about brewing IPAs but these books are written for broad appeal and Steele strikes an acceptable median here. Overall IPA is far superior in depth and usefulness in comparison to those 1990s style books and holds its own with the quality of the other post-90s style books released by Brewers Publications.

Criticism of IPA typically revolves around three points:

1. There is too much space given to the history of IPA;
2. The recipes do not include specific volumes;
3. The book lacks discussion about the newest, most hyped IPAs and the hops giving rise to those beers.

Each of these points are completely accurate but the reason why they are treated as criticism are not meaningful. Certainly it would be great to see this book, like every other Brewers Publication book, turned into a 1000 page tome with explicit detail so that no other book would have to be published on the subject for another twenty years. Of course, that book would be a challenge to publish and certainly would not be a $25 book. Accepting that it is a 300 page $25 book, let's deconstruct these criticisms.

The length spent on history is certainly voluminous but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The incorrect story about IPA's beginnings continues to be treated as unqualified truth and the only way that myth will die is with a resource such as this book presenting a more authoritative and substantiated explanation. No book could rightfully be treated as the definitive guide to IPA without a strong refutation of that myth. Moreover, there is actually a lot of worthwhile brewing knowledge packed into the history, especially for those of us interested in brewing historical styles or adopting historical brewing practices into our own brewing. I am sure for people who were just looking at how to brew an imperial IPA with simcoe, citra, amarillo, centennial and mosaic, this section was a complete waste.

It is true that the recipes included in the book do not have specific grain or hop volumes and that requires a little work to fashion a clone recipe but there is a good reason for this. These recipes were designed on commercial systems that develop beer differently than our homebrewing systems. It would be impossible for Steele to sort out recipes accurately designed for all readers. IPA is a resource for those brewing seven gallons and seven barrels. Quite frankly, it is not that difficult to figure out how to adapt the information into complete recipes. Additionally, some of the breweries who offered recipes are less candid than others about recipes so the amount of information provided may be all Steele had available to publish.

And sure, IPA does not tell you how to go to your local shop and buy the ingredients to clone Heady Topper or whatever the IPA of the month happens to be. If the book had focused on the long list of IPAs loaded up with the same group of hops used in all the other hyped IPAs then it would be worthless in a couple years when everybody dumps their Citra in favor of whatever new hop becomes all the rage. There are enough recipes available here that any brewer can take the most hyped hops of the year and assemble a great recipe.

I've seen some of this criticism levied on the low volume of information about brewing IPAs as though the secret processes that make world class IPA were left out. I do not think that is accurate. IPA as a style receives so much focus and new IPAs focus so much on squeezing out every whiff of hop character that the small details really make the difference between a great IPA and the top of the market such that every component of the brewing process has to be at the top of the game. There is no secret sauce. Some of those details are specific to your brewhouse and you'll only figure out the optimal technique through luck or experimentation. One brewer's optimal sulfate level for IPA might not be right anywhere else or for any other IPA.

If you are looking for a book on IPAs to tell you how to make Pliny or Heady Topper every time then this is not the right book. That book has not been written. However, if you are interested in better understanding IPA as a style and thinking beyond Citra and Mosaic then this book is good value.