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