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.