March 28, 2017

Ground Cherry Pale Sour Recipe

Here's a sour beer I've wanted to brew for the past three or so years. It harkens back to a time where I was more enamored with the idea of brewing sour beer with fruit and especially fruit that didn't come from generic supermarket varieties. That's a problem because I'm a terrible gardener and to procure enough fruit for beer requires a bush or tree that would require years of development. I went on the hunt for fruit that would survive Texas summers without too much coddling and wouldn't require years of development before I could even get close to fruit.

What I found was something called a ground cherry.

WTF is a ground cherry?

Ground cherry is a small fruiting plant similar to a tomatillo. It grows like a tomatillo plant and develops small fruit that grow in husks, like a tomatillo. There are a few varieties around the world but the two most common are Aunt Molly (which have a citrus-y flavor) and Cossack Pineapple (you can figure that out). It's most similar to a gooseberry in both appearance and flavor, although it is less acidic (and not actually a gooseberry).

Picture of the plants--not mine
It grows across a wide range of environments. With some watering it survives into the triple digits during summer and hangs on until temperatures drop to 40F like tomatillos and tomatoes. The plant gains its name from the way the fruit grows and drops. Midway through maturity the stem supporting the husked fruit gives and the fruit drops to the ground. It takes an additional few weeks for the fruit inside to reach maturity. The green half-mature fruit is full of solanine, which is the poisonous compound in tomato plants and other related plants. This goes away as the fruit matures into a brighter color, orange for Aunt Molly and goldenrod yellow for Cossack Pineapple.

The fruit is interesting for sure. I opted for the Cossack Pineapple, which at full ripeness has a pineapple and vanilla flavor with a hint of tomatillo. When it's still a little green the vanilla is less present with more of a pineapple-tomatillo-green tomato flavor. Culinary applications range from use like tomatoes or tomatillos in salsas or salads to berry-like applications like pies and tarts.

The fruit grow to between green pea and marble size; that means to procure a decent volume of fruit you need a lot. The good news is that this plant has a high yield of fruit, even with moderate growth. The challenge is that it grows and drops fruit the entire growing season which means collecting fruit and probably freezing to get a decent yield. It's taken two years to collect one pound but that is one plant the first year and two plants the second year, minus the volume I ate instead of setting aside for beer. To obtain enough in a single year for a five gallon batch I would need several healthy plants and keep from eating too many. 

The inside of the fruit contains a lot of seeds which may be an issue for beer. I'm slightly concerned that the seeds risk bleeding excessive tannins into the beer. I could try pureeing the fruit but I'm concerned that will tear up the seeds and straining them out would be an absolute PITA. Instead I plan on giving the fruit some pulsed chops in the food processor to break them apart and then plan to avoid long contact time with the sour beer.

Ground Cherry Sour Beer Recipe Design

Nothing to exciting about the recipe design. I wanted to keep the beer pale and fairly neutral to let the fruit flavors shine. While some fruit play nicely with darker sour beers, the flavors of these ground cherries are more compatible with the flavor profile of a pale sour beer with little to no specialty malt. 

I am also still trying to use ingredients on hand so the grain bill was mostly built out of a "what can I sling together to get in the vicinity of what I need to brew" than trying to craft the perfect recipe. I have a clump of white wheat malt which will make up the bulk of the grain bill. Of all the beers I've had with a strong pineapple flavor, they all seem to have a large portion of wheat so I felt this was a good fit. The rest of the recipe is designed to keep on the path of a lighter beer with low IBUs and only a little munich malt to add a little maltiness around the pineapple and vanilla flavors.

Ground Cherry Pale Sour Beer Recipe

Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.3%
Est. IBU: 15
Est. OG: 1.052
Est. FG: 1.011
Est. SRM: 4.7
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pilsner malt14246.80%
White wheat malt12239.90%
Munich malt4913.30%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow balanced Profile
PH: 5.5
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.2g00.2g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.4g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 0.58 gal
Sparge volume: 0.9 gal
Infuse 0.58 gallons at 167F150F75
Sparge 0.9 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.06oz6014.9

Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Oregon Special
Pitch 100ml slurry
Pitch at 70F?Ambient
Add 1lb ground cherries
Bottle to 4 vol CO2 with 1 oz table sugar

Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 3.26.17.

All that wheat turned into a stuck mash. Not fun.

Preboil volume: 1.4g
Preboil gravity: 1.035
Mash efficiency: 79%

Postboil volume: 1.00 gal
Postboil gravity: 1.043
Brewhouse efficiency: 60%

Yikes to that efficiency. I'm not terribly worried about this batch having too low of gravity because it's mostly a vessel to test out the ground cherries, otherwise I would have hit it with some DME at the end of the boil.

6.13.17: Tasted beer, already pretty sour and flavorful so time for some fruit. I had the fruit frozen so I gently warmed in a pan before transferring to the food processor to puree. That turned one pound of tasty whole ground cherries into this puree.

Not the best looking puree but it tastes pretty good. They held up well to freezing. I could only fit about 12 oz. of the puree into the fermentation vessel. I'll let it ride for a few weeks and then taste. If it needs more fruit I'll have to rack over to another gallon jug with the remainder. Not my preferred course of action though. 
March 20, 2017

Lambic Solera Part Twenty-Three: Bottling Year Six, Blending Gueuze 2

It took me two months to sit down and write this post because writing it meant accepting a seven year old brewing process had officially ended. I brewed the first batch of this solera in December 2010 after taking my last law school final for the semester. It was older than my marriage, older than my law license and older than most of my friends' kids. I don't know if it's the longest continuous solera on the homebrewing level but it was probably one of the oldest. (Undoubtedly surpassed at some point in the future with the growing number of excellent sour homebrewers.) My lambic solera taught me a lot about brewing sour beer over its six years which produced six annual bottlings, two fruited bottlings and two blended gueuzes for a total of about twenty-two gallons of lambic (or lambic-inspired beer...whatever).

It was a difficult decision to end the solera. The lambic coming out of the solera had reached a great plateau and I chose to stop the solera by choice rather than because the quality had declined to a point where I had to. Ideally I would have kept the solera going for as long as it continued to produce great beer but as I've mentioned before my wife and I are moving to Denver next year and I need to wind down beer production. In Denver I will probably eschew starting a similar solera. Not because I didn't like it but because I want to make room for some other brewing projects. I still want to set up my sour blending project and I want to play with spontaneous fermentation. Those will take up a fair amount of space and produce a good amount of beer. I also have acquired a small barrel (posts on that coming soon) so that's more sour beer to brew.

For today's post I'm just going to discuss bottling Year Six and Gueuze 2 along with my initial impressions of the beer. I'll follow this up soon with a much longer post discussing all the important lessons I learned along the way with the lambic solera. The final post will be tasting notes on Year Six and Gueuze 2 later in the year which will be the final post on the lambic solera.

Bottling Year Six

The carboy of Year Six looks right in line with previous years, particularly those with the slightly darker red wheat rather than white wheat. In the picture below of all three vessels you can see the six gallon Better Bottle with Year Six next to Year Five (which had some white wheat) and Year Four. The vessels are dusty as hell--that's because they age next to cat litter. Much funk to be had. ZFG.

Like Year Five and Four, which were turbid mashed, I felt like the beer was somewhat unfinished after a year. The turbid mash really seems to stretch out smoothing out the flavors in young brett fermentations I really dislike (hot trash, muddiness). I expect, like it's two older siblings, it will break stride somewhere around August.

The flavor is a little unfinished due to the age but one thing that stuck out to me was that it seemed fruitier than previous beers. In the finish I thought it had a brandy-like flavor. Then I remembered I had added brandy along with the oak cubes on this batch. It's definitely the most aggressive addition of spirits or wine among the six years. It's wonderful but definitely adds a different dynamic.

Like each of its predecessors this lambic (or lambic-inspired beer, if that chills your heckles) was mostly bottled in 750ml champagne-style bottles with the remainder going into other thick walled bottles. I bottled it with one ounce per gallon of table sugar as I have in the past which seems to shoot a little low on carbonation but I felt like consistency prevailed over risking some overcarbonation. Approximately four gallons were bottled straight as Year Six.

As an aside, have you ever thought about how awful it would be to try to clean seven year old krausen out of a Better Bottle?

I cleaned out the trub every other year of the solera but never tried to clean out the trub because, well, I wasn't sure how and I wasn't sure if I could do so without risking causing an unwelcome infection or introducing unwelcome flavors from a cleaning agent. So I just left it and kept refilling wort. You can kinda see in the picture to the right I cleaned the Better Bottle pretty well and yet that krausen didn't budge.

Filling with moderately hot water and oxyclean for several days and repeated scrubbing with a bottle brush eventually got most of it out. Not sure I got enough out that I would ferment clean beers in it but enough that I feel safe fermenting sour beer without the remnants of the lambic solera krausen overtaking the culture added with new wort.

Blending Gueuze 2

Normally I am a solid proponent of blending to taste rather than blending everything you have because you don't want leftover beer. That's not what I did here. Like Gueuze 1, I decided to let the lambic solera and each of its vintages be what they were and blend the gueuze with all the beer it had to offer. That meant creating a blend of 50% Year Six, 25% Year Five and 25% Year Four. 

Year Four and Five from the solera taste well into their age with flavors similar to their bottles but a little more mellow, probably from slightly more oxygen exposure through the airlocks and silicone stoppers than the bottle caps. (In the picture, Year Five is on the left, Year Four on the right.) There is a noticeable color difference. Some of that is age but some of it is a difference in wheat. Year Five is mostly white wheat while Four, like Six, are more red wheat. I definitely feel the red wheat brings more wheat flavor, which I like. 

My initial impression of the blend is promising. The brandy flavor of Year Six definitely appears but far more subdued than Year Six on its own. It works in the mix. The flavor is deep with funk, lemon, hay, gentle phenolic spice, honey of well-aged beer but also prickly with young acidity. It is more complex than Gueuze 1 and I suspect the aged hops drive that complexity even more than the turbid mash. Like its components, I expect this beer will hit its stride in eight or so months. 

Finishing bottling the solera

Ended up with a lot of bottles. Year Six on the left, Gueuze 2 on the right.

So from here I expect to have tasting notes around August when the beers are in their prime. I cracked open one bottle of Year Six with the Super Bowl, as I do every year with each vintage, and it is promising but definitely still needs some time to smooth out its rough edges. The brandy was more subdued with some carbonation and I think it will be just fine in the end. 

Next post will be an assemblage of thoughts on the solera process, brewing lambic-style within a solera, what I thought about the changes I made each year and some other general thoughts I've been mulling for the past seven years. 
March 14, 2017

One Gallon Spontaneous Fermentation #2: January 2017

This batch will follow the same technique as the previous turbid mash/spontaneous fermentation batch brewed in November 2016 with a little adjustment to the hops due to inventory and adding oak. I had hoped to brew another one gallon batch last month but we haven't had a consistently cold winter where I could find time to brew and it would be within the right temperature range. We have a cold streak so it's as good of a time as any to brew more beer. As this batch will closely follow the last batch's recipe I won't waste space duplicating the recipe. I'll just note the changes and use this post to track the batch from brewday through fermentation and aging.

Changes from Batch 1 to Batch 2 of One Gallon Spontaneous Fermentation Recipe

Two small changes to the recipe: (1) adjusting hops to the aged hops on hand; and (2) adding oak. The oak addition will be light. Three medium char oak cubes are steamed in the microwave to remove some of the fresh oak flavor. I find this is about the right amount to gain minimal oak flavor and a good balance of tannins. 

A lot of aged hops for one gallon
Hops will include a blend of 2011 Belma, like batch 1, and a mix of 2014 Cascade and Mount Hood from my garden. I wish I could say I had some better explanation for the combination of aged hops but there it is. I had less of the 2014 mix than I thought. I had 0.25oz of the 2014 Cascade/Mount Hood blend. I added 0.25oz of 2011 Belma. I'm only using 0.50 oz of aged hops for this batch because I fear the Belma may still have too much alpha acid left behind.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 1.5.17.

Sent outside at 4:28pm. Transferred to heated cooler at 5pm. Realized the volume was significantly low at this point and added waves of hot distilled water from 5-5:30pm to get up to one gallon of wort. This explains the variance at the 5:30pm reading. I added about a third of a gallon of water so clearly my boil off calculation was way off.

Day ended up colder and windier than expected but even with approximately ten degrees cooler ambient temperatures the wort was only a handful of degrees below what batch one's warmer evening produced at similar intervals. Here's the cooling:

Time                            Ambient             Wort

Fermentation Notes

2.14.17: Gave a quick taste. Tastes very similar to other wild/spontaneous cultures. Muddled estery profile with banana, melon, cherry, strawberry, peach. Muddled bottom end with musty, generic phenolic spice. Slightly mushroom-y. Apple juice-y. Still fairly sweet and thick like a hefeweizen with a big sweet orange slice. Not far from the batch coolshipped in November 2016 but less bitter, likely due to dialing back the hopping rate.

7.17.17: Approximately seven and a half months old. Appearance following batch 1. Clear beer with thin, white pellicle. Flavor is bitter, thin, some acidity. Fairly clean flavor. No expected brett flavor. Thin body. Definitely needs some additional time.

11.2.17: Approximately eleven months old. Appearance is clear with thin, filmy and blocky pellicle. Bitterness remains with a noticeable tannic presence--likely from the oak. Mushroom flavor has taken over but a long, lingering cherry flavor emerges in the end. Acidity is extremely light. Heading the right direction.

1.28.17: Appearance the same. Strong tannin flavor. Mushroom is present but less than the November 2016 batch. Some lemony acidity.

3.27.18: Same appearance. Aroma is barnyard and cherry pie. Very much expected for spontaneous beers. Flavor is mushroom, cherry pie, lemon, barnyard, hay, wet grass, orange. It's more acidic than before and definitely more acidic than the November 2016 batch but still not what I would describe as a sour beer. Continuing to head in the right direction. The oakiness has thankfully mellowed. Far more complex than the November 2016 batch. Is this a positive result from using less hops or just lucked into a better batch? Not sure.
March 8, 2017

Just the Tip -- Mixed Fermentation Saison with Fir Tips

Here's another rummage-around-the-house foraging beer. In December I helped my wife and her family pick out a Christmas tree. As we were unloading it from the car I noticed all the young tips at the end of the branches. I pulled one off and rubbed it between my fingers. It has that citrusy aroma one expects in the greener, bushier tips on a spruce or fir tree but also the woody, spruce-like aroma of the wood. Reminded me a lot of chinook hops. I immediately thought, "I could put this in beer." After unwrapping gifts on Christmas I asked if I could trim off all the tips for beer. I was approved and hacked up the tree. After trimming as much of the tips as I could without knocking off ornaments I ended up with approximately half an ounce of fir tips.

I settled on shoving these fir tips into a mixed fermentation saison. Initially I resisted the idea of treating another saison as a dumping ground for weird ingredients but a couple reasons justified the decision. First, I need to further explore my mixed farmhouse culture and this is a good opportunity to see how it plays with other flavors. Second, that woods/citrus/resin flavor is not entirely out of place for the style, especially within the realm of the more unusual Fantome offerings. Additionally, later on that day I visited my parents who it turns out grow Meyer lemons and gave me a large bag. I want to brew another saison with the lemons and blend at least some of each of these beers. (More on the Meyer lemon beer in another post.) 

Designing the Saison with Fir Tips recipe

Normally spruce tips or fir tree tips are harvested for beer in the spring when they are bushy and green with a flavor that leans more citrus than woodsy. I get that this is the "wrong" way to do this. This is purely an experiment for the sake of experimenting. I smelled the tips on the Christmas tree, liked what I smelled and decided to see what happens. 

I want the recipe to be fairly basic so the fir tips do not fight too many other flavors. The grain bill is a very simple 75% pale malt/25% unmalted wheat grist. Hops are minimal with a charge of Opal in the whirlpool with the fir tips. Opal has a earthy flavor that I expect will round out the fir tips just a little. My initial run with this mixed saison culture is very fruity in an overripe berry flavor. I'm not entirely sure how that will mix with the fir tips but it's just a gallon of beer. If it sucks it can flush out my kitchen sink drain. 

Batch Size: 1.1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.0%
Est. IBU: 26
Est. OG: 1.054
Est. FG: 1.016
Est. SRM: 3.6
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pale malt112277.80%
Unmalted wheat8222.20%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter Profile
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.5g00.2g
Canning Salt0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.3g0.1g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.6ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction with cereal mash
Mash volume: 1.125 gal
Sparge volume: 0.5 gal
Boil wheat with 1.5 qt water21230
Add remaining water and bring to
infusion temperature
Infuse 1.125 gallons at 158F146F45
Decoct 27 oz and boil15
Return to mash156F30
Sparge 0.50 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12%]0.13oz6026.5
Opal [6.5%]0.1ozWhirlpool0
Fir tips0.5ozWhirlpool0
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Saison AF
Pitch 100ml
Pitch at 70F9070F
Bottle to 3.5 vol CO2 with 1.6oz sugar

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 12.28.16

First runnings: 1.0578
Pre-boil gravity: 1.045
Volume: 1.5 gallons
Mash efficiency: 82%

Post-boil gravity: 1.050
Post-boil volume: 1 gallon
Efficiency: 68%

Added water at end of boil--approximately 1/4 gallon to get up to one gallon post-boil.

1.26.17: After what seemed like a month of fermentation things appear to have tapered off. A slight taste is the emergence of the fruity yeast profile with what I assume is the fir tips in a herbal, forest-y flavor that is far less aggressive than pre-fermentation. Very oily and slightly tongue numbing--hope that is excess oils pulled from sampling from the top of the beer.

3.31.17: Gave the beer another taste today. Beer is dry with a nice range of fruity flavors, moderate herbal flavor and a twinge of brett on the end. Far less tongue numbing sensation but slight remnant. Will probably let it go another three or four weeks to mature before bottling.