September 25, 2018

Swordfight 4: Another Belgian Blond with Meyer Lemon Leaves Recipe

As I discussed in my last post, I've moved off to Denver and starting off a second chapter in my brewing. While I spent the first nine years exclusively bottling (yes, really) I now have a home with a kegerator which gives me the opportunity to brew beers for tap in addition to bottling beers for aging. For my first batch in the new house and the first kegged batch I opted to reach back to my very first homebrew experience. In July 2009 I brewed this fairly awful Belgian blonde extract kit I bought at a ridiculous markup from the local homebrew shop. I've since brewed two all grain batches (Swordfight 2 and Swordfight 3) and decided to take a third stab at a recipe for this legacy beer. Like prior batches, this beer targets the loose Belgian blonde style in the vein of Leffe Blonde, Chimay Doree (Chimay Gold) and all those middling ABV Belgian blondes that were left in craft beer's discard bin at the end of the 2000s. Light, fruity and dry--this style makes an excellent summer beer (although I'd happily drink it any time) so it's an opportune time to brew it.

Developing the Belgian blond recipe

Meyer lemon leaves
In the past I've spiced this beer with some of the more common Belgian beer spices. For this version I opted to look to my own garden for a milder spice component to mix with a late hop addition. Here I opted to blend a small amount of leaves from my meyer lemon tree. Citrus tree leaves generally carry a similar fruit flavor as the tree's fruit but with an herbal flavor. Lemon tree leaves are not as well known for cuisine as certain types of lime leaves (particularly makrut limes) but they are used in some manner virtually everywhere lemons grow. For this beer the yeast will do most of the heavy lifting in the fruit flavor area so the leaves will be a slight addition to round out the yeast flavor with a little herbal and citrus flavor. Similar to the typical coriander and orange peel approach but with a slightly different flavor.

Otherwise this recipe is a straightforward rendition of the style. Pilsner malt with a little wheat. Light hopping. I'm bringing back around WY1214 for this beer. It's such a finicky yeast but I really want to learn to tame it. I've added a little table sugar although I've cut down the typical percentage because I've dropped the ABV down from the style's typical 5.5-6.5% to 5%. I don't want the beer too thin but it needs to be a little lighter than an all grain beer. 

Swordfight 4: Belgian Blonde Ale Recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallon
Est. ABV: 5.5%
Est. IBU: 27.4
Est. OG: 1.049
Est. FG: 1.007
Est. SRM: 3.4
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Belgian pilsner412280.90%
Unmalted red wheat12213.50%
Table sugar515.60%
Water Profileppm
Modified Bru'n Water Yellow Balanced
PH: 5.3
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.6g00.5g
Canning Salt0.1g0.1g
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.9g0.8g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid1.1ml
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single decoction mash with cereal mash
Mash volume: 8.92 qt
Sparge volume: 2.05 gal
Infuse 3 qt with wheat and boil 30 min21230
Add cereal mash to 5.92 qt mash water
Infuse mash with 8.92 qt total at 160F148F20
Decoct 1.71 qt and boil
Return decoction to raise mash158F40
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Belma [12.10%]0.3oz6024.2
Belma [12.10%]0.2oz53.2
Meyer lemon leaves1.5g00
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: WY1214
Pitch 1L starter
Pitch at 64F164
Free rise to 72F1572
Cold crash135

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 7.6.18.

Too excited about getting to brew again to take notes.

Tasting Notes and Thoughts

Tasting about two weeks after putting the keg on tap.

Appearance: Pours a light gold color with an icy white foam. Foam is fluffy with nice lacing. Hangs on to the bitter end. Beer is slightly cloudy.

Aroma: Whole wheat bread, lemon, hay, strawberry, clove and a little banana. A mild herbal note appears as the beer warms.

Flavor: Spice hits first with clove, pepper and a generic phenolic flavor. Lemon and a light herbal tea follow along with graininess, hay, white bread. The beer ends with an angel food cake-like flavor followed by a subtle lemon aftertaste. As the beer warms the herbalness comes out more but does not dominate. Bitterness is mild but there is a touch too much alcohol heat for the ABV.

Mouthfeel: Light body appropriate for the style but maybe a little too thin. It's helped out by the softness of the foam. Carbonation is spritzy but doesn't distract. 

Overall: The lemon leaves added a subtle character to the beer but it was such a mellow flavor that it didn't stand out as anything special. On one hand I think using a larger volume might help but on the other I fear it would add too much herbal flavor. I can't say the leaves added a preferable flavor over lemon peel or any of the common lemon-flavored brewing herbs. 

I wasn't a fan of how much phenolic flavor and how little fruit flavor I got out of fermentation. I think I fermented a little too cool for what I wanted from the yeast but the yeast were pretty old so there might have been some petite mutations changing up the character. I feel like I don't love the flavor I get out of brewing with the Chimay strain so I'll probably try out some other Trappist/abbey strains on subsequent brews.

After a couple more weeks on tap the spice mellowed and the lemon came through more. More banana in the aroma as well. I like it a lot more after additional age seemed to smooth out the beer but I still feel like I should try out some other yeast strains. 

September 14, 2018

This homebrewing blog isn't dead, it just looks that way right now

Mason jars of mixed fermentation slurries had the easy part of the twelve hour ride. Wedged tightly in an overpacked trunk with jars of lemon preserves and fermented chiles, they fought for space with hop crowns, toiletries and a small oak barrel. In the cabin I balanced driving alone with two allegedly drugged cats, a litter box, food and water bowls and piles of pillows packed to form makeshift cat beds. Instead, the older and heavier cat calmly napped for hours at a time in my lap, cutting off circulation to my legs. Meanwhile, the other cat raced laps around the dashboard and seats, yowling constantly. The xanax did nothing. For most of the drive her only moments of silence involved seeing an eighteen wheeler which, for some reason, mesmerized her. Music and phone calls only made it worse. Eventually, somehow, we made it one piece. This concluded months of work packing, preparing one home for sale and finding another to buy. It would begin months of unpacking and making repairs on a house eighty years older than the one we left. But at least my wife and I are approaching being done with everything on the new home.

Hopefully that gives some insight into the long absence from blog posts here. I haven't given up on the blog. Instead, the move gave me an opportunity to rebuild my physical brewing space along with rebuilding my approaches to brewing. These changes will affect the content here so I wanted to carve out a post not only to announce my return to posting regularly but also what those future posts will entail.

New homebrewing space

The new home offers a lot of new and different brewing opportunities. At the old house my homebrewing equipment was jammed into a small closet with pieces of brewing equipment and boxes of bottles littered around several other rooms. I know a lot of homebrewers can relate. Here I have a large closet and office/brewing space in the basement where I can keep everything nicely organized. With more space also comes the space to keg beer which is a huge change for me. I've brewed for nine years and bottled exclusively, which is a pretty crazy concept for a lot of homebrewers.

The other big difference with the move is the change in climate which opens a lot of doors. Growing brewing ingredients is not the easiest task in Texas where it is hot much of the year and the lower latitude forecloses the option to grow many of the fruit and other ingredients I might want to add to beer. I tried growing hops for year with little success. I could get bine growth but not great cone production. At the new house I have a nice garden space and I've brought along my hops (three of four survived the mid-growing season move). I want to look at growing some beer-friendly fruit and herb. Colorado also gives access to a wide range of fruit both for purchase and to forage. My neighborhood is full of all sorts of fruit trees.

So what does this mean for my brewing and ongoing content here?

Homebrewing in Colorado

With new space and new packaging options I've thought about what I want to do with my homebrewing and all these new opportunities. There's no radical shift in brewing paradigm or drinking tastes. This isn't going to suddenly become an all IPA blog. Instead I viewed the move as an opportunity to think about what I want to brew rather than what can I brew and what do I have space to brew.

I am still very committed to continuing brewing mixed fermentation farmhouse and sour beer. I will resume my mixed fermentation saisons on a smaller batch size as I work to understand my finicky saison mixed culture. The sour blending project will continue as well as I work to perfect brewing the two core beers and their blends. With more cool weather in Colorado I want to resume work brewing spontaneous beer.

With better growing conditions I want to do some expanded work with brewing ingredients beyond the traditional four. I don't want to jam fruit into every beer or turn out a pile of garden beers but I like the option to do some of those things. More importantly I'm excited to finally see productive growth out of my hops. I've been hopeful that I would get a good crop one year in Texas so I could brew a fresh hop beer. I'm looking forward to finally making that a reality.

The biggest change in my homebrewing will undoubtedly be the transition to kegging my beer. For years I developed small batch recipes and brewing so I could turn through bottles of beers not well suited for aging before they fell off. I had to do that between the rate I drink beer and not having space to keep all the bottles cold. I've purchased some three gallon kegs which will let me turn through batches a little quicker than the usual size but this is still three times the batch size of my former typical volume. I want to start brewing my non-mixed fermentation and non-aging beers for keg rather than bottle.

Along with the change in volume I also thought about what kinds of beers I want to put on tap. These days I drink a lot more low ABV beers than racing for fifteen percent pastry stouts and eight percent DIPAs. I feel like both craft beer and homebrewing has raced away from many of the old craft styles in favor of those high gravity and hazy beers. In doing that we've left behind a lot of brewing techniques and beer flavors. I want to plumb the depths of those older styles and find forgotten flavors and brew wonderful low ABV beers.

As a whole my brewing strategies and preferences will mostly remain the same--so where does that take this blog?

Resuming this homebrewing blog

I fully intend to resume blogging here on a regular basis. This isn't the sputtering promise to revive a homebrewing blog that marks the penultimate post of a dead homebrew blog. With the move complete I can get back to brewing and writing about brewing. I want to do a better job adding visual content and nudging content to social media but we'll see how that goes. I'm pretty bad about taking time to snap pictures during the brew day but I'm going to try to get better about that. I'm accepting what most brewing blogs did years ago and move tasting notes on beers into the same post as the recipe. I want to treat recipe posts as evolving posts and add notes and tasting notes with time rather than treat posts as static content. I haven't entirely thought through how it makes the most sense to make those changes and make the changes visible. 

Content-wise I don't expect too much change. The mixed fermentation posts will continue and hopefully become more frequent with more people in the area to enjoy sour beer and help drink through my batches. The big change with the recipe posts will be a shift in the non-mixed fermentation beers towards more session/low ABV beers and three gallon batches rather than one gallon. Expect you'll see more posts about beer styles nobody cares about anymore than a slew of hazy DIPAs and Betty Crocker porters. 

I'd like to intermingle posts about homebrewing and beer other than just recipe posts but I don't want to drift too much into just pouring out a stream of conscious of random brewing thoughts. So we'll see how often I feel like my beer and brewing thoughts might be interesting to anybody else. 

This is probably enough for now. I should have a recipe post for my first kegged beer up in a few days once I have a chance to edit down the post.