Saturday, January 9, 2016

Harvesting and Re-Pitching Slurry

At some point in a homebrewers life he or she starts thinking about re-pitching yeast from prior batches to save money, for which there are countless tutorials online. You can opt to wash yeast slurry left behind after a previous batch. Or the more recent, and very popular, technique documented on where Marshall harvests from a larger starter. I've used both of these methods in the past with varying levels of success but each method poses hurdles that were either concerning to me or simply more work than I wanted to take on. 

For the last two plus years I have been simply re-pitching unwashed harvested slurry batch to batch similar to how a commercial brewery would harvest and repitch. I realize this is not a revolutionary technique, there are plenty of homebrewers who do this as well, but it's a technique I think that is being overlooked by a lot of homebrewers. It's a very simple process and actually has helped improve my beers and my knowledge of how a yeast pitch can evolve from generation to generation. Before I get into this keep in mind that I am not a microbiologist, so there may be some things that folks disagree with here but this practice has been tried and true over 40+ batches of my own beer, as well as in a commercial setting. 
A look down the carboy neck at some fairly clean slurry.
There are a two "prerequisites" of sorts that makes this process work for me, the first being that I plan my beers out to use a particular yeast strain in successive brews. I brew at least once a month which is frequently enough that I can actually keep two strains relatively fresh and healthy, usually a Saison strain and one for Hoppy beers. The second being you keep the trub amount going into the fermentor as low as possible. Not because it might affect the flavor of our beer, it likely does not, but because it will be easier to estimate the amount of yeast you're harvesting/re-pitching with less kettle trub in the way (try as you might, there will always be some). I use a Stainless Hop Spider, and a good whirlpool with my pump, to achieve this. Don't worry about the proteins and other debris from the boil and fermentation that is in the slurry, some of it can actually beneficial to the remaining yeast cells during storage.

With those two points in mind all the only equipment you really need is a vessel to store your slurry in. Mason jars work fine but I opt for something more fit for yeast storage in these Media Bottles or Polypropylene Jars. I like the media bottles best because both the lid and bottle are autoclavable, with the lid being polypropylene and the borosilicate glass container, so I can ensure the thing is super sterile by boiling or better yet using the pressure cooker. Not to mention this is a lab grade product and should last forever, assuming you don't drop it! The Polypropylene jars are great as well but I notice the rubber gasket can get gunked up over time, I tend to use those more for storing strains of Brettanomyces and mixed cultures where they spend more time in the jar being fed and will reside in for long stretches.
This was, believe it or not, a pretty hoppy beer. Look how "clean" the slurry is.
Obviously sterilization and sanitation is key here so be as thorough as possible to ensure your culture stays as clean as you can. Prior to racking I will use the pressure cooker to sterilize the media bottle, boiling should work fine its just not totally sterile. Once the bottle cools a bit use star-san to sanitize everything, and give the bottle a little co2 flush for good measure. Rack your beer off of the yeast cake and simply pour your slurry into your sterilized, sanitized, co2 purged yeast storage vessel. One thing I do to try keep as sterile an environment as possible is to light an alcohol lamp (not pictured because I'm a shitty photog) to get an updraft and keep things from falling into the jar while I am pouring, this isn't a lab so it won't be perfect. Throw the lid on ,but don't tighten it fully as there might be some off-gassing, then throw it in the fridge. Come back the next day and tighten the lid down. Make sure to mark the date of when you harvested the slurry so you can determine viability once you're ready to re-pitch, also keep track of what generation the pitch is.
The Alcohol lamp is there, i swear.
Leading up to the next batch you plan to brew using your harvested culture take a look at the date it was harvested to calculate the viability of the yeast remaining. Depending on how long it's been you may or may not have enough cells to complete a healthy fermentation based on your batch size and gravity. I use Mr. Malty to roughly calculate the viability and how much slurry I need. Based on my experience I think the the calculator assumes a drop in viability quicker than it does in reality. Steve at has done a bunch of tests on viability of washed and unwashed harvested slurry and found that the viability decreses at a significantly slower rate than Mr. Malty calculates. If it's within 2 weeks of harvesting you should be good to pitch the slurry only into well aerated wort of a reasonable gravity (~1.050). If you're concerned just wake it up with 250-500ml of starter wort and you'll see activity super quickly. Some people might cringe at this since it's a very rough assessment of how many cells and being pitched. But by using the calculator and ensuring the slurry is fresh and healthy you will get a healthy fermentation via close approximation on your pitching rate. Lets face it, most of our home starters are rough assessments anyway given that we use a generic pitching calculator across all strains, each of whom likely have different growth charts. 
Once settled this was about 800ml of dense slurry.
Aside from the simplicity of this process I do genuinely think this has improved my beers to an extent. In my experience the strains tend to get comfortable in the environment and the manner I use them making for quicker ferments and more repeatable results. This has especially been the case for The Yeast Bay's Wallonian Farmhouse and WLP565, still my all time favorite, both of which I have been able to push to 8 generations with exceedingly great results with every passing generation. This is something that has been reiterated by Neva Parker from White Labs just recently during her Reddit AMA. Below is her response to the question regarding the benefits of harvesting from batches of beer.

There is absolutely a benefit (see answer at the top of the thread):
In general, yeast from a lab takes 2-3 generations before they are optimal condition for actual fermentations, so if yeast can be harvested well, you'll get some great yeast out of it.
It can take a few turns for the yeast to be completely acclimated to the fermentation environment, but once they are, performance is optimal around generation 3.
With a starter, its not that you're necessarily losing these benefits. While the yeast is not getting used to environments without oxygen (fermentation), you're still building up yeast metabolism and yeast activity so you'll get a faster, stronger start with a shorter lag.
I already had this post mostly finished when I saw Neva say this and I am glad I waited to post it because this is useful information from someone smarter than I. Her point about the 2nd or 3rd generations being the most optimal is totally in line with my experience, but I would have said generation 4 was the sweet spot. It's nice to have some reassurance from a leader in the industry.

Call me a romantic but I love seeing how the culture performs as those generations pass, sometimes the changes are good but there is a point of diminishing returns. You'll know when that time comes, it's been more of a gradual shift than an abrupt one for me. If you notice off-flavors (fusel alcohols, acetaldehyde, diacetyl etc) or under attenuation you should dump and get a new pitch. In the case of the 8 generation Wallonian pitch I had recently, I would have pitched it further but it got older than I wanted and decided to add it to a mixed culture that needed some extra Saccharomyces help. I think Wallonian was released in early 2014, and I've only bought two pitches in that time. With it being a Saison strain I'm not as afraid of some contaminations of LAB, Brett, or wild yeast as I would be my preferred hoppy beer strain Wyeast 1318.

As with any home yeast procedures it's inevitable that you will get some sort of contamination in your slurry, per Jamil Zainasheff on the Brewing Network most professional breweries do! There are some more advanced techniques including acid washing to clean up your culture if you want to go that route, I don't however I may try it just for the learning experience. Normally after 4-8 generations I am fine spending another $7-10 for a new pitch. I know it might seem a bit scary to do this, but give it a try at least once and see how you make out. One things for sure, you'll see active fermentation as fast as you've ever seen.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

PhiLambic Solera year 3: Top off wort.

Last week I shared the tasting notes for my two (plus) year old Solera and how things had been progressing to date. The sample I took was prior to bottling some unblended and racking some onto Blueberries. But before I actually racked and packaged the beer I had to brew the next top off batch to have it ready ahead of the packaging so the Solera didn't sit half full for too long. Sampling prior to brewing the top off batch gives me the opportunity to make adjustments to the composition of the wort to keep the Solera tasting the way I want it, or possibly fix issues that may arise. I mentioned in the previous post about how I felt the adjustments I made the year prior made a positive difference and I enjoyed the way it was tasting, save for a lingering ethyl acetate aroma. I am just hoping that doesn't increase over time, I will do my best to keep o2 at bay but currently its my biggest concern with this project.
Steamy kettle next to the open window.
With no glaring issues I didn't feel there were adjustments to make so I went with a fairly simple wort comprised of 6-Row and Wheat in a single infusion mash plus some Maltodextrin and steel cut oats for added dextrins. I choose to add the Maltodextrin and steel cut oats because this was a split mash (mashed at 150f) with a portion of the run off going to a separate boil for an IPA. The steel cut oats were steeped in the boil kettle at 170F all the way up until I reached a boil and the Maltodextrin used as a late boil addition. The beer was bittered with a 1/2 pound of aged hops in the boil for the 11 gallon batch, some of this batch was racked into separate fermenters for aged sours for blending down the road.
I have so many aged hops from a sale a couple years ago I don't even know what to do with them.
After the boil I left the kettle out in my garage next to the open window to cool naturally and encourage some local microbes. The high that evening was 36F (one of the very few cool nights this fall) and the 11 gallons of wort took ~10 hours to cool down to ~60F. Once cool I drained the kettle into the fermenter(s) and added Bootleg Biology Sour Solera (Summer 2015) blend to ferment out for a week or so before I would rack it into the Solera. I'm excited to see what this blend adds to my own Solera, but also disappointed because I won't get to truly experience what it brings to the table on its own. The added biodiversity of locally caught microbes from the ambient cooling and the Bootleg Biology blend will hopefully add some variation for next year's bottling. 
Top off wort just starting to krausen.
The bulk of primary fermentation had finished when I racked the top off batch to the Solera, or so I thought, within a few hours refermentation took off pretty aggressively in the Solera. I knew there would be a fair bit of complex sugars to work on over time but didn't expect to see such a significant krausen in the Solera itself since the bulk of primary fermentation had completed. There are tons of different microbes in this thing after a few years, dregs, commercial blends, wild caught stuff, who knows what is dominating after all this time. But it's all progressing nicely.
Solera's 2nd year in the Better Bottle,
after it began life in the sanke.

PhiLambic Solera Top Off Year 3

Brew day: 10/28/2015

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 13.50gal
Post Boil Volume: 11.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 11.00 gal
Measured OG: 1.050 SG
Estimated Color: 3.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: Pfft, who knows?, 0 I guess.
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes

77.8% - 21lbs - 6-Row (2.0 SRM)
14.8% - 4lbs - CMC White Wheat  (3.5 SRM)
  7.4% - 2lbs - Flaked Oats (1.0 SRM)

Pre Boil steep -  8oz of Steel Cut Oats (removed after a boil was reached)
Boil: 75min - 8oz aged hops via HopsDirect
Boil: 15min - 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil: 15min - 8oz Malto Dextrin

Bootleg Biology Sour Solera (Summer 2015) Blend - No starter.
Ambient cooling for additional wild yeast.

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 9.00 gallons 170f

Misc: Filtered NJ Tap water, no salts. 

Notes: Pre Boil gravity was 1.055, the 13.50 gallons of run off was split into 2 separate boils, half being used for this top off batch and the other half for an upcoming IPA. The half for the top off beer was watered down to 1.045 pre boil, and after the boil and Malto additions OG was 1.050. 8oz of Steel Cut Oats were steeped in the kettle as it reached a boil for some added low fermentables. A bit of a hodgepodge I know but I like to get the most out of my brew days.

Here is a crap video of me adding the loads of aged hops. Boiled this in my mash tun with the false bottom to keep those hops out of the fermenter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

PhiLambic Solera Year 3: Pull # 2, unblended bottling and fruiting.

Since last years pull, and straight bottling, my Solera has crossed state lines and found a new home in NJ (and a Better Bottle instead of a sanke keg) when we moved last year. A few days prior to the move I topped it off with fresh, actively fermenting wort/beer so it would be transported during a fairly vigorous fermentation in hopes of minimizing any oxidation. To say I was concerned coming into this year's cycle would probably be an understatement. I did everything I could in hopes of safe travels, save for racking to purged kegs then back into the Solera which would have been the safest plan, but didn't know for sure if things would work out. I normally don't stress about my beers since I can just brew more, but I've invested a fair bit of time in both the production and aging of the Solera that it would sting a bit to have to dump it.
1.002, 3.39pH
Sometimes I use the dryer as a stir plate, kidding of course.
The first year's bottling was very sour and a bit lacking in Brett aroma complexity, I was also picking up on some light ethyl acetate aromas that had me a little concerned. This is not to say I didn't like it, I did (or do since bottles still exist) I'm just trying to be as critical as possible. The top off batch was adjusted with those tasting notes in mind in hopes of reducing the acidity just a touch and bring some more earthy, assertive Brett aromas similar to classic gueuze examples. It had been 14 months since the top off when I removed a sample to evaluate prior to designing the year three top off batch and I was pretty happy (relieved) with what I found. Below are my tasting notes on the sample.

Tasting Notes after 26 months since the birth of this Solera, 14 months since top off:
The Brett aromas I was trying to add to this are there, not huge but I can pick up on some more classic barnyard aromas reminiscent of a stable. They are subtle but should pop even more in a carbonated sample and as things develop under pressure in the bottle.
The ethyl acetate I picked up from the first bottling is still there but I really have to spin the glass to find it in this sample. It's more on the fruity ethyl acetate end of the spectrum then a nose hair burning aroma of nail polish remover. No better or worse than last year so thats a good thing I suppose.
It's sour and very dry, but not as sour as year one3.39pH down (or is it up?) from 3.32 last year. Its tough to judge without this being chilled and carbonated in a finished bottle but I would have to say I've at least improved things by way of the adjustments I made in the year 2 top off. Gravity at the moment is ~1.002.

Things can of course, and likely will, change in the bottle but this was pretty promising. So much so that I was at a bit of a loss on how to tweak the top off recipe for adjustment, more on the top off batch in a later post. I racked off about 4 gallons of the Solera and bottled 1.5 gallons straight unblended, as I plan to with each pull to see how it all changes over time. Thanks to Tonsmeire's Solera spreadsheet, I know that the average age of this year's bottling is 1.53 years old, once we reach year four it will always be at least 2 years old. The remaining 2.5 gallons from this pull was racked on top of 4lbs of organic Blueberries that my family and I picked over the summer at a pick your own farm nearby. I froze the fruit in my chest freezer until I was ready to rack the beer, which is my standard process when using fresh fruit. I also blended in two 22oz bottles of the same sour quad I used for the recent Tart Cherry beer for some added malt backbone to keep from the beer thinning out and being one dimensional.

I am super super excited for this variant, but the blueberries might have been even more excited then I as they tried to climb out of the fermenter. I attempyted a punch down on the fruit but that proved futile as the re-fermentation was so vigorous that I ended up having to remove the bung and airlock and let it go open to the elements, after four days I was able to replace the bung. Three weeks after I racked onto the blueberries there was still activity, lots of sugar in the Blueberries I guess. I hope to have this in bottles 3 months after the fruit addition, I cannot wait. 
Frozen Bluebs prior to racking.
It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.
With how quickly things are progressing with this Solera I am planning to top off and package again after 6 months, assuming things taste good of course. Year 3 top off post up next, then a tasting notes post on the Unblended Solera bottling #2, and a follow up on the Blueberry variant. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Brettanomyces Drei vs. Brettanomyces Vrai

I'm sure you know the story by now, if not Brandon documented it well at Embrace The Funk. Brett Trois was all the rage until Lance Shaner of Omega Yeast Labs had DNA sequencing analysis done and it was found to be Saccharomyces and not Brettanomyces. Yadda Yadda Yadda, White Labs released Brett Vrai after they publicly confirmed what we already knew about Trois. Immediately the Brett enthusiasts started to speculate what strain it was and where it originated. The most popular, and seemingly logical, assumption was Vrai is Brett Drei. Mistakenly, the same comparison was made with Trois and Drei. But I decided to make an ass of "u" and "me" anyway and brew 100% Brett fermented split batch comparison of Vrai and Drei.

Ideally I would have brewed a super simple base beer for optimal analysis, as we did for The Yeast Bay beta batches, but sometimes those beers aren't all that much fun to drink. So I used my HopWards recipe, sans dry hops, with half fermented out entirely by Vrai and the other half Drei. I tried to pitch the same amount of yeast cells into each batch but being that I was building Drei from 3rd generation slurry and the Vrai was via a fresh vial it was a rough approximation, but should be close enough. 

Drei just catching up to Vrai, you can see the tiny champagne like bubbles on the Vrai ferment.
Never got more vigorous than that.
Fermentation got started on the Vrai batch about 4-5 hours ahead of the Drei batch, but not long after Drei caught up and both were quietly fermenting 36 hours after pitching. Visually everything was pretty normal for 100% Brett fermentations, not huge krausens or super vigorous, tiny champagne like bubbles during active fermentation and a continual "effervescence" 10+ days later on both. Drei finished up pretty quickly for a brett fermentation, reaching its 1.006 FG in about 18 days while Vrai took over 3 weeks to reach 1.000FG, each spent 5 weeks in primary and neither created a pellicle in that amount of time. I bottled a 6 pack of each using carb tabs then blending the rest of each into a keg together as an everyday drinker. I much prefer how these types of beers turn out via natural carbonation in the bottle, I like them fine force carbonated but they are much better bottle conditioned so I figured those 6 packs were best for analysis.

Since this is only a sensory analysis, by a shitty taster like myself, I enlisted the help of Dan Pixley as an independent taster for additional notes. Dan is a fellow Milk The Funker with a super informative YouTube channel dedicated to mixed fermentation beers. He is also a big reason the Milk The Funk Wiki is as extensive as it is, he has been a project manager of sorts, compiling info, organizing it, and encouraging experienced folks to contribute. The wiki has become a massive resource in the community that did not exist even one year ago, and we owe a lot of it to Dan. I chose to send the beers to Dan because I knew he would be able to look at them objectively and give us all some honest feedback and analysis, he might even be a BJCP judge but I could be wrong on that (i should ask). If you've watched Dan's videos in the past you know he is a very thorough and honest taster, which why I thought it would be fun to include him. Plus I value his opinion as a prominent contributor in the mixed fermentation brewing community. I'll start with his video and then get to my thoughts and analysis.

Dan opened my eyes to a few things here, it had been six weeks since I did a tasting and his notes did not totally line up with mine from six weeks prior. I also think I mixed up the samples in my first tasting, which is kind of hilarious, but looking at my old notes and the more recent ones (flip flopping them obviously) the beers definitely changed considerably in the bottle, most notably is the hops falling off. When young they were both different but not dramatically, some time in the bottle seemed to bring out some significant differences. The color difference is surprising though, I'm not sure if its relevant to this analysis but Drei is a few shades darker. The only thing that I have not picked up in my tastings that Dan did is the isovaleric as it warmed. I only have 2 bottles of each left so I will look for it next time, but maybe I'm just not as sensitive to that aroma compound as he is. Here are my notes from my most recent tasting.

Ed's Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Drei is significantly darker than Vrai, could be oxidation or something but that doesn't come across in the flavor or aroma. Vrai is more carbonated visually than Drei with a spritzy Saison like carbonation level where Drei appears more american ale in visual carbonation level. Both pour with a small white cap that leaves lacing on the glass, Vrai's head lingers more due to the higher carbonation. Both bottles were primed identically so this is something of note in my opinion.
Best photo i could get displaying the color difference. You can really
see the difference in the carbonation levels as well.
Aroma: Vrai is a bit light on the aromas, a subtle spice note and some generic white wine like notes but I am really searching for something. The malt actually comes through the most with a bread-y like aroma, surprising given how dry the beer is and how simple the grain bill is for the beer. Drei has a more noticeable Brett aroma, somewhat musty and earthy with something clove like in there and notes of stone fruits, peach jumps out at me. I really like Dan's banana bread descriptor though, after watching his video and tasting again I picked that up straight away.

Flavor: Vrai is dry, with a carbonic bite one the tongue and a super thin body and some white grape character. Drei has a soft carbonation but it doesn't hurt the beer since it has a nice silky moderate body, much more so than the Vrai version. Bitterness hits up front and then the silky body cuts it with some sweetness and peach/apricot notes then the finish is slightly dry and a little bit bitter. Much more complex flavor ride than Vrai.

The initial tasting I did awhile back had me thinking these strains could be similar, not the same just similar, but after that additional time in the bottle the differences are fairly striking. The difference in attenuation was significant as well, initially I chalked that up to pitching rates or something but looking back that should have been an obvious sign that the strains are not the same. That also seems to have contributed to the significant differences in body, Vrai was quite a thin dry beer when compared to the Drei version that had a nice medium silky body yet still had a nice dry finish.

Like Dan I think the Drei is a much more complex beer, the Vrai version is not bad just kind of thin and one dimensional. I really had to search for descriptors for Vrai, it was just quite light. Drei on the other hand is a much more interesting drink that develops and changes as the beer crosses your palate, and especially as it warms and opens up a bit. As for the comparison, also like Dan, I can't say these strains are the same at all. This is just a sensory analysis, by two guys in a not so scientific manner, but the two beers in this experiment were so much different that it is our conclusion that they are not the same strain. It looks like the assumption that Vrai would be Drei is unfounded. For me this is actually good news, I am all for more strains and variability instead of everyone selling the same strains. If I had to choose one of the two, I'm going with Drei all day, considering it's not commercially available to homebrewers that might not be good news for some folks.

HopWards Vrai vs. Drei

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Measured OG: 1.047 SG
Measured FG: 
  • Drei: 1.006 SG
  • Vrai: 1.000 SG
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 30 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.9% - 8lbs 8oz - CMC Superior Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
18.1% - 1lbs 14oz - Flaked Oats

First Wort Hop - 0.50 oz CTZ [14.20 %] - 16.3 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 3.1 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 3.6 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 4.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.75 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 1.4 IBUs -
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.75 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 1.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f 0.75 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 2.2 IBUs

Brettanomyces Bruxellensis var. Drei - 250ml slurry into a semi aerobic 500ml starter
WLP648 Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois Vrai - 1 vial into a semi aerobic 1000ml starter 

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 2.5 gallons each went into its own 3 gallon Better Bottle, one pitched with Vrai the other Drei.15 seconds of pure O2 per 2.5 gallon fermenter. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.35, Water Profile ( 132ppm Ca, 19ppm Mg, 7ppm Na, 147ppm Cl, 146ppm SO4). 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pomegranate Margarita Gose

For your health.
This summer I brewed a handful of Gose and had enough of it to play with some variants on the base beer that I've since dialed in. I had a couple delicious Margarita Gose's from a few homebrewers lately and that brought to mind a Pomegranate margarita I had at a Mexican restaurant way (way) back. With that flavor profile in mind I set out to try to emulate something similar. 

With the base of a Gose the flavor profile is already 90% there, it's dry and tart with a salinity that you might get from a salted rim I just needed to bring the Pomegranate in the right balance. This beer was in the keg so I didn't want to go with whole fruit, plus Pomegranates are kind of spendy. Similar to the use of the juice in my Tart Cherry Suburb-House beer  I picked up some of R.W. Knudsen's Just Pomegranate juice and just racked it into the keg of finished beer. This is another super flavorful juice so I went with the same 64oz per 5 gallon ratio as before. I also added the juice and zest of one Lime to try to bring it closer to the whole Margarita flavor profile. 

I let the keg hang out at room temp (68-72F) for three weeks to allow the juice to re-ferment in the keg. I didn't take a gravity reading after the juice addition, was a blind attempt at carbing with the juice. But it did get the carbonation level pretty close, just needed some additional force carbonation with co2 to finish it off.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: The addition of the juice didn't make the beer as reddish as I had expected it to but there is a slight pinkish hue to it that doesn't really show in the photo. It's pretty highly carbonated and pours pretty foamy, even as the glass settles down there is a pretty good head that sits on top, never fading like most kettle soured beers. Its pretty hazy, as are a lot of my beers, but with the light pink color, haze, and persistent head it makes for a pretty attractive pour. 

Aroma: The aroma is surprisingly subdued, you get the pomegranate that's for sure and maybe a slight spice but its distant. Pretty much only pomegranate.

Taste: Well, I nailed the Margarita character perfectly and if you've ever had a pomegranate margarita then you pretty much know exactly how this beer taste. It's a little bit surprising at first as the initial sip borders on being a little too salty but then the pomegranate and the sourness hits and cuts it right away. The finish is dry yet fruity with the pomegranate adding complexity but not overwhelming the drink and a nice saline quality that teeters on the edge of being over done. For real though, it's a straight pomegranate margarita and its pretty delicious. Crushable is a word the kids use these days, this fits the bill.

What is interesting is that the base beer was pretty light on the salt flavor wise, but after the refermentation of the juice it came more to the forefront. It is very close to being over done in that department and for some people it has been too much to get past, mainly my wife for whom I brew a lot of these kettle soured beers. She loves the berliners and Gose but not so much the funky sours so these work for both of us. When I do this one again I may forgo the salt in the boil and does it into the keg to taste to ensure Its not overdone, because this really toes the line of being too salty. I dig it though, and I'm really loving these juices.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Blending the Tart Cherry Suburb-house ale

Suburb House blending, this ain't
no farmhouse I live in.
I like to try out different yeast, both Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces isolates, in fairly simple Saisons to get a good grasp on their flavor profiles and how they work. Sometimes these simple beers turn out wonderfully and the yeast really shines but sometimes they end up one dimensional and boring, not bad beers at all just not particularly exciting to drink. These one dimensional Saisons actually serve me well as paint on a palette for blending as opposed to boring beer I don't want to drink. I may use one to blend back and overwhelming character in a new beer, or maybe use a really funky one to add complexity to a clean Saison. Its good to have a myriad of options around.

Recently I had three of these Saisons laying around and sat down to see if I could come up with an interesting blend. The three beers used in the blend aren't important really, two were FitR variants with dregs and another was an all Pils malt Wallonian beer. After sampling them and playing with blend ratios I wasn't able to really tie together a blend I was happy with. The blend I did like the most had a nice balance of fruity and earthy brett aromas with a decent peppery spice note but lacked a finish worth noting. It needed either a more dry or more acidic finish so I opted to blend in 64oz of Lakewood's Tart Cherry juice in hopes of getting that added acidity and a jammy cherry character. If you haven't used this juice before it is very potent and very characterful, claiming 3lbs of cherries per 32oz package. The juice alone is almost too tart to even drink but the depth of flavor is really amazing. 

Apparently there is 6lbs of cherries in these two bottles.
While adding the cherry juice it reminded me of a tidbit of information, the real topic of this post, that I gathered from a homebrew swap I did back in 2012-13 on the Babble Belt. We all mailed each other the same beer and got in a chat room to taste them together and chat. We also each sent a beer to a surprise guest/pro taster and that ending up being Shaun Hill and Dan Saurez both of Hill Farmstead at the time. One of the brewers sent an amazing Kriek that was so good infact that Shaun compared it to some of the classic examples from Belgium, here is the brewers blog post about the exchange. I wish there was a chat transcript I could link but the site didn't allow archiving and it's a shame that blog post didn't quote what Shaun mentioned next because I found it invaluable. We got talking about how he made this lovely Kriek and mentioned he blended in an English Mild. Shaun was quite excited by that and said that when they age sour beers on cherries (and I think he said some other darker fruits) they like to blend some portion of a darker/maltier beer to add some complexity and rich malt backbone to prop up the fruit character. For some reason that really stood out to me as unique.

Juice first of course.
With that long story in mind I remembered I had some older Russian River Consecration clone that might work in place of the Mild or Stout Shaun mentioned. That beer was another one that turned out fine but due to some under-attenuation I never really fell in love with it. But for the addition of something more malty and dark this might fit just do the job. The addition of the bugs from the Consecration Clone will be a welcome addition over the aging of the beer as there was no bacteria in the Saisons. I popped open three bottles of it and poured them straight in, added benefit is the carbonation should do well to purge the headspace of o2 until re-fermentation of the cherry juice starts. 

I should have chilled the bottles of Consecration clone before opening them, spewwwww.
The beer was aged with the juice for 2 months after which things settled down and a terminal gravity of 1.004 was reached. I had over 5 gallons so I packaged up 4x 750ml green champagne bottles and the rest went into a keg with priming sugar the night before my club organized mobile canning run, so the cans will be naturally carbonated. Below is my thoughts on the beer after 2 months in the can.

Don't be a D-bag, drink from the can.
Tasting Notes:

Appearance: You get a decent psst sound when you pop the can, could be a little more carbonation but it's solid as is. The color is a striking deep red mahogany like color with an off white head. The beer is really murky, not the most beautiful looking beer in the world. Moderate carbonation leaves a ring along the edges of the of the glass throughout. Could be due to this dirty ass glass Im drinking from :)

Aroma: Dark fruit cherry nose, some spicy bits but mostly dark fruits. 

Taste: Cherry hits right up front and a spiciness on the tip of the tongue on first sip. Then the acidity hits that is then balanced with a small bit of maltiness. Finish is dry and tart, with tons of ripe tart cherry character.

Overall: Super good, restrained but complex. I think the addition of the Consecration clone achieved the malt backbone that this needed, granted I don't have a control to compare it to but there wasn't much for maltiness in any of the components that were blended in. I think this will continue to improve with a little bit of age, but I don't want to age out too much of the cherry character because it is truly rich and complex. These cans will go really well with Thanksgiving dinner in a few weeks. 
I tried to crush this can over my head but I'm not that strong.
I will definitely add some darker malty beer to any dark fruit beers I age going forward. I could even get away with adding a few bottles of a commercial stout or porter if I don't have anything homebrewed around, assuming I don't plan to enter it into any competitions of course. I'm glad I remembered that tidbit that Sean and the Dank Brewer shared during that funky beer swap, what a shame that conversation is lost to the internets.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tasting Notes: From End Table to Aging Vessel "An Ocean Between the Staves"

I'll take my barrel fermented farmhouse in the can thank you very much.
It's been six months since a friend of mine handed me his end table (a dry Dad's Hat Barrel) on the steps of his South Philly home. It took quite a bit longer than I had expected to swell the barrel enough to hold beer, then brew that beer, then package it and finally let it condition. But I can now tell you the wait and the amount of work put into it made it all worth it once I poured out that first can. CANNED BEER!

A nice little surprise at the end of this project (its on going, was the packaging of this beer coincided with the day that Philly Homebrew Club brought out a mobile canning company once again to can our beer. I chose to does my kegs, I canned 2 beers, with priming sugar and naturally condition in the can as you would if bottling. A can conditioned, barrel aged, funky, Suburb-house ale is what I'm calling it, also known as...

An Ocean Between the Staves: *Listen to these smooth jams while you peruse the site*

Appearance: Hazy, light bronze-ish in color. Medium carbonation, pouring with a bit of head and significant lacing. Without a doubt picked up some color from the char in the barrel.

Aroma: Light oak, fruity Brett bouquet, a nice faint phenolic note as I swirl the glass. The aroma is very soft, very inviting, and really well balanced.

Flavor: Dry right up front with a tingling pepper note hitting the tip of the tongue. Lingering spice throughout the sip with a slight acidic note on the finish. The oak is light on this beer with some vanilla coming along with it which is balanced with a fruity Brett character and some pepper and spice in the finish. There is a v
ery faint fruity/ethyl acetate note in the beer, some might only find it fruity but I am very sensitive to that. It isn't off putting or distracting at all, it actually adds a depth and complexity to the beer. 
My kids playground makes for a good lighting spot.
Overall: This is a super enjoyable beer, I'm actually surprised at how good this has turned out considering the shape the barrel was in at one point. There isn't really anything I feel like I should be concerned about with subsequent batches, I will monitor that ethyl acetate note I picked up in this can to see if it gets worse with each batch. Other than that I would call this a resounding success. 

Don't be too quick to trash those malnourished barrels out there, there may be life in it yet. Batch #3 is in the barrel now, we will see how long I can keep this series going. I will update on each batch as they are drunk.