Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tasting notes: Barrel Aged Riverwards 10:

Not the best ever, but an argument could be made...

Belgian Dark Strong, or Quad, is really a great style and is a great change of pace as a sipper over the Imperial Stouts we all love in the colder months. I'll get this out of the way early, this beer we brewed here is fantastic, which is a testament to the group of us who brewed it. Myself and three other Brewers all brewed the same recipe, the one that I designed with a fairly simple grain bill and dark candy sugar, then blended it all into the barrel. When we got together, each with a keg in hand, I was curious to see how different each persons batch would be. To my surprise, they really weren't much different at all, and each came out as I had envisioned them to . They were all fermented cleanly, dry, with complex dark fruit notes all indicative of the classic notes of the style. Before they were all blended into the barrel, where it will age for 4 and 1/2 months, I knew we would have a winner.

I discussed in the Brewday post on the classic vs new world techniques to brew this style. I took a little from both but kept it mostly quite simple while relying on the dark candy sugar and a good fermentation to achieve a complex big beer. I like to keep my grain bills quite simple so as not to end up with a muddled malt soup, but at the same time I wanted the base beer to be able to hold up to a fairly aggressive barrel character. I'm happy to say that this recipe worked really well as both a barrel aged and a non barrel aged beer(notes comine up on the base beer soon). There was really nowhere to hide off flavors here, turns out we didn't need to. 

Barrel Aged Riverwards 10:

Appearance: Deep dark Mahogany color with red highlights, Crimson red when held to the light (Roll Tide?). Off white Rocky head, leaving a ring on the glass with every sip, legs for days as some might say.

Aroma: Vanilla, oak, whiskey, dark fruits, all blending together beautifully. A really complex inviting nose.

Flavor: Silky smooth body, which I attribute to the barrel because this beer was quite dry. Whiskey, giving way to some dark fruits, dates, raisins and vanilla from the oak. It's like whiskey dipped, vanilla covered dates and raisins. No real alcohol burn, smooth and warming but the heat isn't there. 

Final thoughts: This beer screams drink me by a fire in the fall/winter, I am actually surprised that it has lasted as long as it has as I have been hitting this tap quite often. The barrel character in this beer is really perfect, the whiskey is subtle but the oak pairs very well with the dark fruits. It has some similarities with Boulevard's BBQ, minus the cherries of course, but a more robust barrel presence. I must say, I am in love with this beer.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

PhiLambic Solera Year Two: Top off wort

Lots of wheat.
Bottling the first pull of the Solera prior to brewing the top off batch gave me the flexibility to make some changes to the wort composition based on the flavors and aromas I was getting from the beer. I did however brew this prior to tasting a finished bottle but my overall impressions did not change much. As I lamented in more detail in both tasting notes posts the beer was a little one dimensional, tasting nice but may have been better served as a blending component then bottling straight. I am very critical of my own beer, and sometimes it may sound like I do not like it, not the case here, I am just striving for perfection. I wanted to make sure I got to know my Solera from grain to unadulterated glass in year one so I knew what I will be working with and what I may or may not want to change.

I planned this top off batch with a few goals in mind, balance out the acidity, add some malt complexity, and increase the Brett funkiness. There is a local Philly funky brewer who uses 6-Row as the base malt in all of his wild ales and they always have a nice rustic malt backbone that seems to balance the acidity really well. So I chose to pair 65% 6-Row with 35% un-malted Wheat for the grain bill and a boat load of aged hops to bitter. I know some folks don't agree but I feel that aged hops come through in the aroma of the finished beer, a character that is missing slightly in Pull #1.
Sacch rest.

In lieu of a Turbid Mash or the wort only decoction I utilized for the initial batch I decided to mash in at 113F for a Ferulic Acid rest then ramp up to 160F for conversion. The logic behind the Ferulic Acid rest is to promote the creation of spicy, clove (4 vinyl guiacol) like phenols which Brett can convert to 4 ethyl guiacol aka funky/horse blanket phenolics. I picked this info up on a post on where Mike goes into a little more detail. This method seemed perfect as its exactly what I am looking to add to the Solera, hopefully by using this mash schedule and a more funky Brett blend I can add some complexity.

I chose to start fermentation of the top off batch in a carboy before I racked it to the Solera. I pitched a single vial of WLP 530 and some slurry of TYB Brussels Brett Blend, which throws off more of the classic Barnyard/Horsey Brett Funkiness I am looking for. Once krausen dropped, but fermentation was still active, I racked right into the Sanke keg. I did this for a few reasons, mostly due to o2 exposure but also to minimize acidity of the top off batch. The active fermentation should blow off any o2 that got in the headspace since it sat between bottling day and racking day. But more importantly is that I moved two weeks after brew day and I wanted to move the Solera while there was still some active fermentation. I took other measures including purging and sealing the keg to minimize o2 pickup, lets see how that all works out.
A massive sack of aged hops.

One last change I made here is that I decided to scale back the size of this Solera from the Sanke keg to a 6 gallon Better Bottle filled to the very top. I added this top off batch to the Sanke, let it age for 2+ months and then racked it all into 3 separate carboys (a 6g Better Bottle and 2x 5g carboys). The other 2 carboys, nearly filled with Solera beer, was given to two friends of mine for a base to start their own Solera's with. I am actually excited for this because I will get to taste the results of how they maintain their Soleras and see how it differs from mine despite the base all originating here. 

A 6+ gallon Solera for myself seemed like plenty as I plan to only remove 2-3 gallons on each pull, plus I can do a smaller quicker brewday for top off batches. This also gives me the ability to start another Solera if I decide to, where I can stagger the timeline and use each for blending and not worry about having too much beer (if such a thing exists).

Aside from that, nothing has changed, it now rests in my crawlspace at a consistent 58-64f. Its dark and dingy down there, I think Jean Van Roy would be pleased. 

PhiLambic Solera Year 2

Brew day: 9/28/2014

Recipe Specifications
The 6 gallon Better Bottle Solera,
which originated in the Sanke.
Boil Size: 14.25 gal
Post Boil Volume: 11.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 11.00 gal
Measured OG: 1.045 SG
Estimated Color: 3.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: Pfft, who knows?
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes

65.9% - 13lbs 8oz - CMC Superior Pilsen (1.5 SRM)
 34.1% - 7lbs - Unmalted Wheat from Whole Foods (~3.0 SRM)

Boil: 75min - 1lb aged hops via HopsDirect
Boil: 15min - 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient

5 gallons got WLP 530 and TYB Brussels Brett Blend slurry prior to racking into the Solera. Remaining wort got ECY Bugfarm.

Ferulic Acid Rest - 15 min @ 113FSacch rest - 60 min @ 161.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.75 gallons 170f

Misc: Filtered Philadelphia Tap water, Baxter Plant, no salts. 

Notes: The other half of this batch was fermented out with ECY BugFarm slurry, that will age as an unblended Lambic to be used for blending for next years Gueuze. This was the final beer brewed and fermented in Fishtown Philadelphia prior to my move to dirty Jerz.

Sour Solera article for HomebrewTalk

A while back Austin from asked if I would like to contribute an article for the site, the topic was up to me. I kicked around a few ideas and settled on an Intro to Sour Solera article. This is just meant as a cross post to the article incase anyone missed it when it went live a while back, and as a means to archive for anyone who wants to easily go back and review it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

PhiLambic Solera: Pull #1 tasting

I am repeating myself here but Its has been a painstakingly long wait to try the first bottle from my newest Solera. I decided to bottle the first pull straight so that I could get an idea of how things were going and determine what I would want to change for the top off batch. When I tasted the uncarbonated beer at bottling I was concerned it was a little bit one dimensional, especially because I believe that blending is so crucial with mixed fermentation beers. But I decided to stay the course so I could get to know this Solera from grain to glass.
Oh its clearly very clear.
Lambics are usually hopped with 3-4 ounces/5 gallons of aged hops while I used 2 ounces of semi-aged low alpha % hops for 8 IBUs, so I was a little concerned the initial batch may have been underhopped. Its not that I was concerned about the bitterness level but aged hops add a funky rusticity to the finished beer that I felt this could be missing. It is quite sour, bordering on being too sour but that may be because its lacking in some complexity to balance it out. Overall this is a really nice sour beer and a nice start to this Solera, I look forward to making some tweaks to the top off batch to add some complexity and round it out into a more finished product. Some more detailed tasting notes below.

Under the stress of bottle conditioning Brett does some wonderful things.
PhiLambic Solera Pull #1 - 2014

Very clear Golden yellow, moderately high carbonation tiny bubbles shooting up from the center of the glass. The head last for a while but very thin just around the edges of the glass.

Fruity forward aroma, a little bit Apple, light Funk in the background, lactic acidity. No hops or malt. A slight ethyl acetate aroma as the glass warmed to room temperature.

Tart right upfront, Lightbody, somewhat prickly carbonation. It's dry but has a little bit of a sweet bite on the back of the palate, finishes quick off the tongue leaving you with a dry puckering mouth. It is pretty refreshing and drinkable.

When I tried to first bottle of this almost 2 months ago I thought it was little bit one dimensional, and maybe lacked some complexity but its really coming along in the bottle. This reminds me a lot of Brian Hall's Lambic with a lot more carbonation. It's fruity in the nose very little barnyard, tart, dry and refreshing. It might be lacking a little bit of complexity but i think as an unblended product it holds up well. I let some of it warm up to room temp to let it open up a bit and there is a slight ethyl acetate aroma, it is very slight but something I will want to keep an eye on as the Solera ages. I am quite pleased with how this is drinking and look forward to seeing how this ages over the months to years. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tasting Notes: Gueuze Blending 101

I have been repeating this more and more recently, but I think it is very difficult to brew a world class sour beer without blending (or aging on fruit which I view as a form of blending). There are just too many variables outside of the brewers control once you pitch your bugs, so to keep some consistency, or add complexity, we blend. As I mentioned in the Gueuze Blending 101 post I didn't have enough vintages of Lambic on hand so I chose to use commercial Lambic bladders for extra components for my blend. It worked out even better then I could have imagined, hard to completely screw up with Girardin and Beersel lambic in your blend. I learned a few things for next time and ended up with a unique "Gueuze" that I feel will age for years to come, but time will tell as these bottles of (I'm now calling) Gooz 101 age.

I sent a bottle each to my fellow Yeast Bay Beta testers Brian and Marshall. They each posted tasting notes and reviews on their blogs, Brian's ReviewMarshall's Video Review. I agree with a lot of both these guys say about the beer, from the complexity to the sourness and the distracting sweetness on the back end both Marshall and Brian hit on similar notes I have.
I moved, and the DSLR is still packed away.
At least its not that tired window again.

Like Brian said, this beer is sour, and not in a tart and then off your palate type of way, this sourness packs a punch and evolves as it hits your tongue then pierces the back of your throat. Its very complex, with some classic funky aromas and peachy/mango undertones, and a very subtle acetic character but most of the sourness is lactic. 

The only thing that is holding this blend back is that silly, awful, borderline offensive, 1 year old Turbid Mashed Homebrew component of the blend. I get all the same distracting aromas and flavors in the Gooz 101 as I do from that component. So if I learned one lesson here, and Brian touched on it in his post, is you really cannot hide a less than stellar (kind of crappy in this case) beer in your blend. I do think that the residual sweetness that this component added will age out, and help to increase the carbonation level as it is a touch low still. But I worry that the acetone/nail polish remover aromas may not transform, but that might be me being paranoid. Overall I would call this a successful blend, and I am passing judgement on a very young beer at only 4 months in the bottle. Full tasting notes below:

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Deep dark yellow color, pours with a 1 finger bright white head that dissipates quickly to a thin ring around the sides. Fairly high carbonation, maybe slightly less than to style visibly.

Aroma: Musty funk, some acetone, underlying fruit aromas, mango and peach skin.

Taste: Sharp sourness upfront that hits the side of your cheeks and then a little stab at the back of my throat as it goes down. Prickly carbonation that gives the appearance of some body, it's bright, tart and drinkable.

Final Thoughts: This is a really nice blend, but like Brian said that one component of the blend probably should have been left out. As the glass warms I get a bit of that sweetness that 1 Year Turbid Mashed component had on its own. I believe that will age out a little bit over time but at the moment it gets somewhat distracting, more so as it warms. If not for that I wouldn't have much to complain about, only nitpick. My goal here was to learn something about blending, and I think I achieved that goal and ended up with a great little beer here. Don't hide your shitty sour beer in your blends, seems to always find its way into the finished product.

Side Note, that 1 Year Old Turbid Mashed Lambic still tastes like shit, but I have been racking about a quart of fresh hoppy Saison into it over the last few months. I'm hoping to blindly blend down that sweetness, acetic character, and acetone. I dont have high hopes that it will work, but its worth the shot, that Turbid mash was too much of a bitch to give up on it so soon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tasting Notes: FarmWards

I am pretty critical of all the beers I brew but especially so for Saisons. I think its quite easy to brew a passable Saison but difficult to brew a great one. This beer would probably lean towards the passable end of the spectrum, not to say that it isn't enjoyable but it leaves me wanting a bit more. Unlike my HopHands clone where I had the inside track on some elements of the beer, this was always a bit of a shot in the dark at "cloning" Tired Hands flagship SaisonHands. As I documented in the brew day post, I knew the ingredients, except for the Saison yeast, but the grain proportions and hopping were a bit of a guess.

The finished beer was much better fresh then it was after a handful of weeks in the keg. As it aged I think it showed some flaws that I didn't love. After 2-3 months it was showing a bit of astringency that I hadn't noticed before. I have a couple hunches, one including the hopping rate, but at generation 4 I am wondering if my Wallonian Farmhouse pitch is showing some age. Either way I will be buying a new pitch shortly. 

First batches of a recipe are rarely going to be perfect, and I really enjoy dissecting these recipes and working out what works and what does not. Its a great way to test your skills as a brewer, as I am learning while still trying to dial in a wheaty DIPA. I will get this one dialed in yet.
A cloudy, young, citrus forward pour by the window.
Became brilliantly clear after 3 months in the keg.


Appearance: Golden color, similar to the Golden State Warriors yellow. Frothy white head, 2 fingers worth, so much lacing on this glass.

Aroma: Earthy, hay like, Coriander or some kind of spice I can't pinpoint. Citrusy, subtle lemon, mango, fruity citrusy esters abound.

Flavor: Dry, spicy, yet a creamy mouthfeel that then punches you in the top of you palate as it finishes super dry and spiced, a bit astringent on the finish.

Final thoughts: This beer is pretty solid, if I wanted to call it a clone I think maybe Wallonian is a bit too different than what TH uses. But I really love the profile of this yeast, and it pairs well with Cascade, it may be hopped a little bit too aggressively but when fresh it was enjoyable. A solid recipe that needs some tweaking. 

The version with the Tire Hands Emptiness culture is going to be great with this base, I racked it onto some Chardonnay soaked oak and bottled it all up not long ago. Not sure what yeast are in the Emptiness series of beers t but it was showing an copious amounts of passion fruit in the aroma reminiscent of beers I've brewed with Nelson Sauvin.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Yeast Bay Beta Testing: 100% Brett Pale Ale (It's not a sour Bro)

Four Carboys, one mini-fridge.
The second round of Beta testing for The Yeast Bay is the one I was most looking forward to. The four strains we tested in round one were all Sachromyces Saison strains used in the split batch Les Quatre Saisons, all very unique and a great learning experience. For this round Nick sent us 4 new strains of Brettanomyces that he has isolated and built up for us. In my opinion the tide has shifted, brewers are no longer content with only 3 strains of Brettanomyces available in pure culture, especially with a seemingly infinite selection of Sacchromyces strains to choose from. The Yeast Bay are doing their part to grow the library of available Brettanomyces cultures and I am happy to be a part of it. Maybe one day we will be free of the "Brett beers are Sour", or "Brett is always funky", stereotypes because Brettanomyces can be oh so much more than just barnyard funk.

We set the experiment up similarly to how we did Les Quatre Saisons, we would all brew the same recipe with only small variations in both mash and primary fermentation temperatures. We were each assigned a mash temp, and a primary fermentation temp range so that Nick could get a feel for how the strains work in a slightly varied wort. This time it was decided that we would keep the mash temps within a more typical range of 150F-152F, as opposed to the 148F-156F range we employed for the Saison. We just felt that there was more to be learned from the fermentation temps then the vast differences in the mashing temps.

No rubber bands were harmed
in the making of this beer.
Nick sent us some healthy vials but we all decided to get them going in some starter wort in advance of brew day anyway. The brewday was uneventful, in a good way, I mashed at 151.1F (0.1 above my target temp of 151F), chilled the wort and pitched each culture into its own ~3 gallons of wort in 3 gallon Better Bottles. Prior to pitching I aerated each carboy with only 15 seconds of pure o2, on normal batches I would aerate longer but I fear the acetobacter monster. As fate would have it, all 4 Better Bottles fit snugly into my little fermentation fridge, so a consistent fermentation temp of 71F was maintained throughout.

I took gravity readings and samples to taste at 8 weeks, preliminary tasting notes are below. I was comfortable with the gravity each one was at, but since we don't know the true attenuation of the strains I decided to let them ride a bit longer, then life got in the way and they rode longer yet. All told they spent just under 3 months in primary before I packaged them, that may seem long and maybe it is but I've went that long with 100% Brett beers in the past without issue (never for a sole Sacchromyces ferment however, unless you like the taste of burnt rubber). I am glad that I waited though because the gravity moved at least a point (3 points for 2B)  by the time I packaged, these Bretts were working for a while.

Fermentation went as expected, all four strains kicked off in the same amount of time with very little lag times. I brewed at 6am and pitched the yeast mid day after I let them cool longer in the fermentation chamber, all four showed activity within the few hours before I went to bed. There was noticeable activity for up to 5-6 weeks with some small tiny bubbles shooting up, especially in strain 1B which seemed to the most active the longest, and the numbers show.

8 Week Samples with Tasting Notes:
There's that window shot again, real original Ed.

  • Strain 1B- 1.007 the most clear. Lactic acidity, fruity nose. Stone fruits, sweet tarts, dry, pepper in background. Really awesome.
  • Strain 2B- 1.014 woody funk, cedar!, subtle acetic nose. Sweet upfront, medium body, light tartness, fruity with a bit of spice on the back.
  • Strain 3B1.013 body odor, sweaty aromas but not overpowering. Candy like tartness, a bit sweet on the back.
  • Strain 4B1.014 earthy, dirt, wood-y nose. Earthy, woodsy, some malt balance not in others.

All four seem to run the gamut of Brett flavors/aromas, some really unique stuff from the early tasting especially with strains 1B and 3B. But I would think that they will vary by the time I do a final bottle conditioned tasting next week. Below are the final numbers for myself, Marshall, and Brian, you can look forward to tasting notes and more info from them on their blogs. You can see how much each strain dropped over that last 4 weeks or so from the samples I pulled above.

Where some of the Saison strains we tested last were hit or miss I think all of these Brett strains are a hit in one way or another. Now I cant be certain until we taste all four in their final state, but the early tasting notes have me optimistic. As of this posting they have been in bottles for ~3 weeks so I will get to tasting shortly, we are all really excited about these strains. I will leave you with a slide show of fermentation and pellicles, really only 2B had a cool pellicle but its very wild looking (probably because it was the only one with an orange carboy cap).

TYB Beta 100% Brett Pale Ale

Brew day: 5/25/2014
Packaged: 9/1/2014

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 15.20 gal
Post Boil Volume: 12.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 12.00 gal 
Bottling Volume: 11.60 gal
Estimated OG: 1.055 SG
Measured OG: 1.055 SG
Measured FG: 1.006/1.011/1.012/1.013
Estimated Color: 6.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 23.5 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

70% - 16 lbs 7 oz - Pale Malt 
20% - 4 lbs 11 oz - Munich 10L
10% - 2 lbs 6 oz - Oats

Boil: 60min - 0.81 oz Magnum [14.20 %] - 20.0 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 2x Whirlfloc + 2tsp Yeast Nutrient
Boil: 10min - 1.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] - 3.5 IBUs
Boil:  0min - 1.50 oz Cascade [5.50 %] - 0.0 IBUs

The Yeast Bay Beta Brettanomyces - #1B, #2B, #3B, #4B

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 151.1 F 

Fly Sparge 10.55 gallons of 170f

Misc: 15 seconds of pure O2 per carboy. Filtered Philadelphia Tap water, Baxter Plant, no salt additions.