Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roll Out the Barrel

I have played with using Oak chips/Cubes in the past with average results (cubes are much easier to work with in my opinion) and have always wanted to get a real barrel, throw a few beers in it, then use it to age sour beers. But space and batch size constraints have always held me back, a 50+ gallon barrel wouldn't even fit in the front door of my Fishtown home, let alone in the basement. Although I did brew a Turbid mashed Lambic with my club that is sitting in a 53 gallon barrel.

A few friends and I recently acquired a 15 gallon oak barrel freshly dumped which previously held Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey, a distillery located just outside of Philadelphia. I have been eyeing up these barrels for a while now, the size and price point is perfect for what I am looking for and the beers I have had from some other brewers that came out of these barrels were quite good. Hopefully we can get a few good oaky beers out of it before the oak character is neutral enough to age some funky beer in there.

Plans for Barrel Maintenance:

This is my first barrel, so none of this is first hand knowledge only info I have been able to gather through reading blogs and books on how to treat the barrel. I have also polled some local brewers and wine makers on their methods and feel confident in our plans for maintaining the barrel.

There are some challenges with these smaller barrels as compared to the larger 50+ gallon versions, my two main concerns are increased oxygen exposure and a higher oak surface to beer ratio increasing the risk of over oaking the beer. We have a plan of attack for both of these obstacles over the next few months. In our case, the risk of over oaking the beer can be addressed by sampling the beer early and often until the desired level of oak flavor is achieved then simply remove the beer and packaging. Easy enough, but removing the bung frequently to pull samples can risk oxidation and contamination. As a workaround we will be installing a sample port of sorts, aka the "Vinnie Nail" named after Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River who employs this method on his barrels. You simply pull the nail, let the sample run out and replace the nail plugging the hole. This will be especially helpful once we start to age sour beer so we do not disturb the pellicle during aging.

As for the risk of increased oxygen exposure, which I'm not hugely concerned with in the first beer or two in the barrel because they may only rest in there for ~4 weeks due to rapid oak flavor extraction, the plan is to coat the staves with paraffin wax. This will minimize, but not eliminate, the amount of o2 that is able to permeate into the beer throughout the aging process. Currently my plan is to not wax the barrel heads because we will want some o2 exposure once I inoculate the barrel with the Brett and Bugs.

The Maiden Voyage:

I feel like we should given this barrel a name or smashed a bottle of champagne over to christen it or something, I think over time the name will come to us as the beers turn out. As for the first fill, my partners in this barrel (Bill, Dave and I), are quite fond of Founders KBS so what better way to start then a beer in the same vein. We pieced together a few elements from a few different Imperial Stout recipes that we liked, including of course the coffee and the chocolate used in KBS (more on that later) and planned out our brewday. 
Two Mash Tuns, One Beer.

None of us had a large enough mash tun to brew 15 gallons of Imperial Stout, so we planned to split the mash into 2 seperate 10 gallon coolers then sparge them both into my 20 gallon Boilermaker. We were shooting for a big beer obviously, but ultimately fell short, which was my fault. The issue was Bill's mash tun can fit more grain then mine can and I ended up sparging my lesser filled tun more then Bill's which left a considerable amount of sugars behind by the time our kettle was filled with 20 gallons of wort. We cut Bill's run off while it was running at 1.060, while mine finished with sugars running at 1.025...whoops. The remaining was run off into a bucket to be boiled for another beer later. In hindsight we should have boiled those runnings down and added it back in, next time I suppose.

I should note, that this brewday was taken on the road to my friends house, which is always a challenge because you might forget something. In this case I forgot the fermcap, which was a big mistake because I knew we would be boiling at the max of my kettle, unsurprisingly there was a boil over, and we had to watch the boil like a hawk the whole time. Aside from the sparge issue and a boilover all went well and we reached an OG of 1.092.

Since we were using a barrel from a local distillery, I wanted to tried to keep some of the other components as local as possible as well. The easiest one was the coffee, there is a coffee roaster in Fishtown called Reanimator that has worked with a few breweries in the past. So I visited their cafe a few blocks away and picked out a bean from Nicaragua that boasts aromas of Praline and toasted Almond with flavors of Creme Brulee and Raw Chocolate, the guy over there said it should be a little lower in bitterness to, sounds like a perfect pairing. The coffee was added in 2 stages, 8oz lightly ground in a muslin bag in the boil at flameout , and 8 more ounces cold steeped overnight and added to the barrel.
Dark, sugary first runnings.

We used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate in the boil along with cocoa nibs from Whole Foods. We put them in a muslin bag for fear of the nibs getting stuck in the dip tube which did work but there was a ton of chocolate left in that bag in the end so I wonder if maybe it worked too well. The wort tasted of rich chocolate, roast, and coffee aromas so I think all is well in the end. 

It was a long 8 hour brewday, we also brewed 11 gallons of a Modern Times Blazing World clone post coming on that soon. Although the beer didnt turn out as big as I had hoped it tasted great going into the barrel, some people found it a bit thin but I think once carbonated the body will be a little fuller.

Long Overdue Tasting Notes: 7/15/14

A bag of coffee on my dash board.
Philly Breakfast Stout

Brew day: 12/28/2013
Racked to Barrel: 1/11/2014

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 19.50 gal
Post Boil Volume: 16.00 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 15.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 14.65 gal
Estimated OG: 1.102 SG
Measured OG: 1.092 SG
Measured FG: 1.021 SG 
Estimated Color: 53.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 70 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67.70 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

72.8% - 42lbs 4oz - CMC Superior Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
8.2% - 4lbs 12oz - Flaked Oats (1.0 SRM)
4.1% - 2lbs 6.4oz - Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)
4.1% - 2lbs 6.4oz - Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM)
2.8% - 1lb 10oz - Crystal 120L (120.0 SRM)
2.8% - 1lb 10oz - De-Bittered Black Malt (550.0 SRM)
5.2% - 3lbs - Light Dry Malt Extract - Late boil addition

Boil: 60min - 3.50 oz Nugget [13.00 %] - 42.1 IBUs
Boil: 25min - 4.50 oz Willamette [5.50 %] - 15.9 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 3 Whirlfloc Tablet + 3.50 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil: 15min - 7.50 oz Belgian Bittersweet Chocolate
Boil: 15min - 4.50 oz Unsweetened Cocoa Nibs
Boil: 10min - 6.25 oz Willamette [5.50 %] - 11.5 IBUs
Boil: 0min - 8.00oz Reanimator Coffee (added at flameout and steeped until chilled)

6 pkgs - Safale US-05 - Rehydrated

Sacch rest - 75 min @ 155 F

Fly Sparge 10.00 gallons of 170f

- 90 seconds of pure O2. 
- Filtered NJ Tap water, no water treatment as I am unfamiliar with the profile.
- 8.00oz Cold Steeped Reanimator Coffee added when racking the beer into the barrel.

Notes: I fermented 11 gallons in my Spiedel in the fermentation chamber, started the fermentation cool and was held at about 62f for the duration. Bill took the 5.25 gallons and fermented it at ~60f for the duration.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tasting Notes: Helianthus

 Helianthus is a pretty straightforward beer by design so I could get a decent idea on what the ingredient could add to my Farmhouse Saisons. Even by itself, along with some Pilsner of course, it seems to add a really nice layer of graininess and aide in head retention to the beer, not unlike using Wheat or Spelt but has its own unique character. It was deffinitely a pain to "crush" the seeds, and next time I hope I can come up with a better method, but there will certainly be a next time. I can see this pairing really well with a spring time Saison with a subtle fruity Brett Strain, some Citra, and maybe some Dandelions in the boil to play up the earthiness...wheels are spinning. Anyway, here are my brief thoughts on a unique session beer that I quite enjoy.


As you can see in the photo above this beer has cleared up nicely in the keg for 6 weeks, it was very hazy when it was young which was fine. Poured from the tap with a dense pillowy bright white head that lasts forever it seems. Straw yellow color, with fine tiny bubble shooting up from the bottom of the glass rapidly. After each sip there is a definitive line of lacing to show that it takes no more then 4-5 sips to finish a glass of this thirst quencher.

Nose is floral with some spice and slightly phenolic, different then most Saisons I brew probably due to the EKGs that I don't normally use. Behind floral notes and pepper is a very interesting grainy aroma, slightly it reminds me a bit of some of the beers I haver had that were brewed with Spelt but milder. 
Previously mentioned lacing.

Thin body, prickly carbonation, peppery spice on the tip of the tongue with some earthy hop presence. Finishes with more peppery spice and then off the palate, very session-able and refreshing.

The nose reminds me a lot of some of the well known Belgian blondes, it actually reminds me alot of Brasserie de la Senne's Taras Boulba. Which might make sense why I enjoy it so much as I love Taras Boulba. Right when I smelled the beer for the first time it brought me back to my trip to Brussels sipping De La Senne at Moeder Lambic, one of the best bars in the world if you ask me.

This beer is really refreshing, I enjoy it quite a bit, I could change things next time but I think with a beer this delicate it could be vastly different. I am looking forward to using the Sunflower Seeds again, hopefully this spring. I think I can call this experiment a success.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jah-rod: Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merica Clone

Image courtesy of
There are always trends in craft beer across the U.S. from breweries pumping out insanely hoppy beers to barrel aged Imperial Stouts, of which I am a big fan of both, etc. Of the trends in recent memory nothing has me as excited as the growing popularity of American Farmhouse style breweries. These breweries take inspiration from the historic farmhouse breweries of the French and Belgian country side, but put their own American style stamp on the beers. Whether they are brewing with local ingredients, making something off the wall like Taco Beer, or simply brewing a spot on classic Saison. These breweries are all the rage these days, and as someone who visits Tired Hands often, I am not complaining.

Following in the footsteps of Hill Farmstead, Jester King Brewery, Logsdon's Farmhouse Ales, Tired Hands, among many others obviously, comes a new-(ish) Farmhouse style brewery going by the name of Prairie Artisan Ales. I saw their Kickstarter a while back and meant to contribute but never got back to it, a shame because I wanted one of their Teku glasses. After a short amount of time people are going nuts over this Farmhouse brewery from Oklahoma??

Anyway, Prairie Artisan Ales was on my radar and I wanted to try whatever I could get my hands on. It took a little while but I finally found a bottle of 'Merica over the summer of 2013 and was blown away. Here is what Prairie has to say about the beer on their website:

So a simple grist, an aggressive hop and Brett? My kind of beer. It was bright, fruity, dank, spicy and some grassy hay like Saison notes, near perfection for me (see Derek's review at Bear-Flavored for a more thorough review). Fast forward a few months and I stumble across Shawn's post at Meek Brewing Co., and my head exploded. What a good idea, why did I not think to clone this beer myself! 

Prairie gives away a lot of the pertinent info on the beer right on the label. But Shawn did some leg work on the hopping rates in the boil and the dry hop, although the info came in after he brewed his batch. I brewed 10 gallons with the plan to drink 5 gallons fresh from the keg without Brett and the other half bottled with Brett. 

Brett strains, thats the final part of the recipe that I needed to figure out, which strains of Brettanomyces are Prairie using to condition the beer in the bottles? I wasn't able to dig up the info but my theory is that they are likely using commercially available strains that would promote fruity esters. So I am going with WLP644 Brett Trois and WLP645 Brett Claussenii, both of which I am familiar with and have used numerous times in the past. 

Brew day went fairly well, it was the first time I got to use my new 20 gallon Blichmann Boilermaker , which was pretty awesome. However, I took some bad advice on using a stainless scrubbie over the diptube to filter the hops. This ultimately clogged and I left ~2 gallons of perfectly good wort behind in the kettle. Aside from that pretty straight forward. 

I've posted about bottling a beer with Brett here before, but I want to stress that the beer really needs to be dry before doing this. For this beer I normally would have used Wyeast 3711 to make sure it was plenty dry so I could add Brett and bottle, but I had a great fresh 4th generation slurry of WLP565+WLP568 that I decided to use instead. The beer finished primary at 1.006 which I felt was too high to bottle with Brett, so I transferred to secondary and added a small 3711 slurry with a 500ml starter of both Brett strains. I will let it sit for 2-3 weeks then dry hop and bottle. I could have calculated for the extra gravity points in carbonation, which I may still do if it doesn't go very low, but I am more comfortable letting the 3711 (and some of the Brett) attenuate the beer over a short time.

I fermented all 9 gallons together, ramped to ~82f after 7 days and held for 21 days. I kegged the clean portion and dry hopped with 4.50 ounces of Nelson Sauvin while the rest went to secondary with the Bretts and 3711 as noted above.

Tasting Notes: 1/11/14


Brew day: 11/30/2013
Kegged: 12/21/2013

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 14.20 gal
Post Boil Volume: 11.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 11.00 gal (9 gal in fermenter bc of clogging)
Bottling Volume: 10.60 gal
Estimated OG: 1.050 SG
Measured OG: 1.051 SG
Measured FG: 1.006 SG (clean version, Brett version drying out in secondary)
Estimated Color: 3.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 48.5 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

100% - 21.5 lbs Belgian Pilsner 

Boil: 60min - 1.55 oz Nelson Sauvin [11.20 %] - 32.6 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 2 Whirlfloc Tablet + 2 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil: 0min - 2.50 oz Nelson Sauvin [11.20 %] - 0.0 IBUs
30 Minute Whirlpool - 2.50 oz Nelson Sauvin [11.20 %] - (Added when chilled to 185f, chiller off for 30 min)
Dry Hop: 7 days 10.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [11.20 %] - 0.0 IBUs (ended up going with 9oz total, for a 1oz/gallon ratio as originally planned)

200ml 4th generation slurry of WLP565+WLP568 (roughly 390 billion cells)

Sacch rest - 90 min @ 147.5 F 

Fly Sparge 12.23 gallons of 170f

Misc: 60 seconds of pure O2. Filtered Philadelphia Tap water, Baxter Plant, 1tbsp Gypsum in the mash.

Notes: I started the fermentation cool and ramped up using a brew belt. My basement temps are in the high 50s but inside the fermentation chamber, with the brewbelt being controlled by the STC1000 I was able to ramp fairly steadily. As fermentation slowed it naturally cooled and then I turned off the brewbelt and let it crash naturally. I dry hopped with 1oz/gallon, I had hoped for 10 gallons of finished beer but since I had the Blichmann dip tube clog I made sure to scale back the dry hop to the proper ratio. Carbonated at 30psi for 5 days to ~2.8vols of co2.