Friday, May 23, 2014

The Yeast Bay Beta Testing: Le Quatre Saisons

All 4 Saison strains in a row. 
I've talked about this on Twitter, and alluded to it in a prior post but after responding to this post on Reddit post by u/Biobrewer I was selected as one of three Beta testers of new yeast strains for The Yeast Bay. I couldn't have been more excited to be picked, I love the idea of splitting batches and testing different yeast strains in the same wort. Especially strains never before isolated from unique producers of interesting beer.

The four of us, Nick, myself and the other two Beta testers (Brian and Marshall), got together to do a Google Hangout video chat to introduce ourselves and talk about what the upcoming projects would look like. Nick laid out the plan for the first two rounds of testing, first of which would be a split 12 gallon batch of Saison using four different single Saison (Sacchromyces) strains, labeled 1,2,3,4, isolated from beers from all over the world. Nick sent us the strains but kept their identities secret so as not to sway our opinions in any direction. 
Boiling starter wort and sanitizing vials on my lunch break!

The plan was we would split off 2.5 gallons into 3 different 3 gallon Better Bottles (pitched with strains 1,3, and 4 for me) and the remaining 4.5 gallons going into a 6 gallon carboy (pitched with strain #2). We were each assigned one of the four, in my case strain #2, to be pitched into the larger batch (4.5-5 gallon), with 1 gallon being packaged clean and the rest would be split evenly into 4x 1 gallon fermenters to age in secondary with 4 new Brett strains Nick also sent us. The other three 2.5 gallon batches will be packaged clean of course. 
This way we would all be able to taste each primary Saison strain solo as well as each Sacchromyces strain aged with a new Brett strain in secondary (one of the testers is doing 2 sets of Brett secondaries). A well thought out plan to test out a lot of strains, in slightly different ways, out of only one (per Beta tester) brewday. 
Starters. Those are polypropylene jars, you should get some.

We came up with is a very simple straight-forward Saison recipe, something that should allow the yeast to shine. The grain bill is just Pilsner/Wheat/Munich with Magnum for bittering and thats it. I built up 300ml starters for strains #1,3, and 4 and a 1L starter for the larger 5 gallon batch with strain #2. 

The brewday went smooth, I overshot the gravity by 1 point, that Avangarrd Pilsner is a beast, aerated each carboy, and pitched that night. I put them into the fermentation chamber with a set point of 71 F for Primary fermentation, as dictated by Nick the other 2 Beta fermented at different temps. Both strains #1 and #4 were the first to show activity getting going in under 6 hours, with strain #2 and then #3 close behind in under 12 hours. 

Strains 1,3, and 4 finished in an expected amount of time, I ramped those 3 up to 80F to encourage more dryness. But strain #2 looked to moving very slowly, fermentation was never overly vigorous and after the krausen fell I could see a lot of tiny bubbles shooting up to the surface. I was planning on taking a gravity reading on day 12 to see if they were done but strain #2 was still showing signs of activity. At this point I warmed the larger carboy containing strain #2 up to 82F in hope of finishing up more quickly (the other 3 remained in the high 70s after a peak of 80F).

I pulled samples from all 4 fermenters, to taste, take gravity readings and to package. I was confident that all 4 batches were fully fermented out at this point, but I was a bit worried about how strain #2 finished. The other two Beta testers noticed the same finicky nature of strain #2, we all had different target fermentation and mash temperatures to see how the strains performed under different conditions. Brian and I, who fermented at 67F and 71F respectively had strain #2 stall at or around 1.020 while Marshal was able to coax some better attenuation at 1.015. Here is some info on how each of us mashed and fermented and what the numbers looked like on each strain.

Average Apparent Attenuation
#1: 84.34%
#2: 69.91%
#3: 77.12%
#4: 77.13%

It is interesting to see the differences in attenuation, Marshall mashed a little bit higher than us all but experienced the most attenuation across the board, which can be attributed to a warmer ferment. Both myself and Brian came up with similar numbers when fermenting on the colder side. None of this is very surprising but its interesting to see differences in attenuation with different mash and fermentation temps. Originally Brian was suppose to mash low and ferment the hottest but he was concerned with being able to ramp that warm in his cooler climate.

Primary strain #2, split into secondary with 4 different Brett strains.
The 4x-1 gallon fermenters, on the right, contain the beer fermented with strain #2, each pitched with the 4 new Brettanomyces strains labeled 1B, 2B, 3B, 4B. With it stalling at 1.020 I guess I am lucky that I was assigned strain #2 to use on the Brett secondary, plenty of work for these Brett strains to do. Look for a post down the road on this Brett secondary batch as well as a 100% Brett fermented Beta test batch with the same four strains. Slight spoiler, Nick has some very very high praise for one of the Brett strains we are testing, the descriptor "sweet tarts" was used. mmmmmm.

In a few weeks we will all be getting together on a Google Hangout session to try the beers together and take some more in depth tasting notes, but in the mean time here is a compilation of tasting notes from all 3 of the Beta testers on each strain. Keep in mind that these are all individual flavors/aromas that we each picked up and are only meant to be a preliminary review on the strains, we will have a full review of the finished beers up in a few weeks.

#1: Banana, clove, corriander, peppercorns ,spice aromas. Dry, fruity, spice in the back of pallate. Saison-y, lingering finish.
#2: Banana, clove, somewhat muted aromas. Full mouth feel, sweet, pretty clean.
#3: Bit funky, rustic, earthy, hay, fruity aromas. Dry, subtle tartness, Pear, astringent.
#4: Citrusy, fruity,peppery, light on aromas. Harsh/aggressive finish but not undesirable.

I think we certainly have some winners on their own, while some others may work best in blends. I harvested slurry from each batch and plan to play with blending a few together, I am thinking strains 1 and 3 could work well together. If you want to read more, check out Marshall's post on his blog, and Brian recently started a blog and is starting to document his progress. Science!

Update: Brian was able to jack up the temperature on strain #2 to 85F and get it to drop to 1.015. Its possible I waited too long to ramp the temp up, or my mash and ferm temp made for less attenuation. The numbers have since been updated.

8/22/14 - Final Opinions and Tasting Notes

Le Quatre Saison

Brew day: 4/25/2014
Packaged/Racked: 5/17/2014

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: 1.056 SG
Measured FG: 1.009/1.020/1.014/1.015
Estimated Color: 4.6 SRM
Estimated IBU: 20.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

70% - 17 lbs - Pilsner 
20% - 4 lbs 13 oz - White Wheat
10% - 2 lbs 7 oz - Munich 10L

Boil: 60min - 0.85 oz Magnum [14.20 %] - 20.0 IBUs

The Yeast Bay Beta Saison - #1, #2, #3, #4

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 153.1 F 

Fly Sparge 10.55 gallons of 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2 per carboy. Filtered Philadelphia Tap water, Baxter Plant, no salt additions.

Notes: Come on, there is more than enough above, and my hands hurt now.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fruit Saisons: We use all parts of the buffalo.

Pouring a lovely glass of FiTR w/Peaches. My neighbors must think I'm nuts.

Over the last 6+ months I have been playing with fruit Saisons more and more, I have been trying to keep all factors consistent with a base beer of Farmer in the Rye with ECY03 Brett addition. I started this by chance because a batch last year stalled when using WLP565 to which I added the Brett then racked onto Mangos. I enjoy that beer but its a bit watery, which I think may be caused by how I pureed the dense Mangos. Most recently ,over the summer, I took on adding fresh NJ Peaches to the same base beer. 

Since posting a little video on Instagram I received some question on my process for adding fruit to these types of beers. My process is pretty simple, using information that I have gathered from some brewing articles and podcasts over the years. Especially info that Jean Van Roy from Cantillon had shared on a podcast on Basic Brewing Radio. 

I like to use fresh, sometimes dried, fruit instead of the canned puréed fruit you see at homebrew shops, although I did purée the fresh Mango. Using the purée is fine but when I've used it as compared to fresh or dry the fruit flavors aren't as bright and vibrant as fresh and even dry can be. Another added benefit is adding some wild yeast living on the skin of the fruit for complexity (unpredictability?). 
Pits not pictured, add them last due to fear of overflow.

I use a ratio of 1-1.5lbs of fruit per gallon of beer aged in secondary, which is a fair amount but we want some fruit flavor/aroma no? When using fresh fruit I wash the outside with warm water to get any chemicals cleaned off, then cut them into ~1 inch cubes leaving the skins on. I then throw everything into a large ziplock bag and toss it into the freezer for a few days. When I say everything I mean everything, skins, pits, stem, all parts of the buffalo, everything (EDIT: see below regarding the use of pits, and the risks of doing so.). By freezing we are breaking down the cell walls in fruit to make it much easier for the Brett/Sacch to break it down for food. It's also beneficial in storing fruit for use out of season, I have used fruit that had been frozen for close to a year. I imagine you can go much longer than that even. 

In the case of the Peaches, which I picked up fresh at a farmers market in South Jersey, I froze them for 5 days, added the fruit (and buffalo parts) into the secondary and racked right on top of the frozen fruit, no need to defrost. I have never done a side by side to test this out but I feel that adding the skin and the pits adds some color and depth of flavor. This beer has a slight nuttiness to it that I think comes from the pits and skin of the Peach, this is a technique JVR uses as well. If it's good enough for Cantillon it's more than good enough for us homebrewers. 

Farmer in the Rye w/Peaches

Appearance: straw yellow, pours with minimal to no head despite moderate carbonation. Head dissipates to a very small almost nonexistent ring on the side

Aroma: Hay, earthy funkiness, peach skins with an overripe peach note. There is a subtle peppery spice aroma hidden there, a very welcoming aroma.

Taste: A dry tartness upfront balanced with a bit of the peach flavors in the middle. There is a soft prickle of carbonation on the tongue but it may be a little bit low on the carbonation level for this beer. In the middle of the mouth there is a subtle biscuit like flavor to me, that fades immediately, its an interesting character. The finish is dry and clean, very refreshing, it makes you want to go in for another sip. This is pretty exceptional if I do say so myself.

Overall: I really enjoy this beer, its dry, slightly tart and very refreshing. I would imagine this would be perfect on a picnic in a park on a nice summer day. Whats most interesting about the beer is the tartness, there is no lacto or souring organism in this beer only Saison yeast and Brett. I would imagine I either caught something from the Peaches or the juice from the Peach left the beer with some acidity. I didn't take a PH of the finished beer but I should have, next bottle I pour I will measure a sample and post an update.

Gun to my head, this is one of the top beers I have ever brewed. The peach is subtle but complimentary, it all comes together resulting in a beautiful farmhouse beer.

EDIT: After posting a link to this article on Reddit I took some flack for the use of the pits from the Peaches, full disclosure only 3 pits made it into 5 gallons of this beer since the carboy was overflowing. There are very small amounts of cyanide within the seeds , which are contained within the stone (pit) of peaches, cherries, apricots, and others in the Prunus family. If you do not mash open the pits and the seeds the risk is minimal if at all, even then you probably did not use enough for there to be concern.

I will link here to a few articles as the chemistry gets a bit over my head. But I wanted to note the risks here, I learned a good deal while doing this research. Am I worried about my beer? No, I'm not, at all actually. If you have drank a Belgian Kriek then you've drank a beer that was aged for a long period on Cherry pits (same deal with Cherries). I just don't want to advise anyone to do something without doing the research. In closing, add the pits at your own risk.

TTB's Limited Ingredients. - Cherry Pits up to 25ppm cyanide is allowed.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Single Hopped Azacca Hoppy Amber-ish

Photo courtesy of @BrewerWible
For what feels like forever now two local homebrew friends and I (Sean Mellody and John Wible both of whom at different stages of going pro) have been chatting about brewing a collaboration beer. We wanted to get together and brew something that was a little bit out of each of our elements, but still had aspects that reflected our own personal brewing styles. Whether its recipe formulation or actual brew day procedures collaborating with other brewers is a great way to evaluate how you do things. I like to take a step back and look at things from another angle from time to time, you should never stop learning.

We kicked around a few ideas including playing with "capping the mash" with dark malts for low/no roast but lots of color, and some single hop ideas but couldn't decide which hop to try out. We wanted to use something fairly new to brewing, or something unique that none of us had ever used before. As fate would have it, this tweet popped up in my feed, Azacca it is.

I first heard of Azacca (ADHA 483) while having Victory's Hop Ranch, which is brewed using Mosaic and Azacca resulting in a highly aromatic tropical delicious beer. Aside from that none of us had any experience with Azacca at all, but from the description its seemed like something that I would enjoy using in my brewing. Via
Azacca (ADHA 483)
AA Range: 14 - 16%
Beta: 5.4%
Cohumulone: N/A
Total Oil: 1.8 ml/100g
Characteristics: Fresh citrus, tangerine, mango, grapefruit, piney, spicy, pineapple.
 So a tropical/fruity hop sounds much of the same for me huh, and John for that matter, well yea it is but I likes what I likes. The grain bill, however, is really where John and I started to get out of our comfort zone, we both tend to favor a simpler bill where Sean seems to have a deft hand at blending malts, as shown in his Ryeghteous Brown Ale. When discussing the grain bill via email I like how Sean described what we would be going for "I'd like it to almost fool the drinker, to thinking by color and appearance it's a stronger beer.". 
Delicious Hot Scotchy's on brew evening, the biscuit malt paired amazingly.
Thanks to Sean for the delicious whiskey, the name escapes me.

We chose to go with mostly base 2-row, a touch of Biscuit, some light Crystal 20L and a little bit of Roasted the Whirlpool. *Screeching Breaks* For real? For real. I was a little hesitant myself but we tossed 9oz right into my stainless hop spider at ~180F  and it worked very well, the color really changed dramatically as we whirlpooled for some time. We had concerns for all the normal reasons, lacto/wild yeast on the grains not being boiled, astringency, etc but we threw caution to the wind in the name of experimentation. Come on, much worse could happen on a given brewday, no? 

We each fermented our own 5+ gallons with a different yeast strain, I used S04 as I've been known to do, Sean went with ECY10 Old Newark Ale, and John used TYB Vermont Ale (Conan) as he is known to do on his hoppy ales. We all fermented in the low to mid 60s for the same length of time, and dry hopped for the same length of time using our own methods. Its amazing the difference in how we all do such small things, not huge differences but all 3 of us have our own dry hopping techniques. 

Pre Dry hops, after racking to the keg. Beautiful color.
The brewday was long, I actually didn't arrive until we started to sparge so the hardest work was done, but we were knocking out a fair bit of wort and those whirlpools will getcha time-wise. The aroma coming off the bag of Azaccas was very nice, I got a lot of Orange, and other citrus notes, it almost reminded me of Citra with less pine. We chilled and filled each of our fermenters, numbers were hit within reason on our frankenstein system for the night, we toasted the brewday and went on our way to meet again in a few weeks for a side by side tasting.

Binford Pale Ale Tasting Notes: 6/2/2014

Binford Pale-Amberish Ale

Brew day: 4/10/2014
Kegged: 4/21/2013 
-(dry hopped in keg for 5 days at room temp)

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 19.50 gal
Post Boil Volume: 17.75 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 17.00 gal
Bottling Volume: ~16.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.055 SG
Measured OG: 1.054 SG
Measured FG: 1.014 SG (on my S04 batch)
ABV: 5.3%
Estimated Color: 10.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 55 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes

89.0% - 32lbs 12oz - CMC Superior Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
  5.4% - 2lbs - Biscuit (23 SRM)
  4.1% - 1lb 8oz - Crystal 20L
  1.5% - 9oz - Roasted Barley (300 SRM)

Boil: 60min - 1.00 oz Warrior [15.00 %] - 16.9 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil: 10min - 4.00 oz Azacca [14.86 %] - 24.3 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 4.00 oz Azacca [14.86 %] - 13.4 IBUs
30 Minute Whirlpool 180f - 6.00 oz Azacca [14.86 %] - 0 IBUs -
20 Minute Whirlpool 145f - 6.00 oz Azacca [14.86 %] - 0 IBUs
Dry Hop: 5 days - 12.00 oz Azacca [14.86 %] (4.00oz /each brewers 5 gallon batch)

Ed - 200ml of Safale S-04 Slurry from HopWards - into 500ml starter to wake it up
John -  TYB Vermont Ale 

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F (this was the target)

Fly Sparge 12.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 45 seconds of pure O2. Filtered Philadelphia Tap water.

Notes: I took no notes!