Friday, August 29, 2014

We share 'round these parts: the Brulosopher's bugs make it to the east coast.

If you follow the blogs Brulosophy and Brouwerij-Chugach you'll notice that the three of us have been sharing some beers with each other lately, particularly "sour" beers. Marshall, Brian and I have been working together this year as Beta testers for The Yeast Bay (thanks to Nick for introducing us!) throughout the process we have all been keeping in contact and sharing brewing (and baking) notes on both Beta testing rounds and general beer stuff a like. We all have a slightly different style when it comes to brewing, Brian and I share similar mixed fermentation obsessions while I stray into the hoppy spectrum at times his cellar is a veritable Colosseum of bugs. I will get to Brian and his Lambic in a later post.

Marshall's, aka the Brulosopher, is one of the most methodical, organized, and process driven brewers I have come across. His penchant for simplicity and optimization should both be admired and imitated by beginner and experienced brewers alike. I have adopted a few of his practices of late, specifically the Brew/Dad life balance type tips. He is doing some great things for the homebrewing community on his blog by dispelling myths and proving/disproving theories via his ExBEERiments Series. You might call him a mythbuster of sorts...

Marhsall sent me three beers, two Flanders Red's from a split batch he did with Wyeast's Roselare and WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix, I love a good split batch comparing yeast so thats right up my alley. He also sent a Funky/Sour Blonde Ale using Roselare as well, more on that one later.

Flemish Red - Roselare

Appearance: Deep mahogany reddish color, thin off white head leaving a small ring around the edges. Leaves decent lacing, but very significant legs on this one, almost like a big red wine. Steady carbonation shooting up the sides of the glass.

Aroma: Caramel malts on the nose, no acidic like or Brett aromas present. There is something that reminds me of fall, I get a really unique Squash note, by nose alone this is a Thanksgiving dinner drink.

Flavor: Nicely tart, almost surprised me actually. It's tart on the front of the tongue and on the sides of the mouth there is a pucker, right over the tongue it's smooth and silky then finishes with a maltiness to cut the acidity. 

OverallI wish that there was a bit more malt left to this beer, it would cut the acidity a little bit and make for a much more enjoyable drink. The pucker finish on the back sides of the mouth don't really make you reach for another sip quickly, not that its a chore to drink but its a sipper. In the end the beer is defined by its sourness and really nothing else. Its one of those that you have you're thinking "Damn, this is so close.", being close is a success if you ask me.

Flemish Red - WLP655
Appearance: Basically the exact same appearance as the Roselare batch. Deep maroon reddish mahogany. Thin off white head, legs similar to the Roselare on the side of glass when swirled.
AromaToasty bready malts, Carmel, dark fruits, raisin, dates. More intriguing than Roselare batch.
FlavorModerate acidic note upfront, then the malt hits the middle of the tongue, just as you think the malt is there to stay the acid takes over again in the finish with a soft subtle pucker. Some dark fruits and sweet malts mingled in there, much more in balance than the Roselare.

Overall: This was great, slightly tart that balances well with the malts. Some dark fruits, no acetic character (which I hate), no oak or hop character. I like a little oak in this style but that's just a personal preference. This one far exceeds the Roselare, and is a pretty special beer on its own.

I really enjoyed trying these two beers side by side, its always amazing how different a beer can be a variation in yeasts/bacteria pitched. I was pretty surprised that the Roselare was as sour as it was, I am not sure if it was a repitch but I had always heard that the first pitch of Roselare was a but under whelming on the sourness but would increase in subsequent pitches. I really like how WLP655 accentuated the malt and the dark fruit notes while balancing it out with the acidity, pretty great beer.

Funky/Sour Blonde - Roselare

Finally we have the Funky/Sour Blonde, which unfortunately was a miss for me. But some of the characteristics I experienced reminded me of a sour I brewed a few years ago. I emailed Marshall, and talked to Brian, to see if my notes were in line with what they had from this beer and they were not similar at all which leads us all to beleive I caught a bad bottle. I thought about not posting the notes on this beer because its obviously just a bad bottle and not what he had intended but Marshall thought it would be a good talking point, and I agree. My guess is some sort of oxidation, as the color is significantly darker than what Marhsall and Brian (link to Brians tasting notes on these beers) had experienced with this beer, paired with some cardboard and soy sauce aromas and a sweet almost under conditioned finish. 

Appearance: More amber than blonde, I wonder if there was some oxidation issue here, I've had some funky beers get dark bc of oxidation. Decent amount of tiny bubbles shooting up the glass and a small ring of head settles on the edges once it all calms down.
Aroma: Soy sauce? and malt, some cardboard, raisin, figs. I would say caramelized Figs and Raisins with soy sauce drizzled over them. Something weird going on.
FlavorSlight dryness on the tip of the tongue gives way to a sweetness that's distracting, similar flavors to the nose. It almost tastes like a beer that was only bottle conditioning for a few days.

Overall: I think something went wrong with this particular bottle. There wasn't any real sourness to speak of, it was not overly funky either, but the soy sauce and sweetness might be overpowering any of those characters. 

Ive experienced this type of discoloration in some mixed fermentation beers, and I know some other folks have as well. If anyone has some insight on what the cause could be, again I'm guessing oxidation, chime in. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tasting Notes: Le Quatre Saisons (The Yeast Bay Beta Testing Round 1)

All four of the Saison strains that Nick from The Yeast Bay isolated, and so generously shared with us Beta testers, have been thoroughly reviewed, analyzed, and tasted by we the Beta testers, among other folks. I waited as long as I have to post tasting notes on the batch so I could allow the beers to spend some time in the bottles and see how they changed, since there really is something magical about bottle conditioned Saison. 
Tasting I did by myself at six weeks in the bottle,
the night before the Google Hangout.

I did my own little tasting alone to start, prior to sharing them with anyone, then Marshall, Brian and I each shipped a few bottles to Nick for his review. We scheduled a mutually agreed upon, which is always difficult, to do a little Google Hangout video session tasting and discussion on the beers. Some of us had our personal preferences but if memory serves me, since my dumbass forgot to document the other folks opinions that morning, there were at least one clear favorite and one "dumper" if you will, those being strains #1 and #2 respectively. 

We had some differing opinions on strain #3, Brian and I quite enjoyed it while Nick was repulsed and I believe he said "I would never sell that". We all seemed to really enjoy strain #4, which with strain #1 seemed to be the most complex and interesting yet exhibiting some classic Belgian/Saison-esque characteristics. Here are some tasting notes that I took at the time of the Google Hangout, June 29th which was a little over 6 weeks in the bottle.

Les Quatre Saison - 6 week tasting notes:
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #1: poured with a nice head that settle down relatively well straw yellow color moderate clarity. Aromas of lemon, bready malt, peppery spice. Subtle bitter up front, clove, some fruit and pepper. Kind of cloying. Under attenuated but some nice aromas and classic Saison flavors, could do better with a warmer ferm and low mash temp obviously.
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #2: Pours with almost no head, there is a light carb though, somewhat hazy compared to #1. Aromas are subdued, mildly earthy, distant fruits. It's very sweet, extremely cloying, has a tartness to it that seems to cut the sweetness though. You get sweet then it's instantly cut off with a pucker. Bile, it tastes like bile, and I can't drink it. Could work in a blend though, aromas were mildly enticing.
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #3: Pours with a head that lasts throughout, haze similar to all 1 and 4, perfect carbonation. Most appealing visually. Aroma is pepper and Corriander, and some kind of funk I cant pinoint. Spicy, clove, pepper, dry but could be more so, really nice. This is uniquely weird, I'm not sure how it would go over commercially but its bizarre, and I like it.
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #4: Nice effervescent carbonation, same color and haze as the prior. Head is more soapy looking, lays a little flatter than #3 and #1. Smells similar to Palm to me, clove, hay, some fruit, no pepper spice. Medium bodied, slick mouthfeel, clove and spice, picking up some coconut to (suntan lotion). Would pair really well with #3. One of the winners.

Unfortunately all of these bottles are now gone, save for a keg that I racked 1 gallon of each batch into with some Lochristi blend that I plan to share with my fellow Beta-dudes. But before the bottles disappeared from my cellar I got the chance to present our experiment to the members of my club, Philly Homebrew club, and of course share the last 5-6 bottles of each to get some objective feedback from folks other than Nick, Marshall, Brian and I. 

I was really hoping I would get a consensus on 1-2 of these but the feedback was all over the place, it seemed there was someone who liked at least one of the strains. I had a slide up on all of the data points for each strain and how they performed up till that point so some opinions could have been a bit skewed. Unfortunately some people actually neglected to taste strain #2 because I lamented about how it showed some low attenuation numbers, I didn't do a good job selling it I guess. I was a little busy opening the bottles and talking to the group, mostly deflecting inquiries on where the strains were isolated from, to take down any new tasting notes but they all changed for the better with time. 

This is all based on memory - 3 months in the bottle:
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #1: The aromas are classic Saison, peppery spice, very reminiscent of DuPont. So much so that people were very surprised that I shot down their guess at this being a DuPont strain. This is a real serious winner, but is it unique enough to sell? Not sure, especially since so many people really thought it was Dupont.
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #2: So odd, so very odd, people loved this one. The sourness that I noticed 2 months back is even stronger now, it has completely cut the residual sweetness of the beer and its actually quite balanced now. One of the group mentioned the beer was very "Citric".
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #3: This was another group favorite, for me it seemed to be less interesting than I had remmebered but there was still a spice character that grabs your attention. Its weird, but unique, however hadn't changed as much as the others.
  • TYB Beta Saison Strain #4: This once again is proving to be a winner, a fellow club member Kirk (who knows his way around a Saison) was quite intrigued by this one and mentioned "...fullness and most desirable-ness of 4's clove-y bubblegum-y complexity". Still picking up a lot of the same notes as the earlier tasting. Probably stands out as the most unique of the 4, and could be a good one as a commercial strain.
Final opinion is that Strains #1 and #4 are the best candidates for single strain production, with strain #4 being the most unique of the two but Strain #1 has the most classic Saison character. Strain #3 would come in third for me, its very unique and weird, but I wouldn't expect to see it commercially because Nick was really repulsed by it, maybe it'll make it into a blend. Finally strain #2, oh what a fickle little strain. I think this could definitely work in a nice sour blend, or something with just a couple Brett strains. Its odd and unique leaving the beer nicely tart, but needs help attenuating. I plan re-use all of these strains and see how they pair in some of my own blends. I hope some people will be able to get their hands on some of these, if Nick ends up selling any I will post and update on what is what.

Check out Brian's tasting notes over at

Friday, August 15, 2014

Solera pull #1, bottling straight.

It feels like a lifetime ago since I started this Solera Project in a sanke keg. I have been really anxious to remove the first portion to bottle but I wanted to stick to my plan of waiting a full year to remove a portion. Now that a year has past (plus 3 weeks at the time of bottling, shoot me) of aging in the Sanke keg I removed a sample to taste and bottle off 3 gallons, I started with ~14 gallons in the keg. The last time I tasted it was when it was 6 months old, and seemed to be coming along despite a lingering sweetness on the back end of the palate. I am happy to report that sweetness is gone, completely, taking its place is even more sourness. Wow! This is a really sour beer, definitely the most sour beer I've ever brewed, as you can tell by that 3.32PH at the time of the pull. 
It could go lower, but I would prefer it not at this point.
I'm glad that I chose to package the first pull prior to brewing the top off batch, post on that is coming soon after, because this may actually be a bit too sour. This give me the opportunity to modify the wort in hopes of dialing back the acidity a little bit and increasing some of the funky/sweaty/horsey aromas, based on tasting notes I took at bottling.

I bottled up all 3 gallons straight, so to get an idea of what has been going on in there over the 12 month aging process. I would have loved to get some of this on fruit, and there really is plenty, but I would prefer to tackle that with the next pull which I hope will be in 6 months time. I re-yeasted with Champagne yeast as I did with the Lambic blend a few months ago, and primed some heavy Belgian/Champagne bottles to ~3.7vols of co2. This will be a highly carbonated, highly acidic beer, fingers crossed.
Filling a mix of reclaimed bottles, some green some brown, all 29mm caps.
I'll go into more detail on my top off batch in the next post but my goal will be to minimize the sourness and increase the funky flavor/aromas. To do that I'll try to implement a few methods that I have gathered through a few different sources I've read over the years. For starters I plan to turbid mash this batch, half will be fermented aside from the Solera for blending and the rest will be for the top off. I also plan to hop the hell out of this batch, I recently purchase a ton, ok only 10lbs, of de-bittered aged hops and I plan to use a full pound in a 10 gallon turbid mashed batch. I will start fermentation in a stainless kettle with Abbey Ale Yeast and TYB Brussels Blend and then transfer to the Sanke just as fermentation is slowing but is still active. I believe this plan should help me get to where I want to be for the next pull.

I am getting close to the first tasting of this beer, its been a long wait but I think it will be worth it in the end. I will judge the beer on first taste, although I probably shouldn't because I expect this should age well for quite some time, well hopefully.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Yeast Bay Brett Blend Review: Beersel, Lochristi, and Brussels

Prior to becoming a strain Beta tester for The Yeast Bay, I was intrigued by the descriptions of the three new blends of Brettanomyces Nick had to offer and placed an order with plans to do a split batch review. Over the years I've learned that blending Brett strains results in much more complex flavor/aroma profiles then single strain additions, especially in Saison. With these blends already being prepared for us, I was excited to see how each one differed and which I liked the most. All three blends offer something different in the descriptions ranging from Barnyard Funk (Brussels Blend), a Fruity/Funky balance (Beersel Blend), to finally a a moderate funky/fruity blend with hints of strawberry (Lochristi Blend). 

Based on that I was most excited for the Beersel, but of course I would reserve judgement until I finally tasted the beers. To get the best idea of how each blend reacts without the distractions of other new/aggressive ingredients I chose to use my Farmer in the Rye recipe since its is a beer I am most familiar with and should allow me to evaluate only the Brett blends and ignore the base beer. I used Wyeast 3711 for the primary ferment prior to splitting into 3 separate carboys and pitching each blend. I wanted an absurdly dry beer so I could secondary with the Brett and bottle in a relatively quick amount of time (4 weeks or less, not the case with the Lochristi though) without having to wait for the Brett to munch the last few gravity points.

Brussels Blend

FitR Brussels notes:

A: Straw yellow, much better clarity then the others. Spritzy, beautiful, perfect to style carbonation with a solid white head that lasts throughout.

A: A bit of orange, wet hay, with an overall classic funkiness rounding out the aroma, a little bit musty. This is classic straight funk, complex but all funk.

F: dry, light spice on the tongue and subtle fruit on the finish, not as dry a finish as the other two.

O: This is pretty similar to Beersel but with more funk in aroma and less fruit. It's quite nice when youre looking for a complex barnyard character.

Beersel Blend

FitR Beersel notes:

A: Straw yellow, slightly cloudy, with a high level of visible carbonation and a thick frothy white head that lasts throughout the glass leaving significant lacing.

A: lemony, citrus, mint?, very subtle background funky sweaty feet but it's hidden behind the more prominent aromas, helps to remind you this is a Brett beer with some complex rusticity.

F: Dry peppery spice up front, slight acidity, citrus fruits. Finishes dry and refreshing.

O: This is my favorite of the 3 blends. It's not overly funky but there is a sweaty note hanging behind lemon and citrus fruits. It's a really nice blend of subtle funk and citrus/fruit, I have already re-pitched it into 3 different beers.

FitR Lochristi Notes:

Lochristi Blend

A: FitR classic straw yellow with a white frothy thin head. Moderate visible carbonation.

A: Aroma is pretty interesting but there isn't a ton there, some light tropical fruit and peppery spice, a very faint mustiness, something that resembles earthworms on the sidewalk after a summer rain. Its actually bordering on clean smelling.

F: Prickly carbonation on the front of the tongue, peppery spice, very dry, giving way to pineapple, bitter orange peel, very dry on the back of the palette.

O: This is a pretty subtle blend, at least in this beer, but I think it would pair really well in a beer with some delicate fruit. It would compliment Apricots or Peaches really well in a supporting role. Certainly for the more subtle Brett fans

All three of these blends are very interesting and quite unique, but the Beersel and Lochristi are my favorite of the three, and actually the most unique if you ask me. The Beersel has a great balance between fruity Brett notes and some of those weird musty/funky notes, and the Lochristi is something that might start slow but evolves into something I have not experienced in any blend or strain available.  If youre looking for a more Rustic funk then the Brussels blend is perfect, there was something about it that smelled/tasted familiar. It reminded me a lot of the rustic nature of a few month old bottle of the Bruery's Saison Rue I had not too long ago.
Brussels Pellicle
The Lochristi is an interesting case for me, of the three its been in the bottle the shortest amount of time so it may still need some age (although it was in secondary for longer than the other two so it has plenty of age but not under pressure). TYB mentions that it can be a slow starter, and I experienced just that, not that there was a ton of activity in any of the three fermenters but Lochristi took the longest to show its character in the beer. I really enjoy the subtlety of it, it is perfect if you want to avoid an overpowering Brett character to a beer. It really would be a great blend to use with a fruited Saison, its subtle with a distant funkiness to it and some fruit notes that would go well with Peaches. Or maybe a lightly hopped Grissette with the Lochristi blend added at bottling, where it will evolve but not completely dominate a more delicate beer. But you really need some patience with it, I was pretty underwhelmed with my first tasting of it, and its the reason I delayed this post for a few months. Be patient, you will be rewarded.

Beersel Pellicle
Really all three of these blends are great, but my style leans more towards the Lochristi and Beersel as I stated before. I have my personal preference and I hope that the review helps people decide which to chose for their own beers. Or try all three of them, I would love to hear other folks experience with these blends. I will continue to use the Lochristi and Beersel in beers down the road, not to say the Brussels blend isn't good, it is, but the other two are more my style. 

Lochristi Pellicle