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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How I Dry Hop: Maximizing aromas on a homebrew scale.

I've tried virtually every dry hopping method imaginable in my hoppy beers over the years, in the early days I learned quickly that throwing loose pellets in carboy wasn't ideal. But over the last year or two I've cobbled some ideas from other folks to create a process that keeps o2 exposure limited resulting in a super aromatic hoppy beer. My process is pretty similar to what Derek at posted excep you don't have to modify a keg and there are really only a few pieces of equipment you need. It's so similar in fact that I considered not posting it and just directing people to his site, but I like the no modification part enough that I wanted to share. As you'll see, the prerequisite for my method is that you are kegging your beers, it's really the only way to get commercial quality hop aroma on a homebrew scale. Here is the equipment you will need, if you're kegging you likely have most of this around...
The key here is reducing o2 exposure, which is something that's very difficult to control when you're not kegging. It’s not only about the beer being fresh, cold storage and keeping the beer away from o2 are keys to preserving and maximizing your hop aroma. We've all picked up an old poorly store IPA at the store that tastes like carboard, its miserable. This is why I cringe when I see people racking to secondary in a glass carboy and dumping in some loose pellets. You might get a decent short term result but the beer is going to drop off a cliff quickly after being exposing to that much o2. 
Pushing sanitizer from one keg (dry hopping keg) to the next (serving keg), sanitizing my racking equipment
in the process. The outsides of the tubing don't touch the beer, fret not.

Get started by cleaning and sanitizing your kegs using whatever methods you employ, the second (serving) keg won’t be used until the dry hop is done but you should have it ready ahead of time. Tie some unflavored dental floss to the drawstring of your nylon hop bag and boil the bag and a few pieces of stainless (they are used as weights so the bag doesn’t float in the keg) for a few minutes to clean and sterilize, then soak it all in Star-San to sanitize.
Plenty of space in this bag to fit 6oz with room to spare.
Fill the nylon hop bag with all of your dry hops and the stainless weights then suspend it in your dry hop keg with the dental floss tied to one of the keg posts. The floss is thin enough that the keg O-ring can still make an airtight seal and yet strong enough to handle the weight of the bag and its contents. With the bag suspended in the dry hop keg, seal it up and purge with co2 sufficiently leaving a bit of head pressure to ensure a tight seal. I rack the beer to the keg using a similar process as the Brulosphy method but the beer is pushed via co2 into the keg through a ball lock disconnect connected to the beer out post for a fully closed system transfer. I push co2 into the headspace of the Better Bottle (I would never do this with glass, but do pressurize my Speidel and BB's) then pull the pressure relief pin on the dry hop keg and watch the beer flow. Once the keg is full you can purge it again to be sure and pressurize, then store at room temp (68-72F) for 5 days. 

You can kind of see the dental floss tied to the post, hanging in there is the tied off bag.
This setup works decently well, sometimes the orange cap doesn't make a great seal so I have to wire
 tie it tight. This was a 100% Brett IPA by the way. This is the part you need to crew in the co2 line, 
I also have a tailpiece connected.
Transferring in a closed system, minimizing o2 exposure prior to dry hop.
Some professional breweries, Tired Hands being one, will rouse the hops during dry hopping by bubbling co2 through the bottom of the conical tanks to get more uniform contact with all of the hops. This also helps in scrubbing any o2 that came along with the addition of dry hops. At home that’s tough to emulate without a conical, but I have gotten great results from giving the keg a light shake once or twice a day during the dry hop. With the keg being fully purged there is no risk of introducing o2, the shaking will rouse those hops that are hanging in the bag loosening them up enough to get the most aroma extraction possible. It might sound like a small step but in my experience it makes a huge difference.
Sanitizing the jumper while emptying the serving keg of the sanitizer.
Once the 5 day dry hop is through I set up to transfer the beer to the (cleaned\sanitized\co2 purged) serving keg, leaving the spent dry hops, bag, and some settled yeast behind in the dry hop keg. This is where you will need the keg jumper, which is just two beer out ball lock disconnects joined via beer line linked above. Connect the keg jumper to both the dry hop keg and the serving keg via the beer out, we will drain via the dip tube and fill the serving keg via the same, nice and gentle on the transfer. With the jumper in place, connect co2 line to the dry hop keg and set the regulator pressure to 2-3psi and pull the relief valve on the serving (receiving) keg and watch it fill. We want to keep this transfer nice and gentle and o2 free so be patient and do it slow so as not to blow off all those aromatics we've worked so hard for. Once transfer is complete you can force carbonate and serve the beer as usual, and clean out the dry hop keg of course. 

If you want to simplify this even more you can actually forgo the transfer to the serving keg and leave the dry hops in the keg for the duration of that beer's life. So long as you suspend the bag high enough that once you have drank a gallon or more the bag is suspended above the beer and no longer in contact with it, it shouldn't be an issue. I have a few friends who use this method and their beers are great, based on older posts I think Mike Tonsmeire leaves the bag inside as well. For me though I like to remove the hops to be safe in case I need to move the keg and something ends up getting clogged or caught in the dip tube. Not to mention I'll need to own 3-4 dry hop bags as I will always have them tied up in kegs since my beers stay on tap for 2-3 months. 
Close up of the jumper while the beer is being transferred. Serving keg in the foreground, dry hop keg in the back.
Hoppy beers like HopWards and Riverwards IPA are so heavily reliant on the late hop and dry hop aroma that care needs to be taken to maximize it. Whether you perform that final transfer or not I assure you this process will take your hoppy beers to the next level, especially with the shaking. However you go about it, be gentle with the transfers and keep the o2 exposure at a minimum.

Friday, September 4, 2015

From End Table to Aging Vessel: Reconditioning an old barrel.

The beer world has been hungry for barrel aged beers for quite a while now, clean or funky, and we homebrewers are no different. However, not all barrels come in pristine ready to be filled condition which is something I learned when a friend very kindly gave me (actually I still owe him Pho lunch) an old dried up Dad's Hat barrel he had been using as an end table. I have some experience with these barrels, one of which is mine and another I have helped a friend fill, but they have always been water tight and ready to receive beer. This one was far from that, so I set out to see if I could breathe new life into this barrel and actually get some good beer to come out of it.
I reached out to a few brewers via Milk The funk for advice as well as refer back to the two great posts on Embrace The Funk regarding barrel maintenance, so I had a plan in place. When I first got the barrel home I pulled the bung and took a look inside to see if I could find any mold or anything else nasty in there, but it was completely dry and clean from what I couled tell. In hindsight I wish I had popped the head off because I couldn't see the top inside by the bung hole, oh well. Things looked clean but the gaps between the staves were so big you could see tons of sunlight shining through, I knew it was dry but wow. I attempted to fill it with water but it would drain as quickly as I filled it. See this fancy video below.

Since I needed it to swell and couldn't get it to retain water I resorted to floating it in a big Rubbermaid tub for a day or two until the staves swelled up enough that I felt I could try to fill it again. This time I filled it with 170F water in hopes that the heat would help melt the barrel wax that's already in there so it would then dry and harden over some of the holes. Another tip I got from a MTF'er was to use a mallet and hammer the hoops back into the middle of the barrel as it swelled. Good thing I did because they were very loose and everything really tightened up as I did this. After all that the barrel was nearly watertight save for a small leak in one of the heads which I sealed up with melted down paraffin wax that I painted over the leak. As seen in the video below, still in the plastic tub.

It took me ten days and 4 fills\dumps to get this fella sealed enough that I felt comfortable filling it. But since I wasn't going to get around to filling it with beer for another 2 weeks I filled it with a holding solution of 56 grams of Citric acid and 112 grams of Potassium Metabisulfite (2g\L of Potassium Meta, 1g\L of Citric Acid). The barrel smelled great prior to this but the holding solution should keep the barrel clean of unwanted bacterias but also help kill off nasties that may have grown in the barrel while it was an end table. When the time came to fill the barrel I dumped the holding solution and rinsed it well, REALLY well and let it fully drain. You don't want any of that stuff lingering in your next beer.
I should have been using this thing years ago, oh and more wood.
There was still a strong oak aroma coming from the barrel so I figured I wouldn't be aging beers in there for terribly long so my plan was to use it as a pseudo-Foeder. No sense in aging a clean beer in this one, since it's kind of a crap shoot anyway. So I brewed up a 15 gallon batch of The Farmer in the Rye with some late addition Hallertau Blanc for fun with loads of Brett strains and no intentional LAB pitched. A Suburb House ale as I have been calling it, I can't pass this garage off as a Farmhouse you know? I pumped the cooled wort right into the barrel, pitched a healthy Wallonian Farmhouse slurry and practically every Brett strain I had in my bank and hoped for the best. 

Didn't even have to use sanitizer that day.
Only 13 gallons went into the barrel for fear of blow off and the rest went into a Better Bottle to use as top off. There wasn't much of a blow off so I was able to blend the two together quite early and age in primary in the barrel for the duration. After 8 weeks I pulled the first sample and gravity was already 1.000, a lot can be said for well seasoned cultures. The aromas were of the fruity Brett variety which played well with the late addition Hallertau Blanc. There was a nice subtle oakiness in the middle of the palate and balancing acidity in the finish, but with as much Rye as was used the body was silky smooth. Great results thus far but we will see once it's packaged. I pulled the batch out and brewed a second batch straight away and right into the barrel that second batch went. Some of batch #1 was kegged, some was canned by a mobile canner (more on that in the tasting notes post), and the rest was racked onto fruit for this years fruited Farmer in the Rye.

Tasting Notes: 10/16/2015

An Ocean Between the Staves:

Brew day: 6/1/2014
Packaged: 8/4/2014

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 17.80 gal
Post Boil Volume: 15.70 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 15.00 gal
Kegging Volume: 14.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.050 SG
Measured OG: 1.052 SG
Measured FG: 1.000 SG 
Estimated Color: 4.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 36.8 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes

76.9% - 20 lbs Weyermann Pilsner 
15.4% - 4 lbs Rye Malt
3.8% - 1 lb Munich 10L
3.8% - 1lb Turbinado Sugar

Boil: 75 min - 1.00 oz Magnum [14.20 %] - 20.0 IBUs
Boil: 30 min - 1.50 oz Goldings, East Kent [7.20 %] - 11.2 IBUs
Boil: 15 min - 2 Whirlfloc Tablet + 2 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5 min - 1.55 oz Saaz [4.00 %] - 1.9 IBUs
Boil:  5 min - 1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [7.20 %] - 1.9 IBUs
15 Minute Whirlpool 185f - Hallertau Blanc [10.50 %] - 2.1 IBUs

500ml of 3 week old The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse Slurry propagated in a 1L starter 
Lot's of Bretts including - Brux, Claus, Lambicus, Custer., Drei, Vrai, 4x The Yeast Bay Beta strains, BBY009, BBY031

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 148 F 

Fly Sparge 13.10 gallons of 172f

Misc: Small adjustments for mash pH with Lactic Acid and some Gypsum to approximate Markowski's Saison profile, very approximate. Markowski's profile is...Ca-52, Mg-17, Na-35, SO4-107, Cl-20, HCO3-350