Monday, April 27, 2015

Barclay Farmstead: Spontaneous Fermentation

"Coolship" next to the window.
Last fall my family and I gave up city living in Philly and moved to a nearby suburb just across the bridge in NJ. Despite having a lot more space than I previously had, more barrels coming, I was excited because I felt it opened up better possibilities for wild yeast harvesting. Not that I couldn't forage for wild yeast while living in the the city, I mean look where Cantillon is located, but my past attempts proved futile. I tried on numerous occasions by just leaving open mason jars of wort outside only to end up with melted plastic aromas and low attenuation, but it could have been an issue in my process. This is not meant to be a lecture on Spontaneous Fermentation but only to share my experiences and process, if you seek more scientific/detailed information on the topic refer to Wild Brews or American Sour Beers.

I decided to start small for this attempt and just pull off a couple gallons from an existing brew and see how things worked out. If this was a full volume batch I was trying to spontaneously ferment I would have simply left the kettle out overnight to inoculate, which would work well because cooling would be a little slower. Instead I found a shallow 3 gallon hotel pan while digging through my in laws old diner equipment that I thought could work well as a "coolship". At this size, and with outside temps in the low 20F range I am going to be fighting some rapid cooling, which means less time left out for inoculation. But it should work well for as a test run to see what I can catch locally in hope of scaling things up for future "Lambic" brew days, and topping off of the Solera.

I cleaned the hotel pan out thoroughly and set it up on a ladder next to an open window in my garage and proceeded to pump boiling hot FarmWards wort right into the "Coolship" (I should come up with a catchy name for it). There it would sit open to the elements until it was cooled and ready to rack to a carboy. Again, because of the small volume and cold outdoor temps I actually ran the risk of freezing the wort if I left it out for too long so this would be a relatively short exposure. I took some temperature readings every few hours to see where it was at and make sure I didn't have a frozen mass of sticky wort. I was hoping for no less than 10-12 hours before racking as I had noticed that Prairie Artisan Ales had success with Coolship Truck with 14 hours in the elements. Hey look videos!

After about 11 hours the wort had cooled to 35F and I thought it was about time to rack it and warm it back up to ale temps inside. At this point I wasn't very confident that I had caught anything but I stayed the course. Despite knowing that signs of fermentation could take up to 7-10 days I still stressed over no activity everyday that I checked the fermenter. After 7 days I was starting to think it was a lost cause, despite what I said before I just thought maybe the exposure wasn't long enough. But like I said, 7-10 days. Sure enough on the morning of the 8th day we had light activity and by that evening there was a healthy krausen and vigorous fermentation, success! 

The most vigorous fermentation slowed after a few days but still had some light activity for a weeks after, overall a very normal looking fermentation. I pulled a sample at 6 weeks, there was still some light activity going on, and took down some brief tasting notes and vitals.

I do not miss that snow.

Spontaneous FarmWards (6 weeks)
Gravity: 1.005
PH 4.31

The aromas are pretty light but picking up on some Clove and coriander, it is a bit lemony, with an underlying grainy like aroma. 

Its pretty clean, a light spice/dryness at the tip of the tongue, dry but not aggressively,  no astringency at all. No off flavors or funk at all, it comes off as a light Belgian beer. There is still some moderate activity so I will let it finish off for a few more weeks.

Its been over four months now and should be ready to package shortly, it was probably ready a while ago. I wanted to give it ample time to fully attenuate as I don't really know what I am working with here. I could have bottled it at 1.005 as thats very dry but I took the cautious route and waited it out. I had hoped for something a little more rustic and weird, or sour (IBUs were probably too high), but its pretty impressive how clean the beer ended up especially with my past attempts being so terrible. In the meantime I plan to send some slurry off to Jeff Mello at Bootleg Biology as well as a new lab in Canada called Escarpment Yeast , more on them in a few weeks. The seasons have changed here, which means I need to get the coolship filled again and see if I catch something different. Tasting notes of Barclay Farmstead Batch #1 to follow.

Edit: Below is a link to the recipe used/brewday for this beer.
Spontaneous FarmWards

Friday, April 10, 2015

FarmWards Batch #2: The blandest of beers

Try as we might, not every beer turns out as the brewer had hoped. Despite planning, research and analysis of beers past there can always be a mistake, or in this case a mistake in judgement/process. For this beer I had set out to dial in a recipe for a little Saison recipe that was inspired by Tired Hands Saison Hands, what I got was something just north of boring. Now this beer isn't bad, as you'll read below, it is just lacking any real character you would expect in a Saison.

With this tasting notes post I wanted to change it up a bit and get the opinion of someone whom I respect and would give me positive feedback. I reached out to Brian Hall of to see if he would be willing to write me a little review. I really like Brian's reviewing style with beers folks send him for his blog, he is honest, articulate and honest. I can't stress how important it is to have someone whom you can rely on for honest to goodness feedback and I've always gotten that from Brian. I'll jump back in after the review with on how I think we got to this point with this beer but I will let Brian take it from here.

If nothing else its a pretty beer.
I know Ed from conversations when we started beta testing for the Yeast Bay.  Since beginning that project, we regularly send ideas back and forth regarding all things beer and bread. I’ve sent him beers and he’s returned great beers.  One of my favorites from his first package is one I plan on making soon.  
Recently he sent me two beers and asked me to give him a brutally honest review of a Saison he’d brewed up.  I told him no problem, I can do a “Brewtally Honest” review of any beer.  Three days later, they were on my doorstep. Lucky for me, the beer was racked off the keg so I wouldn’t have to let it settle for a week.
I wasn’t given any information other than that the beer was a saison.  Apparently he’d reviewed it himself on his blog, but to be honest I don’t recall reading that particular entry so I was starting with no knowledge (take that as you will.)  I didn’t pull out the BJCP guidelines, as I prefer to simply write about what I observe rather than end up looking for things that are missing.
I took the beer out of our fridge and let it sit for half an hour.  WIth a “kssst” the cap came off and for a second I thought I was in the presence of a gusher (impressive for a keg racking!)  However, it poured great and had an excellent finger of head which remained on the beer throughout most of the tasting.    
Before taking a quick photo, I plunged in for aroma.  And again.  At first (as the beer was a tad on the cool side) I didn’t get much, except for a strong “beer”-like aroma.  I’ll elaborate.  The nose was primarily pilsner malt - the same smell one would get from smelling any of the macro breweries - Bud, Coors, Miller.  In the same way you might describe what chicken tasted like was how I found myself trying to describe this brew - “Well, it smells like beer…”  As the beer warmed and I got past the pilsner, I noticed some very light notes of lemon zest, clove, and what I thought to be noble hops (turns out they were Cascade…)  I’ll reiterate, these aromas were in very small amounts.  I almost thought I got a little whiff of peppercorn spice, but it might have been in my head as I knew this was supposed to be a saison.
After making a few notes, I gave it a taste.  First impression was it was incredibly thin.  In the words of someone who tried my Pumpkin Beer of ‘12, “Is there any malt in here??”  Other impressions was that the flavors seemed somewhat muddled, as opposed to the usual crisp and clean.  Bitterness was low-med, and I perceived a slight astringency in the finish.  Carbonation was great, there was no DMS or diacetyl, or any other off flavors.
While easy to drink, not a huge “deliciousness” factor - sheerly just from the lack of overall flavor.  More hop flavor comes out as it warms.  A very, very thin beer, however beer nonetheless. Ed asked if my impressions would have changed if he would have pitched it as a table beer - my response was probably not.  I probably wouldn’t have “looked” for the peppercorn/spice, but other than that everything was just observation.  Even in a table beer, I’d still like a little more “going on.”  
I spoke with Ed a little about how he brewed this beer and the main thing he told me was that he tried a Ferulic Acid rest during his mash.  Brewing with Wheat states this rest is typically done around 111-115 degrees and - you guessed it - develops ferulic acid.  Supposedly this rest aids in the production of clove like flavors, however there has been debate over whether it works or not.  Did this account for what I perceived to be a light clove flavor?  Perhaps, as I wasn’t aware of the acid rest when I was sampling the beer. 
Would I buy this beer?  Probably not.  It’s not flawed, there wasn’t a “yuck” factor at all, it just came up short with my expectations for a beer simply due to the thinness of the drink.  Would I like to see this brewed again with a little more malt?  Yes please.

-Brian Hall 
So, a pretty forgettable beer in the end. I was happy Brian picked up on the strong Pilsner aroma, "beer-like" is really a great way to describe it, its something that I have gotten from almost every beer that I have brewed with Wallonian Farmhouse. But this character tends to fade with time, to the point that it virtually disappears

I was going for a pretty light beer, but not as light as this beer ended up. I had decided to ferment with Wallonian on the cool side, 67F, to see if I could still achieve a complex fermentation profile as well as a dry beer in doing so. I succeeded in the dry beer department with a FG of 1.002 but the fermentation character is way too clean. When you build a beer that leans so heavily on expressions from a characterful yeast you really need to ensure that happens or you might end up with a "beer-like" character resembling BMC. Yikes, back to the drawing board. 

Thanks again to Brian for his thorough and honest review, and be sure to scope out his site for a lot of great funky beer and cooking posts. Thanks to him and his sourdough culture he shared, bread baking has become a new obsession of mine and Brian knows his stuff in that department. Cheers!