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).