Friday, December 9, 2016

Solera Year 3 tasting: Bluebs and No Bluebs

Its Solera season 'round these parts, it's time to taste some bottles from last year, brew top-off batches and package some new variations. Every year before I plan out the next top off batch I like to sit down and taste through a few vintages, as well as pull a sample from the aging vessel to evaluate where it's been, where it is currently, and decide what I can change to steer it in a direction to suit my tastes. When I do these tastings it really is amazing to me how apparent the subtle difference are when tasted side by side. If I wasn't trying them right next to each other I may not notice the differences, but side by side the subtle changes do stand out. A testament to those changes I've made over the last couple of years, but still, I wouldn't call any vintage of the Solera my favorite sour beer I've done.

Blueberry refermentation.
I made a some changes in the second years (2015) top off to get a more barnyardy Brett character and amp up the aged hop profile to hopefully subdue the acid and bring a little complexity. I mentioned in the top off post  that I got what I wanted from those changes, more funky, a bit more complex but still had a bit of ethyl acetate that bugged me, but you never know what will happen during that magic of bottle conditioning. Not to be forgotten was the portion of the 2015 bottlings that was aged on some organic Blueberries my family and I picked in a very rural part of Central NJ. The farm was a self pick organic farm, my wife and I took the kids along with some friends to head out picking. The blueberries tasted awesome, and it was a really fun experience picking them together knowing they would be aged on some of the Solera, the wait on this one was excruciating due to that build up.
Purple Pellicle.

Here are my thoughts on bottling year 3 (2015) of the Solera, Unblended first.

Unblended Solera: Bottling Year 3 

Bottled 11/29/2015

Appearance: High carb, had the glass ready when I opened it but there was no concern of a gusher, however when I opened one a few months ago it did gush. It's been awhile since I have had a beer from the Solera and forgot how great the color is on this beer, it's like a copper-ish yellow, like the color of some really dark yellow urine. Yum? Head for days, and days, and days, frothy head and it last with 1/4" on top throughout the entire glass. Pretty remarkable for a glass of dark yellow urine "Blegh*.

Stockings hung by the chimney with care...
and then my 1 year old rip them down and stomped on them.

Minerality to the aroma, maybe even slightly metallic, notes of tree bark and sap from a pine tree almost coming across as sweet, no nail polish, quite earthy with subtle pear skin quality and an underlying pineapple aroma thats come out as the bottle has aged for a year.

Flavor: When these bottles were young it was bracingly sour, but as they have aged it has seemed to meld a little better, or maybe perception has. There is some body to the beer, an almost fluffy texture that gives way to an assertive acid note, slightly acetic but dominated by the lactic. A little bit of a spice tinge on the tongue, earthy but mostly dominated by the fluffiness and the acid. Really very drinkable for how old and sour the beer is. It's considerably less sour than year one, more complex and much more enjoyable. 

Overall: I am actually happier with this than I had expected to be, young bottles were sharply sour with a background sweetness that distracted and frankly put me off. The acid has melded well and seems to be a bit more restrained, however that "sweetness" (not sure thats the best descriptor) bothers me a little. I enjoy it but do I like it? I don't know that I can say that exactly, but I don't hate it. The struggle is real.

Blueberry Solera: Bottling Year 3 

Bottled: 11/29/2015

Appearance: Big pop of carb when I opened the bottle, some foam grew in the neck but no Gush, love the geometry of these bottles for high carb. This beer actually has significant legs, like a red wine, there is a nice body to the beer. 

Beer poured with a white-ish pink head, fading quickly to virtually nothing at all, the complete opposite of the "unblended". It's an amazing color, deep Crimson/purple, almost the color of a light red wine. Carbonation is visible in the glass, clarity is good. 

Listen, I get it, Die Hard is set during Christmas time,

Aroma: There is a touch of a solvent/ethyl acetate note in the nose upon first whiff, but the second time I jam my nose in there I'm adjusted and get a remarkable blueberry, cherry aroma. Either I needed to adjust or became numb to that aroma but at first I thought "Oh crap, this is a stinker" but once I did adjust the blueberry and dark fruits really popped.

Flavor: Whew, very tart, very blueberry jam like. Silky smooth body with a lactic and carbonic bite. Super refreshing jammy blueberry thing going on here. 

Overall: This turned out pretty great, much better than the "unblended" version. Maybe the Blueberry is playing well with the underlying sweetness of the base beer or the refermentation blew that out of the beer. This is without a doubt the most enjoyable beer to have come out of the Solera yet. However, the fruit beers coming out of my barrels are much better.

Solera Overview to date

After the first year I felt the beer in the Solera was pretty one dimensional, overly sour, apple-y, with a slight troubling ethyl acetate note. At that point it would have worked better as a blender than bottling up unblended but I stayed the course and packaged it untouched. I still have a bunch of bottles left from that first year, most recently I have been blending those finished bottles into fresh Saison for Bier De Coupage, more on that down the road. The changes I've made over the years, both in wort production, fruiting, and blending, have resulted in some solid beers but I would be lying if I reach for the bottles super often. Looking back at the project I feel like I have been making those changes to fix issues, not to take something that is solid and make great but to rectify issues. A fun exercise, but feeling like throwing good money after bad at times. While the Blueberry turned out quite nice here, my excitement for the Solera is waning, I plan to brew a new top off beer and age it out another year but if it's not considerably better I will likely end the project.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sour Beer Cranberry Sauce Recipe

This week is Thanksgiving here in the States, and that means gluttonous eating, drinking, and football watching with family as we give thanks for what we have...or something like that. Like most beer obsessed folks like myself, I always bring a nice little selection of beers to enjoy with dinner, hopeful that I could enlighten a BMC drinker. That basically never happens, and myself and family members into beer end up drinking the fine fare. So a few years back when I came across an article for a cranberry sauce made with Lambic I thought what a great way to force my hobby down unsuspecting families throats!

This recipe is mind numbingly easy to pull off, which is good because outside of sourdough bread baking and following a Blue Apron recipe I'm an inept cook. An easy recipe to pull off, but a very good, complex Cranberry Sauce that will make you never want to eat that canned garbage again. The ingredient list is super simple.

  • 1 lb bag of whole cranberries
  • 1 cup of sugar (Brown Sugar for a variation)
  • 10-12 ounces of your favorite sour beer
  • Salt to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in an appropriate sized sauce pan, bring to a boil then dial the heat back to medium-high and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until all the cranberries burst. Let it cool a little bit and then transfer to a heat resistant serving container and allow to cool fully. That is it, if that's not easy enough for you then maybe I'm not the worst cook ever?

Beer Selection

In a more traditional cranberry sauce recipe you would use some orange juice to bring a little more acid into play, but using a complex sour beer brings a whole host of character to the dish. The beer you choose absolutely comes across in the end product so choose wisely. I've used my own homebrew sour beers as well as commercial Lambic, all slightly different but great in their own way. My two favorite batches I made used Lindeman's Cuvee Renee Gueuze, and a Russian River Consecration clone. The Consecration clone ended up a bit too sweet in the finish, but that sweetness, dark fruit, and the malt complexity pairs really well with the acidic cranberries and acid from that beer. The Gueuze batch was amazing it was super tart, too much for some actually, but paired with the earthy meal it worked great. 

So look around at what sour beers you have laying around in the cellar, or pick up a nice commercial Gueuze like Cuvee Renee since it's widely available and incredibly delicious. Really any acidic beer is going to work here, just be mindful of the flavor profile and how it will work. For example a Gose would be nice, but maybe dont add the salt. This year I am going with the Lindemans Cuvee Renee Kriek, such a great Kriek Lambic, the cherry character should go well with the cranberries and the brett aromatics will add a nice rustic note.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Gose or Hefeweizen, why not both?

 My Son's first birthday was this past weekend, and due to the season we decided to throw a little Oktoberfest themed party. Of course I was going to have to brew the beer for the event, but the problem for me is German style beer isn't exactly my wheelhouse. The only real German styles I brew are Gose and Berliner Weisse, which might be a dangerous pour when over half the crowd are BMC drinkers. However we did invite a bunch of friends and family who are beer fans so I tried to come up with something that would satisfy varying palates and fit the theme of the party. 
I recently started using a brew bag to line my mash tun, super easy clean up.
I struggled to think of one style that I could brew for the event that I felt I could execute well and still challenge myself all while pleasing the guests of the party. If I was a lager brewer this would be much easier, a nice Helles or Pilsner would be perfect, both of which are styles I love to drink but dont have much desire to brew at the moment. So, in lieu of finding the one style to rule them all I decided on a split batch where I could pour two different beers from one mash, a Hefeweizen and a Gose. Both having a pretty similar grist but quite different flavor profiles. I will admit, however, the Gose was a self-serving choice.

Hefeweizen may not be my favorite style in the world but I've had some in my day that I enjoyed quite a bit. What works best for me in the style, for which I am no expert, is a subtle fermentation character, no banana at all, with maybe a late boil hop , style guidelines be damned. The grain bill I used was a simple 60/40 Pils/Wheat split, which works perfectly for both the Hefeweizen and the Gose. I no sparge mashed enough for a 10 gallon batch then collected all of the runnings in my main boil kettle and lit the flame. Once the runnings hit a boil I transferred ~5.5 gallons over to another kettle for the Gose while I hopped the remaining wort for the Hefeweizen and boiled for 60 minutes. I chose to toss 1.00 oz of Hallertau Blanc in with 5 minutes on the Hefeweizen, then finish it off with SafBrew WB-06.

I want to see two boils (dragons).
The Gose I boiled in the separate kettle for a total of 5 minutes without hops, the point here is that I want to sterilize the wort so that I rely on my choice selection of Lactobacillus Plantarum to sour, as I've done in the past. I know some folks choose to either just run off the mash or push the wort to 180F to sterilize but I like to be sure I am sterile and reliant on the Lacto pitch for acid creation. Once the 5 minute boil was finished, I chilled to 100F and transferred into a clean, sanitized, o2 purged corny keg where I pitched an entire 24oz carton of Goodbelly Lemon Limeade. In the past I've relied on on pure culture Lactobacillus Plantarum via Swanson Probiotics but since Devin Bell and other folks on Milk The Funk have had success with Goodbelly I figure I would give their L. Plantarum a shot. The 24oz should contain plenty of cells of Lactobacillus to sour the wort and maybe the Lemon Limeade flavor might add a little extra to the flavor profile in the end. 

Into the keg @ 100F.
Wort cooled down a few degrees once it hit the cool keg.
Entirely too easy.
I held the corny keg at 90F for 48 hours to sour, Plantarum is really a great isolate to use for kettle sours as it creates acid at a much cooler temperature than most other cultures. After the 48 hours I hooked up a picnic to pull a sample to ensure the wort was sufficiently sour before performing another boil to kill off the lacto. I'm usually anti bacteria murder but I wanted a bit more consistency with this batch. After the full 48 hours the beer was 3.38pH, and was tasting about as sour as I had hoped it would. I transferred the souring kegs contents into my kettle and boiled it for another 5 minutes where I hopped it with 1.00 oz of Hallertau Blanc (see a theme here? I love this hop) as well as adding 1.50 oz of Pink Himalayan Sea Salt and 1 oz of muddled Coriander. The wort was chilled and transferred into a stainless kettle where I performed primary fermentation in a semi-open environment with Danstar Munich Wheat (a convenient HomebrewCon freebie)Both beers were kegged 2 days before the party and burst carbonated, all total the turnaround was 12 days for both beers.

Pushing beer from the souring keg to the kettle to boil, it was taking too long so I just dumped it.

I am going to forgo a more structured tasting of the two beers in favor of some brief words on them. The Gose, I loved, and apparently so did the party as that beer kicked and the Hefeweizen did not. With aromas of light fruit and some underlying spice notes it made for a pretty unique smelling beer that's likely not classic to style Gose but I dont much care. The acidity hit upfront then gave way to a pillowy body that I really liked but some people mistook for being under carbonated. The finish was quick, refreshing and left a nice pucker and saline character in the back corners of your throat, with notes of Lime which may or may not have been because of the juice. A few people compared it to a lemon lime margarita, which I totally get and really dig.

My wife made me some fancy tap signs.
The Hefeweizen turned out pretty well to, it's relatively clean as far as a Hefe goes, some light clove aromatics, low hop bitterness and a really fluffy body from all that wheat. Its an easy drinker and I think some people enjoyed it, but for me I went back to the Gose more frequently, and the trips were maybe too frequent on the day. Upon first sip of this I always like it more than I do after each sip, I just keep wishing it was a Saison. Im looking for the dry, bitter hops, or spicy finish to wrap it all up. But in the end I'm just left wanting a bit more, especially hops. But these aren't hallmarks of the style, and likely why I dont brew them often. But for a split batch when you spend one brewday and get two very different beers it worked out well for me, and fit the Oktoberfest bill for this Saison and IPA brewer. Prost!

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size 11.00 gal
Boil Size: 13.25 gal
Post Boil Volume: 11.00 gal

Grain: Full volume mash for both beers
59.0% - 11lbs 8oz - Pilsner Malt (Weyermann)
41.0% - 8lbs - White Wheat

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 148.0 F 

No Sparge, mashed with full volume of water.

Hefeweizen Recipe Specs: Boiled separately from Gose.
Measured OG: 1.045 SG 
Measured FG: 1.010 SG 
ABV: 5.3% (Hefeweizen)
Estimated Color: 4.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 9 IBUs 
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Boil: 60min - 1.00oz Hallertau [3.50%] - 6.4 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:   5min - 1.00oz Hallertau Blanc [7.50%] -2.8 IBUs


Gose Recipe Specs: Boiled separately from Hefeweizen.
Measured OG: 1.040 SG 
Measured FG: 1.011 SG 
ABV: 3.9% 
Estimated Color: 4.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 5 IBUs 
Boil Time: 10 Minutes total (5 pre sour , 5 post sour 3.38pH)

Boil #1: 5min - Sterilize, no hops pre-sour
Boil #2: 5min - 1.00oz Hallertau Blanc [7.50%] -  2.7 IBUs
Boil #2: 5min - 

Misc: Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.32, Water Profile ( 88ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 10ppm Na, 82ppm Cl, 101ppm SO4). Some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary. Full volume mash for both beers, ran off entire no sparge mash into one boil kettle, then split off 5.5 gallons for a separate 5 minute boil for the Gose. Hefeweizen was boiled for 60 minutes and hopped as detailed above. Gose a total of 10 minutes, 5 minutes unhopped prior to kettle sour (3.38pH) then another 5 minutes where hops were added once sufficiently sour, then fermented out cleanly.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Spelt Saison w/ Imperial Organic Rustic - Amos Inspired

When I first read Phil Markowski's Farmhouse Ales years ago, it's worth multiple reads by the way, I became obsessed with tracking down a bottle of Saison D'Epeautre from Brasserie Blaugies. Described by Markowski as "possibly the most historically accurate version (of Saison) on the market today" (p.142 Farmhouse Ales), you can understand why I and so many folks seek it out. I had never had a beer brewed with Spelt back then and not only wanted to try that specific beer but wanted to brew with Spelt myself but figured I should try it for myself before diving in.  I went to way more bottle shops then I would like to admit but finally found and old green bottle somewhere in New Jersey. It was as beautiful a beer as Markowski described, so aromatic, silky, and drinkable, with not a sign of light struck character. I was dead set on brewing something inspired by it and went to my local homebrew shop to procure the Spelt, they didn't carry it, checked at the major online suppliers and they didn't either. What the hell? I ended up finding some flaked Spelt on Amazon, brewed a nice little Saison based on Markowski's Blaugies recipe and dug it much, but due to the difficulty finding malted spelt both online and at my local shop, I never brewed with it again....Until this summer!

Spelt or not, the real star of the show in Saison D'Epeautre is Brasserie De Blaugies house yeast strain, Markowski called it "an extraordinarily attenuative strain(p.142 Farmhouse Ales). I used it in that first Spelt Saison few years back by way of the Wyeast 3726 culture, but with it being a seasonal offering I kept missing it in the years following. But the stars aligned for me this year as my local shop dumped White Labs in favor of carrying only Imperial Organic Yeast, which made it easy for me to I grab their Blaugies isolate they call "Rustic", and put it to the test in a few beers over the course of this summer. 

Canned Yeast! What a time to be alive!
In spite of them being around for some time now, this is the first pitch I've bought from Imperial Organic Yeast and I must say I am very impressed. The can packaging is really great, super easy to use, no smacking, no issues with erupting vials losing valuable cells, simply pry open the wide mouth can and pour. But the most impressive and important thing here is each can comes with 200 billion cells, a significant amount that is plenty for most styles I brew without having to use a starter for 5 gallons. When I do brew 10 gallon batches a nice little 1 Liter starter and I am set to go for 1.050 OG beers, I'm all about things being easy. The can I picked up at Philly Homebrew Outlet was super fresh, only 10 days old. Thats some impressive viability considering there is a middle man, then again this was the first shipment of Imperial the shop got.

So why the sudden re-interest in Blaugies cultures and Spelt? Well earlier this year Amos over at Browne and Bitter did a really great post on his basic Spelt Saison recipe and it seemed to inspire a bunch of farmhouse brewers on the internets, myself included. If unfamiliar with Amos' site do yourself a favor and follow his exploits, very cool historical bent on Belgian and English styles, and some pretty snazzy photos to gaze at, plus he has street cred with medals and such

Raw, unmalted, uncrushed Spelt. I then broke my mill cracking it.
Also taking inspiration from Blaugies, Amos keeps the grain bill quite simple on his Saison with just Pilsner and Spelt, opting to use unmalted Spelt Berries and a cereal mash. Both due to the price and availability of malted Spelt (it's still not that widely accessible for homebrewers but can be found, pretty lame though). I opted to follow his lead, for both of the same reasons, but I'm not a big fan of cereal mashes so I wasn't super pumped about that, but I followed his lead. I tend to stray away from the classics a bit, even if small changes I like to throw a bit of a modern twist on my Saisons. After hopping throughout the boil with some spicy/floral German Perle I tossed in a fist full of my new favorite Saison hop Hallertau Blanc in the whirlpool to add a little floral/fruity thing to the aroma. Hallertau Blanc is like a baby Nelson Sauvin to me, more subtle but with a nice assertive citrus/fruity note that makes it an absolute perfect fit in modern Saisons for me.

So...why Spelt? Its a fair question that's been posed to me by a few folks, I don't claim to be an expert on ancient grains but I do feel there are enough differences between it and Wheat that it's worth giving a try. From what I understand, Spelt fell out of favor in the 20th century in favor of modern Wheat due to its ability to be harvested and processed both cheaper and faster. Spelt is actually classified in the same family as Wheat, while the differences in the end product when used in brewing (and baking) may seem subtle I tend to get a tangier, nuttier character from Spelt that I dont get from Wheat. Both grains can create a fluffy body in the end product but that nutty/tangy flavor in Spelt adds a nice little wrinkle for me. There are countless articles on the internet about the differences between the two, most of which go much deeper than I will here.

The day before I was set to brew I filled my kettle with all of the water I needed, treated it, weighed and milled my grain, then whipped up a little 1L starter for my 10 gallon brewday. I followed the instructions as laid out by Imperial Organic on how to use the cans, letting the can rest in the fridge upside down, venting to allow co2 to escape, then pouring the contents into my starter in stages with swirling in between to ensure any flocculated cells make it in. Due to the high variability and large cell count of the can I had a rip roaring starter in under 4 hours. Its always nice to know you have a highly viable/healthy pitch more than ready for the following days brew. 

Starting this miserable cereal mash on my floor burner,
I swear if I burn my legs I'm coming for you Amos!
I cereal mashed the Spelt with a very precise quantity of "two handfuls" of Pilsner malt, as per Amos' suggestion. I will be honest, I hate doing this, it's so hot over the kettle, you have to keep stirring, sweating, and worry about setting my legs on fire with my floor burner. Wahhh! I added the cereal mashed portion to the main mash and rested at 148F, I chose not to do a step mash like Amos this time. Aside from my complaining things went off without a hitch and I tossed the Rustic starter into 11 gallons of 1.045 wort. A nice little Spelt Table Saison in the making, we always hope.

Milk steak, boiled over hard, my good man.
Fermentation looked no different than most, a quick start was not a surprise after how quickly the starter got going. I pitched at 68F and let it free rise to 74F on day three before putting some heat to it and slowly ramping it to 80F after a total of 7 days where it was held until I kegged the beer. The aromas billowing out were wonderful and reminded me so much of the first Blaugies bottle I hunted down a while ago. After 21 days I measured the gravity at 1.002 and kegged it up, carbonated to 2.8vol of co2 via force carbonation. 

Tasting Notes:

That's my Treehouse taproom I'm building in my yard.
I carbonated this beer pretty high and it shows with how foamy the pours were. By the time I took the photo above the head dissipated, but it took some massaging to get a full pour anyway. With only Pilsner and Spelt in the grist the color is predictably a very pale straw yellow, it's a pretty beautiful looking beer.

The aroma is very complex, the Blaugies character abounds here. Quite earthy and spicy with notes of clove, white pepper, with an herbaceous character that kind of reminds me of Thyme. Its a super fantastic aroma, very classic old world Saison thing.

The first sip of the beer pricks your tongue with a tiny bit of bitterness/dry bite that wafts away quickly with waves of pure silk. Its kind of a weird sensation because you might almost expect the dry character to sting you in the back of the throat in the end but that never comes, and frankly I wish it was there. Its not to say that the beer fails because of that but it would be a nice finish that would get you grabbing another sip quickly. This is the second time I've used Perle hops in a Saison and Im not sure I am the biggest fan, that or the ratios are a little low for what I am looking for. When young, the bitterness was sufficient, but aged out a little faster than I had hoped, Saaz next time.

Final Impressions:

This is a really easy drinking beer, so light and refreshing that I killed the first keg early in the summer, the second keg is still on tap this fall with not much left. That said, the beer was best served fresh, at least the kegged version. The hops have faded significantly over the few months and what I felt might have already been missing a bit of bitterness or perception of dryness in the young product was exasperated as the beer aged. I believe though that a bottle conditioned, or a Brett aged version would help in those departments.
My kegged clean Saisons tend to have a shorter shelf life than my bottled versions, I might need to go back to natural carbonation in the kegs in hopes of mimicking the bottle some. That said, this is a really nice beer that went down so superbly well during the hot summer months. This here is a recipe I plan to work on and dial in even more, I dont think it will take much for this to become a staple around here, just no more cereal mashes okay?

I could not be happier with the fermentation profile of Imperial Organic's Rustic strain, it's very complex and attenuates very well even at cooler temps making for a great easy option in Saison. Combine that with their superior packaging and large cell counts you can be sure I will be turning to not only Rustic but other offerings from this lab. Over this summer I have used a pretty tame temperature profile which starts on the cooler side, but I plan to play with some more aggressive fermentation temps to see what differences I can get out of it. If you ever enjoyed a Blaugies bottle and wanted that character in your Saisons Rustic is a great choice that's available year round. I will be using it often both at home and at Kelly Green Brewing Company.

Amos Inspires the Homebrewed Saison World

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 6.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 6.00 gal
Measured OG: 1.045 SG
Measured FG: 1.002 SG
ABV: 5.3%
Estimated Color: 3.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 32 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

71.6% - 6lbs 5oz - Pilsner Malt (Weyermann)
28.4% - 2lbs 8oz - Unmalted Spelt

Boil: 60min - 1.00oz Perle [4.30%] - 17.2 IBUs
Boil: 30min - 0.75oz Perle [4.30%] -  8.8 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 0.75oz Perle [4.30%] -  5.7 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient


Sacch rest - 60 min @ 148.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.31, Water Profile ( 113ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 10ppm Na, 107ppm Cl, 101ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dandy Lion Saison Tasting

Do you even forage bro? No really do you? I have a desire to learn, because for the life of me I haven't been able to find any decent areas nearby to forage for ingredients to put in my beers. This is entirely due to my lack of education on foraging, I really just dont know where to start in my area and what even to look for! I've been interested in this topic for some time, but just haven't found anywhere I can gather info and set out with confidence. Hopefully I can educate myself by way of the two super exciting upcoming books on the topic, Homebrewer's Almanac and Brewing Local, are released. I realize this stuff isn't rocket science, but I need some guidance before I go out and sticking some weird fungus/plant/fruit in my beers. 

Look no further than what Scratch Brewing (the source of Homebrewer's Almanac) and Fonta Flora are doing with their beers if your interest in foraging for beer ingredients hasn't yet been piqued. I'm just so enamored with the idea or brewing beers, mostly Saison, with the foraged ingredients locally sourced. It really jives with the old school mentality that a lot of modern Farmhouse Breweries are getting back to, beer of your surroundings if you will. I don't throw a lot of weird shit into the kettle, but maybe I should start, this guy does and his beers seem to turn out ok.

Earlier this spring I brewed my first real foraged ingredient beer, my daughter and I ventured deep into the wilderness to pick a bunch of dandelions off my neighbor's weed filled lawns. The terrain was brutal, but the couple hundred feet that my daughter and I trekked proved fruitful. Ok, so maybe I need to be a little more adventurous with our foraging hikes, give me a break, I'm a newb. Not everyone can scale mountains and find wild blueberries like Brian Hall from Brouwerij Chugach, I'm mad jelly.

So the dandelion beer, it didn't even turn out that great, but I think that happened for an interesting reason other than the dandelions I picked. As you can see in the photo the beer is a beautiful straw yellow color with a frothy white head and high carbonation level. The aromas pouring out of the glass are earthy, floral, and I know my perception is skewed but I swear it smells like dandelion leaves. So in that respect I think it was a success. But the beer comes across as relatively sweet, something that surprised me since it finished at 1.002 but also not surprising as 10% Honey Malt did have me a little nervous. The Honey malt comes through a way too strong, and cuts into the fermentation character, which admittedly is light as I never maxed the fermentation out above 75F. Due to the mild fermentation, there are no spice notes to speak of, something that would help to cut the honey malt sweetness a little bit.

The body on this beer silky smooth, something I was trying to get by way of a lot of wheat and a high chloride content then you might expect in a saison water profile. I have found in my barrel aged saison's that the high chlorides, much like in the NEPA's, keeps these dry beers from being very astringent in the finish. But with this beer, due to the tame fermentation character and the stronger than desired Honey malt character it just doesnt work. I think maybe it might be better to does the finished beer with calcium chloride to counterattack an overly dry astringency then build the water upfront, since you know I can't take it out. The beer is not bad by any stretch, it is just not what I targeted exactly, and due to the malt sweetness and mild fermentation character it's a bit outside of the "Saison" style.

My process for the dandelion's worked out very well, I wasn't totally sure what to expect from them but the aromas I got from the earthy hops and the leaves are very enticing. When I brew this beer next year, I won't waste my time deflowering the weed and just pop the heads off and get them right into the whirlpool. This keg here isn't my favorite, but the silky body and honey malt sweetness will work really well as a blending beer when I need to cut some acidity or build some body so all is not lost, and it is actually quite drinkable. Next up, I need to find some honeysuckles, not a clue what I am going to get from those either. Anyway, foraging, and beers made with foraged ingredients, both need work, or just dont use 10% Honey Malt in your Saisons? IDK.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I'm taking my talents to Pitman New Jersey :)

Most avid homebrewers fall in two camps, the ones who want to brew professionally someday and the ones who don't want to ruin a perfectly good hobby, for years I've lived comfortably in the latter. Its not that I never wanted to work in the brewing industry, it's that I have a good steady job, kids to support, and a mortgage to pay so starting a new career is not something that would be ideal. But like a politician running for office, I've changed my stance, well...kind of.

I've kept this under wraps for some time now, but I am excited to announce that I have recently signed on to build/manage/maintain a line of barrel aged mixed fermentation beers for Kelly Green Brewing Company as a consultant. Kelly Green is a new nanobrewery in the previously dry town of Pittman NJ, that just opened this spring. I connected with the owner Justin Fleming through our mutual friend Jack (a KGBC employee). I told Jack I was thinking about pitching this idea to some local breweries, he brought it up to Justin, we met up for some beers and the rest is history. 

Beautiful barrels from Amalthea.
Justin is giving me full creative control over this line of beers from grain to glass, which is awesome, but we will be working together in a collaborative nature throughout that process. All of the beers in the line will be Saison based, fermented and aged entirely in oak wine barrels for their life cycle. Once they have matured they will be blended/fruited/etc and then bottle conditioned and sold at the brewery only. Justin made a connection at nearby Amalthea Cellars, a winery in NJ, and picked up a first batch of 6 barrels. Hopefully we will be able to use their barrels for most of the line, a source of in state barrels right from the source can't be beat. Wort will be pumped into the basement of KGBC where those barrels will reside, then pitched with a house mixed culture that I have been cultivating over the years alongside some fresh Saccharomyces. Recipes will vary, but we will keep this culture bouncing around the cellar in the majority of the beers we release (there may be one Sacch+Brett *No Bacteria* Saison however), so I believe our house character will shine through.

In preparation for our first brewday I spent time growing up a big pitch of the mixed culture, mostly built via bottle dregs and strains I have had success with over the years, as well as a large pitch of Brett Drie. The blends I have been using over the years have done me well, acidify quickly but not overly so, and can handle upwards of 40IBS. To go along with the mixed culture I decided on Imperial Organic's Rustic strain, believed to be Blaugies, as I have been having success with it on the homebrew scale of late (post coming soon). So I ordered a 1BBL pitch direct from the lab and propagated it up in 4L of media, which should be plenty to handle 4BBL (2 oak barrels worth) of wort when pitched along with the Brett and mixed culture. The brew days will be staggered so that I can draw off slurry from the previous barrels to repitch all 6 barrels with the same culture that we propagated up.

Received this two days after the mfg. date, can't say enough about Imperial's responsiveness.
Various blends and cultures at various stages of propagation.
Our first brew/barrel fill (not necessarily the first to be released) is a beer I am very familiar with, and have been working on and tweaking for years. The heart of this beer is the Farmer in the Rye recipe, with a few tweaks to the hop schedule and no sugar (also similar to An Ocean Between the Staves). This is a recipe base that I have used for Saisons at home with many variations some with fruit, blended, dry hopped, or barrel aged, it's very versatile and should serve us well to start the program. 

The most obvious hurdle here is filling multiple 60 gallon barrels with a 1BBL brewing system, brew days will always be long, so filling these first 6 barrels might take some time. On the first brew day we got a bright and early start, with 3 batches planned we hoped to knock out ~105 gallons worth of wort by pushing the limits of the system. This will leave ~ 7 gallons of headspace in each barrel, hoping not to make a big mess. The barrels will get topped off once primary fermentation has settled down, this will be the only time we will do that for the beers, not replacing angels share.
This isn't even the start of the boil, that's how much we maxed the system out.
While the mash water on the first batch heated up we rolled the barrels out for visual inspection, checking for crack staves, heads, or any loose hoops that may be signs of dry barrels/areas that could leak. Five out of the six barrels looked absolutely perfect, the insides looked like a beautiful red wood flooring with a good half gallon of wine left at the bottom, which we of course sampled and enjoyed. But one of the barrels was completely empty, and upon closer inspection I found a spec of mold the size of a quarter on the inside. Not a total loss as Justin liked the idea of using it as a table in the bar room anyway, so we decided not to risk treating it. We hit each barrel we were using that day with super hot HLT water to ensure they were not leaking, leaving them sit throughout brewday until we were ready to fill them. The others got flushed with co2 for the time being, no holding solution, retaining the wine that was left inside to keep them hydrated.

Swelling heads.
Leak testing with hot-ish water.
Filling barrels in the basement, no extravagant equipment, everything on simple.
It took 14 hours but we got the first two barrels filled with over 100 gallons of wort, pitched them with loads of Imperial Rustic, Brett Drie, and my mixed culture of Brett/LAB/Wild Yeast/Saccharomyces. These will age until they are ready, a timeframe that will be tough to predict but 4-6 months is a fair estimation, the bugs will tell you when they are done. In the meantime we will get to work filling the rest of the barrels with some other variations of wort. I am normally very patient with these types of beers but this first run has me as anxious as ever, I just can't wait to see what they become, but wait will will. Justin and I sincerely cannot wait to release these beers to everyone, we think the local beer community is going love them. At least we hope so...

KGBC Barrels #1 & #2 - Name TBD

**Recipe scaled down to 5 gallons**

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.70 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.056 SG
Estimated Color: 5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 35 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

79.1% - 9 lbs 12 oz Weyermann Pilsner 
18.3% - 2 lbs 5 oz Rye Malt
 2.6%  -  5 oz Munich (10L)

Boil: 60 min - 0.50 oz Magnum [14.20 %] - 24.2 IBUs
Boil: 30 min - 0.55 oz Saaz [4.00 %] - 5.8 IBUs
Boil: 15 min - 2 Whirlfloc Tablet + 2 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5 min - 0.75 oz Saaz [4.00 %] - 2.3 IBUs
Boil:  5 min - 0.50 oz Cascade [6.90 %] - 2.6 IBUs
Boil:  0 min - 0.75 oz Saaz [4.00 %] ~0 IBUs
Boil:  0 min - 0.50 oz Cascade [6.90 %] ~0 IBUs

KGBC House Mixed Culture

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150 F 

Fly Sparge 172f

Misc: Pitman NJ tap water, Campden treated, Mash pH 5.36, Gypsum, Calcium Chloride, and Lactic acid added to the mash127ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 72ppm Na, 101ppm Cl, 100ppm SO4). Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary.