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.