Saturday, 29 March 2014

Saison bottle-conditioned with brett

IMG_1725[1]I’m almost out of grain until the next group buy in a few weeks, so in the meantime I’ll be posting about some older beers that I brewed before I ever thought of starting this blog.  Today’s post is about a saison that I brewed last year.  Inspired by this post about bottle-conditioning with brettanomyces, I dosed several bottles with different strains of brett, and stored them away in my beer cupboard to taste in a few months.

My process was fairly simple.  I have some syringes that I can sterilise in my pressure cooker.  (I usually do a few at a time in a mason jar covered with foil, and keep them that way until I need them.)  I used a few of these to take up slurry from a number of brettanomyces starters that I had on hand back then: two commercial strains, Wyeast Brett Brux and Lambicus, and the  C1 and C3 strains that BK Yeast isolated from a bottle of Cantillon Iris.  I then bottled the saison as I would normally, dosing a few heavy bottles with 1-2ml of the brett slurry from the syringes.

In hindsight, the heavy bottles probably weren’t necessary.  I deliberately fermented the base beer with a highly attenuative yeast (Danstar Belle Saison), and it was around 1.000-1 at bottling.  I knew that the brett would still make an impact, since it seems to work on other compounds than sugars in the beer, but the carbonation has only increased slightly over the the last 6 months.  In future I think I’ll be a bit more daring here, bottling beers that still have a few gravity points left to go before full attenuation (in heavy bottles of course).  In fact I have a few saisons brewed with WLP 670 bottle conditioning in my cupboard now of which this is true.

I opened the first brett-dosed bottles after a month or so, and they already showed subtle hints of the changing flavour profiles.  The bottles in this post were around six months old, and are some of the last I have left.  I haven’t repeated this process for a while, but tasting the results again today made me want to try it again.  The contribution of the brett is subtle rather than aggressive, leading to a balanced but fairly complex beer.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep any bottles of the original beer, and I wasn’t in the habit of making tasting notes before I started this blog.  I gave a bottle of the original beer to another homebrewer, who described it as follows: “very enjoyable- great head, good mouthfeel and what I believe to be classic saison taste. I would of been happy ordering that beer at a bar.” I remember it being dry and spicy, from the combination of the yeast, the hops, and the rye.

IMG_1727[1]J and I sat down with bottles of all four strains and tried to write some tasting notes.  To be honest, I always find it a little difficult to pick out and identify the aromas and flavours in a beer.  That naming and identifying is not the kind of thing I do when I’m enjoying a beer, and its taking practice and patience to get the hang of it.  But any progress I’ve made went out the window with these beers.  Each smelt and tasted subtly different, but we had a hell of a time describing how.  In every case, the brett contributed some light, delicate fruitiness and funk, which varied across bottles, but we struggled to come up with a consistent vocabulary to describe it all.

In most cases the fruitiness was that of overripe fruit, except perhaps the C3 which was a little different.  I think of these flavours as anyway present in saisons brewed with rye (which in my experience contributes fruit as well as spice), but they were accentuated here. There was also a gentle tartness, particularly in the bottles with the Wyeast Brett Brux and Lambicus, which complemented the fruit.  The spice was still there, but less dominant than before, again rounded out by the softer fruity flavours.  There was still a light bitterness, which verged on (or blended into an) astringency in a few of the bottles.  J paid more attention to this than I did, so I’m relying on her notes below.

Beyond these general descriptions, the aromas and flavours we identify below should be taken with a pinch of salt.  I found it difficult to come up with a consistent vocabulary (e.g. why is this one “hay-like” and this one “grassy”?), and my perception of the flavours changed completely when I compared different beers to each other: one moment I would notice aromas of bubble-gum and plastic, but coming back to the beer after a few others these were much more difficult to pick out.  So, with those provisos, here are some rough notes:

Appearance: Yellow tinged with light orange: almost gold in the right light.  Crystal clear.  Moussey head the dissipated to a thin cap.


Brett B: Fruity with very light and subtle barnyard just in the background.  More hay-like than C1/3, but not as much as Brett L.  Soft and delicate, blends well together.

Brett L: Cleaner than Brett B, still lightly fruity with more pronounced hay aromas, but without the touch of barnyard behind it.

C1: Spicy.  I wrote “slight barnyard, but different from Brett B”, which probably means that barnyard wasn’t exactly the word I was looking for. (Other people describe these strains as “woodsy”.)  Sweeter and fruitier than Brett L.

C3: Bubblegum, even plastic at first, but not unpleasant.  More grassy than any other strain.  Fruitiness is different from the Brett B and L.


Brett B: Tart, in a way that rounds out the rest of the palate nicely (most tart of all four).  Fruit (overripe) with very subtle hints of barnyard in aftertaste, but very pleasant.  Light spiciness along the tongue. Soft and well-balanced.

Brett L: Tart again, but less so than Brett B.  More bitter and slightly astringent.  Spicy and lightly grainy.

C1: Similar to above, but again with more pronounced bitterness and slight astringency.  Also slightly sweeter fruitiness, but a touch watery compared to others.

C3: Fruity, but in a slightly different way to above: more like a bubble-gum fruitiness (but light).  J says this was the most fruity of all, and in the middle in terms of bitterness and tartness.  Hints of damp earthiness and grass.


Tangy, with medium to high carbonation.  Dry in finish.  Variations between acidity and bitterness, noted above.

Drinkability and Notes:

Surprisingly I think we both like Brett B the best.  I say surprisingly because it had a touch of the barnyard and toilet notes that we’ve both disliked in other beers I’ve made with Brett B (to the point where I’d basically given up on using this strain).  Here they were subtle enough to really complement the fruitiness and round out the flavour profile without being at all offensive.  I think the added tartness that Brett B provided helped too.  J says she liked the C1 as well, in part for its higher bitterness.  I liked C3 too, but maybe just because it was a nice contrast to some of the others.  Brett L was underwhelming in comparison, though I think if I’d just tasted that I would have been happy with they hay-like spiciness it added.  Overall, this was a very drinkable beer: dry, balanced, and subtle.  I think the astringency was too much in some cases, but I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been really looking for it.



Estimated O.G. 1.038    
Measured O.G. 1.038    
Measured F.G. 1.001    
ABV. 4.8%    
Mash: 149°F    
39.8% 2 Row      
39.8% Pilsner      
13.9% Vienna      
6.4% Rye Malt      
EKG 60 mins 14.4 IBUs (20g @3.5%%)
EKG 20 mins 4.8 IBUs (20g @ 3.5%)
Celeia 1 min 4.3 IBUs (28g @ 4.5%)
EKG 1 min 1.2 IBUs (10g @ 3.5%)
Danstar Belle Saison      

Monday, 24 March 2014

Inoculating a Sour Beer

IMG_1721[1]Today I brewed a final batch of beer with the Ardennes yeast I grew up a few weeks ago.  This time I’m aiming for something sour, and using a mix of different techniques to achieve this, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to post some general thoughts on various methods of inoculating and fermenting sour beers.

As with any fermentation, the way to gain some control over the final product is by controlling the environment in which the fermentation takes place.  This can be done in at least the following related ways:

  • By controlling the sugars and starches in the food-stuff to be fermented.
  • By controlling the kind and population of organisms doing the fermentation (by killing anything already in the foodstuff and pitching new organisms in controlled amounts, or by encouraging some organisms already present).
  • By creating an environment that will favour some organisms over others (through temperature, pH, isomerized alpha and beta acids, salt-levels, etc.)

All of these basic methods can be seen in the various ways people brew sour beers.  The character and sourness of these beers will be determined by the course of their fermentation, and we control this (to some extent) with a variety of techniques: by controlling the sugars and starches in the wort, by pitching organisms at particular points during the fermentation or by controlling their cell-counts in the wort, and by controlling the environment in which the fermentation takes place so that it favours some of these organisms over others.

For instance, there are various ways to ensure you end up with a decently sour beer.  One is to pitch the bugs early, either in a blend like Roeselare or separately from the yeast, so that they can grow up sufficient numbers to out compete the sacch for at least some of the sugars in the wort.  The extreme version of this is the fermentation of a berliner weisse, where you pitch far more lactobacillus than sacch (~5:1 ratio), or pitch the lactobacillus a few days before pitching the sacch so that it doesn’t have to compete at all.  But even if you don’t pitch a large population of bugs and brett, you can still give them an advantage by adding them along with the sacch, and some home brewers like Michael Tonsmeire recommend this to ensure decently sour beer. 

Another technique (which can be used in conjunction with the previous one) is to deliberately brew a highly unfermentable wort (e.g. with a turbid mash, or by adding starches) so that the bugs have more sugars to consume once their numbers have grown.  This will favour slower growing organisms like pedio and brett, which will work together to break down and ferment all of the complex sugars left in the wort. 

Jamil Zainasheff used to recommend mashing at a higher temp, and then fermenting the beer with a clean yeast before adding bugs and brett.  Vinnie Cilurzo does something similar at Russian River, adding different organisms at different points in the fermentation to control the final product.  Some home brewers complain that this results in a final beer that is not very sour---especially if you’re relying on commercial blends like Roeselare for your secondary pitch, since these have low cell counts.   One way round this is to pitch either larger populations and/or more aggressive organisms.  Ron Jeffries at Jolly Pumpkin has described how he mashes low to ensure a highly fermentable wort, which is first fermented by his regular sacch strain (related to Wyeast 3522) in open stainless steel fermenters before being transferred to barrels for a secondary fermentation by the resident critters.  Since JP have aggressive bugs, the resulting beer still sours and can be packaged relatively quickly.

(I should also mention barrel-aging as a related technique: the micro-oxidation through the barrel walls seems to be an example of an environment that favours certain organisms in a way that is difficult to replicate without a barrel---but this is outside my experience).

I’ve used all of these techniques before, with varying levels of success.  My first sours were made with a single packet of Roeselare (I describe one of them in this post). I’ve also made several berliner weisses by co-pitching large amount of lacto and yeast (again, see previous post), and I have several batches currently fermenting that began with deliberately starchy worts. 

In general, though, I tend to prefer the Jolly Pumpkin technique, even if it results in slightly less sour beers.  I am particularly cautious about pitching brett too early in a mixed fermentation.  I once added a full pouch of Wyeast Brett Brux to a 3 gallon Orval clone before primary fermentation was completed, and the result, at only a few months old, was a very brett driven beer: lots of barnyard aromas, horsey, almost fecal, and not at all what I wanted.  I looked for advice around the web, and asked questions in the comments for this post on Michael Tonsmeire’s site, all of which confirmed my suspicions: the dominant character was probably partly a result of the strain, and partly a result of pitching so much brettanomyces early in fermentation (Wyeast packs have a relatively high cell count). The key seems to be pitching a lower numbers of brett and bugs so that they don’t out-compete the sacch in the early portion on fermentation, but are able to grow up sufficient numbers to make an earlier contribution and consume more of the sugars in the wort.  (Although brettanomyces should be able to make a contribution whenever you add it, since it can metabolise other compounds besides sugars in the beer.  I like the results I’ve got from adding it to very dry beers at bottling.)

Today I decided to try something a little different, adding bugs and brett from a number of sources along with the yeast for a more mixed fermentation.  I deliberately made a fairly fermentable wort, mashing at around 149°F and using ~8% table sugar, along with ~30% wheat.  The yeast was grown up from the small pitch I cropped in this post.  Once the starter was actively fermenting, I added dregs from a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin’s Oro de Calabaza.  Since its a strong beer (~8% ABV), and the bottle was about eight months old, I don’t know how viable the dregs were.  I’m hoping that adding such a small quantity to an already fermenting starter ensured only a small growth in the population of any bugs or brett, but made sure there were some JP bugs in the wort. 

IMG_1723[1]I also pitched from three other sources.  The first was a pint of apple juice inoculated a few days ago from my lactobacillus jug, and stored on my heated yogurt maker.  I don’t know what else is in this starter besides lacto: it was started about 8 months ago with a pouch of Wyeast Berliner Weisse blend that was past its sell-by date, so it may well still have both brett and sacch in it along with the lactobacillus.  My hope was that by feeding it exclusively apple juice, I would create an environment in which the lacto out-competed everything else.  I feed it more juice and yeast nutrients every few months, and store it in the fridge between feedings.

I don’t know how much contribution the lacto will make to the final beer.  A one pint starter is pretty small (I do many times that for my berliner weisses), and two days may not have been enough for the lacto to reach maximum cell numbers (I usually leave these starters for a week or two).  Moreover, although I kept the bitterness relatively low at 15 IBUs, that’s enough to inhibit the lacto, especially since I used low alpha hops which ensures plenty of other hop-related compounds are in the beer.  On the other hand, I also included a reasonable amount of wheat (~30%).  Why does that matter?  Well, I seem to remember that somewhere in this interview Brian Taylor of Goose Island makes an off-hand comment about lacto consuming sugars from wheat before anything else, so perhaps that will help it make some contribution.

The second source of bugs and brett was my “bug farm”: a gallon jug that started with some of the yeast cake from beers brewed with Roeselare and JP dregs, to which I’ve added dregs from various sour and wild beers, brettanomyces strains I’ve picked up from various people, and some of the East Coast Yeast Bug County I picked up this year.  I have no idea what of that is active in the beer now: I feed it occasionally with more wort, and right now it tastes tart and lightly funky.  Today I “pitched” from this by taking a turkey-baster full of beer from the middle of the jug, without swirling up the dregs, and adding it to the wort.  This means that I only pitched bugs and brett currently active in the wort, and their cell counts will be very low (perhaps too small to make a real contribution, although I’ve done this before along with bottle dregs and successfully inoculated batches).

Finally, I also pitched some of the starter I made from the Lochristi Brettanomyces blend I got from The Yeast Bay.  This has gradually grown up to about 1/3 gallon, which I’m going to store in a half-gallon jug.  Since the cake here is fresh, I swirled it all up and pitched a baster full of the cloudy beer into the new wort.  The cell counts should be higher here, but hopefully not so high that the brett aromas and flavours become too dominant early in the beer’s life.  I am slightly worried that by making a starter I changed changed the balance of the blend, but hopefully since there are only brett strains in it they grew at about the same pace.

I want the final beer to be a golden ale with medium sourness and a light, fruity funkiness, ready to package in 3 to 4 months.  We’ll see how things turn out: it will depend on the gravity and sourness after primary fermentation is over, so I’ll post about it again in a few weeks.

Estimated O.G. 1.056    
Measured O.G. 1.049 (Low!)  
Measured F.G.      
Mash: 149°F    
55.6% 2-Row      
22.2% Wheat Malt      
8.3% Vienna      
5.6% Torrified Wheat      
8.3% Table sugar      
Fuggles 60 mins 12.3 IBUs (15g @ 4.1%)
Fuggles 15 mins 3.3 IBUs (15g @ 4.1%)
Wyeast Belgian Ardennes (3522) Lactobacillus My ‘Bug Farm’ and Lochristi Blend  


Sunday, 23 March 2014

Brew Day: Belgian Dry Stout

I’ve brewed a few times in the last two weeks, using the pitch of 3522 that figured in this post about top-cropping.  The yeast I cropped there was for an experimental recipe: a belgian dry stout.

IMG_1719[1]This is another beer inspired by Yvan de Baets and Brasserie de la Senne, but this time I decided to brew this recipe even before I tasted the beer that is its inspiration.  I have a slightly strange habit of trawling through brewery websites to read descriptions of beers I’ve never tried.  They often give me ideas for recipes, and it fits with the general idea of trying to make beers that I know I’ll enjoy without deliberately setting out to clone any particular commercial example.  I’d already heard Yvan and Bernard describe the beer in this video from Shelton Brothers, and the description of Stouterik on the brewery’s website was enough to pique my interest further: light, dry, and freshly bitter with complex roasted notes.

I decided to take a typical recipe for a dry Irish stout and ferment it with the Wyeast Ardennes strain.  This has a fairly subdued character if fermented in the 60s, and can add a slight tartness that I thought would complement the style.  The only other change I made was substituting chocolate for some of the roasted barley.  This changed the colour slightly, but I hope it will add to the complexity of the final beer.

One thing that struck me as I formulated the recipe was how similar a basic dry stout is to the saisons de Baets describes in Farmhouse Ales (see quote in this post).  Obviously dry stouts are dry(!), and have relatively low alcohol.  They are heavily bittered with a large dose of low alpha hops, and contain a substantial amount of adjuncts in the form of barley or wheat.

SAM_1797After formulating the recipe, I had to wait a few weeks before brewing, and in that time I had a chance to pick up a few bottles of Stouterik (along with a very different Belgian stout, Drie Fonteinen’s  The De la Senne beer is lovely: dry and slightly fruity, with a subtle roastiness and firm bitterness, neither of which make it acrid or astringent.  It has some dark fruit notes, which makes me wonder if there isn’t also some crystal in their beer (it may also be their yeast).  Perhaps next time I’ll add 1-2% dark crystal or Special B to bring this out.  The Drie Fonteinen beer was also enjoyable: it had a fairly light, grapey sourness, some chocolate and roast notes, and that slight but distinctive burnt rubber aroma and flavour that this brewery’s beer often seem to have.  As it warmed it began to taste like a slightly sour chocolate, and the grape notes became more like currants or red fruits. Unlike the De la Senne beer, its not something I can imagine drinking regularly, but I’d certainly buy it again.

Anyway, below is the recipe as I brewed it.  This is a work in progress, and I expect to come back to it again based on how this one turns out.  Now that I’ve tasted Stouterik, I don’t think this will be much like it---I don’t think their yeast is the Ardennes strain, for instance, and for some reason I have in mind that their “English aromatic hop particularly appreciated by connoisseurs” is Challenger rather than Fuggles. But I think this recipe will provide a good starting point for further development.  If I decided I want to make it more like the original, I can always culture yeast from a bottle and tweak the recipe.  

Update: Tasting Notes.

Estimated O.G. 1.040    
Measured O.G. 1.037    
Measured F.G. 1.009    
ABV. 3.7%    
Mash: 150°F    
69% Maris Otter      
20% Flaked Barley      
8% Roasted Barley      
3% Chocolate      
Fuggles 60 36.8 IBUs (45g @4.1%%)
Fuggles 10 1.8 IBUs (10g @ 4.`%)
Wyeast Belgian Ardennes (3522)      

Friday, 21 March 2014

Top Cropping Yeast

I thought I’d do a quick post on top-cropping yeast.  This is an easy way to get fresh, viable yeast, especially if you brew frequently.  I first tried it after watching the Brewing TV episode on open fermentation (which I also do sometimes), and I soon made it a key part of my process, deliberately selecting strains that are good top-croppers and planning a series of beers around a particular pitch of yeast.

The strains I have on slants that I know are good croppers include the following: Wyeast West Yorkshire (1469), London Ale III (1318), Ardennes (3522), Trappist High Gravity (3787).  I have some “Conan” yeast in the form of The Yeast Bay’s Vermont Ale strain.  This was originally a British yeast, cultured by Greg Noonan (watch this excellent episode of Chop and Brew for more information), and based on one fermentation I suspect it will also be a good candidate for top-cropping.  I’ve cropped versions of the Chico strain too.

I tend to plan a series of beers around a particular yeast so that I can pitch directly from brew to brew.  The yeast in these pictures is the Ardennes strain (3522), grown up from a slant last week, and then used to ferment a 1.042 blond saison/grisette. 

IMG_1713The night before I’m going to crop yeast, I usually sterilize some of the tools I’m going to use in my pressure cooker: a funnel and mason jar for the yeast, and some water to store it under.  Unfortunately the spoon I use to crop the yeast doesn’t fit in my cooker.  This step is probably overkill, and I don’t always use it since everything gets sprayed liberally with starsan solution just before I crop, and that ought to be sufficient.

I usually aim to crop early on the third day, after fermentation has slowed somewhat and the yeast begin to gather in thick clumps at the top of the beer (obviously this will depend on the strength of your wort and the speed of your fermentation: since I usually brew only 11.5l of sub-1.050 beer, fermentation is IMG_1714beginning to slow down after three days).  Here I had to do it a little early, so the yeast was more foamy than thick and I didn’t collect as much as I usually do.  Once you’ve done this a few times, you begin to get a sense of when you should crop: in Brew Like a Monk, Ron Jeffries says that “it should look like a rich lather, with a dense head on top”.  If you’re brewing a hoppy beer, the yeast that surfaces on the first few days might be coated in hop oils.  I don’t worry about this too much, but you can skim this off and then come back to collect clean yeast later after the top-layer has reformed.

IMG_1716I scoop the yeast up with a metal spoon and transfer it into the mason jar via a metal canning funnel.  Its best if your relaxed while you do this, but I do try to be quick to minimize the time that my bucket is open and the yeast is exposed to the environment(since this is my brew closet, there is lots of grain etc. in there, and so probably plenty of wild yeast and bacteria in the air).

IMG_1717Afterwards, I pour the sterilized water on top of the yeast and close the mason jar up.  At first you’ll have a milky, foamy liquid, but the yeast will eventually settle out into a creamy white mass at the bottom of the jar.  I often rouse the yeast that’s left in the bucket by stirring it up with a few gentle movements of the spoon.  If you are cropping during high krausen, the top-layer may even reform before you close things up.  In theory you need to be careful to leave enough yeast behind to finish the fermentation, but this has never been a problem for me.

IMG_1718As I said, I cropped early this time and didn’t collect as much as I usually do.  Still, it’s more than enough for what I have planned.  I’m going to use it in another ~1.040 wort tomorrow: Jamil’s yeast calculator, on its usual settings, says I need 30ml of yeast.  This is 40ml of thick slurry that is basically 100% yeast and very healthy. 

Sometimes I deliberately crop a little extra and grow it up in some starter wort, just to save me the hassle of cropping from the next beer.  This is especially easy if I’ve saved wort from the bottom of the kettle after a recent brew.  I may do this today, or I may just crop again for the final beer I have planned for this yeast.

So there you have it: an easy way to get multiple batches from a single pitch of yeast.  Once you get over the fear of opening up your fermenter before fermentation is over, its really very simple, and with basic sanitary precautions there shouldn’t be any significant risk of infection.

Update (24/7/14):  I’ve decided to update this post to incorporate a few things I should have mentioned, and also to describe a very small change in my process.

One thing I should have stressed is that you want to crop yeast from the second or high krausen.  If possible, I suggest fermenting in a see-through vessel with a true top-cropping yeast so that you can see what this means.  Usually the yeast will put up a thinner krausen within 12 hours of pitching, which will subside thereafter.  If you were fermenting in a bucket and just happened to peak in at this point, you might think the fermentation was over and you’d missed your chance.  However top-cropping yeasts like WY1469 will put up a second, much thicker krausen shortly after this.  This is what you want to crop from.  The time frame in the main post is about right: 3 days into fermentation is usually when I see this.

The change in my process is minor.  I’ve started to use a Bubbler Wide-Mouth carboy for my primary fermentation.  The wider mouth makes top-cropping possible, but its narrower than a bucket, giving less room for manoeuvre.  To accommodate this, I’ve taken a slotted metal spoon and bent the joint between the handle and the spoon itself to make an L-shape.  It essentially looks like a ladle.  I can now dip down into the bubbler and pull up yeast more easily.  As an added bonus, this means that the spoon also fits into my pressure cooker, so I can sterilise along with everything else.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Bitter Belgian

IMG_1707[1]This post is based on one of my favourite beers, from one of my favourite breweries: Brasserie De La Senne’s Taras Boulba.  One of the founders of the brewery is Yvan de Baets, whose chapter on saisons in Farmhouse Ales has been a reliable source of inspiration for me (expect a few posts based on it soon). I imagine that Taras Boulba is deliberately reminiscent of the beers he described there, and since I love the summary description that ends the chapter, I’ll quote it in full:

A saison must therefore be low in alcohol (in the modern—and therefore Belgian—sense of the word in any case), around 4.5 to 6.5%.  It must be highly attenuated (90-95% on average, if not more, as apparent attenuation) and dry.  It must also be either sour or very bitter (with bitterness obtained by the use of a massive amount of hops low in alpha acid).  It shouldn’t in any case be smooth.  If spices are used, it should be with the utmost moderation.  A saison is not by any means a spice soup.  Ideally, it should be fermented, at least partially, by wild yeasts as well as cultured varieties.  An authentic saison has a small “wild” side, rustic, indefinable, far from the clean aspect of certain engineered beers today.  In one word, it must have an extraordinary character.

Taras Boulba surely fits the first half of this description: dry, low in alcohol, bitter and citrusy from large doses of low alpha hops.  And that is exactly the kind of beer I tried to brew here. 

But although this beer is inspired by Taras Boulba, it was never supposed to be a clone.  This is the way I tend to take up commercial beers and clone recipes when I’m home brewing: I think about what it is that makes me enjoy the beer, and try to brew something that I will enjoy for the same reasons.   Obviously this means that the beer I end up with might taste very different from its inspiration in a side-by-side comparison, and that’s exactly what you have here.

The recipe (reproduced below) was very simple: a 90/10 split of base malt and wheat, hopped aggressively with low-alpha varieties (I was using up some old hops from previous years), and fermented with a characteristically belgian strain (albeit not the most highly attenuative).

The result was a fairly good beer, but it needs more work if it’s going to match the beer from De La Senne.  The flavour of the malt is not really there, and as a result the beer is more fruit-forward from the hops.  While this fades quickly to a pleasant dry bitterness, it doesn’t have the full profile I was looking for.  I almost have the bitterness right, but it lacks the minerally cripsness of the original, a flavour that blends wonderfully with the graininess of the pilsner malt.

Unfortunately the bottle of Taras Boulba I had for this was pretty old, bottled over 8 months ago and probably sitting unrefrigerated on the shelf at Binnys since it arrived in the US.  (They still have some Schieven IPA on their shelves, which as far as I can tell was brewed once in 2012, making the bottles 2 years old!)  I will try to pick up a fresher bottle some time soon—I noticed a few in the fridge when I visited The Beer Temple a few weeks ago.  Because of its age, the hoppy citrus  aroma of the beer was almost completely gone, leaving instead an almost flinty smell along with the grainy aroma of the pilsner malt.  J said it reminded her of Half Acre’s Pony Pilsner, which makes a lot sense to me.  The mouth-feel is slightly creamy from the carbonation, but not in a cloying way, ending dry and assertively bitter at the back of the tongue.  Here are my tasting notes for my home brew:

IMG_1710[1]Appearance: Hazy orange.  Thick white head that dissipates to 1/4 inch and lingers while I drink beer.
Smell: Very fruity.  Orange jelly sweets (if you’re British, it smells exactly like Fruit Pastilles) and marmalade.  Floral notes in the background.
Taste: Very fruity, following nose (Fruit Pastilles again!).  Slight sweetness from malt that accentuates the fruitiness, but malt itself does not make a clear flavour contribution as it does with TB. 
Mouthfeel: Creamy at first, with very slight wateriness in middle that is not there with TB.  Fades to firm, dry, slightly tannic bitterness.
Drinkability & Notes: Not a bad attempt.  Far more fruity/hoppy than the Taras Boulba, but partly due to age of the latter.  I think when TB is fresh it has a lemony aroma that I associate with European hops; mine is all oranges from the EKG.  Both firmly bitter, but TB more so, with minerally/flinty taste that blends pleasantly with flavour from the malt.  These almost completely missing from my version beyond slight sweetness.  I used 2 Row because I was running out of pilsner, and it definitely makes a difference to the flavour.  What’s more, the orange colour is striking given recipe.  Does the 2 Row make this much of a difference, or has something else happened (oxidized)?  I expected it to be pale and yellow, like Taras Boulba and the saisons I’ve brewed with a 90/10 : pilsner/wheat split, but its much darker.
Estimated O.G. 1.038    
Measured O.G. 1.037    
Measured F.G. 1.006    
ABV. 4.0%    
Mash: 149°F    
90% 2 Row      
10% Wheat Malt      
Crystal FWH 14.1 IBUs (15g @ 4.29%)
EKG 30 6.9 IBUs (15g @ 4.5%)
EKG 15 7.2 IBUs (30g @ 4.5%)
Crystal Whirlpool 3.6 IBUs (15g @ 4.29%)
EKG Whirlpool 3.8 IBUs (15g @ 45%)
Crystal Dry Hop   (15g)
EKG Dry Hop   (30g)
Wyeast Belgian Ardennes (3522)      





Sunday, 16 March 2014

Entering Beers in Competitions

I’ve been brewing for over two years now, but I’ve never had much interest in competitions.  It was in part because I knew my beer wasn’t all that good, but also because I found the idea of brewing to style slightly bizarre.  It’s not that I don’t brew particular styles of beer; but if I like my bitter more hoppy than the BCJP guidelines say it should be, I’m going to brew the beer I like.

Still, as my beer got better I became curious about what other home brewers would think of it.  Since I don’t know many that live nearby, competitions were the obvious outlet, and I kept my eye out for any that had local drop-off points that I could reach with ease.  When I saw an advert for Square Keg’s Winter Brew, and noticed that one of the drop-offs was a LHBS near the Half Acre taproom, I figured I might as well enter something next time I went up there.

As it turned out, I didn’t have much that was ready by the drop-off date.  I had just bottled a saison brewed with White Labs American Farmhouse blend, and since the judging was a few weeks after the drop-off I decided to take the risk and send an untasted and possibly uncarbonated beer to be judged. 

That first beer did badly.  It scored 22, with most comments suggesting that I’d entered it in the wrong category.  That was pretty frustrating---I wanted feedback on the beer!---but I learnt a valuable lesson about the importance of the category beers are entered in.  I had entered it as a straight-up saison, but the brett character and slight tartness made it more appropriate for Belgian Specialty Ale.

Still, the low score bugged me, so I decided to enter at least one more competition.  The Drunk Monk Challenge was coming up, and again one of the drop-off points was a different LHBS where I occasionally pick up supplies.  Since this was a bigger competition, I decided to enter some of the beers I’ve been saving for summer: a Flanders Red aged on raspberries, and a Berliner Weisse fermented with WLP Brett Trois and lactobacillus.  I also threw in an old Brown Porter that noone had been drinking.

This time the beers did better, in part because I solicited advice from other home brewers about which categories to enter them in.  The Flanders Red scored 40 and advanced to a mini-BOS; the Berliner Weisse scored 38.5; and the Brown Porter scored 28.5.  None of them placed, but I was happy with the scores.

Below I’ve posted pictures and brief descriptions of each beer, along with an amalgamation of the notes from the score sheets.  Its very useful to taste the beers along with these notes: I’m not very good at picking out and describing flavours, so the notes serve as a guide for what to look for in the beer.  It also made me appreciate the judges who took time to give detailed and helpful notes (i.e. the judges from DMC).


Flanders Red aged w/ Raspberries and French Oak

IMG_1698[1]This was one of the first sours I ever brewed.  In fact, it was one of two that I brewed close together, one based on the recipe in Wild Brews, and one based on Jamil Zainisheff’s recipe in Brewing Classic Styles.  I was still getting used to all-grain brewing, and I’m sure I did a terrible job with both beers.  I remember I mis-weighed the grain and significantly over-shot my gravity; then I ended up with less wort than I wanted, so that there was too much head-space in the carboys. The secondary fermentation and conditioning didn’t go much better: I let the air-locks run dry several times, added oak too early without boiling it to soften the flavour, and had to leave the carboys out without temperature control during the hot Chicago summer, etc.  After a year, one tasted muddy and unpleasant, and the other was far too oaky and seemed rather flat besides that.  I decided to throw one out because I needed the carboy (in hindsight this was probably a mistake); I transferred the other off the oak and added some raspberries hoping to brighten the flavours a bit.  At this point, I lost track of which beer was which, so I have no idea what the recipe was for this one!  Somehow, after all of that, I ended up with a good beer.  It’s not bracingly sour, but it has a pleasant oakiness, a low to medium sourness, and a wonderful vinous mouthfeel, almost like a red wine.  J likes it more than I do; I’m just amazed it turned out at all!

Aroma: One judge described a “nice sour fruitiness” with a “little bit of funk in the undertone”, whereas the other thought it had a “really nice nose” with “subtle raspberry and sweet notes”.    The national judge described “a strong mix of sweet fruity/tart aroma”.

Both 10 out of 12; national judge 9/12

Appearance: “Nice reddish amber color with good clarity” and “excellent clarity, gorgeous reddish brown color”.  The national judge’s pour seems to have been cloudy, and he describes the beer as “brown with red hue”.  Two commented on the lack of head and dinged me a point for it.

2 and 3 out of 3; national judge 2/3

Flavour: One described a “slight woody raspberry flavor” whereas the other also picked up on “hints of vanilla from the oak”.  The national judge said that the flavour was dominated by the raspberry fruit character, but that “there is a hint of woody bite”.  One of the judges said that there was only a hint of sourness; the national judge said that the “tartness is medium and lingers into the finish and aftertaste”.  One judge also commented on its “almost wine-like character”.

Both 16 out of 20; national judge 15/20

Mouthfeel: All three commented on the low carbonation and one described a silky character. 

Both 4 out of 5; national judge 4/5

Overall Impression:  I’ll just quote in full here.  First judge: “Overall a nice beer.  Not overly tart/sour.  Good balance.  Nice fruitiness.  Good job.”  Second judge: “Gorgeous color.  Needs better head retention.  Tartness decent.  Consider dextrin to increase head.   No major faults.  Very nice beer, would love the recipe.”  National judge: “A pleasant brew.  Raspberry fits in.  Oak is hard to detect.  I like to drink a couple of these.  Maybe more carbonation.”

7 and 8 out of 10; national judge 9/10

I’m pretty happy with these scores.  The low carbonation was not completely deliberate---I was worried because I was bottling in regular bottles and the gravity was a little high (around 1.004 I think).  But it works well with the beer, adding to its vinous character.  I would like a more pronounced sourness too.


Berliner Weisse fermented w/ Brett Trois

IMG_1697[1]I’ve made a few berliner weisses before, but this was my first time using brett trois as the primary yeast.  My technique is based loosely on Kristen England’s recipe in Brewing with Wheat: a 50/50 split of wheat and pilsner malt, no boil, pitched with yeast and a large quantity of lactobacillus simultaneously.  England suggests at 5:1 ration of lactobacillus to yeast, but since I have no way of measuring this I basically guess: feed my gallon jug of lactobacillus, cold-crash it in the fridge for a few days, the pitch most of the dregs with the yeast.  Its worked well so far, but I’m always a bit worried that it either won’t sour at all or will be impossibly sour.  This batch turned out fine; directly afterwards I made another batch with dried blackcurrants: expect a post about that one soon.

Aroma: One described it as “sour on the nose with a hint of brett aroma” and “some peppery notes as [the] sample warms”.  The other described a “large ‘dank’ ‘brett’ type character up front (musty, cheesy farmhouse aromas)” and a “sharp sour acidic tinge [that] follows the funk” with a slight presence of malt under it all in the form of graininess.  One judge also mentioned an unpleasant sulphur aroma that dissipated quickly.

8 and 9 out of 12

Appearance: Clear straw/light gold color, fluffy head that dissipates quickly.

Both 3 out of 3

Flavour: Both describe a sharp lactic sourness up front (one says it has lemon and grapefruit juice flavors).  One judge detected peppery fruity notes on the mid-palette, whereas the other commented on a grainy and honey-like sweetness.  One felt there was a good balance of malt and sour, but the other also found some astringency lingering in the aftertaste.

14 and 17 out of 20

Mouthfeel: “Light body – high carbonation.  Peppery on tongue.”  “Light crisp body, medium high carbonation.  Sour ‘tart’ finish that balances the body to dry”.

Both 4 out of 5

Overall Impression:  First judge: “A very spicy brew.  Could improve score by decreasing peppery astringent component.  The dry finish is appropriate but it also intensifies harsh aftertaste.  Also work on aroma to improve score.”  Second judge: “Very drinkable, well-balanced between malt & sourness.  The sulphur that came through at first was unpleasant but after a few seconds the ‘brett’ type funk dominated the aroma.  Could use a bit of age to get more from the brett.  Enjoyed, thanks”.

7 and 8 out of 10

It scored 37 and 40 overall.  This is probably the best berliner weisse I’ve made to date, but it does have a slight musty taste that I don’t really like.  Its also fairly young, so it will be interesting to see if the fruitiness increases over time.


Brown Porter

IMG_1701[2]This is based on the recipe in Brewing Classic Styles.  I’ve made it a few times, but never been completely happy with the results.  For some reason, my darker beers often end up fairly sweet: the judges picked up on this here.  I’ve tried to counter that by increasing the bitterness slightly, and it makes this more drinkable than previous versions but it still needs more work.  These bottles were on the older side: I still have a lot of this batch lying around, so I figured I might as well get some feedback on it.

Aroma: One judge describe a “big initial aroma of coffee and roast” with “acrid burnt sugar and low caramel”.  The other described “medium to medium high roast malt with some chocolate and burnt coffee”.  Both picked up on a slight vegetal flavour that has become more pronounced as the beer gets older.

6 and 7 out of 12

Appearance: “Dark bronze and copper color.  Crystal clear!”  Their pours had a small off-white head; some of the ones I’ve opened recently have a larger head (see photo), perhaps early signs of infection in some bottles?

Both 3 out of 3

Flavour: The first judge said that “caramel malts are apparent with medium roast and chocolate malts”.  The other described it as “light malt and watery” with “very little caramel and roast flavours”.  He also described a “low dry finish” that “leaves a dry burnt coffee aftertaste”.

Both 11 out of 20

Mouthfeel: Again, one judge found it “a touch thin and almost watery” with no creaminess or warmth.  The other said that the “sweetness and medium-low carb. lends towards beer being overly sweet” but that “roast malts are in balance with crystal” and that there was a “medium high alcohol warmth”.

2 and 3 out of 5

Overall Impression: One judge said that this “represent a more roasty sweet style of brown porter” but that “more caramel and crystal malt characteristics would help round this out”.  The other thought that the roast a crystal worked well, but said that the style should finish drier.

 5 and 6 out of 10

The beer scored 27 and and 30 out of 50.  I need to work on these dark English beers, although with summer coming up I can’t see myself doing that any time soon.  The main thing is increasing the malt flavour and mouthfeel while also decreasing the sweetness that seems to characterize many of my stouts and porters.  I’m not sure exactly how to do this yet.

Rustic Rye Saison

IMG_1704[1]One of the first saisons I ever made was based on the rye saison recipe that Michael Tonsmeire included in his BYO article on brewing saisons (there’s another version of it here).  That batch, also my first time using 3711, didn’t turn out so well: it had a lot of hot, fusel alcohol flavours, perhaps as a result of under-pitching the yeast, or of starting fermentation too high.  I added some brettanomyces lambicus and kept a few bottles to see if it improved at all.  The most recent one was much nicer: a light, hay-like aroma and far less of the hot alcohol in the taste (though its still there).  But even now I don’t drink it much because its just too strong for me: the 3711 took it right down to 1.000, and I ended up with a 7+% ABV beer.  This was another attempt to brew a similar recipe, but with a lower starting gravity and a different yeast blend: White Labs American Farmhouse Blend.  The comments in this competition were much briefer than the comments from DMC.  Many of them were almost illegible!

Aroma: Spicy aroma, fruit; plastic. (I can’t read the rest.)

Both 5 out of 12

Appearance: “Hazy, pale yellow color.  Good lace.” “Pale yellow in color.  Slightly cloudy.  Good head retention.”

Both 3 out of 3

Flavour: “A little sour, some esters, some malt.” [That’s it!] “Hay-barn taste almost to acidity.  Brett style.  Can pull some pilsner grain.”

7 and 8 out of 20

Mouthfeel:  Well carbonated.  One judge said a bit thin, and the other said it was too sour for the style.

2 and 3 out of 5

Overall Impression: First judge: “Good beer for geuze but not for saison.”  Second judge: “Wrong category?  Is there brettanomyces in here?  Watch sourness of phenolics.”

Both 4 out of 10

It scored 21 and 23 overall.  In part this reflects the importance of entering beers in the right category.  I assumed that because this beer fitted everything I knew about saisons that that would be the category to enter it in, but clearly that was a mistake.  I was a little frustrated by the brevity and illegibility of these comments.  Some of them strike me as bizarre (it is slightly tart, but nothing like a geuze!), and some are just useless (“some malt, some esters”).  A month later, the beer is tasting better than it did when I entered it.  The fruitiness has increased considerably, and there is still a light to medium tartness and the same hay-like aroma.  It’s a beautiful hazy gold, and the rye gives it great head-retention.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Bam Biere


The first beer that got me really excited about sour and wild brewing was Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza. To be honest, I don't remember why I bought it: my local Binnys had several of their beers on the shelf for a few months, and one day I picked that one up.  I know that the Brewing TV episode on sour beers made me pay more attention to them, so maybe it was related to that, although JP beers don't figure in it at all.  Regardless, that first bottle was a revelation.  I don't remember the particular taste so much as what I suppose I’d call the structure of the beer: the way the flavours developed along the palette after each sip, hitting a range of notes over a few seconds and drawing them together into a harmonious but complex whole.  The best comparison I can think of (and the one that struck me at the time) is with a sip of good whisky: some initial wave of flavour, persisting and deepening over the mid-palate, then fading to something else at the back of the mouth.  If you’ve ever tried bad (read:young) whisky, you’ll have a better sense of what I mean: the young stuff also hits a series of notes, but it is blocky and jagged, one thing after another with no integration. That bottle of Oro was complex and integrated: a striking initial taste, a prolonged and complex middle note, and a mouth-watering sour finish.

That was enough to get my interested in Jolly Pumpkin, and sour beers in general.  At the time I was still relatively new to home-brewing (I suppose I still am!), and I was a learning lot from listening to old shows on The Brewing Network.  A quick search of their site threw up two episodes of Can You Brew It that featured Jolly Pumpkin beers.  I listened to both back to back, and was struck by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the brewer, Ron Jeffries (I’ve since emailed for brewing advice, and his responses have only confirmed that impression). 

I particularly recommend that Bam Biere episode for anyone looking for an easy recipe to try for their first sour beer; you can find further details on this HBT thread. One great thing about the episode, especially for a beginning brewer, is that Jeffries talks in detail about the thought behind his ingredient choices.  When you’re first starting out, you see a recipe like the one below and have no real idea what’s going on.  Why that blend of base malts?  Why those proportions?  What does that flaked barley add?  What about the crystal malt?  Jeffries explains the thinking behind all of this, as well as the process they use to make their sour beers.  This is translated admirably to the home-brew level by Mike Mraz and the other hosts in the second half of the episode.

As far as I know, Jolly Pumpkin beers are distributed in most states, and the bugs and wild yeast available in fresh bottles will provide a pleasant sourness to most beers relatively quickly (especially compared to commercial blends like Wyeast Roeselare).  What’s more, since this beer has such a low starting gravity, the turn around is fairly quick for a sour beer.  I drank my first bottles at about two and a half months after brew day, and they were tart and hoppy, the perfect beer for a hot Chicago summer day.  At this point the beer is around 8 months old, and the hops have faded and the sourness increased.  I’ll do my best to describe it below.

A note on brewing the beer: I followed Jeffries’ instructions, creating a fermentable wort by mashing low and adding dregs from a fresh bottle of Bam Biere after primary fermentation was complete.  I’ve been happy with the sourness throughout: light at first and more assertive now.  However if you like a bracingly sour or overtly funky beer, you might want to add the bugs and wild yeast along with your pitch of saccharomyces so that they have a stronger population earlier in the fermentation. 

Appearance: Medium white head that dissolves quickly to a thin layer on top of the beer.  Hazy orange colour, changing to a red-tinged yellow when I hold it up to the light.
Smell: Pronounced stone-fruit.  I want to say nectarine, but it’s a long time since I had one.  J says it reminds her of  the juice in tinned pineapple.  There’s also an almost cream-like or maybe yogurt smell---it reminds me of a frozen yogurt we made with grapefruit and hibiscus, not for those flavours but the pithy, creamy smell that it had.  No hops discernable, in contrast to the way it smelt when it was young.
Taste: Follows the nose: strong stone fruit and pineapple juice.  Medium sourness, and that same slight creaminess.
Mouthfeel: Relatively low carbonation.  I was worried about over-carbonation because I was bottling half the batch in regular bottles to drink young.  Next time I’ll aim higher.  The initial fruity sourness fades to that mouth-watering feeling that sours produce, along with a lingering tannic dryness at the back of the throat, probably from the oak.
Drinkability & Notes: Pleased with how this one has aged.  The mouth-watering sourness and stone-fruit flavours remind me in some ways of New Belgium’s Le Terroir, although this is less sour.  Its much more drinkable than that beer too though, in that I can get through a glass quickly and immediately want another, whereas I found the NB beer too sour for that.  It’s a shame I only have a few of these left, but there’s another batch on the way for the summer.
Estimated O.G.        1.037
Measured O.G.       1.036
Measured F.G.        1.002
ABV:                       4.4%

Mash:     149°F for 90 minutes

51%        Pilsner
25.5%     2 Row
13.8%     Wheat malt
6.6%       Flaked Barley
2.9%       Crystal 80
0.2%       Black Patent

Crystal           60 minutes             17.3 IBUs  
Crystal           30 minutes             6.6   IBUs
Crystal           0 minutes               70% of 30 minute addition
Crystal           Dry Hop                40% of 30 minute addition

French Oak Cubes        14g            Secondary; 2 months

Wyeast Belgian Ardennes (3522); Jolly Pumpkin dregs added to secondary.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


As I've said before, the first fermented food I ever made was bread, and I still bake 2-4 times a week.  In this post I'll document the loaf I make most frequently: Chad Robertson's Tartine Country Loaf.  I'm not sure exactly what the purpose of this is!  Even if someone could somehow make the bread based on this post, there are much more informative resources out there (including the Tartine Book).  I suppose, as with the brew day post, I'm just detailing my own process.
The Tartine Basic Country Bread is fairly easy to make, especially once you're comfortable handling wet dough.  What's more, the process is easy to incorporate into your schedule, and the results are consistently excellent.  Even when I mess this bread up (and I have, many times) its still delicious.
As I said in my earlier post, I keep this starter in the fridge until I bake.  On the first day of making a new dough, I take the it out of the fridge, allow it to warm up, and discard all but a tablespoon.  I then feed it with 100g of mixed flour (50g whole wheat, 50g bread) and filtered tap water.  I do not measure the temperature of the tap water, but if it's cold I try to make sure its on the warmer side, and in summer I make sure it is cool.
Since we're both graduate students, and live near our campus, one of us is usually home to feed the starter around midday at least once or twice a week.  In about six hours, it is bubbly and has risen to almost twice its previous volume.  When it's cold, I let it rise in the oven with the light on, which keeps it around 80°F; when its hot, I sometimes keep it in my fermentation chamber.  The same happens with the dough as it rises. (Obviously you have to be careful with any clean beers fermenting in there, since the dough is teeming with lactobacillus and wild yeast!)
Our basic recipe is very easy to remember: 350g water, 450g bread flour, 50g wholewheat flour, 100g starter; 10g salt, 25g water.  I usually add the water first, then mix in the starter so that the yeast is evenly distributed.  Then I add the flour, mix it all together roughly until is forms a ball, and leave it to autolyse on the counter for between 20 and 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes is up, the flour is fully hydrated and the dough is relaxed and slightly smooth.  At this point I add the salt and 25g of water, incorporating it into the dough by squeezing it through my fingers.  When most of it has been absorbed, I transfer to a translucent plastic container, and let the bulk fermentation begin.
At first, I stretch and fold the dough every twenty minutes to develop the gluten.  This replaces kneading, and is an easier way to handle wet doughs like this.  You can definitely knead dough like this by hand, and I often do with some other breads I make less frequently: but the technique for wetter dough can be loud, and my downstairs neighbour has complained about the noise a few times!
After about two hours of this (i.e. six stretches and folds), I leave the dough to rise untouched for another two or three hours.  By the end it is soft, smooth, and slightly billowy, but certainly not doubled in size.  Unfortunately I started to remove the dough pictured here before remembering to take a photo, so it looks slightly deflated; but you can get some sense of how much the volume has increased.
Next I give it a rough shape and allow it to rest on the bench for twenty minutes.  If the dough has over-fermented, especially in the summer, it can be difficult to handle at this point, so I have to add a lot of flour.  But in general I keep bench flour to a minimum, and use my bench scraper to handle and shape the dough.  I'm fairly good at this now, but I think I still handle it too much: ideally you'd shape it in as few moves as possible.  If I handle it too much, I often drive air bubbles up to the surface, deflating the bread and potentially creating large air pockets in the final loaf.
After the bench rest, the dough gets a final shaping and is inverted into a cloth-lined wicker basket.  Chad Robertson tells you to put it in the fridge at this point, but (following Nancy Silverton) I like to give it another hour to rise in the basket before retarding fermentation.  Part of my thinking here is that home fridges tend to be a lot cooler than the fridges that bakers use, so I want to let the yeast restart the final fermentation before slowing them in the fridge.  After an hour is up, I layer some plastic wrap on top of the dough, place the basket in a food-grade plastic bag, and leave it in the fridge over night.
Next morning, as soon as I wake up, I put my combo cooker in the oven and set the heat to 500°F.  While the oven heats, I take the dough out of the fridge and dust what will be the bottom of the loaf with some rice flour.  After twenty minutes, I pull the smaller part of the combo cooker out of the oven and invert the dough from the basket directly onto it.  It took some practice to get this right, but now I usually avoid hitting the sides (the trick is to go in further than you think you need to).  At this point I score the top of the dough with a make-shift lame (i.e. a razor blade attached to a stick), place it in the oven, and put the top of the combo cooker back on. This is one of the big improvements I made after reading Chad Yakobson's book.  The cooker traps steam from the dough around the baking loaf, which keeps the outside moist and allows the loaf to increase in volume rapidly as fermentation gases and steam expand in the first half of the bake.  It also ensures a shiny, crisp crust, as the starches gelatinize in the moist hot environment.  If you are baking on a stone (which I still do with loaves that won't fit in the cooker), you can get a similar effect by pitching water into a hot saucepan in the bottom of the oven, creating plenty of steam.
The heat is turned down to 450°F, and the loaf bakes for twenty minutes.  At this point, I come back and take the top off the combo cooker, releasing a billow of steam.  The dough has risen, opening up a seam where I scored it.  This Tartine bread expands dramatically in the oven, and the scores turn it to deep, pronounced "ears".  In other breads, this would be a fault; Nancy Silverton identifies it as a sign that the bread is under-fermented, and encourages you to let the bread warm to room temperature before baking.  Yakobson has you bake it straight from the fridge, which increases the oven spring since the dough takes slightly longer to reach temperatures that kill the yeast, prolonging the burst of fermentation activity when the dough first hits the oven. He scores a rough square on top of the bread, resulting in a crown on top of the finished loaf; I prefer a rough C shape, which opens along one side but keeps the spirals from my basket in place.  Anyway, after removing the lid I leave it for another 28 minutes for a total baking time of 48 minutes.  Then I take it out of the oven and head to work while the bread crackles and cools on a wire rack.
Its essential to let it cool at least an hour or so: the bread is still baking when it comes out of the oven, and it will be too soft and moist if you cut into it right away.  The first warm slice will be wonderful, but unless you're going to devour it all its really not worth it.  In fact, I've found that the longer I leave it at this point, the longer the loaf stays fresh once I cut into it.  This is particularly true of the crust, which can otherwise go from crisp to leathery in as little as 20 hours.

As you can see below, the bread has an open crumb with some holes; you can imitate the large, gaping holes in the Tartine photographs by making a wetter dough and letting it ferment longer: I prefer this crumb because its better for sandwiches.