Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Farmhouse Ales II: Hops and Bitterness

This is the second in what I hope will be a series of three or four posts about Yvan de Baets’ contribution to Farmhouse Ales.  In the first post I wrote a bit about the role played by mixed fermentation in traditional saison brewing, and described a relatively young home brew fermented with a mix of Wyeast Farmhouse Ale and East Coast Yeast Bug County.  In this post I want to talk a bit about the role of hops and bitterness in the character of these saisons.

De Baets emphasizes the heavy hopping rates used in traditional saisons several times in his essay.  He suggests that hops were initially used for their superior bacteriostatic properties, helping to control the inevitably mixed fermentation I described in my last post.   While rates varied, he cites one source as specifying between 5/8g per litre (95-152g, or 3-5oz, per 5 gallon batch), with one third of this added towards the end of the boil. 

This might not sound like much, especially as the hops used would have been low-alpha varieties (between 2-4%).  However its important to remember that these were relatively low-gravity beers by modern standards, so we’re talking about BU:GU ratios of 1:1 or higher.  In fact, if you look at the recipes for old English stock beers that were made for keeping (like saisons) in Ron Pattinson’s new book, you’ll see ratios of 2:1 or more. De Baets cites old sources stating that “young, these beers naturally were not drinkable; however, the bitterness disappeared little by little and one knows that heavy doses of hops increased the conservation quality of the beers and preserved their flavour when they aged.”

So I suspect that the bitterness and overall flavour profile of these beers was pretty different from the hoppy, bitter beers that characterize the craft beer scene today.  Modern American IPAs get their bitterness from smaller additions of high-alpha varieties, or even hop extracts; or they are bittered by large charges of hops that are only added at the end of the boil.  In contrast, these old saisons seem to have had large quantities of hops present throughout the boil, along with a considerable quantity added at the end.  In my experience the bitterness provided by noble hops used in this way is quite distinctive.

What’s more, the sheer quantity of hop matter in the boil must have had other effects of the flavour and composition of the wort.  I sometimes get a tannic or tea-like quality when I use low-alpha hops in these quantities.  Moreover other compounds from the hops are likely to be present in greater quantities.  De Baets mentions that brewers who wished to encourage a more prominent sourness would have used aged hops, and there is some evidence that the organic acids present in such hops can be converted by brettanomyces to yield the distinctive flavours found in sour beers such as lambics.  The combination of mixed fermentation and aged hops may have contributed to the gueuze-like character of old saisons that De Baets mentions towards the end of the chapter.

Indeed, De Baets emphasizes that the bitter character of these beers is “not at all incompatible with the sourness of the beers nor will it prevent their eventual acidification”.  This is a topic for another post, but he also mentions that sourness and bitterness needn’t be uncomplimentary, despite contemporary wisdom on the subject (cf. BFM √225).

This side of old saisons hasn’t really come back into fashion in quite the same way as mixed fermentation has, and the beers described here might be unrecognisable as saisons to some people.  For instance, the BJCP guidelines describe saison as having low to moderate hop aroma and flavour.  That said, there are at least plenty of brewers making saisons with large amount of aroma and dry hops (e.g. Prairie), but the emphasis seems to be on late additions rather than bitterness (e.g. Chad Yakobson says in his BN interview that he doesn’t really like bitter beers), and if American saisons are bitter they also tend to be have higher ABVs.  Of course, there are also some beers that do fit this description (De Ranke XX Bitter springs to mind, maybe Jester King’s Petite Prince, and of course the beers that Yvan de Baets is putting out with De La Senne).

Anyway, I’ve been trying to brew a bitter, hoppy saison for a while now, and this beer is one of my most recent.  It was fermented with the yeast cake from the spelt saison I made with the Yeast Bay blend---I suppose that might mean the brettanomyces cell-count is higher in this beer, but if that’s the case I can’t pick out any distinctive contribution yet.  It’s about 7 weeks old at this point.

IMG_1747[1]Appearance: Thin head at first but dissipates completely.  No lacing.  Hazy yellow colour.

Smell: Citrus and subtle spiciness.  Maybe some apricot notes?  Yeast blends nicely with the hops again, but aroma not as assertive as I’d hoped.

Taste: Apricot more pronounced, followed by slight doughy sweetness from the pilsner, but lacking in the middle.  I wanted something crisper, and more bitter.

Mouthfeel: A little thin and watery: I was aiming for a slightly higher carbonation to mitigate this but its not there yet.  Unsurprisingly this yeast doesn’t seem to produce the large amount of glycerol you get with Wyeast French Saison, which might mean taking other steps to avoid thinness in these lower gravity beers. For instance, I think the spelt in the last beer really helped here.  Perhaps the brettanomyces will eat through the last few gravity points and increase the carbonation in this one.

Drinkability & Notes: This is an OK home brew, something I would have been really pleased with a few months ago, but still lacking: the aroma isn’t as pronounced as I’d hoped, the beer tastes a little thin and insipid, and it doesn’t have the firm bitterness I wanted.  Perhaps it will improve with a little more time: there’s a chance it hasn’t fully carbonated yet, and even if it has the brettanomyces might yet make it more interesting.  I’m still very excited about this yeast strain, as once again it blends nicely with the hops, but I think I can brew a better beer than this with it.

29/4/14: A quick update.  The carbonation has increased even over the last few days, to `prickly’ levels, and its improved the beer quite a bit.  Still not as aromatic or flavourful as I’d hoped, but it fixes the thin and watery mouthfeel.  I guess I should make sure I give beers more than two weeks to carbonate before writing these notes.


Estimated O.G. 1.045
Measured O.G. 1.044
Predicted F.G. 1.004
ABV. 5.2%
IBUs 44.8
(Farmhouse Ales 113°F 30 min
Saison) 131°F 15 min
  144°F 45 min
154°F 30 min
168°F 5 min  
81.5% Floor-malted Pilsner
9.2% Vienna      
9.2% Wheat Malt      
Hallertau (US) 60 min 32.3 IBUs (30g@ 5.4%)
Hallertau (US) 15 min 8.6 IBUs (30g @ 5.4%)
Sterling 15 min 3.9 IBUs (10g @ 7.4%)
Sterling 0 min ~1.8g/l (20g @ 7.4%)
Sterling Dry Hop ~2.7g/l (30g@ 7.4)
The Yeast Bay Saison/Brett blend

Monday, 21 April 2014

Farmhouse Ales I: Mixed Fermentation

Farmhouse AlesI’ve already mentioned several times how much I like Yvan de Baets contribution to Farmhouse AlesOver the course of the essay a complex picture emerges of the character of old saisons, and the ways in which ingredient choice and brewing process contributed to it.  Since it continues to shape the way I think about my home-brewing, I thought I’d dedicate a series of posts to this chapter, along with some of the beers I’ve brewed that have been inspired by it.

One thing de Baets emphasizes is the inevitability of a mixed fermentation, and the various desirable characteristics this gave the beers.  Although the brewers pitched saccharomyces, a spontaneous culture of wild yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria would almost certainly evolve alongside the top-fermenting yeast because of their brewing processes (e.g. “chilling wort in shallow coolships, fermentation and conditioning in unpitched wooden casks, and brewing on a farm”.)  As is the case with any fermentation, brewers were able to exercise some control over this culture by selective re-pitching and by controlling the character of the wort (e.g. exploiting the bacteriostatic properties of hops), but de Baets suggests that some contribution from a spontaneous culture was considered valuable.

Various reasons for this are mentioned throughout the chapter.  Here are some key ones:

  • The lactic acid produced by bacteria “provided a natural preservative that lengthened [the beer’s]  life considerably”.
  • The wild yeasts were highly attenuative, ensuring a dry and refreshing finished beer.
  • These yeasts, along with the bacteria, produced various compounds that gave the beer a pleasing aroma, as well as a property de Baets calls “vinosity” (“complex flavours found in Jerez and sherry wines…includes a “wild yeast” estery flavor, some woodiness, and eventually an apple-like aroma coming from oxidative fermentation.”).  He cites Van Laer as stating that secondary yeasts “create rather high amounts of organic acids which slowly turn the alcohol into esters and cause the appearance of the wine-like taste characteristic of old beers”, and suggests that this vinosity and sourness was highly sought after (to the point where brewers would blend young and old beer together to achieve it---but that’s a topic for another post).

While the BJCP saison category does not acknowledge this side of the beer’s history, many American brewers have started to use mixed fermentations in their saisons to give the beers “a small ‘wild’ side”, no doubt in part under the influence of this book.  De Baets actually references older literature that questioned the way in which brewers had come to rely solely on fermentation by pure cultures, something that has been vindicated by these recent trends:

“It is certain that the introduction of pure yeasts into industrial fermentations does not constitute the crowning achievement of a system that is henceforth immutable.  It seems, for example, that if the application of the pure cultures method has improved the average quality of the beer, it has given us beer with less character then before” (Van Laer)

So the upshot of all this is that, done right, mixed fermentation has a lot to offer when it comes to brewing saisons.  The beer I’m going to post about today is one of my attempts to realize this.  Its based on  a pretty typical saison grist, fermented with Wyeast Farmhouse Ale (3726).  The “mixed culture” came in the form of this year’s Bug County blend (ECY20): I pitched ~10ml along with the saison yeast.

After primary fermentation, the beer tasted like most of the other saisons I brewed with 3726.  Based on my experience so far, I’m not so keen on this yeast as a sole fermenter: it gives off various fruity and white wine-like esters (perhaps because I fermented it at the lower end of its temperature range) which sound good on paper but come across as slightly sweet, and for me detract from the drinkability of the beer (Firestone Walker’s Opal reminded me of some of them).  So I was a little disappointed with the flavour profile when I transferred the beer to secondary with a gravity of 1.004.  I tasted it occasionally over the next 3 months, and although it developed a light tartness and some funk there was no major change.  Then, all of a sudden, at around the four month mark, it developed a notable sourness.  Since the gravity was around 1.001, I decided to bottle it to free up the fermenter.  I gave it a fairly light dry-hop with some Crystal (de Baets mentions this as a technique used to “rejuvenate” old beer) and bottled it in a mix of regular and heavy bottles.

At around five months the beer is still relatively young, and I expect it to continue to develop in the bottle over the next year.  I’ll make sure to post a few more tastings after this one.

Bug County SaisonAppearance: Hazy yellow bordering on orange.  Medium head that dissipates quickly.

Smell: Some of the fruity(pear?)/white wine character I get from my other saisons with 3726, but more subdued and mingled with sour (canned pineapple juice) and creamy (yogurt) notes. Light acetone if I really dig for it.

Taste: Light sourness at front and sides of mouth.  Fades to slightly sweet white wine flavours (pear again? nectarine?) and canned pineapple juice before sourness reasserts itself at back of mouth.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation still fairly low.  Creaminess that I think will develop into a more vinous mouthfeel.

Drinkability & Notes: This is a little one-dimensional at the moment, but shows a lot of promise.  The sourness provides a nice complement to the flavours I got from the Farmhouse Ale strain, balancing their fruitiness.  It is already fairly vinous, and I think this will improve with time.  The main thing I’m hoping for is a more nuanced aroma and flavour as the brettanomyces start to make a contribution.



Estimated O.G. 1.046
Measured O.G. 1.044
Predicted F.G. 1.000
ABV. 5.6%
IBUs 14.3
149°F 90 minutes
40% Pilsner
40% 2-Row
10% Vienna      
10% Torrified Wheat      
Crystal 60 min 14.3 IBUs (15g @ 4.8%)
Crystal 0 min 0.0 IBUs (28g @ 4.8%)
Crystal Dry Hop 1.7g/l (20g @ 4.8)
Farmhouse Ale (Wyeast 3726) Bug County (ECY 20)



Sunday, 20 April 2014

Brew Day: 1909 Lees Bitter (plus invert sugar)

Hops and Invert No.1I should have a number of posts with tasting notes coming up in the next few weeks, but  I haven’t decided whether I’m going to post here about every brew day.  Since I’m focusing more and more on particular kinds of beer, posting all the time might become repetitive.  However I think there’s enough that’s different about what I’m brewing today to warrant a post.

The beer will be another bitter, using the London Ale III yeast that I top-cropped from the ordinary bitter I made last weekend.  I took the recipe from Ron Pattinson’s new book: The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer.  Its a nice little volume, with brief but informative histories for a number of British styles (often correcting widespread misconceptions), along with a range of recipes that Pattinson has reconstructed from old brew logs.  The format is similar to the “Let’s Brew” posts on his blog, though sadly missing Kristen England’s helpful notes and directions.

The recipe I picked was for a 1909 version of J.W. Lees Bitter (a beer still made in Manchester today, though, as Pattinson shows, the recipe has changed many times over the last century). Pattinson suggests using London Ale III in this beer, but what really caught my eye was the large proportion on invert sugar (~18%), along with the relatively large amount of hops all added before the last 30 minutes of the boil.  These features set the recipe apart from most contemporary home brew efforts, where for a long time the conventional wisdom has been to avoid large quantities of sugar, and to preserve hop aromatics by saving some additions for the last 15 minutes of the boil.

Needless to say, I’m very curious to see how this one turns out.  With such large hop additions I expect some flavour to carry over into the final beer, even if these aren’t what we typically consider flavour additions.  The large quantity of low alpha hops will also shape the character of the bitterness: I often get a tannic, tea-like quality when I bitter in this way (although I’ve never done it on this scale before).  I’m a little sorry that I’ll be using US fuggles rather than the English variety, but its what I have on hand.

Making Invert SugarA quick note on invert sugar, for those who have never used it before.  Its fairly easy to make (Pattinson gives instructions in his book, and you can also find them online), and definitely affects the flavour profile of the final beer.  This will be my first time using invert number one, but I’ve made invert two a few times.  There are two things I’ll mention about the process.  First, make sure you use an unrefined sugar like demerara or turbinado.  These are fairly common back in the UK; ‘brown sugar’ in the US is something different, usually just white sugar blended with molasses.  Second, be careful as you ramp up to 240°F.  Its very easy to overshoot, and I’ve had a lot of difficulty keeping the temperature below 250°F.  My syrups are always fairly viscous and slow-moving---this is easily handled with a hot water bath, but I wonder if it is a result of letting the temperatures get too high.

Post-brew update: another low OG!  This might be because the invert is contributing less extract than BeerSmith expects, but I think I may also need to adjust my boil-off rate (plus there’s the age of the malt).  Usually a few points either way don’t matter, but with this much bitterness, being almost 10 points low is sure to make a big difference.  On the plus side, I transferred the ordinary bitter from last week and its tasting really nice so far.


Estimated O.G. 1.055    
Measured O.G. 1.046 (Low!)  
Predicted F.G. 1.010    
ABV. 5.82%    
IBUs 70.3    
  154°F 80 minutes  
81.8% Maris Otter      
18.2% Invert No. 1      
Fuggles (US) 60 min 46.6 IBUs (57g @ 4.1%)
Fuggles (US) 30 min 23.8 IBUs (57g @ 4.1%)
London Ale III      

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Brew Day: Ordinary Bitter (plus water treatment)

The CHBG group buy wrapped up this week, but the grain probably won’t be delivered until next month, and until then I’m down to my last bucket of Maris Otter.  A few weeks ago I grew up some London Ale III (Wyeast 1318) from a slant, and I’m planning to top-crop it for a series of bitters with the last of this malt.

Ordinary bitters can be tricky to do well as a home-brewer.  I don’t have kegging equipment, let alone casks, and these low gravity bitters often don’t fare all that well with bottle-conditioning.  I brewed quite a few when I first started all-grain, but I had trouble brewing something I was really happy with.  Still, their low gravity also makes them a good choice for the first pitch grown from a slant, since they basically act as a large starter.  It will be interesting to see how this one comes out, given the improvements I’ve made in my process over the past year.

The recipe for this beer comes from Terry Foster’s book Pale Ale.  In my opinion this is one of the best I’ve read of the Classic Beer Styles series, and well worth picking up if you brew this kind of beer.  The recipe in the book is called “Quarter Session Bitter”, and the version below is modified slightly to fit the grains I had lying around.  The original uses only 150L Crystal, but I didn’t have enough so I subbed some Dark Crystal (~80L); I also replaced the wheat malt with torrified wheat.

I also switched the yeast.  London Ale III is a really nice one: it finishes a little sweet, but gives a lovely soft, balanced, and slightly fruity profile to the beer.  It is an excellent top-cropping strain too, and well-suited to open fermentation.  The one trouble I’ve had with it is that it can fail to fully attenuate in the primary, only to start up again after the beer is bottled, leading to over-carbonation (I think this is especially true with open fermentation).  I’m hoping to avoid this by rousing the yeast a few times as fermentation finishes.

An aside on Water Treatment

People seem to agree that water treatment is one of the last things new home-brewers should worry about, but that its also the thing that can transform well-made beer to something excellent.  I’ve followed what I think is a fairly standard trajectory in my home-brewing: taking care of fermentation temperatures first (initially with a swamp cooler, then with a fermentation chamber), then dealing with yeast health and wort oxygenation.  At this point I’m making reliably clean beers, but I think that the flavour profiles of many of them are still a bit muddy, lacking the elegance and structure that I am aiming for.  Water treatment seems to be the obvious next step here.  (In this recent episode of Chop and Brew, John Kimmich emphasizes the importance of mash pH for just this reason.)

In preparation for this brew, I went back and listened to some of the old Brew Strong episodes about water treatment, and started to make my way through the Brewer’s Publications book on water.  I’ve actually looked into it a little before, enough to know that my brewing water here in Chicago has high residual alkalinity and that this would affect my mash pH in pale beers.  So far I’ve been dealing with this my just adding ~3ml of lactic acid to the mash, hoping this would somehow bring the mash pH down into the right range.  Occasionally I would throw in 1/4 tsp of gypsum or calcium chloride as well, depending on the style, but it all felt more superstitious than informed.  Unfortunately it will probably stay that way until I get a pH meter, but these light beers that don’t cost much to make seem like a good place to experiment.

For this beer I sat down with the Bru’n Water spreadsheet and updated the cation and anion amounts to match the numbers on the city’s water reports.  I then played around with the mineral adjustments to get within the range that Foster suggests in his recipe.  I settled on adding 3.6g of gypsum and 0.2g of calcium chloride to my 24 litres of mash water, giving the following profile:

  Finished Profile Foster’s Profile
Calcium 70.6 50-100
Magnesium 11.8  
Sodium 8.4  
Sulfate 111.9 100-200
Chloride 20.3 20

But given the high levels of Residual Alkalinity in my water, this gives me a predicted mash pH outside the ideal range.  To get close I had to add 4.3ml of lactic acid to the mash: enough that it might make a difference to the final flavour profile, especially in such a light beer.  This is where the “farmhouse” style beers I’ve gravitated towards brewing really fit my process: some light tartness from the lactic acid wouldn’t be at all out of place there, whereas it might not fit well with a bitter.

The other option would be to cut my water with some distilled or RO water.  I do live near enough to a store to make this a possibility, but its still awkward walking home with that much water, and it adds to the cost of the brew.  I think I will experiment with it, perhaps when I have a pH meter, but only do it for special beers.  Here I’m looking for a more everyday water profile.

The brew day itself wasn’t my best.  I started late (and slightly hung-over!) and through absent mindedness completely forgot to add the whirlfloc: this will not be a bright beer.  I also missed my O.G. by two points: I don’t know if this is because the malt is getting old, or if I need to readjust my equipment profile on Beersmith (my last few brews have missed their O.G., which suggests the latter).

Since the turnaround on this beer should be pretty quick, I’ll probably post tasting notes in a month or so.  I am going to bottle a few beers this evening, including the Belgian Dry Stout.  I didn’t like the way it tasted  when I transferred it to secondary---too sweet, and not roasty enough---so it will be interesting to see if its improved at all.  I suspect the recipe will need more work.

Update 27/5/14: Tasting Notes.


Estimated O.G. 1.037    
Measured O.G. 1.035 (Low!)  
Measured F.G.      
ABV. 3.6%    
  154°F 75 minutes  
90% Maris Otter      
4% Torrified Wheat      
3.6% Extra Dark Crystal      
2.4% Dark Crystal      
Whitbread Goldings 60 33.8 IBUs (32g @ 5.3%)
Whitbread Goldings 0 0.0 IBUs (10g @ 5.3%)
London Ale III      

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spelt Saison with Yeast Bay Saison/Brett Blend

Its taken me a while to find a saison yeast I really like.  I’ve never used the infamously difficult Dupont strain, but I have tried Wyeast French Saison (3711), Farmhouse Ale (3726), Ardennes (3522), as well as the Danstar Belle Saison and White Labs American Farmhouse Blend (WLP670), without settling on one that I thought I could use regularly.  My experience so far with this Saison/Brett blend might have changed that.

I picked up the blend, along with a few other strains, from a brand new company called The Yeast Bay.  I’d been anticipating their launch for a few months (ever since I saw the wild yeast blends they would be offering), and I have to say that based on my own experience so far, along with other home-brewer reviews, I’m very excited about the strains from this company.  Their partnership with White Labs should mean that they avoid the supply issues that plague East Coast Yeast---as I write this, it looks like all of their yeast strains and bacteria blends are available.  The strains they’ve selected all seem interesting, and the descriptions on the website are informative and helpful (I was very pleased to read that they’ll soon be releasing mixed souring cultures, starting with a blend that will be “a little more on the bright/fruity/acid forward side with mild funk”---just my thing!)  What’s more, they seem to be very responsive to questions from their home-brewer customers.  I didn’t just get replies to the emails I sent them about their cell-counts---I’ve posted about the beers I brewed or had planned in a few public forums, only to have Nick Impellitteri himself respond unprompted with very helpful information about what to expect from the yeast.

What am I looking for in a saison strain?  Well, I’ve already mentioned how much I like Yvan de Baets chapter in Farmhouse Ales, and his description of saisons at the close of that chapter is something I’ve taken to heart: low in alcohol, highly attenuated, and either sour or very bitter from the use of a massive amount of low-alpha hops.   The description of the saccharomyces strain on the Yeast Bay website says that it “produces a delightful ester profile of grapefruit and orange zest and imparts a long, dry and earthy finish to the beer”, which made me think it would be a nice complement to the slightly citrusy and floral aromas of certain European-style hops.  I decided to try three hoppy saisons: for this first beer I went with a blend of Sterling and Crystal; the second one (which is carbonating at the moment) is more heavily hopped with Hallertauer and Sterling, while the last (still in secondary) used Nelson Sauvin throughout.

I’m pleased to say that, based on this first beer, my instincts were spot on.  In fact, the yeast and hops blend together so well that its impossible to tell where the flavours are coming from: both should give citrusy notes underwritten by a floral earthiness, and that’s exactly what you get in the beer.  Even though I would describe it as hoppy, bitter, and dry, it doesn’t smell or taste anything like an IPA or a pale ale.  I don’t know if it fits with what people expect from this kind of beer, but its taken me a step closer to the saison I want to brew. 

As for my process, I stuck to the fermentation range described on the website: after cooling the wort to the mid-60s, I set my fermentation chamber at 68°F, gradually increasing it to 72°F over the next few days.  The beer is still fairly young (6 weeks), especially considering the fact that it has two brett strains in it.  After tasting as I transferred to secondary I decided there was no reason to wait before bottling: it was already fairly dry, and tasted great, so why leave it longer?  I gave it a light dry-hop with more Sterling, then bottled it in a mix of regular and heavy bottles.  The regular bottles will probably all be gone in a week or so (that’s the trouble with doing 3 gallon batches!), but I’ve stashed the heavy bottles in my closet so that I can see how the flavour profile changes over the next few months as the brett strains munch through the last 3 or 4 gravity points.

I do need to make some quick comments on the recipe.  This was my first time using spelt, and in hindsight it was a mistake to use it in a step mash without gelatinizing it first, especially alongside under-modified pilsner malt.  I undershot my gravity by about 6 points, and I assume that is all from mishandling the spelt.  Luckily the beer turned out well anyway, with an appropriate bitterness for my taste, but this is something to pay attention to in future.

19/5/14: Updated impressions on this strain here.

IMG_1733[1]Appearance: Straw yellow, slight haze.  Thick head dissipates to thin white cap that lingers till I finish glass.

Smell: Enticing aroma.  Slightly sweet mix of citrus and floral notes.  The description of the yeast on the website says orange zest and grapefruit, which seems right, but the grapefruit is light and subtle (i.e. doesn’t smell anything like an IPA).  Earthiness underneath, but the kind you get from hops rather than the damp earth of brett.  I also get an almost yogurt-like smell (I want to describe it as tart and slightly creamy, even though its an aroma---I got something similar in my Bam Biere clone, but there it was more pronounced).

Taste: Again, slightly sweet pilsner malt giving way to bright floral and citrus notes.  Maybe slightly more lemon here, or just brighter orange zest and grapefruit.  The “long dry earthy finish” blends really well with the earthy, almost pithy bitterness of the hops.

Mouthfeel: Slightly creamy, with medium carbonation.  Bitterness is not at all harsh, but it lingers at back of throat and sides of tongue.  Lovely.

Drinkability & Notes: This is the kind of saison I’ve been trying to brew for a long time---in some ways, its closer to something like Taras Boulba than my previous inspired-by attempts (although the malt is cleaner and crisper in the De La Senne beer).  As I’d hoped, the profile of the yeast blends perfectly with the European-style hops, to the point where its hard to tell where the flavours are coming from.  I’m excited to see how this one ages as the two brettanomyces strains begin to make their presence known.


Estimated O.G. 1.044    
Measured O.G. 1.038 (Low!)  
Measured F.G. 1.003    
ABV. 4.6%    
Mash: 113°F 30 minutes  
(Farmhouse Ales 131°F 15 minutes  
Saison) 144°F 45 minutes  
  154°F 30 minutes  
  168°F 5 minutes  
70% Floor-malted Pilsner      
30% Spelt      
Crystal 60 28.7 IBUs (30g @ 4.8%)
Sterling 15 7.9 IBUs (20g @ 7.4%)
Crystal 0 0.0 IBUs (15g @ 4.8%)
Sterling 0 0.0 IBUs (15g @ 7.4%)
Sterling Dry Hop 1.4 g/litre (8g @ 7.4%)
Yeast Bay Saison/Brett Blend      

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Berliner Weisse with Blackcurrants

summer blackcurrantsThis summer J and I spent a few weeks working on my aunt and uncle’s farm back in the U.K.  Its very small, basically subsistence, although they do sell some eggs to locals and my uncle runs butchery classes (people buy a whole or half pig, and come to the class to butcher it after its been slaughtered).  As a life-long vegetarian, all of that is a bit wasted on me.  But they also grow lots of fruit and veg, and part of our work while we were there in high summer was picking some of these crops.

This year, there were a lot of berries and currants: more than we could pick or use, though we did our best, making various jams and shrubs and liqueurs.  I wanted to find a way to use some of this in my beer, but bringing fresh produce back across the ocean with us was not an option.  Luckily, my uncle had a drier, and a quick search of the customs website suggested that bringing dry fruit into the country should not be a problem.

I decided the crop I was most likely to use would be blackcurrants.  At the time, I had in mind to use them in a clone of Russian River’s Consecration IMG_1523that I had made earlier that summer.  The original actually uses Zante currants, which are something else entirely, but I thought the jammy flavours of the blackcurrants would work well as a substitute.  About half of what I brought back went into this beer (its still in secondary), and I decided to save the rest for a berliner weisse.  My thought was again that the sharp but fruity sourness would blend well with the dry and refreshing character of such a beer.

A few months later I brewed a straight-forward berliner weisse with brett trois (featured in this post), and the saved some of the yeast cake for this beer.  I used the same process I have before, based loosely on Kristen England’s technique in Brewing with Wheat (minus a decoction): a single infusion mash at 149°F, mash out at 170°F, then cooled without a boil and pitched with a large amount of lactobacillus and some yeast.

At a few months old, the beer is drinking very well.  Most of these will stay stashed away for the summer, although I hope the sourness doesn’t increase too much between now and then because its perfect right now.  Maybe I’ll do a side-by-side tasting of these two berliner weisses, along with some of my earlier attempts, in a month or two.

IMG_1730[1]Appearance: Hazy, muddy orange.  Some pinkish notes when I hold it up to the light.  Not the prettiest beer.  Full head that dissipates to a thin layer after a minute or two.

Smell: Blackcurrants very prominent, mingled with earthy funk from the brett in nose too.

Taste: Sharply sour at sides of mouth, but not unpleasantly so.  Then what I perceive as a jammy sweetness that lingers on the tongue, even though the beer stays sour and is very dry.  Quickly moves to back of throat, currants again with an almost metallic note.  J described it as briny.

Mouthfeel: Sour, fairly high carbonation, and dry---but still coats the mouth and lingers at back of throat.

Drinkability & Notes:  I’m really pleased with the way this one turned out: it should be very refreshing and drinkable come summer.  Early on the currants added a very sharp, malic acidity, but that’s mellowed somewhat (I believe the lactobacillus can convert the malic acid into lactic acid) leaving a sour but drinkable beer.  The funk in the nose might be off-putting for some, but when I swirl the glass it mingles nicely with the fruitiness of the blackcurrants.

Estimated O.G. 1.032    
Measured O.G. 1.030    
Measured F.G. 1.002    
ABV. 3.6%    
Mash: 149°F    
50% Pilsner      
50% Wheat Malt      
Crystal Mash Hop 1.4 IBUs (8g @3.5%%)
Brett Trois (WLP 644) Lactobacillus