Sunday, 22 June 2014

Blending: Brown Saison

BlendingIt only seems honest to post about projects that go wrong here, along with those that have some success.  I've written before about my first attempts to make a quick sour using only lactobacillus and brett.  The first iteration came out too thin and one dimensional, but I kept it in secondary with the intention of brewing a second beer to blend it with.  My thought was that I could make something dry but with a thicker body to compensate for the flaws in this first beer, and blend it back with the original.  I planned to achieve this mouthfeel by using a yeast that produces a lot of glycerol (WY3711), and by adding some protein-rich adjuncts to the mash (flaked oats), with the envisaged result being something fairly malty that would provide a nice contrast to the sharp but fruity flavours of the sour beer.

The first difficulty with this plan was that I'm not very good at coming up with recipes for dark saisons, and there aren't many sources you can look to for inspiration, especially in the gravity range I like to brew in.  For instance, Michael Tonsmeire has a series of dark saisons on his website, but these tend to be bigger beers intended for long term aging.  One problem is that getting the right colour in a lower gravity beer can be tricky---this beer was supposed to be brown, which isn't so hard, but I've also been trying to make some darker farmhouse ales recently and there the problem is more pronounced.  I also just don't have a good enough understanding of how darker speciality malts will affect the flavour profile of a saison.  Most of mine are very pale, and even the English beers I brew don't typically use more than a few percentage points of dark crystal.  I've brewed some darker sours I've been happy with (Flanders Reds and Browns), but none started with a saison base. Since I don't know what I'm doing, my recipes often end up very cluttered, based on whatever darker grains I have lying around, which means that my own few attempts at darker saisons often end up tasting flat or muddy---nothing like the beer I had in mind.

Pellicle!The second difficulty came when I opened the bucket containing the new beer on blending day, and was greeted by a nasty looking pellicle!  This is the first 'clean' beer I've brewed that has definitely picked up an infection---not a problem, you might think, since it was going to be blended with a sour beer anyway, but besides general concern over my process (I want my clean beers to stay clean!) it also had a negative effect on the flavour profile of the beer, leaving it muddy and slightly tart.  Luckily I have a pretty good idea where the infection came from.  Its possible its from the bucket or the tubing I use to transfer beers, but a more likely candidate is a turkey baster that I use for sampling sour beers.  I snuck a taste with this a few days into fermentation, and while I always sanitize it first and usually only use it on beer that are already infected, this time I was not so careful.  I'm going to brew another beer in the bucket this week to see what happens, and I'll probably mark it for mixed fermentations only in future.

That still left me with the question of what to do with the beers.  Since I had everything ready for blending, and I didn't much feel like brewing another batch, I decided to go ahead with my original plan.  I transferred out around 500ml of each beer, and tried blends in different proportions: 70/30, 60/40, 50/50 of each beer (so five blends total).  Frankly, it wasn't a particularly fun experience!  Trying to blend two beers you're not very excited about is demoralising.  The ‘old’ sour beer tasted thin and had too much oak, but the acidity was nice and there was still the fruitiness from the cherries.  The new beer tasted tart and muddy, but had a decent mouthfeel in contrast to its partner.  Eventually I settled on a blend of 30% old sour to 70% young saison, and transferred the remaining beer in roughly these proportions to a five gallon carboy.  I say roughly because I was about 0.5 litres short of the young beer, so I compensated by adding a little more of the older one to make sure there was no headspace in the carboy.  If I'd been thinking more clearly, I might have transferred the rest of the old beer into a gallon jug for future blending, but I was so fed up by that point that I just poured the rest of it down the drain.

I'm going to let the blend sit for a few months before deciding what to do with it.  The saison portion is still pretty young, so there's a chance it will become less muddy as it ages.  There is also a chance that the Brett Trois from the sour portion might do something interesting with the flavour profile.  But to be honest I'm not holding my breath---I suspect this whole project will end up down the drain.

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