Sunday, 1 June 2014

Brew Day: Yeast Bay Saison Blend

Classic SaisonThis morning I brewed another saison with the second part of my last Yeast Bay order: the Saison blend. I wanted to go with a fairly straight-forward saison recipe to see what the blend contributed, so I used Phil Markowski’s “Saison – classic version” from Farmhouse Ales.  I almost always use some variation on the grist from this recipe when I brew a saison, but I lower the gravity and up the bitterness by quite a bit. In fact, I remember when I first read the book I was confused and disappointed by the fact that the recipes at the back didn’t seem to fit the descriptions of saisons provided by Yvan de Baets in the earlier chapter.  That said, it probably does fit with what people expect from a saison (i.e something like Dupont), and I suppose that’s not a bad thing, so today I basically went with what was printed.

I’m hoping to pitch the second and third generations of this blend into other batches: the recipes will depend on how this first one comes out.  I have never used a blend of saccharomyces before (only saccharomyces/brettanomyces), so it will be interesting to see how the blend changes over time.  I suppose it will depend on the growth rates of the two yeasts, as well as their flocculation (I’ll be harvesting from the primary fermenter in a week or two).

pH meterBut the yeast strain isn’t the reason I’m posting about this brew day.  Today was the first time I used my new pH meter to check on things in the mash and boil kettle.  I ended up getting the Milwaukee Instruments MW102, which seems to be the standard one at this price offered by most homebrew stores.  I was torn between ordering this from Amazon, or ordering the Hach Pocket Pro+.  The latter was recommended by ajdelange on HBT, and seems to be getting positive reviews from other home brewers.  But the wait time for ordering was significantly longer, and with shipping and tax the whole was 20-30% more expensive, so I decided to stick with the Milwaukee model (or rather J did, since it was a birthday present).  Hopefully I won’t regret that choice! It occurred to me today that its the single most expensive piece of brewing kit I have: obviously I’ve spent a lot more than $100 over  time on fermenters, grain, hops, etc., but everything else I’ve got on the cheap.
I’ve been using Bru’n Water to estimate mash pH for a few months now.  Chicago water has pretty high residual alkalinity, meaning that its good for brewing dark beers but needs some adjustments if you want to hit the right pH for anything light.  I’ve been using lactic acid to modify mash pH for a while now, and occasionally adding some salts as well.  Today I went with something like Bru’n Water’s “Yellow Balanced profile”, adding 5ml lactic acid along with 3g gypsum and 1.5g calcium chloride.  The result should be something like the following:

Magnesium 11.8
Sodium 8.4
Sulfate 95.2
Chloride 44.5

Bru’n water estimated a mash pH of 5.4.

I was excited to finally check some of this with the meter. They seem like finicky things, and its hard not worry that you have a dud out of the box.  The conditioning and calibration were easy enough, but it took the meter a couple of minutes to settle on a stable reading: hopefully that’s not a sign of problems to come.  I withheld some of the acid addition from the kettle in case Bru’n Water was wrong, but the first reading, taken at 10 minutes into the mash, was a little high at around 5.6.  I added the rest of the acid and stirred the mash for a minute or two, then took another reading, which eventually settled at around 5.4---exactly what Bru’n Water predicted with the full mash additions. 

Its reassuring to know that the program is fairly accurate, since I’ve been relying on it “blind” for the past few months.  Of course, there’s still the worry that the additions I have to make for pale beers are large enough to affect the final flavour profile: a bit of lactic tang isn’t going to be out of place in a saison, but might be in a light bitter, and certainly would be if I start making lagers.  I live across the road from a store, so it wouldn’t be too hard to occasionally cut my brewing water with some distilled water.  Perhaps I’ll experiment with this over the next few months, but I don’t want to rely on it regularly.  Instead I’ll probably handle this by only occasionally brewing styles that might be a problem.

After the mash, the pH had drifted up to around 5.5, which fits with what I expected.  Twenty minutes into the boil, it was at back down to around 5.4.  I learnt from Michael Tonsmeire’s blog that boil pH is also important for hop utilization and formation of hot-break, along with predicting final beer pH.  I think people aim for 5.1, so I was a little high (assuming that 5.1 is at room temperature), but I didn’t want to fuss with further additions for this first attempt.  I’ll measure the pH of the final beer as well after fermentation is complete.

The rest of the brew day was pretty standard.  I gave it about 40 seconds of oxygen, and set it in the fermentation chamber at 68°F.  I’ll probably just take it out after 24-36 hours and let it free rise after that.

Update: Tasting Notes.

Estimated O.G. 1.052
Measured O.G. 1.054
Measured F.G. 1.004
ABV. 6.6%
149°F 90 minutes
90% Pilsner (Dingemans)
10% Wheat Malt
Hallertau (U.S.) 60 28 IBUs (26g @ 5.4%)
East Kent Goldings 15 3.8 IBUs (12g @ 5.9%)
East Kent Goldings 2 2.4 IBUs (12g @ 5.9%)
Styrian Goldings 2 0.9 IBUs (8g @ 3.5%)
Saaz 2 0.6 IBUs (5g @ 3.5%)
Saison Blend

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