Thursday, 31 July 2014

Brew Day: Old World’s Mantra

What is Yvan de Baets’ favourite kind of beer?  The saisons he writes about in Farmhouse Ales?  The lambics brewed by his neighbours in Brussels?  According to For the Love of Hops, it’s English bitter!

“Yvan de Baets eschews the words “beer style”, but ask him the question most brewers duck, what his favourite is, and he’s quick to answer.  He loves bracing, bitter beers from Great Britain, not exactly surprising given how much he appreciates bitterness itself, a quality apparent in Brasserie de la Senne beers.”

I was pretty chuffed to read that, and of course I had to brew the recipe that accompanied it.  Earlier in the book you can find Yvan waxing philosophical about bitterness, connecting human appreciation for it to the emergence of culture, and ending with a rousing encomium to modern bitter beers:

“I see the bitter beers we make as liquid communication that talks to the people’s intelligence, and delivers them from the ‘manipulations by the stomach’ the agro-food industry is using.  By promoting bitter beers, something that had almost been lost forever some decades ago, craft brewers help the human culture of taste to be reborn and to get stronger.  They show respect not only for themselves, but also for the people who drink their delightful beers.  And they do all this by making something that is a never-ending source of pleasure for their customers.  Bitter is definitely better.”

IMG_1898The recipe at the back of the book is called “Old World’s Mantra”, and is a sort of celebration of the old world hop varieties it employs.  I brewed it directly after the Keeping Porter on Sunday (a long day!), and my notes are pretty short.  I stuck to the recipe in the book as far as possible, but I was a little short of Munich malt, so I had to sub in a small portion of Vienna for some of it (I’ve copied the recipe as it is in the book below).  I also didn’t have time to do the infusion mash schedule Yvan provides, but if I brew this again (and I’m sure I will) I’ll certainly follow it.  The other modification of note was that I added gypsum to get my sulfate levels up to around 250ppm.  This is part of an on-going investigation into how water modifications affect my bitter beers.  I’ll write a post about what I’m learning in a few weeks.

Finally, Yvan specifies a neutral, highly attenuative, flocculent yeast.  The listed final gravity is 1.012 (74.25% apparent attenuation), so I think he must mean attenuative for an English strain.  I went with WY1469, as its what I’ve been using recently.  I’ll probably use WY1028 next time I brew this for comparison.


Measured O.G. 1.048
Measured F.G.
Mash: 151°F
82% Pilsner
12.0% Munich
6% Medium Crystal      
Challenger 60min 44.3 IBUs (25g@ 8.9%)
Styrian Goldings 10 min 1.4 IBUs (20g@ 1.8%)
Styrian Goldings Whirlpool 1.4 IBUs (15g@ 1.8%)
Bramling Cross Whirlpool 4.7 IBUs (15g@ 6.0%)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tasting Notes: Wallonian Farmhouse Saison

I’ve been putting off writing tasting notes for this beer, as its a bit of a strange one.  The yeast performed pretty well, accentuating the malt and yielding some intriguing phenols and esters.  But the base recipe gives a saison with a different character to the pilsner/adjunct based beers I’m used to, and its taken a while to adjust to it.

IMG_1900Appearance:  Hazy orange colour, verging on a light russet brown.  Head dissipates to 1/4 inch, which lingers for a good while, but with no lacing.

Smell: Bread-crust, dried fruit, light spice, and gentle smoke.  The vienna and amber malt really pop out on this one, especially as it warms up.  Dried fruit and warming spice are there, but subtle.   J says it “smells like some kind of cake that old people like”.  I don’t know that I would have come up with the “smoke” descriptor myself, nor would I have expected this if you warned me that a beer smelled like smoke.  And yet, somehow, it really fits.

Taste: More bread-crust, slight spiciness along the tongue, and then the dried fruit and smoke.  Slightly tart.

Mouthfeel: Low to medium carbonation.  There’s a slight slickness to the mouth-feel, which lingers in a way I’m not particularly keen on.  Higher carbonation (or more bitterness) might help scrub this out.  I thought it was glycerol from the yeast, but I gave a bottle to Michael Thorpe of Spontaneous Funk, and he thought he picked up some diacetyl (which I’m pretty bad at detecting).

Drinkability & Notes: I don’t reach for one of these every time I go to the fridge, but its been growing on me a fair bit.  The beer has a slightly autumnal feel to it: distant bonfires, harvest bread, that sort of thing.  I’m certainly looking forward to subsequent beers I brewed with this yeast, and I might even return to this recipe in the Autumn. 

Brew Day: Nineteenth Century Keeping Porter

IMG_1897For the most part I’ll be back to brewing English beers for the next few months, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be playing around with brettanomyces and lactic-acid producing bacteria.  These days beer drinkers who know what brettanomyces is probably associate it with Belgian style beer, but there was a time when many of the best English beers would have undergone a secondary fermentation by brettanomyces and perhaps other organisms.  Consider, for instance, the following quote from N. Hjelte Claussen (which I got from Mitch Steele’s book on India Pale Ale):
“In English breweries as well as anywhere else, the primary fermentation is carried on only by Saccharomyces, whereas the secondary fermentation of the typical English beers, as being due to Brettanomyces, essentially differs from those secondary fermentations on the Continent.  In other words, the action of Brettanomyces is absolutely necessary to bring English stock beers into proper cask and bottle condition, and to impart to them the peculiar and remarkably fine flavour which in a great measure determines their value…. Hence it is evident that the secondary fermentation effected by Brettanomyces is indispensable for the production of the real type of English beers.”
If you dig around in Ron Pattinson’s posts at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, you can find lots more interesting tidbits.  For instance, it seems that British brewers resisted the introduction of pure yeast cultures (i.e. the single strains we’re used to using today) for much longer than the majority of brewers in mainland Europe, in part because they found beers brewed in this way lacked the character they expected from secondary conditioning.  In my earlier post about Yvan de Baets’ essay on saisons, I quoted one of his sources (Van Laer) questioning whether the introduction of single strain fermentation should be seen as a mark of progress.  It seems that, for a while at least, British brewers would have agreed with him!
I’ve found some more interesting material, but I’ll save that for another post.  My plan, as of now, is to brew a series of beers based on historical recipes from Ron and other sources (plus a couple of amalgamations of my own), and then age them all with brettanomyces and possibly lactic-acid bacteria.  The first, which this post is about, was a recipe for an nineteenth century keeping porter (i.e. a porter that was vatted at the brewery for many months before being sent out for sale).  In the next month, I’ll probably brew an India Pale Ale, along with a couple of stock ales as well.
I’m not in any position to give a summary history of porter brewing (though its a fascinating topic, and worth reading about).  Vatted porters were aged at the brewery where they underwent a secondary fermentation, most likely induced by organisms resident in the casks and vats they were stored in.  Martyn Cornell gives the following account in Amber, Gold, & Black:
“Long storage in wooden vats, with the inevitable infection by wild Brettanomyces yeasts and lactobacillus bacteria, would have produced a ‘stale’ porter that was vinous, tart, and almost still.  For drinkers who wanted something livelier with a good head on it, the porter brewers sent out fresher, milder, newer-brewed, more carbon-dioxide-impregnated beer alongside the matured, flat, stale porter.  The mild and stale porters were then mixed at serving, or drawing, in the pub to the customer’s taste…”
To mimic this I will brew another beer in 9-12 months, and blend both together at serving. The recipe I used as my starting point today was for an 1831 Keeping Porter from the Truman brewery (you can find it in Ron’s book).  Ron’s notes mention that there were two types of porter brewed, a keeping and a running version.  The recipes were the same, except that the keeping version was much more heavily hopped.  The two beers were blended back together at a ratio of 1:2 keeping to running before sale.  So that provides me with an idea of what to aim for.

I had to take some liberties with the recipe, which make this more of an “inspired by” brew than a real attempt at a historical recreation.  The biggest difference, which scuppers any attempt at historical accuracy, is the character of the brown malt I have available to me.  I used Thomas Fawcett brown, which is a nice malt, but very different from what would have been used in this recipe (you can read a bit about history of brown malt here).  Other home brewers have had some success making their own, but it requires an open flame, which rules out attempting to make it in the only outdoor space I have: my wooden fire escape. 

The other slight modifications (besides a single-infusion mash) were in the malt and hopping.  Rather than use the single base malt listed, I went with a blend of 2-row and mild malt.  It was what I had on hand.  The hopping rates for the old beers are insanely high, even when you consider the fact that its all English hops that had around 4-5% AA (in fact I suspect that this one used older hops whose alpha acid levels were lower still).  The EKG I have on hand have 5.9% alpha-acids.  Hopping at close to the rate listed in the recipe puts me way above the 116 IBUs, so I decided to just shoot for this IBU number instead.  I suspect that the sheer volume of hop matter in the kettle affected the flavours of the final beer, so to increase the amount used I made the 90 minute addition smaller so that I could increase the volume of hops for the 60 minute addition.

Primary fermentation will be completed by some recently cropped Wyeast 1469.  I’m also fermenting the beer in one of my old saison/brett buckets, so it might pick up something from the scratches there. For secondary conditioning I’ll pitch some White Labs Brett C.; I’m also considering blending in a small portion of an Oud Bruin I brewed with Wyeast’s seasonal blend.  This contains Lactobacillus Brevis, which is supposedly more hop-tolerant.  Frankly, with the hopping levels what they are, I doubt that this will have much of an effect; but I want to avoid pediococcus in this beer, because I’ve heard speculation that it encourages super-attenuation by brettanomyces, and I’d like to prevent that if possible (Brett C. seems to be, at least sometimes, less attenuative than other strains in secondary).

Tasting notes: #1, #2.

Measured O.G. 1.060
Measured F.G.
Mash: 154°F
44.6% 2-Row
29.0% Mild Malt
24.6% Brown Malt
1.9% Black Malt
EKG 85min 47.0 IBUs (40g@ 5.9%)
EKG 60 min 70.0 IBUs (60g@ 5.9%)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

In Perpetuum: Pale Sour Ale

Old and new beers married in the soleraBrewing on cheap equipment in a rented apartment constrains my process in various ways.  For the most part these are constraints I’m happy to work with, but one thing that has started to bother me in some instances is my small batch size.  It doesn’t matter so much in the running beers I make, since the turn around is supposed to be quick; but it can be disheartening to wait a year-plus for a batch of sour beer, only to find that if you let yourself enjoy it freely its almost gone a few months later.  What’s more, it limits the amount of beer I have lying around for other blending projects.  Dedicating 1.5 litres of sour to blend with a batch of saison amounts to reducing my batch size by almost 10%, which in a small batch is a significant loss.

I’ve taken various steps to remedy this.  The biggest has been getting a pipeline of sours going, so that I always have new batches ready to bottle; but even here I find that there’s something frustrating about starting from scratch each time, knowing that it will be a year until you get to drink this beer, and that it will probably be almost all gone in less than half that time.  This is part of what drew me to using small proportions of these older beers to cut younger beers, or to inoculate new batches, as it provides a way of extending each batch further.  Starting some kind of solera-system seemed like a natural extension of this.

Of course the idea of using a solera-style system for brewing beer is not a new one (even among home brewers), but people have started to do some very interesting things with it in recent years.  For instance, Michael Tonsmeire has shared lots of information about the the wine barrel soleras he shares with Nathan Zender.  They have a great set-up, pulling around 20 gallons every year, and then splitting this beer to treat in various different ways: e.g. adding hops, flowers, or fruit.  It provides an endless base for experimentation.

Most versions I’ve read about are done on a scale that would be impossible in my space, since I can’t house a barrel, and brewing 60 gallons of wort 3 gallons at a time would be a Herculean task.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t apply the same ideas on a smaller scale.  Brewing sixty gallons might be impossible, but I can easily do six gallons to fill a large carboy in a double brew day.  In fact, if I had 3 gallons of aged sour lying around, I’d only need a single batch to have something already well under way…

Old beer pHSo that’s what I did. The base beer here is an 11 month old version of the Flanders Pale Ale recipe from Wild Brews. It was initially fermented with a new pack of Roeselare blend, and had about 10ml of ECY20 added to it after a few months in primary.  The beer has a lovely gentle brett funk at the moment---lots of hay and light farmyard---but, as is often the case with a first pitch of Roeselare, its still not very sour at all (see photo).   The recipe for the younger beer is slightly different (I’ll put it at the end of the post), and I intend to stick with this one in future. My hope is that there is a healthy array of brett and LAB at large in the aged beer, and that the addition of fresh beer (which finished relatively high at around 1.014) will provide them with what they need to increase the overall acidity.

This week I combined both 3 gallon batches in to a 6 gallon carboy bought specifically for this purpose. I’m planning to run this beer in a proper solera-style system: pulling out three gallons into another carboy in 9-12 months, and topping up the original with 3 gallons of fresh beer; then perhaps even pulling from the 3 gallons to fill smaller jugs 9-12 months after that, and refilling each vessel with beer from the next youngest batch.  Eventually, if I stay put long enough, I’ll have a range of blends at different ages: according to Michael Tonsemeire’s solera spreadsheet, assuming I pull half of each vessel every nine months, the three stages should eventually converge on 0.7, 2.2, and 3.7 years---though I doubt I’ll stay in this apartment long enough to see that happen. 

I’m thinking of this as the base for further beers, rather than something to be drank in its own right---something I might use to cut younger saisons, or add fruit or dry hops to.  For instance, the smaller volumes in the oldest vessel would be perfect for adding acidity too a blended sour or a saison. Based on my experience so far, it only takes about 15% to add noticeable acidity to a clean beer.

In fact, if this system works well, I’m thinking of trying it with other beers too: perhaps doing a double batch of a dark beer in another 6 gallon carboy, and running it in the same way with pulls every 9-12 months, so that I always have a range of light and dark sours on hand for blending.  (Here I’m again inspired by New Belgium’s process with their light and dark beers, Felix and Oscar, which you can read about in American Sour Beers.)


Measured O.G. 1.057
Measured F.G.
Mash: 156°F
42.9% Pilsner
42.9% 2-Row      
10.7% Flaked Wheat
3.6% Flaked Oats      
EKG 60 min 21.4 IBUs (25g@ 4.29%)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Coupage: Brett-Fermented Wit

Today I tried another version of this technique (i.e. cutting fresh beer with older sour beer).  The base beer was something like a belgian wit, fermented with a blend of White Labs brett trois and brett c.  I got the idea to make such a beer from an old article by Chad Yakobson in Zymurgy, in which he gives what I presume is an early version of the recipe for Crooked Stave’s St. Bretta: its a pretty standard wit recipe, with coriander and citrus added to the boil, and a light dry-hop in secondary.  The main point, of course, is that the beer is to have a primary fermentation with brettanomyces alone.

My version turned out ok, but it was a little muddy, and the citrus and coriander were not as bright as I wanted them to be.  I gave it a light dry-hop with motueka, hoping to brighten things up a bit, but the beer still wasn’t where I wanted so my thoughts turned to acidity.  Luckily I was about to transfer the no-boil sour I brewed a month ago to some smaller carboys.  My original intention in brewing this beer was to use some of it for blending, and here I had a good candidate.

Defrosted RaspberriesThe sour, if you don’t want to go back and read the last post, was fermented with the same blend of brett trois and brett c, along with a large dose of lactobacillus.  It already has a nice lemony acidity---not super sharp, but softly assertive, which is how I like it.  Today I transferred three gallons of it onto 1.5lbs of defrosted raspberries from Klug Farm (these were particularly nice berries---brightly fruity, with a tart acidic snap to them).  I divided two of the remaining three gallons into small jugs for future blending, and then transferred the final gallon to my bottling bucket for blending with the wit. 

Pink Sour and small jugsAs a quick aside, I must say that I’m excited to have these smaller jugs ready for future blends.  The biere de coupage I made a few weeks ago seems to have come out pretty well.  Even a small portion of aged beer has given it a pleasant acidity that I think blends nicely with the hops.  With these smaller jugs already separated out, it will be easy for me to blend some of this sour in with future saisons.  What’s more, since it was fermented with two strains of brettanomyces, adding it to a saison at bottling will mean that I am effectively bottle-conditioning with brett.  So I could make a dry saison with a normal sacch strain, then blend this sour in to get some tartness and brett funk in the bottle.

Anyway, I transferred the three gallons of wit onto the sour, giving me a 3:1 blend.  I mixed up a blend in these proportions from my gravity samples, and it tasted promising: as I’d hoped, the lemony acidity of the sour beer helped accentuate some of the flavours in the wit.

Unlike my previous times using this technique, neither beer was completely dry: the wit has been at 1.006 for the past few weeks, and the sour at 1.003 for the past month.  Since they were fermented with the same combination of brettanomyces, I’m hoping there won’t be much additional re-fermentation in the bottle.  But the addition of lactobacillus from the sour beer (or the drop in pH?) could contribute to further fermentation (really, who knows what the brett will decide to do!), so for safety’s sake I put this entire batch into heavy bottles.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tasting Notes: 1933 Kidd AK

A.K!  Not a pale mild, but a light running bitter that seems to have been pretty popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  As I’ve said before, I tend to think of the bitters I brew as falling into two general camps: pale, hoppy, golden bitters, and copper-coloured, malty, amber bitters. Of course, the amber ones are still hoppy, and the pale ones are often malty, but you get the general idea.  I often look for an AK recipe when I’m thinking about brewing something in the first camp---and in fact, looking over my brewing logs for the last two years, I’ve brewed more AKs than any other historical beer.

In Amber, Gold, and Black Martyn Cornell says the following about the distinction between AK and other bitter beer:

“Brewers seem to have maintained a deliberate difference between the two types of bitter beer: lower-gravity, lighter coloured, less-hopped AK light bitters, served relatively soon after brewing; and slightly darker, hoppier, stronger ‘pale ales’, often designated ‘PA’, stored for some time before sending out.”

“Less-hopped” is of course a relative notion, and needs to be understood in the context of the very high hopping levels you often seem to see in these older recipes.  Cornell quotes a Victorian drinks writer, Alfred Barnard, describing an AK as “a bright sparkling beverage of rich golden colour and … a nice delicate hop flavour”.  That about sums up what I’m going for.

All the AK recipes I’ve brewed have come from the Let’s Brew recipes posted by Ron Pattinson and Kristen England at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.  Lots of them include some American six-row, giving the beer a grainy taste.  Continental pale malt and adjuncts like flaked corn  and invert sugar also seem to be quite common.  This one is based on the 1933 Kidd AK---I followed the recipe exactly (well, scaled to 3 gallons), except that I moved the final hop addition from 30 minutes to 20 minutes because I wanted a bit more hop flavour.  I usually use Wyeast 1028 or 1469 for these beers, but I was in the middle of brewing a bunch of belgian stuff when I made this, so I just used half a packet of Nottingham instead.

IMG_1879Appearance: Pale golden colour, and crystal clear.  Almost looks like I have an American lager in my glass.  Decently thick head that lingers a while.

Smell: Grainy malt.  Slight herbiness, with some citrus and blackcurrant.

Taste: More of that grainy malt, along with light lemon and blackcurrant.  Subtle but there’s plenty going on.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation is a little higher than I’d like.  Really lovely dry and lingering finish from the hops.

Drinkability & Notes: Just what I’m looking for during the summer.  Drinkable and light at 3.9%, but more complex than it first appears.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Tasting Notes: Classic Saison with Yeast Bay Saison Blend

I have a bunch of beers I need to write tasting notes for at the moment.  Here’s the first: its based on the classic saison recipe from Farmhouse Ales, and brewed with The Yeast Bay’s Saison Blend.

Appearance: Beautiful hazy golden colour.  Head dissipates to thin lingering cap. No lacing.

Smell: Pleasantly fruity---that almost plastic-like fruitiness you can get from saison yeasts.  Apple skins, sweet melon, and unripe banana.   Slight pepperiness beneath it all.  Not as much citrus as the saison/brett blend.

Taste: Tangy and juicy!  Really mouth-watering actually, with more of that fruit from the nose, and a tingling spiciness across the tongue as it finishes.

Mouthfeel: Dry but not thin---perfect for a saison.  Moderate carbonation. 

Drinkability & Notes: I really like the tangy and tart flavour profile of this blend---it makes for a very quenching beer (which led me to use the second generation in some lower gravity saisons). I’ve been keeping an eye out for local competitions to enter this one in, as I think it would do well in the saison category.  It is very much along the lines of something like Saison Dupont.  I’ve been enjoying it a lot, even though I usually prefer something a little more bitter.

Update (15/08/14): I entered this beer in a small local competition.  I've pasted the comments from both judges below:

First Judge

Aroma: 7/12              Light pale malt. Lacking spicy phenols. Light sulfur aroma

Appearance: 3/3        All Good

Flavor: 12/20             Dry Pale Malt flavor. “Waxy” Yeast character (candy wax). Mild malt sweetness.         
Decent balance.Dry finish

Mouthfeel: 4/5            Spritzy Carbonation

Overall: 7/10               Nice Effort. Clean and well made

Stylistic Accuracy: 4/5

Technical Merit: 4/5

Intangibles: 4/5

Score: 33/50

Second Judge

Aroma: 8/12            Good. Spice lacking just a bit

Appearance: 3/3      Good.  Medium to high carbonation

Flavor: 13/20           Mild spice.  Hints of bubblegum.  Tart finish.

Mouthfeel: 4/5         Slightly high carbonation

Overall: 8/10            Nice job would like a bit more spice and peppercorn

Stylistic Accuracy: 4/5

Technical Merit: 4/5

Intangibles: 4/5

Score: 36/50

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Tasting Notes: Table Beer II

Here’s some tasting notes on the second of the two table beers I brewed earlier this summer.  This one was inspired by Jester King’s Le Petit Prince: its a low-gravity saison fermented with WY3711 and dry-hopped fairly heavily with Saaz.  The result is a very drinkable beer, one of the best I’ve made with this yeast.

A quick note on WY3711: I have an ambivalent relationship to this strain. It’s easy to work with, in the sense that it reliably attenuates all the way down to 1.000 without much work on my part; but coaxing a flavour profile I actually enjoy out of it is a different matter.  The first time I brewed with it (the first saison I ever made in fact) I blithely followed the general advice for the Dupont strain, cooling the wort to around 70°F and then letting it free-rise immediately to wherever it wanted to go.  The result was a lot of fusels and hot alcohol flavours, and the beer stayed basically undrinkable for over a year.  As a result I’ve come to associate some of the citrusy flavours the yeast spits out with fusel alcohol, even when a beer is fermented at lower temperatures and isn’t particularly ‘hot’, so that what I’m actually tasting is probably just esters and phenols.  This detracts from my enjoyment of any beer brewed with it (not just mine---I get it in commercial beers that I think use it too).  My problem is that these aren’t so much bright and zesty citrus flavours; they are more like stewed oranges with pepper (and sometimes hot alcohol) mixed in.   (Interestingly I don’t get this from the Jester King beers I’ve had, and I know they use a variant of this yeast.)

For this beer I used the fermentation profile I use on all of my saisons: pitched and held in the mid 60s, and then allowed to free rise after 24-36 hours in the fermentation chamber.  None of the unattractive flavours are apparent, but I do get them from another (higher gravity) saison I brewed at around the same time. I don’t know if it’s the large dry hop covering them up, or if I just prefer the flavours this yeast creates in lower gravity wort.  In fact, maybe the problem is that with higher gravities the fermentation takes longer, so that more of it is happening at elevated temperatures given the way I handle the yeast.  Perhaps the answer is to keep stronger beers cool for longer than 24 hours.

IMG_1869Appearance: Glowing yellow.  Very slight haze.  Head dissipates quickly.

Smell: Spicy hops with lemony citrus mixed in.  Some bready pilsner beneath it.

Taste: Lemon rind, grass, and pepper, with slightly sweet malt.  A bit of soapiness that I’m not keen on in the aftertaste (I haven’t noticed this so much in earlier bottles).

Mouthfeel: Prickly carbonation.  I suppose its fairly thin, but for me this lends to its drinkability.  Bitterness is firm and maybe a little astringent in combination with the carbonation.

Drinkability & Notes: Very drinkable: the best testament to this is how quickly I’ve got through the batch.  This is the first time I’ve been really happy with WY3711---the citrus is more lemon rind than stewed orange, and there’s none of the hot alcohol I associate with this yeast.  I would like the malt to be cleaner, and the hops brighter, but this is a good start.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Brew Day: Pale Mild

Brew LogOnce summer hits its stride here in Chicago, home-brewing in an apartment without air-conditioning becomes increasingly difficult.  Its not just the constant worrying about the various beers I have aging without temperature control.  There’s also the fact that its difficult to justify having a pot full of wort at a rolling boil in the kitchen when the apartment is already hot and humid.  So, for the next few months at least, I probably won’t be able to brew as much as I would like---and since I already have a lot of saisons and sours in the pipeline, I’ve decided to focus on the drink I love the most: pale, bitter English beer.

This brew day was actually a warm up for all of this.  For one thing, the pale mild I brewed is really an over-sized yeast starter to make sure I’ll have healthy pitches of the WY1469 for the next month or two.  But I also wanted a simple brew day so that I could begin focusing on various changes in my process, all made with a view to improving the overall quality of my beers.

I think I’ve been making solid beers without obvious off-flavours for at least a year now, and over the last few months there’s been a few standouts that I’ve been really happy with.  But there’s plenty of room for improvement, and since I think I have fermentation under control I’ve begun to focus more closely again on the production of wort.  Purchasing a pH meter a few months ago has given me a window into my mashes that I’ve never had before, and as a result I’ve begun to pay closer attention to things like water additions and mash pH.  But since I’ve recently been brewing beers that pick up acidity from bacteria during fermentation, its been hard to tell how much of a difference these changes have made.  Hopefully coming back to English styles for a while will help me to better understand how water chemistry and wort composition affect my final beer.

To help me focus on this, I’ve designed a brew day log sheet to keep track of the various additions and measurements I make along the way.  When I first started brewing I tried using some of the excellent brewing logs available online (e.g. Randy Mosher’s or Kai Troester’s), but since I didn’t really understand some of what I was recording and the rest of the brew day was still new to me, it was easy to lose focus and end up with half-completed sheets.  As I got more comfortable with my process I started making more of an effort to record things in BeerSmith, but my computer is at the opposite end of the house from the kitchen, so its still easy to let thing slip. 

The advantage of designing my own sheet, rather than going back to using Kai Troester’s, is that I can structure it around my own process during brew day.  I wrote the sheet by sitting down and going through the whole process in my imagination, working out the points at which it would be helpful to have measurements or records.  I then wrote out a very basic document, arranged in a linear order to match what I did at each point in my brew days, so that it would be easy to remember to make and log measurements at each point.  Inevitably I thought up various modifications as I brewed today, and I’m sure I think up more over the coming months: but as things stand I should now have accurate information about things like water additions and final water profile, mash pH, boil pH, pre-, mid-, and post-boil gravities, boil-off, etc, where before at least some of this information was always missing.  Hopefully this will put me in a better position to understand the changes that affect my beers.  (I’m happy to send a copy of my log sheet to anyone who wants it, or to post it here---but I think it makes more sense to come up with your own version based on your understanding of your brew day process.)

Anyway, enough waffling.  The brew day went smoothly enough, though I did have trouble getting the wort down to pitching temps.  It’s perhaps worth commenting on the beer itself.  Pale milds are a rarity in an already rare style (although back in Liverpool I could reliably find Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best at The Caledonia).  The recipe is my own, and I make no claims for its authenticity or quality(this is my first time brewing it).  One thing I will say is that its interesting to compare popular homebrew recipes for Mild to historical or even modern commercial versions.  Home brewers tend to include large amounts of crystal malt in their milds, in quantities that add significant body and sweetness to the final beer.  Historical and commercial recipes, on the other hand, often include a large proportion of adjuncts like dark brewing sugars and flaked maize, which are usually understood as ingredients that will lighten a beer and help it dry out.  It looks like we’re brewing completely different beers.

I’m not going to suggest that one approach is better than the other, though I have my preference.  The home brewer approach is no doubt partly a result of attempts to add body and flavour to these low-gravity beers.  Traditional milds have the advantage of being served from a cask fresh, at cellar temperature, and with low carbonation, all of of which tend to impart a perception of increased body, and help to bring out subtler flavours that are lost when the beer is cold.  This is difficult to achieve if you’re serving beers from the fridge via a keg or bottle, so home brewers have to take different means to the same end.  However, I think some American home brewers also tend to think of milds as sweet beers (malty and sweet are often equated with each other), and this, in my experience at least, is somewhat inaccurate.  The milds I’ve had back home are all refreshing, light, drinkable beers, neither cloyingly sweet nor pretending to clock in at a higher gravity than they have.  That, at any rate, is the kind of mild I’ve enjoyed drinking, which is why I’ve included both invert sugar and corn in this recipe.


Measured O.G. 1.034
Measured F.G.
Mash: 154°F
48.9% Mild Malt (Paul’s)
36.5% Pearl Malt (Fawcett)
4.9% Flaked Corn      
9.8% Invert #2      
Fuggles (U.S.) 60 20.4 IBUs (25g @ 4.1%)
WGV 15 2.8 IBUs (10g @ 5.3%)
WY1469 (West Yorkshire)

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Coupage: Dark Saisons

All four base beersThis is another post about biere de coupage, or cutting young beers with older batches (see here and here).  In this case, I took a sour beer and used it to inoculate three younger beers.  In one instance, at ratios high enough that I was essentially creating a blend of the two beers; and in the others, with smaller proportions of old beer, so that the main goal was to perpetuate the sour culture in the new batches.

The `old’ sour beer was an 8 month old dark saison brewed with Wyeast 3726 and inoculated in secondary with ECY20.  The beer never really came into its own---it had some leathery funk, and a light to middling sourness, but was otherwise quite bland.  As a result, I never got round to putting it in bottles, even though the gravity was down at 0.999. 

Looking back, when I brewed it I hadn’t tasted many dark saisons (a terrible old bottle of St. Somewhere Serge is the only one I can remember), so I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted from such a beer.  I got the idea of brewing one from the annual Dark Saisons brewed by Michael Tonsmeire, and my original plan was to follow one of his recipes, but I think I changed my mind based on the ingredients I had on hand and the fact that I wanted something a little less alcoholic.  The recipe I went with was a blend of pilsner and vienna, darkened by Carafa II and Midnight Wheat, and with some Golden Naked Oats thrown in for some body.  It would probably have been fine if I bottled it, perhaps developing some more funk from the brett once it was under pressure, but I was much more excited about using it as a base for cutting other beers.  I’ll describe all three in this post.

Dark Saison with Zante Currants

The main event was a stronger dark saison, along the lines of this batch by Michael Tonsmeire, though my recipe was a little different.  The O.G. was 1.061, and I fermented it out with WY3711 which, as usual, took it right the way down to 1.000.  This beer was cut with the largest proportion of old beer: I moved the entire 3 gallon batch to a 5 gallon carboy, and then filled up the remaining space with 2 gallons of the old saison.  I also added a pound and a half of dried Zante currants.

While I didn’t try blending different proportions before racking, I did a small blend at these proportions with the gravity samples from both beers, and the result was quite promising.  It had a light sourness and some subtle dark fruit, along with a fairly nice mouthfeel.  Since both beers are very dry, I don’t expect much in the way of an increase in acidity.  The currants will add some tartness, along with more fermentable sugar; but the bugs will probably be out-competed by the remaining saccharomyces from the young saison, so won’t get a chance to produce more acid.  I’m hoping the beer will develop some more leathery funk in over the next few months; my plan is to bottle it at the end of the summer, and start drinking it in the depths of winter.

Dark Sour Ale

Beers after blendingAfter this first blend, I had about a gallon of old sour left, and rather than blending another beer at these higher proportions I decided to use it to dose two further beers.  I was inspired here by the process that Lauren and Eric Salazar implemented at New Belgium, saving the best batches of their sour beer and using them to inoculate their new barrels/batches to ensure that the most promising cultures were perpetuated.  You can hear them talk about it in this interview, and there is a lot more information in American Sour Beers.  In the book, Tonsmeire mentions that even now they never fully empty the foeders between batches, so that there is always around 10% of the old beer left to inoculate the new one.

While this isn’t my most promising batch, it does have the full array of bugs from ECY20 in it, and since that won’t be available again for another few months this seemed like a good way to further extend the vial I bought.  For the second biere de coupage, I brewed something very like Russian River’s Consecration, based on the recipe in this thread at HBT.  In fact, the only real differences were that I fermented it with WY3522, and somehow missed my O.G. by about 10 points!  The gravity started at 1.063, and was at around 1.009 after fermentation was complete.

To inoculate the batch, I transferred about 1.5 litres of old sour into a 3 gallon carboy, and then filled it the rest of the way with the fresh batch.  I’m going to let it age for a few months before adding the Zante currants, because here I do want the bugs rather than the saccharomyces to ferment more of their sugars.

Another quick note: I reserved the excess of the young beer (~2 litres), and I am going to use it to top up these batches after refermentation of the sugars from the currants is complete.  There isn’t much headspace in the carboys anyway, but since they will be conditioning in the summer heat I want to make sure there is as little oxygen as possible.

Dark Farmhouse Ale

Refermentation of Zante currantsThe final beer is probably the least promising of the three.  Subsequent to brewing the original dark saison, I picked up a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Noire, and this gave me a much clearer idea of the kind of dark saison I wanted to brew: I really enjoyed its mix of dark fruit and leathery funk, and at 4.3% ABV it was right where I like my beers to be.  I tried to brew a batch along the same lines to inoculate with this sour, but at such low gravity I had to add a fair bit of Carafa III (around 5%) to get the colour I wanted.  As a result, the young beer tastes more like a weird schwarzbier, with lots of light roast (though nothing acrid thankfully), and nothing in the way of dark fruits, despite the Special B and Dark Crystal in the recipe.  In other words, nothing like what I wanted, and to make things worse these probably aren’t flavours that will meld that well with sourness and funk. 

In hindsight, I think I tried to make the beer darker than I needed to---I was going for around 25 SRM, but I don’t think Bam Noire is actually as dark as that.  When I try this again, I’ll use less Carafa III, and probably switch the Special B for an English Extra Dark Crystal.

Anyway, I decided to go ahead with the blend, adding almost all of the remaining portion of the sour beer (~3 litres) to a 3 gallon carboy, and topping it up with the young beer.  My original plan had been to add a full 2 pounds of Zante currants to the dark saison described above, but after tasting them all I held back 1/2 lb to add to this one, in an effort to give it some more fruity flavours. 

The gravity of this batch started at 1.039, and was at 1.006 after primary fermentation.  I’m going to let it sit for a few months, and then see if I want to bottle it in the Autumn.  If I don’t like the mix of roast and sour flavours, I’ll just use it in small proportions to dose another series of beers!