Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bread and Beer: Spelt

Whole Grain Loaf with Sprouted Spelt
Brewing and baking complement each other in various ways: key to both is an understanding of the logic behind your process, the stages of fermentation in the product, and the ways in which modification in the former can shape the latter and change the flavour profile of whatever it is you are making.   The most recent Tartine Book by baker Chad Robertson contains an extended digression comparing the fermentation cycle of lambics with the much shorter cycle of naturally risen breads:
"Lambic brewers are conducting a symphony of natural processes, acting as both catalysts and shepherds in an attempt to achieve the desired outcome. The notion that the pattern has a specific sequence was a revelation; there was surely something valuable in this discovery related to bread. Lambic beers typically go through at least five distinct phases of fermentation. Unlike more common styles of beer where the flavor character is mostly determined by the types of grain and hops used, lambic’s complex character is shaped in large part by the wild fermentation, which changes with seasonal temperature fluctuations among other things. The origins of the lambic process and the way our bread was taking shape were closely related. Over time, the concept of sequential phases of fermentation would illuminate parts of my bread-baking process that had been invisible before.
Tartine bread goes through a process closer to a 24-hour cycle than the 24-month cycle of lambic beer. With bread I am working with fewer dominant types of wild microorganisms than the extraordinarily diverse process that produces lambic. But as much as I try to control the process on the one hand, letting the wild fermentation go through very active phases to develop depths of flavor is key to my approach. Minimal manipulation in the early stages—to allow maximum expression and transformation wrought by the microflora—is always the goal."
But there is also a more mundane overlap between baking and brewing in the ingredients its useful to have on hand.  Since I don't have a flour mill, in my case this is limited to raw grains that I can crush for brewing, or use whole or coarsely chopped in baking: things like spelt, rye, buckwheat, etc.  I confess I enjoy the thought that I can use these grains to make either beer or bread: it fits with the no doubt romanticized picture of traditional farmhouse ales, brewed with whatever grains were on hand, all of which might also be put to various other uses around the farm.

Whole spelt can be used in a variety of ways in bread, but it must first be rehydrated one way or another.  This achieves two important goals: softening the grain so that it won't be too tough in the final bread, but also beginning some enzyme activity (similar to what goes on in the mash) that make various minerals nutritionally available and begins breaking down starches into sugars.  One way to achieve this is by making a "soaker", hydrating coarsely ground grains in water overnight.  I've tried this a few times, but more recently I've been germinating the grains first by briefly hydrating them, the leaving them to sprout for a day or two (this is the process that is initiated and then halted in malting grains).  One final technique, which I haven't tried, involves basically mashing the grains or boiling them into a gelatinized porridge, then using this as part of the dough for the final bread.  This last method is closest to how we use these grains in beer.

I've used raw spelt three or four times when brewing, usually as a substitute for wheat malt in saisons and farmhouse beers.  I don't know if I could pick out differences between the two in separate beers, but I have noticed that spelt seems to improve the perception of body without being quite as silky as oats---something that can be useful when you're trying to make beers that are dry but not too thin or astringent.  The spelt saison I brewed with The Yeast Bay's saison blend remains one of my favourite home brews, and I recently added dry hops to another bitter, hoppy saison brewed with spelt which was also tasting very promising.

When using raw spelt in small quantities  (less that 5% of the grist), I usually just mash it along with everything else, though perhaps taking the time to change the gap on my Corona mill and give it a finer crush (raw grains are often difficult to mill).  When using a higher proportion, I now do a cereal mash with the spelt and a small amount of base malt. As I understand it, spelt should gelatinize at mash temperatures, making a cereal mash unnecessary; but the one time I tried to skip this step, my efficiency dipped considerably.  It may be that crushing the spelt more finely (or using rolled or even malted spelt) would have facilitated gelatinization, so that more of the starch was converted and my efficiency remained the same.  However since its raw spelt I use in baking, and the cereal mash isn't too much extra work, this is the process I've settled on.

Cereal Mash
You can find good accounts of the science behind cereal mashing online; my process is fairly simple.  I draw out a quart or two of water from my main kettle, add the crushed spelt along with a handful of base malt, and heat it to around 150°F; I hold it here for about 10 minutes, then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring it regularly for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, until I have a thick and gloopy porridge.  This then goes back into my main kettle, which by this point is on its way up to strike-in temperatures.  I add the rest of the grist, and mash as normal.

I'll post tasting notes and recipe for my most recent spelt saison in a few weeks when its bottled and carbonated.  In the meantime, with the weekend coming up, I'm finally back to brewing again!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Tasting Notes: Pale Mild

This pale mild was just a quick beer, intended primarily as a vehicle for growing healthy yeast; but I thought I'd write some brief tasting notes anyway since it turned out pretty well.

Appearance: Slight chill haze, but nice and bright once it warms up a bit.  Decent thin  but lingering head.

Smell: Fruity esters dominate.  Banana and apricot.  Bready malt and very light spice beneath it.

Taste: Slightly sweet, compounded by the fruity esters.  Followed by bready, maybe even slightly nutty malt.  Very gentle hop bite at the end.  Maybe a slight lactic twang?

Mouthfeel: Low carbonation is perfect.  Medium full mouth-feel.  Doesn't seem too light, despite being 3.4%.

Drinkability & Notes: Fairly happy with this one.  It has a nice subtlety to it.  The esters from the yeast are a bit more dominant than I'd like, probably because fermentation started a little high, but its not a fruity mess.  I'd also like a bit more expression from the malt: its slightly muddled, getting a bit lost in the sweetness.  But I've been drinking these most nights, and J seems to like them too, so I'll probably brew something like this again in future.

Saturday, 23 August 2014


We're not here for beer, but we've still managed some good drinking. I forgot to bring a camera so I don't think I'll write a proper post, but needless to say I was pretty excited to be greeted by this display of beers from Brasserie de la Senne on our way into Bar Volo. We tried a fair few beers by local breweries as well, some familiar from previous trips (e.g. we first visited Bellwoods two years ago), some new to us.  Stand outs included an English IPA on cask from Granite Brewing, and some beers by Dieu du Ciel and Le Trou du Diable

Friday, 22 August 2014

Tasting Notes: Lochristi Grisette

Inspired by this excellent write up at Ale of the Riverwards, I thought I'd come back to one of the beers I hadn't written about from my first order from The Yeast Bay.  It is a grisette fermented with Wyeast 3522, with half a vial of the Lochristi blend added in secondary; I also added some oak cubes that were fresh from a beer fermented with lactobacillus and White Labs brett trois.

I called it a Grisette for no better reason than that it had a high percentage of wheat and oats (see recipe below).  This ended up giving the beer a slightly creamy body that I'm not too keen on, which is exacerbated by the low carbonation and light hopping. I deliberately aimed for this low carbonation, expecting the brettanomyces to eat through the last remaining gravity points---but there's been little change since bottling. Its developed a light but definite tartness during secondary, which might mean that some lactobacillus survived on the oak cubes---though this could also be from the brettanomyces, since the website blurb says it can "impart a pleasant acidity over time".

The blend itself doesn't really shine in this beer, but I think that's a problem with the recipe more than anything else.  The second beer I fermented with this blend was a golden sour.  I transferred this onto 3 lbs of peaches a few weeks ago, at which point it had a similar flavour profile to this beer, but with more sourness and funk to back it up.  Hopefully the peaches will elevate it further.

Appearance: Hazy golden colour.  Head dissipates to a thin cap leaving some lacing.

Smell: There's a distinctive aroma profile I've found in both beers brewed with this blend, but its hard to find words to describe it beyond generic descriptions like "fruity".  The blurb on the website mentions strawberries, and I think I can see that, but to me its more of a green unripe strawberry than a luscious fresh berry.  There's perhaps some yellow citrus fruit too, and as I swirl up the glass I get more musty and earthy funk beneath the fruit.

Taste: Lightly sour, slightly lemony, and maybe a touch of orange peel.  Its comes together nicely, but its hard to pick out individual flavours.

Mouthfeel: The carbonation is low, and the mouthfeel fairly creamy.  For me, this detracts from the beer: I think if it were more spritzy it would be very refreshing, and the flavours might pop out more.

Drinkability & Notes: Not a bad beer by any means, but not particularly memorable either.  The contribution from the Lochristi blend is pleasant but subtle, and not enough to carry the beer by itself.  The light lactic tartness helps, but really it needs higher carbonation and maybe a dry hop to liven it up a bit.


Measured O.G.1.041
Measured F.G.1.002
64% 2-Row
18.3% Wheat Malt
9.1% Vienna
5.4% Golden Naked Oats
3.2% Table Sugar
Hallertau (US)60 min23.9 IBUs(25g@ 5.4%)
Styrian Goldings15 min5.8 IBUs(20g@ 3.29%)
Fuggles (US)2 min0.9 IBUs(15g@ 4.1%)

WY3522; Lochristi Blend 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Tasting Notes: Biere de Coupage (Brett Fermented Wit)

When I told J I was making a witbier she asked me why, and with good reason: neither of us like them all that much.  Its probably in part because I haven't sought out many good ones, but in my limited experience witbiers are often creamy and a little sweet, whereas I prefer dryer beers that finish bitter and/or sour.  Its no surprise, then, that the wheat beers I tend to enjoy have a tart snap to them (like Jolly Pumpkin's Calabaza Blanca , or New Belgium's Snapshot), nor that when I've brewed wheat beers in the past its been styles like berlinerweisse or gose.  And yet here I was, brewing a straight up witbier...  Well, kind of.

The original inspiration for this beer came from an old article by Chad Yakobson in Zymurgy.  It included a recipe for a brettanomyces-fermented wit---probably an early version of Crooked Stave's St. Bretta.  I'd never tried that beer, but I thought it might be interesting to brew something along the same lines and ferment it with a couple of strains of brettanomyces.  As I mentioned in the earlier post, I was a little disappointed with the finished beer, so at bottling I cut it 3:1 with a no-boil sour I brewed earlier this summer.  Tasting notes below are for this blended beer.

Appearance: Hazy yellow colour.  Head retention is OK from a vigorous pour, but I like a more billowing head on this one.

Smell:  Very light grapefruit and general citrus, with a musty brett funk beneath it.  Aroma comes across as slightly sweet, if that makes sense.

Taste: Starts with doughy and slightly sweet wheat, and rounds out with a nice tartness at the end.  Grapefruit is there in the background, but I'd like it to pop out more.  Probably partly a result of using out of season fruit, but maybe I need to change other aspects of my process (adding more zest, adding juice, changing when I make these additions, etc.)

Mouthfeel:  Carbonation is a little low.  It begins with a fairly full and creamy mouthfeel, but the tart finish cuts right through it and makes the beer very moreish.

Drinkability & Notes: To my taste, cutting this beer with the no boil sour improved it immeasurably.  Where before it was cloying and dull, its now quite refreshing and drinkable.  There's no sign of over-carbonation yet (and if anything, I wish carbonation were a little higher)---I'm not planning on aging any of this, but I'll keep at least one or two bottles around for a month or so to see if this changes.  Perhaps the tartness will increase, along with the carbonation? I would also like the citrus to be more forward, and the whole thing to be brighter, but all things considered I'm satisfied with how this turned out.  I might even make another witbier some day soon!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Process: Brewing with English Yeast Strains

Pale Mild
I've ended up taking a few weeks off from brewing this month, and since J and I are headed up to Toronto next week, it will probably be at least a fortnight before I brew again.  I have a couple of tasting note posts scheduled for while I'm away, but it will be a a bit longer before I have any interesting brew days to write about.

Part of the reason for this is that I'm in between pitches of yeast, and it didn't seem worthwhile to grow one up when I knew I'd be travelling.  Why should that make a difference?  Well, I realized that it all comes down to the way I brew when I'm using English yeast, and I thought it would be fun to write a quick post about my process.  Maybe its uninteresting for others, but I for one quite like hearing people discuss how they go about their brewing.

When I'm doing English beers (and some Belgian ones), my ideal process is to grow up a pitch of a top-cropping strain, and then brew with it once a week until its gone through at least three or four generations.  This only works when I know that I'll be able to brew regularly over a several weeks (so in the summer, and maybe at the start of a school semester).  When I have this kind of space, I brew each weekend, cropping mid-week for the next batch, and keeping this going as long as I need to.

Its fun to be able to trace the lineage of a particular pitch of yeast that's gone through this cycle.  For example, early this summer I grew up a pitch of Wyeast 1469 from a slant.  It was first pitched into this pale mild, and cropped a few days later; after that I brewed two bitters back to back on subsequent weekends, pitching from one to the next  (I haven't written about these yet); the yeast from the last bitter was pitched into Old World's Mantra; some of the yeast cropped from there was pitched into the Keeping Porter, while the rest was grown up on a stir-plate and pitched into Stingo, along with more yeast cropped from the Keeping Porter.

So you can see that the original gravity of the beers increases steadily, with early beers acting as starters to ensure I have healthy yeast.  Since I'm top-cropping, I don't worry too much about the colour or hopping rates in the beer I'm cropping from, as the yeast that I skim off is almost completely free of trub (it may be coated in hop oils, but I haven't had any trouble with this).

I haven't done this consistently enough with particular strains to have any information about how flavours vary between pitches, though I have noticed that attenuation will often increase steadily over several generations.  One thing that has probably been very inconsistent up to now is the pitching rate across batches: I try to pitch roughly the same volume of slurry by eye in beers of the same gravity, but without taking cell-counts or actually measuring it out I suspect I am often over-pitching (remember this is thick, fresh, and healthy slurry).

That should change in future: a fellow home-brewer who runs one of the labs on campus recently told me that his old school was selling some microscopes, so I asked him to pick one up for me.  Once I get the hang of using it, I'll be able to do cell counts for the slurry I'm repitching.  It will be interesting to see what these show about the cell numbers and viability in top-cropped yeast, especially compared to the washed yeast I use in my saisons.

I'm curious as to whether other home brewers think about their process in the same way.  Part of the fun for me is thinking out a series of beers for a particular yeast.  I can tell you now that the next strains I grow up after our trip will be Wyeast 1028 and 1318 (I'm not sure which I'll do first)---and I have a pretty good idea of the sequence of beers I'll brew with each, which is to say that I have at least four beers in mind, and a couple more possibilities that I could work into the sequence if I think I'll have time. (E.g. 1028 goes Ordinary Bitter, Bitter, Summer Ale, IPA, and maybe a stock ale at the end.)

A final note: this is very different from the way I use saison yeasts.  Since these are rarely good top-croppers, and often fairly poor at flocculating, I usually harvest them from one of the clean Better Bottles that I use as bright tanks / secondary fermentation vessels.  In the right context, this process has its advantages too: it means I can wait longer in between brews, and keep a single pitch going over many months.  Obviously brewing with mixed cultures works differently too.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Tasting Notes: 1909 Lees Bitter

I've been waiting to post tasting notes for this beer because it was a bit rough around the edges for the first month or two.  I suppose that's unsurprising given the amount of hops used in it (70 calculated IBUs), especially since I also missed my O.G. by almost 10 points!  For the first month or so, it tasted like a poorly fermented kolsch: lots of honey and light fruitiness.  The bitterness wasn't too rough, but the whole thing didn't really come together.  Its started to come into its own in the last few weeks, and may well continue improving.

Appearance: Golden colour. Has a chill-haze if poured straight from the fridge, but crystal clear if you let it warm up a bit.  Head retention is terrible.

Smell: It had a strong honeyish aroma when it was young, but this has faded quite a bit.  Very slight fruitiness, but hard to tell if its the sugars, the yeast, or even residual aroma from the hops.

Taste: Honeyed malts, light fruitiness (apples, pears, maybe apricot), tea-like tannins in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Low carbonation.  Not too thin.  Bitterness is not at all rough, but builds gradually as you drink a pint to become almost numbing.  I like it, others might not.

Drinkability & Notes: It all comes together quite nicely at this point, drinking smoothly where before all the edges stuck out.  I'm surprised that the bitterness isn't harsher.  It definitely builds up as you drink, but I don't find it at all unpleasant.  Probably won't make this again, if only because of the quantity of hops involved, but J and I have both been drinking it fairly regularly.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Tasting Notes: Biere de Coupage (Pale Saison)

Here's some tasting notes for one of the beers I'm most excited about at the moment: a young and hoppy saison blended with a small portion of aged sour beer.  You can read some longer posts about the historical background to this process here and here, with more post about other beers I've made this way here.  I gave a bottle of this to Michael Thorpe of Spontaneous Funk, and I've included his tasting notes at the end of the post.  (For other posts on this technique, see the links here.)

Appearance: Pale golden colour.  The head dissipates quickly and almost completely, leaving minimal lacing.

Smell: Predominantly the juicy stone fruit / canned pineapple juice I usually get from my house culture.  Light blackcurrant and floral notes, and a gentle earthy funk in the background.

Taste: Stone fruits, citrus rind, soft but definite acidity (the beer is more sour than tart), slight metallic bitterness, but not at all unpleasant.  Really quite lovely actually.

Mouthfeel: Prickly carbonation.  Could be a touch higher perhaps, though for me its fine where it is.  Beer finishes dry but is not at all thin, probably thanks to the glycerol from the WY3711

Drinkability & Notes: I'm pretty delighted with this beer.  It doesn't have the complexity of an aged sour, but its very drinkable, and I think the light but still mouth-watering acidity takes it a cut above my other saisons.  I'm suprised by just how much of a difference such a small proportion (~15%) of aged sour made to the final beer.  Needless to say, I'll be using this technique again.

I'll be interested to see how the beer ages.  I bought another bottle of BFM √225 Saison to compare it with, and where I'd loved that beer before I now found it a bit disappointing.  I think the hops had become slightly oxidized, detracting from the bright and juicy character I'd enjoyed in younger bottles.  Perhaps with a bit more time the brettanomyces profile would come to dominate and take the beer in a different direction (this would fit with what Garrett Crowell told me about Jester King beers in his email).

Michael's Notes: Starts with a nice and fairly subtle petit saison base, transitioning into a bit of acidity and light fruitiness. A bit of the leafy/earthy character that I always associate with 3711, though in a good way, and not overpowering like it often becomes with 6+% saisons done with it. Nice spritzy carbonation; very light. Quite easy drinking, and definitely a nice warm weather beer. Would certainly order another pint!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Brew Day: Stingo

I continue to be fascinated by the role wild yeasts and other bacteria would have played in older English beers, and the ways in which British brewing traditions might have overlapped with those surviving on the continent.  The July/August issue of Zymurgy had a short article on a beer called "Stingo", which it described as an English strong ale associated with Yorkshire.  Since I was reading everything I could find about these aged stock ales, I decided to do a little bit of internet research about "Stingo", and marked the recipe down as one I might try this summer.

Digging around online I discovered that Pretty Things and Boulevard had joined up to brew a beer inspired by Yorkshire Stingo.  In interviews connected with the collaboration, Dan and Martha from Pretty Things engage in some intriguing speculation about the connections between British stock ales and the acid ales of the Flanders region:
“In the mid-1800s Eugene Rodenbach, who was maybe the third generation of the brewery was sent to do an internship in the north of England and when he came back to the brewery he brought with him the beer we know today, this blended, aged, brown, malty beer. So obviously Rodenbach in almost no way resembles anything that’s presently brewed in the north of England.” 
“But it did back then,” Martha continued. “So the roots were borrowed from Yorkshire. Which really isn’t what people want to think so nobody really talks about it. But it’s true.”
There is more in this vein in the write up accompanying the beer posted by brewer Dan Paquette on the brewery's blog:
"Is Stingo the original Flanders Red? I’ve been all around the Rodenbach brewery and I’ve seen photos of plenty of wooden fermenters in old English breweries. There are a lot of similarities between breweries in this period anyway. De Dolle Brouwerij in Esen, Belgium is like a close cousin to the T & R Theakston brewery in Masham, Yorkshire. Green King still uses “rounds”, wooden vessels similar to the classic Belgian “foeder” to make its Olde Suffolk ale. I don’t claim to be making an academic study, just observations. But I’d love for someone to look into it further."
I remembered that the name "Stingo" showed up in the "Barley Wine and Old Ale" chapter of Amber, Gold, and Black, but on rereading the chapter I could find no particular mention of any acidity:
"Other regional varieties of strong ale included Yorkshire Stingo, which Alfred Barnard in 1890 found being brewed by John Metcalfe & Son at the Nidderdale brewery in Pately Bridge, and Joshua Tetley in Leeds, where he found it `very luscious, full of body and well flavoured without being heady'."
Later in the chapter there is this:
"Hammonds also brewed a stronger XXXXX Stingo, using 82 per cent pale malt and 18 per cent glucose, with the wort boiled for three hours to concentrate it and give it more colour, an OF of around 1100 and an abv of 9.5.  The quite high final gravity of 1027, suggesting a sweet beer, would have been balanced by the massive amount of hops used, which may have given a bitterness level as high as 119.  This, Dr Thomas suggests, was a classic barley wine, with an aftertaste that was likely to be richly hoppy and bitter, and an ester and alcoholic  background from the high gravity fermentation.  As he says: 'One can only speculate on its complexity'." 
I suspect the idea that a beer called "Stingo" was the missing link between Flanders and English ales is probably wishful thinking. But regardless of any such particular link, there are definite ties between the two traditions.  Here is what Jeff Sparrow has to say in Wild Brews on the related topic of blending old and young beers:
"It is difficult to determine exactly on which side of the English Channel this tradition began.  The people at the classic West Flanders brewery Rodenbach cite the similarity with the practice of blending in the United Kingdom, and ancestor Eugene Rodenbach was known to have studied brewing in England.  Some people credit Rodenbach with bringing the method of tall wooden cask construction and accompanying fermentation process to Belgium around 1860. Says Michael Jackson, "Some people believe that Rodenbach's techniques of aging and blending were taken from the porter and stout brewers of England and Ireland.  I think it was initially the Flemish who taught the islanders about such matters, although knowledge did begin to flow the other way after the Industrial Revolution." Wherever the tradition began, the English and Flemish traditions are inexorably linked."
What is clear is that English stock ales were often prized for their tart, vinous character, something they share to some extent with Flanders beers, and something that was almost certainly the product of a secondary fermentation by brettanomyces and other organisms.  You can read some interesting speculation about exactly how tart the beers were in the comments from this post at Shut Up About Berkeley Perkins.  Reading through some of the historical material that Ron and others have posted you find plenty of references to acidity and "hardness" being undesirable, so perhaps these weren't beers that were soured to the same extent as modern Flanders reds etc.  Then again, with no way of trying the beers in question, its difficult to know exactly how these brewers applied such terms.  Perhaps what they sought to avoid was the vinegary acidity that is produced by acetobacter, rather than the softer acidity from lactic fermentation?

Sadly there aren't many surviving British beers in this tradition. Samuel Smiths still makes a Yorkshire Stingo, but as far as I know it does not undergo secondary brettanomyces fermentation.  The closest thing I know is Gale's Prize Old Ale.  When it was brewed by Gale's of Horndean, it underwent secondary fermentation in wooden hogsheads inhabited by various wild yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria.  After Fuller's took over the beer, they preserved its resident microflora by brewing in a solera-style system, preserving a portion of each batch to inoculate future ones (kind of like I've been doing with my beers).  (Another example is Greene King Old XXXXX, which makes up a portion of their Olde Suffolk Ale.)

The Zymurgy recipe makes no claims to historical accuracy, but I decided to follow it anyway.  Besides the anachronous use of crystal and huskless black malt, the hopping rates seem very low compared to the recipes for keeping beers that you can find on Ron's website.  Still, it looked like it would make a good beer, so last weekend I went ahead and brewed something based on it.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe written in the magazine.  The first was to replace their single base malt (Maris Otter) with a blend of the malts I have on hand: I went with Mild malt, Pearl, and US 2-row.  The Zymurgy recipe called for adding a finely ground huskless black malt just before mash-out to darken the colour without adding too much roast; since I didn't have any on hand, I cold-steeped some roasted barley overnight, and added the resulting liquid for the last ten minutes of the boil.  The recipe also calls for a dark invert sugar.  Since it takes a while to make this from scratch on the stove, I tried the method of blending a white invert with dark blackstrap molasses (described here).  It gave a nice licorice characters to the final sugar, and was much easier than trying to hold the sugar at the right temperature for a few hours to darken it.  I think I'll be using this method from now on.

Brew day went fairly smoothly.  I've noticed that my efficiency takes a real dip when I go above 1.060, and even after lowering predicted efficiency a bit in BeerSmith for this recipe I still came ten points short, ending with a beer at 1.080 rather than 1.090.  I pitched a large amount of Wyeast 1469 cropped from the two beers I brewed last weekend, and set my fermentation chamber in the low 60s.  The recipe calls for starting higher to encourage ester formation, but I stuck with my usual practice, which involves gradually ramping up the temperature over the next week.  I haven't decided exactly how I'm going to inoculate this beer yet.  It will certainly get a pitch of White Labs Brettanomyces Clausenii, as will the Keeping Porter I brewed last week.  I also reserved some of the Oud Bruin I brewed recently, which has lactobacillus brevis in it, and I'm thinking about adding this to both beers.  With the alcohol levels and hopping rates as high as they are, I'd be suprised if the lactobacillus manages to make any real contribution, but I figured I might as well try.  The real question is whether to add cultures that I know contain pediococcus, or whether to stick with brettanomyces and lactobacillus.  The latter will certainly result in a less sour beer, which in this case may be what I want.


Estimated O.G. 1.090
Measured O.G. 1.080
Measured F.G.
152°F 90 minutes
40.8% Mild Malt
25.4% 2-Row
16.9% Pearl
10.3% Invert #3
2.6% Dark Crystal I
2.6% Dark Crystal II
1.7% Roasted Barley

(Cold Steeped)
EKG 60 24.6 IBUs (20g @ 6.5%)
EKG 20 3.5 IBUs (20g @ 6.0%)

Wyeast 1469

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Quick Question: Dry Hops and Diastatic Enzymes

I've been following up on some of the research on Ron Pattinson's blog Shut Up About Berkeley Perkins, trying to get a better understanding of the processes used in brewing older British beers, and in particular of the role played by secondary fermentation.

One thing I've been wondering about, with respect to IPAs, was whether or not they were aged on dry hops.  From what I can piece together from Mitch Steele's book, dry hops were added as the beer was racked into casks, after which it was aged for many months before shipping.  That would mean that the beer spent a considerable time on these hops.

I thought that was pretty interesting in its own right, but today I stumbled upon something related that was even more intriguing.  Following up a reference from Ron's blog, I found the following in Principles & Practice of Brewing (Walter J. Sykes & Arthur R. Ling, 1907):
"During secondary fermentation the more resistant maltodextrins are gradually and slowly degraded by the hydrolytic actions of the special yeasts concerned, assisted by that of the diastase of the dry hops when these are added at the time of racking, and perhaps also to some extent by the carbonic acid existing under pressure." (p.539)
If I understand this correctly, it says that hops added at racking contributed diastatic enzymes that eventually facilitated the breakdown of dextrins in the aging beer; and that the resulting sugars were fermented by brettanomyces and perhaps any remaining saccharomyces as well.  What I'm wondering is whether anyone can confirm that long aging on dry hops could have this effect?

Update: Based on the experiment described here (p.107-8), the answer seem to be yes.  Now I'm wondering whether aging on dry hops contributed anything to secondary fermentation that wouldn't have been achieved by the action of brettanomyces alone.  It might have kept LAB at bay, for instance; but I'm thinking in particular of the fermentation and its by-products.

Update II:  Further confirmation here.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Brew Day: Oud Bruin with Wyeast 3209

Tart Cherries for PreservesDespite having lots of other projects planned for the summer, I couldn't pass up the chance to try the seasonal releases from Wyeast, all of which are intended for making sour beers.  I didn't feel like taking a risk on the De Bom blend, but ever since I read some old posts by Al Buck of East Coast Yeast on BBB in which he talked about brewing an Oud Bruin with just saccharomyces and lactobacillus, I've been thinking about doing a Sour Brown Ale in this way.  The ECY blend seems to have been discontinued, but this Wyeast blend is based on the same ideas: lactobacillus to do the souring, sacchromyces to take care of the rest of primary fermentation, and no brettanomyces or pediococcus to munch through all the dextrins and take away any malty sweetness. (Update: Apparently I was wrong about this blend: it does contain brettanomyces. Jess Caudill from Wyeast has confirmed that there is no brettanomyces in this blend.)

Once I had the blend in my hand (a pack that was less than a week old, thanks to Rite Brew's pre-order system), I started wondering exactly how to use it.  For instance, the description on Wyeast's website states that fermentation should take place between 80-85°F.  This is a great temperature for lactobacillus, but how would the yeast perform if I pitched that high?  In the past, I've had undesirable results from pitching above 70°F, so I was reluctant to do it again.  Perhaps I could follow my normal procedure, pitching at a lower temp and letting it ramp up into these desired range?

Rather than simply guess, I decided to shoot a quick email to Wyeast; Jess Caudill got back to me with some helpful information about the blend, which I'll summarize below:

  • keeps the IBUs below 15; the l.brevis is more hop tolerant than other strains, but will still be inhibited by higher rates of hopping.
  • don't oxygenate at pitching; this will give the bacteria a head start.
  • pitch between 80-85; this will again let the lactobacillus thrive before the sacchromyces ferments all the available sugars; pitching at a lower temperature will result in a less sour beer.
  • the blend is designed to produce a drinkable beer in 6-8 weeks; oak accordingly.
I was still a bit worried about what the yeast would do if pitched at such a high temperature, but Jess assured me that they had selected a strain would still be quite clean in this range.

The blurb on the website also mentioned that this blend would provide an excellent base for blending with fruit in secondary.  At about the time I was brewing this beer, the local farmer's market had lots of tart and sweet cherries from Klug farms.  One rainy Saturday in early July I split a large box with a friend (she doesn't brew, but we both wanted to make cherry preserves as well), and froze what I had left in vacuum sealed bags.

For the brew itself, I decided to use Jamil Zainasheff's Oud Bruin recipe from Brewing Classic Styles.  The day went quite smoothly (although I missed by gravity by several points, a pattern I'm noticing on these higher gravity beers). In the end I elected to pitch in the mid-70s and let the beer free-rise into the 80s (which probably happened early in fermentation given the temperatures in my brew closet); I reasoned that I was going to add cherries anyway, which would increase the acidity, so there was less reason to maximize it from the start.

Today, about 2 and half weeks after pitching, I transferred the beer onto a 5-6 lb blend of tart and sweet cherries (remember, I do 3 gallon batches, so this is about 2lbs/gallon).  I had a fair bit left over, which I transferred to jugs with the intention of using it to dose some other beers (like the Keeping Porter I brewed last week) with the lactobacillus brevis.

The beer was only at 1.019 (down from 1.062), with a pH of 3.81.  It tasted fairly sour, with some fruity sweetness behind it; fairly rough around the edges, which is unsurprising given how young it is. Since I haven't been tracking fermentation, I have no idea if its stuck or if its just slowed down.  It wouldn't surprise me if the yeast gave up because of the acidity and alcohol; perhaps the lactobacillus will continue to slowly lower the gravity, but I suspect it will also be inhibited by the rising alcohol levels.  This, presumably, is how the blend can produce a drinkable beer in 6-8 weeks.  My only concern is that since I didn't take any steps to treat the cherries beyond freezing and defrosting them, adding them might inoculate the beer with a wild yeast strain that will prolong fermentation.

As I transferred the beer onto the cherries I had second thoughts about adding them so early.  Usually I'd wait many months before adding fruit (in fact, at the same time as transferring this beer, I added 3lbs of peaches to the golden sour I brewed a few months ago).  My original thought was that since the blend was supposed to be done in two months anyway, there would be no harm in adding the cherries early as I transferred to secondary.  In fact, since there was no brettanomyces in the beer to take care of oxidation, it made sense to minimize the number of transfers by adding the cherries at this point.

I'll check on the beer again in two months or so, and that will give me a sense of whether I made the right call.  If the gravity is about the same after the cherries have been fermented out, I'll feel fine bottling it.  If its continued to drop, I'll be worried that primary fermentation was incomplete when I added them, or that the beer has picked up some brettanomyces from the fruit.  In that case I'll just have to let it sit for longer.

26/11/14: Tasting Notes.