Sunday, 28 September 2014

Brew Day: Plain Old Pale Ale (plus Sour Reds)

Racking and Brewing
As is probably the case for a lot of home brewers, many of the first batches I brewed were American pale ales and IPAs, made in a effort to emulate the beers I was enjoying when I first started brewing.  But as time went on I found myself brewing these style much less frequently---looking back over my brew log, its been over a year since I made an American pale ale, and significantly longer since I made an IPA!  The excuse I usually give is that there are plenty of affordable and tasty pale ales and IPAs on the shelf round here, all of which are probably better than anything I could make with my current setup---whereas its pretty hard to find an ordinary bitter, and sours are often prohibitively expensive.  But the truth is, whenever I buy commercial beer these days, it tends to be single bottles of sour and wild stuff, and as a result we rarely have hoppy American beers in the house.

Well, I've been promising J I'd rectify that for a while now, and as our friends get back into town for the new school year (and the football season gets underway), this seemed like a good weekend to brew a simple pale ale.  I received a new load of grain from a CHBG group buy last week, and rather than formulate a recipe I just used a combination of the base malts that wouldn't fit in my storage buckets (2-row, pilsner, golden promise), along with a small amount of carapils.  For hops, I went with Cascade all the way through, keeping it simple, and for yeast I used an old packet of US-05.  I strained out the dregs in the kettle, and I'll be using them this week to grow up a pitch of Wyeast 1028 for my next series of English beers.

One nice thing about brewing something fairly straight-forward is that it gives me a chance to play around with my water chemistry a little more, and see if I like the results.  For this batch, I took Bru'n Water's bitter pale ale profile as my base line, adding slightly more chloride to see how it rounds things out.  The finished profile was the following:
Calcium: 92.4     Magnesium: 11.8     Sodium: 8.4     Sulfate 111.9     Chloride 58.9
Bicarbonate -23.2     Total Hardness: 280     Alkalinity: -19    Residual Alkalinity -92
 The mash pH seemed to settle at around 5.4 after 15 minutes, right where the software predicted.  I forgot to take a measurement during the boil, but the pH at knockout seemed a little high, also settling at around 5.4.  I'll take a measurement from the final beer to compare with others I've brewed recently.  I've noticed that my meter takes a long time to settle on a stable reading, often drifting slowly upwards over time---I may just be using it incorrectly, but I hope this isn't a fault.

Cherries and Raspberries
During the boil I also racked a Flanders Red that was getting close to its first birthday onto a blend of two varieties of tart cherries and a small portion of raspberries.  It probably ended up being about 4lbs of fruit in a 3 gallon Better Bottle.  I then used the last 1-2L of this beer, along with a small portion of the yeast cake, to inoculate the English Sour Red I brewed a few weeks ago.  That beer was still tasting very green, with a fair bit of acetaldehyde, but that should be cleaned up fairly quickly by the remaining saccharomyces. It also had a fairly high gravity, as I hoped, at around 1.018.  There wasn't quite as much dark fruits in the flavour as I wanted, but I think this will come out more as it ages and the gravity continues to drop.  I'll bottle the fruited version in a couple of months, and I placed the English sour red at the back of the closet where it will sit undisturbed until some time next year.


Measured O.G: 1.049
Measured F.G:

Mash: 153.5°F:


97%  Base Malt Blend (2-row, Pilsner, Golden Promise)
3% Carapils


Cascade         FWH          18.4 IBUs     (15g@5.6%)
Cascade         60               27.9 IBUs     (25g@5.6%)
Cascade         10               3.3   IBUs     (15g@5.6%)
Cascade         0                 0      IBUs     (15g@5.6%)


Safale US-05

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tasting Notes: Raspberry Berlinerweisse

Last Saturday was Zwanze Day 2014, and after missing it in 2013 this year I finally made it to the celebration at West Lakeview Liquors in Chicago.  I haven't been to many beer events before, and even though I find certain aspects of American beer culture a bit strange and alienating this festival was really fun.  The Cantillon beers were a rare treat (I've never been able to find any on the shelves here), and all very enjoyable.  I also got to try my first beer from Hill Farmstead, Society and Solitude #7---even for someone who doesn't get all that excited about double IPAs, that beer was a real standout.  But one nice thing about being a bit at odds with beer geek culture is that the beers I enjoyed most stayed on tap the longest.  As people went up for the rarer/stronger stuff,  I had glass after glass of Taras Boulba (probably the freshest I've ever had) and this really tasty lager from Amager Bryghus.  I would happily have stayed all day, but we had to leave mid-afternoon to find some food and ended up nipping in to Goose Island Clybourn to see what they had on cask.

Anyway, to mark the occasion, here are some tasting notes for the portion of the no-boil sour that I aged on raspberries (a lambic would have been more appropriate I suppose, but I don't have any bottled homebrew efforts yet).

Raspberry Berlinerweisse
Appearance: Brilliant pink colour---my photo doesn't do it justice.  One of the most striking beers I've brewed.  Billowing head recedes to a thin but persistent cap.

Smell:  Jammy raspberries, but also seeded multi-grain bread.  The seed smell is really distinctive---its almost certainly from the raspberry seeds, but reminds me of a particular bread I used to get from a supermarket back in England.

Taste: Tart up front, followed by more bread and ending with an aftertaste of raspberries,  Very pleasant.

Mouthfeel: Effervescent, prickly carbonation overcomes any thinness in the body.

Drinkability & Notes:  Very happy with how this one turned out.  Its super drinkable and refreshing, nicely tart but with a bit of complexity as well.  J thinks its one of the best beers I've brewed, but really I think a lot of the credit goes to the delicious raspberries I used from Klug Farms.  They tasted so good that I had second thoughts about putting them in a beer, but I'm glad I stuck with my original plan.  Between this and my blackcurrant berliner, berries seem to be a good complement for this kind of sour beer.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Brew Day: Stock Ale

Following on from the sour red ale I brewed last week, today I brewed a strong brown beer based loosely on nineteenth century recipes for stock ales.  The grist and hopping rates are based on the recipe for the 1887 Fuller's XXK in Ron Pattinson's book, but I decreased the amount of invert #3 slightly, and added a small percentage of dark crystal to imitate the effects of kettle caramelisation,  The beer will be fermented out with  a large pitch of Wyeast 1318, and I'm also planning to add the dregs from a bottle of my brett-fermented wit later this evening, which should consist of lactobacillus, brettanomyces trois and brettanomyces clausenii.  The high hopping rate probably means I won't see much contribution from the lactobacillus, but hopefully the two brett strains will be well enough established to ensure a long slow secondary fermentation.

When I was picking a recipe for this beer, one thing I kept wondering about was how far back I'd have to go to find a recipe for something that was likely to have had undergone a secondary fermentation of this sort.  In Principles & Practice of Brewing (Walter J. Sykes & Arthur R. Ling, 1907), there is a description of the long slow secondary fermentation that took place while stock ales were stored in vats or casks.  They state that during this fermentation "maltodextrins are gradually and slowly degraded by the hydrolytic action of the special yeasts" and "certain compound ethers or esters are also formed" that are "much concerned in the fine flavour characteristic of fully ripened and mature ales".  But having described this slow conditioning, the authors go on to complain that it is falling out of fashion:
"[T]he demand for beers of this class seems to be gradually passing away; the tendency nowadays is towards less ripe and mature ales, and consequently the period of storage is often reduced to weeks, or is even omitted altogether."
They were writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it seems that at least some aged beers survived this trend.  In Amber, Gold, and Black, Martyn Cornell mentions a beer called Colne Spring Ale which was deliberately infected with brettanomyces, and which seems to have survived with secondary conditioning well into the twentieth century (Cornell mentions that it survived the 1957 takeover of Benskin's by IndCoope, and states that it was pasteurized after this point rather than bottle conditioned).  These 1958 tasting notes from Andrew Campbell are worth quoting in full:
"[Colne Spring Ale] is probably the strongest of all the commercially available bottled beers available in Britain today.  Matured for seven years, it is dark, mellow, and pours like wine, very slightly carbonated.  It is rich and luscious in flavour, in no way edulcorated [sweenteened] ... beer that should be treated with the very greatest respect."
The beer I brewed today is part of an ongoing effort to try to recreate some of these older brettanomyces-influenced British beers.  So far I have the Keeping Porter, the Stingo, and this strong stock ale.  In the next few months I'm planning on brewing a nineteenth century IPA, and perhaps also an Imperial Stout, both again to be inoculated with brett (in fact, I'll probably keep using the dregs from the last remaining bottles of the wit beer to do this).  With any luck, in a year or so all of these beers will be tasting pretty good, and stable enough to bottle (though I'll probably bottle the darker ones flat, or with very low carbonation, so continued fermentation shouldn't be a problem).But even if they dry out too much or gett too funky, I'm sure they'll make a good basis for blending with each other, or with young beers in the glass.


Measured O.G: 1.076 (Aiming for 1.080)
Measured F.G:

Mash: 153.5°F:


43.3%  Paul's Mild Malt
33.7%  TF Golden Promise
2.9%  Medium Crystal
1.9%  TF Dark Crystal II
18.2% Invert 3#


Fuggles          60          45.7 IBUs
EKG              30          37.4 IBUs


Wyeast 1318

Friday, 19 September 2014

Brew Day: Sour Red Ale (plus Yeast Choice for Sour Beers)

As I've mentioned here before, I'm pretty interested in the links between the brewing traditions of Belgium and England, and in particular the effects that brettanomyces and LAB might have had on historical English stock ales.  I'm planning a couple more semi-historical brews in the next few months, but today I thought it would be interesting to try something completely different.  Rather than base my beer on a historical recipe, I came up with a pretty standard home brew recipe for a Flanders Red, and then substituted British ingredients for the Belgian ones.  The result looks nothing like any of the historical recipes for English stock ales I've seen on Ron Pattinson's blog or in his book (my main sources for this kind of thing).  There's too much crystal malt, no brewing sugar, and the hopping is pitifully low compared to the massive quantities in these old recipes.  It makes me wonder about how recipes for Flanders beers have changed over the past few centuries.  For instance, did they also previously rely on brewing sugars and smallish quantities of roasted malt for colour?  Presumably, if sourness was a goal, they might not have been hopped so aggressively---but then again, the hopping rates in lambics are on a par with these English stock ales, though typically with aged rather than fresh hops. Are recipes for porters and stock ales from the 1860s a good guide to the beers Eugene Rodenbach brewed when he returned to Belgium after working in England?  Was there a tradition of red and brown sour ales in the region before then?    I still don't know very much about the historical connections between the traditions behind these beers, but I'm sure some of this information is out there to find.

Anyway, I figured this recipe would produce a nice sour red ale, and I'm looking forward to the results, though I don't have any clear idea of how it might differ from a standard Flanders Red.  The general consensus seems to be that there is plenty of variation between malts from different countries---not just in the obvious cases (i.e. compare pilsner to Maris Otter), but also between things like crystal malts rated at the same colour level.  Perhaps this will result in subtle (or not so subtle!) differences in the final beer; or perhaps the sourness and funk will cover all of this up.  I don't have enough experience with different maltsters to hazard a guess here. I'm planning to use Wyeast 1318 for primary fermentation (much more on that below!), and then to use a small amount of a year old Flanders Red (perhaps along with some of its yeast cake) to inoculate the new beer as I rack the old one onto a blend of sour cherries and raspberries.

One thing I was thinking about while formulating this recipe was the difference that using an English yeast might make to the final beer---and on thinking this through, I came to the conclusion that I should be using English strains much more frequently when brewing sours.  I thought I'd indulge myself and type up these ramblings.  For those interested, the recipe for this beer is at the end of the post.

Yeast Choice and Sour Beer

I started with the thought there are two or three key things to think about when it comes to saccharomyces strains for sour beers:
  1. The amount of fermentable sugars they will leave for the lactic-acid producing bacteria.
  2. The precursors for brettanomyces-produced compounds they will leave in the fermented beer.
  3. The flavour contribution the strain will make to the final beer (assuming the flavours it produces survive the activity of the brettanomyces and bugs).
The significance of (1) is pretty obvious: if you want a sour beer, you need to make sure that the lactic-acid producing bacteria have enough fermentables to produce acid-levels to your taste.  One way of making sure there is plenty of sugars for the bugs is to use a strain of saccharomyces with a low attenuation rate for primary fermentation.  English yeast strains are obvious candidates here, since with the right handling they will finish with relatively high final gravities.  Of course, there are plenty of other ways to achieve the same result with more attenuative strains---mashing high, under-pitching, adding starches.  So (1) is inconclusive, but certainly doesn't speak against using an English strain.

With (2), however, things get more interesting.  Thanks to research by people like Chad Yakobson, home brewers are beginning to grip on the ways in which by-products of primary fermentation act as precursors for different flavours created by the ongoing activity of brettanomyces.  This set of slides from a talk by Chad Yakobson provides a good summary of some of his research; there's also information on this in Wild Brews and American Sour Beers; and there's more information in this thread on HBT.  

For now, the following will do as a rough and ready summary (based on my limited understanding of the science).  Phenols from the brettanomyces tend to yield the funkier flavours: barnyard, band-aid, medicinal, smoke.  Esters produced by brettanomyces tend to yield fruitier flavours: pineapple is a commonly-mentioned example.

With this knowledge, a brewer who wanted to produce a funky beer might try to increase the precursors for phenol production available to the brettanomyces.  There are various ways to do this (again, see Chad's slides), but the most relevant is by using a POF+ yeast, since these produce the 4-vinyl compounds that brettanomyces can convert into the relevant phenols.  The commonly used example of a POF+ yeast is hefeweizen strains, which produce distinctive clove phenolics---but many other commonly used Belgian strains such as Wyeast 3522 (Ardennes) and 3787 (Trappist High Gravity) are also counted as POF+ (according to a presentation I listened to by Stan Hieronymus from the 2014 AHA conference),  

So, using a POF+ Belgian strain will encourage the production of phenols by brettanomyces, increasing the levels of funkier flavours and aromas in the final beer.  What's more, since phenols seem to have an additive or synergistic effect, the phenolic character of Belgian yeast might also add to the overall perception of phenol-related flavours and aromas.

On the other hand, a brewer who wanted to minimize funky flavours might try to minimize these precursors, and an obvious way to do this is to use a less phenolic yeast strains: lager strains (used by New Belgium), the Chico strain (recommended by Jamil Zainasheff)....or an English strain.  

What about the other side: the fruitier flavours associated with esters?  Based on what I've been able to find out so far, the precursors for these are organic acids which come from a variety of sources, including the activity of enterobacter in spontaneously inoculated wort, dying yeast cells, and fatty acids in aged hops (all relevant to lambic production).  I haven't been able to find any evidence that esters themselves might provide the relevant compounds in a manner usable by brettanomyces, so that an ester-producing English strain might also be a source of precursors that result in some unique brett-derived esters.  The plausibility of this thought might be obvious to someone who actually understands the science behind all of this, but I do not.  What does seem to be true is that esters also have an additive or synergistic effect, so that at the very least, the combined ester production of the saccharomyces and brettanomyces might increase the overall perception of fruity flavours in the final beer.

Of course, this could easily back fire on you.  Just as too many phenols can make a beer taste like band-aids or medicine, too many esters could leave you with a beer that tastes like nail-polish remover or solvents.  Eugh.  So in both cases, a balance is required, especially if you're adding brettanomyces.

How to put this information to use in chosing a yeast strain?  Well, it depends what kind of beer you want to brew.  There are plenty of threads on HBT where people ask how to brew the funkiest beer possible.  A good answer would be: use a POF+ yeast, and take other steps to encourage the production of phenols. But when I envisage the kind of sour beer I'd like to brew, I think of something characterised by soft fruitiness with a low-level but definite funk in the background.  English yeast strains might be a great candidate for producing something along these lines.  Even if they don't lead to new esters from the activity of the brettanomyces, they might still produce the right levels of fruitiness and funk after secondary fermentation.

What about (3), the contribution the saccharomyces makes to the flavour profile of the final beer?  Since brettanomyces has a tendency to mix up all the flavours produced by primary fermentation, its hard to predict how much of this will survive.  But when I was formulating this recipe, I had in mind the gentle and balanced fruitiness that is produced by something like Wyeast 1318 (London Ale III).  This is one of my favourite strains, and besides its soft profile it also has the interesting quality of leaving a slight perceived sweetness in the finished beer that seems to be independent of the final gravity (i.e. if you compare it to other strains fermenting identical wort to the same F.G., it will still seem sweeter---but the sweetness isn't the cloying kind that comes from unfermented sugars).  If any of that flavour profile survived into the finished beer, it could make for a phenomenal Flanders Red!  

Of course, if the brettanomyces accentuated the estery flavours of a strain, or even produced new flavours along the same lines, even more possibilities would present themselves.  Imagine the stone fruit esters produced by something like Wyeast 1469 (and other strains of English origin) dialed up against a background of sourness and light funk. I think that could work really well.  (On the other hand, if it dialed up the banana flavours that Wyeast 1469 sometimes spits out, it could be pretty gross...)

Well, enough of my ramblings.  This is all a roundabout way of saying that I'm going to start using English strains in any sour beer that is not a saison or berlinerweisse or the like from now on!


Measured O.G: 1.054
Measured F.G:

Mash: 153.5°F:


39.6%  Paul's Mild Malt
26.4%  TF Golden Promise
18.5%  TF Pearl
7.9%  Medium Crystal
3.5%  TF Dark Crystal II
3.5%  Torrified Wheat
0.5%  Black Patent


EKG          60          20 IBUs


Wyeast 1318

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Update II: Yeast Bay Saison/Brett Blend

It's been almost seven months since I brewed these saisons with the saison/brett blend from The Yeast Bay, so I thought I'd post a second update on how their flavours have changed (my first update here, and links to original beers below).  Since my batch size is so small (and these all tasted pretty good young) I only have a few bottles left of each, so this may be the last update I post on them.  If you can't be bothered to read it all, the gist is as follows: the hops have faded, and the more fruity flavours from the brettanomyces are now accompanied by a fairly pronounced funk; it works well in some of the beers, but is too much (for me) in others.

Spelt Saison

This was one of my favourite home brews when it was young.  You can read my earlier tasting notes here.

Appearance: Hazy yellow colour.  Billowing head, but it dissipates almost entirely.

Smell: Still that slightly citrusy fruitiness, but with a musty funk behind it.  Like gym socks maybe?  Its a smell I get from some cheeses I think.

Taste: Citrus rind bitterness still, accompanied by general fruitiness.  Musty funk at the finish.

Mouthfeel: Dry but not thin.  Bitterness is still pronounced, but the beer has enough body (from the spelt?) to support it.  Mid to high carbonation works well.

Drinkability & Notes: I still really like this beer, though I can't imagine serving it to many other people.  The bitterness is very firm, and there's still some of the same citrus character it had when it was  young, along with a new level of musty funk.  I've brewed a few saisons that have this combination of lingering and persistent bitterness with low-level funk, and loved every one of them.

Traditional Saison

My original tasting notes are here.

Appearance: Beautiful, glowing gold.  Brighter than before, but still with a slight haze.  Frothy head that recedes to half an inch but lingers for a good while.

Smell: Fruity up front, but with a more pronounced and pungent funk beneath it now.  Gym socks again (!) and damp leaves, but at low enough levels that I can enjoy it.

Taste: Follows the smell, but with the fruitiness a little more pronounced and the funk right in the background.  The fruitiness combined with the slightly metallic bitterness really reminds me of some kind of berry---strawberries maybe.

Mouthfeel: Slightly higher carbonation than before really helps this beer shine.  Dry but not thin, pleasant and lingering bitterness mixed with the fruitiness of the beer.

Drinkability & Notes: This one is definitely drinking well at the moment, and I'm sorry I have so few bottles left.  I suppose it doesn't taste much like any commerical saison I've had---but to be honest, I'm starting to realize that I don't like a lot of them, especially interpretations I've tried by US breweries that are readily available around Chicago.  So, if you like saisons, take everything I say with a pinch of salt!

New World Saison

My original tasting notes were part of my last update on this blend.

Appearance: Again a beautiful, glowing gold colour, and a lingering frothy head.  These beers differ more than the photos show, but not by much.

Smell: I feel like the fruitier aspects of the Nelson Sauvin come out more now than they did before, and the garlicky/green onion smells have faded a bit.  But not entirely, and they're now joined by the sweaty foot locker smell of the brett.  Intriguing at first, but ultimately a bit too funky for me. (I remember thinking the same thing about the last bottle of Prairie 'Merica I had.)

Taste: There's that green onion taste!  Mingled with the musty funk of the brett, I'm just not a fan.  I want the fruitiness more prominent, and the funk as a complement in the background.  In fact, you know what it smells like?  The mix of garlic/onion and body odour that you get from aged Limburger.  I like the cheese when its just beginning to turn that way---and I think I'd feel the same about this beer.

Mouthfeel: Solid.  Decent carbonation and not too thin.  I'm just not enjoying the beer.

Drinkability & Notes:  I don't know if its just the fact that my hops were a little old (though properly stored), or that I just don't like this combination with the brett---either way, this beer is too much for me.  Maybe someone else would enjoy it---as I said, I think I might have felt the same way about Prairie 'Merica in the end.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Brew Day: Mackeson Milk Stout

Milk Stout: not a style I've brewed before, nor one I'm particularly fond of, but curiosity got the better of me when I saw the recipes for 1936 and 1952 Mackeson Milk Stout on Ron Pattinson's website, and I decided to give it a go.  I was working with a pitch of Wyeast 1318 anyway, and it'll be a good beer to give to guests who don't like dry and bitter beers quite as much as I do.

I wanted to brew the 1952 version, if only because the gravity was lighter and the beer less alcoholic.  However Kristen England's recipe percentages don't quite add up, so I ended up with an amalgamation of the two recipes, aiming for an original gravity in line with the 1952 version but with grain ratios closer to the 1936 one.  According to Kristen's notes, the lactose sugar was added at bottling, but I went ahead and added it for the last five minutes of the boil---saves fussing about it (or even forgetting it) later.

The brew day was fairly straight-forward.  I haven't been brewing darker beers recently, so it was interesting to test how accurate Bru'N Water's mash pH predictions were---I ended up a bit lower than the software predicted, but at 5.3 I was firmly in the right pH range.  I'll try to keep track of this one as it ferments too, in an ongoing effort to see how pH affects the flavour of my beers.

Anyway, a pretty short post, but there you go.  These first two beers (Ordinary Bitter, Milk Stout) were to get the yeast nice and healthy for a couple of bigger ones I have planned for the next few weeks.  In the meantime, I'll probably have some tasting notes to post later this week.


Measured O.G: 1.040
Measured F.G:

Mash: 153°F:


39.3%  US 2-Row
30.7%  Pearl
6.0%  Brown Malt
5.0%  Chocolate Malt
8.0%  Invert #3
3.0%  Cane Sugar
8.0%  Lactose


EKG          60          23.2 IBUs
EKG          30          10.7 IBUs


Wyeast 1318

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Repetition: Ordinary Bitter, Water Treatment, and Carbonation

First Beer
This weekend I brewed a version of the Ordinary Bitter I made earlier this year.  As I begin to pay more attention to the details of my brewing, I find that I'm much more inclined to return to the same recipes over and over again, tweaking the ingredients or other aspects of the process so that I get a better understanding of how all of this affects the final beer.

Earlier this summer I attempted an experiment in this spirit.  On two subsequent weekends, I brewed two identical Bitters, keeping everything the same apart from the water treatment for the mash.  I was hoping to get a better understanding of how mineral additions and mash pH shaped the flavours of my beer, and perhaps to start to work out what my own preferences were here.  Things didn't quite go according to plan, as I'll explain below---but I still feel that I learnt a lot, and I'm inclined to start doing this kind of thing more often.

The recipe for the beers was fairly simple: Golden Promise and invert #2, with additions of EKG and Fuggles in the first half of the boil, and Styrian Goldings towards the end.  I fermented both beers with Wyeast 1469, cropping and pitching from one to the next.  (Some people might be able to recognize the inspiration for this beer from this description.)  I wanted something fairly straight-forward and familiar so that any differences would be more obvious.

Chicago has pretty great water for brewing: its low in most minerals and tastes fine (to me) once its been filtered for chlorine.  The one problem is that it has fairly high residual alkalinity, which can make it difficult to hit a mash pH in the right range when brewing pale beers.  I usually deal with this by a combination of acid and mineral additions.  My aim with these beers was to work out (a) whether I had any preference between relying more on acid than minerals, or vice versa; and (b) whether higher levels of either affected the flavour profile positively or negatively.

To this end, I brewed one beer with a relatively large addition of lactic acid (5ml), and smaller additions of gypsum (3.2g) and calcium chloride (1.6g).  According to Bru'n Water, this gave me a mash with the following water profile:

         Calcium: 84.6               Magnesium: 11.8        
         Sodium 8.4                  Sulfate 106.3
         Chloride: 49.3              Bicarbonate: -44.2        
         Total Hardness: 260     Residual Alkalinity: -107

For the second batch, I lowered the amount of lactic acid to 3.5ml, and increased the gypsum to 6.9g and the calcium chloride to 3.2g.  This gives the following profile:

         Calcium: 140.9            Magnesium: 11.8        
         Sodium 8.4                  Sulfate 195.6
         Chloride: 83.1              Bicarbonate: 18.8        
         Total Hardness: 401     Residual Alkalinity: -92

Both mashes should have been in the 5.2-5.4 pH range (I didn't record the predicted pH for the first, but for the second it was 5.4).

On brew day, I took measurements during the first 15 minutes of the mash, and then throughout the rest of the process.  I was still getting the hang of using my pH meter, so the measurements may be a little off, particularly for the first beer, as I was taking a reading too early:
  • Mash pH: at the start of the mash, the first beer settled at around 5.2, while the second settled at 5.4.  By the end of the mash, both beers were in the mid 5.4s.
  • Boil: after 30 minutes of the boil, before the first hop addition, the pH of the first beer was 5.21.  I forgot to take a measurement for the second.
  • Beginning of Fermentation: the pH of the first beer was 5.31, whereas the pH of the second beer was 5.2.
  • Final beer (from bottle): the first beer finished at 4.04, whereas the second beer finished at 3.99
So as you can see, there appears to be some variation in the pH throughout.  I can't make much sense of the numbers, since the first beer started with a lower pH, but ended up with a higher one.  This makes me wonder if I didn't screw up my measurements of the first beer through inexperience with my pH meter.  Either way, both beers were in the right range during the mash.

Of course, these numbers are really besides the point: the real question is how the beers taste, and this is where things went a little awry.  Both are turned out fine in terms of cleanness of flavours, etc.  The Golden Promise really shines through in this recipe, and the bitterness is pleasantly bracing without being too harsh (though more on that below).  I don't detect any of the lactic acid in either. But the second beer attenuated several points further than the first, and this makes it difficult to compare them with each other. Both started at 1.037, but the first attenuated to 1.012, whereas the second went all the way to 1.008.  This means that the beer with more mineral additions is also drier and thinner, and that skews my perception of its flavours.

I'm not sure why one attenuated further than the other.  I tried to keep my process identical across the two brew days, but with no ability to measure pitching rates, I simply eye-balled what seemed to be a reasonable amount of top-cropped yeast, and I suspect I pitched a larger quantity of healthy yeast into the second batch.  This was also the third generation of this particular pitch of yeast.  I noticed as I went on that it became increasingly attenuative across each generation.  This always happens to some extent, but this time I was paying closer attention to the numbers, and I was surprised by how much the attenuation increased in later generations (frankly, it over-attenuated in both Old World's Mantra and Stingo).  Since I haven't seen any other signs of an infection, I'm assuming this is just because I was pitching large quantities of very healthy yeast; but of course, I can't rule out the possibility that somewhere along the line some other organisms got into my pitches and was cropped along with this yeast.

Either way, it makes direct comparison difficult, because the first beer has more body and residual sweetness than the second.  Both are bitter and dry, the second more so than the first; but I don't know how much of that to attribute to the lower F.G., and how much is a result of the differing water profiles.

Second Beer
Here's where it gets interesting.  With the larger part of both batches, I followed my usually practice of bottle-conditioning with table sugar, aiming for around 1.8 volumes of carbonation.  From a bottle, I definitely prefer the first beer.  The very slight residual sweetness provides a nice balance for the bitterness, and gives more expression to the almost cracker-like flavours of the malt.  In contrast, the second beer seems almost too dry, a little harsh, and generally more one-dimensional (though still perfectly enjoyable in itself).

However, I also tried conditioning a small portion of each batch in a Cubitainer, in an attempt to mimic cask-conditioned beer at home.  This wasn't enough of a success to warrant a post yet (I'm going to try again with the Quarter Session bitter I brewed this weekend), but it did mean than I got to try both beers with a lower level of carbonation, around 1.3 volumes.  Here I definitely preferred the second beer: the first seemed a little too sweet, whereas the second was very drinkable.

This really opened my eyes to how much the slightly higher levels of carbonation achieved in bottle-conditioning can affect the flavours of a beer.  I realised that, from a bottle, the residual sweetness of the first beer managed to balance the carbonic bite of the CO2, whereas the second beer was too dry and ended up tasting thin and a little harsh.  From a cubitainer, on the other hand, where the carbonation was lower, the first beer tasted overly sweet, whereas the dryness and bitterness of the second really stood out.  I also significantly preferred both beers from a Cubitainer rather than a bottle; higher levels of carbonation really scrub out a lot of the more subtle flavours in a low-gravity beer like this.  I kind of knew that already, but hadn't seen so clearly the extent to which it was true.

So, while I didn't really learn what I set out to regarding water treatment and mash pH, I did learn something interesting about serving Ordinary Bitters at home.  Hopefully I can get the cubitainers working well, in which case I'll be able to brew something closer to the beers I miss from back in the U.K.  If not, it might be worth mashing higher and under-pitching so that bottle-conditioned beers have more residual sweetness to stand up against the bite of the CO2.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fermented Food: Pickles

I haven't written about fermented food since this kimchi post, but with the abundance of vegetables at the farmer's market over the last few months I've been fermenting things all summer long.  One of my favourite things to make at this time of year are lacto-fermented sour pickles.  If you get it right, they are crisp and sour, but with a much softer acidity than cucumbers pickled in vinegar.  A cold pickle from the fridge goes great with a beer on a hot summer day.  In fact, one of the highlights of my recent trip to Toronto was buying sour pickles-on-a-stick from this store in Kensington Market (you can take them next door and get a beer at Thirsty and Miserable)---I went back more than once!

The trouble with fermenting cucumbers is that they come into season just as the weather gets hot, and a warm start to fermentation is a sure way to end up with a mushy pickle.  Home brewers with fermentation fridges are at an advantage here: if you don't mind the small risk of cross-contamination, a fermentation fridge set at ale temperatures is a perfect place to get these going during the summer.

The process is fairly simple (I've included a recipe below): make a 5% brine solution ( i.e. 5g salt for every 100g water), add whatever spices and herbs you care for, then submerge the cucumbers (I weigh them down with a plastic bag full of brine) and allow them to ferment until you like how they taste. You have to be sure to trim the blossom end from the cucumbers, as this contains enzymes that will cause the cucumbers to begin to break down and become mushy.  Skimming the scum from the top of the brine can also help prevent molds from forming on top (I usually get a pellicle if I forget to skim every day, but I don't worry about it as long as its white).  I usually let my first batch sour fully before refrigerating it, which takes two to three weeks; for subsequent batches, when I already have pickles available, I'll often move them to the fridge after just a few days to let them ferment more slowly.  This way I have batches maturing all summer long.

The tricky thing is getting pickles that are fermented and sour, but not mushy and soft.  At first I tried to make pickles with cucumbers from a super market, but these almost always ended up soft.  I haven't had this problem since I started using cucumbers from the farmer's market, though this means I can only make pickles for a few weeks each summer.

Another trick people use to ensure crisp pickles is adding some source of tannins to the fermenting pickle.  Traditional sources include sour cherry leaves and oak leaves; the recipe below includes tea leaves for the same purpose.  One idea I didn't get to test this summer was using the oak cubes home brewers use to flavour beers.  This would surely add tannins to the brine, and perhaps provide an interesting flavour dimension to the pickles.  It might also be interesting to reuse the cubes in a beer afterwards---they'd be inoculated with the yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria from the ferment, so you'd have a semi-spontaneously inoculated beer!  I'll definitely try this at some point in the future.

Here's a recipe for something a little different from the typical dill-flavoured sours---the Lapsang Souchong gives the pickles a nice smoky flavour that I rather like.  It's from The Joy of Pickling:

Ingredients1 small fresh hot pepper (e.g. serrano) halved lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
2 quarts 3-to-5 ince pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
3 tablespoons pickling salt
1 quart water
Instructions:1. Put the hot pepper, garlic, peppercorns, and tea into a 2-quart jar.  Pack the cucumbers into the jar. Dissolve the salt in the water and cover the cucumbers with brine, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches head-space.  Push a quart-size freezer bag into the mouth of the ja, pour the remaining brine into the bag, and seal the bag. keep the jar at about room temperature, with a dish underneath if seeping brine might do some damage.
2. Within 3 days you should see tiny bubbles rising in the jar; this shows that fermentation is under way.  If scum appears at the top of the jar, skim it off and rinse the brine bag.  If so much brine bubbles out that the pickles aren't well covered, add some more brine in the same proportions of salt to water.
3. The pickles should be ready in 2 to 3 weeks; they will be sour and olive-green throughout.  If you plan to eat them within a few weeks, simply remove the brine bag, cap the jar, and store it in the refrigerator.  If you want the pickles to keep longer, strain off the brine into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, simmer it for 5 minutes, and let it cool.  Rinse the pickles in cold water, pack them into a clean jar (with fresh spices if you like), and cover them with the boiled and cooled brine before refrigerating them.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Process: Adjuncts, Starches, and Sour Beers

The second beer I brewed over the Labour Day weekend was a pale sour inspired loosely by the practices of Belgian lambic makers.  I say loosely because I did not perform a turbid mash, and I pitched a vial of ECY01 rather than allowing the wort to be inoculated by ambient microbes.  But I did try to produce a starchy wort by other means, and its that process that I want to describe in this post.

The basic idea is to add some starch to the wort at some point after the enzymes from the mash have been denatured, so that this starch is not broken down and makes its way into the fermenting beer; while the Saccharomyces will be unable to ferment it, the Brettanomyces and other bacteria are capable of breaking the starch down into sugars and eventually fermenting it out.  

I first got the idea to do this from an interview with Dave Marliave of Flat Tail Brewing on this episode of the Sunday Session .  In the interview, Marliave describes adding flaked oats to wort post-boil to mimic the starchy wort produced by the turbid mash that lambic brewers use. He states that these starches take much longer to breakdown and ferment out than other complex sugars, so that the overall effect is to prolong the lifecycle of the beer.  It might mean, for instance, that a sour brewed in this way still had some residual sweetness and body a year or two into fermentation, and might continue to develop over a longer period.  So the idea here is not just to provide food for the bacteria so that they produce enough acid (this might also be achieved by mashing high or adding maltodextrin); its to extend the life of the beer, and change the way its flavour profile develops over time.

The method I use is a variation of the one that Marliave describes.  After I've raised my mash to mash-out temperatures and removed the bag with the grist, I add another small mesh bag filled with between 100-200g of flaked oats.  I steep these in the wort for five to ten minutes while I bring it up to a boil, then remove them and give the bag a quick squeeze.  The result is a very cloudy and turbid wort, as you can see from the photo at the start of the post.

When I first heard the interview, I started this thread on HBT to see if other people had used the technique.  If you browse through it, you can find links to other people trying the same kind of thing: some use flaked oats, others add flour to the boil.  This episode of Basic Brewing Radio includes an interviewer with a home brewer who adds pasta to her secondary fermenters with the same goal in mind.

This is the second time I've used the process.  The first beer I brewed is around nine months old at this point, and I took a quick sample this week before writing this post.  So far, the results are promising, and in line with what Marliave describes.  The beer is still a bit turbid, but has cleared considerably over the course of the year.  I have no way of knowing how much of this is breakdown of starches and how much precipitation of proteins etc.  The aroma was mainly lemons and light funk, and the beer tasted lightly sour with some noticeable residual sweetness and body.  At this point it is not a particularly exciting beer, but at nine months old its still relatively young, and I plan on leaving it for at least another six to eight months before I even think about bottling it.

The two batches I brewed this weekend were based on a fairly straight-forward lambic style wort: 60% pilsner and 40% malted wheat.  A few months ago I went through my freezer and took out a bunch of hops from the 2011 harvest and earlier and put them in a brown paper bag in my brew closet to speed up their ageing.  They could probably used a few more months, but I decided to use 30-40g per batch anyway.  Since I was not relying on inoculation from ambient microbes, I didn't need the bacteriostatic properties of the hops to check unwanted bacteria.  But there's some evidence that fatty acids and other products of oxidation in aged hops can be converted by brettanomyces into the ester compounds characteristic of aged sour beers (see p.42 of American Sour Beers for brief discussion of this research), and that seems like reason enough to try using them.

Once primary fermentation is over, I plan to combine 5 gallons in a Better Bottle, which I may end up treating as another solera.  The remaining gallon or so will be aged in jugs, but I plan on blending it with another saison in a few months and then letting this mature for a year or so.

Monday, 1 September 2014

In Perpetuum: Flanders Red

For me, the end of summer is the best time to brew sour beers that will undergo an extended secondary fermentation.  It allows them to mature at cooler temperatures for most of the year before the hot and humid summer begins again.  Thankfully this summer hasn't been too hot, and judging by how they tasted when I sampled them recently, the sour beers that will be reaching the one year mark in the next few months have all managed to stay free of acetic acid and other strange flavours.

This year, instead of brewing a number of sours over a couple of months, I decided to use the Labour Day weekend to brew two double batches (i.e. 6 gallons total each) of a pale and a dark sour beer. As I've mentioned here before, while I'm generally happy doing smaller batches, three gallons of sour beer can seem like a disappointingly small pay off after waiting over a year for a beer to finish, and it leaves little scope for more interesting projects like making blended sours or using them to cut other beers.  Over the past few months I've been taking steps to increase the volume and age range of sour beers I have on hand, and doing double batches like this is a part of this process.

The dark beer I brewed was a Flanders Red, based on Jamil Zainasheff's recipe from Brewing Classic Styles.  This is the third time I've brewed this beer.  My first attempt would be two years old at this point, and might be the beer described in this post (details about why I don't know for sure are in the post!); my second is reaching the one year mark, and will be racked onto a blend of sour cherries and raspberries some time in the next month or two.  Both of those beers were fermented with Wyeast Roeselare and assorted dregs, and I was happy with the results---neither is blisteringly sour, but that suits my palate just fine.  This time I decided to try something different, so I picked up a vial of ECY02 (incidentally, its nice to see these staying available for more than a few hours at a time again---I'm sure its partly because Al is increasing production, but I can't help but think that the arrival of new companies like The Yeast Bay is also helping things here).

When the two batches have finished primary fermentation, I'll combine them into a single six gallon Better Bottle, as I did with this other pale sour.  If everything goes according to plan, I'm going to treat this as a solera as well, racking off three gallons into a smaller Better Bottle in 8-10 months and topping up with freshly fermented wort.  Hopefully I should be able to keep this going indefinitely, so that eventually I'll always have both pale and dark sours of different ages on hand.

My inspiration here is the process used at New Belgium, as described in Chapter 5 of American Sour Beers.  New Belgium brew two sour beers, nicknamed Felix and Oscar, the first pale and the second dark; these are aged in large oak foeders, and provide the base for all the sour beers that the brewery releases.  While they aren't exactly treating the foeders as a solera system, they do often leave 10-20% of a foeder full with old beer when adding fresh beer to ensure that each batch gets a good blend of bugs and bacteria.  One thing I found interesting in the chapter was the fact that they often leave larger proportions of soured beer, and have found that this decreases the time before the beer is ready for packaging.  I'll be interested to see whether brewing in a solera system at home changes the speed with which these beers mature: it would be great if, as well as increasing volume, this method also sped up production of aged sour beer.