Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Brew Day: Table Beer III

The school year is well and truly underway at this point, and brewing (and this blog) must to some extent take a backseat while I'm preparing for classes and grading papers.  But I did manage to fit in quite a few brewing-related things this weekend, and I have more planned for the coming month.  In this post I thought I'd write something quick about a low-alcohol saison I brewed on Saturday.

I've tried making table beers before---that is, light beers with around 3% ABV that I can drink on a week night without worrying about how sharp I'll be the next day.  I was quite happy with how those beers turned out: noone would confuse them with a higher strength beer, and their shelf-life was somewhat short, but while they were in their prime they were both flavourful and refreshing.

The beer I brewed on Saturday was a variation on Table Beer I: another hoppy saison.  For the earlier beer I relied on the glycerol produce by Wyeast 3711 to ensure that the final product was dry but not too thin.  But while the mouth-feel and high attenuation of Wyeast 3711 are both attractive properties for the kind of beers I want to brew, I often find the flavour profile a little lacking: I've had it vary from muted citrus with earthy notes to full on stewed oranges and black pepper, and while its worked better in some beers than others I can't say that any of the saisons I've made with it have been among my favourites.

This time round I decided to come back to another strain I'm ambivalent about: Wyeast 3726, supposedly the strain from Brasserie de Blaugies.  I've only used this strain in one series of beers (so three or four total), and again I had mixed results.  All of the beers tended towards a fruity profile that almost reminded me of white wine: pears, grapes, white stone fruit, etc.  Since I seem to prefer beers with more esters than phenols, this ought to have been a desirable result---but some of these beers, despite their dryness, seemed almost cloyingly sweet because of all the fruity flavours.  A single glass was enjoyable enough, but I never found myself going back for a second because the fruitiness was a bit overwhelming (and I still have a few bottles lying around as a result).

The strain worked best in beers that had some tartness to set against these esters---in fact, used alongside brettanomyces and lactic-acid bacteria it produced one of my favourite home-brews to date.  I'm going to try to keep this in mind as I use it this time round by setting its fruity flavours against some tartness in the beers I brew with it.

Well, except this table-saison.  Since this beer is doing double-service as an extra large starter, I didn't want to throw in any LAB from the start, as this would determine what I could brew in subsequent batches.  And as it was such a low-gravity beer, an extended secondary fermentation with brett and bugs didn't seem to make much sense.  Instead I focused on making something with a little spiciness and bitterness that might also balance the fruity esters of the hops.

The grist was very simple: 70% pilsner and 30% rye.  Unlike Wyeast 3711, I don't remember this strain giving much mouthfeel to its beers, so part of the reason for including the rye was to yield some body in the final product.  The other reason was to get a little bit of spiciness alongside the pilsner---and it was building on that idea that led me to chose Bramling Cross and Saaz Special as the mains hops.  I'm hoping all of this combined will provide a nice contrast to the yeast, leading to a beer that is refreshingly crisp and drinkable.

Of course, the other nice thing about table beers is that if these flavours don't balance in the way I'd hoped, I haven't wasted much grain or hops in producing the beer, and it will provide me with harvestable yeast however it tastes.  I overshot my predicted O.G. by a few points, aiming for 1.024 but ending at around 1.027.  No big deal. I'll be harvesting before next weekend, and I plan to use this in a couple more saisons over the next month or so.


Measured O.G: 1.028
Measured F.G:

Mash: 149°F:


70%  Pilsner
30% Rye Malt


Bramling Cross       60              10.0 IBUs     (8g@6.3%)
Bramling Cross       20              6.3   IBUs     (15g@6.3%)
Bramling Cross        0               0.0  IBUs     (15g@6.3%)
Saaz Special             0               0.0  IBUs     (10g@6.3%)


Wyeast  3726

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Coupage: Hoppy Saison with Wallonian Farmhouse strain

Here's some tasting notes for the third beer I brewed with the Yeast Bay's Wallonian Farmhouse strain (I'll write up some summaries of the beers I brewed with this strain, and the saison blend, in the next week or two).  The base beer was a pale saison dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Eldorado hops that I won in a recent HBT giveaway by Hop House Brewing Supply.  At bottling I blended this beer with ~2 liters of the no-boil sour I brewed earlier this summer.  At first the hop character was a bit too much, but as its faded this has turned into quite a nice saison.

Appearance: Pale yellow colour.  Thin but lingering head with some lacing.

Smell: When it was freshly bottled, the aroma from the dry-hop of Hallertau Blanc and El Dorado was pretty strong, almost dank.  Now that's faded a bit its left a really intriguing combination of light fruitiness (yellow stone fruit, berries, lemon) and spice from a combination of the hops and yeast.  Light brett c funk is beginning to show itself as well.  Not as complex as an aged saison, but enjoyable.

Taste: Lightly tart. Fruity, slightly spicy hops are prominent, along with a very subtle musty funk.    Slightly astringent bitterness---I'd back down a bit next time, or use a variety that gives a softer bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Moderate carbonation, and slightly slick mouthfeel---this strain seems to produce a lot of glycerol, a bit like Wyeast 3711.  The tartness balances it nicely though, making it more drinkable than other beers I've brewed with this strain.

Drinkability & Notes:  I like this beer a lot.  Certainly my favourite of the three I've brewed with the Wallonian Farmhouse strain.  The tartness from the sour cuts nicely against the fruitiness from the yeast and hops, producing a beer that is complex but drinkable.  I could drink several of these back to back, which isn't true of the other beers I've made with this strain.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Brew Day: Nineteenth Century IPA

This weekend I brewed another in the series of beers inspired by old English stock ales: an IPA based on Mitch Steele's descriptions of the beers brewed in Burton-upon-Trent in the nineteenth century.  It was actually reading that book that first prompted me to start brewing English-style beers inoculated with brettanomyces---the role played by wild yeasts in British brewing is mentioned several times in the opening chapters, and there's also a few paragraphs about their role in IPAs in particular in the chapter devoted to Burton IPAs.  But more on that below.  I'll spend the rest of the post explaining how I came up with my recipe and process for the beer.

Water.  The importance of the mineral profile of Burton brewing water has been recognized since these beers were first brewed there.  Steele mentions that as the popularity of IPA increased, some companies opened new breweries in Burton to take advantage of the local water, while others began adding salts to mimic its profile.  But since brewers were drawing from various sources (wells, the river itself, etc.), its a little difficult to say exactly what the mineral profile of their water would have been like, though it would certainly have had high sulfate and calcium levels.   Rather than "Burtonizing" my Chicago water, I decided to simply add enough gypsum to get my sulfate levels around 300ppm---lower than many "Burton" water profiles, but high enough to lower my mash pH and significantly shape the flavour profile of the final beer.

Malt. Rather than use an English base malt I went with Dingemans pilsner in an effort to emulate the white malt used by IPA brewers.  Steele mentions that "[w]hite malt is very similar to today's Pilsner malt, which, interesingly, was itself developed after an industrial espionage mission by Czech brewers into England's best malthouses".  I suppose something like Thomas Fawcett lager malt might be a good approximation, but I went with what I had on hand.

Hops. The hops were supposed to be 100% East Kent Goldings---a lot of them!---based on the hopping schedule for the 1839 Reid IPA in Ron's excellent book.  I was actually a little short, so I ended up adding a small amount of hallertau to make up the ninety minute addition. Really I should be using this year's crop, following the practice of the Burton brewers who used their freshest hops in these beers---but it will probably be a few months until they show up on the US market, and the Goldings I used have been stored frozen and vacuum-sealed since I purchased them.  I may try to find some fresher ones when I dry-hop it next year (more on that below).

Mash. Steele also outlines the kind of mashing schedules used by breweries during this period, but I didn't take any special steps to imitate them, going instead for my usual single-infusion mash at around 149°F, aiming to end up with a highly fermentable wort that will produce a dry beer.

Fermentation. Now the fun stuff.  Primary fermentation will be done by Wyeast 1028, but this evening I'll also be pitching dregs from a bottle of my brett-fermented wit, which contains White Labs brettanomyces clausenii and trois.  Hopefully these strains will be well-enough established to promote a long, slow secondary fermentation as the beer matures.

Steele devotes a couple of paragraphs at the end of the chapter on Burton IPAs to speculation about the role played by brettanomyces in their secondary fermentation, quoting Clausen on the role these yeast played in developing "that peculiar and remarkably fine flavour" characteristic of the best English stock ales.  Ron also has some interesting research on his blog, including evidence that Bass pale ale had brettanomyces in it as late as the 1940s.  It seems likely that the beer picked up these wild yeasts from the wooden casks it was aged in (although, based on these notes from Adnams brewer Brian Lee, brettanomyces was all over their brewhouse in the 1940s, including in the bottling line!).  Steele speculates that it accounted for the dryness of the beer and its sparkling condition on reaching India after being completely flat when shipped.  If you read through the comments on Ron's post, he and others make some interesting speculation about the character of these beers, mentioning Orval as a beer that might be somewhat similar (and perhaps even historically linked to English pale ale brewing).  All interesting stuff!

I'll probably bottle the beer in 9-12 months, dry-hopping for a week or two beforehand.  Based on descriptions in Steele's book, and questions I've asked Ron by email, I think that the Burton IPAs were probably aged on dry-hops for several months or longer.  It seems that this might even have played a role in promoting secondary fermentation.  I'm undecided as to whether I should copy this part of their process---they surely knew what they were doing, but it goes against what I've been taught by contemporary brewing practice.  If I had a bigger batch, I'd split it into two 3 gallon carboys and try both, but since I'm only making 3 gallons I'm a bit wary of taking the risk and ending up with vegetal and grassy flavours in the final beer.

Well, that's it for now.  I haven't decided whether to make an imperial stout as well---more on that next weekend I guess.  Now that I'm finishing up with these stock ales for the time being, I'll soon be back to brewing Farmhouse Ales again, and I have a couple of fun ideas for things to try out over the next couple of months.


Measured O.G: 1.057
Measured F.G:

Mash: 149°F:


100%  Pilsner


EKG               90               84.7 IBUs     (85g@5%)
EKG               60               64.8 IBUs     (65g@5%)
EKG               30               33.0 IBUs     (65g@5%)


Wyeast 1028

Monday, 13 October 2014

Brew Day: English Summer Ale

Following on from the bitter I brewed last week, this weekend I brewed another pale and hoppy English-style beer, based on a recipe from Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing.  I had intended to brew it this summer, but somehow never got round to it---instead it will be brightening things up in a month or two as the winter starts to set in.

Martyn Cornell has a brief but informative chapter on "Golden Ale" in his book Amber, Gold, and Black.  He mentions that the tradition of golden beer goes back to at least 1842, referencing an advertisement for "East India Pale and Golden Ales" from William Saunders' brewery in Burton on Trent.  I would have thought A.K.s might fit in this tradition too, but Cornell seems to differentiate between beers that are golden and beers that are simply pale or straw-coloured---at any rate, he discusses A.K.s in a different chapter.  He identifies two beers as key players in shaping contemporary golden ale: Exmoor Gold, originally brewed in 1986 by the Golden Hill brewery; and Summer Lightning, brewed by John Gilbert of the Hop Back brewery in 1989.  He goes on to describe what might look like a bewildering array of 'summer', 'blonde', and 'golden' ales and bitters that have cropped up since.  The terminology isn't really fixed, and as always the characteristics of these beers probably vary quite a bit, but for me at least there's a definite expectation of the kind of beer I'd get if I ordered something with one of those names in a pub back home.

Mosher provides a nice summary of the characteristics of some of these beers in his book:
"Paler than most English bitters, summer ales are likely to be a little more intensely hopped as well.  Most versions hover between 4.5- and 5-percent alcohol.  Hops have center stage, with moderate to high bitterness backing up loads of fresh, citric aroma.  Late kettle additions, and perhaps even dry hopping, contribute to this forward expression of hop personality."
I suppose it sounds a lot like an American pale ale, and Cornell mentions that modern golden ales are often brewed with American hops, though of course many still stick to English and European varieties.  Perhaps its just the fact that I'm used to drinking them on cask, but I still think of these beers as being slightly different from their American counterparts---and I suspect that if you come to them expecting an American pale ale, you'd be disappointed.

Anyway, I've gone on before about the fact that the variety of beers encompassed by "Bitter" often seems to be under-represented here in the U.S, in a way that gives a distorted picture of what English pale ale has been in the past and what it can be today.  I think that goes hand-in-hand with some other gems that I've heard, like "Bitter isn't bitter".  I did a little research this weekend, and noticed that the current BJCP guidelines do recognize that bitters needn't be copper-coloured and caramel flavoured---hopefully the new guidelines, which I believe are going to include a category for golden bitter, will reinforce this further.  I care about this because these pale ales are some of my favourite beers, and ones I think might find an appreciative audience with at least some American beer drinkers.

A few quick notes on the recipe.  Randy Mosher calls for Maris Otter base malt, and demerara sugar; I used Golden Promise and Invert  #1.  I didn't have any Saaz on hand, but I did have some "Saaz Special" that I won in a recent HBT giveaway by Hop House Brewing Supply.  Otherwise, it was a pretty typical early morning brew session.


Measured O.G: 1.047
Measured F.G:

Mash: 152°F:


62%  Golden Promise
25%  Pilsner
8 %   Wheat Malt
5%    Invert #1


Challenger     60               27.8 IBUs     (17g@8.2%)
Challenger     30               8.30 IBUs     (10g@8.2%)
Challenger       5               2.70 IBUs     (10g@8.2%)
Saaz Special    5               2.0   IBUs     (10g@6.0%)


Wyeast 1028

Friday, 10 October 2014

Tasting Notes: Bitter Spelt Saison

Here's some tasting notes the third and final beer I brewed with The Yeast Bay's saison blend.  It's another attempt to brew a bitter saison in the mold of Brasserie de la Senne's Taras Boulba and the beers Yvan de Baets describes in his essay on Farmhouse Ales.  I was prompted to brew this one when, on opening an order from Label Peelers, I found that they'd included a free pound of year old Celeia hops in 1 oz. bags!  Large doses of low alpha hops are exactly what Yvan calls for in his description of these beers, so I decided to throw most of what they gave me into a single three gallon batch.

Appearance: Hazy yellow colour.  Thin lingering head with good lacing down the glass.

Smell: Floral and a little spicy, with some hints of pear and lemon in the background.  Doughy malt as well.

Taste: Dominated by a herbal and spicy hop character that is very reminiscent of Taras Boulba.  Similar malt profile as well, but also a slight tartness and more prominent yeast character.

Mouthfeel: Soft and slightly creamy mouthfeel from the spelt/wheat helps balance the bitterness to some extent.  Still dry, and of course a firm and lingering bitterness.  Its perhaps a little much by the end of the glass---not astringent, but it builds and becomes a bit minerally if you're not eating something along with the beer.

Drinkability & Notes: When I opened the first bottle of this beer I thought I'd ruined it with the dry-hop of Styrian Goldings.  It had an over the top pear/floral character that was quite off-putting.  But now that's faded slightly, I'm quite happy with how this one turned out---its probably my most successful attempt to brew something along the lines of Taras Boulba, though its certainly not a clone of that beer.  The bitterness means I could never enter this in a competition as a saison, but its the kind of beer I want to brew for myself.  Still needs more work, but getting closer to what I have in mind.


Measured O.G: 1.039
Measured F.G: 1.004

Mash: 149°F main mash
Cereal mash for spelt.


58.0% Pilsner
16.3% Flaked Wheat
14.8% Unmalted Spelt
10.9% 6-row 


Celeia             60               15  IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Celeia             30               7.7 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Celeia             15               4.0 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Celeia             5                 2.5 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Celeia             0                 0.0 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Styrian G.       Dry Hop                        (20g)


Yeast Bay Saison Blend

Monday, 6 October 2014

Brew Days: Golden Bitter and Second Extraction Sour Brown

The school year at my university started up again last week, and since then I've been busy getting to know my new students and planning classes for the rest of the quarter. Still, I manged to fit in a couple of brewing-related things this weekend, and I thought I'd write a quick post about some of them.  The most exciting news is that a saison I brewed with The Yeast Bay's Wallonian Farmhouse strain won a gold medal in a small local competition.  It was based on Ed Coffey's "Farmer in the Rye" recipe, brewed with slightly different percentages of the malts, and slightly more hops.  I'll post more once I have the judge's scoresheet in front of me---or perhaps in a few weeks, since I entered it in another local competition as well, and it will be interesting to compare feedback from both.

I also managed to fit in two brew days.  One was a rebrew of one of my favourite recipes (and favourite ways to blow through large amounts of hops): Kristen England's Crouch Vale Bitter recipe, with Amarillo subbed for Brewers Gold.  I wrote a longer post about this recipe back when I started this blog---the only real difference this time was that I based the water-profile on Bru'n Water's pale and hoppy profile, and took pH readings throughout the brew day.  I'll include all of that information with my tasting notes if I think it has a significant impact on the final beer. The beer is also serving as a starter for a pitch of Wyeast 1028, which I'll be using in a series of four or five beers over the next fmonth.

The other beer was a brown ale brewed with Wyeast's Ardennes strain (3522).  I brewed this one on a whim.  I'm planning to bottle my Oud Bruin in the next week or two, and thought it might be worth trying to get a second extraction from the tart cherries I added to it (especially since the oud bruin is currently a bit disappointing, such that it feels as though I wasted these cherries on it).  Since I had some top-cropped yeast in the fridge that was only two or three weeks old, I figured I might as well brew something to rack on the cherries.   There's a chance the fruit will be completely spent, but Cantillon and Jester King both seem to have had success with this technique.  If nothing else, the lactobacillus from the Wyeast blend should give the beer some tartness.  I'll probably pitch some fruity brett strains in there as well, perhaps using the dregs of my Lochristi grisette.

Anyway, work permitting I'll have some tasting notes up during the week, and some write-ups for more interesting brew days coming before the end of the month.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Tasting Notes: Old World's Mantra

This beer was based on the recipe Yvan de Baets contributed to For the Love of Hops.  It was the first of a couple of beers that ended up attenuating significantly more than expected, most likely as a result of pitching too much super-healthy top-croppped yeast.  Yvan's predicted final gravity was 1.012, whereas this went down an extra 5 or 6 points to something like 1.006-7!

I remember when I first started home-brewing my main concern was to make my beers as dry as possible.  I find many commercial beers too sweet (especially American interpretations of English and Belgian pale ales), and in those early days before I made starters or top-cropped yeast, my beers would also often finish on the high side.  As a result I'm often a little blasé about where my beers finish, basically just trying to make them as dry as I can.

After tasting this and a couple of other bitter beers I've brewed recently straight after tasting some fresh Taras Boulba at Zwanze Day, I've decided I need to finesse things a little more here.  Obviously Brasserie De La Senne beers lean firmly towards the bitter side of things, and so might seem unbalanced to some.  But to my mind they do have a balance of their own, and its something I think is missing from my beers.  One or two extra gravity points, or perhaps a water adjustment, would round out my bitter beers just enough to give them that added complexity and maybe a slight softness that they're missing right now. The challenge is to come up with my own sense of what a balanced beer tastes like, and what's involved in brewing one on my system.

That's not to knock this beer, which I've been enjoying a lot.  But I take this silly brewing thing pretty seriously, and want to brew the best beer possible.  I've made the transition from obvious off-flavours to clean beer to beer that has something like the flavour profile I'd like.  This next transition, where you really come to understand and perfect the balance of the flavours you're looking for, seems to me like a more difficult and interesting one.

Appearance: Hazy when poured from the fridge.  Nice colour though, and would look lovely if it were bright.  Tight, stable head, and decent lacing.

Smell: Earthy hops, slight fruitiness that seems like a mix of the hops and malt.  Pretty generic description I know.  It smells like a Bitter, let's put it that way.

Taste: Brief sweetness up front, but quickly becomes slightly spicy, and then a tingling minerally bitterness.  Struggling to come up with non-beery descriptions

Mouthfeel: Lowish carbonation works well.  Dry and very drinkable, with a firm persistent bitterness that isn't at all harsh.

Drinkability & Notes: Despite what I said above, I've been really enjoying this beer.  It goes nicely with food (pictured with homemade bread/chutney), and the bitterness makes it very moreish.  But it is a bit one-dimensional, and would be improved if I could round out the flavours without adding too much sweetness.  Definitely a recipe I'll come back to.