Sunday, 30 November 2014

Brew Day: Bug County Solera

As the number of sour beers fermenting in my closet increases, the way I think about individual batches has started to change slightly.  When I first began brewing sours a few years ago I thought of each batch as a separate beer: that was a Flanders Red, that was an Oud Bruin, etc., and when they were done I'd bottle the whole batch like I would any other.  But these days when I brew sours I don't really think of each batch as a beer in its own right.  Instead I've started to see them as possible components in future blends, or as a base for further experimentation.  The beers I'm most excited about at the moment are a Flanders Red-style beer that is aging on cherries and raspberries, and various saisons that are undergoing an extended secondary fermentation after being cut with a small amount of aged sour beer.  My goal in brewing more sours has become having more components around for projects of this sort.

With that in mind, when my bottle of this year's ECY20 arrived I started thinking about the best way to use it.  One vial is more than enough for several batches on the scale I brew at: last year I spread one vial between a number of beers, using some as a sole fermentor, some along with a sacch strain, and even adding some to beers that were already undergoing secondary fermentations.  This year my fermenter space was much more limited---both in terms of the number of fermenters available, and the room I had available for buying new ones---so I knew I would probably be more limited in the number of batches I could brew.  In the end I decided the best thing to do was to use most of it in another solera-style project, so that the diversity that characterizes the blend could be maintained into future batches.

What passes for a solera round here is pretty small fry: I brew two regular three gallon batches and combine them in a six gallon carboy.  The idea is that I can then pull off half of this into a three gallon carboy some time later and replace it with a single three gallon batch.  Later again, when I do the next pull from the six gallon batch, I could either pull from the three gallon carboy into smaller jugs and then top up with the pull from the main solera, or I could just pull into a new three gallon carboy so that I had beer at different ages readily on hand.  I already have a few batches going on this system, and I'll begin pulling from them and topping them up again in the next few months.

With the ECY20 batch I wanted to brew something that I could use for cutting future saisons, where the aged beer could provide microbial diversity and sourness and give me a higher overall yield (since I can just about brew four gallons of saison on my current equipment, then age this with one gallon of older beer in a five gallon carboy).  With that in mind I went for a relatively straightforward grist of 70% base malt and 30% adjunct, but to keep things interesting I varied the malts used in each batch: for the first I did a cereal mash with both spelt and buckwheat, hoping to provide some mouthfeel in the finished beer, and also perhaps some precursors for interesting flavours from the brettanomyces; for the second I went with a more typical blend of wheat and oats.  I'm hoping this beer will get reasonably sour, so to encourage the LAB I mashed on the higher side and kept the hopping rate below 15 IBUs.

The O.G. for both batches was 1.044, and they are currently fermenting separately in two different buckets; in a few weeks, after some of the yeast has dropped out, I'll combine them into the six gallon solera. I'm hoping to be able to take the first pull in around 6-8 months and to use it as part of some blended saisons.  Of course those will also have to age for a few months, so it will likely be almost a year before I get to taste any of this, but I'll at least have an ongoing source for future blends after that.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Tasting Notes: Oud Bruin w/ Wyeast 3209

Here's some tasting notes for the Oud Bruin I made with Wyeast's blend earlier this summer.  The beer was at 1.017 after primary fermentation; I transferred it to secondary after about 2 weeks and added 5lbs of tart cherries.  I then left it for 5-6 more weeks, during which time the gravity continued to drop down to 1.006.  I don't know if that was further activity from the original blend, or if the cherries introduced some wild yeasts.  Either way, its been in the bottle for almost a month with no signs of over-carbonation.

The pH is around 3.7 at 15°C according to my meter; so not blisteringly sour, but certainly tart.  Its probably about right for the style.  The beer is fine but a bit one-dimensional; as you can probably tell from my tasting notes below, I'm not particularly excited about it. I may enter it in some local competitions at the start of next year to get some more objective feedback.

Appearance: Deep brown colour, verging on reddish when held up the light.  Lightly tan-coloured head that dissipates to a small lingering cap.

Smell: Soft cherries and almonds, with a strong lactic note underneath it.  Slight mustiness too---maybe a bit of sulfur?

Taste: Medium tartness hits first, followed by a slightly sweet fruitiness.  Latter is pretty generic, a bit of cherry, maybe some plum.  More pronounced cherry as it gets warmer. Not much in the way of maltiness, and the mid-palate disappears quickly.  Warming alcohol at the end.

Mouthfeel: Slightly thicker mouth-feel than the lactobacillus and brettanomyces beers I brewed earlier this year, which may be in part due to glycerol from the yeast but is also probably a result of the higher ABV.

Drinkability & Notes: This is a perfectly drinkable beer, but otherwise pretty unremarkable.   The cherries don't pop out in the way I'd hoped, and the base beer is nicely tart but a bit one dimensional.    To be honest I'm a bit disappointed that I used 5lbs of cherries on this, its just not a good enough beer.  Maybe the second-extraction beer with added brettanomyces will be more exciting.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Brew Day: Bitter Saison

This post is about another attempt to brew a beer inspired by Brasserie de la Senne's Taras Boulba.  But before I get to that I thought I'd mention that I've started a Facebook page for this blog; I don't know if I'll keep it, but my thought was that I could post shorter things about beers that don't make it onto here, along with links that I find interesting etc.  In fact the first link I posted was to a recent interview with Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne.  Its in French, but I managed to make my way through it despite my pretty poor knowledge of the language----context and knowledge of brewing vocabulary helps, and its an interesting interview that's worth the effort.

Its no secret how much I love this brewery.  You only need to look at the way they describe their beers to see that they fit my palate: low-alcohol, bitter, dry.  But there's also the way in which they make beers that are genuinely informed by a knowledge of tradition and locale ("bières à l’ancienne", as they put it on their site) without falling into either sentimentality or fantasy about the past nor being solely backwards-looking or conservative in their attitude towards brewing.

The interview builds on some of the things mentioned in the Philosophy section of their site (translated into English here) as well as things Yvan mentions in his essay on saisons in Farmhouse Ales.  He says that "bières à l’ancienne" is a kind of catch-all concept, and that really they brew the beers they love to drink.  But again, "bières à l’ancienne" can be divided into two categories---those characterized by their bitterness, and those characterized by their acidity.  That pretty much sums up the kind of beers I brew, particularly the ones I call "saisons"---my starting point for those beers is Yvan's essay and the beers he brews, which I think are pretty different from the majority of saisons brewed in the U.S.

After not being able to find fresh Brasserie de la Senne beers for several months due to problems with their distributor, I've been very lucky recently as a local store got in a shipment of relatively fresh bottles of Taras Boulba and Zinnebir (along with some equally fresh De Ranke XX Bitter, which was quite a treat).

One nice thing about having fresh bottles on hand is that it presents the opportunity to try growing up a pitch of healthy yeast, and that's exactly what I did with my last bottle.  Yvan discusses the brewery's yeast in the interview, saying that it originates from a well-respected Belgian brewey and was "Le plus beau cadeau de ma vie" (the greatest gift in his life).   I sniffed the starters a few times as I was growing it up, and it certainly smelt familiar, but all I could think of was Taras Boulba and Zinnebir.  I wonder if the brewery is De Ranke or somewhere else?  One thing that is striking is that, though distinctive, the yeast not quite as expressive as the strains usually classified as being for saisons in the US.

I decided to base the first beer I brewed with the yeast on a bitter saison I made a few months ago, the distinctive feature of which was that it used massive amounts of low alpha hops.  That earlier beer was largely a product of circumstance---some free Celeia hops were included in an order from Label Peelers, and since they had a low AA content I saw no reason not to to throw large quantities into a single beer.  It turned out to be one of my favourite saisons to date, and the one that was probably most reminiscent of Taras Boulba.  I liked it so much that I think I probably drank the almost the entire batch myself.

This beer was brewed along the same lines, only this time I used low AA Hallertau Mittelfruh in place of the Celeia, and supplemented them with some Bramling Cross to increase the spicy, citrusy character.  My first instinct was to repeat the grist from the earlier beer, which included a reasonable amount of unmalted spelt.  I think this gives the beer a slightly fuller mouthfeel, which helps prevent the bitterness from becoming astringent and unpleasant.  However I was pressed for time during this brew day and wasn't able to do a cereal mash, so I went with a more straight forward blend of pilsner, wheat and Munich in a single-infusion mash.  It will be interesting to see how much of a difference the spelt really makes.

As is my usual practice with saisons in this gravity range, I left the beer in my fermentation chamber for 24 hours in the high 60s; today I checked to see if fermentation was underway, and turned the chamber off to let the yeast free-rise to wherever it wants to go.  Fermentation looked healthy and vigorous, and smelt fantastic.  I'll probably try to top-crop some of the yeast in the next day or two so that I can brew more beers with it and perhaps even try streaking it out and isolating it properly for long-term storage.


Measured O.G: 1.040
Measured F.G:

Mash: 149°F


84.0% Pilsner
10.0% Wheat Malt
6.0% Munich


Hallertau             60               12.8 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Bramling X         60               14.9 IBUs     (10g@2.69%)
Hallertau             20               4.30 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Hallertau             10               2.60 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Hallertau             5                 2.10 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Bramling X         0                 0.0   IBUs     (15g@2.69%)


De la Senne

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Tasting Notes: Farmer in the Rye w/ Wallonian Farmhouse

The second beer I brewed with The Yeast Bay's Wallonian Farmhouse strain was based on Ed Coffey's Farmer in the Rye, inspired by this write up of his own experiences with that yeast.  The beer has subsequently come first in its category in two local competitions: Brixies Brewers' Brixtoberfest and Chicago Beer Society's Spooky Brew.  All credit to Ed and his excellent recipe! It scored 36 overall at Brixtoberfest, but frustratingly the organizers misplaced my scoresheets so I didn't get any feedback; that was why I entered it in Spooky Brew as well, where it scored 40 (and was, I think, judged by Jeff Sparrow of Wild Brews).  Since people seem pretty interested in these new strains, I've reproduced the judge's tasting notes below (as best I could---the handwriting was difficult to decipher in places).

First Judge

Aroma: Dominant fruity pineapple and lemon citrusy aromas.  Moderate spicy, peppery aromas in background.  Touch of sugary sweetness in finish.

Appearance: Pale golden in color with a slight haze and lasting, cream white foam.

Flavor: Starts with pleasant peppery phenols balanced by a touch of sweetness and enhanced by a touch of acidity.  Fruity, citrus character comes across in background with a fruity, peppery finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body and high carbonation good for style. Exhibits a moderate astringency and notable[?] [?????]  warmth. [probably "alcohol", though it doesn't look like that!]

Overall Impression: Fruit and pepper with a bit of sweetness and acidity in background for support.  Just a bit of astringent, perhaps oxidized character in the finish.

Second Judge:

Aroma: Strong, high citrus esters, with a lemon character; medium to low pepper spice aroma; low bready malt aroma; low solventy, alcohol aroma; low earthy hop aroma.

Appearance: Beautiful light straw color with medium haze; large head, white with long retention and a delicate texture.

Flavor: Medium-high tartness and lemon-like ester predominate; medium pepper spice flavor follows; medium to low bitterness and cracker-like malt flavor; perhaps a low cardboard flavor is perceived in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Light body, high carbonation with a lively effervescence; medium alcohol warmth with a puckering sensation on the tongue.

Overall Impression: A refreshing, easy to drink example of the style -- well done!  The tartness and lemon esters predominate and are pleasant.  There may be a slight oxidation problem which I am perceiving as staleness in the aftertaste; might be interesting to manage the yeast to increase the spicy component.

So, there you go!  Much better than the tasting notes I would have written for this beer---some of the most detailed and helpful I've got from the few competitions I've entered, actually, so I'm grateful to the judges.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, for a long while, this was my least favourite of the three beers I brewed with this strain. I felt that it needed a little more tartness or bitterness to cut against the sweetness---not at all something you'd gather from the judge's tasting notes, which probably just goes to show how idiosyncratic my palate is here!  I've actually noticed with all the WF beers that the tartness has increased steadily over time, and as that happens I find myself reaching for bottles of this beer more and more frequently.

One final note: I think the carboard aftertaste was there in the first beer I brewed with this strain.  That doesn't mean its not a process-related issue: in fact, I noticed a few months ago that the spigots on one of my bottling buckets lets in a small amount of oxygen if not opened properly, which might explain this, though its possible that there is some other yeast-derived flavour that the judges are picking up on.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Brew Day: Aged Hop Saison

One thing that comes up repeatedly in Yvan de Baets' essay on historical saisons is the affinities these beers had with lambic and gueuze.  Yvan mentions the "wine-like character" of well-made beers, a vinous and sour side accompanied by the distinctive aromas associated with wild yeasts and barrel-aging.  Obviously the mixed fermentation, along with the practice of cutting young beers with sour older beer, go some way towards explaining these connections.  One other thing mentioned in the chapter is the use of aged hops:
"It is likely that when a brewer wished to produce a saison with a predominant sourness, he would use a greater proportion of old hops so as not to contribute too much bitterness and to encourage the development of lactic bacteria.  Farmhouse breweries would most likely have a stock of old or imperfectly stored hops on hand.  The use of older hops was frequent, bringing saisons close to traditional lambic."
I happened to have about 50g of aged pellet hops left over from a failed attempt at making a wort for spontaneous fermentation (more on that in another post), so this weekend I decided to try making a saison along these lines.  The grist was nothing special---my usual mix of about 90% pilsner to 10% wheat----and all of the hops went in at the start of the boil.  I maxed out my kettle/mash-tun again, making over four gallons of wort which will be fermented out in primary by Wyeast 3726.  Rather than going for a mixed primary fermentation, I decided to combine this four gallons of wort with one gallon of the adjunct sour I brewed a few months ago, blending them for an extended secondary fermentation.  The adjunct sour is already down around 1.000, but its still plenty cloudy and already fairly tart, so I'm hoping that it will continue to sour as the starches are decomposed.  I expect the saison portion to finish pretty dry, but this strain often leaves a few gravity points after secondary which the LAB can consume.  I'm not planning on aging it quite as long as I would for a lambic-style beer, but at the moment I'm assuming it will spend at least 6-8 months in secondary.

I'll be curious to see what kind of difference the aged hops make to the flavour profile of the finished beer.  I rather enjoy the mouthfeel and bitterness you get from using large quantities of low alpha hops, but assuming these were aged properly there should be very little bitterness by the time I start drinking this beer.  Some people speculate that the fatty acids provided by aged and oxidized hops provide precursors for ester production by brettanomyces, leading to the aromas characteristic of lambic-style beers.  Perhaps I'll get some of that here as well.  The main thing now is exercising some patience, as I'm running out of carboy space and many of the beers I've brewed over the past few months won't be ready until at least late 2015.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Coupage: New Hop Saison and Rye Saison

Inspired in part by the techniques described by Yvan de Baets in his essay on historical saisons, I've brewed a few beers recently that have been cut at bottling with the no-boil sour I made over the summer---this brett-fermented wit, for instance, and this hoppy saison.  So far I've been pretty happy with the results.  The sour adds a bit of tartness to the final beer, which seems to gradually increase over time (even when the gravity suggests that there is nothing fermentable left in the beer); and the brettanomcyes strains also start to produce some light funk once the beer has been in the bottle for month or two, presumably thanks to precursors left by the saccharomyces strain used in the base beer.  All things considered, it seems to be a pretty effective way of adding some tartness and complexity to a beer without an extended secondary fermentation.

I have about 1.5 gallons of the no-boil sour left, and I decided to use them all up in two more beers.  The first is essentially a rebrew of the hoppy saison mentioned above.  The original was hopped with newer varieties from Hop House Brewing Supply---Hallertau Blanc and Eldorado---and cut with around 2 litres of the no-boil sour at bottling.  I could do this with confidence because the Wallonian Farmhouse yeast I used to ferment the base beer took it right down to 1.000 (though I did use heavy bottles for half the batch to make sure I could age some safely without worrying about bottle-bombs).

Sticking to the same theme, this time I used some other new hops varieties---Mandarina Bavaria and Huell Melon---and replaced the Wallonian Farmhouse with Wyeast 3726 from the table beer I brewed a couple of weeks ago.  In my experience this strain usually finishes around 1.002-1.005 with the kind of beers I brew, which is high enough to be a potential concern if I added the brettanomyces at bottling.  To accommodate this I pitched the dregs from my brett-fermented wit into the primary, hoping that this will take the beer down an extra few points before bottling.  If the F.G. still seems a little high, I'll just use heavier bottles and aim for slightly lower carbonation.  I've copied the recipe for this beer at the end of the post.

The second beer I brewed was essentially a stepped-up version of the table beer I brewed a few weeks ago.  I liked how this tasted when I racked it---fruity, but with a slightly lemony kick to it---and I thought it would work pretty well with a bit of tartness behind it.  Rather than just blending three gallons of base beer with a few litres of sour at bottling, with this batch I decided to go for four gallons of base beer (about the maximum I can do on my system), and then blend this with one gallon of sour in a five gallon carboy.  This should help the gravity stabilize before bottling, and also gives me the chance to add a dry-hop if I think that would fit the flavour profile.

I hope these beers turn out well, because I think that this yeast strain really needs some tartness to play off if its going to work in the kind of beers I enjoy.  Its been very fruity in all the beers I've brewed with it---banana at first (which thankfully disappears quickly), but then pears and grapes as it ages---and by itself this fruitiness can be a bit overwhelming.  My hope is that a bit of tartness and light funk will balance this nicely, as they do in the saison I brewed with this strain and ECY20.  Using a no-boil sour to achieve the same result makes for a shorter and only slightly more complicated fermentation.

After this I'll be out of the sour, so its time to think about brewing it again.  I fed my lactobacillus starter last week, and I now need to decide whether to go for an all brett fermentation again, or to brew a more traditional berliner weisse  with sacch and hive off a few gallons for blending.  More on that in a few weeks!


Measured O.G: 1.041
Measured F.G:

Mash: 149°F.


51% Pilsner
34% Pearl
15% Flaked Wheat


Hallertau (US)            60             10.0   IBUs     (12g@4.7%)
Mandarina Bavaria     20             6.9     IBUs     (15g@6.9%)
Huell Melon               20             4.3     IBUs     (10g@6.4%)
Mandarina Bavaria      0              0.0    IBUs      (15g@6.9%)
Huell Melon                0              0.0    IBUs      (10g@6.4%)


Wyeast  3726

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tasting Notes: Milk Stout

Here are some tasting notes for my version of the 1952 Mackeson's Milk Stout recipe posted at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. The beer finished at 1.017, giving it an ABV of 3%.

Appearance: Dark brown colour, changes to a clear, red-tinged brown when held up to the light.  Lingering head right to the end makes for a pretty pint.

Smell: Toast, cocoa, and a bit of hop spiciness. Bit of tobacco as it warms up. Very pleasant.

Taste: More toast/breadcrust, with some chocolatey notes.  Light fruitiness as it gets warmer.  There's a lingering taste that reminds me of cheap cola-flavoured popsicles I used to buy when I was a kid.  Not at all sweet.

Mouthfeel: Although the beer isn't sweet, it does have a nice fullness to it, especially given its low ABV. Carbonation is a touch too high, which is somewhat biting and detracts from the smoothness.

Drinkability & Notes: I have to say, I'm surprised by how much I like this beer---much more than most milk stouts I've tried.  I think its because its not particularly sweet, despite being more full-bodied than most bitters or milds I make in this ABV range---the bitterness, toast, and chocolate notes all make it very moreish, and the flavours become more developed as it warms up.  With most milk stouts I can imagine drinking (and genuinely enjoying) about half a pint, but this is a beer I could easily drink for a few hours.  The slightly-too-high carbonation detracts from it a little (though its still very low compared to most beers)---I imagine it would be even better served via a hand-pump.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Brew Day: Buckwheat Saison

Like spelt, I usually have some buckwheat groats on hand for baking and other purposes, and I've been meaning to use some in a beer for quite some time.  I finally got round to using some in the grist for a saison I brewed this weekend.  The immediate cause of this brew day was reading about a beer I'll probably never get to try, the Blaugies/Hill Farmstead collaboration Le Sarrasin.  It sounded pretty delicious, and since I'm using the Blaugies strain anyway at the moment, now seemed a good time to try to brew something along the same lines.

The grist was very straight-forward.  The Hill Farmstead page mentioned using 30% spelt, so I followed suit, making up the rest with pilsner and a small amount of 6-row to help with conversion.  I crushed and boiled the groats into a thick and goopy porridge, then added this back to the main mash as I took it through the steps described in Farmhouse Ales: 113°F, 131°F, 144°F, 154°F.  The final wort was hazy and had a slightly silky mouthfeel---perhaps a sign that there were unconverted starches, though I was actually a little over my predicted O.G.  I'm not particularly worried if there is some starch in the wort, as it will provide food for the LAB during secondary fermentation.

I'd originally planned to use a blend of Sterling and Crystal for the hopping, but at the last moment I decided to use up some 2012 Amarillo pellets in place of the Crystal.  They gave the wort a really nice floral character that I hope carries over into the final beer.  Since I'm going to sour this beer I kept the bitterness fairly low, and added the final hops as the wort was cooling.

Primary fermentation will be done by Wyeast 3726.  I have a year old lambic brewed with ECY20 that I'm hoping to transfer onto some fresh fruit in the next few weeks.  I'm a little concerned about how its going to taste, since it has more headspace than many of my aging beers and I've had to move the carboy around a few times, all of which might have increased the oxygen in the beer and encouraged acetobacter.  Assuming the beer is fine, I'll use whatever doesn't get transferred onto the fruit to inoculate this saison in secondary---it probably won't be more than a 500ml or so.  If the beer tastes vinegary, I'll inoculate with dregs.  I may also add some white wine and oak, depending on how it tastes after primary.

It will be interesting to see how this beer ages.  Apparently buckwheat has a significant amount of caprylic acid in it.  Since this fatty acid is associated with various off-flavours in beer (goaty ones presumably), it would generally be undesirable.  But brettanomyces should be able to convert the acid into the ester ethyl caprylate, which is described in Wild Brews as "Waxy, Wine, Floral, Fruity, Pineapple, Apricot, Banana, Pear, Brandy".  That would blend pretty well with the flavours I am hoping for in this beer, though when Michael Tonsemeire tried something along the same lines he didn't get much of this character.  I'm planning to age this one for a few months before bottling, so time will tell.


Measured O.G: 1.044
Measured F.G:

Mash: Farmhouse Ales step-mash.


74.5% Pilsner
29.0% Buckwheat Groats
6.5% 6-Row


Hallertau (US)        60              9.4  IBUs     (10g@4.7%)
Sterling                    20              6.6  IBUs     (15g@6.6%)
Amarillo                  20              5.0  IBUs     (10g@7.5%)

Sterling                     0               0.6  IBUs     (15g@6.6%)
Amarillo                   0               0.0  IBUs     (15g@7.5%)


Wyeast  3726