Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Tasting Notes: Lochristi Peach Sour (Yeast Bay)

I think one of the most important lessons I've learned over the last few years of brewing sour beers is patience.  I'm not talking about patience while the beer is in the fermenter, but rather about patience after the beer is packaged in bottles.  In the past I'd happily wait months and months for a sour to age in secondary, only to expect it to be ready two or three weeks after bottling like any other beer.  I quickly learnt that some sours taste bad after a few weeks in the bottle:  I've experienced diacetyl, tetrahydropyridine, low carbonation, and weird brett phenols that fade after a month or two.  But what I didn't fully appreciate was that even though a beer can taste OK after a few weeks in the bottle---no off-flavours, etc.---it can still take many months to come into its own.

This beer is a case in point.  It tasted fine after a few weeks, even months, in the bottle.  The peaches were subtle but present, there was a nice lactic sourness, and even some fruity esters from the brett, but it all seemed a bit one-dimensional and boring.  Almost like a less sour version of a fruited berliner-weisse: tart, fruity, and refreshing, but not particularly memorable.  But in the last month or so this beer has really come into its own.  The change wasn't particularly radical: its not that I can point to distinctive new flavours or aromas.  Instead, it's just melded together and softened so that where before it was angular and assertive, now its elegant and subtle.  Of course, now I only have one or two bottles left!

You can find details of the original beer in the post linked to above.  It was inoculated with The Yeast Bay's Lochristi blend, and aged on some peaches from a local farmer's market.  The peaches were never particularly assertive in the beer, and now they blend seamlessly with the other flavours.  (I'm not sure anyone would say that this is a Peach Beer, but they might pick peach as a flavour descriptor.)  The profile from the Lochristi blend is very similar to other beers I brewed with it, but it works particularly well here, rounding the beer out with a soft fruitiness that complements the peaches nicely.

Appearance: Rich yellow colour.  Head dissipates quickly.

Smell: Peach skins and overripe fruit.  Melon.  Green strawberries?  Yogurt-like tang underneath it.

Taste: Peaches and sweet melon.  Soft acidity.  Slightly doughy malt.  Very enjoyable.

Mouthfeel: Soft and well-balanced.  When this beer was younger and more one-dimensional I wanted more carbonation, but now I like the lowish-level because it adds to the soft fruitiness.

Drinkability & Notes:  I love where this beer has ended up.  Its one of my favourite sours in fact, although I suppose its barely more than tart.  I think it works so well because the beer is quite delicate and subtle: a more assertive brettanomyces blend, or more prominent fruit, would turn this into a completely different beer.

Monday, 23 March 2015


After almost three years brewing clean and sour beers side by side, I recently had my first unwanted LAB infection.  Worse than that, since I top-cropped and repitched yeast between several batches in quick succession, at least three different beers were affected.  More embarrassingly still, I sent at least one to a local competition before I realized it was turning sour!

It started when I noticed an ordinary bitter I was bottling was a little tart.  At first I thought I must have added too much lactic acid in the mash, since there was only a slight sourness.  The beer was still young, and highly hopped, so I thought a lactobacillus infection was unlikely, and the time-frame was too short for pediococcus.  But as the beer conditioned, the sourness became more pronounced, and I noticed the same sharpness developing in two more beers.  There were no other obvious off-flavours beyond this tartness: no diacetyl, no phenols, no gross enterobacter-related aromas.  I guess the source might be a particularly aggressive strain of lactobacillus?  Who knows.

Interestingly, not all the beers brewed with repitches of this yeast are showing signs of infection.  I just bottled the last one---a pale ale---after giving it a few extra weeks in secondary to show signs of infection.  It still tasted perfectly fine.

I'll admit that when I first realized what was going on, I thought about giving up on brewing clean beers entirely.  At least 75% of what I brew these days undergoes mixed fermentations, and it would make life a lot easier if I could embrace them entirely.  But I love bitter beer too much, and there isn't enough of the kind I like cheaply available nearby for me to give up on making my own.  So, until I live within stumbling distance of a pub selling good cask-conditioned bitters, and can afford to buy fresh Taras Boulba and XX Bitter by the case, I'll still want to brew clean beers at home.

I have my own theories about where the infection originated (hint: if you're top-cropping, make sure you label the yeast in your fridge, even if its all the same strain and you're certain you know where each jar came from!).  But I didn't want to mess around with isolating potential sources, so I decided to replace all of my plastics: clean fermenter, tubing, bottling bucket, auto-siphon, etc.  It will take me a while to finish doing this, but I was planning on brewing tart saisons for the next month or so anyway, so I'm not in any rush.

So, there you have it.  I was pretty demoralized by this for a while---its been a month since I brewed anything, which is a long time for me---but its really not that big of a deal.  I'm confident that with some new plastics and extra vigilance I can continue to brew clean and funky beers side by side.  In fact, I'm going to brew a clean batch tomorrow, making temporary use of a new six gallon carboy before I turn it into another sour solera.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Tasting Notes: Buckwheat Saison

Here's some tasting notes for the buckwheat saison I brewed a few months ago.  I transferred the fermented beer onto a small amount of year old lambic-style beer for a month or so, and also added about a cup of Trimbach Pinot Blanc.  As I mentioned before, this one was inspired by a beer I've never actually tried, the Hill Farmstead/Blaugies collaboration Le Sarrasin.  I was also curious to see if the brettanomcyes would produce any interesting flavours or aromas from the caprylic acid in the buckwheat. Its probably been in bottles for about a month now, but I'm hoping it will continue to develop, so consider these preliminary tasting notes with more to come later in the year.

Appearance: Hazy straw-yellow.  Head dissipates down to around a quarter inch that lingers for a while.

Smell: Intriguing mix of tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, but also sweet grass and flowers.  Very subtle musty funk beneath it, and maybe a slight whiff of plastic or soap  as well.

Taste: Lightly tart, honeyish, floral.  Yellow stone fruits, another fruity flavour I can't quite put my finger on (J said maybe strawberry or even rhubarb!), and an aftertaste that I can imagine calling 'waxy' or maybe `soapy'; not exactly unpleasant, but a little strange.  It becomes more pronounced as the beer warms---hopefully this is something that will fade with time rather than increase.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation.  I was aiming slightly higher but I actually like it where it is.  The beer is dry but not at all thin.  There's a slight lingering bitterness, even astringency, that will probably fade as it ages, but which I rather enjoy (I know people say it clashes, but coming up at the end like this I think it just prolongs the shifting flavours from the beer).

Drinkability & Notes:  I'm quite happy with how this one is developing, though I'm hoping it will continue to evolve over the next few months and I'm planning to hold off drinking the rest for a while yet.  Its already got a nice complexity, and while its certainly a little different from other beers I've brewed with 3726, its hard to tell if that's the wine, the hops, the lambic, the buckwheat, or a combination of all of these. I brewed another four gallons of a similar recipe, which is sitting in a carboy with one gallon from my Roeselare solera.  I'll probably give that a light dry-hop before bottling in the next month or so, then get another batch going.  As I said at the start of the year, I'd like to make a buckwheat saison part of my regular line up here.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Bières de Coupage: No Boil Sour and Hoppy Saisons

I've been neglecting this blog recently, largely as a result of some work-related deadlines and minor health issues, but also because I've been worrying about a possible infection in some of the clean beers I've brewed recently, which has been keeping my mind off other brewing-related matters entirely.  More on all of that in another post.  I'm feeling better about brewing today because two of my beers came first in their category at this year's Drunk Monk Challenge (again, more on that in another post), so I thought I'd combine tasting notes for a number of batches to make a single post on some bières de coupage, i.e. hoppy saisons cut with a small amount of sour beer before bottling.

There are tasting notes for three batches below.  All three were blended with varying amounts of my no-boil sour, either in a carboy a few weeks before bottling, or in the bottling-bucket itself just before packaging.  I've noted the ratios in each batch below: two were 1/2 gallon sour to 3 gallons of saison, and one was 1 gallon of sour to 4 gallons of saison.

Overall I'd say the beers came out quite well.  The base sour is not particularly complex, so at first it doesn't add much more than a fairly pronounced tartness to the beers.  With a few months in the bottle, the brettanomyces clausenii that fermented the sour becomes more apparent, and most of the bottles have developed a low-level funk as they've aged.  All three beers are drinkable and refreshing, though some are a little one-dimensional.  If I've learnt one thing from these three batches, its that I should be more aggressive with flavour and aroma hops, perhaps using some of the fruitier new world varieties along side the more floral and spicy hops I usually rely on.

Soon I'll have some tasting notes for saisons blended with aged sour beer, rather than this more simple berliner-weisse style sour.  This seems to add a lot more complexity to the beer, but also seems to require a longer period of bottle-conditioning to avoid diacetyl in the blended beer.  I also have another 3 gallons of no-boil sour ready to make another round of these beers for the summer.

Wallonian Farmhouse Yeast; Hallertau Blanc and Eldorado Hops

Appearance: Crystal clear (this bottle has been in the fridge a while).  The bottle gushed when I opened it, leaving a thick head on the beer, but this dissipated very quickly.

Smell: Nice, fruity aroma: lemon, slight grassiness, maybe some pineapple or other tropical fruits.  Subtle, vaguely musty funk underneath it.

Taste: Tart at first, some residual flavour from the hops: spicy, then more lemon and tropical fruit.  Balanced and drinkable.

Mouthfeel:  Carbonation is high at this point.  Very dry with a medium to thin body, making it easy to drink.

Drinkability & Notes: I love this beer: it was tasty from the start, and has aged gracefully.  It's the oldest of these beers, with the base saison originally brewed in July of last year.  In fact I think this might be my last bottle.  Its the only one that got an extended whirlpool with the flavour hops (Hallertau Blanc and Sterling), and it also got a light dry-hop with Eldorado.  Overall this made it my favourite of these beers: it had a lovely, fruity hoppiness backed by the tartness of the sour when it was younger, and it aged into a fairly refined beer, with a more subdued but pleasant fruitiness blending nicely with the light brett-derived funk.  For this beer, 1/2 gallon of sour was blended with 3 gallons of clean beer at bottling.  Earlier tasting notes for this beer here.

Wyeast 3726; Mandarina Bavaria and Huell Melon Hops

Appearance:  Same slightly hazy yellow colour.  Thick head again, but dissipates pretty quickly.

Smell: Subtle fruitiness.  I can just about pick out melon and some clementine-like citrus, but I'm probably looking for it.  Same slightly musty funk as the other two beers.  I really like this gentle note that brett c adds, it gives a little extra fruitiness and funky complexity without the more aggressive phenols you can get from other strains.

Taste: Tart but also a slight fruity sweetness.  I used some Pearl malt in this beer along with the usual pilsner, and I think it rounds out the base beer nicely (I've tried the same thing in some other saisons with Golden Promise).

Mouthfeel:  Dry, but could use higher carbonation.  Some slight bitterness along with the tartness.  I like the combination (which isn't too pronounced in this beer), but I know lots of people think it clashes.

Drinkability & Notes: Despite liberal flavour and aroma additions, along with a dry-hop, I don't feel like the hops really pop out in this beer.  There were some fruity notes, perhaps a bit of melon, but I was hoping for something a lot more assertive.  Another refreshing beer, easy-drinking but perhaps lacking in complexity.  Next time I'll try for higher carbonation, and use some more assertive dry hops.  For this beer, brettanomyces clausenii was pitched along with the saison yeast, and 1/2 gallon of sour was blended with 3 gallons of saison at bottling.  Details of the brew day for this beer here.

Rye Saison; Wyeast 3726; Bramling Cross and Saaz Special Hops

Appearance: Hazy, lemon yellow.  Head dissipates quickly to a very thing cap.

Smell:  Lemons, blackcurrants, straw, maybe some overripe banana, and light musty funk beneath it all.

Taste: Medium tart, lemons, followed by slight sweetness and spice from rye or hops.  Not tremendously complex, but pleasantly refreshing.

Mouthfeel: Dry, but could use higher carbonation to add crispness.  Slight astringency.

Drinkability & Notes: This is a scaled up version of Table Beer III.  It came out about how I expected, with some nice lemony notes and a gentle but definite tartness.  With a bit more carbonation this could be a great summer beer.  I might try to bring out a bit more fruitiness with some different hops, perhaps something like Motueka.  For this beer, 1 gallon of sour was blended with 4 gallons of clean beer in a carboy about a month before bottling.  Details on the brew day for this beer here.