Monday, 27 July 2015

Bread and Beer: Buckwheat

As I've mentioned before on this blog, one reason I like using unmalted grains in my beer is that I can find other uses for them around the kitchen, particularly when it comes to baking bread.  I've been using buckwheat a lot recently, both in baking and brewing, so I thought I'd follow up on my earlier post on spelt and combine some tasting notes for a couple of buckwheat saisons with pictures of how I use buckwheat groats in baking.

Buckwheat seems to have at least some history in brewing.  G. Lacambre mentions it in his 1851 book on brewing in Europe. (Yvan de Baets cites this book in his essay on the history of saison, but its contains very little about historical farmhouse beers, as Lacambre was more interested in the 'fancy' beers brewed by commercial brewers.  There are some interesting sections on Lambic though.)  Anyway Lacambre doesn't seem to think much of buckwheat as a source of fermentables.  He says its used rarely (occasionally in some parts of Germany, less commonly in Belgium), though it does contain a decent amount of starchy matter and is often fairly cheap.  He even describes his own experience with it: a small amount gave the beer a distinctive and disagreeable bitter flavour, prevented the beer from clarifying, converted poorly and caused problems because it became gummy in the mash.  Hardly a glowing recommendation!

Some contemporary brewers might be interested in using buckwheat because it doesn't contain gluten, but I was first drawn to it because I was curious about whether brettanomyces would convert its relatively high levels of caprylic acid into the ester ethyl caprylate.  Caprylic acid is not something you want much of in beer (it apparently tastes 'goaty'), but ethy caprylate is described in Wild Brews as "Waxy, Wine, Floral, Fruity, Pineapple, Apricot, Banana, Pear, Brandy".   Perhaps using larger amounts of buckwheat in a mixed fermentation might encourage the formation of these esters?

I've described how I use buckwheat in brewing in earlier posts: I crush the groats in my mill, boil them into a thick and goopy porridge, then add them into the main mash for the saccharification rest.  One thing I haven't stressed enough in earlier posts is that buckwheat is an absolute nightmare to lauter (as Lacambre warned us!).  I'm doing Brew in a Bag, which usually means I can get away with very gummy mashes using rye or wheat without too much difficulty, but buckwheat is a complete nuisance.  It forms a sort of gummy layer on the bottom of the bag, which means it just won't drain when you lift it out (or at any rate, drains very slowly).  This makes the bag difficult to maneuver (since it extra heavy with all the hot wort) and means it takes a long time to get enough wort from the grain.

In baking, buckwheat is much easier to use.  There are a number of ways you can incorporate unmalted grains into bread (including by making a porridge in a process that is basically identical to a cereal mash), but the method I use most frequently involves sprouting the grains and then folding them into the dough.  Buckwheat groats are particularly easy to use in this way: they only require a brief soak (about twenty minutes, where something like spelt needs four to six hours), after which I drain them, put them in a mason jar with a breathable seal (a coffee filter and a rubber band usually), give them a good shake so that there is plenty of oxygen in the mix, and then leave them till they start to sprout.  You can help them along by shaking once a day and maybe soaking and rinsing them again, but buckwheat groats sprout so quickly its usually not necessary.

Once they're just beginning to sprout, they're ready for use in bread.  I fold them into a wholewheat version of the Tartine loaf about an hour into the first rise (you need to do a few folds to develop the gluten first, as the sprouted groats will cut through it if added too early).  You can also grind up a small handful of the groats and use them to coat the top of the loaf.  They add a nice sweetness, along with a bit of texture, to the final bread.

Back to beer again, I've only ever used buckwheat in saisons.  I've brewed four versions of essentially the same beer now: a pale saison using up to 30% buckwheat.  In every case I've cut the fermented beer with some proportion of aged sour beer.  The very first version used a few litres from a lambic-style beer, but the three subsequent ones all used pulls from my Roeselare solera.   All of them have had flavours reminiscent of the description of ethyl caprylate above, though of course its difficult to say for certain whether this is because of the buckwheat and brettanomyces, or because of the saison yeasts and fruity hops (all versions have had late additions of Amarillo).  I've included tasting notes for two of these beers below.  I packaged the third version just before I left for England, and combined the fourth version (fermented with a different blend of yeasts) with the pale sour so that it can undergo a secondary fermentation while I'm away. The most recent batch was fermented with oak cubes in the primary, and I'm curious to see how these add to the overall flavour profile.

Buckwheat Saison I

This is the first version of the beer: I blended about 10 litres of saison with 2 litres of lambic-style sour, and added some Trimbach Pinot Gris as well.  Its about nine months old at this point, and has been in the bottle since the end of January.  You can read some earlier tasting notes here.

Appearance:  Pale and slightly hazy yellow colour.  Soft, foamy, meringue-like head with great retention.

Smell: Lemons and limes, followed by a hint of tropical fruit. Slightly floral edge as well, but more like dried flowers (almost reminds me of my Grandma's potpourri).

Taste:  Lemony acidity up front, but only moderate.  White wine comes across in the finish.  The strange waxy flavour is gone, or at least blended seamlessly with the rest so that its no longer offensive.

Mouthfeel: Crisp, with good carbonation, but the wine in the finish gives it a slight vinous character.  Nice balance of dryness with mouthfeel that I'm aiming for in using these unmalted adjuncts.

Drinkability & Notes: I'm very happy with how this one is tasting right now, and I'll probably start drinking the majority of the batch as soon as I get back from England, setting aside a few bottles to see how it continues developing.  This has all the elements I'm looking for in my saisons: its tart, fruity, refreshing, but with some complexity and structure as well.

Buckwheat Saison II

This is the second version of the beer, and the first that was blended with a pull from my Roeselare solera.  The idea with this and subsequent versions was to increase my overall yield by brewing four gallons of clean saison (about the most my system can handle) and then blending them with one gallon of aged sour.  This works well, and I plan to continue using this system as I keep brewing these beers.

Appearance:  Same as the first version.  Head retention on these beers is pretty solid.

Smell:  Lemons, yellow stone fruit, and hay.  Reminiscent of a younger version of the first version, but without the strange 'soapy' edge that I think came from the white wine.  Slight funk underneath it.

Taste:  Tart and lemony at the start, then again a more generic fruitiness with some floral honeyish elements.

Mouthfeel: Crisp and dry.

Drinkability & Notes: This one is still a bit sharp and angular, but hopefully with a bit more time in the bottle the edges will soften and become more rounded.  Still a very promising beer, and one of my favourite saisons.  Luckily I have more of this batch so I can check in on it more regularly.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Tasting Notes: Second Extraction Beers

Last summer I bought a lot of fruit at my local Farmer's Market.  Some of it went into pickles and preserves, but most ended up in sour beers.  The results were excellent, with some of the beers going on to take first place their categories in local competitions, so I've been looking forward to picking up more this year to use when I make blends from my soleras in the Autumn.  However, as a penny-pinching graduate student I was also very aware of how expensive all that fruit was, and I couldn't help wonder if I might be able to extend its use beyond single beers.  After all, Cantillon use their cherries twice, and Jester King have also tried a similar process for some of their beers.  What's more, by transferring clean beers onto the spent fruit, dregs, and secondary yeast cake of a sour beer I would be essentially repeating my process of cutting young beers with aged sours.

My basic idea, then, was to take clean beers that were already quite dry (mainly saisons) and transfer them onto the spent fruit and dregs from a sour beer.  I was hoping that the mixed culture might add some tartness and complexity to the finished beer, and that at least some of the fruit would come through as well.  Overall this has been pretty successful, especially with fruits that make a quite assertive contribution like Raspberries or Tart Cherries.  I'll certainly be repeating the process with more saisons this year.

Tart Brown Ale w/ Cherries from a Sour Brown

The base was a blend of American 2-Row and Pearl malt. along with some Medium and Dark Crystal for character, Pale Chocolate and Midnight Wheat for colour, and Golden Naked Oats to fill out the body.  I was going for a light tartness with this one, so I first let it ferment with a pitch of Wyeast Ardennes, and then transferred it on top of the spent fruit and yeast cake from a beer I'd brewed with Wyeast Oud Bruin.  I felt like the first beer I made with that blend was fairly one-dimensional and boring, and that's true to some extent of this one as well.  The fruit does come across nicely in the aroma though.

Appearance:  Dark brown with red highlights when I hold it to the light.  Thin but persistent head.

Smell:  Bright cherries prominent on the nose, along with darker fruit like blackberries or currants.  A sort of bready smell behind it, so that the whole makes me think of good quality preserves on toasted wholewheat bread.  Slightly metallic edge as it warms up.

Taste:  Light tartness first, kind of lacking in the mid-palate, and then a lingering taste that reminds me more of red currants than cherries. A bit disappointing after the aroma: a bit flat, I'd like more prominent fruit and more of that toasted bread in the background.

Mouthfeel:  The oats definitely give it a slightly fuller mouthfeel.  In fact, because of the low carbonation, it coats the back of throat in a way I'd describe a 'cloying' if it was sweet.

Drinkability & Notes:  The fruit comes across nicely on the nose, but the beer itself is a bit lacking.  I haven't managed to come up with a low ABV sour brown recipe that I'm happy with yet.  The oats certainly help with the mouthfeel, but there just isn't enough going on with the flavour.  With slightly higher carbonation it would be quite drinkable and refreshing: the tartness is just right.

Tart Saison w/ Cherries and Raspberries from a Flanders Red

The base was blend of Golden Promise and Pearl malts, aiming for a bit more character than plain pilsner.  I added some Golden Naked Oats again for mouthfeel, and around 1.5% Midnight Wheat for colour.  Once the beer had fermented out with Wyeast 3726, I transferred it onto spent fruit and and a small amount of beer left from a Flanders Red, and let it sit for about a month.  The O.G. was 1.044. and I'm sure it dried right out, giving an ABV of about 5.8%.

Appearance:  Reddish-brown colour.  I was going for a more brilliant red.  First pour is crystal clear. Head dissipates entirely after a few seconds.

Smell:  Raspberries and cherries dominant in nose, with some earthiness as well.  Smell of clean lactic sourness.

Taste:  Tart, jammy fruit up front.  Mid-palate is again a bit lacking, but it finishes nicely with a lingering taste of raspberries (fruit and seeds).  Hint of bready malt behind it.  Also fairly sour, to the point where I might struggle to drink more than one or two (my tolerance is low though).

Mouthfeel:  The high carbonation makes it crisp and refeshing.  Perhaps a touch thin, but it doesn't detract from the beer.

Drinkability & Notes:  Tart and refreshing, with the fruit coming through quite clearly.  Its actually a bit more sour than I'd like, but otherwise I'm quite happy with how this one came out.  I'll probably do the same thing again this year, perhaps adding some spelt for body and maybe some Munich and dark candi syrup for a bit more character and depth.

Tart Saison w/ Apricots and White and Yellow Peaches from a Golden Sour

I planned this beer as a pale saison that I would age on spent yellow peaches and apricots from a Golden Sour/pLambic.  The grist was  again a combination of Pearl and Golden Promise, rounded out with a bit of torrified wheat.  I added some El Dorado and Mandarina Bavaria hops to the whirlpool, hoping they'd accentuate the fruit.  Once it had fermented out with Wyeast 3726, I transferred it onto the spent fruit and dregs, but this time I added three pounds of frozen white peaches as well.

Appearance:  Pale yellow colour.  Crystal clear.  Billowing head that dissipates very quickly.

Smell:  Interesting aroma.  Lots of grass and hay.  Strongly evocative of cut grass that's dried out in the sun.  Reminds me of summers when I was a kid.  Peaches are very subtle in the background behind it, emerging a bit as it warms up, but I don't know that I'd pick that description if I didn't know they were there.  Aroma is probably more reminiscent of apples at this point.

Taste:  Tart, and a little juicy.  Peaches come across a bit more here.  Same warm and bready malt emerges in the background.  I quite like the dimension this adds.  Lingering tartness with a slight taste of peaches

Mouthfeel:  Crisp, with fairly high carbonation.  A touch thin though, which makes the sourness a little sharp, although is already softened a little compared to earlier bottles.

Drinkability & Notes: The 'dried cut grass' aroma is very striking, and wasn't there in the earlier bottles.  Peaches are subtle but there if you look for them.  All in all a tart and refreshing beer with a bit of added complexity.  I was hoping for a bit more from the peaches, but they seem to make quite a subtle contribution in all the beers I've made with them.  It'll be interesting to see how this one continues to develop over the next few months.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Tasting Notes: 1831 Truman Keeping Porter

Last year, as part of my ongoing efforts to make beers inspired by historical English stock ales, I brewed a Nineteenth Century Keeping Porter based on a recipe for an 1831 Truman beer taken from Ron Pattinson's excellent Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.  After undergoing an extended secondary fermentation by lactobacillus and brettanomyces clausenii, its been sitting in bottles for about a month. I haven't tried it since packaging because I don't have a Running Porter to blend it with.  I'll brew one as soon I start up again after the summer---essentially the same recipe, with a smaller amount of hops---but in the meantime I thought I might write some tasting notes with the help of a commercial beer.  Although there isn't much on the shelves that is likely to come close to the Nineteenth Century versions of these beers, a bottle of Samuel Smith's Famous Taddy Porter caught my eye.  No doubt well past its best at this point, but it was on sale and seemed like a good choice for blending.

I won't bother writing tasting notes for the Sam Smith's beer.  I tried each beer by itself, then blended approximately 1/3 'stale' beer with 2/3 'fresh' beer, in line with the descriptions in Ron's book.  I was pretty happy with the result, although the Keeping Porter is still a little rough around the edges.  Hopefully they'll smooth out as it continues to condition over the next few months.

Keeping Porter

Appearance: Dark brown colour, and fairly opaque.

Smell: Intriguing combination of toast, roast, and fruity sourness.  Very unique.  Powdered cocoa, dark fruity chocolate, toasted bread.  Suggestion of lactic sourness.

Taste: Very lightly tart.  Transitions to dry cocoa powder and then almost-burnt toast and bitter cold coffee.  Light fruitiness around the edges.  A bit rough still

Mouthfeel:  Low carbonation gives it a vinous character.  Slightly viscous.

Drinkability & Notes: Certainly interesting, though I don't think I'd care to drink more than a single glass at the moment.  The tartness is nice, and I enjoy the dark fruit and chocolate, but the burnt roast is a bit rough and astringent.  Hopefully it will continue to soften as the beer ages in the bottle.

~1/3 Keeping Porter & ~2/3 Taddy Porter 

Appearance: Dark brown with red highlights.  Good head that dissipates to about a quarter inch.

Smell: Similar to the Taddy Porter alone: dark fruits (raisins, prunes, figs), though less pronounced than in the original, along with a dusting of cocoa; but also a more pronounced breadiness.  Again the slightest suggestion of lactic sourness, which gives it an edge over the Taddy Porter.

Taste: The Taddy Porter is all dried fruit and chocolate with a slight tanginess and a hint of bitter coffee. This adds a tartness and lingering burnt roast that aren't there in the original, and transforms the overall impression.  Same elements but with a different emphasis.

Mouthfeel:  Not noticeably different from the Taddy Porter in terms of body, but there's added tang and astringent roast.  Dry and tart.  Very drinkable.

Drinkability & Notes:  The tartness really adds to the drinkability for me, since it clips the dark fruit from the original, and makes it transition to the burnt roastiness of the Keeping Porter.  Tangy up front, and then a lingering tartness and roast at the end, with dark fruit and cocoa in the middle.  Those transitions definitely add a complexity that is very satisfying.  The roughness of the Keeping Porter comes through as well though.  I hope it gets a bit softer with age.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Tasting Notes: Wheat Beer w/ Wyeast Brett. C

Here's some tasting notes for a beer I made with Wyeast's Brettanomyces Clausenii strain during its Private Collection release this spring.  To be honest, I'm no more or less interested in single-strain brettanomyces fermentation than I am in other pure cultures, which is to say that if I like the results I'll come back to a strain over and over again, but given the beers I tend to brew these days I'm quite happy with the English and Belgian strains I have in regular rotation.  In fact, now that Brett Trois has been outed as a saccharomyces strain in disguise, I can't have done more than a handful of all-brett beers over the past few years.

Of course, I'm very interested in what brettanomyces can contribute to mixed-culture fermentations, and I like to have various strains on hand to pitch into my beers.  The main reason I brew all-brett beers these days is because the bottle dregs provide an easy way of dosing other beers during fermentation. (I keep some half gallon jugs of strains I like going in my brew closet, but its generally easier to just drink a beer and pitch the dregs.)

After buying a packet of this yeast I wasn't sure what to do with it.  My ultimate goal was to use it to dose English stock ales for a traditional mixed fermentation, but I'm not planning on brewing any until the Autumn.  In the meantime I figured I could use it as a secondary strain in some saisons, and perhaps see what it was like fermenting a beer by itself (if only to use the bottle dregs later in the year).

Wheat beers seem like an obvious choice with brettanomyces, since their soft and fluffy mouthfeel can compensate for the fact that brett strains tend to produce less glycerol than their more familiar sacch. cousins.  I had a bunch of old but well-kept Galaxy hops, and a couple of citrus fruits (didn't note the variety but I think they were clementines), so I decided to throw it all together for a spur of the moment witbeer.  My original plan was to cut it with some no-boil sour to give it a slight tartness, but I didn't have enough heavy bottles to package it, so I didn't want to risk starting a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

The recipe was based loosely on this beer from Michael Tonsmeire's site, with the citrus and Galaxy hops thrown into the whirlpool.  The O.G. was 1.044, and the F.G. seemed to settle around 1.008.  I packaged the beer relatively quickly since the gravity remained stable over a whole week, but I was worried that putting the beer under pressure might start another fermentation.  It reached its apparent terminal gravity fairly quickly (within three weeks).  You can find plenty of people online stating that this isn't uncommon for brett beers, but most of them are talking about Trois, and the most recent interviews I've heard with Chad Yakobson suggest a primary fermentation with brettanomyces can take a little longer and go through a number of stages.  But I knew I was going to be drinking the beer quickly, so I aimed for a fairly low level of carbonation and hoped for the best.  The beer is about two months old at this point, and its carbonation has been consistent since bottling.

Appearance:  Soft yellow colour.  You can see a spiral of yeast because I wasn't careful with my pour.  Head recedes to about half an inch then lingers for most of the time I'm drinking it.

Smell: Unpleasant whiff of eggy sulphur when I first pour it.  As that dissipates a bit there's a lingering aroma of wheat and sweet oranges.  Maybe the slightest hint of musty funk, but could just be the sulphur.

Taste:  Clean wheat rounded out by a soft fruitiness.  Neither the hops nor the citrus are as pronounced as I expected.  Very subtle and smooth.  Light but lingering bitterness that might be from the citrus rather than the hops.

Mouthfeel: Very low carbonation, and a bit on the thin side (though not at all bad for a brett beer).  Still quite refreshing and drinkable.

Drinkability & Notes:  This was a bit of a throwaway beer.  I had the packet of yeast and didn't have any particular use for it, so I decided to brew something quick that I might enjoy drinking in the summer.  The result was a surprisingly clean wheat beer.  Nothing special, but perfectly enjoyable, thought the sulphur is a little unpleasant.  I think either blending it with some sour beer, or dry-hopping (or both!), along with increasing the carbonation, would have made it stand out more.  I managed to package a few in heavy bottles for longer-term ageing (though over carbonation is certainly not an issue so far).  As I mentioned above, this is mainly so I have an ready source of Brett C to dose other beers with, but it will also let me see how this changes as it ages.