Sunday, 12 June 2016

Solera Top-Ups plus NHC Gold Medal

I had already scheduled this post about my most recent round of solera top-ups, but now it seems especially appropriate since a pale sour I blended from them won a gold medal in the sour category at NHC.  That beer had already done well in several competitions, taking a gold in MCAB and the first round of Nationals, along with a silver in the Drunk Monk Challenge.  I was pleased about the MCAB medal, but a gold at NHC is even more exciting.  I've given bottles to other home-brewers, and they all seem to have enjoyed them (and gave me helpful feedback).

I think the beer's success stands as a proof of the original concept behind my six-gallon soleras: my idea when I started them was to have a range of beers with differing flavour-profiles available for blending.  The scoresheets I've received so far have all commented on its aromatic complexity, which I attribute to the fact that its a blend.  Blending also gave me greater control over the overall acidity.  It wasn't exactly my intention, but I think part of the reason this beer has done so well is that there is still a slight perception of sweetness balancing its tartness.  I was relying on ongoing fermentation of some of the residual sugars for carbonation, and they haven't been completely fermented out yet.  This slight sweetness fills out the palate of the beer, accentuating its citrusy flavours, and it will hopefully give the beer some longevity as those sugars are gradually fermented.  You can read about each of those soleras in the links here, and about the particular components and ratios I used in the winning beer here.

That blend is quite bright and fruit-forward, with lots of citrus and pineapple, and only a light barnyard funk.  Its also rather pale, and doesn't have any of the residual earthy bitterness that I sometimes pick up on in certain gueuzes.   For this most recent round of top-ups, I decided I wanted to see if I could steer some of the soleras towards a more classical lambic profile, and to this end I changed a few key parts of the process.

As of writing this, I've only brewed top-ups for the Roeselare and ECY20 pale soleras, and I'm thinking about just leaving the Melange one as it is until after the summer.  This is mainly due to time constraints and other beers I have planned.  I varied the recipe and process for both pale soleras this time.  First of all, I switched to a simpler recipe of 65% pilsner and 35% unmalted wheat.  The wheat was very hard and more difficult to mill than either spelt or buckwheat.  I didn't do a full turbid mash, but instead used the Wyeast Lambic Mash Schedule described on p.142 of Wild Brews.  Unless I'm missing something, this is just a cereal-mash for the wheat followed by a regular mash held at higher temperatures.  I don't know how effective this will be in leaving starches in the wort, but we'll see.

The next variation was in the length of the boil.  I've been experimenting with this in a few beers recently, and have noticed a quite dramatic change in colour from extending to three hours or longer.  You can see samples from the beginning and end of each boil in the photos below.  Just to avoid any confusion: when I lengthen the boil in this way, I also liquor down so that I am starting with a larger volume of wort in the kettle at the start of the boil, and end up with the same amount of wort as I would from a regular boil.  That means that the darker colour is not just a result of a more concentrated wort.  You'll have to take my word for this, but the same amount of malt with my regular starting volumes and boil length would produce a much lighter post-boil sample.

I also increased the amount of aged hops in these batches, using 50g in one and 80g in another.  The hops were pellets purchased as 'Lambic Hops' from Farmhouse Brewing Supply, and allowed to age further in a brown paper bag in my closet.  I was a little concerned that they would add too much bitterness, as I've had that problem with other supposedly 'aged' hops that I've bought in the past.  However, although there was definitely some earthy bitterness in both beers post-primary, neither seemed overly astringent or harsh.

Primary fermentation was done by Wyeast 1318, a strain I've used fairly frequently in the past.  I also added the dregs of a bottle of gueuze for the primary as well, hoping that this will give anything alive in the bottle time to get established before each batch was added to the solera.  After primary was complete, I racked out three gallons from each solera, storing the Roeselare in a three gallon carboy (until I used it in this blend), and the ECY20 in a mix of gallon and half-gallon jugs.  I then topped each up with the three gallons of newly fermented beer.

I am planning to check on these in mid to late Autumn.  Perhaps the solera will speed along the development and fermentation of the whole, in which case I may try some blending again at that point, using anything left over from this pull as an additional component.  If they're not quite ready yet, I'll still brew a top-up, and just rack off three gallons of each into another carboy so that it can continue to mature separately.

For the red solera, I knew that I wanted to pull off four gallons: three to mature in a separate carboy for future blending, and one for a bière de coupage made with tart cherries.  I also switched recipes for this batch too, using a version of the RU55 recipe posted by Jester King.  I thought the colour was quite lovely.  in fact, I liked it so much 'veI decided to make a second batch to age independently of the solera.

Once again, I used Wyeast 1318 for primary fermentation (I think it works particular well in these beers), and will add dregs from a few home-brews and commercial beers to the smaller batch over the course of the first week of fermentation.  The larger batch will be added to the solera 'clean'.

I'm planning to blend something with these late in the year. I still haven't made an unfruited Flanders-style beer that I've been really happy with, so a lot of what I pull might end up on fruit.  The rest will be blended with either older pulls from the solera, or pulls from the separate, stronger, brown solera.