Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tasting Notes: Barrel Aged Philly Breakfast Stout

A quick over night soak with more Dad's Hat
between the Quad and Stout.
Its been quite a while (nearly 8 months) since my friends Dave, Bill, and I brewed the Philly Breakfast Stout, the first beer to go into our Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey barrel (of which now there are two a group of us are working with.) Although we had planned for this beer to be something we could age for a while it turns out its just not really necessary. We brewed this beer on a "system" cobbled together with some of mine and Bill's equipment using 2x 10 gallon mash tuns in order to fit all of the grain in this batch which resulted in some modest (crappy) efficiency and a beer that was about 2-3% abv lower than we had planned. 

In spite of that the beer is delicious, and we are all very happy with how it came out, but we learned a few things throughout the process that we have already begun applying in subsequent barrel projects that are in the works now. On each barrel fill since, as documented here, we have four brewers brew 5 gallons at their leisure and come together for barrel fill day. This has some logistical issues as well but each brewer knows their system and can hit numbers more efficiently. So far it has worked well and with ~20 gallons of finished beer we blend a portion of each for a barrel aged version and some for a non barrel aged version.   

When I posted about the brewday back in December Chris from lewybrewing.com commented that we would have our hands full. At the time I didn't think it would be too difficult but these group barrels take a fair amount of planning. The most difficult issue is getting a group of people together on one single night/day to empty/fill barrels, damn real life and resonsabilities. Its really a lot of fun, but you need to be organized and keep the beers going in and out of the barrels. We try to have the next beer fermented out and ready to go by the time we removed the previous beer from the barrel so that it never sits empty more than about an hour at a time, mine was empty for a few nights between the Stout and Quad as seen in the photo above. Soon these barrels will be new Solera Projects and will require much less work over longer periods of time, until then, we have lots of barrel aged big beers piling up for the fall/winter...

Don't mind the dog hair on the rim of the glass,
I drank it anyway. 
Philly Breakfast Stout

Appearance: The beer is pitch black, as it should be, with a thin quarter inch tan head, leaving significant lacing on the glass. Subtle carbonation, the appearance is right to style.

Aroma: Big whiffs of chocolate, vanilla, and some coffee in the background all playing very well together. Not a ton of whiskey aromas coming off this thing but I definitely get the oaky notes for sure.

Taste: Silky smooth body, maybe just a tad bit thin, coffee roast, milk chocolate like, and very smooth across the tongue. There is an upfront biting bitterness on the front of the tongue and sides of the mouth probably from the coffee and roasted malts that really helps to balance it all out. It goes down very easily for a barrel aged beer, maybe too easily?

Final Thoughts: This beer is incredibly balanced no one note dominates as you drink it you get a wave of flavors as the Beer crosses your tongue and then the finish your left with a lot of chocolate. It is a tad bit thin on the body and there isn't enough whiskey in the nose, but the oak is balanced really well with the coffee and chocolate this beer is dangerously drinkable. Dont get me wrong, you know this is a whiskey aged beer, but I was kind of hoping that would smack you in the face. 

Maybe this is better though, its a borderline session barrel aged stout if that makes any sense at all. It goes down very easily, unlike much bigger beers like KBS and Bourbon County Brand Stout (abv obviously comes into play when comparing PBS with those two.) We plan to brew this beer again next year, maybe some tweaks to keep things interesting, maybe we will start the next barrel with batch #2 of this.

I need to find somewhere else I can take a snazzy photo, this window is played.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

HopWards Batch #2 Tasting Notes and Recipe Tweaks

Normally when I'm trying to adjust a recipe to get it to where I want it to be I will change only one variable at a time so that I know what each change has brought to the finished product, and if that change got me closer to my goal for the beer. But in a constantly evolving brewing world with new Yeast strains/Hop varieties etc. it can be difficult to stay the course. For batch #2 of HopWards I caved a little bit and changed two variables from batch #1, so shoot me.

In the first batch of HopWards, my Tired Hands HopHands "clone", was damn near spot on to the original and just about how I want my own version of an "inspired by HopHands" beer to be. The late hopping was perfect, it had a uniquely creamy body from the use of the Oats, it was bright citrusy and very refreshing. If there were"flaws" in that beer it would be that the Oats were a bit over powering at 20% of the grist, and that it could use slightly more bitterness. The high % of Oats resulted in a beer that I felt needed to be a bit more dry in the end, not by a lot but enough that may even help to accentuate the bitterness. 

For Batch #2 I decided to lower the percentage of Oats to 12.5%, I had planned for 15% but I came up a bit short on what I had on hand with no time to run out to get more. I figured that by using a smaller amount of Oats ( I also mashed just a little bit lower at 150F to help here) I should achieve a drier beer that I hoped would show off the bitterness more without having to increase my 60 minute hop addition (16-17IBUs) from batch #1.

The last change to the beer was to go from using Safale s-04 to The Yeast Bay's Vermont Ale, aka Conan, which I have a history with dating back to late 2012 when I cultured from a can and re-pitched it for nearly a year. I have a had a love/hate relationship with the strain, I had a lot of hits with my can culture but the ECY29 was a bit of a mess for me. So I am hopping that I can have better success with Vermont Ale, but maybe Derek is right when he says "Conan will only ferment cleanly and attenuate for those with the purest of hearts".

Flocculate much Conan?

HopWards 2.0 Tasting Notes:

Extremely hazy, hay like color, very pale, almost looks like a hefeweizen, which has always been the case for me with Conan. Thin bright white head that faded slowly but leaves significant lacing on the glass, easily mistaken for a freshly pour glass of OJ.

Aromas of Peach, orange, and many other citrus fruits. When this beer was young I was getting a distracting phenol, but after a few weeks this has seemed to fade, green beer? Maybe, but maybe not as I got the same phenol when I used ECY29 in the past, but in those beers it never dissipated.

Soft bitterness but a nice tingle on the front of the tongue, smooth across the middle of the mouth then a pleasing hop astringency on the back end. Citrus, mostly orange, mango, peaches, pretty much any tropical fruit you can think of. I get something different with every sip, its a pretty fantastic hop profile but not entirely different from the s04 batch. There is an interesting aftertaste, or maybe its after breath, thats not entirely unappealing, it could be a fermentation flaw but I cant really put my finger on it.

It's definitely very similar to batch #1 but the body is a little bit thinner, and the oats aren't as noticeable but still there, which was a goal in this version. Actually I think this is may even be a bit too light on the oats. But the bitterness level is just about where I wanted it to be, a slight bitterness upfront then giving way to hops and creamy oats. In the end I like it just fine but it may have been just a bit better with s04, which is really surprising. 15% Oats are where its at in this beer.

As for Vermont Ale, it is significantly better than what ECY had put out, the attenuation is solid, you get those Peach-y notes that Conan can throw off and The Yeast Bay can get you a super super fresh healthy vial. There is something about Conan that has always been a steroid for hops, and malt actually, and this is no exception. I might prefer s04 in this particular beer at the moment but I plan to keep using Vermont Ale for quite some time.

HopWards 2.0

Brew day: 5/31/2014
Kegged: 6/14/2013 
-(then dry hopped in keg for 5 days at room temp)

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.50 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 10.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.048 SG
Measured OG: 1.048 SG
Measured FG: 1.014 SG
ABV: 4.5%
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 33 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 71.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

87.5% - 8lbs 12oz - Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
12.5% - 1lbs 4oz - Flaked Oats

Boil: 60min - 0.25 oz CTZ [14.20 %] - 17.0 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 0.51 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 3.1 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.51 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 3.6 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.51 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 4.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.51 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 1.4 IBUs -
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f 0.51 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 1.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f 0.51 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 2.2 IBUs
Dry Hop: 7 days - 2.00 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] 
Dry Hop: 7 days - 2.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %]
Dry Hop: 7 days - 2.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %]

500ml starter - The Yeast Bay Vermont Ale

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.1 F - Mash PH 5.42

Fly Sparge 5.60 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Filtered Philadelphia Tap water, Baxter Plant,11g Gypsum + 2.2g Baking Soda, 8.4g Epsom salt, 4ml Lactic Acid in the mash.

Notes: Smooth brewday, nothing really to note, fermentation was quick and as expected.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Product Review: Stainless Brewing's Hop Spider

The amount of hops that make it from the boil kettle into the fermenter is something that has always bothered me. I've tried using hop bags, or a 5 gallon paint strainer bag, but they are a pain to clean and bothers me to re-use them. I've also tried going comando and throwing the hops right into the boil then whirlpooling, which has worked fine for me for the last 2+ years but I found that I was carrying a lot of hops into my primary fermenter. Although Trub may not be of great concerns in the final product, I have a desire for clean yeast to harvest from primary for re-pitching.

At the NHC last year in Philadelphia I noticed a relatively (maybe just to me) new product from Stainless Brewing. A hop spider is not a novel idea, homebrewers have been using many variations of this method for quite a while with great success but mostly rely on those nylon bags, which are really a pain to clean and look pretty dingy after a few uses. A stainless mesh basket, however, could be the answer to all my prayers, easy cleaning, virtually infinite uses without significant wear. It seemed perfect, but I was unsure if the mesh would be fine enough to keep pellet hops in, or even too fine and result in loss of hop utilization/aromatics/flavors. 

"Santa" was kind enough to leave one under the tree for me this past year, and I have put it to work on some heavily hopped beers, and some not so heavily hopped as well. The results have been fantastic, I am getting clean and clear hop free wort into my fermenters, I may be getting some break break material in there but with how I whirlpool chill its very minimal. I have noticed no ill effects on hop utilization or loss of hop aromatics/flavor on beers as heavily hopped as Jah-RodBlazing WardsHopWardsWe Talkin 'bout Practice among others. They are bright and hoppy as I would expect them to be. Not a pellet makes it through this fine mesh, even when using up to a pound in the boil/whirlpool.

I also run off the mash into the spider to catch any rogue grain particles I can.
I rinse it out before I boil.
It is solidly built, the basket itself is rigid and yet the mesh seems fine enough to retain the hop debris. It comes with extension arms so you can suspend the basket in the middle of the pot, they can be removed for easy cleaning/storage. The arms have a washer and rubber gasket so you can size it to your kettles specifications (as seen in photo above), to be honest this feels a bit flimsy to me but it does work fine. I have the 6-5/8"x18" and it fits perfectly in the 20 gallon Boilermaker.

Conveniently the strainer fits inside my immersion
chiller. I usually remove the arms at this point.
At first I was just sitting the basket on the bottom of the kettle and letting it lean against the side but I was getting significant kettle caramelization where it sat on the bottom so I have gone back to using the arm attachments so that it rests suspended in the kettle. One thing to note is during the vigorous boil there is not a ton of movement within the basket, it doesn't effect the vigor of the boil but there is very little activity within the basket itself.

Not so much a down side, but more of a needed adjustment in my system since the addition is the displacement caused by the basket giving me a higher then normal reading on the sight glass. This is just something I needed to dial in and figure what volume it is adding to the reading at various times in my 11 gallon batches. Other than that this is a fantastic product and far exceeds the results I have had from the HopBlocker. It is fairly pricey at close to $100, depending on the size you need, but it is well worth it for me over bags or a homemade spider. 

The main reason I wanted to limit the amount of hop debris going into the fermenter was so that I could more easily "wash" yeast and re-use it batch to batch. I have settled on a 2 house sacchromyces strains of late (Wallonian Farmhouse and S-04, still many Bretts and Bacteria though) and want to get the most out of each pitch. This hop spider far exceeded my expectations in that department, I use a whirlpool immersion chiller with this and then pump into my fermenters leaving any break material in a cone on the bottom of my kettle. After I rack the beer off the yeast cake I have thick dense slurry that needs very little washing/rinsing, if at all, to re-pitch into my next batch. This is the biggest reason I love this product so much, and after 12-15 batches I nearly have this thing paid for in yeast savings, more on how I re-use yeast in an upcoming post. It may not be for everyone, but I highly recommend it.

Running off into the basket.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Gueuze Blending 101: And I am the student.

The barrels at Brasserie Cantillon.
The art of blending, specifically Gueuze, is a skill acquired through years of practice, learning what flavor profiles work together and how a certain blend will age over time. You need keen senses to break down the flavor/aromas of each component to build a blend that is satisfying to your pallate, as well as others if selling commercially of course. Traditional Lambic producers have been blending Gueuze for hundreds of years with the goal of a consistent flavorful product, among other reasons, for example Cantillon Classic Gueuze. On a homebrew scale we face an uphill battle when blending Gueuze as it takes years to age the required Lambics, space to store multiple vintage from which to choose from, and then months to years as the beer conditions in the bottle to learn what worked and what did not. There is a reason blenders like Armand De Belder and Jean Van Roy are held in such high regard, it is an art form that not everyone is capable of perfecting. Its requires a great palate and years of experience, among other traits, even with all of that it still may not be enough to be on those fellas level.

"I am a brewer naturally, but I am first a blender"
-Jean Van Roy - Brasserie Cantillon

The point can be argued that in order to craft a world class Lambic/sour beer you must blend, or add fruit, to get a complex well rounded product. We as brewers have very little control over the end result once we pitch our chosen microbes, or when left to the open air of your resident microflora. Stressing over ingredients, mashing regimes, yeast strains etc, is common, and all for good reason because once we add our chosen mixed culture of yeast and bacteria it is no longer under our control. Sure, we can manage fermentation temperatures, age in oak/stainless/or glass in hopes driving the beer in a certain direction, but ultimately every fermentation is different even if you're using the same cultures. 
Lambic in a Bladder, in a box, below a fox.

Over my years of brewing I had always wanted to put a plan in place and build towards a Gueuze but I had hoped I could brew a great mixed fermentation (sour) beer without the need to blend. In part because of my naivety that I thought I could brew a great one without blending and because, well, I was not the best at planning long term aging beers and sticking to that plan but times have changed.

Despite my poor planning in the past, and with some exciting yet to be announced blending projects on the horizon, I wanted to get a jumpstart on building some Gueuze blending skills with a shortcut of not having to wait for multiple years of my own Lambic to mature. On hand I had a Turbid Mashed Lambic that I brewed on big brew day 2013 and my first Lambic that was about two and a half years old sitting in a 3 gallon carboy, but I felt that wasn't enough for a complex blend, I needed more mature Lambic. Then I stumbled across these beauties, could this be what I was looking for?! I really like the idea of using other Lambic to blend with my own, as a lot of traditional blenders do, for similar to Gueuzerie Tilquin who I beleive is solely a blender and not a brewer. 

A friend (Kirk) and I reached out to Kurt (Kirk and Kurt, confusing I know.) from Belgium in a Box with a few questions. We were curious if these were pasteurized or not (This wasn't a deal breaker for me but I prefer living bugs!), and can we get a Cantillon bladder? He didn't seem to want to commit to the first question, but being that I visited some of these Lambic producers I am 99.9% sure they aren't pasteurizing anything. Lambic should always be alive and changing and those facilities are largely not equipped with modern tools, especially to pasteurize Lambic just for these bladders. As for the Cantillion, Kurt said that Jean no longer wanted him to ship the bladders because the product is so volatile that he fears the bag would burst in transport, right, so yea that ones not pasteurized.

From Left: 2.5 yr old Homebrew, 1 yr Turbid mashed, Girardin, Beersel
The Lambic in a Box came in, Kirk (not Kurt from Belgium, don't get confused now) took his portion and used them to set off a new fermentation with success, living bugs! After he took his share I was left with 1 gallon of Beersel and ~1.75 gallons of Girardin Lambics in bladders, which would be plenty to blend with the two homebrewed Lambics I had on hand. I pulled a sample from each to taste and wrote down a few small tasting notes, then I got to working on a blend to suit my tastes. At first I was using a graduated cylinder to measure out blends, but found that using a gram scale was more accurate and required less Lambic to play with blend ratios. I then used my 50lb capacity grain scale to measure the final full volume blended Gueuze. 

Individual tasting notes:
  • Girardin- Amber, sweet, Carmel, unrefined, moderate tartness. No Gravity Taken
  • Beersel- pale straw, sweaty, musty, mildew, drier than Girardin, tart, more refined. No Gravity Taken
  • 2.5 yr Homebrew- Berliner like, lemony, citrus, bright acidity, light funk. FG: 1.004
  • 1yr turbid Homebrew- aroma is very sweet, slight acetone, mild tartness. Lingering big residual sweetness. After taste is not pleasant, this needs more age. FG: 1.011
Racking from the cut open
Girardin bladder.
I came up with 3 different blends based on the characteristics of the Lambics above. The first blend was too heavy on the 1year old homebrewed Lambic, which was very unrefined, so that was set aside quickly. I had a hard time deciding between the two blends I had left, neither of which jumped out at me as THE one but were both tasty despite not being all that different. This where I could have used a second opinion, and in the future I think I will invite a friend over to help as I was getting some palette fatigue by this point. I settled on the one of the two that left the least amount of the commercial Lambic behind, and used the smallest amount of the 1 year Turbid Homebrewed as it was my least favorite, it was just a bit too sweet and in too high of quantities ruined the blend. While at the same time it did add some complexity that was missing when I played with leaving it out entirely, should also add some extra sugars to be broken down in the bottle. 

I found the easiest way to empty the bladders was to put them in a 1 gallon bucket from Loews with the spout on top and then cut the bag open, removing the end with the spout. This left the bladder open to the elements sitting in the bucket and I was able to just use the autosiphon to empty it into my bottling bucket without losing more than an ounce or so. Trying to drain the bladder via the spout is going to oxidize the Lambic far too much, this ended up being a very gentle smooth transfer into a co2 purged bucket.

The final blend ratios:
  • 1.25 gallons of Girardin %29.5
  • 1.00 gallons of Beersel %23.5
  • 1.25 gallons 2.5 yr old Homebrew %29.5
  • 0.75 gallons 1yr Turbid Mashed Homebrew %17.5
  • 4.25 gallons Blended Gueuze 
Sipping on a glass of the final blend. 
I racked all of the above volumes into my bottling bucket, adding priming sugar to achieve 3.0 volumes of co2. Making sure to start the siphon with the tube at the receiving end above the liquid level to minimize aeration, when you start the siphon there are always bubbles in the lines so best to clear them first. There are some residual sugars to work on from the young Lambic, I regretfully did not take a gravity of the final blend, or the commercial Lambic, things to work on for next time. Due to those missteps I am not sure how high the carbonation will go but I used heavy bottles to be safe, I am hoping that it will end up higher than the 3.0 vols I carbonated to, if anything it may be on the low end in the short term. I also added rehydrated EC-1118 Champagne yeast to be sure there was sufficient healthy cells to carbonate the beer, wine and champagne yeast are more capable of handling the low PH environment of sour beer than standard ale yeasts. The champagne yeast should also help to break down some of those remaining complex sugars to help with the carbonation over months to years.

Low PH be damned, Champagne Yeast.
So looking back now there are a few things I learned throughout this process, the biggest mistake I felt I made was not taking a gravity reading of the final blend so I could more accurately predict the final carbonation. Aside from that any other issues I was able to address on the fly, ex: using the gram scale to measure the blend ratios. I will however invite a friend over next time I blend, both because it would be fun to share the experience with someone but also as a second opinion on different blend ratios. I guess I won't know for sure what I did right or wrong until these bottles age and carbonate over the next few months, years even. I don't plan to pass judgement until these bottles have at least 3-4 months to condition. I am open to critiques and criticisms, this of course will be a learning experience for me, as well as others, so if there is something you recommend I change in process I am open to exploring it. I feel there is far to little information on this process out there and I hope to change that with this and subsequent posts.

Until then its time to brew more Lambic, a turbid mashed brewday is coming up soon, I'm not even sure if I am excited about doing that again. For the love of Funk I suppose.
The final product in heavy bottles with 29mm caps! See you in a few months/years, be cool my babies.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Binford Pale Ale Tasting Notes: Azacca Trials

My daughter wanted to get in the photo, don't worry the glass was not knocked over...this time.
This has been a really fun collaboration, from recipe formulation over email, to brewday, and then sharing the three variants at our Homebrew club meeting, it's been a fun and informative experiment for all if us. The beer has gone over well, I think we did a good job in showcasing elements of all three of our brewing styles in the final product. From the bright aromatic hop character to the toasty malt backbone you can definitely pick up on each of our own brewing styles. 

Sean's version of the beer is more "English" (in my opinion) with the malt and hops in proper balance, while John and my own versions are a little bit more tropical and hop forward. We presented the three versions to our Homebrew club and got some great feedback, we discussed what our goals for the beer were and our differences in process. 

Some people preferred anyone one of the three versions depending on their personal tastes. Some people had a hard time differentiating mine (s04) and Johns (Conan) myself included. There were some raised eyebrows that s04 did so well in a hoppy beer like this, especially going head to head with Conan. Not many had heard of Azacca but it seemed to go over well, tropical, Simcoe like, among other descriptors, I think people will be interested in trying the hop. 

A popular topic of conversation was how each of our dry hop procedures differed. We each dry hopped for only 4-5 days, John used a nylon bag right in primary. Sean took the more traditional approach by racking to secondary in glass, adding the dry hops and then transferring to the keg. 

I plan to do a more detailed post on how I dry hop, but the short of it is I rack from primary into a co2 purged keg, add the dry hops in a nylon bag then remove after 4-5 days all at room temp, then into the fridge and force carb. There is a little more to it but that's the gist, and it works to lessen oxidation by only one transfer. I get some very bright aromatic beers this one. The Binford Pale Ale is now different in that regard. 

Binford Pale Ale Tasting notes:
All 3 versions in a blind tasting, prior to presenting to the club.

Appearance: Crimson reddish brown color, hazy, with a slightly off white head that leaves very significant lacing on the glass. 

Aroma: Fruity, slight tropical note that was much more prevalent when it was younger. Now the malt bill and the hop aroma are starting to balance each other out. Almost like an aromatic bread topped with a tropical fruit Mellody (See what I did there?).

Flavor: Clean bitterness, bright sharp Hoppiness, giving way to a toasty malt backbone and a dry finish. This is a very well rounded beer, it's been compared to DogFish 60 min in both the malt character and the hop flavors. Azacca did well alone in this beer. 

Overall: We are all very happy with how this beer turned out, its bright, hoppy, refreshing and has a great malt presence to back it up. I won't hesitate to use Azacca again, and may even go back to this malt bill again. I could see this being a great fall seasonal type beer.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Yeast Bay Beta Testing: Le Quatre Saisons

All 4 Saison strains in a row. 
I've talked about this on Twitter, and alluded to it in a prior post but after responding to this post on Reddit post by u/Biobrewer I was selected as one of three Beta testers of new yeast strains for The Yeast Bay. I couldn't have been more excited to be picked, I love the idea of splitting batches and testing different yeast strains in the same wort. Especially strains never before isolated from unique producers of interesting beer.

The four of us, Nick, myself and the other two Beta testers (Brian and Marshall), got together to do a Google Hangout video chat to introduce ourselves and talk about what the upcoming projects would look like. Nick laid out the plan for the first two rounds of testing, first of which would be a split 12 gallon batch of Saison using four different single Saison (Sacchromyces) strains, labeled 1,2,3,4, isolated from beers from all over the world. Nick sent us the strains but kept their identities secret so as not to sway our opinions in any direction. 
Boiling starter wort and sanitizing vials on my lunch break!

The plan was we would split off 2.5 gallons into 3 different 3 gallon Better Bottles (pitched with strains 1,3, and 4 for me) and the remaining 4.5 gallons going into a 6 gallon carboy (pitched with strain #2). We were each assigned one of the four, in my case strain #2, to be pitched into the larger batch (4.5-5 gallon), with 1 gallon being packaged clean and the rest would be split evenly into 4x 1 gallon fermenters to age in secondary with 4 new Brett strains Nick also sent us. The other three 2.5 gallon batches will be packaged clean of course. 
This way we would all be able to taste each primary Saison strain solo as well as each Sacchromyces strain aged with a new Brett strain in secondary (one of the testers is doing 2 sets of Brett secondaries). A well thought out plan to test out a lot of strains, in slightly different ways, out of only one (per Beta tester) brewday. 
Starters. Those are polypropylene jars, you should get some.

We came up with is a very simple straight-forward Saison recipe, something that should allow the yeast to shine. The grain bill is just Pilsner/Wheat/Munich with Magnum for bittering and thats it. I built up 300ml starters for strains #1,3, and 4 and a 1L starter for the larger 5 gallon batch with strain #2. 

The brewday went smooth, I overshot the gravity by 1 point, that Avangarrd Pilsner is a beast, aerated each carboy, and pitched that night. I put them into the fermentation chamber with a set point of 71 F for Primary fermentation, as dictated by Nick the other 2 Beta fermented at different temps. Both strains #1 and #4 were the first to show activity getting going in under 6 hours, with strain #2 and then #3 close behind in under 12 hours. 

Strains 1,3, and 4 finished in an expected amount of time, I ramped those 3 up to 80F to encourage more dryness. But strain #2 looked to moving very slowly, fermentation was never overly vigorous and after the krausen fell I could see a lot of tiny bubbles shooting up to the surface. I was planning on taking a gravity reading on day 12 to see if they were done but strain #2 was still showing signs of activity. At this point I warmed the larger carboy containing strain #2 up to 82F in hope of finishing up more quickly (the other 3 remained in the high 70s after a peak of 80F).

I pulled samples from all 4 fermenters, to taste, take gravity readings and to package. I was confident that all 4 batches were fully fermented out at this point, but I was a bit worried about how strain #2 finished. The other two Beta testers noticed the same finicky nature of strain #2, we all had different target fermentation and mash temperatures to see how the strains performed under different conditions. Brian and I, who fermented at 67F and 71F respectively had strain #2 stall at or around 1.020 while Marshal was able to coax some better attenuation at 1.015. Here is some info on how each of us mashed and fermented and what the numbers looked like on each strain.

Average Apparent Attenuation
#1: 84.34%
#2: 69.91%
#3: 77.12%
#4: 77.13%

It is interesting to see the differences in attenuation, Marshall mashed a little bit higher than us all but experienced the most attenuation across the board, which can be attributed to a warmer ferment. Both myself and Brian came up with similar numbers when fermenting on the colder side. None of this is very surprising but its interesting to see differences in attenuation with different mash and fermentation temps. Originally Brian was suppose to mash low and ferment the hottest but he was concerned with being able to ramp that warm in his cooler climate.

Primary strain #2, split into secondary with 4 different Brett strains.
The 4x-1 gallon fermenters, on the right, contain the beer fermented with strain #2, each pitched with the 4 new Brettanomyces strains labeled 1B, 2B, 3B, 4B. With it stalling at 1.020 I guess I am lucky that I was assigned strain #2 to use on the Brett secondary, plenty of work for these Brett strains to do. Look for a post down the road on this Brett secondary batch as well as a 100% Brett fermented Beta test batch with the same four strains. Slight spoiler, Nick has some very very high praise for one of the Brett strains we are testing, the descriptor "sweet tarts" was used. mmmmmm.

In a few weeks we will all be getting together on a Google Hangout session to try the beers together and take some more in depth tasting notes, but in the mean time here is a compilation of tasting notes from all 3 of the Beta testers on each strain. Keep in mind that these are all individual flavors/aromas that we each picked up and are only meant to be a preliminary review on the strains, we will have a full review of the finished beers up in a few weeks.

#1: Banana, clove, corriander, peppercorns ,spice aromas. Dry, fruity, spice in the back of pallate. Saison-y, lingering finish.
#2: Banana, clove, somewhat muted aromas. Full mouth feel, sweet, pretty clean.
#3: Bit funky, rustic, earthy, hay, fruity aromas. Dry, subtle tartness, Pear, astringent.
#4: Citrusy, fruity,peppery, light on aromas. Harsh/aggressive finish but not undesirable.

I think we certainly have some winners on their own, while some others may work best in blends. I harvested slurry from each batch and plan to play with blending a few together, I am thinking strains 1 and 3 could work well together. If you want to read more, check out Marshall's post on his blog, and Brian recently started a blog and is starting to document his progress. Science!

Update: Brian was able to jack up the temperature on strain #2 to 85F and get it to drop to 1.015. Its possible I waited too long to ramp the temp up, or my mash and ferm temp made for less attenuation. The numbers have since been updated.

Le Quatre Saison

Brew day: 4/25/2014
Packaged/Racked: 5/17/2014

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 15.20 gal
Post Boil Volume: 12.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 12.00 gal 
Bottling Volume: 11.60 gal
Estimated OG: 1.055 SG
Measured OG: 1.056 SG
Measured FG: 1.009/1.020/1.014/1.015
Estimated Color: 4.6 SRM
Estimated IBU: 20.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

70% - 17 lbs - Pilsner 
20% - 4 lbs 13 oz - White Wheat
10% - 2 lbs 7 oz - Munich 10L

Boil: 60min - 0.85 oz Magnum [14.20 %] - 20.0 IBUs

The Yeast Bay Beta Saison - #1, #2, #3, #4

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 153.1 F 

Fly Sparge 10.55 gallons of 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2 per carboy. Filtered Philadelphia Tap water, Baxter Plant, no salt additions.

Notes: Come on, there is more than enough above, and my hands hurt now.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fruit Saisons: We use all parts of the buffalo.

Pouring a lovely glass of FiTR w/Peaches. My neighbors must think I'm nuts.

Over the last 6+ months I have been playing with fruit Saisons more and more, I have been trying to keep all factors consistent with a base beer of Farmer in the Rye with ECY03 Brett addition. I started this by chance because a batch last year stalled when using WLP565 to which I added the Brett then racked onto Mangos. I enjoy that beer but its a bit watery, which I think may be caused by how I pureed the dense Mangos. Most recently ,over the summer, I took on adding fresh NJ Peaches to the same base beer. 

Since posting a little video on Instagram I received some question on my process for adding fruit to these types of beers. My process is pretty simple, using information that I have gathered from some brewing articles and podcasts over the years. Especially info that Jean Van Roy from Cantillon had shared on a podcast on Basic Brewing Radio. 

I like to use fresh, sometimes dried, fruit instead of the canned puréed fruit you see at homebrew shops, although I did purée the fresh Mango. Using the purée is fine but when I've used it as compared to fresh or dry the fruit flavors aren't as bright and vibrant as fresh and even dry can be. Another added benefit is adding some wild yeast living on the skin of the fruit for complexity (unpredictability?). 
Pits not pictured, add them last due to fear of overflow.

I use a ratio of 1-1.5lbs of fruit per gallon of beer aged in secondary, which is a fair amount but we want some fruit flavor/aroma no? When using fresh fruit I wash the outside with warm water to get any chemicals cleaned off, then cut them into ~1 inch cubes leaving the skins on. I then throw everything into a large ziplock bag and toss it into the freezer for a few days. When I say everything I mean everything, skins, pits, stem, all parts of the buffalo, everything (EDIT: see below regarding the use of pits, and the risks of doing so.). By freezing we are breaking down the cell walls in fruit to make it much easier for the Brett/Sacch to break it down for food. It's also beneficial in storing fruit for use out of season, I have used fruit that had been frozen for close to a year. I imagine you can go much longer than that even. 

In the case of the Peaches, which I picked up fresh at a farmers market in South Jersey, I froze them for 5 days, added the fruit (and buffalo parts) into the secondary and racked right on top of the frozen fruit, no need to defrost. I have never done a side by side to test this out but I feel that adding the skin and the pits adds some color and depth of flavor. This beer has a slight nuttiness to it that I think comes from the pits and skin of the Peach, this is a technique JVR uses as well. If it's good enough for Cantillon it's more than good enough for us homebrewers. 

Farmer in the Rye w/Peaches

Appearance: straw yellow, pours with minimal to no head despite moderate carbonation. Head dissipates to a very small almost nonexistent ring on the side

Aroma: Hay, earthy funkiness, peach skins with an overripe peach note. There is a subtle peppery spice aroma hidden there, a very welcoming aroma.

Taste: A dry tartness upfront balanced with a bit of the peach flavors in the middle. There is a soft prickle of carbonation on the tongue but it may be a little bit low on the carbonation level for this beer. In the middle of the mouth there is a subtle biscuit like flavor to me, that fades immediately, its an interesting character. The finish is dry and clean, very refreshing, it makes you want to go in for another sip. This is pretty exceptional if I do say so myself.

Overall: I really enjoy this beer, its dry, slightly tart and very refreshing. I would imagine this would be perfect on a picnic in a park on a nice summer day. Whats most interesting about the beer is the tartness, there is no lacto or souring organism in this beer only Saison yeast and Brett. I would imagine I either caught something from the Peaches or the juice from the Peach left the beer with some acidity. I didn't take a PH of the finished beer but I should have, next bottle I pour I will measure a sample and post an update.

Gun to my head, this is one of the top beers I have ever brewed. The peach is subtle but complimentary, it all comes together resulting in a beautiful farmhouse beer.

EDIT: After posting a link to this article on Reddit I took some flack for the use of the pits from the Peaches, full disclosure only 3 pits made it into 5 gallons of this beer since the carboy was overflowing. There are very small amounts of cyanide within the seeds , which are contained within the stone (pit) of peaches, cherries, apricots, and others in the Prunus family. If you do not mash open the pits and the seeds the risk is minimal if at all, even then you probably did not use enough for there to be concern.

I will link here to a few articles as the chemistry gets a bit over my head. But I wanted to note the risks here, I learned a good deal while doing this research. Am I worried about my beer? No, I'm not, at all actually. If you have drank a Belgian Kriek then you've drank a beer that was aged for a long period on Cherry pits (same deal with Cherries). I just don't want to advise anyone to do something without doing the research. In closing, add the pits at your own risk.



TTB's Limited Ingredients. - Cherry Pits up to 25ppm cyanide is allowed.