Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Plum Sour

I figured I should make a separate post for this beer since it has had its own journey over time and is no longer the beer I was attempting to make. A little background first: initially this beer was going to be a reddish color Saison that used Fantôme dregs for fermentation but it did not turn out that way. Using Fantôme dregs is always a game of yeast roulette since they use a house culture that varies from season to season and batch to batch. Not too long after fermentation the beer turned sour. I decided to leave it and see what happens. Since this was a 10 gallon batch I didn’t want to just dump it right away and I wasn’t going to be brewing for a while, I had no need for open carboys. 

After a few months each beer took on a very sharp and harsh acidity. I added some Brett that I had to increase the bio diversity and see what happens. One batch cleaned up after 11 months and I added fresh blackberries to it. The second batch took a lot longer to finally turn the corner.  I left it sitting in its original fermentation chamber on the yeast cake for 20 months and it finally turned the corner and the harshness dissipated. At this time I decided that plums would be the fruit that I’m going to add to the second batch. 

I spoke with Garrett Crowell, head brewer at Jester King, about their fruiting process since they have been doing amazing things with their fruited sours, for some advice. The basic process I used is as follows: I washed the plums, cut them into wedges, placed them into a ziplock, put them in the freezer for a few days, removed them in the morning of my transfer day to let them warm up, squeezed them into the carboy and racked the beer on top. When I asked Garrett about their process he said it was pretty much the same thing but no washing. I figured washing my fruit would be a good plan even though it was organic, because you never know who at the grocery store touched them. 

Over the next few months the plums will start a secondary fermentation in the beer and add extra complexity. Over time I will take taste to determine when I think it’s ready to bottle after the gravity has stabilized. This beer has been a long time in the making and I basically gave up on it 8 months ago, but the magic of sour fermentation was not finished yet. 


8/9/14 – Added 7lbs of black plums to the beer. Unfortunately with the plums and the difference in carboy size, I ended up with a gallon leftover that I dumped. I had a lot of trouble getting the plums in the carboy. Last time I used fruit it was added to a better bottle which has a larger opening and blackberries are smaller than plum wedges. I had to use my funnel and racking cane to force the plums into the carboy. 

8/11/14 – Refermentation has begun and the carboy is definitely too full.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

First Tasting: Lethal Interjection IPA

As usual I’m slow to get around to writing reviews of my beers. I’ve been drinking this IPA for a little while now but it’s not old enough for it to suffer in any way. I wrote about the problems I experienced after dry hopping and attempting to rack to a keg. Basically I thought the yeast had crapped out because it was a commercial strain and on its fourth generation with me so for all I know it could have actually been at generation 24 overall. Even though I knew 1.023 was way too high and way under attenuated for this strain (I think it was a little over 54% at the time and it usually reaches 80-85%) I thought I could dry hop. I took two gravity readings over a week period and there was no change, even after I raised the temperature to 73oF. 

When I was prepping to get ready to rack to the keg for dry hopping I noticed a thin pellicle over the top of the beer. Normally it doesn’t bother me when there is Brett in my beers and I accept it as part of the territory when dealing with Brett as often as I do, but this was my only bank of Conan yeast and I didn’t have any cans of Heady Topper lying around. Since I had no idea what strain of Brett it was I was forced to dump the yeast cake. Racking into the keg and dry hopping as usual went well, but the real action happened when I went to rack the off the dry hops. 

It turned out that they yeast in fact had not finished fermenting and by rousing it in the keg I had awoken it. When I opened the keg it began to foam everywhere and sprayed hop matter all over my kitchen. Over the period of a week I would go by every few hours and purge the CO2 from the keg through the release valve. By the time I got to keg it the gravity had dropped to 1.011, which is right where it should have been. I think I didn’t raise the temperature while fermenting soon enough and I may have started it too low in the beginning. Never the less it’s still an enjoyable beer. 

Appearance: Hazy orange-yellow with a creamy white head that lingers and clings to the side of the glass. As the beer warms up the chill haze dissipates but the beer is still slightly cloudy, which is a characteristic of Conan yeast’s low flocculation rate.  

Aroma: I think the aroma is more muted then I would have liked, especially given the total amount of finishing hops I used, but I think I blew a lot of the dry hop aroma out since the beer wasn’t finished fermenting and I had to purge it. Every time I purged the keg I could smell my dry hops going away. What I probably should have done in retrospect is a double dry hop to increase the surface area contact with the hops. The aroma is reminiscent of peaches, mango, berry, a touch of citrus, fresh cut grass and a bit of plastic phenols from the Brett. 

Taste: Conan shines through on the flavor again providing that typical peach flavor along with that elusive blueberry flavor from the Mosaic hops. There is a slightly grassy finish and lingering bitterness along with a touch of plastic from the Brett again. 

Mouthfeel: Again the Conan shines through providing a nice creamy mouthfeel to go with a dry finish and lingering bitterness. The carbonation is medium-high to accentuate the dry finish. I’m actually very happy with the mouthfeel of this beer. 

Overall: I’m very pleased with this beer but disappointed that Brett got into it. I assumed it would since I didn’t do the best job cleaning a carboy that had just finished housing a sour, but I needed to put it somewhere. I’m also disappointed that it didn’t finish fermenting until after I dry hopped it since I lost some of the aroma and it prolonged my ability to keg it and thus I missed entering it into the homebrew store’s competition. At the end of the day I’m very pleased with it and unfortunately with all of the issues I only ended up with around 3.5 gallons.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First Tasting: Blackberry Sour

Generally the notion is that sour/wild ales improve with age. I would say that statement is debatable; they will change but that doesn’t necessarily mean they get better. What is less debatable, however, is that fruited sour ale is better fresh when the fruit is vibrant. I normally like to hold on to my sours for about a year in the bottle for proper conditioning, but with fruit in the beer I’m more inclined to drink it sooner rather than later. 

This was the first time that I’ve added fruit to a beer so it was a learning experience. The process of adding the fruit was fairly simple, but I was careful not to add to much air to the beer while racking it onto the fruit. Prior to racking I purged my carboy with CO2. Other than that the only difficult part was preventing fruit bits from getting into the bottles. 

As previously stated, generally I condition my sours for a year, I do this because I either don’t add any extra yeast or I just add a little extra Brett from a different fermenting batch. Since I wanted a quick turn around after bottling I added a little bit of dry champagne yeast. Champagne yeast is a tactic used to ensure the beer, which has been aging for more than a year, has a viable yeast source for carbonation. The nice thing about champagne yeast is that it imparts a neutral flavor; it can handle higher levels of acidity, and high levels of alcohol.  It definitely worked and carbonated the beer quickly so I will use it again in the future. 

Appearance: Dark mahogany with a touch of ruby red on the edges, topped with a slightly off white head that slowly fades to a thin lacing over the top of the beer. The beer was already red so I’m not sure how much the blackberries added to the color. 

Aroma: My worry with sours is always exposure to air and the production of acetic acid. Luckily there is only a trace of acetic that makes the beer similar to an Oud Bruin. The aroma is dominated by lactic acid and subtle berry notes with even a hint of funk developing. 

Flavor: Right up front the flavor is lactic acid and blackberry. Barely any of the caramel notes from the original beer before it soured remain. On the back end you can pick up some acetic acid but not in an unpleasant way. 

Mouthfeel: Light body with high carbonation and a dry tart finish. The berry flavors come out more on the finish then they do upfront. 

Overall: Very pleased with how this beer came out. Despite the fact the the pH was around 3.2 it does not taste as acidic as you would think. The fruit comes through in a subtle way, which I feel is more traditional Belgian then American sour ale, but depending on my mood sometimes I prefer that. As much as I love American sours, they sometimes can come off as fruit juice, more so, than beer. I still have 5 gallons of this beer that I need to do something to. My plan is to add plums, but first I need to make sure that the beer is still drinkable. If it’s turned too acetic there is no amount of fruit that can save it and I’ll have to dump the batch.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Tasting: Barrel Aged Sour

I’m finally getting around to reviewing my first barrel aged sour. This barrel was a used whiskey barrel from Ranger Creek that I used twice to get two clean ales out of it before I soured it. Both batches came out clean with no signs of infection. I decided at this point it was time to sour it since there couldn’t be too much whiskey or barrel character left. 

My fear with this beer was oxidation and acidification due to the low volume to surface area ratio. With a small volume the rate of oxygen transfusion is much higher than it would be with a larger wine barrel. Theoretically this would mean any beer I’m planning on souring in the barrel should not stay in it a traditional amount of time. I knew this going into the beer but then got busy and lazy and left it in the barrel for 14 months. I gave up on this beer long ago and expected it to have turned into vinegar; however, I was pleasantly surprised when I took a tasting of this beer to find out that it drinkable. There was an acetic acid bite, but this was expected, it was however, lower than I had anticipated. 

Currently I have a different beer that I fermented directly in the barrel. I will have to keep better track of the development of this beer. Since there is acetic acid in the first iteration that means there is acetobactor in the barrel. If it gets too bad I will have to dump it. 

Appearance: It pours a slightly hazy deep orange with traces of yellow and virtually no head. Unfortunately the beer has not fully carbonated. I did add a good amount of priming sugar but I don’t believe I added any extra yeast other than a touch of Brett from a different beer. I did notice that a pellicle had formed in the bottle so there is something still alive in the bottles. Maybe with more time they will carbonate a little more.    

Aroma: Sharp acetic acid right up front with a touch of lemon citric acid and some funk in the back end. This is the first sour that I’ve brewed where I get the funk that you would get from a traditional Belgian Lambic. I was speaking with the head brewer at Jester King, Garrett Crowell, a few weeks ago and he was saying he believes that a funk characteristic of Lambics that is often perceived comes from the aged hops. Brett can obviously produce funk, but there is an underlying almost fruity funkiness that I feel, agreeing with Garrett, might come from the hops. 

Taste: Sharp acidity and vinegary notes with a touch of lemon and a backend of funk. As the beer warms up the vinegar becomes a little overwhelming. Surprisingly there is still barrel character and a hint of whiskey still remaining in the beer.  

Mouthfeel: Just a hint of carbonation and a thin body with a dry lingering sharp astringent finish. There is definitely some oak tannin in this beer. I think the carbonation might have helped on the finish to reduce the astringency and the acetic bite on the end. 

Overall: I can’t say that I’m particularly pleased with this beer, but since it was just an experiment to begin with and I gave up on it a long time ago, I’m not unhappy with it. I would definitely say that if you are using a small barrel don’t keep it in the barrel for an extended period. I would honestly suggest using it as a horney tank for beer inoculation and then transfer the beer from the barrel to a carboy for extended aging.

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Chapter IPA

In my usual fashion of wanting to try new brewing processes every time I brew I came up with a way to modify my IPA process. Most breweries use what is called a “hopback” for hopping their IPAs. Sierra Nevada calls it their torpedo system. There are hopbacks available for homebrewers to purchase but their somewhat expensive. The basic idea behind a hopback is that you run the beer across fresh hops after you have chilled it so that the beer is not extracting bitterness. Breweries usually place their hopback after their heat exchanger. Even if I did have a hopback without a pump it would be hard to use unless my system was gravity fed, which it is not. I want to increase the aroma I get from my IPAs but my options are limited to dry hopping and flame out hops. 

After thinking about it I came up with a way to produce, what I hope is a similar effect of a hopback, without having a hopback. Since I have a rather unique way of chilling my wort (filling a corny keg and using CO2 to push it through a jockey box submerged in an ice bath) I thought, why not have the wort go through only one coil in an ice bath to chill it a little and run the wort into a second corny keg filled with hops instead of straight into a carboy? 

After preforming a 30 minute hop stand in the kettle at flame out I racked the beer into a corny and pushed it through one coil that was in an ice bath and the other that was sitting out in the air and into a corny keg which had a bag of hops in it. The wort was chilled to 105oF. I sealed it and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then I pushed the wort back through my jockey box and chilled it the rest of the way into a carboy. Hopefully this extra step of hopping will increase my aroma or at least give it an extra layer of aroma/flavor. 

The only issue that in encountered while brewing was that my efficiency came way under what it normally does because my mash was too acidic. I definitely added too much acid malt. My calculation said it would end up around 5.2pH but I think once I broke through the buffering capacity of my water it dropped pretty rapidly. I’m hoping there will not be any acidity showing through.

Beer Stats
Batch size: 5.5 gallons
Boil time: 135 minutes
Estimated OG: 1.071
Measured OG: 1.064
Measured FG: 1.012
ABV: 6.5%
IBU: 54

Grain Bill
7lbs Pale Malt
5 lbs Pilsner Malt
1 lb Acid Malt
1.5 lbs Vienna Malt
0.5 lbs Table Sugar

Hop Schedule
40 min – Nugget – 1.75oz – Pellet
30 min - Whirlpool – Galaxy – 1oz – Pellet
30 min - Whirlpool – Citra – 0.5oz - Pellet
30 min - Whirlpool – Mosaic – 1.5oz - Pellet
30 min - Hopback – Galaxy – 1.5oz – Pellet
30 min - Hopback – Mosaic – 0.5oz – Pellet
30 min - Hopback – Citra – 1.5oz – Pellet
30 min - Hopback – Columbus – 0.5oz – Pellet
3 days – Dry Hop – Citra – 1oz – Pellet
3 days – Dry Hop – Mosaic – 1oz – Pellet
3 days – Dry Hop – Galaxy – 1oz – Pellet
3 days – Dry Hop – Columbus – 0.75oz – Pellet

1.5L starter of Conan yeast

Mash Schedule
60 minute Saccrification rest at 150oF, infused 2 gallons of boiling water to bring temperature to 167oF

6/15/14 – Brewed by myself. Mash pH reading was at 4.91, which is 0.3 below where I wanted it. Oddly the boil pH came in at 4.93 at the end, which is where I want it so I’m not really sure. I might need to recalibrate my pH meter. Added 6 grams of gypsum and 3 grams of CaCl to the mash. Ended up with 8.5 gallons of wort so I extended the boil to increase the gravity and lower the volume.

Chilled to 75oF and placed in the chest freezer to bring it down a little bit more. Pitch yeast 6 hours later. Temperature set to 64oF

6/16/14 – Signs of fermentation 18 hours after pitching. 

6/17/14 – Temperature increased to 66oF

6/18/14 – Temperature increased to 68oF

6/21/14 - Temperature increased to 73oF

6/23/14 - Racked to a keg and dry hopped.

6/27/14 - Turns out the yeast had stalled and racking it brought the yeast back into suspension and it has continued fermenting. I will continue to blow off pressure from the keg as often as I can. Easily the biggest mess I've created inside doing brewing stuff.

7/4/14 - Placed back into the chest freezer to cold crash

7/10/14 - Racked to a keg and pressurized to 14psi