Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hell Camino: Municher Helles

Since I have a stir plate and a temperature controlled chest freezer I finally decide I should brew a lager. I thought a Municher Helles would be a good start. I’ve wanted to brew a lager for a while but have honestly always been a little intimidated by the process. This might sound strange since I have no problem diving right into barrel aging and using bugs, but for those beers I can get away with being lazy and they are my favorite styles. Like most people lagers were the first style of beer I tried and like most people I didn’t really like them. Eventually I moved on to other stuff and had essentially sworn off of lagers, but I think there is a point in every beer nerd’s journey where you go back to where you started. I’ve been gaining a new found appreciation for lagers, which is in part because I can find good, fresh, domestic sources (not BMC, but domestic craft). I have started to revert back to enjoying beers at 5% ABV or below that are easy to drink and complex enough to hold my attention. Lagers fit the bill along with pale ales and session ales. 

In order to brew a good lager you need to have more equipment then the average home brewer (especially if you live in a warm climate). Lager yeast if fermented too warm will start to produce a lot of off flavors, generally DMS, and by warm I mean over 55oF. However, if not fermented correctly they can also produce a lot of diacetyl, which smells like butter popcorn. To prevent this you must perform a diacetyl rest. This involves slowly raising the temperature so is not to cause off flavor and yet keeping the yeast active so that they will clean up any diacetyl. Then they must then be “lagered” or stored at close to freezing temperature for conditioning for extended periods of time, usually 6-8 weeks or more depending on the starting gravity. On top of that if you read anything about brewing a German style lager or a Pilsner you will notice the complex mash schedules that are used. Most people will tell you that you don’t need to conduct a decoction mash for a lager since most malt available to homebrewers is highly modified, but I like a challenge. I decided that if I was going to brew a German style lager then I might as well use a decoction. I did,  however, modify the schedule a little to fit my needs. 

Decoction mashes were created prior to proper temperature control for mashing. So the only way to estimate your temperature increases was to add boiling mash or water, since you knew the temperature of the boiling mash. Another reason was due to the Reinheitsgebot, which prevented you from using acid in the mash, so Germans utilized an acid rest for lowering their mash pH. For my mash I utilized a Hochkurz decoction mash, which I found information from courtesy of Braukaiser, since it gave me what I needed for my beer, without having to go through three decoctions. A Hochkurz mash uses two infusions, one for a protein rest and the other to raise the mash to a maltose rest for beta-amylase conversion. I missed both additions since I was winging two equations to calculate the amount of water I needed so I had to add ice cubes to chill the first addition and then add more boiling water to raise the second addition. For the first decoction you scoop out part of the mash (wort and grain) and slowly bring it to a boil while stirring to prevent scorching. When you add this back into the mash it raises it to your next target, in my case a dextrinization rest, alpha-amylase. The second decoction raises the temperature to your mash temperature and stops any conversion. 

This is a copy of the chart that I used from Braukaiser. Again I over shot my decoction temperatures because I took too much of a decoction from the mash tun since I didn’t have an equation nailed down at the start of my brew day. I thought what I had was good enough, it may have been just been my own calculations. 

The decoctions did certainly add more time to my brew day and I have no idea if it will make any kind of a difference. But what I do know is that I have never had wort that clear during lautering and after flame out then I had with this wort. There was a lot of protein material left in the mash tun and the hot break was quick and easy. We shall see how the finished beer is in a few weeks. 

Batch size
Boil Time: 90 min
Batch Size: 5.25 gallons
Boil Size: 7.5 gallons
Boil Gravity: 1.035
Efficiency: 70% (brew house)

Original Gravity: 1.050
Measured: 1.050
Final Gravity: 1.012
ABV (standard): 5%
IBU: 15
SRM: 5

Grain Bill
8.5 lb - German - Bohemian Pilsner (85%)
0.75 lb - German - Munich Light (7.5%)
0.5 lb - German - Acidulated Malt (5%)
0.25 lb - German - Melanoidin (2.5%)

1 oz - Hallertau Mittelfruh, Type: Pellet, AA: 3.75, Use: Boil for 60 min, IBU: 15.55

1) Infusion, Temp: 131 F, Time: 25 min, Protein Rest (actual 129F)
2) Infusion, Temp: 144 F, Time: 60 min, Maltose Rest (actual 141F)
3) Decoction, Temp: 158 F, Time: 60 min, Dextrinization Rest (actual 155F)
4) Decoction, Temp: 167 F, Time: 20 min, Mash out (actual 169F)

White Labs - German Lager Yeast WLP830
Pitch Rate: 1.5 (M cells / ml / deg P)

3/14/14 – 3.5L starter at 1.040, 2L on the stir plate and 1.5L in a growler that I shook. 

3/16/14 – Brewed by myself with help from John to watch my mash out while I was gone. Added 4 grams of CaCl to up my Calcium levels. Other than mash temperature difficulties a decoction mash was not that hard. I’m actually thinking about starting to perform a protein rest on some of my future mashes if it helps with clarity. I ended with too much wort, probably due to extra added during the decocotion and not adjusting my sparge. I extended the boil by an extra 45 minutes to compensate. Started my 90 minute time at the point my gravity hit 1.035. 

Chilled to 75F and placed carboy in the freezer at 38F to chill overnight and cold crash. Shook to aerate (I really need an O2 system).

3/17/14 – Racked to another carboy and added the yeast. Put back into the chest freezer and set temperature to 48F. 

3/18/14 – Signs of fermentation have started

3/20/14 – Gravity down to 1.031, raised the temperature to 52F

3/22/14 – Gravity down to 1.019, raised the temperature to 56F

3/27/14 - Gravity down to 1.014, raised the temperature 61F

3/30/14 - Cold crash starting at 61F, lowering the temperature 3F every day to avoid shocking the yeast

4/8/14 - Temperature down to 37F for lagering stage

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Yearly Sour/Wild Ale (Second Year)

I’ve been meaning to brew this beer for a few months but I didn’t have any room to ferment it. My options were to brew and then not have the ability to brew anything else for a few months or just wait and brew other things in the meantime. My plan was to brew a sour ale using the same recipe and roughly same technique every year, only fermenting it with different sources, and then blend the batches after three years to create my own gueuze. I’m a few months behind on this batch, but in the long run it will be fine. 

The recipe I use is basically, as I like to call it, a lazy lambic. It’s not a true “lambic” because I don’t live in Belgium, spontaneously ferment, ferment in barrels, or use a turbid mash. Since I’m not preforming a turbid mash I’m not using unmalted wheat, which forces me to mash high to attempt to provide a lot of long chain sugars for the Brett and bacteria to eat over the many months the beer will be fermenting. My goal was to produce something as close as possible to lambic wort without going through all of the time needed. Although a regular infusion mash takes less time and can produce long chain sugars, it will not produce the complexity in the end product like a turbid mash will. 

This was also the first time that I was able to use yeast from East Coast Yeast. I’ve always heard great things about Al’s bug blends but have never been able to use them before. Either I don’t have time to brew when they’re available or when I can brew they are not available. I’m interested to see how it works out. Each blend of yeast that he sells for his bug blends has a high enough cell count to be pitched without a starter, so that’s exactly what I did. 

Batch size: 6 gallons
Boil time: 90 min
OG Est: 1.048
OG measured: 1.050
FG Est: 1.006
SRM: 3o
IBU: 6

Grain Bill
Pilsner Malt – 7lbs
Belgian Wheat – 3.5lbs
Acid Malt – 0.5lbs

Hop Schedule
90min – Willamette – 3.5 oz (aged 3 years)

ECY20 Bug county (no starter made)

Mash Schedule:
Single infusion – 158F – 45minutes

3/7/14 – Brewed by myself. No issues brewing. Acid malt added to lower my pH into a more optimal range. Should be at 5.5pH.  Added 4 grams of gypsum and CaCl to the mash to up my calcium levels. Chilled and placed into the chest freezer to cold crash overnight.

3/8/14 – Racked to a secondary carboy to get the wort off of the cold break and pitched yeast. 

3/10/14 – First signs of fermentation

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

First Tasting: Love Buzz Saison Clone

A few months back I brewed an attempt at a clone of Anchorage Brewing Love Buzz Saison using a recipe from Embrace the Funk that was given in an interview with the brewer Gabe Fletcher.  This was also the first beer I attempted to cork. There was no real reason to cork the beer other then I felt like it. Corks don’t have a substantial advantage over a bottle cap besides cool factor. Their real advantage is probably the ability to hold higher levels of carbonation then a bottle cap. You can cork a beer a few different ways. Cantillon actually uses wine corks and inserts them in the bottle and then caps the bottle. I assume their reason for doing this is because they age their bottles for a year on their side before selling them and the cork prevents the cap from rusting and affecting the beer. The other way, which I used, is using champagne style corks. The corks are not actually champagne corks, but are specific Belgian beer corks, which are a different size (33mm I believe). These corks will provide the traditional “mushroom” top and allow a cage to be placed over and secured to the bottle. Without the cage the cork will be pushed out of the bottle by the carbonation building up during refermentation. The downside to these corks is that you need a special corker to insert them into the bottles. I’ve seen people use other corkers when using Belgian corks but it seems much more difficult. The way a champagne corker works is that it first squeezes the cork to the size of the bottle opening, then in presses the cork into the bottle, however, it stops short of inserting it all the way and leaves half of the cork exposed for the cage. My plan is to attempt to cork all of my wild ales or any beer with Brett in it to avoid bottle bombs. On to the tasting notes
Appearance: It pours a murky, hazy yellow-orange with a thin white head that fades rather quickly and leaves a thin lacing over the top of the beer. The beer is super cloudy though, with time and extra cold conditioning it might clear up a bit. 

Aroma: Fruity with hints of mango, citrus, and orange peel. There is a touch of black pepper and floral notes. Definitely a nice funky background, although a bit phenolic. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Love Buzz but from what I can remember it seems pretty similar. I did use a different yeast strain for secondary fermentation then Gabe. He uses Brett Brux-Trois, while I used C2 from BKyeast, which probably explains some the differences. 

Flavor: Similar to the aroma, bitter orange dominates with subtle citrus notes and a hint of black pepper. There is a small amount of acidity and some horsiness. Just like in the aroma there is a slight phenolic bandaid flavor on the back end. Not too distracting to me but others might think so.  I’m thinking that flavor and aroma might come from the temperature that the beer was aging. I keep it in my beer room which is usually in the mid 70oFs. I try to keep it as cool as I can but there is only so much I can do living in Texas. 

Mouthfeel: Light carbonation with a light body and a slightly dry lingering funky finish. I’m hoping with a little extra time the Brett will eat a little bit more and the carbonation will pick up some more. For my taste and for the style it’s a little low. 

Overall: I think it is very close to Love Buzz Saison. I think the carbonation is a little low but I’m hopeful it will increase a little more with extra time. I would like to try to eliminate the phenolics that I get. I’m assuming that if it’s coming from the yeast that it won’t clean up over time, but you never know with Brett. The only way to change that would be to have a cold room for storage. Maybe some future building will be necessary. Overall I’m very pleased with it and since I can’t buy Anchorage on a regular basis (don’t see that changing anytime soon with our laws), this is the best I can do. Thanks to Embrace the Funk for the interview and Gabe Fletcher for the recipe.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

First Tasting: Yeast Series (Cantillon C2 Black IPA)

It took me a little longer to get this review out because of a few reasons. First, it took longer for the Brett to start fermentation, second it took longer for it to finish fermenting, and third when I kegged it the beer needed more time to condition and clean up. But it’s ready to go now. 

In case you forgot this beer was the same beer brewed for the Conan Black IPA. The only difference was that this version was fermented with a Brettanomyces strain that was isolated from a Cantillon bottle by BKYeast. This particular strain is labeled C2 and was isolated from a 2007 Cantillon Iris. I decided to brew a black IPA because it was a style that I haven’t brewed before and it gave me a chance to try a new technique. I also wanted to brew something hoppy again since my Heady Clone didn’t work out so well and I was determined to adjust my pH to improve the perception of bitterness, as well as, prove to myself that was the problem. I was also curious to see how Conan and Brett would perform in a dark beer. As you might know Conan is only used in Heady Topper (although that has recently changed) and is not offered in anything pale. I wanted to know if its characteristics would change. It is also difficult to find any Brett primary fermentations used in dark beers, outside of Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett St. So I wanted to see how Brett would perform with dark malt. I also wanted to have a side by side comparison on the dramatic influence of yeast on a beer. 

Appearance: Jet black just as the other beer with a thick tan head that lingers and slowly fades to a thin lacing. The beer shows good head retention and stability. Due to the shape of the glass and the color it is difficult to determine any clarity, but from what I remember this yeast is not very flocculent.  

Aroma: The aroma is the first notice that something is different from the other beer. Its little grassier then the Conan version with hints of citrus, grapefruit and a bit of funk. The aroma is not blowing me away but I could attribute that to either under dry hopping or the fact that this Brett strain seems to absorb hop aroma. The last time I used it there was virtually no hop aroma. Or the fact that the yeast might be metabolizing hop esters and converting them into different esters. There is not a lot of Brettanomyces research out there to go on. I also get a little phenolics in the aroma, maybe a little bit of bandaid, not particular off-putting but its there.

Flavor: The flavor is also a big departure from the Conan beer. Whereas, Conan came out clean, slightly bitter with a hint of roastiness, this beer does not have any perceived bitterness, a tough of roasted grains and a more acidic character.  I did not aerate this beer unlike the last time and it still produced acidic acid. I think this strain might just produce higher levels of acid then other strains. Although did have to leave the air lock off during fermentation so that it didn’t built up pressure and blow the air lock off, but I’m not sure how much oxygen diffusion would take place. My other thought is that oxygen could have been introduced during cooling since the wort splashes around a lot with my unique cooling setup. A noticeable difference between my uses of Brett in the past is the amount of barnyard flavors I get from this Brett strain. Normally I don’t get much barnyard from a primary fermentation, but this is an exception.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, dry finish, slight roasty finish and a thin body. You can definitely get a difference of the amount of glycerol produced by the two yeast. Glycerol is a byproduct of yeast fermentation, which aids with the body of the beer. Some yeast produce more the others, Brettanomyces is notorious for not producing a lot and creating thin beers. I would say that this beer is slightly thin, which is why most Brett beers are produced in conjunction with another strain or a higher portion of adjuncts are used to increase the body. 

Overall: It’s a good beer; my worries from when I first kegged it are gone. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to use this particular strain of Brett for future primary fermentation since so far I have not been a big fan of its results, but I can say that I’m a fan of its products when used as a secondary strain. I also think that part of my problem is that I drastically under pitch it. Brett cells are actually about 3 times smaller than ale cells and are even smaller then lager cells, which is why it is harder to clean. The cells are small enough to fit into pours in plastic and do not need a large colony to affect a beer (hence a Brett infection). It is no more difficult to kill then regular yeast, it’s just better at hiding. The smaller cell size though requires a higher cell count for a primary fermentation. Brett also has a longer than normal lag time, which when pitched at lower cell counts, exacerbates the situation. With an extended lag time other competing bacteria are able to add their contributions (often negative) to the beer before the Brett can make the environment toxic to them by lowering the pH and producing alcohol. That could explain some of the acidity that I experience with this yeast. But then again I never experienced it with my other Brett fermentations. Either way between the two beers I’m going to pick the Conan fermented version for this beer.