Thursday, September 25, 2014

First Tasting: Berlinerweisse

This was my first attempt at brewing the elusive style Berlinerweisse. Fear of producing 5 gallons of vomit is what has kept me from attempting, as well as, the fact that there is no single undisputed way of producing a Berliner. I decided to go a more natural way by using the naturally occurring on the lacto on the grain husk for the souring bacteria; however, I wanted to maintain extra control over a sour mash by souring the wort. 

My ultimate goal was to produce a drinkable sour in a short period of time. I chronicled my issues in my previous post. Basically I had to boil the wort to concentrate the sugars since my gravity was way under my target, mostly due to the fact that the calculator I made was wrong (I was calculating my anticipated original gravity based off of the batch  volume into the carboy, not the final kettle volume. In other words, I was leaving liquid out of the equation.) By boiling the wort for an extended amount of time DMS was not a concern, but it also removed the typical corn flavor from the beer. 

Appearance: Murky orange-yellow with a spritzy white head that quickly fades to a thin lacing. It’s probably a little darker then the style normally would be due to the specialty malt added for the Hefeweizen and the boil time. Lack of head retention is to be expected.

Aroma: There is actually barely any discernable aroma coming from the beer. As it warms up I get a slightly off putting aroma, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Other than that it’s pretty clean. I can kind of smell the Cascade Strawberry dregs that I poured into it when it warms up. 

Flavor: Clean lactic acidity up front with a slight citrus flavor. I get a little hint of acetic acid, but nothing off putting. The acidity is there but it might seem light for some people. I feel its right where it should be as far as the style guide lines go. 

Mouthfeel: Bright carbonation and a lactic acidity upfront with a clean finish. Surprisingly I don’t get much of a sour finish, but I don’t get the grainy finish I normally do from Berliners. I think the body is a little high for a Berliner. I would have liked for it to dry out a little more, but I think it would have taken too long for the Brett-C to finish it out. In the future I would probably add some clean ale yeast to dry it out and add Brett for complexity. 

Overall: I couldn’t be happier with how this beer turned out. There are a few things I would correct for next time but I will definitely be brewing it again. Assuming I can replicate it this might be a great way to produce a quick sour. Next time I’ll probably just brew 10 gallons of this beer without the specialty malt and maybe add fruit to half of the batch. That is of course assuming I don’t end up with 10 gallons of vomit. The best suggestion I can make would be to add CO2 every time you open the beer to take a taste or gravity reading. Theoretically as the pH drops it should be protecting the beer from the bacteria that will produce off flavors, but it’s just an extra precaution that doesn’t hurt anything.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Split Batch: Traditional Hefeweizen

Surprisingly I didn’t actually take a picture of this beer prior to racking into a keg, but honestly, all fermenting beer looks the same in a carboy other than color and if it has a pellicle or not. This is the main portion of the beer that I recently brewed. I wanted to attempt to brew a traditional Hefeweizen, since it’s one of the few styles that I don’t think needs any improvement. In Texas it will still be pretty hot for at least another month so a Hefeweizen felt like a good choice. It was also a good excuse for me to attempt to brew a Berliner, since the grain bill is pretty much the same and it wouldn’t require much extra work, besides cooling and checking acidity. I addressed the risk in my previous post. 

I’ve brewed a few Hefeweizens in the past but I’ve never actually brewed a traditional Hefeweizen in the past that was for me to drink. I’ve brewed a few with my father, without temperature control so they end up being banana bombs, I’ve brewed one and added Citra hops, and I’ve brewed a traditional one for my cousin’s wedding reception using temperature control, but I only had one glass of it. Now it’s time for me to have my own keg. 

I used the same grain bill as I did for my cousin’s beer and the same fermentation schedule. I really liked how that beer turned out so I was attempting to replicate it. The temperature control should keep the banana in check and allow the yeast to produce some more clove aroma to balance it out. 

After brewing this beer I’m really starting to think buying a grain mill would be a good idea. Since I rely on my LHBS to crush my grain my efficiency swings wildly from batch to batch so I don’t have a good way of nailing down a recipe. This beer was no different. I way undershot my gravity. My initial plan was to brew a standard gravity Hefeweizen, rack off three gallons, and top up with water to bring the gravity down to Berliner gravity. However, since I was so far under my efficiency target, I didn’t need to top up at all and had to boil down to reach my target for the Berliner. I was also way under my target starting gravity for the Hefeweizen, but I honestly didn’t care because it was so far under. I sense a grain mill in my fear future. 

Beer Stats
Batch size: 8.5 gallons
Boil time: 135 minutes
Estimated OG: 1.048
Measured OG: 1.040
Measured FG: 1.008
ABV: 3.5%
IBU: 15

Grain Bill
7.75 lbs – Wheat Malt
6 lbs – Pilsner Malt
1 lb – Acid Malt
0.75 lb – Melanoidin Malt

45 min – Hallertauer – 1.75 oz
20 min – Hallertauer – 0.25 oz

Mash Schedule
149oF – Saccrification Rest – 90 minutes added 3 grams each of CaCl and Gypsum


8/24/14 – Brewed by myself along with Berlinerweisse. No starter made to encourage phenol production. Fermentation set at 64oF

8/27/14 - Temperature raised to 67 oF

8/30/14 - Temperature raised to 71 oF

9/3/14 – Beer racked to keg and placed under 14psi at 38oF

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Split Batch: Berlinerweisse

By no means have I brewed every style, but honestly there are some styles I just don’t care for so why should I brew them? My favorite category of beers is easily sours, however, there is one style in that group that I had yet to brew. I have yet to brew a Berlinerweisse, even though a good Berliner, can be very enjoyable and refreshing, especially in the middle of the summer in Texas. Honestly I’ve been afraid of attempting to brew a Berliner. Most people consider American Light Lager (AAL) to be the most difficult style to brew. AAL’s generally are so light and delicate that any flaw will stand out. I consider Berliners to be the most difficult style because of its unusual fermentation process (using Lacto) and because if the beer goes bad it smells like vomit. If you fail at making an AAL it will at least probably be drinkable, whereas, a bad Berliner will be something difficult to remove from your mind and keep yourself from throwing up. The reason that a Berliner becomes something that haunts your dreams is because during souring the beer does not have alcohol to prevent bacteria from producing Butyric Acid. It also needs to be kept at an elevated temperature (~120F), which is perfect for this bacteria. The best defense is lower pH and no Oxygen. 

I’ve done a lot of research on brewing a Berliner and there are 3 basic ways to go about brewing one (there are more variations with in each but 3 basic ways).

1)     Mash normally, bring to a boil, purge with CO2, add pure lacto culture and hold until sour. Finally bring to 180F to kill the lacto and pitch yeast to ferment.
2)     Replace pure lab culture with a lacto starter using the grain (Lacto is naturally occurring on grain husk).
3)     Preform a sour mash. Similar to choice (2), however the grain is tossed into the mash tun after the temperature is lowered to 120F. Once soured the wort is brought to a boil and yeast is pitched. 

I chose to somewhat go with step 2, but do it my own way. I brewed the Berliner as part of a Hefeweizen so I’m not concerned with having to dump 3 gallons if it doesn’t work out, but at least I’ll learn something. 

I began by making a sour starter using the grain. I made a normal 1.5L starter chilled it to 100F, added some grain, purged with CO2, and placed in my hot garage. I left it there for 3 days. When I brewed I took a smell before pouring it into the carboy and it smelled slightly grainy and without any vomit. There was definitely Brett on the grain husk as well. I brewed enough for 8 gallons of Hefeweizen. After mashing out I was under gravity and over volume so I boiled to reduce and concentrate, then I racked 3 gallons off into a corny to chill and rack to a carboy. I didn’t add any ice to my wort chiller so it brought the temperature down to 128F. I didn’t notice this until after I pitched the starter, but it shouldn’t hurt anything. After pitching I purged with CO2, I added 3 mL of Lactic acid in an attempt to lower the pH to 4.5 as was suggested by Chad Chad Yakobson, then I left it in my garage. I didn’t take a pH reading because I need to recalibrate my meter and to be honest I was hungover from the day before and just didn’t care enough. 

The base grains were roughly 50% wheat and 50% malt. No hops were added in an attempt to not throttle the Lacto at all. 

8/24/14 – Brewed by myself with a hefeweizen. 

8/26/14 – A thin pellicle has formed. 

8/28/14 – Grainy aroma and flavor with only a slight tartness. I added some Cascade Strawberry dregs to hopefully give it some super Cascade lacto. 

8/30/14 – The craziest pellicle I have ever seen has formed. The bubbles are larger the softballs.

9/9/14 - More acidic then it was before, definitely smells like Cascade. 

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.