Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tis the Season To Be Hoppy!

Ah yes, buds on the trees, grass turning green, tulips blooming, lawnmowers, robins, girls in skimpier outfits... wait.. oh right.. HOPS ARE COMING UP! I noticed about a week ago that some small little hop bine fingers were just starting to poke up out of the ground, and since then they've done what hops do... grow FAST. They've been poking up about an inch further a day at this point, much faster than last years first year growth. Last April I planted Cascade and Hallertau rhizomes and got a pretty decent harvest off the Cascades but virtually nothing from the Hallertau. I'm noticing this year however that the Hallertau is rocking at a pretty steady clip with multiple bines popping up as opposed to last years one. Cascades are abundant as expected after last seasons 27 feet of vertical growth, they're looking great.
Today I got some new rhizomes from Jim at Liberty Street Brewing Co. and immediately took them home and dug a new area to plant them. I figured the sooner the better since the others are already so big. He gave me 2 Tettnanger and 2 Nugget rhizomes that looked like small trees. The ones I bought last year were just little 5 inch long twigs with one or two shoots on them, and by comparison Jim's are ridiculous. Apparently they were recently cut from 15 year old crowns and looked prehistoric. I ended up planting these in an area on the northeast corner of my house where I will run twine up to the roof for them to crawl up. I figured my wife would be furious about the location but was pleasantly surprised when she was only a little upset. =D These already have some pretty good shoots on them so I planted them with a bit of these popping up above the surface, they should catch up to my second years pretty quickly.
As you can probably tell I get pretty excited about my hops and felt their emergence warranted a blog post complete with the hipstamatic-ish photos and all. I'll post more pics later in the year when they are starting to get those glorious cones. Thank you to Jim for the new specimens for my collection, much appreciated! I can't wait to brew another homegrown IPA, (hopefully a bit more IPAish this time around) with these new varieties, also to see them climb up to my roof from my rose garden. God I love summer!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Belgian Singel: The Session Beer of the Trappist Order

So it's that time of year again when homebrew competitions start popping up all around us. My brewing goes from a drinking beer, grilling meat wrapped in bacon, tossing hops into the kettle every so often, to a lab coat and clipboard type of operation and this brew session was no exception. Speaking of "session", that's exactly what this beer is all about. The competition is for a session beer, under 5.0% ABV, a daily drinker if you will. The perfect set out to mow the lawn beer in hand brew, and this one from the minds of some of the greatest brewers on the planet, the Trappist Monks of Belgian monasteries. We're all familiar with the Belgian Dubbel, Trippel, and even Quad, but there's not much buzz out there about the Singel, or Enkel. This is a relatively small beer brewed by the monks for personal consumption within the Abbey, that they can drink on at lunch or dinner and return to prayer or other activity without the inebriation.
So I set out to construct a perfect clone of this "Fathers Beer", and I now believe I've done a pretty damn good job.

For my mash, since this is a small beer, I mashed at 158F for 45 minutes after a 15 minute protein rest at 130F. I really need to build the body of this beer since there isn't much of a grain bill
to work with. While mashing I set out all of my
boil additions to be ready when needed. I went
with .75oz Challenger hops at 60min, and 2 smaller Saaz additions at the end of the boil, plus yeast energizer, nutrient, and moss flocculant.

So I get my fresh wort into the brew kettle and fire it up to a boil, but right around 200F, the hotbreak started getting pretty heavy and created a bit of protein foam on the surface of the liquid. Since this is going to be a very fast turn around beer, about 20 days from boil to bottle, I wanted to help the clearing process along as much as possible so I went ahead and skimmed the foam off the top and discarded it. I'm not sure how much this will actually help but I figured it was worth a shot.
After my boil I created a dual purpose for my grill, grilling meat obviously, but also as a perfect elevated surface for me to use as a make-shift tier system for draining my wort into the ale pail. This worked out perfectly and as a technique will definitely be employed again on future brews. I do in fact plan on building a brewing platform eventually though, a nice 3 tiered system with a recirculating pump setup (awesome). I'm so happy warmer weather is here so I can do every step of my brew sessions outdoors again.
Obviously so are creatures like this little fly, who really enjoyed slurping around my kettle for splashed wort, braving the jet engine like flame from my 20lb burner just for a taste of that sweet nectar.
I ended up hitting my target gravity of 1.042 and as always, was excited as if it was the first time all over again. Something about all of these different elements and procedures coming together and delivering the perfect final result you sought after makes me giddy like a school girl... ok not quite but I was very pleased. I swirled the heck out of the wort and splashed it around like a hurricane on high seas in order to aerate sufficiently and pitched one vial of White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale Yeast.
Now we wait... we wait about 14 days and I will check it for a collapsed krausen. Should I find that to be the case, I've considered adding plain gelatin at this point to further clarify the beer, let it sit another week and then bottle for competition entry. I can't wait to drink these myself either. If the wort was any indication of how this is going to taste... well, good luck to everyone else who goes toe to toe with this one. I'm looking for Best of Show ;)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wild... Captured!

I recently posted about my experiment in capturing wild yeast for brewing purposes. Well, after only a week I have a REALLY nice colony of yeast going in a 200 mL starter. I combined the yeast samples from all three jars into a new sterile jar with a new, higher gravity wort. This afternoon I looked at it to check progress and was happy to see a nice little krausen forming on the top, bubbling away, smelling deliciously wild. I decided to taste it and was excited instantly for the beer I will be able to produce with this. It's tart, with a slight coffee flavor and an abundance of wild feel to it. Now I'm just going to let this guy do it's thing a bit longer and then throw it in the fridge until brewday. Stay tuned.

Homegrown 90 Minute IPA - Tasting Notes

Well, considering I usually invest anywhere from 3-12 months into a batch of beer, this beauty had a pretty quick turn around. If I remember correctly, something like 14 days primary and 7 days secondary on dry hops. I just bottled one week ago today, so I wasn't expecting full carbonation but I was anxious to taste this. I cracked one open a few minutes ago and was very pleased with the finished (except for minimal carbonation) product. Here are the findings:

Appearance - SRM 17-20, A LOT-LOT darker than the 7.2 BeerSmith predicted.

Smell - Citrus, floral, heavy Munich producing some thick malt aromas. Cascade dry hop coming through lighter than anticipated, however, certainly noticed.

Taste - Bitter, floral, citrus, malt, coffee, in that order.

Mouthfeel - Creamy and malty but not cloying, carapils/dextrine showing through heavily here.

Overall Drinkability - Incredibly smooth for an IPA, definite session beer.

Serving type: Pint glass

Overall I'm very pleased with this and can't wait until September/October for my second season Cascades to brew this one again!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Capturing the Wild

I've recently really started taking a liking to the sour beers and am fascinated by wild fermentation. I brewed a ridiculous sour on Feb 27th and have watched week by week as the pellicle grows and looks more disgustingly beautiful, this is going to be a great beer. I've danced around the idea of doing another sour and in traditional style doing an actual wild fermentation, allowing my wort to sit in open air outdoors and allow fermentation to proceed naturally and wildly. With this method there are so many variables and uncertainties that could lead to a wasted batch I've decided to do the next best thing.

I made a small wort of around 1.022 SG, and divided it up among three sterilized quart sized mason jars simply covered with one layer of cheese cloth, and sat them outside. I kept the gravity way low because I didn't want to encourage other bugs to take up residence in my gatherers, so nothing above 1.030 would have been ideal. After a couple weeks of sitting out open to the outside air I can assume that some wild strain of Southeast Michigan beastly yeasties will have settled in the jars and began active fermentation on the sweet wort. I can also assume that I will probably capture some unwanted bacterial strains that may or may not be desirable. For this situation, to play it "safe" or "safer", I will decant the wort down to the layer of yeast that will eventually settle to the bottom, combine the three jars reduced contents to one, pitch new wort, and let a new stronger colony of my wild yeast take over. This should give me a fantastic starter for a nice crisp summer sour that is destined to be brewed in the coming weeks. I guess this would be my first post on that beer, check back in the future for updates.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bourbon Oaked Raspberry Porter

I went back and forth on this beer for a couple weeks on exactly what it was going to be. It started out that I was just going to brew a nice simple porter, but anyone who knows me and my brewing style would know that idea was short lived. I then decided that I would clone Maui Brewing Co. Coconut Porter, with a secondary on toasted coconut. Meh.. I will eventually do that one day but I wanted to go a bit further with it. I was at my LHBS pulling grains for a porter and walked down the accessories isle. I saw the oak chips, I saw the can of Oregon brand raspberry puree, I saw a lightbulb turn on in the air a few inches above my head Saturday morning cartoon style. Done and done, I had my idea.

The Recipe:

7 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (3.0 SRM)

2 lbs Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)

1 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM)

8.0 oz Black (Patent) Malt (500.0 SRM)

1.00 oz Fuggles [4.50%] (60 min)

1.00 oz Fuggles [4.50%] (30 min)

3.00 lb Raspberry Puree (Secondary 8.0 weeks)

4.00 oz Oak Chips (Bourbon Soaked) (Secondary 7.0 days)

1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001)

Beer Smith has a funny way of showing times on additions. Obviously I'm adding the hops at 60 and at 30 in the boil, but the raspberry will be added at the start of secondary and will remain for 8 weeks, with 7 days left I will add the oak chips. Glad I could clear that up.

While I was mashing I decided it would be a PERFECT time to fry up some super fresh smelt I had picked up that morning from my local premiere fish market.
Wow, they were delicious and really hit the spot. Right right, back to the beer. After my mash I took my first runnings and was very pleased with the color and flavor. I continued with the sparge and boiled as usually for 60 adding fuggles at first sign of boilage and again at 30. I could have boosted the bitterness, and actually intended on it by adding goldings at 60 and fuggles at 30/15, but I omitted the goldings at the last minute to avoid too much of a contrast between the flavors I am adding and bitterness.
After my boil I cooled this thing down to 72F and pulled a sample for hydrometer testing. I was very pleased when I took this reading. 1.064 adjusted for temp. This means that I achieved between 80-90% brewhouse efficiency, a personal best that I figured was unobtainable with a cooler mash tun. Awesome.

So the porter is bubbling away in primary for 3 weeks before being racked onto the raspberry puree in secondary, and then another 7 weeks to clear up before adding medium toast french oak chips that I've soaked in Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon. This is going to be one hell of a beer, and I for one can't wait to give it a taste.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homegrown 90 Minute IPA

Last spring I decided I was going to plant some hop rhizomes in the back yard and let them climb and wrap around my deck awning. I selected the 2 varieties that I use most in brewing which at the time was Hallertau and Cascade. Well, I quickly learned that the noble Hallertau is in fact not so noble in it's first season in southern Michigan. It grew a mere 4 feet tall and produced one hop cone! Now, my Cascades (yes I capitalize hop varieties) on the other hand... wow, they grew just over 17 feet long and produced hundreds, maybe even in the low thousands of cones. I thought I wasn't going to have a decent harvest first year but dry weight ended up being just under 6oz, plenty for a 5 gallon IPA.

I decided on a recipe that I felt would work really well for a 90 minute using Maris Otter as my base malt to give it that perfect mouthfeel. My entire grain bill looked something like this:

10lbs Maris Otter
2lbs Munich Malt
1lbs Cara-Pils

I mashed for 60 minutes at 155 and tossed 1oz of hops in with the mash. I heard of good results doing this so I figured I'd try it for myself. I tasted the first runnings and there was a definite hoppy quality to the wort that was noticeable.
After I hopped the mash I felt I should just keep going with this and hop every step of the way, so I tossed about 1/2oz into the sparge water as I was bringing it up to temp. It ended up sitting at 168 for 30 minutes which infused even more hop goodness into the process.

You can see me collecting the first runnings for vorlauf, already running pretty clear. This sweet, sweet beer nectar tasted so good infused with my homegrown cascades, I knew I wanted to do something more with this batch, something to set it apart from other IPA's I've brewed in the past. I got an idea from a likely place.
I started thinking about DogFishHead 90 Minute IPA and how they are continuously hopped. I don't have any way to continuously hop except of course to stand there and add them myself by hand. Well, this is exactly what I did. I sat there with a stop watch and for 90 minutes threw one hop cone into the brew kettle every 30 seconds. It was cold outside, so I had to sit in the brew steam to stay warm for the duration of the boil, but it smelled great so I didn't mind. One hop at a time.. lol. I am really looking forward to enjoying one of these this spring while sitting out back and watching the new cascade vines turning into powerhouses of alpha acids!
After the boil I brought it in and ran the wort chiller through it for about 15 minutes to get down to 70ish, and decided to pitch even more hops at this stage, that eventually did make their way into the primary. I ended up on the low side of my target gravity but it shouldn't matter too much, we're only talking like 1/2% ABV.
So this is in fact a single hop beer, but cascades are so complex I feel like it's going to work out just fine. For yeast I went with a yeast cake preserved from a recent batch of my house pale ale of Wyeast 1056 American Ale. The airlock is cranking away and the smell coming from it smells of pure hop oils. I'll give this one about 10 days in the primary and move to secondary to get it off the old hops and yeast cake, and also to dry hop 5 days with the remaining 1oz (approx) of my first year homegrown cascades.

Making your own beer is great, having knowledge of the different malts and hops to design your own beers is better, and growing your own ingredients on top of that... absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Carrot Beer: Disgusting.

A picture is worth 1000 words. Ha! Yeah so the carrot beer was a complete failure. Rarely do I actually pour booze down the drain, but that's really the only place fit for a disaster such as this. I bet someone attempted carrot beer before, and there's a reason it never caught on, it taste terrible. Beery, yeasty, dry carrot flavor, hot with fresh alcohol. Ugh.. I've gotta stop here, it's making me sick to relive.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Releasing the Légion!

Well Today has been 14 days in primary for my legendary (in my own mind at least) Je Suis Légion Soured Saison. I had to pitch my Belgian sour mix before there wasn't anything left in solution for the brett to work on, so today was the day. I went and got my 5 gallon glass carboy and filled it with iodophor solution, and the ale pail full of this sweet nectar, and while enjoying a glass of my house pale ale prepared everything for the big inoculation. I cracked open the ale pail and took a deep smell of the beer. Wow. It smelled tart, a little horsey, a hint of caramel baked bread. Looking down into the fermentor it looked pretty dark, but I know from experience that this view is deceiving. Once I started racking and saw the color in the racking cane I was really impressed. Beer in a glass is generally about 25% darker than what you see in a racking cane, but look at how straw yellow I was able to get this. That is the exact color I was going for at about 6 SRM.
I can't wait to see what this is going to look like in a glass. In the image above you see my glass of House Pale on the right. Beer Smith predicted 7 SRM on that and it looks more like a 10-12 to me, so I hope this one stays this brightness and clarity in order to keep true to the design.
I had taken 2 vials of my White Labs Belgian Sour Mix out of the fridge earlier in
the day and left them out to warm up. When I cracked these things open, omg... the smell can ONLY be described as the dirtiest of diapers mixed with rotten feet. They were so effervescent that the first one got on my hand, ugh, and the other took over 5 minutes to finally open all the way without a blowout.
I poured them both into the carboy with the Saison and swirled it around slightly as to not oxidize my beer. I wanted to gradually bring this thing up to 95 degrees over the next few days to really give the bugs a boost, and not having any fancy equipment capable of doing this I figured I would wrap the carboy in a flannel jacket, sit it next to a heat vent, every day covering more of the vent with the jacket to trap the heat under there. The heat from this vent comes out at 115F, I should be able to get it up near 95F with the jacket completely covering the vent (I hope). So that's where we're at with this one, over the next week or 2 I'll be looking for new airlock activity and development of a pellicle on the surface. When I see these signs I'll post again to document timeline of development. Stay tuned, this one is going to be great!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Apple Cyser + Brettanomyces and Malolactic Bacteria

Pellicle [ˈpɛlɪkəl] n - a growth on the surface of a liquid culture.

You may have thought initially that I was showing you an image of some distant planet, why would I do that? Planets don;t have anything to do with brewing. What you are looking at is a view down the neck of a carboy at a thin start to a layer of pellicle on a cyser I brewed last Halloween.
It's kind of a tradition now that every Halloween I whip up a German Apfelwein or some variation of apple wine. This year I went a little differently in that I boiled 5 gallons of apple juice with 1lb of crystal 20L and 10lbs of honey. I used a safale us-05 yeast and it has been done fermenting for several months and is crystal clear, I could have bottled it, but I didn't. One night I was sitting here drinking a Bretted beer and looked at the thick brett dregs at the bottom of the bottle and decided to crack that carboy of cyser and pour it right in there. That's exactly what I did, plus 1lb dextrose to kickstart fermentation #2. I then thought of something else I could do to make this stuff very unique, I added a vial of malolactic bacteria. Malolatic fermentation converts the tart malic acid to the soft buttery flavored lactic acid. So I've got a tart apple cyser, that I'm souring a bit with brett, and then taking the tartness away and replacing it with a softer mouthfeel. Now this thing has to set many, many more months (at least 6) to allow malolactic conversion and the brettanomyces to make its presence known. Looking forward to this one... Stay tuned.

Oh Carrots! quick update

So after a week of my basement smelling like sulfur it would appear that fermentation is nearly complete in both the wine and the beer. For awhile there I was getting what looked like a nonstop flow of co2 coming from the wine carboy, picture an airstone in there. I was constantly having to add more fluid to the airlock, it was nuts. The beer didn't get like that at all, at best I was getting a bubble every 10 seconds.
You can see the carrot wine is layered up pretty good right now, yeast starting to settle to the bottom, murky must/wine in the middle, and a cake of carrot pulp and raisins still floating at the top, but starting to settle.

Airlock activity has ceased in both fermentors and now I'll just let them settle. The yeast will continue to consume lingering sugars until they produce enough alcohol that it finally overwhelms them and they die off. I am so anxious to taste this stuff, as soon as it clears up enough to rack off the lees I am going to try it. I can't imagine what carrot juice would taste like completely dry and hot with fresh alcohol, but I intend on finding out very shortly. I haven't even tasted the beer yet but I know I'm not going to like it. In retrospect I realized I should have done it very differently and am planning on doing another batch with the new idea. I mean who knows, this one could be ok I just feel like I should mash some 2-row and crystal 20L, add carrot juice to bring my gravity up to about 1.058, and proceed with a 60min boil as usual. There was no boil with this batch, no grains, nothing for body, nothing in the process worth calling it a beer other than it's hopped and fermented with beer yeast. We shall see.... we shall see indeed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

To the Extreme - Je suis Légion

The brew crew and I get together once a month and drink beer, eat grilled meat, talk about women, play cards, and last but never least, brew beer. Well this past get together was at my house and I was originally considering doing an all-grain Black IPA, perhaps even an Imperial Black IPA. When working out my grain bill for the batch I was noticing it's pretty straightforward, I don't like straightforward. I ended up scraping the idea and starting over with something a bit more unusual, just a tad bit epic. I decided to build a French Saison, no spices just straight grain, and then as soon as primary fermentation was complete on the Saison, pitching a legion of Belgian resident nasties to sour this thing to the extreme.

I came up with this:

10 lbs Pilsner (2 Row) Belgian
2 lbs Munich Malt
2 lbs Wheat Malt, Belgian
4.0 oz Acid Malt
1 lb Candi Sugar, Clear
1.00 oz Strisslespalt [4.00%] (60 min)
8.00 oz Malto-Dextrine (Primary 2.0 weeks)
1 Pkgs French Saison (Wyeast Labs #3711)
1 Pkgs Belgian Sour Mix (White Labs #WLP655) [Add to Secondary]

So basically I am just brewing a French barnyard ale, which will have a bit of funk to it on
it's own, and then after primary fermentation is complete, I will add a half pound malto-dextrine and pitch the Sour Mix. The Sour Mix consists of three bugs I'm interested in, Brettanomyces and the bacterial strains Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. These are the nasty critters that turn a Belgian Ale into a sour lambic style. Epic.

Je Suis Légion, I Am Legion in French. French for the style of beer, a saison, legion for the legion of yeast, bacteria, and other nasty critters that are going to corrupt this beers soul and blacken its heart, taking it from a young and innocent little pale ale, to a gorgeous french barnyard whore. (How do you like that?)
As if that wasn't enough I then took this recipe to the next level and decided to restart yet another, third fermentation by adding fruit to the secondary 4 weeks into it, fruit type TBD, but I'm leaning heavily toward cherry. I picture in my mind a beer that is so crisp, so pale, so relentlessly sour, so heavily scented of barnyard funk, sweet pears, citrus, and whatever fruit I add, as to be legendary.

Yes, if December 2012 in fact does bring about the apocalypse, I take solace in the fact that I will spend my last summer on earth next year drinking the greatest beer I could have ever produced... quite possibly the best beer on earth. This one is worth following to the end. I'm planning on bottling this in caged and corked champagne bottles with an additional blast of Brettanomyces for bottle conditioning. That will be 4 fermentation stages. Completely epic.

Oh Carrots! cont...

So it took roughly 40 hours for either one of these things to show any signs of fermentation. What was kind of interesting is that they both have different gravity, different ingredients, and different yeast, yet they both started to show signs within about 1 hour of each other. The Killer K1 yeast has pushed up all of the trub to the top of the carboy to form a giant cake of raisins and carrot pulp that looks like some botched attempt at a carrot cake.

The airlock is bubbling away and there is a slight carroty/sulphury smell. The carrot beer is actually doing what you may expect. The Danstar Munich is treating the carrot juice the same as sweet grain wort and has formed a nasty thick brown krausen and smells a bit like brownies mixed with ammonia.

Now I just sit and wait about a month or however long it takes the trub to settle in the beer and it to clear up. I've never added isinglass to a beer before but this one may be a candidate, we shall see. The wine will have to sit well over 9 months, more likely 15-16 months to clear up enough for bottling. Unless something drastic happens, this should be the last update on the carrot experiment until the beer is ready to bottle, at which point I will taste, and describe. I know carrot wine has been done before after a google search, but beer? Well, it's been talked about, but this may be a first. It may be the next big thing, who knows. Check back in the future to find out the results. Thanks for checking it out!

Oh Carrots!

So the other day I got the idea to buy a massive quantity of carrots, run them through the juicer, and ferment it out in a couple of different ways to observe the results.
I went out and got 30lbs of carrots.. LOL! Yeah, 30lbs of carrots through the juicer 2 or 3 at a time.
I ended up getting 2.75 gallons of juice from the carrots. I strained half of what I added to the carboy to reduce the trub. Often I juice carrots to just drink and not ferment, and there is A LOT of pulp you can see separate if it sits long enough
. I wanted to filter some of that out to start so 2 3/4 gallons of juice with half the particulates was pretty sweet.

It took over an hour to push all these things through the juicer, and while I was doing it I was thinking up some ideas for fermentation. I decided I'd do a carrot wine, which I'm reasonably sure will be delicious, and a carrot beer, which I am completely unsure about. I figured I'd do 4 gallons of wine and 1 gallon of beer, seeing as how the wine is kind of a certain success
and the beer could be a miserable failure.

After adding water my gravity was way low, like 1.030 low. I added dextrose til I hit 1.060 and pulled off a gallon for beer, and then added more dextrose to the 4 gallon batch to hit 1.090 for the wine. For the wine I figured I'd add 1lb of chopped up raisins, 1/4 cup lemon juice, campden tablets, wait 24 hours and pitch Lalvin k1-v1116. I call K1 "Killer K", this stuff is brutal in its strength and resilience and can do just about anything, which is why I chose it for this carrot batch. For the beer I added 1/4oz French Strisslespalt hops, 2oz Malto-Dextrine, and pitched Danstar Munich. I was hoping for some fruity phenols to compliment the carrot flavor.
Update to come after campden dissipates and I pitch yeasts. I'm anxious to see how these things look and smell a few days into a good fermentation. I imagine the krausen on the carrot beer would be pretty hefty, especially considering I'm using a wheat yeast. Stay tuned...