Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seanywonton's Brewing Blog is 2 years old!

I was recently looking through some of my old brew logs and came upon my first post, written on January 30th, 2008, and I realized I should probably write a little something special for this blog's second birthday! I'm going to celebrate with a little tasting of some recent beers I've brewed, and also make a special announcement: I've been hired on as a brewer at a soon-to-be-open brewpub called Breakside Brewing, which means I'M GOING TO GET PAID TO BREW BEER!!! The location will be in Northeast Portland. We should be opening in April if all goes well. There are going to be 3 of us brewing our butts off on a 15 gallon Sabco Brewmagic system until the owners can upgrade to a full-size brewhouse, hopefully in the first 6-9 months. I'll be working there part-time, a 2-3 days a week at least, and I might pick up some extra work at another brewery until something becomes a full-time gig.

I'm really excited about this new opportunity. Yes, I would probably prefer to be working on a full-scale brewhouse, but I think we will get there before too long. Plus, I've already been a part of deciding what kind of beers we will have on tap, and designing recipes with the 2 other brewers, Tony and Ben. I don't think I would really get that opportunity for at least a year or two if I was working for a bigger established brewery.

If you are in the Portland area, it would be great if you could come by and support us when we open. I'll announce our opening day on the blog at some point. I'm not sure how this blog will be effected by the shift in my brewing towards the professional side, but I'll probably keep it going with mainly my homebrewing stuff and some occasional stuff about what we do at the brewery.

So to celebrate here's a tasting of 3 recent beers:

Aroma: Caramel, dark fruit, grainy and toasty with a noticeable tobacco note. Characteristic English maltiness with very low esters, yeast is very restrained for an English ale. Hardly noticeable hops - OK for style.
Appearance: Very low carbonation, low to no head, OK for style but maybe I should just pour more vigorously for better head. Great clarity, pretty much crystal clear auburn color appropriate for a dark mild or brown ale.
Flavor: Full maltyness up front, with some moderate sweetness, followed by a toasty, dry, grainy finish. Very low bitterness, ester, and alcohol presence. Very quaffable.
Mouthfeel: Full bodied, low carbonation but some prickly sensation mid-swallow. Might actually be a bit over-carbonated for a mild. Dry, grainy finish.
Overall: A super-sessionable mild ale. I think that it would be more to style if the toasty, grainy flavors were reduced somewhat (maybe taking out the brown malt), and it's slightly above spec in both starting and finishing gravity, which probably make the mouthfeel a bit "big" for style. I'm very happy with the results, although in the future I might adjust the grain bill a bit, potentially playing with adding a traditional brewing syrup. I would also switch to a yeast like Fuller's that kicks off a lot of esters for a little extra aroma and English character. This yeast is too clean.

Aroma: Moderate esters, pear is distinguishable along with a "mystery fruit" quality. Low banana, some spice. Vanilla character from malt. Moderate alcohol is noticeable but well integrated with a grainy finish. Clean, not funky.
Appearance: Crystal clear, light gold with a 3-finger white head that dies down somewhat but sticks around at 1/4 inch (bottle version has more carbonation and longer lasting head). Sticklers might say it's too clear for a saison.
Flavor: Smooth malts with vanilla, grainy and bready, flavors, but very dry. Well integrated bitterness and a grassy, lightly spicy hop flavor mid-palate to finish. Very smooth finish, especially for the fairly high alcohol level.
Mouthfeel: Medium-high carbonation, fuller in mouthfeel than very low F.G. would suggest. Somewhat creamy and smooth, with light warming alcohol.
Overall: I'm really happy with this beer. It reminds me quite a bit of Hennepin in its malt profile and fairly smooth character for a farmhouse ale. There is a similar yeast character somehow. It is so dry, it almost seems like a golden strong ale with a more grainy finish. When this beer was young it seemed to have a rough grainy edge that faded over a couple of months. I think this is just because it's so dry. Possible improvements would be to cut down on the vienna/aromatic malt to avoid the weird grainyness that was unpleasant when the beer was young. Other possibilities could be to use some spicier hop variety in the finish, and optionally raise the IBU's a tad, but not necessarily.

Aroma: Cherry cola-like note from black malt, moderate caramel, bitter chocolate, some alcohol. Light hop aroma, fairly neutral.
Appearance: Black from afar but reddish when held to light, great clarity. Tan head with good resilience.
Flavor: Full flavored maltiness including caramel, dark fruit, grainy/toasty notes, and an excellent bitter chocolate finish. Roast is on the high side for a porter, but within style. Hops have faded since this beer was brewed. It was quite hoppy when young, and there is still a pleasant bitterness in the finish that lingers nicely, but less hop flavor.
Mouthfeel: Medium-low carbonation, creamy with a wonderful roasty bite at the end.
Overall: This is about as stout of a beer you can get and still call it a porter, if you ask me. I really like it, but I'm thinking of reducing the IBU's a bit to emphasize the maltiness and keep it away from stout territory. I kind of like the mouthfeel that the flaked barley gave it but I'm not sure if it's necessary. Another possibility is to leave the recipe alone but just brew it to a lower gravity, and IBU accordingly (i.e. leave all the ingredients the same but make a slightly bigger batch to get it to 1.059 - 1.060)

Here's a parting shot of my current Belgian / sour ales situation. Not bad, eh? The one fermenting in front is a Saison Dupont "clone" that I brewed up yesterday and I'll post about soon. Although I'm not trying to make an exact clone, I'd like to try this side-by-side with a bottle of my favorite beer in the world to see how it measures up.

Cheers, happy brewing, and thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Berliner Weisse- "No-Boil" Method

(Hold the goofy syrups, please.)

Clarissa has been bugging me to make another Berliner Weisse for about 2 years now, since she really liked the last one (if you homebrew a lot it's important to keep your significant other happy, so they don't mind the mess and assortment of brewing gear around the house). Although it was a very nice beer, the last batch was not as sour as I had wanted. I had used the Wyeast 3191 Berliner Weisse blend, which was supposed to be a pre-balanced blend of ale yeast, lactic bacteria, and brett, but most people that used the blend had less sourness in their finished beer than is really proper for the style. I participated in a Berliner Weisse trade and online tasting with other members of the Babbblebelt homebrew forum, and this seemed to be the consensus on the Wyeast 3191. The Wyeast berliner blend is not currently available. It was a limited release and I'm not sure if they plan to re-release it.

I've been tempted to try another Berlinner, but I've been waffling on which technique to use to get it properly sour. The choices were anything from pitching a commercial lactobacillus culture before the ale yeast, to doing a sour mash, or even doing a no boil method where the lactobacillus that malted barley contains is not killed off and survives into the fermentation, producing lactic acid.

I have a sour ale strain going, the same one I used for the Flanders Pale Ale, and I thought this would be a great way to get a lot of brett into the fermentation as well as some bacteria to sour it, but I thought this would not be enough on it's own to produce the proper lactic sourness. The best Berliner of the tasting group, and the most sour, was brewed with the no-boil method. This was what I finally decided on. I thought of doing a sour mash over 24-48 hours, but the risk of getting garbagey, vomitty flavors from butyric acid producing bacteria just didn't sound good.

No-boil (well, really, part of the mash was boiled as a decoction step) is how Berliner Weisse was traditionally made in Germany. The brewing method is radically different from any beer I have ever made before. I have some ideas on how this technique could be used on a commercial system fairly easily, although you could infect your entire brewhouse if you do not sanitize your equipment properly afterwards. I used a simplified version of the old-school double decocted Berliner Weisse technique, which I will give details on in the recipe below. basically the most important point is to not let the grains ever get so hot that you kill off the lactic acid bacteria. I tried to keep everything at or under 160, and also get some extra grain dust into the wort after the mash was done.

Recipe is for 11.75 gallons, all grain diluted with water (see details)
O.G. 1.034 IBU's around 5

6 lb. Great Western Superior Pilsner malt
6 lb. Great Western wheat malt
.5 lb. rice hulls

56 gr. of hops at about 4.5% AA ( I used New Zealand Hallertau pellets & whole Willamette)

Mash: 4.5 gallons water + 3 gr. Calcium Chloride + 3 gr. gypsum
Mash in to 156, rest 45 minutes
After 45 minutes I ran off 5 quarts of mash liquor only, not a grain and liquor mix, to boil with the hops (see picture below).

I boiled this with the hops for 20 minutes. The whole step took about 30 minutes.
Then I added this back to the main mash, which brought it up to 160.

I sparged with 4.5 gallons at 160 degrees. I used my grain bucket, below, to collect the wort. I intentionally left some extra grain dust in the bucket so I could pick up some more lacto.

Here's the wort running off into the grain bucket:

I added the wort into my keggle, which contained 4.5 gallons of pre-boiled water, cooled back down to 140 degrees. This gave me my final volume of 11.75 gallons (4.5 gallons water + 7.25 gallons wort). I mixed this well and took a gravity reading, which came in at 1.034, which means my efficiency on this batch was about 85%.

I ran the wort through the plate chiller and collected 2 carboys full, at 68 degrees. The rest of the remaining wort was boiled and used for a starter for a different beer. Both carboys were aerated by shaking for 2 minutes each, and I pitched about 1/3 cup of slurry per carboy of the Rodenbug blend, which I had used for the Flanders Pale Ale I brewed over a month ago.

I used a heating pad to get the fermentation warmish. The big carboy stuck out fermentation at aobut 70 and the small carboy got up to 74. I will be very interested to see if the smaller, warmer fermented carboy comes out any more sour.

Here are the beers, pre-fermentation, hanging out with my other wild ales. From left to right, that's the batch of Flanders red from over a year ago keg-conditioning, then the 2 carboys of Berliner Weisse, then the brett saison in the orange shirt, and the Flanders Pale ale in back in the tan shirt. It's very exciting to look at these beers right now because both the brett saison and the Flanders Pale are showing visible, slow fermentation. I am trying to be patient and not sample these beers!

Only time will tell how these beers turn out. I hope they will be spectacular!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I gotta say it was a good day: Hoppy Pilsner and Carbonnade Flammande

I did some brewing on Thursday, and some cooking too, and it occurred to me while enjoying some well-earned vittles after the brew session that hey, today was a good day. Just like that classic rap song from 1993, except I guess instead of playing dominoes and not having to use my AK, I just brewed a nice pilsner, and instead of getting the Fatburger at 2 in the morning, I made a fancy beef stew from Belgium. But sentimentally, it was very much the same.

I'm pretty psyched to have finally gotten lager season rolling. I usually get to do at least a couple of lagers each winter, but I got a late start this year since I had a few other yeast strains already in action. I'm planning on doing at least another batch of the smoked helles (pretty much a Schlenkerla Helles clone) and a Baltic Porter with Paul Key.

When I design a recipe, whether it's "to style" or free-style, I like to think a lot about how I want to final beer to taste, smell, and look like. I like to keep a couple of commercial examples in mind if there is anything close to what I am looking to target. For example, if you are talking about German Pilsner, you have anything from Bitburger or Radeberger pils (very light, clean, and somewhat hoppy but pretty much a lawnmower beer), to something pretty radically hoppy and aromatic like Victory Prima Pils. More often than not, there's a huge range within the style to work with. Less so for German beers for sure, but still there's a range. This is why I think it's funny that some brewers make a point to say it's below them to brew to style. It's as if they think you can't make a creative expression if you stick pretty much within a recognized style. If you think about that for more than a second, you realize that's just not true. It's like saying that a cubist or a surrealist isn't really a painter. Not that beer is fine art, or that it has to be taken so seriously, but I guess art works as a good analogy. Maybe a food analogy would work even better: Do all cheeseburgers taste the same? Of course not!

Anyway (end of rant), I wanted my beer to be more on the hoppy, full-flavored end of the spectrum, like Victory, Jever and even Sly Fox Pils. I wanted to really push the hop flavor and bitterness, and have some residual body to counter the bitterness. I had a lot of noble hops still in the mylar package from 2008, and they were smelling great. I didn't adjust the alpha acids down for time on any of the hops still in the mylar.

One issue I had with this recipe is an extremely long time to go from the boil pot through the heat exchanger. I think there was a little too much hop matter and I just had to wait 40 minutes to knock out into the carboy, but when I did, the wort was at a great pitching temperature: 50 degrees. That's the lowest I've ever pitched a lager yeast, which should make for a really clean fermentation.

The Recipe:
7 gallons pre-boil, 5.5 gallons post boil, all grain
O.G. 1.055 F.G. 1.012 ABV 5.7% IBU's 45

9 lb. Weyermann Pils malt
.5 lb. carafoam

13 gr. Hallertau (1 plug) FWH
14 gr. Perle pellets 6.5% 60 min
8 gr. Magnum whole 12% 60 min
56 gr. Czech Saaz pellets 3% 20 min
28 gr. Czech Saaz pellets 3% 0 min
28 gr. Hallertau pellets 4% 0 min

Mash: 4 gallons + 5 gr. gypsum, 2 gr. calcium chloride
152 for 60 minutes
Sparge with 5 gallons at 166
Collect 7 gallons at 1.043 = 84% efficiency

Boil 90 minutes
wyeast nutrient & whirlfloc at 15 minutes

Whirlpool, rest 10 miuntes. Chill to 50 degrees, took 40 minutes to run through heat exchanger! Ground water was run though a copper pre-chiller in an ice water bath.

Collected 5.1 gallons at 1.055, pitched Wyeast 2124 Bohemian lager yeast at 50 degrees.
Fermented at 52 degrees for 12 days.
Pulled into the house on 1/26/10 for a D-rest for 4 days
Pulled back out in the garage to chill to 50 and racked to a keg on 2/2/10

OK, now here are some cooking pics of the Carbonnade Flammande, and this is the recipe that I based it loosely off of. The carrots are not traditional, I just felt like adding some vegetables. I used my flanders red homebrew as the stew base, which is still a little lacking in acidity. After I pulled a sample for cooking, I added some more bugs to the keg to help sour it up, and a couple of bottle of the Belgian Dark Strong to give it a little more maltiness and sugars for the bugs to eat.

The prep...the meat is browned. Use a well marbled meat, unless you like dry stew meat.

Most of the online recipes do not specifically call for Flanders red ale, but it's best to use a sour malty ale. If you can't find that, you can probably fake it with a Belgian Dubbel and a dash of vinegar and sugar.

The end product was excellent. I think it's traditionally served with noodles or pommes frites. I used some leftover garlicky mashed potatoes.

Here's another cooking project that Clarissa and I have been getting into: the no-knead bread technique that is very popular and turns out a great loaf.

Our first loaf, above was made with all bread flour and baked at 500 degrees. It was OK but it was not entirely done when we took it out of the oven. The crust was getting very dark but the inside was a bit moist. So it steamed out the crust and made it a bit chewy, but it was still pretty good.

Here's the second loaf, where we used 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 bread flour. It tasted every bit as awesome as it looks here. We turned our oven temp down to 450 so it had plenty of time to finish cooking before the crust got too dark.