Friday, May 21, 2010

Belgian Ale with lemon verbena, yarrow, and grains of paradise

Herbs from top, clockwise: Lemon Verbena, yarrow, grains of paradise.

I picked up a lemon verbena plant from the farmers market recently, and its incredibly perfumey, lemon-oil aroma (Paul calls it baby wipes, but we'll have on disagree on that) had me inspired to try it out in a beer. I have only seen one lemon verbena reference in brewing, made by Ron Jeffries in his blond recipe in Brew Like a Monk. Actually I was thinking that a light pilsner base Belgian ale of not too high gravity would be the perfect base beer for this herb, and maybe I was thinking back to that recipe when I came up with my recipe idea. I also think it's a great idea for a beer to have during the supposedly warm months coming up, although I am starting to wonder if they will ever actually come...

I don't use spices or herbs much in my beers. I tend to really enjoy playing with malt, hops, and different yeast strains, sometimes bacteria and brett too, and I get a little scared of brewing failure when it comes to using other culinary spices. But I have become a much better brewer since my first over-spiced hombrew attempts, so I think I have a better chance of brewing a well-balanced spiced beer than ever before. What I tried to do was keep the spice additions low, and use complimentary spices. The lemon verbena has a high fruity note, so I looked for spices that would hit on some other flavors. I had some wonderful smelling grains of paradise that also have a lemony note, but also a spicy kick that could add a nice finish. And I had some yarrow, this is still the same yarrow that I picked at Brewery Ommegang 3 summers ago and dried for brewing use. It has been kept frozen all that time and smelled pretty much exactly the same as when I dried it: Tea-like, bitter and herbal, with also a funky slightly medicinal note.

I made individual teas of all these botanicals to get a feel for how much to add, and I kept the additions really restrained, at least I think I did, we'll see. I would highly recommend making some spice, herb, or even hop teas next time you are planning a brew to get to know your ingredients better. It can be really enlightening.

Here's the recipe, whose name comes from some funky Mambo music that came on while I was weighing out the grains.

Mambo-Mambo: Spiced Belgian Spring/Summer Ale
Recipe is for 7.1 gallons pre-boil, 5.7 gallons post-boil, all grain
O.G. 1.055 F.G. 1.011 IBU's 21 ABV 5.8%

8.5 lb. Weyermann Pils malt
.5 lb. carafoam malt
.5 lb. turbinado sugar

17 gr. Sterling pellets 7% 60 minutes
14 gr. Sterling pellets 7% 10 minutes
2 gr. grains of paradise, crushed in mortar & pestle, 0 min
2 gr. fresh lemon verbena, finely sliced, 0 min
3 gr. yarrow leaves, dried, 0 min

Mash 4 gallons H20 + 4 gr. calcium chloride + 4 gr. gypsum
Mash at about 150 for 60 minutes, then raise to 160 over 10 minutes.
Sparge with 5 gallons at 170

Collect 7.1 gallons @ 1.041 = 88% efficiency
Boil 90 minutes with sugar at beginning of boil
Wyeast nutrient & whirlfloc at 10 minutes
Spices added at flame out, with a 10 minute rest while hooking up plate chiller
Chilled to 70 and pitched a starter of Wyeast 3787 "Trappist High Gravity" (Westmalle)
Fermentation peaked at 74 at 24 hours. kept at 70 degrees after that.
Racked to keg on 6/6/10. Flavor was good, still a bit sulfury, but I think that will go away in the next week. The most dominant herb is the yarrow, which is funny because it's 1/2 the amount I used in the last batch. The lemon verbena is subtle but there. Should be interesting to see how the flavor develops in the coming weeks/months.

Oh yeah, this yeast really is a rambunctious top-cropper. I didn't use a blow off tube at first and ended up with an incredible mess! I really want to use this yeast more, I have a feeling I will like it a lot more than the "Chimay" strain.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saison Dupont vs. THE "CLONE"

(I apologize for the crappy photo. Clarissa has her camera with her in Barcelona and all I have is my 4 year old Nokia cell phone!)

It's a beautiful sunny spring day, and I just finished working a 3-day streak. Spent Sunday washing kegs for Alameda, Monday hand-bottling 8 cases of Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA with a counter pressure filler, and Tuesday helping bottle 250 or so cases of Cascade Brewing's "The Vine", a blond sour ale aged on white grapes in wine barrels.

Today I have nothing important to do. So far I've spent it buying plants for the garden, looking at free stuff on Craigslist, and playing with the cat outside. The garden supply store was right next to Belmont Station so I decided to stop in a buy and bottle of Dupont, and finally get this side by side tasting out of the way.

Before I get in to this, I can say clearly that this is NOT CLONED! That's obvious just from memory. But how do these 2 beers measure up side by side? What are the differences and how could I get my beer closer to the real thing? Is there any chance that my beer is even 90% as good (even if different) from the benchmark hoppy saison that made me fall in love with the style? Well, let's see.

Here is my "clone" recipe for reference, which I will call "566" after the yeast I used, since it's not really a clone:

Dupont: A very light gold with just a hint of red, fairly clear. Great head on the pour, great lacing, recedes to a 1/4 inch foam stand.
566: A light straw color, with decent clarity, just a bit lighter than Dupont. Great head on the pour, decent lacing, foam recedes to 1/4 inch frothy and even.

Dupont: Very potent funky, somewhat light skunked beery aroma literally jumping out of the glass. Bubblegum, vanilla, light clove, and spice are all there. Some light boozyness adds complexity. Wow, the aroma of this beer almost knocks my beer off the table, I might have to step away to get a good whiff of mine!
566: Light grainy aroma, pepper phenols, and grassy hops. some alcohol for complexity and a much mellower ester profile. Very, very light "funk", nothing near Dupont.

Dupont: Some light grainy sweetness up front, with some bubblegum esters, spice from phenols combined with hops, and a long, lingering bitterness and fairly mellow hop flavor. The bitterness really sticks around. Actually it almost makes that little punching-bag shaped thing in the back of my throat hurt! Moderate alcohol in finish with some warming character, but clean, not solventy.
566: Fairly clean, pils malt character that along with the hops, comes off as very grassy. Light funky flavor, some clove and a lot of pepper phenols. A dry, fairly grainy finish. Nice hoppy flavor, but not as bitter and with more hop flavor than Dupont. Clean with a slightly tart finish and moderate warming alcohols, not solventy.

Dupont: Very dry but full-bodied from what I call "mouth expanding" levels of carbonation, where the carbonation literally expands the beer as it hits your tongue. Somewhat creamy in texture, or maybe silky is a better word. Slight tartness at finish with a very present bitter hoppy bite that lingers around the palate.
566: Very dry, very close to the carbonation level of Dupont, I'd say I got that dead-on. Not as silky-textured as Dupont, I'd say a little more thin, even though I believe they are right around the same F.G. Dry finish, slightly more tart than Dupont with a light grainy astringency.

Dupont: Still one of my favorite beers ever, but maybe it's not my single favorite anymore. It may be a short-lived crush but right now De Ranke XX Bitter has this beer beat for my favorite beer in the world. What really sells me on this beer is the complexity of the aroma, and how well it sets you up for and plays through the flavor too. The bitterness is bold, almost sending you into a "snake eating it's own tail" loop of quenching your thirst just to receive another bitter punch to wash away. The aroma is more "beery" than I remember, a flavor I somewhat liken to a stale pilsner. I'm fairly certain this is from a light-skunked green bottle, and it's the only flaw I can find in the beer, although it is more and more obvious as it warms up.
566: Recipe-wise I would only make minor tweaks, but where this beer really falls flat is in the yeast and aroma department. It's not a bad beer at all, but it's not a clone. I would be happy to drink this or even pay for it, but I'm not going to be pining for it and remembering the flavor months down the line. The grainy, grassy aroma is a little insipid and needs some help from a better yeast strain, or if it was just to be a good saison and not a clone of Dupont, maybe I could use some spices to get a better aromatic complexity. I think it is 81% as good as Dupont so I'll give it a "B-". Thats forgiving the light-skunked character of the Dupont. Dammit, why don't they just switch to brown bottles already!?

Changes / Suggestions for future clone attempts:
1) Change the yeast to either the classic saison strain, 3724 from Wyeast (not Whitelabs 565, which is infamous for under-attenuation), or pitch with the re-cultured dregs of a Dupont bottle. I would only use the dregs if I tested it for bacteria or used it after the majority of fermentation was complete, because who knows what's in there, really. Everything after this is minor tweaks.
2) Change the base malt to a European pilsner, or better yet, Dingeman's pilsner. I just can't justify buying pilsner by the pound though. I usually use Weyermann by the bag so that's probably what I'd go with and drop the Belgian pale malt completely. 100% Pils.
3) Increase the boil time to 2 hours to get more color.
4) Increase the bittering hop addition by 5 IBU's and decrease the flavor hop addition by a half-ounce.

I hope you enjoyed this side by side and if you are looking to clone Dupont, this should point you in the right direction! Just don't forget to ferment very, very warm. I'm buzzed. Time to get these plants in some dirt!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Scottish 70 shilling: re-brew

Out of the 3 beers I sent in to NHC, one made it to the 2nd round: Me and Paul's Mild that we entered as a Scottish 70 shilling. It took 3rd place out of 22 entries in Scottish and Irish ales, scoring an average score of 34.3. It was judged by 3 judges. It was interesting to see the comments and I agreed with most of them, but there was a non-BJCP judge that didn't seem to understand the style and gave it the lowest score. OK, I promise I'm not bitter about that!

Unfortunately I did not understand that in the National Homebrew Competition, they do not let you know if you advance to 2nd round in your scoresheet packet. So, assuming I did not win, I drank one of the beers that I was holding back for second round. Doh! A few days later I received an email from Fritz congratulating me on getting a beer in to the second round, and I called Paul to set up a re-brew. I guess I'm lucky it wasn't the oak-aged barleywine.

I'm not sure of the "legality" of this, but we have made some minor recipe tweaks based on ingredient availability and tasting the beer to talk about how it could be better. The original beer, even though it is a low gravity ale, has really become excellent with a few months cold storage. Here are the changes:
  • We had to use some regular Marris Otter malt in place of a portion of the Glen Eagle Marris Otter malt, because I was out and the homebrew shop does not carry the Glen Eagle. Tasting these grains side by side, there is a noticable difference. The Glen Eagle is much more toasty and dark, adding a lot more character. I really hope this change does not rob the beer of its wonderful complexity.
  • We were not able to get the London Ale III yeast from Hopworks this time. Since we were doing 10 gallons we decided to pitch one carboy with 1056 Cali ale yeast, and the other one with 1728 Scottish ale yeast which I got from Alameda. We'll enter whichever one is better.
  • We reduced the brown malt by .25 pounds and increased the Crystal 70 by .25 pounds. This was due to some judge comments about astringency. I do think the original beer was very grainy and had some light astringency, so between dialing back the brown malt and using the different Marris Otter I think we have tackled that problem. Also, we added a really insignificant amount of Perle hops to get the IBU's to 21, the same as the original beer.
  • We will probably fine this beer with gelatin to get it very clear in time to enter it into 2nd round. We have a total of 30 days for it to get in by the entry deadline.
Without further ado, here's the recipe:

Dale's Scottish 70

Recipe is for 13 gallons pre-boil, 11.5 gallons post-boil, all grain

O.G. 1.040

F.G. Cali -1.010 ABV 4%

F.G. Scottish - 1.013 ABV 3.6%

IBU's 21

5 lb. Glen Eagle Marris Otter Malt

7 lb. Marris Otter malt (Crisp, I'm pretty sure)

1 lb. crystal 70

1 lb. crystal 120

.25 lb. brown malt

.25 lb black malt

57 gr. American Goldings whole 4.5%AA 60 min

6 gr. American Perle pellets 7.5% AA 60 minutes (to get the IBU's where we wanted)

Mineral additions were to get an RA of 115 for proper mash pH, and a balanced chloride:sulfate ratio.

Mash at 152 for 60 min (5 gallons of water, mineral additions were 3 gr. chalk, 3 gr. baking soda, 1 gr. gypsum, 1 gr. calcium chloride)

Sparge with 5 gallons at 170

Collect 8 gallons at 1.057 = 85% efficiency

Topped up in the kettle to 13 gallons.

Wyeast nutrient & Whirlfloc at 10 min

Chilled to 68, oxygenated for 60 seconds per carboy

Pitched an appropriate slurry of Wyeast 1056 / Wyeast 1728

Fermented at 68, warmed ot 70 at end. Racked to keg on 5/16/10 and force-carbonated.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Some (grainy cell phone) photos from my first week at Alameda

I've been taking some photos of things I've been doing at Alameda this week. I've been doing a lot of cellar work, preparing the weekly beer order to go out tomorrow. I kegged up a shitload of beer! (for a brewery of this size).
I set up to keg the beer outside, which is nicer than shuffling kegs in a narrow walk-in with serving tanks that also serves as the kitchen walk-in. That was Eric's idea and they have just been doing that for the couple months.
Here's a couple of shots of the fermenter room. There are 3 10 barrel fermenters and 6 grundies, which can hold 7 barrels but we just use them for single 5 barrel batches. We only have 1 tiny floor drain, so spilling stuff on the floor makes a mess! But all the essentials are there to make great beer.
After a day and a half of kegging and other projects, I had the tiny outdoor walk-in full for shipping out on Friday morning. I got a lot of practice lifting a keg on my own. Not easy, but there is a technique to it which involves squatting and lifting with your legs just enough to get the lip of the keg onto the top of the one it's stacked on.
Paul and I are doing a re-brew tomorrow of the Scottish 70 (actually Dale's Mild) that placed 3rd in category in the first round of NHC. We are going to try some different yeasts this time and enter whichever one turns out better. I have a slurry of Cali ale yeast going, and we are going to use Alameda's house yeast for the other batch which is Scottish ale yeast. I haven't brewed with it but I find it to be very clean on the esters and more malty than Cali yeast.