Sunday, March 1, 2015

2014 Recap

After a year-long drought, this blog is in desperate need of updates and shiny new content!

While I haven’t been posting, I did make some beer in 2014! My plan is to post some highlights throughout the first half of 2015.

Outside the SHPB, I had a big year in 2014. Here is the executive summary:

We bought a home in Saint Louis and are settled. I set up shop quickly; the basement is already littered with containers of sour, funky SCIENCE.

I joined the STL Hops Homebrew Club, a small group making a LOT of great beer! The club served beer at several festivals throughout the year; a new and exciting experience for me. Festival season is coming up again, and I intend to post our serving schedule and (more importantly) recaps with plenty of pictures!

Homebrew club meetings, festivals, bottle shares, and beer releases have given me more opportunities than ever to share my beer. I upgraded my equipment and doubled my batch size (now 10 gallons) to keep up! More importantly, I've been using the additional wort to conduct yeast experiments and make more sour beer!

I attended the 2014 National Homebrewers Conference along with six other STL Hops members. We had a blast! We brought a TON of great beer to pour at the Expo and on Club Night, including a split batch experiment with new hop varietals and some fantastic fruited Berliners. My keg of Gueuze was a big hit on Club Night. It vanished in about 45 minutes, but not before earning some press from Basic Brewing Radio and praise from The Mad Fermentationist, Mike Tonsmire!

Finally, for our second anniversary, my wife and I traveled to London and Brussels. I came back brimming with inspiration, life experiences, and a few liquid souvenirs. I’ll share a recap (and lots of pictures) in an upcoming post.

Thanks for sticking around! Hopefully in 2015 I can offer some insight, inspiration, or at least some new “what not to do’s”!

Let’s get to it!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Brewing Goals 2014 & 2013 Report Card

2013 was an amazing year for me as a homebrewer and beer geek. I started this blog, presented at the 2013 National Homebrewers Conference, made a trip to Belgium, and moved to St. Louis (the future home of my brewery). 2014 has big shoes to fill!

My first post in 2013 (my first post for SHPB) laid out my brewing goals for 2013. Lets see how I did and set the marks for 2014:

2013 Goal #1: Brew more than forty (40) 5-gallon batches within the year.

Grade: F

My most glaring defeat of the year. I brewed 17 5-gallon batches (2 double brewdays) in 2013. No excuses, just more effort. I hope this high mark will encourage several double batches (and more experimentation)!

2014 Goal #1: Brew more than forty (40) 5-gallon batches within the year.

2013 Goal #2: Start and maintain a blog as a brew log.

Grade: B

I improved the detail, consistency, and follow up on my brewing notes, but I dd not post as much as I would like. I also want to spend more time logging the evaluation of my beers and standardizing my verbiage against the Flavor Wheel.

2014 Goal #2: Continue to improve brewing notes and post > 75% of my notes to the blog.

2013 Goal #3: Pitch appropriate cell counts for every batch.

Grade: A

I made huge strides in yeast propagation and fermentation process. Every batch was pitched with the proper amount of healthy yeast cells. I also built a stir-plate and experimented with lager fermentation. Hopefully I can keep it up in 2014 and beyond!

2014 Goal #3: Purchase additional controller / refrigerator to control fermentation temperature of two 5-gallon batches at once.

2013 Goal #4-5: Win 1st place in any category at the Indiana Brewers Cup; Enter the NHC.

Grade: Incomplete

In 2013, I focused on experimentation with both wild yeasts and lager fermentation. I also did some recipe development and tried some new ingredients. Brewing for competition really doesn't interest me at this point. 

2013 Goal #6. Go to the NHC!

Grade: A

Presenting at the 2013 was one of the highlights of my life. I can't wait for 2014!

Currently, I'm planning some wild yeast experiments for this year, and I hope to share the results at the 2015 conference. Stay tuned!

2013 Goal #7. “Clone” my own beer.

Grade: F

My brewer's ADD got the best of me in 2013. Though I learned a lot through experiments and playing with new ingredients, I still need to gauge my consistency.

2014 Goal #4: "Clone" my own beer.

Additional Goals for 2014

2014 Goal #5. Conduct experiments to explore Brett flavor contribution vs. beer pH.

I believe manipulating beer pH (through blending or lactic fermentation) has a huge effect on the flavor profile contributed by brettanomyces. Time to experiment!

2014 Goal #6. Conduct experiments to explore spontaneous fermentation feasibility in various areas of St. Louis.

The products of spontaneous fermentation are wildly different between St. Louis and Belgium, but how variable are the results within the same city? Are there certain areas of St. Louis that provide significantly better/worse species (and conditions) for wild beer?

2014 Goal #7. Join a Homebrew Club!

Its time to branch out!

So now that the bar has been set, let's get to it!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Exploring Brussels

For our first wedding anniversary, my wife and I planned a trip to Europe, each picking a city to visit. Her obvious choice for an anniversary location was Paris, but I argue that Brussels is more romantic.

As a craft beer drinker, there are so many opportunities to explore beer from around the country and the world without leaving your home city. If your local never secures a keg of Cantillon Gueuze, you can still trade tastes at a bottle share, or swap with a fellow beer trader. Access is normally simpler and less expensive than a trip to the source.

But for someone who intends to make a living with wild and mixed fermentation, I knew it was important to visit the humble origin of Gueuze, Brasserie Cantillon. I also hoped it would spark my creativity, both in creating new beers and a future brand.

Here is a pictorial overview of our time in Brussels. If you're ever in the area, I highly suggest visiting all of these great places!

Start your trip with this book: Around Brussels in 80 Beers by Joe Stange and Yvan De Baets. Most of my travel tips were stolen from this book, which is pictured above.

Our (or at least my) highlight of the trip was visiting Cantillon. The brewery is over 100 years old and steeped in history. A true pilgrimage! Here are a few photos:

My Beautiful Wife in the barrel room.

Cantillon Barrels for DAYS.

In the attic at Cantillon. This area is mostly used for grain storage. The mill is behind me and the coolship is up the stairs and through the door.

Obligatory Coolship Shot.

Recent brewery improvement: a modern, (semi-)automated bottling line. They were bottling Fou Foune at the time.

After our self-guided tour of Cantillon's beautiful facility, we spent the rest of the day in their cafe. We drank Fou Foune (and Lou Pepe Framboise, and 50°N), ate house-made sausage, and chatted with other visitors.

Aside from the brewery, we visited several lovely bars and restaurants during our stay, each with its own personality. If you make the journey, the following are absolutely worth your precious evenings in this great city:

We spent an evening at Moeder Lambic, a fantastic craft beer bar with two locations in Brussels. Highlights included cask versions of Cantillon fruit beers and Gueuze, as well as Band of Brothers, a 3.5% Saison collaboration between the bar and Brasserie De La Senne.

I very much enjoyed A La Becasse, a small lambic bar near Grand Place. They served a slightly-sweetened (not too sweet) version of Timmermans Lambic: delicious and refreshing.

We stumbled upon A la Mort Subite on a morning walk. Though most of the Mort Subite brands are of the overly-sweetened, faux-lambic nature (it is now owned by Heineken), the Mort Subite Oude Gueuze, served from 750 mL bottles at room temperature, was outstanding. 

After getting your Moules Frites and Waterzooi fix, I suggest seeking out Bia Mara near Grand Place for Fish and Chips. Made with salmon, pollock, prawns, or mackeral; perfectly fried with a wide array of sauces. Paired here with a De La Senne Taras Boulba.

If you make your way to any of these spots, or if I've left out any must-visit establishments, please post your recommendations!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Brett-Spiked Saison Experiment

For awhile there, I had a serious problem...

In addition to keeping up a mixed culture for wild beer, I amassed quite a collection of individual Brettanomyces strains. Cultures from homebrewers, limited lab releases, interesting strains from commercial breweries - I hoarded them all. They occupied my entire growler collection. I did my best to keep them all separate, hoping to find The Midas Strain. 

I want to evaluate the flavor profiles contributed by these strains in several applications: 
  1. Secondary Fermentation (inoculation at bottling). Most viable (i.e. least risky) option for commercial brewing; easy to compare Brett contribution vs. control. 
  2. Secondary Fermentation (inoculation after alcoholic and lactic fermentation). Most applicable to mixed fermentation methods (including barrel conditioning). I also believe the most interesting Brettanomyces activity occurs at low pH. 
  3. Mixed Fermentation (inoculation in primary). Contribution within a mixed culture fermentation.
In this experiment, I bottled a simple saison with one of three single Brettanomyces strains. I kept some 'clean' bottles for control samples, and dosed some of the remaining bottles with a mixed culture.

Though I consider it a failed experiment, I thought I'd share the results and (more importantly) lessons learned.

The results of the experiment were unremarkable. Though I have used some of these strains with great success in the past, the resulting flavor profiles in these samples were subtle. I believe the lack of character is due to over-pitching. In his 2011 NHC presentation, Chad Yakobson suggested bottle conditioning with approximately 100,000 cells/mL or inoculating a conditioning ("secondary") vessel with 0.5 - 2 million cells/mL. I dosed each bottle with about 2 mL of fresh slurry, which is about 68 million cells/mL (assumed "thin slurry" per Mr. Malty). The high density of cells drove attenuation past 1.000 but provided little in terms of flavor and aroma.

The additional attenuation also increased bitterness and revealed flaws in the base beer. Looking back at my notes, I allowed fermentation to free-rise from 62F to 70F in the first 24 hours. I also added too much hops. A healthy fermentation and attention to detail: the foundation of all great beer, obviously neglected on this brew day. 

I plan to repeat this experiment with more cultures and a well-brewed base beer. To achieve adequate pitching rates, I intend on diluting each slurry with sterile water prior to dosing. I would also like to lower the pH of some samples to observe flavor profiles at varying levels of acidity. 

Time to brew up some saison!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Midwest Pils - Brewday and Tasting Notes

For the second round of testing the accelerated lager fermentation trials, I brewed a Pilsner with traditional German ingredients and some local, organic sweet corn. The beer's name is a nod to my opinion of the Reinheitsgebot

Since its flavor contribution is very subtle (at best), I roasted the sweet corn on my gas grill to add a unique layer of flavor. After roasting to a golden color, I boiled the kernels in water for gelatinization. 

I followed the same procedure as the first go-around, recording daily gravity readings and adjusting the temperature per the schedule.

Much like the previous trial, the beer fermented cleanly and completely in approximately 10-12 days (I did not take a gravity readings between 1.020 and when I kegged the beer). Samples were cloudy and a bit harsh for the first week or two, which I attribute to yeast in suspension. I did not fine on the cold side, but the harshness declined as the beer dropped clear.

Although the beer was crisp and nearly flawless from a fermentation standpoint, I found it lacking in flavor. My wife enjoyed its simplicity, comparing the drinkability to that of Industrial Lager. I wanted something worth a return visit to the tap, so I added an ounce of Nelson Sauvin hops in the keg.

Mittelfinger Midwest Pils

Brewday: 08/11/13
Batch Size: 5.5 gal
Estimated Mash Efficiency: 56.7%
Est OG = 1.048

12 lbs Weyermann Pilsner (88.2%)
1.1 lbs Roasted Organic Sweet Corn (8.1% - approximated in BeerSmith with Flaked Corn)
8 oz CaraPils (3.7%)

1.00 oz Perle (approximated at 8.5% - store gives 9.4%) – 60 min
0.75 oz Hallertauer – 20 min
0.50 oz Hallertauer – 0 min

Wyeast 2206 – Bavarian Lager. Slurry from Munich Helles (08/04)

Kroger RO + Gypsum (~7g, per BCS, added in kettle)

Corn Prep:
Dehusked corn and roasted on grill (on tin foil) until golden and fragrant. Started on direct heat, then moved to indirect due to charring. Some charred kernels were used (not too many).
Cut kernals off cobs and boiled with 1L of water for 5 minutes. Ground using immersion blender (medium grind, much like a thin creamed corn).

14:50 - Mashed in with 4 gallons at 160F – T = 148F
14:55 - Added corn at 152F
15:10 – pH 5.5-5.8, added ¼ tsp lactic acid (88%) – pH 5.3-5.5 (strips)
15:30 – T = 144F – added ~ 2qts boiling water – T = 148F;
Added ½ of ¼ tsp lactic acid – pH = 5-5.3

Sparged with 3.3 gallons at 165F
Collected 6.7 gal at 1.044

17:30 – started the boil
18:00 – Added 1 oz (28.4 g) Perle at 9.4% (estimated 8.5%) & 7 g Gypsum
18:40 – Added 0.75 oz (21.7 g) of Hallertau, Wyeast Yeast Nutrient, and Whirlfloc tablet
18:40 – SG = 1.056 (~15% evaporation)
19:00 – KO. Added ~ 1 gallon water to bring gravity to 1.050.

Cooled into carboy at 90F. Stored in kegorator at 50F.

Racked out of carboy into bucket (lots of cold break left in carboy). Oxygenated for 1 minute, then added ~300mL of slurry from Munich Helles (11 PM).
Fermentation activity by next morning.

OG = 1.043 (7:30 pm)

OG = 1.032 (evening)

Morning – set temp to 58F

OG = 1.020 (10 am) – set temp to 60F
59F by 13:00

08/18/13 – set temp to 65F

08/26/13 – Kegged. FG = 1.006 (5.8% ABV). Expected FG = 1.009.

09/14/13 - Tasting Notes:

Not much in the aroma – perhaps a touch of bread, and I might be picking up a hint of green apple.
The flavor is also light. A touch of saltine, a hint of sweetness, finishes crisp with a wisp of bitterness. The roasted sweet corn adds the smallest hint of caramel, but I don’t think I would pick it up blindly. There is a slight touch of alcohol in the finish (or possibly CO2 bite).

This beer doesn’t really fit into a BJCP category – too bitter to resemble any of the American lagers, too light in malt flavor to resemble a German or American Pils. I believe it is closer to a German Pils, but the higher ABV and low level of malt/hop character is detracting. It’s a nice beer, but not extremely flavorful, and (in my opinion) not worth the ABV tradeoff.

I would like to see more of a hop component in the flavor, and I may dry hop a portion of this batch for fun.

Angela really enjoys its light-flavored nature, but I don’t think the corn makes an overall better beer. Replacing some or all of the corn with Pils malt and keeping the SG in check will help this beer hit the mark. If American Light Lager is the target, this beer would be right on with a significant reduction in bittering.

The beer is very clean despite the accelerated fermentation schedule. I want others to confirm, but I could not discern (with any certainty) fruity esters or fermentation flaws in the flavor or aroma.

Added 1 oz Nelson Sauvin hops to keg (in muslin bag)

The Nelson hops add flavor complexity and a bit of resinous mouthfeel to the beer: grapefruit, fresh cut grass, and a bit of chardonnay grape. A very nice addition!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Munich Helles - Brewday and Tasting Notes

The first batch of lager I made with the accelerated fermentation schedule was a Munich Helles.

Before brewday, I created a spreadsheet to help me keep track of the fermentation activity and set point changes. I updated with readings and compared my schedule with the proposed:

The percent of total attenuation is based on a starting gravity of 1.049 (49 Points) and an anticipated terminal gravity of 1.010. The total expected change is 39 points (49 - 10), so 50% of the total expected change is attained after a gravity drop of about 19 points, or 1.030.

The beer was kegged 11 days after brewday. The first carbonated sample was exceptionally clean (I tested for diacetyl by heating the sample in the microwave). It was quite cloudy at first, but has since dropped fairly clear after a month in the kegerator. I suspect the cloudiness was suspended yeast, so in future batches I will fine with gelatin or isinglass to further reduce conditioning time.

Munich Helles

Brewday: 08/04/13
Batch Size: 5.5 gal
Estimated Mash Efficiency: 56.7%
Est OG = 1.047

12 lbs Weyermann Pilsner (90.6%)
1 lbs Weyermann Munich I (7.5%)
4 oz Melanoiden (1.9%)

1.25 oz German Hallertauer (Hop Union)

Wyeast 2206 – Bavarian Lager. 2 packs in 3L starter, O2 to start (no stir plate)

Kroger RO + 80ppm CaCl2 


Mash in with 5.3 gallons H2O at 162F

12:10 – Mash in, T = 152F, pH 5-5.3 (via strips, at mash temp)
12:34 – Stir, T = 150F, pH 5-5.3
12:50 – Pulled 0.8 gal decoction (medium thickness) – held at 158F for 10 min, boiled for 10 min
14:00 – added back to main mash (T = 146F to T = 150F) – decoction took too long, may have let sacch rest drop too much – too dry/watery?

14:10 – started runoff

Sparged with 3.5 gallons H2O at 168F, pH = 5-5.3 (water and mix)

Collected 7.3 gallons at 1.048 (71% efficiency – need to adjust)


15:10 – started boil
15:40 – Added 1.25 oz (35.4 g) Hallertauer Hops. OG = 1.054
16:30 – OG = 1.060 (13% evap rate)
16:40 KO – extrapolated OG from last reading = 1.062

Added 1.5 gal H2O at KO to bring OG to 1.049 (Target 1.047, not enough water left).

SG = 1.049

Cooled to 90F and set fridge to 80F (will step down temp slowly to reduce strain on fridge compressor).

Pitched yeast at 55F.

A bit of Krausen in 24 hours (no airlock activity).

OG = 1.031. Krausen, lots of sulfur, even outside fridge. Set ferm temp to 58F (no heating).

Temp up to 58F (~ 7 AM).
23:00 – Set fridge cooling to 62F (no heating)

06:45 – Temp at 61F
Evening – 62F

OG = 1.014
Raised temp SP to 64F (used belt after temp reached 63F)

Raised temp to 65F

Kegged. FG = 1.009. (5.2%) Into kegerator at 60F. Decreased kegerator temp 5F/day until 50F for conditioning.

Samples were cloudy for awhile - also harsh. I attributed both of these to suspended yeast. The sample cleared after heating in the microwave, but did not return after chilling. I did not use cold-side finings but will in the future.

Tasting notes:

Very light aroma – took a few minutes to pick out anything specific. Initially white bread / saltine cracker, maybe some light fruity ester (or maybe I’m imagining/looking for it!).

Flavor is also light, with a touch of bread crust and saltine. CO2 bite is evident; I initially over-carbonated this beer. Some bitterness lingers on the palate.

My wife enjoys the light-flavored nature of this beer, but I would like to taste more Munich malt character. I also want the beer to linger just a little longer, possibly by increasing mash temp for a FG of 1.011. A bit more calcium chloride may enhance the malty flavors.

The beer is very clean despite the accelerated fermentation schedule. I want others to confirm, but I could not discern (with any certainty) fruity esters or fermentation flaws in the flavor or aroma.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lager Fermentation Experiments - Intro


In a recent episode of The Brewing Network's Sunday Session, the traditional, low-and-slow method of lager fermentation was compared to a more accelerated schedule championed by Mike "Tasty" McDole.

The two fermentation styles were executed on a split batch of wort and compared side by side. Though a riff existed on the overall favorite, the Brewcasters could not discern any fermentation flaws in either sample.

I love lagers. Pils, Marzen, Doppelbock, Helles, Baltic Porter, Altbier, etc.; great beers, but with the coddling required to ferment and condition, I don't often commit to brewing them myself. In light of the above experiment, I decided to give the "Tasty Lager Method" a try.

The Method

McDole starts with plenty of healthy yeast slurry, preferring WLP833 - German Bock Yeast (the Ayinger strain). He pitches at 55F and keeps a close eye on the progress of the ferment.

After the gravity drops 50% of the way to terminal gravity, he raises the temperature to 58F.

After the gravity drops 75% of the way to terminal gravity, he raises the temperature to 62F.

After the gravity drops 90% of the way to terminal gravity, he raises the temperature to 66F and holds until fermentation is complete.

Though it goes against the traditional method of lager fermentation, this procedure parallels a normal, healthy ale fermentation. After the initial growth phase, a slow. steady rise in temperature towards the end of fermentation helps yeast attenuate properly and clean up fermentation byproducts. Since the vast majority of esters we want to avoid in crisp, clean lagers are produced during the initial growth phase, it makes sense to reel in the temperature initially, allowing the yeast an increasingly warmer environment to complete fermentation.

(Nearly all the information in the above paragraph on healthy fermentation was taken from Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White. If you are interested in brewing GOOD beer, read it.) 

Application in the SHPB

I brewed two lagers in succession with this method: a Munich Helles and a German Pils with sweet corn.

I kept tabs on each fermentation, taking a gravity sample each day and adjusting the temperature as needed.

Both brews are currently kegged and on tap. I will post recipes and tasting notes later this week, hopefully after receiving some critical input from more experienced tasters. Results, so far, have been promising (not to mention delicious!).