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!).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

American Wild Ale 2013 - Brewday

It was clear after the pre-NHC tasting of all my sour experiments that the inaugural batch from my Homebrew Horny Tank was ready to keg. The HHT yielded a sharp acidity along with yeast-derived flavors of citrus, mango/pineapple, and musty basement. A lovely beer on its own, it will be a pleasure to blend with other vintages or fruit.

To move one beer out of the HHT means immediately replacing it. This second batch of wort was similar to the first: blond with 50% wheat, produced via turbid-mash. The remaining 50% of the grist was a blend of Rahr Pale Malt and Weyermann Pilsner Malt, a change that hopefully allows more malt character to come through in the finished product.

Last Christmas, a friend of mine graciously gave me several pounds old, loose-leaf hops he found while packing for a move. The Saaz and Mittelfruh varieties were already well on their way to being a perfect match for wild ale. On brewday, they were ready to go: dry with a faint, hay-like aroma, and devoid of any cheesy/mildewy flavors you might expect from poorly stored hops. Don't get me wrong - aging hops will normally stink of leftover Parmesan for awhile during the transition to properly aged hops.

All the details of the turbid-mash brewday are below. I took lots of pictures to (hopefully) make the procedure more clear and the read less tedious.

American Wild Ale 2013

Brewday: 07/21/13
Batch Size: 8 gallons
Estimated Mash Efficiency: 57.4%
Estimated OG: 1.049

8 lbs Raw Wheat (40%)
6 lbs Castle Pilsner Malt (30%)
6 lbs Rahr Pale Malt (30%)
2 lbs Rice Hulls

Hops: 4.8 oz Aged Hallertau Hops

Water: Kroger RO (10 gallons), Kroger Drinking Water (7 gallons)


Mash Water: Assume 2 qts/lb grain (40 qts = 10 gallons)

1st rest (113F) - 0.3 qts/lb
6 quarts of water at 138F (per Beer Smith), hold for 20 min
16:01 – mixed in Aluminum pot; T = 114F

2nd rest (136F): Infuse 3 qts boiling water (per BeerSmith), hold 20 min
16:25 – added 3 qts boiling water – 126F (boiled too long – may have loss ~ 1 qt)
16:32 – added 2.5 qts boiling water – 160F
16:37 – added 3 qts room temp water – 137F

Remove 1/3 of total liquor (4.8 qts), heat to 190F and hold
17:00 – Pulled 4 qts – heated to 192F (burn on bottom of pot??)

3rd rest (150F): Infuse ~3.25 qts boiling water (per BeerSmith, less 4 qts turbid pull), hold 30 min
17:10 – Added 4 qts boiling water: T = 146F
17:15 – added 70 oz (2.2 qts) boiling water : T = 150F, pH ~5.5 (per strip)
17:20 – added 1 tsp 88% lactic acid: pH ~5 (per strip)

Remove ½ of total liquor, heat to 190F, hold
Total liquor ~ 17 qts (less 1st pull). Pull ~ 8 qts
17:55 – Pulled 7 qts – heated to 194F with 1st pull

4th rest (165F): Infuse to mash out temp (165F), hold 30 min
18:00 – Added ~ 5.5 qts boiling water: T = 159F (good enough)
18:40 – Added turbid portion back to main mash (turbid T = 175F)

No rice hulls - dogs ate them:

Runoff: Collected 3.9 gallons with little resistance, despite a lot of raw wheat and no rice hulls. I think the first rest (beta glucanase rest) helped out here!

Sparged with 5.4 gallons at 162F (1.9 gallons would not fit)

Collected 9.1 gallons total at 1.043


20:15 – started boil. Added 3.5 oz aged Hallertau hops in 2 large grain bags (less than recipe, but it seemed like a LOT of hops!).

21:20 – SG = 1.050
21:53 – KO; chilled to 90F, transferred to bucket, and put in fridge. SP = 65F

Noticed plastic smell in bucket. Washed and re-sanitized. May be from Star San spray bottle? Taste before adding to HHT.

OG = 1.055

07/22/13 – Transferred to HHT at 65F (AWA from last year racked off immediately beforehand). No off-flavors in wort. Aroma was very much like honey. My sample was quite bitter, but I believe it was because I sampled after transferring (picked up sediment/trub/hop matter in sample).

Used extra wort to make starters for Bootleg Biology and BKYeast samples, as well as feed the wild culture.

07/28/13 – Took out of fermentation fridge after 1 week; no visual signs of activity (airlock bubbles, temperature rise). When I opened the lid, I noticed a thin, white pellicle and pineapple/grapefruit aroma (similar to last batch). Did not add additional bugs.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wild Yeast Culture Experiments - Update and Recipes

I have yet to publish notes on several of my sour beer experiments, so I thought I would give one large update on several works-in-progress. Before leaving for NHC, I tasted all of the batches and recorded notes to reference during my presentation and to start planning storage and/or fruit additions.

Though I'm grouping them together, I learned (and am still learning) a great deal from each brew. So far, 2 of 5 batches have been dumped, both of which for the same reason: unpalatable levels of DMS.

DMS can be produced by some wild microorganisms, but I am confident the starchy, corncob-like flavor in these beers was created in the mash tun/kettle. DMS is fairly volatile, but since I did not boil either of these batches, the DMS that formed was not driven off and remained in the finished beer. After boiling half of one of these batches proved effective in removing the off-flavor, I concluded that a full boil is necessary to produce clean beer at the SHPB, especially those with a considerable amount of Pilsner malt.

I specify this necessity is unique to my brewery, as I have read about (and tasted) clean, corncob-free examples of low-gravity, light-colored beers produced without boiling. Perhaps a faster chilling method will make this method a reality for me (I've had my eye on a Blichmann Therminator for awhile!).

Though no-boil Berliner Weisse (and the like) is a definite possibility, I have also come across numerous commercial and homebrew with high levels of DMS. To significantly reduce the risk of DMS in the finished beer, I recommend boiling as normal. Even a small amount of DMS is perceivable (and overwhelming) in this light and simple style. In the re-boiled batch mentioned, color pickup was minimal, and will be even less in a steam-jacket kettle.

Sour Brown

Split batch of oatmeal brown (the other half was served during our wedding).

Brew Date
16 lbs Rahr 2-row (61.5%)
3 lbs Briess Victory (11.5%)
2 lbs Flaked Oats (7.7%)
2 lbs C-60L (7.7%)
1.75 lbs Pale Chocolate (6.7%)
1.25 lbs Debittered Black Malt (4.8%)
35 IBU Apollo (60 min)
Primary Yeast
Inoculated with 3 shots of American Wild Ale (11/11/12)
Pitched 500mL lacto slurry (02/25/13)
Pitched dregs from 3F Gold Blend (early June)

Tasting notes:

Very musty, Not much acidity. Drier than the original but not completely attenuated. Needs a lot more time.

Solid pellicle has formed. Aroma is complex, but still has some stinky, blue cheese notes. Very tart, with cherry pie, fruity flavors, and some musty flavors. Thin. Needs another few months.

Chocolatey aroma. Acidity is picking up; a nice level for a sour brown, with still some residual sweetness at the end of the swallow. There is astringency, probably from the significant amount of ‘junk’ in the sample – yeast, trub, pellicle, etc. Maybe a slight alcohol note, but that could be the combo of the acid and the astringency. OK overall, headed in the right direction, will continue to age and see what happens.

No-Boil Berliner Weisse

Split batch of Saison wort – this half was taken off after bringing the wort to boil.

Brew Date
15 lbs Castle Pilsner (68.2%)
6 lbs Flaked Wheat (27.3%)
1 lb Aromatic Malt (4.5%)
Primary Yeast
Lacto Slurry, mixed culture slurry, Madam Rose 2012 dregs (02/24/13)

Tasting notes:

SG = 1.011 (6.0%). Very aromatic. A hint of lemon, but dominated by a nutty aroma (maybe peanut butter? Also similar to the aroma of UCBC’s Winged Nut). Prickling acidity, not as forceful as I’d like but very pleasant. Nutty flavors are also present, some wheat cracker from the wheat. Simple, but extremely enjoyable already. Great candidate for dry-hopping (Amarillo? Chinook?).

Tasting from keg. Keg was chilled for a period of time. In that time, tasting revealed ‘nutty’ flavor as DMS
Nutty aroma/flavor (DMS) still present at similar levels to prior tastings. I don’t believe it will ‘drop out’. It’s a shame – the acidity level is wonderful. Otherwise a very nice beer.

Dumped keg.

Golden Sour 1 – Double Batch

A double batch (10 gal) of low gravity, malt-based wort. No boil initially, one half was boiled after primary fermentation to reduce the (extremely) high levels of DMS. The other half never recovered.

Brew Date
9 lbs Castle Pilsner Malt (47.4%)
9 lbs Rahr Pale Malt (47.4%)
1 lbs Flaked Oats (5.3%)
None (Heated to 170F)
Primary Yeast
A – Lactobacillus (slurry from growler culture), 3711 (after souring)
B – Dregs from No-boil Berliner weisse (before re-boil)
A – N/A
B – WY3522 (Ardennes), WL644 (Brett Brux Trois) – after sour, boil

Fermentation/Tasting notes:

A: No bubbles in airlock throughout the week. SG = 1.021. White foamy “krausen”. Sample was very cloudy. Very odd aroma, off-putting (corn stalk - DMS?), carries through in the flavor. Fairly tart, but lacks tartness of a Berliner Weisse. Not much to it other than that.

B: Bubbled vigorously in airlock for ~ 2 days. SG = 1.030. More corn stalk in flavor and aroma than A. Not nearly as sour. Aweful.

B: Boiled for 90 minutes (down to 3.1 gal), added whirlfloc tablet at 15 min left, added 1 gal distilled H2O at KO. Left open to cool to 140F, then covered (flies started to swarm).

A: Added 1 smack pack 3711 (French Saison)

B: Added 1 smack pack 3522 (Belg Ardennes), Brett Brux Trois (WL culture), mixed culture

A: SG = 1.010. Still very cloudy, much more so than B (looks like thin buttermilk). Corncob in the nose, but has diminished and fades more quickly. Still very tart, and now light on the palate, which leaves less slickness to carry the corncob flavor. The corn flavor is still there, but in lesser quantity. Not much else to the flavor. Prickly acidity on the tongue (more acidic than B, I like this level better). No yeast flavors/aromas.

B: SG = 1.012. Cloudy. Tart, thinner (will be nice with carbonation). Corny flavor is yielding to a crackery, bready flavor (graham/saltine?). Acidity is very pleasant, but I believe it would be more so if further attenuated. The carbonation may give this effect. I’m mostly surprised at the lack of yeast character after fermentation. Maybe it was because of the low fermentation temp (ambient ~ 62F), but I assumed the low pH would stress the yeast and cause some sort of flavor compound, good or bad.

A: Developed a thin, translucent pellicle in bucket. Flavors developing but covered up by DMS. Still gross.

B: Formed ¼” thick white, knobby pellicle in carboy. Not much aroma. Acidity is sharp and lemony, but not much else in terms of flavor. Fairly clean, with a tiny hint of DMS left. Great candidate for fruit (especially in the 1/3-full carboy!).

07/14/13: Dumped A

Golden Sour 2

Brew Date
9 lbs Rahr Pale Malt (47.4%)
5 lbs Castle Pilsner Malt (26.3%)
5 lbs Weyermann Wheat Malt (26.3%)
None (85 minute boil to reduce DMS)
Primary Yeast
Lactobacillus (starting at 110F, apple juice/grain starter). Bucket was left in fridge for a few weeks. Developed sharp acidity in 1-2 weeks.
Wild yeast?

Tasting notes:

Developed thin, translucent pellicle (from either wild yeast in bucket or Lacto starter). Caramel apple aroma. Toasty malt flavor with sharp, lingering acidity. Hints of apple in aroma/flavor from lacto starter (made with apple juice).  Otherwise clean. Another great candidate for fruit!

Racked ½ of batch (~2.5 gal) on 6 lbs of whole, pitted apricots and golden apricots from Farmers Market. Fruit was washed with luke-warm water before pitting. Added ~ ¼ cup slurry from Cantillion Iris Brett C1 (from BKYeast) and mixed starter to fruit portion.

I will most likely add fruit to the (currently) plain portion as well. I have some canned raspberry puree, but I am thinking about adding a comparable amount of canned apricot puree from my LHBS to evaluate the differences of fresh fruit vs. canned puree. More updates to come! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

NHC 2013 Presentation on Wild House Cultures

I was humbled and honored to speak at the 2013 National Homebrewers Conference in Philadelphia. My presentation, Methods of Creating and Maintaining Wild House Cultures, is a collection of research and experiments surrounding the production of sour, wild, and funky ales on a "macro" scale. Most of the talk's content is covered in detail in prior posts on this site.

Even though I am not an eloquent public speaker, I believe the presentation went over well; both time slots drew a surprising crowd (even without beer!) spanning the entire spectrum of sour brewing (and homebrewing) experience. Each session ended with intriguing Q&A and an opportunity for me to meet homebrewers who are diving into sours head first!

I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity. I am not an outgoing personality, so the seminar, fueled by the passion and camaraderie of the homebrewing community (and greased with a few samples of homebrew), allowed me to connect with so many more brewers than I would have as a participant. If I was able to enhance the audience's knowledge by a sliver of what I gained by giving the presentation, I will consider it a success.

By far the most humbling experience of the conference was tasting the wide array of homebrewed gueuze, lambic, and fruited sours on Club Night. The overall quality and creativity of those poured was incredible, consistently more balanced, unique, and flavorful than most commercial examples. One of my first samples of the night, a gueuze poured  by the BNArmy, was easily the best sour beer I have ever had (commercial or otherwise).

I have posted two versions of the presentation below: the set of slides shown to the NHC audience, and the set with my notes. Some of the slides are fairly vague, so the notes should help fill in the gaps.

The presentation slides and audio will also be posted on the AHA website for members' access only. I will update this post with a link as soon as it is available.

2013 NHC Presentation - Methods of Creating and Maintaining Wild House Cultures

2013 NHC Presentation - Methods of Creating and Maintaining Wild House Cultures (with notes)

2013 NHC Presentation (audio from AHA website)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Giving Your Bottle Dregs A Head Start

Between drinking a great, unpasteurized funky beer and pitching its dregs, I like to take the time to build up the microbes into their own little mixed culture. Whether introducing the dregs into a mixed culture or full batch, initially reviving them in the bottle will increase their rate of survival and contribution to your beer.

This extra bit of work is not really necessary, but I think its worth it for a few reasons:

  • It allows me to verify the purity of the resulting culture. I am especially weary of pitching bugs from traditional Flanders beers because of their levels of Acetobacter. Just as well, the dregs from any bottle that has a higher-than-normal acetic character can be evaluated for acetic acid production. This goes for any off flavors or aromas that may have been perceived in the beer.
  • It allows me to verify the quality of the resulting culture. Is the beer in fact a living product? If so, is anything still alive? Are the surviving organisms' flavor contributions pleasant?
  • Any unwanted Saccharomyces strains can be (mostly) discarded with a few initial steps in the bottle. In younger bottles, the bottle conditioning strain can often out-compete other organisms in a fresh culture.
  • I can split the resulting slurry, adding some to the mixed culture and reserving some to pitch at a bottling or into a keg.
  • I can make the rare or expensive dregs count!

The procedure is fairly simple:

  1. Open the bottle and clean off any dirt, cork, or residual beer. Sanitize the lip with vodka (or grain alcohol). Pour & enjoy beer (leave dregs behind).
  2. If you don't have some sanitary wort handy (or are in a group setting), you can cover the bottle with sanitized aluminum foil and store in the fridge. You should be able to get away with this without any ill-effects until the weekend.
  3. Add ½” of starter wort to the bottle (or enough to cover the bulb on a 750).
  4. Affix a stopper/airlock. The stopper/airlock is key in keeping out oxygen and insects.
  5. Wait for activity to slow/stop. Evaluate sample (smell and taste).
  6. Repeat this process until the dregs display signs of normal, healthy, active fermentation.
  7. Pitch into mixed culture or full batch when active.
  8. If an unwanted Saccharomyces strain is present in the culture, allow it to flocculate and pitch some of the supernatant liquid without the slurry.
  9. Waiting for a pellicle to form will allow you to evaluate the flavor contributions from the Brettanomyces species in the culture. It will also aid the transfer of Brettanomyces to a nutrient-poor environment (like a batch of conditioning beer or an advanced mixed culture).