Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wild Yeast Culture Experiments - Intro and Mixed Culture Method

Brewing (and drinking) sour, funky, "wild" beers is a passion of mine. I always have at least a few microbe-laden brews fermenting. I focus much of my reading and researching on topics surrounding sour beer. For me, brewing with brett and bacteria is a perfect combination of science and alchemy. I am basically the bugs' assistant brewer; preparing the equipment and materials so they can make the magic.

My most successful sour projects have all been fermented with a cocktail of flora, harvested from dregs of my favorite commercial sour beers. Maintaining and fermenting with this mixed culture has yielded significantly more depth and complexity than commercial  yeast/bacteria blends.

A double batch of Flanders Red, split and fermented with Wyeast Roselare (left) and my mixed wild culture (right). The mixed culture portion showed significantly higher levels of acidity and brett character.

I do not have the resources to plate and bank yeast, so I am limited to a macro-scale mixed culture. In the past, it has been as simple as a 1-gallon growler with 2-3 quarts of low gravity wort. The initial pitch is normally either a pack of commercial yeast blend or dregs from a few bottles of young, lower-gravity commercial sours. Prior to pitching the dregs into the starter, I will conduct a small step up with a few ounces of wort in the bottle. This gives the dregs a fighting chance in the mixed culture, and it is a decent test for both contamination and yeast health. The main culture is routinely decanted and fed fresh wort every 3 months or so.

My method is a primitive one, giving up even more control of the finished product to the yeast. However, I have been able to use the culture over a period of 2-3 years, all the while creating beers with strikingly similar  flavor profiles and levels of acidity and attenuation. The most significant differences stem from the additional depth contributed from introducing new species into the culture over time. I have yet to find the "expiration date" of a mixed culture; I have used all of the slurry before noticing any undesirable changes.

This series of posts aims to compare different methods of maintaining wild yeast cultures on a 'macro' level. More to come!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wild Yeast Culture Experiments - Separating the Bugs

Over the past few months (or in one case, years), I have gathered commercial cultures of several yeasts and bacteria. The goal for this batch of microbes is to grow and maintain the individual cultures separately. I will use a fair amount of each culture in this year's lambic-esque brew, but I will also keep the individual cultures going for other experiments (berliner weisse and a brett-spiked saison, among others).

I love to collect sour beer dregs from commercial breweries, so I added a bit of the starter wort to a few freshly-consumed bottles. If these bottle cultures are successful, they will start off a fresh mixed culture.

Somewhat of a primer of what's to come, the cultures in this post are part of a set of experiments I started over a year ago. I am currently experimenting with several methods of maintaining mixed wild cultures, and hope to post results in the coming months!

Starter "Brewday": 01/08/13

Per Yeast text: 1g DME for every 10 mL H20

Made 8.5L starter with 850g of Briess Light Dry Malt Extract. Added 1/4 tsp Wyeast yeast nutrient.

Cooled to 80F. Poured into sanitized growlers and left on front porch until 65F.

Pitched following yeast (containers described, just in case labels fall off):

3.5L (1-gallon, clear growler) - 1056 starter
Note: this yeast is just for my next brewday

2L (Sun King growler) - Lacto starter

1L (traveling growler) - Brett Clausenii starter

1L (Flat12 growler) - Pedio starter

Note: As you can see from the picture, I got this Pedio starter for a bargain! I bought it last year, already out of date. The manufacture date on the package is March 2011 (Wyeast recommends using within 6 months), so I am not sure if this culture will yield any viable bugs.

1L (3WM growler) - Sherry Flor starter

~ 0.5L (from over-filled growler) - Split between two 750mL bottles

Monday, January 14, 2013

No-Sparge American Pale Ale - Tasting Notes

Brewday: 01/07/13

Appearance: Light gold. Great head retention (picture was taken 5 minutes after pour)! It carries a slight haze, which is probably due to the dry hops. Hopefully a small dose of wheat will help clear the next revision (see brewday post).

Nose: Medium-low level of hop aromatics, lemon zest and orange zest, which could be dialed up in future revisions. I also would like more depth in hop aroma: pine, mango, peach. The hops are complemented with a grainy, sweet pilsner malt aroma. Very pleasant, but I think depth could be added here with a higher percentage of Munich malt.

Taste: Lemon peel and pilsner malt, in similar levels as the aroma. A slight soapy note, probably from the dry hops, which will hopefully be neutralized by the addition of sulfate. Bitterness is too high and out of balance. The sting mellows somewhat as it warms, but the bitterness level should be lower. I think this can be achieved with less-aggressive bittering up front.

Mouthfeel: Dry and every-so-slightly thin, which may contribute to its supreme quaffability (I had quite a few pints while lounging at home last night). Bitterness contributes some heat and astringency on the tongue, covering the subtleties of the beer. Before changing mash temperature or yeast selection, we'll see how the addition of wheat and reduction of bitterness changes the mouthfeel.

Overall Impression: A great starting point, this beer is already one I enjoy having on tap. I am excited to brew the next revision!

Noted Changes for Revision 2

  • Add a small percentage of wheat malt (~5%) to test Colin Kaminski's theory.
  • Increase late and dry hop additions.
  • Use more hops with pine and stone-fruit characteristics.
  • Increase the percentage of Munich I (~20%).
  • Replace the FWH addition (Citra) with Cascade to soften the bitterness and add hop flavor.
  • Add a touch of Gypsum.

Monday, January 7, 2013

No-Sparge American Pale Ale

I don't believe The South House will produce many beers that fall within standard BJCP guidelines. However, finding an extremely well-crafted American-style pale ale is always an exciting beer moment for me. 

A great pale ale doesn't need complex ingredients, extended  barrel aging, or a reputation amongst the beer hoarders to be special. Its a beer that is striking in its balance and drinkability. One pint is satisfying, as is several throughout a session.

My "perfect pint" is an American-style pale ale that strikes a balance between American hops (stone fruit, citrus, pine) and high-quality base malt (grainy, bread crust, cracker). It is dry with a crisp bitterness, but not to the level of an IPA or Pilsner. It is not thin, with just enough mouthfeel to carry the balance of flavors.

I don't believe crystal-type malts have a place in my perfect pale. I like to build malt character through a mix of base malts, normally American 2-row, German Pils, and light Munich. Mouthfeel is established with a bit of flaked adjunct or light "Cara"-type malts (CaraPils, Carahell). The body-building malts in the beer will be restrained to maintained "digestability". Colin Kaminski, head brewer at Downtown Joe's in Napa Valley, suggested on the Brewing Network that a bit of wheat malt will help drop out haze from dry hops. I intend on trying out this tip with some wheat (and possibly oats, rye, and spelt) in future revisions.

For the first draft, I structured the hop charge similar to my IPA recipe, restraining the mass of both the early, late, and dryhop additions. I also traded out Simcoe, which screams"IPA" to me, with Cascade.

My plan with this brew was to create a rough draft of an American Pale Ale that will be tweaked, both in recipe and process, throughout the year. However, with the 5 inches of snow we received earlier in the week, I cut the total brewday time with a no-sparge and added some DME at the end of the boil to make up for the drop in efficiency.

No Sparge American Pale Ale:

Batch Size: 7 Gallons
Total Efficiency: 26.2%
Estimated Original Gravity: 1.051
Estimated Final Gravity: 1.011 (5.2% abv)
Estimated IBU: 43 (0.84 IBU/SG)

6 lbs Rahr 2-Row Pale Malt (35.3%)
6 lbs Weyermann Pilsner Malt (35.3%)
1 lb Flaked Barley (5.9%)
1 lb CaraHell (5.9%)
1 lb Munich Malt (5.9%)
2 lbs Briess Light DME (11.8%)

0.5 oz Citra - FWH
1.0 oz Cascade - 30 min
0.5 oz Chinook - 30 min
0.5 oz Cascade - 0 min (cooling - 170F)
0.5 oz Centennial - 0 min (cooling - 170F)
0.5 oz Chinook - 0 min (cooling - 170F)
0.5 oz Citra - 0 min (cooling - 170F)
0.5 oz Cascade - dry-hop (end of primary)
0.5 oz Centennial - dry-hop (end of primary)

Water: 8 gallons distilled water, 2 gallons drinking water, from Marsh. No mineral additions.

Brewed 12/30/12

Mash in at 162F with H2O to top of mash tun (8.2 gal water added)
T = 154F, pH ~ 5.5 (added a few drops 88% Lactic to bring pH to 5-5.3)
Collected 6.3 gal at 1.041 (31% efficiency) + 1.8 gal left in kettle = 8 gal at 1.032

FWH - Added 0.5 oz Citra
30 min – Added 1 oz Cascade
30 min – Added 0.5 oz Chinook
15 min - Added ~ 1 tbsp Irish Moss (small palm-ful)
2 min - Added ~ 2 lbs DME
Whirlpool (~170F): 0.5 oz Cascade, 0.5 oz Centennial, 0.5 oz Chinook, 0.5 oz Citra

OG = 1.051

Cooled to 59F and racked onto yeast cake from cream ale (~ 500-600mL loose slurry; overpitched?)

5-gallon bucket in fermentation fridge. Set 2-stage fermentation controller to 62F (basement temp ~61-62F – no heating).

Fermentation activity within 8 hours.

1/2/2013 (Wednesday night)
Fermentation slowed to 45sec between bubbles) – Added 0.5 oz Cascade and 0.5 oz Centennial.
Raised temp to 64F with heating belt for diacetyl rest.

Raised 1 deg per day to 66F.

1/7/2013 (Monday Night)
FG = 1.006 (5.9% abv)
Tasting notes: No detectable fermentation flaws. Nice grapefruit/citrus hop character with a crackery, grainy malt component. I would like to taste more piney/woody hop character.
Racked to keg. In kegorator at 40F, ~13 psi

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Brewing Goals 2013

I may not stick to the “Lose 20 lbs” or “Run a mini-marathon” New Year's resolutions, but I have been fairly diligent about working towards yearly goals in the brewhouse. This year, I have set the bar high:

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

Practice makes perfect. Pretty simple.

2. Start and maintain a blog as a brew log.

To become more purposeful in my brewing schedule, I have started working on a few of my existing recipes rather than brewing a different style every week. In doing this, I have noticed my attention to note-taking is lax on a fairly consistent basis. This blog will hopefully improve my note-taking and planning habits.

3. Pitch appropriate cell counts for every batch.

Brewing 40 batches will be a lot of work! To make the beer worth the effort, I plan to spend more time preparing yeast starters, as well as collecting, storing, and maintaining yeast from successive batches.

4. Win 1st place in any category at the Indiana Brewers Cup.

In the past three years, I have placed either second or third in various categories at this competition. Its time to add my first blue ribbon to the collection!

5. Enter at least one beer in the NHC.

I have never competed in any other competition aside from the Brewers Cup. The NHC will provide great feedback and a good bench mark of my abilities.

6.Go to the NHC!

I also have never attended an NHC! My work schedule has never allowed for it, but this year I have made it a priority.

7. “Clone” my own beer – repeatedly brew the same Pale Ale recipe three times in a row.

If there is a theme to this year’s goals, it’s refocusing my attention on recipe formulation and consistency. I have recipes that I brew on a seasonal or yearly basis, but never with the frequency to test consistency from batch to batch. I believe the ease or difficulty in achieving this goal will reveal a lot about me as a brewer.

Let's get to it!