Monday, March 18, 2013

Wild Yeast Culture Experiments - Dregs in Kegs

I have quite a few sour beers in kegs. In fact, this is where most of my 'wild' projects end up. Some of my sour beers are also born in the keg, as I'm often inoculating an unexciting base beer with a mixed culture or transferring it to a keg with mixed dregs. Today I preformed the former, transferring a keg of Double Chocolate Brown to a keg holding the dregs of last year's Sour/Funky Tripel, a beer that placed third at the Indiana Brewers Cup as a Belgian Specialty Ale. Aside from freeing up a keg for an Imperial Stout that will soon be ready, I wanted to add some depth to this Double Brown. I enjoyed having it on tap but thought it was a bit one-dimensional, probably because I let the beer set on cocoa nibs for three weeks! I hope the complexities this bunch of wild yeast produce will create a few more dimensions for this beer.

If given the choice, I would much rather age my sour/funky beers, imperial beers, and lagers in a keg than a glass carboy or Better Bottle. Keg conditioning has several advantages:

It frees up both fermentor and floor space. I am able to stash my slender kegs in a corner of the basement or in my kegerator for cold-conditioning. I can stash about six kegs in the same space  as two 5-gallon carboys.

Oxygen pickup is minimized or eliminated. Sampling, bottling, splitting batches, and adding fruit/spices/oak/etc. are all common procedures that can introduce oxygen. The ability to purge the headspace and transfer under pressure is a substantial advantage.

Bottling is not required and is much easier if you choose to do so. You can either carbonate naturally or with CO2 pressure. If you choose natural carbonation (which I prefer for sour beers), the priming sugar can be evenly dispersed by adding it to the keg, capping and purging the headspace, and then shaking to combine. Bottling from a keg gives the option to bottle a small portion of the batch (a few bottles to take to a party or enter a competition). In addition to the reduction of oxygen pickup, bottling day is also made easier with a counter-pressure filler or Blichmann Beer Gun.

Experimentation with oak, spices, and hops is much easier to conduct in kegs. The ingredient can be added in a muslin bag for retrieval. Many attach a string and run it through the lid, but I've can't get it to seal this way. I've resorted to using fishing line and an unused bobber, which actually works well! In the case of oak, the chips or cubes can be retrieved from the keg and used to inoculate another batch.

Keeping beers in kegs allows them to be ready for blending at any time. Pulling samples for any size tasting panel is a breeze, and the proportions transferred into the blend keg can easily be monitored using a scale or a level strip.

Kegs are sturdy. Any time I can reduce the risk of dropping and spilling five gallons of well-aged homebrew, along with potential injury, I jump on it!

Sour beer on tap is a beautiful thing.

In my opinion, keeping your sour and funky beers in kegs is the easiest way to separate your wild brews from your clean ones, minimizing exposed soft parts and keeping mixed fermentations contained within stainless vessels. I have, for the most part, managed to keep a repository of sour-only kegs, but I have reconditioned sour kegs for clean service without issue, replacing the o-rings and poppet valves. I imagine I will soon need to keg more sour homebrew as my experiments are ready, so I will keep a log of my kegs to trace any sour/funky crossover. Kegs and their permanent components are stainless, so with good sanitation and regular maintenance I feel confident I can keep my clean beers clean and my funky beers funky (in a good way).

Here is a few items to get you started:

Suggested equipment (in addition to a basic kegging setup):
  • Extra sets of poppets and o-rings
  • Out-to-Out transfer line (shown in above picture), to transfer beer from a clean keg to a sour keg.
  • Bottle filler
Cool to have, but not necessary:
  • Additional kegs for sour beer only.
  • pH meter for measuring finished beer pH
  • Level strips or scale for measuring transfer volume
  • Stencil to mark and identify sour/funky kegs. Insignia may include simple text ("sour", "wild", "funky", "brett only", "no pedio", etc.) or a simple graphic (Jolly Roger, pitch fork, effigy of George Clinton).

What kind of homebrewed treasures do you have tucked away in a forgotten Cornie?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pale Ale - Revision 2 (a.k.a. Mosaic Double Pale)

Written as a follow-up to my initial attempt at a pale ale, the recipe for this beer was fairly similar to the original. Come brew day, however, I chose to deviate from the recipe, attempting to take advantage of the increased efficiency I earned from slowing my runoff. During the longer mash out, I had time to relax and take down a few pints of IPA.

My IPA-fueled ADD got the best of me, tricking me into breaking two of my cardinal brewing rules: 

1. Stick To The Recipe
2. No Beer Until The Boil (okay - obviously can't blame IPA for this one)

Another shining example of why I abide by these rules, this beer is lackluster at best, paling in comparison to the initial version. It is out of balance, with a hop profile that is shadowed by the extra gravity.

Since the beer was already such a departure, I decided to experiment with Mosaic hops in my dry-hop addition. More notes on this later in the post.

In addition to the shortcomings caused by my lack of discipline, I also believe some of the changes I set out to make after Rev. 1 can use another tweak:
  • 20% Munich Malt is a bit high. I think I will settle around 12%
  • I would like more Pilsner malt flavors to come through. It will make up ~50% of the next grain bill.
  • The beer will sit on the dry hops for 3 days maximum. I will keep the amounts the same for the next revision, and determine whether I need to add more to the single dry hop addition or dry hop in the keg as well (warm, before carbonating).
  • Inspired by hoppy but massively-quaffable ales like Founders All Day IPA and 21st Amendment's Bitter American, I'd like to drive the gravity below 5%.   

Brewday 01/27/2013

Estimated OG = 1.054
Estimated FG = 1.010 - 1.012
Estimated efficiency = 58.9%
Batch size = 7.1 gal (into fermenter)
Boil time = 60 min


6 lbs Rahr 2-row Pale Malt (31.6%)
6 lbs Weyermann Pilsner Malt (31.6%)
4 lbs Weyermann Munich I Malt (21.1%)
2 lbs Weyermann Wheat Malt (10%)
1 lbs Weyermann CaraHell (5.3%)


5 gallons drinking water, 7 gallons distilled water (Marsh)
Adjusted to 300 ppm sulfate (assumed 60% RO water in Bru’n Water)
Added 12g CaSO4 to strike water (per Bru’n Water)


Mashed in with 6 gallons H2Oat 166F – T=153F (BeerSmith = spot on)
pH ~ 4.7
Added 1.5g Baking Soda – pH ~5.8
Added ¼ tsp 88% lactic acid – pH ~ 4.7
Added 0.6g Baking Soda – pH~5
Added 0.4g Baking Soda – pH 5-5.3 (Good enough)
T =152F at start of rest (12:35)
Stirred half way through rest (13:00) – T=151F
Added 0.5 gal boiling water (13:10) – T = 151F
Added 0.5 gal boiling water (13:12) – T = 154 (oops)
Added FWH at beginning of boil (1.00 oz / 28.5g Cascade)
Collected 8.5 gal at 1.051 (62% mash efficiency)


Started boil at 15:18

1.00 oz (28.5g) Cascade – FWH
1.75 oz (49.2g) Chinook – 30 min (0.5oz extra from recipe – adjusting bitterness for extra extract)
Added Whirlfloc tablet at 30 min
KO after 60 min - started chilling
1 oz (28g) Centennial – 0 min (170F)
1 oz (28g) Citra – 0 min (170F)
1 oz (28g) Cascade – 0 min (170F) (0.5oz extra from recipe – replaces extra 0.5oz Chinook added at 30 min)
OG = 1.065


Pitched at 62F – 1 cup thin slurry, washed from last week’s batch (double brown, 1056 starter and packet S-05)
Oxygen – 45 seconds

2/1/2013 – Fermentation slowing. Added 2 oz Mosiac, 1 oz Centennial

2/3/2013 – FG = 1.008 (7.5% ABV)

2/6/2013 – Racked to keg with Gelatin (1/2 tsp in ~3/4 cup)
Note: This is much longer of a dry hop period than normal (3 days maximum).

02/10/2013 – Pulled first 1.5 pints, significant amount of sediment (clogged tube). After most/all of the sediment had passed, the beer is still very cloudy. The next pint had small bits of hop matter in it.

03/04/13 – Tasting notes:

Appearance: Very pretty burnt orange. Translucent.

Aroma: Berry and citrus, like a mixture of homemade jams. Pleasant.

Flavor: Some hop flavors are similar tothe nose, with the addition of wet cut grass clippings (not favorable – probably from the extra days on the dry hops). Bready malt flavors, no pilsner malt flavors.

Mouthfeel: Not too dry. Bitterness lingers a bit, but it would be nice in a smaller, drier, more aromatic beer.

Overall impression: Quite a departure from my intent, this beer isn't terrible to have on tap but lacks the quality, quaffability, and personality of the first version. The first was much more balanced and complex, which is interesting considering the lower alcohol and simpler hop bill. I assume this one is lacking because it is under-hopped with the increase in gravity.

The malt flavors were also more one-dimensional. The color is beautiful, but I will still decrease the Munich and increase the amount of Pilsner. I enjoy the saltine cracker flavors from Pilsner, with bready Munich as a background note. As I nail down the flavors and balance of the beer, I may play with a bit of dark malts to get the same orange hues of this beer. I'm usually not a fan of adding additional ingredients solely for the sake of color, but I don't think I can achieve the color and my desired malt profile otherwise.

Mosaic hops have unique flavors, but I don’t like them in a pale ale, as they dominate the hop profile. The most impressive examples are hop-forward imperial red ales, much like Bell’s This One Goes to 11 (AWESOME. Beer.). These hops may also be interesting in malt-forward beers boasting fruity notes from the malt, like Doppelbock, Dubbel, or Amber.

Next up: Round Three!