Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jelly Doughnut (update)

     I was planning to bottle this low-gravity Berlinerweisse today, four days shy of four weeks out from the brewday, but was really surprised to see that it had only dropped to 1.010 from 1.031, giving me an abv of only 2.77%.  This still needs to drop between 2-5 points yet, to even think about calling it done.  The yeast has settled into a firm cake at the bottom, and the beer is surprisingly clear, actually, so I'm not quite sure what's going on.  I know the lactobacillus and the brettanomyces will take some time to make themselves known, and will keep eating some of the sugars, but I still expected a lower gravity today.  At any rate, guess I won't be bottling; I'll leave this in primary for another week or two before checking to see if it drops any more.  If not, I may have to throw it in secondary, but hopefully I'll be able to bottle next time around.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jelly Doughnut (My first 'wild'/sour beer!)

     After trying 4 Hands Brewing Company's Prussia Berlinerweisse on tap at 44 Stone Public House, I became fascinated with the style.  4 Hands' offering is not as sharply sour as some examples supposedly are, but it shows a beautiful balance of flavors: crackery pils malt, tart fruit, and a bit of earthy funk.  It's immensely refreshing and only 3.5% abv!  The perfect summer beer if ever there was one.  It's also one of those 'increasingly hard to find' styles, so when Wyeast released their 'Berlinerweisse blend' (Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces from a now-defunct German brewery, and Lactobacillus) I figured it was a sign. 

Supposedly a potentially problematic strain...hoping for luck!
     Fast foward to today.  It's been a long time since I've ordered a pre-packaged kit from either Northern Brewer or Midwest Supplies.  If anything, usually I'll look at their recipe, and tweak it a bit to use DME instead of LME and make other changes here or there.  But since I knew very little about Berlinerweisse in terms of recipe formation, and they were offering a limited-edition 'Kinderweisse' kit, I jumped on it.  I even went for the all-extract kit, knowing I'd be in school soon, and needing to save time.  It couldn't have been simpler, but I renamed it 'Jelly Doughnut'.  Kudos if you get the reference!

Jelly Doughnut (Ich bin ein Berliner!)

(5 gallons)

     -3.15 lbs wheat LME (65% wheat, 35% barley)
     -1 lb. Briess wheat DME (65% wheat, 35% barley)

     -1 oz Hersbrucker (2.8% AA) for 20 minutes

     -1 package Wyeast Berlinerweisse blend #3191

     Even though one of my kitties seems to have gnawed into the bag of DME, he/she must not have gotten much of it, because after 20 minutes (I extended the recommended boil by 5 minutes to make sure my wort chiller was sanitized) my OG hit 1.031 on the nose. 

I'm betting Quentin was the culprit, but who knows?
Now, we wait, and hope and pray that Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces don't decide to run amok in my brewhouse! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saison d'Etre (Week 5 Update)

     While brewing up Fuggles' Yorkshire Mild today, I took a gravity reading from my saison.  After five weeks, the yeast has fermented this down to 1.005.  We're looking much better, but I still think I'm going to give this a little time and see if I can't get a bit more attenuation out of it.  At this point, this is coming in at about 6.65% abv.  We'll see what another week or two does, and see if we can't dry it out just a bit more. The Dupont strain really is a strange yeast! At week four, this was only down to a paltry 1.024.  For some reason that extra week really dropped it down, even though fermentation looked for all intents and purposes to have screeched nearly to a halt.
    As far as impressions, this smells and tastes fantastic.  There's a bit more spice than last time, with that wonderful Juicy Fruit aroma, as well as some other vibrant fruitiness.  The bitterness is still firm, but not overpowering like last time.  The fact that this has dried out considerably, along with the increased alcohol, makes this very nicely balanced.  Refreshing, fruity and spicy on the palate, and a clean bitterness on the finish makes this a winner.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Gaffer--Update

     Curiosity finally got the better of me and I had to crack one of these to see how it was progressing (about two months after brewing).  The beer has cleared well in the bottle and the two ounce sample that I poured out was a beautiful dark amber hue with orange highlights.  It was still pretty hot (no surprise there, at 10.25% abv and only two months old), but there were nice red fruit flavors, along with caramel and a strong sweetness.  So far, so good.  There's one significant problem, however.  There's no carbonation.  And I mean none.  It's a well-known fact that strong ales take a lot longer to carbonate than their session- and regular-strength brethren, which can have good carbonation levels after a week or two.  Nonetheless, after some research on the Beer Advocate forums today, there is some chance that this may never carbonate.  I should have pitched a fresh packet of yeast at bottling time to aid carbonation, but (as several brewers pointed out) sometimes even that's not enough.  I look forward to the day when I have a kegging system and can force carb.  In the meantime, I rolled the bottles around to rouse the yeast, and we'll see what another couple of months and subsequent rousing does here.  For what it's worth, a couple of brewers mentioned their barleywines took 4-6 months to carb.  If this doesn't carb, I'll either a) drink it as is (hey, oftentimes aged barleywines have very little carbonation anyway, and this could easily be served in cordial glasses for a tasty winter treat) or I could b) attempt to force-carb in my Tap-A-Draft system.  I guess time will tell.   

Monday, July 30, 2012

Saison d'Etre (update and move to secondary)

     This has now been in the fermenter for exactly four weeks and, as ambient temps have been in the 78-85 degree range for that length of time, I started to worry a bit about autolysis (the process of yeast cells dying, decomposing, and throwing all sorts of disgusting burnt rubber flavors and aromas).  I figured that, if the beer wasn't done yet, I'd rack this to a secondary and get it off the yeast cake, thus reducing the threat.  Secretly, I was hoping the beer would be close to finished, and that perhaps I could just cold crash it and keg it, but I should have known better. 
    High krausen fell after maybe 2-3 days and, for the majority of the four weeks, this has been bubbling along at a rate of about one bubble every 8-10 seconds, slowing ever so slightly over the four week period.  Ignoring all of the literature about this yeast's finicky nature, I figured that meant it might be getting close to being finished.  Imagine my surprise when, in the middle of last week, the blow-off tube started bubbling at a rate of a bubble every 4 seconds or so, and kept that up every day.  I was initially worried about a possible infection, but everything smells fine.  This truly is a bizarre yeast!
     There is still a lot of yeast in suspension.  By a lot, I mean that there's a little bit settled out on the bottom of the fermenter and everything else is an opaque, murky haze.  This should be expected, I guess, if the yeast is still going strong, but again, it's fairly unusual.  High krausen is long gone, but there is a thin layer of white foam on top of the beer, suggesting ongoing fermentation.  I decided to (for once) do things right and actually make sure my sample was at 60F in order to get an accurate hydrometer reading.  Again, thanks to my folks for the awesome probe thermometer!
     The verdict? After 4 weeks at ideal temperatures, this is only down to 1.023, which puts this at about 4.3% abv with an apparent attenuation of only 57.6% at this point.  In other words, it has a long way to go yet.  The good news is that it smells wonderful; it's full of the Juicy Fruit gum, tropical fruit, and spice aromas that make Saison Dupont such a great beer.  The flavors follow suit, with a vibrant, classic mix of fruit and spice.  There's also a firm hop bitterness, and herbal hop finish as well.  I only bittered this to around 31 IBUs, but used lower-alpha hops (in greater quantities) to do this.  The hopping's almost a bit much at this point, although if I can get this to dry out significantly, I think the hop presence will compliment the beer nicely, when balanced by further attenuation and the presence of more alcohol. This one's going into the secondary today, and will get some more time. If this hasn't dropped much in the next two to three weeks, I may consider moving it into the garage for the remainder of the fermentation, to really boost the temperature.  All in all, though this is coming along slower than I'd like, there's a lot to be optimistic about here. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Saison d'Etre (Classic Belgian Saison)

     Along with English session ales, Belgian saison is one of the styles that really got me interested in homebrewing in the first place.  The best Belgian varieties, like Saison Dupont and Fantome are around $9.00 and $12-15 a bottle, respectively, and because of the green bottles they're packaged in, you never know how well they'll travel.  Since a version of the Dupont strain is commercially available, I figured it was time to take a crack at this intriguing style.  With this brew, I'm going for something traditional, as described in a brilliant essay by Yvan de Baets in Phil Markowski's Farmhouse Ales .  These beers were traditionally created in small, regional farmhouse breweries, brewed for the additional seasonal farmhands needed during the summer and harvest months. As such, they had to be thirst-quenching, refreshing, and not too powerful.  I'm using Wyeast's version of the world-famous yeast strain cultured from Brasserie Dupont in the West-Hainaut region of Belgium.  This yeast is notorious for two things: it's incredible fruity/spicy flavor profile, which make Dupont's beers so respected, and the fact that it's absolute murder to work with.  This strain (which may actually be a combination of several strains and, additionally, may contain influences from a red-wine yeast) has a tendency to require substantially higher temperatures (75-90 degrees!) to work efficiently, and a significantly longer fermentation time than other ale strains.     
     Many homebrewers have been frustrated by this yeast's tendency to give up the ghost about 75% of the way through fermentation.  Markowski's book, along with a variety of web-based resources, however, suggest that a healthy pitching rate (I made a 1L starter with two Wyeast smack-packs), elevated temperatures, and a healthy dose of patience are all that is necessary for this one to do its magic.  Well, I've got my yeast, we've got 100-degree-plus weather here in mid-Missouri, and...well, I'm not so good at the whole 'patience' thing, but I'm gonna give it my best. 

Saison d'Etre: batch no. 1

       -2 lbs. Munton's Light DME
       -1 lb. Munton's Wheat DME
       -3 lbs. Briess Pilsen malt     (Mash between 150-154, rest for 70 minutes)
       -12 oz. Table sugar
       -1 oz. East Kent Goldings (4.5% AA) 60 minutes               (16.5 IBUs)
       -1 oz. East Kent Goldings (4.5% AA) 20 minutes               (10.0 IBUs)
       -1 oz. Williamette (4.7% AA) 5 minutes                             (4.3 IBUs)
       -(2) Wyeast #3724 smack packs, in 1 L starter wort
     This go-round, I tried a different sparging technique, thanks to some helpful online advice which pointed out the very obvious (it was one of those 'forest for the trees' mistakes) reason my efficiency had been utterly rubbish on my last two batches.  While my efficiency was a little better than my previous batches, it was still 4 points low.  As my wort was getting fairly close to the boil, I threw in the remaining DME I had left (13 oz by weight) and measured again.  1.043, my target pre-boil gravity, on the nose.  How's that for luck?  After the beer was in the fermenter, outfitted with a blowoff tube, I took a final refractometer reading of my wort.  It was at 1.056, a full seven points over where it was supposed to be (1.049).  This is not the end of the world: far from it.  Basically, I might get a saison that's up to 6.3-6.5% abv rather than the 5.00% I was looking for.  Perhaps a bit stout to keep field-hands working upright all day, but since I'm not out working in the fields, I can probably manage. 
     That's not to say that I'm not getting a bit frustrated with my continuing mash efficiency problems.  For my last three batches now, my original refractometer readings for my pre-boil gravity have been way low.  I've added DME to compensate, but then my OG ends up being high.  I'm wondering if I'm somehow getting flawed readings in attempting to measure my pre-boil gravity, but I'm not sure why that would be.  I'm going to have to do a bit more digging around online and see what I can find.  Meanwhile, this baby's in the fermenter.  Here's hoping for a great saison in 4-5 weeks' time!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Gaffer--English-Style Barleywine

     Today's brew wasn't really planned; it just kind of happened.  Thanks to my awesome inlaws, I got an extract Old Luddite kit from Northern Brewer this past Christmas.  This beer sounded delicious all on its own and, in many ways, pretty much sums up what I love best about British beers in the 'Winter Warmer' or 'English Strong Ale' tradition.  Nonetheless, I didn't have time to brew up Old Luddy until it was getting pretty warm around here, and by the time it would have been ready, we would have been coming up on teh hottest part of the summer.  As delicious as Luddy sounds, it's probably not well-suited to summer drinking.  Hmmm, so what to do?
    As I considered my options, I realized that it was probably about time to up some kind of smooth, malty elixir for winter sipping.  Looking at the grain-bill, the hop schedule, and the kit description for Old Luddy, I began to wonder what it might look like if bumped up to barleywine statistics.  So, after playing around with my awesome Beer Smith software (thanks, babe!) I came up with the following recipe.  The ingredients in red are those I added to the original kit from NB. 

     -6.3 lbs. Gold LME                                (45.65%)  Target Pre-boil gravity = 1.077
     -1 lb. Briess Gold DME                         (7.38%)    Actual Pre-boil gravity = 1.071
     -8 oz. English Medium Crystal              (3.69%)
     -8 oz. English Dark Crystal                   (3.69%)     Target O.G. = 1.092
     -4 oz. Fawcett's Pale Chocolate Malt    (1.85%)     Actual O.G. 1.102                                  
     -3 lbs. Warminster Maris Otter             (22.14%)
     -8 oz. Briess Carapils                            (3.69%)
     -1 lb. Corn Sugar (Dextrose)                 (7.38%)
     -10 oz. Dark Brown Sugar                     (4.57%)
     -1 oz. Brewer's Gold at 60 min. at 9.9% AA                                    (27.7 IBUs)
     -1 oz. East Kent Goldings at 60 min. at 6.7% AA                            (18.7 IBUs)
     -1 oz. East Kent Goldings at 20 min. at 6.7% AA                            (11.3 IBUs)
     -1 oz. Styrian Goldings at 1 min. at 3.8% AA                                  (.5 IBUs)
     -Yeast cake of Wyeast 1968, harvested from St. Oswin's Special Bitter  and washed

     Again, I had mash woes.  My target pre-boil gravity was 1.077, but my first reading was a pitiful 1.066.  I added 22 ounces of DME (which is all I had) which got me to 1.071.  At that point, I was considering adding a bit more brown sugar, though that would have put my simple sugars at a higher percentage of the fermantables than is ideal.  It was tough decision time: to follow my gut, not add extra sugar, and risk this becoming a lower-gravity Old Ale, rather than a Barleywine, or to add the sugar, hit my gravity, and risk off-flavors and thin mouthfeel.  I also figured I'd try something a bit experimental (new to me, at least) and boil this for a full 2 hours, rather than the original sixty of the Old Luddy or the 90 minutes I'd originally planned.  This will, in theory, intensify the flavors and concentrate the wort, though I will end up with a bit less beer.  Some traditional barleywine brewers (and Scotch ale brewers) favor longer boils for the carmelized flavors that can't be obtained by crystal malts alone.  This was turning into a somewhat experimental brew, so I figured why not? 
     After the boil, this tipped in at 1.012, a full 10 points higher than expected!  This all leads to one of two conclusions: either (a) my early measurments are way off, or (b) the two-hour boil really concentrated my wort.  Either way, I think I pitched enough healthy yeast, but had I known the gravity was going to be anywhere near that high, I would have gotten a new oxygen tank to aerate I was just hoping that it would hit a FG that's somewhere south of Dark Lord levels!  After about twenty days in the primary, this had fermented all the way down to 1.024, which puts the abv at a whopping 10.25%.  Looks like my barleywine might be saved after all!