Sunday, February 27, 2011

Checking on what condition my conditioning is in

Today I am attempting my first real (read: informed) bottle conditioned beer today. It is my Belgian Golden Strong taken from Brewing Classic Styles. Basically its a close approximation to one of Belgium's great beers, coolest beer website and our personal favorite beer here at the One Eleven: Duvel. If you have never had it, then get it. Its great any time with anything. 

"Lager storage"/refrigerator
I had a hell of a time figuring out EXACTLY how to do bottle conditioning. A quick infominute-Bottle conditioning is a process where beer has yeast added into the beer after its initial fermentation, right before its bottled. While in the bottle, it goes into a secondary fermentation. Usually the beer is filtered first to get rid of the older, or in the case of high-alcohol-beers, worn out yeast. Since the Snow Devil (my Duvel clone) comes in at 8.5% it qualifies as a high-alcohol beer. Why would you do this? It adds complexity due to different yeast flavors (if you choose to use flavorful yeasts, which I will not be doing), helps in carbonating a beer if your yeasties are worn out, and a smoother flavor profile if given enough time

The info available was there, kind of, but it took a lot of work to get through. So where does one start? I started here. It was a pretty good outline, but it didn't quite cover my circumstances. I wanted to use dry-yeast and pitch a slurry, for a Belgian beer. Why a slurry? Well according to pretty much everybody, like in this book, Palmer, and the manufacturer of the yeast S-23, they say to rehydrate your yeast. Otherwise, you could lose anywhere from 40-60% Click those links and you can figure out how to do that first. I spent some time getting that ready. Then I had to decide exactly how much yeast I wanted to pitch. Too little and your carbonation may not be optimal, too much and you get much more yeast in there...which can affect flavor quite perceptibly. The Northern Brewer sheet suggests 1-3 million cells per ml for belgian beers, or 20-60 billion per 5 gallons, which I was bottling. That's kind of a big swing, so I just went for somewhere in the middle. I also didn't have a vessel to measure out 15ml of slurry and needed more because of my Belgian style, so I had to work around that by going bigger. Let's get to what I actually did do: 

I found how to get 10x the weight of my dry yeasties-400 ml of water- Northern Brewer sheet said 1/4tsp dry yeast to 100 ml of water...times four. So I boiled the hell out of a pot of water that would let me end up with more than 400ml. I boiled about 2 quarts for 15 minutes or so. Not sure if that's "sterile" or not, but its close enough. Once that cooled to just above room temp, I dumped 400ml into a sanitized pyrex container. Then I sanitized the shit out of the package and scissors, then combined it into the water. I forgot to stir the water before adding the yeast, per the S-23 website. I ended up with a little island of yeast after 15 minutes. So I used a sanitized spoon to combine the whole slurry and let it sit some more. After about 10 minutes, I reswirled, then added 75 ml of slurry to my bottling bucket with my priming sugar. Why 75 ml? Well... I did some deep-mental-digging math to stumble upon that number. My reasoning: If 400ml of water with an 11.5 gram package of properly rehydrated dry yeast gets you 230 billion cells (according to the NB sheet), then 40 ml will get you 23 billion cells. That wasn't quite enough since my beer is a nice and high alcohol beer, again, according to people who know more than me, I should add more yeast than a typical beer because of the gravity, and also because of the low temp that I was bottling-this beer came straight from the fridge. Anyways, I ended up guessing I needed 43 billion cells, or 75 ml of slurry. Jamil's Yeast publication stated that it should be anywhere from 10-20x less than your primary fermentation pitch, so there I was. Unfortunately it lacked a nice-comprehensive chart for every beer style known. How dare they?! 

As far as the amount of time to let it condition in its secondary fermentation...well I don't know. I think Duvel does a month or two then sends it out. Dupont does 40-80 days. Me...well...I think I'll try it at 3 weeks and see, then let it sit. Since this particular beer is super carbed AND it is bottle conditioned it needs to be cold as a witch's titty (approximately 38F or so) for at least a couple of days to let some of that yeast settle. You also don't have to empty the bottle completely. Ideally, for any beer except hefeweizen or wit beer, you chill it for a while, then pour it without disturbing the yeast layer at the bottom. The beer may be so good that you want to get every drop out, but it will be for the better that you don't. There you have it. That was my bottle conditioning story. 

Currently Listening: Genesis-Invisible Touch
Currently Reading: Don DeLillo-Americana

Friday, February 18, 2011

For lack of a better name-My Dark Saison.

My love obsession with saison continues. I cannot get enough of this beer and the more interpretations I have, the more I love it. If I have one that isn't that great, it only bolsters my desire for the ones I enjoy. As I mentioned earlier, this beer style varied from brewery to brewery back when they where brewing them for the farm workers in Belgium. The style also varies from season to season with the brewers now. A good example is Fantome: the beers change to suit the season. We see that on the whole with craft beer; fall seasonals are spiced accordingly and seasonal ingredients-like pumpkin or squash are added. The beer takes on the tone of the season. Its very cool. Its parallels why it feels especially good to eat pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, or drink egg nog at Christmas. Yes, its tradition, but the flavors also help evoke the season. What is fascinating about saison is that this one style of beer can cover this seasonal terrain. You don't really see that with other beers.

A while ago, we were fortunate enough to get a couple of kegs of New Belgium's Dark Heather Saison in Springfield. This is definitely a seasonal offering and it was certifiably cool. I loved the warming feeling of this beer with the spicy yeast notes that saisons all have. Ever since I've been wanting to do a dark-black like saison. Recently I tried Goose Island's Pepe Nero and was not as taken as I was with the DHS, but still its a great drink. What I especially like is how this beer plays on expectations. Your ideas of "traditional"-orange or yellow- saison must be challenged, not to mention your expectations of dark beers-this one isn't "heavy" or roasty, or "stouty". Its clean and crisp still. Both of these dark saisons had some warming and spicy notes, with slight, slight, hints of roast and finished very crisply. I currently have the Fantome Noel in the fridge which I am just waiting for something super awesome to happen so I can enjoy. This beer's ingredients change with each year. Usually they contain some sort of fruit juice addition, but its tough to tell. There's usually quite a buzz that surrounds this beer, so if you find it, buy it and love it.

My approach to the dark saison is leaning somewhere towards the American approach, which is actually a bit conservative compared to Belgians like Fantome. This beer was my first attempt at formulating my own recipe too, so I wanted to keep it simple...somewhat. The trouble I had was wanting the black color, but not imparting too much roast flavor, as it could clash with the pepper qualities of the yeast. Upon the "quality control" I did last post, I would make changes now. Here's the recipe in all its weird formatted glory:

1. Belgian Pils 9 lbs 37
  1. German Malted Wheat                  1.5 lbs             39
  2. Toasted German Wheat (350F)       1 lbs               37
  3. Melanoidin                                     .5 lbs               32
  4. Cara-Pils                                        .5 lbs               34
  5. Belgian Special B                          .25 lbs             30
  6. Black Barley                                  .5 lbs               29
Hops: Amount Time %Alpha Acid
1. Styrian Goldings 2 oz 90 minutes 3.4%
  1. Czech Saaz .5 oz 90 minutes 3% 
  2. Czech Saaz             1.5 oz                          10 minutes                   3 
  3. Original Gravity: 1.060
    Final Gravity: 1.002 
    ABV: 7.7%
 Given the tasting, I would drop some of the complexity of the malt bill. It seemed like there might too much going on. On the cutting board would be the Melanoidin malt and probably the Special B. I was hoping those would provide more sweet complexity, but I think it just was too much. The hop flavor is pretty nice right now too, so I think I'll keep that on this one. As for the strong fusels I was getting...I got up into the mid 70's during fermentation. This wasn't a big deal I thought, but it may be a lot of little things working in conjunction? Possibly too much oxgenation (only did 2 minutes though) combined with some of the roasty flavors might produce this? We'll see if it settles out. For now, I must leave off and go check out a Beer Engine at our local Gastropub. Next dark tasting may be the half of this I wood aged...

Currently Reading-Dharma Bums-by Jack Kerouac

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Early Dark Saison tasting.

"quality control" time! 

Age-9 days in bottle.

Appearance-Dark darkly brown, looks black. Totally opaque. It becomes barely brown around the edges as you drink it. Awesome pillowy head that is slightly off white. Great formation and great lacing. Looks like a porter for sure.

Aroma- Slight pepper mixed with a touch of citrus. Just a trace of alcohol smell. As it warms, it release a sweet-nutty-banana smell. But still, totally yeast dominated.

Mouthfeel- Crisp carbonation. Spreads nicely in mouth. Body is medium and is noticeably nice as the glass empties. It is holding together much better than my previous all grain batches at its current age.

Taste-First taste is a slightly bitter toastyness-bordering on medicinal, then a little wheaty. Hops and fruitiness follows that. End taste is hugely fusely. Still very young. Needs more time to mellow out. As it warms the initial taste becomes smoother. Flavors become more assertive, but still rounded. The middle taste is barely nutty and the hops fight through right at the end-a sort of soft citrus flavor. Finish is very warming, still too warming. After taste is of lingering the Saaz hops. The difference between 36F and 45F is unreal. It needs to be better balanced. Probably will be balanced in a month or two.

Drinkability- As it warms up, it becomes much, much smoother. The finish is still crisp, but still full, its kind of hard to describe. The flavor is a touch too bitter. I need to reduce the bittering hops by a couple of IBUs.

Overall, this is a completely unique beer to me. I've never tasted all these flavors together, and some of the ingredients are new to me. Its actually, dare I say, beguiling?? I'm liking it more and more as it warms. Its very earthy and very wintery. A nice beer to have after a windy-cold ass day. So how'd it come to be? Look above...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saison Resource

Beer comrades! While trolling on the Burgundian Babble Belt , an excellent site for learning about sour, funky, and awesome Belgian beers I found this article about different saisons. In my first saison post, I didn't really talk about some breweries doing seasonal saisons... I was gonna do that when I talk about my dark saison that I recently made. So more on that later. Until then, Prost!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Robust Vanilla Porter all up in my mouth.

Remember that Porter I made in my firstish post? Lets discuss its qualities! I've had a long day of brewing and cleaning and not nearly enough drinking.
Dark as the bloody night! 

Appearance-A healthy, deep black with a nice fluffy cream colored head that dissipates slowly. Completely opaque, with subtle deep ruby hues whenever light has the chance to sneak through.

Aroma-Smooth vanilla aroma, followed by hints of chocolate and coffee. After swirling, there is some heavy caramel notes that slide in and some slight, slight, slight fusel (hot alcohol notes).

Mouthfeel-Light carbonation that dances in the mouth. Not a heavy body at all. Thin, in other words. Still is a bit watery. Either needs more body in the recipe OR (hopefully) more time in the bottle so everything can meld together all sexy like.

Taste-Some vanilla notes right up front. The 6.9% of the brew hits the back of your throat before any malt flavor does. Malt notes are still very slight, but there is some roastiness/coffeeness that is barely there. Definitely needs more malt flavor to come through. There is some slight hope notes also on the back of the tongue that you would only notice if you knew what kind where in there (Styrian Goldings). When swallowing there is some nice vanilla that runs down your throat followed by some warming alcohol then finished with a spritz of carbonation.

Drinkability-Very, very drinkable. You don't even notice the 7% alcohol that this bad boy has. A couple of these will get you loose in a hurry. And by loose I mean willing to have sex with people you wouldn't normally have sex with. Pretty good mouthfeel and great tastes. So far this has been, hands down, my favorite home-brew to drink. I will be brewing this guy right at the end of summer when its time.

Want the recipe? Get it here.

Currently Listening: The Cars-Greatest Hits

Things are brewing in the 1ELEVEN.

Today is brew-day. I guess. Normally I get excited, but today I just didn't feel like cleaning up all the shit it takes to brew-which can be a tricky thing when you are apartment brewing. BUT. I dealt with it. AND today is the first time I'm going to be repitching my own yeast. What the hell does that mean you ask? Good question. If you've got an hour and a half and like laughing and learning, then give that a gander. I'll give you the short in the mean time. It means I saved the yeast from my last batch and am re-using it. Bam. The excellent Brew Strong show tells you how to do it. Why go to the trouble? Well first of all, it saves me $6.50, which in my state of non-working-ness is pretty cool. Secondly, they yeast supposedly works faster, better, and awesomer-meaning better flavors. So I'm trying!

What am I making? A Saison of course. I'm trying to be positive and call on the upcoming warmth that Spring should be dropping soon. Since these babies tend to taste super-great after about 2-3 months of aging, I figure this will be ready right when its nice enough to go outside. Since you all READ MY LAST POST, you are probably wondering what kind of Saison am I making?? This particular one is what I am calling Saison Blanche, or a white saison. It won't actually be white, but if you are familiar with Belgian Wit (Flemmish for White) beers-like *cough cough* Blue Moon or the much better Hoegaarden then you will understand. They are typically made with around 50% wheat (or more) and 45% pilsener and 5% oats, that's right, oats-they add a silky mouthfeel. So I had that sort of line up and combining it with a Saison-specific yeast (the Wyeast 3711), but I'm sticking to the traditional-pilsener malt as the main base and supplementing with the rest, because, well, I dunno. I kinda changed my mind at the last second. When she's all done & ready for bottling in 1 week (hopefully) it will be a lovely translucent golden color-close enough to white.

Brew day has not gone according to plan. I am trying a new technique; step mashing (where one raises the temperature of the mash upward at specific times, which lend to different enzymes and other scientific things). That took a lot longer than I anticipated on an electric stove top... I also encountered the dastardly stuck sparge, which is where the grain bed blocks my precious wort from getting out of my mash-tun (big ass pot where you mash in). It happened at the very end, right to where when I stirred to get it loose, the wort that was left was absorbed by the grain. Boooo. I ended up losing .5 gallon or so. Really though, its just another day. How about a recipe?

Saison Blanche
8 lbs Belgian Pils
2.5 lbs German Malted Wheat
1 lb instant oats (untoasted)
2 oz Acidulated Malt
1 lb cane sugar (@60 minutes)

1.5 oz Kent Goldings @60 minutes
1.5 oz Tettnanger @10 minutes
1/2 tsp hydrated Irish Moss @ 10 minutes
1/2 tsp hydrated WYeast Yeast Nutrients @ 10 minutes

300 ml of WYeast 3711 French Saison yeast slurry according to Mr.
Pure Oxygen for 2 minutes

Ferment starting at room temp-68F for me, then raise to 80F over the course of 5-7 days.

So its a stupidly simple recipe, but I'm stepping gingerly here. I've only made one other recipe (my dark saison before this) and it was really complicated, so I thought I'd reduce it to make a stable testing ground in which to build and perfect! Haha! Yes! Anyways. I'll post a tasting description when its done.

Brew Day Soundtrack: The Pernice Brothers Discography

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sai-what?!-son? It's Saison time!

Spring may be around the corner...some where, some time. When/if spring & summer do actually come, you are gonna need a bad-ass beer to party with. This beer should be a Saison (Say-sawn). What the hell is that you ask? Exactly. Its not well known, but with it's growing popularity, you should be able to find one somewhere.

Real Quick! History time! First of all, these are Belgian beers-which means they are inclined to be pretty crazy. Belgian-Farmhouse Ales to be specific, not like the Trappist beers that are brewed by monks. These beers were made by farmers in the southern, French speaking region of Belgium, known as Wallonia. Hint-Saison is French for "season". As Phil Markowski tells us in Farmhouse Ales, they "were brewed at the beginning of winter in a farmhouse brewery in order to quench the thirst of the farmhands who worked the fields in the summer." This is pretty much the standard of brewing practices before refrigeration. High fermentation temperatures (above 70F) usually spells disaster for beers...EXCEPT Saison-which can get up to 95F. What is interesting is that Markowski notes each brewer pretty much had a different recipe. Basically, they had to be robust enough to handle extended aging, but refreshing and light enough to not get farmers piss-drunk while they were working. Remember kids, water was pretty dicey hundreds of years ago.

Long story short, the style almost died out (much like how Witbier-Belgium's awesome wheat beer...Blue Moon anybody?-almost did until the 1950s) but was rescued recently. Read Michael-Beer Hunter-Jackson's (hee-he!) website to relive the scarcity of these beers. What's interesting is that each saison that you try is different. Its ALMOST like brewers now-a-days understand the history of the little farmhouse locals that each were brewed according to the imagination, ability, and desires of each farm brewer. That can also be frustrating for in-the-box drinkers, that is people who expect the same beer every time they have a certain style. A perfect example is Boulevard brewing company in Kansas City. In their Smokestack Series they had a Sasion and a Farmhouse Ale-the mighty TANK 7. Essentially, they are the same style...Farmhouse. But they are two way different beers. The former, which has been retired, is cloudy orange in color, deliciously dry, but still has hints of sweet maltiness. Its peppery and citrusy. Awesome! The latter is even more crisp & dry, clear, sometimes, golden and very hoppy. Both of these are patterned after actual Belgian Saisons. The Saison is pretty much the hoppiest Belgian beer you're gonna find. Both of these, like the original Belgians, pour a crazy looking head that looks like soft, bubbly clouds. Every time I pour one, I want to jump right in and nestle. Nestle. See:
See! Gorgeous!

So if you get a Belgian one, what are you in for? The Belgians still have the craziest Saisons. The pre-eminient Saison is Saison Dupont. Its  straight forward saison-having only Pilsener malt and hops in it's make up, the wild flavors come from the yeast. Its orange in color, has a rich, dense head, pepper & slight citrus and dry as a damn bone. Careful, it can also be a bit skunky, thanks to the green bottles. That company also makes an organic version (Foret) which has a heavier mouthfeel and more of a bier de garde nose-fruity and sweet malt. These are also pretty easy to find. Shit. I can find them in Branson, MO...

If you get a few under your belt and you are loving them, then try any of the beers by the brewery Fantome. This brewery is known for throwing in whatever the hell they feel like in their beers-spices, herbs, fruit juices, and flowers. For Markowski, Fanotme "embodies the unbridled spirit of brewing saison...".  These beers have a bit of Brettanomyces in them. Brett is a "wild" type of yeast that produces the distinct "farmhouse" notes. When you get a beer with Brett, you will know it. They are very dry, slightly tart/acidic/sour whatever you wanna call it, have smells of wet wool, hay, or anything remotely barnyard. Now I know that sounds kind of crazy, but you just gotta trust me and go with it. If you like things remotely sour, you gotta try these beers. Boulevard also has a Saison-Brett in their Smokestack Series. It is truly a beer not to miss.

What is awesome about the variety of Saison is the versatility. Its unbelievably tasty during hot days and will pair with pretty much every single food, one exception being marinara sauce dishes-but honestly, I haven't enjoyed a beer with any red sauce really. One thing that it goes exceptionally well with is Goat Cheese. I think my favorite beer and food moment came at a friends classy BBQ where they were serving goat-brie soft cheese. The lady and I had that with Great Divide's amazing Colette. The high carbonation makes Saison clear your palate of anything fatty and rich-hince its refreshing-ness. Unfortunately this beer isn't available until April. You better believe I'm ordering some in bulk my babies. Any other food that has herbs, spices, citrus notes, is fat or rich, Saison will absolutely love. Do roasted chickens, salmon salads, shrimp, any spinach salad, BBQ, WHATEVER.

So I've mentioned a few different Saisons thus far. Dupont is the standby and a must try, but if you can find the organic Foret it might be an easier drink for beginners. I used to find it really nice, but after having the two back to back I prefer the dryness of the original Dupont. Fantome is also a must. From there, any other Saison will make sense. As mentioned, the Colette is a great Saison/Farmhouse ale and more like Dupont and Tank 7 in its simplicity. If you can find Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Biere, give that a whirl. Its more like the Fantome in that it has a nice sourness. One should also note that you don't have to pour the ENTIRE bottle into your glass. Almost ALL of these are bottle conditioned, meaning that some yeast is added back into the bottle after primary fermentation. This gives the beer a little more unique character. It also adds yeast into the bottle. So pretty much any bottle that says "bottle conditioned"means that you don't have to pour the whole thing into your glass-an exception would be Hefeweizen...ANYWAYS. Ommegang's Hennepin isn't a bad option, but it just doesn't float my boat like Tank 7 or Colette.

I've been brewing up a storm on Saisons. I could go on, but my stories are on... and last time, the post got quite a bit long. So, I'll leave it for another day. Cheers and go get yourself some Saison!

Currently Watching- White Collar
Currently Reading- Ethan Frome, Raymond Carver