Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#42 - StarTropics - Hoppy Brett Saison

With the end of summer quickly approaching here in DC (and me preparing for my trip to Munich for Oktoberfest!) I found myself with a free weekend, a few empty carboys, and a desire to make one last saison during the hot season.

For this beer I wanted heavy hop flavors and lots of bitterness, backed up with enough malt to keep things balanced, interesting, and ready for Autumn.  I also wanted to further explore the combination of Nelson Sauvin and Brettanomyces that I tried a few beers back so for the yeast I used the slurry from the Brett Saison as the primary (rather than in the secondary) and added Crooked Stave dregs to add even more varieties of fruity and funky Brettanomyces.  I also kept Nelson Sauvin as a major component of the hop profile but added my two favorite citrusy American hops: Cascade and Amarillo.

As I've done with many beers, and particularly often recently, I plan to experiment with this beer after the primary ferment, though this time I don't have preset plans.

1.061 OG
1.008 FG
62      IBU
7.0% ABV
10     SRM


Maris Otter Pale (UK)
8.5 lb
61 %
3 °L
Vienna (US)
4.5 lb
32 %
4 °L
Caramel/Crystal 60L (US)
0.5 lb
3 %
60 °L
Victory (US)
0.25 lb
1 %
28 °L

Nugget (US)
0.5 oz
60 min
Cascade (US)
2.0 oz
4 days
Dry Hop
Amarillo (US)
3.0 oz
4 days
Dry Hop
Nelson Sauvin (NZ)
1.0 oz
4 days
Dry Hop
Cascade (US)
2.0 oz
5 min
Amarillo (US)
1.0 oz
5 min
Nelson Sauvin (NZ)
3.0 oz
5 min

Name                                         Average Attenuation
Brett Saison Blend                         87.50%

Brewed on stove top with no issues.  Whirlpool hops actually done as 20 minute hop steep.  OG measured at 1.058 (with a slightly low reading hydrometer).  Fermentation took off within 8 hours.

Fermentation still fairly active, gravity only down to 1.022 so this one should have a ways to go. Flavor is a melange of peach and white wine with just a touch of the bitterness showing through under the still high sweetness.

Gravity down to 1.007 with fermentation at a near standstill but the Brett will probably continue working away for a little while.

Running way behind on this one due to getting delayed on my return from Europe but finally added the first wave of dry hops (1.5 oz Amarillo, 1 oz Cascade and .5 oz Nelson Sauvin) to the primary.  Gravity down to 1.006 and tasting super funky without much hop presence prior to the dry hop additions.  Had been hoping to keg this, but getting the kegerator in place has also fallen behind schedule so I will probably just bottle in 8-10 days after another round of dry-hopping.

Racked 3 gallons onto the second wave of dry hops.  The remainder (about 1.5 gallons) was split between two 1 gallon jugs, one with 4 oz. demerara sugar and paradise seeds and the other with lime juice and a tangelo tincture I have been holding onto for a while.  My entire apartment is currently engulfed with amazingly fruity and citrusy hop aromas.

Bottled 3 straight gallons as #42, Demerara version as #42B, and Lime/Tangelo version as #42C.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nelson Brett Saison Tasting

I really enjoyed the fresh, kiwi/white wine/melon character of the straight version of my Prairie Artisan Ales' 'Merica inspired beer.  The Brett version took a little more time to grow on me however, which is why I am only now getting around to a formal sit down and review.

A-Burnished gold with some definite haze to the point of being fairly opaque.  Some of the clarity is likely due to the dry hopping, while some also seems to be condensation on the glass.  The small white ring of a head lasts for a long time around the edges of the glass.

S- Immediately upon popping the top there is a huge pineapple character that comes out.  In the glass the scent continues to be heavy on the Brettanomyces derived fruit and funk, with the hops playing a strong supporting role.  There is strong pineapple, barnyard, mango, decaying grass, and subtle orange rind in the beautiful bouquet.

T- This one is certainly dank, earthy, and citrusy.  The kiwi/melon I found to be more dominant in the straight version are subverted by the funky Brett here.  Bitterness is moderate, just enough to part the slight grainy sweetness in the middle and help transition to a long funky finish.

M- Dry with moderately low carbonation.  I had purposely primed without much sugar in case the Brett had continued doing its work but this definitely could have used more bubbles.

O- A solid beer.  The hop character is much lower than the straight version (likely due to the 2 weeks in secondary after dry hopping).  This seems like a decent introductory Brett beer with the funk being noticeable but not overwhelming and the hops giving off a nice tropical fruit character without being overly bitter.  A good beer that I would like to build off of in the future.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

#39- Spiced Dubbel Tasting

A- fairly cloudy, medium dark brown, small tan head that lasts. Cloudier and darker than desired, but some of this might come from the spices.

S- sweet belgian esters of bubblegum and banana give way to heavy phenols with cinnamon, clove, black pepper and light herbal notes.

T- much like the nose the fruit an sweetness lead with moderate spice following. The spice seems more subdued than the aroma would suggest. The beer finishes with a confusing blend of earth, clove and a touch of alcohol heat.

M- fairly dry with moderate carbonation.

O- not a very good beer. Not too surprising considering it is a blend of a Dubbel that suffers from oxidation and a quad that ended up causing bottle bombs.  These darker Belgians are some of my favorite commercial styles and yet I seem to struggle more to brew them than any other style... Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Side by Side Black Saison Tasting - #41 and #41B

Finally getting around to tasting my second iteration of black Saisons. A few weeks in the bottle seem to have settled these down to the point where much of the flavors I noticed at bottling- earthy funk, orange, grassy hops - have become much more subdued. The white pepper however is still bracingly strong and I would cut the amount used by half were I to do this again.

Appearance(both)- The white pepper version appeared to have a little more dregs in the bottom but both beers appear identical in the glass, with a very dark mahogany color with garnet highlights and an off white one finger head that fades slowly leaving patchy lacing. So far so good.

Smell- orange, cocoa, apple, light nuttiness, black pepper, grass/hay earthiness

Taste- surprisingly light in flavor, lightly fruity (raspberry), some earthiness, a very small appearance from the dark malts with touch of coffee when I search for it. Finishes with a bit of piney bitterness that just beats out some slight caramel/sugar sweetness and flavors on the end.

Mouthfeel- feels higher in body than would be expected for the low FG and yeast strain. Carbonation is moderate. Pretty good mouthfeel all around.

Overall- a bit lacking. The orange character seems subdued and calling this "hoppy" is a misnomer...the hops really have to be searched for. Maybe the most surprising element of the beer is the subtlety of the roasted malts, with only the occasional glimpse of ash, cocoa, coffee, etc. I had feared this beer might be dominated by these characteristics but the even moderate amounts seem underwhelming. All of that said, the beer goes down smooth with nothing too off putting, I could see those who dislike "dark beers", "hoppy beers", "Belgian beers" or "craft beers in general" finding this one fairly drinkable.

#41B White Pepper Version (with a touch of clove and ginger)

Smell- huge white pepper (somewhat herbal and very peppery) with only a touch of clove able to compete at all. As it warms some of the fruity berry character makes its way into the mix.

Taste- like the nose the pepper dominates. While only lightly spicy on the palate the flavor dominates most of the subtle characters present in the base beer with only the burnt sugar presence in the finish seeming to off a complementary element.

Mouthfeel- again, surprisingly moderate in body and carbonation. Doesn't overemphasize the pepper, in a beer where pepper is already overdone.

Overall- with the base beer coming out a little underwhelming in the flavor profile this beer is easily dominated by the high level of pepper. While white pepper may not have been a bad addition to the overall character, it should have been much more restrained to keep this from being a purely pepper flavored beer. The ginger and clove also seem lost in the mix, though they were never intended to be major components. Fans of white pepper like myself can find some enjoyment and novelty in this, and it certainly isn't undrinkable, but it really does miss the mark.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

#40 - Nelson Saison Tasting

While the Brett version of this beer is still in secondary and nearing its bottling date, the straight version of this beer is running down to its last few bottles just about a month after bottling and less than two months since the brew day.  I'm hoping there will be some of this version left once the Brett version is ready, so that I can compare the two side by side, but it's hard to guarantee that with a beer that goes down this well in the summer.

A- Hazy light gold with a very small but very stable half finger head that leaves a little lace.  I likely poured a bit too much of this one out of the bottle as others I've had have had quite a bit less haze and sediment.

S- Up front is definite melon, pine, white wine, French Saison yeast funk, and just a touch of onion.  The hops are definitely the centerpiece, though the yeast seems to add to the overall spiciness and funkiness.

T- The taste is much more subdued than the nose, while still being very flavorful. Smooth kiwi/Sauvignon Blanc and moderate pine lead the way with a touch of melon, some earthiness, and light fruitiness mixing in. The onion and melon from the nose don't seem to have as much presence in the taste, making the flavor much less "dank" than the aroma.  The finish is very dry and leaves a piney bitterness that seems to hang around on the back of the throat and build in presence moments after the finish.
M- The carbonation is fairly low, but, surprisingly, this doesn't hurt the beer at all in my opinion with the flavors still fully shining through and hitting all parts of the mouth and nothing about the beer coming off as watery or weak (though it doesn't seem as strong as it's 7+% abv).  The body is nicely dry and smooth, exactly what I would expect from this yeast strain.  It's hard to tell how much the water chemistry (moderate additions of gypsum and phosphoric acid in the mash) plays in but it seems to have helped accentuate the moderate bitterness and hop character. 

O- For a recipe so simple, this beer has a ton of complexity and character.  The combination of the hops and yeast, with the malt tame enough to completely stand out of the way, this beer is a really easy drinker that has me trying to figure out what the flavors are and where they come from.  The bitterness in the finish draws me back for refreshing sip after refreshing sip.  Definitely a good beer that I could see myself brewing again or using as a basis for other beers in the future with additional hops/spices/fermentables in the mix.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#41 - Hoppy Black Saison v2.0

With how successful my first black saison came out, its amazing that it took me this long to brew another.  This recipe takes most of what I liked about the first recipe with a focus on moderation and complexity. The recipe this time, just as the first, calls for moderate amounts of a complex mix of dark roasted grains, moderate crystal malt use, moderate bitterness, moderate late and dry hops, and moderate spicing (orange peel).  The recipe also calls for French Saison and Candi Syrup as it did the first time, which should again give wonderful, complex elements that can't be found in the hops and malt alone.  This is a recipe that worked out surprisingly well the last time and it seemed as though doing lots of things, but doing so in moderation, allowed each component to come through without any dominating.

The major changes between this recipe and the original version are the change from extract to all-grain, using commercial candi syrup instead of homemade, and significant changes to the hop schedule.  The hop schedule was designed to still emphasize both citrusy American hops and spicy European hops while using what I have on hand, and the change to candi syrup is mainly for convenience but also due to how happy I was with the flavors it developed in my dubbel and quad (despite the other issues those beers experienced).

In order to minimize the harshness of the roasted grains the chocolate malt, black patent and roast barley were all added right before mash out.  Because the dark malts were added so late I used a similar water chemistry profile to my last brew (a much paler saison) with 5 grams of gypsum, 1 gram CaCl, and 8 tsp 10% phosphoric acid.

Brew day hit a few snags as the initial mash in only brought the mash to 145F instead of the intended 150F. I decided to turn this into an opportunity for a step infusion mash and after 20 minutes at 145 the temperature was adjusted with boiling water to 152F for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes at 160F and a final 10 minute mashout at 170F.

I also forgot to add the Candi Syrup late in the boil and will now wait to add in the next few weeks. The measured OG came in at 1.042, but I realized my hydrometer was off, reading water at only .995 (and was reading my Brett'd Saison at sub 1.000).  Assuming this .005 difference is consistent, that puts my OG closer to 1.047, which is only slightly less than I would expect given the lack of Candi Syrup at this point.

Wort tasted very sweet without much other flavors from the malts, orange peel, or hops showing through at this point.  The plan is to let this ferment to completion (likely around 2 weeks) before 2 short dry hop sessions.  Half the batch may end up receiving brettanomyces or a different twist depending on where the flavors stand, while at least half will likely be bottled as is.

Efficiency: 67.0% Batch size: 5.0 gal
Fermentable Amount Use PPG Color
 2-Row (US) 9.0 lb 80% Mash 37 1  °L
 Candi Syrup D-90 1.0 lb 8% Late Boil 32 90  °L
 Caramel/Crystal 60(US) 0.5 lb 4% Mash 34 60 °L
 Chocolate (US) 4.0 oz 2 % Mash 34 412  °L
 Roasted Barley (US) 4.0 oz 2 % Mash 33 300  °L
 Black Malt 4.0 oz 2 % Mash 32 500  °L

Hop Amount Time Use Form AA
Palisades (US) 0.5   oz 60  min Boil Pellet 13.0%
Cascade (US) 0.5   oz 15  min Boil Pellet 7.0%
Opal (DE) 1.0   oz 5  min Boil Pellet 6.5%
Strisselspalt (FR) 1.0   oz 4  days Dry Hop Pellet 3.4%
Cascade (US) 0.5   oz 4  days Dry Hop Pellet 7.0%
Palisades (US) 0.5   oz 1  min Whirlpool Pellet 13.0%

Name Lab/Product Average Attenuation
French Saison Wyeast 3711 82.5%

Name Amount Time Use
Phosphoric Acid 8.0 tsp 60.0 min Mash
Calcium Chloride 1.0 g 60.0 min Mash
Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) 5.0 g 60.0 min Mash
Bitter Orange Peel 0.25 oz 5.0 min Boil
Sweet Orange Peel 0.5 oz 5.0 min Boil

Mixed the 1 lb. of D-90 Candi Syrup with about a quart of water, boiled, cooled and added to the fermentor.  Activity (which had completely died down) picked up again within an hour.

Bottled with 2.95 oz of sugar. 25 of the 12 oz. bottles were bottled straight, while another 24 were bottled after adding the white pepper and a little bit of the ginger and clove tinctures.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#37 - Alsatian Identity Tasting

While this beer has been ready since the early spring I've been waiting to give it a full review until it was given more time to calm down.

A- slightly hazy light gold color with a huge, fluffy, white head that seemingly lasts forever.

S- grain, hay, banana, pepper, sweet bready malt, light farmhouse "funk"

T- sweeter, fruitier and more intense than the nose implies. Some alcohol and juicy fruit esters. A light spicy/herbal character comes through in the middle which lends a strangely rustic feel and has me sipping more to search for it, not sure what it is out of yeast derivatives, malt (rye maybe?), the European hops or some combination of the above. As it warms the alcohol presence is surprisingly apparent, though not necessarily hot. Bitterness in finish is moderate to light with a dry, fruity, slightly spicy finish.

M- thin but not watery with high but not unbearable or gushing carbonation.

O- this beer is hard to pin down. The fruitiness and slight heat are detracting and it seems the yeast was definitely strained, yet other parts of this beer seem almost magical and draw me back for another sip, if only that character dominated instead of the esters I would be extremely happy.

Monday, July 7, 2014

C2 - Cranberry Cider #2 (Recipe and Tasting)

In early January of this year I found myself in possession of a 2 quart container of Trader Joe's Spice Apple Cider and a pot full of homemade cranberry sauce leftover from the holidays...what's a guy to do but ferment the two out in a free 1 gallon container?

To begin, I boiled the cranberry sauce (with a little bit of blueberry pie filling, since that was on hand as well) with 3 quarts of water and added to the fermenter with pectic enzyme.  After a week I poured off the rose colored liquid, ditching the thick sludge, and added back to the fermenter with just less than both quarts of cider.  The cranberry sauce was made with orange, ginger and cinnamon - all ingredients also found in the spiced cider, so it seemed like a nice match all around.  After a very vigorous fermentation that shot yeast up and out of the 1 gallon jug, the mix slowed down and seemed dormant after 3 weeks.  At 6 weeks I bottled with 3 beer carbonation tablets added to each.  At bottling the warm, uncarbonated cider, was very, very good resembling a phenolic grape based rosé with just light hints of the cranberry and apple acids and esters.

Tasted the cider today. Quick notes below.

A- pink tinged, peachy. Clear unless fully poured, at which point cranberries, yeast, and other sediment begin to show.

S- tart, berry, holiday spices, only vaguely apple-y.

T- off dry, tart, lightly spicy (cinnamon),
light cranberry, some orange peel.

M- very thin, extremely light carbonation just above still.

O- as with my other cider this is something that I find interesting but unremarkable and that others don't seem to care for, as they expect much more sweetness and apple juice flavor.  I find that it has a real multi-seasonal aspect where it could be consumed as enjoyably on a blistering summer day or a festive winter holiday and really anywhere between.  Not one I'll brew again but a worthwhile use of the random odds and ends I had on hand.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

#40 - Nelson Brett Saison ('Merica-ish)

Two things I've planned to brew many times but have not followed through on are a super hoppy Nelson Sauvin beer and a Brettanomyces spiked Saison.  Prairie Artisan Ales' 'Merica has been getting a lot of hype recently, and generating plenty of imitations and inspirations from homebrewers, with a recipe that combines Brett and Nelson.  While I haven't actually had the beer, it seems hard to go wrong with a SMaSH Saison using delicious hops and Brettanomyces.

One spin I decided to take on the beer is to use Fawcett Pearl malt for the grist in order to emulate another popular beer I haven't had a chance to try: Heady Topper.  With such a simple malt and hop bill one of my focuses for this batch will be the water chemistry with additions of 6g Gypsum (about the same amount per gallon as Ed Coffey's (Ales of the Riverwards) clone, 1g CaCl and 8 tsp of 10% phosphoric acid.  All of the additions were intended to both bring down the mash pH and emphasize the hoppiness.

Recipe Type: All Grain
Yeast: Wyeast 3711
Yeast Starter: 2L
Batch Size (Gallons): 5
Original Gravity: 1.048
Final Gravity: 1.006
IBU: 30
Boiling Time (Minutes): 60
Color: 4 SRM
Primary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 14 @ 73
Secondary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 21 @ 75
Tasting Notes:

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5 gal
Boil Size: 6.5 gal
Estimated OG: 1.053 SG
Estimated Color: 4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 30 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU

11 lb Pearl Malt (2.0 SRM) Malt 100 %
8 tsp 10% Phosphoric Acid
6 g Gypsum
1 g Calcium Chloride
0.25 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (60 min) Hops 11 IBU
0.50 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (15 min)Hops 11 IBU
0.25 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (5 min) Hops 2 IBU
1.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (1 min) Hops 2 IBU
1.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (Hop Stand) Hops 2 IBU
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (4 days) Hops 0 IBU
2.00 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.00 %] (4 days) Hops 0 IBU

1 Pkgs French Saison (Wyeast #3711) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion
Total Grain Weight: 11 lbs
Single Infusion
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 16.00 qt of water at 161 F 150.0 F
15 min Mash Out Add 8.00 qt of water at 212 F 168.0 F

Brewed this today and had a pretty good time of it.  Hops smelled surprisingly piney, less fruity than I would have expected on opening, but when moving the wort to the carboy I was blown away by the luscious, complex, gooseberry like aroma.  I split the "whirlpool" hops (actually more of "hop stands" thrown directly into the wort) into 3 groups to try and add to the complexity of bitterness/oils/other components extracted. I have high expectations for this more complex hop addition which is based on the lessons I learned from my last beer which only used flameout hops.  I also remembered to add Irish Moss, which I forgot in my last batch.

The negatives: I once again got a very low efficiency from the Morebeer milled malt hitting just 59% efficiency and 1.048 SG when originally planning for 65% and 1.053.  This likely throws the beer further into the bitter range than I would have liked but at 5.5+ abv and only ~30 ibu's it shouldn't be too far out of style. For future reference I'll need to either get my own mill or just anticipate this type of efficiency and plan recipes accordingly. I also spilled about half an ounce of Nelson Sauvin pellets on the floor trying to vacuum seal them...I'll still have ~7.5 oz. to use after this batch though so hopefully they taste as good in this batch as I expect and I have the desire to use that much again.

Added 1.5 oz. of Nelson Sauvin dry hops directly to the fermenter.

Racked 3 gallons to secondary with BKYeast C2 and Orval dregs. The remaining amount was bottled plain. I ended up with closer to a gallon than the 2 gallons I had expected due to a huge amount of dry hop sludge preventing further bottling. Taste was almost all hop derived with citrusy and tropical flavors, a surprisingly lack of spice from the saison yeast, though it may show more as the hop character fades in the next few weeks. The Brettanomyces spikes version will likely be bottled in 3-4 weeks.

Popped a bottle of the "clean" version open for an initial tasting.  Very hop forward with white wine, pine, lime, and tropical fruit flavors.  Very dry but not a lot of yeast character showing through.  Will do a more thorough tasting in a few weeks.
Brett version is showing tiny signs of secondary fermentation with a ring of krausen/pellicle around the top.

Added dregs from a Prairie Ale. It wasn't my favorite beer (nor was the Orval) but should put this one close to the real thing in terms of Brett and wine yeast added.

Tasting of the straight version.  Great flavor with tons of the Nelson Sauvin character.
Plan to bottle the Brett version sometime this weekend.

Monday, June 9, 2014

#38 - American Rye Tasting

The idea of brewing a citra and rye beer has been with me for a while now an the idea of a citrusy, light, summer beer is an idea I've played with in a few ways over the years.  This beer is decent but is also a learning experience in a few ways.

Aroma- pours a very cloudy khaki color with just a small layer of head that sticks around for a while. The beer appears to be cloudy from the rye proteins, but hop particulate is also visible.  Looks a little like a hefeweizen though the cloudiness doesn't seem to be from the yeast as much as the other factors.

Smell- Big citrus character: fresh grapefruit and candied lemon peel. There's also a dank melon smell and a little crackery graininess.

Taste/Mouthfeel- Surprisingly disappointing giving the huge nose. Up front offers very little flavor on the tongue with a watery, light grapefruit and grainy flavors that fades to moderately high bitterness on the back of the throat leaving a lingering grapefruit impression. 

The beer seems a bit watery but this is likely as much or more from the low carbonation than any real issues with the body. That said, I did miss my target OG and a slightly higher starting gravity and finishing gravity may have helped.

Overall- the beer goes down pretty easily (as it should at only 4.5% abv) but isn't nearly as flavorful or exciting as it should be. The low carbonation likely plays a part in the lack of hoppy "pop" on the tongue.  In the end it tastes like a more citrusy and less fruity British Bitter due to the low hop flavors, moderate body, and bitterness and lack of carbonation.

Were I to attempt this beer again I would either cut or raise the rye amount to make it more of a back note or dominant flavor rather than standing out but not taking over as it does here. I would also use a more traditional hop schedule with some hops added in the last 10-15 minutes in hopes of upping the hop flavor, while also moving some of the flame out hops to dry hop to further diversify the hop character and keep bitterness levels relatively tame. A slight raise in the carbonation level might also help with the perceived hoppiness.  Lastly, this is a beer that could really have used Irish moss as it just doesn't seem to be clearing at all.