Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the Year

Well, another year of homebrewing has come to an end and here I am trying to make sense of it all. As for me, it was a good year. All in all, I made just over 42 batches of beer and cider during these twelve months - a personal best - and I can honestly say most of them turned out pretty good. There were, of course, some batches that failed and others that exceeded my expectations. Besides brewing beer, it was also a good year for drinking beer (non-homebrew) and I was able to make some much needed upgrades to my kegerator and brewing setup. With that in mind, here is the "good, the bad, and the beautiful" of 2011... and hopefully, things to come for the new year.

The Good: Kegging and Water Chemistry

The two biggest improvements in my homebrewery this year was the complete transition from bottling to kegging - no more having to bottle my session beers! - and I finally got around to figuring out my water chemistry. As for changing my brewing water, I did minimal water adjustments for the longest time, basically using my non adjusted tap water for pretty much everything I brewed. This was generally ok, as my water source wasn't that bad for most amber and dark beer styles but I really had problems brewing very pale beers. The water was pretty similar to that of the London profile. After changing my water source in the beginning of the spring, a change had to be made. My new water was so hard and alkaline that brewing anything but stouts/porters would have been impossible. After getting a water report from Ward Labs (the best brewing investment I have ever made) and a few weeks of reading about water chemistry, I have improved the overall flavor and character of my beers quite substantially.

As for kegging, finally being able to put all my session beers into kegs has really made things a whole lot easier. I can go from grain to glass in less than two weeks - if I really wanted - and I have much more control over how I serve my beer. Now all I got to do is finish my kegerator...

The Bad: Uncooperative yeast, dumped batches, competitions

Along with brewing some of the best beer I've ever brewed this year, I also had some batches that turned out pretty bad. I had fermentation issues with two consecutive batches (dark mild, oatmeal stout) and I ended up having to dump both batches. I suspect the problem with those batches were due to insufficient aeration and/or starting fermentation too cold. Adding to injury, my fermentation chest kicked the bucket on me during the course of those fermentations. I also dropped my 20lb C02 tank down the stairs and busted the regulator which I had to replace. However, the overall worst beer of the year was my batch of Aussie cream ale. The yeast must have been very stressed, or it got an infection somewhere in the process, as the beer ended up tasting like burning tires. Sounds delicious, no? That batch got dumped right away. Three bad batches out of forty-two, I guess I can't complain too much. Lastly, it was not a great year for competitions. I only entered three this year and took home three medals. The NHC (Saratoga judging) was a complete failure. I still want my $50 bucks back...

The Beautiful: Bitter, Mild, Porter, Pale Ale                                                                                                      It was another good year for my favorite beer style. I brewed a whole bunch of bitters this year (some with new yeasts) and I am generally very happy with how they came out. Brewing is always a learning experience and it is nice to see each new batch make some type of improvement. Also, I started making my own 'brewers invert syrup' this year (in earnest) and the results have been above and beyond my expectations. Again, if you haven't made a bitter with homemade invert, do yourself the favor and give it a try! Best yeasts for bitters this year was Wyeast 1318, 1968, 1882, and the biggest surprise of all - WLP006 Bedford bitter. Standout brews for the year are my recent Amalgamated ESB, Levi's Pale Ale, Scottish Oatmeal Porter, Ploughman Brown and Mild, and American IPA w/ Invert. Lastly, I've started to get back into brewing more American and Belgian styles and I made a few historical beers too.

New for 2012:                                                                                                                                              
Keep an eye out  for a new blog design and hopefully more posts on stuff besides what I brew and how I think it tastes. I would like to get back to open fermentation and do some experiments with top cropping and fermentation geometry. I might even do a few commercial beer tastings of some rare beers I've been collecting; Courage RIS', Westys, and old Trappist stuff. I would like to continue making more sours and dammit, I will finally get around to brewing an American Barleywine and another Belgian Dark Strong. Also, expect to see more historical British beers and home malting.

That's it for this year! Thanks to all you readers.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Brew Day: Sour Saison II

I was too busy to get this batch done before Christmas, so I'm brewing it today. Departing from my original plan, I decided to take a simple approach with this batch, forgoing the spices and specialty sugars and just focusing on the yeast and brett. However, I did add some rye into the malt bill. I also will be blending yeasts with this batch and I was able to harvest enough clean, healthy yeast to make this possible. I settled on 80% Saison II (wlp566) and 20% Ardennes (wy3522). I am hoping the addition of Ardennes will add some spicy-phenol complexity to the beer and balance to the extreme fruitiness of the Saison II strain. Aside, I cracked open a few bottles of saison yesterday that I had brewed back in 2009 and lucky me, they were actually pretty good. A few of the bottles were over carbonated - at the time I used wy3724 for all my saisons and didn't give them enough time to ferment - but the flavors were quite nice. Looking forward to drinking this batch sometime next year!

Sour Saison II : Belgian Saison             
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.0
Anticipated OG: 1.057
Anticipated FG: 1.005
Anticipated SRM: 4.5
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

77.8%  - 6.5 lbs. Pilsner Malt
11.0%  - 1.0 lbs. Wheat Malt
5.6%    - 0.50 lbs. Munich Malt
5.6%    - 0.50 lbs. Flaked Rye
0.50 oz. Pacific Jade @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 10 min 5 IBU
0.5 oz. Styrian Goldings @ flameout

Yeast: WL566 Saison II & WL Brett C in secondary
Mash 150F for 90 min
Brewed on 26 December

Friday, December 23, 2011

American Pale Ale II Tasting

I brewed this beer on 6 November and just started drinking it this week, after a nearly a month in the keg. I really didn't have a set beer in mind when I brewed this, only aiming for something that had a solid malt base (golden promise) and plenty of American hop character. I tend to prefer my APA's to have more malt character than your average hop bomb APA and I figured a base of golden promise, munich, medium crystal, and amber malt would give me a malty beer and still pair well with lots of American hops. With that said, I'll definitely be brewing more beers like this in the near future. 

Levi's Pale Ale : American Pale Ale                   

Appearance - Pours a nice honey-orange color with a two finger head that leaves fine lacing. Clarity is good, although the dry hopping has given the beer a bit of a hop-haze. 

Aroma - First impression is of a very floral, flowery hops and grapefruit citrus balanced by a lightly toasty-full malt character. The amarillo-centennial dry hop character is very noticeable with a predominant centennial hop aroma. I was expecting some piney simcoe character, but I'm not getting any. 

Taste - Lots of floral, herbal, grapefruit and some very light passion-fruit hop flavors. No pine! The malt character holds up well to the hops and it has a very nice, clean and pleasant toasty flavor. The golden promise, munich, and amber malt has really made a difference here. The beer flavor is very well balanced, not too hoppy or malty. Yeast esters are mildly fruity and the beer finishes with the same pleasant, yeast flavor I get with all beers fermented with this strain. Bitterness levels are soft-medium and balanced.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate and the beer has a nice, smooth mouthfeel.  
Drinkability & Notes - I brewed this beer as a memorial of sorts to my brew buddy and I am pleased to say I am very happy with how it turned out. The overall character of the beer reminds me more of a hoppy, Americanized ESB than your typical Cali APA, but without a strong caramel/toffee character. I am surprised that the simcoe did not impart much flavor/aroma to the beer... although I did go with .25 oz additions - I am glad I did that as I think the floral character of the centennial/amarillo goes much better with the malt profile than a piney flavor would. The only thing I would do differently at this point is to get the sulfate closer to 250ppm. I won't be changing the malt bill - it should be a good base to experiment from. Maybe try out a few different yeasts and hop varieties.

O.G: 1.058, F.G: 1.012, 6% ABV, 45 IBU, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some type of (brett'd) Saison

Now that my 'petite' saison is ready to be bottled, really I need to come up with a recipe for the second part of my saison experiment if I intend to have it brewed by Christmas. However, just coming up with a recipe has been far more difficult than I though. At first, I was set on making a dark saison (something along the lines of Fantome Noel - not that I've ever had it) and souring... bug'ing the heck out of it with pedio, lacto, and a melange of brett strains. However, after putting to some thought into it, I'd probably be better off just doing another pale saison and using one or two types of brett instead. That way I'd get a better sense of individual character of the brett(s) and probably end up with a cleaner, more focused beer than the kitchen sink recipe that I had planned to use. Not to mention that of all the sours I routinely drink, I've always preferred the sour-funk-brett character of the paler beers than those found in the dark versions.

With that said, here are a few random grists I've come up with for a pale-ish saison that will have some type of brett and (possibly) spices added to it. I will only be brewing one batch of brett saison at this point as I only have a one carboy available for long-term aging. Moreover, I will be fermenting this beer with a portion of wlp566 (Saison II) yeast; I still have not decided if I want to try yeast blending with this batch. If any of these grists or combinations look good enough to brew, or you have suggestions on what may work better, please let me know.

Saison I:    85% pilsner malt, 10% wheat or rye malt, 5% munich
Saison II:   80% pilsner malt, 10% wheat, 5% munich, 5% caramunich or caravienna
Saison III:  90% pilsner malt, 10% sugar, or wheat, or rye
Saison IV:  80% pilsner malt, 15% munich or wheat, 5% amber candi syrup or (jaggery) sugar
Saison V:   85% pilsner malt, 10% spelt, 5% munich or crystal malt

Brett strains I have on hand are Whitelabs B*, C*, L*. If I would use spices, I was thinking of some combination of coriander, green cardamom, ginger, or grains of paradise.

If I had to brew on the fly tomorrow, I might go with something like this:

80% pilsner malt, 10% wheat malt, 5% munich, and 5% jaggery sugar for O.G 1.065 with a small amount of green cardamom and coriander added in the boil. Hops would be EKG or Saaz in two additions for 25-30 IBU. Possible mixture of 70% Saison II yeast and 30% Ardennes. Brett C and L added to secondary.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Extra Special Bitter Tasting

If there is one beer style that has become the cornerstone (and reason) for my brewing existence, it is the humble English bitter. Yet, while I will occasionally stray from the brewing path, tempted no doubt by exotic American hops and those alluring Belgian styles, it is inevitable that I find my way back to the thing that started it all. There is something about the marriage of earthy hops, biscuity malt, and fruity esters so found in an English bitter that truly combines to make it the perfect pint for my tastes. Yet, brewing such a thing is never so easy. One could spend a lifetime trying to get it exactly right. Regardless, every once in a while, I brew a bitter that begins to show small glimpses of perfection. This beer is one of those.

Amalgamated Bitter : Extra Special Bitter                       
Appearance - Pours a lovely light amber/honey color with a two finger head that settles with fine, sticky lacing. Clarity is very good to excellent, but not quite brilliantly clear. Color is a bit lighter than what I was expecting/hoping (who doesn't love a ruby colored pint!?). 

Aroma - Flowery English hops followed by a sweet, biscuity malt aroma and complex yeast esters. A very pleasant smelling pint, you can almost reach in and pick out the individual ingredients. 

Taste - First impression is of herbal, flowery hops followed by a light caramel and biscuity malt character. You can really taste the individual layers of flavors here. The malt character is very clean and the yeast adds a wonderful 'rich' complexity and a slight tartness that smooths everything out. Though, the real kicker here is the invert syrup. The beer finishes with a wonderful, almost ethereal, landyfinger cookie type of flavor and it keeps me coming back. The hops are nicely balanced by the malt and the bitterness is firm but unobtrusive. Spot on.   
Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium, maybe a bit too high for the style, but fine for my palate. The beer has a pleasant, smooth mouthfeel.  
Drinkability & Notes - It is nice to finally achieve what you work so hard for. I won't say this is my perfect pint or that there isn't anything here to improve upon, but this is - definitely - the best ESB I've made to date. I won't be changing this recipe and I plan to re-brew it very soon. I only wish I had saved more  Bedford Bitter (wlp006) yeast... maybe try it out with the Fuller's strain? Lastly, my picture doesn't do this beer justice... but then again, not all good things need to be flaunted. 

O.G: 1.055, F.G: 1.012, 5.5% ABV, 45 IBU, WLP006 Bedford Bitter

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Brew Day: St. Stephens 1834 Porter

Been a bit busy around here. I didn't have a chance to test the diastatic potential of my homemade brown malts but I did manage to find a recipe to test it on; St. Stephens 1834 porter, courtesy of Ron's blog "Shut up about Barclay Perkins." This particular recipe interests me as it contains three malts (pale, brown, black) and has a higher % of black malt than many similar recipes. As I will be using my homemade brown malt (kilned over hornbeam wood), I suspect the smokey-coffee flavor of my malt will go nicely with the massively dark, roast character of the black malt. Something that will (hopefully) age well over the course of a year and pair nicely with some brett character. Aside, it is interesting to note that while my brown malt didn't exhibit much of a smokey character off the fire, when I went to grind the grain this morning, it had a definite smokey character to it. In fact, it immediately reminded me of fresh, dark roasted coffee beans. It smelled wonderful! Also, while I have heard people say modern brown malts are similar enough for these types of historical reproductions, I find that unlikely; especially if my brown malt is remotely similar to the types of brown malt they were making 150+ years ago.

Lastly, I'll be following the recipe pretty closely, although I will be reducing the IBU down from 80 to 45. Not historical I know, but I am more interested in getting a sense of what type of flavors the brown malt contributes than making an exact historical reproduction. Also, as I have a healthy batch of washed West Yorkshire yeast (wy1469), I will be fermenting this beer with it.

St. Stephens Porter : Historical Porter                                                                                                     Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 3.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.4
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated FG: 1.015
Anticipated SRM: 35
Anticipated IBU: 45
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

74.3%  - 6.5 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter
20.0%  - 1.75 lbs. Brown Malt (homemade)
5.7%    - 0.50 lbs. Black Malt
2.0 oz. UK Fuggles @ 90 min for 40 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ 30 min 5 IBU

Yeast: WY1469 West Yorkshire
Mash 156F for 120 min
Brewed on 18 December

Half the batch will be fermented for three weeks and bottled for extended aging while the other half will be racked into a secondary with brettanomyces claussenii.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Making (Diastatic) Brown Malt

It is nearly impossible to mention London Porter in any conversation about historical brewing and not say a thing or two about brown malt. They are, after all, practically one in the same. For the beer that revolutionized the brewing world and set the stage for the industrial revolution, was truly born of brown malt (to ti esti). It is also interesting to note that while the brewing world continues to celebrate porter in all its forms, brown malt has largely been forgotten by contemporary brewers. How many commercial beers can you think of that use brown malt in any discernible amount? If you are an American reading this, chances are you won't be able to think of any.

My interest in brown malt goes back a few years ago when I was doing some research on how to make historical porters. Long story short, I had plans to make a batch of (diastatic) brown malt, but I never got around to doing it - not that I had any idea of how to make it anyways. All that changed quite recently when I came across a post in HBT concerning brown porters and brett. For whatever reason, that thread reignited my interest in the subject and gave me something to work towards. My goal was to find out how to make a batch of brown malt, make the stuff, and then brew a historical porter. Luckily, there is a ton of information concerning historical brown malt on Ron's blog and I was fortunate enough to get some help from Ben, aka "fuggledog" from Jim's Beer Kit, a fellow brew-obsessed homebrewer in the UK who's already done this a number of times.

First, it is probably worth mentioning that all historical brown malts are not the same. In fact, there seems to be different types (and shades) of the stuff at various periods of time. To simplify this greatly, the earlier type (1700's) was a lighter (?), not as intensely smokey, and self converting grain that was often kilned over straw or wood for hours at a time - to be used for 100% of the fermentables. It would not have produced a beer with the same black color and roasted flavor like our modern porters. The later type of brown malt (and form I am most interested in) was produced in the 1800's and can be characterized by a darker color and burnt/smokey-type flavor that could not be used for the entire grain bill. This brown malt was often kilned over hardwood, notably hornbeam, at high temperatures for a relatively short amount of time in its later stages.

Moving on... this is how I made the brown malt. First, as many of the historical sources state that wood of choice for kilning brown malt was hornbeam, I had to find some. Luckily, this was pretty easy as American and Eastern hornbeam are common wood species here in CNY and it often sold as firewood. I knew my parents had a sizable amount of stacked firewood at their house and after spending a few hours tearing it apart, I was rewarded with a bunch of hornbeam. With my firewood in hand, I set about making the fire. I originally planned on starting a fire in a pit and letting the hornbeam burn down until I had a good amount of hot coals. From there I could transfer the coals to my BBQ smoker and add more hornbeam on top of that. I figured this method would both concentrate the heat under the grain and provide a bit of separation from the fire source. However, this wasn't to be. As the weather was total crap (28F and windy as hell) I could not maintain any sort of continued fire in the smoker. The wind would whip up and put the coals out. So instead, I rigged up a wire-mesh screen that I could use over my fire pit and kiln the grains there. As such, I let the hornbeam burn down to hot coals and when I had a continued reading of 255F on my wire-mesh, I added my malt. 

I should note that I used two types of malt. For the first batch, I used Golden Promise and the latter batch I used Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter. Not historically accurate, but where does a guy find green malt at this time of the year!? Anyways, not long after adding the malt, the grains started to 'snap' from the heat - hence the term, "snapped malt." Turning the grain over and over again, to prevent scorching, I carefully tended my grain for nearly 45 min this way, watching it slowly turn color. It was pretty cool, too, in that you could really smell the changes in the grain the longer it sat on the heat. At first the grain smelled like a toasty-popcorn (it tasted amazing like that!) and then transitioned into a toasty peanut butter, and finally to a dark toast crust type of aroma. The hornbeam wood was working out great, as it burned hot and steady and didn't produce much smoke once it got going. With about 20 minutes left, I added smaller hornbeam logs and got the fire going again - but not so much that the grain would come in contact with the fire. Stirring constantly to prevent the grain from scortching, the malt changed even further. It went from a light tan color to a shade darker in minutes, interspersed with black/charred grains. When I felt it had reached an appropriate color (the historical sources seem to indicate brown malt wouldn't have been much darker than 30L) I took it off the fire. 

The flavor of this first batch is very nice and nothing like the modern brown malt I am used to. Its flavor is mostly a toasty/dark munich/amber malt type of thing with a lot of complexity. Nothing like any grain I have ever tasted. Also, the grain has virtually no smoke flavor and the interior of the grain is intact and white colored. I would imagine this batch would be somewhat diastatic, or at least sufficiently so. With my first batch done and good, I decided to make a second batch. I was going to use more hornbeam but I wanted to experiment with a different type of wood. I had some really nice, 24 month aged dry cherry firewood on hand, so I figured I'd go with that. I am pretty sure no maltster in England ever used cherry wood for their brown malt, but I am an American and we are supposedly inventive folk. Not to mention cherry wood smoked BBQ is amazing stuff. On I went. The temperature at this point had dropped to 24F and the wind wasn't helping. Trying to get the cherry wood alight was pretty hard but after a few hours and a few beers-for-warmth, I had some nice coals. I added the Maris Otter and did the same as the previous batch. Again, after 40 minutes I added more cherry wood to the coals and got the fire going. 

The cherry wood produced more smoke than the hornbeam, but the smells coming off the grain were very much the same. Within 15 minutes of stirring, I had reached a similar color and flavor as the previous batch. I took half of the batch off the fire and left the remaining grain on the fire to continue to roast. I wanted to try and get a really dark, brown malt similar to our modern version. Interestingly, the longer I left the grain over the fire, you could slowly see the grain start to 'caramelize.' The outside husk would turn a deep brown color, then turn black as if it was completely burnt, and then on to an almost oily-shiny look. These grains were completely hollow and tasted exactly like a really caramelized/burnt sugar- liquorice candy. This made me very happy. After a while the grain stopped changing color and it only began to burn. I sat over the fire turning this last batch for another hour before I was ready to give up. The fire was going out and my pint glasses had partially frozen. What I had started at 10am was finally done at 7pm. Not to mention it was cold as heck. I got my stuff together and went home to air out the malt out on cookie sheets. 

The flavor of the cherry wood brown malt is pretty unique. The malt I took off the fire at the same time as the hornbeam batch is very similar tasting, although the cherry wood imparted a very nice, sweet, subtle smokey character. The last batch, the darkest stuff, tastes bloody amazing. I really can't believe how good it tastes - it has a really nice (slightly bitter) coffee-chocolate flavor (not unlike pale chocolate malt) with that same slightly sweet light smoke character as the other cherry kilned batch. Whether or not this type of malt is even remotely historical, I really don't care. Best grain I've ever made and sure to be repeated in the spring. In fact, I think I'll be brewing two batches of my "historical porter," one with the regular hornbeam kilned brown malt and another one with my dark-roasted cherry wood malt. 

As of now I am still looking for recipes (anyone got any good historical ones?) but in the mean time I'm thinking something from the early 1830's would be nice - a recipe like 72% pale, 15% brown, and 3% black malt. O.G: 1.060,  and 30 ibu worth of fuggles. Both batches will get some brett c in the secondary/barrel. 

The final product
In review, I am happy with how my experiment went and look forward to testing the grain for its diastatic potential and brewing with it. Changes for next time are to build a more suitable malt kiln and keep the grain farther away from the heat source. I also need to read up more on how they would have constructed their brown malt kilns, as to the replicate the process better. Specifics would also help, like how long they kilned the malt, at what temperatures, and so on. Lastly, if any of you are even remotely interested in kilning your own brown malt, do it! Though wait until you have good weather. I'd love to be able to swap some brown malt with other people.. or even drum up some interest in the stuff.

Part II is here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Brew Day: Petite Saison

Going to keep this one short and sweet. The yeast starter for the Saison II (WL566) is ready and I got nowhere to go and nothing to do. Two brew days in a row, nice! I've decided to keep the recipe pretty simple and in the same spirit, go a bit 'rustic' on the water profile - I did keep my mash PH in check though. The malt bill is a mix of pils, wheat, and munich malt, hopped with (NZ) pacific jade. I've been wanting to try these hops in a saison for a while now as their flavor profile looks to be perfect fit - "herb, citrus, black pepper." Also, I was toying with the idea of adding some rye or spelt malt, based on few suggestions, but I've decided to save those grains for my sour versions. I will also be bottle conditioning this batch, something I have not done in a long time. Probably won't add spices either as I'd like to see what type of "good" phenols this yeast provides.

First taste of Levi's PA. Great stuff.
Petite Saison : Belgian Saison

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 3.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 5.75
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.005
Anticipated SRM: 4.4
Anticipated IBU: 20
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

78.3%  - 4.5 lbs. Pilsner Malt
13.0%  - 0.75 lbs. Wheat Malt
8.7%    - 0.50 lbs. Munich Malt
0.25 oz. Pacific Jade @ 60 min for 20 IBU
0.50 oz. Pacific Jade @ Flameout

Yeast: WL566 Saison II
Mash 150F for 75 min
Brewed on 5 December

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brew Day: Beamish Stout

Change of plans. The starter I made for the petite saison is taking forever to get going and it will have to wait a bit longer. I'll add some more fermentables today and hopefully it will be ready for pitching sometime tomorrow. I guess this is what happens when you use old yeast - it only cost me a buck so I'm not too surprised. Anyways, I at least had the foresight to make up a proper yeast starter yesterday morning (Pacman) with the intention of brewing on Monday. Anyways, that yeast is pretty much ready to go now, so it looks like I'll be brewing today. And what a wonderful little beer we have to brew - the one and only Beamish stout. Oh, Beamish stout you say... "isn't that the somewhat watery, rather bland, Guinness-like-stuff no longer found in the states?" Well, yes it is. Yet, leaving the "it's better in Ireland" argument aside, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Beamish and the fact that it makes a great session stout is just an added bonus.

Still looking for a historical Beamish recipe
I have been brewing all sorts of Beamish 'clones' for a few years now and this is the recipe that got me the closest to the real thing. In fact, the recipe before the Heineken takeover was pretty simple with pale malt, roasted barley, and a little bit of wheat malt. As I never could find out which maltster they used for their roast, even after many visits to the brewery, I found a mix of dark roast and lighter chocolate will get you a similar malt character. As for yeast and hops, the real stuff uses a mix of UK and Continental hops, although I've always been happy with challenger and EKG. Pacman yeast is a perfect choice as it gives a bit of esters but lets the malt character really shine. WY1056 or WY1335 are also good choices.

Beamish Irish Stout : Dry Stout

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.45
Anticipated OG: 1.040
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 35
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

77.5%  - 5.0 lbs. Golden Promise
10.1%  - 0.65 lbs. Roasted Barley (TF) 
7.0%    - 0.45 lbs. Wheat Malt
5.4%    - 0.35 lbs. Chocolate Malt (TF)                                                                                                          
0.5 oz. Challenger @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.5 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 5 IBU

Yeast: WY1764 Pacman
Mash 152F for 75 min
Brewed on 4 December

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Of Saison(s) and Sours

While I've been enjoying saisons for close to five years now, I've never really got into drinking the commercial examples due to their (typically) high amounts of alcohol and propensity to be sold in 750ml bottles - the exception being Ommegang's Hennepin. What's more, while I have brewed a few saisons over the years, I've never actually brewed one below seven percent. I'd always start out with the intention of making a 3.5% beer, but inevitably change my mind after taking a look at the BJCP guidelines or talking to my big-beer obsessed friends. And who really want's a little saison when you could have something big, spiced, and worthy of corked, labeled bottles?!

I am glad to say I'm going to finally brew that little saison after all these years. I've been doing a lot of reading on the style and traditional brewing methods and I think I have a pretty good plan of attack. My goal is to essentially brew two or three variants of saisons, one a low gravity (1.038-40ish) brew that I'll ferment normally and drink relatively young. The other two, will be a split batch (a bit larger at 1.055-60?) and will receive some sort of bugs for long aging and will hopefully result in some funky complexity. Now comes the hard part... actually doing it.

In preparation for this undertaking, I went out the other day and picked up some yeasts to get me on my way. Here is what I got:

WLP 566 Saison II
WLP 677 Lacto 
WLP 653 Brett L
WLP 650 Brett B
WLP 645 Brett C
WY3522 Ardennes
WY3711 French Saison

Ok, so I am thinking the Saison II would be a great yeast for the petite saison, sans bugs, and the Ardennes/Frensh Saison strains would probably lend itself well to the bugs. However, I'm not really sure what bugs would be best used in each batch and with what yeasts. From my reading I know many old style saisons did develop brett and/or lacto character from extended aging and that is something I would definitely like to try to replicate.

As for base recipes, I am still considering all options, but I think I'll go really simple for the petite saison with something like 85% pils, 10% wheat, and maybe 5% munich. The other versions I am not so sure about. In all, I would like to have these batches brewed and fermenting by the end of December and I'll probably brew the Saison II batch this weekend as the yeast is nearly expired. I was contemplating adding fruit to one of the split batches eventually, though hopefully someone can chime in whether or not that is a good thing.

If any of you have experience brewing saisons and/or souring them, I'd love to hear your opinions on recipes, techniques, and the whole bit. I figure this will be a nice change of pace from my usual English-beer stuff and give me a chance to play around with sours - other than my usual batches of Berliner Weisses and hodge-podge sour dregs sours. Should be interesting!