Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Commercial Review: Crooked Stave Surette Reserva (Dry Hopped)

Long before I started focusing on brewing saisons and similar beers, I was frequently seeking out any and all new saisons, sours, and similar beers.  While my focus now is more on homebrew, I still try to seek out great commercial examples of these beers.  As much as I homebrew, there are still so many commercial examples with unique ingredients, processes, yeast/bacteria combinations, etc., and trying them out is a great way to get a feel for something unique without having to brew a different batch.  This is great, of course, since I'm frequently coming up with way more ideas than I can possibly execute.  

I've been trying to get better about taking actual notes (meaning more than the 140 characters allowed by Untappd) when I try beers, and while I'm on my (hopefully) short brewing hiatus (twin boys born in November 2014!), I thought a good way to keep up the blog would be to have my thoughts on some commercial breweries and beer.  I'll start things off here with a beer review, and plan to include more commercial reviews, and also have brewery profiles where I will give background on a brewery, its equipment and production volume, special beers, and the person or people behind that brewery.  Brewery background is something I've really been focused on as I start very preliminary planning for eventually opening up my own small place.  Of course, to the extent possible, I focus on breweries specializing in saisons and mixed fermentation beers.  I closely followed/am following the development of places like Casey Brewing & Blending, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and Wolves & People.

With that background behind us, below are some thoughts on Crooked Stave's Surette Reserva (Dry Hopped), which is a dry-hopped version of their standard Surette, which itself is a mixed fermentation saison that is part of their year-round lineup.  Per a response from Crooked Stave's Twitter account, the dry hops were a mixture of Pacifica, Motueka, and Wakatu.




Appearance: Pours hazy with a light peach color. There's an initial two-finger white head that quickly dissipates down into a collar around the edges of the glass, leaving a bit of lacing behind. No apparent rising carbonation.


Nose: The first whiff does not bring forward as much New Zealand hop goodness as I was expecting.  It doesn't quite explode with hop character like some other dry-hopped Crooked Stave beers have, e.g., Dry-Hopped L'Brett d'Or.  Instead, the nose is more muted, with faint hints of gooseberry and green grape.  As it warms, there's just a hint of oak.  It could use a little more oomph, but overall it's nice enough.

Flavor: Here's where the beer really shines.  While the hop character is still pretty subdued, the light Brett fruitiness and light-to-moderate acidity fit together quite well.  The mouthfeel is fantastic.  It could use a bit more carbonation, but the body is light without being too thin, and the acidity is slightly puckering, but certainly not to the point where it detracts at all from drinkability.  As with the nose, hints of barrel come through toward the back end.

Overall: A really nice beer that I would happily consume on a regular basis if given the chance.   It's fairly similar to the regular Surette, but with a bit more tartness and less oak and funk.  Although they don't stand out too much, the hops have to be contributing a decent dose of fruitiness, as this beer tends more toward the gooseberry, white-wine-type character you get from New Zealand hops, as opposed to a more stone-fruit character in the regular Surette.

Homebrew Thoughts: This is the sort of beer that I would really love to be able emulate on the homebrew scale.  I'm planning on getting some smaller barrels in the coming years, and would love to make sure that all of my saisons (or at least most of them, keeping a clean petit saison as a crushable, everyday brew) take a pass through.  The dry-hopping is something I love, and Crooked Stave has done a great job with.  Using tropical and citrus-heavy hops as dry hops in a wild and/or sour beer is a great idea, as they play off of the fruity character that many Brett strains create.  


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Saisons & Farmhouse Ales: General Thoughts & Brewing Overview

Recently there was a thread in the homebrew forum on TalkBeer.com where a user had some questions on brewing saisons and farmhouse ales. I eventually posted plenty of my thoughts here, but the thread also gave me the idea to do an overview post on my saison brewing process and thoughts on brewing saisons in general.  I've been brewing for just over four years now, and the last 2-2.5 years have been focused almost entirely on saisons and other mixed fermentation beers.  For the most part, my saisons tend to have Brettanomyces and/or lactic acid bacteria (LAB).  I feel that this offers greater opportunity to create complex flavor profiles, and also keeps away comparisons to Saison Dupont, which is nearly impossible to rival when dealing with clean saisons (though Off Color comes damn close with their Apex Predator).  At the same time, I have found a place for light, clean saisons as a way to bring an approachable example of the style to those who are otherwise unfamiliar with beers of the farmhouse tradition.  When I eventually start up my own brewery, it'll focus exclusively on saisons and wilds, but everything won't be too crazy, as I'd love to offer a low-ABV saison with a fairly-light yeast profile to get people started down the farmhouse track.

A word of caution.  Portions of like may seem like a bit of stream-of-consciousness rambling.  I think about saisons and future brewing plans constantly every day, so it's been hard to contain and edit my thoughts, though hopefully I haven't gone too overboard.  Since I feel like every good blog post should have a picture, below is one that seems appropriate.  It's a picture of one of my saisons in a glass with the future logo of Ambrosia Ales, sitting atop a table littered with coasters from many fantastic saison, lambic, and other wild beer producers.



GENERAL

Since the question always comes up, what is saison?  The following is simply my opinion; there are certainly many valid opinions, including Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead recently indicating that the term shouldn't even be used by American brewers in this interview with Good Beer Hunting.  I take a very broad approach, using the label for any beer that is yeast-forward using a Belgian strain with or without Brettanomyces or lactic acid bacteria.  The only other requisite characteristic as far as I'm concerned is that the beer finishes quite dry.  From there, it doesn't matter to me whether the beer is light or dark; high or low ABV; or makes use of fruit, spices, or other adjuncts.  To differentiate, I will sometimes use "saison" to refer to beers that are clean and crisp, rendering them quite drinkable, whereas farmhouse is a term I use for beers that are more toward the pre-Industrial beers of Wallonia that would have been funky and/or sour.

As mentioned above, I typically gravitate toward saisons that utilize Brettanomyces, LAB, and/or other non-traditional (or traditional, depending on how far back you look) fermenters in addition to Saccharomyces.  Given that, most of this post will focus on beers along those lines, but I'll first provide some quick thoughts on "clean" saisons that are fermented solely with one ore more Saccharomyces strains.

I've long thought that if a brewery is going to offer something to introduce saison to a broader set of customers, something along the lines of a sub-5% ABV clean saison would be perfect.  When sticking with a beer fermented solely with a saison strain, the first question is whether you want to go with a beer that is phenolic and spicy, or tends toward the fruity side of things.  Comparing to other styles, I think you could go toward the spicy side to "replace" something like a pilsner.  You would want to keep the phenolics to a low level, complementing the dryness of the beer without being overpowering.  The drinker should smell and taste something beyond clean grain/malt, but without being able to specifically say what it is.  I've encountered this effect when introducing light-beer drinkers to something like Penrose Devoir or Stillwater Classique, both fantastic beers and excellent examples of what an approachable saison can be.  I would keep hops and malt relatively simple, focusing on the yeast without too many distractions.  I haven't truly brewed something like this, but plan to in the future, likely utilizing Wyeast 3726 (Farmhouse Ale), which is reportedly the Blaugies strain.  Another option would be using one of the abbey/Trappist strains, which are often used for Belgian Blondes, a style that can have considerable overlap with saisons, often times seeming to be one in the same.  For example, are the great beers from De La Senne (such as Taras Boulba) saisons, Belgian Blondes, or something else?  (Not that it truly matters what you call these beers; they're absolutely delightful no matter the terminology.)

On the fruity side, I think you can go a bit more complicated, as this would be less of your straight light-beer substitute, and be more comparable to something like an introductory American Pale Ale.  The idea here is that you'd have something with light-to-moderate bitterness (probably sub-30 IBU) and use the yeast and hops to accentuate citrus and/or tropical fruit notes.  In my experience, I've found that strains/blends like East Coast Yeast 08 Saison Brasserie can pair perfectly with flameout additions of American hops to offer an easy-drinking beer.  This is example what I did when I brewed my initial batch of Saison Faible (recipe; tasting notes), a beer I definitely intend to brew again in the future.  The aforementioned Apex Predator is a great example of a very fruit-forward clean saison.  While the comparison to an APA is further off than a lightly-phenolic strain to a light beer, it still offers consumers a starting point, drawing parallels to the fruitiness that American hops bring to pale ales, while taking things in a slightly-different direction.

INGREDIENTS

Yeast/Bacteria

First, and most importantly, the yeast and other fermenters.  Since saison is such a wide-ranging "style," a lot of your yeast decision depends on what you're looking for, as people certainly have different goals. If you're shooting for something that's more funky, spicy, and phenolic, I'd recommend just going with Saccharomyces in the primary, letting it get down quite low, and then adding dregs/Brett in secondary or at bottling. Nearly any saison strain should work for that, though as many others do, I would caution using Wyeast French Saison (3711) as it tends to get overly spicy and one dimensional.  It will get your beer dry, but doesn't offer the complexity of things like White Labs Saison II (WLP566) and Wyeast Farmhouse, which are both a bit more spicy rather than fruity.  However, many brewers do have success blending in a little bit of 3711 with a more-interesting saison strain, as it is a workhorse that will ensure the beer finishes dry no matter the recipe and fermentation temperature.

If you prefer saisons that are fruitier with some tartness, I'd go with something along the lines of The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse or ECY08 (Saison Blend). I would then also pitch this alongside a healthy dose of Brett that tends to be fruity-heavy in primary before it starts working on the Sacch.-created compounds. Here, best bets in my opinion are Brett Claussenii (WLP645) and "Brett" Trois (WLP644) (not really Brett).  I use both.  You could then also go with some fruitier American hops at flameout or for dry-hopping.  Think intense tropical- and citrus-forward hops, just only use a third or a half of what you'd use for a bigger IPA.

In terms of fermentation temperature, I've honestly had success anywhere from the low 60s to the upper 70s when going with a fruitier saison strain paired with Brett, with fermentations taking about 2 weeks at the upper end of the range, and more toward 4 weeks at the lower end. However, the flavor profiles aren't too noticeably different.  Thus, when using Brett, I think you can go with a more Laissez-faire attitude.  Results will likely differ, but that's part of the fun of brewing these beers.  Each batch is unique.  With that said, you can always achieve more-consistent results through blending.

Now, with regard to temperature, you need to be much more careful if you're going to be barrel-aging or using other methods of fermentation that may expose the fermentation to oxygen.  If this is the case, you need to ensure you keep temperatures down, as otherwise you run the risk of dealing with an acetobacter infection.  Saisons should be crisp and refreshing, and the vinegar produced by acetobacter completely destroys that possibility.  When dealing with strict Saccharomyces fermentations, also make sure to maintain temperature control and take detailed notes, as a clean saison fermented at 70*F will taste much different from one fermented at 80*F.  With clean fermentations, I also recommend starting in the upper 60s or maybe low 70s, and then let the yeast free rise or slowly push it upward into the upper 70s or 80s.  Going too quickly may result in fusel alcohols and other off flavors.

One final note on using bacteria (and this is more of a preference than a hard and fast rule), and that is to keep the bacteria in check.  Aside from avoiding vinegar, you also want lactic acid kept to a background note.  Saisons are great with a nice tartness, but should not be overly sour to the point where that is the dominant character of the beer.

Finally, as saison is a style that originated in the agricultural regions of Belgium, using locally-harvested yeast or that borrowed from nearby farms, catching your own wild yeast to use as a sole fermenter (if you're lucky) or, more likely as part of a blend offers great opportunities to add depth, nuance, and a distinct house character.  This has been done by breweries such as Jester King and Plan Bee.

Water


For the most part, when I've seen discussions surrounding water profiles for saisons, people tend to recommend high sulfate levels (often over 100 ppm) to accentuate the dryness of the beer.  I'd offer advice to the contrary.  Personally, I find that the very low finishing gravity (approaching 1.000) that can be achieved through proper fermentation procedure (especially when saison yeast is paired with Brett and/or LAB) achieves the requisite dryness.  Instead, I like to keep the sulfate at a moderate level and instead accentuate the malt flavor and give some perceived body through chloride and sodium additions.  I generally put the sodium levels right around 50 ppm, thereby accentuating the flavors of the beer without approaching any sort of actual salty flavor.  With chloride, I'll push toward 100 ppm, thereby providing some grain and malt flavor to complement what the yeast and hops are doing for the flavor profile.  This also protects against the beer seeming overly thin.


One minor caveat to my statement about sulfate additions is that I will push the levels to 100 ppm when I'm doing a very hoppy saison, e.g., my Wallonian Pale Ale.  Even here, however, I keep the sulfate at the same level as the chloride.

When dealing with mineral additions, and throughout the saison brew process, pH is also incredibly important.  First, since many saisons are using exclusively or nearly-exclusively Pilsner malt, you really need to make sure your mash pH is in order and doesn't get too high.  The ideal mash range is often given somewhere in the area of 5.2 to 5.5.  Personally, I like to keep it right at the bottom of that range for saisons, as the lower pH tends to soften the overall profile of the been, enhancing the overall perception and drinkability.  If you're adding your minerals to the mash rather than to the kettle, keep in mind what effect they'll have on pH, and then use either acid malt or lactic/phosphoric acid to adjust to the appropriate level.  Depending on your base water, malt profile, and mineral additions, the amount of acid malt that may be required could be enough to give a little bit of acidity to the finished beer.

If you're taking care to adjust the pH of your mash, make sure to pay attention to the pH of the sparge water as well.  It's important here to keep that pH low so as to not pull tannins from the mash as you sparge.  I typically just use lactic acid to adjust the sparge water to the same pH as I had the mash.

For all my pH adjustments (actually, for the entire recipe), I use the BrewCipher spreadsheet.  With regard to mineral additions, I generally add everything to the kettle so that I can use only acid to adjust mash and sparge pH.  I can then adjust mineral additions for flavor without worrying about their effect on mash pH.  Starting around a year ago, each recipe post on this blog details the mineral and acid additions, including timing and (sometimes) rationale.


Hops



Really, this is mostly going to be about personal preference.  The one "rule" I would have is that IBUs should be kept in check, as the dryness achieved by the extreme attentuation will enhance bitterness levels.  Thus, for a typical saison, I recommend sticking at 30 IBU or less, potentially then pushing things up to 50 or so IBUs if you're looking for a really hoppy saison akin to the Wallonian Pale Ale that I mentioned above.  Even then, I wouldn't go much higher as you'll be getting that dry, bitter profile and can then focus more on flavor and aroma hops so that the beer really pops.


From there, the hops you use will really depend on what your goal is.  If you're doing a clean saison that tends toward the phenolic/spicy side of the style, sticking with Noble and other European hops (and their American counterparts) is probably the best bet, keeping aroma and flavor additions to a minimal, and using minimal (if any) dry hops.  This same advice would like apply if you're using Brettanomyces to achieve a funky, earthy finishing profile.  On the other hand, if you're using a more-fruity, ester-heavy strain, then American and Southern Hemisphere hops work really well.  You can go with citrus-heavy or tropical hops, as both will play well with the fruity character created by something like The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse or East Coast Yeast Saison Brasserie.  These hops also work quite well when you add in a little bit of tartness through the addition of bacteria.


Grain


Malt might not be the least-important of the four main ingredients, but it's my least-favorite component, so it goes last.  In practice, there are so many different directions that you can go with the malt profile of a saison, so I really can't give too many broad generalizations.  I'll give a bit on my preferences and general techniques, offer a few pointers, and then discuss things to avoid because, in reality, by altering the water profile and fermentation of a given beer, you can turn almost any malt bill into a saison.  I say almost because caramel/Crystal malt has no place in a saison.  None.  (Okay, maybe a bit of CaraMunich for color, but I'd even discourage that.)  Other than that, let the experimentation begin.

Non-barley additions work fantastic in saisons, providing some additional mouthfeel and comlexity, particularly when you're dealing with a Pilsner base.  It's always nice to get at least 10-20% wheat, spelt, oats, rye, flaked corn, etc. in there for some additional mouthfeel.  One caution with rye is that it can get fairly spicy as you go above 10% of the grain bill, so be careful crossing that threshold if you're already using a yeast that's going to put out plenty of phenolics, as that may result in any overly-peppery, one-dimensional beer.

Aside form these adjuncts, using 5-20% of something like Munich or Vienna is nice as well if you want to have a bit more bready flavor than what you'd get using only Pilsner for your barley component of the mash. Higher than that and I think you get too much of a bready or doughy character that can begin to detract from the yeast.  Personally, I also like using 5-10% honey malt, as that adds a nice layer of flavor without detracting from other components of the beer.  (Of course, you can use actual honey, too.)

When dealing with a dark saison, I recommend against overly-roasty malts, as those will contrast with the flavors created by the yeast.  When going with a darker beer, I recommend using something like Carafa II or III for most of the color, and then accenting the beer with malts like Chocolate or Special B, if you're looking for chocolate or dark fruit character, respectively.  Again, I'd stay aware from any straight caramel/Crystal malts, as those add caramel-like sweetness that contrasts the dry nature of the beer, while Special B at least offers some dark fruit notes that can add a nice twist to a darker example of the style.  If you want to call me an idiot and say I'm way off base with the caramel/Crystal thoughts, just point me toward this interview with Alexandre Dumont de Chassart of Brasserie de Jandrain-Jandrenouille, one of Belgium's best saison producers, where he discusses using caramel malt in their beer V Cense.

Fruit, Spices, & Other Additions


Given that the idea behind saison really depends on dryness and being yeast-forward, there really isn't anything out of bounds here.  Cherries or other fruit?  Sure.  Citrus zest?  Most definitely.  Spicing to complement the yeast?  When used in moderation, absolutely.  Coffee in a dark saison?  Works as well.  Really, here, just let experimentation run wild.  Keep things to a minimum at the beginning, as you can always add more.


With fruit additions, I think that you want to be considerate of the underlying beer, so my rule is to cut the typical lambic level in half, starting at one pound per gallon for common fruits like cherries, raspberries, grapes, etc.  If you're going with some more exotic and pungent, e.g., passion fruit or pineapple, think about cutting that down to half a pound per gallon or less.  You want the fruit to complement the yeast profile of the beer.  If you're just going to have the fruit dominate, you might as well just brew a clean ale and add all the fruit to that beer.

Since there's such a wide range of possibilities here, instead of going through everything, I'll offer a few examples of my own recipes that use fruit and/or spices:

As you can see, I've tended to use fruit more often than spices, but there are plenty of commercial examples using nearly anything you can imagine.  Some things I'd like to work with in the future include grains of paradise, grapefruit zest, rhubarb, yuzu, sumac, wine grapes, hibiscus, lilac, tea, and plenty of oak cubes soaked in different wines/spirits.

PROCESS

Some of these things I've gone over above, but here's more of an overview of how process might differ from a typical ale.  Again, first and foremost, temperature and pH are going to be key throughout the saison brew and fermentation process.  If you want to achieve the requisite saison yeast character and mouthfeel, these are two most-focus variables.

A few other things you may want to consider:
  • If you want the resulting beer to be more ester heavy, go with a little bit less oxygen.  I use 30 seconds of pure O2 through a diffusion stone per 5 gallons, as opposed to the general recommendation of 45-60 seconds for an ale of standard strength in the range of 1.040 to 1.050.  (Remember, many saisons will ferment down to near 1.000, so the alcohol will build up fast compared to a beer that finishes at 1.010-1.015.)
  • If you're looking for more acidity and/or funk, starting out (and also to shorten the timeline), I recommend doing a cleaner saison with just Sacch. and Brett, and then always keep on hand some base blonde wild for blending (even half a gallon of that in 5 gallons of beer without lactic acid will make a noticeable difference).  For ideas and notes on blending, see my post (and accompanying links) on my Science & Art series of blended saisons and wilds.
  • I always use double the recommended rate of yeast nutrient per the recommendation in Farmhouse Ales. I don't know if it really makes a difference, but it's not hurting anything and the stuff isn't expensive.
  • If you're messing with water profiles, a lot of people recommend heavier sulfate additions in saisons. Again, I really don't like this. The finishing gravity is low enough to make it dry, and 25-30 IBUs will give it a nice bitter edge. I favor keeping chloride and sulfate roughly the same, aiming for no higher than 75-100 ppm.
  • If you're dealing with pH, keeping the mash pH down in the range of 5.2-5.4 (room temperature) really helps smooth things out.  There's a very-detailed discussion at this Braukaiser page.
  • For mash temperature, you really can't go wrong.  Different temperatures will yield different results, but if you know your fermenters, you'll be able to get the beer sufficiently dry.  For a clean saison, I like something that finishes fast and dry, and would recommend staying under 150* F.  For something with Brett or bacteria, push that number up for increased funk and acidity levels.  The higher you go, the more you'll allow the non-Saccharomyces fermenters to do the work, though saison strains can tackle plenty of complex sugars all on their own.

CONCLUSION

Saison has become such a wide-ranging idea that it's really difficult to place in a neat box.  Here, I've only scratched the surface with what you can do.  For instance, I haven't tackled thoughts on barrel-aging (yet).  If nothing else, hopefully this post has served to pique people's interest in brewing dry, refreshing beers with a Belgian influence.  There are many other great resources out there.  If you're interested in learning more about the subject, I can't recommend Phil Markowski's Farmhouse Ales enough.  In particular, the essay on saison from Yvan de Baets (of the aforementioned De La Senne) is phenomenal.  

Any thoughts, questions, or concerns?  Did I leave anything out?  I'm always up for saison discussion, so please comment away!  In the future, I hope to have a post or set of posts highlighting the different characteristics of most of the available commercial saison strains and blends, pairing plenty of them with different Brettanomyces offerings and/or lactic acid bacteria.  I also plan to do a post on what I believe the ideal saison-focused brewery would offer and how it would operate, as it's something I've put a lot of thought into and would like to attempt in the not-so-distant future.

Cheers!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Science & Art #5: Blend & Tasting Notes


With Science & Art #4 being unique as the first in the series that didn't use Citrine, this one is unique in that it is the first dark blend. It's also the beer blend that uses something other than different saisons as a sizable portion of the blend, with a Flanders-style wild being the largest component of the blend. In the end, this one ended up being 50% Flanders-style wild and 50% dark saison. The Flanders-style component is made up of two batches of Ruby (Batch 02 (recipe lost due to a computer issue, unfortunately) and Batch 03), and the saison component is made up of Demeter Rouge and Demeter Sinis (Cranberry). The final blend was as follows:

  • 2 gallons of Ruby (Batch 03) 
  • 2 gallons of Demeter Rouge 
  • 0.5 gallons of Ruby (Batch 02) 
  • 0.5 gallons of Demeter Sinis (Cranberry) 

Overall, I think this blend really captured what I was looking for, which was to take the fruitiness of Demeter Rouge, but cut back on the acidity created by the passion fruit. Oddly enough, this was accomplished by cutting the beer with a sour Flanders-style base, albeit versions of that beer that were more funky than acidic, particularly given the age of the "young" Ruby that was used. The Demeter Sinis (Cranberry) added a nice bit of cranberry alongside some earthy, spicy notes from the black cardamom and lavender used in that beer. Finally, the Ruby additions allowed some mild funk along with notes of strawberry, raspberry, and general jam character, which is something I've had in my recent dark wild beers, particularly Biere de Nord (which I actually thought about using a bit of in this blend, but determined it wasn't necessary).

In terms of process, the Demeter Rouge, Ruby (Batch 02), and Demeter Sinis (Cranberry) were all already carbonated, so I had to be careful on that front. The Demeter Rouge was carbonated to around 2.0 volumes in a keg, and the latter two had already been bottle conditioned and were probably around 2.5 and 3.0 volumes, respectively. Given this, I opted to only aim for 2.0 volumes when using the priming calculator, assuming that this would eventually get me somewhere in the 2.5-3.0 volume range. 

In the future, once I hopefully open up a small brewery and have my own little barrel room, I'll be able to blend components without worrying about needing to pull from previously-bottled batches. One thing I'm planning on doing in the future to have more for blending is to take a half gallon or gallon of each batch and let it continue to age in a growler or gallon jug. That way, I can have uncarbonated beer for blending, and also add wine- or spirit-soaked oak cubes to portions of a batch for greater complexity. I've done smaller portions with oak cubes in the past, but never with the general intention of saving that beer for blending.

With that, the full tasting notes for this blend are below. Follow additional views on this beer, take a look at its page on Untappd.



Appearance: Deep mahogany with an even stronger reddish hue under bright light. Head fizzes up light brown, a bit darker and thicker than with cola. Could go for better retention and stability, though it's not too bad considering that a decent chunk of this beer is Flanders-style wild.

Aroma: Initial nose is quite fruity with cranberry and cherry leading the way. A hint of orange zest alongside faint coffee and chocolate notes. A touch of roasted malt and hints of cardamom. Lactic acidity in the back along with a touch of earthy funk. There's a general fruity, berry-jam character to it as well, which I attribute to the Ruby variations included in the blend. Strawberries and raspberries more and more as it warms. Just a hint of tropical fruit. The cranberry, of course is from the cranberry version of Demeter Sinis, and the cherry comes from the Demeter Rouge. The passion fruit in the Demeter Rouge is only there in faint tropical notes. 

Flavor: The tropical character comes through plenty more in the flavor, along with more noticeable acidity. Cherry, cranberry, and jam there as well. A bit of earth and funk, though that's relatively minor. Hints of red wine.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light and moderately acidic. Carbonation moderate as well, hitting about where I wanted it to be. It's elevated over typical clean ale levels, but not nearly high enough to be at saison level. The beer is a bit light, and could use some extra body. It would have been great to have been able to put this in a red wine barrel, picking up some oak character, tannin, and body.

Overall: I'm quite happy with this blend. Other than the aforementioned lack in body, there isn't too much that I would change here. I think this one definitely accomplished the foremost blending goal of creating something more interesting and enjoyable than any individual component.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Farmhouse Mild (Watermelon): Tasting Notes

This was a batch of Farmhouse Mild that had the Pedio in the fermentation blend kick up some diacetyl after I had kegged the beer and before I tapped it.  In order to clean this up, I added some extra Brettanomyces, and since I had been wanting to try a beer with watermelon juice, I decided to add that here to provide some extra sugars to jump-start the Brett.  I ended up adding the juice from 8 pounds of watermelon into roughly 5 gallons of Farmhouse Mild, and then let it ferment for about a month.  The resulting beer had a nice watermelon character, with a nice taffy-like character.




Appearance: Pours a hazy light peach color with just a touch of pink in the light.  Big, fluffy white head with good retention, and plenty of sticky lacing on the way down.

Aroma: Nose starts out with a nice watermelon-taffy aroma, and then fades into some slight lactic acidity as well as a bit of plant-like watermelon rind.  The latter isn't off-putting at this level, and reminds me of the "green"-type flavor you get from something like watermelon gum.  Speaking of, I was pretty shocked how well watermelon taffy/gum apparently captures the flavor of watermelon juice.  (Well, at least how watermelon juice tastes after it's been fermented and mixed with saison.)

Flavor: Similar to the nose.  Quite juicy and refreshing.  It's too bad I'm only a few months late on this one, as it snowed half an inch in the Chicago area last night.  (In fairness, I've had this on tap since mid-October, though it's not like it was super warm then either.)  Watermelon really leads the way, dominating over any other character, though the watermelon itself is not overpowering.  I like the level here, even though the base beer doesn't shine through too much.  There's a touch of grain/grass in the background.  Though the hops from the base beer have mostly faded, there is still a generic "fruitiness" that I wouldn't attribute to the watermelon, and I'm guessing is lingering from the initial American hops.

Mouthfeel: Light and extremely refreshing.  This is something I could drink a gallon of after doing yard work in the summer.  Even as I sit here cold and watching football, it's hard to put down.  Super crisp with heavy carbonation, it's light and airy, yet the flavor still lingers quite well.

Overall: I'm quite pleased with how this one turned out, especially given that it was an experiment with a beer that had developed some issues.  I will absolutely return to this one next year, and this pretty much firms up my thoughts lately that there's no reason for me to brew fruited Berliners when I can instead just go with a session saison and add fruit (particularly when adding fruit juice, which creates a swift secondary fermentation).

Science & Art #4: Blend & Tasting Notes

This is my fourth blend in the Science & Art Series, a group of blended saisons and wild ales. The components of this blend were Demeter Vert, Namur (Meyer Lemon), and Flowerfield. The idea behind blending is to create something that's better than the sum of its parts. Here, I had three beers that ranged from okay to quite good, with each one either having something that I didn't quite like (Namur and Flowerfield), or that were almost there, but could use an extra boost (Demeter Vert).

Demeter Vert was going to be the star of the show, as the lime saison base was something that I really enjoyed. I've been tweaking the recipe for that one across batches and think that I have most things generally dialed in, but this batch was lacking a bit of extra oomph. I think this is due to the fact that this beer was my first time using my yeast/bacteria Blend 05, and the Brett and bacteria weren't a big enough portion of the blend. Based on that, I was looking for something that could give this base a bit more flair.

For each of the previous versions of Science & Art, Citrine -- which is my house blonde wild -- had been a component of the blend, adding some acidity and fund. In this case, I was looking for something that was clean and not really funky, though I was hoping for a bit of acid to boost the overall flavor profile. My first thought was Namur (Meyer Lemon), which was just far too lemony. That beer was my first time using Meyer Lemon (or any type of lemon, for that matter) in a beer, and it was far too much. I was a bit surprised by this, as the use was generally in line with other citrus beers that I've done (Demeter Auran, the above-discussed Demeter Vert, and a few others), and those generally have hints of citrus without being too overpowering.

The lemon juice that was used alongside the zest in that batch of Namur created a good amount of acidity, and the beer itself was very clean and not at all funky, so after a few quick small-scale blends with Demeter Vert, I knew that I'd like to add that to the blend. That blend was still a bit citrus-heavy (though not obviously heavy on either lemon or lime), so I looked for something else to add in.

The perfect answer was a bit of Flowerfield, which is a collaboration that I did with Matt over at Stickman Brewing (he runs A Ph.D in Beer) over Memorial Day weekend 2014. We brewed that as a blonde Brett saison with Nelson Sauvin. To ferment that batch, I used the Yeast Bay Saison/Brettanomyces Blend and I wasn't a huge fan of the profile. There was something in the finish that was slightly acidic and just didn't quite agree with my palate, though others enjoyed it. (Matt, for one, agreed with me.) There wasn't anything wrong with the beer, so I didn't want to get rid of it, but I though blending would be a good option for some of what was remaining in the keg.

After messing around with the ratio of the three beers using a pipette and sample glasses, I settled on a blend that was four parts Demeter Vert, one part Meyer Lemon Namur, and one part Flowerfield. From there, I transferred into a bottling bucket, mixed in the priming sugar, and bottled. Since the Flowerfield portion was already kegged and carbonated and the Meyer Lemon Namur was in bottles, I needed to reduce the sugar so that I didn't get too far over my goal of 3.0 volumes of CO2. (Since the Namur was in bottles, I added that portion last, slowly pouring from chilled bottles into the bottling bucket with the neck submersed in the liquid in the bucket.) Given this, I decided to put the target at 2.2 volumes (almost purely guesswork) in the priming calculator, and then used that as my sugar level for bottling.

And now for the tasting notes, which are coming around 3.5 months after I bottled up the blend.  For tasting notes from others, you can follow the beer here on Untappd.




Appearance: Clear, bright light yellow with a fluffy white head. Good retention and plenty of lacing as it went down. Visible carbonation bubbles rising through the liquid. Has just about all it needs for a saison. I generally don't pay too much attention to whether my saisons are clear or hazy so long as they have a nice head of foam and good retention, as hazy beers seem a bit more rustic, which is something I don't mind at all when dealing with saisons with Brett and/or lactic acid bacteria (LAB).

Aroma The citrus citrus isn't too strong in the nose, and is mostly generic but tending a bit more toward the lemon. Lime there as well. I'm glad that most people haven't been able to pick out the exact citrus, as one of my goals here was to really knock down the lemon of the Namur variant, while preserving the lime from Demeter Vert. At this point, I think I was pretty successful there, likely only picking out the distinct citrus fruits as I know what went into the beer. As it warms, there is also a bit of an almost honey-like character, mixing with a bit of apricot. Maybe a bit of green grape there as well, which could be coming from the Nelson Sauvin that was used fairly heavily in Flowerfield.

Flavor: Lightly tart with just a hint of backing grain. Very clean without any funk, focusing in on the light acidity and citrus character. Maybe a bit simple, but I wasn't looking for this to be an overly-complex beer. The citrus character is just about where I want it, with some Brett-induced fruitiness in the background. The light acidity comes from the citrus, as well as from whatever lactic acid bacteria are now in this fermenting blend. (I typically use buckets that I use a carboy brush to clean, so there are plenty of scratches for LAB from dreg batches to take hold.)

Mouthfeel: Again, quite light, and also extremely crisp. The carbonation is high without gushing or being too bubbly. Clean finish, not much lingering taste. This would be a great beer for the summer, though I'm not sure I'll have much, if any, last until then. The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse is the base yeast for the fermentation blend of Demeter Vert, and I think it contributes a nice bit of body in beers that are otherwise bone dry. That's certainly apparent here. The water profiles of the base beers also likely contribute to this, as I tend to go relatively heavy on the chloride for saisons, where it seems like many other saisons are too sulfate heavy for my tastes. 

Overall: I'd describe this as simple, but elegant. Really easy drinking and is something that I'll try to re-create in the future, potentially all in the same beer by using the base for Demeter Vert and then adding in just a touch of Meyer Lemon and also maybe dry hop with some Nelson.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wallonian Pale Ale (Batch 04): Recipe

This is my fourth time trying out this recipe, a very hop-forward saison with moderate bitterness.  I absolutely loved my second batch of this (recipe; tasting notes).  The third batch was basically the same recipe as the second, and I didn't feel that it warranted its own post.  This was especially true as I was brewing with a friend (his half of the batch was fermented with basic Chico yeast) and I wasn't able to take many notes.  This attempt is slightly different, as I plan to change up the hop profile a bit, and will also probably dry hop each half of the batch differently.

Here are the full details on the batch:

Batch Number: 97
Brew Date: October 18, 2014
Keg Date: November 9, 2014
Batch Size: 10 Gallon
OG: 1.045 (est.)
FG: 1.003 (est.)
Fermentation Temperature: 65-70* F
IBU: 56.0 (modified Tinseth from BrewCipher)
ABV: 5.5%
SRM: 5.0

Mash: Single infusion for 60 minutes at 154* F
Boil: 60 minute

Fermentables

10lb 8oz Dingemans Belgian Pilsner
4lb 0oz Munich Malt
2lb 0oz Flaked Wheat
0lb 14oz Acid Malt
0lb 12oz Flaked Oats

Salts & Water

6.6g Calcium Chloride (all in the boil kettle)
7.1g Gypsum (all in the boil kettle)
2.5g Sodium Chloride (all in the boil kettle)

5.5mL lactic acid added to the sparge water to get that pH to approximately 5.3.  

Resulting water profile is as follows:

Mash pH (est.): 5.34
Calcium: 96
Magnesium: 12
Sodium: 25
Chloride: 100
Sulfate: 100

Hops

1.5oz Pacific Gem (pellet, 16.0 AAU) at 60 minutes 
4oz of Mosaic (pellet, 11.6 AAU), 30 minutes after flameout
2oz of Belma (leaf, 11.6 AAU), 30 minutes after flameout
2oz of Galaxy (pellet, 15.0 AAU), 30 minutes after flameout

Let the hops sit in the wort for about an hour total, as I ended up leaving them for a long time with Batch 02 of WPA and really enjoyed the character.

Dry Hops

01.02.2015: This one has been on tap for about two weeks, and I'm finally getting around to adding some dry hops in the keg.  I've been way behind, as my wife and I had twin boys in November!  I had planned on doing a blend of 3-4 hops and using some leaf, but I discovered that I'm out of large hop bags and don't have the time to reseal that many packages.  Thus, I ended up going with only two varieties of pellet hops, adding them to a hop bag (without weights, also can't find those) and dropping that into the keg attached to some unwaxed/unscented floss.

I went with 4 ounces of 2014 Mosaic and 1 ounce of 2013 Columbus.  The Columbus came from a 1-ounce package.  I usually have those around since I like to use them for littering.  The Mosaic came out of a 1-pound bag.  I put the bag into a gallon ziplock and put it back in the freezer.  Hopefully I'll have time to vacuum seal sooner rather than later.

Other

2.0 tsp. Wyeast Yeast Nutrient at 10 minutes

Yeast

Full batch used Ambrosia Blend 005 (now the seventh generation) from the cake of an September 27, 2014 batch of Demeter Facile.  Per yeast calculator.com, I needed 320 billion cells for the entire batch.  At 40-60% solids, this would mean 250mL for the whole batch.  I went with 500mL, as I was pulling from a wine thief and didn't have the best view, and I'd rather overpitch than underpitch, and didn't have time to let everything settle out before measuring.

Notes

11.09.2014: Kegged each half.  Will wait until closer to tapping to add the dry hops.

Demeter Sinis (Batch 03): Recipe

This was my third time brewing Demeter Sinis, the winter seasonal in the Demeter series.  As I have been pretty happy with it since the first batch, I didn't really change anything up here.  I'm also pretty excited as it has been a long time since I've had "straight" Demeter Sinis available.  This is due to the fact that last year's Batch 02 was all fruited, with the pomegranate portion getting kegged and the cranberry portion was bottled.  Thankfully I do still have a few bottles of the latter.  

As I've cleaned up my temperature control equipment for the season making way for a steep drop-off in brewing over the next few months (twin boys coming soon to the Thorpe family!), I decided to just ferment this one at room temperature.  In my experience, I've gotten yeast-driven character that's pretty similar no matter the temperature I use with my current yeast/Brett blend, it just takes a bit longer when fermenting in the 65-70*F range as opposed to the 75-80*F range.  I really do need to do some actual split-batch experiments with temperature next year though.

The recipe for the full batch is as follows:

Batch Number: 96
Brew Date: October 4, 2014
Bottle Date: November 2, 2014
Batch Size: 10 gallons
OG: 1.045 (estimated)
FG: 1.002 (estimated)
Fermentation Temperature: 65-70* F (room temperature)
IBU: 27.0
ABV: 5.5% (est.)
SRM: 17

Mash: Single infusion for 60 minutes at 154* F.
Boil: 60 minute

Fermentables

7lb 8oz Belgian Pilsner
4lb 0oz Wheat Malt
4lb 0oz Wheat, Flaked
1lb 0oz Acid Malt
0lb 12oz Rye Malt
0lb 8oz Oats
0lb 8oz CaraMunich
0lb 8oz Carafa II
0lb 4oz Chocolate Malt

Salts & Water

5.5g Calcium Chloride (all added directly to the kettle)
4.3g Gypsum (all added directly to the kettle)
6.1g Sodium Chloride (all added directly to the kettle)

All of the salts are added directly to the kettle to achieve the ultimate water profile that I am looking for. Acid malt is being used to get the mash pH almost to where I wanted it.  I also added 4mL of lactic acid to the mash.

Resulting water profile (based on EZ Water Calculator v3) is as follows:

Mash pH (est.): 5.21
Calcium: 78
Magnesium: 12
Sodium: 50
Chloride: 127
Sulfate: 70

I also added 5.5mL of lactic acid to the sparge water to get the pH of that liquor to 5.2.

Hops

1.0oz Nugget (pellet, 13.3 AAU) at 60 minutes
1.0oz Willamette (leaf, 7.5 AAU) at flameout

Other

2.0 tsp. Wyeast Yeast Nutrient at 10 minutes
6.0g Lavender, dried, at flameout*
1.0g Black Cardamom, at flameout

Yeast

Full batch used Ambrosia Blend 005 (now the seventh generation) from the cake of an September 27, 2014 batch of Demeter Facile.  Per yeast calculator.com, I needed 160 billion cells for the entire batch.  At 40-60% solids, this would mean 250mL for the whole batch.  I went with 500mL, as I was pulling from a wine thief and didn't have the best vie, and I'd rather overpitch than underpitch, and didn't have time to let everything settle out before measuring.

Notes

11.02.2014: Bottled around 9 gallons, aiming for 3.0 volumes of CO2 based on the tastybrew.com priming calculator.