Inaugural Thanksgiving Lambic.

Thanksgiving Lambic Brew Day 1

Homecooked Lambic Style Brewday

Sour beer is currently trending commercially and in the homebrewing world.  I will readily admit that I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to tasting and brewing these styles.  I’ve had a few of the classic examples like Rodenbach and Cantillon, but not often enough to have a strong understanding of these beers.  In fact, in honor of Zwanze day (which I skipped to brew a split batch of Kolsch/Munich Helles) I tasted my first Cantillon Geuze ever.  I’ll be saving some wort from my brew day to get a starter going from the dregs of this bottle (and a few others) for my next Lambic batch.

One of the main hesitations in brewing sour beers for commercial and homebrewers is the amount of time it takes to “sour” a beer.  Most sour beers use a combination of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus over the course of one to three years to achieve the correct balance of flavors.  For a homebrewer living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, a carboy taking up real estate for one to three years in order to sour doesn’t make much sense.  For this reason, I decided to start brewing sour batches at my parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania.  I go home every Thanksgiving and Christmas so why not brew a lambic or other sour beer while I’m there and let it age in a relatively stable environment.  The ultimate goal is to have several batches of young and old lambic to blend together into a gueuze.  I also noticed that every “clean” beer I brewed there (outside at least) turned out to not be “clean”, most likely infected by the microflora wafting over from the barn across the street.

I started the tradition this Thanksgiving.  Since the holidays can get kind of hectic, I decided to keep things simple and use only extract (4# wheat DME and 3# Pilsen Light DME) with a small dose (3.5 oz.) of maltodextrin to make sure the brettanomyces had some sugars to chew on for the long haul.  I used ~1.5 oz. French Strisselspalt hops (2.3% AA) to get to roughly 10 IBUs (there is quite a lot to talk about concerning aged hops in lambics, but that will be the subject of a future post).

 Mom's Lambic Pic

Hide your lambics away from your parents! Its fun! (photo credit: Mom)

Fermentation is the critical part of sour beers.  In a traditional spontaneously fermented lambic, the microflora (saccharomyces, brett, pedio, and lacto, etc.) floating in the air drop into the cooling wort.  The yeast companies sell proprietary blends of yeast and bacteria for attempting to replicate well known sour beer styles like lambic and Gueuze. Inoculating the wort with a pre-made blend of souring organisms is in no way the same as allowing spontaneous fermentation, but we’re not brewing in Belgium.  I have my first sour Flanders Red going as a split batch with Ray Girard using the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend and the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend, so I wanted to try out another sour ale mix.  White Labs recently released WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend which seemed like a great choice for a lambic.

Several prominent homebrewers suggest first pitching a neutral primary yeast strain and then the sour mix.   With this method, the primary ale strain does the bulk of the fermentation and then the brett and bugs come in later and finish off the longer chain dextrins to give the beer that signature funk.  The results are much more consistent and controllable this way, but others contend that the beer never quite gets sour or funky enough.  I chose to skip the neutral primary strain and pitch just a single vial of the WLP665.  Lambic producers don’t pitch a neutral strain and I wanted to follow their process as closely as possible.  The beer may not be as consistent (too funky, too sour, too nasty) but that’s where the art of blending gueuze from different batches of lambic comes in.

I brewed the day after Thanksgiving this year, and when I left two days later, there was no visible fermentation activity. Pitching such a small amount of yeast (~7 billion cells in one vial) had me worried that the primary fermentation would be really ugly, but it can’t be any uglier than spontaneous fermentation.  The brett should clean up any off flavors and nasty byproducts from an underpitching the yeast.  Fermentation eventually took off (even in the cool 60F closet) and after bugging my Mom for days to tell me what was going on with it, she finally sent the above pic.  The krausen nearly knocked the breathable silicone stopper out of the carboy!  We’ll have to wait at least a year to taste the results, but I’m already looking forward to my upcoming Christmas lambic brew day.


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Does Filtering Affect My Homebrew?

I recently started filtering most of my homebrews.  There is much debate in the homebrewing community about the pros and cons of mechanically removing solids from your brews.   For me, having clean, ready-to-drink beer the same day I keg is so much of a plus that I do it for most batches.  The added cost is minimal after the initial filter purchase and adding a step to my process in order to save grain-to-glass time is a no-brainer for me.

One of the first areas of concern about the effect filtration has on beer is the stripping of body and mouthfeel.  The second is the stripping of hop aroma and reduction of perceived bitterness.  In order to test out the effects of filtration, I ran an experiment on the California Common I brewed a few weeks back.  Before filtering, as a control, I filled a 12 oz. bottle and added 2 grams of cane sugar and allowed it to sit for ten days to carbonate in the bottle.  I filtered the rest of the beer, force carbonated (the same day by rolling the keg under high pressure), and used the Blichmann Beergun to fill a 12 oz. bottle.

After ten days, I chilled down the unfiltered bottle and allowed it to settle for a week in the fridge to clear up.  The filtered version was kept cold the entire time (as it would be when serving from my kegerator).  Here are the tasting notes on the two bottles:

Appearance: The filtered version is a brilliantly clear copper color.  The unfiltered version is a slightly cloudy lighter orange-copper color.

Aroma: Filtered version has a clean sweet malty flavor and an orange marmalade essence that I would say closely resembles East Kent Golding hops even though the recipe used US Northern Brewer hops exclusively.  Unfiltered has little malt aroma but the same orange marmalade and citrus nose with a slight hint of apple cider.  As the beers warmed up, we all picked up a little mint in the nose and flavor.

Flavor/mouthfeel:  Filtered was clean and smooth with a creamy malt finish.  Not enough bitterness for the style.  Unfiltered was much hoppier (probably due to the hop oils sticking to the yeast cells), sharp, and a bit undercarbonated.  I also thought the unfiltered version had that distinct carrot/earth/woodsy flavor that I get from the Cal Common yeast when it’s still young.  The unfiltered had a noticeably fuller body and chewier mouthfeel.

Nothing really surprised me about this experiment, but it was nice to have confirmation especially when refining my technique.  Even when blind tasting both beers, all three tasters could pick out which was filtered and unfiltered.  Both were good beers and it was hard to choose a favorite.  The filtered version is obviously more attractive because of the clarity but definitely needed a bump in bittering and aroma hops to be more enjoyable.  The unfiltered version would probably get better with time in the bottle as the yeast naturally flocculated out, but the whole reason for filtering is to speed up that maturation by physically removing the yeast.  The body and hop issues with filtration can be remedied with recipe tweaks.  In the future, I will dial in the mouthfeel of my recipes by bumping mash temps up a degree or two or with using a higher percentage of crystal malts.  Filtering definitely affects your homebrew, but paying careful attention to your recipe and understanding those effects will allow you to still hit your target, whether it be style, flavor, or otherwise.

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Aria Lee’s Oktoberfest.

Shoot, I forgot which is which.

My wife and I welcomed the birth of our first child by brewing up an Oktoberfest style German lager the month before her due date.  I kept the recipe pretty simple with almost equal parts Castle pils, Weyermann Dark Munich, and Briess Vienna malt.  Most recipes I researched also had a small amount of Caramunich so I added one pound to the mash.  I used a small dose of traditional German Hallertau pellet hops to balance the clean malty profile of this style.  The fun part was once again splitting this 10 gallon batch into two carboys and pitching different yeasts.  To save the time of making two large starters from liquid yeasts, I chose to ferment the wort with two of the most common dry lager yeasts strains, Saflager S-23 and W-34/70.

Aria Lee Serfass arrived on Oct. 15th both healthy and happy but the beer wasn’t quite done lagering.  I cold crashed it for a few more days and then filtered it using my trusty plate filter. I then pressurized it with 30 psi of CO2 and shook it for five minutes.  This was my first time doing the “quick-carb” method of shaking the keg to carbonate the beer.  This method works best when you chill down the beer near freezing (my beer was already there for cold-crashing/lagering) and then roll the keg on the floor because CO2 goes into solution much quicker at colder temps.  You will need to keep reattaching the gas line as the CO2 goes into the beer after rolling on the floor every 20 seconds or so.

The two yeasts created distinctly different tasting beers.  Both beers finished at 1.014 (73% attenuation) but the 34/70 was the better beer and more true to Oktoberfest style.  The 34/70 had a delicious creamy and complex malty flavor that lingered just long enough before finishing crisp and refreshing.  The 34/70 nose was sweet caramel malt and toast.  The S-23 was notable in the odd sense of the absence of maltiness.  It almost seemed like the hops stood out more with a big floral presence in the nose and citrus in the mid-palate.  There also seemed to be fruity esters in the S-23 that masked the complex malt profile.  This makes me think S-23 would be very well suited for German and hop-forward Czech pilsners.  Don’t get me wrong, both beers are delicious, but stylistically the 34/70 hit the mark dead on.  I think this recipe might just make it into my brewing calendar to have on hand for Aria’s birthday in the years to come.

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Alison’s younger cousins heard that I want to someday open a brewery and they decided that I need some appealing beer names to stand out in the crowded marketplace.ImageScary beer is my favorite. Scary Beer.

Marketing is Important.

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Oak Series Part Two: Brown Porter

The second batch in my oak experimentation series was an English style brown porter.  I again brewed ten gallons of wort and split the batch into two six gallon carboys.  Each carboy received half of the washed yeast slurry from the UK IPA batch. After seven days of fermentation, I oaked one carboy with one ounce of medium toast American oak cubes and let the oak stay in contact with the beer for 27 days before kegging.  The other carboy was oak free as a control.

The oak presence did not seem as strong as I would have expected.  Trying both beers side by side, they seem like two completely different batches.  For one, the non-oak version is much more clear than the oaked version.  Surprisingly, the oaked version finished at 1.009 and the non-oaked version finished at 1.015.  I don’t think it was an infection from the oak because I boiled the cubes in water before pitching them.  That slight difference in finishing gravity gave the oaked version a drier finish and accentuates the roasted, bitter finish which borders on astringent.  I think the oaked version would be better if it hadn’t finished so dry.  There is a slight astringent, tannic flavor that is present in the oaked version as well as subtle notes of vanilla and campfire.  The non-oaked porter seems more balanced and easier to drink because of the slight residual sweetness expected in a brown porter.  This sweetness also allows the fruit and berry notes produced by the yeast to play a bigger role.

I feel like this was the correct oak choice (as opposed to French or Hungarian oak), but I would like to brew this again to see if the finishing gravity phenomenon happens again. If the oak somehow kick starts another fermentation and dries out the beer further (which I find hard to believe), I would bump up the crystal malts in the recipe to account for this or possibly mash a bit higher.

Both beers were delicious on their own, but I blended half of each batch into one keg and the results were amazing.  So amazing that I served it at the Lagunitas Tap Takeover/Kyler’s Homebrew event at Brouwerij Lane a few weeks ago and it seemed to be the most popular of the three beers that I poured. So amazing that every time I try these beers side by side I end up dumping one glass into the other.

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Oak Series Part One: English IPA

I personally haven’t yet developed the “refined” palate to enjoy oaked beers.  I have had a few beers that were decent, but because of the overwhelming prescence of oak I usually shy away from even attempting a taste.  Oak is a lot like Citra hops for me,  too much in a recipe and it seems like its the only flavor I can taste.  After listening to the Brewing Network podcast with Shea Comfort discussing oaking techniques and wine yeasts, I decided to brew a beer where the oak is subtle and nuanced, adding a layer of flavor complimenting the base beer rather than taking over the flavor profile.

I brewed two ten gallon batches using Wyeast 1028 London Ale.  I split each batch and oaked one carboy while leaving the other plain as a control.  First up was the batch of English IPA that would get dosed with medium toast French oak cubes.  The recipe was pretty straight forward with mostly English base malt (Maris Otter) with a low and medium English crystal malt for body.  Hops were Fuggles and Kent Goldings all the way through.  According to Shea, the key to proper oaking is adding the cubes along with the dry hops right as primary fermentation is beginning to slow down.  The idea is that some of cellulose and other sugars in the cubes will be consumed by the actively fermenting yeast and meld with the yeast esters and the spicy, floral and herbal aromas of the dry hops. Using cubes is preferred over chips or spirals because the shape allows for differing levels of toast going from darkest of the outside to ligher on the inside.  This gives a greater depth of flavor rather than the single homogenous toast you get from thin oak chips.  Because of their shape and thickness, cubes need to be in contact with the beer longer than chips or spirals.

To prepare the oak, I weighed out 1 oz. of medium toast French oak and put them into a coffee mug along with enough water to cover.  I heated them in the microwave just below boiling to sanitize them and them dumped the water and cubes directly into the carboy.  The cubes ended up staying in the primary a week longer than I planned (3 weeks total due to a bout with pneumonia) but after giving the beer a few weeks to age the flavors finally came together.

One thing that I found during subsequent tastings was the necessity to drink this beer warmer, between 50-55F, and to knock out some carbonation by swirling the glass which really made the hops jump out of the glass.  I really liked both the oaked an non-oaked versions.  The oak added a delicious notes of cinnamon, allspice, and sweet fruit (almost kiwi-like) while adding a body enhancing mouthfeel.  I think Shea chose this type of oak to compliment the spicy hops as well as the baking spice flavors from the British crystals and it worked beautifully.  I think next batch I will definitely try to limit the amount of time the oak is in contact with the beer to fine tune the timing of the beer so the hops peak at the same time as the oak. Next up: Oaked Series Part Two: Brown Porter.

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Brew n’ Chew 5.

Just a quick one to let you know that I will be competing in the Brew n’ Chew 5 tomorrow 9/16/12 from 3-5pm with some other members of Brooklyn Homebrew.  Along with seven other teams, we will compete for best beer, best food, and best pairing for a chance to win some awesome prizes.  Tickets are $25 (most of the proceeds go to charity) and available online only right now here.  Come out and support your local homebrewers!

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2012 Australian Hop Harvest

The 2012 Southern hemisphere hop harvest arrived just the other day at the Brooklyn Homebrew warehouse.  All hops came from Australia this time because the New Zealand Green Bullet and New Zealand Nelson Sauvin were sold out at the moment.  I was the lucky one who got to bag up the crop into bite size 1 oz. nuggets for all you homebrewers to enjoy.  I did a quick sniff test with each of them and wanted to post it as some of these hops are being released for the first time in the USA and they might need a little help getting into American brew kettles.

Australian Helga (Alpha 5.6%, Beta 4.6%) Initial reaction was noble hop like aroma similar to Saaz with a slight tinge of fruit.  Then I started getting some jasmine or chamomile and then a distinct parmesan cheese smell that I get every time I bag up UK Kent Goldings.  I don’t want this to offend or scare people away as the EKGs always work out well in our English ales.  I would like to try this in an English pale or bitter or even in a witbier.

Australian Stella (Alpha 15%, Beta 4.25%) This one was pretty interesting.  Earthy and spicy with notes of licorice, tobacco, and star anise.  I also got notes of Szechuan peppercorn but the general impression was an English hop mixed with some noble hop aromas. I think this would be nice in Belgian ales especially a dubbel.

Australian Topaz (Alpha 16.5%, Beta 6.5%) This one was a favorite of mine which actually inspired me to brew a single hop session American red ale today.  Similar to Stella with a touch of citrus, tangerine, and spice.  Very intense.  Try this in an English IPA or even with other citrusy hops in an American IPA or pale ale.

Australian Pride of Ringwood (Alpha 9%, Beta 5%) Very intense aroma jumped out of the one pound bag that was earthy, spicy, slightly cheesy, with notes of white flowers, herbs, and a distinct woodiness.  It reminded me of a mixture of Cluster and Northern Brewer.  Good for an American Brown ale or used sparingly in more robust lagers.

Australian Super Pride (Alpha 14%, Beta 7%) Related to Pride of Ringwood, but almost seemed like a less intense version  (which seems counter-intuitive) and seems like it might be intended mostly for bittering but it did have some nice notes of citrus and spice that could work in late kettle additions.

Australian Galaxy (Alpha 14%, Beta 5.9%) I’ve used this variety before in a single-hop IPA that I really liked.  Notes of bubblegum, tropical fruits, melon, and passionfruit work well in American IPAs and pale ales.  A low cohumulone content means it doesn’t impart a harsh bitterness which I prefer over high cohumulone hops like Chinook or Columbus.  According to some sources, this is the same rootstock as Citra but just grown in Australia.

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Popular Mechanics Mention.

Just a quick blurb from a Popular Mechanics article I was mentioned in about award-winning homebrew.  I’ll be back soon with some for real content when I’m fully recovered from some kickass pneumonia.


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Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition 2012

I had the pleasure of participating in the Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition last night.  The competition guidelines were pretty simple; brew a Bohemian Pilsner (also known as a Czech Pils or Bo Pils) as close to style as possible and then provide a few bottles for judging.  The grand prize winner gets a trip to Plzen, Prague to brew a batch of Pilsner Urquell.  I won’t keep you in suspense, I didn’t win, but I did have a great time brewing and learning about the Czech Pilsner style.  Here are the NY 2012 winner:

1st Place – William Pozniak
2nd Place – Philip Jensen
3rd Place – Alistair Hewitt

I knew that I would need a very specific type of yeast to brew a Bo Pils.  This brew was a perfect candidate to split ten gallons into two carboys and pitch different strains to have some options for entering. After much deliberation I chose to use the two Pilsner Urquell strains that Wyeast offers, 2278 Czech Pils and 2001 Urquell Lager.  The yeast character in this style is subtle, but more present than most other lager styles in my opinion.  Slight yeast fruitiness and a noticeable level of diacetyl are signatures of a true Bo Pils.

I could only get a hold of one packet of the Wyeast 2278 Czech Pils (despite working at a homebrew shop) so I had to do a step starter.  To make a normal yeast starter you first mix extra light dry barley malt extract (DME) with water in a 1:10 ratio.  For example, I’ll often make a 1 liter starter so I’ll mix 100 grams of DME with 1000 mL water in 2L erlenmeyer flask.  I’ll throw in a stirbar, a pinch of Wyeast nutrient, and a few drops of fermcap to prevent boilovers and boil the whole thing for 15 minutes.  I then quickly transfer the flask to an ice bath and chill down to 65-75°F.  Then I’ll position the stirbar in the center of the flask and put it on the stirplate for 12-24 hours.  If I do this far enough in advance and the yeast starter is complete before my brew day, I put it in the fridge and allow the cold temperature to drop the yeast out of suspension.  The big difference in a stepped starter is that you do the whole process twice, doing the second starter after the first has be cold crashed and the cleared starter liquid is decanted from the yeast slurry.

Once I had the yeast ready, I set out on the brew day.  What makes a Bo Pils so different is that it’s highly hopped with traditional noble hop varieties (most often Czech Saaz) and the soft water profile of Plzen allows high levels of noble hop bitterness without a harsh lingering aftertaste.  Lucky for New York City homebrewers, we are blessed with unusually soft water that makes brewing pilsners and other light beers very easy.  I did end up cutting my sparge water with four gallons of distilled water to make it even softer so I could hop burst it with tons of hops at the end of the boil.

One slipup I had was that I fermented slightly too warm by starting fermentation at 50F.  The ideal range for 2278 is 50-58F and for 2001 48-56F and even though I was in the low range, most brewers start fermentations in the low 40s.  My beers had just a bit too much fruitiness from the yeast, especially the 2001 which threw off some banana, pear, and bubblegum like esters.  I also think I could have hit it with more hops, and it would have helped to chill down the wort much faster to trap that late hop aroma.  I brewed during the summertime and the ground water was only coming out around 62F, so chilling took longer than expected.

I did a lot of research by purchasing any and all examples of Czech Pilsners I came across.  I even did a tasting at Brooklyn Homebrew with all of them to help me choose which strain to enter, but it eventually came down to me tasting my two homebrews along side a bottle of Pilsner Urquell thirty minutes before I had to drop them off and pulling my hair out with frustration.  I ended up going with the 2278 because it seemed more crisp and dry compared to the subtle fruit character and roundness of the 2001.  I was also happy to learn that I do enjoy this particular style and would love to put my stamp on a version (rather than cloning Pilsner Urquell) sometime in the future.

Recipe after the jump.

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