Thursday, 10 November 2016

Brewing a Maine Beer Co. Lunch clone (No. 8 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

Another year, another attempted clone of a Maine beer! It never ceases to amaze me how many awesome breweries this state has. My wife and I took a beer trip to Portland in May; it was our first trip without kids to Portland in about a year and a half... that was a real eye-opener to me, since I regularly used to make it to Portland about four times a year before my daughter was born. With that big of a travel gap, there were a few new breweries that had popped up, and it looks like some more have opened even since then. My point is, there are plenty of great beers brewed in Maine, and therefore plenty of great beers to try to "clone" at home... but I keep coming back to the classics, most of which are brewed by Maine Beer Company.

Lunch was MBC's fourth release (after Peeper, Zoe, and Mean Old Tom), and their first American IPA. Let me tell you, even though it's been years now since they started brewing it, it is still considered - rightly so - a fantastic IPA. Here's how the brewery describes it:

Intense hop flavours and tropical, citrus fruit and pine aromas dominate the flavour profile, balanced by subtle malt sweetness.

That's actually a perfect summation of this beer. If you look at the many pictures snapped of Lunch, you can see immediately that it doesn't look quite as pale-coloured as many IPAs are now; it definitely is on the dark-golden/light-amber side of things. That's not to say this is a sweet beer; it certainly isn't, thankfully. But there's more malt character than a lot of newer breweries put into their hoppy beers. But with Lunch, it all works perfectly. Hoppy, yet balanced. Bitter to a degree, but smooth and easy-drinking. A great beer! And, interestingly, not named after the meal, but after a whale that swims (swam?) off the coast of Maine that had a bite out of its fin, and was named Lunch by the locals as a result.

I've always wanted to brew a clone of this beer. I've done many other MBC clones in my Maine Beer Clone series, and Lunch has been the next one planned for some time. And I'm certainly not the only homebrewer to have tried to clone Lunch; there's plenty of attempts out there that have been documented on blogs, homebrew forums, etc. But this time around, I didn't have to do any work. Nope, no digging, no bugging brewers, no analyzing the beer at all.

You may be wondering, has he developed some sort of a psychic sense when it comes to homebrewing? No, I can assure you that if I had, I would be making better beer. What happened was months ago, someone emailed me and we chatted about at least one of my MBC clones. That person eventually told me that they had been giving a photo taken of the MBC actual brew log, turned to a double-brew day of Lunch. They asked if I'd like a copy; I said sure, even though I admit I was skeptical. But when they sent it along, I had to admit that it looked genuine! I guess only a brewer at MBC could confirm, but it really does appear to be authentic. Everything is there: grist and percentage of each grain, exact hop times, amounts, and alpha acids, pH readings... everything. EXCEPT the dry hop. However, this person told me they had questioned Dan Kleban (MBC's co-owner and head brewer) on this, and that he confirmed they use a total of 2.3 lbs/BBL, shared equally between all three of the hop varieties in the beer (Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe).

I've actually had this recipe for months now (maybe even over a year?), but only got around to brewing it in September. I'm no fool; I know that recipe is only part of what makes a beer great, with technique being at LEAST half of it. But I wanted to give it a try! I've had Lunch about ten different times, so I'm at least a little familiar with it, and had an idea what to expect it to look, taste, and smell like. So I finally found the time to fit it in my brewing schedule, and scaled the recipe down from ~400 gallons, to 5.

The grist is made up mainly of 2-row, with small amounts (~4%) of Crystal 40 L, Munich 10 L, and Red Wheat, and an even smaller amount of Carapils. I also threw in some Acid malt as I always do for pale beers, to bring my mash pH into range (MBC's mash pH for Lunch is ~5.4). I will note that I asked Dan Kleban a while back if they did pH adjustments when making large dry-hop additions (e.g. Dinner), and he responded by saying that they didn't do any pH adjustments. I assume this means no adjustments throughout the brewing process at all, and the brew log seems to indicate this; I see no mention of Acid malt, phosphoric acid, etc. The OG I was aiming for was 1.063; Lunch is a 7% ABV beer, and MBC lists their OG as 1.059. Personally, I can't get the attenuation they seem to be getting, so I always aim for several points above their target when brewing one of their beers, to make up for that. I should also note that the Lunch mash temp is listed as 149 F.

As with all their beers, MBC lists on their website the hop varieties used in each. Lunch uses Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe. Without seeing what is, apparently, the actual recipe for Lunch, I would probably come up with a clone that involved large additions of all three flavour hops, late in the boil (or maybe even just a flameout addition), and a large dry-hop... I would have been half-right.

Check out that hopping schedule! Let me begin by saying their 60-minute addition is actually Warrior, not Centennial; I'm not sure what I was doing. Maybe lowering the IBUs to where I wanted them? Dunno, but if you want to follow the MBC recipe, use 3 grams of Warrior (17.7% AA) at 60 minutes. Otherwise, there are many additions throughout the boil, but they're SMALL additions. I can see why they're not large; it's not like you're going to get much aroma or flavour at 45 or 30 minutes, and they weren't going for high IBUs. Obviously this approach works for them, so while it was against how I normally brew now, I followed their schedule to a tee. Minus the 60-min addition, of course. The flameout addition I used was also changed; MBC lists a whirlpool addition at half of what I have, 12 g of each variety for 5 gallons. I upped it because I assume their whirlpool is longer than 20 minutes at that size, so I made a hopefully-educated guess. A single, large dry-hop (almost 6 oz total), and you're set! Ferment the beer with a neutral American strain, of course (WP001, Wyeast 1056, US-05, etc.).

So, the beer was finally brewed and fermented, with no real issues to report; I admit it felt a little weird adding so few hops before chilling the beer, but I had faith. I pitched a rehydrated package of US-05, and fermentation took off quickly. The FG made it down to 1.011, which was about what I expected. The dry-hops went into primary for about 5 days, and then I kegged the beer and carbonated it with my typical 36-hours-at-30-PSI approach, which usually works well.

This was one of those beers where I really liked it at first, then felt that both the hop aroma and flavours dissipated quickly... and then came back a few days later. I'm still not sure if this is actually a part of the process, or one of my... quirks, but it can certainly be frustrating! Now that the beer (or me) has settled down, I'm enjoying it. While it's certainly not the best IPA I've brewed, it's got a pleasant blend of pine and citrus, with a fairly powerful aroma, and moderate bitterness. But how does it compare to Lunch?

Well, luckily I recently made a trip to Portland, and had a friend pick up a super-fresh (as in, bottled two days before I bought it) bottle of Lunch for me! And now that I've done a side-by-side with these beers, I can say that this recipe will get you VERY close. Complete tasting notes are below, but these beers are extremely similar: they look virtually identical, and the aroma and taste are pretty much spot-on as well. The biggest differences were that my clone smelled a bit hoppier, while the real thing had the edge in the taste department, with a smoother balance between the malt and hops.

If there's one thing this beer has taught me, though, it's that IPA tastes and expectations have changed in the last couple of years. I really enjoy Lunch, but it's not the type of IPA I usually seek out now. It's still a great beer, no doubt about that, but it doesn't really seem to be in line with the REALLY great IPAs out there, such as Bissell Brothers The Substance - hazy/cloudy, super-hoppy, with little perceived bitterness.

But if you're a Lunch fan - and I think most of us still are - give this recipe a try! I don't think you'll be disappointed. And a big shout out to the person responsible for sending it to me; I apologize for losing the email and forgetting your name!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.063, FG ~1.011, IBU ~50, SRM 6.9, ABV ~6.8%

4.75 kg (82.3%) Canadian 2-row
250 g (4.3%) Crystal 40 L
250 g (4.3%) Munich
250 g (4.3%) Wheat malt
150 g (2.6%) Acid malt
125 g (2.2%) Carapils

Centennial - 5 g (9% AA) @ 60 min
Centennial - 7 g @ 45 min
Centennial - 5 g @ 30 min
Amarillo - 4 g (8.7% AA) @ 30 min
Simcoe - 3 g (12.2% AA) @ 30 min
Centennial - 11 g @ 15 min
Amarillo - 6 g @ 15 min
Simcoe - 5 g @ 15 min

Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe - 24 g each @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe - 58 g each dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 pack, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on September 27th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 149 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 8.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.050 (target 1.051). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.7 gallons; OG low at 1.061. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Airlock bubbling strong by the next morning, continuing on for a few days before slowing down. Temp got up to 72 F during the peak.

- 4/10/16 - FG 1.011; added dry hops into primary.

- 10/10/16 - Racked beer to keg, cooled, and carbed to 10-12 PSI.

Lunch on the left, homebrew on the right

Appearance: Colour is about exactly the same; the homebrew is just slightly lighter in colour, and more clear. In the commercial version, the head lasts longer and there's more lacing.

Aroma: Virtually identical, hard to tell the difference. The homebrew is a bit stronger in the hop department - fruity and citrusy - while the commercial beer has a bit more malt presence.

Taste: Again, extremely close, with the commercial beer having the hops come across as smoother, somehow; lots of hops in both, citrusy and fruity, balanced by a bready malt backbone. Medium bitterness in both.

Mouthfeel: The real thing is slightly creamier. Both are medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: You can tell them apart, but not by much. Don't it blind, triangle-test for example, would make it even more difficult. I'm going to give the edge to Maine Beer Co. though, thanks to the smoother body and flavour profile.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Brett IPA with Citra and Vic Secret - 1/2 fermented with Amalgamation, 1/2 with Brett C

After the "eh" feelings I had about my last Brett IPA (hopped entirely with Azacca, and fermented with Brett brux Trois Vrai), I've been itching to try brewing the style again. When done well, 100% Brett IPAs are delicious beers, exhibiting the perfect balance between bright hoppiness and Brett funk. Unfortunately, the Trois Vrai used in my Azacca Brett IPA wasn't - in my opinion - a good strain to use in such a beer... the funk, while tasty, barrelled through the beer (even in the early days of pouring) and masked most of the Azacca hoppy goodness.

The first two Brett IPAs, however (here and here), were a different story. Fermented with Amalgamation from The Yeast Bay, both beers were closer to what I look for in a Brett IPA - especially the first one, hopped with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc. For those who don't know, Amalgamation is a "Brett Super Blend" of six different Brettanomyces strains; it works fantastically well in 100% Brett beers. After those two beers, unfortunately my Amalgamation slurry seemed to go south, so I had to toss it. This was a special order online that I had piggy-backed on with someone else, so getting it again wasn't looking like it'd be easy anytime soon.

Luckily, a friend had purchased a vial fairly recently, and saved me a small amount of slurry to brew with. He also had some slurry of White Labs Brett claussenii that he gave me; he had used it recently in brewing a Brett Session IPA (hopped with Citra, Equinox, and Galaxy) which was quite tasty. I had never brewed with Brett C before; White Labs describes it as having "low intensity Brett character", with "more aroma (fruity, pineapple) than flavour contribution". Again, his beer was really good, and the description sounds ideal for a Brett IPA. I had planned to brew two separate Brett IPAs, fermenting one with Amalgamation and one with Brett C, but then I had a thought - what about splitting a batch and comparing two otherwise-exact beers after fermenting with different Brett strains? Done!

This involved a little more work than usual, because I had to grow up (via two starters each) both Brett strains to pitchable amounts (~100 billion cells each, plus a little more to save for another beer), starting from somewhere in the line of 3 billion cells. Of course, I had no idea how many cells I had, but it was a very small amount of slurry for each strain, so I erred on the conservative side.

For the recipe, I used the same grist as for all of the Brett IPAs I've brewed so far. Maybe it's time to change this up, but I find the simplicity of 71% 2-row, 21% Wheat malt (to help bump up the body), and small amounts of Carapils and Acid malt, all mashed at ~153 F, works well in Brett beers. So far with this style and this recipe, I haven't had an issue with the body being too thin, as can be a common problem in 100% Brett beers, due to the minimal production of glycerol.

I pretty much stuck with my normal hopping schedule as well, but I was back and forth on exactly which hops to use. I wanted to keep the hops the same throughout, since the main purpose of this brew is to compare 100% fermentation with two different Brett pitches. I quickly settled on using two varieties, and made the decision of which to go with basically based on inventory. I still had 6 oz of Vic Secret on hand, and some Citra to use up as well; I considered throwing in a third variety, but decided to go with Vic Secret and Citra on their own, in a 2:1 ratio, respectively. As with the other beers, a small bittering addition with Polaris at the beginning of the boil, and then large additions at flameout and when I started chilling, and a single dry-hop.

Once brewed, boiled, and chilled, I split the roughly 20 L of wort into two 3-gallon Better Bottles (yeah, I flip back and forth between metric when it comes to volume; that's just how I roll), and pitched the two starters. As you can see from the pics below, the two beers looked pretty much the same during fermentation. The temperature for both got to 74 F, and while fermentation started fairly quickly, it wasn't long before it was petering off. The airlock for the Brett C half was bubbling slightly more than the Amalgamation half, but otherwise there wasn't much of a difference. After a couple of weeks, I took a gravity reading of each: Brett C got to 1.005, and Amalgamation to 1.003. This was a big difference compared to my other Brett IPAs, especially the Amalgamation ones, where the first beer finished at 1.014, and the second at 1.008. Since the grist and pitching rates for all three are the same, I assume this has something to do with fermentation temperature (the first Brett beer never reached higher than 70 F).

Not the prettiest laundry sink, I know.
I kegged the Amalgamation half, and bottled the Brett C half, simply because I didn't have two tap lines available at the time. Plus, this does allow you to let some of the bottles sit back and change with time, but right now, we're really more concerned with how these beers differ fresh. I mean, we're talking about a single-strain Brett IPA vs. one fermented with six strains, so these beers must have come out quite different, right?

Well, not so much, actually. Let me start off by saying that both of these beers are quite tasty, and in terms of Brett IPAs I've brewed, are rivalled only by the very first Amalgamation IPA. The Citra and Vic Secret work very well together, and with the Bretts, with a pleasant combination of pineapple, citrus and tropical fruit, and a bit of barnyard funk. The beers also look identical, as I expected. The main differences are in the mouthfeel (the Amalgamation is smoother and less carbonated; both of these may have to do with how they were carbonated?), and that the Brett C beer has a low level of phenolic spiciness in the aroma and flavour, that I don't really detect in the Amalgamation.

An interesting experiment! I'll continue to mess around in the future, but for now, Amalgamation remains my go-to fermenter when it comes to Brett IPAs.

Recipe Targets:
 (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.005, IBU ~40-45, SRM 4.1, ABV ~6.8%

3.7 kg (71.2%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (21.2%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.8%) Carapils
200 g (3.8%) Acid malt

Polaris - 10 g (17.7% AA) @ 60 min

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Vic Secret - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (when started chilling)
Vic Secret - 42 g @ 0 min (when started chilling)

Citra - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary, 14 g per fermentor)
Vic Secret - 86 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary, 43 g per fermentor)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: 1/2 batch Brett C, 1/2 Brett Amalgamation (with a starter, ~100 billion cells each)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on September 7th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water to 166 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.045. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.7 gallons; OG 1.056. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into two 3-gallon Better Bottles, ~10 L each. Aerated with 45 seconds of pure O2 per fermentor, pitched yeast at 66-68 F.

- 20/8/16 - Amalgamation FG 1.003, Brett C FG 1.005. Dry-hopped both in primary.

- 25/9/16 - Kegged Amalgamation portion, bottled Brett C portion (with 56 g table sugar, aiming for 2.4 vol CO2).

Appearance: Both beers look identical upon pouring - light-golden colour, hazy/downright cloudy, medium-sized stark-white head that shows very good retention, hanging around for minutes after pouring.

Aroma: Lots of citrus, lots of pineapple and tropical fruit in both, with a low background of barnyard (it's there, but not overly noticeable); very slight phenolic character as well, a little stronger in the Brett C beer.

Taste: Very similar, again, with a pineapple/citrus fruit character coming through strongest. Again, the Brett characteristics (barnyard funk) are there, but not strong... just enough to let you know what you're drinking. The Brett C beer has that slight phenolic spiciness carrying over into the flavour as well. Both finish with a medium-low bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Here's where the beers seem to differ the most - the Brett C beer is carbonated higher (likely because it was bottled) and isn't quite as smooth as the Amalgamation, exhibiting a bit of carbonic bite. Medium-bodied for the Amalgamation, medium-light for Brett C.

Overall: I enjoy both quite a bit, but Amalgamation is the winner, here.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Brewing a New England Pale Ale with Funktown Pale Ale yeast

By now, I think we're all quite familiar with the whole New England (Northeast?) IPA subject, a beer which many in the Northeast USA love, and those in the Western states despise. I actually don't think it's as cut-and-dry as all that, but if you were to read (and I'm sure most of you have) the constant arguments online over this, you'd be easily fooled. It seems to boil down to a beer that is super-hoppy (with an emphasis more on hop flavour and aroma than bitterness), hazy, and with a creamy mouthfeel (but still finishing fairly dry). It seems to be the haze that bothers non-believers the most; I fall on the side that doesn't care about the haze. If the beer is delicious, I'm ok with it; and as I've said before, when I now see a pale, super-hazy beer, I get excited! It's like Pavlov's dogs, but with tasty beer instead of dog treats or whatever he used (maybe he DID use beer, secretly).

There's plenty of commercial and home brewed NEIPAs and NEPAs out there now; even New Brunswick is coming through with some. TrailWay Brewing, here in Fredericton, releases many beers that are big on hop aromatics and flavours, hazy to the point of downright murky, and often sub-5% ABV. It's great! Personally, I've brewed a lot of beers in this area as well, even if I haven't really labelled them "New England" (or Northeast), specifically.

One thing I haven't been doing in my recipes that many others do is add oats (flaked or malted). It's not that I'm against it, it's just that I've had pretty good success in achieving the goals I've aimed for by fermenting with London Ale III, limiting use of fining agents to a bit of Whirfloc near the end of the boil, and adjusting my water chemistry to have roughly equal amounts of chloride and sulfate (in the 100-120 ppm range). When putting together a new Pale Ale recipe early in the summer, I decided to try incorporating oats into the recipe, and immediately remembered that I had always wanted to try brewing the Tired Hands HopHands clone on Ed Coffey's site. Obviously this is a very popular recipe, as there's around 90 comments on that post alone (no wonder he's gone semi-pro now!), and I've seen it pop up on other homebrew sites since.

Ed's recipe is made up of roughly 82% Superior Pale Ale malt, and 18% Flaked Oats; the beer is hopped with equal amounts of Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe, with the emphasis being on a large dry-hop addition of all three. Fermented with London Ale III, he compares it to a "fruit juice cocktail", which sounds pretty damned good to me. However, I decided not to brew this exact beer this time around, although I imagine I will come to doing that, eventually. No, this time I wanted to "borrow" from this recipe, and take it in a slightly different direction.

How? Mainly by fermenting with The Yeast Bay's Funktown Pale Ale, which they describe as a "blend of our Vermont Ale strain and a unique wild strain of Saccharomyces that is well-suited for primary fermentation". The blend is a collaboration with White Labs, so let me just put out there what you're immediately thinking on that description - this is Conan blended with what used to be called Brett Trois (until White Labs confirmed that it's actually not Brett, and reclassified it as a wild Saccharomyces). A friend of a friend had some Funktown Pale Ale slurry left over, and I was lucky enough to get some, so I grew it up over a couple of steps to have enough for a Pale Ale. I hadn't set out to use it with Ed's HopHands clone grist and hopping schedule, but that seems as good a place as any to use it! I've never actually brewed with Conan, either by purchasing it, or growing it up from a can of Heady Topper, but I've heard plenty of good/frustrating things about it. I feel like I've read (from other homebrewers) that after several generations, it can be finicky to finish fermentation, but maybe I'm wrong.

As mentioned, while I kept the hop schedule, I changed two of the three varieties. The Simcoe remained, but I dropped the Amarillo and Centennial, mainly because I'm planning on brewing a Maine Beer Co. Lunch clone very soon, which uses these three varieties as well. So, I gave it some thought and mostly-randomly settled on subbing in Chinook and Hallertau Blanc, two varieties I've used before and always enjoy. With these three, I was expecting to get pine, grapefruit, pineapple, and citrus, which sounds like a decent mix to me. Roughly equal amounts of all three, the dry-hop amounts were a bit skewed due to inventory levels, but the overall amount used for that addition is still fairly large, at a total of 5 oz.

It was a relatively normal brew day; my OG came in on target, no major issues that I noticed. I pitched what I calculated to be about 200 billion cells. Who knows how accurate that is; I estimated to have a very small amount of cells to begin with, 3 billion, and like I mentioned built that up over a couple of starters on my stir plate. Fermentation started by that evening, however, so things were looking good. Unfortunately, when I checked the gravity a week and a half later, it wasn't at the 1.008 that BeerSmith had estimated (based on the apparent attenuation of the Funktown yeast)... it was 1.016! I'm not really sure what happened here - the temp didn't drop, and it appears that I pitched plenty of cells, so I'm going to assume it has something to do with the finicky nature of Conan? I'll never know. When I tried a taste, however, I didn't find it overly sweet, so I wasn't extremely worried. I dry-hopped the beer, and then kegged it six days later and force-carbed.

I'm pretty happy with how it came out in the end. The hops seem to work well together, although I don't really get much pine in either the aroma or flavour; mainly a fruit-blend, if that makes any sense. I can't really pick out any one or two specific types of fruit, but I've never really had a nose/palate for that, anyway. Definitely a creamy, smooth mouthfeel, the beer could still benefit from a bit of a drier finish. It's not sweet, exactly, but another 3-4 points lower in the gravity would improve it.

As for the real question, what does the yeast add to this beer... I'm not sure I can really answer. Since this isn't a recipe I've brewed before, or a yeast I've used before, all I can say is that it's a tasty, wonderfully hoppy brew. But how much does the yeast strain have to do with this? In hindsight, I should have split the batch and fermented half with US-05 or something, but it was the beginning of summer and I had limited fermenting space at this time. So, while I'd recommend the recipe as a whole, I'm not sure how different it would be with a more readily-available yeast strain. I'm interested to hear of others' experience(s) with Funktown Pale Ale, however!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.052, FG ~1.008, IBU ~38, SRM 4.1, ABV ~5.7%

1.95 kg (41.7%) Canadian 2-row
1.95 kg (41.7%) Maris Otter
600 g (12.8%) Flaked Oats
175 g (3.7%) Acid malt

Polaris - 5 g (20% AA) @ 60 min
Chinook - 14 g (11.8% AA) @ 5 min
Hallertau Blanc - 14 g (8% AA) @ 5 min
Simcoe - 14 g (11% AA) @ 5 min

Chinook, Hallertau Blanc, Simcoe - 21 g each @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Chinook - 35 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Hallertau Blanc - 51 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 54 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Funktown Pale Ale (with a starter, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 27th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.043 (target 1.042). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.052. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Airlock showing activity by that evening, temp up to 68 F. By the next morning, regular bubbling going on, temp at 72 F. Fermentation seemed pretty much done by the next couple of days; temp never got higher than 72.

6/7/16 - Added dry hops into primary; FG higher than planned, at 1.016.

13/7/16 - Racked beer to keg; LOTS of hop sludge left in the carboy that did not settle well, so I left more beer behind than I would have liked. Set in keezer for ~12 hours to bring temp down, then force carbed.

Appearance: Pours a very light-golden colour (lighter than it appears in this crappy picture), with a medium-sized, white head that settles at about 1/2 finger. Quite hazy, as expected.

Aroma: All hops, with the emphasis on fruity (pineapple) and citrus; not really getting much grapefruit or pine, surprisingly.

Taste: A little more malt character in the flavour, but it's definitely still in the background compared to the hops. I wouldn't say a particular fruit flavour jumps out at me; I find it a pleasant mix of tropical fruit. Medium to medium-low bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, very smooth and creamy. Moderate carbonation.

Overall: I enjoyed this beer, and found that it continued to improve over weeks in the keg, surprisingly. One could argue that the hops were a bit muddled at first, but I found the fruit character came through more once it settled down a little. A fine beer that I wouldn't necessarily rush back to brew exactly the same, but I'd definitely experiment with this yeast some more.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Kohatu Session IPA

Nearing the end of my pre-summer brewing step-up (meanwhile, summer is just about over - typical), I decided to brew another beer in my one-hop Session IPA series. While it hadn't been that long since my last one (in March, an all-Nelson Sauvin beer), this is a style - and experiment - that I really enjoy brewing, and even though I've done five different beers in this group already, I have plenty of other hop varieties that I want to try in it.

One of these hops is Kohatu, a variety I've never used in a beer before. Originating in New Zealand, I split a pound of pellets with a friend last fall, pretty much always with the intention of using it in a single-hop beer. Described on the Bear-Flavored Ultimate Guide to Hop Varieties (I use this all the time; thanks Derek!) as having "intense floral characters, grapefruit, pine needles, and tropical fruit", it sounded pretty good to me; kind of like a mash of Chinook and Simcoe, with another fruity Southern Hemisphere variety thrown in. Summer is the perfect time for low-ABV beers with these characteristics, no? Ok, any time of year is good for these beers, really.

Apparently Kohatu is a descendent of Hallertau Mittelfruh; it's been available commercially for the last few years or so. It seems to range in the 5-7% AA zone; digging around a bit more online, I was getting the impression that opinions vary on just how "intense" its characteristics are. That shouldn't surprise me, really, but more brewers than not described is as less punchy than hops like Citra, Nelson Sauvin, Azacca, etc. etc., so I kept this in mind when planning the recipe.

Partially because I was lazy, but mostly because the Nelson Sauvin Session IPA turned out so tasty, I used the exact same grist as last time. This is actually the grist for the very-popular Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone that has been circulating for some time (my attempt at that beer is here); for most of my Session IPAs, I had fine-tuned a recipe of my own, but with the Nelson one I decided to go with this grist, and was happy with it for that beer. The key is to aim for a mash temp of 153-155 F, so that you can help boost the body a bit.

Also with the other Session IPAs, I had come up with a hopping schedule I felt worked well: a little bit of Polaris or hop extract at the beginning of the boil, then one ounce of whatever hop was featured at 10 min, a two ounce addition at flameout for a 15-minute hop steep/whirlpool, and a three ounce dry hop. This time, however, I bumped up the last two additions - I had 8 oz total of Kohatu, so I decided to just use all of it in this batch. Therefore, three oz at flameout, and four for the dry hop.

Once again, as in the Nelson Sauvin Session IPA, I decided to ferment this batch with London Ale III. While all of the others used US-05, I was really happy with how the LAIII worked in the last batch - fruity, juicy, great mouthfeel, and of course, hazy! I also tinkered with the water chemistry, aiming for the "more chloride than sulfate" approach, which I've had good results with.

The brew day went normal, no issues, and fermentation was going strong around 24 hours after pitching the yeast slurry. I kegged the beer a couple of weeks after brewing it, and was drinking it a few days later. I was a little unsure how I felt about it at first, but after settling into its own after several days, I started enjoying it. Is it my favourite one-hop Session IPA I've brewed? No, but it's not my least favourite, either. Kohatu definitely has some of the characteristics mentioned above - it definitely has a light tropical fruit note in the flavour, and a light amount of pine as well. There's also this light spicy character that is pretty interesting, and works well with the other flavours and aromas. I think you could describe Kohatu as complex, if not intense... does that make sense?

As you can see, the key word here is "light"; I definitely would consider Kohatu to be less-punchy than some other varieties. Based on my experience, in the Southern Hemisphere hop category, I'd put it somewhere between Summer and Nelson Sauvin. So, it works well on its own, but may be better put to use with at least one other hop to bolster it a bit. Mind you, this is the only time I've brewed with it, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt (actually, I urge you to always do that!). Either way, a hop variety that I would gladly use again, and a tasty beer that ended up being perfect for summer.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.013, IBU ~34, SRM 4.5, ABV ~4.5%

2.3 kg (57.1%) Bohemian Pilsner
1.35 kg (33.5%) Maris Otter
160 g (4%) CaraRed (20 L)
120 g (3%) Carapils
100 g (2.5%) Acid malt

Polaris - 6 g (20% AA) @ 60 min
Kohatu - 28 g (6.4% AA) @ 10 min

Kohatu - 84 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Kohatu - 112 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~175 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 13th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5.5 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.040 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.049. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Plenty of activity by the next morning, reaching its peak that evening with a temp of 70 F. Started slowing down after a couple of days - but the krausen remained thick and milkshake-like even a week later (pretty common for LAIII).

22/6/16 - Added dry hops into primary; FG 1.011. Racked to keg five days later and started force carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white head with fairly good retention - fades to 1/4 finger or so after a couple of minutes. Body is light golden, with a decent amount of haziness.

Aroma: I wish I could describe it better, but it's kind of a mix of fruit (grapefruit as advertised) and spice, and slightly floral. Surprisingly has quite a lot going on, even if it's not what you would describe as "punchy".

Taste: Mainly a light fruity character accompanied by light spice. This isn't the phenolic spiciness that you see with Belgian yeast, it's something different. Luckily it's mild - it doesn't taste like someone raided the spice cabinet and dumped it in the beer. Medium-light bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, medium-light bodied; smooth.

Overall: A tasty beer, and an interesting hop. I'm curious to what it would be like used with some other variety(ies); depending on what else you added, would the Kohatu be drowned out, or complement the other? Something I'd buy again in the future to experiment with more!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Sour Session IPA (kettle-soured, fermented with Brett)

Shortly after brewing my first kettle-soured beer (a Gose, half dry-hopped with Citra, the other half with fresh lime zest), I've been keen on doing another beer with the same technique. The souring-with-Lactobacillus-sourced-from-L. plantarum-capsules approach worked fairly well the first time; while the pH didn't get QUITE as low as I would have liked, the process was relatively painless, with no purging of oxygen necessary, and lower temps for souring required (compared to using Lacto from grains, or even a direct, commercial pitch). I also have quite a few capsules left, so I might as well put them to use, no?

It was easy to pick what to brew next using this method - I've been a big fan of hoppy sours since I first tried Funky Gold Amarillo by Prairie Artisan Ales last year. What a fantastic beer: the perfect level of sourness, big tropical fruit hop character... just amazing. Hoppy sours are now the next big thing, with many commercial breweries releasing their own iterations. Most of these are quick-soured with Lactobacillus, which makes sense; if you want to focus on hops, you don't want a beer to take months to sour properly. Mind you, the dry hop is really the big thing here, as high bitterness in a beer from large early-boil additions doesn't really work in a sour - the flavours can clash in a big way.

I have to be honest here, and admit that I did not set out to brew a "Sour Session IPA". My original plan was to have something in the 6% ABV range, which is around where most of the hoppy sours out there seem to finish. More on that later. But to start off, I used the exact same grist that I have used for my Brett IPAs (most recently, an Azacca single-hopped beer fermented with Brett brux Trois Vrai), simply because I wasn't looking for something complicated, and this one has worked well in the past. Mostly 2-row and Wheat malt, it has a bit of Carapils and Acid malt as well, and that's it. I was looking for a very pale beer, here, and this gets you in the area of 4 SRM, which I thought was perfect. I mashed at 153 F to give the beer a bit of body, since I was pretty sure I'd be fermenting with Brett after souring.

From what I can tell, most hoppy sours are dry-hopped, and have very little - if any - hops added before fermentation is complete. As I mentioned, high bitterness apparently doesn't work in a beer like this, but I still wanted to get as most hop flavour and aroma in this beer as I could. I finally decided on adding no hops during the boil, but I did end up doing two large additions after the propane was turned off: a 20-minute steep, and more once the immersion chiller began chilling. I chose Columbus (CTZ) and Hallertau Blanc, two varieties that I really enjoy but don't get used as much as I'd like. My thoughts were that the two together would give a nice mix of dank, tropical, pineapple characters. Even with a total of 6 oz between the two being used, the calculated IBUs only came to around 10 (in contrast, Funky Gold Amarillo is listed as having 18 IBUs).

I had way too many ideas of what I wanted to use for the dry-hop additions, and finally decided that my best option here was to split the batch after boiled and chilled, so I could ferment the wort separately and dry-hop with two different varieties. I chose two of my favourite American hop varieties right now: Equinox, a quite-new hop that is very unique ("lime, lemon, papaya, green pepper"), and Citra. And I don't really have to say anything about Citra at this point, do I?

The process I used to sour my wort was the same as I used for my Gose. I made a 1 L, 1.040 DME starter and chilled it to 100 F, then opened and pitched in 5 plantarum capsules. This time, however, I added a very small amount (~0.5 mL) of phosphoric acid to the starter before emptying in the capsules, to bring the pH down to ~5, and give it a head start. Now, I left the flask on a heating pad like the first time, which kept the temperature at 95 F or so. After a couple of days, the pH was only down to 3.85, and I started getting discouraged. However, I decided to leave it a while longer since I wasn't in a hurry. The next morning, my wife inadvertantly unplugged the heating pad while I was at work all day; I didn't notice till I got home, and plugged it back in. The next morning I checked the pH again, and it had dropped to 3.21! Maybe unplugging the heating pad had nothing to do with it, but I'm wondering if maybe L. plantarum works better at room temperature than it does in the 90s? Research by others indicates it should work plenty fine at 95 F, and that it doesn't start having issues until you get above 110 F. Whatever the reason, it seemed to work better this time compared to when I used the same method for the Gose. Maybe the phosphoric acid-induced push had something to do with it?

So I mashed, sparged, vorlaufed, etc. as usual, to a little over 5.5 gallons, heated it all to a boil and chilled it down to 100 F. At this point, I gradually added small amounts (1 mL at a time) of phosphoric acid until the wort pH had reached ~4.5. Lowering the wort pH to 4.5-4.8 has been shown to aid in preventing foam degradation (check out a detailed explanation on the Milk the Funk Lacto Wiki here). The wort was then transferred into a Better Bottle, where I then pitched the Lacto starter. Instead of immediately turning on a heat pad and attaching a heat belt, I waited until the temp got down to the 80s F, and then switched on the pad and belt, which kept the temp in the high 80s. After several days, the pH was down to 3.3 (and tasting sour), which surprised me again, as this was quite lower than I had got to with the Gose, at 3.69. Obviously I got to a better place with the starter this time around, and it worked very well considering the temp never got above 85-86 F.

I continued on, bringing the soured wort to a boil for 5 minutes, then cut the propane and threw in the first hop addition for a 20-minute steep. Once I started chilling, the second addition went in (smelling delicious, by the way), and I chilled it all down to about 64 F. The batch was split into two 3-gallon Better Bottles, both aerated for 45 seconds with pure O2, and then the Brett starter was pitched in an equal volume into both, at 66 F. The OG came in lower than planned, at 1.053, but I wasn't too concerned (or surprised, since my efficiency has been lower than normal lately, and using a good portion of Wheat malt never helps it).

Both beers were undergoing active fermentation by the next morning, and slowed down very quickly, with virtually no airlock activity by the following evening.. Now, the temperature didn't get that warm (maybe 72-74 F at its peak), but I had no reason to be concerned; I checked on the beers regularly, as is my practice, and didn't notice any major spikes or drops in temperature. However, when I took a gravity reading a few days after pitching, it was only at 1.020! D'oh! But I thought, hey, it's Brett, maybe it needs some more time, but alas, after another week the gravity hadn't budged. So, I was forced with deciding whether to give it more time (which didn't seem like it would help), pitching another yeast to hopefully drop it more, or just go ahead and dry-hop it. I went with option #3, and re-classified this beer as a "Sour Session IPA". What I was worried about, however, was bottling this beer. Any beer at 1.020 would make you worry about bottle bombs somewhere down the line, but a 1.020 beer with Brett in it? Exactly.

Ultimately, I kegged one half (Equinox) and bottled the other (Citra), adding sugar to aim for only 2 vol CO2, as opposed to the 2.5 I would normally go with. And when the beer seemed carbed after 5 days, I put as many bottles as I could into the fridge, which was a good thing because this beer is now DEFINITELY carbed to higher than 2 vol; probably closer to 3, in fact!

But how do the two beers taste? There's a lot of similarities between them, but ultimately the Citra dry-hopped half comes out on top. Thankfully, neither tastes sweet to me, which was obviously a worry with the high FG (as an aside, I think this strain may just need extra time; a friend had a beer finish at 1.020 as well, and after leaving it on pineapple for an additional month, found the FG had dropped to 1.005).There's something in the Equinox beer that I can only describe as slightly... clashing. For some reason, the bitterness in this beer - despite only having a calculated IBUs of 10 - feels too high. Not sure if it's the Equinox (can't see it), the dry-hop addition being slightly larger than the Citra half (maybe?), or if I simply got more bitterness out of the steep than I calculated (but that doesn't make sense, because the Citra half had the same steep).

On the plus side, the sourness is pretty much right where I want it. Definitely enough for you to know this is a sour beer, but not TOO mouth-puckering. Nice hop presence, lots of fruit, with the Citra beer being somewhat brighter, without the slightly-harsh finish of the Equinox. The body is smooth, but not overly-full (a worry with that 1.020 FG) and it certainly doesn't taste too sweet.

So, I'm calling this one a success, with room for improvement. For a re-brew, I'd use a less-finicky Brett strain, and cut back on the flameout hop addition; maybe halve it and go from there. Otherwise, a good brew to have on hand for this season, and further proof that souring with Lacto plantarum capsules works!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.014, IBU ~10, SRM 4.1, ABV ~5.8%

3.7 kg (71.8%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (21.4%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.9%) Carapils
150 g (2.9%) Acid malt

CTZ - 49 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Hallertau Blanc - 35 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

CTZ - 49 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)
Hallertau Blanc - 35 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)

Citra - 48 g dry-hop for 5 days (1/2 the batch, in primary)
Equinox - 70 g dry-hop for 5 days (1/2 the batch, in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Bacteria/Yeast: Lactobacillus plantarum capsules (5) in a 1 L starter; after souring, wort fermented with WLP648 Brett brux Trois Vrai (with a starter, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on May 24th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water to 167 F. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons. Heated to a brief boil, then chilled down to 100 F. Added ~4 mL phosphoric acid till wort pH was 4.5, then pitched Lacto starter.

- 26/5/16 - pH reading of 3.31; moved BB to back room of garage where temp was in the low 60s F, until I was able to complete the brew.

- 31/5/16 - 5-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG low at 1.053. Chilled to 64 F, then split the batch into two 3-gallon Better Bottles. Aerated with 45 seconds of pure O2 per fermentor, pitched yeast starter at 66 F.

- Fermentation going strong by the next morning, very strong in the evening, but visibly slowing by the next morning. Several days later, gravity was reading 1.020. A week later, no change. Added dry hops to the Equinox half and kegged it four days later; waited a few extra days for the Citra half, then bottled after a four-day dry hop, aiming for 2 vol CO2.

Appearance: Both pour with a moderate-sized, white head that, despite the low pH, shows quite good retention. Body is yellow-coloured, with a fair amount of haze.

Aroma: Very big and bright, for both beers, like sour orange juice. 

Taste: More sour orange juice, but the Equinox beer has a slightly-harsh, tinny aftertaste that takes away from the positives. The Citra, meanwhile, all gels together very well and is quite refreshing.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, creamy. Equinox beer, being kegged, has moderate carbonation, while the bottled Citra half is higher, as I had expected; effervescent.

Overall: Citra wins, and I don't know why! 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Azacca Brett brux Trois Vrai IPA

Ok, say that three times really fast.

I've been itching to brew another 100% Brett IPA for a few months - my first two attempts in 2015 were both fermented with The Yeast Bay's Amalgamation (a blend of six Brett strains); the first was hopped with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc, the second with Galaxy and Southern Cross. I was happy with both beers, although my favourite of the two would probably be the first one. When making an online order for some homebrew supplies a couple of months ago, I saw that they had White Labs Brett brux Trois Vrai available; you may remember all the controversy surrounding White Labs Brett Trois last year, a popular strain that turned out not to actually have Brett in it at all (summed up best here). Vrai being french for "true", this is the real Brett Brux strain, and is described by White Labs as having a "robust, complex sour character with aromas of pear", and is intended to be used for Brett-primary fermentations.

Sure, why not? Like I said, I really enjoyed my last couple of Brett IPAs; I won't rehash Brett IPA facts that I covered in the original posts, but they're great because they're usually ready within several weeks (similar to Sacch-fermentations) as opposed to when Brett is used with other strains, where a beer can ultimately take months before it's ready. Also, they often exhibit a really great combination of light Brett funk and tropical fruit (depending on hop variety(ies) used, of course), where at least some of the fruit character is from the Brett itself.

Of course, there's a lot of Brett strains out there, and just like Saccharomyces, the strain you use is ultimately going to have a huge effect on how your beer turns out. I assume that some Brett strains work better in Brett IPAs than others, but I ordered the Trois Vrai for the hell of it, throwing caution to the wind like the crazy, wild man I commonly am. I built it up with a couple of starters (of course, the vial White Labs sent had an extremely small amount of cells - only 3 billion - so you have to get that up to ~200 billion, plus I overbuilt by another 50 billion to re-use for another beer), and planned my recipe.

I was completely happy going with the same grist I had used for the last two Brett IPAs: 2-row, a good portion of Wheat malt, and a bit of Carapils and Acid malt to make up the difference, all to an OG of 1.057 (Trois Vrai is listed as having an attenuation of 85%+, so I was hoping for the FG to get to at LEAST 1.010). I mashed at 153 F to try to keep the body of the beer from being too thin (most Brett strains don't produce glycerol, which increases body and mouthfeel of beer).

I'm not quite sure why I decided to make this a single-hop beer, but I had quite a bit of Azacca on hand, which may have had something to do with it. I also really love Azacca - its citrus, pineapple, and tropical fruit characteristics are pretty awesome, and those qualities really sound like they would work great in a Brett IPA, no? I went with a small addition of Polaris at the beginning of the boil, and then added all of the Azacca (about 8 oz total) from flameout on, with almost half incorporated into a single dry-hop addition.

Once the brewing was complete, I pitched the Brett starter at about 66 F (Trois Vrai is listed as having an optimal temperature range of 70-85 F) and let 'er go. May (and frankly, the first half of June) was mostly cool in Fredericton, and I didn't use a heat belt, so the temperature never really rose above 72 F, but fermentation took off quickly. The FG didn't get to where I expected based on the listed attenuation; it made it to 1.014 and then stopped, so maybe keeping this strain warmer is an important point. After a couple of weeks or so, I dry-hopped in primary, and then kegged the beer about 5 days later. I strongly considered bottling this beer, but had space in my keezer and decided to go that route.

I've been drinking this beer for 3-4 weeks now, and I can say this: Brett brux Trois Vrai DEFINITELY contains Brettanomyces. Check out the picture below this paragraph... that's the pellicle on a small pour of this beer, 2-3 days after I poured it (I cleared the line in a small glass and forgot to toss it). Yikes! Aside from that, the Brett presence in the aroma and flavour is quite strong, and seems to grow stronger every few days. This beer is very unlike my first two Brett IPAs - with those beers, you really noticed the hops. While you can tell there are hops in this beer, they're definitely not in-your-face, and I'd never guess that Azacca was used. Simply put, the Brett dominates, and has since the first pour. I'd describe this beer as 75% Brett beer, 25% IPA. Think barnyard funk with a bit of tropical fruit.

Makes you wonder what's growing in the tap line...

I guess that just goes to show you how important yeast selection is in a beer; we all know that when we're choosing a Sacch strain, but when you think Brett, it's easier to just assume that any strain will do. Experiment a bit, read a little on Brett strains, and you'll see that they're easily as diverse as many strains of Saccharomyces... maybe even more so!

In the meantime, I've been enjoying this beer, and others who have tried it seem to be as well. Personally, I prefer the Amalgamation blend I've used before: it attenuated better, and had much more of that pineapple, tropical fruit character that I love in Brett IPAs. The Brett brux Vrai would probably work really well in other 100% Brett fermentations, but I'd recommend another strain for a Brett IPA, unless you're really curious for yourself. I plan to brew a Brett Table beer sometime soon with it, which I think would be a good match.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.010, IBU ~42, SRM 4.1, ABV ~6%

3.7 kg (71.8%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (21.4%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.9%) Carapils
150 g (2.9%) Acid malt

Polaris - 10 g (20% AA) @ 60 min

Azacca - 70 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Azacca - 40 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)

Azacca - 105 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: WLP648 Brett brux Trois Vrai (with a starter, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on May 4th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water to 167 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.045 (target 1.046). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.057. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 66 F.

- Fermentation was going strong by the next evening, but airlock activity was complete within 48 hours later. Temp never got above 72 F.

- 16/5/16 - FG 1.014; added dry-hops into primary. Kegged five days later and started carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, white creamy head that shows very good retention - even after several minutes, it's still at least a finger-size thick. Body is a light gold colour, and after several weeks is showing very good clarity (although, admittedly it was quite hazy for a while at the beginning).

Aroma: Barnyard funk, light wheat character, moderate fruitiness; it all works well together, but you would expect more of that citrus, grapefruit, piney character because of all the Azacca used.

Taste: Funky, horse-blanket characters dominate; kind of tastes like Orval in a way, with more of a light fruitiness to back everything up. Shows a light tartness. Finishes with a medium-low to medium bitterness, fairly dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: An enjoyable Brett beer, but not the best Brett IPA by any means. I think this yeast strain would best be used in Brett beers that aren't supposed to center around hops.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Brewing a Gose (using Lactobacillus plantarum capsules)

I've been promising myself over and over that I would start brewing more sour beer styles; I really love drinking them, and have only attempted a few different ones in the course of my homebrewing career: a Flanders Red that turned out pretty great (1/2 the batch aged on cherries), a Berliner Weisse that wasn't nearly sour enough, and an Oud Bruin that I've finally been drinking the past six months, that I'm pretty happy with. When you're brewing sours by pitching a mixture of bugs and yeasts, you can end up with some truly wonderful beers... the problem, however, is that it can take one hell of a long time till the beer is where you want it. Both the Flanders Red and Oud Bruin were a good 16-20 months before I bottled them.

The solution? Kettle souring. I'm sure most if not all of you have heard of this method by now; it's quickly gained a lot of momentum in the commercial and homebrewing communities. In a nutshell, you mash and sparge as usual, bring the wort to 190 F or so to pasteurize, chill down to a warm temp to pitch your Lactobacillus (the ideal temp will depend on the strain), pitch the Lacto and keep the wort warm until the pH drops to where you want it (3.3-3.5, roughly), transfer back to your kettle and boil the wort briefly to kill off the Lacto, then chill as usual and pitch a neutral yeast strain or Brettanomyces to ferment out the beer. I couldn't explain it any better than many who already have; check out the Milk the Funk wiki on Sour Worting, as well as their Lacto wiki - highly informative and extremely-well researched. Mike Tonsmeire's American Sour Beers is also an excellent resource, one of those books that I keep going back to again and again.

The idea behind all this is that you can sour the wort within several days, and if you then boil it, you don't have to worry about bacteria coming in contact with your kegerator, post-fermentation equipment, etc. Of course, if you don't care, you don't have to boil the wort; just pitch your regular yeast and be done with it. If your wort pH gets down quite low, say, below 3.4, using a Brett strain is a good idea since it ferments better in the presence of acidic wort than a lot of Saccharomyces strains do.

Will this method give you as complex a sour beer as the standard, "old-fashioned" way? Probably not. But if you're looking to brew a hoppy sour, a sour with fruit, or something similar, it's a great way to give you a tasty sour beer without the months of waiting. Or so I've heard; I'm certainly no expert. But I have had several commercial version of kettle-soured beers that were great; I really do love the hoppy sour beers that are coming out now, and more and more breweries are coming up with their own twists on the "style".

But what about a Gose? A lot of brewers have brewed this German style - sessionable, tart, salty - via the kettle sour method, with great results. I've had several commercial Gose beers and have really enjoyed many of them; it's something I've always wanted to brew, so I thought it would be a great one to try with a faster-souring method. I was initially going to order another pack of Lactobacillus from Wyeast (or maybe White Labs), but I had been reading more and more about people sourcing Lactobacillus from Swanson Probiotic capsules. Unlike a lot of probiotics that you see, these ones only contain one type of Lacto, Lactobacillus plantarum, a species that is surprisingly quite effective at lower-than-usual temperatures, between 80-90 F. For someone like me, who doesn't have a lot of options for keeping wort hot (above 100 F), this is a great option. I quickly ordered the capsules on Amazon, and then kind of forgot about them until recently.

I finally got around to making a Lacto starter in April. Of course, there are different thoughts on the approach you should take; the Milk the Funk wiki mentioned above has a very detailed one that I did not see in time. Ultimately, I ended up taking the approach that Ed documented in his attempt: four Lacto plantarum capsules in 1 L of wort. No need to set it on a stir plate of course; I simply set the flask on a heating pad for a few days, where the temp stayed at about 90 F. After 48 hours or so, the pH was down to 3.53. I was hoping to go lower, say 3.3 or so, but even after adding another capsule, it didn't budge. 3.53 isn't horrible, so I decided to press on and brew the beer.

NOTE: Just to make clear, depending on your Lacto source, you sometimes have to be very careful about keeping as much oxygen as possible out of your wort, starter or otherwise. Apparently with the L. plantarum capsules, this isn't an issue. Just keep in mind that if you're sourcing Lacto from grains, it's very important to purge with CO2 whenever possible, so you don't end up with the vomit, cheese, or fecal aromas/flavours from other organisms popping up due to exposure to oxygen.

Putting together a recipe was pretty easy; the grist is just a 50:50 blend of Pilsner malt and Wheat malt, with some Acid malt added in to bring the mash pH down to ~5.4. Goses are usually pretty low-ABV; most seem to be < 5%, so I aimed for an OG of only 1.033, and mashed pretty cool at 150 F. Once the vorlauf, sparge, etc. was complete, I brought the wort up to 190 F or so for a few minutes, then immediately chilled it down to 100 F. Racked into a Better Bottle, I pitched the entire 1 L of Lacto starter and set the whole thing on a heating pad, with a heat belt attached, and let 'er go. I was able to hold to the wort temperature in the high 80s F with this method. After a few days, the pH was 3.69, and it didn't get any lower than that. Again, not 100% ideal, but it did taste slightly tart, so I transferred the wort back to the boil kettle and continued.

A traditional Gose features the addition of both salt and coriander in the boil. The typical approach appears to be 1/2 an ounce (14 g) of each, but I've had many homebrewed Goses that didn't strike me as salty enough. You don't want to be drinking beer that tastes like sea water, but you DO want to notice it. A friend had recently brewed a Gose using 3/4 oz (21 g) of salt, which brought it closer, but not quite there (in both our opinions). I finally settled on a bit more - 25 g - along with 14 g of freshly-ground coriander seed, added during the last 2 minutes of the boil. For the hops, I wasn't looking for much bitterness for this style; since I was only planning on boiling the wort (after soured) for 5 minutes, I added 14 g of Polaris at 5 min, giving 8 IBUs. The wort was then chilled to the low 60s F, and I pitched a full package of rehydrated US-05. I didn't feel fermenting with Brett was necessary; with a pH of only 3.69, US-05 could easily handle the job. However, it's best to still err on the side of caution and pitch more yeast than is necessary in this case, hence the full pack of US-05 for a 1.033 beer.

It didn't take very long, of course, for fermentation to be complete (FG was 1.006). Now, I had to decide where I wanted to go with this beer. I had originally planned on splitting the batch - dry-hopping half with Citra, and keeping the other half plain. However, I knew it wasn't going to be as tart as I had hoped, so I figured it best to add something else to the plain portion. Lots of options, naturally, but I settled on fresh lime zest. I figured it would work well with a Gose, giving the beer an almost Margarita-like quality to it, thanks to the salt (no, do not start thinking about Bud Light Lime-a-Rita!).

Another question... how much lime zest to add? You don't need a lot; lime zest is pretty potent stuff. Mike Tonsmeire mentions in his book to start with 0.5 g/L when adding citrus zest. I was looking at about 10 L of beer, so I went with just a touch more, 6.5 grams (0.65 g/L), to make sure I noticed the lime (hopefully without it tasting like pure lime juice). I racked the beer like so: half into a 3 gallon Better Bottle, and the other half into my dry hop keg, where I added the Citra. I added the zest to a mesh bag and dunked it in Star San for a couple of minutes, before dangling in the BB with dental floss. A smarter way, I now know, is to simply dunk the limes and your zester in Star San before zesting. Oops!

After about 5 days, I kegged the Citra dry-hopped portion and bottled the lime zest portion. Now that I'm drinking both, I have to say that my preference may be for the lime Gose, which surprises me. Both are refreshing, palate-cleansing beers; light and easy-drinking, the salt level is spot-on. I don't get much coriander from either beer; admittedly, the coriander seeds weren't the freshest, but they smelled great when I was grinding them. Maybe going to 0.75 oz next time would be a better amount? As for the sourness level, the beer is definitely tart, but I'd like to see it with more tartness. Not a lot - you don't want Lambic-level sourness - but a bit more would be just the ticket.

The Citra Gose is enjoyable enough, but despite a dry-hop of 2.5 oz (the equivalent of about 5 oz for a 5 gallon batch), I'm not getting near as much Citra in the aroma or flavour as I would expect. Meanwhile, I think I lucked out in my lime zest addition for the other half - there's definitely a really nice, obvious lime presence, but it didn't come out on the heavy side, which I started worrying was going to happen. I ended up naming that one "Margarita Gose", as it comes about as close to a Margarita beer as you would want.

So, I'm happy with the amount of salt used (I don't think I'd change it at all), and the amount of lime zest. I'm still torn on the Citra addition; maybe one can only expect so much hop presence to come through in a beer like this? The equivalent of a 5-oz dry hop for a 5 gallon batch seems like plenty to me. If I tried again, I think I'd experiment with adding some Citra at flameout for a 15-20 minute hop steep; yes, you'd give the beer more IBUs this way, but maybe it would work.

I would also like both beers to be more sour. Again, NOT a Flanders Red or Lambic sourness, but just a hair above where they are now. Now that I've been reading more on the subject, I think a couple of things would need to change for next time on this front:
  1. Use phosphoric or lactic acid to lower the wort pH - There's a couple of reasons why this is a good idea; one is because for someone with water like mine, the wort pH comes out higher than ideal, especially in lighter-coloured beers. Lowering the pH, at least slightly, kind of gives the Lacto a head start, if that makes any sense (this applies to the starter and final wort). On top of that, it's been shown that lowering the wort pH to ~4.5 before pitching the Lacto can help aid in reducing foam degradation (see the Milk the Funk Wiki link for more details). If you can get it, I'd use phosphoric acid, as it won't affect the taste like lactic acid can.
  2. I think it's possible that the Lacto starter was too warm for the L. plantarum to lower the pH where I wanted it. I'm not positive here; the evidence would indicate that L. plantarum is still fine up to 90 F, and probably up to 100 F; but I can tell you that I've brewed a hoppy sour since this beer, and accidentally had the heat pad unplugged for the starter, where the pH jumped from a seemingly-stalled reading of 3.9 to 3.3 in a short matter of time. More on that in a future post.
Overall, though, I'm enjoying both of these beers, and for my first foray into kettle souring, I'm quite happy. The capsules worked well enough for me to warrant using them again, especially now that I know to try a slightly different approach next time.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.033, FG ~1.009, IBU 8, SRM 2.9, ABV ~3.2%

1.4 kg (47.9%) Bohemian Pilsner
1.4 kg (47.9%) Wheat malt
125 g (4.3%) Acid malt
+ 100 g Rice hulls

Polaris - 14 g (20% AA) @ 5 min

Citra - 70 g dry hop for 5 days (in dry hop keg) for 1/2 of the batch

1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min
14 g freshly-ground Coriander seed at 2 min
25 g Sea Salt at 2 min

Lime zest - ~6.5 g in secondary after fermentation is complete, for 5 days for 1/2 of the batch

Bacteria/Yeast: Lactobacillus plantarum capsules (4) in a 1 L starter; after souring, wort fermented with 1 pack rehydrated US-05

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on April 19th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9.5 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.033 (target 1.032). Heated to ~195 F, then chilled to 100 F. Racked to carboy, pitched Lacto starter, attached heat belt and set carboy on heating pad. Four days later, the pH had dropped to 3.65 - with the heat belt and pad, the temp was about 80 F, so I had panicked and turned on a space heater in the room, which brought it up to around 90 F or so.

- 26/4/16 - Transferred wort back into kettle, brought to a boil. Started 5 minute boil, added hops, coriander and salt at time above. Chilled down to 62 F and poured into BB. Aerated for 60 seconds and pitched yeast at 64 F. Fermentation visible by next day, continued for two days and then petered off.

- 4/5/16 - pH reading 3.69. Split the batch by racking half into dry-hop keg and added 70 g Citra, other half racked into 3 gallon carboy (~10 L) and added 6.5 g lime zest (sanitized by dunking mesh bag, marbles and zest in sanitizer before adding to carboy).

- 10/5/16 - Bottled lime half with 60 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 2.5 gal, max temp 70 F reached. Racked Citra half into serving keg and set carb to PSI 30 for 24 hours.

Lime zest on the left, Citra on the right
Appearance: As you can see from the picture, they look pretty identical. Both pour with a moderate-sized, white head that fades fairly quickly, as expected. The Citra head lasts longer, however... due to being force-carbed, or is the lime zest causing that head to fade a bit quicker? Lime body is just slightly darker, but both beers are pretty pale. Touch of haziness.

Aroma: Moderately salty, touch of coriander; the Citra portion has a light fruitiness and a little dank character. The lime beer definitely has the lime zest coming through in the aroma, more prominent than the salt; works very well.

Taste: Citra half: the Citra hits first, pleasant low fruitiness, followed by a moderate-low tartness on the tongue. Finishes lightly salty, with low to no bitterness. Dry and refreshing. Lime half: great amount of lime character in the flavour, followed by the saltiness to make it seem that much more maragarita-like. Same tartness as the Citra half... pleasant, but not quite enough. Great summer beer.

Mouthfeel: Both are light-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: Refreshing, easy-drinking; I enjoy both, but give the edge to the lime zest portion. I think the salt level is perfect, could use a bit more coriander. Expected and wanted more Citra presence in the dry-hopped version. And, of course, both could benefit from some more tartness.