Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mississippi Slough

A day late and a dollar short, but here is the promised write up on scaling up my brewery to pump out 15 gallons of Russian Imperial Stout in order to fill a 15 gallon rye whiskey barrel. I purchased the barrel in late October from Missisisippi River Distilling Company for a fairly reasonable $125. These barrels are a step in the production of their "award-winning" Cody Road rye whiskey. While it seems like anyone can get a ribbon nowadays, as someone who does not really drink whisky, I can attest that Cody Road is smooth and delicious. The challenge for me though was to quickly produce 15+ gallons of high gravity beer that would stand up to the barrel. The recipe:

Mississippi Slough (15+ gls)  
49 lbs Maris Otter
4.3 lb German Roasted Barley
3.4 lb UK Pale Chocolate
1.75 lb Flaked Barley
3.4 lb Special B
2.5 lb UK Brown Malt
2.2 lb CaraMunich I
5 oz Magnum FWH (67 IBU)
4 oz EKG 25'' (14 IBU) 
Mash @ 152F

Expected ABV: ~11%
I added 0.5 tsp of chalk and baking soda to each mash 

I have brewed this recipe several times before with great success, but never to this scale. To brew this much, I had to add a new mash tun. I used a 48 qt rectangle cooler fitted with some simple fittings and a 16'' braided stainless filter. 

Despite my best efforts I undershot my target gravity, ending up with ~16 gallons of 1.099 wert. Oh well, this should still produce 15+ gallons of 10+ ABV stout! I chilled the wert with my submersion + counterflow combo and then fermented with a combo of WY1056 and US-05. After just 8 days of primary fermentation, I racked into the barrel for 6 weeks. Tasting notes to follow.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Moving my brewery; sour barrel updates

At the end of May, I finished grad school in Indiana and started a new job 500 miles away. I didn't actually move to Iowa until August. In between, my "sour pipeline" did a 3-month stint at my parent's farm in Illinois. That is, my parents kindly stored three barrels of my spoiled funky beer in their shed until I could retrieve them. 

Sour Program: 5 gallon Brandy barrel (left) , 6.5 gallon Wine barrel (right), and 5 gallon Bourbon barrel (not shown)
As you can see, these smaller barrels are perfectly sized to fit inside standard Rubbermaid Roughneck containers, no barrel stands needed. The handles on the containers aid in transport. The towels just fill empty space and prevent barrels from moving inside the container.

My main concern with moving was sloshing the barrels around during transport and oxidizing the 1+ yr old sour beer inside them. I could have kegged the beer and filled the barrels with water, but I did not want to ruin the the cultures inside. As luck would have it, a friend of mine was also moving and donated 50 pounds of grain! I brewed a double batch of fresh wort, kegged all of the aged beers, and racked over the new batches as close to the moving date as possible. The recipe:

BDSA Barrel Fill (~18 gls)  
18 lbs Belgian Pale
14 lbs US 2-row
10 lbs German Munich
4 lbs Belgian Caramel Vienna
4 lbs Belgian Caramel Wheat
1 lb Carapils
0.5 lb Special B
1 lb Dark Candi Syrup 15''
3 oz Styrian Goldings FWH
0.5 oz Zeus 60''
3 oz Czech Saaz 15''
Mash @ 152F
Expected ABV: ~8%

Obviously, this was a 'freestyle', 'kitchen sink' recipe. I used up as much grain as possible and bittered with the hops I had available to approximately 20IBU. I was also lazy/resourceful (lazourceful?) with primary fermentation: 

6 gallons fermented with WLP530 Abbey Ale
5 gallons fermented with WY 1318 London Ale III
3 gallons fermented with WY 3942 Belgian Wheat
3 gallons fermented with ECY03 Saison Brett blend
3 gallons fermented with house blend of commonly available White Labs + Wyeast brett strains. 

These were basically just all of the cultures I had on hand that I thought would bring complexity without detracting from a belgian-inspired sour beer. I knew these would eventually be blended together somehow, and I consider it a feature to have choices when blending. 

When it came time to keg and rack, my plans for the Bourbon barrel sour did not go as expected. The Bourbon barrel is my oldest (4+ yrs), containing a traditional turbid mash lambic. This barrel has produced some great sours, but after nearly a year in the barrel the lambic just didn't taste ready to come out. It was not as sour or complex as I had anticipated. I made the decision to leave the beer in and just pack the barrel with frozen peaches. Hopefully the fruit would fill any headspace and fuel just enough oxygen-scouring fermentation to protect the beer during the move. I racked the London Ale version into my Brandy barrel, the Abbey Ale version into my Wine barrel and then topped them both up with the ECY03 Saison Brett version. The remainder of the batch was blended into a keg.

When the barrels finally made it to Iowa, I sampled all three. The beers seemed a little flat (lost carbonation), but I did not detect oxidation or spoilage. In fact, the beers tasted exceedingly mild, especially the new barrels (Brandy and Wine). The blended keg beer without oak actually tasted the most sour! Now I just had to decide what to do with all of this sour beer.

While I prefer a good straight sour, and I think fruit is sometimes a crutch, I had a lot of excellent fruit saved up from the summer. Plus, I thought the barrels would really benefit from additional fermentation and potential increase to residual CO2. So, I decided to add fruit to everything. I added ~4 lbs of raspberries to the brandy barrel BDSA, 4 lbs of sour cherries to the wine barrel BDSA, and 5 lbs of peaches to the bourbon barrel lambic. This pound/gallon ratio is towards the low end, but I didn't really set out to make a "cherry" or "raspberry" beer. By the time I get around to brewing a huge batch of lambic to fill all of the barrels, the fruit will have completely fermented out. I will blend, bottle and keg all 15+ gallons. I will then fill all the barrels with fresh lambic wert and stash them away for a couple years.

We are near the end of this sour tale, but what about the 'extra' keg of 'BDSA Barrel Fill"? Well, to be honest, the beer was almost too sour for me. While I love sours, I prefer more mild versions. I could have just bottled the beer as is, but I knew the bottles would just sit around in my cellar for years. I wanted to do something more with it, but I really had no clue what to do. Fresh fruit season is long gone. Unexpectedly, I came across 1 pound of baby ginger from my local horticultural farm. Ginger in a sour beer, why not? 

I made a little tincture in a glass to sample the flavors and it was pretty good, in fact, my girlfriend loved it! I ended up adding a handful of left over cranberries and 0.5 lbs of sliced baby ginger to the keg (pictured below). It's only been a couple days, but I'm looking forward to having this unusual beer around for the holidays!
Belgian Dark Strong and Sour w. cranberries and baby ginger

Next time I plan to talk about how I scaled up my brewing capacity (15 gallons) as well as the brew day for a Russian Imperial Stout that is currently aging in a newly acquired rye whiskey barrel. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 17, 2014

coming soon

I don't think anyone really noticed my absence, but I'm finally ready to begin posting again. Moving and starting a new job has only left time for a couple of brewdays since I last posted. Fortunately, I managed to make up for the lack of brewdays by brewing 15 gallon batches(!). Here is a list of posts I have planned in the near future:

1. Relocating my (home)brew house and scaling up the brewday

2. Rye Barrel Russian Imperial Stout (aka Mississippi Slough)

3. Fruited sour beers

4. What to do with brewday SNAFUs

5. Planning a brew schedule for 2015!

Double-barreled sparge action

Hopefully, if you're reading this you have access to a fine homebrewed elixir and will enjoy sharing over the coming holidays with friends and family. Cheers!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The more things change...

This summer brings a lot of change. I did a small site makeover, and while I will continue to improve the design and polish through time, this is mainly just a log of my beer notes.

I also finished grad school! So I will be starting a new job, and moving several hundred miles at the end of July. So in addition to not having much time to brew new beer, I have to pack and move my brewery.

The main concern was dealing with my three sour barrels. I did not want to move 1+ yr old sour beer in barrels and risk oxidation or worse. So my goal was to brew fresh wort for each barrel, keg all of the aged beers, and rack over the new batches as close to the moving date. Luckily my friend is moving as well and donated ~50#s of grain! Here is a rundown of the specifics:

Brewed a ~5% ABV Brown Porter to fill Brandy Barrel

Brewed a double batch of ~8% ABV Belgian Dark Strong to fill Wine Barrel and Bourbon barrel

These beers all experienced extra fermentation when I racked them into the barrels, which was the intention. I also have one more trick up my sleeve, frozen fruit! If needed, I will top up barrels with frozen fruit the night before I move. This will reduce head space and provide extra fermentables which should help prevent oxidation.

It was a lot of work scrambling to do this in the last few months while finishing school, but the upshot is that there will not be a huge gap in my sour beer pipeline. I will not be able to brew again until sometime in August, but in the meantime I hope to update the blog with interesting recipes from past brew days. Cheers!

Friday, March 21, 2014

EBY002 2nd Tasting

Good news! I don't think anyone really noticed that EBY002 was suspiciously absent from my last EBY tasting notes, but you should all be happy that I found the stash! 

EBY002 (Brettanomyces dreifonteinii I)

Aroma: rather aggressive funk like the Gold Blend!; surprised that the nose smells so close to a lambic/geuze with only Brett. Very interesting.

Appearance: once you've seen one of these beers, you've pretty much seen them all; maybe less flocculant than 014, 015.

Flavor: quite dry but still soft and minerally, much more pronounced sour than the first tasting 002. It's not an off-flavor but there is a slight a biting taste in the finish, probably accentuated by the high attenuation.

Mouthfeel: very crisp, good carbonation - not overcarbed

Overall: Surprising. After tasting so unique ~30 days after bottling, this beer has settled into a flavor profile more similar to 014 and 015. But it is more sour!  Others have reported middling flavor and sourness from this strain. Either way I am I still very excited to experiment with this strain and to follow-up with the rest of the EBY002 tasting notes.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Black Walnut Stout

Acknowledgements to RyanBrews for introducing me to the concept of "fat washing". If you have never heard of fat washing, go read Ryan's blog, but fat washing is basically just a way to incorporate flavors from fatty food into your beer without adding the unwanted oils. And while I have yet to be stupid brave enough to make a Buffalo Wing and Blue Cheese beer like Ryan did (!), I have now used fat washing to successfully brew beers with black walnuts. (I also did a coconut and thai basil beer, but this post is about black walnuts).

As Ryan describes, you need to be more patient with some ingredients relative to others. Make sure to wait several weeks for extracting something like black walnuts and you will be rewarded with a better product. I like to add flavorings at kegging or bottling so I'll describe this a bit more later in the post.

The base stout recipe is something I have been working on for ~3 years now. My original goal was to create a lower alcohol Founder's Breakfast Stout which still maintains the body and mouthfeel. The main tricks I use to achieve this are lots of flaked grains in the grain bill (~15%) and an English ale yeast (WLP023) in the fermenter. None of the American ale yeasts I have tried give the body or mouthfeel I desire for this brew. At this point the recipe has evolved stylistically into more of a Foreign Export Oatmeal Stout of sorts, but I would confidently put it up against FBS on the breakfast table any day of the week.

For this years batch I wanted to experiment with using Black Walnut throughout the process. So to begin, I added 1/4 lb. of toasted and milled Black Walnut flour to the mash. Yes this could potentially hurt head retention, but I was planning to keg and I did not notice excess oils in the glass or loss of head retention. Note: you cannot see the Black Walnut flour in the picture below.

NutMeat Stout (10 gls)  
17 lbs Maris Otter
1.75 lbs Flaked Oats
1.75 lbs Flaked Barley
1 lb UK Pale Chocolate
1 lb German Roasted Barley
0.6 lb German CaraMunich I
0.5 lb Special B
0.5 lb UK Brown Malt
0.25 lb Black Walnut flour
1.5 oz German Northern Brewer FWH
0.5 oz EKG 25''
Mash @ 152F
Expected ABV: ~6.5%
I added 3g of chalk to the mash and 3g of gypsum to the sparge.

5 gallons was fermented with WLP023 Burton Ale yeast, 14 days primary at 65F

        5 gallons was fermented with WLP860 Munich Helles Lager yeast, 14 days primary at 48F, 14 days secondary at 33F.

After fermentation, I racked the ale version into a keg and added coffee made with an Aeropress. I have had success with using this expresso-like coffee before, and I generally shoot for 12-16oz in a 5gl batch.  I also added 8 oz of black walnut extract. The ale batch was good, but a little thin so I also added ~50g of lactose by dissolving it in the hot coffee.

For the lager portion, I added the remaining ~6 oz of black walnut extract. I was running low on coffee beans so I skipped the Aeropress step. Instead, I simply put the beans (~1/2 cup) I had left into a dry hop bag along with a scoop of raw black walnuts. After "cold steeping" in the keg for a few days the coffee flavor and aroma were phenomenal. Smooth, roasty and delicious. The keg didn't make it through my New Year's party.

Overall, I really enjoy brewing with black walnuts. The flavor contribution, at least in an already complex beer like a stout, is quite subtle. It is hard to describe, but the black walnut extract really increases the richness of the beer along with providing a sort of generic nuttiness. I don't think most people would know that I used black walnuts if I didn't tell them, but I would certainly miss it if it they weren't there.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

EBY Brett Experiment - 3rd tasting

Another month has passed since I last tasted my EBY beers. Below you'll find short tasting notes from 12 oz. bottles of each beer. Thanks again to Sam at Eureka Brewing for the yeast strains (blog linkand to Jeffrey Crane (blog link) for designing the recipe.

Just want to point out again that these strains are in the experimental phase. Some have yet to realize their full potential, and some strains may shine in specific recipes. 

EBY014 (Brettanomyces lostfontain I

Aroma: still dominated by green apple, but gives way to more balanced 'Belgian' ester profile with underlying funkiness

Appearance: good clarity despite visual evidence, effervescent, lasting head

Flavorbalanced, simple; low to no spice flavors; grainy finish from earlier tastings is all but gone 

Mouthfeel: good carbonation; medium-low body; no slickness or other detractors, perceived crispness from the apple/esters, slight acidity and carbonation

Overall: A bit watery, which also adds to drinkability. Nice, but simple like slightly funky Belgian Blonde. 

EBY015 (Brettanomyces lostfontain II)

Aroma: complete lack of fruity esters of 014. significant but pleasant barnyard funk. I'm not detecting the smoky aroma from last tasting.

Appearance: now much hazier compared to clarity of 014

Flavor: Subdued (muddled?) flavor; again there is a coriander-like spice but now more subtle. Funkiness of aroma does not come through much in the flavor. 

Mouthfeel: Oddly 015 now seems to have significantly more body than 014 (014 probably was not fully carbed last tasting).   

Overall: Nothing wrong but a bit boring. If 014 is a funk Belgian Blonde, then 015 with the spiciness is a (slightly) funky Biere de Garde. The funk is still present in aroma much more than the flavor.

Aroma: mild funky spice. I still get some of the juicy peaches and lemon, but now smells much more like 015.

Appearance: brilliant clarity and good carbonation but not effervescent

Flavor: very light lemon and spice; soft and watery up front, but with crisp finish. Maybe even less complex than prior tasting, but still has a nice quenchable mineral quality.

Mouthfeel: good carbonation; medium body probably carbed up a bit more from last tasting 

Overall: Still probably my top choice of these 5 beers. The awesome fermentation performance has me dreaming up a few EBY010 primary Belgian pale recipe. I think the mineral quality would pair well with significant late-additions of noble hops

The most disappointing strain so far is EBY019, which as mentioned may be due to contamination during shipping. Keep that in mind if you read these tasting notes. Thankfully though, the beer does seem to be improving with time and I will be curious to sample again in a couple months. 

Aroma: the sour apple, vinyl, nail polish aromas have mostly vanished(!!); still has that hot ester aroma but now much more subdued and generic; reminiscent of high gravity Belgian beers

Appearance: great clarity, still looks good in the glass despite pics

Flavor: Not bad but really muddled. The simplicity does this beer favor but there's still not much to like. So dry that it's the only sample I experienced any bitterness.

Mouthfeel: similar carbonation, but drier than others 

Overall: This beer has improved a lot. Not terrible but still not something I want to drink. As I go back to the other samples it really hits home that this is my least favorite product.