Tonight is the session. This session is very timely for me. The subject is Sour Beer, and I just happen to have some sour beer activity to report tonight.
On January 1st, 2010 I made my first lambic. It was half barley and half wheat, made with old stinky hops and a variety of bacterial cultures and yeast (Brett B, Sour Mix, Lambic Blend, plus some US-05)
Since then, the beer has sat in my basement, covered in a brown paper bag, tucked in a corner, opened only a few times for flavor sampling.
Ever since the baby came a few months ago, brewing has been slow to say the least. So I’m facing a shortage. I might actually have to buy beer (gasp!). I feel like I’m the US Government about to default on my beer debt. I need a compromise to cover this gap.
So I sampled the lambic this week. It was pretty good. Rather barn-ish and overall funky. Sorta sour, bacterial I suppose. Not yet vinegar. I think that’s a good enough reason to take it out of the carboy and put it on tap. Especially given the circumstances.
For a while (right up to today) I was worried about where should I put it. If I kegged it, the keg and faucet could be bugged for life. If I bottled, the bacteria could keep working and make bottle bombs.
Ultimately, I kegged it. I’ve marked all the plastic I used in case I need to never use it for non-bacterial beer again. I’m using a picnic tap, which I’ll mark for Lambic and probably not reuse for normal beer. But then again I might try it to see if it really matters.
For now I’m just waiting for the beer to chill and carbonate before I can really dig into it. Then I’m sure it will save me from buying beer. Or at least it should minimize the amount of beer I need to buy.
Excerpt from brew day:
Boden (5 YO son): Daddy, you make beer because brewing beer is free, but buying beer costs money, right?
Daddy: Well brewing isn’t free, because the ingredients cost money and my time should be worth something, but it’s still a lot cheaper than buying it
Boden: But isn’t it a lot easier to just buy it?
Daddy: But brewing it is still a lot cheaper than buying it.
Boden: But all this stuff [the equipment needed to make beer] costs a lot of money probably
Daddy: Well I bought that a while ago. Look, I can make this IPA for $25 but if I bought this much IPA it would cost like $80.
Boden: … Daddy can I play on your phone?
I love getting ready for the Oktoberfest party!
This year, the party’s bigger than ever! I’m making and serving nine kegs!! This makes it so important to me to get the right recipe in those kegs. This year, it’s three Fisher Cats, three Yachtoberfests, and three IPAs.
Fisher Cat is easy. It barely changes from year to year, and it’s always just right. Half wheat, half base malt. Centennials to around 15 IBU. US-05. Done. That test batch is in the fermenter right now, looking cloudy as can be, and should be great!
IPA isn’t too tough, either, given that I make IPA so often. The difference is that I’m going for a kinder, gentler IPA for the masses. So I try to tone it down a bit. But overall, it’s still my IPA. Columbus for bittering and a mix of Columbus, Centennial, and Amarillo for flavor and aroma, favoring the Amarillo. A nice bitter, somewhat pungent, slightly piney and citrusy, very juicy hop treat. That tester is cold and nearly carbonated in the keg – a sample taken tonight is VERY promising.
Yachtoberfest is still the one that I’m not 100% on. For some reason I insist on doing it as a warm fermentation. First year I tried US-05, and it was fine, but not outstanding. Last year I tried WY1338 “German Ale” yeast and it was different but not totally to my liking. This year, I’ve tried WY1272 “American Ale II” yeast. It seems pretty much neutral, like I might as well save $5 and use US-05. I think for this year I’ll use the 1272, but I’m thinking that by next year I should man up and use a real Oktoberfest lager yeast. It’s not like I don’t have a fridge where I could ferment cold.
In the end, I know whatever I come up with will be well-received by the audience at Yachtoberfest. They seem to love whatever I throw their way. I’m especially pleased because the IPA was upgraded from one keg to three from last year. The Cat and Fest have always been popular, but I still keep thinking that normal people don’t like good IPA. Too many Harpoon IPA, I guess… But fortunately I keep being proven wrong. Which is good because I love making IPA. Almost as much as I love drinking IPA!
In the course of being a homebrewer, I think you go through some stages. At least I did. At first I wanted to make a bunch of different basic stuff. A stout. A brown. An IPA. An APA. And so on.
Then I wanted to try for consistency. That didn’t last long, because I kept wanting to try new things. So began the experiments. Trying new things, like manwich in a beer. Some came out better than others.
Last year I was still somewhat experimental, but I thought that I was getting more towards trying consistency. But my planning was not that great and more often than not it seemed I had more experiments available to drink than actual good beer, and variety was usually less-than-ideal.
This year I’ve planned out things rather well. I admit that I need to make an IPA every month, so that I am never without one. And I’m planning ahead, like I’m going to make the RIS and Barleywine in the summer for winter drinking.
This is the ideal time to hone my IPA recipe, as I make an IPA every month. Which hops to use, and when? How long to dry hop for, and how much? What mash temperature? Beer color? IBU? ABV? Yeast? Ferment temperature? I know about where I want all these things but it’s time to get right down to perfect.
So far, I figure 1.065 OG, shooting for 6.5% ABV. That leaves FG as 1.015 – kinda dry but not too extreme. This translates to a mash temperature around 152. I’m using US-05. I have been fermenting on the low end, like 62-64F, but I’m thinking of upping that to like 68. I want it pale, around 8 SRM. And I’ve found that 1:1 IBU:OG is too low for me for an IPA. So my plan for my next batch is 80-90 IBU. I’m still committed to Columbus for bittering and throughout the boil as well as dry hopping with it, but I’m still looking for its perfect partner. Neither Amarillo nor Centennial has done it for me so far. They’re OK, but I’m thinking of trying Simcoe or Chinook. Or maybe even something a bit mellower.
It’s interesting to see how it changes from batch to batch. It’s easy to compare because I have the old one and new one side-by-side often, or at least separated by just a few days. The problem is that there’s a lag. I make a change, but I don’t know how that’s affected the result until after I’ve brewed the next version. So there’s a bit of flying behind the plane, but it seems to be working well enough. After all, I’m not making a space shuttle here, just making beer.
So I was looking at my upcoming brew days schedule. I saw that I have a Doppelbock-style beer coming up. Now it’s to be done as an ale, but it’s generally a brown malty low-hop-character clean high-gravity beer. I made one before, but it was meant to be a bock that just came out with incredible efficiency and jumped into the doppel range. So in other words, I don’t know how to build the right recipe. I decided I needed to look up a recipe. I took a quick look on the forums, and found a few arguments about many unrelated topics, and gave up for the time being. I then sent myself an email and forgot all about it.
Then tonight I decided to finish going through the latest Brew Your Own magazine while watching the Patriots struggle through the first half. The main theme of the magazine is brewing with extract. While interesting, it’s not really tuned to where I’m at with my brewing.
First thing I found was an article about adding body to beer. This culminated in a recipe for “Small IPA”. A low alcohol IPA-flavored beer is something I’ve been interested in for a while. But after many attempts, I had pretty much given up on it. I rationalized this, deeming it “pointless” to make a beer under 4% ABV when I could just as easily make one 50% stronger. But thanks to this article, now I have a recipe concept (1/3 Munich, 1/3 Vienna, and 1/3 Victory malts) to work from for the next revision of my “Small IPA”. Cool!
Flipping forward through the magazine some more, I get to one of those stupid ad cards that makes the pages not fold back quite right. The front of the card was a call to subscribe for a discount, but the back of the card is what caught my eye. It was a few recipes. Normally I barely even glance at these recipes, but as I was ripping it out, I just figured I’d see what the nonsense was all about.
Lo and behold, it’s a recipe for a Doppelbock. Now I don’t think I’ll necessarily follow it verbatim, but it at least gives me some sort of clue as to how to proceed. It uses mostly plain old 2-row, with some Munich, Victory Wheat (?), and Crystal 120 to 1.084 and 20L with Hallertau hops to 21 IBU. It’s a starting point that I can work with. Actually nothing too fancy. I have Munich. I can use my normal wheat malt. I might get some of that C-120, but I can handle that.
It’s amazing sometimes when you just want something and then forget all about it, and all of a sudden you find it!
I have been used to US-05 for quite some time now.
But recently I decided I wanted to branch out. Mainly my motivation was looking for a nice “malty” yeast for my faux-toberfest (that’s an Oktoberfest-style beer done as an ale rather than the traditional lagering all summer).
I ended up with Wyeast 1338 “European Ale” because of its supposed low diacetyl (buttered popcorn flavor). There was another (WLP029?) Kolsch yeast that also sounded good but allegedly gave off tons of sulfur aroma throughout fermentation, which I didn’t want to deal with. The only down side of 1338 that I read was it could be slow.
With Oktoberfest coming up it is only right that there be a party, and with a party it is only right that homebrew be served. So here I am, making six batches destined to be served at a huge Oktoberfest event. The first two were made today. That gives me two more sessions, spaced two weeks apart, to make two more batches each session, and still give the last batches a full month from grain to glass prior to the big day.
It might still be a little early to judge, but I just kegged my latest (I)IPA, all Columbus. Bittered to nearly 100 IBU with an OG of 1.075 and dry hopped for a week with two ounces of Columbus. This beer is incredible right now!
If it holds up over the next few weeks as it cools and carbs, I’ll post the whole recipe. But for now, I’m basking in it.
As a brewer, extract efficiency is a key metric. Each grain you use in your brew has a certain amount of potential sugar stored in there. Due to our limitations as humans in the real world, we can’t really get all that sugar out. So extract efficiency measures the percentage that we do manage to run off into our kettles.
Maximizing this number gives you the ability to get the most out of your grains. This saves money and expands the possibilities of what you can make without needing to add sugar or malt extract. Consistent efficiency allows you to craft more precise and repeatable recipes.
Efficiency relates to many variables, including how you crush the grains, mash filter arrangement, possibly mash thickness and duration, and so on. Most of these are pretty constant from batch to batch. But my efficiency has been hovering around a meager 65-70%. This is not where I want it. It’s OK, but it seems to leave a lot on the table (or in the tun, so to speak).
Maybe I have become too confident. Maybe it’s boredom… I just don’t know what inspired me to try to copy a beer that I don’t even really like all that much. I mean Anchor’s Our Special Ale is a true American classic, released once a year in time for the holidays, and somewhat different each year. Time after time it’s basically a black beer with trees added to it. I’ve written about it before, and I’ve liked it, but these days, this is not exactly my kind of thing. However, it is a classic, so I always get at least one sixer, just to have it.
One time, I think it was December of 2008, approaching the start of my third year of brewing, I got the idea that OSA was really pretty similar to what you’d get if you took a porter and used a Bavarian wheat beer yeast to ferment it.
In the world of homebrewing, there’s a common progression. First, one starts with kits. Premade recipes in little cardboard boxes all packaged with instructions. Brewer’s Best, for example. Then one moves on to the recipes of others, like clones of famous beers or just highly regarded tried and true homebrewer favorites. Now it’s on to the SNPA clone or Denny’s RyePA. Finally one day, the intrepid homebrewer decides it is time to stray from the beaten path and derive a novel recipe for an intended flavor profile.
The culmination of brewing experience gives the knowledge of the influence of each ingredient on the finished product. But at the same time, there are hints of apprehension around the unknown. I mean, it’s hard to tell what exactly will happen as a result of the addition of an ounce of Cascades at 15 minutes.
Here are a few rules for making your own recipes followed by an idea.
Now: here is the idea. Imagine if you could pick your beer style and there was a computer program to make the recipe for you. What do you think? Have you ever seen anything like that? Could it even work?