Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Belgian Base to Play With

One of the things that makes brewing sour beers harder than Saccro styles is the time factor.  It's a little scary thinking that the beer that you're brewing one day won't be right (or even palatable) for years to come.  My experiences with aging meads and barleywines have been successful in the past, but I always just bottled them and set them aside.  The sours take up carboy space and that's harder to get comfortable with.

I've always been a big believer in planning far ahead and making beer in excess (for all the right reasons). I've gotten into the habit of thinking about my next beer immediately after I finish a brew day.  So I spent some time thinking about some possible base recipes for my next sour beer and decided to borrow the Belgian Pale Ale recipe shared by Jeff at Bikes, Beer and Adventures.  I made some minor adjustments, using a different yeast strain and changing up the grain bill a bit.  I still have so much to learn about brewing sours that it seemed like a good way to go.  Jeff uses it with some apparent success and I'm hoping to do the same.

I scaled the recipe up to seven gallons so that I would have 5 gallons in a traditional carboy and another two gallons for dregs beers (#3 and #4), like before.  The brew day went smoothly, with Lewy helping out (and ditching work) as has become customary.  I mashed at 152 degrees F for a solid hour and ended up hitting my gravity and volumes perfectly and was really happy with the color as it came out of the chiller.  Here's what I plan to do with the wort:

Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueze and Orval bottle dregs
5 Gallons

Pitch Antwerp Ale Yeast (WLP510) and then consider dosing with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis at some point during secondary fermentation or when conditioning.  The amount of time that it ends up aging depends on how I use the Brett, I suppose.

Dregs #3

Pitch the bottle dregs from a 350 ml bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueze and let it ferment out and age for as long as necessary (whatever that means-I don't really know yet). 

Dregs #4

Pitch the bottle dregs from a 350 ml bottle of Orval and do the same as above.

Regardless and perhaps in spite of the outcome, the experiment continues.  Waiting is an exercise in patience and patience is a virtue, right?  I never really saw myself as particularly virtuous, but I'm happy to wait. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Beer Lullaby

My son Ben is two, and he is starting to assert himself.  While I encourage the growth of his personality and want him to seek independence, that order of self-awareness comes with a side dish of defiance that can be hard to swallow as a parent.  He's old enough to understand what I say (Stop riding the dog!" or "Don't put your finger there, just let me finish changing your diaper"), but not to the point where consequences are significant.  I guess I never realized that Time Out doesn't work unless you have a way to make the person stay there.

One of the most reliably contentious moments between us happens at bedtime.  I imagine (hopefully) that something similar occurs in most households with single digit age children.  The basic tenets are the same for most families, I think.  Parents want the kids to go to sleep so they can do anything but clean up messes, answer questions and mediate conflicts.  The kids want to stay awake where all the action is.  Invariably, the nighttime routine becomes increasingly complicated as parent and child vie for precious minutes, with a variety of techniques being employed on both sides (stalling, threats, fits, flat out lies, coddling, bargaining, etc.).

Kiddie potty on the left, dregs beers on the right. 

The other night I was 25 minutes into Ben's night time routine and I was starting to lose it.  My wife Erin and I have somehow wordlessly agreed that she lays with him while I tell our daughter, Claire, a story.  Then, when she says goodnight for the final time and closes his door, I intercept him each time he gets up crying and turns on the light to try and open the door and leave his room.  Sometimes he'll get up once, but usually it takes me 4+ attempts to get him to stay in bed and eventually fall asleep.  This night, I had been basically standing at his door or forcing him to lay down while he screamed for close to a half hour.  I had gone into his room for the tenth or eleventh time and decided to give in and lay with him.  As I was laying there humming to him I heard a gurgling sound.  I piqued my ears to hear it again and sure enough, 30 seconds later the gurgle vibrated my eardrums.  I couldn't help but smile as I rubbed Ben's back and willed him to sleep.  I've been fermenting my two dregs beers on a high shelf in his closet-it was the only place in the house that something (kids, temperature, dog, movement) wouldn't disturb them.  Their check valves were calling back and forth to one another, singing a calming lullaby to me, and reminding me to step away from the ledge and relax.  By the time these thoughts had finished forming in my mind, Ben was asleep.  I crept out quietly and closed the door, not wanting to disturb the uncommon peace that had formed within

Monday, November 28, 2011

Farmer's Daughter Maturing Voluptuously

Farmer's Daughter was transferred to secondary after 16 days of primary fermentation at 68 degrees, and I am really pleased with the beer so far.  It has a distinctively dominant Brettanomyces aroma that is tantalizing.  There's an earthiness coupled with a faint barnyard and wet floral note in the background.  The beer is characteristically red and still pretty hazy as active fermentation is still going strong.  The initial fermentation brought the gravity down to a very respectable 3.6 P from an original gravity of 17.1 P.  The final product is going to have a higher ABV than allowable in the BJCP style guidelines, but who ever complained about a beer being too delicious and alcoholic?  Now it's time to wait and let Brett, Pedio and Lacto slowly finish the job.

I've also officially given my auto siphon, carboy brush and two Better Bottles over to funk fermentations.  Now I have a reason to buy some new equipment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red and the Dregs Project

A few weeks ago, Chris from Lewy Brewing came over for an epic brew session.  Eight hours and many beers later the result was 14 gallons of wort destined to be fermented in a way that was new to both of us.  We started with a 10 gallon batch of Flanders Red (recipe here) which was split into two carboys for fermentation.  In Chris's carboy WLP001 CA Ale was added for primary fermentation and WLP655 Sour Mix 1 was added seven days later as primary fermentation began to wane.  In my carboy, US-05 and WLP655 Sour Mix 1 were added at the same time.  Our plan is to ferment each carboy for at least a year, letting the bugs in the Sour Mix slowly convert all of the residual sugars that the primary strain can't consume.  Then we plan to blend the two beers, producing something more complex and delicious than either of the individual beers on their own.  Neither Chris nor I has experience fermenting with Brettanomyces, Pediococcus, Lactobacilus and Acetobacter but we have high hopes for the result.  Ending up with something palatable and interesting would be a win for our first attempt.

Farmer's Daughter fermenting next to Gold Mountain Reserve.

In addition to the Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red, we used the third runnings from the spent grains to extract a weaker four gallons of wort.  We then added approximately two pounds of DME to raise the original gravity and did a second boil.  The chilled and filtered wort was placed into four one gallon carboys and the bottle dregs from four different sour beers were pitched directly inside after aeration, following instructions from The Mad Fermentationist.  We used the following bottles of commercial beer for our bottle dregs:

Russian River     Supplication

Russin River      Temptation

Ommegang         Biere de Mars

Oude Beersel     Oud Gueze Vieille

One gallon dregs batches right after pitching.
Two weeks into the experiment we have strong fermentation happening in both Flanders Red carboys and slow, but steady fermentation in the one gallon dregs beers.

An Evolving Brewer's Awakening

American homebrewing is usually informed by German and English methods, which value an adherence to cleanliness, strict recipe formulation, and the use of particular ingredients for particular styles.  This attention to detail and traditionalism can create some delicious and satisfying beers, but doesn't always leave room for experimentation beyond the basics.  I've been reading about, tasting, and just generally pondering sour beers, and have been forced to shift my perspective on brewing.  Until recently, the idea of introducing an unpure culture of yeast into my homebrewery scared the shit out me.  Like learning a new language, it takes time to become comfortable expressing yourself in a new medium, but I've made some strides toward a more enlightened approach to making delicious beer at home and challenging myself in the process.  Much of the information I've gathered has come from like-minded people, whose generous sharing of knowledge has been inspiring.  Specifically, Lewy BrewingThe Mad Fermentationist and Bikes, Beer and Adventures have cleared away the barriers in my psyche to allow me to begin walking a new and perhaps more rewarding path as a more experimental homebrewer.  So why am I writing this?  I don't profess to be the most knowledgeable or the most able brewer.  I certainly have plenty to learn.  I want to record my thoughts and experiences so that I have a record of my own evolution and a way to prompt self-reflection.  If it appeals to others and perhaps helps or inspires them, then all the better.