Monday, April 30, 2012

Crumple Car Flanders Red

The more I taste different Flanders Reds and appreciate their complexities, the more rapidly the style takes on legendary palate status for me.  I love IPAs and Strong Ales, too.  They have the sort of knock you down flavors that get your attention and push your limits, and that can be a good thing sometimes.  But Flanders Red challenges your senses in a much more subtle and possibly more rewarding way.  The craft of brewing them is far more complicated than almost any other beer, with the mastery of challenging ingredients, long-term aging, and blending all essential.  I'm far from understanding these beers completely.

Crumple Cars blocking access to The Ranch, 1961 (photo: Stevens)
I made Crumple Car Flanders Red, my second attempt at the style, yesterday, and named it after one of my favorite surf songs.  Elitist land owners at the Bixby and Hollister ranches north of Santa Barbara, CA used to leave old cars on the beach so that surfers couldn't drive up the coast to ride some of the more pristine and unspoiled waves in the industrialized world.  Denny Aaberg wrote "Crumple Car" (mp3 below) with those barriers to access in mind.  The ranches still occupy 16+ miles of coastline that the general public can't realistically access and enjoy.

The recipe is the result of some research into different approaches to Flanders Red ales and a continued commitment to my preference for simple grain bills.  Aged Perle hops were used for bittering only.  I boiled for 75 minutes at a slightly lower intensity to help bring out the red color.  Wyeast's Roselare Yeast Blend was pitched this morning.

16 hours after pitching the Roselare Yeast Blend.
This approach was intentionally very different than Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red.  When Lewy and I made that first sour, we were setting sail in uncharted waters (at least for us).  We did the intuitive thing by making fourteen gallons and splitting it four different ways (2 x 5 gallons and 4 x 1 gallons), with different yeast combinations and dregs added.  That approach presented an opportunity to see how the most important ingredient in beer (yeast) makes its presence felt.  Now that he's made Farmer's Bitch and I've brewed Crumple Car, there will be even more variety available when blending takes place.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Senne Valley Saison Bottled

I despise bottling.  It's labor intensive, messy, time-consuming, and adds weeks to beer gratification.  However, I have to admit that I feel accomplished when it's all done and there are cases of beer capped and poised for carbonation.  The dirty hippie in me also likes the idea of letting the yeast do the carbonating instead of the CO2 tank.  Loosening a bottle cap and hearing the gush release of carbonation has its own special associations, too.

Early this past February I made Senne Valley Saison, a beer that built upon saison recipes that I've brewed in the past, and sought to simplify ingredients and processes for the best possible result.  I focused on Belgian Pilsen malt to provide the main flavor profile, and added complexity with Vienna Malt compromising a full 8% of the grist.  Noble hops and a warm fermentation (mid 70s F) with Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast brought in the desired characteristics of a saison: spicy and fruity yeast character, refreshing dryness and a light body.  When the gravity reached 1.006, I added a vial of White Labs Brettanomyces Bruxellensis.  The Brett brought the final gravity down to .999 and added the distinctive Brett aroma and flavor profile to a very small degree, making the beer just slightly funky.  The marriage between Brett and saison seems like an easy match, with many of the things you look for in a saison being accomplished by Brett in workhorse fashion.  You have to utilize the strengths in your ingredients, and Brett is good at eating every last bit of available -ose.

Senne Valley Saison
The inspiration for this methodology came directly from Green Flash's Rayon Vert which is bottle conditioned with Brett but primarily fermented with an ale yeast strain.  I bottled all five gallons last night using 1/2 cup of table sugar and a package of champagne yeast.  The yield was eighteen 22oz bottles and twelve 12 ounce bottles.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Montmorency Tart Cherry Riesling Pyment

Charles Mingus – “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Making mead is pretty simple.  As long as you have all of the ingredients available, you can brew up a mead in an hour, including sanitation and clean up.  Considering that a beer takes 5-6 hours with significantly more set up, monitoring, and cleaning, mead making is a lark by comparison.  Mead fermentation is not so simple.  You have to be comfortable waiting a long time to taste the results. It's the simplicity of ingredients and process combined with the implied asceticism of long-term patience that draws me to mead.  It's hard to make something complex and delicious using only a few ingredients, but when it works, it's particularly special.

Raw unfiltered Clover Honey 
Dan McConnell has a few different recipes featured in Ken Schramm's influential book, The Compleat Meadmaker.  He's also one of the founders of the Mazer Cup mead competition and an accomplished homebrewer.  While reading the book, I was particularly intrigued by one of Dan's recipes.  Ken reproduces Dan's recipe for Oblacinska Cherry Riesling Pyment in one of the final chapters of the book.  It turns out that Oblacinska Cherries are one of many experimental cherry hybrids being grown at Michigan State University's Agricultural Experiment Station.  Can you imagine the possibilities available to a brewer who has access to the different cherry varieties being nurtured at MSU?  For my version of the recipe, I decided to use Montmorency tart cherries and upped the quantity a bit.  I'm also using a staggered nutrient addition to nurture the fermentation along as it does its magic.  Recipe below:

I used a low heat method of incorporating the honey into the recipe, using only warm water (no direct heat) in order to preserve the aromatic qualities of the raw clover honey.  The must was created with 46 ounces of Riesling Grape Juice Concentrate mixed with the honey/water solution and topped up in the carboy to four gallons.  In order to ensure the sort of fermentation I wanted I rehydrated two packages of Lalvin D-47 wine yeast and did a 1000ml starter.  I added .5 tsp of Fermaid K and .5 tsp of diammonium phosphate (DAP) after pitching the yeast and aerated vigorously.  I plan to add an additional .5 tsp of each of the above nutrients when fermentation is halfway complete.  Roughly a month into the fermentation I'll rack the mead onto 7 lbs of Montmorency Tart Cherries and let it sit for 6 solid months before racking off the lees into a clean carboy to finish fermentation prior to bottling.  I don't even plan to bottle this mead for at least 2+ years.     

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tasting Notes: Forsythia Milk Stout

After passing the BJCP Entrance Exam and earning the (somewhat arbitrary) rank of Provisional Judge, I have a lot of practicing to do in order to get ready for the BJCP Tasting Exam.  I'm going to try and complete BJCP scoresheets more consistently for beers that I make and commercial beers that I taste and have an opportunity to evaluate conscientiously. Here goes...

Forsythia Milk Stout

I brewed this as a vehicle for Nottingham yeast experimentation in conjunction with an Irish Red Ale.  I was looking for big flavors and lower alcohol-something drinkable and satisfying with complex roasted flavor.  The roasted barley (1.5 lbs, 11% of the grist) is the star attraction and it might take itself a little too seriously.  I think I may have taken the roast too far as it tends to dominate the rest of the flavors in the beer.  I'd like there to be more balance in this beer, but it makes a huge (and positive) impression.    

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flanders Red Ale Resources

Brouwerij Bockor Flanders Red
The Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red Ale that Lewy and I brewed last November turns five months old tomorrow.  I've been reading/gathering as much information as possible about extended fermentation, aging, oak character, and blending in the hope that when the time comes to declare the beer finished, I'll have done everything possible to help it make itself special.  I've come to believe that the most important parts of the process (by far) are a willingness to be patient and a knack for forgetfulness (or perhaps distraction).  I want to meddle with the beer as little as possible, and only do the things that I know are necessary to help it along.  Since the timeline for its maturation is so much longer than most other beers that I homebrew, I have to be able to put it out of my mind and let the magic happen without me messing it up.  In addition to a few print resources (Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow; Lambic by Jean-Xavier Guinard) and excellent guidance from many of the blogs listed to the left, I've found some other useful resources online.  I thought I'd share them so that anyone else interested in brewing this amazing beer style has a starting point:

"How to Make Sour Ale: An Inquiry" by Raj Apte  -  A combination of science and personal experience written with a passion for the style and a focus on home reproduction methods.  Includes recipes.

Lambic and Wild Ale: "The Mystery of Lambic Ale" by Jacques de Keersmaecker  -  A comprehensive history and analysis of the lambic style with ingredient and technique details clarified.  Originally published in Scientific American magazine in August, 1996.

"Brewery Rodenbach: Brewing Sour Ales" by Jay Hersh  -  Presents an analysis of Rodenbach Brewery's process and technique, including information about oak aging.

BJCP Style Guidelines - 17B: Flanders Red Ale  -  The Beer Judge Certification Program's style guidelines for Flanders Red Ale.

Brettanomyces Project by Chad Yakobson  -  A doctoral dissertation by Crooked Stave's founder containing a wealth of scientific information about Brettanomyces.  

The Brewing Network - The Jamil Show: Flanders Red (mp3 download)  -  Jamil Zainashieff and John Palmer talk about brewing Flanders Red Ale at home. 

Brew Your Own - "Flanders Red" by Jeff Sparrow  -  A short but informative description of how to brew and age a Flanders Red Ale by the author of Wild Brews.  Includes three different recipes.

Great Brewers - Belgian-Style Flanders/Oud Bruin or Oud Red Ale  -  A list with descriptions of different notable Flanders Red Ales.  A good place to start considering obscure commercial examples.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rabbit's Foot Meadery - Hel clone

In Norse mythology, Hel, the daughter of Loki, is a goddess who presides over a realm populated by souls after their human death.  Rabbit's Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale, CA makes a saison-style braggot that is named for the goddess and is only available at their meadery in limited quantities for 2 months of the year.  It has the properties of a traditional saison (spiced yeast character, fruity esters from a warm fermentation, dryness) combined with significant honey for a unique product.  With a dark plum color and 10% alcohol, it has attained some legendary status along the same lines of other limited release beers.  In an episode of the Sunday Session, Mike Faul the owner/founder of Rabbit's Foot shares details about the brewing process and provides a recipe scaled to 5 gallons for homebrewers.  Part of the motivation for my latest honey purchase was to attempt this clone recipe.  All of the ingredients I ordered came in the mail today, and I'm excited to brew it later this week.  Recipe below:

Hel includes sweet orange peel, crushed coriander seed, noble hops, amber candi sugar and two different Belgian ale yeast strains along with the honey and grains.  After a single infusion mash and a standard boil, I'll add the honey as the wort cools to avoid compromising the aromatics.  I'm planning a warm fermentation with the initial Belgian Saison Ale (WY3724) yeast strain before finishing at lower temperatures with the Belgian Strong Ale (WY1388) yeast after approximately 70% of the fermentation is complete.  I'm considering the addition of oak in secondary fermentation.  When it's done, I want to bottle it petillant.  It should be the sort of beverage that changes significantly in the bottle over time.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Me? A Beer Judge...?

What's more fun than going to beer festivals?  Judging beer festivals.  The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) sets standards for beer judges, competition organizers and participants, and creates and edits the style guidelines.  From their website:

"The purpose of the Beer Judge Certification Program is to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills."

On April 1, the BJCP updated their examination process, moving to an online Beer Judge Entrance Examination as the starting point for those interested in becoming Apprentice, Recognized, Certified and beyond judges.  Basically, you have to pass the Beer Judge Entrance Examination before moving on to the Beer Judging Examination where six different beers are tasted and evaluated.  The Beer Judge Entrance examination weeds out those who are unprepared or haven't sufficiently studied and does it in a pretty intense way.  It consists of 200 questions in multiple formats (true/false, multiple choice, and multiple choice/multiple answer) covering the complete style guidelines, brewing techniques, history, and information related to beer judging and competitions.  You have one unbroken hour to answer all 200 questions.  Here are four sample questions they include in the Study Guide so you can get an idea as to how the test is organized content-wise:

True-False Example:
Düsseldorf Altbier typically has a light body and a medium carbonation level.            

True            False

Multiple-Choice-Single-Answer Example 1:
Which of the following characteristics is inappropriate for Southern English Brown Ale?

Rich, malty          Notes of plums            Medium            Moderate hop               Low
sweetness            and raisins                    body                aroma                  carbonation

Multiple-Choice-Single-Answer Example 2:
A Doppelbock typically has:

More caramel         More hop            More melanoidin        More astringency        More diacetyl
character than       aroma than          character than              than                       than
Traditional Bock    Traditional Bock     Traditional Bock        Traditional Bock        Traditional Bock

Multiple-Choice-Multiple-Answer Example:
Check all that apply. Acetic acid is perceived as having which of the following characteristics: 

-Paper             -Sherry             -Vinegar               -Sour                  -Vinous

I feel lucky to have passed and earned my "Provisional" judge status.  I wish that they provided feedback in connection to your results so that you could review missed answers afterward to see what mistakes were made, but you only get such details if you don't pass.

Beer Judge Entrance Exam Passing Certificate

The next step is sitting for and passing the Beer Judging Examination.  The next exam administration locally is on October 20, 2012, but there are already 70 people (!) on the waiting list.  If you don't take the Beer Judging Exam within a year of passing the Entrance Exam you have to retake it.  I've got my fingers crossed.