Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Perils (and Triumphs) of Experimentation

When you're standing at the edge of discovery, staring into the abyss, it's hard to take that step away from the known and familiar.  When you put yourself out there you risk failure and disappointment when things don't work out, but stand to gain knowledge and a sense of satisfaction if you innovate successfully.  I've had  homebrewing experiences in the last month that have fallen on both sides of the spectrum.

The Bad

In mid-July I brewed side-by-side experimental saisons.  Antagonist Dark Saison had dates and molasses added, and Protagonist Cucumber Saison got dosed with (you guessed it) cucumber in secondary.  Neither beer came out the way I hoped.  Truthfully, neither one was palatable in the least.  In the course of brewing over 100 different beers during the past decade, I've only dumped two as completely undrinkable.  Both of the saisons I made found their way down the drain last night, an experience that's disheartening.

Protagonist Cucumber Saison down the drain.
I added too much molasses and dates to the Dark Saison, making the taste harsh and overly sweet at the same time.  With the Cucumber Saison, I left the cucumbers in secondary too long, making the cucumber flavor overpoweringly intense.  Both beers ended up with the their respective intended complementary flavors dominating.  I learned something in the process but the lesson was painful.

The Good

Preparing to blend.
Lewy and I started out almost a year ago with the intention of making a delicious Flanders Red Ale and learning something about blending. The idea of making and learning about sour beers was the catalyst for the birth of this blog.  Our first sour batch was made collaboratively, and since then we've made many other sour beers and dregs beers, all of which have added perspective and experience to our brewing.  This past weekend we met at Lewy's house for our first attempt at blending.  With 25 gallons of Flanders Red to work with, we shrugged off intimidation and immersed ourselves in the process, ending up with (what we think are) amazing final products.

Here are the beers we had for blending:
  1. Farmer's Bitch (Lewy's) - Flanders Red with Roselaire and various dregs added.  Sour and funky but also some prominent fruit notes.  Beautiful red color.
  2. Farmer's Daughter (Lewy's) - Beautifully clear and deep dark red.  Mouth-puckeringly tart and delicious.  Roselaire yeast.
  3. Flanders Base (Lewy's) - Flanders Red brewed with WLP001 as a blending base.  Somewhat oxygenated but some desirable fruit flavors.
  4. Crumple Car (Mine) - Different recipe than Farmer's Daughter.  Medium toast American oak cubes added.  Slight sourness and big funk.  Off red in color.
  5. Farmer's Daughter (Mine) - Part of the 10 gallon batch brewed with Lewy.  Roselaire yeast and 10 pounds of crushed cabernet grapes made this fruit-intense and slightly funky/acidic.
After trying different combinations we were blown away by Blend 7:

Farmer’s Bitch
1.5 Parts
Farmer’s Daughter (Lewy’s)
1.25 Parts
Flanders Base
1 Part
Crumple Car
.7 Parts
Farmer’s Daughter (Mine)
1.5 Parts

The finished beer had a beautiful fruit nose with a hint of the funkiness that you would expect in a Flanders.  It tasted tart enough to be refreshing but still retained plenty of the complexity that you get from bug fermentation.  The flavor was smooth and complicated, the color a clean even red.

Lewy and I split the ten gallons that we netted and are each going to crash cool the beer and bottle or keg it as we see fit.  We made two additional blends (one each) based on our own taste preferences and will get those ready to serve, as well.  

**Check out Lewy's excellent (and more detailed) write-up on the entire experience for a clearer picture of the process.


  1. Nice write-up. It makes me sad looking at that first picture.

    It was a great time blending the beers, now comes the hard part. The wait.

  2. Why dump those beers when it sounded like you could blend them. (since you now have experience). Overpowering of flavors are the easiest thing to blend out, the only reason I'll dump beer is for off flavors.

    It sounds like you could have soured your Dark Saison. (Actually I did this last year with mine and its now one of my favorite batches.) The harshness might have been tough to blend out, but some oak aging might have paid off.

    The Cucumber I would have just brewed the same beer again without the cucumber and blend.

    But I'm cheap and probably don't dump beer when I should.

    And great stuff on the Flanders Red blending. I need to try these beers.

    1. I thought long and hard about whether the saisons were salvageable. I don't know if I could see the dark saison finding a place in a blend, but that may just be my inexperience. It certainly had more potential for reuse than the cucumber one, which just sort of got gross with decomposing cucumber. At least I won't make the same mistake twice.

  3. Great set of beers to blend with! Sounds like you came up with a really good blend. Have you bottled or kegged and tried it yet? Mine took for ever to come together in the bottle. Like 3 it's tasting good, although not as much depth as I'd like.

    Sounds like that Dark Saison could've used some age, but, just depends on if you have excessive fermentation space, and lots of patience like I do. I'd love to see that recipe and learn from it as our club is about to fill up some barrels and theirs been talk of a Dark Saison (which I've never attempted)

    Cuc beer, just sounds wrong to me...but that's just me!

    1. Lewy's beers really added the depth of flavor, I think. But it was nice to have so many different beers to work with. I've bottled both of the blends and have tasted each one, and they are really beautiful (but still uncarbonated). Lewy kegged some of his and put it on nitro (!) and the results are apparently unreal, though I haven't tasted it yet.

      In regards to the dark saison, I was writing the blog post while dumping the cucumber saison and actually never got around to pouring the dark saison down the drain. I fully had every intention of doing so, but after reading Jeff's and your comments, I think I'll let it sit for as long as I can afford the space. It's funny how we rush to judgement. I think maybe the reality of the finished beer was such a departure from my expectations that I resigned myself to failure. As usual, I'm not particularly patient...

      You can find the dark saison recipe if you look in my recipe section. If I was to make it again, I'd reduce the amount of dates by a significant amount (or maybe even omit them altogether). I really liked the base recipe, so let me know how it goes if you get around to brewing it.

  4. Nitro...hmmm that does sound interesting.

    My Dark Saison (un-soured version) came together at about 6 months, so it give some time and then have others taste it. (I will volunteer) You can then see if it is a total waste.

    Dank - I also have done a couple Dark Saisons - Last year's with a big emphasis on dark fruit - and then this year's was just brewed and I need to write about it still. But it is 30% rye and I cold steeped the chocolate rye (that stuff is delish) - so I'll update that soon.

  5. Danny,

    I choose not to do the Nitro on the Blend #7 that we both liked best. I really want to bottle most of the beers with the beergun which nitro doesn't allow. So with that said, I will be nitro'ing the leftover flanders that we had, it's only 3 gallons.

    My blend #4 is now in the bottle for 4 weeks and it is really slow to carb up with the active champagne yeast in it, so I am trying to forget it for now.


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