There’s beer in my food!
I wanted to do a post about my most recently finished beer, a robust porter which is based off of a pretty famous recipe on homebrewtalk.com's forums, which I have been told I didn't screw up. But I felt like that would be a little dry (the article, not the beer), and since I haven't posted in months I figured I would do something more substantial. Here's what you should know about the beer:
-I used a technique I found in Gordon Strong’s book Brewing Better Beer which interested me, in which you keep the dark grains out of the main mash until the very end, or even the sparge, in order to reduce the level of harsh, undesirable bitterness, and to keep the pH a little higher when doing very dark beers.
-I left out the roast barley, because according to BJCP style too much roast barley character is one of the major characteristics that differentiate a stout and a porter.
-I brewed a big dark beer to drink in the summertime because I am weird.
It turned out really rich like Bun B became from working the streets of Port Arthur, TX; big bodied like Pimp C likes his Benzes; and blah blah blah black blah blah head. In all seriousness this is one of the best beers I’ve ever made.
Most recipes I found using dark beer to cook with involved baked goods, which seems logical. The style is typically flavorful, bitter and sometimes chocolaty or roasty, which can be used to replace some of the liquid ingredients in chocolate cakes or breads. I wanted to make a meal that is hearty enough to live up to the rich, complex beer I made, which ideally would also be a good pairing.
My first instinct was a beef stew or pot pie, but I decided to do my favorite version of that type of peasant dish, shepherd’s pie, which admittedly is just stew with mashed potatoes on top. I don’t know why I crave these things during this time of year. I just do.
I modified a recipe I found from Rachael Ray, which I do not recommend following entirely closely. OK so I guess I like modifying recipes. I changed 2 major things:
1.) I made mashed potatoes according to my own recipe, also I did not have any sour cream.
2.) Instead of doing a “30-minute” version with ground beef or lamb, I got stew meat and braised it in a total of about 1 pint of my porter for 1 hour.
I used frozen peas (sue me) and fresh carrots, and near the end of the braise a lot of the brew had boiled down so I added about 1/3 cup of beef broth. Rachael recommends you cook the carrots for like 4 minutes or something but that will not get them soft, so I braised them for about 30 minutes with the beef. They soaked up a ton of flavor and got all mushy and stew-y. You could probably braise the beef for 2-3 hours if you had the time. While I braised I prepped the mashed potatoes (2 large russets, skinned, cut into 1/2” chunks, boiled for 12 minutes and mashed with just a little too much butter, milk and salt) and watched a man try to blow up a tree stump on Alaska: the Last Frontier on Discovery Channel.
When your meat is cooked real nice and good like, prep the simple gravy, which will appear lighter than it should because of the flour, but when you add it to the roast meat and beer (which has deglazed the pan and gotten every ounce of awesome flavor off) it darkens up to the appropriate shade.
Dollop with spoonfuls of mash and try to get little peaks to form, which will brown up and get crispy under the broiler. I broiled for about 6 minutes. Next time I would like to shred sharp white cheddar Cracker Barrel cheese over the top of it before this step.
Then I almost swallowed my fork.
Next time I would like to have a crusty dinner roll to mop up the gravy at the end. This really turned out exactly how I wanted it. Braising left the tough, stringy chunks of stew meat moist and tender, like a pot roast that had been cooking all day. The beer itself has this crazy chocolate/espresso in the aroma and taste, which distilled down in the meat and gave it a complex character almost like it was braised in red wine. The gravy was just thick enough to stick to everything, but not clumpy or bland. Because I never had to drain off the grease from the meat, and the beer deglased the pan for me, every bit of sauce was extremely flavorful. I have to say, I can’t think of a sturdier companion to such a robust homebrew. The recipe made enough for about 4 servings. The beer made 5 gallons, or about 6 games of Risk with your buddies. The people on Alaska: the Last Frontier named their two turkeys Christmas and Thanksgiving.
I made a pink… Thing
Due to the unique combination of my proximity to the equator and the properties of matter (warm air rising to my second floor apartment) as a brewer I face 2 predicaments:
- I have to lug everything I buy up stairs
- It gets really hot
The exercise bothers me much less than the prospect of my fermentations taking place in less than optimal conditions, and I have been told many times that controlling temperature is one of the biggest steps you can take to making good beer at home.
Depending on your yeast, this temperature range can be anywhere from 45-50F for lagers all the way up past 90F for some funkier saison strains. For most of the ale yeasts available to the homebrewer, the most desirable range is between 60-70F. Lower temps tend to mean slower fermentations (do you work quickly when you’re uncomfortably cold?) but cleaner overall flavor profiles due to the less aggressive output of undesirable flavor compounds. Warmer temperatures usually mean higher attenuation (what percentage of the available, fermentable sugars the yeast ends up actually eating) but these warm temps are like a sauna for the yeast, which causes them to “sweat” off more volatile flavor compounds including “fruity” esters which, depending on style, can be desirable or unwanted.
The key takeaway here is that as a brewer, you
want need to be able to dial this in more closely to ensure quality and replicability of recipes. A lot of homebrewers can do this in their cellars or basements, which sit at a fairly stable, tight temperature range year round, which happens to be really close to the temps ales love, and coincidentally is probably the reason primitive man figured out how to consistently make beer so long before refrigeration.
A lot of brewers solve this problem by buying an old mini-fridge or chest freezer and connecting it to a temperature controller. This is a very efficient, cheap way of controlling your temps, but requires a lot of checking craigslist for the fridges, driving trucks places and lugging things up more stairs. The total cost after acquiring the controller unit can actually be kind of high. I heard about a really cool way of treating this problem that seemed like a fun project and a step above the “swamp cooler method” (placing your fermenter of choice in a tub of water, a towel draped over it to wick the water up which cools due to evaporation and can keep a beer around 5-10F cooler than ambient temps, but is kind of unsanitary and imprecise.)
Then I made a pink thing.
Alright if you are reading this blog you probably read the last couple posts too, so I already talked about this thing. This is where I talk about it some more. This is referred to as the “Son of Fermentation Chamber” or S.O.F. for short. I found the plans on a homebrewing website, and was intrigued by the design.
Hey Justin, how does it work?
Glad you asked. You should probably be more curious about why someone would want this thing in their house. I wish the insulation foam came in different colors (or at least like that reflective chrome kind, or something, gosh) so we are stuck with this pink/purple color. What you do is, you buy 1 sheet of this 2” thick insulation foam and cut it into measured pieces that form a box. It gets glued together with your favorite construction adhesive, but make sure it is not solvent-y like super glue. Liquid nails is recommended, but certain types of epoxy will actually dissolve the foam. The key to the design is that it’s not just a box, it is a box with a chamber.
Ok I’m sorry these pictures suck, not a lot of light gets inside this thing (also great for brewing, beer and light are not friends.) The back part of the box is a specially designed chamber that has a 20mm computer fan which I gutted from my PC, a divider that is open at the bottom, and a vent back into the main chamber at the top of the other side. The fan is connected to a cheap thermostat (it must be a hot/cold one, the heat only thermostats must be modified to work for this, basically tricking them into working backwards.) which kicks on when the temp goes above a certain point, forcing air through one side of the chamber, downwards, through the gap in the divider, up and out the other side. I should say the jury is out as to whether the fan should go in or out, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. In the chambers you put frozen bottles of water, so when the fan kicks on it circulates air over these which chills, and is forced out into the main chamber colder and colder.
I didn’t get too carried away with making the wiring pretty, but the cool thing about the foam is that you can channel out enough space between the joints to easily hide the wires, or even just run a bead of caulk over them as you’re sealing the edges. The box needs to be as airtight as possible so weatherstripping is put in where the lid and front piece come apart, and I used a thick bead of waterproof caulk around all the inside edges. Waterproof in case of blown airlocks and for the condensation I will talk about in a minute.
The front and top are detachable for easy access (try lifting 5 gallons of beer up over and over again) but the front one usually stays attached as long as possible, I only take it off to check the stick-on aquarium style thermometer on the fermenter. See my previous post on the difference between the air temps and the actual beer temp due to heat from the active yeast. The detachable parts are held in place with pieces of dowel rod (pictured) and I added a temperature probe to the inside so I can check the current air temp inside any time I want without having to open it and let warm air in. The awesome thing about this design is that by opening the top, you are not letting out too much cold air since it sits at the bottom of the chamber and does not want to get out like it would if it was warm.
As you can see, this thing is ugly. Part of the reason is because it is not easy to cut this material. If you’ve never worked with the stuff, it is like super dense styrofoam. Despite my puppy eyes, the guy at the Home Depot™ would not cut it for me. Actually serrated blades are not great for this stuff, you just end up with a lot of dust everywhere, and chunks. It has some “grain” to it and is designed to be snapped in half vertically. I had to cut it in the parking lot to fit it in the car, so I drew lines and began to make successively deeper and deeper cuts with a razor blade boxcutter. It did not get very deep on the first cut, but after pushing it through 10-12 times it was over halfway through the thickness and could be snapped fairly cleanly by carefully bending.
Becoming impatient resulted in somewhat uneven edges. You will want to sand them anyways so the glue will stick better. If I could go back and do it again, I would take toothpicks and insert them into the leading edges before gluing, so the pieces would be held together while the glue dries. I sort of had to just…sit there waiting about 10 minutes on each seam before the glue was firm enough to hold on its own. The whole unit is very light, but it needs plenty of liquid nails to stay together.
Placing the dowel holes was difficult, and I would probably do this differently the second time around too. I used a large drill bit and pushed it through by hand, just barely widening the holes to accomodate the dowels. They need to be tight enough to keep the dowels in place, but wide enough to be able to remove the pegs easily. The updated plans recommended some brass grommets on either side of each hole to maintain the integrity of the foam from inserting and removing the pegs, which works great. My problem was the holes came out inconsistent, as the drill bit occasionally tore a chunk out of the foam. This made it hard for the grommets to even stay. I think I would like to try heating up the drill bit with a torch until it would simply melt through the foam, which would give a much more perfect hole, and melting it would make it more resistant to wear. The key with placement is that you want to put weatherstripping on the bottom of the “front” piece, then push it down tightly from the top and push a sharpie or pen through the holes in the frame to mark where the corresponding hole should be. This ensures that when the pegs are in place, the piece is forced slightly downward to ensure a good seal. Do the same thing with the top piece, then when they are in place, remove one or the other and draw lines where the inner weatherstripping should be. Lay that down just a bit above that line so that when the lid is fully down, it pushes against the weatherstripping for an airtight seal. The better your seal the longer the jugs of ice last before replacing.
Especially in humid climates like Savannah, the ice jugs tend to have a lot of condensation. It would be fairly easy to install a kind of drip tray or tube system in the bottom of the chamber (before placing the center baffle) to drain this. I just fold up some paper towels, place them below the jugs and when I change them out, I pull out the paper towels and wring them out. The chambers are caulked so I don’t worry too much about leaking.
Another cool modification I read about would be a fairly simple wiring job (if I understood this stuff, which I aim to learn soon) would be to wire a small LED to the thermostat circuit so that whenever the fan was on, you could see visually with the indicator light without opening it. This is more for your own understanding of the effectiveness of the unit, and to think about how much voltage you are using per day. This varies, of course, day to day, with room temperature. The insulation is R-10, which is pretty good, (I said R-8 in the last blog post about this, my apologies to those offended) but no material is a perfect insulator. Some people will build this into a workbench or existing structure, surrounding it with plywood or metal, which would of course make it even better of an insulator.
This was a really cool project because I already had most of the parts, and it really works great, keeping the beer consistently within a few degrees of your set range.
In the bucket is 4.5 gallons I.P.A., 12# 2-row 1/2# crystal 60 1/2#wheat malt, 3 oz centennial hops bittering 3 oz centennial hops aroma, mashed at 152, 1.5 tsp gypsum in 5 gallons. Thanks to Mike G. for bringing over a spare lauter tun and helping with the sparge. I’m a little worried because gravity readings were odd, were way too low and did not change from pre to post boil, but it is bubbling pretty good so I’m sure it will be beer-esque. Most of what I make has been!
Took the racks out of my fridge for this?…
There comes a time in every homebrewer’s life when bottling is too much of a pain. Clean, delabel, sanitize, fill and cap 50 bottles every time you want to finish off a brew? To top that off, you can’t even drink it for weeks! Against my better penny-pinching ways, I decided this weekend to invest in the next level: a keg. Yes it’s huge. Yes it was expensive. Yes I have a 7 lb 800 PSI CO2 cylinder in my fridge where my bacon should be (I promise there is food just outside the frame) Yes I am inevitably inviting more oh-so original methlab comparisons. This was an exciting venture to say the least, and I am happy with my new toy. How else could I be drinking the holiday ale I just pulled out of primary 2 days ago?
Ok yeah this thing is huge. In case you were wondering, what I have got my hands on is a repurposed “ball-lock” style 5-gallon soda syrup keg, primarily used by pepsi-co (“ball-lock” refers to the mechanism by which the quick-disconnects attach to the gas and liquid posts, by way of spring-loaded ball bearings.) It’s a little dinged up and I’m not sure how old it is, but it holds a seal pretty well. I understand why people get a separate fridge/chest freezer for these things. I don’t have that luxury, so sorry various meats and cheeses, scoot over for a while.
I have a magazine about kegging as well as my online resources, but nothing quite prepared me for the maintenance, operation and care of this thing. I need to invest in some 3/8 extra deep socket heads to take the gas posts off. I bought some designed for spark plugs but they weren’t big or deep enough (xmas is coming!) This setup needs to be cleaned, sanitized and maintained, o-rings need to be lubed and the whole system is vulnerable to gas leaks, which you check for by spraying connections with soapy water to see if bubbles form.
Take any keg like this, make sure it holds a seal, and connect it to any CO2 source (most commonly a 5lb cylinder, refillable at places that fill welding supplies and various gas, also paintball places) and crank up the pressure to the desired amount. Then either wait a week or two (with the beer nice and cold for maximum absorption) or crank the pressure even higher and shake it around like a madman for as long as your arms will alow you to “force carbonate” for a quicker process. This is still a lot of new stuff to me, so I am having an interesting time dialing in the pressure and seeing the results.
The beer I put in the keg was my second attempt at a spiced holiday “old ale” with British malt, yeast and hops. The first got bottled even though it had an extremely sour taste. I first attributed this to dried orange peels (from the mulling spices) being left in the fermenter, however given the taste of the second attempt I am not sure whether that is the case, or if I have an infection on my hands. This wasn’t what I was shooting for, but what I got was a beer with spiced undertones and aroma, with a tart flavor fighting (and winning) against a malty biscuity backbone. this is really a somewhat strange beer, not altogether unenjoyable, but definitely not what I envisioned in September when I brewed the first ill-fated batch. I am eager to let some more experienced homebrewers taste this and tell me what they think happened.
10 lbs Maris Otter pale English malt
.5 lb Crystal 60L
.5 lb Chocolate malt
1 lb wheat malt (I have started adding this to every brew to boost mouthfeel, head retention and overall gravity)
2 oz Bullion (7.9% AA) @60 min
1 oz English Kent Goldings (5%AA) @10 min
.5 oz Mulling spices (store bought, consisted of orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and star anise) @5 min
.5 tsp yeast nutrient and Irish moss @ 15 min
I based this recipe off of some really basic “old ale” or “holiday ale” style recipes from various sources, with a few slight changes for availability locally. I shot for a single infusion mash of 151F, but due to cheap thermometer and human error, floundered in the 140-145 range for probably about 10 minutes before getting back up. OG ended up with 1.069, pitched 2 packets of dry Safale s-04 (british ale) yeast and fermented at 65-68F for 4 weeks before kegging, finished at 1.010.
Things I like: Excellent head retention, best I’ve ever had. I attribute this in part to the keg, and the way it sprays the beer into the glass. This one has a long lasting tan foam with fine bubbles that seriously sticks around forever. The beer is pretty nice looking, and if you can get past the tartness, there is a lot of subtle cinnamon, allspice and clove in the background. I could probably pass it off as a sour pumpkin strong ale? I don’t know.
That s**t I don’t like: Sour. Still having trouble getting the carbonation right. Kind of looks like guiness when you first pour it.
I am going to be taking a look at my sanitation procedures to figure out if I am getting an infection somewhere down the line, and will not be brewing this one a third time. Now I just gotta figure out how to get it into growlers for thanksgiving… (picture me driving home from the store with this keg strapped into the seatbelt in the passenger seat. Now imagine if the keg was full.)
Science (sort of!)
I read about and was inspired to build my own “Son of Fermentation" chiller when I got tired of searching for cheap minifridges on Craigslist. I have read numerous accounts that temperature control is one of the most important things you can lock down in your brewing process, and wanted a cheap, interesting way to accomplish this that I didn’t have to lug up a flight of stairs. This is a chest built out of 2" insulation foam found at your favorite construction supply outlet, into which I wired a basic thermostat and computer fan, so that when the temperature gets over a certain range, the fan kicks on and channels air around jugs of frozen water, lowering the ambient temp. It is basically a step above a "swamp cooler" or tub of ice water with a towel draped over your carboy to wick moisture up, cooling through evaporation. As you can imagine, the "swamp cooler" is stupid, gross and imprecise. So I built this.
I plan on doing a whole post on the construction of the chiller, but allow me to jump ahead of myself and share my scientific findings with you. Immediately after building this ugly purple hunk of environmentally questionable something or other, I wanted to test how well I had weatherproofed it, and also the effectiveness of the foam which lists an insulation r-value of 8. I tried to research what r-value means, and may attempt to do some math on this front later, but for now let’s just assume it means it would take at least 8 kittens to scratch through this material.
The unit is sealed on all except 2 panels, which are seated into weatherstripping I did my best to make uniform, but due to the difficult nature of cutting the foam, and things settling after the glue dries etc., I was not sure if the construction was sealed well enough to efficiently hold in the cool air. Switching out the ice jugs is a pain, and the act of freezing them probably takes up more electricity than the little 12v fan inside the unit.
For this experiment I attached an indoor-outdoor probe thermometer to the inside of the unit, so I could take readings without opening the box and letting the air out, and wanted a thermometer with a memory that could remember minimum/maximum temps. This would be the most important measurement of the experiment.
I brewed a batch of Black I.P.A. (which will also be its own blog post, so for now recipe 1 part black 2 parts I.P.A.) and added a packet of Safale US-05 American style dry ale yeast. The carboy was affixed with a sticker-type aquarium style thermometer to take separate readings of the wort temp.
After brewing, I got the wort down to 75F in the chiller then pitched yeast. I replaced the Ice jugs (2 1 gallon jugs, 1 in each “chamber” of the back half of the unit) and set the temperature on the thermostat to 60F. Every morning (about 24 hours apart) I took a reading of the min/max temps, and beer temp, then replaced the ice jugs with fresh ones. Temps were reset in the memory of the thermometer, and the chest was not disturbed in any way between readings. At day 5, I determined the thermostat needed to be turned up a few degrees, so it was gradually raised to 64, then 66 on day 8. After 9 days, I made a mistake in reading the temps and decided to end the experiment due to data integrity.
Fig 1.1, 9 days of temp readings, adjusted based on thermostat set temp.
Throughout the experiment I noticed that the stick-on thermometer on the carboy was typically reading higher than the ambient temperature of the unit. I wanted to represent this visually, which is the green line on the graph. In this representation, 0 is the baseline temp (60 for days 1-5, 64 for 6-8, 66 for day 9) and the beer was always at least 2 degrees warmer. When yeast are active they produce alcohol, CO2, and heat. In the most active days of fermentation (day 1-5) so much heat was put off that the beer stayed between 4-8 degrees higher than the ambient temp, decreasing as fermentation activity slowed. The heat from fermentation was so prolific that you can see it pretty much directly correlates to the min/max temps (that is to say, the heat from 5 gallons of beer was enough to put a pretty big strain on the chiller) and as the beer temps dropped, so did the min/max temps.
I’m still trying to remember how to do standard deviations and P-values, but as far as I can gather the data seems interesting (i-value of hmm…) if nothing else.
The S.o.F. chiller seems to be pretty effective at what it does, although the high range of temps would probably exclude it from bottom-fermenting lager beers. My findings seem to agree with what I have read about the tremendous amount of heat given off by the beer itself during the height of fermentation. On average the beer was 4.2F hotter than the thermostat temperature. I would advise those with temperature control fermentation chambers to adjust temps according to the stage of fermentation you’re at, since the beginning can be much hotter than the later phases (this beer was so active that on day 2 it blew out the airlock, and high krausen probably didn’t die down until around day 8). It wouldn’t hurt to set your temps about 5F lower at the start of fermentation, and slowly close in on the actual target fermentation temps (unless you have an industrial glycol chilling unit, in which case why are you reading this?) The yeast are very active at the beginning of fermentation, and if they heat themselves up too much (stupid yeast…) they will start to barf out ugly byproducts like fusel alcohols and esthers which you might not be shooting for depending on style.
Cigar City Brewing - 2 Tastings
This weekend I had the privilege (thanks to Keith of Green Truck Pub) of trying 2 of Cigar City Brewing’s (located in Tampa, FL) darker brews, although I wasn’t quite in time for the nice fall weather that usually makes me crave opaque brews. The first was a unique side-by-side tasting of this year and last year’s batches of Marshal Zhukov’s imperial stout, a hefty imperial stout that CCB puts out each summer. Named after, you guessed it, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, famed general who led the red army to the liberation of the Soviet Union in WWII.
From Left to right: 2011, 2012
These were a real treat to try side by side, and a great way to see how a higher gravity brew (11% ABV) can mature with time. In this example, the fresher batch was a great, mellow, full bodied stout with all the staples — chocolate, coffee, caramel. The malt follows up with huge molasses flavor, and surprising spicy hops at the end. This is a beer that keeps your interest the whole way through.
The aged example, from 2011, was like this beer’s cooler older brother that would be fun at parties but might crash on the couch for a few days too long afterwards. It was so well-developed, and the first impression i got was the bigger aroma from the aged version. Tons of chocolate, which is impressive because I haven’t been able to find anything that states it is brewed with cocoa nibs or any kind of chocolate. Big espresso and chocolate stick in your nose, and the picture shows you the thicker, darker head which sticks around longer. This beer was as thick as the molasses that overwhelms the palate when you drink it. it was noticeably thicker than the younger counterpart (the word “quaffable” was thrown about to describe the 2012 in comparison) so this was a true sipper. Both hide the booziness surprisingly well. Overall, both were exceptional, but it’s clear the 2011 has gained some complexity in the last year (and haven’t we all?)
Number two was a rarer beer by CCB, part of a series of 2 collaborations with Swamp Head brewing. In continuance with the history/WWII theme, the 2 Florida breweries wanted to make a beer each in honor of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, each being named after the inspiration. However apparently the estate of the late Winston Churchill were not OK with his image/name hocking yankee beer (even though it’s an English-style barleywine) so the name and label were changed. (roosevelt’s people apparently didn’t care.)
Winston’s face was replaced with a cognac barrel with a smiley face (paired with a quote I think I liked even more than the beer:)
For Winston’s beer, CCB put together a huge English style barleywine (13%) and aged it in cognac barrels. This beer looks and tastes like a huge, sweet raisin. The aroma and taste are utterly dominated by sweetness and fruit. The sweetness hides the alcohol pretty well, but I didn’t pick up the cognac/barrel aged flavor much. It was hard to get anything past the raisin smell/taste. It is not a pretty beer, but it gets the job done, much like its (former) namesake. This is a one-off from CCB/Swamp Head, so if you get ahold of a bottle, I would suggest aging it a year or so. If the cognac comes out in this, I imagine you could enjoy it with a nice cigar while the germans bomb the hell out of your city.
Rye Saison (Rye in Your Eye)
This is one of my 2 homebrews that took a ribbon at this year’s Summer Suds in Savannah competition, my rye saison. It took a respectable 3rd in its category, belgian specialty (16e) which apparently was pretty competitive, since this beer received an average score of 43/50 from the judges. I threw it together specifically to enter in the contest, and actually pulled it off the yeast cake a few weeks earlier than i normally like to because the deadline was coming up and i got procrastination-y with starting it. The recipe was inspired by one i found online that took best in show on homebrewtalk.com's 2011 contest.
Here’s the recipe:
Color: 18 SRM
Fermentables: 65% Belgian Pils, 23% Rye malt, 9% CaraPils, and 3% Candi syrup (homemade, I will do a post about this soon)
Which came out as: 7 lbs 3 lbs 1 lb .25 lbs (math is probably off, don’t bother)
Hops: 1 oz Styrian Goldings bittering addition @60 min, 1 oz French Strisselspalt hops flavor addition @15 min. Dry hopped for 7 days after fermentation complete with 1 oz Strisselspalt.
Single infusion mash, 152F, 60 min, with batch sparge 1.8 q/l. Ended up with 4.5 gallons of wort.
Pitched Wyeast smack pack activator (prepared into a 1L starter) of WLP3711 (French Saison) and fermented for 3 weeks at room temperature (this was my last brew before temperature control, but with a “swamp cooler” design i was able to keep it between about 65-75 depending on time of day.)
I have been wrestling with a somewhat odd problem on a few of my last beers, which is visible chunks of suspended matter in otherwise clear beer. I have narrowed it down to a few culprits, which i am trying to fix, but one problem in particular i had with this batch is the crud that seems to be clinging to the side of the bottles (pictured.)
If you spin the bottle around a bit the stuff comes dislodged (for the most part) and it is in every single bottle of this brew, and not only that but it is only on one side of each bottle. In my last beer i chalked the suspended “chunks” (ew) to protein matter left over from hops which i accidentally had to leave in after the boil (dumped the whole boil kettle into the fermenter because of problems with siphon tubes and strainers) but this batch was as clean as any going in. I did not do a protein rest on this beer, nor do i skim any kind of break material during the boil. It’s mostly a personal thing, you have to look really closely at the bottle or glass of beer to even notice them, but they bother me, so I am trying to alleviate this.
I think faster chilling will improve this (giving cold break material time to accumulate is said to cause similar symptoms) and I’m going to start adding protein rests (around 120-130F) during my mash schedules from now on to see if it makes a difference too. Ok right, now on to the beer. I’m going to use the review sheets from the competition because now that I have read them I can’t really think of anything else good to say.
Aroma: “Fruity spicy aroma with pils malt background, spice and phenol notes arise as it warms. Faint hop aromas ad to perception and complexity.” “Slightly sour/astringent. Apple cider. Not quite vinegar, but on the acidic side.” Yeah, they were pretty spot on here.
Appearance: “Deep gold color, poured a velvety head that has sustained. Clarity is bright.” “3.5 on color scale(?) fairly light and golden with a thin head that dissipates quickly, moderate lacing." This one kind of threw me, a recurring problem with my beers that I am also trying to fix is head retention. I am not sure if the brush i clean my glasses with is greasy, or if it’s my beers, but they always have the same "soda pop" type of head that explodes in big bubbles and goes away about 3 seconds after you pour the beer.
Flavor: “Phenol spice jump out then give way to a pils malt backbone. Bitterness quite good for sweetness. Grand(?) balance, subtle hop flavor sneaks in to add complexity.” “Nice surprise following aroma, only mild tartness. Overall nice balance with yeast funk and (very) mild hop additions. Herbal/blackberry notes are subtle, but rich." This was my favorite part, because they made me realize my beer tastes like blackberries! It totally does. I think I could write a whole post about the psychological implications of the power of suggestion, but it tastes like i could’ve put blackberries in this. In fact if I brew this again I am almost definitely going to add blackberries in secondary. The other problem I have with this brew (which they didn’t seem to) is that I feel the rye "peppery-ness" is overwhelming at the end. Like it gives me a slight heartburn feeling going down. But hey, what do I know?
Mouthfeel: “Medium body, crisp, refreshing, hint of astringency works well.” “Thin, bubbly, with perfect carbonation. Some light coating with quick dissipation. Spot on for overall flavor." Another area I was a little worried about, but I think the carbonation hits home.
Overall I am proud of this beer. Judge #2 checked the little box marked “professional brewer” so I am definitely pumped about getting feedback from him, too. The contest was a great experience for me, and I can’t wait to enter this beer into another one to compare the notes, and to have the beer judged when it is a little more mature. If you like saisons, 3711 gives a great flavor profile all over the board on temperature, and isn’t temperamental like some other saison yeasts. Definitely a solid, all-around drinkable brew.