Thursday, November 26, 2015

Popular Science Interview: What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?

Here's a crazy thing that happened: the other day, I talked to Popular Science for a "What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?" series, alongside a whole roundup of people way more famous, successful, knowledgeable, and interesting than me. Nonetheless, I think my interview was pretty interesting, thanks to a fun starting premise: what weird things are you doing for Thanksgiving this year due to your particular occupation and interests. Basically, I seem to be the "fermentation guy" in this roundup of notable food folks.

You can check out the whole list of responses with that first link, and my interview right here.

In the interview, I mention a wild beer I fermented with nothing but squash. Rather than viewing squash or pumpkin as a flavoring ingredient, I thought it would be more fun to use the stuff as a source of native wild microbes. (The fermenting squash is in the header picture above). Obviously, there's a lot to delve into there, and I'll be writing more about that beer in the future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Is Farmhouse Beer? - Plus, Hoppy (Equinox) Saison Recipe

These days, I get asked this question ("what is farmhouse beer?") a lot. And by "a lot," I mean, during the occasional month in which I interact with a human being, very often that other human being asks me this question.

"Farmhouse beer" and "saison" have been used by modern brewers as somewhat interchangeable terms in the last several years, so let's start there. The confusion begins immediately, because there is no real definition of the entire "farmhouse" umbrella, and "saison" itself can be hard enough to explain. I believe most of us have come to use "farmhouse" as a broader, more encompassing term for a type of rustic beer, of which saison is a slightly narrower subset. So "farmhouse beer" has come to mean any beer emulating beers that, historically, were brewed on farms for farm workers and locals (rather than for mass distribution to a city populace), though theoretically that could be a whole bunch of things, and also BTW most farmhouse ales are no longer brewed on actual farms, or for farm workers. Obviously, this is all rather broad and unhelpful as far as building expectations as to what you're about to actually drink might taste like. In order to make "saison" somehow meaningful, we moderns have little choice but to take a broad historic brewing approach and whittle it down to something more specific. After all, farmhouse is also used outside for beer, for all sorts of vaguely rustic items. How do you define 'farmhouse' in a way that you can actually succinctly explain to someone buying your food product at a farmer's market? To me, 'farmhouse' as a descriptor has always been a bit like defining porn: you know it when you see it.

What is "saison"? Historically, saisons were simply farmhouse beers. Broad. Brewed in certain seasons, adapted to each farm and its terroir and resources, given to farm workers. But we have taken this broad swath of beer and made it highly specific, almost entirely based off of one saison that survived industrialization and went on to inform modern palates: Saison Dupont. From the diverse array of historic saisons, which were rarely defined and rarely thought of as a "style", we have molded a category of beers around an archetypal (and delicious) example: extremely dry, extremely effervescent, fermented with particular French and Belgian yeast strains for a spicy / fruity / phenolic flavor profile, and quite a bit higher in alcohol content than most historic examples likely were.

I like to break down farmhouse beer / saison into three "takes" on the "style" that have been, at some point, common.

1. Neo Saison
What happened was this: by the later half of the 20th Century, very few farmhouse breweries remained in operation, and fewer still that the average brewer or drinker could ever hope to try without a country-hopping scavenger hunt. One saison, though, still did stand, and its relative accessibility meant that it was the first (and only) example of saison that many impressionable American brewers were encountering. What happened next was fairly obvious: Americans became obsessed with this intriguing style, and having a very limited sample size to go off of, basically copied the hell out of Saison Dupont lots and lots of times. So as the saison visible enough to capture our attention and become the quintessential saison, Saison Dupont sort of reinvented what saison was. But being just one example from a previously diverse category, it very likely differs from many of those older beers in pretty big ways. Still, I've never been a stickler for a rigid adherence to styles, so ultimately, who cares? This is how evolution works, and now we have a new style, what I like to call the Neo Saison. Dupont did it early, and arguably best, but Americans have created what you could even consider a distinct sub-genre. While Saison Dupont contains up to six different yeast strains, one major difference of the Neo American Saison from any historic saison are their reliance on only one single culture. Generally, we have isolated the strongest and most desirable yeast from these classic saison examples, creating a narrower microbial ecosystem and a tighter, more streamlined realm of flavor.

2. Sour Farmhouse Ale
Lots of beer got funky and sour historically. There were a measures against this, like aggressively hopping a beer to inhibit bacteria, or simply drinking it young. But farmhouse brewing was not beholden to the rigid market demands of industrial brewing, and terroir was part of the equation. Farmhouse beer was often kept through the winter, thus offering plenty of time for microbial colonization and terraforming — and anyway, those farmhouse yeast cultures were likely a mix of funky stuff in the first place. Farmhouse Ales notes that many European saisons closely resembled lambic, which makes sense. Blending was common. Tartness was an expected characteristic, and as the beers aged with the seasons, a bloom of funk would emerge. Rustic was the name of the game, and arguably this tradition evolved into some of the beautiful sour beers that have survived into today. Everything about these funky, terroirist farmhouse ales was bucolic was f***.

3. Hoppy Farmhouse Beer
Historic farmhouse brewers had a yeast culture — their yeast culture. Like a sourdough culture, these farmhouse brewing cultures were passed down through time, evolving and accumulating identity, and gave every farm's beer its uniqueness. As mentioned above, historic farmhouse ales often turned tart and funky over time. If you didn't want that to happen, one option was to create an aggressively hopped beer — the hops inhibiting the bacteria, and slowing down or preventing sourness from developing.

Hoppy saisons today are not particularly common (in my region, at least), which is interesting, considering how much we like our hops, and inserting them into any and all styles. To be honest, I find hoppy saisons (and their spiritual cousin, the Belgian IPA) can be a very difficult beer to properly balance, and I don't always love the results. An overly aggressive yeast character can become very cloying when paired with hops, highlighting bitterness in some unflattering way. Any sort of sweetness — more commonly found in a Belgian IPA than a hoppy saison, I would hope — and you have three of my least favorite qualities in a beer, and one where too many loud notes are fighting to be heard.

To work, I think a hoppy saison needs to go soft on most of those potentially-abrasive qualities. First, you need a quieter yeast strain, one that plays nice with other elements of the beer. If your saison yeast gets too phenolic, it'll clash. And whatever hops you're using, avoid bitterness as much as possible. The bittering addition, if any at all, should be a splash. Focus on the flavor and aromatics so that the hops can work their nuances in there without banging around, demanding attention. Finally, for the love of god: keep your saisons dry. Stick to a simple, clean malt bill. Take any caramel malt you might find laying around your brewery out back, douse it in gasoline, light it on fire, dig a ditch, shovel the remains into the ditch, and fill the ditch with concrete. Then move somewhere else, because your property might now be haunted by caramel malt.

Considering how hard it is to define farmhouse ales at all, there may only be one practical quality we can point to: they're beers brewed to be dry and refreshing, above all else. But if you can accomplish that, you can brew a great farmhouse ale.

Hoppy Equinox Saison Homebrew Recipe-

5.0 Gal., All Grain
Ambient free-rise fermentation, avg. 82 F
OG: 1.042
FG: 1.004
ABV: 5%

100% [#7.25] Pilsner malt

Hop Schedule-
2 oz Equinox @0 (whirlpool for 40 minutes)
3 oz Equinox @dry hop

Here are some saison cultures I like: French Saison, Saison II, Wallonian Farmhouse

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New Hats, Plus Restocked Hoodies

Hello! It's me again, Derek. You may remember me from the other week, when I was guiltily addressing the fact that I have not written very many blog posts recently, and wondering what I should write about next. Well, I'm working on that! In fact, I hope to have a couple new blog posts very soon.

In the meantime, I'm happy to reveal that I have a new product in my webstore: hats! Yes, I took the "mash paddle pentagram" from my most popular t-shirt design, and had it transmogrified into hat form. Now you can take this very clever idea — again, mash paddles that form a pentagram — and put it on your head! Your head, being the most visible part of your body, will allow a maximum number of people to observe this new garment and its design which you have personally selected.

In addition to those hats, I have also restocked most of the t-shirt designs, as well as the "Black Metal Brett" hoodies. It is very soon going to be winter and thus a hoodie would be a very good idea, especially a hoodie as grim as this one.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has ordered my dumb merchandise so far! I greatly appreciate it. And I apologize for those times when it takes me a week or two to mail things out. Sometimes I can't keep up. Would anyone like to buy my webstore and t-shirt designs? You'd probably be much better at this than me. Urban Outfitters? You guys interested? Hot Topic? Old Navy?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Should I Write About On This Blog Thing Next?

Photo courtesy of Fuj.


My name is Derek. You may remember me as the guy who used to blog here on about farmhouse ales and Brettanomyces and juicy IPAs, sharing my experiences via long, rambling posts jam packed full of questionable information, dumb jokes, and unprovoked existentialism.

I have not posted all that terribly much this year, which I feel very bad about. Sorry about that! At this point, I still don't want to make any promises about hitting a certain time frame during which I'll be able to blog again regularly. As it turns out, after spending the vast majority of my time making beer, it's very hard to muster the energy to then spend my few remaining free minutes further thinking and writing about beer! As anyone could guess, at that point, all my brain really encourages me to do is pour myself a nice tall glass of bourbon, throw on a movie, and question every decision I've ever made in my life. So who knows if I'll ever be able to post again as often as during those blissful days past as a care-free homebrewer with all the time and energy in the world, but I do not plan to ever give up on the blog, and am always pondering and considering and brainstorming what I can write about next.

On the plus side, I am now done with all significant writing work on The Fermented Man, which should still be on track for release next spring / summer. Get excited! It's going to be real great! In fact, I can all but promise that The Fermented Man will be your new favorite book about a person living entirely off of fermented food for a year. But seriously, I'm really happy (and immensely relieved) by how well it came out, and I will hopefully be sharing more specific details very soon.

In preparation for hopefully being able to write a few more blog posts on a semi-regular-ish basis, maybe, eventually, at some point, I would like to first humbly ask what you all might be curious to read about?

I can of course continue to think of the usual dumb ideas that I tend to think of, and will even go so far as to share some of the possible future dumb ideas I have thought of for future blog posts, so you can tell me if you would particularly like to read about any of them. But if there is something that you are curious about — related to homebrewing, commercial brewing, running a brewery, starting a brewery, farmhouse brewery peculiarities, hiking up mountains, the inexorable nature of life, etc.  — I am more than happy to address them.

First, though, here are some things I've been wanting to write about, but have not posted about yet. Some of these I may post about very soon; others will be discarded as pretty stupid ideas. Some of these are half-written posts in my draft folder; others I have not yet attempted to write at all. Just to give you an idea of some of the things that may be coming along soon, if I can muster the energy:

- Imperial Maple Stout - Tasting Notes

- Sour Black Ales - Tasting Notes

- 5 Methods for Spontaneously Fermenting Beer with Wild Microbes

- Where Am I? What Is This Place? What Year Is It?

- Kettle Souring vs. Mixed Culture Fermentation - My Thoughts On the Greatest Controversy of the Modern Age

- Do We Overestimate the Time Brettanomyces Needs to Complete Fermentation?

- A Day in the Life of a Modern Farmhouse Brewery

- Hazy IPAs and the New Wave of Extra Pulp Hop Juice - Addressing the Greatest Controversy of the Modern Age

- How Can You Objectively Know If Your Beer is Any Good?

- Something Else About Yeast Cultures, Or Possibly Barrel Aging, I Guess?

- What Is It Like to Transition From Homebrewing (5 Gallon Batches) into Large-Scale Commercial Brewing (1000 Gallons at a Time)?

- How Does One Maintain a Healthy Dating and Social Life When Trapped On a Remote Farm Working Absurd Hours? (Please, I'm Begging You, Someone Tell Me)

- 5 Pros and Cons of Commercial Brewing vs. Homebrewing

- The IBU Arms Race is Over, and That Pleases and Sparkles with Me

- Beer Hype - Some Reflections on the Greatest Controversy of the Modern Age

- My Experiences Developing the Beer Lineup for a New Brewery

- Is the Era of Flagship Beers and Core Lineups Over?

- Thinking About Opening Your Own Brewery? Just Pause For a Second - Have You Considered the Bottled Water Business, Instead? Or Perhaps Becoming a Hedge Fund Manager? I Have Friends Who Do Graphic Design, and That Seems Like A Really Nice Thing To Do For a Living

Please leave your suggestions and desires now so that I may continue to stall for another week or two before having to do any real work. Hit me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Is Gose Suddenly the Hottest Style in Craft Beer?

Watching trends can be disorientingly weird when you're deep on the inside of them. Craft beer is now so many levels down the "hyper-niche" rabbit hole that we can have little explosions of importance within the community that are, I would guess, pretty much invisible to the outside world.

Any niche hobby or interest works this way, of course. What can seem entirely played-out to us, the weirdo beer nerd (or weirdo nerd of whatever interest), is still barely scratching the surface of general public awareness. Remember when, once upon a time, there was pretty much one main huge trend in craft beer: IPA? And IPA created enough buzz in the world at large that soon even outsiders had at least heard of the stuff, even if they hated them. Maybe they couldn't tell you what an IPA was, specifically, or what made it so, but lots of people, all over, had heard the term a bunch. But now we're pretty far into this whole craft beer thing, and within a niche, trends become fractal, smaller, more honed in on their audience, and practically invisible to the world at large. Does a random bar-goer with only a passing interest in beer know what an IPA is? They can probably lay down a reasonably-accurate definition. Could they tell you about gose? I'm guessing not. And yet gose has seen such a surge in this world, it's easy to look at yet another brewery producing yet another gose and think: "Great, just ride that bandwagon like you're in Fast & the Furious." Hell, the New York Times just did a piece on gose. It's out there, even if it's only out there as "this is a niche thing for beer nerds."

Modern beer strikes me as a lot like music, in some of the ways it flows culturally. (I maintain that arguing about who's really 'craft'' is the new arguing about who's really 'punk'). Something almost has to get played out to the point of craziness within its original circles before the outside world even hears about it. As someone who listens to indie-folk, you have to be really, really sick of Of Monsters & Men before your mom calls you up and asks if you've heard about this new band and their novel "hey! ho!" vocals.

So now we're in this peculiar situation where lots of breweries are turning out gose, to the point where it may seem to us that every brewery is suddenly making one, but most people will have no idea what this hot new style of gose is (or how to even pronounce gose). Overnight, we're going from hardly any options (when I first heard about the style four years ago, I could only manage to track down one example at all) to, now, I don't know, a reasonable number of options. I'm not alone in noticing this, of course: I've seen Ed Coffey call summer 2015 the "Summer of Gose", and Bart Watson over at the Brewer's Association called out the style's explosive surge in a recent article analyzing "The Next IPA," which we seem to be searching eternally for.

This is where the education side of the industry comes in. Sometimes, we're going to blow things up real fast and have to help the general public catch up to what we're doing. Gose seems to have happened quicker than most. Still, despite a few vocal online haters of gose, I don't think it's any great mystery as to why the style has seen such an upswing.

What is gose? It's a tart wheat beer from German similar to Berliner Weisse, which experienced the same popularity upswing here a few years earlier. Why did Berliner Weisse get suddenly popular? Because sour is so hot right now, there's a huge demand for such beers, but unlike other sour styles, Berliner Weisse can be made quickly, in a standard production timeline. It gives the consumer what they want within the boundaries of what most normal breweries can fulfill. Gose does all those same things, but gose has one major difference from Berliner Weisse, being brewed with salt. That may seem a very slight difference if everything else were the same, but it turns out to be a pretty big difference in flavor. (Some also include coriander in their gose, but I personally don't consider this addition to be integral to the style, and usually leave it out. I'll have to defer to a beer historian like Ron Pattinson to settle how historically ubiquitous this tactic was).

And I wonder if gose isn't just somewhat attention-grabbing in its uniqueness, helping to bounce it up the Styles of Interest list faster than usual. What other beers are brewed with salt, anyway? Historically, this was done simply because the water of Goslar, Germany, where the style originated, was especially saline. Lots of historic styles derive their personality from the water they were brewed with — how that town's water supply inspired or mandated a certain direction of the beer — but gose is more overt than most. A softness of the water in Pilsen doesn't really scream for attention, and drinkers might enjoy the balance and roast of a Guinness without having any clue as to how and why water chemistry made those beers work. But add enough salt to a beer's brewing liquid, and you'll taste it, and know what you're tasting. Gose makes a great case for how one simple addition can really set the shape of a beer into something new and different.

Some may recoil at the thought of putting salt in something that's already sour and kind of funky — people that don't like gose complain that it's like drinking sweat, but I would argue that if you've ever drank sweat, you have bad taste and do not deserve gose. Adding salt to beer makes sense, if you think about it; salt is a flavor enhancer. Much of water treatment, to me, is about bringing forth the brightest and most expressive flavors in a beer, allowing you to take a very simple recipe and light-footed beer, and accentuate its most interesting, nuanced qualities. Gose goes a little further, dialing up the salt to a level where you're actually aware of its presence. That's fairly unique, but still: salt is a flavor enhancer. (It's also a preservative, which, interestingly to me, makes gose perhaps the closest beer style to lacto-vegetable ferments). So not only does it highlight all the nuanced flavors of a simple sour beer, but it adds its own unique dimension, a new quality of flavor. It's refreshing. It makes you salivate. It makes a less complicated beer a bit more complex.

And it makes for a great foundation for many other flavors, as salt and acidity naturally do. Fruit is even better in a gose than in a Berliner Weisse, though both of course work well to draw out the succulent refreshing qualities of the juice. Or throw some zest in there. Or how about dry-hops? Aromatic hops are great over a sour, but why spend all that time aging some mixed-culture sour in a barrel, only to spike it with an ingredient that's best consumed fresh? Dry-hops add a great deal of complexity to a simpler sour character, and from a brewer's perspective, can be turned around almost as if it were any other hoppy beer. Hence why Alternate World, Kent Fall's dry-hopped gose, is able to be one of our core beers.

Gose gets you sour. It's culinary, it's got unique dimensions, it's versatile, it's pairable. I would guess that IPAs are so popular because so many harmonious, distinct flavors can be extracted from hops without drastically changing the foundation of the beer. IPAs can be highly refreshing (depending on the take) and juicy while offering significant variety. Gose offers that same foundation: an accessible, affordable foundation for the sour beer craze. As experimenters, we love sturdy foundations with which to start. We love beers that refresh in their simplicity. That is why we love gose.

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