Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blended Farmhouse Technique - Fermenting Brett and Saccharomyces Separately Before Blending

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Farmhouse Ale
Brewed: 6.02.14
Bottled On: 7.10.14
ABV: 6.5%

50% Saison + 50% Brett C:
Appearance: pale straw yellow, thick head, lingering foam, good retention
Smell: citrus, orange, grass, soft spice, meadow, yeast, mild clove / pepper
Taste: zesty citrus, orange, lemongrass, soft spice, yeast, dry fruit, low bitterness
Mouthfeel: high carb, velvety nouthfeel, light body, dry, clean finish

50% Saison + 50% Brett Trois:
Appearance: pale straw yellow, huge fluffy head, lingering foam, good retention
Smell: grass, spice, meadow, citrus, orange, perfume, pear, mild clove
Taste: zesty citrus, soft fruit, orange, pear, spice, yeast, low bitterness
Mouthfeel: high carb, creamy mouthfeel, impression of body, dry, clean finish

What's the primary difference between most serious homebrewers and most professional breweries? There's the equipment and scale, sure, but regardless of your system, the goal is just to produce good beer. And that can be done at any size, so long as a few basic factors are met. But the perhaps the most significant difference is operational: most professional brewers are brewing a lot; a couple times a week, or maybe even around the clock. If not brewing exactly, then there's someone in the brewhouse, doing... something. Most homebrewers brew a few times a month, maybe. They have limited fermentation space, and knock out one batch at a time. In general terms, it's just the difference between a hobby and a job, but in practical terms, it means a professional brewer can, theoretically, do more things with more beers.

As a homebrewer, it can be very hard to get into blending. The variety of batches, the number of fermentors, the time involved — the opportunities for blending don't always present themselves, and require some planning. Of course, those elaborate blends that we mostly think of when we think of blending — geueze blenders taking shares from an entire cellar worth of barrels — are perhaps beyond the scope of what would be a sensible amount of effort for most of us. Sour blends from even just a handful of beers require a reasonably deep pipeline.

But lately I've been wondering: what about more straightforward, head-to-head blends? Maybe it's misleading to call this blending at all; it's more... pairing two beers, uniting separate, established flavors, and seeing how they split the difference. It's not a novel idea, to be sure; my inspiration was simply all the times I've seen discussion of using English and American yeast side-by-side. Two complimentary strains, each doing their own thing in their own way... and then combined. Why not?

Of course, to me, this experiment seemed particularly appealing with the complimentary profiles of a saison yeast and a Brettanomyces strain. Not that there's anything wrong with the usual methods of fermenting a Brett saison, and I've found that pitching both Saccharomyces and a small dose of Brettanomyces at the same time can get you a beer that's fermented out in a very reasonable time-frame — a month or so — and still has a nice, mellow Brett character. So why ferment them separate and then blend? It's not like 100% Brett-fermented beers are funkier, as we know. But they are, nonetheless, distinct. I often find myself mostly loving the unique weird funky fruit essence of a new Brett strain, but just not super into throwing back pint after pint of it. Brett strains sometimes have a hard time creating a desirable mouthfeel and body in a beer, so where the flavor and aroma may even be super appealing, they still drink like something weirder than they truly are.

I went with Wyeast 3711 French Saison for the "straight saison" portion of this batch, because it's such a monster attenuator (meaning, I figured, the batch could be done faster if there wasn't much gravity for either side of the split to munch on), and because 3711 is known to create a slick, full-bodied mouthfeel despite the lack of residual sugars. The idea being that even if Brett didn't create much mouthfeel, the other half of the blend will help to boost it — each split, hopefully, complimenting the other. French Saison can get a bit spicier than I prefer, on the other hand. I do like my saisons rounded off and balanced either by some fruity Brett funk (which literally reduces the sharper saison character by consuming some of the other yeast's by-products) or some acidity, or both. The saisons I most enjoy find a way to balance that farmhouse character without losing its complicated essence. Here, instead of letting Brett chew on the esters and phenols like a scavenger, the idea was to blend the character down, cut it with the more fruity Brett fermentation. My friend and I did some proportion tasting before we actually blended, but for simplicity, we ended up going with an even split of 50% Brett and 50% saison into each final blend.

The results are promising, though not yet what I would call a unqualified success. My conclusion, for now, is that you'll have to really select the right strains in order for this technique to set itself apart. Proportions of the blend will make a big difference, as would the timing of when you blend — things we weren't really able to fiddle with due to the aforementioned challenges of the homebrew scale. And I guess that all goes without saying; this was just a very basic demo of a concept. Worst case scenario, here, you have a beer that just kind of tastes like a standard farmhouse ale.

Trois fared the poorest of the two blends I tried, but I think my particular stock of that is getting on in age, as the base beer didn't have the depth of explosive juicy character I've come to expect from it. The blend that came out is totally overshadowed by the saison yeast, with its coarser, slightly spicy yeast-notes more apparent than I'd like, and a finish that's very much like a typical saison. It's still a really nice saison, dry and highly drinkable with some intriguing and complex fruit stuff going on in the background, but there's not quite enough different about it to be worth the effort.

Brett C held up better in the blend, as that strain (quickly becoming one of my favorites for versatile 100% Brett batches) leaves a succulent tropical orange flavor and drinks almost as clean and smooth as a 'normal' Saccharomyces beer on its own. Blended, it cut down a bit more on the forward 3711 notes, added some more complexity, and actually managed to taste like it brought something new into the beer. 

The merits of this technique, or some variation of this technique, will come down to whether or not it can produce a beer that's unique and distinct from those made with more conventional fermentation and blending methods. With a whole barrel room full of various farmhouse and Brett beers, you could combine them in any way you wish until something tastes fantastic. But for most, that's not an option. I'll try a few more simple experiments with this blended farmhouse / Brett technique in the future, because I do think something very exciting could come out of it with very little extra effort or resources. Simply using different strains may make all the difference: I actually think I'd use something other than 3711 French Saison for this, because it is too dominant in the resulting beer, and doesn't seem to give the Brett as much to work with afterwards as I would have thought. I've always been a fan of White Labs Saison II, and would like to try this again using that strain. The Brett strain (or strains) used obviously make just as much of a difference, so that presents dozens more opportunities for experimentation, as well. Finally, even the timeline of blending should have a significant impact. I brewed this at my friend Phil's house, since he's got one of those 'basement' things that come in so useful for carboy storage, but the result was that we didn't get to blend the beers as early as I would have liked — it was over a month after fermentation until they were united. Had we blended, say, a week or two into the fermentation, when the yeast were still actively doing their thing, the finished character may have been a more seamless merger, with Brett having had more time to reduce phenols and round off the beer before fermentation ceased.

As always, there's plenty more work to be done. For #Science.

Brewed 6.02.2014
Mashed at 150 degrees for 60 minutes
Fermented at basement temp, 75 - 80 F
OG: 1.053
FG: 1.003
ABV: 6.5%

78% [#8] Pilsner malt
9.8% [#1] flaked oats
9.8% [#1] rye malt
2.4% [4 oz] rye malt

Hop Schedule-
0.5 oz Nugget @60 min
0.5 oz Nugget @10 min
2 oz Cascade dry hop for 6 days

Wyeast 3711 French Saison [Split #1]
Brett C [Split #2]
Brett Trois [Spit #3]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Perfecting Already-Good Recipes and Rebalancing IPAs - Experiences with London Ale III in American IPAs

Imperial IPA with London Ale III

Beer: Morgan Horse DIPA
Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Imperial IPA
Brewed: 7.7.14
Kegged On: 7.31.14
ABV: 8%

Appearance: pale golden orange, hazy, ample head, good retention
Smell: grapefruit, citrus, peach, soft mellon fruit, dank, pine
Taste: zesty grapefruit, orange, citrus, soft peach, melon, pine, mild finishing bitterness
Mouthfeel: light body, medium carbonation, soft, crisp finish

You know when you have a goal in mind that you probably couldn't fully describe to anyone but a few of your imaginary friends (they're the only ones that get you, anyway) — you just know that you'll know when you get there? In previous years, I couldn't describe exactly why my IPAs kept falling short of what I wanted them to be. I just knew there was something else I wanted them to be. No matter how good I felt about them after a solid brew-day, or as they went through fermentation, a week or two after bottling, some slight disappointment would creep in. Maybe they were getting closer, but they weren't where I wanted them to be. And I wasn't even sure how to describe where I wanted them!

After much work and brainstorming and espionage, I think now I might be there — or at least, past the point where subsequent refinements will be almost unnoticeable to anyone less anal retentive than myself. I may not have the Ark of the Covenant in my personal possession per se, but at least, at last, I found the convoy of Nazis trying to make off with it, and I'm even reasonably confident I'm riding on the roof of the very truck they have the Ark inside. #metaphors

I don't think anything is ever beyond improvement, believe me. I'm not talking about perfection yet, not by a long shot — ie, a level of purity defying any further improvement. In this case, I'm just talking about meeting certain expectations. Expectations that, a year ago, I wasn't sure I'd ever meet. I was looking to get my IPAs to a certain level, make them drink a certain way, with a certain flavor profile, and not completely dive off a cliff after the first two weeks. Having a very good feeling about this batch from the start, I waited for my first pull off the keg until I was sure the beer would be properly conditioned, resisting the urge to sneak early tastes. I'm glad I did. With that first glass, I had one of those rare moments where, in spite of my overwhelmingly cynical nature compelling me to constantly be disappointed in everything, I found I had hit my goals. After a couple of sips, I burst out laughing.

Of course, I've been pretty happy with all my IPAs this year, to the point where most of the time I'd rather have one of my own than something from the average bar or bottle shop. If that sounds super snobby, or this whole post already sounds pretentious, consider that homebrewers have an advantage in catering things to their specific preferences, not to mention the advantage of freshness (provided you can drink the whole batch fast enough). Realistically, the improvements in these beers have been fairly incremental from batch to batch, and Morgan Horse IPA, an 8% just-imperial using Simcoe and Amarillo with a dash of Columbus, might just be me getting all the small things right, all at once. The batch previous to this (which I never wrote up, so I'm kind of lumping into this post) was pretty close to the best IPA I've brewed previous to this one, though it used hops I enjoy more: Mosaic, Galaxy and Amarillo. I loved the Azacca IPA I did in the spring, also enjoyed the Shrunken Heady I did, and the year's first IPA was also tasty as hell. My IPAs have been getting consistently better with almost every batch. Such a trackable progression gives me a lot of confidence. So what have I been changing?

The first big change I made to my process may still be the most important thing differentiating all these IPAs from previous batches. I started kegging, and immediately fixed up a rather elaborate set-up to better emulate the process a brewery would have. The beer gets transferred into a secondary keg fitted with two stainless steel filter screens over the dip-tube to prevent it from clogging. I'll usually do a first-stage dry-hopping at the end of fermentation in the primary, then transfer to the initial keg about a week and a half after brew-day. The second-stage dry-hops go into this keg, loose (the filters over the dip tube are much more effective than trying to constrain the hops themselves) for about five days. After five days, I'll cold crash in my keezer for another day or two, then do a keg-to-keg transfer into a serving keg. Perhaps I could just drink the beer off the first keg, but I like that this roughly emulates what a brewery would do (very few breweries would package their beers with the hops still in there, and my goal was to go at this from the same playing field). Theoretically, also, this gives me the chance to use the dry-hopping keg as a brite tank and clear the beer a bit more, though they've still been pretty hazy for the first couple weeks. (I used gelatin to clear my IPAs a few times, which helped. Then I sort of forgot about it).

Another recent change I've been trying out: English yeast strains for American IPAs. Conan was my go-to for the last two years, but it's a finicky strain to work with, and up until very recently there was no good source for the yeast other than culturing it up from cans of Heady Topper (itself quite difficult to obtain on a regular basis). Following lead after lead as I chased the secret of the great new-wave IPAs, I heard from a couple sources that one of my favorite Green Mountain state brewers was using the Boddington's strain, which is supposed to be London Ale III. And after hearing this same speculation a number of times, I had to give it a try. WWSHD?

Using English yeast strains in American IPAs isn't a totally novel idea — plenty of awesome breweries are doing it (Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, Tired Hands, Cigar City, Three Floyds, Surly, Firestone Walker, Stone), and enough of them are brewing IPAs I love that I figured there must be something to it. While I prefer most styles of beer on the dry side, I also like my IPAs to be soft and silky and elegant, in contrast to the usual bitterness-focused West Coast model of the last decade. The logic behind the choices of these brewers makes sense: an English yeast strain might not attenuate as highly, but attenuation can be worked around, and careful management of the yeast will allow for a mild base of fruity esters to accentuate the brightness of the hops, soften the palate, and give an impression of balance without going overboard on the malts.

It especially makes sense when you're going for an IPA that drinks smoother and softer than the usual. I've been calling this ideal profile in my head the "Rebalanced IPA." I hate dividing up styles into sub-styles always, but there are enough breweries out there brewing this new profile of hoppy beer that I think it's worth considering that it may be a novel and separate approach, utilizing new techniques and a new way of looking at the structure that holds an IPA together. The Rebalanced IPA is as distinct to me, at least, as the old East Coast vs. West Coast IPA concepts.

Anyway, London Ale III seems to help with that balance. It also achieves the sort of saturated, soft mouthfeel I've been wanting for my IPAs. But then again, when it's cooperating, so does Conan. Similar somewhat, different somewhat, probably both with their pro's and con's. LAIII is a huge top-cropper, with a krausen persisting on every one of my brews for days after fermentation was over. Despite that, it starts up very quickly, very aggressively, and attenuates well enough. I've been nudging the temperature higher each time, against my original instinct to ferment in the mid-60's — I'm now thinking it likes it around 68 F, maybe even 70 F. But I'll keep playing around, of course. And soon, very soon hopefully, I'd like to do side-by-side batches with London Ale III and Conan. Gotta keep it scientific!

Finally, the mysterious world of water treatment. Undoubtedly hugely important! My take on this too has been evolving dramatically. But water gets so complicated, and to me, somewhat cryptic, perhaps it's an analysis left for vague unpacking some other time. I will say, for now, that a great place to start is deciding whether you agree with Vinnie Cilurzo's tips for brewing better IPAs. That classic treatment is great for a particular breed of IPA, but I'm fairly sure that a lot of the IPA brewers that I prefer are not, regardless of their starting mineral content, just dumping in some gypsum and calling it a day.

5.5 Gal., All Grain
Mashed at 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Fermented at 68 F
OG: 1.073
FG: 1.012
ABV: 8%

76.5% [11#] 2-row malt
7% [1#] white wheat malt
7% [1#] Cara-Pils
3.5% [8 oz] Golden Naked Oats
5.2% [12 oz] corn sugar

Hop Schedule-
1 oz CTZ @FWH
2 oz Amarillo hop stand for 45 minutes
2 oz Simcoe hop stand for 45 minutes
1 oz CTZ hop stand for 45 minutes
1 oz Amarillo dry hop for 5 days [primary]
2 oz Simcoe dry hop for 5 days [primary]
1 oz Amarillo dry hop for 5 days [secondary keg]
2 oz Simcoe dry hop for 5 days [secondary keg]

Wyeast London Ale III

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Seeking Your 100% Brett Strain Experiences for a New Bear Flavored Guide

Hello! You may remember me from such previous Bear Flavored Guides as "Bear Flavored's Complete Guide to Hop Varieties," and "How Many Hop Varieties Are in the Best IPAs? - A Statistical Analysis." Usually, I accomplish these extensive and exhaustively-researched guides through dedication to my inherently anti-social nature and days of avoiding tasks that would be far more practical uses of my time. For the last year or so, I have been thinking that I need to put together a Guide to Brett Strain Characteristics in 100% Brett Fermentations. As more and more unique strains hit the market from an increasingly varied number of sources (which is another story I'm working on, as it happens), it will grow exponentially harder to keep track of them all. It already is pretty hard to keep track of them all, honestly, in no small part because the nomenclature for Brettanomyces strains is a mess, and the language to describe their weird qualities is just entering the beer conversation.

So I've been passively working on this guide for some time now, and have at this point brewed 100% Brett beers with a lot of the strains that are more-or-less commonly available. Because there are literally thousands of Brettanomyces strains floating around out there, this guide will for now focus only on strains that are available in some widespread capacity, ranging from the regular White Labs / Wyeast strains, to offerings from newer / smaller yeast labs as they arise, down to those isolated by homebrewers such as Dmitri of BKYeast which have found fairly widespread use in both the homebrewing and commercial brewing world, and are thus theoretically obtainable for the average brewer. It's going to be difficult to draw a line between the various "hobbyiest" isolated strains, and I'll try to at least reference as many sources of Brett strains as I can, but any strain so underground that it can only be obtained by standing in front of a mirror and chanting "Brettanomyces!" three times in succession while describing a pentagram with bloodfire is definitely right out.

Now, there's simply no way I could personally ever get to brewing with every Brettanomyces strain out there; nor could I ever claim to have a completely accurate, representative assessment of how each strain works based on whatever limited experience I may have had with it in one beer. (It's not like I've brewed a single hop beer with every variety on my hop guide list, either.) And beyond that, my own experiences often cause me to doubt information online that sounded pretty established — White Lab's Trois is said to be the same strain, rebranded, as the popular Brett Drei, but my own experience with each version leads me to question this. Maybe I just caught a weird mutation of one of them — which is why having more references is important. Without collecting more experience(s), I'm left to merely speculate.

So with this project, I'm asking for backup. Want to contribute your experiences to a guide that likely tens of billions of humans will read for countless millenia to come? Help me supplement my own experiences by sharing your own. As I said, I'm looking to chronicle the attributes of any Brett strain that has at least some recurring availability to homebrewers. Aroma, flavor, overall impressions, favorable styles, attenuation, length of fermentation, flocculation, super powers bestowed, and really, any other impressions notable or useful. Flavor descriptions tend to be all over the map for these kinds of beers, which is a large part of the reason I want to get some different opinions in here other than my own. The ultimate take-away for each may be: what would you brew with it, and why? Hit me up in the comments (or over email, if you prefer.) If you want to simply link to a post you already wrote, that's good too. And of course, citations will be provided in the eventual guide that I publish myself, with heartfelt thanks to all who contribute.

So, hopefully this sounds like a good idea to everyone, and thanks in advance for your help and support. Cheers to a future of exciting Brett strains and accessible documentation. Maybe even eventually they'll have less confusing names.

And, in related news, my Brett IPA that I brewed with the gentlemen at Bacchus Restaurant in New Paltz, NY, is getting tapped tomorrow (Friday, July 11) at 7 pm. If you happen to be in the area, stop by and have a drink with me, pick up a sweet Brettanomyces-themed t-shirt, or we can just high five. Cool.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why We Should Take Beer Styles Less Seriously

Random photo of beer of indeterminable style.

Get ready for some more opinion-based rambling, folks. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Bear Flavored Ales' Board of Directors.

I suspect this article may make a lot of people want to throw beer bottles at me. Or I don't know — maybe this is actually a common feeling that we just don't talk about much. The Brewer's Association recently released a massive overhaul of its Beer Style Guidelines for 2014, and it's encouraging to see recognition of rapidly-growing categories of beer, but many entries nonetheless make me think that the effort is largely a shell game. Certainly beer styles do get argued about a lot — wars have been fought over the black IPA; drinkers shruggingly accepting that session IPA is a tad different from a boring old pale ale — but generally, we all seem to be working under the assumption of there being a sacred realm of 'classic and traditional' styles that everyone, thank god, can at least agree on. There's the stable ground of history, and then there's these whacky new styles like 'Brett IPA' and "imperial black rye coffee Kolsch" that are just some nonsense the kids are pulling out of their baggy pants at dubstep concerts with which to spike their Red Bull. 

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the concept of beer styles. Sometimes life needs simplicity and guideposts. We need styles, and we like to argue about styles; I just think we often place far too much emphasis on them. Especially from a consumer standpoint, it's very important to have at least a broad guideline, a rough sketch of what I'm going to drink. It doesn't have to be a classic style; it can be a little blurb, a few descriptive words. (For example: I love how much info Modern Times manages to convey on their cans despite a very minimalist design.) When I pick up a bottle and there's no style or description at all, nothing but a cute name and a government warning, I become so annoyed that I will almost never buy that beer. Give me at least an idea of what the beer is — however you want to do that. That's what styles are for: guidelines, shorthand, a marker to let you know how close you are to town. And as long as we're not taking things too seriously, I think it mostly works out.

Lately — and maybe this is just because I happen to be on a binge of historical-brewing literature — I feel like the concept of "brewing to style" is being chipped away at from both the past and the future. There's going to be some unexpected benefit to the genre of IPA spawning a thousand spin-offs, in my opinion. The names might sound silly, but ideally, hopefully, it'll help to enforce the idea that styles are not immutable and handed down from the Heavens on stone tablets: they're coined after the fact, to classify something that looks like it'll be sticking around long enough to need a name.

The thing is, styles and beers change. Everything changes. In fact, I would go as far as to say that most beer styles as we think of them today did not exist 150 years ago. A brewer from the mid 1800's would probably be at a loss, trying to enter a modern BJCP-sanctioned contest. Classic and traditional? Sure, depending when you want to set the start date.

Think about it: around the end of the 1900's, within a couple decades' time, a great many things happened all at once. There was a sweeping overhaul of fermentation procedure thanks to the work of Pasteur. Two World Wars happened, drastically affecting the availability of ingredients and the taxation system imposed upon European and English breweries. Gravities dropped, processes changed. Lager-mania shifted a new generation's tastes, right when mass industrialization was becoming easier than ever. Oh, and let's not forget, there was that whole Prohibition horseshit. American brewing was perhaps the hardest hit by these few turbulent decades, but the rich historical traditions of English and European brewing were drastically affected as well, something that modern drinkers rarely seem to recognize when touting the legacy of international brewers.

I'll pick one specific example, saison, because I was just leafing through Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski again. Something struck me: Farmhouse Ales was released in 2004, following a period where the saison style could have been considered on the verge of extinction. Not so long after that book came out (and this was probably not a coincidence), the style exploded onto the American scene. In 2014, only ten years later, I would say that saisons are one of craft beer's darlings, a style that a significant percentage of breweries brew on a regular basis. As of this writing, there are over 3,000 saisons logged on more than twice as many as any other Belgian style. That's crazy! I had to look multiple times at those numbers to make sure I wasn't losing my mind — how could saisons be twice as common as witbiers, dubbels and tripels? But it seems to be so, perhaps because the style is generally viewed as loose in its guidelines, historically and conceptually open-ended.

But given all that, the vast majority of saisons being brewed today are pale, moderately hopped, highly carbonated, frequently spiced, and fermented exclusively with a Saccharomyces "saison strain." Perhaps no beer defines the modern saison better than Saison Dupont — I mean really defines, in that Saison Dupont, just one example of European saison, seems to have formed the baseline for the entire modern vision of what a saison should be. But Dupont was only one farmhouse ale, one that happened to survive the difficult first half the century with its integrity in-tact, and remain available enough that American drinkers could discover it when they were ready for it. Historically, there were many different farmhouse beers, and they varied quite a lot. Farmhouse Ales describe most as probably being a bit more amber in color due to historic malting techniques, and being either aggressively hopped or distinctly sour. More sour, depending on age, and sometimes blended with lambic, or even spontaneously fermented. Carbonation, before bottling became the norm, was probably low. Alcohol levels were also much lower, because farmhouse ale was largely brewed as sustenance for farmhands working the fields.

In fact, the primary common thread between historic and contemporary saisons is the reliance on a highly-attenuative yeast strains to result in a low terminal gravity; saisons, whatever else they are, should be dry and refreshing. But what started out as a style closely related to lambic is now almost universally fermented by a culture of brewer's yeast, and usually packs a heavy ABV punch. That these strains have been isolated from European saison brewers gives them credibility, but isn't going to match what historic saisons once were. Even allowing for the fact that saisons were varied and open-ended, the general loss of some of their most widespread qualities in modern examples sounds to me like we've basically redefined the baseline of what the style is, to a degree that would cause uproar if done with, say, an American gueuze.

Though it's not on the sour spectrum and its funk is not too extreme, even Saison Dupont still contains a mix of microbes — White Labs found as many 5 different cultures, and other brewers I have talked to (who have done their own culturing) report the same findings. One strain within the Dupont culture seems to lend the vast majority of the character to the beer, however, so this is strain was selected as the "Dupont strain." But does an ecosystem really function the same way when seemingly-vestigial organisms are dropped?

For as fettishistic as brewers are about the purity of other styles, the use of the term 'lambic' or the blasphemy of calling something a 'Black IPA,' I find it little funny that this reincarnation of the saison slipped through without judgement. Especially when Farmhouse Ales probably inspired it, though the book goes to great lengths describing the beer as very different from how most of us are brewing it.

I don't want to sound like I'm just pooping on American saisons (though I would definitely like to start seeing much weirder, funkier, tartier saisons), because it's a style that I (mostly) love regardless of how it's interpreted. To be clear, this is an issue of semantics, not quality. If you brew a monoculture-fermented, moderately hopped, highly carbonated golden ale and call it a saison, you're not doing anything wrong. It is a saison. That's my whole point: we changed what the style it is. Styles are the Matrix, and we are all Neo, #MINDBLOWN #INCEPTIONSOUND

So back to my overall point of brewing to style: how much can it mean when we keep changing what those very styles are? You could run through this whole thing with almost any 'historic' style. Last year I went through this with India Pale Ale: historic IPA, [contemporary] English IPA, and American IPA are all three pretty different things, which makes the sudden proliferation of IPA sub-styles seem a little less ridiculous. I mean, still a little ridiculous in terms of marketing and bandwagoning, but slightly less so.

Everything has basically been tried by someone before and yet everything is new and ever-changing. I'll leave it to future generations to argue about what to call their THC-infused quintuple IPA brewed by a matrix of self-pitching nano-yeast, growler-filtered via cross-secting dubstep vibrational frequencies. I will yell at them to get off my lawn and continue listening to Led Zeppelin.

Taste trumps semantics. I just want my beer to be weird and interesting and tasty and refreshing.

.... Okay, maybe all I'm really saying here is, if I ever have kids, I want them to grow up having very strong opinions about the microbial content of saisons.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Announcing the First-Ever Commercially Available Bear Flavored Ale, July 11

Hello, readers of and inhabitants of the internet. I'm happy to announce that if you are interested in trying a certified Bear Flavored Ale, you now have your first chance to do so (unless you know me in real life or have previously robbed my apartment.) I realize that most of you do not live in the Hudson Valley, but for those that aren't too far away, or enjoy traveling long distances for unfamiliar and untested beer: let's party.

On Friday, July 11th, Bacchus Restaurant in New Paltz, NY, will be tapping the first keg of a batch of Bear Flavored Brett IPA, based on my recipe in the May / June issue of BYO Magazine (the full article hasn't been posted online yet.) I brewed this beer with Mike and Jason back in May on their 3 bbl system, so there'll be a few kegs of it that will pop up probably in the following week or so, if you miss the initial release. But on the 11th, we will be tapping at least one 15 gallon keg, so I figured, why not invite everyone to join in? I'll probably bring a few other assorted Bear Flavored beers from my archives to share as well.

Stop by, say hello, call me a pretentious beer snob, ask about the brewing process, whatever. Spoiler alert, though: commercial brewing ain't nothing but hoses and tri-clamps. Brewing 22x the volume that I normally brew at home doesn't actually feel all that different for the most part, in that you're basically standing around in a humid room, adding ingredients at a few key points, and then cleaning a whole bunch of stuff up. Manually dumping in multiple sacks of grain, and then hauling the wet spent stuff out of the mash tun afterwards, certainly requires a bit more endurance than at home. And like switching to any new system, it's a bit daunting to navigate the unfamiliar maze of pumps and hoses and valves. Still, I maintain that the most important elements of brewing a great beer come before and after brew-day, so we'll see how well we managed to scale up this recipe, and transition the techniques I use at home for 100% Brett IPA into the larger (relatively-speaking) commercial setting.

The main difference I've noticed so far: we used a pitch of Brett Drei from East Coast Yeast for this batch, rather than White Labs Brett Trois, because all sources (that I've seen) claim the two are identical, and ECY happened to be easier to obtain at the time, for us. But I have my doubts: the early tastes of the beer in primary haven't had the same character as any of the 100% Brett Trois IPAs I've made previously. Not a bad thing; simply different from my memories of that particularly notable yeast flavor. We'll see how it tastes once it's all carbed up, though; often, that final stage of conditioning changes everything. The beer dropped down to 1.006, and with lots of juicy Brettyness and dank dry hop, this should be a great summer drinker for a Friday night.

Remember, if you haven't ever tasted any before: 100% Brett beers really aren't sour, and not even all that funky. And if you show up wearing one of my rad t-shirts, I'll give you a high five and a pour you one from my secret stash.

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