Thursday, May 19, 2016

About That Time I Ate Nothing But Fermented Food For One Year (The Fermented Man Pre-Order)

In two months, on July 19th, The Fermented Man will finally be released, so I think it's time for a little update on the book. Many of you have no doubt been waiting for The Fermented Man these last few years as ravenously as the masses anticipate a new Star Wars film, so if you don't require any further elaboration from me, I'll here point out that the book is already available for pre-order. For more details, please read on!

In Case You Don't Know About the Book-
During the year of 2014, I lived off of nothing but fermented food for the entire year. Yes, an entire year consuming only things which were fermented. However, this isn't a new lifestyle diet I'm going to be endorsing on Dr. Phil, but more of an experiment (a thought experiment turned into a challenging reality), and a means to journey through the world of fermented food in an interesting and immersive way. I wanted to write a book that would be entertaining and informative for any reader, whether you know a lot about fermentation already, or absolutely nothing at all.

Even though fermentation is as old as civilization itself, studies into our microbiome and our relationship with microbes are only recently entering the public consciousness. One might be tempted to conclude that probiotic foods are just another new health fad, but fermentation is anything but. It is a fundamental element of the culinary world. So fundamental, you could even, just for example, live off of nothing but fermented foods. The influence of fermentation really does permeate just about everything.

There are many excellent guides to making fermented foods at home out there. In fact, that is primarily how the publishing world has dealt with fermentation thus far. I wanted to write a different type of book, one for hobbyists and general readers alike. Maybe you can't even pretend that you'll ever be motivated to go home at night and spend a few hours packing cabbage into a jar to make sauerkraut. That's totally fine — not everyone needs to be (or has time to be) a hobbyist, and fermentation is far more important (and interesting) than as just as DIY activity for foodies. Maybe you've spent most of your life convinced that you need to slather your hands in sanitizer gel to lead a healthy lifestyle, and are simply fascinated that anyone would risk eating food crawling with living bacteria, much less a whole year of it. After all, we go to great lengths to eradicate microbes in almost every area of our lives. Why would we want more of them?

This is a book for those terrified of microbes, and those who love them.

What To Expect From The Fermented Man-
The Fermented Man is a narrative non-fiction journey into the world of fermentation. Living off of fermented foods for a year posed a host of challenges and educational opportunities alike, and allowed me to structure the book as a walk-through of the entire world of microbe-made foods, as well as an exploration of the very nature of diets. You will hopefully learn a lot. You will probably read some thoughts about diets and health that you weren't expecting. You will hopefully be entertained, and get a few chuckles out of my ordeal, here and there. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be inspired to post passionate memes on Tumblr demanding a sequel. In the back of the book there is even a brief recipe section, so after traveling with me through this eye-opening culinary realm, you can try your hand making a few of my favorites at home, if you are so inclined.

When Does The Fermented Man Come Out?-
The book will be released (both online and in bookstores) on July 19th.

How To Get a Copy Of the Book-
The Fermented Man will be available through all the typical channels that books are typically available.

You may guess that authors generally take home more money when you order from the author directly, rather than, say, Amazon. And while I could probably make a few more bucks by setting up a sale for the book through my merch store and encouraging everyone that reads this blog to order the book that way, it's actually probably better for me in the long run if you just order the book from a regular store — either your local bookstore, or Amazon. While I might make less on each sale, Amazon is also a very powerful marketing platform, in a sense, and the more visible my (or any) book is on Amazon, the better it is likely to do. So, it's probably ultimately better if Amazon sees that my book is selling well, versus trying to squeeze out a few extra dollars by selling a bunch of copies myself. Likewise, your local bookstore can always really use your support, and their interest in my book is also supremely helpful. So, please visit them and ask if they'll be getting copies of The Fermented Man in. If they are not already, you can always request that they do so. A win for everyone!

One more thing: after you have read the book, please consider doing me a huge favor. I mentioned that Amazon also essentially works as a marketing platform. Along those lines, the more reviews a book has, the better for its visibility to other shoppers. So please consider doing me a major solid and adding a quick review to the Amazon page. Even a short review is immensely helpful to an author — especially a new, unknown author like myself.

How Many Copies Of the Book Should I Order, Just To Be Safe?-
At least four or five, but up to 10 if you really want to improve your social standing. Copies of The Fermented Man make excellent gifts for any family member, friend, significant other, or all 527 of your Facebook friends!

How Can I Order Copies To Sell At My Store?
If you work at a bookstore, you'll be able to stock the book as you would any other. However, if you work at a store that isn't able to order this book through your usual distribution channels, you can email Ross Gerstenblatt at my publishing company (Overlook Press), who will set you up.

Will You Be Doing Events To Promote the Book?
Indeed I will. I don't have a ton of details on this front that I can announce just yet, so I'll save this stuff, mostly, for another post.

Will You Be Doing Any Events That Are On A Big Roof?
One event that I can reveal now is a fermentation workshop I will be doing with Brooklyn Grange, who operate the world's largest rooftop soil farms. That workshop will be on Tuesday, August 9th. This will be a really fun, very unique event, and you can sign up now by clicking here.

Will You Do An Event At My Venue, Please?
Possibly! If there is some place you know of, work for, or run that would like to organize an event with me, please get in touch with me at bearflavored @ gmail dot com.

What If I Donated To Your Indiegogo Campaign?
You are truly a hero, and thank you for helping to make a vital section of the book possible. If you were one of the supporters on my Indiegogo campaign back in 2014, I will already be mailing you a copy of the book directly. If you also got a t-shirt through the campaign, I will eventually ask you what size and stuff you want, or go ahead and just let me know now.

What If I'm Impatient, And Wish To Hear More Right Now, But In Audio-Only Format?
I'm glad to hear you are so eager. Go ahead and listen to a podcast I just did with Fuhmentaboutit, a lovely fermentation podcast that interviewed me on a broad range of book-related subjects.

Thank you all very much for helping to support my writing career and fermentation education efforts. July 19th will be here very soon! Until then (and after then), follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more regular updates.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What's the Best Way to Add Coffee Into Beer?

It's always fun to think about how many people have, in their combined efforts, produced a staggering number of variations on beer throughout history. Brewers will commonly remark that few things we make today are truly original ideas — that some historic brewer, somewhere along the way, has already tried just about everything. But there must be at least a few inventions unique to modern brewers. We throw some weird stuff into beer. Coffee, one of the more common and less weird things thrown into beer of late, is a pretty obvious and logical adjunct. Not only does it compliment flavors already present in certain beers, but most of us brewers drink just about as much coffee as we do beer. The notion of throwing coffee into a beer seems like something very particular to our modern sensibilities, but who knows? I've never heard anything indicating that coffee was ever used as a flavoring in beer before the 80's/90's, but while it certainly wasn't traditional, it's not impossible that someone tried it hundreds of years ago.

Now, of course, coffee beer is all the rage. (I could swear I recently saw some statistic about coffee beers being one of the largest categories of beer in competitions, but now that it would be useful, I can't find it). There's hardly a style of beer that we haven't tried adding coffee to. Dark beers hardly warrant mention, but I've also seen coffee sours and coffee saisons. Coffee IPAs are not totally uncommon, and at Kent Falls, we took that trend a step further and add coffee to our Brett IPA — which, as far as I know, is possibly the only beer of its kind. 

When we first started producing Waymaker (the aforementioned Brett IPA), we realized we were limited in what we could brew in those first few months by the esoteric yeast cultures I had chosen for our house strains. We wanted to get as much diversity as possible out of a few beers with similar foundations, and easy-to-add ingredients that could spin a new beer off from an existing base was a common sense way to accomplish that. Thus, Waymaker Brett IPA, with the addition of coffee, could become a second, distinct beer: Coffeemaker Brett IPA. Obviously, we were only going to pursue the concept if it worked. And in this case, it worked wonderfully. We partnered with Irving Farm Coffee Roasters — not only one of the best coffee roasters in the region, but one whose roasting facility happens to be a short (only 40 minutes, about as close as anything gets around here) drive from our farm. Together, we tested out a number of roasts and ratios until we had a combination of beer and coffee that we enjoyed for its complexities and uniqueness. 

Since we were doing only small runs of Coffeemaker to start out, figuring out how to actually add the coffee into the beer wasn't hard. The knowledgeable folks at Irving Farm recommended adding the coffee late in the process, and not using cold brew, which wouldn't extract the full range of flavors. We settled on using a 2x coffee concentrate liquid, which could be pumped into the brite tank under CO2 pressure minutes before packaging the resulting blend. No oxygen, just maximally fresh coffee. You could achieve the same effect on a homebrew scale by pouring 2x strength coffee (at an 11% ratio) directly into the keg. 

This method works great when you're splitting off a batch and only turning a small fraction of it into a coffee beer. (It also works great when you don't have to concern yourself with making 15-30 gallons of coffee yourself). We could have easily employed this method with 6 bbl, up to about 12 bbl volumes of beer. But then we started talking about brewing full-sized batches of Coffeemaker, on its own. Potentially up to 30, even 35 bbls. That's a hell of a lot more coffee. That's a volume of beer that would require potentially 80+ gallons of coffee. Can you imagine 80 gallons of coffee? That's an insane amount. That's almost four times what I drink during the average day. How do you make that much coffee? 

We spent about a month brainstorming methods for brewing 80 gallons of coffee. Irving Farm offered us an old giant coffee maker that could brew 6 gallons of coffee at a time, which is a lot when you're thinking of coffee in terms of just drinking it, but bizarrely undersized in terms of a beer that can suck up a bathtub's worth of the stuff. 

Then we took a trip out to San Diego for Modern Times' Festival of Funk. Modern Times established themselves early on as a leader in the coffee beer game by becoming the first brewery in the country to have an in-house roaster. After that, they started barrel-aging coffee beans, not only to sell to the public to drink (I've bought a few bags; they're trippy cool and tasty) but to add back to beer, and complete some kind of insane beer-barrel-coffee Ouroboros loop. Unsurprisingly, while hanging out at Modern Times, we gleaned a few useful methods from their extensive coffee-related shenanigans.

Many brewers add coffee beans directly into their beer, but we'd theorized that it would be best to avoid this method for a few reasons. First, we didn't want to add the coffee too early in the process, before fermentation. Fermentation transforms things, and both the Irving Farm folks and us Kent Falls folks felt that we would get the clearest, most stable coffee flavor the later in the process the coffee went in. Right into the brite immediately before packaging is about as late as you can get, but the volume of liquid then becomes the issue. So why not just add coffee beans into the brite tank or fermentor, in a bag, you may be thinking? Certainly, that could work, and is probably an alternate solution. But there's a degree of control you may have to give up with this approach, as the amount of contact time between the beans and the coffee are now dictated by the time it takes you to package the beer. Plus, we had been worried about the alcohol pulling undesirable flavor compounds out of the beans, especially with that extended contact time. And then there's the simple matter of scale, once more: when you're Modern Times size (much bigger than Kent Falls, and Kent Falls isn't even that small in the grand scheme of things), how many pounds of Stuff do you want to be shoving into your gigantic tanks? If you reach the point where you're brewing a 200+ bbl batch of coffee stout, say, do you really want to be dropping several hundred pounds of coffee beans into your tanks? What are you going to put all that coffee in? How are you going to keep it out of the packaged product? How are you going to fish it back out?

Modern Times had figured out a nice sort of hybrid approach. I've now adapted it here at Kent Falls, and utilized it for one of our most recent beers, a Coffee Milk Stout. This was indeed the first batch of coffee beer that was all what it was — a full-tank, full-volume batch, thus requiring quite a bit of coffee. (Ultimately, I did end up filling some bourbon barrels with the stout before adding the coffee, so the final ratio was a 23 bbl batch of beer that got about 23 lbs worth of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee). Rather than adding the coffee beans into any of the tanks, I thoroughly cleaned one of our half-barrel yeast brinks, which have butterfly valves on the bottom and top for yeast collection. I poured the whole beans into the keg and set up a loop from the bottom of the fermentor (after clearing it of trub), into our cellar pump, into the coffee-keg, out of the top, then through a hose and back into the racking arm of the fermentor. On the out of the keg containing the coffee, I attached our hop filter, which is basically a torpedo-like tube with two inner stainless steel mesh filters, and which in this case would prevent any coffee beans from riding the beer wave out of their holding vessel. (A smaller type of mesh screen that fits inline would work as well, probably better, as this set-up made for an awkwardly vertical hose arrangement). With this loop, the beer gets pulled out of the tank, runs through the coffee, and returns to the tank, cycling a constant mixture of coffee-beer through the vessel(s). I let this cycle run for a little under a day. When the beer was ready to transfer into the brite tank, I simply reconfigured the hoses so that all the beer from the fermentor would pass through the coffee keg once more along the way.

You could replicate this approach on a homebrew scale quite easily, either with my trusty ol' dry-hop keg set-up, or using a simple bag to contain and filter the coffee before transferring. You wouldn't be running a cycle/loop, but the basic idea would be the same.

Either method — coffee liquid, or calculated contact time over whole beans — could be the easier for you depending on your set-up and scale, at least assuming you're a homebrewer or smaller-scale commercial brewer. Above 20 bbls or so, you probably have no choice but to add beans right into the beer. Result-wise, there are also pros and cons either way. I liked how "present" the coffee character remained, even over time, with the direct liquid injection method. The immediacy and purity of the coffee addition seemed to bring about the clearest, most stable coffee character. But with certain roasts, we also noticed that the coffee character would shift over time and develop an interesting note often described as "jalapeno." The flavor never disagreed with me, and I found it more of a subtle shading with a curious flavor association, but it did shift the profile away from pure coffee, even if the beer as a whole remained pretty vibrantly coffee-forward. With the loop method, based on my impressions so far, I think the result will be a smoother but mellower coffee flavor, and I'm curious to see how it holds up over time.

My favorite part of making coffee beers? With all the experimentation and blends and testing and friends made in the coffee industry, you somehow or another end up with a lot of coffee on hand. I remember the days, years ago, when I couldn't even drink coffee after 4 pm without dooming myself to lay awake in bed all night. Haha. Oh man. How young and much healthier I was back then.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Maple Imperial Stout - Recipe & Tasting Notes

In retrospect, I guess it is a little weird how long I went without brewing any dark beers at Kent Falls. I do love stouts and porters quite a bit, and we had always intended to add them to the lineup. But winter snuck up fast, and with the many many many many things I'm juggling all at once, even just orchestrating the timing of releases to their appropriate weather patterns sort of slipped from my attention. There are many ideas I've been working on, and concepts I would like to try out in the future, and a lot of those fall into the neglected dark beer realm. You'll see more stout/porter-type stuff from us next winter, and especially whenever we're able to expand our barrel cellar. (So far, we haven't put a single clean beer into barrels). Different stouts, different porters, different flavors touching up those simple bases, and perhaps even different barrel-aging processes to create something new and #extreme. Like, has anyone even ever tried putting a stout in a barrel before? A barrel-aged stout? I can't say I've heard of it being done. It's probably just too crazy to work, but I'm at least willing to approach the concept on a purely theoretical level, before abandoning it as an absurd idea.

Eventually, maybe I'll even repeat something like this recipe: a 15% ABV maple imperial stout. Maybe. If you've encountered many Kent Falls beers in real life, you'll know that that's about triple the average ABV of the beers I brew here. The anarchist in me kind of wants to avoid brewing anything super boozy, but if there's one thing I'd buck my own conventions for, it'd be a beer like this.

One of my brewing white whales is perfecting this vague ideal I have of a maple imperial stout. It's weird: I generally haaaaaaaate sweetness in beers. In many cases, it can completely ruin a style I should otherwise appreciate. I've come to realize that I just... don't like imperial IPAs anymore. I could probably go the rest of my life without drinking another barrel-aged barleywine. Malt bombs just aren't for me, I guess. Basically every beer I brew is super dry, and rare is the beer that finishes above 3 plato that I would consider acceptable. Their grain bills are super stripped down and simple for a reason. Yet, oddly enough, imperial stouts very often slip through the cracks of my preferences. I think it may be that the roast and depth of flavors balance out the caramel raisin sweetness that I can't stand in other boozy malt-focused beers. Some additional adjuncts can still send these beers too over-the-top, and I'm getting a little burned out on the bourbon barrel-aged stout thing as well, but maple? Maple is one of my favorite flavors in the universe. Maple is a Trojan Horse into my heart and soul. God help me if maple becomes the next pumpkin, because I am helpless to resist it. Thus, I will always be chasing the perfect maple stout, a beer that balances a subtle sweetness with those earthy maple notes, roasty malts and coffee and vanilla undertones.

Having already written about the troubles of imparting maple flavor into beer (the TL:DR: it's just way too fermentable for the flavor to really stick), let me go on a bit of tangent. Let me talk briefly about the brewing-foibles along the way for my grandest Maple Beer attempt. I wanted this beer to be big, incorporate an absolutely ludicrous amount of maple syrup, have a bit of oak backing it up, and hold up as something I could age for years and years and decades to come. Born in the driveway of a homebrew shop, it was later carried home half a mile to my old apartment, where it was fermented and aged. It then endured one of the most miserable packaging experiences of my homebrewing career, thanks to the wonders of leaf hops.

Leaf hops are like this vegetative homing missile designed to find things that can be clogged, and clog them with supernatural vigor. And they follow no rhyme nor reason, either; sometimes they will decide to grant you mercy, and leave your things unclogged; other days, they will decide just to clog all your shit right to hell. Immediately before trying to keg this stout (the plan was to age further in the keg, then bottle off of the keg), I transferred a Brewer's Gold single-hop pale ale that had used leaf hops for every stage and had zero issues. All the beer went through fine, and the leaf hops stayed right where they were supposed to be.

Then I tried to transfer my imperial stout. There were considerably fewer hops in my imperial stout than in my Brewer's Gold pale ale; I'd used a mix of leaf and pellet hops for bittering and late additions. Not for any particular reason, but because it was what I'd had on hand, and I hadn't thought about it too much. But despite the small addition of just a few ounces, these leaf hops decided they were going to clog my auto siphon. Aggressively. I tried unclogging. I tried pumping harder. I remember the moment where the end of the hose popped out of the keg due to some kind of pressure build-up and sprayed syrupy imperial stout all across my room. The auto siphon I was using was so clogged I could not get any beer through it. I would pump and it would just shoot blanks. I separated the hose from the siphon and tried siphoning the old fashioned way, to no avail. I tried sucking the beer through the hose to start it; clogged. I tried a second auto siphon, and it immediately clogged. I tried one of those mesh straining bags around the end of the siphon: this did a great job of siphoning noisy angry air pockets through my hose. I tried creating a small wormhole in the bottom of the fermentor to draw the remaining beer through dimensions, summoning it into my keg with arcane magicks: clogged. These goddam things were so maliciously intent on clogging every piece of brewing equipment in my house, I'm fairly sure that they actually devised means to travel back in time and kill the parents of my auto-siphon. I'm sure that if I had just tried pouring the liquid from the bucket into the keg, these leaf hops would have found a way to clog the air itself. If they'd had these leaf hops available on the Titanic when its hull was ruptured by that iceberg, the ship would have never sank.

But I digress.

At some point I was standing there, half my apartment sprayed down with a thick mist of imperial stout, broken auto-siphons littered about me, and I was seething with rage. These mere five gallons of imperial stout contained, I'd guess, at least $100 worth of ingredients, and for whatever stupid reason or curse or personal incompetence, I could not move it from one vessel to another. Just physically... couldn't. The laws of gravity were broken that day. I gave up. Sealed up the keg, purged. Purged the carboy with CO2 and sealed that back up until I devised a better plan. Or had access to a better filter. Something that those leaf hops could not defeat. That turned out to be my patent-pending Bear Flavored Dry-Hop Keg device, and in the end, I did eventually successfully get to package this beer.

I had a terrible fear that this stout would come out oxidized or infected after all the abuse that it endured, but it's now been in the bottle for a year, and it's holding up very well. It's sweet, certainly, and trending more towards the typical imperial stout sweetness as it ages. The maple is there, but considering the tremendous amount of maple syrup that I used — two thirds of a gallon Grade B syrup in 4.25 gallons of beer — the flavor is still not as prominent as I would have liked. Part of my hope in making this beer so high in alcohol was that the yeast would tire out and just stop fermenting the stuff while there was still a little maple character left, or that the fermentation would proceed slowly enough that all the delicate nuances wouldn't get scrubbed out. [Edit: the first comment on this post raised some questions that I really should have addressed to begin with, regarding the fermentation. Getting a big beer like this to attenuate is obviously a concern, and by adding the maple syrup in staggered additions, following primary fermentation, I figured the gentler fermentation would help maintain some maple character, but also ensure the yeast didn't get hammered too heavily, and would thus be able to finish this beer out to the degree I expected. Fermentation-wise, especially as a homebrewer, I think this always the best strategy for high-ABV beers]. This worked, to an extent, but if you really want a dynamic maple bomb, you'd have to go to even more extremes. Which is insane to suggest. Clearly there is a point at which just adding more and more maple syrup ceases to become practical, and I think with a touch of oak and maybe even vanilla beans, you would get some magnification of some of the maple characteristics. I did add an ounce of oak chips in the carboy as this aged, but they weren't enough to come through. In retrospect, I wish I'd done more along those lines — a more prominent oak backbone would be good here.

Then again, subtlety is a beautiful thing. The only downside of the beer tasting as balanced and restrained as this is, is the cost of maple syrup. It's... not cheap. So either you have access to a maple source yourself, and cost doesn't matter, or else you're going to be throwing down a lot of money for little reward. What's a little nuance and complexity worth to you?

And maybe that right there explains why something like the "pumpkin spice everything" craze became what it was, and hasn't happened yet with maple. At least in terms of beer, pumpkin and maple both come through extremely, teasingly subtle. In a market that really hasn't had a whole lot of interest in subtle, that's not gonna fly. But pumpkin has those spices to back it up, And man, those spices sure don't have to be subtle. You can load up on the spices. Maple has no such cohort. It is a natural and independent flavor. It is pure of heart. Noble. Humble. And that is why I'll keep chasing it.

5.0 Gal., All Grain
Brewed: 9.24.14
Bottled On: 3.14.15
Fermented at 66 F
OG: 1.093 (before maple addition)
FG: 1.028
ABV: 15%

38.8% [#10] 2-Row malt
27.2% [#7] Grade B maple syrup
15.5% [#4] oak-smoked wheat
7.8% [#2] chocolate rye
7.8% [#2] flaked oats
2.9% [12 oz] Carafa III

Hop Schedule-
2 oz CTZ @FWH

1 oz medium toast American oak chips

British ale yeast

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mixed Culture Wet Hop Saison - Hop Harvest Collaboration with the Brewery at Bacchus

The northeastern US, plucky go-getter that it is, will have a whole lot of hops in the coming years. In five years, ten years, the entire country's hop industry could start to look very very different as new growers, new flavors, and even more new varieties start hitting the market at scale. This is old news, of course, but it still feels like we're waiting to observe the real impact of the restored northeastern hop growing region, and we'll be waiting a little while longer.

There are two big primary questions yet to be answered, from my perspective:

1. How will these new hops taste? Plenty of beers have been brewed with northeast hops now, but even the most established hop farms in the region are still quite young, and thus, I'm guessing the character of the hops will only really begin to take up an identity in the next few years. We'll hopefully start to see new varieties (or renamed varieties) with flavors distinct to this region.

2. How will breweries be able to use the hops? This seems like a fairly mundane logistical question, but it's going to be pretty significant in what kinds of beers these hops are used to make. Pellet hops are much, much easier for most breweries to use — conversely, leaf hops can be almost impossible for some breweries to use at different stages of the process. But pelletizers are expensive, and at the moment, inaccessible to most hop growers in the region.

What we're left with is a lot of mildish leaf hops. And a lot of leaf hops means a very large mound of hops indeed — hell, another reason it's not practical for us to use leaf hops at Kent Falls is that we'd simply have no space to store what we'd need. While the go-to strategy to dispose of any large pile of hops would typically be to throw them in an IPA, you'd have to be very deliberate when taking this approach. Wet hop IPAs have become a huge thing every harvest season of the last few years. But even an IPA blasted with a comically-large pile of hops may turn out with a surprisingly mild flavor. The returns, in other words, maybe be somewhat disappointing in proportion to what went into the beer. There's also the fact that wet hops simply taste very different from traditionally-used dry hops, and this needs to be taken into consideration when adding a wet hop IPA to a brewery's profile. If all of Kent Falls' other IPAs are juice-forward, an earthy, mild, grittier harvest IPA may stand out as a bit odd next to the rest of the lineup.

Barry and I were talking to Mike from the Brewery at Bacchus (editor's note: Mike and Jay, who have been brewing the beer for Bacchus for a couple years now, will soon be taking the lead at Hudson Valley Brewery, in Beacon, NY, so watch out for their stuff to hit the market in a big way soon) about doing a collaboration, and it quickly arose that we should do something based around our hop harvest in early September. From there, we decided that a wet-hopped farmhouse ale was the way to go. Both Bacchus and Kent Falls brew a lot of saison-ish beers, and we decided that the communal nature of the hop harvest was a very fitting start for a collaboration. For fermentation, we literally mixed together our cultures — saison yeast, lactobacillus and Brettanomyces from both Kent Falls and Bacchus went into the batch. There's quite a variety in this batch, though the cultures here are very aggressive. Fermentation was quick. While Tiny House has had several months to age and condition since we brewed it, the turnaround on a beer like this can be much faster than conventional wisdom used to have it. Such sourish mixed culture saisons rarely need more than three months before they can be packaged, in my experience — but obviously, different procedures, cultures, gravities and other extenuating conditions have to be taken into account.

The brewday itself for this beer was quite fun — as some of you may know, as there were a hundred plus people in attendance, and maybe you were there yourself . We're going to be hosting a hop harvest festival every year, and to make it Fun For The Whole Family, we make a big to do out of it. Pig roast, live music, beer, etc, and the general good vibes of a community gathering. Lots of fun, etc. All day long, the hops being harvested were thrown directly into the beer. I mentioned that leaf hops / whole cone hops are quite difficult to use in our setup, and the only place we can practically toss in such large quantities of vegetable matter without an epic bagging nightmare are the lauter tun. Fortunately, this is quite easy — I cleaned the spent grain out of the lauter tun real good, and transferred the wort out of the kettle and into this vessel instead. The false bottom allowed us to dump close to a hundred pounds of wet hops in without fear of clogging anything. At the end of the day, I simply knocked out as I normally would, and cleaned up the used hops as if they were a soggy mass of spent grain.

The resulting beer is simple but delicious — a well-balanced sour farmhouse ale with a good blend of acidity, Brett funk, and tannic rustic earth-notes from the hops. It's extremely complex for its low weight of only 4% ABV. I'll be looking forward to brewing something like this each year. If you would like to try this beer and are / know someone who is in the western Connecticut area, we will be releasing this at the New Milford farmer's market (indoors, basement of the school) this Saturday, January 16th. Keep in mind that while you may think I am a hack and my beer is all dumb, this *was* a collaboration with the Brewery at Bacchus, and those guys are pretty legit, and have never really bottled much before. So! Also, thanks to Mike's fiance Natalie for the lovely beer label. She knows how to art it up real good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Barrel-Aging Techniques and Process: Second Nature Peach Sour Saison

There are a number of reasons that writing about beer for this blog has become more challenging since jumping into the commercial side of things for Kent Falls Brewing Co. Surprisingly, it's not even so much that the actual brewing process has changed. I found it relatively easy to scale everything up — that transition is something I want to write about more, and will, but I almost don't know what to say. Most brewing to me is a matter of intuition, and while there are plenty of technical and logistical things to work out, my answer to how I scale up my old concepts most of the time would be a big ol'  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

More challenging, in terms of writing about brewing, is that you start to think about each beer and the process behind it differently. Or at least, that's been the case with me, but the last year and a half of my life have been one never-ending mental breakdown, so who knows. Regardless, as a homebrewer, each batch felt more distinct, more of an individual project. One batch at a time, everything I made was a focused reservoir of my attention. It seems like it should be the opposite, but as a homebrewer, I felt way more obsessive about each beer I made, and for better or worse, far more inclined to poke and prod at it as I waited anxiously to know how it would come out.

I'm sure plenty of commercial brewers feel this way about every one of their commercial brews too, so maybe it's just the delirium and crushing existential crises warping my attentions, but brewing now feels more like a ride that I'm trying to steer than some little pet project that I'm micro-managing obsessively. Actually, though, I think homebrewing for long enough inevitably trains you for this too, especially homebrewing sours. You have to learn patience at some point. You have to accept that some batches, of the many carboys that once took up space in my incredibly nerdy and fascinating-to-visitors Beer Room, just have to be ignored for a good long while, and any attention you give them will probably do more harm than good. Scaling up to the point of having a thousand gallons plus of beer in barrels, this effect is exacerbated even more. No longer is this beer a singular, isolated project, but now a chain of events, a chain of 8 - 12 hour work-days, a series of vessels to transfer liquid between. Your attention becomes divided between numerous projects and a hundred points of stress and worry. For the same reason, some of these beers would be impossible to "clone," because there are so many unique steps and variables involved. You could mimic the process, but never the exact circumstances.

But here's the story of one such beer, the first real aged sour beer we've released at Kent Falls. I've done a couple different gose, our seasonal tart saison, and one previous barrel-aged release, a Brett saison with grapefruit zest. But we're finally just starting to dip into the whole barrel-aged sour thing, now that most of our barrels have contained liquid for at least half a year. To start, the barrel-aged saisons are going to fall into two releases. "Nature" will be a mixed-culture barrel-aged saison, always created from some new blend of barrels, and likely a bit different with each release. We'll release that possibly twice a year, or maybe just once a year, to really go for an annual vintage thing. Any fruited barrel-aged saisons will fall under the "Second Nature" name — again, pulling from the same selection of barrels, I'll pull some aging saison to receive fruit.

Even when homebrewing, replicating any one barrel-aged beer is going to be incredibly difficult without blending. Add to that the fact that I'm not necessarily going to try to recreate the exact same beer every time, and I have two dozen barrels to choose from (a very tiny number compared to many breweries) and you're starting from a baseline of endless variation: living beer in a living environment that's going to change and evolve over time. Like most of the barrels in the brewery right now, the two barrels that I selected for this peach sour were filled with liquid from our earliest batches of saison. Probably the most interestingly-different thing about my process for these beers is that the base beer was fermented out to a very low gravity before being transferred into the barrels, like 1.5 plato. Conventional wisdom is generally that you'll want to leave some residual sugar in the beer for the Brett and bacteria to munch on. Brett, however, really doesn't need much to eat to create its distinct character, and even just the autolysis of the yeast around it may be enough to feed it, especially in the oxygen-friendly environment of a barrel.

As a result, the beer resting in the barrel after four months of aging was not crazy sour. It had the pleasant flavor qualities of an aged sour, just minus the bracing acidity. This is pretty much what I was going for — "balance and approachable" seems to be an unstated theme of Kent Falls' beers, so I'm not trying to push my barrel-aged sours to be tongue-savaging acid monsters. I figured the beer would pick up a bit more acidity once it was on the peaches, though, and it did. We have two plastic holding tanks that serve as our fruiting tanks, for now. Some fruit I'm adding straight into the barrel: we picked some 80 lbs of local cherries for another such barrel-aged saison that's been aging since late summer. The cherries can stay in that barrel for as long as they want, as far as I'm concerned. Peaches, though, seemed like a royal pain in the ass to stuff into a barrel, so a plastic secondary tank was the solution we came up with for now.

This lead to one of the most fun (read: not fun) days of my brewing career. A few days before our hop harvest festival, during one of the busiest weeks of the year, and after spending a full day already brewing, I sat around hand-dicing 200 lbs. of peaches and throwing them into the plastic holding tank. I actually just slit the peaches in quarters but left them on the pit, so they held together as whole fruit, but with their flesh exposed. I figured as whole fruit, they'd be less likely to clog something up (a whole peach is larger than the opening of a butterfly valve), but slit, so the inside surface area would still be available to the beer. Anyway, that took until 3 in the morning, even once there were two of us going at it. Really fun, let me tell you.

The beer fermented out on the peaches surprisingly fast, hitting 1 plato terminal gravity in less than two weeks. We only left it there for about 5 weeks before bottling it.

And yet more variables that would be hard to replicate at home: I did absolutely nothing to sanitize the peaches, figuring it'd be nice to pick up whatever local microbes happened to be along for the ride. As a result, the beer went through a really happy pediococcus phase during bottle conditioning, which added complexity and enhanced acidity, rounding out all the flavors to great benefit. Now that it's ready for drinking (the pedio phase cleared up after about 6 weeks, thanks to the Brett hanging around), Second Nature - Peach has one of the best noses on a peach beer that I've had recently, with a perfect marriage of oaky vanilla character (much more than I expected to get out of these wine barrels, to be honest) and juicy fresh peach.

I'm very, very happy with how this one came out, and very excited to share this with everyone once we release it (at the New Milford farmer's market, December 19th, if you happen to be in the area). However, I have no clue how I'd share a recipe for this beer that wasn't utterly meaningless. Hopefully discussing the process (which really is the recipe, in this case) is somewhat helpful, at least. Beers like this, the product of scale-brewing and production schedules and McGuyvering and improvising and last-minute decisions and luck and timing and patience and terroir, are less like painting a portrait, one careful and deliberate brush stroke at a time, and more like some Jackson Pollock expressionist bullshit, dangling from a wire above a canvass, with a bucket of paint, just flinging shit in all directions and trusting that it's going to look pretty cool in the end.

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