Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Make Your First Commercial Batch of Beer in 75 Easy Steps

As you may or may not know, I have somehow found myself a job as a professional brewer. I make the beer at Kent Falls Brewing Co, a farm brewery (Connecticut's first). It's pretty sweet! I've been lucky now to have jumped into the world of pipes and clamps and hoses that is professional brewing, and have even made it to the point where we're successfully moving beer out onto the market. How does this work? What sort of process does one go through as a novice pro brewer? I'm sure many of you are curious what it's like to make the dream happen, and so I'd like to share with you these 75 Easy Steps by which you, too, may make your first Commercial Beer. If you are impressed by just how effectively this guide allows you, too, to bring your first Commercial Beer out to market, please share with your friends, family and neighbors so that they too may absorb this useful knowledge!

1. Spend three years opening a commercial brewery. This step is probably the easiest. As anyone in the industry will tell you, breweries practically open themselves.

2. Okay, obviously most of that step #1 was just super painless, but towards the end maybe you find a hiccup or two. Just basic fun stuff like maybe the auger (the pipe that transports the grain from the mill to the grist case) won’t align the way it was intended due to the placement of another pipe, and you’ll have to diagram out some crazy schemes before realizing the grain mill can just go in a different corner altogether, and a super-long auger run solves the problem. Something like this will delay your planned brewing schedule a few weeks, but there was other stuff to get done anyway.

3. When you are just about ready to brew, the winter will take a turn toward the unfathomably brutal and smother your remaining sanity in a blanket of endless snow. This will delay your planned brewing schedule a number of times, but there’s always other stuff to get done anyway. Shoveling, for instance.

4. When the snow let's up for half a day and schedules align, perform your first water brew (a test of the brewing system with only water, rather than actual production of wort). There will be some weird quirks to figure out, some procedural questions to answer, but in general, this goes pretty smoothly. Congratulations! You have now boiled water.

5. Transfer water into a fermentation tank. Find that the glycol immediately chills the tank down to near-freezing temperatures and can’t be turned off. Okay. Uh. That’s… not supposed to happen. Something wonky is going on with the solenoid valves of the glycol system, apparently. This will delay your planned brewing schedule by a day or two. It's okay, you can just... do another water brew, I guess? It's probably for the best, really, if you think about it. The more prepared you are, the better!

6. Briefly considering jumping into the bottled water market instead. The margins are much better.

7. On your second water brew, you’re certain your brew system is operating smoothly. This is great. You’re so close, you can practically smell the wort. Just have to wait for this glycol situation to get sorted out, but that's only a matter of time.

8. Also your cellar-side pump stops working every five minutes due to some unforeseen electrical issue because of course it stops working every five minutes due to some unforeseen electrical issue no it’s cool this is fine it’s just another few days, like, whatever at this point, you know? It’s fine. We've already been delayed a few months, what's a few more days? Seriously, it’s fine, it’s not that big of a deal, we’ll just brew on Monday. All that will be fixed by then, you know.

9. Okay. It’s Sunday night. Time to prep the grain so you're set to go in the morning. Get ready for your FIRST EVER COMMERCIAL BREW holy shit this is so exciting.

10. Why the **** will the grain mill not work?

11. Too tired for this. Can’t troubleshoot. We’ll figure it out in the morning.

12. Monday morning! Brew-time! Right after we figure out this grain mill.

13. Okay, okay, that was our bad. Can’t load the grain in before you start the mill. Should have known better. To be fair, all the labels on the mill are in German. Were you supposed to know what “Zu / Auf / Zulauf” means? Maybe you spent two years teaching yourself German back in the day and you still don’t ******* know what that’s supposed to mean in the context of a grain mill. What do you look like, some kind of German mill scientist? I mean, now you know what that’s for. Okay. Needs to be Zu before you start the mill or it jams. You have to Auf the grain in there as it starts. Got it.




17. Because the coil has popped out of the back of the rotor and jammed itself into the wall, is why. That’s why, right there.

18. At this point brewing is obviously not going to happen until Tuesday, but that’s cool. All the kinks should definitely be worked out by Tuesday. Figuring out a way to work around this whole “auger not working” business isn’t really that hard. One step closer!

19. Look, seriously, it’s no big deal, we’ll just mill 1,400 lbs of grain into buckets and load it into the mash tun by hand. That’s fine. That’s totally fine. We could certainly do that if it’s required. We’ll just get started on that right now, in fact. 1,400 lbs of grain, right on that.

20. You’re brewing! You’re actually brewing! Congratulations. This 20th step in Making Your First Batch of Commercial Beer is easily one of the most important. When Making Your First Commercial Beer, you definitely want to start by Brewing a Beer. Or, if not start, then at least certainly include this step somewhere along the way.

21. Go ahead and make wort. You got this. It's all just hoses and tri-clamps, man. Don't open the wrong valve, don't do anything hastily, don't melt your crotch with hot water and dangerous chemicals, don't ruin thousands of dollars worth of beer, etc. Also might as well make another pot of coffee. Gonna need that.

22. Transfer wort into fermentor. Wow!

23. Pitch yeast. Sanitize everything carefully! Almost there! Stay on target!

24. Holy shit! You did it! The fermentor is half full, now all you have to do is brew another batch tomorrow, let it ferment, crash, harvest, transfer, package, distribute... Oh, and clean. Still a whole lot of cleaning to do. Let's make some caustic and start that CIP on the kettle. What time is it? Never too late for another cup of coffee, anyhow.

25. Man, what a long day. That... that was exhausting. Time to crack open a few beers and celebrate. You've been saving something special for just this moment. Empty it into your face!

26. Get some rest, buddy. You've earned it.

27. Wake up a few hours later, time to do it all again! Let's get some coffee going first though!

28. Still have to load the grain in and stir by hand, but you're a pro at this by now. Think of all the money you save working at a brewery, not having to pay for a gym membership! The benefits really stack up here, when you think about it.

29. Definitely about time for more coffee.

30. Why does the hose water smell like weird plastic chemicals? That's gross. Don't want that in your beer. Guess we can't use the hose? Can someone look into this?

31. Okay, but this step mash in the kettle requires rinsing out the last of the mash to transfer. We're going to need to chase it down with some other source of water. How about service water through the spray ball? That should get it out, right? Yes. Yes. Brilliant. You're a real problem-solver, you are.

32. Why isn't the water coming out of the spray ball? Is everything open?

33. It's just trickling out, like it's clogged with... oh, fuck. Fuck.

34. We clogged the fuck out of our sprayballs with mash, didn't we?

35. FML.

36. Hopefully today's run-off into the kettle won't take four hours like yesterday, but you'll get that sorted out. Just like everything else! Haha!

37. Wait, did you leave the kettle bottom valve open? You're running-off into the kettle, dumbass! It's gonna go down the drain!

38. Stupid! You're so stupid!

39. Run! Run! Wipe out on the floor! This'll hurt a bit.

40. Close call. Maybe poured a liter or two of first runnings down the drain. Not a big deal. Probably didn't need to almost kill yourself, sprinting around a brewery with wet floors, but hey. Really liked that hustle.

41. Mental note: don't ever run. Do things quickly but deliberately. Have full situational awareness at all times, no matter how exhausted or stressed you are.

42. Drink more coffee.

43. Can someone spend, like, eight hours unclogging these spray balls with a paper-clip, one tiny fraction of a grain hull at a time? If someone could just do that right now, that would be just great.

44. Don't worry, we'll accidentally clog them again a second time at the end of the day, when we try to CIP. Ha ha ha.

45. Everything else should go pretty well, though!

46. No truly significant screw-ups. That's very good. Look, at the end of the day, all that matters is you hit your numbers and made wort (and thus, beer) that tastes good. All in all, if you look at it in that light, this is going shockingly well!

47. In a few days you'll notice some epic purple bruises all down the left side of your chest from that wipe-out, of course.

48. Just can't count on things to function smoothly the first time around, I think is the lesson here.

49. Fermentation is really rolling though! So that's great. This beer is going to be delicious.

50. Well, fermentation went perfectly. As long as all the Actual Beer Stuff continues to go smoothly, there's really nothing to get frustrated about. Nothing else matters! Okay? Just keep that in mind because soon you'll be getting your kegging platform up and running and half of the menu displays are in Chinese! Ha ha. Hahahaha.

51. Fill some barrels, fill the brite tank. Relatively easy day.

52. Plan out the rest of the week. Figure it'll take a few hours to try out the kegging platform, work out any kinks in the setup, and teach yourself some basic functional Mandarin. After you know it's running smooth, you can start carbing the beer. Plan to spend the following day packaging. They'll be long days, but it'll feel so good when you're done!

53. Thursday: Test out your kegging platform. You've learned your lesson, by now: it's probably not going to work the first time, okay? Might as well just anticipate that.

54. The fitting for the compressed air into the kegging platform does not appear to be right. So it's just venting air into the atmosphere and won't get up to pressure. Pneumatics won't work. You saw that coming, didn't you?

55. Friday: Fix the connection with the weird, non-standard size fitting. Great. The kegging platform works! Let's get practice cleaning some kegs! Like you said, everything is going to have some hiccup or kink the first time through. Just gotta find it and...

56. Why did it just shut off? Why did it just stop and shut off?

57. Is there a fuse blown somewhere?

58. We'll just get on the phone again and see if we can figure this out!

59. Isn't it miraculous how the human body manages to work so well, almost all of the time? Think about it, man. It's incredible. It's like really pretty rare and usually only after many years of successful operation that it simply fails to function one day. And what real maintenance does it require? Just regular fuel. Waste. Cleaning is optional, really. And normally, that's pretty much it. The human body, man. The human machine. It really is a machine, you know? Just absolutely miraculous, when you really think about it.

60. Long story short: the fuse box inside the kegging platform blew and you need a new one. You make sure it's going to arrive tomorrow, so at least you can package first thing next week.

61. Saturday: Okay, the kegging platform works again!

62. Sunday: Time to carb up this son of a bitch so you can package on Monday!

63. Monday Morning: Why is there beer in the CO2 lines...?

64. Okay, so the CO2 ran out overnight, and the beer started to back-flow. Fortunately, it must have happened right before you came in in the morning to check, so you didn't lose anything significant.

65. Monday: Debate whether beer will be fully carbed by evening with enough time to package, or if it's better to take it slow and plan to package on Tuesday.

66. Take numerous Zahm readings throughout the day to test the carb level. It's going a lot slower than you would have thought, and eventually you'll realize you'll need to hold off until Tuesday to package.

67. Tuesday: Still needs some more carbonation. Take more Zahm readings.

68. You hit it! Let's go!

69. This is actually really easy now that everything is working right. Pretty sweet, in fact. What a convenience this kegging platform is, ultimately! This is so exciting! Your beer will be out on the market by tonight!

70. Calculate, based on keg-filling time, how long it will be until everything is package. You estimate you should be done by around 7 pm, easily, at the latest. Right in time for dinner.

71. You're drooling at the thought of the tasty wild game burger that awaits you, next to the first-ever draft pour of your beer.

72. You are done kegging around 9:30 pm.

73. Race to the first bar ever to carry your beer. Enjoy a burger that the kitchen kindly held for you. Watch with anxiety as the bartender pours the first pour of your first commercial beer.

74. Feel intense relief: it tastes exactly how you wanted it to taste. You've done it! Your beer is out there for the world to tick. In kegs, at least. The easiest way to package. Now you just have to build your bottler from scratch!

75. That can wait, though. Have some more beer first! And also might as well make a fresh pot of coffee!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kent Falls Brewing - Connecticut's First Farmhouse Brewery, and Certainly It's Most Bear Flavoredest

Kent Falls Brewing Co

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Where to Find the Beer

I've been neglecting to tell you guys something, and I'm very sorry. It's exciting news. (At least for me!) News that's going to give me a lot to talk about in both the near and distant future. And as such, news that I needed to hold off on until I have some glimpse of hope that I'm about to get my head above water, with everything going on in my life. This whole last year was extremely difficult, stressful, exhausting, et al. These last few months I've had to devote almost every waking moment of free time to working on this whole book thing that is soon due. There were rotten shark adventures to be chronicled, cheeses to be eaten, sleeps to be deprived, and more. I'm inching slowly but surely closer with the book, thankfully. And while there's still plenty more editing to be done, and it'll be a while before I can get a good night's sleep, it's about time I talked about the second big adventure consuming my daily not-free time.

I really didn't want to just casually drop that I'm now a professional brewmaster (I mean: lol) and then not have the time or mental energy to write about it at all for four months. Granted, it's not like I'm really going to have much more time to write in the next few months even once I am done with a draft of the book, but I'll try my best. Starting up a new brewery is an exhausting endeavor all on its own, but I'll do my best to talk about everything there is to talk about, of which there is a lot. Not much should change here at — I'm just going to continue to have a ton of weird brewing stuff to write about, plus catching up on posts from my backlog of homebrew batches and experimental batches. New adventures, new experiments, new opportunities, and a lot of new things for me to learn, this time with some economic pressure not to fuck up. Woo!

But about the brewery.

However you feel about homebrewers starting up new breweries by the coat-tails of their boot-straps, I have to say first off that I did not start this brewery. And thank god — do you have any idea how much work is involved in opening a brewery? It's insane. Couldn't do it, myself. I got off crazy easy: brewery manager and co-owner Barry, who launched the brewery project here at Kent Falls, has born the brunt of the work. You hear how opening a brewery is like 2% brewing beer. This is true. And people talk about how much cleaning is involved. This is also true. What you do not hear is that the other 90% is spent on the phone. Mostly yelling at people. Or sweet-talking people. Or whatever. There's always a lot of red tape involved in opening a brewery, and in Connecticut, they seem to come with a few extra rolls of red tape. There are always unforeseen challenges and hiccups and setbacks. In building a new brewery from the ground up on a swampy farm in the middle of nowhere, there's a million things that can go wrong. Or just set you back month after month.

Camps Road Farm
Pictured: a good working environment.

Barry is very good on the phone; problem solving, networking, and working out general business machinations. This is wonderful for me because I would probably suck at all those things. I just brew the beer, which frankly is maybe the easiest part of running the business.

Our set-up is an interesting one, and a set-up that hooked me immediately, when Barry first approached me in spring of 2014. The brewery is one part of a multi-tiered effort. Kent Falls Brewing Company is located on a farm, but the farm operates independently as a separate business — Camps Road Farm — and includes a 1.4 acre hop field. We are the first farm brewery in the state of Connecticut, and as far as we can tell, also the first commercial hop growing operation in the state. We're growing six varieties: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Brewer's Gold, Northern Brewer, and Willamette. In addition to hops, the farm grows a whole bunch of stuff in greenhouses, raises sheep, raises chickens, sells eggs, and will expand its livestock options to include pigs (and I hope goats, because I desperately want a goat sidekick brewer's assistant named Brett. So badly). The farm is gonna grow a whole bunch of different berries that I want to throw into beer, squash, various herbs and spices, and just lots of fun other stuff. We're looking for every possible way to meld the worlds (and economics) of small-scale farming and small-scale brewing. Farmer John is relentlessly productive and impressively skilled at what he does, and I can't even describe how exciting it is to run a brewery that's not just situated on farm property, but on a working, productive, autonomous farm operation. Did I mention my life goal of having a goat for a brewer's assistant?

The third tier of the business is a distillery called NeverSink Spirits, located about an hour away from the farm and brewery, in Port Chester, NY. They'll be doing apple brandy and whiskey, among other stuff. We'll be collabearating on things in the future. I will snatch up their barrels when they aren't looking. Once again, this is unbearably cool. Having a source of barrels, having partners who can take one product we make and transform it into another, adding options, adding knowledge. Adding barrels. Barrels!

Red and White Wine Barrels
Barrels! They patiently await funky dry Brett saison.

Barrels: so far we don't have any whiskey barrels. I will eventually put stuff into whiskey barrels and do some fun stouts, absolutely. But those types of beers are not going to be a focus of the brewery initially. We do have sixteen wine barrels to start off with, which will be home to funky farmhouse ales and sours. In fact, without ever actually sitting down and consciously deciding upon it as a particular focus, it seems most of the beers I will be doing in the first six months or so are all pretty sessionable. With most of my beers, I will be aiming for something juicy and drinkable and expressive. Often, weird. To get an idea of the sort of things I'll be brewing at Kent Falls, see: my blog.

Under construction.

Something that's probably obvious from the recipes I post here: I love my IPAs. In the future, I hope to do lots of IPAs, and we're honing in on a final recipe for a sort of flagship clean IPA that I'm very excited about in a few regards. Securing hops to do the IPA you really want to do can be a huge challenge. That, and juggling a number of house cultures, means it'll probably be some time before you see significant quantities of Kent Falls IPA hitting the market. I'll talk about all that more in the future — I find the juggling you have to do as a commercial brewer developing recipes to actually be very fascinating.

In the meantime, we are, to my great delight, going to be brewing two extra-dope-but-not-clean IPAs: Waymaker, a Brett IPA, and Alternate World, a "sour IPA" or dry-hopped gose, depending how you wanna roll. We're planning to can both beers in 16 oz-ers, which is maybe the most exciting thing of all. I'm hoping we'll be able to get the canning going by late summer / early fall, just in time for peak hiking season. I'm gonna need to get in some serious relaxation this fall, and nothing in the world could be more exciting to me right now than having my own vision of the ideal hiking beer, designed specifically to be drank on top of mountains, on top of a mountain, out of a can. Is this the Matrix?

We have a pond.

All these beers will get their own post eventually, but our first beer to be released, Field Beer, definitely deserves more words than just a brief paragraph here. Until then: it is a saison, it uses all local malts (and will eventually use all local hops), its recipe will rotate based on the season, and it necessitates a somewhat complicated brewing process to get some nice tart funk all up in there. More on Field Beer soon.

Besides being on a farm, what is this brewery like, you may wonder?

It's a good size. I say that having seen firsthand the trend of nano-brewing that's emerging all over the place, and in the Northeast especially. We've got a 15 bbl Prospero compact brewhouse. Two vessels, with the lauter tun on top of the hot liquor tank. Rakes built into the kettle, so we can do all sorts of stuff in the mash (when mashing in the kettle) before pumping over to the lauter tun. This is good, because we'll be using decent quantities of unmalted local grains for certain beers. All our batches will be double brews to start, however, as we currently employ three 30 bbl tanks. In addition to those, we have 8 red wine and 8 white wine oak barrels, and, most interesting of all, an old milk chiller from the 50 acre property's previous incarnation as a dairy farm. The milk chiller holds about 7 bbl, or a little over 200 gallons. The idea is that we'll set it up to use as a coolship (I mean, milkship), which would be really fun — but even using the thing as some kind of open fermentor would be fantastic for now, too.

Moving the milkship out of the old dairy barn.

You may be wondering how a mere homebrewer such as myself stumbled into the brewmaster position at such a bitchin-sounding new brewery operation. This would be a very good question, and I'm not entirely sure myself. Though if I had to guess, I would assume it involves some really effective blackmailing. I will say that such an undertaking would be complete madness without a very good, effective consultant to help you get up and running on the equipment and processes. (You wouldn't believe how many valves are involved in making this beer). While all the recipes are of my design, I'm not sure how they would've ever made it to the tank intact without the wisdom and reassuring McConaugheyian cool of someone much smarter and more experienced than me. While this is still a totally insane venture, the help of our consultant has taken this from "coma-inducing levels of stress inspired by disaster" to merely "mental blackout eyeball bleeding levels of stress necessitated by unmanageable work load."

What else? There are so many things to write about, I know I can't cover them all right now and I'm not even going to try. Various observations and experiences will give me great fodder for many blog posts to come, certainly. I mean, what do you guys want to know? What are you curious about, on the front lines of an experience and opportunity like this? I'll be writing about it all, just hopefully distilling it down one topic at a time. Let me know what you're wondering about and I'll be sure to address it. At some point. Once I finish the book. And get some sleep. Good god I'm exhausted I didn't realize it was physically possible to drink this much coffee.

Our very first beer is hitting the market like... well, right now. I mean literally this afternoon. Partly, honestly, I was waiting to 'announce' my role at Kent Falls until our beer was on the market and thus everything actually felt... real. (The twist though is that currently still none of this feels real to me). We're self distributing in Connecticut to start, mostly in the central / western portions of the state. Barry is driving around today and tomorrow delivering kegs. We'll be in New York sooner or later too... hopefully sooner. Connecticut and New York are going to be our primary regions of focus. One of the most unfortunate quirks of this operation is that there's no taproom or tasting room on the farm, and we'll have to go through a bit of a process in order to even sell beer here. To start, a bar or beer store will be your place to find Kent Falls beer. (I'll write some more updates about that tasting room situation later).

We've put up a convenient Google Maps dodad to help you track down our beer. By tomorrow (Friday, March 13th), a decent number of accounts should have our beer. Right now you'll be able to find Field Beer, our locally-grown saison, but obviously the map will be updated as new beers are released. Waymaker Brett IPA and Farmer's Table saison are up next after Field Beer.

Since we don't have a taproom, and therefore can't have a big opening celebration bash at the brewery, we're working on putting something together at one of our favorite local taverns in April. More on that as we get the details ironed out.

Thanks for following along with all my adventures so far. Thanks for supporting the Bear Flavored Merch store and helping me to put cheese on the table throughout the harrowing and hectic last year. Thank you for not laughing at me too hard at this new turn of events, my highly presumptuous decision to try to make a career out of this beer nonsense. There sure are a lot of new breweries opening, haha! It's unnerving, it's terrifying, it's destroyed my ability to get a good night's sleep, and whatever remains of my sanity is highly questionable, at best. Regardless, I'll be here in the trenches (the very muddy trenches), trying my damndest to make the best beer I can, and writing about it as often as I'm able. Bear with me.

Kent Falls Brewing at Camps Road Farm

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Barrel-Aged Sour Saison on Doughnut Peaches - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Sour Farmhouse Ale / Saison
Brewed: 4.24.14
Bottled On: 9.24.14

ABV: 5.6%

Life in a barrel, round two.

The first thing out of my beautiful new-to-me (used) 6 gallon oak barrel was a weird concoction, partly just to see if anything even weirder than what I was planning would arise. So I aged a 14% ABV Brett cyser in the guy. When that checked out, clearly its next passenger would have to be beer. And since its previous inhabitant had been funky, its next inhabitant would be so too. I'd committed this barrel to funkdom for life.

Many homebrewers don't get the chance to mess around with barrels. Small barrels have this annoying tendency to be both aggressively over-priced, and yet less practical in use than their bigger brothers, due to the drastically increased ratio of surface area. Which means they'll set you back a lot of dough, and yet you can't easily age in them the types of beers a brewer would be most inclined to age in a barrel. Like long-aged sours.

Fortunately, I brew a lot of sour farmhouse ales that only take a couple months to finish up. Just about perfect for small-barrel aging.

Sour saisons have become big lately, and I wonder if it's just because saisons in general really took off, and obviously we're going to try to sour just about anything, or if everyone realized the same thing at the same time: you can ferment out a sour saison in much less time than a lambic-like aged sour, and yet still achieve a beer that's complex and interesting enough to be worth the effort. Saison yeast are so highly attenuating that there's generally not a lot of residual sugar left for the other microbes to work on — meaning, theoretically at least, less time required. And sour saisons generally don't invite the entire complex ecosystem that most aged ferments have, so there's less of the long-term breakdown of complex sugars; more big pushes of initial primary fermentation. Since I incorporate Brettanomyces in mine, you still have at minimum the standard aging process of a Brett beer. But that's a matter of months, not years. Some sour saison blends use only Saccharomyces and lactobacillus, and those could probably finish up in weeks.

I've been tempted to move a long-aging sour into this barrel, believe me. I have a few going that would be solid candidates. The problem then, is, your barrel is now permanently an aged-sour barrel, as far as the cultures inside go. So you've either got to keep moving aged sours in and out of it, keep an aged sour in it for a while (until another is ready to fill it) and risk an ingress of too much oxygen, or else leave the barrel empty of beer for long spells in between brief aged-sour excursions. (Even writing all those logistical concerns out hurts my head). I've given this much thought, trying to decide what cultures I wanted to have a home inside this wood permanently. The sour saison culture (White Mana) living within now is, I'm pretty sure, the best possible tenant.

One of my favorite souring cultures, a barrel that had already proven to be reliable and trustworthy, and a good base saison. What else could a beer need?

Fruit, maybe?

And so I ventured to Fishkill Farms, one of my favorite local growers of Food, where I've also done a few homebrew demos and sauerkraut workshops. They're good people and take their shit seriously, so I knew they'd have something for me. Sure enough, I found not just beautiful peaches, but a type of peach I didn't even realize existed before: doughnut peaches. Look if you're just going to go ahead and combine two of my very favorite things together in one weird looking fruit, I am so on that.

Adding fruit to a beer in a barrel is a royal pain in the ass. The easy way would have been to cut the peaches into cubes and jam them through the bunghole of the barrel. For some reason that is no longer clear to me but was clearly the result of sheer stupidity, I felt strongly at the time that puree'ing the peaches would be the way to go. Cubing and dropping would have been much faster. But I got out my blender and spent a lovely Thursday evening covered in peach detritus as I blended, two liters at a time, and poured the puree into the empty barrel. Once the peaches were all blended up real nice and inside the barrel, I finally transferred the beer on top of them. Piece of cake doughtnut!

Actually, I remember now: I figured turning the peaches into puree would save me the trouble of potentially having peach cubes lodged in my barrel afterwards, impossible to remove. Shit, that was actually smart. I take back portions of the last paragraph. There might just not be a good way to easily add fruit into a barrel. At least this was just one 6 gallon and not dozens of 225 liter barrels. It's the small things in life.

Peach is notoriously subtle in beer, hard to express even in tame sours. An average for fruit in sour beer is probably somewhere around 1 lb per gallon. With peach, some brewers go as crazy as 4 lbs per gallon. I went with half that. The result, and the success, is subjective... as with so much in brewing. At first I felt this still didn't come out with enough peach character. Many I gave it to said that it had the perfect amount of peach character. As it aged, I came to agree: sure, it could be peachier, but the subtle nature of the flavor is perfectly balanced by the gentle acidity and smooth, richer oak character. Oak and peach together seems like a no-brainer to me, with the vanilla and lingering tannic structure from the barrel positioned just enough to compliment the fruit character, you've established one of the quintessential flavor pairings of the culinary world (peach and vanilla). And I think this is part of the reason that the peach itself doesn't have to be overwhelmingly present, but just present enough. What you want here is the third corner of a well-balanced triangle. There's a brisk, clean acidity, and some residual funk from the last occupant of the barrel: I'm actually quite surprised how much of the cyser carried over. It takes this maybe from a three-pointed beer to a four, but as all of the elements exist in harmony, I find it works quite well even with this unexpected additional dimension.

I found the main down-side to this "fruit in a barrel" business the hard way, when it came time to drink this batch. Pureed fruit still leaves lots of little bits and pieces, which mostly settle to the bottom of the beer by the time it's ready to package. But it would be impossible to avoid sucking them up entirely, and suck up many pieces of peach I did. As a result, the "late fills" off my bottling bucket received huge amounts of sediment. And as a result of that crazy amount of sediment, the bottles all gushed (tons of nucleation points for CO2 to start foaming) and poured like sour peach smoothies. The majority of the bottles, which have only a typical amount of sediment, are perfectly carbed. Except for the ones I bottled in these weirdly-shaped Belgian-cap bottles I love, which, apparently, my Belgian crown capper does not love. And as a result of that, some of those bottles pour basically flat. As a result of all of these things, this may be the most inconsistently carbonated batch of beer I've made in years. Sours are always a pain in the ass to carb properly and consistently, but my main takeaway: always use something to filter out fruit chunks. A fine mesh straining bag, or a steel screen like I use in my dry-hop setup, would both make a huge difference in the amount of gunk that ends up at the bottom of your bottles.

Then again, a sour peach saison smoothie isn't the worst thing in the world, either.

5.0 Gal., All Grain
Brewed: 4.24.14
Bottled On: 9.24.14

Fermented at room temp, 72 F
OG: 1.048
FG: 1.005
ABV: 5.6%

72.7% [#6] Pilsner malt
12.1% [#1] rye
12.1% [#1] white wheat
3.1% [4 oz] acidulated malt (pH adjustment)

Hop Schedule-
0.5 oz Citra (old leaf hops) @FWH
0.75 oz Citra (old leaf hops) @flameout

White Labs Saison II
House Sour Saison Culture - White Mana

10 lbs Doughnut Peaches
1 Oak Barrel

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Barrel Aged Brett Cyser (Cider + Mead) - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Fact: Americans mostly have pretty awful taste in cider.

Americans tend to like things that are overly, grossly sweet.

This is bad and we should feel bad.

Few things have fallen to such homogeneous victimization of our terrible enthusiasm for crazy sugary shit than cider. Up until very recently, cider was viewed as little more than a gluten-free substitute for beer, or a fruity option that wouldn't get you drunk as fast as wine. Complexity and innovation came later, but fortunately, it is coming. Cider is the fastest growing segment in the drinks business right now, probably because it's a business that grew from virtually nothing, and was able to tap into the same consumers that have already made 'craft' beer a huge phenomenon. For example, if you are like me, and like experimenting with new combinations of flavors, you will probably also be inclined to dabble in cider and mead as extensions to your playground, if not simply additional ingredients for some beer. For others, cider may not be looked at as a possible avenue for weirdness, but as just another interesting and quaff-able beverage that's maybe sometimes barrel-aged or dry-hopped or spiced.

Makers and drinkers are recognizing it as a familiar yet distinct playground. And with this shift, it was only a matter of time until American cider got better.

While most large cider makers tend to produce stuff that tastes like the thin sugary filtered apple juice that I remember my younger sister drinking (and drinking nothing else) for her entire childhood, (despite big cider makers' hilarious attempts to market their juice as if it's some kind of brutal Viking fuel), there are some good American ciders. Places experimenting. And a few making ciders that aren't grossly sweet. The cider market is growing in leaps and bounds, and as it's a much younger movement than 'craft' beer, most folks making good cider are just getting started.

My main gripe, at this point, is the lack of anything with real wildness. Where's the funk?

For all the American cider makers I do enjoy, hardly any of them makes weird, funky cider. This is disappointing. Even our driest ciders are generally clean and relatively tame. Where are the funky Spanish and Basque style ciders, made in America? Apples host yeast in abundance, and many funky European ciders take advantage of this with their native fermentations, their Brett-embracing, over-carbed feral character. Either our apples are just arbitrarily host to cleaner yeast strains here in America (an explanation that may not be as ridiculous as it sounds, actually, as I do know of some cider makers producing native-yeast fermented cider that turns out incredibly clean), or else the widespread embrace of funky beers just hasn't lapsed over to cider yet.

As my grandma always told me, if you want a weird funky cider with Brettanomyces that clocks in above 14% ABV and is aged in an oak barrel for a summer until it ferments to dryness, sometimes you just have do it yourself.

Cyser is a combination of apple cider and honey — a blend of hard cider and mead, depending how you want to view it. The main reason I went this route was simply to build a stronger beverage that would survive for years to come, and boosting the ABV with simple sugars is easy enough. Rather than cheap table sugar or corn sugar, might as well throw in some local honey and make it real Viking fuel. Maybe even let some local microbes hop on board from the diluted honey. Cider and mead are simply two complimentary flavors: cyser is a no-brainer, if you ask me.

So I started with 5 gallons of cider from a local orchard, Fishkill Farms. Fermented that out with champagne yeast, in a carboy. Transferred into a barrel that the gentlemen of the Brewery at Bacchus were kind enough to donate to me. The barrel had gone through a few previous lifetimes, so I didn't expect to get a ton of oak character out of it, which proved to be true. What little I did get just added some nice balance to this hefty beverage and made a home for the Brettanomyces. Fishkill Farms does UV pasteurize their cider, but UV pasteurization is only a stopgap measure against fermentation, in my experience. Most UV treated cider that I've picked up will eventually start to ferment on its own — amazingly, even if you keep it in the fridge. I've set aside many a cider for two weeks only to find the container bulging and ready to erupt. (Side note: I've always wondered what yeast could be native to these apples that is capable of fermenting at chilly fridge temps. Are apples naturally host to lager yeast? Are other Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains able to ferment this cold, and just haven't made their way into brewer's toolboxes?) So, while the champagne yeast that I pitched was probably able to out-compete most of the native stuff, it's likely / possible something already in the cider was left to make its own impression.

Once the fermented-out cider was nestled in its barrel, I kept a steady fermentation going by slowly adding wildflower honey, as well as a few Brettanomyces strains. An alternate method would be to simply ferment the mead and the cider separately, then blend, and that could work fine too. But here was my theory: by fermenting the cider first, I had a nice healthy yeast culture ready for a boost in alcohol. By slowly adding the honey pound by pound, I kept the feast going, creeping up to the high ABV levels without shocking anyone with a big ol' surge of sugar. If you simply blended mead and cider, one of them would have to be high in alcohol on its own to reach a high ABV blended beverage. Here, the creep from 8% to 14% could go slow.

Apparently, this strategy worked incredibly well. Some very experienced drinkers have tried this concoction, and when I ask them to guess the ABV, no one has thought that this would be over 8% ABV. So that's something. The slow trickle of sugar surely helped with that. Honey doesn't ferment out quite as quickly as other simple sugars, either, giving the Brett the opportunity to work on it slowly. And to bring the funk. As dry as this finished, down to essentially zero residual sugar, the Brett still had the opportunity to work up some weirdness.

What this particular weirdness tastes like is pretty hard to describe. There's a big punch of weird funk in the aroma, while the taste is a bit cleaner, and more fruit-forward. As it warms, it shuffles a bit closer to the direction of a clean mead and cider hybrid, with the crisp flavors of both present, complimentary, and actually nicely refreshing for something so big. I think part of the reason the ABV is so well hidden here is the balance. The oak helps, and likely adds some backing to the weirdness, giving it a rich quality despite the dry base. The crisp character helps cut through the weirdness, at the same time; cider and mead are obviously both very tasty when not clouded by distracting excess sugar. And the weirdness does what it does, being weird, because it's just weird, and whatever That Flavor or That Aroma is, it's another layer you don't typically find in American ciders. I enjoy it. I wonder how many Normal cider drinkers would, though.

Weird, or whatever, the character here isn't exactly like that I've gotten from other funky ciders, and fairly unlike the character most commonplace in aged Brett beer. I used mostly the same strains that I've used in beers, so I wonder if that's a result of something lurking in the cider itself, something that took residence in the barrel, or merely a combination of all these things together resulting in something new and odd.

Maybe just the latter. That's why we experiment: you never know when new weirdness will result from recombining old elements.

"Brewed" on 2/22/14
Bottled 7/15/14
0 Plato | 14% ABV

5 gallons cider
Champagne Yeast
Brettanomyces - BKY C2 + BKY C3
Add raw honey until desired ABV is reached (5 lbs-ish)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Nelson Sauvin Dry-Hopped No-Boil Sour Ale / Sour IPA - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Nelson Sauvin Dry-Hopped Sour
All the pictures I took for this photo session came out with this weird hazy quality. Fortunately, this is very thematically appropriate for this particular brew.

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Sour IPA / Gose
Brewed: 11.10.14
Kegged On: 1.17.15
ABV: 4.9%

Appearance: golden yellow, haze, ample head, good retention
Smell: tropical fruit, bright lactic tang, funky citrus, guava, lychee, passion fruit
Taste: star fruit, lychee, 
yellow Gatorade, lactic sour, tropical funk, slightly briny finish
Mouthfeel: med-high carb, light body, crisp, puckering lingering sour in finish

It grows ever harder to label a beer like this without sounding ridiculous. Are names sacred immutable historic markers that shall never be blasphemed, or merely vague markers to give a beer the most context available? Sure, sometimes you'll get yelled at for labeling a beer some nonsensical, contradictory, hybrid style, but if you're not taking things too seriously, there's some effortless fun in the unanswerable questions like "How can an India Pale Ale be black?" Sure, why not.

Recently, a bunch of brewers have finally realized that sours are pretty dope when dry-hopped with some viciously fruity tropical hop varieties. I'm not sure why this took so long, other than, I guess, that sours in general weren't all that commonly made until recently. (New Belgium, as far as I know, set the trend a few years ago with Le Terroir, and it's caught on considerably since). "Dry-hoppped sour" works as a label, because it's descriptive of a process. But it doesn't tell you the full story. What type of sour? Are we talking a sour mash / kettle sour situation, or are we dry-hopping a full-on aged lambic-esque sour? Cause there's quite a bit of difference in those two things. "Sour" in general could be so many things. We could be dealing with a dry-hopped Flanders situation, a sour stout, a sour saison, an IPA that got infected, and so on. This batch, for instance: without the hops, you would call the base a gose.

At least, due to the fact that lambic-esque aged sours are way more time intensive to produce, you can usually assume that such hoppy sours are of the "quick sour" variety. (If it's an aged sour, they'll be sure to let you know). This batch, for example: I soured it quickly (not exactly a kettle sour, but we'll get to that). While it was a no-boil and no-hop batch up until the end, I did then dry hop it with an aggressive 5 ounces of Nelson Sauvin, and it drinks like it. Remarkably so. Is it a hoppy sour? A sour IPA? Or is it still a gose, as the base beer would have been had I never added hops?

Whatever it is, I could live inside this beer.

I love the concept of dry-hopped sours, in general. As I toyed with above, you can go in so many different directions with the concept, and if you're not pulling out bitterness, you have little clash of character to fear. A whole range of hop aromas seem to work well over the base of a sour, but the tropical fruity notes of new-wave modern hops are particularly well suited.

I suspected that Nelson Sauvin would go like gangbusters over a tart juicy gose foundation, and it really, really does. Nelson is one of my all-time favorite hops, but it's so unique and distinct that I find it doesn't always pair well with others. It's one of the few hops that I feel often works best as a single-hop addition, because it's already crazy complex, crazy distinct, and there are just very few other hops that can even squeeze within its realm of flavor. Specifically, I usually get a tart gooseberry fruit character from it, dry and succulent — the reason you hear those white wine descriptors tossed about for it. Since there's no bitterness, there's no clash between the hops and the sourness whatsoever — they work  in perfect harmony, tart and juicy characteristics enhancing the best of each other. I find it interesting how well-preserved and distinct the character of the Nelson remains: in Brett IPAs, the yeast almost always rearranges and chews through the hops, ultimately shaping them into something different. Here, the hops still come out the other end as they were before. Weird old Nelson retains its weird old Nelsonishness.

As with my last batch of gose, which got fruit instead of hops, I did not sour mash this or kettle sour it, the way you typically would. I just pitched my house culture of mixed lactobacillus strains, let those go on their own for two days at room temperature, and then followed up with a pitch of Brettanomyces to ferment the beer to terminal gravity. This one finished low, much lower than my last gose, and so the ABV ended up on the high side of what I was planning for. The cooler temps (room temp is pretty cool compared to what most would sour at), but I find the final result ends up right where I want it. This isn't the most acidic thing ever, but it's got a solid lactic sourness to it, moreso than most gose or Berliner Weisse. While you may not be pumping the lacto up at their max temp for the max effort, the resulting sourness seems a bit smoother and more complex.

Nothing special about how I added the hops. To keep things simple and clean, I didn't run this one through my normal dry hop tank, but I did purge the carboy with CO2 when I added the hops and transferred into the keg. Like I said, the hop character just held up amazingly well, for whatever reason. Nelson Sauvin might be one of my favorite hops, and this might be the best use I've found for it so far.

I don't know that I can pick a favorite between this and my last batch of gose, the kiwi lime zest version that never received any hops at all. Both wildly different beers, both very distinct, but both a wonderful application for the gose base.

As I said with the last one: BRB time for a keg-stand.

5.0 Gal., All Grain
Fermented at room temp, 72 F
OG: 1.040
FG: 1.003
ABV: 4.9%

41.4% [#3] Pilsner malt
41.4% [#3] white wheat malt
13.8% [#1] Cara-Pils
3.4% [4 oz] acidulated malt (pH adjustment)

Hop Schedule-
5 oz Nelson Sauvin dry hop for 6 days

House Lactobacillus cultures
House Brettanomyces cultures

15 g sea salt

Related Posts-