Friday, 28 August 2015

Sour Beer At The Irish Craft Beer Fest

I don't normally do beer reviews, but I decided to make an exception as these brews are available right now for you to try in the RDS.

First up we have Sour Brown Ale from Blacks of Kinsale. This is a batch of their Jester Brown Ale which has had a mixed sour culture from White Labs added to it in secondary. Jester is an exciting new British hop from Charles Faram's breeding programme which makes either version of the beer worth trying in themselves. The soured version is only ever so slightly sour as Sam Black, the brewer and owner, told me. The mixed culture was only added three weeks ago, so this is definitely one for keeping and letting the sourness develop. It's ever so slightly acetic on the nose, but not in a bad way. Worth trying, and if you can take away some in a growler and let is age.


Next up is Beann Gulban from White Hag. I sourced some wine barrels a while back and Joe Kearns, the head brewer in White Hag took two of them. Joe has blended a very acidic batch with a less acidic one, and has been aged the blend in one of these barrels. The uniqueness doesn't stop there though. Beann Gulban has no hops at all (yes you read that right), instead it has a huge amount of heather flowers added to primary and when the conditions (pH and gravity) are right Joe pitches the yeast. All the sourness is coming from the heather, and it is definitely lactic in nature, with the oak adding an extra dimension, a truly wonderful beer.

Joe also brought along the very acidic batch in a corny keg for "special guests", whoever that could be ;) This is proper hardcore Beann Gulban the way I like it, and being honest I personally prefer it, but it may be too tart for others.


I made my way over to Kinnegar's stand and had a good chat with Rick Lahart about his latest creation, Geuzberry. The wort was pasteurised and then kettle soured with yoghurt probiotics and fermented out with a neutral yeast, and for a final twist there are locally grown gooseberries added. It's like a strong (ABV-wise) Berliner weisse, and is properly tart. Just like Berliners of old, Rick offers a variety of sweet syrups which can be mixed in to take the edge off, but says himself that he prefers it straight up. I didn't try the syrups but I can see why Rick likes it: again a beautiful beer. If you can't make it to the RDS this is also available in bottles in good off-licences but won't hang around long.

So this this is a snapshot of the Irish sour beer scene as of August 2015. It's great to see the number of sour and less conventional beers increasing as the market becomes more open to new ideas. We're not quite Belgium yet, but we're heading in the right direction.

Foot note: Not beer related, but Blacks have also become a licensed distiller, bought a still, and are producing spirits in small quantities. I sampled their poteen and decided I'd procure a bottle as it's top notch stuff. Very limited availability (there were only a handful of bottles left) so I'm sure it'll become collectable.


Friday, 24 July 2015

Quare Good IPA

My mate Dave asked me to brew him an IPA which he could take away in a jerry can, ferment, dry hop, and bottle at home when it's done. Dave has been a recipient of Davy Uprichard's excellent cider juice of 2014 and has confirmed his position on the 2015 guest list, so by now he's no stranger to alcoholic beverages by the jerry can.

Dave lives in the Wexford Mountains, where everything except strawberries and Wexford queens is in short supply. Dave's initial request was for a "Double IPA" prompting me to produce a simple enough recipe along the lines of BrewDog's Hardcore IPA, which to my surprise drew horror. 9% abv was the issue. Clearly there was a problem with definitions! So after a bit of ping pong the "Double IPA" was binned and a new recipe for quaffing of around 5% drawn up, with hop fruitiness.

This meant lots of US hops and a simple grain bill. Where I decided to throw a semi curve ball was the yeast. This would normally be a US-05 or WLP-001 no-brainer, but I decided to go with Brett Sacch WLP-644. This gained a bit of notoriety this year when it was DNA sequenced and found not to be brettanomyces but in fact saccharomyces. White Labs have subsequently renamed it in an artist-formerly-know-as fashion and it's now Saccharomyces "Bruxellensis" Trois.

A few things that are unusual about WLP-644:
  1. It's slower than regular saccharomyces. Allow 2 weeks to finish primary.
  2. It super attenuates. Think 85% or more, compared to ~75% for regular sacch.
  3. With lots of wort aeration it possibly can generate a small amount of acetic acid, though this is open to debate.
  4. It can form a pellicle.
Lucan County Water
Again as it was going to be hoppy, it meant Leixlip water was out. As I've written before Leixlip water is far too hard to be suitable for brewing this sort of beer without treatment, and so I opted to use water from the Lucan County instead. As there is no such thing of course as Lucan water, they just get a blend of our Leixlip water and another very soft source, I think currently Ballymore Eustace (ironically both sources are 100% Liffey water). On the day in question Lucan water was showing 90 ppm on the TDS meter and in comparison Leixlip was at 230 ppm. TDS isn't hardness but it's a general indication, and Lucan was showing a mere 40% of whatever Leixlip was on the day.

Recipe for 40 litres

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.50 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) MCI (5.9 EBC) Grain 95.00 %
0.50 kg White Wheat Malt Bairds (4.7 EBC) Grain 5.00 %
30.00 gm Hop Extract [51.00 %] (60 min) Hops 87.4 IBU
60.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (0 min) Hops -
60.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
90.00 gm Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
150.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
60.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
0.50 items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs WLP644 (White Labs #WLP644) Yeast-Ale

Est Original Gravity: 1.056 SG Measured Original Gravity: 1.058 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.008 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.008 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.3% Actual Alcohol by Vol: 6.5%
Bitterness: 87.4 IBU Calories: 542 cal/l
Est Color: 10.3 EBC Color:

Unusually for such a large brew I overshot my efficiency targets by a few percent, which is the opposite to what I'd expect: instead of 70% or so on this size of a brew, I actually hit 77%. Also, even more annoying was when I was drawing up the recipe I left US-05 as the yeast in BeerSmith as it didn't have an entry for WLP-644 (it's the old version, 1.4), which of course meant the anticipated attenuation was much lower, at around 72%. Using these two figures (70% efficiency and 72% attenuation) would have resulted in 5% abv on the dot. Mental note: put in the right yeast at the start in future!

Using hop extract in this one was a no-brainer as it meant the hop debris if I had used pellets was greatly minimised. I still don't have a way of dealing with large amounts of hops that I'm 100% happy with. Guess I'll just have to keep at the whirlpooling.

The wort was split into a 33 litre fermenter and a 25 litre jerry can for Dave to take home. I had made a moderate sized starter with the WLP-644, though I'm not sure that was necessary as it was vigorously healthy when I was slanting it. Dave got half the starter and I got the other half. I split the dry hops and vacuum packed Dave's share for the arduous journey up the mountains.

As I said earlier about WLP-644, this brew took a fortnight at 22°C to hit terminal gravity of 1.008. It dry hopped about a week in, and once terminal gravity reached it was fined with gelatine at 2°C for a few days before being racked and in my case kegged. Dave bottled his.

Tasting Notes
Bright copper and opaquely coloured with a lasting white head and associated lacing, this is quite an awesome brew! Very fruity and also quite bitter. It's definitely in the "Double IPA" league when it comes to hop flavour and bitterness. There is no perceivable acidic taste and the pH meter, showing 4.5, confirms there is no real acid present. It's one of the better IPAs I've brewed. What would I change? Well nothing really apart from the bitterness. At around 90 IBUs it's not to everyone's taste, and I think a few of Dave's mountainous mates are finding it a bit tougher going than the large bottles of McArdles off the shelf that they're used to.

Quare Good Lad

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Lambic 2.1

After the lambic barrel of 2014 was emptied I decided I wouldn't get involved in the re-filling. This was for a number of reasons, but the most relevant one to this blog is that I already brewed to this formula and used this barrel so I know what to expect from it. Been there, done that, so to speak, without wanting to sound crude. While I'm very happy with the results from that barrel I have always felt it could have had more bite. I don't recall seeing any pH meters on the brew day, but the finished beer only clocked 4.2 on the pH scale a year later. While the beer compares very favourably on the whole, the acid deficiency is clear when commercial examples are compared, which often have a pH of less than 3.5. In Classic Beer Styles 3: Lambic, Jean Xavier Guinard typifies "hard" lambic as having a pH around 3.4 and "soft" as 3.9. (page 36) and the European Union has declared the highest pH to be considered lambic as 3.9. So ignoring geographical origin that beer was not a lambic by other established standards.

I also understand the mashing process a bit better having done a bit more reading and talking to people at Toer de Geuze, so I have refined the procedure somewhat. A couple of things that seem to be missing from a lot of texts is an explanation for the small bit of barley malt that is added to the wheat during gelatinisation. There are conflicting reasons cited for this but some say it's to perform a mash of sorts to help make the gelatinisation of the wheat starches easier. Also there is no need to boil the wheat, it just needs to be kept above its gelatinisation temperature. Anyone who looks at a turbid mash schedule, which is what the genuine lambic breweries in Belgium do will notice that there is no cereal mash and at no point is the wheat boiled. For the reason I've changed some of the steps, simplifying and speeding up the process a bit:

The original quantities gave a water to grain ratio of about 3:1. This is in the regular ale brewing range but from experience I can say that with that much wheat both the mash and sparge are close to sticking point. My new step of adding 3L of boiling water to the gelatinisation pot after the 30 minute gelatinisation rest the "strike" water thins to a ratio of 3.6:1 in the mashtun while also helping to raise the temperature of the pot contents to "strike" temperature. This keeps the mash thin enough not to stick but lots of stirring is still required to aid conversion.

For 20L, revised:

1. Add 2kg wheat + 0.6kg malt to a pot with 15L water and heat to around 62°C
2. Bring to gentle boil for 30 mins
2. NEW: Hold at ~62°C for 30 minutes
3. Let cool to normal strike temp for your gear, plus 3 or 4°C (as you want to mash at 70°C)
3. Add 3L of boiling water to the pot. Apply heat and raise temperature of the pot contents to 3 or 4°C above normal strike temperature (to 80°C in my case).
4. Use as strike water and add to the remaining 2.4kg malt in the mash tun.
5. Hold at 70°C for 2 hours.
6. Sparge with 92°C water until 26L collected.
7. Boil for 2 hours, add 3-7 IBU shitty hops at 120 mins.
8. Collect around 20L in the fermenter.

I have done this procedure twice now (and lambic 2.0.1 twice), and not being restricted to a barrel has allowed me to experiment with different configurations, especially with regard to yeast. The first two were brewed to the 2.0.1 schedule and have WLP-645 grown up from dregs of a Framboise given to me by Nigel Comerford. As of 18 June 2015 these have fermented out, but have not produced a pellicle, three months in. Both done to the 2.1 schedule were actually done as a double brew, and split into 2 x 20L batches. Both were fermented out with a neutral ale yeast before having dregs added: the first had the dregs from the 2014 lambic barrel added, the second had the dregs from Boon Mariage Parfait. Two months later both smell fantastic, though the Mariage Parfait is edging it. Both are showing signs of pellicle development too.

Since I wrote this I had refined the process even more and will blog about it after my next brew. I'm going to call it 3.0 as it's different enough to warrant it. Stay tuned!


Monday, 22 June 2015

June BeerCamp - Cocoa Psycho by BrewDog

Image courtesy ratebeer
I recently invested in BrewDog via their currently running Equity for Punks scheme, so it's no coincidence that BrewCamp beer for June is Cocoa Psycho by BrewDog. This is an intensely flavoured Russian Imperial Stout that bears a passing resemblance in flavour and texture to a barrel stout I was involved in a few years ago, albeit with a massive difference in FG: 1.021 vs 1.007. I'm still not sure why that barrel stout finished so low, other than that there is some organism in the barrel that's not supposed to be there. I would describe most of Cocoa Psycho's character as coming from the roast grains, possibly with some astringency from coffee, though the coffee is very hard to pick out. Oak chips and vanilla pods are in the description, but again I don't pick up any oak or vanilla flavours, another similarity with this and the barrel stout of a few years ago. They are possibly there but just masked by the roasted grain. It is a very thick and almost syrupy beer; obviously a lot went into it, reflected in its off-licence price tag of €7 for a 33cl bottle.

Fortunately BrewDog have given us a lot of information in various locations about Cocoa Psycho, making our job a lot easier. On this page they say that roasted grains make up 23% of the grist, while on this page they give us the vitals:
  • Grist: Extra Pale, Wheat, Dark Crystal, Smoked, Black, Roasted Barley
  • Hops: Cascade to 85 IBU
  • SG: 1.098
I don't think there is any Cascade character present so I plan on bittering with hop extract or Magnum. Yeast is not specified but I think a neutral yeast like US-05 or WLP-001 would be appropriate, however US-05 does not attenuate enough to make the final numbers work. Chris White was right when he said liquid and dried yeasts are not the same! Phil said he can pick out the crystal malt clearly, but again I'm not so sure: if I hadn't been told it was there I probably wouldn't notice.

The recipe I've devised for a 19 litre clone brew going on the information given is:

Amount Item Type % or IBU
5.90 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) MCI (5.9 EBC) Grain 66.67 %
1.00 kg Black (Patent) Malt (985.0 EBC) Grain 11.30 %
1.00 kg Roasted Barley (591.0 EBC) Grain 11.30 %
0.50 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (157.6 EBC) Grain 5.65 %
0.25 kg Smoked Malt (17.7 EBC) Grain 2.82 %
0.20 kg White Wheat Malt (4.7 EBC) Grain 2.26 %
19.00 gm Hop Extract [51.00 %] (60 min) Hops 85.4 IBU
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) Yeast-Ale

Est Original Gravity: 1.098 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.021 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 10.06
Bitterness: 85.4 IBU
Est Color: 172.7 EBC


Unfortunately I'm all out of black malt but Mark said he'll sort me out with some, so this should make for an interesting brew, but we've all agreed it will take time to mature, so I won't have an update on this one for 2 months or more.

==

Update 07/07/15
Brewed this today in 10 litre batch which is a departure for me, but turned out to be a lot easier than doing a 20 litre as I have lots of smaller pots etc and a 3kw gas ring can boil ~12 litres a lot quicker and easier than it can ~22 litres. I missed my targets slightly probably by over estimating boil-off. Resultant wort is 1.090

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lick Then Hammer - Part 2

This is a continuation of this post: Lick Then Hammer

Pellicle
In the previous article I omitted what I was going to do as regards yeast and bugs in the Lichtenhainer I was brewing, the main reason being that I was departing from the established norm to the point where I was nervous the resulting beer would be crap! To recap, the basic details of the brew were:

  • 20 litre batch
  • 1.9Kg Weyermann rauchmaltz (beech smoked barley malt)
  • 1.9Kg Baird's wheat malt
  • 200g Weyermann acidulated malt
  • 8g of Hallertauer Hersbrucker in the mash
  • Regular 75 minute infusion mash at 66°C
  • 60 minute boil
This is where I departed from other recipes. Rather than opting for a controlled environment I decided to make a lacto starter from some Weyermann acid malt. From our chat with Chris White we know that the subspecies most common on grain is L. brevis, but of course there is always the risk that something else is there. I pitched the starter at 40°C and let sit at warm room temperature for a couple of days. There was quite a bit of airlock activity and when the gravity dropped to 1.016 I added a small amount of Brett Bruxellensis, the Yeast Bay Beersel mix to be exact. It was fascinating to watch the pellicle form on this over the next couple of weeks! When activity seemed to slow to the point where there was very little I racked to a corny keg. A Lichtenhainer is the kind of beer that should be consumed young!

So how did it turn out?

Yum yum
Great is the short answer, but I would make improvements. It hasn't cleared, which is doubtless due to the wheat. In contrast Smoke Signals is crystal clear. There is a nice acid twang, perhaps not as strong as in Smoke Signals but the smoke levels are roughly equivalent, going from memory. What I would definitely change though is the Brett. The recipes I've come across online had a Kolsch yeast, and I think this would suit the style better. Indeed Smoke Signals has that clean flavour profile with no (non-smoke) phenolics and no other attributes that Brett brings. This is definitely on the rebrew list but next time I will make an actual L. brevis starter to elimiate any uncertainties, and use a clean ale yeast like WLP-001 or US-05. I think I'll drop the wheat malt too and just use pale or lager in its place, maybe with some carapils.

All in a worthwhile brew that I'll tweak and do again.

Cheers!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Brew 176: Quick Oud Bruin

Turbo cider is all the rage on the home brewing section of popular Irish internet forum boards.ie, and while I've tasted a turbo cider or two, I've always felt you can't rush perfection. Not that it's perfection but the Bulmers/Magners ad says "Nothing added but time"; they may be on to something.

This is a recipe inspired by one in American Sour Beers, but adapted to what I had available at the time and can't really be considered the same recipe.

This is an interesting brew in that the batch is split in half, one half is fermented with regular ale yeast, US-05 in my case, and the other half is spiked with lacto. When sufficiently sour both halves are combined to form the finished beer.


Amount Item Type % or IBU
4.20 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (5.9 EBC) Grain 85.71 %
0.25 kg Amber Malt (43.3 EBC) Grain 5.10 %
0.15 kg Roasted Barley (591.0 EBC) Grain 3.06 %
0.10 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (118.2 EBC) Grain 2.04 %
0.10 kg Corn, Flaked (2.6 EBC) Grain 2.04 %
0.10 kg Oats, Flaked (2.0 EBC) Grain 2.04 %
14.00 gm Magnum [14.00 %] (60 min) Hops 23.0 IBU
1 pkg Safale US-05 Yeast In one half
1 pkg Lactobacillus starter Yeast The other half
20.00 gm Light toast French oak chips Oak

The water was boiled Leixlip water, with no other treatment. After five days the pH of the lacto portion had dropped to 3.4 which I combined with the ale yeast fermented portion, racked to secondary, and let condition for a couple of weeks with some light toast French oak chips. Once conditioned I kegged and force carbed.

Tasting Notes

Oud Bruin is one of my favourite styles of beers, Liefman's Goudenband and Rodenbach Grand Cru both being personal favourites, both of which I can usually get locally. A genuine Oud Bruin takes a considerable amount of time to produce, spending years ageing in stainless steel tanks, and it shows, as this is where my version of of this recipe falls down: its lack of depth. While it's very drinkable it's sort of one dimensional and probably has more in common with a Berliner Weiss than it does with the real thing. There is a slight astringency from one of the dark grains, I'm not sure which, but I think next time I'll use all Belgian grains. And it's also slightly too dark. The final beer pH is 3.9 which isn't overly sour but all in all not a bad brew and one worth tweaking.




Thursday, 14 May 2015

Chatting With Chris White


It's not every day that a household name in brewing is in town, but Sunday May 10th was one of those days. Chris White, the main man behind White Labs Yeast, was in Ireland for a few days and myself and a few others from Beer Ireland (of which I'm delighted to serve as Treasurer) managed to catch up with him in Dublin for a couple of hours to chat yeast and bacteria.

Images used courtesy of White Labs
Chris's PA had indicated we would be meeting at 11.00am, which immediately limited the choice of venue due to 12.30pm being the Sunday opening time for bars in progressive Ireland! I suspected the Norseman would be open for breakfast so a quick call to Barry Kavanagh confirmed that indeed we could have upstairs, as usual. Barry is a great guy and has always been very accommodating whenever I've needed a meeting space.

The meeting lasted over two hours, so there is far too much to go into. Some of it was quite technical as well:- who knew that haploid yeast cells mate? I always assumed yeast cells were diploid and cloned themselves. That I learned from a question that came from Mark Nixon, head brewer at Trouble Brewing.

An interesting conversation evolved around a question I had prepared (I had about 30 prepared, mostly bacteria related) about kettle souring and the payment of excise duty. Lactobacillus does not necessarily convert its main food source, glucose, into any alcohol at all, so gravity readings in the conventional sense are meaningless. Chris confirmed the only way to confirm the ABV is to get your brew analysed. That or just over-pay your excise duty. Of course Mark was right that if you boil after souring for long enough you are also boiling off ethanol, further complicating the situation. But how long does it take to boil off all the ethanol present? I would think it would take as long as it would to boil off all the water too though, as alcohol and water are completely miscible. [My US readers may not be aware that it is common in Europe for brewers to have to pay an extra tax (excise duty) on beer based on ABV. The higher the ABV the more excise duty is due.]

Probably the most important advice though was that every brewery should have its own yeast lab, along with a couple of essential pieces of equipment. A DO meter is top of the list, and not one that is designed for water, but one for beer. The other is a microscope and any in the €400 to €500 range should do as long as it does 1000x under oil (White Labs sell such microscopes as it happens). I mentioned it to him that I have a microscope, but the possession is no indication of proficiency! He gave me a couple of simple tips: saccharomyces cells are circular, brettanomyces are "football" shape (i.e. American football, aka oval), and due to the vast size difference yeast and bacteria are not clearly visible under the same objective lens: use 400x for yeast, and 1000x for bacteria. I really must dig out the microscope again and start making proper use of it.

Pitching rates in double brewed batches came up too, the advice being that there is no need to pitch a second time if the second batch is brewed the day after the first, i.e. if fermentation is well under way. Relevant to me, as I'm tank shopping at the moment, is the advice to buy fermenation tanks that are three times the size of the brewhouse, as triple batching is now becoming common in the US. And conditioning tanks double the size of the fermenters. No prizes for guessing where that advice is coming from!

Anyone brewing long enough will know that Chris and Jamil Zainasheff have co-authored the brilliant book Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation (Brewing Elements) which is an invaluable reference for any brewer. I brought my copy along, and while I felt a bit cheesey in asking, Chris was quite happy to autograph it. He jokingly said that he left space for Jamil to autograph it too. I told him when he does it's going straight on ebay!

All in a great couple of hours and a huge thanks for Chis, who is not only an authority but a really nice guy too.