Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Red Flanders update

Today I racked my Flanders red to secondary. It's been in primary for a little over two weeks and activity seems to have slowed down enough for me to transfer it.

After having some difficultly with my racking cane/carboy cap, I ended up using my trusty auto-siphon (I will have to buy another one for non-sours, oh well!) to transfer the beer to secondary. I pulled off a sample to taste, and it hasn't really started souring yet, but has a nice flavor so I have confidence it will turn out well.

Now that it's transferred to secondary, I play to let it sit in the closet for the next six months or so before getting a dose of red currants and pomegranite seeds. If all goes as planned, I hope to bottle this sometime around New Year's.

Coffee: Extreme DIY Edition

Coffee berries. They sorta taste like grapes...

Not simply content with roasting my own coffee, this past summer I took the further step of growing and drying my own beans as well. I gathered approximately a pound of coffee berries, and removed the flesh from them, exposing the seeds, which will eventually become coffee beans.

I air-dried them for 3 days, removing the paper husk surrounding the bean. I then roasted them in a cast iron pan (not the ideal method, but I didn't have access to a coffee roaster at the time).

Finally, I ground them and make a cup of coffee. A bit light, very tasty. I don't think it's worth the time investment - I've since gone back to buying gourmet coffee. I might revisit this one day in the future when I have a greenhouse.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wood Toasting 101

I have been known as the "oak guy" in my local homebrewer's club for a couple years now, and while I'm not quite sure how I earned the distinction, I will admit that I enjoy using wood in my brewing.

In addition to the tried-and-true oak staple, I've been known to venture into less well-charted territory from time to time, using cedar, applewood, cherrywood, walnut, and other woods. Of course, they don't usually sell toasted cherrywood staves at the local homebrew shop, so you'll have to make your own.

I was able to source some 1"x12" un-treated cherry staves from a local cabinet maker. Wherever you get your wood, make sure it's untreated, pesticide free wood, as the stuff sold at Home Depot may not be food safe.

After that, you will want to toast it to bring out it's flavor characteristics. I use my kitchen oven, but a butane torch or open fire will work just as well provided you are careful. For this particular piece, I was looking for a medium toast so I put it in a 300°F oven on the center rack for approximately 35 minutes.

I like to use a pizza screen for this process as it makes it easy to get the wood in and out and allows adequate airflow so I get a nice even toast. Once it's to your desired toast level (I'll have a more in-depth write-up on toast levels and the flavor contributions of different woods in a future post), let it cool down for at least 15 minutes, and I prefer to let them rest for about a week before using them - just like fresh roasted coffee or chocolate, some of the harsher flavors need to mellow before use.

For reference, here is an un-toasted stave next to a freshly toasted one:

I hope this information proves useful. If you are doing any oaked beers soon, let me know in the comments.

TOPSECRET Brewday: Batch Eleven

I brewed up my eleventh overall all-grain batch, and my second collaboration beer, yesterday morning.

A little history behind this collaboration: late last year, both my friend Rick and myself ended up getting job offers in Reno. We were both living in Southern California at the time, and found it amusing that we were both moving to the same place.

In December, the homebrew club we used to belong to announced that they were holding a collaborative homebrew contest, where you could brew any style beer you wanted, as long as it was brewed as a collaboration.

Rick and I decided we would enter, and almost right away we knew what kind of beer we wanted to brew. We both like big, dark beers, and both of us had recently brewed stouts, so we knew we wanted to brew a porter of some kind.

I will post the recipe and more information on the beer later, but until me and Rick win the competition it's classified.

Some pictures from the brewday:

The 'hop spider'.

Rick's Darth Stove.
Drinking some inspiration beer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

St. James Infirmary to open a brewpub in 2012

I read on the Reno Gazette Journal last week that the owner of St. James Infirmary is planning to open a new brewery, called Brasserie St. James, that'll focus on belgians and barrel-aged beers. I can't wait. Good luck guys!

Batch 10: Honey Wheatwine

With Monday being a holiday, I used the time off to brew another batch of beer. For my tenth batch of beer I thought that I would do something extra-special and brew a beer that I could cellar for a year or two. After really enjoying The Bruery's White Oak and various other wheat wines (such as Terrapin's Gamma Ray, which my recipe is loosely inspired by) I decided I would make one of those.

At the same time, my cousin is turning 30 this year and I figured I would honor the occasion with a beer. My cousin is a big fan of Tequila, so I figured I would incorporate it into the recipe somehow. What I ended up with was a roughly 9% wheat wine with honey and tequila-soaked oak cubes in secondary.

I picked up my ingredients on Saturday since I knew the LHBS would be closed on Monday, so I went ahead and put it aside and went on vacation. When Monday finally came I got all my equipment ready and set to brewing. I was also busy making breakfast for everyone so I didn't take as many pictures as I usually do. The brew day went well, but I was about 7 points under my target efficiency (I need to figure out what's going on since moving to Reno). I pitched a combination of wine and ale yeasts to accentuate the dryness I'm going for, but also balanced it with a judicious amount of honey malt to stand up to the oak and adjuncts I am using.

I pitched both yeast packets at 70°F and within 4 hours I had airlock activity. I will post the recipe later on when I transfer to secondary.

The hops. I used all cascade in this brew.
After mashing, almost to a boil.
15 minutes left in the boil. I had a boilover early on.
1.071 (1.072 temp corrected). Target was 1.078 so I'm a bit short. It will still end up over 9% with the honey so I'm not too bummed out.

Blow off. The combined yeast are going gangbusters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SFBW 2012

I took advantage of the three day weekend afforded by President's Day, and took a small trip to California to catch the tail-end of San Francisco Beer Week 2012. Me and my girlfriend left at 7 AM. We took a detour through Napa Valley and stopped at a few wineries before getting back on the highway and heading towards San Francisco.

My first stop was at Bear Republic Brewing Company to pick up a few bombers of Racer X, their DIPA and a bigger version of Racer 5. Up until now, Racer X has only been available on tap at the brewpub, and Bear Republic hasn't had a new bottled beer in almost a decade. To celebrate SFBW, Bear Republic bottled a special batch that will only be available directly at their brewpub. While there I ordered the duck burger, which was delicious, and a pint of Ryevalry, their rye double IPA, which was equally fantastic. Bottles in hand, we headed for our next destination. 
Stop number two was the infamous Russian River. Most famous for Pliny the Younger, which was released two weeks earlier, I missed the madness but the brewery was still packed at 1PM. I sampled a few beers, my favorite was the Damnation Batch 23, a nice, oaky, tart belgian golden strong. I also picked up some merchandise since I probably won't be back until next February.
My final stop for Saturday was at Lagunitas. I was lucky enough to get there right as a tour was starting. They took us through the old tasting room and showed us the mash tuns, fermentation tanks, bright tanks, and their small barrel aging facility. The tour guide also shared some insights and funny stories (which you will have to hear for yourself!). They are in the middle of a multi-million dollar expansion so there were a lot of areas that were closed-off.

After the tour a went back down to the taproom and had a flight of four of their beers. I had the cask conditioned WTF, cask conditioned Imperial Red, Lagunitas SUCKS aka Holiday Leftovers, and their SFBW Fusion 2012. I especially liked the SFBW beer, which is Hop Stoopid with 2x the hops. The cask red was outstanding, as was Sucks, which does not suck but is actually a very good IPA.
After a full days worth of touring the local breweries, we turned in. On Sunday we visited some local landmarks and then headed back home. It was a great trip and I look forward to doing more of these now that I live ~4 hours away from the Bay area.

Downtown Napa.

Lagunitas barrel aging "facility".

One of the places we visited on the way home.

My haul after the trip. 6 bombers of Racer X, a bottle of Temptation, and brewery glassware.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tasting Notes: Belgian Enkel

My Belgian enkel has been in the keg for a couple of weeks now, and is finally carbonated enough for a proper tasting.

Appearance - straw yellow, crystal clear, with a thin white head.

Aroma - nutmeg, clove, allspice, fresh baked bread, apricots, and plums.

Taste - Lemon, graininess, a little bit of diacetyl.

Mouthfeel - Very thin. High carbonation, but not champagne or soda-like.

Overall Impression - Similar to the patersbiers I've tried, but more breast.

If I brew this again I plan to raise the ABV from 3.5% to 4% and use a fruitier yeast strain.

Buckbean Brewing Co. to close its doors

Last Friday, citing a difficult economy and higher prices for ingredients, brewery owner Doug Booth reported that Buckbean would close on February 29th.

It's always hard watching a brewery go out of business, and it hits even harder when that brewery is part of a small pool of locally-produced beers. Thankfully, we still have Silver Peak, Great Basin, Brew Brothers, and Fifty Fifty in the area to fill our local craft beer needs.

Buckbean will be having special discounts and events until the end of the month (check their website for more information and hours/directions), so get on over and grab one last pint, before it's gone!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Batch 9: Red Flanders

I've been a big fan of sours for a few years now, but up until recently, hadn't considered brewing one of my own. I had previously made a Brett B. stout that turned out very good, so I decided I would try stepping up to a full-on sour with bacteria and all.

Dueling brew stoves.
When I was brainstorming what I wanted to brew, I remembered how much I loved both New Belgium's La Folie and The Bruery's Oude Tart, and knew I just had to brew a flanders red.

After talking to a fellow homebrewer, Adam, who had made a very good homebrewed flanders red and getting his recipe and feedback, I was on my way.

The recipe I used was a modified version of Jamil Z.'s recipe, but I bumped up the specialty grains by 20% per Adam's suggestion so that the bacteria and Brett would have more food. I also pitched the blend directly into primary, as Jamil's recipe suggests doing a clean primary and then souring in secondary, but this apparently creates a very restrained sourness that I wasn't looking for. I also substituted the wheat malt for flaked corn, which is similar to what Rodenbach uses in their beers. I will also be oaking and fruiting it later on.

I made a trip to the homebrew shop and was all set to brew last Saturday, but they were out some of the things I needed. I ended up having the owner order my the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Blend and a 6 gallon Better Bottle that I can dedicate to sours. They came in the following Thursday so I moved the brew day to that coming Saturday.

I found out my buddy Rick was planning on brewing the same day, and figured that since it's always nice to have company that we would do a brew day together. I loaded up my car with my equipment and ingredients and drove over to Rick's.

Mashing in at 156°F.
I started my mash around 10AM and was able to sparge and get to a boil about an hour and a half later. Both me and Rick ended up having efficiency problems - he ended up nearly 20 points below his target FG and I came in on target but with only 4.5 gallons of wort. I figured that rather than top off I'd just go with it, so I went ahead and aerated and pitched my yeast at 60°F. I plan on fermenting at 65° and ramping up to 80° over the course of a week or so.

Afterwards I will transfer to secondary and let it bulk age and continue souring for at least 8 months, adding oak staves and some sour cherries once the gravity stabilizes (probably in ~6 months from what I have been reading).

Flanders Red
Recipe Overview

Date Brewed: 4 Feb 2012
Selected Style: 17B-Sour Ale-Flanders Red Ale

Target Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.050 SG Actual Pre-Boil Gravity: -No Record-
Target OG: 1.054 SG
Actual OG: 1.054 SG
Target FG: 1.012

Target ABV: 5.9%
Target ABW: 4.6 %
Target IBU (using Tinseth): 12.8 IBU
Target Color (using Morey): 15.3 SRM
Target Fermentation Temp: 65 degF

Ingredient Amount % MCU When
German Vienna Malt 5.00 lb 33.8 % 2.9 In Mash/Steeped
Belgian Pilsen Malt 4.50 lb 30.4 % 1.2 In Mash/Steeped
German Munich Malt 3.00 lb 20.3 % 2.7 In Mash/Steeped
Belgian Special B 0.65 lb 4.4 % 15.7 In Mash/Steeped
Belgian Aromatic Malt 0.58 lb 3.9 % 1.8 In Mash/Steeped
German CaraMunich III 0.58 lb 3.9 % 5.5 In Mash/Steeped
US Flaked Corn/Maize 0.50 lb 3.4 % 0.1 In Mash/Steeped

Variety Alpha Amount IBU Form When
German Crystal 3.5 % 1.01 oz 10.8 Loose Whole Hops 90 Min From End

Wyeast 3763-Roselare Belgian Blend

Mash Schedule
Mash Type: Full Mash
Rest at: 156 degF
Duration: 60 min
Water Profile:  Brussels (BE)
Mash pH:  5.2
pH Adjusted with:  Five Star 5.2

Here are some more pics from the brewday:

90 minute boil to get more unfermentables for the bugs to chew on.
Filling up my carboy.
We keep it classy in Reno.