After my fourth try to ferment a Saison using Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison, I’ve finally succeeded. The yeast has a reputation for fermenting down to about 1.030 and stalling, requiring a finishing yeast to get it down into the dry saison range. It also likes warm temperatures – I’ve even tried fermenting in my summertime garage to make it work to no avail. Heating blankets, no bueno. So then I read Gordon Strong’s “Brewing Better Beer”, a book I highly recommend, and learned the yeast is likely descended from red wine yeast and does not like pressure at all. Two process tweaks and I’m measuring final gravity at 1.009 with no stalls, the first is covering the carboy with loosely crumpled aluminum foil secured with a rubber band to minimize pressure buildup in the carboy. The second tweak is use of an aquarium pump set for 84 degrees in a water bath to maintain a constant, slightly elevated temperature. The second tweak is going to come in handy when SWAMBO does her Zinfandel, a wine that likes warm fermentation.
In the aforementioned book, Strong mentions two qualities that make a good brewer, or for that matter, anything else. The first is to understand what matters and focus your attention accordingly. In our world, that means if your sanitation is not good, no amount of water tweaking will improve your beer. The first principle in brewing, as in just about anything, is to know what’s important. To me, what’s important is to get harshness out of my beers so most of my process changes are designed around that. I focus my energies on good fermentation control, clean wort into the fermenter, first-wort hopping and using only chloride salts to add calcium. The second principle is know your control points and what actions to take. Strong and I share an engineering background. When running a process, you can’t always control what’s happening but you can control – take action – at certain points to ensure successful completion of the process. That’s the principle at work. Know where a control is appropriate, measure and take action. Your beer will improve.
Got two additions to the brewery yesterday. After many problems holding temperature in my 10-gallon Rubbermaid cooler I replaced it with the same size in Igloo. Will test to see how well it holds temperature this coming weekend. This bit of gear counts as a “tweak”. I was getting good beers with decent body but am hoping for a bit more control. Second addition was a high-pressure tank full of oxygen. Just the welding-grade stuff but with that and the Big Oxygen System from William’s Brewing, I should take some of the guesswork out of oxygenating wort. The most difficult part apart from the price tag – the tank and gas cost nearly $100 – was getting to the welding supply store when they were open. I honestly don’t know how hobby welders get their supplies: The store closes at 4:30!
This year our annual peach trek to Palisade, CO was a bit more involved than usual. We had our daughter and grandchildren, all of whom moved in with us about the time I went radio silent last year, with us in a suite at a bed and breakfast. It sounds swankier than it is. Sharing a bathroom with two women and a two-year old…. Okay, don’t want to offend any female readers so I’ll leave it at that.
The general purpose of this annual trek, aside from the absolutely gorgeous produce we can pick up out there that was on the vine the day before, is wine. Which brings us back on topic. We’re sad to report one of our favorite wineries, Reeder Mesa, is hanging it up. Once Doug has sold out of his current stock he’s done. That, after taking the gold medal at the Mesa County Fair, best of show for his Tempranillo. Doug is very good at what he does. He makes the best wine in the Grand Valley. It will be a shame to see him go. Otherwise we got quite a bit of wine for the year but while we’re on the vino, a shout out to She Who Always Must Be Obeyed (SWAMBO). She tied for first place in the Italian Red Wine category in the Colorado State Fair, took first place for the same wine and second place for her Riesling in the Adams County Fair and the red took reserve grand champion in that category. Congrats, dear!
The beer part of the Palisade trip was a little disappointing. I have a friend who works at the Colorado Agricultural Research Station there and she offered to let me pick some of her hops. I was enthusiastic about the idea until I realized first, I have no good way of drying them quickly enough, that is, before we returned home, and second, I don’t have time this week to make a fresh-hop batch. Bummer. Maybe next year, if they have excess I can snag some of them and find a dehydrator on Craig’s List beforehand, I can score some good, fresh hops.
A shout out to Cory, former head brewer at the Dillon Dam Brewery. He’s set up his own place in the old Village Inn in Silverthorne, CO and we finally stopped in. Good brews and a good-natured brewer! I got to sample some of his upcoming ideas, an IPA with a fruit-punch nose (in a good way, via the hops) and a wheat beer, not a Wit, with some orange peel. Visit the Brewery Bakery if you have a chance, it’s worth the stop.
After a fairly long hiatus, I’m back. I won’t go into why I was away so long, suffice it to say life started massively getting in the way about last September. Things are better now here at Casa Nosy, there’s time to reflect and write so I will resume this chronology of my brewing and share my lessons learned.
A preview of what’s to come:
– Nearly a year’s worth of lessons-learned. Hopefully I can save you a mistake or two.
– Nearly a year’s worth of brewing. New styles, new recipes, new philosophies of brewing.
– A new philosophy of brewing.
– A program for learning to brew that could save a lot of missteps and marginal batches of beer.
The first lesson learned is not to let life get in the way. Easier said than done when you’re trying to protect a daughter from an abusive ex-husband and you’re raising the grandkids. Perhaps a better way of stating it is there are things that are more important than brewing including protecting daughter, raising grandkids, etc. As that part fades with time, having a rewarding hobby like brewing is sanity maintenance, not to mention it results in beer a substance that can also serve as a coping mechanism. Not that I didn’t brew! I became reacquainted with extract brewing and learned some tricks that can make it a part of any brew regime. Using some small batches, I dialed in some recipes I’ve wanted to brew for a long time. I learned much about tasting beer, making it less harsh, water, hopping, all of which I intend to share. I experienced the disappointment of the first competition I’ve entered without winning anything, unless you count an honorable mention. And I watched my wife win a reserve grand championship with a wine we made here at home from a wine kit.
I’ll apologize once again for being remiss and hope to have you back as we resume our journy through the joys of zymurgy and through consuming the products of the art and science.
There’s something I like about brewing in April for consumption in September. I imagine brewers scurrying around trying to fill their barrels before the weather got too warm, workers stuffing alpine caves with glacial ice to keep the beer cold then, in September when it is starting to get cool in Bavaria, people scurrying about to empty the barrels to be refilled with fresh beer. That is the abridged version of the story of Oktoberfest Lager, a beer brewed in March (Maerzen is German for March) to be consumed before September (Oktober in the old calendar). I brewed mine last Sunday.
I was in Helga’s German Deli last Saturday enjoying their beer sampler. Their beer sampler comes with two Bavarian-style pretzels and six 12-ounce pours of beers from Warsteiner and Hofbrau. We added a Kostrizer Schwarzbier to it. The sampler contains both the Warsteiner and the Hofbrau Oktoberfest beers. I really prefer the Kloster Weltenberger Anno 1050 Maerzen-style beer, it’s thicker and sweeter than the others so I’ve been trying to emulate it in my Maerzens. The Weltenberger is sweeter, thicker, maltier than the mass-market Munich Oktoberfest. So my Anno 2015 is modeled on the Franconian version.
The mash was a three-step infusion mash with a batch sparge. Temps were 122 degrees, 145 degrees, 156 degrees and 170 degrees for great conversion, about 80% efficiency. Here’s the wort running into the kettle, demonstrating my new-found method for keeping crumbs from running into the kettle, a cheap knee-high stocking from Walmart:
I also learned another little trick this time, using smaller containers to recirculate. I was using a one-gallon pitcher, then having to pour it back, stirring up the grain bed and making my wort cloudy. This time I used two quart measuring cups and avoided cloudy wort.
The beer is perking away at 50 degrees in the refrigerator downstairs. Once it’s done with primary, it gets lagered for as long as I can keep the fridge cold. In retrospect, I might have added an ounce or two of melanoidin malt to simulate decoction. Maybe next time. Part of the fun is learning and it seems I learn something from each brew.
Here’s the recipe mentioned in the previous post. It’s a coffee flavor bomb. I’m going to dial the carafa malt back a bit next brew but, for blog consumption, here is the Naked Porter recipe:
Next version I’ll back the Carafa down to a more respectable 10 ounces. Make sure your water is very hard or treat with alkali, bicarbonate or hydroxide, to ensure the mash is not too acidic. Cheers!
A few weeks ago my Naked Porter, so named because it’s the Dry Dock’s Vanilla Porter sans vanilla, was fine. Now nearly every bottle I open gushes. I got one that was positively nasty with bad fermentation by-products. The rest have been overcarbonated but not bad. Here’s one:
Finding out what could have happened is a bit of a forensic effort. The bad one was a true gusher and there was no doubt that it was not a good beer. The rest are tart with some diacetyl but that was always present. Diagnosing the beer is made more difficult by the fact that it’s the one batch I’ve made that I didn’t keep notes. There are no off aromas. The beer has always been opaque so it’s hard to tell if there’s any significant cloudiness. When I poured, the beer appears to be clear. Aside from the one truly bad beer, the beer is not gushing in the glass. Its head is persistent but not growing. Based on this, I have to assume I had the one bad bottle from the batch, likely the result of a dirty bottle and not any brewing error.
Now I’m working from memory. It’s a very dark beer with lots of roasted malts, leading to a highly acidic mash. I added some calcium carbonate – chalk – to the mash to bring the pH up. Later, reading the Brewing Elements series book “Water”, I learned that the chalk does indeed dissolve in the acid environment of a mash, then combines with phosphates to form apatite chrystals. In beer, these form condensation nuclei, sites where bubbles can form, much like bubbles in a normal beer form at minute scratches, imperfections and dirt specks on the glass. Beer is a supersaturated solution of carbon dioxide so when the pressure is released with condensation nuclei present, the beer gushes.
Our water requires treatment for very light and very dark beers to control the mash pH. Chalk is ineffective and leads to problems as mentioned above. Next time I’m brewing very dark, I’ll add sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, instead. It’s soluble and controls the pH much more effectively. Yes, I’m adding sodium but our water is so low in sodium that it shouldn’t matter.
So I have good tasting gushers. So be it, I learned a valuable lesson from it and I had no plans to enter any of these over-the-top coffee bombs in any competition. I’ll enjoy them at home, share them with understanding friends and will not make the same mistake again.