Riesling Update

We racked the Riesling tonight.  It’s a wonderful wine, dry but with residual sweetness from the intense fruit, mostly reminiscent of pineapple.  I’m looking forward to a finished glass of this wine.  Tomorrow we fine it with bentonite, then once it’s settled, we stabilize and then let it age.  Yum!

Two New Gadgets

A couple of new tools to make the brew day a little easier.  First is a Pocket Scale accurate to 0.1 g:


It’s an AWS SC-2kg, the above link from Amazon should take you right to it.  My previous scale was accurate to a gram, meaning when I weighed hops my readings were anywhere from 0.5g low to 0.5g high.  Over an ounce, that’s an error of about 2%, not too bad and likely not noticeable at homebrew scale.  The problem occurs with brewing salts.  If I’m putting 4 grams of gypsum in my brewing liquor, my error is +/- 12.5%.  That’s unacceptable for a process geek like me.  The same measurement with the new scale is accurate to +/- 2.5%, good enough for homebrew.  Above, I’m weighing DME for a starter for my last brew day.  I finally got around to making my pumpkin ale just in time to have it ready for Thanksgiving.

The second new gadget was a birthday present from my wife, an oxygenation kit.  It’s basically a valve for screwing into disposable oxygen tanks, the little 40 gram ones used with small hand torches, tubing, a HEPAfilter and an airstone.  Two minutes oxygenation replaces 30 minutes aeration.  I don’t have the equipment to measure how much oxygen is in solution but it should exceed the 8 ppm possible with aeration.

Yesterday was brew day for my Chunkin’ Punkin’ ale.  It was good last year, should be better this year.  Basically it’s an ESB with four pounds of pumpkin in a 5.5 gal (21 l) batch.  I anticipate two teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice in it but here’s where I depart from the normal:  Instead of taking a chance on 2 tsp at the end of the boil, I put one in.  Then I make a tincture of one tsp pie spice in a couple of ounces of cheap vodka, the cheaper the better.  At bottling I start adding it a little at a time until the spice reaches the proper level.  Same with the vanilla.  The result is a slightly sweet brew reminiscent of pumpkin pie.  It doesn’t taste like it but I have the strong malts in the ESB suggesting crust, the spices and mild pumpkin flavor representing the filling and the vanilla the whipped cream.

Saturday I’m brewing on a digital brew sculpture from Ruby Street Brewing.  I’ll take pictures and report on my lust following the brew day.

An Interesting Experiment

When fermenting beer, we homebrewers are cautioned to culture fresh yeast every ten generations or so (ale).  The basis of this assumption is that after ten or so generations, the yeast will have mutated away from the initial strain as they adapt to the conditions in our brewery.  But then, there are tales of breweries that never change their yeast, they just keep pitching the same yeast one batch after the other for decades, if not centuries.  I recently read an article in Quanta Magazine that may explain those breweries’ success:  convergent evolution.

The thought is, or was, that evolution was divergent, that a small change could drastically affect the outcome of evolution.  The researcher, Michael Desai, created hundreds of identical worlds for yeast cells to live in then pitched identical yeast cultures into each.  After five hundred or so generations of taking the fittest cells and repitching them, it turns out each group had very nearly the same characteristics.  It’s as if each arrived at the same place by taking a different path.  And it could explain why some breweries have been using the same yeast for so long successfully:  Every set of mutations in the nearly identical conditions of the breweries’ fermentations converged on the same place.

I don’t know how to test this in a brewery environment but wouldn’t it be fascinating if our yeasts, too, were convergent?  We generally don’t brew the same beers every time and don’t create identical environments but a commercial brewery might.  If the various mutations of yeast in these worts, still random, led to the same place, it would explain why centuries-old cultures still make good beer.  The brewer has set up conditions favoring that culture and the mutations that inevitably arise in their yeasts would lead back to the same place.

Convergent evolution could be our friend.  If I hear more, I’ll let you know.

Progress on Many Fronts

Updates on the last few brews:  The Kentucky Common and the Berliner Weisse have been bottled.  In fact, the Common is carbonated and quite nice.  The Berliner Weisse has three more weeks before first try.  The Common is a light, dry beer, as would be expected of a working-class beer from the Louisville area, with a bit of rye bite and some dark fruit esters, I get raisins and cherries.  On the wine front, our Riesling is absolutely killer.  It needs to clarify and age a couple of months but so far it ranks with the Mosel Rieslings I drank when I lived there.

This week will be a bit busier on the brewing front.  Wednesday is my deadline to get a pumpkin beer going for Thanksgiving so my plan is to take a half-day off work and brew it then.  The beer I’ve done before and am imagining this year is a dextrinous, sweet base using Maris Otter malt and ESB yeast, light hopping perhaps finished with some of the Palisade Crystal I still have, spiced with Savory Spice’s Pumkin Pie Spice, a touch of vanilla and a bit of sweetness, either from stevia or lactose.  Think of a suggestion of pumpkin pie in a glass with the graham cracker crust provided by the malt, the pumpkin flavor from the spices and vanilla for the whipped cream.  It worked last year.

And Saturday I’ll be working with the guys from Ruby Street Brewing, brewing my interpretation of a Kottbusser.  I have one more change to make, lightening the honey flavor in the beer to match some notes from Ron Pattinson, perhaps pushing it a bit farther than his references suggest but either way, the goal is a drinkable, light-bodied German wheaten ale, not a hefeweizen but something different, dry, drinkable and light bodied.  It’ll be a 10-gallon brew on one of their rigs.  Should be interesting and I’ll post pictures.


Dusseldorfer Altbier

I just realized I hadn’t written about a major brew day.  I did an Altbier a while back.  A while as in it’s packaged and ready to go.

Okay first impressions, I got the beer too dark.  3.3 ounces of Black Malt yielded a dark coppery red beer.  I was looking for old penny.  It has a persistent off-white head, is clear and bright.  Aroma is hop-forward, noble hop with a light, fruity note of malt esters.  I’d go with tropical fruit.  Maybe if I knew what a lychee smelled like….  This is a bitter beer with good fruits, almost apple or pear with just enough dark undertones to let you know you aren’t drinking a German lager.  Mouthfeel is moderately light.  I like this beer!  About the only flaw I can find is the color.  And I love the hops.  This is a bitter, flavorful beer.  It’s also very clean – I controlled the fermentation temperature very closely and the result was very pleasant.  No off flavors.

I’m happy with it.  I’ll take it to another beer geek colleague and see how close it is to the genuine Altbiers he was drinking a few weeks ago.  Best drinking temp is in the high 40’s or low 50’s.

Berliner Weisse Follow Up

If you brew and use open (bucket) fermentation, don’t worry if you aren’t getting bubbles out of the airlock.  My Berliner Weisse is going quite nicely but not a bit of gas is passing through the blow-off tube.  The bucket is too leaky, the gas gets out around the rim.  But the good news is it’s fermenting away happily at 65 degrees.  It will be ready to bottle by this weekend.


The Berliner Weisse hasn’t started fermentation just yet.  Reading about the European Ale yeast from White Labs, it’s a notorious slow starter.  Nothing to worry about yet.  Meanwhile, I forgot to report on the Riesling!  Last weekend my wife and I went to Palisade and got six gallons of Riesling juice, pitched it with winemaker’s yeast Ba11 and it’s perking away in the fridge downstairs at 55 degrees.  We took a gravity sample today, about half the sugar is gone and the Federweisser – Mosel German for new wine – tastes wonderful!  If this wine keeps developing as it is, we’ll have a magnificent Mosel-style Riesling and I may have to drink wine for a while.

A bit more on the planned fermentation of the Weisse.  I pitched the lactobacillus brevis at about 100 degrees.  Now it’s in the wort and the wort is at 65 degrees.  The European Ale yeast is in as well and lagging considerably – it’s been 24 hours and I still don’t have noticeable fermentation, something very unusual for my beers.  But I generally pitch starters, not recommended for the dual fermentation regime I’m working.  So if I have nothing tomorrow evening I’ll start to worry but not yet.