Brew Day, Maerzen

Okay, so I don’t have umlauts on my tablet keyboard.

There’s something about brewing in April for September consumption but back in the day when lagering was done in ice caves in the Alps, it was what the had to do.  But it is a beautiful sight:


I got about 86% conversion out of this batch using a 131 degree, 20 minute protein rest, a 152 degree 60 minute saccarification rest and a 15 minute 170 degree sparge.  The wort came out gorgeous, as you see above.  I got 6 gallons out of it and it’s perking away downstairs at 53 degrees.

All in all an uneventful brew day.  No major catastrophes, nothing went wrong.  Those are the good ones, when you get what you want from the grain and the process, about the only thing that made the day noteworthy was the 25 inches of new Denver snow in the background as I brewed.  But the wind was calm, something I treasure when brewing outside since the least puff of wind can blow my burner out.

My Saison is still chugging away, the brave little yeast cells slurping up the last of the sugars.  It’s down to 1.005 – Wyeast 3724 takes its time but is worth the wait.  It’s now fermenting at 86 degrees, the highest setting on my aquarium heater.  The yeast, known for their finicky nature, seem happy and that’s what matters.  My Kentucky Common is cold crashing.  I’ll put some gelatine in it Wednesday evening to clarify it up for bottling.  It has to be ready for Kentucky Derby day, May 7th.  Still plenty of time to condition.

Fermentation habit number 4 paid off:  I made pizza dough and homemade mozzarella cheese during the Snowpocalypse, pizza from it today.  Sorry, Papa Whozits, mine’s better, right down to the homemade sauce.


I just pulled a sample of my Kentucky Common.  It finished 2 points lower than I’d wanted – not bad considering I underpitched.  Fermentation control – keeping the temperature cool and within a tight range when the beer is starting to ferment, then letting it warm at the end, is a highly recommended practice.

My other adventures in fermentation are going well.  I’ve made about three batches of fully-fermented sourdough bread over the last two weeks and have been amazed at each.  Not since I lived in Germany have I had such good bread!  The practices used to make the bread are very easy and the results spectacular.

I have a local sourdough starter getting started.  Right now it smells very funky.  Unless it cleans itself up I’ll be feeding it to the sewage system rather than using it to feed doughs.  But I’m following the instructions:  The smell is exactly that of a sour mash.  Come to think of it, the fermentation is very similar.  I’ve mixed up unsanitized flour with water, let it stand open on the countertop to capture wild yeast and bacteria and have cultivated that through warmth.  Since I’m feeding every day as long as it doesn’t go too enteric on me, the “good” yeast and bacteria should crowd out the smelly stuff.  I’m hoping anyway.

My Pre-Prohibition pale ale is great, bitter but not too much so, black currant flavors from the Cluster hops.  Grodziskie also turned out very nice, clear and bubbly and smoky.  I’m happy with all my late winter beers so far.  It seems the Inkbird was a good investment.


Brew Day: Kentucky Common

Today’s brew was the poor man’s brew in northern Kentucky pre-Prohibition.  I’m finding I really like the styles before the Great Mistake – they were more flavorful, stronger, heartier brews than the fizzy yellow stuff that predominated due to economic conditions after Prohibition was repealed.  Here in Colorado, we’re still dealing with some of the fallout.  Our grocery stores can’t sell wine and can only sell 3.2 beer.  That’s 3.2 Alcohol by Weight, not the normal ABV which for 3.2 beer is about 4.5%  The law that forces groceries to sell weaker beer had an unintended consequence:  Local liquor stores, also limited by an obscure Colorado law to one license per person/business, could be talked into stocking local craft brews.  Little breweries didn’t have to pursuade a corporate buyer to stock the stuff, they only had to pursuade the independent liquor store owner down the street.  As a result, Colorado is in competition for craft beer capital of the US.

Of course, the grocery stores want to repeal the 3.2 law.  It won’t be the end of craft beer in Colorado if it passes but it will slow the growth of new smaller breweries.

The brew day was uneventful.  I hit my numbers, no catastrophes, an uneventful relaxing day.  The beer is being made for a Kentucky Derby party so it has to be done by May 7th.  It’s a close schedule but completely reasonable, even given a week to cold-condition and clarify.

I now have a new zymurgological endevour, baking.  Speciically, baking artisan sourdough breads.  It has a lot in common with brewing, four ingredients (flour, yeast, in this case, via a starter, water and salt), fermentation, temperature control, time….  I’ve learned some artisinal techniques that give me great bread with a good crumb, something I couldn’t get before.  I’ll share some of those adventures as well as they happen.  Tomorrow will be the second, the first was a European-style “bauernbrot”, almost the equal of the great breads of Germany.  And I’m changing the title above to reflect the new avocation.  It’s certainly yummy and believe it or not, some of the flavors are exactly the same.

Recipe for Nosy’s Kentucky Common:

Managing Wyeast 3724

Wyeast 3724, Belgian Saison, is a yeast that gives wonderful results.  My Belgian Saison is fruity, spicy, tangy and quite possibly my best beer to date.  There’s another batch of it in the refrigerator turned fermentation chamber downstairs – the Inkbird temperature controller allows me to heat as well as cool to keep the temps within about a 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degree Celsius) range so I’m holding it at 30 degrees C (about 86 degrees F).  The stuff is amazing – you’d guess at that temperature it would be a fusel bomb, headache in a glass, swamp water, anything but a very good Saison.  The yeast thrives on temperature, throwing spice at low temperatures and fruits at high.  But the yeast has a down side.  If not handled very carefully, it tends to stall at about 1.030-1.035.

The strain is reported to be related to red wine yeast and in our other adventure in alcoholic fermentation, we use red wine yeast at about 30 degrees C.  Red wine yeast is also sensitive to pressure.  So here’s what I do to keep it going past the stall point:  I keep the yeast very warm, warmer as fermentation progresses, ending up in the 90’s F if possible.  I have two ways of getting to that temperature.  One is the refrigerator mentioned above, the other is even simpler:  I fill a cheap plastic cable tub with just enough water that the carboy doesn’t float, throw in a 200 watt aquarium heater and warm the water to the temperature I want.  The heater controls the water even more tightly than the refrigerator with temperature controller.  Once the water is warm, I put the carboy in and let it continue to ferment.  To make sure the pressure isn’t an issue, I replace the airlock with aluminum foil crimped over the top.  I never bother to sanitize aluminum foil or plastic wrap, considering them sanitary off the roll, and have never had problems.

Last batch, the yeast, treated with proper care, fermented through from about 1.070 to 1.006 without stalling.  It slows down immensely after the first week but keeps chugging away.  This batch continues to ferment away, it’s down to 1.022 since last Sunday.  It still has a lot of residual sugar courtesy of a late addition of turbinado syrup last Wednesday (+3 days) and the initial flavors seem to be going as I’d like and as they did last time.  Repeatability is the measure of how well we brew.  If we can brew the same thing twice and have it come out the same, we’re doing it right.  This batch seems like it will be roughly the same as last and I’m satisfied with that.

If the yeast stalls completely, you can warm it, rouse it and see if it starts to ferment again.  If it won’t finish, I’ve done batches using champagne yeast and White Labs’ San Diego Super Yeast (WLP 090).  My recommendation is the White Labs strain.  It seems to finish cleaner than the champagne yeast.  In either case, if you use a finishing yeast, make a starter and pitch at the height of fermentation for best results.

Link to the “90 Degree Saison” recipe:

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all, regardless of religious belief.

I’m sitting drowning a bit of sorrow with a Sourdough Blonde.  Sorrow because of my disastrous attempt at makng sourdough bread yesterday.  I don’t know what happened but the stuff absolutely refused to rise!  My suspicion is the starter.  I had a starter before that made good bread but I failed to feed it for a few days at room temperature.  At the end, what was left smelled like socks.  Dumped, I ordered a San Francisco Sourdough Starter, activated it but it’s never quite performed as advertised.  After two straight disastrous attempts, I ordered a new starter, this time the Yukon variety.  Will see if that’s the cause.

We stirred up a white blend, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Verdelho.  The instructions call for reserve juice.  My experience on the Mosel is to ferment it until it’s the sweetness you want, then stop and stabilize.  Partially fermented grape juice tastes vastly different than fresh so I think that’s largely the difference between domestic and imported Rieslings:  Germans don’t back-sweeten, Americans do.  So we put the reserve in the fermentor and will stop the wine when we’re satisfied with the flavor.

Time to get my Maerzen done.  That’s up next week.  I’ll be eating my own cooking – no decoction this time around.  Just a protein rest, 131 degrees for 15 minutes, then a saccarification rest, 152 degrees for an hour.  Fermentation, highly controlled, around 50 degrees until done.  I want exquisitely clean beer, no esters, and good bitterness for the style.  I’ll switch the first wort hop from Magnum to Perle, last modification before brewing next weekend.  Okay, it’s April but I’ll be lagering in a 32 degree refrigerator, not an ice-filled cave, so it should be fine.

Kettle Souring

I got the tip on how to do this from Tim at the Dry Dock Brewery.  He’d given us a taste of his “Regal Tang” so I asked where the pineapple and mango flavors came from.  Turns out he’d used yoghurt to pitch lacto into hot wort, left it overnight, then boiled with hops the next day.

So I tried a batch.  I mashed, ran off the wort, boiled it for ten minutes, stuck a thermometer probe into it and cooled it to 120 degrees.  At 120 degrees, I pitched a couple teaspoons of my sourdough starter into it, insulated the heck out of it (as best I could), then left it overnight.  The next morning I checked the pH.  It was about 4.1, I wanted in the vicinity of 3.5.  I let it set a couple of hours then checked again.  4.0.  So I turned my hot plate on low.  The wort began to warm very slowly.  Seeing that it wasn’t about to get away from me, or so I thought, I went upstairs to take a shower.  When I came back to the wort, the pH was 3.9, okay, but the temperature was 151 degrees.  I’d killed my lacto.  So I boiled, fermented and still got a pretty good beer out of it, not as tart as I’d like but still nice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures.

New procedure involves my Inkbird temperature controller.  It controls both heating and cooling.  I generally use it to control my fermentation chamber – it’s holding the temperature above room temp for my 90-degree Belgian Saison.  Next batch I run my hot plate through it controlled to 120 degrees (50 celsius) with the probe in the wort.  The controller in Celsius mode holds the temperature to +/- 0.3 degrees, effectively 1 degree Fahrenheit, and the temperature is adjustable to 0.1 degree Celsius.  Interesting because the actual conversion of 120 degrees F is 48.9 degrees C.

So why kettle sour when there are other alternatives such as sour mashing, Brett fermentation, wild yeast, sour blends.  The literature will tell you, at least the snobbish parts, that kettle souring lacks “complexity” compared to other souring methods.  Here are my reasons for kettle souring above the others:

1.  It’s very controllable.  Some other methods give you what you get.  Souring in the kettle leaves you in control – you can stop the process at whatever level of tartness you want for the effect you want.  I’m even thinking of a very short kettle souring for my next batch of Irish Stout, since Guinness is rumored to use stale (read old), slightly soured beer in their blending process.

2.  You don’t contaminate equipment.  You boil the kettle after souring, killing off all the lacto before it can infect your next batch.

3.  It’s fast.  No waiting for a year or so for your Brett or your Lacto pitch to sour the beer.

4.  You can even control what you pitch.  Yoghurt works, sourdough starter works, natural sauerkraut would work, even pitching grains would provide lacto.

5.  Less chance of the enteric bacterial stench.  No need to stink up your work area.

6.  Most important, I like the results.

Guinness-Style Stout – A Beery Fable

Yesterday I bottled a Guinness-style dry Irish stout I named “Student’s Guinness-Style Irish Stout.”  I’m sure fellow statistics geeks out there realize why but I thought I’d pass on the reason for the name.

In the late 1800’s a fellow stats geek named William Gossett was hired to work in Guinness’s pilot brewery evaluating ingredients.  Most of the statistical methods we use today hadn’t been invented so he had no easy answer to how do you determine difference between ingredients given you can do a very limited number of pilot brews with them.  As today, you couldn’t tell a lot about ingredients from their statistics, you had to brew with them.  This meant his sample sizes were very small, five or less.  To use the normally accepted z-test required 30 samples.  So Gossett developed the math to detect difference in small sample sizes.

Then, the knowledge Gossett had developed was a closely guarded trade secret – Guinness was the only brewery that knew how to do the test.  But Gossett, a scientist, also had the right to publish so to guard his true identity and that of his employer, he employed the pseudonym “Student.”

The test, the bane of many elementary statistic students, is called “Student’s t-test.”  It’s easily the most famous statistical inference test and it has beer in its pedigree.  Cheers!

Forgot to mention brew day yesterday, Belgian Saison. More to come later.