Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Solera Fill #2

It's about that time to pull a few gallons off of my "solera", and bottle it up.  I did my first pull a few months ago and they are great beers to have around.  I blended those so they're not intensely sour (the solera is very sour, almost harshly so), but hit the spot when the sour itch starts.

On this next pull I wanted to fruit one gallon and I ended deciding on a mixed berry blend from my grocery store.  This frozen bag has cherries, blueberries, dark raspberries and blackberries.  I think the darker fruit blend will play well with the solera which at the point I can best describe as a dark red/brown type of sour.

The second gallon that I pulled isn't going to have any fruit but rather I added some oak and come bottling time I will dry hop it with a big, juicy hop like Citra or Amarillo.  I added ~7 white oak cubes that I pre boiled.  I'm hoping a nice oak character will mellow out some of the sour of the beer in the next month or so.

Of course I couldn't just pull off beer, I had to brew some to add back as well.  I used The Rare Barrel's recipe for their base red beer to maintain the color/style that the solera already was.

Solera Refill

2 gallons
74% efficiency
30 minute boil

3 lb 2 Row (69%)
0.75 lb Wheat (17%)
0.187 lb Aromatic (4%)
0.187 lb Flaked Oats (4%)
0.187 lb C60 (4%)
0.0625 lb Black Malt (1%)

0.5 oz Tettnang (30 min)

No primary yeast, this went straight back into the solera to ferment.

2/21/15: Brewday.  Pulled 2 gallons off onto fruit and oak.  Refilled solera.

?????: The 2 gallons on fruit and oak ended up turning into nail polish.  Too much oxygen pickup when transferrring.  I ended up bottling the entire solera because I was afraid of it turning into nail polish as well.  I've had a few bottles and they're great.  Very sour up front, but it dissipates quickly and doesn't linger in the back of the throat like some sours do.  Drinkable.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Saison Brewing Salt Experiment Results

If you've read my blog recently, you know that my goal at the start of this year was to brew up a killer saison.  I went through my first iteration a few months ago and it turned out tasty, but I still feel I can definitely improve on it.  Now, I'm a huge proponent of paying attention to your ion levels/mash pH and I believe you can't brew great beer without great water.  So I felt the next step I should take to improve this beer was to delve deeper into water chemistry.  (Beware: Some serious geeking out below)

We've all read about the recommended range that each ion has.  For reference here are the levels pulled from Water: A comprehensive Guide for Brewers (Palmer and Kaminski)

Chloride: 0-100 ppm
Sulfate: 0-250 ppm
Calcium: 50-150 ppm
Sodium: 0-50 ppm
Bicarbonate sort of aka alkalinity: <100 ppm

Following these ranges you see descriptors of what higher levels taste like

Chloride: "Levels greater than 250 ppm....tastes pasty or salty...> 300 ppm can have negative effects on clarification, body and colloidal stability"

Sulfate: "At concentrations over 400 ppm however, the resulting bitterness can become astringent and unpleasant"

Calcium: "essentially flavor neutral, but it can reduce the somewhat sour flavor perception of magnesium...minerally"

Sodium: "can contribute a salty taste at concentrations of 150 to 200ppm...may taste harsh and sour in excess, especially when > 250 ppm"

Bicarbonate: I can't find definitive info about levels, but this is closely tied into alkalinity which is really what water chemistry is about.

So I read all this and thought, well, now I need to test this.  I can read all about what tastes like what at what concentration, but until I really taste it, I can't know how it will turn out.  To me, this is all theoretical and I needed a practical example.  

Commence the experiment which is outlined here but for those who want a summary: rebrew my saison from before with a slight tweak in grain bill, ferment out with Wyeast 3711, then split it 3 ways and dose each split with CaSO4, NaHCO3 or CaCl2, respectively, at bottling.  Most importantly, dose it high enough that it's in excess so we can test these threshold numbers.

Those numbers to be exact:

Post boil into the fermenter (after adding salts to adjust my mash pH)
Ca 80 | Mg 1 | Na 47 | Cl 55 | SO4 95 | HCO3 134

First gallon 1.5 g CaSO4 added (final pH into bottles 3.9)
Ca 197 | Mg 1 | Na 47 | Cl 55 | SO4 375 | HCO3 134

Second gallon 1.6 g NaHCO3 added (final pH into bottles 4.4)
Ca 80 | Mg 1 | Na 162 | Cl 55 | SO4 95 | HCO3 441

Third gallon 1.1 g CaCl2 added (final pH into bottles 3.9)
Ca 185 | Mg 1 | Na 47 | Cl 241 | SO4 95 | HCO3 134

2 weeks in the bottles and it was time for a taste test.  I poured the beers into glasses marked on the bottom, had my SO mix them up, then we tasted them.

My tasting notes below are somewhat sparse, but that's for a reason.  The beers were, overall, extremely similar.  I was expecting a huge difference in these beers.  I'm pushing the upper limits of ion concentrations in beer from what I've read and I expected a similar taste disparity.  What I found was that my SO, who drinks a ton of beer, couldn't taste a difference.  After tasting through all three beers for 30 minutes, I found that there were subtle differences, but nothing huge or groundbreaking.  I would have been happy with any of these beers.  This biggest difference is the slightly elevated bitterness note in beer 3, coming from what I assume to be the elevated sulfate.

Beer 1 (CaCl2)

Taste is slightly sour, a slight harshness on the back end.  Somewhat lingering in the finish.

Beer 2 (NaHCO3)

Fruity up front.  Slightly dry and chalky in the finish. 

Beer 3 (CaSO4)

Fell off on back end.  Rounded.  More bitter than others.  

I know the sample size of this experiment = 1 and it's tough to draw meaningful conclusions from one experiment with no replication but the most significant thing I take away from this is to not be afraid of your water chemistry, especially if you end up high or low.  I'm going to go ahead and say can't taste the difference in a beer that has 40 ppm Ca versus a beer that has 50 ppm Ca, for example, and you might not even be able to taste the difference in a wider range either.  

In the future I need to push the upper boundaries even further to find a meaningful taste threshold for these ions.  I might also blend some of these beers to see if elevated levels of everything does anything to the overall taste.  Many more thoughts going on in my head with regards to water chemistry and the like.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Funky Golden Brett Tasting Notes

I'm going to apologize in advance for this review.  I'm pretty terrible at articulating my thoughts on beers and describing what I taste, but I wanted to share this one because I'm pretty happy with it.  This beer was brewed way back in October and served as part of a blending experiment for other sour beers.  I wanted something funky and very Brett forward.  

After reading The Mad Fermentationist's post on phenols and how Brett can eat them to make the beer funkier, I was inspired.  This beer was fermented with Wyeast's Abbey Ale yeast and when it fermented out it was super belgiany.  Spicy and phenolic.  I threw it in my 3 gallon sour carboy, pitched some Yeast Bay's Brussels Brett and the dregs from a Hill Farmstead Anna.  I also added some boiled oak cubes to add some more character. I forgot about it in the closet for a few months and bottled it a few weeks ago.  I finally cracked a bottle recently.

Appearance: It's a pretty beer.  Nice golden color.  I didn't clear it or cold crash it so it's maybe not as clear as it could be, but no sweat.  There was a nice fluffy white head on it which dissipated in time.

Aroma: Funk.  There's a little tartness.  Slight fruit, more peach/stonefruit.  Funk again, you can tell this is going to be interesting.

Taste:  Whoa.  If you've had a Hill Farmstead beer you know the taste.  Their culture is funky and tart and this beer is the same.  Not oak forward as expected, but it definitely did something, you can sense the oak in the background.  Quaffable.  Dangerously so.  No hint of alcohol, just a golden/blonde base with funk and a little tartness.  Only negative is it drops off quickly on the back end.

Mouthfeel: Well carbed.  Medium-high.  It's pretty well carbed to style.  Maybe could be higher to be more effervescent. 

Overall: I'm unbelievably happy with this beer.  The Hill Farmstead dregs dominate and that is a very good thing.  You get that characteristic HF funk, slight tart.  The only thing is the back end is a little, how do I say this, homebrew-y?  You know how some beers can fall off a little and get an odd homebrew taste?  It's in this beer for a second, but the funk is very dominant so it's not a huge problem.  I'd do this again in a heartbeat.