Softland Aleworks

Big Beers Brewed in a Tiny House

Category: Brew Day

Fall Update: Sours

Ah, beer, beer, beer… I spend most of my day thinking about recipes, listening to the BN, planning the next brewday; but not nearly enough time writing about it.  I do apologize, dear readers.  It is not for lack of brewing, but indeed because of brewing! So I would like to do a few catch-all posts to hit the high points of what we have been up to in the garage.  The first will look to our sour beers.

ECY Oud Bruin

By now, my love of Belgian ales should be readily apparent.  And so when I had the opportunity to acquire some East Coast Yeast, you had better believe I jumped at the opportunity. [An aside: If you ever find yourself with the opportunity, I suggest you do the same!  Fill up your Internet-shopping-cart and run for the paypal line.  The mistake I made was hemming-and-hawwing over which strains would fit into my brew schedule; meanwhile, yeasts were selling out and being subtracted from my cart.  Don’t overthink it! Select and pay, and figure it out later — these yeasts don’t come around often enough. And word on the street is, they will be a bit further delayed after the heat of the summer and all this Sandy/Nor’easter business.] These yeasts come highly recommended and I was quite excited to try my hand at a sour ale. After consulting the wise interwebs, I dove in and have been gently coaxing my bugs along for several months now. The thing about sour ales is you had better have patience — we are talking months and years, where we normally talk about days and weeks.  I pulled a hydrometer sample yesterday and I think we are in the home stretch on this one.  The FG is down to about 1.019 and it tastes wonderfully complex: A lot of Lactobacillus up front — assertive, but not overpowering or vinegar-y —  followed by a soft, dark fruity malt finish.  I got a bit of an oak character too, which is a nice surprise since there has so far been no oak introduced to this beer. What was it Lisa Simpson said about Jazz — You have to listen to the notes that she is not playing, or something to that effect.

Initially, I thought that I would have to wait quite a while for this beer to finish up. However, after listening to Jamil’s episode on the style, it seems that perhaps that is not necessary?  My takeaway was that it is done whenever it tastes like it is done. Long story short, this may be the best beer I’ve made yet. We will give it another couple months and then bottle and cork it.

Sueur de Cheval: All-Brett Belgian Rye

The second sour ale that I decided to take on was an original recipe, using only Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (WLP650) for fermentation, which I am calling Sueur de Cheval — a wink-and-nudge to Michael Jackson’s all too oft-quoted descriptor of Brett character as “horse blanket”. [Another aside: Do you see many cicerones around stables? riding out on the ranch? What does a horse blanket smell like, pray tell? Furthermore, how does it taste? Can we move on from this meaningless phrase?]  I was inspired to take on this project after reading a wonderful article on Brett in a recent issue of Zymurgy. I decided on Brett B., as it seems to be the most middle-of-the-road.

Here’s the recipe:

8 lbs  Belgian Pilsner
2.5 lbs  Rye
8 oz  Carapils
1 oz  Crystal (5.2%AA) (60)
0.5 oz Crystal (15)
0.5 oz Crystal (5)
WLP650

I mashed around 152, which is probably a bit high.  However, according to the article, the Brett will eat through just about anything you give it and produce an exceedingly dry beer. So I figured, why not mash a little higher and balance this out a bit. If I had to do it over again, I would also add a bit of acidulated malt, which helps to drop the pH of the mash and provide an ideal environment for the yeast. I was more restrained with the hops than I normally might be, since I am seeking to showcase the Brett character. This was my first time using Crystal hops, which I chose due to their being described as “mild and spicy” — hopefully a good complement to the rye.  As for fermentation, I pitched at ambient temperature (around 74F) and let it free rise.  It has been sitting in the high 70s for about six weeks now.  I pulled a hydrometer sample the other day and found that (although it is far from finished) it already had a mild funk to it and was quite pleasant. I took a look a week or so later and found a beautiful pellicle had formed.

Very excited to see how this one turns out!

Brett Pellicle

The Solera Method

Doing sour beers can be dangerous territory for a number of reasons.  For one thing, you have to be extra careful in your sanitation.  Most folks recommend purchasing a new set of plastic (your glass carboys will clean up just fine), and that is what I did. The second reason is that it ties up your fermenters for months at a time.  Every now and again, the big online stores will have a sale on carboys — I suggest stocking up ahead of time.  But lastly, and most importantly, it is seriously addictive.  I totally get why folks who start brewing wild ales stick with it: It unleashes a certain creativity that demands patience, improvisation, and hopeless optimism.

And then there is the art of blending.  I just don’t think I have it in me to wait several years to drink a beer (yet).  However, I would relish the opportunity to try the Solera method.  In a sense, this is sort of a lazy-man’s way to try blending: First, you fill a barrel with your beer and inoculate it with bugs. After it has soured up and you are satisfied with how it is tasting, you rack off a portion of that beer and then fill the barrel back up with fresh beer.  Then you let that sour up, and repeat ad infinitum. I imagine after a while you develop a feel for what beer will pair well with what is in the barrel and can plan accordingly.  There are a few advantages to this method: One being that you never have to worry about your barrel drying out or going bad.  You also will always have a new, (hopefully) delicious sour ale at your finger tips.  And if you are one of those homebrewers who (like me) is trying to hone in your technique and striving for consistency, it is a refreshing opportunity for inconsistency: You are continually meeting a beer you’ve never met before. And how cool is that?

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August Update

Things have been pretty busy in our brewing world:  

We brewed an Oud Bruin a number of months ago, which is in secondary and souring nicely.  I had some issues with the ECY yeast getting stuck around the 1.040’s, but this was totally my fault, as I let the yeast sit in the fridge for far too long before using it.  I decided to pitch a starter of Wyeast Abbey II that I had lying around, in hopes of finishing out the rest of fermentation. After a long, slow primary, it has finally dropped down to where it needs to be.  Now to let the bugs do their work for another year or so, and maybe add a bit of oak for the last month, then bottle it up.  Sour beers are a lot of commitment, but (I imagine) when they finally turn out, the work produces a truly special beer.  And if they don’t, you can always give them another year or two!

ECY23

We also did a Barleywine earlier in the summer, which sat on oak for about a month, has since been bottled, and is conditioning.  Unfortunately, we had two bottle bombs a week ago and so I rushed to get the rest of the batch into the fridge to prevent any more.  I am not sure what caused this to happen — inconsistent priming sugar distribution? an infection in those bottles?  I opened another bottle after chilling it for a few days, and it tasted fine amazing.  It may be the best beer I have made so far.  The oak is just where I want it, and I am anticipating those dark fruit notes from the malt developing as it ages.  I am planning this to be an annual brew, and will hang on to a number of bottles of each “vintage” to compare in coming years (assuming they don’t blow up first!).

All Grain Gear

We have a batch of Northern Brewer’s Dead Ringer IPA that we ordered during their IPA day sale, which we are getting ready to dry hop.  The real news, however, is that we have officially made the jump to AG!  After slowly accumulating the extra gear, we brewed our first batch last night — a Special Bitter that we did Brew-in-a-Bag style.  After some initial assembly frustrations, we had a great summer evening brew session, hitting our numbers, and getting about 73% efficiency — not bad!  I did make the rookie mistake of walking away during the mash and letting the temp fall to around 145F (from 152F), but I am not overly concerned.  It will take a few batches to dial in this new system, but it was a great first brew!

The recipe we brewed was based on Jamil Zainasheff’s from Brewing Classic Styles, with some deviation based on available ingredients and personal taste:

8 lbs Maris Otter
5 oz Crystal 120L
3 oz Crystal 90L
4 oz Special Roast

1 oz EKG (60)
0.5 oz Fuggles (60)
0.5 oz EKG (20)
0.5 oz EKG (1)

WLP023 – Burton Ale

Coming up, we will be brewing a Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale clone, doing some tasting notes on the Gluten-Free brew we did a while back, and other assorted shenanigans.  Stay tuned!

Brew Day: Summer Saison

Ah, the first days of spring! Clear skies, warm weather, and high time for brewing summer ales! A lot went into the preparation for this Brew Day (including a fair amount of research!), and I was excited to try out some great new gear and get down to the business of Belgians.

As previously posted, I knew that I needed to begin making yeast starters in order to decrease lag time before fermentation and to ensure that I am pitching enough yeast. After researching a few different options, I decided to buy a StirStarter stir plate, which came highly recommended via the interwebs and at $45, you can’t beat it.  In tandem, I also bought the yeast starter kit  and a 2000 mL flask.  This setup worked like a charm and after two days I had about 800 mL of happy yeast chomping at the bit to get at that wort.

Yeast Starter boiling Yeast Starter on StirStarter

The brewing itself went smoothly.  In addition to the hops, I also added lemon zest and seeds of paradise, common for the style. As the OG on this beer was going to be around 1.065, I was right around the threshold of “should have made a bigger starter”, so went ahead and threw in an extra vial of WLP568 when I pitched (at 72F).

After reading a bit about farmhouse ales and what other homebrewers had done, I decided to do one long primary fermentation and rack directly to the bottling bucket.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I prepared to transfer the wort that I realized my oversight: no funnel. I did, however, have five empty water jugs and a blow-off tube that was really too long anyway. Voila! A little finagling, a bit of sanitizing, a helping hand from a lovely assistant, and we were good to go.  The chug-chug-chugging of pouring the wort down this jug-funnel had the bonus effect of aerating the wort pretty well on its way down the neck. Nonetheless, I gave the carboy a good shake before pitching.

Makeshift Funnel

And that was it! A bit stressful at the end, but luckily I knew to relax, not worry, and have a homebrew. By the next morning, the krausen was at blowing out the tube.

Krausen at 8 hrs

And by lunchtime, well…

Blowoff Jar

For the first few days I let the carboy heat itself through the (vigorous) activity of fermentation. Having leveled off (around 75F), I ramped up the temperature to 78F using the new fermwrap and temperature controller — strange as it is to be heating beers this time of year in Texas. I am hoping that fermenting at the higher end of the spectrum will bring out more clove notes from the yeast.  Now for the hard part: waiting.  I will start taking gravity readings next week to see how it is coming along, but I don’t expect to bottle this beer til mid-April.

Thanks to sp for the photodoc!