More Art Than Science

Back in 2014, I brewed a kriek style cherry ale that I called Bloed Koning, which is Dutch for King’s Blood. The blog posts for that beer can be found here and here and also here.  I was happy with how it came out but next time I wanted to boost the sour and complexity. I figured that by allowing the assorted bugs more time, they’d contribute more of their flavors to the beer.  The fermentation schedule last time was 1 month in primary with Wyeast 3278 Lambic blend, then six months in secondary on cherry puree.  The other thing was there was a bit of headspace in my secondary fermentor during those six months, so I figured if I could rectify that, there would be less possible oxidation.

Well, the time had come to tweak this very difficult beer.  Two months ago, I brewed my second batch and this time I left it in primary for two months.  This was so the lacto, brett and pediococcus would have more time to do their thing before I racked off the trub onto cherry puree in secondary, which I did 3 days ago.  Taste test at transfer was a bit more sour but not bitingly so and the barnyard funk was definitely more pronounced. Last time, when I transferred onto the cherry puree, there was a secondary fermentation, krausen and all, as would be expected.  This time, there were no active signs of fermentation.  It’s been three days.  The cherry should have jump started another round of fermentation but all was quiet. Decision time.  It’s possible that the only viable critters left are brett, and they are slow munchers.  Or it’s possible most everything is hibernating or dead.  I didn’t want to wait any longer due to the whole headspace/oxygen thing.  I needed the cherry sugars fermented, which would use up that oxygen and produce a blanket of CO2 over the beer and protect it.   So I pitched a US-05 last night to get it going.  In a month, I’m going to transfer it to a tertiary 2 gallon bucket where there will be no headspace and will slumber for 5-6 months.

So why did I decide to post about this?  This just brought to mind that sometimes brewing and fermentation are unpredictable.  What happened last time may not happen this time.  And you have to make decisions about what to do when the unexpected happens.  You can science the shit out of your rig, process, water chemistry and so on.  But I like the romantic idea of a brewer.  I think of those belgian master brewers working their magic in the old world on a beautiful hillside in a centuries old building.  They are artists.  They use their senses more than they use analytical equipment to judge how their beer is progressing.  They use their gut and their experience to coax something wonderful out of their kettles, fermentors and barrels.  Now I’m not a master and I don’t have a pedigree. I’m just an American homebrewer, but I like to think that I’ve gained some good experience in the past six years that help me to make decent judgement calls when the living organisms that we manipulate just don’t want to cooperate.  I don’t know if I ultimately made the right call until I’m sipping on the finished product in about 7 months.  But patience is a virtue.

Update:  The US-05 did indeed kick off a secondary fermentation.  After a month, I transferred the beer to a 2 gallon food grade bucket where it will rest for 5-6 months.

 

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Bloed Koning Kriek Bottling….Finally

After close to 6 months in secondary, I finally bottled the kriek this past Friday.  The jury is still out on this one.  Taste test indicates cherries, some funk, a bit of sourness but it’s also just plain strong.  Maybe solventy, maybe vinegary.  I can’t quite put my finger on what’s going on with it.  Krieks are meant to be aged and will keep in the bottle for years.  Along with that amount of time will be further development, so that’s why I’m reserving judgment on this one.  Once I’ve achieved carbonation (based on my PET bottle tester), I’ll wait another 1-2 months before cracking one open.  And I’ll probably drink one each month thereafter to follow it’s progression, if any at all.  I have no idea what the final ABV is.  The base beer through primary fermentation came out at about 6%.  But then there was a secondary fermentation, krausen and all, when I added the cherry puree, so I don’t know how much extra alcohol was produced.  I’m just guessing that it’s probably in the 10% neighborhood in total.

Because of this beer being unique and because it is designed to age, I decided I wanted to take a crack at waxing the bottles just for the coolness factor and to inhibit oxygen ingress under the cap over time.  After researching what other fellow bloggers had done, I settled on using a ratio of 2.5 mini glue sticks to one regular crayon.  In total, I used 20 mini glue sticks and 8 crayons of varying shades of red.  I cut them up, put them in an empty and clean aluminum veggie can and placed in the oven at 400 F until pretty much melted.  Then I took out, placed on a stove burner and continued to heat and stir until  it was a smooth consistency.  Then I just inverted a bottle, dipped straight down, then up, and gave it a slight twist when moving the bottle to the upright position.  Pretty simple.  However I didn’t make enough of the glue/crayon mixture to do all of the bottles.  So the first ones came out great, then some were a little thin on top while the rest didn’t get done.  But I was pleased at how the wax came out and know to make more next time.

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The Slowdown and Timmy Time

I’ve noticed a couple of things here on WordPress, as far as beer blogging goes anyway.  Number one is that the number of views that my blog is getting is starting to slump noticeably.  Number two, the activity of the beer bloggers that I follow is also slumping.  There are a couple of authors that still routinely post and make for interesting reading, but I would say that about 80-90% of the blogs I follow have been inactive for more than a couple of months and quite a few that I believe have just been abandoned.  There seems to be a pattern where someone starts a blog, so excited about getting into homebrewing, but that excitement (at least about blogging) fizzles out rather quickly.  Such is life I guess.  Anyway, the combination of these two things is beginning to make my experience as a blogger far less interesting.  I’ve been doing this now for a while, but it’s becoming an issue of diminishing returns.  I’m not abandoning the blog yet, but I feel I’m waning a bit.  I must be honestly objective with myself though.  Maybe number one is due to the fact that I may not be that interesting.

On a side note, here’s some more uninteresting stuff.  I brewed Timmy Time Lime Cream Ale last Friday.  This was batch #5 of 2015 and the second time I’ve brewed this beer.  Last year it was a 2.5 gallon batch.  This time, I upscaled to five gallons.  Brew day was as smooth as could be until I tried to cool the batch with my copper immersion chiller.  I turned on the water and no water was exiting out of the chiller.  My only guess was that there was a blockage.  Possibly a very small bug had climbed in while the chiller had been sitting in my garage.  So I kept squeezing the supply side of the tube leading to the chiller to create a pump like action to dislodge whatever was in there.  Finally a small twig popped out.  Automatically I suspected one of my kids.  Sneaky little devils!  But who knows for sure because they’ll never cop to the crime.

Timmy Time Lime Cream Ale (5 gallon BIAB)

Grist:

82.5% Rahr 2-Row

5.8% Carapils

5.8% Flaked Barley

5.8 % Flaked Corn

Water to grist Ratio:  2.0

Mash:  152F for 75 min

Sparge:  2 gallons @170F

Hops:  Cluster 8.1%AA (0.4 oz @ 45min, 0.2 oz @ 15min)

Other:  1 oz Lime Peel @ 10min

Yeast:  Safale US-05

OG:  1.045 (target), 1.051 (actual)

Target ABV:  5%

Target IBUs: 16.03

SRM:  3.59

This is intended to be a refreshing cream ale that you’d enjoy in the summer on a boat or at the beach.  Light, citrusy, refreshing.  Next up at the beginning of May is the brew day for Witty Kitty Witbier.  Erika and I will be brewing this together on May 2, which coincidentally is National Homebrew Day.

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I also took the opportunity to do a taste check on the Kriek that’s been in secondary for over 2 months now.  It has a really nice dark red appearance from the cherry puree.  There is some acidity and a very very subtle funk.  Other than that it is hard to describe.  But it does have the same ballpark character of Rodenbach.  Really what I was checking for here is that it didn’t turn into some putrid, vinegary lost cause.  Luckily that’s not the case.  So I’m going to let it go the remainder of its six months in secondary and then bottle.

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And here are pictures of the finished products of the rye and bourbon ales.  They look very similar due to the similar amount of Caramel 40 used in each (about 8.5%).  But I just love that color.

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2B’s Bourbon Ale and Kriek Secondary

I brewed batch #2 of 2015 this past Friday.  It’s a repeat of 2B’s bourbon ale that I brewed last July.  When I went shopping for ingredients, my LHBS was out of a couple things I needed.  The recipe calls for 4 hop additions (2 with EKG, 2 with Fuggles), and US-04 yeast.  They were out of US-04 and Fuggles.  So I went with US-05 and all EKG.  The %AA for Fuggles and EKG are about the same and both are English hops.  So I don’t anticipate much of a difference from them.  By not using an english ale yeast though, I may lose some of the esters in the final beer, but with this being a bourbon beer, the absence may not be significant.  The brew day went very smooth with no issues at all and I hit my OG of 1.063 on the nose.  If you recall, I had mash over-temp issues the last time I brewed this and the final product was hazy though tasty.  I’m expecting this time around that this beer will be clearer.  This is also the first time that I adjusted my recipe amounts of hops based on the alpha acid percentage of the actual hops I purchased.  My recipe had a default AA of 5% but the ones in store were 7.2%.  The difference was large enough that I decided to reduce my hop weights accordingly to hit my target IBUs.

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My kriek has been in primary for 4 weeks.  I did a taste test.  There is a bit of tartness coming through, but the beer is clear and no off flavors.  I made the decision to rack to secondary with the cherry puree because I didn’t want my first try to be completely over the top.  Essentially, I want it to still be accessible for my family and friends.  If I’m the only one that can stand to drink it, that’s not that much fun.  But I do plan to let it sit in secondary for 6 months.

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Up next Friday is an extra brew day that I’m fitting in.  It’s a wine/beer hybrid that I’m calling Regalic.  It will be a saison with muscat grape concentrate added at the end of the boil.  I just drank a saison brewed by Saint Somewhere Brewing located in Tarpon Springs, FL which incorporates Norton grapes.  It’s called Cynthiana.  It had a nice earthy yet fruity taste without it being sweet.  Very nice and dry.  I’m hoping that regalic comes out somewhere in that ballpark.

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The Sour Controversy

Here in the US, sour beers have become a major trend in the craft brewing industry. I’ve written a couple of posts on the subject. Here in Tampa Bay, many of the new microbreweries have anywhere from 30-50% of their taps filled with sours, mainly goses and berliner weisses (though we call them florida weisses down here because a lot of tropical/citrus fruits are used in them). I’ve most recently seen this up close and personal last weekend when my friends and I did a small microbrewery crawl for my birthday, covering five places in all. Sours, sours everywhere. After sampling quite a few myself and having a lot in our group taste them, the following belief has been further solidified for me. Just like asparagus, you are either a sour person or a non sour person. Your palate has been genetically pre-wired to be one or the other……for most people. Most everybody in the group routinely made a “nasty” face when sampling a sour. I may be an exception because I find I’m in a gray area. I’m not all in or all out. It depends on the style of sour. I did not like most of the weisses because there was something about the combination of the fruit component not meshing with the sour component for me. It just didn’t click. However, I found the gose (a sour made with salt and coriander, no fruit), mild, tart and refreshing. I also tried a 100% Brett IPA and that was very interesting and drinkable. So I’m not entirely opposed to funk either. It just needs to be present in the right context for me. I have been making it a point now for months to order at least one sour at every tasting room I go to in order to gain experience, train my palate and pretty much give sours the good ol’ college try before dismissing them. I’m in the middle of making a kriek this year (a cherry sour lambic) just because. But I am getting to the point that I’ve had enough weisses. I’ll still sample a brett beer here and there and drink a gose if available, but I want to steer toward the more mainstream craft styles (malty or hoppy) when making my selections at the bar.

As far as the sour trend as a whole, I came across this opinion piece (link below). It kind of encapsulates both sides. There’s the “sours suck” side and the sour fanboy side. Then there are those in the middle. It’s an interesting and humorous read. I do wonder though if microbreweries that concentrate more on sour and wild ales may lower odds of long term success as a business because sours do not appeal to a wide general audience. They are a niche style and they are very divisive among those with strong opinions. But the next couple of years will tell the tale of whether sours are here to stay. If you haven’t tried one, give yourself the opportunity at the next place that offers one and see which side your palate is on.

http://www.thrillist.com/drink/nation/sour-beer-isn-t-girly-or-a-fad-sour-beers-are-for-hipsters-geeks-and-girls

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Up a Kriek (But I’ve Got A Mash Paddle)

I have a couple of confessions:

1. I lied when I said in a previous post that I wasn’t brewing in December. I had some coriander and orange peel left over so I brewed a half batch of Witty Kitty witbier the day after Christmas. I’m not proud of it (the lie), but I won’t regret drinking this batch when it’s time. I bottled it today.

2. The beer I’m brewing today is in the style of a Belgian kriek. But it’s not my recipe. It’s lifted straight out of Northern Brewer (“Dawson’s Kriek”). I implemented grain overages to compensate for my system’s efficiency, but the recipe is otherwise the same.

So here goes the first of twelve batches in 2015. For most basic beer styles that I brew, I know that at the end of it all, even if the finished product is not great, it will be drinkable. Not so with this one. There is a lot of uncharted territory here and I won’t know what I’ll find until I get there. Kriek is a substyle of lambic. Lambic is a sour, funky beer brewed traditionally in Belgium using wild fermentation. Wild fermentation is when the fermentor is open to the environment of the brewery and anything and everything floating around lands in the wort and does it’s own thing. The breweries that make this have their own unique microflora in their facility that then make a unique, one of kind beer. Kriek is essentially a lambic that is aged/refermented on sour morello cherries. So given that, obviously I’m not going to be making a true kriek, but an interpretation of a kriek. Here are the two big differences. Instead of morello cherries, I’m going to be using a sweet cherry puree. Second, I will not be doing wild fermentation. There is enough unknown risk here already, I don’t really need to just guarantee an undrinkable batch by opening up my fermentor to the crazy microscopic critters floating around unseen in my residence. So I will be using Wyeast 3278 Lambic blend. It has the general types of organisms that are found in true lambics: Brettanomyces, Pediococcus and assorted lactic acid bacteria, all in certain calculated proportions.

Now, even though I am copying someone else’s recipe, there is one big variable that will affect the end product to make it my own: time. The NB recipe says to primary ferment 6-12 months, then another 6 months in secondary on cherries. There is a lot of play there and the amount of time in either stage will impact the final product. It will determine the level of fruitiness to sourness and the level of funk. When you deal with brett and lactic acid bacteria, the beer is very dynamic over time. It can change identity rather dramatically. So doing tastings along the way will be very instrumental in determining when to switch from one phase to the next. Which is why I chose this as the first batch for 2015, because it’s going to take the longest to get in my glass.

The actual brew day was pretty much straightforward like any other brew day. It’s a wheat beer base. However, because my neighbor, who is just starting to get into homebrewing himself, came over to watch and talk, I failed to take any pictures. But the pics wouldn’t have been anything new and interesting anyway.

Bloed Koning Kriek (2.5 gallon BIAB)

Grist:
4.4 lbs Rahr Pale 2-row
2.0 lbs Flaked Wheat
0.3 lbs Rice Hulls

Mash:
3.2 gallons of strike water @ 116F
Glucan rest: 112F for 20 min
Protein Rest: 122F for 20 min
Beta Sacch: 149F for 45 min
Alpha Sacch: 160F for 30 min

Sparge: 1 gallon at 170F

Boil:
0.5 oz Hersbrucker for 60 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend

Calculated attributes (which don’t account for the refermentation of the cherries)
Original Gravity: 1.055 (target), 1.060 (actual)
IBU (tinseth calculated): 16.7
SRM (morey calculated): 4.36 (I anticipate the final product to take on red from the cherries.)
Estimated ABV: 5.5%

By the way, I’ve dedicated an autosiphon/tubing and fermentor for this beer only. None of my other beers will touch this equipment again to guard against cross contamination with these “wild bugs”. I will evaluate the batch after 1 month in primary. I doubt I will go six months. I’m aiming for 1-2 months, and go a full 6 on cherries in secondary. But subject to change. Oh and the name? Bloed Koning is King’s Blood in dutch. Pretty badass if you ask me. Now all I need is for the beer itself to be badass and live up to that name.

Sour Beer Follow-up

I had posted previously about purchasing two of Green Bench Brewing’s bottle releases here back in October. The first was called For the Mad Ones (a Jack Kerouac reference). It was a sour rye brown aged in cabernet sauvignon bottles. I had cracked that one open over a month ago during a get together at my residence. It did not go over very well. Despite it being a rye brown, the expected flavor characteristics that you would assume would come along with that style were completely lost in the avalanche of sourness that punched me in the face. Yeah, I get it. It’s a sour. But what’s the point when the malt base of the beer is completely overpowered. My friend Rick was in agreement. It was a disappointment.

Which brings us to this evening. It’s a Thursday night and the other bottle was sitting in the fridge. It’s called Your Silent Captain (a shuffleboard reference) which is a tart cherry imperial stout. Here is the extended label description. “This imperial stout was slightly acidified with Lactobacillus before being fermented with over one pound of cherries per gallon of beer prior to being aged for two months in apple brandy barrels.” For some reason I wanted to crack this bad boy open this evening. I’m forever an optimist, and the phrase “slightly acidified” gave me hope that it would still resemble an imperial stout and not just a sour bomb. Erika was willing to try it with me. On the nose is cherries, cherries cherries and a whiff of alcohol. At 10.4%, that’s expected. The appearance is black with some reddish on the edges. It’s lightly carbonated and as I swirl the glass, the body appears thin and loosely fluid. On taste, its cherries, tartness and (thank god) the maltiness of a stout. In other words, balance. The tartness was pronounced but not overpowering. It fantastically complimented the roastiness of the malt profile. And the fruitiness of the cherries made it delectable. As I drank and it warmed, it became even more pleasant. On the last sip, I was a little sad that it was gone. Erika enjoyed it too, which was a big endorsement. In comparing the two bottles, I can describe the sour aspect like this. Your Silent Captain was kind of nudging me in the ribs with tartness in a playful manner. For the Mad Ones, as I said before, punched me in the face……. and then kicked me in the ribs when I was down.   So I’m glad the purchase of these bottles wasn’t a total loss. One was a waste, the other was a treasure.

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