Archive for the ‘brewing’ Category

Easy Come, Easy Gose – Homebrewing on the Edge

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Salty, sour beer. Sound good?

I first read about Gose style beer in the book Brewing with Wheat (order it here), by Stan Hieronymus. It hales from Leipzig, and almost faded from existence during the grim days of the cold war. No brewery produced it regularly from 1966 until 1999. While a few craft breweries produce examples in America, it is a rare beer without clear style guidelines.

The only time I have tasted a beer that purported to be a Gose was with my son at one of the top beer bars I’ve ever been to – Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn, home of “rare and obscure” beers. It was fantastic. Huge mouthfeel, almost chewy, but refreshing and drinkable. There was certainly a lactic tartness, but it was not overwhelming at all. It had layers of flavor, with citrus in the nose and salt on the tongue to go with the tartness and a surprisingly full malt flavor. I don’t know whether it was a good example or not, since I’ve never tasted another, but it didn’t taste exactly like what Kansas City’s own Wort Hog describes in a jealousy-inspiring account of a visit to Leipzig.

Now I want to brew a Gose, and there is very little reliable information out there on how to do it. I’ve thought about it, and here’s what I’m going to try.

First off, I’m going to do only 5 gallons instead of my usual 10. This is an experiment; if it comes out great, I’ll make more. I’m also going to use extract in this batch, rather than starting solely with crushed malted grains, because this beer is made with mostly wheat malt, and wheat malt is kind of a bear to work with, for reasons you either know or don’t care about.

First, how much salt to add? I want the salt to be present, but not dominating. I tried salting a quart of water and scaling up from there. 3 grams in one quart seemed like a good amount, and there are 20 quarts in 5 gallons, so 60 grams it is.

Now, how to add the sourness? The traditional way would be to inoculate the beer with lactobacillus bacteria, and let them go nuts. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to play with bacteria in my brewery space. They can be persistent and infectious, so that I would be risking a future of all-sour beers.

I want to play it safe, so I am going to use a product called acidulated malt, a product made by adding lactic acid to regular malt. I’m going to use 3/4 of a pound, since I’ve never used this stuff before. I’ll soak it in 150 degree water for an hour or so, in the hopes that it will convert its starches into sugars (beer geek talk – I don’t know whether it has diastatic power, but I’ll give it a whirl). I strongly doubt that this will add enough lactic tartness to the beer, but I have lactic acid I plan on adding post-fermentation to boost the tartness to a level I like.

For the first time in years, I will be relying on dried malt extract for the vast majority of the fermentation. If you’re new to homebrewing, malt extracts are the easiest way to get started, and you don’t need nearly as much equipment as you would if you were using only crushed grain. Around 4.5 pounds will give me a pretty light beer in terms of alcohol, which will make this a nice spring beer when it’s ready to drink. This particular extract was chosen because it is composed of 60% wheat and 40% barley, which is in line with the original beer.

This beer should be very lightly hopped, so I’m going to use 1 ounce of some American hops I have around, and boil them for 30 minutes.

Now for the extras. Coriander is a common ingredient in wheat beers, and I’ll be adding a quarter ounce of the seeds, ground up in the blender. I’m also going to go out on a limb and add one fluid ounce of Orange Blossom Water, not at all a traditional ingredient, but I find that it adds a nice aromatic when I bake, and I hope that it will increase the citrus notes of the beer.

For yeast, I’m going with a traditional German wheat yeast, Wyeast Weihenstephan Weizen #3068, a specialty yeast used for the refreshing wheat beers of southern German, redolent with clove and banana esters. I’ve seen recipes that call for a neutral yeast as well, but I love the flavors this yeast can produce.

After a couple weeks of fermentation, this beer will be ready for kegging. I’ll add lactic acid to suit my taste, and hope for the best. It’s rare for me to make a beer with so little guidance regarding the style, or even a recipe. I’m kind of winging it here, but I’m hopeful that what comes out will be palatable. If not, easy come, easy gose.

Goats & Rabbits West Side Lager

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I’ve been trying to pay a little less attention to style guidelines in my brewing, and come up with crowd-pleasing variations that either attempt some new techniques or offer a unique stamp. Lately, I’ve brewed a Classic American Pilsner with home-grown hops, which added a funky citrusy, pineapple flavor, and I doubled the oatmeal, and toasted it, when I made an oatmeal stout a couple weeks ago.

Yesterday, I tackled Vienna Lager. You’ve tasted Vienna Lager at its best if you’ve had a Boulevard Bob’s 47 (though most people think it’s an Oktoberfest, because that’s what the label says). Back in the day, Dos Equis Amber was a good example, as well, but recipe changes have dumbed it down into an off-color mass-market lager. The Beer Judge Certification Program still lists Negra Modelo as a leading example of the style, but it lacks the malt complexity that makes the style special.

Vienna Lager isn’t brewed in Vienna, though that is where it originated. A few decades after Anton Dreher used the newly-isolated lager yeast to create a toasty, malty, balanced amber lager, political instability in Austria convinced Santiago Graf and a few of his brewing cohorts to move to Mexico, where they perfected the style in the late 1800s.

Making a Vienna Lager is pretty simple. While some brewers like to employ a blend of lighter and darker malts, I like to keep it simple and use Vienna malt – a lightly kilned, slightly toasty malt that fits the style perfectly. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of Munich or Victory to the mash to bring out a bit more toastiness.

Yesterday, I wanted to make a beer that reflected the development of the style and pays homage to the Mexican immigrants that have been part of Kansas City for over a hundred years. i stuck with Vienna malt, but added two pounds of Piloncillo sugar, a pre-Columbian form of unrefined sugar you can buy in most Mexican grocers in a hard cone. I’ve used it in my brewing before, and it adds a richness in flavor, and the yeast ferments the sweetness away, producing an extra kick of alcohol.

Most brewing purists would refuse to add sugar to a Vienna lager, and they are correct in their strict interpretation of the rules. But, in making what I will call West Side lager, I thought that adding a little “illegal” Mexican influence would only enrich the beer and make it stronger.

In a few weeks, after the beer finishes fermenting, I’ll raise a toast to the West Side of Kansas City, and the fact that strict application of made-up rules in immigration or in brewing only hurts us all, and that if history had seen such arcane and expensive immigration laws when our country was brave and growing, Kansas City wouldn’t have railroads, Mexico wouldn’t have Vienna Lager, and I’d be stuck on a potato farm in Ireland.

Making a Dream

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Here’s an unusual way to finance a brewery. Mystery Brewing is seeking $40,000 to start up a contract brewery. As of this moment, 77 people have pledged $16,923 to help make it happen, and there are 20 days left.

There are other ways, of course.

Just something to think about, if one were inclined to think about such things . . .

99 Bottles of Beer on the Blog – Stevens Point Burly Brown

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Brown ales are an under-appreciated class of beers. They don’t get attention because they don’t push the extremes. They aren’t as hoppy as India Pale Ales, they aren’t as dark as porters or stouts, and they aren’t as malty as the higher scotch ales. When well-crafted, though, they find that sweet spot, that balance, that makes them truly special.

Stevens Point Burly Brown is, unfortunately, not one of the greats. Pouring a dark copper, the brilliantly clear beer comes in at the light end of the color guidelines for a proper American Brown. The aroma, though, is superb – malty with just a tingle of hops, and a bit of chocolate.

The flavor is surprisingly soft, though. The scent’s promise of a rich, malty beer is not fully delivered by the beer itself. Instead, you get a light-bodied, rather bland caramel taste, without the roasty or chocolate notes that add some backbone to a well-made brown ale.

The hops of a typical American brown ale were absent along with the darker malts. While a brown ale should never by dominated by hops, a great one will demonstrate the brewer’s ability to use hop bitterness to balance the malt, and hop flavor to add piquant zestiness to the malt. Point’s Burly Brown just doesn’t go there – a restrained hand with the hops manages to avoid cloying sweetness, but fails to deliver any excitement.

It’s not a bad beer at all. I might like it more if it were labeled as an amber ale – it’s really a lighter beer in color, taste and body than I expect from a well-made brown. There are certainly better brown ales out there; try Abita Turbo Dog or Moose Drool.

Yes, We Have No Bananas – Hefe-Weizen on the Way

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

I know what I want to brew. It’s pale yellow and cloudy, with a billowing, long-lasting head. It smells of bread and cloves and bananas. It tastes kind of tart, with the banana and clove flavors brought into balance by the fuller, grainy flavor of malted wheat. It’s a summer beer enlivened by bright carbonation and refreshingly acidic fruit flavors, and made richer by the hazy protein of the wheat and vitamin-rich yeast.

That’s what I’ll be shooting for tomorrow morning when I fire up the mash tun and brew kettle. Whether I will hit the mark remains to be seen.

First off, I should mention that there are no bananas, cloves or other secret ingredients in a hefe-weizen. The uniqueness of a great weissbier doesn’t come from sleight of hand by the brewer, or complicated formulas. It’s just malt, water, a touch of hops, and the yeast – especially the yeast.

Such a complex beer comes from a simple grain bill. 10 pounds of German pils malt and 10 pounds of german malted wheat. No roasted grains, no caramel malts, no honey or sugars.

And the hops are simple, too – I’ll be using two ounces of Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, tossed in at the 45 minute mark, just to add a touch of bitterness without adding much flavor at all.

Even my mashing schedule will be simple – soak all the malt for an hour at around 152 degrees, allowing the amino acids in the malt kernels to do their work of breaking down the carbohydrates in the grain into fermentable sugars. Then drain the water and rinse the grains, gathering the resulting “beer juice” into a kettle for boiling.

After it’s boiled, I cool it down to around 70 degrees (I would like it to get a bit cooler, but that’s tough to do in KC during the summer), and add the yeast. The yeast is a special variety bred for this kind of beer – I’ll be using Wyeast Lab’s Weihenstephan Weizen™ strain, which ought to produce all those flavors I described earlier while they go about their business eating sugar and converting it into CO2 and alcohol.

So much simplicity for such a complex beer. People can’t even agree on what to call it. Some call it a weissbier. Some call it weizen. When the yeast is not filtered out, it is known as a hefe-weizen. Some call it simply a Bavarian Wheat Beer. Some people toss a slice of orange into it, some people call for lemon, and some people want to enjoy the beer’s complexity without the added fruit.

I know what I want to brew, and I have a good recipe. From here on, it’s up to my skill as a brewer and a bit of luck.

Acquiring Self Knowledge

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I told myself when I submitted a couple of my beers to the Regional Homebrew Contest last weekend that I was doing so because I wanted good, informed feedback from experienced judges so that I could improve my brewing. Now, having seen the list of winners without my name on it, I realize that what I really wanted was effusive praise and gold medals.

Tapping the Keg!

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Regular readers will recall that I won the opportunity to have a full batch of my beer brewed at 75th Street Brewery. It now appears to be ready for prime time – they’ll be serving “Triple Sugar Tripel” beginning on Monday, December 29th. Yes, I’m working on putting together some kind of party for that evening, and I’ll post details here when I work them out.

I haven’t sampled the beer, and we made a few significant changes to my 10 gallon recipe in the process of scaling it up to 200+ gallons, so I’m relying a bit on guesswork to predict how it will taste. The last time I saw this beer it was nothing more than sweet, tea colored water being pumped from the boiling kettle through the chiller and into a fermentation vessel where it would meet up with the special Belgian yeast that does all the work.

I expect that this beer will be the color of medium-strong tea, with a subdued but long-lasting head. The aroma will probably be honey mixed with just a suggestion of hops. The flavor will be sweet, with a strong note of honey flavor, followed by all the esters thrown off by the 75th Street Brewery’s Belgian strain of yeast. Those esters will add a fruity, spicy taste to the beer, which I hope will combine with the honey to create a sweet, warming beer that will stand up to rich holiday meals and accompany traditional holiday desserts. At 9% alcohol, it will be a strong sipping beer. My hope is that the sweetness will make it appealing to those who think all craft beer is dark, hoppy and bitter, while the Belgian complexity of the beer will appeal to the beer snobs. It’s not really a Belgian Tripel, because those ales focus more on the yeast characteristics than on the sugar, and it’s a little dark for the style. Go here for a good article on the tripel style.

In light of the monkish lineage of this beer, it seems appropriate to use the occasion of its tapping to support a good religious cause here in Kansas City. While I’m still working out exactly how it’s going to work, I’ll make certain that samplers of the beer will have some opportunity to voluntarily support the Central City School Fund, which helps four wonderful Catholic elementary schools in the Old Northeast and the Westside give kids a great education.

Stay posted for more info on the party and the beer.

Beer Update – Mid-December at 75th Street

Monday, November 24th, 2008

I dropped by the 75th Street Brewery this weekend to check on the progress of the beer I brewed back in October, and they had just transferred it to the conditioning tanks. It’s clocking in at around 9% ABV, with a finishing gravity of around 1.020, which means it will be on the sweet side, but plenty warming.

The conditioning tanks are cooled, so the yeast go dormant. That means the fermentation is over, and conditioning will allow the flavors of the beer to mellow and deepen. It’s kind of like how stew or chili tastes better the second day – beer needs a little time to mature before it’s at its best. Indeed, the term “lager” is rooted in the German for “lay down” because they would store their beers in icy caves for summer drinking. While my beer is an ale, the principle is the same.

I will post here when the release date is imminent.

In the meantime, go try 75th Street’s Nitro Porter. Brewed with a hefty dose of espresso beans, the Porter is dark, rich and awesome.

Beer Update

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Saturday is teach-a-friend to homebrew day. I’m going to be firing up the equipment around 9:00, and making 10 gallons of Porter. We’ll be converting 20 pounds of grain, 3 ounces of hops, a little bit of yeast and a whole lot of water into something that should taste something like Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter. Drop me an email if you want to learn how to brew. We should be finished in the early afternoon.

Brewing at 75th Street!

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Friday was my opportunity to show up at 75th Street and recreate my little homebrew recipe on a grand scale – 200+ gallons of a strong Belgian specialty ale. It should be ready in approximately a month – I will certainly notify readers of this blog when it is available.

The recipe that won the 75th Street Homebrew contest was my attempt at playing with some of the Belgian guidelines. Belgians make the best beer in the world, and they are ceaselessly creative. Inspired by a book I read on Belgian brewing (Brew Like a Monk), I had set out to create a beer that resembled a Belgian Tripel in terms of color and strength, but which retained a flavor of honey. Belgians often use sugars in their stronger beers, to avoid the thick mouthfeel of an all-malt beer of similar strength. While a great doppelbock will feel thick and viscous in your mouth (like drinking a loaf of bread), a great tripel will be more drinkable – the Belgians use a term translating to “digestibility”. When i brewed it, it came out a little darker than intended, but it was an easy-to-drink strong ale with a honey aftertaste).

In scaling up the brew to the larger equipment at 75th Street, I worked with Nick and Chris (their two brewers) to come up with a recipe including a quarter ton of malted barley, 25 pounds of honey, and 50 pounds of dark brown sugar. We used their normal hops (hop flavor and aroma are not a big feature of this beer). Here is a picture of the crushed malt and water being added to the mash tun, where the starches in the malt convert into sugar.

After the sugar conversion was complete, we recirculated the resulting liquid (wort) until it ran clear, using a pump to draw it from the bottom of the tank and putting it into the top of the tank. The malt husks act as a natural filter, to eliminate stuff that would cloud the beer. After it ran clear, we pumped it over to the brew kettle, and added water which had rinsed through the grain, absorbing all that malty sugar.

The brew kettle is steam heated, and brought the wort up to a good boil. We added pelletized hops to bring an appropriate level of bitterness to keep the beer from being too sweet. Balance is the goal.

Not long before the boil was finished, we added the honey and the brown sugar to the kettle. The late addition was an improvement on my recipe by the brewers at 75th Street – I had added my sugars at the beginning of the boil, but they wisely pointed out that the earlier addition would allow the flavor compounds in the sugars to be boiled away, and that the increased sugar in the boiling kettle throughout the 90 minute boil would increase the darkening of the wort through caramelization.

After the boil was done, we ran the beer through a heat exchanger to cool it, and pumped it into a waiting tank that already had the 75th Street house strain of Belgian yeast waiting for it. I dropped by the brewery on Saturday, and it was fermenting away, as it will for a couple weeks, after which it will condition (mellow) for a couple weeks before being served.

After the brew kettle had finished its work, the brewers outfitted me with a pair of rubber gloves, a pail of cleaning solution and a green scrubbing pad, and directed me on how to climb in through the hatch of the brew kettle to scrub it out. I truly thought they were joking, as the hatch did not look particularly big, and some of the other vessels are cleaned through chemicals and soaking rather than elbow grease. So, I kind of laughed it off, until I realized that they weren’t just hazing the homebrewer. The next time you go into 75th Street, check out the hatch and you’ll understand what a feat of gymnastics and force it was to jam myself into the kettle.

It was a great day – commercial brewing is similar in most ways to homebrewing in terms of process, but the quantities and techniques are more sophisticated. My trusty tin pan won’t get the job done in transferring water to soak through the grain – pumps are used for everything.

But, as always, the real work of brewing is not done by machines or humans. As I write this, tiny yeast cells are chomping away at the sugars in the wort we created, creating alcohol and CO2. In a few weeks, we’ll put it on tap and serve it up. I hope and believe it will be a great beer, but we won’t really know until it’s ready to drink.