Archive for the ‘homebrewing’ 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.

Scottish Success for An Irishman

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Kansas City Highland Games just posted the results of their Homebrew Contest. I submitted 4 beers, and won something with each of them. Not bad for an Irishman!

Here are the results:

English Ales
1 Jon Morman Special Bitter
2 Jon Morman Mild – EBA
3 Levi Hart Northern English Brown Ale

Scottish & Irish Ale
1 Paul Pilcher Pilcher’s Wee Heavy
2 Michael Winer Scottish Goddess
3 Greg Groener & Matt Blume Monarch Irish Red

Porter
1 Dan Ryan Jim’s Robust Porter
2 Dan Ryan #6 Robust Porter
3 Mike Whisler & Clay Jarratt Polly Want a Porter

Stout
1 Mike Whisler & Clay Jarratt Swallow Tail Stout
2 Dan Ryan Sweet Stout #6
3 Dan Ryan Jim’s Milk Stout

Thank you to the organizers and judges!

Hot Rocks and Amazing Beer Techniques

Friday, June 11th, 2010

If you’re a beer geek, you’ve heard of but probably never tasted Steinbeer – beer made by tossing super-heated rocks into a kettle. The rocks heat the wort (pre-fermentation beer juice) beyond the boiling point, and caramelize, even burn, the sugars so that the resulting beer has flavors that simply cannot be created by normal brewing techniques. It’s dangerous, unknown territory for modern brewers – a lot of rocks when super-heated will explode into sharp shards, and others will simply crumble. It’s not an experiment I’ll be trying in my back yard.

Go here, though, and watch this video about the brewers at Six Point taking the challenge and making it work. It’s beer geek porn.

Brewing Beers I Don’t Know

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Over the weekend, I fired up the brew kettles and made 10 gallons of Biere de Garde, a malty Belgian/French country ale that finishes dry and complex.  The challenge is, I’ve never been to Flanders (the region of origin for this style), and commercial examples aren’t often found on local shelves.  On top of that, there are 3 varieties of the style (blonde, amber and brown) that make it even tougher to get a handle on what a great Beire de Garde should taste like.

That’s one of the joys of homebrewing.  You can read about something different, decide you want to taste it, and give it a shot.  Assuming you’re using good ingredients and proper techniques, you can be pretty certain that whatever happens, you’re going to wind up with drinkable beer, whether it comes out as a perfect example or not.

A Biere de Garde is a fairly strong, malty, balanced beer that was brewed in rural Northern France and Belgium in late spring, as one of the last batches before it got too hot for brewing.  It was made stronger and boiled longer, then stored in barrels in the cellar for drinking.  In the 1950s, the brewer Brasserie Duyck started selling it in champagne-style bottles, and the style began to develop from a minor regional beer of farmhouse convenience into a recognized style.

In brewing my version, I wanted to get a strong malt presence without the sweetness that my bock carried.  The key to achieving that is a strong thorough fermentation, and that requires lots of sugar eaten up by lots of healthy yeast.

I went with a grain bill of 6 pounds of continental pilsner malt, 10 pounds of continental pale malt, 6 pounds of munich malt, 2 pounds of aromatic malt, and 2 pounds of Victory malt.  The aromatic and victory malt are specialty grains that add a lot of flavor, while the others are base malts that provide the backbone and essential amino acids to convert all that malt starch into sugar.

Usually, I’ll find a recipe that looks pretty good and tinker with it a bit, but there aren’t a lot of published homebrew recipes for Biere de Garde, so I tackled this one pretty much on my own.  Most published recipes use more pilsner malt than I did, but I prefer using pale malt.  The differences between the two are less striking than many brewers seem to think, and pilsner malt carries a greater threat of creating an off-flavor of cooked corn due to a substance called DMS.  Pilsner does have a sweeter, candy-like malt flavor compared to pale malt, so I wanted to include some of it.  I would describe pilsner malt as providing the treble in the malt flavor, while the munich provides the bass and the pale malt provides the volume.

I soaked the grain in carbon-filtered water between 147 and 149 degrees for an hour and half.  That temperature allows the amino acids in the malt to work on the starches and convert them to sugars.  Then I drained the liquids away for boiling.

I also included 2 pounds of piloncello, an unrefined Mexican brown sugar that adds a subtle caramel taste while, paradoxically, drying out the beer.  You might expect adding sugar to a beer would make it sweeter, but the opposite happens.  Sugar is easy for the yeast to digest, so it ferments out almost completely, making the beer drier and thinner.  It has been kind of a “lucky ingredient” for me ever since I used it in my “Triple Sugar Tripel” that won the first 75th Street Homebrew contest.

Hops aren’t supposed to play a major flavor role in this beer, so I used an ounce of Nugget hops that I boiled in the kettle for around an hour.  I boiled the whole batch for nearly two hours, both to drive away the DMS components from the pilsner malt, and also to add a richer malt flavor to the beer.

For yeast, I knew I wanted to have a large population of hungry yeast to ferment this beer completely, so I used the leftover yeast from a batch of Brown Ale I kegged from the primary fermenter yesterday.  If that sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, it only means that rather than just using a packet of yeast, I used all of the yeast that had been produced in the process of making a different beer.  I also used a bit of yeast nutrient for good measure, and a tiny amount of olive oil for oxygenation.

The 10 gallons of beer is now sitting in two big glass jugs on my basement floor, at around 68 degrees.  The liquid is foaming and throwing off carbon dioxide, as the yeast perform their magic of converting sugar into alcohol and gas.  I will let it ferment for a couple weeks or until the yeast stops working, and then I’ll put it in kegs and store it for a few months.

When the beer is ready for tasting, I’ll run out and buy as many of the commercial examples as I can find: Jenlain (amber), Jenlain Bière de Printemps (blond), St. Amand (brown), Ch’Ti Brun (brown), Ch’Ti Blond (blond), La Choulette (all 3 versions), La Choulette Bière des Sans Culottes (blond), Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts (blond), Biere Nouvelle (brown), Castelain (blond), Jade (amber), Brasseurs Bière de Garde (amber), Southampton Bière de Garde (amber), Lost Abbey Avante Garde (blond).  I’ll taste my beer in comparison to what I buy, and see where my recipe needs to  be tweaked to produce a first-class Biere de Garde.  Or, as sometimes happens, I’ll decide that I like mine better than the commercial examples, and I’ll have 10 gallons of beer I like to share with friends.

Olive Oil and Homebrew

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I’ve written about my willingness to violate the German purity law in making my homebrew, but I never thought I would go this far. I’ve started adding olive oil to my beer.

The issue is oxygen. Yeast need a certain amount of oxygen to do their work in converting sugary wort (the beer juice that you boil) into beer. The amount they need is a bit more than will wind up in the wort under normal brewing conditions, employing normal brewing techniques.

There are a few ways of getting more oxygen in the wort. One way is to shake the heck out of the carboy (the big bottle where you add the yeast and let it ferment) for a half hour or so. The downside of this method is that it’s a lot of work to shake up a 50 pound bottle of beer, and I make ten gallon batches, so the work is doubled.

Another way is to bubble air through an aquarium pump and aeration stone (usually employing a filter in the tubing to get rid of floating wild yeast, bacteria, etc.). The problem with this is that you get a ton of foam, and it takes forever to add some air, wait for the foam to subside, add more air, and repeat until you bubble enough air through. Plus, the foam you create is composed of the same proteins and stuff you want to help your beer form head when you pour it, and, in a nutshell, when you use it you lose it. So you might wind up with a good, but flat beer.

The most professional way is to add straight oxygen to the wort, again, using an aeration stone. There’s a little expense involved, and the stones are a bear to sanitize, but it’s the best way to add oxygen. Sometimes, though, it can be too effective, and too much oxygen in the beer can make the yeast generate all kinds of off-flavors.

A little olive oil avoids the need for so much oxygen. I’m not biochemist, but much of the oxygen needed by the yeast goes to help form cell walls. Olive oil reduces the need for oxygen in this stage, because it provides the kind of fatty acids that the yeast would otherwise need to create by itself. The science is complex, but here’s a 35 page thesis on the subject if you’re interested.

To adapt the process to homebrewing, you want to use a minuscule amount of olive oil. Too much could conceivably affect the flavor profile, and way too much could destroy the head.

For a few recent batches, I’ve split my wort into two 5 gallon carboys, and added a tiny amount of olive oil to one of the carboys. I’ve straightened a paper clip, flamed the end, and dipped the tip into olive oil, then mixed it in with the wort as it runs from the boiling kettle into the carboy. The other carboy gets my normal method of oxygenation, which consists of a splashy trip into the carboy and a bit of shaking.

The results have been subtle. In a recent Vienna Lager, both versions had the same final gravity, but the one with olive oil tasted a bit smoother. In an amber ale, the difference was again subtle, but I preferred ever-so-slightly the olive oil version. (It wasn’t a blind tasting, so it might reflect my bias in favor of a spiffy cheap way of improving my beer.) I’ve detected no downside to the method, and head retention is not impacted at all.

It sounds weird, but it seems to work. So, until I’m convinced otherwise, I’m bringing a bit of Italy to my homebrew.

Beer Scores – No Hardware, but Good Feedback

Monday, March 8th, 2010

On Saturday, I picked up my score sheets from the KC Biermeisters 27th Annual Homebrew Competition. I already knew I hadn’t won any awards, so I picked them up with some trepidation, mixed with eagerness to get some expert feedback on my beer.

Fortunately, the scoring was not as brutal as I had feared. I submitted 5 beers – 2 I knew were bad, but wanted some feedback on how to improve them, one that was pretty good but around a year and a half old, so well past its prime, and 2 I was happy with. I was surprised that my beers all wound up in the “very good” category, with 2 scoring 30, one 31, one 32, and one 34.

One of the 30s was one that I anticipated would score badly. It was a weizen that I thought had too much tartness and no head retention, and I’m not sure why. The judges, KC Wort Hog among them, picked up on the fact that I overhopped this one a bit, and focused their suggestions on that point. The feedback was good, and the Wort Hog suggested a potential cause of my dissipating foam.

The other 30 was my robust porter, which I knew was past its prime. The judges picked up on some phenols, and a bit of sourness. The feedback encouraged me to brew this one again – it really is a good beer when it’s fresh.

My Dark American Lager was one of the beers I expected to score badly, but it got a 31 (including a 34 from a Nationally ranked judge). A dark American lager is a tough beer to brew well – it should have relatively little flavor, like a Michelob Dark, which means that off-tastes stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. I made the beer for the challenge, and the judges seemed to enjoy it, with the only criticism being that it tasted a little too good; there was a bit too much malt and flavor for the style. Fair enough – I was glad to get the feedback without any glaring complaints about my brewing technique.

I love my schwarzbier, which scored a 32. Most of the judges’ criticisms focused on the fact it was overcarbonated – I’ve not yet mastered the science of filling bottles from kegs and preserving the proper level of carbonation. Again, I got helpful feedback from two nationally-ranked judges, which is pretty awesome. I’ve brewed another schwarzbier since I made the one I submitted, and I totally changed the recipe. I’d love to see how the two score side by side.

Finally, my milk stout scored a 34, which is a pretty respectable score. Unfortunately, there were LOTS of stouts entered into the competition, so I knew I was unlikely to bring home a medal unless my beer was darned near perfect. Again, it was overcarbonated. The judges picked up a lot of chocolate flavor; one suggested that perhaps I had added cocoa to my beer. I hadn’t, but I agree that the chocolate flavor developed from the interplay of the roasted malts was strong. It’s a likable beer, and I’m glad the judges enjoyed it.

I’m really happy I entered my beers into the contest. Sure, I want to win some more recognition, but I’d rather get the feedback to make better beer. I really appreciate the attention and comments from some top-notch judges – next year, I’ll be bringing home some medals.

What to Brew? Two Batches, 20 Gallons, One Day

Friday, January 15th, 2010

It looks like Monday will bring temperatures above freezing, and I have the day off in honor of MLK Day. I’ve promised beer to a few events, and I got a sweet new boiler for Christmas I’m eager to blow some propane through.

I have a great, malty Oktoberfest in kegs, and a deep, rich Traditional Bock. What should I brew next? I can make two batches, and I would prefer that I not brew more than one lager (cold storage space is not limitless).

Right now, I’m thinking of a hoppy Amber Ale, and perhaps a Schwarzbier, both of which I brewed last year and went over very well. On the other hand, I love trying now recipes, so it might be time to try a Scottish ale, or an alt. Now would also be a good time to brew a cream ale, since we have a big Mardi Gras party coming up, and it’s good to have something everybody will like.

Out of the 81 styles in the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, what should I brew?

(If you want to swing by on Monday and see some all-grain homebrewing (while sampling the aforementioned Oktoberfest and Bock), consider yourself invited. Just drop me a note.

Recognized Beer Judge

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I received my test scores from the Beer Judge Certification Program yesterday evening, and my score put me at the Recognized Beer Judge category. I did better in my tasting portion than I did in my writing. I was hoping for a better score, but, during the test, I accidentally completely skipped one of the essay questions, and did a poor job of formulating a Weissbier recipe from scratch, without reference materials.

The next level up is Certified Beer Judge, which will require some more experience judging in sanctioned contests (even if I had scored 100% on the test, I could only be “Recognized” until I racked up some more experience points) and a retake of the written portion of the exam.

Cheers to being a dedicated student!

Designing a Great Bock Beer

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Bock can be a confusing beer for the casual drinker. Sometimes it’s light-colored (Maibock), sometimes it’s dark, thick and rich (doppelbock), and sometimes it’s sweet and incredibly strong (eisbock). Worse, the most widely available “bock” in the United States is Shiner Bock, which isn’t even a bock (it’s just another dark American lager, like Michelob Classic Dark).

This weekend, I went to a moderately well-stocked beer store, and could not find a single tradtional bock on the shelves. The closest thing I could find was Rogue’s wonderful Dead Guy Ale, which is similar to a Maibock, but brewed with ale yeast, and a couple doppelbocks.

If I want a great bock, it seems I will need to make it myself.

There are 4 varieties of bock beer. Maibock is moderately strong, pale-colored version of traditional bock beer, with less malty flavor. Traditional bock is the original rich malty German lager, originally brewed in the town of Einbeck in the 1300s. Doppelbock is a dark, rich, malty loaf of bread in a bottle, developed by monks who wanted to get a full meal while avoiding solid food. Eisbock is doppelbock which has been concentrated by freezing and draining away the rich bock concentrate which did not freeze with the water.

I want to make the traditional bock. I’ve never made one, they’re hard to find, and wonderful to drink.

In designing a homebrew recipe, you start with your malts. A good homebrew shop will have a selection of dozens of malts, some of which are meant to be the backbone of a beer (base malts) and some of which are meant to add flavors (specialty malts).

Some “traditional bock” recipes use a fair amount of pilsner malt, which is a (generally) high-quality, very pale grain that was developed in the 1800s and made it possible to make very light-colored lagers. It’s a great product, but it wasn’t around when bock beers were originally made, and it also needs to be boiled 50% longer than other malts to avoid developing a cooked vegetable taste and smell in the beer. While some award-winning bocks are made with pilsner malt, I’m not going to use it. Instead, I will rely on some of the other interesting European malts available.

The classic malt for bock beer is Munich malt, a slightly darker malt. Weyermann’s is a good brand I can buy at my local homebrew shop, and it comes in a light and a darker version. For my 10 gallon batch, I will be using 15 pounds of the lighter version, 10 pounds of the darker version, and 3 pounds of Vienna malt, which is similar to Munich, but gives a bit of a toasted flavor I enjoy.

For hops, I will use just enough German hops to add enough bitterness so that the sweetness is not overwhelming. I will probably add 3 ounces of Hallertau hops, the first hop variety known to be cultivated. I will add them all at the beginning, so that the boil will drive off most of the hop flavor, which would only distract from the maltiness I’m going to be seeking in this beer.

For water, I will use good old Kansas City tap water, filtered through carbon to remove the chorine.

For yeast, I will be using a special variety from one of the big yeast companies, available only temporarily. It is called Hella-bock, and it should “produce rich, full-bodied and malty beers with a complex flavor profile and a great mouth feel.” That’s what I’m looking for, and I have a batch of Oktoberfest fermenting on it right now. After I keg that beer this weekend, I’ll put the bock right on top of the yeast. The more yeast, the better for a strong beer like a bock, and there should be plenty of yeast left over after fermenting the Oktoberfest (yeast doesn’t get “used up” when fermenting, it multiplies).

I’ll ferment this beer in carboys (large glass bottles) placed in a chest freezer I converted to maintain a temperature of around 48 degrees, which is the temperature this yeast likes to work at. It should produce a rich, clean lager profile at the temperature, without any of the fruitiness or esters that an ale yeast might produce. After a few weeks of fermenting, I’ll keg it and store it cold for as long as I can bear. If I were well-disciplined, I would save it for 6 months or more, but something tells me we will be pouring this one at our Mardi Gras party.

Any suggestions for improving this recipe? Any questions? I’ll probably be brewing this one on Sunday – let me know if you want to come over and watch the process.