Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Bière de Saison (1905) recipe - turbid mash

This is part two of a pair of bière de saison recipes presented in Petit Journal du Brasseur, 1905. In the first post I gave a recipe for a bière de saison made from an infusion mash along with some general background info and more specific context for grains, hops, and how the brewing equipment would cause the process to be different from modern equipment. I'll skip repeating that background/context information here, so after a quick bit about turbid mashing then I'll jump into the recipe. This will be followed by a quick comparison of the two recipes to highlight the common ground which serves as a foundation of the beers as well as the room for variability, and some notes on hopping and how I've presented it in my modern homebrew recipe interpretations.

Two boil kettles at Brasserie à Vapeur.
Turbid Mashing
I've talked about turbid mashing a fair amount on this blog. So in order to avoid repeating too much of that, I'll skip most of that. If you're interested in some of those other posts, here are a few: Brewing Bière de GardeThoughts on Johnson 1918Thoughts on Evans 1905Homebrew Turbid Mash Petite Saisons. Instead I want to address a terminology question that I've been asked a few times regarding turbid mashes where a saccharification rest is performed after the turbid wort is added back. Basically the question is this: if you add the turbid wort back before a final saccharification rest, is this still a turbid mash (and/or why isn't it a decoction mash).

For starters, mashes where turbid wort is withdrawn and added back before a saccharification step are given the same name in French (moût trouble) as the turbid mash process that we may be more familiar with from traditional lambic - where the turbid wort is added back to the mash to be filtered through the grain bed after the first mash runnings are collected. And in the original sources in French these different mashes are not given different modifying descriptions. So the Belgian and French brewers treated turbid mashes where the wort is added back before and after the first runnings the same for terminology. Secondly, I think there is a key difference between decoction mashing and turbid mashing that could lead to a couple different distinctions in the outcome of following these processes. This is the transfer of only mash runnings compared to a mixture of runnings and grain to the kettle for heating.

Two boil kettles at Brasserie Dupont.
When transferring only mash runnings (and usually a significant amount of them) this should disproportionately remove enzyme activity from the mash. And then subsequently denature these enzymes when the runnings are heated. Perhaps with the remaining mashing process (prolonged saccharification rests) this doesn't end up being a problem. We at least know that this sort of mashing worked, so it must not have been too problematic. Also, when turbid mashing with adding wort back before a final saccharification step, the turbid wort usually skips at least one intermediate mash rest. So proteins may be less converted, whereas in decoction mashing the pulled mash is usually added back for the very next step, and therefore wort does not miss as many steps. Finally I think that transferring mash runnings would result in different color development than the use of a thick runnings-grain mixture in decoction mashing. Maybe these differences aren't all dramatic, but I think they still make turbid mashing distinct from decoction mashing and similar in many (but not all) respects to turbid mashing without a sacch rest for the turbid wort (as known from lambic production). Also, I think it should be noted here that not all lambic producers add the turbid wort back after collecting the first runnings.

As a bit of a side note, it would not have been uncommon for Belgian breweries to have multiple boil kettles in the 1800s and early 1900s, While this isn't needed for turbid mashing, for example turbid mashing where the turbid wort is added back before a final saccharification step (as outlined in the procedure here), it would make turbid mashing easier. The other main purpose for these kettles would have been for making a small beer alongside the normal brew with the later mash runnings. So while this recipe uses two kettles as outlined in the text, a second boil kettle could be helpful but not necessary when brewing a recipe like this at home or commercially.

OG: Not specified, but ~1.050 would be a reasonable assumption
100% Escourgeon malt
Alsace hops from the most recent harvest, 3 kg/100 kg grain

There is a lot in the mash that isn't specified (for example, the amount of turbid wort taken out). For this section I'll just present the mash as it is presented in the text and below, where I modify the recipe for a modern homebrew setup, I'll make some assumptions about the liquor to grist ratios and turbid pull volumes.
  1. Hydrate the grain to reach a temperature of 35° C (95° F). Rest 30 minutes.
  2. Remove turbid wort and send it to the second boil kettle.
  3. Infuse with boiling water (this is done by underletting in the commercial brewery) to reach a temperature of 53-54° C (127-129° F). Rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove turbid wort and send to the second kettle.
  5. Infuse to reach a temperature of 63-64° C (145-147° F).
  6. Take turbid wort immediately to the second kettle. Then rest for 40 minutes at this temperature.
  7. Boil the turbid wort for 20 minutes and add it to the mash tun (at the end of the 63-64° C / 145-147° F) rest to reach a temperature of 73-74° C (163-165° F). Rest 45 minutes.
  8. Lauter and collect mash runnings in the primary boil kettle. Sparge at 75° C (167° F).
The boil lasted 8 hours, with 1/3 of the hops added at the start of the boil and 2/3 added 30 minutes before the end of the boil. The brewer specifies their total amount of hops (40 kg) but neither their total amount of grain nor their batch size. The journal comments that they are therefore not able to address if this hopping rate is reasonable in their response, and suggests a total hopping rate of 3 kg per 100 kg grain. Based on the infusion recipe, if the OG and efficiency are similar, this would be just under 450 g per HL (0.6 oz/gal) for pre-boil wort, and something like 530-630 g per HL (0.71-0.84 oz/gal) for finished wort, depending on the cooling method.

A Baudelot Chiller. This one, at Liefmans, is quite large.
Smaller ones (not necessarily in use) can be seen at De Dolle or a Vapeur.
Again, as with the other recipe, the cooling method is not specified. But Baudelot chillers or coolships would have been the norm. If you are unfamiliar with Baudelot chillers, the hot wort runs down the outside of a stack of pipes while cold water flows through the pipes, leaving the wort exposed to air as it is cooling. The wort is then collected in a trough at the bottom and sent to the fermenter(s). Both Baudelot chiller and coolships leave cooled wort open and exposed to air. Though there are obvious important differences in time here, a Baudelot chiller is still not an especially sterile way to cool wort.

Fewer details are given for the fermentation of this beer than the infusion recipe, but I suspect it followed something similar to the infusion recipe (pitching around 20° C / 68° F, primary fermentation in barrels or open tanks followed by aging in barrels, and either option with aging on the order of 5 months before serving). The article mentions the beer would be served in July or August.

Modern Homebrew Adaptation
Batch Size: 19 L (5 gal) pre-fermentation wort
OG: 1.050
ABV: ~6%
IBU (theoretical, Tinseth): 24
Total Efficiency: 75%

4.1 kg (9.0 lb) Continental European Pale Malt
-This could be swapped for a 6-row malt, though if so it might be better to select a malt without a super high enzyme potential. You may be able to source something from a local craft maltster like the following: Double Eagle (see their Rustic Ale)Skagit Valley Malting (look for something made from Alba barley), and Riverbend Malthouse (I've heard they make a malt form 6-row, but couldn't find any info about it on their website).

The Q&A from PJB 1905 regarding this recipe.
100 g (3.5 oz) Stisselspalt (2.0 % aa). Given the specific mention of Alsace hops I think this makes the most sense, but other landrace hops or perhaps some more modern French hops with a similar profile would work well. You could adjust hopping rates down if going with hops with higher alpha acid levels. See also the notes at the bottom regarding hops and how I have modified these from the original recipe (and maybe adjusted down the hopping rate too far). The more I think about it, the more I think I've over-adjusted. But I'll keep this at 100 to keep it consistent with the other recipe. In brief, the original recipe calls for ~125 g (4.4 oz) of hops, so do that if you want to follow the original recipe more closely.

Mash: As noted above, this is an approximation of the recipe based on some volume assumptions (no addition or turbid wort volumes are noted). I think this should work based on past turbid mashes I’ve conducted, but I haven’t had a chance to try this out. So let me know if you run into any odd problems and you think there is an error in these numbers. I’m erring a bit on the wet side for the mash. Especially when it comes to the second and third turbid portions. You could remove more turbid wort, making the mash drier, if you wished. Without conducting it first myself I feel I should err in this way. But I think a drier mash/pulling more turbid wort at later steps would more likely reflect what was historically done.

As is always a good idea when conducting a new mash schedule (especially a turbid mash) or changing your equipment, it is best to have extra cold and boiling water on hand to adjust the temps as needed. And also it is a good idea not to max out you equipment to allow room for any adjustments.
  1. Dough in by adding 4.1 kg (9.0 lb) malt to 8.5 L (9.0 qt) at 38.3° C (101° F). This should give you 2.1 L/kg (1.0 qt/lb) at 35° C (95° F). Rest 25 minutes. You could also add water to grain, but with a drier mash I find it easier to add grain to water.
  2. Take the first turbid pull. I am guessing this would be around 1.7 L (1.8 qt), leaving you with around 1.67 L/kg (0.8 qt/lb) remaining in the kettle. Start heating the turbid pull, being careful not to scorch it.
  3. Add 3.7 L (3.9 qt) boiling water to the mash to reach 2.57 L/kg (1.23 qt/lb) at 54° C (129° F). Rest 10 minutes.
  4. Take the second turbid pull. I’m guessing around 3.0 L (3.2 qt) would be about right, leaving you with 1.84 L/kg (0.88 qt/lb).
  5. Add 6.3 L (6.67 qt) water at 78.3° C (173° F) to reach 3.34 L/kg (1.6 qt/lb) at 64° C (147° F).
  6. Immediately after this new temperature is reached, take the final turbid pull. This should be around 4.26 L (4.5 qt), leaving you with roughly 2.3 L/kg (1.1 qt/lb) in the mash tun. Heat the turbid portion to boiling. Let the mash rest at 64° C (147° F) for another 40 minutes.
  7. Add back the turbid portion. By my calculations this should be around 8.8 L (9.3 qt) and about 85° C (185° F) is the right temperature to reach 73-74° C (163-165 F). This should give you a mash around 4.5 L/kg (2.15 qt/lb). Rest here for 45 minutes. This may require letting the turbid wort cool a bit before adding it, or mixing some cold water in.
  8. Lauter and sparge as normal. Sparge water was listed as 75° C (167° F).
A schematic of the mash schedule, adapted for a homebrew scale with assumptions regarding volumes.
Boil: If you want to stick with this recipe then you're doing an 8 hour boil. This is quite long and you could probably shorten it if you wanted. Especially if such a long boil wasn't necessary to hit your target numbers. This will change melanoidin formation, but I think going for 3-5 hours would probably be a reasonable compromise here. And of course you could still make a beer following these guidelines with a 60-90 minute boil, but there would be some differences. Split the hops between the start of the boil - 1/3 of the total hop dose, or 33 g (again this can be adjusted based on aa) - and 2/3 of the hops, or 67 g, with 30 minutes left in the boil. See the note at the end about hopping rates in these homebrew recipes.

(Edit 16-Mar: As brought up in this FB discussion, doing a full-strength boil for 8 hours on a homebrew system might not work out too well. It is possible that in the original commercial brewery this was a simmer, though at the time at least some breweries were doing full strength boils for this much time. But on a homebrew setup, a boil of this length may not result in the beer you would want due to over-concentration of the wort and associated darkening/fermentability changes. So especially as a homebrewer, there is a strong case to be made for shortening this boil. I might start with something around 4 hours, and adapt from there.)

Cool the wort as you prefer - open in a kettle/coolship or with some sort of chiller.

Fermentation: I would take the same approach to fermenting this beer as I suggested for the other saison recipe. So that would include pitching a mixed culture that you like with yeast and lactic acid bacteria. I’d aim for something that includes some more hop-tolerant bacteria if you can. And I personally prefer to do mixed primary fermentations with everything in there from the start. Age the beer for on the order of 6 months, perhaps a month or two longer, before packaging. And make sure that the FG is stable. Oak would probably be for the ideal fermentation vessel, or at least for aging, but glass or stainless would also work fine.

Comparison of the Infusion and Turbid Mash Recipes
To me much of the important substance of both recipes is the same - 100% winter 6 row barley, roughly 3 kg hops from the general region (Belgian or Northern French hops) per 100 kg grain, a long boil (>5 hours) and aging until late summer/early fall (so about 6-8 months from brew to serving the beer). Both recipes also include a fair amount of hops added later in the boil where they could be more flavor-active, even though the beer will be aged for a while. In my experience with beers for aging with noble hops or similar, this can hold up pretty well. So I expect hop flavor from these hops does carry through to the finished beer. The infusion recipe lists 40% with one hour left and the turbid mash includes 2/3 of the hops with only 30 minutes left. These 'late' hops will see a fair amount of boil, which may come as a surprise to people used to more of the modern N American brewing process, but there should still be a flavor impact with noble-type hops at these boil and aging times.

While the two recipes call for basically the same total hop load, the splitting and timing of additions creates some interesting distinction. The infusion recipe calls for 60% of the hops to be boiled for at least 5 hours, and the remaining 40% are boiled for an hour. Additionally, the infusion recipe mentions Bavarian hops for the last hour. It looks like I may have forgotten to include this in the infusion recipe post itself, and that post will be updated to include this. This could be a non-trivial point for flavor, bitterness and microbiological progression, so I'm sorry about that. Other sources at this time mention these hops are more antibacterial than Belgian hops. This may be due to varieties as well as growing conditions or general hop quality. So this hop origin choice combined with the timing of the addition and the split favoring longer boils in this recipe may lead to a more bitter and less acidic saison, when comparing the two recipes. Furthermore, in the recipe calculations I've used a lower aa hop which would suppress the calculated IBUs, resulting in a beer that, on paper, seems less bitter than it should have been (see below for more on this).

On the other hand, the turbid mash recipe calls for only 1/3 of the hops to be boiled for more than 30 minutes. This would strongly favor carrying hop flavor through compared to the infusion recipe. Consequently this beer would likely have been less bitter (as is reflected in the theoretical IBUs, as the TM recipe calculated to ~30% less bitter than the infusion recipe) and could lead to a beer with more acidity along with the hop flavor. This shows the spread of saison at the time (something Yvan de Baets notes in his history of saison chapter in Farmhouse Ales), that historic saisons would have prominent bitterness or acidity.

On the mash side, I think the nature of these two mashes illustrates the brewing mentality to these beers pretty well. There is definitely not one mash to brew saisons, and these two mashes have some strong differences in terms of process. But there are also some core details that are fairly similar, and which are similar to some saison mashes still conducted today (see this post, for example). Both mashes have a rest around 53° C (~130° F) and saccharification steps that, especially for modern saison, are quite high - both include saccharification steps at or above 71° C (~160° F).  Furthermore, these were not short saccharification rests, so they definitely served a purpose. But the differences between these two mashes highlights some variability in process: doing a low temperature soak of the grain or not, spending an extended time in protein rest temperatures or just a quick rest, one or two saccharification rests, etc. Finally, the saccharification temp difference between these mashes and modern saison could reflect some differences in the brewing and the nature of saison. If you were aging it for 6+ months with a mixed culture then perhaps maximizing fermentability to Saccharomyces c. wouldn't be as much of an issue.

Hop, bitterness and my (possibly flawed) adjustments
For both of these recipes, I have dropped the hopping rate down a bit in my homebrew adaptations. There are many complicating factors that could make my decision to drop this down better or worse. To be honest, I forgot I had done it until I was writing this second post. One of the main things I was thinking about was hop aa levels increasing over time, mostly based on varieties but also a bit on quality of hops. But I hadn't considered that the hopping rates are referenced to malt amounts, and grain has changed quite a bit as well such that less grain is needed now to get the same extract. This would act to reduce the hopping rate per volume, and would result in my calculation of hopping rates being artificially low, so my adjustment to further lower the hopping rates may have been flawed. This may be counteracted a bit by my homebrew-level total efficiency of 75%, which is lower than many commercial breweries. (Edit 27-Mar-18) I also didn't consider that efficiency of hop use drops on smaller scales as well, which may suggest that I was overly-cautious in scaling back the hops as I did for this homebrew recipe.

Anyway, I'll leave the rates in these recipes as 100 g, but I feel less confident in this now. As I haven't had a chance to brew these, I can't see if I think the resulting bitterness from what I've listed is reasonable. If you want to try to come closer to the exact rates in the text that would be about 125 g per 19 L batch, and please report back if you go with this rate. It should be easy to adjust as the recipe is based on percentages at different times. As I noted above, I'm feeling less solid about my choice to scale the hops back a bit, but I think there are arguments to be made for and against this and it is hard to balance them all out with the uncertainty in each. Whatever you chose to do, I wanted to let you know my thinking and the uncertainty that remains.

Regarding the hopping rates and bitterness, I want to note a few things. First, this should be taken as a rough estimate. I’ve simply chosen a low aa modern hop, and variability in this value would result in a fair amount of variability in bitterness in the beer. Finally, there are other components that would contribute to perceived bitterness than isomerized alpha acids (e.g. tannins and beta acids). And by taking a larger amount of low acid hops (possibly poorly stored hops by modern standards) and putting them through a prolonged boil, I think you are going to get a higher perceived bitterness than the same amount of total alpha acid from a high aa hop. So I’d expect these beers to appear a fair bit higher than 30-35 IBU. And finally, as noted above, I've dropped the hopping rates by about 20% from those presented in the original recipes.

So on the whole I would treat both of these beers as more bitter than the theoretical IBUs presented here would suggest. And I would caution anyone trying to hit the same IBUs here but with high aa hops and trying to come out with a beers that would be perceived similarly or trying to brew with more historical accuracy, as the use of lower rates of high aa hops would probably further soften the beers. And I think this would move the beers further from their original nature. If you want to brew with high alpha bittering additions that's fine, as long as you recognize that this would create a different beer less in line with the history. And of course, there's nothing wrong with that.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Bière de Saison (1905) recipe - infusion mash

Compared to other beers (like lambic, grisette and Bière de Garde), I haven't said much about historic saison on this blog. So it's probably time I do a bit of that. Two fairly complete recipes are given for "bières de saison" in the Q&A sections of the 1905 Petit Journal du Brasseur. In both cases, the brewer describes their process in detail and asks for advice on this proposed process to make these beers. One of brewers wants to brew by infusion and the other by a form of turbid mashing. On the whole the recipes have similarities but I think it is worth presenting both in full as the two give a good idea how brewers were approaching these beers at the time - both in their similarities and their differences.

Question about a bière de saison in PJB 1905.
In this first post I'll address the infusion recipe as well as some background/context, with the turbid mash recipe and some comparison saved for the second post.

Though the breweries aren't named, from the publication and the text it is clear that these are somewhat industrial brewers rather than the rustic farmhouse notion of saison (in the same way that modern saison breweries are generally not really farmhouse breweries but industrial breweries, some of which happen to be around farms). In that sense though, I think these recipes show an important point in the history of saison. They come at a time when the beers were still brewed in the winter and served in the summer and were still mixed-culture beers, but also when the beer had moved to commercial breweries as a component of their production instead of the lore of an off-season brew at a farm. So in that way they offer a point of connection between modern saison and the origins of saison, and they may fall close, in spirit at least, to the modern mixed-culture saisons.

I feel like I should also say something about the use of the term bière de garde here (although I've also discussed this in other posts recently). Both brewers call the beers they want to make a bière de saison and then clarify in parentheses a bière de garde. Bière de garde is used in a general sense here to mean a beer for aging, with bière de saison being a bit more of a specific name, but this shows the fluidity of both of these names for Belgian beer at the time. With that said, the recipe, process and advice given for these beers is quite similar in many ways to the sort of considerations taken when making Bières de Garde from the north of France.

These recipes both use "Escourgeon". I've talked about this elsewhere and it shows up in other places such as the saison history chapter of Farmhouse Ales. If you are unfamiliar with this grain, it is winter 6-row barley. In the 1800s and early 1900s Belgium was growing and using 6-row barley more or less exclusively. Escourgeon is frequently the recommended barley for beers for aging, though it may have been harsher than spring 6-row barley in younger beers. Within Escourgeon there was also a hierarchy, with certain regions preferred over others. In general, Escourgeon would have had a higher protein content than modern grains. With proper malting and mashing, this would mean more darkening (and the sort of flavor development that goes along with this) in kilning and boiling.

One final general point about these recipes - neither one of these recipes discusses the flavor profile of the finished beer or if the fermentation was "pure culture". But, given the time and the nature of beer (ale fermentation), they were likely mixed culture beers. What exactly that means would have varied from brewery to brewery, but it likely included some atypical Saccharomyces strains or non-Saccharomyces yeasts (so possibly Brett and/or other yeasts that you might find in other Belgian mixed culture beers) as well as the potential for bacteria. Both beers are reasonably hopped - around or above modern lambic levels (though this is not really a good comparison as one case deals with fresh hops from 100+ years ago that may not grown anymore and the other deals with aged modern hops).

Open-topped mash tuns, like this one at
Brasserie à Vapeur, can lose a lot of heat.
It is possible that in the time scale of around 5 months, some bières de saison may not have developed a lot of acidity. But I would guess that many would have, given acidity in other comparable beers like Bière de Garde, other discussions in PJB about acidic saisons and PJB discussions about customer taste preferences. So, for the modern brewer looking to brew something based off of this, using a mixed culture with multiple yeasts as well as lactic acid bacteria would be a good way to go.

OG: 1.049-1.051
100% Escourgeon Malt
Hops from Poperinge - 3.1 kg per 100 kg grain, ~450 g/HL wort pre-boil. The varietal is not specified. Hopping is discussed below in more detail.

  1. Mix water at 60-62° C (140-143.6° F) with the grain reach 52-55° C (125.6-131° F) in the mash tun. Mix for 20 minutes and then rest for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Infuse with water at 90° C to boiling to raise the temperature to 70-71° C (158-159.8° F). Rest 1.5 hours.
  3. Collect wort from the initial saccharification rest into the boil kettle.
  4. Infuse with water at 76-85° C (168.8-185° F) such that the mash temperature remains at 70-72° C (158-161.6° F). Mix for 20 minutes and then rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Collect wort from the second saccharification rest into the boil kettle.
  6. Sparge with water at around 75° C (167° F), or perhaps slightly warmer.
The old Brasserie Dupont mash tun.
There are some general things to keep in mind with this info regarding the temperatures of the added water and the resulting mash temperatures. A typical mash tun of the time would have been an open-topped iron mash tun with an aspect ratio sort of like a hockey puck or tuna can rather than something with closer to a 1:1 width to height ratio or more like a soup can (as is more typical of modern equipment). These ~1900 Belgian mash tuns could have lost a good deal of heat over the course of a mash rest (possibly around 2° C / 3.6° F per 30 minutes as mentioned in this post). Additionally, the infusion water is heating both the grain and the thick iron mash tun, and the latter would take a lot of heat to warm it up compared to modern equipment. Therefore, attempting to mash like this on a home scale or with modern commercial equipment might require some adjustments of the infusion water (smaller volumes or cooler water).

Hop fields in Poperinge.
Boil and hopping
The boil lasted 5 hours. The hopping was as follows:
  • First wort hopping:
    • 10% of the hops after the first mash runnings were collected
    • 10% of the hops when all of the wort has been collected but before the boil starts
  • Hops in the boil
    • 40% of the hops after boiling for one hour
    • 40% of the hops one hour before the boil ends (or 4 hours into the boil)
As noted above, the hops used in this recipe came from the Poperinge region, one of the two main regions of historic Belgian hop growing (and the main region for modern-day Belgian hop growing). The landrace Belgian varieties grown at this time (e.g. Coigneau, Buvrinnes / Tige Vert / Duitsche Hop / Tige Allemande, Groene Bel / Cloche Vert, Tige Blanche / Witte Ranke, Tige Rouge / Roode Rank) have more or less disappeared, though some varieties have been re-discovered and are seeing small-scale cultivation starting up.

Belgian hops were believed to be a bit less potent than contemporaneous German and Czech hops (for a bit more info comparing hops from different regions in the late 1800s and early 1900s, see the table in this blog post), and it is also likely that advances in hop farming could result in higher alpha acids in modern hops than historic hops. For the modern brewer, landrace French hops may be a good choice, or German or Czech hops at a slightly lower hopping rate than the one quoted here.

The final volume isn't noted in the Q&A so I'm not sure exactly what the final hopping rate would be in terms of g per HL. Based on the pre-boil volume given (45 HL) and the process (5 hour boil, maybe cooling in coolships or maybe not), and similar modern breweries (lambic brewing) I'm going to estimate that this is roughly 530 to 630 g per HL of wort in the fermenter, depending on if a coolship is used or the wort is force-cooled.

The old (and long out of use) coolship at Brasserie à Vapeur.
Fermentation and aging
Yeast was pitched when the beer was 21° C / 70° F (nothing is said about the method of cooling, but coolships or a cooling system like a Baudelot chiller would have been appropriate). It sounds like fermentation at this specific brewery took place in a metal tank - perhaps something like what is shown below. But the beer was then aged for around 5 months, likely in wooden barrels.

Modern homebrew adaptation
Here is an approximation for adapting this to modern ingredients and at homebrew sizes. Feel free to make your own adaptations from the historic recipe. I haven't yet tried to brew something like this myself, so this is a theoretical recipe and could have some kinks to work out.

Batch size: 19 L (5 gal) pre-fermentation wort
OG: 1.050
ABV: ~6%
IBU (theoretical, Tinseth): 35
Total Efficiency: 75%

Open fermentation in a metal tank at De Dolle.
4.1 kg (9.0 lb) Continental European Pale malt. Go for something like Dingemans, Chateau, or Soufflet/Franco-Belges if you want a bit more color or something like Weyermann and Best is you want it to be a bit paler.

100 g Strisselspalt, 2% aa (other another low aa landrace hop, you may want to adjust the 4 hr boil addition a bit based on aa if you swap to another hop)

Mash: This follows the mash above, but you should probably rerun the infusion temperature and volume calculations as this could vary a bit based on your system. Keeping extra boiling water and extra cold water on hand in case you need to quickly adjust the mash temperature is probably good too. I think this is good in general, especially with new or complicated/strange mash schedules.
  1. Mix grain with 7.7 L of water at 60.6° C (8.1 qt at 141° F) to reach 53° C (127.4° F). 10 minutes total for adding the water and mixing. Rest for 20 minutes.
  2. Slowly infuse 8.1 L of water at 89° C (8.6 qt at 192.3° F) to reach a mash temperature of 70° C (158° F). Take 10-20 minutes for the rise, so maybe add the volume in small steps rather than all at once. Rest for 1.5 hours. This step could probably be shortened a bit with modern conditions.
  3. Drain the mash into the boil kettle. Keep this wort on low heat (intermittently if necessary) so that it stays between 75° C and boiling. I'm guessing the volume in the boil kettle should be around 12.4 L (3.25 gal) based on a grain absorption of around 4.2 L (~1.1 gal) and with a bit of extra wort remaining behind from false bottom dead space, etc. The remaining calculations are based on this figure.
  4. Infuse with 15.5 L at 71.7° C (16.4 qt at 161° F). The total time for the addition and mixing should be around 10 minutes. The rest for 30 minutes. This step could also probably be shortened with modern grain/equipment.
  5. Drain the wort and sparge (fly or batch, as you prefer) with water at 75° C (167° F).
Boil: 5 hour boil. For me that would mean starting with about 42.6 L (11.25 gal) assuming 3.8 L (1 gal) per hour boil off and 3.8 L (1 gal) loss to trub. Begin heating to a boil after the second mash wort is collected or, if fly sparging, shortly after you begin sparging.
  • First wort hop: 20 g, split evenly between hops added after the first wort is collected and once the wort from the second mash is collected.
  • 40 g hops after 1 hour of boiling.
  • 40 g of hops after 4 hours of boiling / with 1 hour left in the boil.
Either chill by using your boil kettle as a coolship or as you would normally chill your wort. If you go the coolship route this will likely change the extraction from the hops. If you have another kettle/vessel to use as a coolship then you could transfer off the hops into that when you begin cooling.

Fermentation: Pitch a mixed culture that you like including multiple yeasts and bacteria. I tend to keep around dregs of various commercial beers that I like along with a saison strain and some brett isolates/blends, so I'd probably use a combination of these (e.g. a saison strain or two that I like co-pitched with a brett isolate or brett blend that I like along with the dregs of commercial barrel aged saisons and/or lambics that I like all together for primary). Pitch the yeast around 20° C (68° F) and let free rise, or possible help it rise. The exact profile you follow will depend on which saison strains you choose.

Age for about 5-6 months, or until gravity is stable and you like the character. I see no reason to rack to a new vessel for the aging, so I'd just leave it in the primary fermenter if your primary is fairly air-tight (glass or stainless). Wood would also be fine if you have a good barrel, though I'd lean toward larger barrels if you go this route. I know small  barrels can work out well for some, but I've tasted a lot more disappointing beers from small barrels (too much oak/barrel character or too much O2) than good ones. Then bottle (or keg, if that's your preference - I'm partial to bottling), keeping in mind final gravity stability to avoid over-carbonation problems.

Part 2 of this, with a turbid-mashed saison recipe, is now up. You can find it here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Brief Translations Compiled

From time to time I'll put some of the quick translation work that I'm doing on the blog's FB page. These are usually snippets of articles/books or quick Q&A sections from Petit Journal du Brasseur. I feel that these posts don't warrant their own full blog post (at least not at this stage), but I still find them interesting so I want to share them somewhere. The downside of doing this on FB is that they are quickly lost and tricky to retrieve. So I've decided to catalog them here in this blog post so that anyone (myself included) can easily find them and look back at them.

A question about brewing a beer for aging (PJB 1910).
Some new old brewing information:
In addition, I thought I should add something new, so here's a new snippet of something quick - the sort of thing that I'd usually put on the FB page. This comes from Petit Journal du Brasseur in 1910, where a brewer is asking about brewing a bière de garde with an OG of 1.055 for serving in summer (note that bière de garde is used here as a general term for an aged beer, not for the French category Bière de Garde). The advice follows general advice for this sort of beer for the time (for example, suggesting 100% barley malt, though as the gravity is above 1.050 perhaps some unmalted grain could be used) but with some good insight.

I think the discussion of hopping is a good section to highlight here as there are a couple important points. First, they note hopping rates need to be sufficiently high for the beer and suggest at least 20 kg for 812 kg of grain. This hopping rate is pretty high (on the order of 50% higher than lambic at some modern breweries). Unfortunately the batch size isn't given, but making efficiency assumptions based on other beers of the time, this is probably roughly a hopping rate of 500 g/HL (an earlier version mistakenly said 500g/L, see the hopping table in this post for notes on conversion factors here). This highlights the importance that brewers of the time placed on hopping beers for aging at elevated rates.

Second, there is discussion of using hops of multiple years. So potentially a brewer could be using aged hops in their beer, but the volume of aged hops suggested would be roughly doubled to replace a portion of hops from the most recent harvest. I like the information here regarding aged hops v. fresh for hopping rates as well as the context that the information gives - brewers may or may not be using aged hops for beers destined for aging that weren't lambic. Finally, the post discusses the possibility of using hops from Oregon. The use of US hops shows up elsewhere at this time in Belgium but I don't think I've talked about it before. So this is a good time to point out that US hops were used by some brewers in Belgium in the early 1900s.

Mention of hopping rates, age and origin (PJB 1910).

Links to the previous FB posts:
Here is a compiled list of posts from the blog's FB page. This is organized by topic, with the original source and posting date, and any other notes. I'll try to remember to update it as I post more on the FB page.

Lambic, Faro, Bière de Mars, Geuze:
Saison and Belgian bière de garde:
(As noted above, there bière de garde can mean different things. The differentiation of the Francophone Belgian use of the term bière de garde and this term used to describe distinct beers from the North of France is discussed a bit more in this blog post)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Brewing Bières de Garde (1850-1910)

Following up on this blog post giving background info on Bière de Garde and French brewing around 1900, this post gets into the brewing side of historic Bière de Garde. As noted in the background post, these beers are distinct from the modern northern French beers of the same name. As a brief comment on the modern side, I learned recently from Daniel Thiriez of Brasserie Thiriez that there is a new (well, ~1 year old) French law regarding what can be called a Bière de Garde - the beers now must be aged a minimum of 21 days after primary. We agreed that this law seems to be a bit toothless and quite broad, as there is no recipe restriction, etc. And 21 days is a far cry from the 6+ months of aging for Bière de Garde from around 1900.

Bière de Garde advertisement from the early 1900s.
From the collection of D. Thiriez.
The information for this post is a synthesis of 9 texts from 1850 to the early 1900s. These texts present a view from more established breweries, and spanning the time from the height of Bière de Garde to near when the original long-aged mixed culture versions disappeared. While each of the texts has small differences from the others, the general nature of the beer remains the same - a roughly amber colored beer of mixed fermentation with a moderate hopping and which is allowed to become acidic and vinous over 6+ months of aging.

The grist composition of Bière de Garde was 100% malted barley which, for the time, was kilned using older methods. Direct heat was used and that the malt came out slightly toward amber. I think something along the lines of a continental European Pale Ale malt is about right given the descriptions of the final beer color and the process. The recommended barley was the Escourgeon, or winter 6-row barley. This was the common grain for much the area (across Belgium you often see the same recommendation) and it could be a bit of a sharp or coarse malt. Escourgeon had more polyphenols and higher nitrogen levels, which would help to develop more melanoidin compounds in kilning and boiling. This sort of malt wasn't great for softer or quicker turnaround beers, but it was well suited for aged beers.

Hops for Bière de Garde were primarily coming from the Nord region or Belgium. These hops were of more standard quality. This may present a bit of a challenge to the modern brewer, but French landrace hops may be a good place to start. Some sources also mention a portion of higher quality hops coming from Bavaria, Bohemia, or other regions of France, so this gives modern brewers some more options.

Yeast was pitched for Bière de Garde, and based on the descriptions of the final beers it was a mixed culture involving at least Brettanomyces and lactic acid bacteria in addition to Saccharomyces. Figuier, quoting Müller (1873), notes that Bière de Garde, and in general the beers of this region, had a vinous quality and that this quality was sought by locals.

General Specifications
Bière de Garde is described as an golden-amber or brown beer (sometimes both by the same source, suggesting that "brown" may have been used more generally or encompassed a wider range than it does now). Either way, from this I suspect the beers were generally not toward the darker side of brown, and a pale amber may be a better description for the modern brewer/beer drinker. The paler side of amber seems to fit better with the above photo. Though I'll note that the original of that print was from 1930, and therefore after Bière de Garde as discussed here had mostly (if not fully) vanished.

This table (below), modified slightly from a similar one posted a couple weeks ago on the blog's FB page, shows the parameters of ~1900 Bière de Garde alongside 1970s & modern lambic and geuze as well as modern Flanders acidic ales. Taking these 5 examples of Bière de Garde, the OG that one could expect around 1900 was roughly 1.045. This sounds a little low to me, so I wouldn't be surprised if gravities that were a bit higher (~1.050-1.055) were also brewed. But I haven't seen other gravities listed so far. With a very high attenuation, the alcohol of these examples generally comes out to around 6% ABV.

The acidity of the beers was fairly high, both in lactic and acetic acidity. On the whole the acid profiles compare well with Flanders acidic ales before they are blended back with younger beer for packaging, though BdG was a bit lower in lactic acid than these Flanders beers. And the acidity also compares well with more sharp lambics, but when averaging across multiple producers from the 1970s, ~1900 BdG is higher in both lactic and acetic acid.

A comparison of ~1900 Bière de Garde with some modern aged acidic beers.

Brewing Process
Mashing: Bière de Garde used a type of turbid mashing. Although only a few turbid mash schedules are known today, and only for a small range of beers, different schedules of turbid mashing were employed for a wide range of beers in Belgium and northern France. And there were many more versions of turbid mashing than remain in modern brewing (though even today there are still differences among lambic brewers about the specific rests, number of turbid pulls, and when the turbid wort is added back). The different Bière de Garde texts that I've seen all more or less describe the same sort of mash, with 3 temperature rests and one turbid pull:

-An initial infusion is conducted. Some texts have this rest temperature quite cool (25-35 C, some even lower than this) and others have it higher, in the protein conversion range.
-After the first rest, the wort is drained off and heated to a boil in a secondary boil kettle. This is the one turbid pull used in Bière de Garde mashing.
-Hot water (somewhere from 80 C to boiling) is added back to the grain bed to raise the temperature to the cooler end of the saccharification range. The mash rests here for a while.
-Wort is extracted and transferred to the primary boil kettle. Now the turbid wort which has been boiled comes back to the grain, and an additional saccharification step is now carried out with this wort.
-After the second saccharification this wort is combined with the earlier mash runnings in the primary boil kettle.
-The grain bed is sparged, more or less as normal, though much of this wort is used for table beers rather than Bière de Garde.

Here are a couple mash schemes from historic texts. First is a scheme based on the information in Bauby & Fournier (1868), taking into account the mashing that Bauby & Fournier report, the modifications they suggest, and filling in some gaps with reasoning and similar general schemes described by other sources. The second is a reproduction of the mashing scheme I presented in this blog post, which originally comes from Evans (1905). A couple of sources I looked at have the initial rest closer to 50 C rather than the cool starts of both of these mashes. But otherwise these other mashes follow a similar remaining process to these two. Finally, for reading the figures below, blue arrows represent transfer of liquid (removal of turbid wort, infusions, collecting final wort).

A mashing scheme based off of Bauby & Fournier (1868).
There are a couple general things to keep in mind with these mashing schemes. First, these mashes reflect non-modern conditions. Rest times could probably be shortened a bit if you wanted to try these yourself. Also, with the sort of equipment used in these breweries at this time, there was a much larger heat loss to the vessels than with modern equipment when raising the mash temperature. Additionally, it would not be uncommon to have an open topped mash tun, which would also lose a good deal of heat. Jean-Louis Dits of Brasserie à Vapeur has such a mash tun, and he reported temperature drops of up to 2 C per 30 minutes (see this post for more info about their mashing). So if you want to try one of these mashes yourself, you may want to lower the infusion temps to hit your targets and keep extra cold water around in case you overshoot. Finally, not everything is specified with these mashes to the extent that I would like (especially in the mash based on Bauby & Fournier). I have tried to fill in the gaps with what is reasonable given the mash process up to that point, expected heat loss, and what the wort would need to be like. And I have tried to present the remaining uncertainty to these assumptions.

The mashing scheme presented in Evans (1905).

Boiling: Bière de Garde underwent a long boiling. The sources agree on at least a 5 hour boil, with many mentioning boils lasting up to 8-10 hours. Considering this, the gravity is fairly moderate at around 1.040-1.050. The English brewers discussing the boil in Evans (1905) also note that they were surprised that the boil did not darken the beers as much as they expected.

Hopping rates were around 4-5 g/L (0.53-0.67 oz/gal), with some sources mentioning rates slightly above and below this. Some sources say that hops were added right at the start of the boil while others say hops were "only" boiled for a couple hours. So either way hops underwent a long boil of multiple hours. Some hops, especially if higher quality hops were used, may have been reserved for later in the boil. But overall this isn't discussed much in these texts

At the end of the boil the beers were cooled in coolships.

Fermentation: As noted above, Bière de Garde was pitched with a mixed culture, though at a lower rate than would have been common for most beers at the time. Fermentation began somewhere from around 20-25 C. Some later sources note the temperature may have started a bit cooler (~17-21 C). The beers were fermented in casks, generally the same casks as used for transport, and active fermentation took around 3 days. Following the primary fermentation, the beers were aged for around 6 months or more, during which time the beers developed acidity and vinous character.

Closing thoughts:
Having discussed BdG recipe and process, I think it is noteworthy that the descriptions of French Bière de Garde are quite similar to the descriptions of Saison in Belgian sources from around the same time. Suggested malts, mashing process, hops, boiling time, etc. are in general basically the same for these two beers. This is not surprising given that the Nord department borders the Hainaut province and that the beers share similar origin lore, but I think it is worth pointing out anyway.

Something to think of when
considering historic Bière de Garde?
Finally, I think it may be helpful to contextualize historic Bière de Garde by considering Cantillon's Iris. Perhaps this is a bit of a tired reference. When considering the above BdG-Saison comparison, I know I frequently say something to this effect and it is also in the De Baets chapter on Saison history in Farmhouse Ales. But I think the similarities are sufficient to bring it up again. Both are 100% malted barley (even more so - malt of about the right color) and also turbid mashed. The hopping rates are similar (though BdG was hopped a bit more and Iris is dry hopped). They both have a long boil and then are cooled in a coolship. Of course there are the important differences that Iris is spontaneously fermented while BdG was pitched with a mixed culture, Iris uses some aged hops, and Iris is aged longer. But still I think Iris probably falls closer to ~1900 BdG than many other modern beers would.

This wraps up a historic Bière de Garde brewday. Hopefully you found that informative, and it helped to differentiate the modern and historic (1850-1910) beers using this name. Here are links to other posts on the blog discussing Bière de Garde, both of which are also linked in the text above:

-Thoughts on Evans, 1905
-Introductory thoughts on BdG

Lacambre (1851). Traité Complet de le Fabrication des Bières...
Bauby & Fournier (1868). Guide Raisonné de la Fabrication de la Bière.
Figuier (sometime in the 1870s, I'm not sure of the exact date). Les Merveilles de l'Industrtie...
Cartuyvels & Stammer (1879). Traité Complet Théorique et Pratique de le Fabrication de la Bière et du Malt
Boulin (1889). Manuel Pratique de la Fabrication de la Bière.
Moreau & Levy (1905). Traité Complet de le Fabrication des Bières...
Evans (1905). The Beers and Brewing Systems of Northern France.
Petit Journal du Brasseur (1910).
Mulo (I don't know the year). Brasseur ou Art de Faire Toutes Sortes de Bières.
Thanks also to Daniel Thiriez and Yvan De Baets for conversations that helped with organizing my thoughts about these beers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Introductory thoughts on Bière de Garde

For the past couple years I have been somewhat passively researching Bière de Garde and I think the time has come for me to start being a bit more active about putting this info together into blog posts. Before getting into the brewing side I wanted to start with this an introductory/general post to address terminology and the setting for the beer. For clarity throughout this post, I'll use capitalized "Bière de Garde" to refer to the specific family of beers from the north of France and I'll use lower case "bière de garde" when using the term to more generally refer to aged beers. If this doesn't make sense, it should shortly.

The term Bière de Garde
A question regarding brewing a bière de garde from Ghent.
(Petit Journal du Brasseur, 1901).
Discussion of bière de garde from Augsburg and Munich, Lacambre (1851).
I find Bière de Garde to be one of the trickier families of beer to discuss based on the wide range of what this name can mean. To the non-Francophone beer world this term likely refers fairly unambiguously to a distinct (though still stylistically open) category of beers from the Nord and Pas de Calais departments of northern France. But the non-Francophone beer world might not be as familiar with this term to apply generally to a diverse category of aged beers, using the term for its literal meaning (beers for keeping/storage, or since this part has been done already by the brewer, beers that have been kept). The historic Belgian brewing literature regularly uses this term to discuss general beers designed to be aged. And these beers could cover quite a range of strengths, ingredients, and brewing styles. In the modern world I think bière de garde is used less generally, but when looking through the historic texts the French Bières de Garde are definitely in the minority of the uses of this term.

Just as the French-language brewing literature may use the term bière de garde to refer to beers unrelated to historic Bières de Garde, the modern beers bearing this name as a category are also fairly unrelated to the historic category. There is a discontinuity not only temporally between the historic mixed culture Bières de Garde that were found until the early 1900s and the modern range of beers bearing this name, but also in process and ingredients. For the rest of this post I'll generally be discussing historic Bières de Garde, focusing on the period between industrialization of breweries and when the historic versions disappeared in the early 1900s. For those interested in the rebirth of the name and the modern iterations, Farmhouse Ales (by Markowski) and The Beers of Northern France by Rigley and Woods give a good idea of the story and the range of producers. The former should already at least be on the list of any Anglophone brewer interested in Bière de Garde and saison, if not already read and re-read multiple times. While the latter is a bit dated, it can be found (at least now) for ~5 USD / EUR. It is certainly worth that if you're interested in French beer.

Recommended reading for modern Bière de Garde.
Brewing in France before the 1900s and brewers of Bière de Garde
While France may not have had always the beer focus of some of its neighbors, many distinct regional beers were brewed in the 1800s and earlier. Around 1850, Lacambre (Traite Complet de le Fabrication des Bières..., 1851) describes distinct regional ales from Paris, Strasbourg and Lyon in addition to the beers of Lille. I should note that Bière de Garde is generally discussed under the category of beers of Lille in the historic texts I've seen (Lille is the most prominent city of the Nord department). I am combining Nord and Pas-de-Calais for this discussion as modern Bière de Garde brewers can be found in both departments. But most of the historic documents I've seen mention Lille, and possibly the Nord in general, as the region for Bière de Garde without addressing Pas-de-Calais.

This diversity of regional beers seems to have changed quickly, as Figuier (Les Merveilles de l'Industrie, published in the 1870s) notes that Paris had switched rapidly to lager brewing starting in the late 1860s, modeling their beers after those from Bavaria and Vienna. During this time the brewers of Lille continued to produce their beers of top fermentation - these including Bière de Garde as well as an ordinary brown beer (which was served young) and table beers. In addition, some brewers produced a white beer (which I've written about here), though this was not very common.

A map showing the he Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments of
Northern France, western Belgium and some larger cities.
The resilience of the north, though strong, was unfortunately not enough to preserve these beers. Evans (1905) and Moreau and Levy (also 1905) both note that few regions of France were still producing top fermentation beers in 1905. And Evans notes that Bière de Garde was rapidly becoming less popular, having fallen from 50% of the consumption of Lille in 1900 to less than 20% in 1905.  With Bière de Garde already on the back foot, WWI was pretty much the end of the style. As I've written about a bit in this post, the devastation the region faced and the way this put additional pressure on breweries (loss of life, loss of equipment, insufficient crops to maintain production, etc.) resulted in a significant loss of breweries and the regional beer identity compared to before the war. This basically signals the end of traditional Bière de Garde production.

The table below shows brewing trends in the north of France in the early 1900s (the number of breweries and production volume, in degrees-hectoliters). This is presented for both the Nord department alone as well as the 5 northern departments of France that were more prominent beers regions (including Nord and Pas-de-Calais). While the date coverage is a bit spotty, there is a clear difference between the early 1900s (before WWI), where production and brewery numbers seem fairly stable and the 1930s. Other 1930s data as presented in Petit Journal du Brasseur 1939 are generally similar, though a decline in the number of breweries and some variability in total production are seen during the 1930s. 1939 was chosen for this comparison and it included both the number of breweries and the production volume for the same year.

Some quick data on the breweries and production levels in Northern France in the early 1900s.
The Bière de Garde revival, with distinctly different beers from the original Bières de Garde, begins roughly 10-50 years after this, depending on who you credit. Jenlain claims to have been the first among the new brewers to use the name Bière de Garde for their ale aged a couple weeks in tanks in the 1920s. Castelain employed the title in the 1970s for their lager CH'TI, also aged for weeks rather than months. It was not until around the 1970s and later that the name caught on to mean a new category of northern French beers.

General characteristics of historic Bière de Garde
A few points are clear about the general nature of historic Bières de Garde. They were turbid mashed, as is discussed in this blog post. Additionally the beers were top fermentation mixed culture beers. And, given that they were aged for many months, they had some chance to express this character. This is in strong contrast to modern versions, where the beers may be lagers or fairly neutral ales (as well as ales with a bit more fermentation character) which are generally aged a couple additional weeks.

This is sort of a strange contrast between the two Bières de Garde (along with some process differences that I'll get into in a future post), and makes them in effect two unrelated products. I think using the term bière de garde to refer to a beer with a bit more aging in the process is fine. And the modern use of the term does denote a specific category of beers (varied though that category may be, and although the aging is fairly short). But I think making a tie between the historic and modern beers of this name is tenuous at best. Perhaps it is better to brew the beer you like, call it something that makes sense and communicates what it is, and let the beer be just a beer without trying to invoke the historic lore of a beer brewed with fundamentally different ingredients and substantially different methods on different equipment.

Alright, so this gives a bit of an intro into Bière de Garde - where it came from, when it was produced and differences between the historic and modern versions. I'm working on synthesizing recipes and process to put together a post detailing brewing these beers. I've already let a bit of that info out in the form of this post on the blog's facebook page, showing the OG, FG and acid profiles of Bière de Garde from around 1900 as well as modern lambic and Flanders acidic ale. Hopefully I'll have a brewing process/recipe-focused post within the next couple weeks.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spontaneous fermentation barrel fill

This post details the first spontaneous beer I have fermenting in oak. It is in a 225 L / 60 gallon barrel that I co-own with some friends, and so far it is progressing nicely. We filled this barrel with one big brew day - a turbid mashed brew taking inspiration from lambic production - using a bunch of our homebrew equipment pooled together.

I'll focus mostly on our decision taking for this approach to the barrel rather than a solera-type approach and cleaning the barrel, but I'll also include more typical brewday stuff (our plan, recipe, process, etc).

The barrel needing a bit of touching up, accomplished here
with a heat gun, beeswax and something like a putty knife.
The barrel
I've mentioned the origins of this barrel in this blog post. Since November 2014 this barrel has been full of a homebrew solera-type project. The initial fill was a saison with brett and Lactobacillus. After about 7 months we pulled off ~1/3 and re-filled with young (<1 month old) beer that was turbid mashed, open cooled and then pitched with various cultures (dregs, ambient wild microbes and lab cultures). A second partial empty and refill was done 14 months later, again with lambic-inspired young beer (and one portion was spontaneous this time).

Since the initial fill, we felt that the beer wasn't really progressing the way we wanted. The end goal was something lambic-inspired and the group that shares the barrel has had a growing interest in spontaneous fermentation. But the partial re-fills with young beer weren't really pushing us in that direction as much as we liked. The beers coming out had increasing acidity, approaching levels beyond our goals for a balanced product, and the flavor complexity wasn't really developing as we wanted. Maybe this is influenced by the pretty strong presence of saison still in the barrel. Also, with the pitched cultures already present in the barrel we felt that we may have been preferentially feeding a subset of the organisms active over the course of spontaneous fermentation rather than getting the expression of a more thorough set of microbes over the course of fermentation.

The barrel waiting to be filled the morning after the brew day.
To be clear the beer coming from the barrel was fine. It was pleasant to drink and I've used it in blends (here for example). But the beer was lacking complexity, and we were looking for something more from the investment of time and the potential that we knew the barrel had. Our slightly underwhelming experience is not to say that a solera system inherently won't produce the beer we were looking for. Though I do think perhaps it is better suited for certain styles, at least as it is practiced by homebrewers. And maybe our goals weren't aligned with the strengths of a solera-type system. The typical homebrew solera is a bit different from the traditional solera system (for example as used in sherry), where a multiple barrel system is employed. With this system, refilling is accomplished using the next oldest product when the oldest product is partially removed. This continues up the line such that progressively younger but already aged product does the refilling for most of the levels. On the homebrew side when it can frequently be wort or rather young beer and a one-vessel system, the refilling may not done with an aged product. That's certainly the way we did it at least. And our experience may have been better if we refilled with 6+ month old beer rather than <1 month old beer or wort.

About 25-50% of the pooled gear...
Anyway, this specific barrel wasn't on our ideal track, so we were looking to completely empty, clean, and re-fill either way. With that in mind, along with the selective feeding idea and the end goal of spontaneous fermentation, we decided to step away from the homebrew solera approach and opted for a complete fill from one brew day, open cooled at one spot overnight, and racked in to the barrel without pitching any cultures.

Planning the brew day
Completely filling a 225 L wine barrel on homebrew gear is not an easy task. We've done this before doing 3 brews in series. But that was with more simple infusion mashes and a shorter boil. With the long boils and intensive mashing process we were going for this time, we decided on brewing in parallel. If getting together with 3 of your friends to brew about 250-300 L of wort in order to have at least 225 L after overnight cooling sounds like a good idea to you, then I guess there's a few of us out there. If it sounds like a terrible idea, there's probably a good deal more in your camp. In all honesty it is probably a bit of both.

This much grain means a lot of stirring of thick mashes...
We started the planning with a list of the equipment we had available to make sure we had the physical capacity to hold and heat that much liquid. We were bringing together 4 brew systems using different methods of heating and mashing (electric BIAB, electric w/ false bottom, stovetop BIAB and propane w/ false bottom), which required some shuffling to make it all work out. But with this and with the additional miscellaneous gear we had, the brewday could go forward.

We split that gear into roughly 3 brews. Or at least 3 mashes, as some brews may require multiple boils. We designed these brews so they could be treated as more or less independent, but flexibility with this was key on brew day. In general things went as well as they did because we had enough people to problem solve and/or make runs for additional supplies as needed during the brew.

2 of the 3 propane boil kettles
By the end of April 2017, after weeks of planning and sending drafts with all of our equipment capacity and shifting vessels around to try to produce enough wort, we had everything sorted for the brew day:

-We planned for 3 mashes at the same time with one large electric kettle to heat the necessary strike and infusion water and one kettle for the combined turbid wort.
-The boil would be split into ~5 kettles, as needed. As the volume dropped during the boil, and as we cleaned larger pots from the mash, we could combine into 4 total.
-Our cooling plan was to use the bottom half of a Blichmann  conical fermenter and two of the boil kettles.

This gave us an estimated cooling capacity of around 285 L / 75 gal (we had to guess at the volume of the conical), which should be sufficient with evaporative and trub/hop losses to get near to the target of filling the barrel.

The two electric boils and the extra extractor fan.

The brew day
We used about 60% locally grown and malted barley and 40% soft white wheat. Our turbid mash had 4 rest steps (dough in, protein, cool saccharification and warm saccharification) plus a mash out and 2 turbid pulls. We generally followed the Cantillon turbid mashing process (see MTF and lambic.info for more specifics here, see also Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow and this Funk Factory writeup). The snags on the mash side were trying to evenly split sparge water across mashes of different sizes and different types of mashes (which inherently drain at different rates). This was compounded by stuck sparges on the largest of the mashes due to the high load of difficult grains.

While a benefit of turbid mashing is that it allows for overloading mash tuns, both in terms of fill level and in terms of proper conversion for good runoff, traditional Belgian mash tuns for this are more tuna can-shaped than our soup can-shaped tuns. So for the same volume our grain bed ends up comparatively deeper. This also made mixing difficult, as shown above, which could have resulted in worse conversion of the mash and could have contributed to the stuck sparge. Anyway, that was sorted out well enough, but it took a bit more time and made the splitting of sparge water (i.e. tying not to over-sparge some mashes and under-sparge others) trickier.

Cooling vessels 2 & 3.

Cooling vessel #1

We planned for a 3 hour boil and were fine with topping up the boil with water as needed. We wanted to fill the barrel completely so we were happy to take a small loss in OG if it meant a full barrel. We were hopping at a rate of around 3.8 g/l (based on the target end of boil volume) with aged pellets from hops direct and homegrown aged whole hops. We added these at the start of the boil. With the two electric systems going inside we needed to bring in an industrial extraction fan (in addition to the normal kitchen hood already active) to properly remove the moisture.

We left these beers to cool overnight. The nighttime low for the area on that night was just under 8 C (about 46F). Wort from the two electric boil kettles was transferred to the lower part of the conical fermenter, and therefore this wort was removed from the hops. The other two pots of wort were topped up with remaining electric wort and left to cool on their own, so these still had at least most of their hops in contact. The wort remained to cool for a total of about 16 hours before being transferred into the barrel and the wort temperatures on the morning after cooling were 12 and 14.5 C (53.5 and 58 F) in the two boil kettles. So the temperatures, both ambient and wort, worked out great.

Emptying the barrel.

Barrel cleaning
We had decided to empty the barrel on the same day as the brew day. We figured there would be enough down time during the ~3 hour boil to allow for this, and we didn't want to store the barrel dry or use any sort of storage solution if it could be avoided (as both of those would require extra work rinsing and/or swelling before we could use it). This did add the challenge of needing enough empty carboys to hold a full barrel, and transporting those as well as all the gear, but at least we didn't need any carboys for the wort going in.

We did this racking with a pressurized racking cane built with help from the engineer of the group. The basics of the cane follows this post on A Beer Diary, but with a cross instead of a plus to allow for a pressure relief valve (and this is a 1/2" cane rather than 3/8"). See also this FB thread on MTF. I'm behind on making use of the beer that came out, but that's another story.

With the boil done (clearing up some outside space) and the barrel empty, we could turn out attention to cleaning the barrel. We wanted to do a fairly thorough clean for a fresh start. Our strategy was primarily 2 parts - a prolonged spraying followed by steaming.

The barrel was sprayed out for a long time
We started the spraying with hot water at a laundry sink but we quickly realized our spraying goals were going to be better served by moving outside for the cleaning. The barrel was sprayed out with cool water until the water ran clear and tasted pretty neutral. This spraying also included some vigorous sloshing and rolling for good measure. This took a long time. I don't have notes on exactly how long, but all together it was 30 minutes+ of spraying, sloshing, dumping and re-spraying. Then the barrel was visually inspected and trouble areas were targeted until it all looked good. I spent much of this time becoming increasingly less dry...

Our spraying out also included wanting to spray the inside top of the barrel, but we weren't able to easily reach that. We were able to get around this by bending a standard racking cane (after first softening it with a heat gun) to about a 30° angle, or perhaps a bit smaller, and cutting the extra length of the cane off. This allowed the end to fit into the barrel and direct the spray back toward the top.

Now we had a visually clean barrel, but we had been using cold water which wouldn't do much to knock back the microbes that we didn't physically remove. For this we had a steaming plan. Steaming on a home scale can be a bit trickier. After trying to come up with some good way to do this, the engineer of the group came to the rescue with a converted pressure cooker. I think it is important to note here that you need to be very careful whenever you are working with steam and pressure. Be sure to have proper safety precautions in place and our method may not work for other setups/barrels. And there is definitely room for improvement.

We used a converted stovetop pressure cooker with the primary weight-based pressure relief valve removed to have a hose attached to this opening. This hose was then put into a bung in the barrel, transferring the steam from the pressure cooker to the barrel. We still had multiple levels of pressure relief. First off, the secondary pin to release pressure on the cooker was in and therefore there was pressure relief on the cooker side. Secondly, we had multiple press-fit connections leading to the barrel to serve as release points in case we built up too much pressure. These were the connections from the tube into the bung as well as the bung in the barrel, which was not forced down as tight as one might do when aging in the barrel. We knew from experience with the racking cane that the bung could pop out under a low pressure when it is not strongly forced into the barrel.

Steaming the barrel.
We started the steaming of the barrel with our "Vinnie nail" out, allowing venting of the steam out of this opening. With this, while steam entered the barrel, the barrel was not warming up as much as we would have liked. So we replaced the nail after about 5-10 minutes and continued steaming in a closed system with the aforementioned engineered weak points (or if German-inclined, sollbruchstelle - one of my favorite German words). I didn't keep good track of steaming time, but it was clear the steaming was doing its job. First the heads of the barrel became warm to the touch. The exterior of the barrel was wet from rinsing before the steaming, and we could see this moisture evaporating away. Then the sides of the barrel also became warm to the touch. Eventually our engineered weak points did their job, venting the pressure, and we decided to end the steaming there. We felt a sufficient enough job had been done as it was probably at least 20-30 min of total steaming (with and without the nail in place) and all exterior surfaces of the barrel were quite warm.

With a bit more planning time we'll hopefully have a better setup next time. I think it wouldn't be too tricky to work in a pressure relief valve like. Basically the same design as the racking cane should work (and only a T fitting would be necessary, rather than the cross on the cane). Though again, from out experience, the bung on that cane pops out before the pressure relief valve is active anyway. But more pressure relief options are probably not a bad thing. Another option would have been to try longer with the sampling nail out. Perhaps with more time to build up heat this would have worked well.

We returned the morning after our brew day to fill the barrel. The pots that could be lifted easily were carried over to the barrel for filling. The others were transferred into intermediate smaller pots and then carried over. Filling the barrel went fairly smoothly, but it was clear fairly after working through the conical that we had undershot our volume. We had a bit more than expecting in our evaporative loss. And a calculation error meant that we were high in gravity but low in volume. This was an easy problem to solve and we diluted in the barrel with extra water (which had been heated to above pasteurization temps from the day before). In the end, based on a gravity points and volume calculation, we had an OG of around 1.055.

Other than this volume challenge, and some slow flow on one of the kettles due to clogging a hop filter, the filling of the barrel went pretty smoothly. We ended up leaving a small amount of head space in the barrel. It probably only amounted to about 10-15 L, but we figured this might help keep the avoid absurd blowoff while still keeping the barrel almost completely full. And we filled a carboy with the extra wort for fully topping up the barrel after primary.

Fresh greens and cleaning, an important part
of every brewday. photo: J Young.
Interestingly, there was a clear difference in the fermentation progression of the barrel and the carboy. This fits with data on the inoculation of lambic from Spitaels et al. (2014), which reported microbes present inside of cleaned barrels that weren't detected elsewhere in the brewery. It is certainly possible to clean a barrel more thoroughly than we did, but I think we did a pretty reasonable job with the physical removal and then given how warm the outside of the barrel was after steaming.

For me, this difference in fermentation from the two vessels helped to confirm previous anecdotal experience form myself and other as well as available published data that fermentation vessels can impact inoculation in spontaneous beer. I am not very convinced that a barrel can be made sterile / as clean as a carboy and I think this can be important. Anyway, after a few months (from reports from the other folks involved in this brew) the carboy was a bit unpleasantly bitter while the barrel did not have this bitterness. The carboy was transferred into the barrel after we felt that the risk for blowoff was gone. The barrel also developed a bit of a "sickness" after active primary fermentation while the carboy did not.

I'm excited to see how this beer develops over the coming year(s). Hopefully I'm back around to deal with it when we remove it. And hopefully I can be involved in the next ill-advised filling session. Our plan for now is to let the beer go in the barrel for a couple years, while monitoring it's progress here and there. We're certainly not in a rush to empty it and re-fill it.