Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rye Spiced Saison Brewday

I have written before (here and here) about the very wide variability in saison. I generally prefer pale, hoppy, unspiced saisons, but I do like a nice dry spicier dark saison once in a while. Some of the commercial examples of dark saison are a bit too sweet or have a bit too much caramel for me, and I think this is the main pitfall of many darker saisons. It's difficult to balance the ester and alcohol profiles of the yeast (which provide the impression of sweetness) with malts to darken the beer (which, depending on malt choice and mashing, may leave a heavier sweetness). While you don't want to load on the crystal malts out of concern for sweetness (either perception or actual residual sugar), I think you can't rely too much on dry roasty/toasty dark malts (like biscuit, brown malt, chocolate, etc.) for your color either because with the high attenuation this could leave the beer too unpleasantly bitter/dry. A mix of the two with a smaller amount of caramel-type malt does add something nice to this sort of beer and I think it hits the right balance. It won't be as light and crisp but I think that's alright with amber to brown saisons, which for me make a great fall beer. There are some good examples out there (such as Upright's Late Harvest) with the right crispness and mix of esters and spices. In addition, the Mad Fermentationist has some excellent information on brewing darker saisons in posts about his annual tradition of brewing a darker saison, with a different recipe and different spicing/fruit each year.

The Mash
My goals with the first incarnation of this recipe (which was definitely inspired by the Mad Fermentationist) were to branch out a bit in my saison brewing from the pale hoppy saisons I typically brew (such as here, here and here) and to come up with a great autumn saison. This incarnation may have been brewed a bit early for fall, but that gives me time to tweak the recipe a bit more this year if I think it need changes. With this batch I'm keeping the beer 'clean' (no Brettanomyces or bacteria) but that is definitely something I want to incorporate after I work on the base recipe a bit.

Rather than going for a pilsner malt base and darkening with larger amounts of specialty grains I've decided to use a pale munich for the bulk of my base malt. I did this in my first try at this recipe and was happy with the results. In my second try I swapped it out for pils and a darker munich based mostly on availability of ingredients. Unfortunately I didn't get to taste any of the second batch as I brewed it with a friend whom I was teaching to brew right before I moved to Germany for 8 months, and he didn't save me any for when I got back. So this batch is back to the beginning and maybe I'll repeat it soon with the pils/dark munich combo if I'm not totally happy with this grist. There is a significant portion of flaked rye in this recipe which I think helps out the general more spice forward profile I'm going for and it probably also contributes a bit to the body. There is also a fair amount of acidulated malt. My goal with this much acidulated is to add a very small amount of tartness to the final beer (and I've seen this work well in previous batches) more than to adjust my mash pH. As I generally do when using this much acidulated, I limit the dose in my main mash to about 4 oz (113 g) and add the remaining with about 10-15 minutes left in my mash to avoid altering my mash pH for the bulk of conversion too much. I think that covers most of the intention and behind the recipe and any tricks in brewing. So here's the recipe.

Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
Target OG: 1.055
Target IBU: ~20 (Tinseth formula)
Target FG: 1.003
Target ABV: 6.8 %
Actual OG: 1.055
Anticipated color: ~16 SRM
Brew Day: 5-July-2014

44.2 % Doehnel #27 (6-7 L Pale Munich). I've discussed this locally-produced malt in this previous post.
19.9 % Weyermann Pilsner
17.7 % Flaked Rye (I boiled these before adding them to my mash)
8.8 % Caramunich (Franco Belges I think, but maybe Weyermann)
6.6 % Weyermann Acidulated malt
1.7 % Special B
1.1 % Weyermann Carafa II Special

63g Tettnang Pellets (4.3 % aa)
28g Styrian Golding pellets (5.3 % aa)

My 'house saison' blend of Wyeast 3724 and 3711 (about 63% 3724 and 37% 3711), approximately 215 billion cells total.

My spice and hop additions (clockwise from top right: Juniper berries, 0 min hops and green peppercorns, 20 minute hops and whirlfloc, all 30 rosemary leaves, yeast nutrient).
6g Juniper berries (freshly crushed with a mortar and pestle)
3g Green peppercorns (freshly crushed with a mortar and pestle, do these first as the juniper berries are pretty resinous)
30 Rosemary leaves, fresh (less than 1g). This is a ridiculously small amount but I think it is appropriate. This amount was too small for me to weigh out so counting leaves it was. Rosemary is very potent and way too easy to overdo, so if you plan on using it be careful and err on the side of undershooting to avoid a one-dimensional spice-bomb. As I feel with pretty much all spiced beer, I would rather there be no spices than too many/too much and I generally shoot for near-threshold values so it isn't entirely clear what, if any, spices might be in the beer.

1/2 tab whirlfloc
1/2 tsp Wyeast nutrients
5 g CaSO4 and 5g CaCl2 added to the mash water (about 6.5 gallons, +85 ppm Ca2+, +113 ppm SO42- and +66 ppm Cl-). 4 g CaSO4 and 6g CaCl2 added to the sparge water (about 4.5 gallons, +153 ppm Ca2+, +168 ppm SO42- and +147 ppm Cl-. My sulfate to chloride ratio is closer to 1:1 than I would use in a paler saison, but I figured accentuating the malt in this sort of grist/beer makes sense. Victoria's water is basically distilled water so the amount added is quite close to the final total concentration.

My game plan for the mash was 45 minutes at 146 (63.3 C) followed by recirculation with heat to 154 F (67.8) where I'll rest for 15 minutes. The recirculation step usually takes about 5-10 minutes and is accomplished by heating my mash kettle on my burner while running off into alternating kitchen pots. It isn't the most elegant system and I'm looking forward to setting up my newly-acquired pump soon. For mash out I don't really want to cut off my conversion completely so I'll just heat to about 158 F (70 C) while I vorlauf. As I mentioned in previous posts, I generally run my mashes pretty thin (> 2 qts/lb or > 4.2 l/kg) as I use a 10 gallon mash tun and my batches have on average something like 10-13 lbs of grain (4.5-5.4 kg) and the larger thermal mass helps me keep my mash temps better. As it stands I still generally have to recirculate my mash while heating it a couple times throughout an hour-long mash.

The beginning of fermentation
I planned for a 90 minute boil but extended to about 110 minutes on account of having a larger pre-boil volume and lower gravity than my target. I added 28 g Tettnang pellets and 28 g Styrian Golding pellets at 20 minutes left in the boil and the remaining Tettnang (35g) with all of my spices at flame out. It took a couple more minutes to start up my immersion chiller so there was a very brief (3 minute) hot steep before I began cooling the wort.

The fermentation plan was to pitch at 68 F (20 C) and raise to 78-80 F (25.6-26.7 C) over 4-5 days, and then hold at 78-80 F until terminal gravity. I control my fermentation temperatures with a water bath and an aquarium heater. Today (July 16th, 11 days after brewday) I'm at 1.004 so pretty much at my target. I'll probably let the beer drop to room temperature (about 70 F / 21.1 C right now as we have a bit of a warmer spell in Victoria) slowly by unplugging the heater off and leaving the beer in the water batch.

Here are tasting notes and ideas for changing the batch for next time.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Petite Saison Recipe

Some of the more interesting/inspirational beers that I had during my recent stay in Europe were low gravity saisons. Beers like Brasserie Dupont's Biolégère and the collaboration La Petite Princesse from Brasserie Thiriez and Jester King. I was really impressed with the massive amount of flavor in these beers which are only 3.5% and 2.9% abv respectively. Of course they were highly attenuated, as a saison ought to be, but they didn't come across as too thin. And I was seriously amazed by how much was going on with the beers. To me they were the perfect summer hot day session beer.

Some friends and I enjoying Biolégère with lunch of bread and cheese aboard a Belgian train. Photo courtesy of Geoff.
I had made low gravity saisons like this before but was never fully happy with them so I decided to take another stab at it. I talked about low gravity saisons with Daniel Thiriez during a visit to his brewery. He was exceptionally welcoming and told me about his process to make La Petite Princesse, which helped in formulating this beer.

I recently got some malt to try out from local maltster Mike Doehnel, who is a member of Skagit Valley Malting and has given many presentations, including at the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference. Needless to say he knows quite a bit about malt and malting. His malts have been featured in local beers such as Driftwood's Pilsner Doehnel, Satori Harvest, and Clodhopper as well as Moon Under Water's Maibock. I've used some of his malts before and have been happy with the results so I was excited for the opportunity to use them again.

The Doehnel malts I selected for this brew are a light pilsner malt (1.5 L) and a light munich malt (6-7 L). I chose the light munich because I wanted a light-colored saison while targeting sufficient malt character. It's easy to make a low gravity beer sufficiently hoppy, however getting enough malt character can be tricky. Especially in a beer that is also highly attenuated like a saison. With this reasoning choosing to go with the pilsner malt may seem strange, but I wanted the color to stay pale enough and I wanted a bit of a grainy character (for lack of a better word) which I often find from pilsner malts and I like in saisons.

There is also some wheat malt to try to help the body out. I would have used flaked oats but I didn't have any around and didn't get a chance to buy any before brew day. The next iteration of the recipe will likely return to the flaked oats unless I find I really like the wheat. And finally there is some acidulated malt to try to carry a hint of tartness through to the final beer. When I use this much acidulated malt I generally only mash up to 0.25 lb from the beginning and I put the rest in with about 10 minutes left in my mash (when pretty much everything is done) so that I don't mess up my whole mash conversion for too low of a mash pH. I've found that 10 minutes + vorlauf and runoff is sufficient to convert that small amount of additional grain. I generally don't do a high mash out when brewing a highly attenuated beer such as this as I want to continue my conversion in my collected runnings, so that provides plenty of extra time for the acidulated to convert if the 10 minutes isn't enough.

Staring my boil
Batch Size: 8 gallons (30.3 l) split into a 6 gallon and a 3 gallon carboy.
Target OG: 1.030
Target IBU: ~21 (Tinseth formula)
Target FG: 1.002
Target ABV: 3.6%
Actual OG: 1.032
Brew Day: 1-July-2014

35.9% Doehnel #25 (1.5 L pils)
35.9% Doehnel #27 (6-7 L munich)
20.5% CMC white wheat malt
7.7% Weyermann acidulated malt

50 g Czech Saaz Pellets (3.6% aa)
50 g Hallertau Mittelfrueh pellets (18 g at 4.0% aa, 32 g at 4.5% aa).
I added 15 g of each hop as a first wort hop and the remaining 35 g at flame out for a 20 minute hop stand.

A blend of Wyeast 3724 and 3711 (about 67% 3724 and 33% 3711), approximately 190-200 billion cells total. I am adopting this blend as my 'house yeast' for pretty much all my saisons right now and may play with the blend ratio, but I'll likely keep it between 60/40 and 80/20. Preferably closer to 80/20 but I generally find that it is much more convenient to split close to 65/35-70/30 with the sizes of my starters. This is the same yeast blend I used in my 2013 NHC wining saison.

The 3 gallon carboy also got dregs of a homebrew saison with WLP 644 Brettanomyces bruxellensis trois at the start of primary. It also got some of Yeast Bay Lochristi brett blend during fermentation.

1/2 tab whirlfloc
1/2 tsp Wyeast nutrients
8 g CaSO4 and 6g CaCl2 total added to the mash and sparge water (1/2 in mash, 1/2 in sparge) resulting in an addition of about 76 ppm Ca2+, 108 ppm SO42- and 54 ppm Cl- (Victoria's water is basically distilled water so the amount added is quite close to the final total concentration)

My game plan for the mash was 70 minutes at 149-150 F (65-65.5 C), which worked out pretty well. I generally run my mashes pretty thin (> 2 qts/lb or > 4.2 l/kg) as I use a 10 gallon mash tun and my batches have on average something like 10-13 lbs of grain (4.5-5.4 kg) and the larger thermal mass helps me keep my mash temps better. As it stands I still generally have to recirculate my mash while heating it a couple times throughout an hour-long mash.

The carboys in a tub of water with an aquarium heater for temp control
90 minute boil with 1 gallon/hour boil off rate and 0.5 gallons lost to trub meant that I needed to start with about 10.6 gallons (40.1 l) of wort to hit my final volume. With such a light gravity though I didn't want to over-sparge. So I sparged until I had 8.9 gallons (33.7 l) and topped up with boiling water throughout the boil to ensure I hit my target final volume.

My plan was to pitch in the high 60's F (19.5-20.5 C) and let the temperature rise into the high 70's F (25-26 C) by ~ 5 days. That worked pretty well and at this point, 5 days in, I'm at about 79 F (26 C). This is a bit hotter than I would take the French saison yeast but I am trying to strike a balance and get the 3724 more into it's rather high optimal temperature range. Fermentation activity is slow but not completely done and my gravities are now down to ~1.009. I expect that the gravity will work it's way down toward my anticipated final in the next couple of days. In my experience the French saison yeast will rather slowly continue to work away down from a low gravity to the super low finishing gravities below 1 Plato/1.004 that many homebrewers encounter.

Safety note/public service announcement -
This is pretty obvious advice, but I ignored it and I know there are others out there who do this sort of thing as well. In short, I gave myself a somewhat serious scald by splashing wort on my left hand while carrying my boil kettle right after turning the flame off. And the worst of it was that I couldn't just set the pot down right away after the first splash hit my hand as I wasn't on sufficiently even ground, so I got a couple more splashes en route to a place where I could set the pot down.

Generally I cool my wort outside with a hose hookup near where I'm brewing outside. But at places where I have lived previously and where I am living now there is no outdoor hose hookup for me to use. So for my last couple of batches I've been carrying my wort inside and setting it by the sink to cool. Well this time I ran into some trouble there. My target final volume was a bit higher than usual so my 10 gallon pot was more full than usual meaning both that it was heavier and there was less room for sloshing before the wort sloshed out of the pot. So I just want to put these two reminders out there that I remembered the hard way:

1) Carrying/moving boiling wort is pretty dangerous and whenever possible it is best not to do it. It doesn't cost much for a garden hose to reach from a sink or a far away outdoor hookup or whatever that will reach to your pot for chilling. I usually brew alone and while that generally works fine, carrying heavy hot liquids is definitely a step where you should get help (even if you can carry the weight fine) if you really need to move hot liquids without a pump.

2) Getting a larger boil kettle with extra room to prevent sloshing out of the kettle is probably never a bad idea (e.g >15 gallons for a typical 10-12 gallon batch, >10 gallons for a typical 5-6 gallon batch). Many homebrewers try to squeeze out as much as they can from their kettles as I did in this case. That makes things even more dangerous when it comes to moving hot liquids. So when thinking about equipment upgrades give yourself a lot of extra volume in a boil kettle. That way when you want to squeeze out a bit more, you can with more space to spare, but when you do your normal batch size it is much more comfortable.

The small to moderate costs associated with any equipment upgrades (long garden hoses, larger pots) are pretty small compared to the prevention of possible serious injury. All things considered I was pretty lucky to get away with only superficial second degree burns on my wrist and hand, mild blistering, and my left forearm/hand wrapped up like a mummy claw for a couple days. All is fine now 5 days later but safety with hot kettles is on my mind a lot more now.

14-July-14: Fermentation went rather well and I bottled up the 6 gallon carboy (the clean portion) yesterday. My final gravity was 1.001 which was right around where I expected it to be so I'm happy about that. That means the beer finished at 4.0% abv which is a bit higher than I wanted (form my higher OG) so next time I'll have to work on dropping that down. This is the sort of gravity that might be well suited for a second runnings beer but I don't really want the thinner malt quality that one gets from that so I'll have to think about brewing batches for gravities this low or how to get around that in second runnings beers. From the initial tastes (of warm primed beer) the body seems good and the beer is pleasantly fruity with the hops there but in balance. I'll have to wait a couple weeks now for it to carb up and then I'll post a review.

I re-brewed this recipe, with some minor changes, in August 2014. Here are the notes for that rebrew.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Barrel Aged Saison Brewday

While I was away in Germany I got the opportunity to go in on a 30 gallon oak barrel with a couple of friends in Victoria. The barrel had previously been used for red wine, but only briefly. Our plan is to put a couple of beers through the barrel relatively quickly to try to strip the remaining barrel character and then put some sour beers into it. One beer has already come out of the barrel (a belgian amber/dubbel) and a second, an orval-esque brett belgian pale/amber, is in the barrel now. At this point the only non-saccharomyces added to the barrel has been dregs from Crooked Stave's Hop Savant, a 100% brettanomyces beer.

The newly acquired barrel being cleaned and leak tested. Photo courtesy of Kyle
From the barrel samples and bottles of the first batch that I've tasted, in seems like we are getting a good level of oak after a month or two. The oak character is pretty mellow, definitely different from what you would get from something like oak cubes. The brett isn't terribly strong in that much time (and Chad at Crooked Stave selects his brett strains to be more fruity and less funky, which would make the brett character blend with the beer more rather than standing out) but it is there. I've also noticed some tartness, especially in a recent barrel sample of the brett pale. While there are lactic acid bacteria in many of the Crooked Stave beers, to my knowledge Hop Savant only has brett. Brett doesn't generally give sourness in beer, though in the presence of oxygen it can produce acetic acid. The barrel sample didn't really taste acetic, but it could be at a sufficiently low level so that vinegar flavor isn't coming through. So it could be that we have picked up some bacteria along the way (which wouldn't be too surprising, and fits the long term goals of the barrel) or we are getting enough oxygen for a very low level  (sufficiently low to be pleasant) acetic character from the brett.

My advanced mash recirculation system.
I wasn't able to take part in the brewing of either of the first two beers through the barrel as I was away but I was excited to brew some barrel-destined beer upon my return. In a week and a half the brett pale will come out of the barrel and after a quick cleaning it will be ready for a new brew. So we'll have to have a beer which is done with primary fermentation and ready to go in. This time we decided to go with a saison, which of course I was pretty happy with. (Sidenote, for some recent blog posts on saisons, he's one from me and a nice post from the Mad Fermentationist) With three of us brewing now that makes things a bit easier to fill the 30 gallon barrel. I had to split my 10 gallon share (we are actually all shooting for 11-12 so that we have enough clear beer after primary to completely fill the barrel) into 2 brew sessions as I don't have equipment large enough (yet) for a full 10 gallon batch.

We wanted to keep this pretty simple and the recipe generally matches my typical saison base grist. The only thing I didn't do here that I would normally do for the grist is some way to add a bit of acidity. As I mentioned above, there is a bit of acidity in the beer that is currently in the barrel so I figured that this component would be taken care of while aging in the barrel. And I also didn't have the time for a sour mash or a sufficient amount of acidulated malt around. The FG I am anticipating is a bit higher than I would typically shoot for but still appropriately dry. I didn't want to get the beer too low and not leave anything for the coming months of barrel aging. Target numbers were a bit loose compared to what I would typically do but I figured that is fine as we will be blending 10 gallons of wort from 3 brewers each and then letting that sit for a while.

Target OG: ~1.052
Target FG: ~1.006 (pre-barrel)
IBU: ~28 by the Tinseth formula
Color: ~4 SRM
Boil: 90 minutes
Brew Day: 28-June-2014

93% Weyermann Pils
7% Vienna (Unfortunately the only Vienna at my local shop was Hugh Baird but I would normally prefer something Belgian/German/French for this sort of beer)

Mash plan - 60 minutes at 150 F

Hops (for about 6 gallons of wort in the carboy)
35g Slovenian Bobek pellets 5.09% aa
-15g @ 60 minutes left in the boil, 20g @ 25 minutes left in the boil
63German Tettnang pellets, 4.3% aa
-28g @ 25 minutes left in the boil, 20g @ 5 minutes left in the boil, 15g @ flame out

Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse - a suitable pitch size was grown up by one of the barrel owners for all three of us to use.

Water in Victoria is very low in everything, so it is basically like starting with distilled water. I added ~95 ppm Ca2+, 45 ppm Cl- and 170 ppm SO42- with CaSO4 and CaCl2 additions to the mash and sparge water.

1/2 tab whirlfloc/6 gallons
1.2 tsp Wyeast yeast nutrient

Fermentation Plan:
My three carboys of barrel-destined wort.
The goal was to start relatively low (for a saison), at around 66F/19C and ramp up to about 74-76F (23.5-24.5C) over the first 3-4 days or so and then hold it at this temperature until fermentation is done.

Brew day and fermentation notes:

As I mentioned above, I needed two brews (and 3 carboys) to make this beer. Overall the two brews ran pretty smoothly. My gravity was a bit high and my volume low on the first batch. I compensated on the second by increasing my target volume (and subsequently decreasing my gravity target). While I ended up hitting my desired volume my overall gravity was a bit lower than planned with an average around 1.049. The hot side of brewing in general, and especially for a yeast-driven beer like saison, is pretty forgiving so I'm not to worried about that lower gravity. And the slightly lower start should still be fine if the beer finishes as low as I'm looking for, though it may take some time in the barrel to hit my target.

This is a pretty interesting yeast to work with, and so far I am happy with the results. This yeast is super non-flocculent! Even though my pitch from our starter sat in a jar in the fridge for days before brewing, the liquid was still very cloudy. Fermentation kicked off pretty well and The krausen was pleasantly tame and even though I ended up filling my carboys pretty high, there was never any danger of blow-off. Throughout the course of fermentation the airlock smelled great. There was a strong grapefruit and other citrus as well as tropical fruit character coming through and never any sulfur.

At about 5 days in the primary, the fermentation has tapered way off and the gravity is still rather high (~1.020). The carboys are still working away so we'll see where it ends up, but after talking to friends that have used the yeast and looking for what I can find on other blogs about this yeast (such as this post) it seems that my initial FG target is likely at the low end of what this yeast is going to do without more coaxing and a specific mash plan for very high attenuation. I guess we'll see where it goes from here.

6-July-2014: Quick gravity update. We're getting there now with two carboys around 1.010 and one down to 1.005.

14-July-14: I'm happy to report that my final gravities on all three carboys got below 1 Plato (or 1.004), which is where I like my saisons to finish. Perhaps I wasn't terribly confident that the yeast would take it this far (even though Yeast Bay describes this yeast as giving "absurdly high attenuation" after talking to friends and seeing another blog post with an FG in the high single digits for specific gravity. But the high attenuation claim was right on. The only other yeast I've seen behave like this is Wyeast 3711, French Saison. Overall I'm very happy with the way this yeast behaved (that may warrant a quick post all on it's own, we'll see).

The beer went into our barrel, along with the 2 10 gallon portions brewed by the other barrel owners, on July 11th. We intend to leave it there for 2-3 months or so, balancing the amount of oak we extract with the development of tartness and brett character.