Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seaside Saison Brewday

Somehow (I don't remember when/how) the idea was planted in my head that the water at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales had elevated levels of sodium and chloride, possibly because they are using well water and are pretty close to the ocean. Since hearing that I feel like I can taste a bit of that saltyness in their beers. Though recently I have looked back to substantiate this long-held idea of mine, I have not been able to find a source to clearly confirm (or invalidate) that information. Whatever the case, drinking some of the fantastic saison-oriented beers from Sante Adairius and perceiving a mild saltyness, the the idea was planted to brew a saison with elevated sodium chloride.

Mashing under my rainy day tarp.
If you aren't familiar with Sante Adairius (SARA for short) they are a small brewery in Capitola, near Santa Cruz Ca. They produce some of the best saisons I've had (along with some really solid hoppy beers) and I really like the outlook that the brewer Tim has. I've never met him, but he shares some of his ideas in his interview on the Brewing Network's Sour Hour. In the interview he also talks about his saison yeasts (he is using a blend of Belgian and French saison yeasts) and he mentions that his water as a high mineral content, and even uses the term 'salty' to describe it (but never specifically mentions sodium or chloride and mentions that pre-boiling the water helps some of these mineral problems suggesting that temporary hardness may be an issue). 
So whether or not SARA actually has elevated sodium chloride, the idea was born and I wanted to try brewing a saison with higher sodium levels. Generally sodium is advised against in brewing and suggested maximum levels are around 75 ppm or below, but up to 150 ppm could be okay. However some styles can make use of higher sodium (such as Gose, a tart German style from the Leipzig area with additions of coriander and salt). Shortly after I put this beer in my brewing schedule I learned from my friend and local maltster Mike Doehnel that he was going to malt some barley that was grown next to the beach at Island View rd. in Saanich (I talked a bit more about Doehnel malts in this post). This seaside-grown barley fit perfectly with the beer I had in mind.

Preparing the tasting
In order to determine how much salt to use for this I did a bit of searching around for what others had done in Gose homebrews. From these values (in g/gallon) I came up with a range of what I wanted to try in ppm from a bit below Gose levels to a bit above. I weighed out the ranges table salt into 50 mL vials and dissolved the salt in 10 mL of water. From these salt solutions I prepared a tasting with 6*10 cl pours from one 750 ml bottle of a previous saison. Each was spiked with 1.1 mL (5 with the concentrated salt solutions and one with 1.1 mL of water as a blank). The final levels in each of the glasses are shown in the table below. Because neither sodium nor chloride are important in hitting pH levels (unlike calcium and the carbonate system), spiking the finished beer in the glass probably comes closer approximating the effect of Na and Cl in the brewing water throughout the process.

salt spiking table
On first tasting I noticed the actual salt in glasses 3-5 (they tasted salty), but in all the glasses I was able to see an overall difference in the beers (from mouthfeel and flavor changes that aren't as identifiable salty-oriented). At first sip nothing was too salty to drink. There was a significant difference between what seemed like an appropriate level at first and what I decided in the end. This may be partially due to the beers warming but I think it might have more to do with the differences between the right level for a few sips and the right level for a small glass. With this reasoning I extrapolated from what I liked in the 10 cl pours to what I would want for a batch (especially knowing that I can always add more salt but removing it isn't an option unless I blend in another beer).

The 5 salt spiked samples and the blank.
As the beers warmed I could taste the salt (saltyness in addition to the other changes mentioned above) in all of them. By the end glasses 4 and 5 were far too salty and I didn't want to finish them. Glass 3 was too salty for this beer but drinkable and maybe more in line with what I might want for something more salt-forward like a Gose. The switch from pleasantly salty to too salty for this beer (when tasting small amounts from the glasses) happened between glasses 2 and 3. For one small 10 cl glass, glass 2 was possibly about the right amount. But glass 1 was rather pleasant and probably better for drinking larger volumes. There was still a touch of saltyness, at least when I was looking for it, but the impact was more on the mouthfeel and the overall flavor than the flavor of saltyness. I decided to go for a bit less than what was in glass 1 for this batch based on the reasoning above and because I'm not looking to create a salty saison (by that I mean a saison tat tastes salty) but rather a more subtle beer with the influence of elevated sodium.

Brew Date: 18-January-2015
Target carboy volume: 7.5 gals (28.4l)
IBU: ~29 (Tinseth)
Color: ~3 SRM
Target FG: ~1.001
Expected ABV: 5.7%

The grist.
82.4% Doehnel #30 (Pils oriented malt would work as a substitute) - note that this malt has a lower level of moisture than the average malt so my extraction was a couple points higher than the average pils malt. The percentages of grains in Beersmith are by weight, not extract, so increasing the pils portion if a normal pils is used would closer match this grist.
8.8% Flaked spelt
5.0% Flaked triticale (I would have omitted this if I had more spelt around)
3.9% acidulated malt (Weyermann)

31.6 g Sterling pellets 11.1% aa (Hops Direct 2014 harvest)
28 g Saphir pellets 2.8% aa (Hop Union 2013 harvest)

A blend of Wyeast 3724 (Belgian saison), Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse, Wyeast 3726 (Farmhouse ale), and Wyeast 3711 (French saison) (in that order) for the main fermentation. Having been pleased with previous blends using 3724, WF and 3711 I decided to see how 3726 added to the mix. I suspect it will compliment the more fruit-forward 3724 and WF

As I have regularly been doing for recent saisons, I brewed enough to fill a carboy for a mixed yeast and bacteria fermentation and longer term aging. To that carboy I pitched some dregs from sour saison oriented beers that I enjoy as well as some brett strains that have a good mix of fruityness in addition to milder funk and a Lactobacillus strain. This carboy received Yeast Bay amalgamation Brett blend, ECY04 Brett anomala, Crooked Stave brett (from the 30 gallon oak barrel I share with two friends), Upright flora dregs and Wyeast 5223 Lacto brevis.

10.0 g CaSO4 - +77 ppm Ca2+, +184 ppm SO42- in 7.5 gal strike water
6.5 g CaSO4 - +67 ppm Ca2+, +161 ppm SO42- in 5.5 gal sparge water
I decided not to add any CaCl2 due o the high levels of Cl- I was adding from the sea salt
9.0 g sea salt +117 ppm Na+, +183 ppm Cl- in 30 l (approximately my target final volume) added to the boil
1 tab whirlfloc
3.3g Wyeast yeast nutrients

I used my typical 2 step saison mash profile of 146 F (63.3 C) for 50 minutes and 154 F (66.7 C) for 20. I didn't mash out above 158 F (70 C) to prevent denaturing the enzymes and allow conversion throughout sparging and into the kettle.

I did a 90 minute boil expecting 1 gallon per hour of boil off and 1.25 gallons of trub loss. I pulled about 2 l of wort before adding hops to activate/wake up the 3724 I had in the fridge. I am doing a couple trials to see if it helps this finicky yeast to go into a fermentation active rather than dormant. The Sterling was added with 40 minutes left in the boil and the Saphir was added at flame out. I did a 25 minute hot steep/whirlpool.

I pitched at ~68 F (20 C) and raised it to 78 F (25.6 C) over the first 3 days, where it is sitting now.

The final wort was pleasantly different from previous saisons I've made with a similar recipe. I couldn't really pick out salt, but I imagine that had something to do with it. I'll fill in updates as this beer progresses.

Here are tasting notes for the Seaside Saison.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Year's Plans and 2014 Reflection

A bit of non-beer time in northern Italy
For the past couple months I've noticed that I have often been independently on the same page for brewing with Amos at Browne and Bitter (hop-forward saisons, spontaneous fermentation, sour soleras...). But I can claim no such thing with this post. I shamelessly got this idea from reading his recent plans for 2015 post (an idea he says he got from other blogs). Although perhaps there won't be too much in the way of technical brewing info or recipes in this post, I'll benefit from laying these ideas out (and thinking them through a bit more as making such a list entails) and hopefully you'll benefit from either being prompted to make a similar list of your own or from seeing my process for why I am focusing on what I am focusing on.

One of my favorites from 2013-14: Geuzestekerij De Cam
I'll start with a quick breakdown of what stands out to me as I look back on my last year of brewing. I spent about 9 months away from brewing due to a move to Mainz, Germany from the start of October 2013 until the end of May 2014. While this provided plenty of great opportunities to visit breweries, try beers, and speak with brewers in Europe (mostly Belgium) as well as time to do a bit of traveling not related to beer, by the time I returned I was really ready to get back to brewing. Spending that long not brewing but thinking and reading about the beers I wanted to brew and planning out some recipes, combined with wanting to make up for lost time, had a big impact on the brewing that I did in 2014.

Year in review

One boil split into 4 different petite saisons.
1) Directed, planned and repeated brewing - I did this sort of thing before 2014, but planning and specific goals directed my brewing this year much more than before. Most of the beers I brewed in 2014 were in a pretty similar range, and I repeated multiple recipes with minor changes while the memory of the earlier batch was still fresh in my mind and while some bottles were still around. In addition to these replicates with different hot sides and slightly different recipes, I split a lot of batches for different treatments in the carboy (or at bottling). This regular and repeated brewing let me directly test certain aspects of my process while eliminating almost all of the other variables, which let me improve what I'm doing with a bit more confidence that the results weren't due to something other than what I intended to change.

When I wasn't brewing a variation of a recipe (and even when I was) I spent more time planning the brew day and what processes I was going to use. Full disclosure - I spend a lot of time planning and taking notes. Some of my friends give me a good-natured hard time because of it. And I know that some people don't enjoy those parts of brewing and would rather brew a bit more spontaneously. That doesn't work as well for me but if that's what you find enjoyable about the hobby and you are happy with that, then I think you are fine to keep with it. Anyway, this planning helped things run smoother on brew day, but more importantly the brews were easier to learn from since I knew and thought about what I was going to do before I did it. Therefore I was able to test out more stuff, and when not directly testing something I still had a good record of what I did and what my reasoning was for doing it.

Racking from the open primary into barrels and secondary.
2) First commercial brew - In October a local brewery Moon Under Water asked me to collaborate with them on a saison. This was a big milestone for me as a brewer and an awesome experience. The brewers Clay and Jeff were great to work with. I've continued to work with them on barrel aging projects and general brewery operations, which has helped me to do more with barrel aging and souring than I could as a homebrewer and helped me learn about the day to day operations of a brewer. Like many homebrewers I have had thoughts of commercial brewing. I'm not sure if it is right for me and if it would take some of the fun out of brewing, but starting to work with commercial brewers and learning more about commercial brewing definitely helps me know what I would be in for if I were to go that route. And if not it is a pretty fun experience for expanding my homebrewing and getting to sit down in a bar with friends and drink the beer.

3) Connecting with others thinking about similar things -Starting up this blog has connected me with other brewers outside of my local homebrewing community. There are plenty of great brewers locally and I definitely learn from the things that they are doing, but discussions with others in different areas thinking about the same sorts of questions and brewing the same sorts of beers as me has helped me learn more about brewing the styles I am interested in (from both the discussions and the research I do to help feed the discussions) and has given me some new ideas. This is something that has happened much more than I expected it would.

4) Milk the Funk - In the later part of 2014 I started contributing to the Wiki for Milk the Funk, a new facebook group, forum and wiki for info about brewing sour and funky beers. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of the name, but perhaps there is a good story about why they chose it that will make me like it (I felt the same way about The Rare Barrel until I heard their story). Anyway, that doesn't change the fact that it is a great resource for and community of brewers who love brewing the sour and funky beers. If that's the sort of thing you are interested in and haven't checked it out yet, you should. I'm happy to be contributing to the wiki to help bring together one site for info about brewing these types of beers and resources for learning more. It's a work in progress (as wikis will forever be) but some great stuff has been put up in a relatively short amount of time so far.

Plans for 2015

1) Work on blending - The 'magic' of many of the beers I am most inspired by comes in how the beer develops in the barrel and how the brewer/blender uses the unique character of each to create a final product or final products that they are looking for. There are a few non-blended sour beers that I've had that I thought were really excellent, but the vast majority are blended. I've done a small amount of blending so far, but this has mostly been at bottling or in the glass with different homebrews

By 2016 my barrel capacity won't be this awesome, but there is room to dream. At 3F.
This sort of thing requires sufficient time input to have enough aged beers around for the blending, and I now have enough aging beer around that I think I can get more into blending. And using the characteristics of some to add a missing element to others. To further this I have brewed an acid blending beer (basically a rather acidic beer that I can use to adjust the acidity of others) that I plan to keep around and top up as needed with fresh wort. And I also have a brett blending beer around, and will likely brew a second in the coming months. I'll use these more acidic or brett-forward beers to guide a series of soured saisons, which may also be blended together, to what I am looking for in aged and somewhat but not sharply acidic saisons.

I expect a long learning curve for this. I imagine I'll try a couple of processes for the blending before I come up with the best one. And I would like to practice on shorter time scale brews like saisons before venturing into lambic-oriented blending of long-term complex mixed-microbe fermentation brews. I may also extend this blending to some clean beers, but for now the focus will be on soured saisons. It will be almost all carboy sours at this point as well, but hopefully I can put the two oak barrels that I share with friends to use with blending (and also hopefully expand my barrel aging).

2) Continue targeted brewing with style focuses - I think many of the advances I have made this year in brewing are due to pretty directed brewing. I'd like to continue with the yeast blending work I've been doing and solidify some blend selections. I also plan to work toward a blend of different bretts that I am happy with. I like some of the brett stuff I've done so far but I haven't found the right combination to get what I am looking for. So I'll probably transition a bit more toward working on adding single strains and blends to saisons to find the brett blend I'm looking for.

If I decide to step away from brewing funky and saison-oriented beers I'd like to do some focused work on hoppy pale ales. Over the last year I have been shifting toward lower abv more drinkable beers. I generally like having larger volumes of good low ABV beers (that are still flavorful) than A DIPA/barleywine/imperial whatever. Not that I don't also like those in moderation, but that's the way my brewing and beer consumption has been shifting. I like drinking beer, what can I say... So anyway, the goal with the hoppy pale ales is to try different processes for trying to get the hop character in some of my favorite commercial hoppy beers. I've brewed some alright IPAs before and I've been happy with them, but some breweries just really stand out in excellent hop use (and it's not always more is better) and I want to work on that. We'll see if I can be torn away from saisons and funky/sour beers long enough to work on this.