Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 reflections and 2017 goals

As the year draws to a close, it's time for another round of reflection and setting goals for the following year. As I look back on the year, I'm generally happy with what I accomplished but I was unable to make progress on many goals. Out of the year I had about 4 months of so where I could reasonably brew, and this was quite limiting.

Without getting too personal and off the topic of beer, 2016 led me to a lot of instability which was
Carboys and bottles aging at a friend's house
reflected in brewing. I spent about 1/4 of the year living and working in Germany and additionally about 1/3 of the year on couches and spare bedrooms on either side of international moves (5 out of the last 13 months if you count December 2015). So the European work seriously cut into brewing time and my overall sense of stability and feeling like I had a home. I'm very thankful for the friends that housed me (Jess & Neil, Andrea, Marcus & Dana, Jay & Tracy) and my beer (Mark, Jess & Neil) for giving me the stability that I had and the opportunity to tuck some (well, lots and lots) of beer away for aging to come back to. My generally sanity and ability to do pretty much anything beer-related in the past year is thanks in large part to these friends.

On the whole the past year has made me feel at times like a "theoretical brewer" rather than a brewer. I took about 1 year off of brewing and spent much of this time looking through historic recipes. By the end of this I noticed that I was having a harder time contextualizing what specifics meant. This is coming back quickly, so it was illustrative of how easy it is to pick back up when you think about beer way too much. But it also illustrated to me how quickly I lost parts of practical brewing intuition that I had worked hard to earn. I’m happy to be getting these back and am looking forward to continued brewing within a select range of styles and process, while being mindful to not let beer take over too much as it has before. So with that preface to 2016, I’m going to look back on the year in beer for me.

Brasserie Au Baron in northern France.
2016 in review

Europe travels: Being based in Germany for work opened the door to many great travel opportunities (beer, wine, food, etc.). Most of these were focused on Belgium and Northern France and the continued ability to make repeat visits helped to continue building relationships with European brewers and beer enthusiasts, and some of the Americans that share a similar passion and travel frequently. This has by far been the highlight of the last few years of beer to me – the connections I’ve made and what I’ve learned from others about Belgian beer and Belgian culture due to making those connections.

Historic Research: 2016 was a great year for the historic Belgian & French beer research I’ve been doing. Being based in Europe helped a lot for having discussions with people who really know this stuff and for tracking down resource material. Thanks to the many people who have helped with this research (especially Thierry, Niels, and Yvan). The research has led to some interviews and presentations, and it looks like there may be more on that in the coming year.

Lambic fermenting at Oud Beersel
Lambic.info: There is more on this below in the 2017 goals, but one of the highlights of the year in beer for me was being invited to join lambic.info toward the end of the year. This site is a great resource and a massive amount of time and work went into building the site into what it is today. I’ve so far under-performed in my contributions (based on the same schedule-related constraints that limited brewing in the few months that I was able to). But I’ve got some plans to make up for that in 2017.

2016 goals: Looking back at the goals I made for 2016, I generally didn’t make a lot of progress. As outlined above, I’m neither surprised nor disappointed by this. There were only about 5 months out of the year that I could brew, based on travel for work, so not making much brewing progress was to be expected and perhaps my goals were a bit ambitious. But anyway, I should address whether these are still goals to me know and if I should prioritize them for 2017

House Mixed Culture: I've made essentially no progress here. I’ve been brewing basically two types of beers (low-OG saison & saison-like beers and lambic-inspired mixed-fermentation beers) and I am keeping the microbes for those two categories mutually exclusive for now. But I’ve been happy with my results on either end, and I could start working toward a mixed culture that I’ll use for saison-oriented beers. For now I think I’ve found the base yeast for building that culture. If I continue to work on the culture, it will have to be something I could package fairly young and be happy with to allow for the quicker turnaround beers I’ve been brewing without overcarbing too much in the bottle, which may be a concern with the work I’ve been doing (in mashing and yeast strain) to raise my FGs. So we’ll see how this goes.

Spontaneous beer: Progress has been minimal here, and this is something I’d like to try to prioritize going forward. I did include a spontaneous component in some --recent blending--, but so far no fully spontaneous blends and it is unlikely that there will be any soon. So I guess I need to get some more base beers in and keep practicing my blending in general. This is definitely not the sort of thing that I will make regular steady progress at and it is more likely going to come in major steps when I have beers that work out well and are aged enough to use in blends.

Hops: The past year has brought me even further from new and non-European hops. At this point I am firmly rooted in landrace hops form continental Europe and the UK. Every so often I'll venture out of this for newer European hops of more noble-oriented US hops (something like Sterling, Willamette, etc.). But my taste preferences have been further solidified by my extended time in Europe. This is unlikely to change and I’m happy to focus on noble-type hops. But I would like to find hops that are grown closer to me that I like as much as the classic European varieties, especially given my focus on using local malt.

2017 Goals

Hoppy Belgian-inspired beers: My trend toward hoppier Belgian-inspired beers has continued through 2016. I've had multiple friends comment on this when I give them my homebrews, and I think my use of European hops is improving. I’d like to continue brewing in this direction with inspiration from breweries like Thiriez, De La Senne, De Ranke and Seizoensbrouwerij Vandewalle.

Volume of Le Petit Journal du Brasseur
Historic research: I plan to prioritize the historic beer research again this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to make progress organizing thoughts for other beers like lambic, bière de garde and saison. I’m planning to return to Europe in the coming year, at least for leisure and possibly for another temporary move, so I plan to take advantage of that opportunity to work on more sources. There are some talks already scheduled for the coming year and hopefully I can work in some more as well.

Lambic.info: In the latter half of 2016 I was invited to join lambic.info. This is an amazing resource and I’m really excited to be involved. But unfortunately between finishing my thesis and multiple trans-ocean work trips, I haven’t been able to contribute much yet. I hope to change this in first few months of next year.

Blending and spontaneous beers: I’ve got a lot of aging beer sitting around that I need to be putting to use. Just before heading off for a research cruise in December and January I made about 80 liters of blends of mixed-culture beer that was between 47 and 15 months old (see this post and this post from the facebook page), but there are a lot of aging carboys left to use. So hopefully in the coming year I can continue learning about blending and tasting my blends to see what worked better or worse as they age. The first big blending I did in spring 2015 has already helped me out there, but of course there is more to be done. Part of this will include continuing to brew spontaneous beers to hopefully create a fully spontaneous product in the next year or two. We’ll see about that.

Hopefully you all have some good goals for the New Year as well!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Recipes and Brewdays: Turbid Mashed Petite Saisons

After many months focused on historic beer research and beer travels, I'm stably back home (BC, Canada) and am back to brewing. The blog's facebook page has been actively reflecting this with photos, partial recipes and process info, but it's time to put some of the new brews up on the blog itself. My latest brew excluded, my activity so far has focused on brewing and re-brewing two basic recipes - a grisette and a 1.030 OG saison. Through posts, interviews and presentations I've put forward a lot of my recent thoughts on grisette (see these posts, an AHA presentation if you are an AHA member, this interview with Basic Brewing Radio, and this interview with Fuhmentaboudit!) so this post will focus on low-strength saisons. These are some of my favorite beers to drink and with the warm weather of summer when I returned to brewing they are what I've wanted.

The finished wort.
When I think about commercial low-strength saisons, one primary example comes to mind as my clear favorite - La Petite Princesse from Brasserie Thiriez. Regular followers of this blog and friends of mine will known I am a vocal proponent of this beer. This brew started as a collaborative brew with Jester King (following their Le Petit Prince closely) and Daniel continues to brew it. I love how refreshing this beer is and how it carries way more flavor than you would expect from a ~1.020-1.025 beer. Of course there are other great examples out there (including the Jester King beer, which is great but unfortunately I am much less familiar with it, and Brasserie Dupont's Biolégère/Avril). Unfortunately none of these examples are especially widely available, at least fresh examples. So if you're curious about this sort of beer but you can't find a commercial example, either local or imported, then you may just have to try brewing your own.

I broke down my thinking in building a low-OG saison recipe in this recent post discussion my recipe formulation process. All of the goals and general plans for the brew are outlined there so here I'll jump into the recipe.

Malt #46 - Concerto barley.
Grains and mashing: Before getting into recipes/brewdays I want to spend a bit of time focusing on grain and mashing, both because I made very deliberate and potentially unique choices in this beer and because I am using malts that are not available to a wide audience. I am now almost exclusively using locally grown and malted barley for my base malt in all my brewing. This malt comes from my friend Mike who runs a small floor maltery (Doehnel Floor Malting) and who is involved with Skagit Valley Malting. While this may mean some of my malt specifics might be less useful to an audience that can't get these malts, I'll try to provide a bit more detail about the malts. Hopefully the end result of this is more thinking about/knowledge about malt that couldn't be gained by simply listing a style or internationally available commercial producer.

I've been using Doehnel batch #46 as the base malt for my recent low-OG saisons. This malt is made from Concerto barley (a spring 2 row variety). It has a very thin husk and a lightly colored blue aleurone (which you can sort of see in the photo). Although it is kilned to around a pilsner level in terms of color, it is richer and tastes somewhere between pils and vienna. The FAN is fairly low, which makes it suitable for more intensive mashing procedures. The friability is in between pilsner and North American malts and the difference in extract between coarse and fine grind is low, suggesting a fairly well-modified malt (a good amount more modified than what I've been using for grisettes). So to sum that up, very light color but rich flavor, low FAN so I'll want to address that in mashing, and pretty good modification. Without analyzing spec sheets, if you were to try to come up with a similar base malt from commercial varieties maybe consider a more characterful pils like some of the special pils malts Weyermann has (Barke and/or floor malted), or blending in continental European pale malts and/or Vienna with your base pils.

Based on discussions with Mike and the malt I've been able to get form him, I've had the opportunity to work with more intensive mashing procedures. I feel like I am getting a good graininess out of this (turbid wort tastes unlike any wort I've tasted from a normal mash), and I think it is helping me to brew very light beers which don't seem to be lacking malt character and complexity. But I can't approach the tastings in an unbiased way and I haven't done any comparisons with the same recipe made from normally mashed wort. Anyway, the opportunity to get a bit more involved in mashing leads me to the inspiration on that side - historic texts.

Pulling some turbid wort.
My recent low-OG saisons take inspiration from a text written by George Johnson in 1918 (see this post for a discussion of that text) as well as other historic texts such as Evans, 1905 (as discussed in this post) discussing turbid mashing for a wider range than considered by most in the modern world (the original historic texts are also linked in both of those posts). Johnson's text promotes turbid mashing as a technique that is desirable for producing low-gravity beers of fairly rapid turnaround. This is different from turbid mashing in lambic, where a major goal of turbid mashing is to provide carbohydrate and nutrient sources for a diverse range of microbes with diverse metabolic capacities and needs over a long time. But there is reasoning for Johnsons's advice - lower attenuation and the additional extraction from turbid mashing would work well, at least in theory, in low-OG beers. So I wanted to try it out.


Target OG: 1.030
Actual OG: 1.032
FG: 1.008
ABV: 3.1 %
Batch Size: ~7 gal / 26.5 L in carboys

The first mash step.
70.6% Doehnel #46
17.6% Flaked Wheat
11.8% Flaked Oats

I won't discuss mashing in length here as that is covered in this post focused on Johnson's text (this was also linked to above). In brief, this is a turbid mash with one pull of turbid wort (more are optional). There is a beta glucan rest around 108 F / 42 C which is rather dry, a protein rest around 125 F / 51.7 C, and a saccharification rest around 156 F / 69 C. The turbid pull comes between the second and third rests and optionally spends some time at a saccharificaiton rest while it is heated to boiling. After the main mash is drained the turbid portion is added back and allowed to rest at a high saccharification temp for a fair amount of time. This is then drained and the grain is sparged more or less as normal.

Just after turning the flame off and adding whirlpool hops.
I'm used to a 'Cantillon-style' turbid mash and am comfortable with that, but this was my first time I've used a turbid mash modeled after Johnson, 1918. Things went generally smoothly, but as with any somewhat complicated process that you try for the first time, it didn't all go exactly as planned. My turbid pull didn't get as much time at a saccharification temp before boiling as I would have liked, and in general I didn't hit my target temps as closely as desired. This probably influences the lower than expected attenuation, but the beer doesn't taste sweet or heavy and I'm pretty happy with how it came out. I suspect more experience with this mash and a bit more focus on brew day will help for next time.

Hopping: ~1 g/l Sterling pellets to bitter with 30 min left in the boil (calculates out to a contribution of 21 IBU, but from brewing with this same sterling before I think it is closer to 10-15), and ~5 g/l Hallertau Tradition whole hops at flame out for a 25 minute hop stand/whirlpool. The end result is a calculated 40 IBU but I think it is more likely on the 30 side. And the hopping, as is clear from this recipe, is balanced toward the flavor side rather than bitterness.

Racking onto dry hops.
Fermentation: I used yeast cultured from a bottle of Thiriez beer. This is what I've been using in most of my beers lately and I quite like it. I've talked a fair bit about this yeast but, in brief, it is different from Wyeast 3711 in fermentation behavior/appearance, attenuation, and flavor/aroma profile. If I am going to use a single yeast strain then this is the one I want to use.

The carboys fermented in the low 70s F / ~22-23 C. The beers were given on the order of a week for primary and then one carboy was racked onto ~1 g/l Styrian Golding pellets. This beer was given 6 days of contact time at room temp. The non-dry hopped version was bottled 12 days after brew and the dry hopped was bottled 14 days after brew. This is a bit longer than I've been giving other similar beers recently based on my schedule/availability. I've generally been shooting for around 10 days brew to bottle, with both dry hopped and non-dry hopped beers.

The beers were given a couple weeks conditioning at room temps (so for me that is around 64 F / 18 C, I'd like to condition a bit warmer) with corked 750s conditioned horizontally. After the conditioning time the beer was moved to a cooler room and the horizontal bottles were put upright or left horizontal, depending on what storage space I had open for them.

I'm quite happy with how the final beers came out, especially the dry hopped version. Perhaps I'll put up some tasting notes in the coming week(s).