Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ousted Special Bitter

In order to continue to better understand the character of it, and in an effort to use what I had on hand, I chose to step up the remaining wlp023 (Burton Ale yeast) that I had chilled in the fridge and make some ESB (Extra Special Bitter), style 8C in the BJCP guidelines. Where this is now thought to be a strong beer in its home country, as compared to the lower gravity bitter, and special bitter styles, the ESB would otherwise likely be considered a relatively low alcohol in the states.

Given the deluge of hugely hopped DIPAs and Imperial stouts that have become the norm, I've been retreating to the more moderate, but still subtly complex and extremely flavorful English pub beers. Still, it was tough to go to the other end of the extreme. To get away from the big-is-good American attitude just didn't original intentions were outsted. I wanted to start with the very basics and brew a truly quaffable proper ordinary bitter. But that would have left me with a couple pounds of Golden Promise, and what am I going to do with just a couple pounds of British pale ale malt, right?
Just throw it all in, change the specialty grain profile, and I'll have an ESB. After all, my buddies are always helping me drink these beers, and just like most Americans, they've been trending toward the big-bigger-biggest beers. I didn't want anything 'Ordinary' passed over for something bigger. Also, I've never been to England, so I really don't have much to to compare it to as ordinary bitters generally don't exist here in the States. I generally will learn the most about brewing a particular style if I have some of the better rated and/or personally preferred commercial examples to taste alongside the homebrew.

My first crack at the style recipe was formulated after consulting my new copy of Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles, and the well worn but still venerable Designing Great Beers by Lewis. While Jamil's recipe called for some low Lovibond Crystal malt (C15), I've tasted some ESBs, and generally my favorites thus far had a nice luscious mouthfeel, caramelized malty sugars (leaving the impression of caramel-y more so than sweet), wonderfully fruity and complimentary British yeast, a touch of roast, and a pared down/just-enough-to-balance-everything residual sweetness on the finish. Hops are firm but never harsh. They are intended to be woodsy, a touch of spice and earth, but nice and snappy on the finish to make you want to take another mouth filling sip. Kent Goldings are classic here, but I went with the ultra fresh (and Americanized version) 2009 Hops Direct Willamette.
Restrained carbonation to allow a proper session and reduced stomach protrusion.

Here are the specialty grains. Each are added to the big measuring cup, after taring the digital weight scale. Interesting how the flaked grains take up much more volume than an equivalent weight of crystal malt. You can see the relatively small amount of roasted malt (in this case Carafa III, which is 525L) at the top of the cup. This German malt should add that smooth roast background that I'm looking for, as well as provide some aging protection that I've heard so many anecdotal stories about.
I did add some Calcium Chloride to my strike water, in order to assure adequate Calcium (enough for ~50ppm).
On to the recipe...nothing crazy here, aside from perhaps the somewhat unusual addition of the flaked wheat. Its been added to hopefully help generate a smooth as silk mouthfeel, which I hope will be accentuated by the intended low CO2 volume in the bottle. This was recommeded by Dann Paquette in his recipe for a Yorkshire Bitter (which appears to nimbly straddle the ordinary/special threshold) in his discussions w/ the BrewLocal guys, so I figure that the wheat will help to prop up the body and head retention which can be a little problematic in a low CO2 beer. I have flaked wheat on hand, so I used that vs. torrified. But, as is probably expected, I'll probably 'go American', and wimp out, carb in the low 2s vs the more style appropriate high 1s.

Mashed at a bigger-bodied ~154-155 in my 10 gallon HDPE cooler.
This "Ousted Special Bitter' is already happily fermenting away at ~66F less than 24hours from pitching, but certainly has not yet hit high krausen. This beast of a yeast blew the lid off the last batch I fermented, and I suspect the vigorous krausen will make a second appearance here. I continue to tempt fate with the ill advised combination of 1. not-quite-enough of a headspace in the fermenter and 2. 3 piece airlock. What the hell is my problem?
Things still look quite calm (don't they always right before disaster?). I'll likely move the bucket away from the small cool microenvironment where its situated now, to raise the temp to ~68-69F ambient after the first 48hrs to ensure complete attenuation. If all goes well with batch 2 of the pot&kettle and this OSB, I'll likely make this yeast my house British strain, and add another selection to the yeast bank.

Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)

Type: All Grain

Date: 12/26/2009

Batch Size: 6.00 gal

Brewer: JC
Boil Size: 6.87 gal Asst Brewer:
Boil Time: 60 min Equipment: My Equipment
Taste Rating(out of 50): 35.0 Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00
Taste Notes:


Amount Item Type % or IBU
12 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM) Grain 90.09 %
8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (80.0 SRM) Grain 3.75 %
8.0 oz Wheat, Flaked (1.6 SRM) Grain 3.75 %
4.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM) Grain 1.88 %
1.1 oz Carafa III (525.0 SRM) Grain 0.53 %
2.00 oz Williamette [4.60 %] (60 min) Hops 26.8 IBU
1.00 oz Williamette [4.60 %] (Dry Hop 10 days) Hops -
1.00 oz Williamette [5.50 %] (30 min) Hops 12.3 IBU
1 Pkgs Burton Ale (White Labs #WLP023) [Starter 500 ml] Yeast-Ale

Beer Profile

Est Original Gravity: 1.056 SG

Measured Original Gravity: SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.015 SG Measured Final Gravity: SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.29 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: %
Bitterness: 39.0 IBU Calories: cal/pint
Est Color: 13.2 SRM Color:

Mash Profile

Mash Name: Single Infusion, Medium Body Total Grain Weight: 13.32 lb
Sparge Water: 1.97 gal Grain Temperature: 72.0 F
Sparge Temperature: 168.0 F TunTemperature: 72.0 F
Adjust Temp for Equipment: FALSE Mash PH: 5.4 PH

Single Infusion, Medium Body
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 16.65 qt of water at 165.9 F 154.0 F
10 min Mash Out Add 9.32 qt of water at 196.6 F 168.0 F

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pretty Glass for pot&kettle

Last weekend I bottled up the pot&kettle, batch 2, a brew session that has been filmed, tweeted and pics posted on Facebook by French Oak TV. Ah, my 15 minutes of mini-fame!

I ended up with 11 gallons of the black stuff so I had to put the call in to Dan V (of VeeVee) to help supply me with the additional glass I needed. I was quite happy to hear that he continues to set aside glass for me. Esther and I were all to happy to hop in to the car and make the short trip to JP to see the very hospitable Dan and Kristen and to enjoy yet another fantastic dinner. Aside from the satisfying food, Dan always keeps a very tight and thoughtful beer list...on this cold Boston night, it was good to see the Nogne O #100 flying out from the behind the bar. Each bottle of #100 Dan sent out generated yet another smirk. It clearly pleased him to know he was helping others enjoy some very special craft beer. I know that smile well, as I'm often wearing it myself.

Esther and I finished with dinner with their fantastic coconut cream pie (perfect amount of subtle sweetness in the silky cream, delicate use of lime, hardy biscuity crust).

As we pushed back from our plates, Dan bestowed 3 boxes of some very Pretty glass...I do hope that these repurposed vessels bring even a portion of the great fortune to Trillium that has rightfully been received in their original incarnation.
So, back to the bottling...10 (11?) gallons is the limit of my condo kitchen cum brewery, which is just fine, because wrangling and sanitizing enough bottles for this much beer is an undertaking that requires some planning and the laboriously kitchen sink hogging de-labelling process, in the case of new glass. Thankfully, I can reuse the first batch pot&kettle glass, with labels fully intact and unfazed by the dishwasher's intense heat cycles.
Initial taste of the green pot&kettle tells me that the change in yeast to the Burton strain may have had a significant impact on the finished product: a much more estery/fruity nose, which enhances the rich malt profile. Layer after layer of roast filled the bottling bucket. Virtually no hard acridity on the palate...just a subtle, drying char in the aftertaste. Attenuation was likely less than that cranked out by the Nottingham, but some residual body and sweetness might be an incremental improvement. I'll take a gravity reading on the test bottle to confirm FG.

I rarely will send out any bottles as gifts before I'm 100% confident in the quality/proper bottle conditioning, but given the proximity to the holidays, a number of them are going out with proper instruction to store at room temp and to wait at least 1 month before sampling, and preferably 6, if at all possible. It feels strange to give gifts with instructions and caveats, but its more difficult for me to see these beers enjoyed at anything less than their full potential.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

elemental sneak peek

Made some major leaps tonight...given that there really wasn't much beery stuff for me to do. Since:
  1. every last ounce of fermentation capacity is currently occupied
  2. I spent last night celebrating my good buddy's birthday at Lord Hobo, both pregaming and postgaming with some SPA and Leon
  3. the lady friend has been away from home at a training for her new job
I wiggled my way back through 128/Rte. 2/Storrow Drive/BU/Brookline traffic, grabbed a burrito from Boca Grande, and hunkered down for the eve at home. Definitely strung together way too many hours sitting in front of the computer tonight, but I've now effectively force fed myself the (only the most basic of) elements of... premiere elements.

So, all of that sneek peek posting from a while back will eventually come to cinematic fruition. It was actually kinda in doubt for a while there...this adobe software was kickin' my butt.

I'm certain that I've got many more hours ahead of me on this, but I think I'll be quite proud of my efforts at the end of the day. I'm not going to go so far as to fully describe what I've got planned here, but there is, in fact, a plan.

And yes, it does involve beer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

pot&kettle, batch 2 with a new yeast strain...brewed...on film?

I've had a lot of requests for the crowd favorite oatmeal stout that made its first appearance at my wedding a few short months ago, and I finally was able to crank out a 10 gallon batch yesterday. I only made one change to the recipe, but it was a major one...this iteration of pot&kettle is currently fermenting with Burton ale yeast (wlp023). In response to a question about experience with this strain, I posted today on BeerAdvocate my rationale for choosing this yeast for this beer, vs. the prior dry Nottingham used in the early iteration, so I'll just copy and paste what I wrote:

I brewed an oatmeal stout last night, wanted to see if I could get a bit more english yeast character out of it vs. the dry nottingham ive used in the past. I was also looking for slightly less attenuation than the nottingham, given there are no crystal malts in my recipe, and I thought just a smidge more maltiness would fit in nicely.

I want a british 'house' yeast strain to work with, for mid-gravity british style beers... something that would be pretty expressive, but not so attenuative as to dry out the beer too much. Something that would be well suited to ESB, porters, english IPAs, etc. and the white labs description sounded like it could serve just that purpose: ... lp023.html

giving up a little bit of the floc character vs. 002, but maybe getting a bigger ester profile and better attenuation. I've used 005 and 013, but didn't get as much flavor as I had hoped for in those strains. the first whiffs from the starter are giving me more of what I've been looking for, so fingers are crossed.
The brew day went as smoothly as it would have, given the cameras were, my consistent foreshadowing of how oats can lead to a stuck sparge seemed to precipitate...guess what...yep, a stuck sparge. Or, a super duper ultra slow sparge. Which is especially painful when you are being filmed as a homebrewer with any kind of credibility. Oh well, I guess the segment will better highlight the fact that things can and do go wrong when just...well, RDWHAHB. And, diagnose the problem, so it doesn't happen next time. Next time, I won't brew a 10 gallon recipe of oatmeal system can't handle all that grain, and still allow enough head space for a serious dose of hot liquor for mashing out.

What's all this talk about 'cameras were rolling' and 'being filmed'?

Right, so... (a phrase I fear I uttered with great regularity in response to Summer's questions)...I contacted French Oak Media about a month ago to see if they had any interest in doing a short segment on homebrewing, given that I live in Brookline, and they are producing spots about the local wine, beer and spirits scene. I thought..."hey, I'm a homebrewer, and what could be more local and topical to their show than a guy who might be your next door neighbor, brewing up some beer?' Turns out, they had discussed doing this very thing, so it was great timing that I contacted them.

Among others, I've enjoyed FOM's prior pieces on Cambridge Brewing Company, Mayflower, Harpoon, Sam Adams and Pretty Things, so its quite a bit of fun to be able to somehow included in such a venerable group.

Right, so... the shoot was yesterday, and aside from the gummed up lauter, I had a great time with Ray and Summer. They are genuinely interested in brewing, and it was great fun to see the light bulbs illuminating over their heads, as they started to better understand the process of brewing. I could actually see the bulbs lighting up, as they were literally able to put their hands right in to it. They were very complimentary of the beers I shared with them, and I can tell are just all around good people. It'll be fun to see what they were able to capture from the day, but for now I'll leave you with a couple images, starting out with the glass bowls of malt and specialty grain set out, cooking-show-style, waiting for the shoot to start.

LEON label, 2.0

Getting closer...I stayed truer to the layout that Kevin and I created for the pot & kettle.

Still needs a background, like I mentioned before. Still too much negative space, leon needs some dimension, he's just sort of floating out there. Maybe the impression of depth using a washed out, weathered looking wide wooden plank wall, like you might see in a barn. Or maybe just some ground for Leon to stand on, a bit of mud perhaps. Still need to play with the the colors a bit more, as it needs a little more life, but staying in those soothing earthiness tones. I wanted to add a hop cone or cones in there somewhere...this is a DIPA after all.

Changed the font for Leon, too...sort of similar to goose island's Belgian style ales series, like their Juliet. The one I have for now is just...umm, a whole lot more generic.

Did a little better in word, and now I'm able to get a bigger picture...try clicking on it too, for a closer look. Still working on the left panel 'blurb', what's there now is just a may notice the duplicitous use of the phrase 'pig out'. I don't even really want to use it in there, actually.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Quad rescue attempt

Ok. Its been nearly 6 months since I've determined the quad just wasn't anywhere near a beer that I'd drink, nor offer to a guest. I decided at that point that I'd take this very underattenuated beer (~1.035), and try a sour rescue. Well, I'm just getting around to it now. But first, I'm guessing that I made one critical mistake...too small of a pitching rate. I don't have adequate notes, but I remember making maybe a 1liter starter (non stir plate). Not even close to enough, per the pitching rate calculator. The beer seemed to ferment fairly aggressively to start, but it just stalled well before the target FG was reached.

Jump ahead now to earlier this week, I made a 1.040 100g DME/ 1000ml starter of wlp655 and let it ferment out for four days. As you can see by clicking through the link, this blend of microbes includes the usual ale yeast Saccharomyces, as well as what is considered a 'beer spoilage' organism in non-wild beers: Brettanomyces. I'm not sure if its a single strain of Brett, but I'm leaving some faith that the White Labs folks know their stuff. The blend also contains some souring microbes that will add organic acids, among other critical aromatic compounds that round out the complexities commonly found in these types of sours. From the recommendation of the mad fermentationist, I didn't use the stir plate beyond some initial aeration, as the pedio + lacto bacteria thrive in a anaerobic environment, and I really want these guys to contribute a significant sourness to this beer. If you are looking for a book that can help form a basis for understanding wild ales, and their related culture, take a look at Wild Brews. My sister Chelynn actually gave this fantastic book to me last Christmas, and has been read in regular intervals since. Really, the only thing that has kept me from going wild until now has been the extended aging that is required to properly develop the flavors of these beers, several years later since I first had the inclination to brew wild, seems like I made a poor choice. I could have a healthy stash of some of my favorite beer styles really starting to come in to their own. Oh well. 2011 looks to be a good beer year for me.
So, the (purported to be wlp001 cali) ale yeast took off in ~12 hours, and the krausen fell in ~2 days. I took a sniff at that point, and I already am getting some musty, barny type smells from the brett, completely unlike what I get from a typical starter. Hmmmm, I have a feeling my carboy fleet is about to grow significantly in size...these wild ales really chew up conditioning capacity due to the extended secondary required for the relatively slow growing bugs to do their thing.

I took the next step with the sour mix starter...I uncorked three of the corked and caged quad 750s and added them to a one gallon jug with the starter. The next AM, the airlock was active...a definite krausen had reformed, and CO2 bubbling up through the beer could be seen in the jug. I suspect the hardy Cali sacch yeast had restarted on the residual sugars left behind by the inadequate primary ferment.
Tonight, I went through the painful task of slowly pouring the rest of the bottles in to my bottling bucket, doing my best to not aerate the beer too much.
This beer smells phenomenal, and its really a shame that the fermentation was sub par underattenuated mess...figs, prunes, dark caramelized sugars all over the place. faint whiff of warming alcohol, rich sherry and port notes, perhaps giving the impression of brandy soaked sour cherries...this all without the aid of volatilization from CO2 fizz. I'm hoping that these aged aromatics aren't driven off by this restarted ferment and are minimally oxidized by all this less than ideal handling of the beer.

So, now I'm hoping to wake up to the krausen reformed in the carboy, as I saw in the 1 gallon jug, but the true test of patience will be holding off taking samples until the pellicle drops which may be as long as 6-12 months (photo from hope to have my own image soon.)

Almost forgot to mention...after primary krausen falls, I will soon add ~1.5 oz of boiled sanitized medium toast french oak 1. to (theoretically) give the bugs at least some square footage to set up camp (they also are said to metabolize some of the sugars in the oak, though this must be a very, very small percentage of fermentables, but more importantly, 2. to add a background barrel character. If I can get anywhere in the neighborhood of Stille Nacht, I'll be exceedingly pleased.

4/8/10 - 600ml of cultured up dregs oro de calabaza, consecration and fantome printemp added.

4/24/10 - positive pressure on S-shaped airlock is obvious. random bubbly film forming on surface. pellicle formation finally starting. I need to add some oak to this beer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

LEON label concept

Oh is so frustrating to work in microsoft word to design labels...I wanted to create the .pdf so I could rotate the image on the screen (couldn't do this in word, had to work with my head tilted the whole time). You can't, apparently. All kinds of things go haywire...images disappear entirely, there's this weird crosshatching in one text box, and went all wacko. Figuring it had to do with my free .pdf printing utility, I tried to print it out on paper. Nope, more haywire stuff.

I could, however, at least take a screen shot, so that's what I have for now to post. Hopefully, I'll get more learned in some graphic design software.

I did, however, figure out how to make my very own Leon logo (sort of) from a photograph of the pig that inspired the beer.

Open up photoshop (I have the 'elements' version, which is the stripped down from the pro version) and bring up picture of a pig:
First, use the 'quick selection' tool, to select all the areas around the subject, in this case, the handsome Leon. Delete these sections as you go. You can see that Leon's front foreleg is cut off by his tasty, albeit lazier roomate. No problem, use the quick selection tool on the other hamhock, copy and paste it, increase the size a bit to make it appropriate scale. Now that you've knocked out the noisy background, and added back the leg, reduce color saturation to zero, to make a black and white image. Increase contrast to 100%, then posterize until you have only two and white. I tried using the sumi-e brush effects tool, but I liked what I got from the aforementioned manipulations to not need that extra step.

Flip him around 180 degrees, and this is what you end up with.
Using various text boxes, a UPC code image I downloaded from the 'net, fonts downloaded from, I whipped this up in about 2 hours. Alot of that was learning curve on the photoshop plus sifting through fonts, though.

What do you think? First, I tried to get the label image to appear bigger than below, but just the perfect storm of the limitations of Word, MS Paint, and Blogger software, I guess. Anyhow, the label layout is too small for a 22oz bottle (its only 4x5inches), so I'll need to redo it on a larger Word template, and that's OK. I just wanted to get the concept down. Feels like its missing some sort of background, maybe a wide-wooden slat type of wooden barn feel, or something, but I really like where this one is going.

Monday, November 30, 2009

SPAb3 + bringing yeast back from the frosty grave

Brewed Stonington Pale Ale, Batch #3 yesterday.

Though I have 2 cases of the stuff from the October brew session, I can always use more bottles of this beer for gifts, parties, requests, etc. In the interest of CIP intended to incrementally improve the beer, I took the opportunity to tweak the grain bill just a little, using crystal 40 instead of 60, as 60L is usually above the higher threshold for pale ales nowadays. I also upped the crystal addition to 1lb instead of 1/2 lb...the beer is very dry, and perhaps could benefit from just a little more crystal sweetness/body. I also upped the flaked wheat to 11oz (not 12, because that's all that was left...I must have shorted myself at the LHBS).

Aside from that, the grain bill, hopping schedule and yeast remained the same.

Well, except that I pinned my hopes on the fermentation ability of what was to be the first reanimation from the frost-free depths of the frozen yeast bank. If you've been reading along, you'll remember that I started stashing away 25% glycerine saturated 50ml samples in my household, non 80C below bottom rack Kenmore freezer with the hopes of suspending my little wort hungry fungi friends for (much) later use. If you haven't been reading along, then take a look HERE.

Now, when I made the 1056 aliquots, I fully messed up, and didn't decant nearly enough of the resultant beer from the 1000ml starter to end up with a properly thick slurry that is recommended for frozen yeast aliquots. I placed the starter in the fridge for 2 days after signs of fermentation had ceased. The american ale yeast dropped out of suspension pretty well, but since 1056 is such a poor flocculator, as soon as I tilted the Erlenmeyer back to check the flow out of the neck, the yeast had fallen off of the bottom of the flask and immediately resuspended back in to the beer.


And I can't just stick it back in the fridge, and wait another day, as I was leaving the country for a week. So, I figured this relatively low cell count would be the ultimate test for the ability of the yeast to withstand the freezing (and thaw/freeze cycles purported to go on in a household freezer). I suspected the high % of water in this solution could only be detrimental to the possible ice crystal-preventing cryoprotective nature of the glycerine, but I had to press on. I don't know how 'thin' this slurry ended up being, other than to say, I wouldn't normally have otherwise even call it slurry. Working fast to avoid raising their temperature, I stuck the 5 vials in to the freezer, hoping for the best.

Now, these vials have only been in the freezer for a short while, but I figured this would be a good first test to see if there were any viable cells that survived the freezing process, albeit at this low concentration. From this AHA presentation, I gathered that if I get somewhere between 20-37% viability, I would count myself lucky. I took out the sample and let it thaw in the fridge overnight. I made up a 1/4 teaspoon wyeast nutrient+ 100 gram DME/1000ml water starter (likely somewhat large for the quantity of yeast I'd ultimately get from the vial). I thawed the tube upright, so the yeast settled to the bottom of the vial. Huh. Less than 5 mls. that's even worse than I thought it'd be.

I looked over to the smugly full vials of white labs commercial yeast resting comfortably in the fridge door, and I could swear I heard them snickering at my feeble yeast ranching attempt.
Not to be dissuaded, I decanted about 80% of the glycerine/beer liquid diluent, recapped, shook the slurry in to suspension, and pitched it in to the cooled starter. I put it on the new stir plate, and hoped for the best. The stirring action pulled a nice vortex, and was clearly creating an ideal home for this probably frost bitten/hopefully not dead yeast. If this yeast was going to grow, it was going to be in this starter.

Now, I probably looked at the starter every 15 minutes for the next 5 hours, until I went to bed that night. Took a big sniff before I went to bed to see if I could sense any hint of fermentation going on.

Nope. Nothing. And how completely non-turbid that thing looked.

I did, however, wake up to the first gurgles of primordial life asserting itself in this nutrient rich broth. Yahtzee!

Knowing that I started with a really low cell count, I stepped it up by adding another 600ml of 1.040 wort, and another pinch of nutrient. We left the house for a few days to arrive home to a starter busting at the seams. And it smells just like 1056 greedily fermenting starter wort in to beer. I stood there both fists raised in the air. Y'know, like a total loser would do. Well, I'm sorry, but you'll just have to excuse me, as these things make me happy...
So, this past Sunday, I brewed up that SPAb3, using the very healthy and likely large population of reanimated 1056 and the burgeoning and seemingly bottomless bags of hops from my inadequate freezer. I'm still amazed at the pungent aromatics of these 2009 leaf hops from hopsdirect.

The SPAb3 was brewed up without a hitch, and the yeast is happily fermenting her (him?) away now in my undersized fermenter, whose nicely fitting threaded caps were tossed with the rest of the busted 50L Pyrex. Oops.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boston to Burton (sort of)

As you can see from the October 2009 water report, Boston city water is incredibly soft, meaning it is relatively low in dissolved minerals and ions. The softness is due to the fact that Boston city water is derived mainly from the ~39 square mile Quabbin reservoir, a man-made body of water mainly fed by the Swift River. Where there are seasonal vagaries in the water profile, reading several reports tells me the water profile stays generally within a fairly tight (and very soft) range.

Without going in to any detail about the history behind the damming and relocating of 4 towns to create the reservoir, lets get down to its relative importance to brewing beer in my Brookline I mentioned, the take home message here: there's hardly any dissolved minerals.

For those unfamiliar with the ug/L vs. ppm units, simply divide the ug/L by 1000 to arrive at ppm.

For example, in the October report, there are 4190 ug/L of Calcium ions present.
That means ~4.2ppm Ca+.

The sulfate content is represented in mg/L, which are actually equivalent to ppm, so make sure you are paying attention to the units in your particular water report.
That's reading at 6.4 ppm SO4.

Historic and storied breweries achieved success and notoriety and defined their particular brewing styles around not only their ability to source quality ingredients, develop brewing techniques and engineering, but also largely based on their indigenous water supplies. For example, over history, Burton breweries featured beers with crisp, snappy dry and hoppy bitterness and near-rocky/minerally backbone. That's the short version of the story...the extended version includes additional practices that takes their too-hard water down a few notches.

We can take the two previously mentioned Boston city water ion concentration readings and compare it to the notably mineral laden (and brewing historically relevant) water from Burton on Trent in the UK.
That water rings in at 295ppm Ca+ and 725ppm SO4.

I won't go in to the impact of mineral content in the mash or the flavor and mouthfeel in the finished beer, other than to say it is incredibly important and often overlooked. After reading a bit about water chemistry/mineral ion impact on beer, I find it a common theme for homebrewers to shrug their shoulders and say 'well, if your water is good to drink, then its good to brew with' This is mostly true for most water sources in the US, in that they are generally much more mineral ion rich than Boston's. There's also major concerns of OD'ing if you start blindly adding salts to your brewing liquor, possibly taking an otherwise perfectly good beer to a salty or harshly astringent mess.

Lets jump back to what this has to do with brewing my beer at home...essentially, I'm starting with a near blank water-slate. While its not quite distilled water (which is created by heating water in to a gaseous state, which leaves dissolved minerals behind, then condensing vapor back in to a liquid phase water free of any of those dissolved minerals), Boston water is just about as soft as any municipal water supply out there.

So, if I want to create a crisp and hoppy american pale ale or double IPA, I knew I'd have to get some of those minerals in to the water. Thankfully, the brewing software I use has a water profile tool that helps me to accurately achieve just that.

You start by entering your current water supply, called 'Base Water' in to the system, and setting the target water profile. I used a recent Boston water report to set my Base Water values awhile back, and you'll notice they don't match up exactly with the October report. Doesn't matter much, as these seasonal differences aren't very large from an absolute sense, and since I'm not trying to engineer a perfect match to a target profile, I'm not too concerned about exact figures. Plus, the October report is already old news if I'm going to be brewing in November. This reality may be vastly different in your city, so please do a review of a relatively large sampling of water reports to see what your seasonal variances look like.

Anyway, Beersmith comes preloaded with several historic water profiles, including Burton on Trent. The software automatically calculates the impact of the addition of common brewing salts (ie. gypsum, calcium choride, sodium bicarbonate, etc.) on a specific volume of water, allowing you to quickly understand the impact of those additions. I gather from reading others' experiences that the BOT water actually tends to be almost excessively hard, so I stayed well below the target profiles during my first full-on brewing water tinkering when I brewed Leon.
I actually just bottled Leon last night, and my initial impressions of the beer are downright amazing. It would be very informative to have a non-amended water beer with the same recipe to sample side by side, but I feel confident in my ability to perceive if the flavor and mouthfeel are where I would like it to be.

Full tasting notes + pictures around the holidays, when Leon should really be hitting his stride. That reminds me, I'll have to get cranking on pig-themed label too.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leon: brewed

A few things happened today at the ol' brewery...
  • Added 5 vials of Wyeast 1056 to the frozen yeast bank
  • Dry hopped and racked the 2nd batch of Stonington Pale Ale to secondary. This pale ale smells fantastic already...I can't wait to see what additional layer of hoppiness the dry hopping will impart on the beer. And 1056 is a terrible flocculator. I really wish I could cold crash this beer. I'll hit it with gelatin at the end of the dry hopping to give it some chance at clarity.
  • Brewed up a big DIPA (who's moniker is also Leon). We didn't have the Simcoe, so replaced those additions with more Centennial. No worries, as there's always a next time, and it'll be interesting to see about changing this one element to the DIPA in a future batch of Leon. Jason and I intend this beer to play back up role to the late fall/early winter encore of what will surely be a stellar showing for Leon (the beer's namesake):

I also had to take the good with the bad, as my prized 50L Pyrex reactor cum fermentor shattered in to many life threatening shards of glass. Thankfully, its loss was the worst of it, as I only suffered a small cut on my left hand and many gallons of sanitizer (not beer) dumped on to the kitchen floor. Enormous jugular hungry shards of non-safety glass lay before me in a soapy mess that made Jason ask nervously 'are you alright, buddy?'

It will be replaced with plastic, and my chances of *dying* on a brewday will be greatly diminished.

Anyhow, here are some pictures from today that show the magic of whirlfloc on enhancing cold break formation.

Oh! and I racked the oh-so-black 2009 RIS to secondary, and grabbed a quick taste of the hydrometer sample, and though still very young, the taste revealed a very clean fermentation and some underlying dark fruitiness from underneath the big roast flavor. I was able to wipe my brow with the back of my freshly lacerated hand, as the sorachi ace that was used in part to bitter the beer didn't impart any lemon flavor or aromas that I feared, likely thanks to the extended 90min boil. There's enough headspace to add the planned medium toast american oak, I consider oak to be an addition to my RIS' that I doubt I could do without at this point.

Lots of feedback on Cab Franc/Belgian Ale hybrid

Thanks everyone for sharing their knowledge, experience and impressions on my prior post about including some Cab Franc grapes in a Belgian Golden Ale hybrid beer.

I'll write again shortly, but first I'll leave you with a few pictures from the harvest at Saltwater Farm. On this incredibly warm Halloween, the harvest went very quickly, as the yield was about 1/2 of what would normally be expected due to the abysmal weather we had this year. They normally would have harvested earlier in the month, but they tried to get as much sugar in the fruit by leaving them on the vines as long as weather would allow it. We were at least were able to help contribute pick a few trays of grapes (mostly so we could say we helped), but the majority of the work was well completed by the time we arrived from Boston. We primarily contributed to Michael and Merrily (the vineyard owners, and now friends) by talking to the prospective clients about our wonderful wedding experience at the winery.

In the midst of production, I was able grab the winemaker's (Dave) ear a bit, to appreciate some of the differences between beer and wine, which helped give me a bit more insight as to what I can expect from my attempt. I felt a great sense of familiarity when I saw the glass carboys and their S shaped airlocks bubbling away...they were propagating wine yeast for pitching on to the cab franc...which would happen after 3 planned days of maceration. When Dave heard of my planned experiment with the Cab Franc, I could see some warmth wash over him, and he simply replied " takes a lot of good beer to make good wine".

I also tasted the grapes right off the vine, as I always enjoy creating a sensory memory of the transformation that occurs through many steps in the journey from, fruit to glass. We had a very fun day and can't wait to go back for their official opening in a few months. Maybe I'll have something to exciting to share with them to encourage Dave to keep making good wine.

In truth, we didn't want the day to end...we just feel so at home in this farmhouse winery setting. Of course, I'd prefer it operate as a brewery, but perhaps there's a small stretch of land in pastoral Stonington that's destined for such an endeavor in the future.

On to the photos:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scratch the Chardonnay

Also, I’ve got a Temptation influenced hybrid wine/wild ale in development. This beer will feature fresh chardonnay grapes from a hands-on harvest effort that will occur next month at Saltwater Farm in Stonington, CT.

The Chardonnay grapes have already been harvested and hauled off to the fermenter for processing, so tomorrow I’ll instead participate in the Cab Franc harvest at SWF. Such are the vagaries of New England weather and agriculture. Despite my initial disappointment to learn I missed the Chardonnay, this is actually a great surprise, as I thought I had missed the harvest entirely.

But, given the late audible, I put out the call for help/feedback on the BA homebrewing forum to help with recipe and process formulation. Its copied and pasted below for my ease in reference at a later time.

image credit:

Cab franc grapes

While there are now several commercial examples of beers aged in wine barrels, it is not often that you see a beer actually fermented with grapes (save for a few examples like the bruery's white zin, which is actually a blend of ale fermented w/ zinfandel grapes + lambic).

...anyway, I'm going to saltwater farm vineyard in connecticut to assist in the harvest tomorrow, and we'll toil away on the cabernet franc vines. Originally I had hoped to be able to get some chardonnay grapes to have a go at a style similar to russian river's temptation...but those were plucked while I was out of the country.

their cab franc (unblended) is has a mellow softness to it, with prominent earth and subtle spice, and an even but firm and balancing fruitiness to it. Just enough tannic dryness to snap it clean at the end. Of course there will be year to year variation, but this is what I'm getting from their 2007 bottles. It was aged in stainless. could maybe benefit from some very subtle french oak character.

I would like to showcase the grapes...still thinking of a belgian style base beer, but I really don't want any kind of roasted grains to get in the way of the grapes.

pilsner base, caravienne, flaked wheat, (no sugars, no spicing), OG ~1.070.
wyeast 3944
rack on to ~5-8 lbs of cab franc, picked through + de-stemmed, quick spin through the food processor to break open the fruit. Use large 7.9 gallon fermentor to allow ease in punching down the cap. not planning any acid blend or tannin additions.

wondering if it would be entirely necessary to sulfite the grape must w/ campden before racking the beer on to it. or will I/can I get a suitable/interesting wild character from wild yeast on the grape skins? I understand a lot of wineries do not add yeast to their must, they simply will allow the wild yeasts to ferment their wine out. I'll ask what they did with their 2007 cab franc.

Primarily looking for anyone's practical experience with either wine grapes in a beer or simply wine making.

oh, and just enough IBUs, around 25ish,
subtle spicy flavor + aroma hops. EKG to bitter, hallertauer, saaz aroma/flavor

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kevin's Lemon: Label brainstorm

Well, my sleep circadian rhythm is totally out of whack due to a recent return from a trip to the Netherlands.

So, instead of just lying there awake, in anticipation of busting out Kevin's Lemon in earnest at Kevin's Friday night, I brainstormed a bit on a possible quick non graphic designer software composed label. I want it to be a wide band that sits low on the champagne style bottles, nearly full wrap. maybe I'd get ~3 labels out of the 8.5x11 paper.

I'd use some natural paper (left over from various crafts for the wedding). It has a nice subtle cross hatch texture to it. I'd cut it with a worn out straight edge paper cutter to leave natural/rough edges (enhanced by the cotton in the paper, which is actually resume paper) on the top and bottom. Use double sided tape to stick to the bottles.

Still playing around with the fonts, whether to include the image, use color...
... or possibly go grayscale with it, or almost completely fade it out, and scale it up, then throw it in to the background.

Hmmm, I should go to bed.
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