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:

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