Monday, December 13, 2010

Nemesis Quad

We all have beers that have flat out beaten us. I'm not talking just slightly less than great beers. Beers that have truly failed, even on a singular component. Just a completely fatal and unrecoverable (as far as initial intentions go) flaw that just gnaws at you at the swing and ...whiff... miss of the initial concept.

These are usually higher gravity beers the beer that has been me certainly falls in that camp: A quad with a very large portion of D2 syrup that resulted in an underattenuated mess. Great fermentation character, bready malty with that complexly stewed prune, almost roasty figginess. And a beer-ruining cloying ~1.035ish sweetness.

Jason tried the same recipe at home, with nearly identical technique and pulled up lame in the same FG ballpark. Thankfully, he didn't chuck his either, and it has spent the better part of the summer and fall making amends with the now available year round Wyeast Roselare blend. Tasted it a week ago, and its got the makings of a sour beast, I can't wait to see where this one ends up. It was so damn delicious, we just forgot to stick it in the hydrometer jar for a reading before it disappeared from our glasses. I've been ultra patient, trusting that its just too early now to even think about it, now that it has the grapes on it.

Anyhow, Jason, Luc and I set out one early morning in October to make right what went oh-so-wrong a few years ago.
That recipe was based on an approximation of the St. Bernadus Abt 12, which purportedly has a very heavy dose of this specialty dark candi syrup, which I'm trying to figure out a way to cook up at home. That cooked sugar, combined with some refined beet sugar combined for ~20% of the fermentables, in order to ensure a properly dry finish. um, right.

In that go-around, I made all the now-obvious mistakes that hindered that goal: less than optimal pitching rate, went with aquarium pump + airstone aeration and not oxygenation and lack of fermentation temperature control.

As my shipment of pils malt was late arriving from the recent mail order, and runs to the homebrew shop are really limited as of late with daddy responsibilities, we sacrificed some of that class pils character and went with some American 2 row as the base grain, so we could just brew some ale.
The tube of Chimay yeast had gotten off to a running start in an ample amount of 1.040 starter wort, and had been spinning round in the stirstarter for 36 hours before pitching.
The D2 was unfortunately in that not-quite-there-yet shipment too, so an across the street run to Trader Joe's for some turbinado was the lame duck sub. Before we started, we thumbed through Brew Like a Monk, and found we had now settled on a close approximation of an included classic recipe, so we felt confident while we weren't going to get to see how far down we could attenuate the prior recipe, we would still end up with a solid beer to ponder the true re-brew.

I did want to bump the IBUs up a touch from the prior batch, perhaps as a knee jerk reaction to compensate from the memory-sticky too-sweet finish, so 3oz of whole leaf Willamette made its way in to a hop sack for a 60minute addition.

As we'll often do, while we wait for the wort to come to a boil, J and I popped some solid bottles, but not before we were sure the little man had what he needed.
The first was a 750ml of 2.5 year old chimay grand reserve, in a study of the malt and yeast profile that was intended from this brew day.
And, if you've been around the house at all, you'll know that one nice bottle can sometimes lead to the popping of another.
And perhaps another after that.

Unfortunately, the cooing baby and hubris induced visions of an already vanquished quad brewday convinced me that we had it all under control, until I turned back to the lauter to realize, we had collected too much wort, and diluted a full 20 points below intended gravity! I could only shake my head, foolishly foiled. Oh well, at least that means there'll be just more of this not-quite-quad BSDA.
Fermentation started at 62F, held for 24hours after krausen appeared (sometime that night, pitched late afternoon). Raised to 74F ambient over the next 2 days, then blanketed in fleece to up to 77F for 1 week. Conditioned for an additional 2, then enough cane sugar to bottle to 4 volumes. FG to a respectable 1.016F.

Corked and caged.
Quad 2010
Belgian Dark Strong Ale

Type: All Grain

Date: 10/11/2010

Batch Size: 5.50 gal

Brewer: Jason
Boil Size: 6.30 galAsst Brewer: JC
Boil Time: 60 minEquipment: My Equipment
Taste Rating(out of 50):35.0Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00
Taste Notes:


AmountItemType% or IBU
14 lbsPale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)Grain63.64 %
3 lbsMunich Malt (9.0 SRM)Grain13.64 %
1 lbsCaramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM)Grain4.55 %
1 lbsCaravienne Malt (22.0 SRM)Grain4.55 %
1 lbsWheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM)Grain4.55 %
8.0 ozCaramel/Crystal Malt - 75L (75.0 SRM)Grain2.27 %
3.00 ozWilliamette [5.50 %] (60 min)Hops33.4 IBU
1 lbs 8.0 ozTurbinado (10.0 SRM)Sugar6.82 %
2 PkgsAbbey Ale (White Labs #WLP530)Yeast-Ale

Beer Profile

Est Original Gravity: 1.113 SG

Measured Original Gravity: 1.092 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.026 SGMeasured Final Gravity: 1.016 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol:11.52 %Actual Alcohol by Vol: 9.97 %
Bitterness: 33.4 IBUCalories: 425 cal/pint
Est Color: 20.5 SRMColor:

Mash Profile

Mash Name: Single Infusion, Light BodyTotal Grain Weight: 20.50 lb
Sparge Water: 0.00 galGrain Temperature: 72.0 F
Sparge Temperature:168.0 FTunTemperature: 72.0 F
Adjust Temp for Equipment: FALSEMash PH: 5.4 PH

Single Infusion, Light Body
Step TimeNameDescriptionStep Temp
75 minMash InAdd 25.63 qt of water at 161.4 F150.0 F
10 minMash OutAdd 16.40 qt of water at 200.2 F168.0 F

Mash Notes: Simple single infusion mash for use with most modern well modified grains (about 95% of the time).


collected too much wort.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quad + Cuvee de Tetreault: Cabernet Sauv grapes in to the mix

A bit earlier this fall, 5 Gallons of frozen grapes arrived from Midwest supplies, just as the Fall2010 winemaking season was in full swing. I was looking for an interesting fruit addition to give some depth to some of my bigger/darker sours, and I found a really cool option with inspiring commercial precedents (such as this and to a lesser degree, this.)

I pulled the trigger, not on freshly harvested grapes or even current season frozen must. I went with the surprisingly still available (as of Dec 2010) $50 deal on 2007 Cabernet grapes from Napa (picked and crushed on my birthday!). These high brix, huge flavor and tannin grapes from the worldclass americal viticultural area were intended for dark sours already slowly churning away. I would normally eschew pre-processed and the downright old for a fresh/recently harvested version, but, given the consideration of cost (at $200+ for fresh equivalent), I wasn't overly concerned about an erosion of quality given the high sugar content (~23.3Brix) and I'm sure they were stably frozen from harvest to delivery.

Popping the lid showed me no overt signs of freezer burn, even though there was a little more headspace in the bucket than I expected. There was a rubber gasket seal and some tear away plastic that ensured this bucket wouldn't leak, but we all know the oxygen permeability of HDPE. But still...5 gallons of whole frozen napa cab grapes for ~$75? A no-brainer. Jump on it, if you haven't yet and its still available. I'd love to compare notes down the road.
Despite my endorsement, I did feel a twinge of guilt (that continues to nag at me) at the extravagance of the cross country shipping, and ridiculous amounts of styrofoam that was needed to keep them frozen.
I'll prefer in the future to focus on and mostly stick to the best of what the new england regional AVAs have to offer, as there's plenty of the more local and equally high quality options to explore. No, this is not laughable. While the long, warm and dry seasons in the west coast valleys drives the best out of the deep and dark reds, the moderation of the Atlantic coastal climes seems to make the much hardier rootstock of the whites (and earthy Cabernet Franc) truly sing. I'll go so far to say that some of the best methode champenoise sparkling wines I've ever had, come from a sleeper winery in Westport, Massachusetts (snap up all of the Maximilian, should you come across it).

So, I quickly discovered that 5 gallons of cab grapes is alot. ALOT.

After 5lbs of the crushed and mostly thawed grapes went in to the quad rescue attempt and 3.5lbs in to 4 gallons of the Cuvee (6 gallons remain without fruit addition, for now), I still have about 4 gallons of fruit left. I guiltily freezer-bagged up the remaining grapes, and hogged even more of the already hops-choked freezer.

The quad has been souring with the bugs for a descent amount of time now and any activity had slowed to a near crawl. I overfilled the carboy, and after a week, the re-activated microbes were pushing CO2, grapes skins and yeast up through the airlock (and continued to do so for ~1.5 months).

The cuvee was still quite young when the grapes were added (pellicle hadn't even fallen yet), so, despite my better judgement, I added the fruit much earlier than is likely optimal (would prefer than multiple brett strains, lacto + pedio would be favored over the sacch, and a later addition achieves that; sacch tends to lose viability faster than the others).

Only (lots) of time will tell, so I'm looking forward to my first tastes of these in about a year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brewing sugar experiments: Part 1

EDIT 09Feb2012

For some more advanced thinking/experiments w/ DIY candi sugar on par with commercially produced stuff, check out the post on over at Ryan Brews.


There's a long history of adding simple, non grain-based sugars to beers which has been very well described in several texts, so I won't go in to that detail here. I'm essentially singularly focused on the how and why these sugar additions are made, so that I can better know how to drive the intended flavors, mouthfeel, aromas in to the finished beer -so, essentially the same as anything else that goes in my kettle.

I'm certainly not adherent to the German predilection of malt-hops-yeast-water ONLY concept of beer purity, so there's no leap in my mind about whether a sugar addition would be compromising the finished drink with a lower-tier ingredient, in fact many of my favorites are made that way with a significant contribution of them. Given the commercially available options, I'm basically disinterested (for now) in the relative cost of the grain and adjunct bill for a batch of homebrew, as they are, at this scale minimally impactful. So, I've been very happy to buy sugars (cane, turbinado, honey, maple syrup, etc.), except for a single attempt at making invert sugar for a super-saison very early on. The juice of lemon (ascorbic acid source), a few pounds of cane sugar, a splash of water, and bunch time and heat (up to 275F). Poured it out of a sheet lined with aluminum foil, cooled, stuck in the fridge, then satisfyingly cracked the candy with a ball-peen hammer to shatter. It soon made its way to the brew as a ~20% late sugar addition (ug, what a sticky mess at the bottom of the kettle...syrups are the sugar addition of choice from now on), and drove the saison flavor in a direction that it likely shouldn't go. A toasted marshmallow, almost burned maraschino cherry (weird, I know) flavor that persists in to the bottle today.

I've read about making a maillard syrup in recipes online and Radical Brewing that is supposed to reasonably approximate the flavors of the darker syrups from Dark Candi (D2 is, by far, my favorite). There has been debate about the nitrogen source needed to drive these flavors, and some vocal consternation about why its 'wrong' to make these maillard syrups with anything but sugar, heat and time (no added nitrogen, no acid). I understand how Dark Candi pulls it off. But, I would guess that these syrups attain the deep, complex flavors that they do not from 'sugar only' in that they are not created from a highly refined sugar (sucrose only) source.
Despite that it says 'Beet Sugar' on the label, and that others have reported the importer states that refined beet sugar, heat and time are the only ingredients, I have to guess that the syrup is made from a very complex soup of sugars, a small remaining portion of proteins after coagulation step, and loads other organic materials from those beets. What most of us have access to outside of a sugar processing facility is pure sucrose (or mostly refined sugar, as in the case of turbinado). The recipe of pure sugar + varying the heat and time parameters is tricky and requires precise control. If you go too far w/ the time and heat, you really wouldn't do much beyond caramelize at the constituent sugars' various caramelization points, making them characteristically flavorful, but otherwise first degrading, then creating complex molecules (ie. These molecules, while quite tasty, are wholly inaccessible to the metabolism of your average household yeast. In order to get the characteristic (in my opinion) maillard-like flavors of the Dark and D2 syrups, you'd require a nitrogen source. I don't readily have access to a big load of sugar beets or cane sugar to shred/juice, strain and cook up in order to replicate sugar house processes, so I had to look to the grocery store and homebrew shop for widely available analogs, as suggested by Mosher and others.

For now, I certainly am satisfied with the impact of simple cane sugar at the lighest possible end of the scale (although I'd prefer something with a whole food soul) I'm really seeking a reasonable approximation of the highly touted, but veiled in mysterious D2 profile at the other.

Any success here will could also hopefully be extrapolated and dialed back to an approximation of the 40SRM amber version.

Some assumptions to base this round of experiments:
1. pH of their finished syrup is <>
2. the sugar mix in D2 (and the others) is likely reasonably close to the mix fructose, sucrose and glucose as it is in the other disclosed syrups' product cards, as there's been some inversion of the beet derived sucrose. I wonder if Dark Candi adds back some refined sucrose after cooking their sugar, to help with fermentability?
3. sucrose dissolved in water does not shift the pH, so I opted added include a pinch of tartaric acid to my recipes which didn't include DAP, to somewhat consistent.

I did not measure pH, so that's a knock.

Here's another. I should have done a more controlled control by omitting the acid altogether and using distilled water or neutral pH water, but I skipped that in this round (as it takes 2 hours of standing over a boiling pot to make a batch of sugar, at this scale, at least).

In part 1 of my experiment, I cooked up three batches of sugar on my stovetop, with the intention of getting the darkest possible syrup, with the characteristically dark/stewed fruit and rich chocolaty flavors, but still 'very fermentable' profile of the D2 (wished they published that data on their website, but I can easily do forced ferment test myself). All three sugar recipes followed the same process, in order to closely mimic the sugar profile, maillard flavors, pH. Fructose caramelizes at 230F, while sucrose and glucose caramelize at 320F, so I figured heating to 300F would keep me well clear of the caramelization of at least the latter two, if the sucrose wasn't completely consumed, but still give me that deep, rich maillard flavor that I sought. Didn't really know how much sucrose the inversion process would consume, and what the final mix of fructose, glucose and sucrose would be. Should have done myself a favor and spent the 3 minutes reading this, but it may have thrown me to another tangent and possibly have done a literature search to find the data.

Sugar 1/Control
1lb Cane sugar + 1/8 teaspoon tartaric acid + 1/2 cup water
  • Quickly bring to boiling over medium heat.
  • Once heated to 240F, lower heat and slowly heat to 300F (use digital candy thermometer w/ alarm), add 1/2 cup water
  • Repeat 2x, adding 1/2 cup water again to cool and reconstitute to syrup.
  • Lightly golden color, sweeter-than-sugar caramelized flavor. Light, only slightly more interesting than plain sugar dissolved in water.
  • Very slightly additional darkening with sequential heating and cooling. Definitely not even close to the D2 ballpark.
Sugar 2/Cane + 1/8 teaspoon tartaric acid + 1/2 cup DME, replaced the weight of cane sugar w/ DME
  • Used DME as the nitrogen source, knowing there was a more complex range of malt derived proteins. Guessed at the amount.
  • Had to switch to a much larger (2.5gallon) pot, as the boiling sugar got about 5x the volume as the first batch. Big and foamy, almost looked like the foam before hot break coagulation, but with bigger bubbles. Pain in the butt to make if you need a vessel 10-15x the volume of the finished syrup.
  • Richer and deeper caramelized flavor than the first batch, but no roasty, raisiny taste I'm looking for.
  • Deep, mahogany red color, significant darkening at the 2nd heating, very slightly darkened after the 3rd.
Sugar 3/Cane + 2 tablespoons Yeast Energizer
  • The LD Carlson yeast energizer includes DAP, yeast hulls (as well as magnesium sulfate and Vitamin B complex). DAP disassociates to ammonia and phosphate, leaving an acidic solution, so adding the tartaric acid would be unnecessary. Also, held off adding until the solution reached 240F, given ammonia would volatilize and less would be available for maillard (and more to sting my nose). Yeast hulls would be a small %, but another source of organic material that if I had to speculate, may add further depth of character.
  • Chocolatey, figgy/raisiny syrup. Medium roast coffee mixed with stewed prunes. A touch 'bright' from the resulting acid in the DAP? Gave a slightly metallic flavor, not as 'soft' as taste of the D2 gives. More concentrated, richer, deep flavor though.
  • Dark as night, but not burnt, at all. I'd guess that ~95% of color occurred in the first heating, the remaining in the first half of the 2nd. Brought back up to 240F after last water addition to concentrate syrup a bit more, but still retain sufficient water. Prior 2 batches seemed a bit too watery.

Made 3 mini batches of sugar water for forced fermentation tests. 50grams of syrup + tiny pinch of nutrient, topped up with water to 200ml finished volume.

Measured OG:

Sugar 1: 1.066
Sugar 2: 1.064
Sugar 3: 1.080

Samples returned, brought to a boil in foil covered erlenmyers, 5min. Chilled in ice bath to 75F.

Moved to stir plates, added pinch of Nottingham direct without rehydrating (not a recalled lot).
Plates set to pull sufficient vortex.

~36 hours, no sign of fermentation, no CO2, etc.
~ 5 days, gravity measured:

Sugar 1: 1.060
Sugar 2: 1.062
Sugar 3: 1.078

Basically no fermentation, added bread yeast, 5 more days, didn't budge one gravity point, even without sanitary technique.

So, the first 2 syrups got me nowhere even close to D2, and the much touted DAP got me very close, but the too-high temperatures quickly left the sugars wholly unfermentable. I did calibrate the candy thermometer to boiling water and another thermometer, and it was within ~1F, so that's not the issue. I scrolled for quite a while through this discussion, but I was unable to find anyone who talked about conducting a forced fermentation test w/ the syrup alone, just FG of beers in which they used their home cooked sugar, most notably here.

Next round we'll see what impact lower cooking temperatures may have on recipe for Sugar #3, easily the closest approximation to D2 thus far.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Double barley wine, orval'd

During the spike of irrational exuberance that commonly plagues homebrewers with a few solid batches under their belt, about 3 years ago, I decided I wanted to shoot the moon...brew up a ~20%abv double barley wine bomb that could age for years, decades even.

There were a good number of commercial examples that I've read about, sampled a handful. How hard could it be?

Brewing beers before certainly sported loads of enthusiasm. Perhaps lacked a bit of perspective. It had come quite easily. Even the russian imperial stout recipe flagged with the 'expert' connotation in the homebrew magazine seemed to be an easily attained success. Time to up the ante. Way up.

So, I got greedy. I'll google and google and google until my little fingers could google no more, and I'll simply read up on all the brew forums how I could bang out a beer that would push the very limits of yeasty fortitude.

I'll step over the bodies of those that have tried and failed before me (what exactly is a stalled fermentation, anyway? never happened to me before, they must be skipping obvious steps), and ride the apparent attenuation coattails to success.

Should be easy enough.

Trappist high gravity yeast? Yeah, that's the ticket.

40% simple sugars to boost the fermentability of the wort. how extreme! But...why use one, when four different sugars would undoubtedly add a 'depth of flavor'?

Daily aeration? Hmmm, where's that aquarium it!

No way I can mash enough grain for a 5 gallon batch in my little mash tun, so I'll partial mash this beast, make up the different with extract. I'll split off the batch to give the Cali ale yeast a good start at a reasonable OG, and then really concentrate down the rest of the volume, late addition with the sugars with a FOUR HOUR BOIL. (are you rolling your eyes at me yet?)

Can the concentrated wort and do daily'll be better (and easier) than dissolving little baggies of reconstituted cane sugar every day for 2 weeks, I'm sure of it.

All that concentrated wort should bring the combined gravity to ~1.170. Yeah, that's what i said. 1.170., I didn't measure it. I calculated with my whiz-bang Beersmith software.

Right, I can't be sure, as I didn't think to do a 50% dilution of the final concentrated wort, to be within the range of my hydrometer). Whatever.

A well timed addition of high gravity yeast, made in a high gravity starter w/ some of the canned wort (y'know, you have to acclimate the yeast to what its about to face, right?) will drive that attenuation to my target of 1.025.

OK, maybe I'd be happy with 1.030. It'll need that balancing sweetness to handle that huge alcohol, yes?

6 lbs Amber Liquid Extract (12.5 SRM) Extract 23.35 %
8 lbs Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 31.13 %
1 lbs Cara-Pils/Dextrine (2.0 SRM) Grain 3.89 %
12.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (80.0 SRM) Grain 2.92 %
3.2 oz Chocolate Malt (450.0 SRM) Grain 0.78 %
1.00 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [12.20 %] (240 min) Hops 31.0 IBU
1.00 oz Glacier [6.00 %] (240 min) Hops 15.3 IBU
2.00 oz Palisade [6.90 %] (240 min) Hops 35.1 IBU
1.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (15 min) Hops 6.3 IBU
1.00 oz Palisade [6.90 %] (15 min) Hops 7.9 IBU
1.00 oz Palisade [6.90 %] (15 min) Hops 7.9 IBU
1.00 oz Glacier [6.00 %] (15 min) Hops 6.9 IBU
2.00 oz Oak Chips (Secondary 14.0 days) Misc
4 lbs Cane (Beet) Sugar (0.0 SRM) Sugar 15.56 %
2 lbs 12.0 oz Maple Syrup (35.0 SRM) Sugar 10.70 %
2 lbs Honey (1.0 SRM) Sugar 7.78 %
1 lbs Molasses (80.0 SRM) Sugar 3.89 %

6 months later, that hydrometer wasn't budging.

*Hydrometer pictures Oct 2010 (not 1998)

This beer quickly eroded my mounting homebrewing hubris down several notches. But, I couldn't drink it, I couldn't hand over a bottle to a friend (or foe) with a straight face, and couldn't bear to chuck it. Maybe my friend Mike could force carb it, and that would give it the impression of it being dried out with a carb bite to it? Ah, no, tastes like carbonated barley wine cough syrup.

Text that night from mike as he racked it over:

"The gravity is 1.065...want to ferment this a little more first"


So, in this keg, the big beer that couldn't, slumbered for a few years in a basement. He moved to a new house. Hung out down there for a few months, too.

texts, each a loud echo the last, would show up periodically:

"hey, want that barley wine of yours"

Oct. 15, 2010...I took delivery of that embarrassing keg, humbled but hopeful.

The reclamation plan I had already set in motion was eerily similar to the underattenuated quad solution.

Use bugs. Lots of 'em.
Plus a liberal dose of hope.

Start small, though.
Build vigor with time.

Dregs from 2 relatively fresh bottles of Orval.
500 ml 1.040, 1 week, decanted,
1000ml, 1.040 2 weeks, decanted.
2 gallons, 1.038 5 days decanted ~75% (will need some active brett going in, knowing the chances of anything waking up in the super toxic environment, even brett, was slim. Knowing any lacto or pedio in there probably would crash and burn in the cough syrup of a beer, I pinned all my hopes on the fortitude of brett brux var. orval)

Boy, it really hurt racking over from the keg, as the head formation in the 7.9 gallon bucket was downright glorious. Not to mention all the wonderful aromatics hitching a carbonated ride, liberated from the beer.

Yet another learning experience. But, embarassment, shame has given way. I now cherish these 'teachable moments'. I feel thankful for these relatively harmless miscues. There's always next time, the next beer that will be better for it.

I've been slowly, surely accumulating them over the years in my personal bizarro world book of 'how NOT to brew'.

I should have slow bled off pressure over the course of several days, then racked.
Ok, you wild and crazy Belgians...have at this car wreck of a wicked big beer.

Happy to report that after 1.5 months after Orval'ing the wicked big beer, I still have positive pressure on the S-shaped airlock, and a bit of funk emanating from under the plastic. Who knows, maybe I'll realize my dreams of reaching ~1.025 one day, even if it comes a few years later than planned.

Ok, I'd be happy with 1.030.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Planting the future

Loaded up the car and took the family on a trip back to my hometown of Acushnet to share in the Luc QT and to get some trillium rhizomes in the ground. For about 15 years now, my parents have graciously allowed their frustrated landscaper of a son to cut new garden beds around the entire property and grow up pretty much anything I might want (Pop Tetreault : "whatever you like, as long as its not a willow tree...those roots get in to everything...I don't want anything destroying the septic system"). Most of the early plantings are now mature groups of Peony, iris japonica, allium giganteum or many multiples of the Pee Gee and oak leaf ydrangea.

Despite my fascination with this beautiful North American woodland wildflower, there was still one species that had not worked its way in to the soil until now.

The eponymous Trillium.

Five rhizomes of trillium grandiflorum (Great White), five of trillium erectum (purple/red), and three trillium luteum (a mottled-leaf yellow) were on the docket for the day, so I snuck away for 30 minutes to have a bit of fun in the dirt.

I selected a site in a garden bed that is best suited for these spring time ephemerals, and with some expected dapple shaded neighbors. A mix of native: marsh ferns (Thelypteris palustris) and tall/limbed up golden birch trees (species?) and introduced plants: a flowering japanese cherry and a collection of japanese maples (some named purchased cultivars, some originally seedlings now in their awkward youth from underneath mature specimen trees back in the city.

Unfortunately the soil in this section of the parents property is mostly glacial clay; a soggy root suffocating mess in the late winter/early spring and a parched solidified brick in the inevitable dry spells of the summer. The antithesis of the 'well drained, moisture retaining and high in organic soil' that trillium require.

Thankfully, my parents kept up the heaping compost pile, feeding it regularly with kitchen and yard waste. Pop will turn it a few times a year with the big kubota front loader and supplement it with some manure from my uncle's farm. Really beautiful, well rotted compost. Smells like the forest floor on which it lay. I peel back the outer layer of pulled weeds (unfortuately went to seed) and garden harvest that didn't make Pop's premium measure of quality. The center of the pile is ready to use and the perfect planting soil amendment.
After digging down ~12 inches, I took away 5 wheelbarrow fulls of the dusty, rocky clay coil, which apparently lives in the bizzaro world (it rained pretty well the night before) and replaced it with 4 of the compost and 1 of screened loam, the combination of which will help with drainage/tilth, nutrients and minerals.
The trillium rhizomes were disappointingly tiny. But they were firm and most had lengthy root systems ready to take hold in their new home. They will get settled this fall putting out a bit of root growth before going dormant for the winter. Pop will lay down an insulating layer of finely shredded leaves from the fall yard cleanup, providing further incentive for the earth worms to pay a visit to this site.

Hopefully the little plants will pop up their tri-lobed sepals in the spring and begin the slow but steady growth that will make this in to sturdy stand for the brewery's eventual forest's edge garden planting.

Walking back to the garage to return the shovel, Pop proudly pointed out a lone and youthful rhubarb ...his own recent propagation success story. He had gotten a bit of root from a friend in August and planted it in his raised boxes. The late summer sun fried the leaves to nothing. But underneath, the compost and soil nurtured, kept the roots cool enough to make it through the harsher days to the cool growing season.
After what some people would probably consider too long to be lingering around, talking about the growth of a single plant, we walked back in to the house, knowing that Pepere would have been happy to take part in the fun, and wishing that he was still around to do so.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yeast hunting: update

The yeast cultures from the Stonington, Connecticut vineyard hunting trip have all burst to life with some very interesting and encouraging results.

While I was sitting around waiting for things to happen inside those tubes, I found lots of practical and timely reading through Jamil's (just as much Chris White's) yeast book. Had me harkening back about 15 years to my Microbiology 101 class with all of this aseptic technique, plating agar media, incubators talk.

Now, I'm not going to venture off in to selective media, vitality or viability testing or anything too geeky, but rather rely on sensory evaluations and macroscopic techniques.

The first macroscopic observations actually came the evening of the collection, only about 10 or so hours after the cultures were started. I noticed turbidity and some positive pressure on one of the tubes with the Sauvignon Blanc grapes...a little agitation revealed some CO2 production. Interestingly, these are the first grapes to ripen and were harvested a few weeks prior to our visit. There were a few straggler tiny clusters missed by the harvesters, so I was able to snag a few for my effort.

Anyway, I guess I wasn't going to have to sit and stare at these for days on end before at least 1 tube with some growth. A sniff along the cap didn't yield much, so I re-tightened the lids and turned the tubes over on to their caps for the night. The centrifuge tube cone bottoms require a rack, and the cardboard rack would take too much of valuable counter space. I tucked the 11 tubes in to small corner of my cutting board, and went to bed for the night.

Agitated them all again in the AM before shooting out the door in a futile attempt to miss the Monday AM Boston traffic. Came home that evening to see 2 or 3 of them leaking fairly significant amounts of wort (beer?) from the screw threads, mabye as much as 1/3 of their total volume, due to the built up CO2 pressure. Well...duh.

Good news is that the headspace in the tubes was filled with CO2...bad news is that I probably lost lots of viable bacteria and yeast in those, most noticeably in that tube of Sauv. Blanc, which when agitated put forth even more frothy CO2 bubbling, and this time a vinous, white winey lactic and bread yeasty smell.

The open air tube had some strange brown coagulated proteins, which reminded me a lot of the first stages of culturing up the kombucha bugs. No CO2, though. Maybe the clumps are hot/cold break from the DME? All the tubes w/ the white grapes were showing signs of life, while the reds were pretty silent. Oddly, all the tubes with grapes were seemingly devoid of these brown coagulated clumps.

Three days after harvest, all the white grapes were still actively fermenting, and yeast seemed to be floc'ing in the bottom of the tubes in stratified layers. The reds were quickly following suit, just a bit behind the whites. No CO2 production evident from the open air vial, just the brown clumps. Are the brown clumps growing?...maybe a bit more turbid now? (should have take photos in same position/lighting for side by side comparison).

The next step was the following weekend (Day +7) when I took 1 tube of each of the four grape varietals, agitated to get the yeast/bacteria cakes in to suspension (had to shake pretty hard for some of the tubes) and pitched in to ~250ml of starter wort + pinch of nutrient. There was significant turbidity and CO2 production and some leaking at most of the tubes' cap threads.
The Sauv Blanc tube that was the most active from day 1 was very turbid at this point, and and took the blue ribbon yeast production, despite the reduced propagation media volume.
I sniffed each of the vials (too nervous to taste anything yet).
All but the merlot smelled like raw, yeasty fermenting wine. The merlot smelled like raw sewage on a hot summer's day. But just a small tube of it, so thankfully a minimal nostril full didn't leave me reeling, spilling the vile stink all over the kitchen. Guess I got a bloom of Enterobacter? Glad I didn't taste it. It got pitched in to its fair share of starter wort, hoping that the more benevolent creatures start to outcompete this stink stank stunk bacteria. The cultures were topped with foil and rubber bands (to minimize any stank spilling, should one get tipped in the high traffic kitchen) and were swirled to agitate whenever I walked by.
Fast forward one day, and little creamy white growths appeared on all of the cultures. Certainly didn't have the morphology of a mold bloom, most resembled what in my experience looks like yeast (mini) krausen.
The next day I took the 2nd runnings from a batch of belgian strong (gravity read at 1.034) and topped up the cultures with another 250ml of wort.
Fermentation was evident in the AM, with CO2 emerging through the media. These were left to ferment for 5 more days (Day +13) and sufficient yeast was settling at each of the cultures and continued to be very turbid. I've read that lots of wild yeasts can be very dusty, but its not really possible to know whether this was due to dusty yeast or otherwise high and varied bacterial blooms. I chilled the samples down in the fridge in an attempt to crash the yeast out of suspension, in order to repitch a hopefully concentrated yeast cell count in to more starter wort. Uncapping the foil revealed a very similar looking pellicle in each.
Again, certainly no mold, but the aroma profiles have begun to differentiate themselves.
  • Sauv Blanc smelled strongly of fruity kombucha (indicating some acetobacter produced acetic acid)
  • Chardonnay was a softer kombucha/acetic, more raw and yeasty
  • Cab Franc was notably vinous with a smaller, softer background odor of bready yeast
  • I took a very short sniff of the Merlot fearing the worst, but it seems that my hopes were realized...the Enteric poop stink has been mitigated significantly, and is now just a faint background odor. Perhaps just remnant volatile odor compounds from the now outcompeted bacterial population.
The cultures were decanted and added to ~225ml of wort, affixed with an airlock, and now currently sit at room temperature. I neglected to take any gravity readings.

Single tubes of each varietal + the open air tube remained, and signs of fermentation continue on the tubes with grapes. Its like the microbes are slowly gaining access to the sugars/nutrient in the grapes so are slowly chewing away. The color change in the red cultures is obvious. No obvious pellicle forming like in the foil covered larger cultures.
As for the open air tube, we finally have significant CO2 production, first noted at Day +11. You can see the foam leaked around the threads after agitation...smelled raw vinous, yeasty (sorry for the repetitive descriptors...I'll employ far more colorful vocabulary when I act like a man with actual hair on his chest and take a swig).
Stay tuned for the next exhilarating microbiological installment when I actually make something intended for at least a small taste analysis.

Plans call for making a small batch of a relatively lightly hopped farmhouse style beer, splitting the wort across 4 ~ 1 gallon fermenters and see what kind of primordial beers we end up with on their first generations. I'll grow up the additional 5 samples behind these first 4 to see if there are any significantly different characteristics, and selecting a few that smell the most benevolent. There are also plans for streak out the mixed cultures on some malt agar media, isolate some yeast from the bacteria, then slowly step up in 25, 50, 100, 250, 1000ml erlenmyers to grow up pure cultures to more split wort 1 gallon pitching volumes, but that'll be a story for a future post.

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