Category Archives: experiments

Home Smoked Grains: Comparing Applewood Smoked Rauchbier to Hickory Smoked Rauchbier

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Collaborations can really be the best thing sometimes.

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Besides brewing beer in my Brooklyn apartment, I have also spent the last 15 + years attending underground hardcore shows.  One of the bands that I still get the chance to go see is a Brooklyn based band called Indecision.  Now, this is a band that played my very first local hardcore show and I have had the opportunity of playing alongside of them with various bands.  I have also had the chance to get to know them as individuals.  Bago, the bass player, is a man who also has another fantastic hobby, smoking incredible meats! He has been an avid BBQ man for some time now and has worked his craft to an awesome level. He is currently smoking under the name BAGOCUE and is starting to put out a line of delectable food, though not professionally as of yet.

bagocue

Knowing that he had a substantially sized smoker, it wasn’t long before I asked if he would be willing to help smoke some grains for me to brew a rauchbier.  A kickass perk was his readily accessible access to a variety of different woods to use in smoking.

We began deciding on a day for me to come on over to his place, drink some homebrew, eat some BBQ, and smoke some grains.  Working with someone who already has experience with smoking really made it easy to land on 2 types of wood to use.  First up was Applewood, which is very common when smoking meat, particularly Bacon. Secondly, we decided to go with Hickory, since oak can have a very strong/tannic character.  Both types of wood created beer that is great to drink, but drastically different in flavor and aroma.

Procedure:

Smoking grain really doesn’t seem hard to do, and in many ways it isn’t challenging, however, being that this was my first time going through the process, mistakes were definitely made that impacted the end product of my beer.  But that is what this was all about, learning how to smoke grains myself, instead of relying on pre-smoked grains that I had no control over.  My main mistake was not allowing the grains to completely air dry before storing them for brewing.  I must officially apologize to Brooklyn Homebrew for gumming up their grinder for a good half hour.  I really thought mildly moist grains wouldn’t be a problem, turns out it mushes in a weird dough consistency and sticks to everything. Whoops! Sorry guys!  I ended up grinding about 5 pounds of grain by hand, which absolutely blew and I hope no one has to spend that much time with a rolling-pin, ever.  Girlfriend Karen suffered through it with me, helping along the way  Also, if grains are left wet, in a dark and moist area, mold grows on them.  I lost nearly half of my grains to this problem and felt like a complete waste of life.  That being said, I can only harp on the point more clearly: MAKE SURE YOU LET THE GRAINS DRY COMPLETELY BEFORE STORING!

Here is what we did:

1.  Get a very small, low heat fire started with only about 5- 6 small pieces of wood going in a smoker

2.  Soak all of the grains in water for a least 15 mins.

3.  Lay window screen down on top of the top metal grill. Window screen is very cheap and easy to find at any Home Depot type store.

4.  Pour the now moist grains (ditch the water) directly on top of the screen.

5.  Cover and let smoke for approximately an hour, maintaining a very low but consistent smoke

6.  Remove from the smoke and let completely dry (cough cough)

7.  Let the grains calm down for a week.  This is crucial, because the scent is tremendous when the grain is freshly smoked. My whole apartment smelled like a bacon campfire, which my vegetarian girlfriend really loved, for at least 5 days.

8. Grind up the grains and brew away!

The beer I chose to make is a rauchbier recipe that really lets the smoke shine.  I find it reminiscent of the Aecht Schlenkerla Racubier Marzen.  It’s a pretty straight for smooth rauchbier, with a lovely smoke character that really makes the beer stand out.  I used only 1 type of smoked grain in each version of this beer.

Recipe:

Home Smoked Malt (Applewood or Hickory) 7.00 lb (71.4 %)
German Pilsner Malt 1.00 lb (10.2 %)
German CaraMunich II 1.00 lb (10.2 %)
Belgian Caramel Vienna Malt 0.70 lb (7.1 %)
German Carafa II 0.10 lb (1.0 %)

Mashed at 150 for 60 minutes

Hops
German Tettnang (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Bagged Pellet Hops used 60 Min From End
German Tettnang (4.5 % alpha) 0.30 oz Bagged Pellet Hops used 5 Min From End

Yeast: Wyeast 1728-Scottish Ale

The outcome really blew me away with how drastically different the beers came out.  The Applewood reminded me completely of ham or bacon.  The Hickory really tasted like a campfire (in a good way).

Left: Hickory Smoked Grain Right: Applewood Smoked Grain

Left: Hickory Smoked Grain
Right: Applewood Smoked Grain

Applewood Smoked Rauchbier

Appearance: A light amber brown color with a slight hint of orange.  Clear with very thin layered head

Nose:  A slight metallic hint to the overwhelming ham aroma. No significant hop character, but sometimes hops remind me of metal. A sweeter scent underneath the smoke

Flavor:  A slight bitterness smooths out into a slightly wet grain flavor.  It finishes with a smoke that is very reminiscent of smoked meat.  A bacon vibe but some clinging tannin flavors

Mouthfeel:  Very thin bodied but a smokey dryness that lingers on the tongue.

Overall:  I enjoy the smoke flavor of the beer, but there are some definite flaws coming out in the balance and mouthfeel.  4.5/10

Hickory Smoked Rauchbier:

Appearance:  A very similar clean brown color with moderate low carbonation

Nose:  A pleasantly balanced nose of hickory shines through the beer.  Mild caramel undertones support the smoke with no significant hop aroma

Flavor:  A wonderful blend of Hickory, tannin, smoke, and malt.The smoke lends to a perceived bitterness or sharpness but with no hints of astrigency.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied for a lighter ABV beer. A long lasting flavor stays on the tongue

Overall:  This beer is significantly better that the Applewood, however it is much more reminiscent of a campfire than of smoked food.  This beer rests comfortably in between smoke and smoothness 8/10

 

Big thanks to Bago for taking the time to play with some beer!

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The Brett Tasting: comparing Brett types, pre/post fermentation additions

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Blind tastings are fun with friends

Here is another section of my journey into souring beers.  For this part, I really wanted to focus on Brettanomyces and the impact it can have on beer.  While Brett is not the main souring organism in sour beers, I have heard far too many different opinions, so I decided the only way to really grasp what this yeast does is to try it myself.  I decided to make 5 one gallon batches (X, Y, 1, 2, 3). Of these 5 batches; Y was the control with only Saccharomyces, X was Brett B added after Saccharomyces fermentation was complete, 1 was only Brett L, 2 was only Brett B, and 3 was both Saccharomyces and Brett B pitched together at the beginning of fermentation.  All Brett was from Wyeast.

tastings:

Y (control): a mild flavor with light chocolate, roast, and fruit flavor. some bread character with a slit astringency. big bodied

X and Y

 

X (Brett B added after Fermentation): a light cherry citrus nose with hints of strawberry, some cardboard in the taste but the flavor stands out more. chocolate in the front and a solid head. mild astringency

1 (Brett L only) Smells like sour strawberry and Worcester sauce.  The taste was reminiscent of ketchup and chocolate. no head retention

2 (Brett B only) An acetic hint in the nose with the same citrus cherry character.  Tasted very chocolate and was mild and balanced. best beer!

1 and 2, 3 was so gross that there is no pic, just bad memories

3 (Brett B and Sacc pitched together) smelled and tasted like vinegar. sharp acetic. ack. vinegar!

These beers were vastly different, more than I would have thought.  I can still run through this experiment two more times, can’t wait to see what changes.

Brewing with Potassium Metabisulphate and Potassium Sorbate

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Perhaps it was during a Basic Brewing Radio episode,  maybe it was a wine making class I took at Brooklyn Homebrew, or simply having a roommate that is a sommelier, but treating beer like wine is an approach that i have been interested in using for the better part of a year.  In wine production, sometimes after fermentation is complete, chemicals like Potassium Metabisulphate (KMS)(K2S2O5) and Potassium Sorbate (C6H7KO2) are used to not only stabilize wine, but also to slow oxidation.  If anyone that you know is allergic to Sulfites, their trouble with wine is caused from this practice.
The purpose of adding KMS is to add self life to wine, since this treatment kills off lots of microorganisms, but it also slows the process of oxidation, which is tremendously important when aging wine for decades.  Potassium Sorbate stops yeast replication, so even after treatment, fermentation can continue, but the yeast do not reproduce and they eventually die.
For my first step into this technique, I brewed a basic wheat beer.  Once fermentation was done, I then treated 2.5 gallons of the batch with both KMS and Potassium Sorbate.  I made a chunky puree of fresh cherry’s from the corner store with about 2 lbs of Cherries and 2 cups of white sugar.  The puree went into both batches of beer.  The treated beer ended up with a Final Gravity of 1.014, while the untreated beer finished off at 1.011.  To treat the 2.5 gallon batch, I used 3/4 teaspoon of KMS and 2.5 teaspoons of Potassium Sorbate

Untreated (left) vs Treated (right)

Tasting of Treated vs Untreated:

Untreated:

appearance: a hazy pink that has a very white head.  There is almost an orange hue to the pink

nose: A very light scent of wheat with undertones of cherry

flavor: very light in flavor, a slight hop bitterness slips into a dry finish of wheat and cherry.

mouth feel: nice and balanced with a light body, the head does leave quickly but the carbonation is medium

overall: very pleasant summer beer.  The balance of the wheat and cherry works really well and the dry finish.  7.5/ 10

treated:

appearance: the head stays around longer than the untreated beer.  Color is identical

nose: Very similar to the untreated beer, but a very very slight chemical scent is at the end of the nose

Flavor:  that’s definitely sweeter than the untreated. The white sugar sweetness removes the dryness from this beer completely.  The wheat character is also faded.  The Cherry perception is increased.

mouthfeel: a rounder body with that chemical taste that is nearly undetectable. Medium bodied and the carbonation seems higher.

overall:  This worked better than I thought it would, the white sugar and the slight chemical flavor really brought out the carbonation and the cherry flavor.  Next time I will use a different sweetener and less chemicals, but this was a worthwhile endeavor.  This opens up very many possibilities!!!!

This process definitely worked, but it needs a lot of tinkering to make beer that is truly outstanding.  Luckily, I learned a whole lot about this process on my recent visit to Sam Adams. The end product I am hoping to make is a fruit beer that actually tastes sweet enough to be considered a dessert beer, but one that tastes very similar to the fruit used.  This could also really help in my cider, which I have yet to be fully satisfied.  Much more to come.

“Coaching” Session at Boston Brewery

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One of the perks of winning last autumn’s Brooklyn Wort was a one on one coaching session with an employee of Boston Brewing. By the way, the next Brooklyn Wort is being held in Manhattan in October and entries start Aug 11 for the preliminary round.  Details are here. (http://www.brooklynwort.com/)

I was offered a bunch of options, like a phone conference with a marketing specialist, but I was really interested in speaking with a brewer that could help me out with some of the more experimental things I’m playing with in my kitchen, I mean brewery. I was hoping that one of the biggest Micros would be willing to let me take up an hour of time to really pick a pro brewers brain.

After months of failure trying to work out a date that I could make it up to Boston to actually get face time with someone, summer finally came to my rescue.  I grabbed two friends who happened to have a weekday off and drove up to Boston.

Rolling up to the “Boston Brewery” I was immediately taken back by how small the scale was.  It turns out that they only use a 10 barrel system up in Boston, be it a nice one, the vast majority of their beer is brewed at two other major breweries in other parts of the country.

that’s it?

The shock of that quickly wore off when I learned that the Boston Brewery is responsible for their cask room releases.  The brewery is all set up for nice tours and cool pictures with plenty of history about Sam Adams and lots of awards that they have won hung above.  I would recommend a visit for someone who hasn’t really toured breweries before, you get to smell hops, check out grains, and walk the floor of the brew house.

big barrels!

Luckily, the majority of my visit was spent with Grant,  a recent addition to Boston Brewing, who is one of the brewers there.  After a few minutes, Grant figured out that I wasn’t there for some fun chat about pitching rate, but that I had a few more in depth questions that I would like to discuss.

Grant dropping knowledge

The talk very quickly turned into a great coaching session with ideas being shared about wild yeast identification and pH adjustment, with a little bit of info about KMS and stabilizing bigger beers.  Having someone with this kind of brewing knowledge really explain some of the science behind my ideas essentially leapfrogged my experiments about 2 years forward.  On the way out, he even hit me up with a couple of online resources that are exactly what I was looking for.  Grant made the four hour drive worth it.

This experience really renewed my affection for Sam Adams.  Sam was one of the first Micros that I ever tasted and many times, it was their brew that was my first exposure to different styles of beer.  Having them treat me with such a high level of respect and openness really boosted this beer back to the top of the pile for me. I know what I’ll be drinking next time I’m at a normal bar.  Much more on the information that I learned about in the coming posts, I hope Sam Adams starts a beer school!

Many thanks must be said to both Michelle and Grant.

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The sour beer experiment cometh..

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Recently I have begun souring beer, which is a simple process of inoculating (infecting) beer with specific micro organisms that like living in beer.  So far, I have soured left over beer that was less than perfect, like my earl wit that had a bit too much gypsum and a poor fermentation. I decided to repurpose this beer into a Lambic.  I have also started souring my casks, starting with quad/ homemade wine into a rye cask with Roeselare Blend from Wyeast.

Now, repurposing beer is cool, and a great way to start souring beers, but I have way too many questions about the variables in souring to just use my leftovers for this.  It was time to brew a 10 gallon batch of Flanders Brown Ale. The brew day was easy for this beer, all until I transferred the cooled wort into all the different fermentors.

So, what am I going to do with all this beer to sour!? that’s right, use up every one gallon jug i can find.  To start off I took 5 gallons and put it into a normal 6 gallon better bottle carboy, which I pitched American Ale  yeast . This 5 gallon fermentor will be inoculated with Roeselare Blend after fermentation is complete.

VARIABLES!

The rest of the batch left plenty of room to play with, so I split up the beer into 1 gallon jugs and labeled them 1,2,3 and X, Y.  Y is the clean fermented beer that will act as the baseline for comparison (control).  1 was only Brett L, 2 was only Brett B, 3 was yeast and Brett B pitched simultaneously, and X will be Brett L added after regular yeast fermentation.  I also used a growler for my wild yeast, which will have US05 added after 3 weeks fermenting.

The beers with only Brett fermentation was very interesting to watch.  Brett L seems to be the same micro that infected my Earl Wit.  The Brett B fermentation looked crazy for about a week, then everything flocculated.

Brett L infection

Brett B infection

1L : brett L 2B: brett B

Now it’s a long wait to start bottling/ blending. which will take about a year!

The Souring of a Cask

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Which one shall I choose?

One of the most fantastic rewards of having casks to play with is the ability to make sour beers.  A cask is the perfect vessel to keep micro organism cultures happy.  There is always a little oxygen sneaking into casks and our friends Lactobacillus and Peddiococcus love that.  In many ways, preventing them from developing in casks can be an exercise in futility, but I am taking steps in three casks (Scotch Casks, Blaton’s Bourbon cask, and Evan Williams bourbon cask) which will be a future post.  One of my casks, the rye cask, has been giving off some winey characteristics in the beers aging and I felt like it was about time to push this one over the edge.

A while back, I made a beer based off of a Westvelren 12 Quad.  I have 5 gallons currently lagering for eternity… planning on waiting until December (12 months old) to pull it out at taste it. I also had 1.5 extra gallons of the base quad that was fermented separately from the other 5 gallons using Chardonnay yeast.  Both beers clock in around 11.5 % ABV.  I wasn’t planning on souring this beer, but i am finished looking at this beer sitting, I MADE IT TO EXPERIMENT DAMMIT!

The next part of this cask souring experience comes from an endeavor that was way to long in the making.  The Homemade wine, Pony Vino, that my room-mate Tom and I made about a year ago was finally bottled a few weeks ago.  The wine is okay, kinda like a sweet red, but drinkable.

Wait....How many ml are in 5 gallons?

Unfortunately, when we bottled the wine, my math was stupid and I ran out of wine bottles with about a gallon left over…

Then my worlds came together in a fantastic moment of clarity. The wine went right into the Quad, followed with a good 3 ounces of Fantome De Noel

yum yum yum

a splendid beer that was a gift my friend Degal gifted me.

The fermentor bubbled for two weeks before I got around to playing with the casks, so I’m counting on micro’s munching away in there.  I’m planning on pitching a commercial bought micro blend within the week to throw into the cask as well.

So far, things are pretty crazy on this beer, but was I done? no way!  Every summer, there is this totally awesome fig tree that grows in my neighbor’s backyard, and no one EVER picks the figs.  This last summer I felt like it was a duty of mine to do something more with those lovely fruits than simply feed the birds, so I picked about a pound and froze them.  I had planned to put them into the Quad when it was done fermenting, but I left in the freezer until now.  I also had 2 packages of Blackberries frozen, so I just put them all together into this project.

I defrosted the fruit, cooked them for about 15 min, mushing them up the whole time, and then blended them in my blender.  Once they cooled, I tossed the puree into the cask after the beer.

messy messy messy

I think I have been reading the madfermentationist way to much lately, but I’m very excited about where this beer will go.  Updates to come!

Our Invisible Roommates Part 1

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Harvesting Wild Yeast

all my invisble friends!!!!

As a person who has found science and brewing to be a wonderful world of interest and excitement, I have recently been going back in time and revisiting some of the lab equipment that I had to use in college.  It turns out that a great deal of the science I learned in school is readily applicable to brewing.  The first process I wanted to focus on was harvesting wild yeast.  This is a practice that was the traditional procedure for brewing beer in history.  It can be traced back to the beginning of civilization, when people first started using our micro organism friends as workers. This is still practiced in Belgium and in many of the new craft breweries that are focusing on wild yeast and other micro organisms (Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces)
First off, I would like to say that this is a very challenging process, especially for someone who has been accustomed to modern brewing techniques, where sanitation is paramount to making good beer.  Harvesting wild yeast is not for the casual brewer, or in many ways, the professional brewer.  Controlling this process would be nearly impossible, the daunting amount of variablity would make products that vary from batch to batch. Blending can help, but wild beers are an intense idea. To get pure yeast, it’s really something that dorky scientist’s should to do, like my friend Dave. 

He's a Yeast Scientist!!

In order to harvest wild yeast, you essentially have to create an environment that only a few organisms will be happy in (like an alcoholic mixture with a low pH (BEER!)) and expose it to the air. If your lucky, you get S. Cervisae. If your unlucky, you can be harvesting a mixture of mold and dangerous bacteria. It was very challenging to get any success with this, with most of the samples being over run with mold. Let’s see what I got!
THAT’S NOT YEAST

This could be due to using a starter what was far too low of a OG.  I accidentally made the starter with only .3 grams for a 50 mL sample (OG 1.010???)instead of the 3 grams that was needed.  This could have made my results a bit unreliable, but I still got some samples with what should be yeast.

I started with 36 samples, placed randomly both inside a large room and outside by the Verrazano Bridge. I left them for 24 hours on a breezy windy early december night.  I then brought the samples in and let them sit covered for 10 days.  Out of 36 samples, only 5 looked to have yeast.  I put those samples onto petri dishes ( about 18 dishes) and let them incubate for another 5 days.  Of the 18 samples. 6 seemed to have yeast colonies. I then put these samples into 6 50 ml starters, then put them onto a stir plate or back into incubator. After 18 days, I took the FG reading on my refractometer.  of the 6 samples, 3 had fermented down to the low 1.030’s, from 1.045.  The other samples had no difference in gravity (into the garbage!)
the one on the left! that’s yeast! I hope….

Looks nice!

At this point, I’m planning on taking the sample with the most active yeast and get my science friend to tell me whats in it. Then, onto a test batch! MORE TO COME!!
Next time I plan on adding sterilization practices to this as well as making a correct starter