fucking with saison

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Fucking with saison
Using cucumber, banana, white nectarines in saisons

I’ve been a member of the beer of the month club for a few years now.  Every month, two bangers of weird beer show up.  My room-mate and I have had many great unique beers, many of which were weird saisons.  I was able to try a cucumber saison from cigar city and was pleasantly surprised, the flavor of the cucumber went very well with the spicy character of the saison yeast. So I decided to try it for myself, along with some other ideas that I have been waiting to try.

All the additions were put into 1 gallon of beer after fermentation.  Usually they were only aged for 10 days before being kegged and conditioned. For the cucumber saison, I used one large cucumber that was a few days past ripe. I froze it then thawed it before i chopped it up, skin and all, and placed it into one gallon of saison.  The banana saison got 6 overly ripe bananas that I did the same thing as the cucumber.  For the white nectarine, I used 2 lbs of fresh, chopped, frozen then thawed nectarines for 2 gallons of saison.

Base Saison

Tastings for all three:

White Nectarines

white nectarine saison:
I made this beer twice, once was way to fruity, the other was way to wacky (I used a fermentor that had some lingering Brett in it).  It won’t be till next year, but somewhere in the middle is what I am shooting for

 

Cucumber saison:


Appearance:light orange brown color with some haze, but mostly clear
Nose: pickles, cucumbers rinds, and spice
Flavor: The saison is overpowered by the cucumber rind flavor, but still acts as a compliment
Mouthfeel: big bodied and clawing chlorophyll flavor
Overall: eh, awesome idea, but under achieved. 4.5/10 more to come

Banana saison:
Appearance: A bit more cloudy than the Cucumber
Nose: Pretty bad smelling, phenolic but a little banana undertone
Flavor: This was surprisingly nice, the banana gave a weird flavor to the saison, making it a much more round flavor
Mouthfeel: pretty thick and full bodied.
Overall: Cool, but wrong style, I would like to try this in an English Brown Ale or a porter real soon

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A trip to the Hop Farm: Brewing “Wet Hopped American Summer”

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Harvesting hops and brewing up an all grain all wet hopped pale ale

SPACE OUTSIDE!!!!

About half way through September, I took a trip to visit my friend Dave’s uncle’s James farm where he had been growing 20 hop plants.  Of the hops that were planted, only the Zues and Cascade hops had any significant harvest.
Harvesting the hops was fun, but the vines caused a mild reaction with my skin.  Next time I wont treat the vines like a necklace.

Fashion week!

From this harvest, we had enough hops to brew a 10 gallon batch of pale ale.  The Zeus was used for the bittereing, cascade for the flavor, and a blend for aroma.  Zues was also used for dry hopping.

Here is the tasting of my Wet Hopped American Summer:

Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Appearance: Amber to orange and clear enough to see through it.
Nose: A lovely biscuit bread malt sweetness with a calm citrus hope aroma.
Flavor:A medium bitterness with a sweet malt backbone holding the pale together. A bit too estery in the mid mouth. But an easy finish makes this beer a real easy drinker.
Mouthful: Medium bodied with a long lasting thick head
Overall: This is a damn good pale ale. I really love it.  8.5/10

Oktoberfest Again!

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It was the fall of 2005 when I first walked into a beer tent in Munich.  It was an experience of excess and awesomeness.  People were everywhere and absolutely everyone was drinking copious amounts of delicious beer.  Oktoberfest is much like a carnival for adults, and I was lucky enough see it.
Later that year, I began home brewing, with a goal being to recreate the beers that I drank at the festival.  This has been a very frustrating process.  When I first began brewing, I was like every other home brewer out there, not very familiar with proper sanitation practices and lacked any form of temperature control.  I also didn’t understand the basics of pitching rate.  Needless to say, I have made many Oktoberfests that have tasted like absolute crap.
Last year I put a lot of time working with this beer style.  I made 3 batches of Oktoberfest, each through a different process.  The first was a triple decoction, which is a very long process of taking some of the mash, boiling it, then throwing it back into the mash tun, which raises the mash temperature.  Just add 3 hours to your brew day and you can do a decoction. The next approach was single infusion, using only 1 water addition to reach mash temp, and the last was extract.  I found that a triple decoction made the best beer, but took forever for a very minimal gain. The single infusion brew was the smoothest with a very light malt character. Of course the extract example tasted the worse.
This year, I attempted to fuse the successes from the past. Instead of the triple decoction approach, I did a double step infusion, holding the grain bill at 146 for 60 minutes, then raising the mash to 158 for 20 before sparging at 160.  Next time I plan on a double decoction, with a more diverse grain bill.

The beer ended up being a damn good lager, even though I am still working on the balance between Vienna malt and Munich malt. This style is finally being made well in my brewery, just a few more tweaks until I get to a finished beer!

Oktoberfest Bier

Appearance:Perfectly clear with an amber brown color
Nose: sweet caramel nose with a slight toasted quality
Flavor: Smooth and sweet, big Munich malt flavor with a late noble hop finish
Mouthfeel: medium bodied and wonderfully carbonated
Overall: This is the first time I can even come close to being satisfied with my Oktoberfest, I give it a 7.5 / 10

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.

Citrus IPA: version $#!@

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My.p.a.

This is a style of beer that I have been working on for the majority of this year. I think I am finally honing in on a very smooth IPA that focuses on late hop additions to give wonderful aroma but doesn’t hit very hard with bitterness.  A very hoppy beer that you can also double as a guzzler.  I’ve really fallen in love with using Galaxy hops for bittering hops, then a melody of Citra, Cascade, and Galaxy in the last 15 minutes.  Dry hopped with 2 ounces of Citra to really bring out the citrus, grapefruit, and lemon character.  I used British Ale 1 from Wyeast, which is my preferred yeast for IPA’s, due to its ability to emphasize hop characteristics in a beer.

Citrus IPA Tasting:

Nose:  The scent comes up in the front with Citra characteristic, big lemon and citrus scents with some grapefruit underneath.

Appearance:  Very cloudy with an amber brown color.

Taste: The beer begins with a smooth round bitterness that blends into a lemon/grapefruit flavor.

mouthfeel: medium bodied, more bitter than not, but very easy to drink.

overall: This is the way it should taste.  Easy drinking citrus fruit that is mild enough to drink a few pints.    8.3/10

Visiting Belgium Pt 2: Het Anker, Westvleteren, De Halve Maan, Westmalle

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sweet

After three days in Brussels, My parents and I drove around the northwest countryside of Belgium making some brewery stops along the way.  First up was a brewery that was about 20 minutes north of Brussels called Het Anker.  This brewery was written into the trip because of its location and a good review from a travel book my mother bought (grrreat).  Het Anker is the brewery responsible for Gouden Carolus and Dentergems white beer.

Het Anker Lineup: from left to right
Gouden Carolus Classic, Tripel, Ambrio, Hopsinjoor, Anker Boscoli

I ended trying their whole lineup and I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet berry beer as well as the clean palate that all the beers shared.  Though this brewery wasn’t my favorite it was still a great way to start the day.

looking down from the mountain top

Next brewery on our tour was the elusive St. Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren. Renown for having “The best beer in the world”, Westy is a brewery that in the middle of beautiful farmland.  We even turned into a farm trying to find this place.  Once you pass a school, the abbey is tucked away behind the tall walls that surround the monastery and the school.  Its weird, but the vibe reminded of a sort of California olive garden. For a Monday afternoon the place was packed with people, some of them being children since many of the beer gardens in Belgium seemed to be “family” friendly.

Westy Blond, Westy Cheese, Westy 12

Only 3 beers are made here, and all of them were delicious. The blond and the 8 were both well balanced beers, but the 12 really takes the cake.  I even got my mother drinking it by the time we left. Another very laid back Belgian afternoon surrounded with amazing beer and very friendly people, the name of the garden really rings true, “In de Verde” which translates to “in the peace”.

After Westy we headed to Brugge to enjoy some canals and De Halve Maan brewery. It is located very close to the center of this walkable city.  The beer was good, but compared to the other breweries on this trip, it really didn’t hold up.  All the beer was slightly unbalanced and just a bit to assertive for my liking.

Westmalle

Last up was the Trappist brewery Westmalle.  Once again, the brewery is closed to visitors, but across the street is a big beer garden (another olive garden vibe).  Westmalle fresh was much better than what we get here and the cheese was lovely.  I was also surprised to see how large Westmalle is.  The religious connection did not stop them making a pretty damn big brewery.

Triple and Dubel

All in all, I would live in Belgium in a heart beat.  Friendly people, welcoming cities, and some of the best beer in the world.  I would go back tomorrow if I could.  Now its time to start planning on visiting the rest of the country. GO TO BELGIUM!!

Growing Hops: Dipping Our Hands Into Agriculture

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Written By The Van Houte

the hops are coming

Thanks to the forced entry into the homebrew hobby by the main author of this blog, I like most have continued to advance this passion over the 5+ years that I have been brewing.  Transitioning from extract to all-grain to larger batches etc., it wasn’t till I left NYC that I got the opportunity to add the next phase of homebrewing:  hop farming.

The growing man: uncle James

I have always loved to grow things, but my current location fortuitously puts me 15 minutes from our family farm in Schaghticoke NY (it is the correct spelling) and the current location of our new business of growing 4 varieties of hops:  Cascade (2nd-year), Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus (all 1st-year).

new girls

Two years ago we decided to devote a small plot out of 4+ acres available to growing hops.  The first plantings were 6 Cascade hop rhizomes purchased from Northern Brewer.  I knew cascade hops would grow well with little fuss in this area and chose them to start.  That first year we had better than expected cone development considering the first two years are really devoted to developing the root system of the plant, with full yields happening after the 2nd year.  With these I made a dry-hopped, estate bottled IPA with mixed results (mostly because it was my first time actually making an IPA).  Needless to say, it was a good learning experience and we wanted to plant more varieties to expand our portfolio.

Last year we bought 3 new varieties: Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus.  We were debating whether or not to actually buy the “Noble” hop varieties as we brew mostly lagers, but ultimately decided on hybrids knowing that they would still grow well in NY climate and be more resistant to pests.  They also have larger yields, which is always nice.  I also wanted a high alpha acid hop and settled on Zeus although never actually brewing with them.  In addition we trumped our original trellis system and constructed 22-foot tall trellises using maple saplings.

The Trellis system

22 feet high is the normal standard for hop fields and we were excited, except for the fact that our 2nd-year Cascades grew at an astounding rate: 2 feet in one day was our maximum growth rate that we have calculated thus far!  The 2nd-years grew so fast that they outgrew their original 14-foot high trellises that they were trained on and before we could train them onto the new 22-foot trellises. This proved disastrous in terms of our yield, as the plants will begin to grow downward in search of a new line and then back up.  It’s a learning experience right?  We still have more cascade cones than one brewer would need.  The first year plants didn’t grow as well as the cascade plants did in their first year with the exception of the Zeus variety.  The Zeus plants are on par with the cascade plants.  We did have a scare regarding pests.  We have seen aphids and caterpillars, along with what might be certain fungi, and during one check-up, our hops did not look happy.  As newbies to hop farming, we didn’t know what exactly was negatively impacting our plants.  We had a very dry July, and luckily August has had more precipitation and the plants have bounced back.  Therefore it seems that pests or lack of nutrients were not the cause of our plants being unhappy, especially since we try to be as organic as possible.

up, up and away to 22 ft

The Sterling and Mt. Hood varieties have been more troublesome and they don’t seem to want to grow upward.  We were confused by this but basically have concluded that these varieties just might be a bit slower the first year than the other varieties.  We see no issues with pests, or water, nutrition, etc. at this point.  No matter how often/hard we tried to train them to strings, they just remained “bushy”, with a few exceptions.  Hopefully they will be happier next year and demonstrate more “typical” upward growth that we saw in the cascade variety.  Sadly, it doesn’t look like we will see cones from the Sterling or the Mt. Hood this year.  Of course there is still time left.
Growing hops now for 2 years has been an interesting journey.  Obviously its great in that we get to use our own hops, dried or fresh, straight from the farm, but it is also a lot of work to train and maintain the plants.  We continue to educate ourselves in this practice and try to consult with professionals in the field.  We are also in contact and are following those pushing to make NY State #1 again in hop production.  We are very excited about the new Farm Brewery Law (http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011″ http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011) that will help push hop production and homebrew/craft brewing in NY even farther.  Maybe even be able to sell our beer straight from the beer garden located at the farm, much like a winery!  In the end it has been great to use the land to benefit my hobby and we look forward to our third year and hopefully a full yield out of our Cascade plants.  We most likely will expand and double our plot next year so if anyone has any good suggestions on particular varieties/favorite varieties, let us know.  Initially I wanted to plant really rare and unique varieties, but being rare also means not finding the rhizomes.  Regardless we will plant more of these varieties and perhaps round out the portfolio with the other “hybrid noble” hop varieties.  Lastly, harvest is right around the corner and Chris is hoping to help out this year and take some home for everyone to try.  If anyone has any suggestions or interest in helping out or a visit someday, let us know!  More to follow soon about harvesting, drying, and packaging.