Visiting Belgium: Cantillon, Hoegaarden and a night in Brussels

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To celebrate turning 30 this year, my family and I decided to take a vacation to see some breweries in Belgium.  Now, traveling with the family to visit breweries can be a bit challenging, since neither of my folks are “beer drinkers”.  They aren’t allergic, but the wonder of beerdom have yet to find its way into my parent’s life, so a week in Belgium might have been a bit much for them to take on.  My girl also came along, but she is well versed in awesomeness and has already taken a liking to Belgian beers.

C’est bon

We flew into Brussels and we were at our first brewery within hours. Cantillon is a brewery that is only about a mile out of the city center and located in a more industrial side of town.  Cantillon is known for using spontaneous fermentation to make their world renown lambic and gueuze beers. The brewery is set up like a museum with and some very old tools set up for display right alongside oak barrels that are aging beer in them.

nice barrels

I’ve done a good amount of reading on this brewery and being able to see this place in person was a real treat, but the tasting was really the best part.

time does not respect that which is done without him

After the tour, everyone gets to taste some unblended lambic, followed by a choice of 1 blended lambic beer.  Luckily being 4 people, we were able to try all the styles.

here are the tastings we tried:

left to right
Faro, Rose Gambrinus, Gueuze, Kriek

unblended lambic: served warm and flat, this is a tough one to drink.  A sharp flavor hits the tongue and lasts for awhile. This was the second time I’ve tried one of these and honestly, I am done with it.

Gueuze (blended lambic): Through combine different years of lambic, this style has more depth and a smoother experience.  Signs of the spontaneous fermentation are still present, but muted compared to the unblended version.  This beer was also carbonated, which helped with the body significantly.

Faro:  This is a lambic back sweetened with brown sugar. This style surprised me with its drinkablity. Very good beer that I plan on replicating in the future

Kriek: A lambic with sour cherries. A style done commonly around the world, and in many ways, I feel done better.  Still the most drinkable beer of the tasting, mom actually got through it

Rose Gambrinus: Lambic and Raspberry.  don’t really remember it.

St. Lambicus: a lambic aged on wine grapes, this was by far the best beer that we tasted. They only sold it by the bottle and it needed to be consumed on premise.  This approach beyond baffles me, but my cranial implosions won’t sway tradition.

The following day we took a 45 min train ride to visit the brewery/museum at Hoegaarden.  This was meant to be an easy day for the rest of the group, since Cantillon was a bit of a nose dive into Belgian beers.  A quick cab from the train station allowed us to see the country side and make it to the brewery/restaurant/museum within 5 minutes.

a great place for the afternoon

The museum was a pretty straight forward walk-through media experience, obviously InBev put a few bucks into it, but nothing outstanding.  I did learn that Hoegaarden is the name of the town that made wits, not just an individual brewery. In the courtyard, there is a lovely restaurant that serves all the varietals of Hoegaarden, including the raspberry infused Rose, which was an instant success with my mother.

Grand Cru, Rose, Julius Cesar, Wit

This visit was meant to be easy and relaxing for everyone involved, and it met expectations.  Hoegarden was a fun day trip that went very smoothly. The beer was good, the museum was thoughtful, and the restaurant  owned pretty hard.

That evening my lady and I went out on our own to discover some of the finer parts of Brussels.  A great dinner conversation slowly evolved into a local walking to one of the best beer bars that he knew of in town.  “Au Bon Vieux Temps” has a great atmosphere, but the walk down the scary alley was kind of tough to pull off.  For the second time in my life, I was able to try a Westvleteren 12, which was ranked the best beer in the world a few years ago.  The night ended with us making some new friends and enjoying Brussels, next up was the Trappists and Bruge

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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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Thai Tea Pale Ale (extract)

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A good friend of mine wanted to get one more batch of brewing in before he moves far far far away to Mississippi and becomes a father.  In a recent adventure, he stumbled upon a thai iced tea that was simply splendid.  He decided to brew an extract pale ale with the thai tea.  A pretty straight forward brew day, with only 1 hop addition of Galaxy at 60 min made this one of the easiest brew days I have had in a very long time.  The tea went directly into the secondary fermentation after we brewed a strong cup of the tea.  We brought it up to a camping trip and the keg went quickly.

Thai tea pale ale

appearance: a light orange brown color that is hazy. poor head

nose: a bunch of esters, but also a lot of tea and mint scents, kind of twangy

flavor: an earthy flavor that is a combination of the full flavored tea and the Galaxy hop bitterness, while dry, it is pleasant.

mouth feel: the tannin pushes the bitterness to a bit of astringency, but is still a very drinkable beer.  medium bodied and needs more carbonation.

overall: not bad for an extract brew. next time, I would like to dry out the beer, ease up on the tea, and hop with an english hop like Willamette. 6.0 / 10

How gose it. Weird beer tasting

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This beer is my first attempt at brewing a Gose beer, one of the few german beers that has ingredients outside of the Reinheitsgebot, the german beer purity law. It is a pleasant sour beer with salt and coriander, but I used Acid Malt for the first time. Kind of a weird flavor, but delicious for a sour that I brewed only a few months ago.

How Gose it

appearance: A golden straw yellow with a slight haze, but not cloudy. A big thick white head sits on top and hangs around for awhile

nose: Lemony and wheaty. a mild funkiness underneath

taste: A sweet wheat flavor is the foundation of a salty lemon character with a slight tartness. A definite funkiness underneath leaving the flavor a bit big for this style

mouthfeel: big bodied and very highly carbonated.  I would prefer this a little dryer.

Overall: not terrible for my first attempt of a weird beer. 4.5/ 10

ZOMBIE HOPS!!!! back from the dead!

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All things die

This year, after having a wonderful early spring with sun and warmth a plenty,  Mother Nature decided to be a real dick for about 5 weeks. With cool temperatures and more rain than i knew what to to with, all my my hop plants died.  Or so I thought.  After a good amount of care, fertilizing, and pruning of dead leaves, my hop plants have recovered, starting to grow once more.  Hopefully I can still get some harvest out of my two second year hops, but the first year are really struggling. Here are some pics:

Nugget second year

Goldings second year

Sterling year 1

Willamette year 1

The Arrival of Summer, Pineapple IPA Tasting

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This last month has been a hectic one.  The end of the school year is always a fun time and with the month of June comes a real urge to drink some awesome fruit beers.  Being a beach bum summer guy, I really enjoy a whole bunch of tropically influence beers, and this is my latest attempt at one.  This beer is a citrus hopped IPA with around 95 IBU’s of Warrior/Citra/Pacific Gem being added predominately in the last 15 min of the boil.  After fermentation, I chopped up a whole pineapple that I had let “ripen” for about 1 -2 weeks and put that into a keg with the IPA.  A month later, I transferred off the beer and tapped it, here is what it tasted like:

Pineapple IPA

Appearance: A honey/ straw color that is semi clear with just a slight cloudiness, poor head retention, but highly carbonated

Nose: A big citrus nose with the Pineapple shinning brightly.  Mango and apricot undertones.

Taste:  A light beginning with a slight hop bitterness coming forward, followed by a big tropical finish.  A bitter pith of grapefruit and tart pineapple end into a dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Balanced, but big.  The dryness causes the taste to linger.

Overall:  a bit too dry for what I was going for, but for a highly hopped IPA, it was pretty delicious.  This will go great at the beach or a BBQ.  7/10.  Add a lot more specialty grains next time.