Thursday, 23 March 2017

Adam's Pale Ale (an APA...get it?)

I've done a poor job of blogging recently, so here's my first attempt to getting back on track. Back in February I helped a friend (Adam) learn to brew on my system. This beer was designed with his tastes in mind - hoppy but not too bitter. A classical-ish American-style Pale Ale...an Adam's Pale Ale...an APA (get it, that's a beer "joke", or maybe a dad "joke"...regardless, its some sort of a joke, I swear).

Appearance: Golden with a modest white head. Sightly cloudy, although not as cloudy as it appears in the picture.

Aroma: Peaches. Lots and lots of ripe peaches...but there are no peaches in this beer.

Flavour: Overall I am happy with this flavour, although I would tweak the balance of flavours if I rebrew this beer. Upfront is a fruity hop character with a slight catty bite - courtesy of the large late addition and dry-hopping with Amarillo and Simcoe hops. Behind this was a slightly sweet, but otherwise fairly neutral, malt backbone. The hop bitterness was low - to my tastes a little too low to properly balance out the malty sweetness and hop fruitiness. Either a lower mash temp, or drawing back on the Munich malt, would give a more pleasant balance of flavours.

Mouthfeel: Modest body, accentuated by a lower level of carbonation, made for a creamy feel to the beer. Aftertaste was malt-sweetness and hop fruitiness. No lingering bitterness what-so-ever in the aftertaste.

Overall: A pretty good beer. The balance of sweet and bitter is a bit more towards the sweet than I would prefer, but its easy-drinking, hop-forward and delicious - just what Adam ordered.

Recipe below the fold.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

New Mailer System!

Mailer showing dividing lines, numbering & yeast deposited
on spots 1, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11. Click for larger image.

As many of my readers know, I run an extensive yeast bank and frequently exchange yeasts with other homebrewers from around the world. In the past I've used a simple mailer system that allows yeast to be sent by letter mail. While this system worked very well, it had two major drawbacks. Firstly, it was a lot of work to prepare the mailers, taking me about an hour to prepare enough mailers to exchange 48 or so yeasts. Secondly, they did not always pack nicely into envelopes, leading to a few envelopes being returned by the post for being too thick for letter mail.

For my last few exchanges I've used a modified form of this mailer system. It is much easier to setup than the old mailers (enough mailers for hundreds of yeasts can be prepared in the time needed to make enough of the old mailers for a dozen yeast), and packs very nicely into envelopes. The only downside is that it is a little more work on the end of the recipient, as multiple yeast are now packed onto a single card.

Full details of the new mailer system can be found below the fold.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Cider 2016

Every year I brew a few batches of cider, using cider pressed at a local cider mill. 2016 was no exception, although I scaled back this years batch of cider to a single batch...mostly because we've still got two half-batches worth of 2015's cider remaining.

This years batch is a bit of an experiment, but one which came out fairly well. To backtrack a bit, last year I prepared a batch of cider which I allowed to ferment using only the wild yeast present in the cider. This cider was good, but not great - it was extremely dry, and the earthy/musty flavour was a little more intense than SWIMBO would prefer (I liked the strength of it, but I brew cider for her, not for me).

This year I took a hybrid approach, to get the higher complexity of a wild ferment while restraining the wild character to a more modest level.

The one issue I ran into this year was the raw cider itself. The cidery which sells my brew club cider produces raw cider for local grocery stores. As a consequence, they do not worry about the blend of apples used, so long as the sweetness falls within a specified range. With alcoholic cider making, professional cider makers will use deliberate mixes of different types of apples to get a proper sugar content, while making sure that the amount of residual tanins and acids are appropriate to lend the fermented cider a nice balance. The cider we received this year was very sweet (O.G. of 1.052), and was clearly made almost entirely of dessert apples as there was almost no acidity or tanic character to the raw juice. As a result the fermented cider was quite dry, thin bodied, and somewhat weak tasting - issues I addressed by an alternate method of back-sweetening which was a smashing success.

Details & tasting notes below the fold.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

She's Just That Pretty

I've already blogged about my "Sour Grapes" berliner from late 2016, but she's a pretty beer and worthy of another photo!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Power of Staged Fermentation - Sour Grapes

Progression of the beer from: Day of grape addition (left) to 4 months later in the glass (right)
I am a bit of an experimentalist at heart, and one area in which I do a lot of "experimental" brews is using the staged addition of pure cultures of wild or commercial yeasts & bugs, pitched at varying times, to produce unique sour beers that cannot be produced through conventional brewing techniques. I've made beers with similar complexity to classical sour beers using staged-addition of bugs, but that's not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about using these methods to make good beer from difficult ingredients. In this case, wild grapes.

Wild grapes are pretty common place across North America, and they come in two "flavours" - European wine grapes that have escaped the vineyard and native species of grapes. Wild European grapes are pretty similar to the grapes you buy in the grocery store, and can be used as would any other wine grape in sour beer brewing. Truly wild grapes are another beast. In fact, my first attempt to brew with these turned a rather lacklustre 2-year old golden sour into an unpalatable mess. Thankfully I only added grapes to one gallon of that beer, and rescued the rest with a more classical cherry addition! There have been attempts since, and none (until now) were worth writing about.

There are nearly 70 species of wild grapes native to North America, so I'm not sure how true the following statements will be for brewers in other regions of N. America (or elsewhere), but for people in Ontario and the north-eastern US, this should be relatively accurate. The three species of wild grape native to my area (Vitis riparia, V. aestivalis and V. labrusca) are quite different from their European cousins. These grapes are much more intense than their European cousins; while the juice of European varieties are generally used to make wine undiluted, our local wild grapes need to have their juice diluted between 1:2 and 1:5 to produce a wine with a tolerable taste. The grapes themselves are quite small (0.5 cm diameter or smaller), have a very thick and tannic skin, have a much higher malic acid content, and have a much larger seed portion (relative to the amount of fruit) compared to their European cousins. And it is those characteristics that make them hard to incorporate into sour beer - essentially, enough grapes to give a nice grape flavour also imparts a lot of tannins, malic acid and grape-seed character.

Tannins are astringent and drying, and while nice in small amounts, they can quickly become overwhelming and unpleasant. Indeed, tannins are often made by plants for the purpose of deterring animals from eating the plant - the term "tannin" comes from their ability to tan leather, so you can imagine how excess amounts make your mouth feel. Malic acid is also quite harsh - almost as harsh as acetic acid - and like tannins can be pleasant in small amounts but becomes harsh and overwhelming quite easily. The seeds of grapes are also problematic - they contain some earthy and woody flavours that are pleasant, but the high seed content of wild grapes means these characters can be somewhat strong, and in my experience, clash with brett phenolics.

My attempts at using these grapes in conventional sours failed because of these characteristics - the malic acid would make an already acidic beer far too acidic and harsh, the seed character would amp up the funk, which in turn clashed with the high levels of tannins. Even pressing the grapes for juice doesn't solve these issues (aside from the grape seed flavour) to any meaningful extent. But where traditional sour brewing methods failed, "experimental" methods succeeded.

More Below the Fold

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Fact of Fiction - Can Pathogens Survive in Beer? The RDWHAHB Edition

Its time for the third instalment of my pseudo-series Can Pathogens Survive in Beer (Part 1 - of course they can, Part 2 - Moulds). To summarise parts I and II, yes there are a number of pathogens that survive in beer, and yes, moulds can release poisonous mycotoxins into beer, but generally speaking proper sanitation and controlling your brewing environment can eliminate these risks.

Today's edition is a little different; my previous posts get "cited" a lot by people who seem to have been scared by my posts away from testing new organisms as potential brewing bugs. As one example, a few months ago at Milk the Funk a discussion on the potential use of Lachancea fermentati (a lactic-acid producing yeast) to make a "single organism" sour-beer. The interest readily split into two groups after a case report was found of a patient in Texas who suffered fungemia (blood infection) with Lachancea fermentati. This led many people who at first were anxious to try brewing with this yeast to become fearful about even letting it near their brewery. Yet I, and a few others, made beers with this yeast...and we're all still here and no one got sick. So what is going on? Why would I (a microbiologist by trade) risk making a beer with a known pathogen?

The answer, as always, is below the fold...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Beer on the Brain - Your Lyin' Hydometer

I'm excited to announce the next video in my Beer on the Brain series...Your Lyin' Hydrometer. In this video I quickly discuss how hydrometer readings can lead you astray when brewing high gravity beers.