Saturday, July 19, 2014

Les Vergers (French Cider) - "Brew" Day

I'll admit that the craft cider boom that I thought would happen...hasn't really happened.  Granted there are some small pockets of popularity in places like Vermont (and I assume other places with an abundance of trees/shrubbery), but for the most part, it hasn't gained as wide of an acceptance as the craft beer movement has attained.  I think this is unfortunate.

One of my favorite ciders is actually from one of the oldest cider makers in the world.  If you've never had an opportunity to try some of the offerings from Domaine Dupont, do yourself a favor and grab a bottle.  Recently, bottles of their Bouche Brut have been making into Philly and when I'm feeling like spending a ton of money on liquid, I'll get a bottle.  Bouche Brut is a very effervescent, somewhat sweet cider that's almost on a level with champagne.  It's a wonderfully refreshing drink.

Traditionally, the French cider producers in the Normandy area use a method known as keeving, whereby the apple pulp is left to sit overnight before pressing.  This allows the pectin to come out of the cell walls of the pulp and into the juice.  Then the juice is pressed moved into another vessel.  At this point, natural pectinase in the juice causes the pectin to precipitate and the liquid forms a brown cap (chapeau brun in French).  This is the pectin, some calcium and other nutrients coming out of solution.  Afterwards, the juice below the chapeau is carefully siphoned off and allowed to ferment naturally.  Whats left over though, is a juice that low in nutrients that causes fermentation to stop prematurely at a level that makes for a nice, sweet cider.  The cider is bottled in champagne bottles prior to complete fermentation and continues to develop in the bottle, dropping a few more gravity points and giving the cider a nice carbonation.

My goal is to make something approximating that -- albeit in a totally budget manner.  Domaine Dupont has acres of various apple varietals that are key in making their cider.  I'm using Motts.  I've done numerous ciders before with various levels of success so I'm hoping to refine my process a bit and experiment with some new ingredients.

I spent some time doing research on how various yeast strains and sugar additions effect the final flavor.  I ended up settling on doing a split fermentation with WY3068 and WLP300 in two different 3 gallon fermentors.  Apparently WLP300, when used as the sole fermenting yeast, will create a cider that borders on extreme tart/sourness.  However, several had noted that a WLP300-fermented cider, when blended with a WY3068 cider, left a wonderfully balanced, slightly tart cider with a decent bit of body.

For the sugar addition, several people I spoke with had great things to say about a mix of both light brown sugar along with corn sugar in a 2/3, 1/3 mix.  Commentors on also had noted that once the OG got above 1.065, the finished cider tended to lose some of its apple flavoring and take on much more noticeable alcohol notes.  Since my goal is to make a cider thats both apple tasting (duh) and refreshing, I figured I would try to hit that 1.065 mark.

The actual production only takes around 20 minutes to sanitize and mix everything together.  For the sugar additions, I felt it was helpful to measure them out into a glass and then pour the sugar into a funnel in the apple juice container and wash it down with some juice from a different container.  The sugars dissolved very rapidly -- much more so than when I used turbinado for an apfelwine and had to shake the shit out of it for 20 minutes.

Les Vergers (French Cider)
Est OG: 1.066
Est FG: 1.007
IBU: 0
ABV: 7.85%
SRM: 6.4

5 gallons Apple Juice
1.25lb Light Brown Sugar
0.75lb Corn Sugar

1pkg Weihenstephan Weizen Yeast WY3068
1pkg Hefeweizen Ale Yeast WLP300

1) This will be a split batch that will be blended prior to bottling.  Thoroughly mix the sugars together.
2) Open one gallon of apple juice and empty half into a fermentor.
3) Add one pound of the sugar mix to the apple juice container and shake until dissolved.  Add to fermentor.
4) Add another 1.5 gallons of straight apple juice to the fermentor.
5) Add yeast, airlock and shake to mix together
6) Repeat steps 2-5 for second fermentor.
7) After fermentation, blend both batches together in bottling bucket.  Carb to 2.8-3.0 volumes.

7/19/2014 -- Produced by myself.  Very easy, took 20 minutes.  Pitched a different yeast strain into each fermentor.

7/21/2014 -- As far as weizen yeasts go, this fermentation is rather subdued.  I attached blow-off tubes just in case (from bad experience with the 3068) but I doubt that they'll be needed.  Perhaps a lower prevalence of proteins in the AJ results in less krausen?  I'm sure this has been documented, I just don't really care enough to look it up...

7/23/2014 -- Yea, nevermind, these krausen'd up pretty well.  Not a ton of blowoff, but glad I affixed the tubes.

8/1/2014 -- Pulled a small taste from the 3068 half.  Surprisingly still quite sweet.  There's still some visible fermentation going on in both batches, but I was surprised how much residual sweetness is left  after fermenting for close to 2 weeks already.  I was afraid that these might both dry out a bunch, but that doesn't appear to be the case.  No gravity reading taken.

8/14/2014 -- Pretty crazy, but this is still fermenting.  Moving carboys to the new house.

9/3/2014 -- Blended both carboys into my bottling bucket in a 1:1 ratio.  Added a 3oz packet of grape tannin and 5tbsp of malic acid as it need a little bit more body and zip.  There was a significant off-gassing of C02 when I added the tannin.  Added 6oz corn sugar, aiming for 3.2vol, but I wouldnt be surprised if it comes out less due to the off-gassing.  Corked and caged.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Acolyte (Trappist Single/Enkel) - Brew Day

While I was in San Diego a few weeks back for a buddy's bachelor party, I ordered up a tulip of Societe Brewing's The Harlot.  Described on their website as an "extremely easy to drink, crisp, light and dry Belgian Extra", The Harlot is a classic example of a fluffy, floral, relatively low alcohol Belgian beer.  I also was fortunate enough to grab a bottle of Westvleteren 6 Blonde while I was on a trip with the ol' lady in Brussels.  This beer definitely runs on the hoppy end of the spectrum with the characteristic blend of spice contributed by the hops and Belgian yeast.

I've been wanting to brew a "middle-ground" between the two of these wonderful beers in an attempt to really dial-in my process for brewing foreign, non-hoppy beers.  As much as I love a total hop bomb, they are notoriously good at hiding flaws in beers that a more subtle flavor profile wouldn't overwhelm.

In this spirit, I felt that a moderately hopped Belgian Single -- also known as an Enkel, Extra, Patersbier or Trappist table beer -- would be a wonderful addition to my recipe lineup.  The beer doesn't really enjoy a wide circulation as its history is generally described as a beer that Trappist monks brewed not for resale, but for their own consumption.  As such, due to the well-deserved following the Trappist monks have developed, a natural curiousity brewed as to what the masterful monks were keeping to themselves.  The style has started be swept up in a bit of a resurgence as American craft brewers seek out more obscure beers to popularize and thus differentiate themselves.

I found several recipes online proclaiming to be clones of various Trappist Singles, so I sort of pick and chose from all of them.  Although this recipe would probably benefit from a bit of wheat, I wanted to keep things simple for the first attempt.  The mash is straight Belgian pale malt with clear candi syrup added at the end of the boil.  The hops are stereotypically Belgian and will blend well with the Westmalle yeast (WLP530).

The pH on this one came in a little high but I was too lazy to do anything about it.  Mash efficiency came in on target and the boil proceeded as normal.

Oscar...mashed out
The Acolyte (Trappist Single/Enkel)
5.5 gallon batch - 60 minute boil
Est OG: 1.054
Est FG: 1.006
Est ABV: 6.33%
IBU: 30
SRM: 4.7

11lb Pale Malt
1lb Clear Candi Syrup @ end of boil

0.5oz Northern Brewer @ FWH (15 IBU)
1.0oz Hallertauer Mittelfruh @ 20 min (8 IBU)
1.0oz Styrian Goldings @ 12 min (7 IBU)

1000ml starter Abbey Ale WLP530

Mash @ 148f for 60 min

7/16/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Mash pH came in a bit high, no adjustment made.  Recorded mash efficiency of 72%.  Forgot to adjust recipe for AA% on hops, but tossed some NB shortly after I realized the mistake.  Gathered 5.5 gal of 1.051 wort, slightly low was it seemed my boil off was less than normal.  Pitched yeast starter and Clarity-Ferm in the high 60s.  Fermentation began within 5 hours.

7/18/2014 -- Really glad I threw a blow off tube on this one.  Even with a decent amount of headspace, this one is throwing off a buttload of goo.  I know the Westmalle yeast is voracious, but I was surprised how violent the initial fermentation was given the gravity.

11/7/2014 -- And here are some tasting notes.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some New Tasting Notes

Tired Hands HopHands Clone (American Pale Ale)

Appearance - Pale bright golden color.  Nice fluffy head that dissipates into a ring after a few minutes.  Some slight haze, but pretty clear given the amount of oats in the recipe.  The original is much more opaque than this clone came out.  Solid lacing from start to finish.

Smell - Lots of lemon, citrus and some slight sweetness from the malt comes through.  There is a little bit of a grassy nose to it from the pretty large dry hopping.  Really amazing how much of a lemon scent this one puts off.

Taste - Similar to the aroma, tons of citrus in the taste.  The late hops really shine through on this one.  Given the amount of hops and IBUs on this one, almost no bitterness is detected.  The finish really showcases the interesting grain bill with a somewhat thick, cereal finish.

Mouthfeel - Medium body, medium carbonation.  Could probably use a bit more carbonation.  The body is near perfect for this beer though, but a little bit more carbonation would probably aid some head retention.

Overall - A pretty solid beer.  I'd probably up the oats next time to try to match the silky texture that the original HopHands highlights.  I'd probably struggle to call this a clone of the original.  It could probably use a touch more bitterness to balance out some of the malt and the intense citrus flavors from the whirlpool additions and huge dry hop.  I modified a version of the grain bill for The Southron Batch #2, so I'm excited to see how that one turns out.

The Blight Batch #2 (American Farmhouse Ale)

Appearance - Very thick, rocky white head that sticks around for a long time. The color is probably a tad darker than the recipe was intended, but that may have been a result of a longer boil.  The lacing on this is very thick the whole way down.

Smell - Citrus, berry and a touch of alcohol come through in the nose.  I almost feel like the larger dry hop that I tried out on this batch served to muddle some of the hop aroma.  None of the spiciness from the rye or saison yeast a prevalent, but might be helping to muddy some of the smell.  It doesn't smell bad by any means, but there just aren't any scents that truly shine.

Taste - This is literally bursting with flavor...just not typical saison flavor.  My mindset with a saison is that it is a beer that really showcases an interesting Belgian yeast that can be complemented with a thoughtful assortment of hops, but I'm sorry to say that this was just over hopped.  It doesn't come off as bitter at all, but I think I just tried too hard with my late hops and dry hopping.  This would be much for fitting for an IPA, but with a saison it's just a little out of place.

Mouthfeel - Medium to heavy body, medium to heavy carbonation.The carbonation is spot on for a saison, nice steady bubbles with a slight prick on your tongue.  The body is definitely a bit thick.  I generally prefer my saisons to be bone dry and this doesn't fall into that category.  Has the texture of a warmer mashed IPA or an American Amber.

Overall - I think that this would be a wonderful beer if it was mashed lower, hopped lower and had a more thoughtful fermentation schedule.  The hops totally overwhelm this beer to the detriment of the subtleties of what should be a very interesting saison yeast.  I'm sure I'm being overly critical -- all of the beers were readily drunk -- but that's the purpose of this, right?

The Scholar (Societe Brewing's The Pupil)

Appearance - Light copper with a pure white, fluffy head that last for quite some time.  Head falls down to a small white layer after about three minutes.  Lacing is continuous.  Clarity is a little bit suspect, which I'm a bit disappointed about.

Smell - Tons of hops.  The Nelson Sauvin comes flying out of the glass.  You can really pick up that "pretty", white wine scent for which Nelson is famous.  A touch of alcohol comes through, but its definitely hops that shine.

Taste - Nice floral hops taste with the Nelson taking the main stage as planned.  The English yeast lends a fruit character to the taste that nicely complements the mix of hops.  As indicated below, a drier finish might complement the hop bill.

Mouthfeel - Light to medium body, medium carbonation.  The carbonation on this is perfect.  The body could perhaps be a little bit thinner to accentuate some of the hops.  Has a nice lingering sweetness that sits around in your mouth.

Overall - This one really turned out wonderfully.  It does appear to be quite a bit darker than the original, but the taste is fantastic.  This will definitely get a rebrew with a lower mash and potentially a higher attenuating American yeast to dry this out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Trapper (American Farmhouse Ale) -- Brew Day

The saisons that I've been brewing recently have fallen into two categories: either huge dry-hop monsters or with brett added at fermentation or bottling.  These techniques have always resulted in great beers, but none of them have had the really great peppery characteristics of a "more traditional" saison.

I recently tried a few glasses of Goose Island Sophie on draft and I really loved its soft, fluffy character.  Although this beer is dosed to B. bruxellensis, enough of the base beer shines through to truly get a sense of its flavors.  According to the GI website, Sophie is hopped with Amarillo and is aged in white wine barrels.

I've taken these ideas and dropped them in to my "house" saison grain bill to try to get some different flavors.  I've had great results with this grain bill before and I'm really hoping the lower hop levels of this batch allow it to shine through even more.  This batch will be brett-free as I'm moving soon and can't commit the time needed to develop a nice, thoughtful brett beer.  That said, I'll definitely be looking at this one as a candidate for wild yeasts down the line...

The Trapper (American Farmhouse Ale)
5.5 gallon batch - 90 minute boil
Est OG: 1.058
Est FG: 1.006
Est ABV: 6.8%
IBU: 24
SRM: 4

9.0lb Pilsner Malt
1.5lb Rye Malt
1.5lb White Wheat Malt
1.0lb Flaked Oats
1.0lb Clear Candi Sugar (added after boil)

0.5oz Amarillo Gold @ FWH (15 IBU)
2.0oz Amarillo Gold @ Whirlpool 10 min (9 IBU)

0.5oz Medium Toast French Oak Cubes (soaked in Chardonnay) added post-fermentation

1250ml starter of Belgian Saison WY3724

Mash @ 148F for 75 minutes

Fermentation Schedule
1) Pitch in the mid-60s
2) Let free rise for 2 days to 72
3) Increase temp by 1-2 degrees daily up to 84
4) Drop down to 80 on day 10 and hold for two weeks

7/1/2014 -- Brewed by myself.  Mash pH came in a touch high at 5.5 so I dropped some acid (chuckle) to get it to 5.3.  I really like a bit of tartness in my saisons and some of this is contributed by the mash pH.  Gathered 8 gallons of 1.041 wort for a 72% efficiency, right on target.  Ended up with 5.5gal of 1.056 wort.  A few points off, but I was a little low on the mash efficiency.  My fermwrap has been hooked up and set to 72 on the second day.

7/7/2014 -- Added 0.5oz of Chardonnay-soaked medium toast French oak cubes.  Gravity down to 1.009.  Looks like I avoided the dreaded 3724 stall out.

7/15/2014 -- Gravity dropped down to 1.007.  Nice subtle complexity from the wood, not a ton of the spiciness that you get from a well-fermented saison with this yeast.  Going to keep it on the wood for a bit longer.

8/3/2014 -- Finished at 1.008.  Just a touch high.  Bottled with 5.1oz of corn sugar for 2.7vol CO2.  Taste was pretty good, with the chardonnay coming through quite strong on the finish.  Hard to detect a lot of wood at this point.

11/7/2014 -- And here are some tasting notes.