Monday, July 8, 2013

Saison with Strawberry and Apricot (Fantôme-ish)

Ask any beer geek, "what got you so into beer?" and you're likely going to hear an answer involving aha moments of when particular beers made a profound impression in that person's life. In my story, one of those moments was when I had Fantôme Saison for the first time. I can distinctly remember the smell of wild strawberries and other nondescript stone fruit busting out of the glass. Once I got past those initial characteristics, spices, earth, and a slight funk were also present. On the palate, those same flavors carried through, but were accompanied by some lactic tartness.

I have been told by people who have asked him, Dany Prignon asserts that there is no fruit in Fantôme Saison. All of the aromatics apparently come from the interplay of malt, yeast and a proprietary blend of spices.

Researching online for a recipe from someone who was familiar with the original beer and who could provide input on their clone attempt, brought me to this thread at Northern Brewer. Very few changes were made to the original recipe. I substituted Hallertauer for Tettananger and used powdered instead of crushed coriander (and less of it). The goal was to make a beer with a similar sensory profile to Fantôme Saison, not to clone it.

At the time that I brewed this beer, I had yet to find a yeast that throws off strawberry esters (until Dmitri of BK Yeast sent me his 2007 Cantillon Iris C2 strain). To achieve that character, frozen strawberries were used because I could not find a strawberry juice that was actually juice from strawberries, and because the frozen strawberries were picked ripe and then frozen, rather than picked green and ripened on the shelf (I couldn't find any freshly picked strawberries at the time that were worth writing home about). Apricot juice (which contained other juices, such as grape juice) from my local health food store was used for the apricot character. A pure, unadulterated apricot juice could not be found.

Fantome inspired
Fantome inspired


Type: All Grain
Date: 5/13/2012
Batch Size: 11.50 gal
Brewer: Luke Hagenbach
Boil Size: 13.98 gal
Boil Time: 60 min Equipment: Blichmann 20 Gal brewing system
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00
Amount Item Type % or IBU
11.50 gal Denver-ish water Water
20.25 lb Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 61.16 %
3.34 lb Munich Malt (9.0 SRM) Grain 10.08 %
1.02 lb Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) Grain 3.09 %
3.75 oz Hallertauer [2.30 %] (60 min) Hops 12.7 IBU
2.00 lb Candi Sugar, Clear (0.5 SRM) Sugar 6.04 %
2.00 oz Hallertauer [2.30 %] (15 min) Hops 3.4 IBU
0.80 oz Orange Peel, Bitter (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
0.48 tsp Grains of Paradise (GoP) (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
0.12 oz Corriander (crushed) (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs French Saison (Wyeast Labs #3711) Yeast-Ale
1 Pkgs Belgian Saison (Wyeast Labs #3724) Yeast-Ale
6.00 lb Frozen Strawberry (secondary 21 days) (6.0 SRM) Adjunct 18.12 %
64 oz Apricot juice (3.0 SRM) Adjunct 1.51 %
Beer Profile
Est Original Gravity: 1.062 SG
Measured Original Gravity: 1.065 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.012 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.003 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.58 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: 8.10 %
Bitterness: 16.0 IBU Calories: 285 cal/pint
Est Color: 7.1 SRM Color:
Mash Profile
Mash Name: Single Infusion Mash, 1 Step, Light Body Total Grain Weight: 25.11 lb
Sparge Water: 9.90 gal Grain Temperature: 72.0 F
Sparge Temperature: 168.0 F TunTemperature: 72.0 F
Adjust Temp for Equipment: FALSE Mash PH: 5.4 PH
Temperature Mash, 1 Step, Medium Body
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Saccharification Add 31.39 qt of water at 160.4 F 150.0 F
10 min Mash Out Heat to 168.0 F over 10 min 168.0 F
30 min Fly Sparge Fly sparge with enough water to achieve pre-boil volume 168.0 F

5/13/2012: brew day

Substituted Hallertauer 60 minute addition for Tettananger
Used powdered coriander instead of crushed, and cut it from .29 oz additions to .12 oz.
Cut bitter orange peel from .96 oz to .80 oz.
Used 0.28 mm crush on grain mill. It seemed too fine. Next time ope in slightly.

Measured pre-boil gravity without sugar was 1.052. With sugar it would have been 1.057.
I forgot to add the candy sugar until the last 5 minutes of the boil.
Measured OG was 1.065.

6.5 G fermentor got the 3711 French Saison yeast cake from a previously brewed Sorachi Ace Saison.
6 G fermentor got a 1.5L starter of 3724 Belgian Saison, and was ramped from 73 to 90 degrees over 24 hours.
The Belgian Saison yeast took off vigorously within 12 hours, then subsided within 24 hours. 36 hours later, there was no visible sign of fermentation.
The French Saison yeast took off with a medium krausen (no blow off), and 36 hours later it was still chugging along.

05/26/2012 (13 days) - Pitched 32 oz apricot juice (bottle from local health food store) and 3 lbs defrosted frozen strawberries (Kirkland brand from Costco) into each fermentor. Strawberries were broken up with a potato masher.

06/03/2012 (21 days) - gravity readings:
French saison = 1.003; Belgian saison = 1.029
Will crash cool the French saison for 48 hours, then transfer to a keg. The Belgian saison was moved to ambient heat and will get pitched with the French saison yeast cake.

06/05/2012 (23 days) - Transferred French Saison version to keg and bottled about 3-4 750ml bottles. Transferred the Belgian saison version to secondary and added the washed French saison yeast.

06/17/2012 (35 days) - Belgian saison (pitched on French saison yeast cake) gravity reading 1.011. Bottled 3.17 gallons (12 liters) with 2.4 oz priming sugar, which should calculate out to 2.25 volumes of CO2, unless the Brett takes the FG below 1.011 (edit: it sure as hell did!)
(7) 750ml bottles were bottled with ECY05 (half of a container), and (9) 750ml bottles were bottled with washed cake of ECY20 (from a Sanctification clone). All bottles were bottle conditioned for several months before trying.

7/7/2013 - All of the bottles were super gushers from the beginning. It's actually amazing that they have not exploded. I made a rookie mistake of bottling too early when using Brett and bacteria. Both versions are tart and full of fruit, but there is way too much fruit floating around in the bottles, and due to the bottles being gushers, everything gets stirred up and quite cloudy.

Tasting notes and comments:

Many months have passed since I have had the non-wild versions of this beer, and proper tasting notes do not exist. From memory, I recall the fruit character being a bit overwhelming and gave the beer a sweet characteristic, despite the low 1.003 finishing gravity. Changes that I would make to the recipe would be to scale back the amount of fruit character and change the primary yeast to the now regularly available WY3724. I would reduce the strawberries by 1 lb (2.5 lbs/carboy) and substitute the apricot juice with 2 lbs/carboy of fresh apricots. A version with no fruit and pitching BKYeast C2 in primary alongside WY3724 would also be interesting.

The versions bottle conditioned with ECY05 and ECY20 are coming around nicely, with ECY05 having a slightly more funky character, while ECY20 is more sour.

To refresh my memory, I opened a bottle of the ECY20. Even after chilling in the freezer for 30 minutes, the bottle was a gusher, causing the yeast and fruit sediment at the bottom to mix into solution.

Cloudy reddish amber color with a huge, white, fizzy head that diminishes quickly, leaving behind a modest amount of lacing. The beer is hazy from the yeast and fruit particulates being stirred up by the gushing bottle.

I would be hard-pressed to find a more prevalent and pleasant, fresh-picked strawberry aroma than what is wafting out of this glass. Mixed into the background of the dominant strawberry aroma are fresh picked wildflowers. If I didn't know that Brett was in this beer, I wouldn't have guessed it. Although, Brett's oxygen scavenging capabilities have kept this beer smelling as fresh as the day that I bottled it. Actually, even more fresh and perfumey, if that is possible.

Spritzy, Champagne level carbonation bites at the tongue. There is just enough body to keep the beer from tasting thin on the palate.

The fresh fruit is more muted in the flavor profile than it is in the aroma, but it is still there. There is just enough alcohol present to let you know this beer is not a 4-6% beer. The lactic acid is present enough to qualify this as a moderately sour beer. No acetic acid can be detected. A slight tannic bite on the finish that I can only associate with new oak, persists for several seconds.

I'm quite impressed with how much fresh strawberry comes through on the nose; the smells coming out of the glass are beautiful and captivating (everyone that I have poured this for has made a big deal about the aroma). The slight booziness and tannic astringency on the finish could be done without, and the carbonation is way into the dangerous level for glass bottles.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

0 IBU 100% Brettanomyces fermented IPA

A Crooked Stave WWBG clone recipe

1-IMG_2643There are few things I enjoy more as a brewer and beer enthusiast than (1) randomly discovering a new brewery that makes excellent beer, and (2) being introduced to a new beer style or process that works out magically. My introduction to Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project gave me both.

I randomly stumbled across Crooked Stave while on vacation in Fort Collins in 2011, shortly after Chad Yakobson started gypsy brewing out of Funkwerks (another great brewery, if you don’t know about it). This was my first experience with 100% Brettanomyces fermented beers. The first two beers that I had from Crooked Stave were WWBR and Pure Guava Petite Sour. It was hard to believe – other than the fact that both were gushers - that they had gone from boil kettle to bottle in about 6 weeks time.

One of my favorite examples of this fast, 100% Brett fermented style is Wild Wild Brett Green (WWBG), a highly hopped, dank, tropical fruit bomb that when consumed fresh presents more like an IPA than anything else. I was intrigued and wanted to make something similar myself. Chad helped me design the recipe below. My recipe is almost entirely his recipe, except I substituted East Coast Yeast Brett blends for Chad’s proprietary Brett strains, and used Amarillo and Nelson hops instead of Galaxy due to the limited supply of Galaxy at that time.


WWBG (1.1) Amarillo
[Not so] American IPA


Type: All Grain

Date: 3/30/2012

Batch Size: 11.50 gal

Brewer: Luke
Boil Size: 14.73 gal Asst Brewer: Eric
Boil Time: 90 min Equipment: Blichmann 20 Gal brewing system
Taste Rating(out of 50): 30.0 Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00


Amount Item Type % or IBU
23.18 lb Brewer's Malt, 2-Row, Premium (Great Western) (2.0 SRM) Grain 79.99 %
2.90 lb Munich Malt - 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 10.01 %
1.45 lb Carapils (Briess) (1.5 SRM) Grain 5.00 %
1.45 lb White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM) Grain 5.00 %
2.25 oz Amarillo Gold [10.30 %] (0 min) (Boil) Hops -
7.75 oz Amarillo Gold [10.30 %] (15 min) (Aroma Hop-Steep) Hops -
7.75 oz Amarillo Gold [10.30 %] (Dry Hop 14 days) Hops -
5.47 oz Amarillo Gold [10.30 %] (Dry Hop 7 days) Hops -
1.23 oz Nelson Sauvin [12.20 %] (Dry Hop 7 days) Hops -
1 Pkgs BRETT blend #1 (ECY) (East Coast Yeast #ECY04) Yeast-Ale  
1 Pkgs BRETT blend #9 (ECY) (East Coast Yeast #ECY05) Yeast-Ale  


Beer Profile

Est Original Gravity: 1.065 SG

Measured Original Gravity: 1.065 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.017 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.18 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: 7.18 %
Bitterness: 0.0 IBU Calories: 290 cal/pint
Est Color: 5.7 SRM Color:

Mash Profile

Mash Name: Single Infusion, Medium Body Total Grain Weight: 28.98 lb
Sparge Water: 4.82 gal Grain Temperature: 72.0 F
Sparge Temperature: 168.0 F TunTemperature: 72.0 F
Adjust Temp for Equipment: FALSE Mash PH: 5.4 PH

Single Infusion, Medium Body
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
60 min Mash In Add 36.24 qt of water at 162.8 F 152.0 F
10 min Mash Out Add 20.29 qt of water at 203.1 F 168.0 F

Mash Notes: Simple single infusion mash with fly sparge.



0 minute hop addition was at flameout, Aroma steep addition was 15 minutes post flameout, and the hops soaked for 15 minutes before chilling to 67F.
Pitched one carboy with ECY04, and one with ECY05
Batch size of 11.5 gal yielded closer to 10.5 gal (5.25 gal into each fermentor) due to the large hop loss.

10 day gravity reading (with shitty, non-precise hydrometer):
ECY04: 1.014
ECY05: 1.025
Transferred to kegs for secondary/dry-hopping.
ECY04 dry hop: 35g Nelson Sauvin/60g Amarillo (waiting on ECY05 to come down in gravity before dry-hopping)

ECY04 removed dry hops and added 2nd dry hop (110g Amarillo). Put in keezer to dry hop at 39 degrees for 2-3 weeks. (check back on 5/3/12).
ECY05 - Added 1st dry hops (95g Amarillo). Gravity was still high. Will give it through 4/29/12 before switching out hops.

*Additional gravity readings were taken, but not recorded. I believe both versions eventually got down to about 1.007 before cold crashing. ECY05 was left to condition for an additional month before the 2nd dry hop addition was added.

1-2012-04-10 18.22.23

Tasting Notes and Thoughts:

ECY04 - Aromas were mostly tropical (papaya with some pineapple) and citrus, with slight traditional Brett earthiness in the background. The mouth feel was medium with some dryness from the hop compounds. After a couple of weeks on draft, the flavors became integrated and more complex. The Brett gained more fruit ester complexity over time at the expense of the "fresh fruit" aroma.

ECY05 - This version went to my friend Mark's house, so I was less familiar with it and am reporting based on memory. I remember more (but light) barnyard notes, with slightly less tropical flavors - more in the direction one would expect from a beer fermented with Brettanomyces.

While I would not call either version an outright “clone” of WWBG, I would say that both were cut from the same cloth as the beer that inspired them. The propriety strains that Chad used in the Crooked Stave version were specifically chosen for their clean, low ester profile, and their fast attenuation. Galaxy hops also have a distinct aroma and flavor that is difficult to achieve with other hops.

Both of these test versions were good, but I preferred the ECO4 to the ECY05 for this style. It's cleaner and the Brett doesn't compete with the hops. This could have been due to the faster fermentation and quicker consumption of the ECY04, but I would say it’s primarily due to the characteristics that ECY05 produces (barnyard, horse blanket, etc.). Even in the original WWBG version brewed by Crooked Stave, I noticed a big change in the character from when I had it fresh to when I had it a couple of months later. The hops faded and complex Brett notes began to develop. Even so, the next time that I try something similar I will use a more fruit-forward Brett strain (e.g., Trois, BKY C2/C3).

Friday, March 29, 2013

What is coming in the near future…

I took a look into the Metabrewing crystal ball and saw several posts that will be coming in the near future.
Here are some of the upcoming posts…


  • 100% Brett fermented 0 IBU IPA (you read that right, there are no typos)
  • Berliner Weisse aged on Brett
  • Saison inspired by Fantôme
  • India Pale Saison


  • The great Brettanomyces showdown - the same base wort 100% fermented on 9 different single brettanomyces strains…and then sampled (of course).
  • Using extracted hop oil for flavor/aroma contribution


  • My semi-automated brewing setup
  • Keg cleaning
  • Brewing water
*If you feel the urge to be notified on these upcoming blog posts, you can subscribe via email, RSS/ATOM feed, or add me on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

American Black Ale (Black IPA) Tasting Notes

Even though I can drink, and even enjoy, a well-made American Black Ale (Cascadian Dark Ale, Black IPA, etc.), it's a rare day that I order one given a number of options to choose from. I find myself picking a quaffable APA/IPA if I am in the mood for hops, or selecting a porter/stout if I'm craving a dark, malt-driven beer. Roasted malts and hop aroma/flavors can be made to work together, but the whole isn't necessarily better than the sum of its parts.

Here are tasting notes from my American Black Ale that had 17 oz of hops in the flameout and whirlpool, and another 14 oz of dry hops. The recipe was designed as a 12 gallon batch, but I only netted about 9 gallons of beer, thanks to those thirsty hops.

My goal was to make an American Black Ale that accentuated the hop characteristics and downplayed the dark malts as much as possible. For the recipe, read the original post. Here's how my version turned out:


It pours from the tap with frothy, cappuccino-like head that fills half the glass and then persists for over 10 minutes, leaving behind sticky tan lacing and a thick ring of foam that persists until the glass is empty. The beer is deep brown to black. When held up to a light it remains opaque except for a reflection that makes its way through the bottom of the glass, highlighting the beer's clarity. I don't typically think of dark beers in terms of their haziness, but this beer has none.


Even after 2-1/2 months in the keg, a big hop presence leads the way, first with pine and cedar, then followed quickly with orange rind, dank and catty notes. Getting past the hops, a hint of fruity dark chocolate is present, but I'm reaching for it. The color makes me look for aroma characteristics that correspond to a dark beer. No sign of roast or toast in the nose.


Bright citrus hops are the first thing coating the front and sides of the tongue, followed by a flavor that I can only describe as reminiscent of a dark chocolate bar infused with pieces of orange. There's a lingering bitterness (more than I care for).


Medium body and dry, with a slightly oily presence, which I'm assuming is from the massive amount of late addition hops in the recipe. The hops cling to the back of the tongue, leaving behind a lingering dry astringency that substantially adds to the perceived bitterness. 

Overall Impressions/Final Thoughts

For the style, I'm happy with how this beer turned out. There is more hop aroma wafting out of the glass than I have ever encountered in an American Black Ale. The Midnight Wheat has done its job in adding color while contributing little to no roasted malt flavor. It still provides some dark chocolate undertones, but they are more muted than the commercial examples of the style that I have tried.

If it is possible to go overboard with hops, this recipe is living proof of it. Changes I would consider for the next attempt would be to reduce the total volume of hops (0.75-1.0 oz/gal), raise the original gravity (1.077-1.085), or both. The malt balance is great, but the astringency on the finish contributed from polyphenols in the hops is a bit over-the-top for my taste for a beer of this gravity.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Recirculating Dry Hops: Extract More Aroma Oil in Less Time

1-DSC_0402When I think of a good “hoppy” beer, my mind conjures up interesting aroma and flavor profiles. Bitterness units barely factor in. A hop forward beer that has lost (or never really had) aroma becomes a boring and uninteresting beer.

What if you could get more aroma oil extracted from your dry hops with less time? Would you do it? That question almost sounds rhetorical.

Early last year I came across an Indie Hops blog post titled, “More Aroma Oil, Faster: The Dry Hopster’s Holy Grail.” With a title like that, I had to keep reading. The post cited a study by Peter Wolfe and Dr. Tom Shellhammer at the Oregon State University Department of Food Science which compared the aroma/flavor potential of two dry hopping materials (whole cone hops vs. pelletized hops) and the effectiveness of two methods for dry hopping (stirred vs. unstirred). All dry hopping took place at 23.2°C (73.76°F). Both sensory analysis (a tasting panel) and instrument analysis (measurements of compounds) were performed on samples taken at 0.5 hours, 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours, 24 hours, 4 days, 7 days, and 12 days of exposure to hops.

Peter Wolfe’s thesis, A Study of Factors Affecting the Extraction of Flavor When Dry Hopping Beer, is published on Oregon State University’s website. I read all 92 pages of it, which took me a while because I found myself searching Google every other page to research a new [to me] unfamiliar term.  There were several interesting findings in the study. Here are a few highlights:
  • Pelletized hops resulted in faster extraction and more hop aromatic compounds compared to dry hopping with whole cone hops.
  • Stirring hops resulted in higher overall aroma compound extraction and more intense aroma perception than unstirred hops.
  • Stirred pellet hop aroma compounds were nearly fully extracted after 24 hours.
“Say what? 24 hours?!”  (That was my reaction, anyway.)
instrument analysis chart
sensory evaluation chart

Aroma, Aroma, Aroma

As pervasive of a practice as dry hopping is in modern beer brewing, there is a lot of confusion as to what is exactly going on during the dry hopping process. This gives rise to all kinds of practices and procedures for how to achieve the best results. This post is not attempting to address every aspect of dry hopping (bitterness contribution, antimicrobial properties, etc.). For that, I would recommend reading Peter Wolfe’s thesis as well as the book, For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus.  This post is only addressing the primary goal of dry hopping: aroma.

important aroma compounds derived from hopsBy far, the greatest reason that dry hops are used today is to add hop aroma and flavor (a combination of aroma, taste and mouthfeel) to beer. While other hop components (alpha/beta acids, polyphenols, glycosides and bio-transformed hop compounds) affect the overall flavor experience (see section 1.3 of Wolfe’s Thesis), the primary components of hops that directly contribute to aroma while dry hopping are terpene oils and sulfur compounds. The goal when dry hopping is to extract those compounds out of the hops and into the beer.

Most homebrewers follow a similar procedure to one another when dry hopping: steep the hops in fermented beer. Regardless of whether whole cone or pelletized hops are used, if hops are placed in bags or allowed to free float, or if the dry hops are added to the primary, secondary or keg, the universal practice for dry hopping at the homebrewing level is to allow the hops to soak in beer post fermentation without any form of agitation.

On the other hand, the commercial breweries that are best known for aromatically hoppy beers all use some form of agitation or extraction beyond simply steeping the hops in the beer. Dogfish Head, Russian River Brewing and Firestone Walker use a “Hop Cannon,” Sierra Nevada uses a “Torpedo,” and New Belgium and Stone use “The Slurry Method” (chapter 8, For the Love of Hops). Commercial breweries have efficiency and time constraint requirements that homebrewers do not have, but as Peter Wolfe found in his study, a greater level of hop aroma compounds are extracted through agitation.

My dry hop agitation setup

After reading Peter Wolfe’s thesis, I was determined to come up with a way to agitate dry hops at the homebrewer level. The first idea was to build some sort of false bottom stir plate for my fermentation fridge, and then spin a large stirbar in a glass carboy to agitate the hops (I still like this idea). However, I recently obtained a stainless steel conical fermentor and wanted to move my fermentation of hoppy beers to the conical. What I came up with was the following setup, which as it turns out is almost exactly the same setup that was used for agitation in the study conducted by Peter Wolfe (I ran it by him).

Below is a diagram (and below that, a video) of how I do my dry hop agitation. The setup is slightly different than what is pictured below. I do not own a Blichmann brand conical, and I use the standard inline head rather than the center inlet head. I’m also sans a racking cane on the conical at the moment. I would highly recommend one is used with this setup. Without a racking cane, hop matter will come through the racking arm port. It will require a significant amount of dumps from the bottom to get all of the hops out. I waste a lot of beer dumping hops out of the bottom before I have clean enough beer to rack to a keg. A racking cane will allow the tube to point up and out of the hop slurry so that clean beer can be racked without having to dump any hops.

Here is a YouTube video of my setup in action:
Continuously recirculating dry hops in the fermentor

What you’ll need

Assuming you already own a conical fermentor, to pull this off you’re looking at purchasing the following:

Non-conical fermentor configurations:

I have not attempted this in any fermentor other than my conical. I would like to see how other brewers approach this situation with carboys and Sanke kegs. If you have recommendations to share in the comments, please do so.
In addition to the stirbar idea that I mentioned above, a carboy cap can be modified to accommodate two racking canes, like this. You can then follow a very similar process to what I did with my setup. You would want to ensure the hole was not cut too large, because oxygen making its way in will be counterproductive to the goal of making an aromatic hoppy beer. If you would rather use a stopper than a carboy cap, Morebeer sells a #6.5 stopper with 2-holes, but the 2nd hole is too small for a racking cane, which means that changes would be needed. A ball valve would need to be added to this configuration to be able to adjust the flow rate of the pump.
Sanke kegs:
Before I purchased my conical, I used the Sanke fermentor kit from BrewersHardware. As with the carboy cap above, the blowoff hole could be modified to accommodate a 2nd racking cane.

Results to come in a follow-up post. Stay tuned...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Split batch: Redemption and Sanctification Clone Recipes

1-BrewPictures  056For me, homebrewing = experimentation. I have yet to ever brew the same beer twice. While I’ve repeated certain aspects of some recipes, I always tweak something the next time I brew it. It helps me learn.

Another way that I learn is by comparing and contrasting. I’ve been to many beer tastings, but the ones that have taught me the most are the ones in which I can do side-by-side tasting  rather than one after the other. I can smell one, then smell the other; taste one, then taste the other. The sensory experiences are so close to one another that it helps my brain distinguish between minute differences that I otherwise wouldn’t pick up on.

This was an inspiration for why I chose to build a system that brews 12 gallon batches. It allows me to spend the same amount of time brewing one base beer, and then do different things on the cold side of the equation. I can compare yeasts, fermentation temperatures, hops, dry-hopping schedules, and so on. The learning experience has been so much more than it would have been doing single batches, and it barely costs me any more time or money to pull it off.

Two beers that I’ve always enjoyed from Russian River Brewing Company are Redemption and Sanctification. Redemption is a Belgian Single, also referred to as “Enkel.” Traditionally, Trappist breweries would make this lighter version of their regular beers for consumption by the monks at the monastery. Redemption is similar to a Belgian Blonde, but is lower in gravity.

Sanctification is a non-barrel aged sour golden that is advertised as being primary fermented with 100% Brettanomyces, although Vinnie has stated that they also add Lactobacillus and Pediococcus from a house mixed culture.

After doing a little digging around, I found that these two beers were extremely similar in the malt profile, with the distinguishing differences being that Redemption is lighter on the non-2 row malts (3% each, compared to 5% each), and Sanctification is 4-6 (depending on the source) points higher in original gravity than Redemption. The Russian River Brewing Company website shows the original gravities at 1.048 and 1.052. In emails and interviews, Vinnie has quoted them at 1.052 and 1.058.

For my split batch, I went with the Sanctification malt bill and chose the higher of the two target gravities because I was most interested in getting the Sanctification beer down. A Belgian single can be whipped up anytime, but a sour beer requires a little hell of a lot more time before it is ready for consumption. A  portion of the hop schedule was moved to a 0 minute addition, which lowered the projected IBUs somewhat.
WLP545 Belgian Strong Ale yeast was used for Redemption because my local homebrew shop was out WLP530 Abbey Ale Yeast and there wasn’t time to order online. For Sanctification, ECY20 Bug County was used rather that the complex culture mix that Vinnie gave in his recipe.

1-24 hours 03 (sanct left_redemp right)Brew date: 03/24/2012
Batch size: 11.5 US Gal
Estimated/Actual OG: 1.058/1.056
Estimated IBU: 20.0
Estimated SRM: 4.2
Estimated ABV: 6.0% (Redemption)/7.0% (Sanctification)
Estimated total efficiency: 72%

Started with R.O., then additions to match Beersmith’s “Antwerp” profile.


85.0% (21.60 lb) – American 2-row (Great Western) – 2.0 SRM
5% (1.27 lb) – Vienna malt – 3.5 SRM
5% (1.27 lb) – Acid malt – 3.0 SRM
5% (1.27 lb) – White wheat malt (Great Western) 2.4 SRM


80 min – 1.48 oz Styrian Goldings (5.40% AA)
15 min – 1.48 oz Styrian Goldings (5.40% AA)
0 min – 0.5 oz Styrian Goldings (5.40% AA)


15 min – 1 tsp Wyeast yeast nutrient
15 min – 0.5 tsp Supermoss
10 drops Fermcap


50 minutes @152°F
10 minutes @168°F


90 minutes


WLP545 Belgian Strong Ale (Redemption)
ECY20 Bug County (Sanctification)

1-2012-04-29 15.36.38Results/Notes:

Due to what must have been poor programming on my part, the fly sparge process turned on 38 minutes into the mash while I wasn’t paying attention (a pitfall of automation). The manual ball valve to the boil kettle was closed. The mash tun read 16 gallons (probably 5 gallons above the grain bed) before it was noticed and stopped. The mash temp was brought back up to 152°F for about 10 minutes before ramp out.

The sparge went fast (15 minutes), which likely added to the poor mash efficiency.
Pre-boil gravity was 1.043. Target was 1.047. The boil was slowly rolling due to some burner issues I had been having. At 90 minutes, the gravity was at 1.046. The boil was extended by 40 minutes. Gravity read 1.056 at knockout.

The batch was split into two carboys. A 1.5L starter of WLP545 Belgian Strong Ale was pitched into one carboy, and ECY20 Bug County was pitched into the other. Fermentation was at 68°F.
The Belgian Single was given a 1-week primary and 2 week secondary before racking half to a keg and bottling the other half. The Sanctification was given a 2 week primary and then racked to secondary for what might be forever, or a year, whichever comes first.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The freshest sources for hops

1-BrewPictures  083What I find interesting is that I rarely see the farm, brand or supplier of hops mentioned when discussing sources for hops. Typically, varietals are mentioned as a commodity. Someone will post, "[company name] has this year’s Cascade for $11/lb," as if Cascade from one source is the same as any other source, with the only difference being price. I never used to give this much thought, until this last year...

Last year I purchased Citra hops from two different suppliers (both the current harvest year), and there was a huge difference between the aroma of the hops. It wasn't even close. You could take one whiff from the first bag, and then a whiff of the other, and it was night and day. One had a big citrus/tropical aroma; the other, not so much when compared to the first. Had I not had the two there to compare, I might have thought the one with less aroma was fine. After all, it still smelled like hops. It's just that it was so much more muted than the other source that I dumped out the hops that had less aroma. Why use inferior hops in something that you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time, energy and money into making?

Shopping for hops is like shopping for produce. You can shop based on price per pound, or you can shop based on quality (however you define quality is up to you). Farmers that properly grow good crops in rich soil, wait to pick them until they’re ripe, and then deliver the fresh produce to local shops for immediate purchase, simply cannot compete on price with the mega farming corporations out there that are cutting costs at every step of the process. For example, I can buy oranges at the local grocery store that are decent (taste like what my mom bought, likely at the same kind of grocery store), or I can get oranges from a local farmers market or CSA that are the juiciest, most flavorful oranges I've ever had. It's like [excuse the pun] apples and oranges. This same analogy applies to hops.

HopUnion 1 oz and 1 lb bags
Of course, you can overpay for crappy, poorly treated hops as well (my LHBS, for one). Price isn't what makes one hop supplier better than another. I'm not familiar with every hop supplier out there, but I've ordered from several online sources and found HopUnion’s nitrogen flushed hops to be quite fresh and fragrant. I typically buy 1 lb bags from LabelPeelers because of the cost savings. This year my pound of Amarillo from LabelPeelers came in (16) 1 oz packages. I like the idea of the 1 oz HopUnion bags for the sake of freshness. Keeping the hops in a sealed, nitrogen flushed environment is better than opening the same bag several times throughout the year (even if you reseal it with a vacuum sealer).

Hops Direct 1 lb bag (partial)
HopsDirect seems to have fresh hops, too, but I find their 1 lb vacuum sealed foil bags a little difficult to work with. They often come hard as bricks, with the pellets being stuck together. Farmhouse Brewing Supply offers a wide variety of hops in convenient 4 oz packages, and the prices are good. I’m not a big fan of the packaging, but most of the packages remain sealed. I haven’t compared the hops that I’ve bought from Farmhouse Brewing Supply with other suppliers/retailers.

Farmhouse Brewing Supply 4 oz bags
I'd like to try hops from IndieHops. I like what they stand for and I hear good things about them, but the minimum order of 11 lbs per hop is prohibitive for a homebrewer, and they only supply a limited number of hop varietals. IndieHops seems to cater more to small craft brewers than to homebrewers, and sell first to contracted accounts. This might be a good company to do a group buy with.

Other than the big online homebrew shops, some other hop suppliers that I’ve seen people ordering from are Yakima Valley Hops (they package their own hops at reasonable prices), Nikobrew (not the best pricing, but cheap shipping), and some discount eBay sellers. I have no experience buying from these companies.

I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts on this subject in the comments. Has anyone else found a difference between hop suppliers? Are there other good sources for quality hops at reasonable prices?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Low pressure burner testing

BrewPictures  008
The first question I had when designing my brewing system was what type of energy to use. My first choice was steam, but that was a pipe dream (pun intended). Next was electric for a variety of reasons, but that option required me to upgrade my electric panel, which was cost prohibitive. That left me with either propane or natural gas as options. I decided on natural gas because it is more economical, the idea of refilling tanks regularly was not appealing, and I could easily see myself running out of gas in the middle of a brew session.
An initial test run on the system produced poor results. After nearly 2 hours of heating, it hadn’t reached a boil. Some testing was needed to increase the performance of the burners (a link to the spreadsheet data is at the bottom of the page).
The areas to be tested were:
  1. burner height – the distance from the burner to the kettle
  2. heat transfer – using a more conductive metal to transfer thermal energy from the flame to the kettle
  3. ventilation – insufficient ventilation chokes the flame
  4. gas pressure – the burners were designed to work optimally at 11” WC of pressure, while most utility companies deliver gas to residential buildings at 7-9” WC.
For all tests, 10 gallons of 75°F water was heated on a single 10” low pressure burner, and temperature readings were taken every 5 minutes.
1-DSC_0005burner height
The first tests (test #1 in the chart below) involved adjusting the burner mount height. The heat shield/burner mount has a split open back to allow for rear ventilation above the burner, and comes with 3 sets of holes for adjusting the distance between the burner and the bottom of the kettle. The distance from the bottom hole to the top hole is approximately 1”, and while there was a slight difference in performance between the top mounting hole and the bottom, the results were not significant (which is why only one of the tests is charted). After 50 minutes, the best configuration was at 170.7°F.
heat transfer
I consulted my friend/assistant brewer, Eric, who is a mechanical engineer by trade, and for test #3, a homemade heat sink was built out of a thick plate of aluminum and aluminum angle iron to capture more heat from the exhaust and transfer it to the kettles. This increased heat transfer, but after 50 minutes the water had only reached 187.3°F.
BrewPictures  007ventilation
The next test involved creating a chimney (test #4). Just like with a house chimney, less dense hot air rises and is replaced by more dense, cooler air. This is referred to as the “stack effect”. The greater the thermal difference and the height of the chimney, the greater the stack effect.. We built a semi-enclosed chimney out of a 90 degree register box and sheet metal to force air to flow up from the bottom of the burner and out of the back. We tested it with and without a 6’ chimney (that’s not a typo, it was 6 feet tall), but both tests resulted in lower temperatures than with the aluminum heat sink.
gas pressure
I had the gas company come out and test/adjust the pressure to the house. I was at 7.3” WC at the main line to the house, and 6.7” WC at the line to my brew rig (acceptable range is 7-9” WC, according to the technician). He adjusted it up to 7.5” WC at the brew rig, which is the highest he was allowed to adjust it, but then volunteered to show me how to adjust the pressure myself “just in case I wanted to know how it works.”  I increased the pressure to approximately 8.6” WC, switched out the flex lines to the burner for larger diameter flex lines that were previously on order, and then ran two more tests.
BrewPictures  009Test #6 was with both the aluminum heat sink and the chimney at the new increased gas pressure. After 50 minutes, the temperature was 182.6°F, just shy of test #3, which took place before the gas pressure to the house was increased. This suggested that the chimney setup wasn’t helping.
In test #7, the chimney was removed and only the aluminum heat sink was used. At 50 minutes I was at 206.7°F, and at 55 minutes I was boiling.
Test #7 was by far the best results out of all of the tests, and is what I chose to stick with. A spreadsheet with the full test results can be found here. Below is a chart showing the performance over time for the tests mentioned above.