Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brewday Catch Up

I've been brewing up a storm. Many of these have been test-batches of some Belgians I want to try and work on, others are seasonal or session house beers. Some good, some not so good. Always a work in progress. Here is about 3 months worth of brewing.
  • Brother Russell's Dubbel
Repitched the yeast from the Chanterelle Belgian, which is certainly the best of the string of Belgians. O.G. 1070. Pale, Munich, Aromatic, Special B, and Caramunich, with blackened honey and amber candi syrup, and 3 oz each dried cherries and prunes at the end of the boil. Came out ok, but finished a little sweet, probably due to a little too much Special B and a little too cold a ferment. The blackened honey had a nice toasted marshmellow thing, but it would be better in, say, a Toddy Porter.
  • Tom Kha Tripel
Fresh yeast, Saf T-58. O.G. 1080. Pilsner, Special Aromatic, Caravienne and Wheat. Magnum and NZ Hallertau. Inverted Thai palm sugar, galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Decent attenuation, up around 80%. Nice and dry, good carbonation. A bit heavy on the lemongrass, 4" at the last 5 minutes was too much.
  • Cider
Picked up 10 gallons of cider this time. In secondary in the cellar until April or May when I'll bottle it. Given that the last batch is 2 for 2, that is, 1st place in the WA Mead and Cider Cup and Best in Class at the Evergreen State Fair, I have high hopes for the next batch!
  • Pumpkin Spice and Christmas Spice Ales
10 gallon batch. O.G. 1054. Pale, CaraAmber, Crystal 60, Extra Special Malt, Melanoidin, Roast Pumpkin, Pumpkin Seeds, and Invert Sugar. Northern Brewers and Kent Goldings. Windsor Ale Yeast. Spiced half with Pumpkin Pie spice soaked in Liquor 43, half with more gingery Christmas spices in Bourbon. Total nightmare to sparge, chundery and thick in the ferment, pain to clear, finally needing Isinglass. Going to have to use a stovetop partial mash next time to get the pumpkin to sparge better. Otherwise, fairly tasty on nitro.
  • Free Ballard! Secession Lager
10 gallon batch. O.G. 1050. 100% Gambrinus Organic Pilsner malt. Horizon and Sterlings, about 35 IBUs. Saf-23 dry lager yeast, then some Wyeast Bohemian Lager when the 23 was being sluggish. Currently lagering.
  • Yggdrasil Mk 1
The World Tree. Designed to be this year's Winter Ale. A jet black, 9% Belgian Strong Dark, oaked, with Aquavit Spices. O.G. 1090. Pale, Munich, Caramunich, Aromatic, Carafa II, Chocolate, and Special B. Magnum and Pacific Hallertauer. Homemade Amber and Dark Candi Syrup. Aquavit Spices in the last 5 min. Repitched T-58 Belgian yeast. Toasted oak chips for a week. Unfortunately I'm beginning to think the homemade candi syrup isn't wildly fermentable, and also that the T-58 is very temperature sensitive. FG was 1030 so I added the dregs of two bottles of Orval and left it to Brett itself for a while, maybe knock that gravity down a few points. Tried again, sort of.
  • Yggdrasil Mk II
Brewed it again, this time knocking it down to 1084 with the intention being that increased attenuation and lower FG would keep the alcohol level about the same. Dropped the amber and lessened the dark candi syrup and the Special B to make it more fermentable. Swapped the pale for pilsner malt for more maltiness. At the last minute I decided to do a double batch, splitting half off into a different beer. Thought the color would come out ok but it lightened up, the Dark Candi wasn't as effective a darkener as BeerSmith thought. So it's more of a Dubbel. Decided to wood age it, and so it got a 1oz stick of Palo Santo wood for three days. Spicy and intense! Currently in secondary. Can't wait to try it.
  • Ratatoskr
The horned squirrel that lives in the World Tree. The second half of Yggdrasil II: an English Nut Brown, appropriately enough. Designed as a little house beer. O.G. 1.050. Fermented with Windsor ale yeast. Crushed a half pound of Victory malt, steeped on the stove at 150 for 20 minutes, then added the strained liquid to the boil to add the needed biscuit malt that was absent in the main grain bill. About 25 IBUs, just some Nugget for bittering and that's it. Going into a keg tonight if I can get a move on it.
  • Iron Swan Stout
Needed a winter beer that was big but not too big, hoppy but not too hoppy, and what better to do than a big American Stout. 10 gallons. O.G. 1062. Pale, Munich, Aromatic, Flaked Barley, Black Patent, Roasted Barley, Chocolate Malt, Extra Special malt. Columbus and Cascade for hops, about 60 IBUS. Windsor Ale yeast. Serious water mods on this one, estimated that the pH, unaltered, would be 4.8 thanks to the lack of buffering minerals in Seattle's water. Took quite a lot of chalk and baking soda to buffer it to 5.3. Beer came out great! Very pleased with the first keg. Unfortunately I added some bourbon soaked oak chips into the second keg and, while drinkable, it's not nearly as good.

Up next: Ninja...
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State of the Blog

It's been a while since the last post. Too long in fact. Truth be told I just haven't felt like writing much lately. Like to say I've been busy, but I've not been any more than usual. It's time to get back in the saddle and get some posts up.

One of the interesting things I've observed over the months of writing this has been the slow changes in subject matter. Without our weekly CSA to provide a sort of forced creativity, the cooking posts have trailed off. Mostly because I haven't really felt like I've been cooking anything really interesting. Not to say I haven't been cooking some good things, but I've been doing a lot of last minute, make it up as I go along, what have I got in the fridge, kind of cooking. Also, the charcuterie posts have dwindled as we've been eating more near-vegetarian things in the last few months. We try to eat only quality meat, from farmers that we know and trust. But quality meat is expensive, so we're not eating a lot of it. Still, a little good bacon or some decent home made stock goes a long way.

Certainly the brewing projects have been a major part of this blog, and I have been brewing up a storm in these last few months. Sadly, I've failed to post a lot of them. I'm sure this is disappointing to those of you who might read this for those recipes, but it also hurts me. I didn't realize how I valued the immediate record of the minor changes and screw ups that occurred on the brew day. So I plan to get those back in order.

Anyhow, here's to another year and another 200 posts. Well ok, probably 50 this year. Let's shoot for one a week.
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Monday, October 18, 2010

Cold Frames (Winter Comes)

"The days are getting shorter, the air is getting colder, and while you sip your rum and coke, kid, you're just getting older." - Jason Webley, Winter.

I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming Winter. Apart from the fact that it's likely to be horrendous, (for Seattle anyway), I've actually really appreciated having noticeably different seasons again. South Florida has two seasons, the Wet Season (aka Hurricane Season) and the Dry Season (aka 'Winter'). But here, trees change colors, plants flower and then die, mushrooms begin to pop up everywhere with the first late-Summer rains, the sun tracks lower and increasingly weakly across the sky, and growth is notably stunted in most of my remaining garden plants. It smells differently this time of year, and it makes me realize: Winter Comes.

First up, after harvest I decided to repot my hops. They were rootbound, and I was thinking of different ways to get cheap, large pots to put them in. Solution: 18 gallon Laundry Tubs from Fred Meyer, $5 each. Now they're sitting pretty in much bigger pots, with some fresh potting soil. Hopefully the harvest will be better next year.

The tomatoes began to show serious signs of Late Blight about three weeks ago. We let them vine ripen as long as we could, but we got a sunny weekend day and decided it was time. So we picked all the tomatoes that were in good shape, ripe or green, and have been storing them. They're slowly ripening away inside, and they're pretty darn tasty. My guess is they'll last at least another month.

The basil that was planted with them and spent the entire summer kindof sad and stunted suddenly took off. Then two nights ago it was 38 degrees. Now they look pretty sad. One last round of pesto and that's that. Got a few more zucchinis too, but they were getting pretty serious powdery mildew, so I pulled them. Not wanting a glut of zukes I only planted two plants. Unfortunately, at the end they seemed to put up only female flowers so while there were several proto-zukes possible, I couldn't pollinate them. Lost quite a few that way.

With Summer's veg wrapping up I was faced with a decision. One option would be to let some of the beds go fallow, planting a cover crop of Rye, Vetch, Peas, and so on. Then mow that down in the Spring, mulch it on in, and arrange some cloches to get things off to a good start in, say, April. Some portion of the beds could also be planted with hardy, overwintering crops like leeks and kale.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I'd like to see what I could grow in our maritime winter. We tend to rely heavily on the supermarket during the Winter, importing bright and shiny fruits and vegetables from far, far away. But it wasn't always like that. What about here? Maybe I could manage some fresh salads past the New Year? Maybe with a little thought and a little effort I can grow a lot of my own food this season, and store the rest in the form of my potatoes, and root veg from the Farmer's Market.

So step one was acquiring plants. I signed up for a Winter Plant Start CSA through Cascadian Edible Landscapes. These folks are really friendly and helpful, and you can usually find them at the Ballard Farmer's Market selling plant starts in the Spring, right up until the first berry harvests begin. I love their idea of a plant start CSA. The investment helps them plant without needing bank loans and to plant more of what people actually want, and it removes some of the guesswork of sales. We get a box of great starts, picked to be just the sorts of things that will grow really well, right here, right now. For about $30 we got, near as I can remember:
  • Six Std. Broccoli starts
  • Six Mixed Variety Broccoli as well
  • Six Collards
  • Six Asst. Kales
  • Six 'Eros' Endive
  • Two pounds of organic cover crop seeds
  • Two heads of seed garlic
  • A start of Sorrel
Plus I picked up some leeks and six Brussels Sprouts starts at Swansons. Couple that with some Mild Mustard Green seeds and Mache seeds and I've got the Winter Garden going.

I managed to find enough pots for the kales, collards, broccoli, and brussels. Frankly, if it stunts the kales or collards I'll consider it a blessing. I pulled the big Red Russian kales that grew up all Summer from random seeds in a mesclun greens mix. They were huge, over three feet tall and several feet across. This provided shade for lettuce underneath during the Summer, but by now we were sick and tired of kale, and shade was no longer our friend. They had to go. Added some of Walt's Organic Rainy PNW Blend in and planted mache and mustard greens in its place. The scattering of salad seeds began to pop up all over, which made me happy.

Then the squirrels came.

It's that time of year where they bury little caches of food around, digging up any patch of open looking dirt. Scattering and mauling my little lettuces. Grrr.

The solution appeared one afternoon when I drove by a neighbor's house. They were in the midst of some remodeling and there, on the street corner, were two sliding glass doors and a 'Free' sign. The wheels began to turn and I ran back and hauled them into the garage.

Cold Frames! Basically, cheap mini-greenhouses. A solar oven for plants. The glass traps light and keeps excess wind and rain out. On colder nights, or if it snows, the plants will be significantly warmer and protected from the harshest of Winter. With any luck I'll have salad through February, and be able to start plants earlier in the Spring. Ideally I'll get tomatoes in a couple weeks earlier, without resorting to my semi-effective penny-conscious cloche, and have a head start on other things as well.

So this weekend I got some lumber, conscripted a friend and got to building.

The basic idea is that it's a collar that sits on top of the existing raised bed. In fact, it's exactly the same as the bed, with a few minor adjustments. To make two, 2' x 6' frames I needed:
  • two big old thick sliding glass doors
  • four 2" x 12" x 8'
  • two 2" x 6" x 8'
  • two 4" x 4" x 8'
  • 3" wood screws
  • six 6' long 1" diameter sections of foamy pipe insulation
Basically, cut the 12" plywood to a 6' section and a 2' section. That's the sides of the base. Cut the 4x4 into four 12" sections and four 16" sections. These are the corners. Screw the 2' sections onto the 4x4s, one short one on one end and one long one on the other. Then screw the 6' sections of 12" onto the 4x4s, front and back, forming the frames. Cut the 6" boards into 6' and 2' sections. Screw the 6' sections onto the back side of the frames, where the 16" 4x4s stick up. This creates a slope that will allow rain to drain off the doors. Cut the remaining 2' long 6" boards on the diagonal, and screw the triangular pieces down on the sides. Then run around and staple the pipe insulation around the edges. This isn't so much to make it more airtight, as it is to protect the glass. I don't want to have to clean up a broken sliding door from my lettuces. The frames really don't need to be airtight. Which is good, because fine woodworking this was not...

The frames just sit on top of the existing beds. When it's cold out, say it's snowing or we have a cold, clear night, I can close them. The rest of the time they get propped open a bit with some removable sections of scrap 4x4. This keeps them from getting too hot and humid. Once the rain really starts up I'll open them completely every few days to water everything. To muck around inside them, pick things, weed, etc., I can prop them up against the siding of the garage and they seem pretty secure. The glass is really, really thick and heavy.

Hopefully they'll work out. Unfortunately, there's nowhere in the yard that gets really great full sun, so I hope the added shade from the lip of the frame doesn't hurt too much. It's a balancing act between providing space for the plants to grow tall, and shading them while they're younger. They have about 12" of headroom in the front and closer to 20" in the back. But one of the cool things about this is that conceivably these are just basically planter boxes, so in the future I could always put them in the yard as such, if say, there isn't enough light for them to work well where they are or if we move somewhere with a spot of full sun.

As for flaws, I overbuilt them a bit. They'll last a while but they take two people to move. And the glass is heavy, and I'd like an easier way to open them up fully. I may also paint the inside black, to harness more heat, or coat it with tinfoil to reflect some light into the darker corners.

So that's the situation. Will I have fresh Salad in February? We'll see how it works out.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Experiment: Belgian Candi Syrup


Most homebrewers are taught, or have somehow come to believe that sugar, plain refined sucrose, is the devil. It makes your beer "cidery". It's a relic of the old days. Of a time of poor ingredients and even poorer methods. It smacks of the sort of cost-shaving that is the hallmark of The Big Guys, added to save a few pennies at the expense of real flavor and "real" beer.

Across the pond, well, outside the confines of the Reinheitsgebot at least, brewers have long known that yes, sometimes you could save a dime by using sugar but you can also add character to a beer. In fact, sugar allows you to do some things that are much more difficult to do with all grain brews, and to achieve flavors unavailable from malt. That these sugars and syrups have left such a mark on the brewers of England and Belgium is shown by the fact that many continue to use brewing sugars, even after changes to tariffs and tax structures have made the sugar much more expensive in comparison to malt than it once was.

Though there are some notable Belgian brewers who do not use sugar, almost all do. And for good reason. Sugar, and here I mean plain sucrose, will ferment out almost completely. This means you can add alcohol without adding body, a hugely important characteristic in the effervescent, strong, and yet satisfying beers of Belgium. The monks call this balance 'digestibility', a character that everyone should try to emulate whenever brewing a Belgian. Without some serious skills, equipment, ingredients and practice, it is very difficult to get the degree of attenuation seen in most Belgian strong beers, typically more than 80%, without the use of sugar. Failure to reach that level of attenuation results in a heavy, cloying beer that seems to sit in your belly like a gargoyle in a cathedral basement, rather than a spray of Summer sunlight through an Abbey stained-glass window. (Preferably not a spray of Summer colors on an Abbey window. Always in moderation.) Point is, you should always be adding 10-20% sugar to your Belgians, and I like to add up to 10% in British beers as well.

But not just any sugar will do. Much has been said about how "Belgians use beet sugar" and that that somehow makes it clearly superior. Allow me to say poppycock.


At the level of refinement we see table sugar, the clear white crystals, sucrose is sucrose. It's a fructose and a glucose showing a little too much PDA and that's it. Any 'character' between the sugars would be the result of impurities, which you just don't see much of in refined sugar. Sugar is sugar, cane or beet, and I've not seen anything to convince me otherwise.

However, Belgian brewers are known for using something called 'Candi Sugar'. This has been available for a while in rock form, and more recently in syrup form. In it's lightest form, clear candi sugar, it's basically just the exact same damn thing as table sugar. If you buy those little clear rocks you are being suckered into paying roughly 10 times too much. Just use table sugar. If you really, absolutely must have it in little rock form, go ahead, make a simple syrup and dangle a string in it for a week or two. Rock candy will form, just like in elementary school. That's how they do it. Really. It isn't magic. Clear Candi sugar is just table sugar. Don't waste your money.

The darker colors on the other hand are something more special. Without them you really can't make a proper Dubbel or Strong Dark. Many of the abbey brewers will mash in with pilsner malt, maybe a little wheat or carpils, and then add color and flavor solely with the darker syrups. Fortunately, in the last few years Dark Candi, inc. has made them available to homebrewers. But how special is dark candi sugar?

It's just caramel after all, how hard can it be?

Well, yes you could take plain sugar and caramelize it until it is really dark and you'll have something that will have some interesting dark caramel flavors. But you'll get more toffee and burnt caramel, like you might find in a nice Toddy Porter, than you'll get dark fruit, cherry, rummy flavors. Also it will probably turn into a rock when you're done.

To really get at the dark fruit and chocolate notes in dark candi sugar, a little chemistry is needed. If you were just to caramelize the sugar as above, you're using pyrolysis to break down the sucrose under heat, at temperatures about 320 degrees F. But the flavors in the darker candi syrups come also from a different process, our good friend the Maillard Reaction. Here the sugar browns through the combination of heat and complex reaction with amino acids, producing similar yet distinct flavors from caramelization. It's the reason bread crust browns and tastes good, for example.

Poking around on the internet one day I came across this thread on Homebrewtalk. Though I'd read about this sugar chemistry in both Radical Brewing and Brew Like A Monk, I'd never tried to actually make some dark candi sugar from scratch. In the past I'd just made do with inverting and deeply caramelizing various sugars, which frankly works fairly well. But this looked like a fun experiment.

The basic idea is that you're making a syrup with the notable addition of an ammoniac compound, in this case our good friend and common yeast nutrient di-ammonium phosphate (DAP). The DAP breaks down, providing free nitrogen and a phosphoric acid to supercharge the maillard browning process. Once either boiled off or consumed in the reaction, the ammonia is gone, leaving a funky dark maillard candi syrup.



So I set out one afternoon to make a test batch or three.

The recipe I used was SnickASaurusRex's Sugar #5:
Over medium heat bring to a boil

2 Lbs Sugar
1 Cup Water
3 tsp DAP

Raise this to the terminal temperature of 290F. At 290F begin stirring and add in:

1 Cup Water

Continue stirring until the sugars are dissolved. Again, bring the solution up to 290F over medium heat. At 290F begin stirring and add in:

1 Cup of Water

Stir this until the sugars are dissolved and the temperature starts to rise a couple degrees. This Should be right at or just above soft ball (240F). This is when the syrup is done. Stop the cooking by submerging the pan in cool water or by transferring the syrup to a preheated mason jar.
So I got everything together and started boiling it on the stove.

And it was a complete failure.

A word on yeast nutrients. Frankly, there's a poor naming convention with regards to what is a "yeast nutrient", "yeast energizer" and so on. For this you need DAP, straight pure DAP. If it's clear, it's probably DAP. If it's brown and labeled 'Yeast Nutrient' it's one of the blends, which probably does have some DAP in it, but also has dead yeast cells, vitamins, and other things in it. It will not work for this.

I used some "Yeast Nutrient" because that is what I had around. As you can see, at the various temperatures where the reaction should have been taking place, it wasn't. Oh well, waste not want not. I poured it in a preheated mason jar and later inverted it, caramelized it up a bit more, and used it in a little British Fresh Hop Bitter which turned out delicious.

Once back from the store with some proper DAP I set out again. As you can see, this time I got a much more marked color progression. The first syrup I took a bit far, maybe 295 and it has an edge of burnt bitterness, but also exhibits dark stone fruit, plums, cherries, and a deep dark rumminess. I think it will be great in a Strong Dark.

One problem though was that, despite my best candymaking techniques, I could see small sugar crystals starting to form. This wouldn't be shelf-stable indefinitely. Yes, you could just make this on the day of brewing and pitch it right in at the end of the boil. But I figure it's better to make it beforehand and have it ready when you need it. No one wants to clean a boilover of this stuff, brought about by a busy and inattentive brewer.

So I set out again and made a batch of Amber, bringing it up to only 280 degrees. This time, at the end when I added the water back in I also added a tablespoon of tartaric acid. Bringing the whole mess back to a boil with this acid addition partially inverted it, meaning that some of the sucrose broke down into simpler sugars, fructose and glucose, which act to impede crystallization. This one was a much, much smoother syrup.

Just for fun I put a pound of honey on the back burner and caramelized the hell out of it. Unfortunately I was wrapped up in the candi sugar experiment, and it went a bit far. But it's still got a really interesting flavor, which I'd describe as burnt marshmellows with an edge of honey.

Finally some advice:

Ventilation. The syrup will pump out ammonia in the early stages. Don't take a big whiff, and make sure you open windows or run your stove fan. It was...intense.

Fresh air good!

Choose the right pot. You want one with a thick, conductive bottom and high walls. The syrup will bubble up and I promise you, you don't want a caramel napalm spill. I've got a nice high wall 4-quart All-Clad that works great. If it's too big you'll get a hot spot in the middle, which could make for uneven browning and probably darker syrup than you're shooting for.

Prevent crystals. Stir in the sugar really well at the beginning but stop stirring once it comes to a boil. You can take a pastry brush and some water and wipe down any sugar crystals from the side of the pan, if they're left there they could provide nucleation points for crystal growth later. I do recommend inverting the syrup when you're done, or you could just add a few tablespoons of corn syrup (glucose) at the end.

Preheat your jar if you're using glass. Let the syrup cool to at least boiling temp before pouring it in the jar and be sure to fill the jar with hot water for a few minutes first. Otherwise it may shatter from heat shock. Broken Glass. Scalding caramel. Bad news.

I'll be trying out my syrups in a series of brews to come, stay tuned!
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Friday, September 17, 2010

You Say Potato, I Say Ye Chick'n Of The Dirte


So the Potato Project is officially finished. In terms of rigorous scientific method it was a total disaster. Which is why all my evidence will be of the best kind: anecdotal.

I managed a harvest of about 18 lbs of Yukon Gold and Purple potatoes from two 1 lb. packs of starter potatoes. Not bad, but not great. I think I can do better next year.

Here, in short, is what I learned.
  1. Potatoes are really, really easy to grow. Seriously. I neglected the hell out of them and they still grew just fine. Barely watered them all Summer. Never fertilized them once. Subjected them to daily psychological and emotional abuse. The soil was just a 2:1 mix of garden dirt and compost, without any lime added to soften it and no fertilizer. And yet they struggled through it. Lesson learned: Potatoes appear to be immune to psychological torture. And yeah, I probably should water them more next time. Maybe a dose of fertilizer wouldn't hurt either. But damn, potatoes sure are hardy critters.
  2. Potatoes grow just fine in whatever you put them in. Just plant them near the bottom and mound away. In terms of yield, I didn't notice a difference between the boxes and the grain sack. The potatoes in the plastic tubs were larger, so I guess the tubs win. But those potatoes were planted a couple weeks before the rest, so they had a head start. Lesson learned: plant earlier. Around St Patty's.
  3. The plastic tubs and the grain bag held up just fine and will be used again next year. The cardboard boxes though... Ok. They held up just fine, in that they more or less kept all the soil in and supported the plants as they grew. But the bottom did eventually rot out around them, so moving them once planted: not an option. Also my Weedwhacker did a number on the cardboard, so watch out for that one. But it was nice to chuck the boxes and spent plants into the compost bin all at once at harvest time. No fuss, no muss. Lesson learned: the plastic bins are probably the best, but cardboard worked out just fine. I seem to be racking up old tires right now, so I may try the tire stacking method next year too.
  4. I recommend harvesting on a sunny day if possible. It's much more pleasant to dig around in the dirt and the potatoes are easier to spot.. Also, they face less chance of molding or anything else untoward.
  5. Growing potatoes in boxes is a great way to plant them without having to dig up your landlord's lawn or put in a bed. I'd say if you put a good tarp down underneath (to help with cleanup) you could do this pretty much anywhere.
So the harvest is now in a big paper bag, sitting in the house in a corner. You need to keep the newly harvested potatoes in the dark and reasonably warm for a couple weeks in order to "cure" them. The skin thickens up and dries out a bit, giving them a much longer shelf life.

Not that they'll last that long. They're delicious.

Died back and ready to harvest!

Rotten right down to the core.

Digging Yukons is fun. They're like buried gold bars. Arrr, treasure!

Sometimes I can take OK photographs.
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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Brewday: Double Batch - Chanterelle Belgian Blonde / Seattle-Belgique

Vacation, while fun, did put a ripple in the ol' beer production line. Time to get brewing again!

In Miami I always brewed Belgians in the late Summer, early Fall. The reason being that we airconditioned our house down to 80 and there was always a chance that a hurricane could swoop in and we'd lose power for an indefinite period. I'd start them off in my chill-chest, it's best to start Belgians off in the mid-60's and let them climb on their own, but due to space issues they'd secondary at room temp. So I brewed things that could take the heat: Saisons and big Belgians. Starting with a Blonde or a Dubbel, by brewing back to back I could repitch the yeast four times or so, growing an impressive yeast cake before the final brew of the season, a big, Belgian Strong Dark. Remember, in Belgian beers attenuation is king. Keep your yeast happy and plentiful, then let them do their job, or you'll end up with cloyingly sweet beer.

Here I don't have to worry about hurricanes or 80 degree houses. My place is 66 right now, which is just about perfect for an ambient temp ferment. Jumping on the chance of a nice, sunny day I decided to brew a double batch to make up for a month of non-brewing. By a bit of crafty use of the kettle, I was able to brew two very different beers from the same mash.

The first beer was designed to be a very typical Belgian Blonde. Now, normally my rule with Belgians is: start with a good base recipe, then mess with one thing. Mix it up, get creative, but if you tweak too many things you can end up with off-balanced chaos. Typically the easiest way to do this is just to play with the sugar, which should constitute at 10-20% of your fermentables.

But for this beer I wanted just a plain nice Blonde, because it is going to be this year's Chanterelle Mushroom beer. Last year I brewed a Chanterelle Golden that turned out pretty great, even taking Best in Show at last years' Cascade Brewer's Cup. Recently popped a bottle and as it aged it has taken on strange, saisony characteristics. Strange, but still good.

Nevertheless it has some flaws, some imbalances, and so I'm tweaking it a bit. I want the beer to be clearer, lighter, and more straightforward so that the Chanterelles will really come to the forefront. Now if I can just find some freaking Chanterelles... We went up to the North Cascades last weekend and managed to find a few tiny button sized Chanties. They're still a week or two out. At least I hope so. I don't want to have to buy them at the $17/lb they commanding in the market right now.

On the day of brewing I decided to double the recipe and pull a second beer out of my hat. A Northwest IPA / Blonde that I'm code-naming Seattle-Belgique. It's in the vein of New Belgium's Belgo IPA and Stone's Cali-Belgique; a Northwest IPA, but blond-yellow and with spicy Belgian yeast character. Maybe I can finally break my streak of mediocre IPAs? Due to the last minute decision to double the recipe I had to make a few substitutions. See the note below.

Chanterelle Blonde / Seattle-Belgique Double Brew

10.5 gallons, All Grain, 70% efficiency
Est. O.G. 1.068. Act. O.G. 1.067 for the Chanterelle, 1.070 for the IPA.
Est. F.G. hoping for 1.012-1.014
ABV estimates: 7%-7.5%
SRM: 6
IBU: Chanterelle = 26, IPA = 48 IBU
  • 20 lbs US 2-Row (could try US Pilsner or Continental Pils too)
  • 8 oz CaraPils
  • 8 oz Wheat Malt
  • 8 oz MFB Special Aromatic
  • 8 oz Munich
  • 8 oz Honey Malt
NOTE: the 5 adjunct malts were because of last minute substitutions and my not wanting to go to the store. If I had my way I'd use either 1lb Carapils or Wheat (building a little body and head retention), and either 1 lb Aromatic or Munich (adding a little color and maltiness).

Mash in at 150, mash out at 163.

Water modifications (Seattle-Tolt water):
  • Mash: 1 tsp Chalk, 1/4 t gypsum, 1/2 CaCl2, 1/2 Epsom salts, 1/4 salt
  • Boil: 1 1/4 tsp chalk, 1/4 t gypsum, 3/4 CaCl2, 1/2 Epsom salts
This should create a nice background level of minerals, with a 1:1 chloride and sulfate ratio and RA fit for a 4-9 SRM beer. If I was just doing one or the other, I'd tweak this to balance toward chloride for the Chanterelle beer and sulfate for the IPA.

Collected 12 gallons for the boil. Added another 1.8 gallons of water about half an hour in once boilover danger had passed.

90 minute boil:
  • 1 oz Magnum (leaf) @ 15%AA @ First Wort Hop
  • 2 whirlfloc tabs and 2 t yeast nutrient at 15 min remaining
  • Add 4 lbs Invert Sugar at 10 min. (Note: don't buy it (Lyle's Golden Syrup) and don't waste your money on "Clear Belgian Candi Sugar". Make your own, invert sugar is easy and cheap. Or just add table sugar right into the boil if you're lazy.)
  • 1 oz Willamette (pellet) @ 6% AA @ 5 min remaining.
Now comes the crafty bit. If you're capable of cooling less than the whole batch, run 5.25 gallons off through your chiller. That's the basic Blonde. Now bring the remaining volume back for 10 minutes more of really intense boil. From here on out you could add spices, more sugar, fruit, or as I did, hops:
  • 1 oz Cascade @ 10
  • 1 oz Centennial @ 10
  • 1 oz Cascade @ 1
  • 1 oz Centennial @ 1 min remaining.
  • 1 oz Willamette (dry hop - 5 days)
Then cool this second half as your IPA. Oxygenated both and pitched a packet of Saf-T58 dry Belgian yeast, properly rehydrated in a cup with some warm water, GoFerm, and yeast nutrient a half hour before pitching. Try to start them off at 66 degrees or so and then let them climb (within reason). I had some chilling issues due to warm ground water and probably pitched a bit higher. Just don't pitch the yeast at 80 or you'll have a world of nasty phenols and fusel alcohols.

Beers are fermenting away in the basement at 66 ambient (certainly a couple degrees warmer inside the carboys.) Two week primary, and the IPA will get a 5 day dry-hopping of Willamette at the end of its primary. Then rack and into the lager fridge for two weeks' cold conditioning at 36. Then bottling in corked Belgian bottles, bottle conditioned to about 3.5 volumes co2 with a fresh hit of yeast. The BJCP says 1.9 to 2.4 volumes, but that's BS. They just don't want bottle bombs, which, having experienced them while judging, I can understand. Just remember: thicker, bigger bottles if you're going over 3 volumes.

Assuming I forage/buy Chanterelles in the next two weeks or so I'll take 1 lb of the mushrooms, chop them up fine, cover with vodka in a mason jar, and stash somewhere quiet for two weeks. Then add the mushroom schnapps to taste at bottling.
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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Garden Update: Late Summer


Right, it smells like Fall outside now, so it's time for a garden update. It's apparent that my beds need more compost and maybe some moss or something, the 2:1 ratio of Veg soil and Cedar Grove compost tends to drain really quickly and doesn't hold moisture as well as I'd like. A project for the Spring.

After a wet and cold June some of the plants did better than others. The clear winner is the Red Russian Kale. It grows like crazy, needs almost no maintenance, fertilizer, watering, or care. Nothing really seems to eat it. Interestingly, it came in a seed packet of Mesclun Greens that I'd planted for salads. Everything else did fairly poorly, but the Kale plants are several feet tall. They actually serve a cool purpose though, the wide fronds shaded my more fragile lettuces from the worst of the Summer sun. But they also shaded the chiles I'd planted, stunting them. Oh well. Looks like I'm going to be buying chiles in the future. The zucchinis did pretty well this year. Produced a few good sized ones, but not so many that we were totally sick of them. Just flowered again too, may get another one or two zukes out them still. The Yard Long Beans were a complete disaster. Should have planted them much, much earlier. But the ones I'd planted in June got sad and diseased in the wet and cold, while the ones I started inside to replace them didn't take off until the heat of August, by which time it's just too late. I need a grow light inside to do starts, we just don't get enough light in the early Spring. The Yard Longs need more heat, and full sun. Maybe I'll plant them in the middle of the front lawn next year. Because they are delicious.

We'd planted Ruby Spinach in-between some Sugar Snap Peas with the idea that they'd be companion plants; the extra nitrogen from the peas would help the spinach out. Boy did it ever. By the time they bolted, the spinach was taller than Meredith. We finally pulled the stalks, stripped the leaves, quickly blanched, packaged, and froze the remaining spinach; netting us several pounds of frozen spinach. Unfortunately, shaded somewhat by the huge spinach, the peas developed a powdery mildew. Spray took care of it, but the peas went through the wringer. Only got a few more pods off the plants before they were done for the season. They'd done well though, I snacked on them every time I went out to check on the garden. The leeks have reached full size and are starting to send up flowers. They didn't get as big as I wanted, but my green onions struggled too. I think the soil mix, either pH or nutrients, is not quite right for alliums. Have to look into that one.

The tomatoes have grown like crazy! This is my first time trying the English hot-house trellis method and I have to say: hell yeah. They're up over the garage roof. It's actually a cool setup here: the garage shades them a bit in the morning, yes, but makes up for it with reflected heat and light from the afternoon sun. Once they hit the eaves I just let them hang freely back down.

You can also track the season on the vines. At the very bottom are the first tomatoes that set back in May. Most of them have ripened and met their tasty fates. Then there's a spot with a lot of dropped buds: June, where everything refused to set. Then further up you start seeing tomatoes again until you hit August's growth, with many many set tomatoes hanging from the very top.

As usual, Seattle grew the hell out of the Cherry Tomatoes. We planted Sungold this year and they are rocking. Easily 100 tomatoes. The Prudence heirloom did very poorly in June, but has more than made up for it during August's heat. The Black Prince set some very early tomatoes, many of which were, ahem, kind of lewd.

The San Marzano Romas started off slow, but have now set a good thirty or so tomatoes. Unfortunately they don't all want to ripen at once, meaning no giant harvest and sauce canning day.

Otherwise the herbs have done well. Parsley is rocking right now, and the mint held up. The dill though. What the heck.

It shot up these long stalks, with almost no leafy fronds. So much for cooking and pickling with it. So I've let it go to seed, at least I can harvest dill seed. I planted it in the same pot as some pickling cucumbers, and they did fairly well this year. I probably harvested a good 10 pounds of pickling cukes from them, ending up with around 8 quarts or so of pickles. Made a 4 quart batch of my grandmother's Bread and Butter pickle recipe, which should be enough to grace our sandwiches until next year.

The hops have been a disaster this year. They got a start in May, but then the cold June stunted their new growth. The bines that were already up never really grew like crazy. Interestingly, the only one not to have sprouted by June, the Chinooks, grew like crazy afterwards, had the best growth, the most and biggest cones.

But the basic story is that they are rootbound. The pots are too small, the nutrients just aren't there, and they need to be watered constantly. Consequently they had stunted growth, insect problems, and bine die-offs. I've got to come up with something better for next year. Maybe half-wine barrels or 30 gallon pots. Of course, planting them in the ground would be nice too. I may get enough hops for a fresh hop beer this year, but it will probably be an English Bitter and not an American IPA, if you catch my drift.

Moving Forward

So we head into Fall and Winter. The daylight is shrinking, rain is moving in, and our Miami cat is constantly seeking out warm laps and scowling at us like it's our fault the world is so cold. In the garden we're eating the leeks, green onions, and last of the zukes. The potatoes have been harvested and are curing, though I'm already using the tiny ones as new potatoes. The Kale will outlive us all. The tomatoes are still producing, we'll have loads through September and probably well into October. I've planted more weird lettuces, and about two dozen more overwintering leek starts, so we'll have leeks all Spring (by the time the storage onions are gone). Planted some Brussells Sprouts as a sort of challenge to Meredith: make them edible! We've signed up for a Winter Plant Start CSA with Cascadian Edible Landscapes. Pickup is Friday, I'll let you know what we get. With the tomatoes still in and one bed full of leeks I'm not sure where I'll put things...
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Fermentation Update: September

Right, so I've had some serious writer's block these last few months and it's been hard to motivate myself to sit down and post. Two posts in August and July. Ugh. Well, no time like the present.

One of the things I've been intending to start up is a sort of monthly update on things. For example, I usually post when I brew something, but I rarely come back later and talk about how it turned out, how it aged, did in competitions, and so on. So here goes.
This one came out spectacularly. I'm quite pleased with it, except for its unusually low gravity. Something is up, either with my grain mill or my base malt, but I've been dropping down from my usual 75% efficiency to somewhere near 70%. The last brew I did I calculated at 70% and it came out bang on. So that's the plan, until I can get this back under control. Otherwise this is simply a great German Hefe, and much much easier than a complex decoction mash schedule. Great Success.
The Sake continues to age well. Don't like the Genshu strength, going to dilute it next time. And it's a bit lactic. But still, it's very passable sake. It took Best In Class at the Evergreen State Fair last week. Of course it's also the first and only sake they've ever had entered. BUT they're leaving that most mythical and elusive of BJCP categories, Category 29 (Sake) in for next year, so I encourage everyone in WA, and even in other parts of the US, to enter it. Let's get an amateur sake competition built up!
I've been very pleased with how this one turned out. Bottling via a keg, with a concentrated growler of sweet cider for sweetness made one hell of a session draught cider. It took Best in Class at the Evergreen State Fair a week ago. I'm making another batch in a month or so, and this time I'm thinking of getting twice the cider and making one more of a "Foighten' Cider" this year.
The dopplebock ferment is done, got it down from 1.094 to 1.023 (9% ABV) before I racked it over. It was then dropped down to 36 over about 5 days and has been sitting there for two weeks. By my rough calculations:
0.09% ABV x about 4.5 gallons before icing = 0.405 gallons of straight alcohol

icing out 1.5 gallons of water we get:

0.405 / 3 gallons remaining after icing = 0.135% ABV or 13.5% alcohol.
Of course it will almost certainly be less than that, the ice removal is never 100% water. Still, it's going to be at least 12%. Two more weeks in the lager fridge, then I'll keg it, freeze it, and use a jumper cable to transfer the eisbock to a 3 gallon keg. Then another month lagering at 36. Then carbonation, and bottling with my BeerGun. Early tastes had it much hoppier than I'd planned on. Hope that calms down as it ages.
I'm very pleased with this beer. It's clean, nice, hoppy and malty, just a refreshing light Summer beer. If I've got a gripe it's that it's a bit low on body. Maybe I'll mash it a bit hotter next time. Also, I think I'll swap out the Munich for MFB Special Aromatic. It also doesn't have the floral aroma hop complexity of Chuckanut's. Probably just the result of sub-par homebrew hops.
This one is still a work in progress. Some of the hops I used weren't as fresh as I'd like, and I'm now convinced that my open-top conical will oxidize the beer if I brew less than 10 gallons in it. Due to either the hops, the conical, or both it had oxidation problems. I think the rye is a bit excessive too. May drop it down to a pound or two and up the munich and aromatic. May use Spalt next time too, if I can find any.
This beer was really quite fantastic. Unfortunately, the entire keg was drained at Beerstock 2010 this year, so if you were there you got to try it. Otherwise, sorry. But the real story is that this is the maltiest damn thing I've ever brewed. It was clean, malty sweet but dry and fully attenuated, pleasant hop levels, nice color (if a bit light). That MFB Special Aromatic is great stuff. Next time I may add just a quarter pound or so of CaraMunich, but otherwise I'm not changing a thing about this. The only problem is that it's now September and I don't have time to brew it again for Oktoberfest. Oh well.

  • Dandelion Belgo-Pyment - Dandelion Wine with honey, grape juice, and Belgian Strong yeast. Currently in mid-fining. Post when it's finished.
  • Chanterelle Belgian Blonde 2010
  • Seattle-Belgique IPA
  • Brother Russell's Dubbel 2010
  • Brother Russell's Tripel 2010
  • Brettanomyces Russellensis (a 100% Brett beer)
  • Punk! 2010
  • Fresh Hop beer of some kind (Maybe. My hops are a total disaster this year)
  • Mead Day 2010 - a Bochet Mead and maybe a Ginger/Lemongrass Sparkling Hydromel.
  • Cider Pressing 2010
  • Yggdrasil
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Update: Hefeweizen Glucose Experiment


Quick post because I'm going on vacation in a few hours and I really should be packing. Just popped the first 22 of my Glucose Hefe Experiment.

In two words:

In more words, it's quite to my liking, thank you very much. The key here is balance. In the past I've made very clovey hefes, but in this one the banana marches in and compliments the clove. Neither is too much (too much clove is harshly phenolic, too much banana becomes bubblegummy.) Body's good, not too thin. Head retention could be a bit better, but the carbonation is still a bit low (it's only been in bottles four days). Bubbles are still large too, as you can see in the photo. Again, it's only been in bottles a couple days and it only had about 2 hours in the fridge. Hops are just right, i.e. not present, just a hint of bitter dovetailing the clove.

It's not crazy or audacious, it's just a really good, basic German Hefeweiss. Honestly, give it a week to finish carbonating and a week or two cold storage and it will be indistinguishable from Paulaner or Ayinger. Just have to work out my efficiency issue, or calculate at 70% next time I make it. Corrected the OG up to 1.048 with light DME, so finishing at 1.011 puts it at 4.8% ABV. Could be about a quarter to a half percent stronger for my tastes.

Brewed this as my vacation/Summer beer and I can't wait to hang out in the sunny High Sierras, drinking this lakeside. Case of 22's is coming with us, that's for sure. Rest of you will have to wait a week. Slice of lemon is optional, but I'll probably mock you.
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Monday, August 02, 2010

Brewday: Hefeweizen (Glucose Experiment)

Zymurgy had an great article in the May/June issue on brewing a Hefe with serious banana aroma. Well, Summer is here and I had the inclination: banana up my Hefeweizenation. The gist of the article is that by mashing low; low low, like 104 in a thin-mash low, you set up both the right pH and right temp to make the most of the maltase in your mash. In theory this will cause the enzymes to favor certain sugars, namely glucose, which the yeast will use later on to make an increased amount of isoamyl acetate, the ester we describe as 'Banana'. Hence: super banana hefe.

Well the original mash program I designed was a quick acid rest at 86, followed by a thick-decoction heated to 145, added back into the main mash shooting for 104, then heating the whole thing to 162 and 172. Complicated, considering I can't directly heat my mash-tun.

Then it hit me, the whole point of this is to increase the amount of glucose in the mash. What if I added glucose? And glucose is just Dextrose, which I have in abundance from sausage making. So I made a modified mash involving a 20 minute Ferulic Acid Rest (clove spice!) at 113, then a sacc mash at 152, mash out at 168. Add a half-pound of dextrose in the last few minutes of boil for (theoretically) increased banana. Much, much easier.

Gravity ended up low low low, efficiency below 70%. So I added 12 oz of Light DME to spike it back up. Pulled a quart or so of the wort and boiled the DME in it for 15 min. Then cooled and pitched. Wheat. Sheesh.

So here it went:

Recipe: Ninnygeddon Hefeweizen

Est 1.048. Act. 1.041 (corrected back up)
Est FG 1.011
ABV 4.5%
Est IBU 12
Est SRM 5
  • 5 1/2 lbs Wheat Malt
  • 2 lbs Pale Malt
  • 1/2 lb MFB Special Aromatic
  • 4 oz Caramel Wheat Malt
  • Rice hulls added at knock out, a few handfulls.
Mash in with an infusion to 113. Infusion to 152. Infusion to 168. Water mods were 1 tsp Calcium Chloride, 1/4 tsp Epsom Salts, 1/2 tsp chalk. This should buffer the mash but also provide enough calcium for the yeast while making a chloride/sulfite ratio that enhances the flavor. Add another half tsp of chalk into the mash to balance out the hardness and the calcium during the boil.

60 minute boil
  • @60 min - Sterling (pellet) 5.3% AA
  • Yeast nutrient at 15
  • 1/2 lb Dextrose added last 10 min
Cool as best you can and pitch a hefe yeast. I did the Bavarian Blend, Wyeast 3056. I'd try to cool to 62, then let it raise itself to say 68. Cooler temps favor clove, warmer banana. This should balance the banana/clove. Unfortunately it was summer and my groundwater cooled to 70, so I managed to ferment a bit cooler but not as cool as I'd like. Don't ferment a hefe like a Belgian. Keep it cool. And 10 days or so max, then bottle. Don't bother with a secondary, keep the chunkies in solution.

UPDATE August 13, 2010
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brewday: Fustigator Eisbock

Fustigate: (v) To beat with a club.
That about sums up an Eisbock. An already strong Doppelbock that has been ice distilled, concentrated by removing the frozen water and leaving the concentrated beer behind. The last one I brewed was over seven years ago, and it is still probably the most widely remembered brew I've done. It was good, even if my stoner ex-housemates unplugged the lagering fridge while I was away for a month in Norway. But I think seven years' experience will make this next one great.

Step one in making an eisbock is planning. You can't just ice a normal doppelbock, it will be cloyingly sweet. You should brew a doppel expressly designed to ferment as dry as possible, so that when it's concentrated it sweetens up nicely. Also, make sure you have plenty of yeast around. I brewed up a Helles and an Oktoberfest just to be starters for this one. By the end I had just under a half quart of solid Wyeast Continental Lager built up.

The base is German Pils and Munich, with a pound of CaraMunich. At the last minute I decided to add 6oz of Special B, a dark Belgian crystal malt. I think it will add a nice deep caramel complexity, but time will tell whether it also added too much caramel malt and over-sweetened it. Hops are way in the background on this one, about 28 IBU of Brewers Gold and Sterling, because that's what I had in the freezer. Shot for 9.5%, when it's been iced it should be up around 11%.

RECIPE: Fustigator Eisbock

ABV (pre-eisbocking): 9.25%-9.5%. Post Eisbocking: 11%ish.
O.G.: 1.094
F.G.: 1.022-24 probably, 1.020 if I'm lucky.
IBU: 28
SRM; 18
  • 10 lbs German Pils (had to use Best, would have preferred Weyermann)
  • 7 lb Munich (10L)
  • 1 lb CaraMunich
  • 6 oz Special B
Infusion mash to 144 for 20 minutes, then infusion to 156 for 30. Pulled a decoction to mashout at 168. The stepped infusion was due to my 5 gallon stovetop pot being too small for a proper single infusion of that much grain. You could do a single infusion at 154 easy, I just didn't feel like firing up the propane burner until the main boil.

Water adjustments were:

Mash: 2 tsp chalk, 3/4 tsp Calcium Chloride, 1/2 tsp Epsom salts, 3/4 tsp Baking Soda, 1/4 tsp salt.

Boil: 1 1/2 tsp calcium chloride, 1 tsp Epsom.

90 Min Boil.
  • 1 oz Brewer's Gold (Pellet) @ 9.7% AA @ 60 min
  • 1/2 oz Sterling (Pellet) @ 4.3% @ 30 min
  • whirlfloc tablet @ 15
  • 1 t yeast nutrient @ 15
Cooled as much as possible using icewater in my plate chiller. Need a pump if I'm going to do better than 59. But I do have a new Stopper Thermowell, so I have accurate temp control again. After a couple hours it had cooled to 53. Racked off the cold-break and pitched my yeast. Fermenting away at 50.

I'll give it two or three weeks to ferment out, then a D-rest for a few days. Then rack it. Slowly drop it down to 35 and lager it for a month. Then rack into a keg. Into the chest freezer and I'll drop it to 19 degrees. Swirl the keg until noticeable icebergs have formed. Then I'll use a jump-tube to rack over into a 3 gallon keg. If all goes as planned, nothing will be left in the first keg but two gallons of ice. Then I'll lager the 3 gallon keg for another month, carbonate, and bottle the whole batch in 12oz'ers with my BeerGun. That's the plan, anyway.
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Results: The Great Classic American Pilsner Off

Back in February I brewed two Classic American Pilsners. One to a traditional cereal mash and 6-row malt, the other with a single infusion, flaked corn and 2-row. The object was to see whether the extra effort added anything to the brew, and whether it was worthwhile overall. Well, the last keg has kicked and the results are in.

The two beers were brewed just two days apart, using two packets of Saf-23 dry lager yeast. They were fermented for two weeks at 48, rising to 50ish. Then three days of 60 degree diacetyl-rest. They were then lagered for six weeks, kegged, carbonated for a week, and served.

I brought a growler of each to my homebrew club meeting that month and explained the experiment, doing it as a blind tasting. I'd say about 2/3 correctly identified which was which, but the group was pretty well split as to which they preferred.

The Traditional 6-Row Cereal Mash. Most noticeably this one somehow developed an unfortunate phenol, vaguely plasticky, bandaidy. My theory is that since I'd lost my Thermowell in the move I didn't cool it as well as I should have, and it started fermenting a little hot. So really, it wasn't a truly fair comparison. But the beer still had some things to recommend it. It poured a nice, very pale straw color, with a lasting white head. Slightly cloudy, chill haze from the 6-row no doubt. Just a bit sweet, somewhat corny. Floral hop in the nose, just a bit too much hop flavor and bitterness I think. Probably would scale back on the hops for both recipes, and swap out the domestic Hallertau for something else, maybe Sterling or Czech Saaz.

One thing I discovered, while out doing some work in the garden, was that this beer seriously benefited from the Green Bottle Effect. Just a few minutes in the sun brought out a hint of skunk, and though it sounds off-putting it really brought a nice balance to the beer. Next time I'd even consider putting the whole carboy out in the sun for 15 minutes or so before kegging.

The Modern 2-Row with Flaked Corn. This one fermented out much cleaner. It was a shade darker, and much clearer. That's the 2-row for ya. It was more malty, and more dry. The hops came out more clearly, and I wasn't happy with the profile. Again, I'd probably drop the IBUs down a bit and switch out for a cleaner hop. I won't be using US Hallertau for a while, maybe ever again. This one was my favorite of the two, but a lot of it was due to that weird phenol in the 6-row. It was much easier to brew too, so I guess this one was the winner.

In the future. Due to their being lagers, the experiment took several months. I'm thinking I'll try it again, but quickly this time, as simple Cream Ales for the short, hot Summer. Maybe put them on Nitro this time...
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Release the swarm!


It's been a slow year for my hops. The gray, rainy June stunted the vigorous growth of May, but they seem to be back on track. I also added some more fertilizer, in the form of an organic fertilizer tea, which has helped. I need a bigger pot for my Cascades, they're pretty rootbound. But the Chinooks and Centennials are doing well and the new Tettenanger rhizome is settling in nicely. But as usually, an annual problem has finally arisen.

Hops are fairly easygoing plants overall, but they suffer from a few problems. First among them is everyone's favorite little green bastard: the aphid. Aphids love hops. Left unchecked they will blanket the newly grown leaves and the apical bud, they'll infest the hop cones, and they'll seriously stunt the bine's growth. If you see aphids you really need to get on top of it, ASAP.

Depending on how large the hops have grown you can do several things to fight aphids. Commercially, industrial pesticides are used. And to be fair, there are times when they are really infested that I think "Man, a little Diazinon would show 'em what for!" Which is one of the reasons that organic hops are so hard to come by. It's just so much easier to spray insecticides. But there's a geographical component to the problem too. Three-quarters of the country's hops are grown in the Yakima Valley, and the fields usually touch each other. Organic certification would be difficult for any one field, as the spray from his neighbors would reach his fields. Plus the social flak of "Hey neighbor, I now have to spray my fields more because your organic field is just a nursery for pests and diseases!" Add the economics of it all and you can see why organic hops are somewhat rare. Which is partly why they have been exempted from the Organic certification for beer. Well that, and I imagine that AB-InBev's 'Stone Mill' Organic Pale Ale would use all or most of the country's current production.

But if you are growing at home you can be as organic as you want to be. Not being stuck with an economy of scale, you can use a few more labor intensive methods.
If the plants are small you can just use your hands, crushing and flicking the pests off as best you can. You can use a water jet to blast them off. You can use an insecticidal soap, which works but I've found it's not usually great for the leaves. Or you can set your own biological control in motion: release the swarm!

Ladybugs. Lots of ladybugs. 1500 ladybugs. Picked them up at Swanson's Nursery for about $12. That'll put a dent in the aphid population.

One of the problems with ladybugs though is keeping them around. It doesn't do you any good if they decide the grass is greener in your neighbor's yard and just take off. So you need to encourage them to see the many perks, amenities, tax-breaks, etc. that your yard has to offer.

I started by sticking them in the fridge once I got home. A couple hours cold makes them slow and hungry. Then I released them as it got dark, since they tend to only fly during the daytime. Since it was right around the Solstice, that was about 10:30 at night. I also prepped their new home. First I sprayed the bottoms of the hop plants with the hose a bit. This gives the ladybugs water to drink and also makes them "stick"; they don't tend to fly when they're wet. It helped that it was gray and rainy for a few days too, they explore more on bright, sunny days. I sprinkled them around the base of the hop plants, and a few more around the garden. Then went to bed.
Then next morning they were all over the yard, and especially all over the bines, happily munching away on the aphids. But it's not really about how many they eat the first time around. Yes, the adults will eat lots of aphids but mostly they're thinking about other adult things: are there mates and is this a good place to lay eggs? If there's enough food around, they ladybugs will start getting it on like a tree-full of monkeys on nitrous. And they did. You see, what you really want are the ladybug larvae, which look like little weird alligators . I've heard they can eat 50+ aphids each, a day. And once they pupate into adult ladybugs the next round begins.

They stuck around in noticeable amounts for a good week or so, and I still see a few around. Hopefully the rest laid lots of eggs before they took off to wherever it is ladybugs go.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Brewday: BOOM-Sticke!

"All right you primitive screwheads, listen up. See this? This ... is my BOOM-Sticke!"

Oh Army of Darkness, you still rock my small, self-centered universe.

If you are one of the benighted masses sadly unfamiliar with this masterpiece of cinema, here's the full scene.

Two factors combined to inspire my first beer dedicated to The Chin. First off, my last Rye Alt was delicious but needed a bit more work. It had to either go more Alt, or more American Rye, and I went with more Alt. But the rye was excellent; it stays. Gives it just a bit of spiciness that really goes well with the malt backbone and German hop spiciness. Secondly, a couple weeks ago I brought back a growler of Chuckanut's kickass Sticke Alt and was inspired to try my hand at a Sticke.

Alts are basically the IPAs of Germany, or as close as it comes anyway. Alt means "old", as in old-style pre-lager ales. A malty ale, clean fermented, usually lagered, and with a hefty dose of German hops. Sticke Alt is a bigger, stronger version, typically brewed on a small scale and released to loyal customers in small brewpub bars. In its infinite wisdom the BJCP puts Stickes into the catchall Category 23 (Specialty Beer) so it's basically useless for competition. Oh well, more for us! And I'm planning on serving it at BeerStock this year, so more for many of you all too I guess.

Brewday went quite well, proving that having nice weather, no one else around, and drinking coffee not beer makes for successful brewday. Only screwup was that I forgot to add the baking soda during the mash, which may have impacted the chemistry a bit. No other real problems though. My LHS was out of CaraMunich, so I subbed in Crystal 60. Use CaraMunich if you can. Had to use Best Munich and Vienna, but I'd prefer Weyermann. My rye was Briess I think.

Gravity was lower than expected, 1.060 instead of 1.064. If I can get it down to 1.014 or lower it will still be in Sticke range, somewhere between 6-6.5% ABV. Shouldn't be too much trouble. I've had gravity problems these last couple beers, probably need to move the rollers on my mill closer together. Malted rye has been giving me gravity troubles too, next time I'll try flaked and see if I get more yield. For yeast I repitched a bunch of Wyeast Northwest Ale (Hale's Ale's strain). It's become the house strain, I just keep repitching it and culturing it up. But any clean ale would work, either American Ale or one of the actual Alt strains, Wyeast German Ale (not the Kolsch strain) or White Labs Dusseldorf Alt (a great yeast for Alts). Here's the recipe.


5.25 gallon, all grain
Est OG 1.064, Act. OG 1.060
Est FG 1.012-1.014
Est ABV 6-6.25%
55 IBU
15 SRM
  • 5 lbs Munich (Dark Munich, 10L)
  • 4 lbs Vienna
  • 3 lbs Rye Malt
  • 8 oz Crystal 60
  • 2 oz Carafa II Special
Mash Schedule: Protein rest at 122. Sacc rest at 151. Pulled a decoction for a knockout at 168.

Mash water modifications: 1.25 t Chalk, 1/4 t gypsum, 1 t calcium chloride, 1/2 t Epsom salts, 3/4 t baking soda.

Added to the boil: 1/8th gypsum, 1/2 tsp calcium chloride, 1/4 epsom salts. Also, I finally found out that Seattle Public Utilities doesn't use chloramination so I've stopped wasting campden tablets in my brewing water.

90 Minute Boil
  • 1.75 oz Domestic Perle (leaf) @ 7.2% AA @ First Wort Hop.
  • 1 oz Sterling (leaf) @ 8.5% AA 15 min @ 15 min
  • whirlfloc tab @ 15
  • 1 oz Sterling and the remaining Perle @ 1 min
  • Dry hop with Tettengangers for 3-5 days
Fermenting away at 70 degrees with Wyeast Northwest Ale. Once it's done I'll lager it for a couple weeks, carbonate, and tap it at BeerStock.

UPDATE: 7/19/10

So after about two weeks in the fridge I decided to tap the keg. 1st impression: This beer seriously needs to lager. A lot of hazy chunder fell out of solution, and the first couple pints were really quite unpleasant. I was worried for the batch, actually. But over a week of half-pint pours it mellowed out and cleared up. I like it more, but I still am not happy with it. There is a serious raw grainyness to it and it's not as malty as I'd like. The bitterness is a bit harsh too, I may swap out the Perle for about 45 IBU of Magnum. I'm switching the Best Malting Munich and Pilsner out for Weyermann. I'm going to drop the decoction and swap it out for a 15 min kettle caramelization of the first gallon of wort, similar to the All-Aromatic Oktoberfest. That thing is a malt beast. Won't be serving this at Beerstock, I'll serve the Oktoberfest instead.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Lake Wenatchee: Morels and Spring Kings


So this post is going up late. Late late. Three weeks late. Can't really explain why, just haven't been motivated to write. Which is a bit of a shame, because Spring King season is so short. By the time this gets up these spots will have been completely picked over and spent. Nonetheless it was still a grand day out.

Three weeks ago Meredith, our friend Andy, and I, headed over Stevens Pass to the Lake Wenatchee area. The target: Morels. We'd gone out two weeks earlier and been completely skunked. Hours of walking around forests, up and down hills. We found some nice wildflowers, lots of bear scat, and what used to be an Elk, but no mushrooms. I think most mushroom hunters would agree that Morels can be aggravating and difficult to find. Unless you are on, in which case they are everywhere you look.

They fruit in the Spring, usually in May and June, generally starting at lower elevations and moving higher as the seasons turn and the world warms up. They can be found on our side of the mountains, even in Seattle if you know where and when to look. They sometimes can be found growing on wood chips. But your best bet is the other side of the Cascades. It's drier and warmer, and the conifer forests tend to be more open-floored. They grow around rivers as well, Cle Elum is noted for that. They also like areas that have had recent wildfires, and really big burns will be blanketed with mushroomers when the time is right. Basically, to paraphrase David Arora, they grow where they damn well feel like it.

It should be mentioned that we are still very new to Morel hunting. Last year we were graduating, moving, working on theses, and so on, during May and June and we missed the season. So this was only our second morel trip, and Andy's first mushroom trip ever. We'd waited eagerly for months as Winter slowly plugged along. Watching the weather, waiting expectantly for Spring to give us a flush of fun before Summer bakes the mushrooms off until Fall. We had high hopes, little experience, and only a vague idea of where to go.

The weather was cold and crappy on this side of the mountains. We had freezing rain in the pass. But on the other side the sun broke through and the day turned warm (for May anyway), dry and breezy. But clouds on the horizon warned of thunderstorms to come.

We got lost several times. I'd never been to Lake Wenatchee before, and my GPS is not overly fond of forest roads. We accidentally took a scenic tour of Leavenworth, the quaintest Bavarian village outside a Leni Riefenstahl movie. Eventually we found the lake, then got lost again. As usual we started with a plan, but ended up just pulling over whenever anything looked promising.

The first stop was a trail to an old fire lookout on the North side of the lake. In all honesty we stopped there because we got lost and decided to stretch our legs and just dive right into the woods. Soon we were off trail, heading up a steep slope, keeping an eye out for tiny brown lumps on a brown forest floor.

Nothing. Not a thing. Despite the views and pretty flowers we were a bit dispirited and it was clear that we had to move on. So down the hill we went. Back in the car, a quick look on the GPS, and we headed over to the Eastern side of the lake, where we'd originally intended on starting anyway.

Picking a spot to stop is mostly about luck. We just pulled over on the side of the road at an open and pleasant looking forest. A couple hundred yards of valley floor gave way to a hill which went up another 600' or so. Elevation looked promising for early in the season, starting around 2000' and going up to 2600'. Doug Fir and Ponderosa Pine nicely spaced apart. Signs that it had been logged, then burned to clear the brush and allow the surviving cones to sprout. Criss-crossed by random logging roads too. Promising.

Parked the car and began to walk toward the hill. Within five minutes Meredith spotted the first mushroom. And it wasn't a morel. It was much, much more exciting.

A Spring King.

Meet Boletus rex-veris: the Spring Porcini. Until a couple years ago it was thought to be sub-species of the supremely awesome King Bolete, Boletus edulis, but it has been established as a species in its own right. We began to look around the area and started finding them left and right. Usually you could spot them breaking through the pine duff, and of course the biggest ones were the easiest to spot.

Unfortunately, Spring Kings share the common traits of all boletes. They are putrescent, meaning once picked you have to keep them cold or they turn to goo, and they are prone to larval infestation from various mushroom flies. The bigger they are, the more at risk of nastiness they are. So you have to do some immediate field dressing of any promising looking mushrooms. Cut them in half or in quarters. Look for bugs. Grimace. Trim nasty bits or toss the mushroom if it's too far gone. Better it stays there shedding spores on the forest floor than shedding worms on your counter, I say. We probably lost as many or more boletes than we kept. C'est la vie.

We wandered around for an hour or so, finding many more Kings and unfortunately discarding just as many. I am happy to say that the biggest and best was found by yours truly. But the majority were found by my companions... My Mushroom Blindness kicks in. Anyhow, the majority of the Kings were on the valley floor at around 2000 feet. Once we began to climb the hill they were gone by 2100 feet. We had still not found any morels, so we decided that we'd summit the hill and see what was up on top.

For several hundred vertical feet we found bupkis. Suddenly as Andy and I were climbing the hill, talking about the apparent lack of mushrooms, he said "Hey, isn't that a morel?"

And what a morel. The largest we found the whole day. If it was a snake it would have jumped out and bit us. In retrospect, it was good that it wasn't a snake. There are rattlesnakes on that side of the mountains.

We began to look around. Much, much more carefully this time. Soon we began to find them. Ones and twos, growing in little clusters right out in the open. Hinting that their more bashful friends were in the area, hiding just out of sight. Making you work for them.

I can't remember whether it was Andy or I that dubbed them "Stupid Mushrooms", but soon we were calling them that. Stupid, because that is how you feel when you find one, don't see any others, and then a friend finds one right smack in the middle of the spot you spent two whole minutes staring it. We went around shouting "Durrrrrrr" every time we spent a while looking at the ground, only to finally see one right there in front of us.

But the feeling, the excitement of being on a good flush is really superb. It was a nice day, we were finding mushrooms left and right, life is good.

There certainly is an art to spotting them. Here's an example of one next to it's best friend (and the mushroomer's natural enemy), the pine cone.

We wandered around the crest of the hill, finding Morels scattered throughout. Elevation was probably around 2500'. Here's a photo of the forest floor:

Not the prettiest forest, I'll admit. But it was full of tasty mushrooms, encouraged by the open floor and fairly recent burn. And this style of logging is vastly more sustainable and aesthetically pleasing than clear cutting. So it's ok in my book.

As we crested the hill it began to grow colder, and the wind picked up. Seeing the incoming clouds we decided to call it a day rather than act as lightening rods. Down we went to tally the haul.

Not bad for a day out. All told we brought in over six pounds of Spring Kings and seventy-six Morels, about a pound and a quarter. Once home we got to down to rough cleaning and trimming. Cleaned off the worst parts, and then stuck the mushrooms in the fridge.

Kings don't last very long while fresh. So we ended up drying about four pounds of the Kings with a friend's borrowed dehydrator, which came out to about four ounces of dried porcinis. Yeah, mushrooms are mostly water.

We cooked a variety of things with the mushrooms. Frankly the Kings don't need much other than some oil or butter and a hot pan, but I'll cover all that in future posts. My laptop's running out of juice.

Finally, I'm not a professional mycologist, but I am a lawyer so here's the Disclaimer. Get yourself a good guidebook, or talk to some friends who know what they're doing, before you ever eat a mushroom you have found. I recommend that you join a local mycology society. Don't eat unidentified mushrooms. Don't eat questionably identified mushrooms. When in doubt, toss it out. There are several things that look like Boletes and Morels that can make you sick, so learn to identify them. There are bold mushroom hunters and there are old mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.
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