Jan 30 2011

Emperor Norton Memorial Tasting Society January 30th, 2011

This learned group is dedicated to tasting beers that are difficult to obtain in Central Virginia, or have been cellared into rarity.  The majority of these brews will be commercial, but occasionally homebrewed beers will appear if they make sense within the night’s theme, or prove a nice segue between selections.

As usual, coherent notes are not expected to arise from these scholarly sessions.

This second January meeting of the year 2011 had the theme of “dark” beers. Apparently vagueness is not an obstacle for this intrepid and thirsty group. We drank a myriad of stouts and lived to tell the tale.

Emperor Norton is dead. Long live Emperor Norton.

The January 30th, 2011 docket included:

Herbell Brewing Fox in the Snow
Barlow Brewing Rice Burner
Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Biere
Porterhouse Oyster Stout
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2008
Three Floyds Black Sun 2009
Three Floyds Black Sun 2010
Upland Teddy Bear Kisses
New England Imperial Stout Trooper 2009
New England Imperial Stout Trooper 2010
Goose Island Night Stalker
Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout 2007
Founders Breakfast Stout 2009
Founders Breakfast Stout 2010
Deschutes The Abyss 2009
Deschutes The Abyss 2010
Surly Darkness 2010
Founders Backwoods Bastard

For me, the winners of the night were the Goose Island Night Stalker, the Surly Darkness 2010, and the Deschutes The Abyss 2009.  I had heard that the ’09 Abyss had gotten a brettanomyces infection, and it had. But it made it glorious.

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Jan 24 2011

Emperor Norton Memorial Tasting Society January 23rd, 2011

This learned group is dedicated to tasting beers that are difficult to obtain in Central Virginia, or have been cellared into rarity.  The majority of these brews will be commercial, but occasionally homebrewed beers will appear if they make sense within, or prove a nice segue between selections.

As usual, coherent notes are not expected to arise from these scholarly sessions.

This January meeting of the year 2011 had the theme of Belgian-style beers. This took us on a cruise through quite a few saisons, tripels, dubbels, and many sour beers. There was even a sour pLambic cider.

Emperor Norton is dead. Long live Emperor Norton.

The January 23, 2011 docket included:

Barlow Brewing Brett Saison
Barlow Brewing Black Orpheus – Black Saison
Upland Strawberry Lambic
Goose Island Fleur
Half Acre Bairn Farmhouse
DuPont Avril
Three Floyds Rabbid Rabbit
Russian River Temptation
Dogfish Head/Three Floyds Poppaskull
Cigar City Guava Grove
Barlow Brewing Lambicide – pLambic Cider
Mother Earth Tripel Over Head
Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious
Cantillon 2006 Grand Cru Bruocsella
Goose Island Pete Jacques
HaandBryggeriet Haandback
Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad
Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela
Southampton Abbot 12
New Holland Blue Monday
New Holland Envious

For me, the big “winners” were, in order, the Cantillon, the Russian River, the Boulevard and the Goose Islands.

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Jan 14 2011

Black Saison Homebrew – Black Orpheus

This is another one in the strengthening pattern of my somewhat unhinged homebrew batches. After doing a lot of straightforward and style-centric beers over the last year or so, I’m back to doing absurd experiments. The brown ale with black rice is bottled, and I’m deconstructing a saison now.

Playing around with Carafa III in my black IPA (now called an “American-Style Black Ale” by the Brewer’s Association) and a few other brews was fun. So I decided to play with it again, but to make a black saison. Much about the saison has been written, and they are highly regarded by the beer geeks of the world.

My twist on the common saison recipe was to substitute some international ingredients. The German carafe III malts would blacken the beer. I used the Mexican piloncillo, or panela, instead of cane sugar. I added hibiscus flowers to enhance the herbal notes. I used African grains of paradise, this is not unusual for the style, to increase the pepper notes. And, finally, I used the Japanese hop Sorachi Ace as a late addition and dry-hop in the hopes of getting a light lemon note.

To complicate matters more, this was a split batch where one side would be racked onto white grapes during primary fermentation, and both carboys would get brettanomyces claussenii, a low intensity brett isolated from English stock ales, in secondary.

Yeah, this is a really fucking busy recipe and I’ll make no excuses for it. I had a certain idea in mind for it, that I’ll share in a later post, and hopefully this will make sense after it has time to evolve in the bottle.

I had intended to call this batch the “Ace of Spades”, but it appears that a brewery has already stolen that Motörhead reference. Bastards. (And was for a freaking double IPA, too.)

In the end, I went with something  unfunny and more literate. This batch is now “Black Orpheus”, and you can interpret that in any way that you desire. I’m unsure what the white grape variant will be called, if it gets a unique name at all. Maybe “Black Bacchus”

The brewday began with the mashing of the grains, and here are the acidulated and carafe III malts. My secret weapon in saisons has been about 4 ounces of acidulated malt to add a slight sour note to the finished beer.

Next came the piloncillo, hibiscus and grains of paradise.

The grains of paradise, or alligator pepper, were ground up and added at flame out.

Hibiscus was added at flame-out, as well. I’ve come to learn, later, that hibiscus can be a diuretic. So, if you get to try this beer, I apologize in advance for all the pissing and such.

The piloncillo is a bitch to work with. I loved the taste of the sugar but the little pylons were hard as rocks. My Hispanic friends told me, after the brewday, it is common for people to put the pylons into pitchers of water to let them soften over night. Good to know. Wish I knew earlier.

The mash was for 75 minutes and at 147° F, in order to make the wort as fermentable as possible.

With 10 minutes left in the boil and during dry-hopping, I used the lemony sorachi ace hops that were developed at the Sapporo brewery.

After the wort was cooled, the batch was split into two fermenters. Half received white grapes after the first 48 hours of fermentation. Both received a healthy pitch of brett c as they were moved to secondary.

We will see how this all turns out. I’m not worried that too many ingredients and changes will overwhelm the beer. In this scenario, it is much more likely that some of the ingredients will just become unnoticeable.

This one is bottled and awaiting the bubbles of carbonation. I hope it doesn’t play hard to get.

The recipe:

Black Orpheus – (Black Saison) (8 gallons)

Starting Gravity: 1.061 (11/21/10)
Secondary Gravity: 1.012 (12/5/11)
Final Gravity:  1.006 (1/13/11)
7.3% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 89.7%
Real Attenuation: 73.5%

Mash (75 minutes ~147º)

13 lb Belgian Pilsner
1.0  lb Munich Malt
1.0  lb Wheat Malt
0.50 lb Carafa III
0.25 lb Acidulated Malt
2 lb Piloncillo Sugar (4 pylons)

Boil (60 min)

0.25 oz Goldings (5.7% AA) Leaf Hops (90 min)
1.75 oz Goldings (5.7% AA) Leaf Hops (60 min)
1.0 oz Sorachi Ace (10.1% AA) Leaf Hops (10 min)

¼ teaspoon Grains of Paradise (0 min)
1 oz Hibiscus Flowers (Dried) (0 min)

Primary (80º F)

White Labs 565, 2 Vials, Starter was made

Secondary (72º F)

Brett C was pitched on both on secondary

1.0 oz Sorachi Ace (10.1% AA) Leaf Hops (Dry Hop) (0.5 oz per carboy)

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Jan 11 2011

The Virginia Estate Ale Experiment

When a local farmer gave me a call about the grain he was growing, I was intrigued. It appears that Virginia Tech’s Small Grains Breeding Program had released a Thoroughbred barley variety.  So far, it seems to have only been used by Copper Fox Distillery (just an hour’s drive from me) to make whiskey. It is a 6-row malt, which I understand is better suited for the Virginia climate, and I can’t remember using anything other than 2-row in my homebrewing before.

The farmer was curious about using it for a beer, so he gave me about 5 pounds of the grains to play with. I initial thoughts circled around testing the quality and efficiency of the malt. How would the sugars I could mash out of the grain compare with the 2-row I normally use? Also, and this is the real bottom line, how would it taste?

When I received the grains they had already been malted and separated into 3 Ziploc bags. From what I understand from his process, he had malted and roasted them at different temperatures and times. Looking at the color of the grains and tasting them, they all seemed pretty similar to me. It looked like all of them were 6-row pale malt.

Since this was going to be a small batch, given the amount of grain he brought me, I set out to devise a simple recipe for this beer that would only feature this grain and some restrained hop additions. It, then, occurred to me that I could make a Virginia estate beer (a la Sierra Nevada’s Estate Ale). The grains would be the local farmer’s, the hops would come from my homegrown hop vines, and the water out of the local system. The yeast would be the rub, but used an American ale strain that I had gotten from Starr Hill. That yeast began in California, but it had surely gone through several generations at Starr Hill and then it had been used by me on several occasions. It was Virginian but nurture, if not by nature.

The brew session went quickly. I had decided to do an American Pale Ale and it would be very similar to a SMaSH brew (which is Single Malt and Single Hop beer). Only the 6-row grain and my homegrown cascade hops.

The grains were very normal looking and most of the rootlets had been spun out by the farmer.

The cascade hops were from last year’s harvest (2010) and I had dried, compacted and frozen them in a bags.

The original gravity of this brew was a 1.044 with an efficiency of ~70%. Given that this was a small batch, the batch didn’t go through my normal mashing process, I know efficiency was lost in that.

The yeast is pitched, and I look forward to tasting this Virginia beer. Definitely not the first of its kind, but maybe the beginning of a new, modern era.

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