Nov 25 2009

More Split Batches and Falling off the Blogging Horse

I took an accidental hiatus from the blog for a while.  Yeah, I fell off the blogging horse, so I’m dusting myself off and getting back on track.

I’m still moving forward with split batches, and I’m still trying to squeeze as much learning as I can out of these brews.

Sour Saison

My sour saison split is still getting funky. That was the one that I split a saison into two 3 gallon carboys, and I pitched brettanomyces B on one, and the cultured up dregs of an Avery Brabant on the other. They are still aging and they have both dropped ~0.001 in the gravity department.  The biggest difference between the two, from my infrequent visits to them, is that the Brabant is showing the signs of having some pediococcus and lactobacillus.  Neither are particularly enjoyable to taste, but these things take time to clean up. Before it is all over, I’m sure I’ll be adding the last bits of some sour commercial beers in the brett-only saison to fill out the flavors and complexities of the beer.

I might be bottling these beers in the near future. Although they have only been souring for about 3 months, I was aiming for more of “at bottling time” addition of brett than the long souring and aging variety.

Robust Porter

The robust porter split is done and bottled, and I’ll be comparing the robust porter fermented with Safale US-05 against the same wort fermented with the Safale-04 in a future blog post. I’ve tried them side-by-side once and there were slight, but obvious, differences. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find with this split, and I think I’m still better off not having expectations until after the last taste.

Belgian Dark Strong Ale

The next split was my Belgian Dark Strong Ale which is going three ways. Six gallons of the BDSA went down in a typical fashion with lots of grain, some simple sugars delivered through cane and candi syrups, and that was all fermented down with a gallon starter of the White Labs WLP530 Abbey ale yeast.  This was a relatively small BDSA, and it weighed in only (merely!) at an 1.081 OG. After that fermented down, I bottled about a gallon of that beer and then pitched the Wyeast brettanomyces lambicus on the rest, along with pinot noir & French oak. 

The third part of this brew was a gallon that BDSA wort that was fermented with Safale US-05 yeast (a clean, American strain).  What exactly is the style of a beer that has the malt and sugar bill of a Belgian Dark Strong ale, but is done with a California yeast?  A dry and malty Old Ale? I don’t know.  We shall see.


The latest split brew is a Mild, and I will probably bottle that this week.  This is a low-alcohol session ale that weighed in at 1.038 OG, and it  finished at 1.009 (and rockin’ 3.8% ABV).  I’m really happy with how this one tastes so far. It is as close to a worty, grain flavor as I’ve ever gotten out of one of my homebrews without being cloyingly sweet, as well.  The other part of the split was the same exact beer and yeast (Danstar Nottingham), but I threw in some French oak when I pitched the yeast on the second portion of the mild. I’m only leaving the wooded mild on those oak cubes for two weeks, and I will be bottling that one, too, this week.

Sour Cider

The last atypical brew that I have in motion isn’t a beer at all. It is a cider. Now, I made a cider a month or so ago under the tutelage of a fellow homebrew club member who is the cider master.  That turned out great, but I am making another batch of cider with the questionable idea of fermenting it with the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend. I had a plan to go brett-only, but it takes time for the brett to take off and this is fresh juice (off the tree, into the press, and into the carboy) with lots of wild and unpredictable yeast on the skins and in the press.  This mixture of two brettanomyces, a Belgian wheat, and a sherry yeast strain, as well as a lactic acid bacteria, will hopefully beat out the unknown critters.  I picked up the fresh juice last night (which was 50% Staymens, and 50% Pink Ladys) and I added the sodium metabusulfite to hold the natural yeasts at bay for a time.

A friend, in a moment of genius, has called this… thing “Lambicide”.  I don’t know how that name CAN’T stick.

The Battle of the Bocks

A few weeks from now, I have an epic brew day scheduled. My friend Greg and I are planning to do two 12 gallons batches at the same time. One will be a Doppelbock, the other an Eisbock.  At the end of the day, we should both go home with 6 gallons of each beer. No experiments or splits are planning for this. That 24 gallons should be enough.

Details of the above beers and ciders will follow….


Oct 13 2009

Homebrewed Chocolate Cherry Robust Porter Split Batch

So here’s the story of the chocolate cherry robust porter.  It was my latest split batch, and it ended up going three ways.

The inspiration for the chocolate cherry brew came from the cocoa nibs I won from the Dominion Cup homebrew competition.  I won a little over 2 lbs of Askinosie Chocolate cocoa nibs (which are the same ones used by Dogfish Head for their Theobroma beer) and knew that I had to work them into a beer somehow.

I had planned to do a porter, and it seemed like a good time to combine the cherries (which I had bought months ago and frozen) with the cocoa nibs to create some sort of black forest porter.  The cherries will add some sweetness to the beer, and I figured the nibs would help balance that out.

I think this story will have a happy ending.  We’ll see.

In my continuing mission to spin out a lot of different beers out of single batches, this one started as a robust porter towards the lower end of that style.  It began as 6.5 gallons of 1.055 OG robust porter. (Definitely at the low end of the style.)

I took 1 gallon of the cooled wort and pitched Safale 04 dry yeast into it, which is a quick fermenting English ale yeast.  I let that go at room temperature, and it appeared to be done within 48 hours. A later tasting will tell me if it fermented a little too hot, but it dropped down to a 1.010 FG.

The remaining 5.5 gallons where racking into a carboy, and I pitched Safale US-05 onto that, which is a neutral Cal Ale-type yeast.  That was ramped up from 68° to 72° F degrees over primary fermentation, and it finished out at a 1.011 FG.

I racked about a gallon of the US-05 robust porter into a small jug, and I set that aside. 

Here’s where it gets interesting.  I decided to put the remaining 4.5 gallons of US-05 robust porter on cherries and cocoa nibs.

First I thawed and de-pitted 8 pounds of cherries. This always ends up being a harder and messier work than I remember from the previous time. 

 Cocoa Cherry Porter - Cherries

Only 2 pounds when I took this shot

Cocoa Cherry Porter - The Pits

The pits

There are many different ways and times to add fruit to beers. If you are working with fresh fruit, it is a good idea to freeze them at some point. The freezing process will help rupture the cell walls of the fruit, making it easier to extract flavors from them. Freezing is also a good way to insure that you can capture the fruit at peak ripeness.

If you are adding fruit to primary fermentation, you’ll want to steep them in the wort at flame out, or hold them at 160° F to sanitize them.  Since I wanted the freshest fruit flavor possible, I added them to this beer in secondary.  Sanitation is important at this stage as always, but once a beer is past primary, the alcohol level is high enough and the pH level is low enough to discourage the growth of contaminating organisms.

Keeping as clean as possible, and having a sink full of a Star San mix nearby, I prepared the cherries and then pureed them in the blender.  I added that 8 pounds of cherries to the secondary carboy and, on top of that, add 6 ounces of cocoa nibs. 

Cocoa Cherry Porter - Nibs

6 ounces of Cocoa Nibs

With all the those additional sugars being added, I made sure to suck up a little yeast when I was racking the beer over and it promptly started to re-ferment again.


Cocoa Cherry Porter - Carboy

Cocoa Cherry Porter - Carboy Close-Up

Who dumped a Slurpee in my carboy?

Yeah, it looks unsettling, but the samples I’ve taken so far taste really, really good.  Like drinking a chocolate covered cherry with liquor inside.

It is going to be hard to figure out what the ABV for this will be.  The cherry puree floats on top and the hydrometer read 1.014 right after secondary racking.  It looks like it has dropped back down to a 1.012 again which might put us in the neighborhood of a 6.3% ABV beer.  Honestly, that number is probably wrong, and I’m not all that worried about it.

This one was put into tertiary last weekend, and will be bottled soon.  More on that later.

I’m looking forward to comparing and contrasting the differences between the S-04 and the US-05 yeasts.

In the end was left with:

1 gallon of Robust Porter fermented with Safale S-04 at 6.0% ABV
1 gallon of Robust Porter fermented with Safale US-05 at 5.8% ABV
4 gallons of Robust Porter with cherries and cocoa nibs fermented with Safale US-05 (??% ABV)

I’m also still working on a name for this one. Maybe a foreign name for black forest.  Perhaps it will be Forêt Noire .

A recipe will follow with the tasting notes.


Apr 28 2009

Founders Porter Review

Yet more of the Founders lovefest here, and this time I’m digging into their porter. It is an American Porter weighing in at 45 IBUs and 6.5% alcohol. The label says “Dark, Rich and Sexy.”

It pours a pitch black with no highlights. The head is moderate and the color of an oatmeal cookie. The aroma is a wealth of roast, coffee and some brown sugar. There is some sweetness beyond the sugar, too, like baked cookies. (There is a cookie theme at play here….)

The taste of this porter follows the burnt sweetness of the aroma. The mouthfeel is full and creamy. Bitterness is there but not a hop bitter, but rather in the form of a burnt roastiness. I think it straddles the line between a stout and a porter, and both styles should be happy to try and claim it. As it warms towards the bottom of the glass, this beer is full of sweet baking cookie flavors and, at the end, chocolate. Not the sweet syrup kind, but rather a cocoa powder.

This is a very full and complex beer and it would make an awesome after dinner beer, and could complement many deserts. I really enjoyed the Founders Porter, but I cannot imagine having more than one in a single sitting.

It is dark, rich and sexy, and hopefully in Virginia to stay.