Aug 25 2009

Brett and Sour Saison Split Batch Experiment


**2/22/11 Update** 

I sent the Brett B version of the saison (renamed Monsoon Season) to the Batch 300 competition put on by The Bruery. It didn’t get Best of Show, but it did come in first in Category 16. All and all, very cool. The results. 

The second split batch experiment happened on Sunday night with my latest saison. 

I’ve done a few saison homebrews, and I always find I enjoy the bretted and soured batches just a little bit more. Saisons are not complete strangers to wildness and sourness, and some of the more famous examples of the style from Brasserie Fantôme and Brasserie à Vapeur  are amazing because of those notes.  I think it adds more complexity to the beer, and I find myself ramping up the acidulated malt that I put into the mash a little more each time.  The idea behind this experiment was to ferment a saison and then to add a pure brettanomyces culture to one and brett and some souring bacteria into the other. 

The beer started out as one of my standard saison batches with the not-so-secret ingredient of some acidulated malt.  It started out with an OG of 1.068, and I fermented it at around 80 degrees.  It dropped down to a 1.006 less than a week later, and then I let it sit for another week just to clean itself up and let the yeasts drop out.  (I say “yeasts” because I pitch a saison yeast, in this case WLP565, and then a clean Cal ale yeast, the Safale US-05, 48 hours later to insure the beer dries out enough.) 

On Sunday (8/23/09), I split the batch evenly between two 3-gallon carboys.  Into one carboy I pitched a vial of White Labs Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (WLP650), and into the other I pitched a starter I had ramped up from the dregs of an Avery Brabant.  (Yes, this is deviation from the original souring gameplan.) 

 Split Brett Saison Batch

The Brett B is a pure culture of that brettanomyces strain and it is often used for secondary fermentation of Belgian beers and lambics.  It creates a medium intensity funk, and it is some pitched at bottling by brewers.  The Avery culture is a bit more of a wildcard.  It is my understanding that the Brabant undergoes a secondary fermentation brett b, too, but it isn’t the same culture as the tube.  The bottle dregs likely include lactobacillus (lacto) and pediococcus (pedio) bacteria. These can add extra tartness and perhaps add a vinegar quality to the beer. 

Since the final gravity of the beer was so low, the bretts shouldn’t have too much to feast upon and that should control the funkiness to a certain degree.  As of two nights later, the brett b carboy doesn’t appear to be doing anything visually, but its airlock seems to be under a bit more pressure.  The Brabant carboy is getting a white foaminess to it, and may be forming a pellicle.  

I’m not sure how long I will let these beers age and evolve.  I will likely taste them every so often and see if they are in a place where I want to bottle them.  

We’ll see where this one ends up.  

As a sidenote, I did use my wine thief a few weeks ago to fill up a few bottles of the pre-brett saison for tasting and a homebrew competition.  I tasted one right before the split and it was very, very good.  It made it harder to pitch uncertainty into what was an amazing beer, but at least I know I have the recipe I want dialed in for the future. 

The recipe for giggles: 

Le Moribond – (Saison) 2009

Starting Gravity: 1.068 (8/2/09) Days @ 80° F
Final Gravity:  1.006 (8/23/09)
8.15% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 90.71
Real Attenuation: 73.35

Mash (147° 60 min)
10 lb Pilsener Malt
2 lb Golden Promise
1 lb Munich Malt
0.75 Wheat Malt
0.25 CaraMunich 40
0.25 Acidulated Malt (Sauer)
1 lb Cane Sugar

Boil (70 minute boil)
2.0 Hallertauer Leaves (4.3 AA) (60 min)
0.75 Hallertauer Leaves (4.3 AA) (0 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (>80° F)

White Labs WLP565 – Starter made
Safale-05 – Packet pitched after 48 hours in primary


May 12 2009

Brewery Ommegang Bière de Mars Review

Ommegang, located in Cooperstown, NY, is a brewery that focuses on Belgian-style ales.  They make a very nice saison (Hennepin), a Belgian dark ale (Rare Vos) and a number of other interesting ales (like the Three Philosophers which is Belgian Quad mixed with Kriek Lambic).  

When I heard about their bière de garde beer that is funkified with brettanomyces, well, I had to check it out.  A bière de garde seems like the perfect base for this sort of souring since the style lays out a nice malt base but has a good bit of sweetness that the wild yeast can slowly eat through.

My bottle was the traditional heavy Ommegang bomber that was caged and corked.  This one was from Batch #2, bottled in October of 2008 and is 6.5% ABV.  The label calls it a “Belgian amber with magical space dust woven in.”  The strain of wild yeast is brettanomyces bruxellensis.

This one pours into a goblet a deep, apple juice red.  There is a lot of yeast in this one.  Huge chunks swirl around the glass and stay in suspension for the entire time I drink it.  I’m guessing the space dust turned into a tiny asteroid field.  Being a homebrewer, the chunks don’t bother me, but I am curious about why there is that much sediment.  The head is big and rocky, and it stays around like it is in a contest with the yeast to see who will flinch first. 

The aroma is sour with a relatively light amount of funk.  There is a tiny bit of dry hop spice and lemon, and they peek in from the corners of the barnyard smells.

The taste is acid on the tongue.  The finish is dry, like a saison, with a hint of mint.  The thing that comes to mind the most about this beer is its balance.  There is firm malt and the sourness which is refreshing without becoming that repetitive and pounding one note that a sour ale can become.  

The question I have coming out of this tasting, is should this be cellared?  I suppose it depends upon what you want out of the Bière de Mars.  If you like a pronounced but not overwhelming sourness and slightly sweet balance, find a bottle of this and drink it now.  If you are a sourhead, I’d suggest cellaring this one for a year or so to see how it matures.  This is a heavy-duty corked bottle with tons of living, wild yeast that can keep this beer evolving for quite some time. 

Definitely try this one out.  It is young, but it will grow.


Apr 16 2009

Brainstorming the Next Few Homebrew Batches

I’m scheming the next two batches, and I’m circling around a hoppy IPA and sour ale.

IPAs used to live in my wheelhouse. That was the one style I could nail all the time and every time. But the last two I’ve made just haven’t lived up to my expectations. That shit needs to change right freaking now.

This IPA is will be a hoppy affair. Hoptimization at its best. Jamil recently a did show where they were cloning Green Flash’s West Coast IPA. I’m looking that over and I might riff off that and make something along those lines. Maybe tweak the color a little. Maybe lead a bit more with simcoe.

Sour ales take forever to mature (I feel a name coming out of that. Maybe a Peter Pan reference….), so I just need to get that going so I can leave it alone and let it age. I’m thinking about a big sour like a Flanders Brown/oud bruin and then aging it on French wood that has been soaked in a darker wine. This is a good time to be thinking about it, too, since Wyeast is busting out the Brett strains from April to June. They are releasing Roeselare (the Godzilla of brettanomyces), their Trappist blend (an Orval strain) and the brettanomyces claussenii (low-intensity brett. character cultured from English stock ales.)

After that……I’m not sure. Definitely a saison, but those are best brewed warm (80+ degrees) and I will let the warmth of the summer help me with that. I’ve talked about making an Premium American Lager, too. Despite the fact I really, really dislike almost all commercial examples of that, I want to do it just for the difficulty of it. Honestly, brewing something like that seems *less* insane to me than the Coconut Curry Hefe.

Welcome to my world.


Apr 12 2009

Avery Brewing’s Brabant Barrel-Aged Wild Ale Review

Years ago I read that the Native Americans could not see Christopher Columbus’ ships as they approached the mainland.  The concept being that our minds cannot interpret things that are beyond our experiences and immediate understanding.  As interesting as that is, and as pregnant with metaphor as it may seem, that’s a load of bullshit.


The Indians had the same sense sight and abilities of perception that you and I enjoy.  They could, of course, see the ships, but they may not have understood them to be ships as these mammoth vessels, with huge sails, had little in common with the canoes they used.  They could be seen, but when you walk that close to survival on a daily basis the things that are not immediate threats or sources of food just get ignored.  But surely there is something more to life than that.


But I digress.


The Avery Brabant is the 1st in their barrel-aged series of beers.  It is classified as a dark, wild ale aged in zinfandel barrels for 8 months.  It was fermented with two strains of wild yeast, otherwise known as brettanomyces, and only 694 cases of this were made and bottled on February 10th, 2009


For those of you not familiar with the world of sour beers, this one is probably not the starting place.  These naturally occurring wild yeasts ferment sugars down more completely than normal beer yeasts, but at a slower pace. Lactic acid producing bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus are often used in conjunction with the brettanomyces, as well.  The flavor compounds and aromas that they create are usually an acquired taste.  It is common to hear that these beers have a “barnyard character”, and my personal favorite descriptor is “horse blanket”. 


Still with me?  Good, because this one has lots of horse blanket.  I might goes as far as calling it more of a sweaty horse blanket.  You sourheads know what I am talking about, and the rest of you can read on while you wait for your reverse hysteria to recede.


This one pours a thin, black color, like Coca-Cola.  I poured it vigorously into a large brandy snifter and it went fizzy as the head dissipated until it was a thin line of bubbles around the edge of the glass.


The immediate smell was overwhelmingly horse blanket and vinegar.  After a time, a tiny hint of wood snuck in with some vanilla in its back pocket, but it was hard to pick it up above the horse blanket which was getting a little chaffed and agitated.


The first sip was just like the aroma, but slightly milder.  I took this bottle out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes before I opened it, and it still seems at bit blunted by coldness.  There was alcohol warming right from the first taste which was a little surprising since this is a big beer, at 8.65% alcohol by volume, but not THAT big.


The more that this warmed up, the more it took on the character of wood and wine.  It seemed to thicken, and there were notes of plum and blackberry.  It became slightly acrid, and it had that absorbing wood dryness.  


Overall, this is a good beer that will probably be amazing in a few years.  It is still young, and it needs to be aged so that the harshness of the sour character diminishes and the background flavors bubble up to the surface.  I have another bottle of this and I look forward to reviewing it in, perhaps, 2011.  But do I have the patience?


If you have never tried a sour beer, I really encourage you to do so.  These usually are not love at first site beers, and I would suggest starting with an Orval before a Monk’s Café or a Rodenbach Grand Cru. 


I know that if I had the Brabant a few years ago, I probably would have poured it out.  It would have been way beyond what I would have expected a beer should be and, frankly, too much of a challenge.  If you feel that way right now, I get that.  Sometimes I don’t want to work too hard on a beer either.  


But if you see the sails of a sour beer come over the horizon, give it a try.  If you don’t like it, then put it down but don’t give up there.  Try it again in a year or so, because there is something more interesting than the beers you know.