Monday, January 13, 2014

Dunkelweizen - Review

Unfortunately no pic for this review.  I lost my phone right before I moved cross-country, all the pics disappeared with the phone.  The beer was a beautiful medium amber, with a slightly off-white head.

Appearance: Dense off-white head that leaves substantial lacing as I drink the beer.  Deep, slightly hazy, dark mahogany color (lighter than picture)

Aroma: Bready, toasty, hints of clove and fruit, finishes with a nondescript graininess

Taste: Sweetish maltiness upfront, likely from the caramunich, mingled with subtle fruit and clove.  Finishes with strong grainy/bready/wheaty and malty flavor offset ever so slightly by a bit of roastiness. Hops are non-existent, as they should be.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, medium-low carbonation.  Very good as is, could be equally good lighter or slightly heavier depending on the time of year its brewed (lighter:summer, heavier:fall).

Drinkability: I really like this beer, its definitely going to be something that gets brewed again and again (with small tweaks like my table beer).  The only reason this didn't kick waaaay back early in the summer when it was first tapped is that my CO2 tank went empty during a BBQ and I switched this keg out to something that had enough pressure to still pour.  I then stuck it in a fridge out in the garage and forgot about it, fast forward to today and it's something I'm very glad to have found!!

Thoughts:  In the future I think I will cut the caramunich down to ~0.5lb and see how the sweetness is.  As it is its not too strong but I'd rather get the malty/sweet flavors using mash temps/base malt selection than a crystal malt.  The yeast selection (WY 3333) turned out exceedingly well, though I might up the ferm temps slightly to emphasize the esters slightly in the future. The timing for this review probably couldn't be any better, as I really feel that this is a great beer for those dreary winter days.

Brewday - 3/26/2013 - Recipe & Notes
Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wild Yeast Wrangling - How I Culture Wild Yeast and Bacteria

In my experience, brewing sour beers is more about the culture you have than anything else.  I really believe this is why we are seeing all the experimentation by homebrewers using wild cultures and a big reason I'm very excited about Al Buck jumping into full time operation of East Coast Yeast!  Long before East Coast Yeast was around I was lucky enough to receive some sour cultures from Al, and they were fantastic!  However, with the limited availability of these types of stains, the smallish selection and generally high prices, myself, and and I think many other homebrewers are very interested in growing our own sour house cultures.

However this path doesn't always give good results, trust me Ive had to dump my fair share of wild beers over the years. In general there seems to be three general paths people take when wild fermenting.
  1. Ambient inoculation of wort
  2. Sour mashing
  3. Sour worting
Of these three I've only left to try the ambient route (never was in a good environment previously).  However I have tried the last two with varying levels of success, that is until I changed my approach a bit. I now think that there is a significantly better approach to any and all of these types of wild brewing, but before I get into that I want to talk a bit about what went I believe was wrong in various attempts I have made previously.

Sour mashing, and sour worting are really just variations of basically the same thing; Using bacteria and yeast present on the grain to sour and/or ferment the wort.  Now there are some differences, such as when sour mashing the wort is generally boiled afterwards and a clean yeast is pitched, but I've done this when I sour worted as well; in any case there is a lot of overlap between the two.People who go the boiling route often rationalize this as a way "protect" their equipment from all the bugs in the sour.  Which in my opinion is not a very strong argument.  Good cleaning and sanitation processes will kill anything in your equipment; I've never had an infection and I use the same racking cane, tubing, bottling bucket, etc., for both sours as well as clean beers, and often times on the same day!

To me, I'm less worried about wild cultures inhabiting my equipment than in what they are doing to my beer.  I've tried both sour worting and sour mashing many times, and when I first started, every single batch I made turned out horribly.  I'd like to think that at this point in my life I'm a pretty good homebrewer, but after as many batches as I dumped it made me feel like a noob and I was very disillusioned with wild brewing. However, it wasn't my brewing technique or anything else causing the issues, but rather, it was the approach to adding bugs we typically are told to take when wild fermenting.  

When we wild ferment we are hoping that whatever we just will nilly toss into our hard made wort is going to turn out wonderfully. Well to me this has always seemed a bit too wild west. Commercial sour breweries don't do this, why should we?  Their cultures have been selected over time and all of their equipment is teaming with good bugs.  When wild fermenting, I really believe that we really need to set ourselves on a better path to make sure we are going to get something we like. 

Not all barley is alike, environmental conditions, storage, and temperatures that the barley experiences on its way from farmer to the homebrewer can dramatically affect what type of bacteria and yeasts are present on the grain.  Until recently I lived in an exceptionally warm part of the US (Arizona), and the year round high temps resulted in a very different culture on my grain that other peoples.   

In wild brewing there are some really terrible flavors that will develop if the wrong bacteria are present: fecal, nail polish, hot garbage/vomit, diacetyl, etc., etc.  I've personally experienced all of these when using the normal handful of grain or sour mashing approach.  When I've cautioned others on my experiences on various homebrewing boards all the "experts" come out and lecture me on how I was doing it all wrong and that the approach always works, and it was my bad technique that was ruining the beers.  Yet, exceptionally small amounts of things like butyric acid, isobutanol, etc will completely ruin a beer.

If you have a tiny amount of  enterobacteria, butyric bacteria, oxidative yeasts, etc. in your culture, they can and will easily produce enough of these compounds to make anyone gag.  Wild bugs are hardy, and when exposed to a near perfect food rich environment like wort they tend to go gangbusters,with their populations exploding.  Luckily they are limited by other bacteria that are certainly present along side, but by the time they are being killed off the damage has been done.  Flavor and aroma thresholds for the compounds they create are exceedingly small, won't boil or volatilize off completely, and quickly ruin beers.

Luckily as I mentioned these nasty bugs can easily be contained, alcohol, hops, and pH all play a big role in killing them off.  Practically speaking though, pH is the easiest approach to ensuring their demise.  An easy way to accomplish this is by making a starter of your wild culture, and stepping it up several times.  Going this route the first step or two will kill off the bad bugs (pH drop), leaving you with something (hopefully) pleasant.  Its not foolproof, as there are some wild yeast strains that taste terribly, but you'll never have a bad batch with butryic or enteric bacteria contamination.  However, no matter where you are I believe you should ensure yourself a good start to a beer that will likely take 6 mos to a year to ferment, and I truly believe this approach will give you the best shot at doing that.

Wild Yeast Culturing - My Approach
  1. Start with a low gravity wort 1030 or less (1020 is even a good place to start) ~100-200mL
    • Not a bad idea to add a tiny tiny bit of chalk here, but not necessary
    • I like to hop it to 20ish IBU's (helps keep bad bacteria down a bit, not much but some)
    • I also like to add a tiny bit of nutrient here as well
  2. Add some grain to this wort
    • Doesn't have to be kept warm, and in fact I really recommend normal ferm temps (~65F)
    • May take up to 1wk to see anything
    • When it has fermented you'll see a layer on the bottom of the flask and the liquid should be fairly clear
  3. Decant the liquid (first one or two often smells terrible)
  4. Add more wort, 200-500mL depending on thickness of lees, fermentation activity, and the number of step ups you've done
    • Can be a bit higher OG 1030-1040, again depending on where you are in the process
    • Add nutrients again, and my wort is typically hopped (left over beer wort that I autoclave for starters)
    • Add some chalk/baking soda, with chalk being preferred (this buffers acidity keeping lactic bacteria alive)
  5. Let ferment again for a few days to a week
    • Doesn't hurt to try adding chalk again during this phase, if lots of acids are present you'll see off gassing, though with CO2 in solution this will happen to a small extent no matter what
  6. When things have settled down, repeat steps 3-5,several times (2-4x)
I don't typically go to a full five gal batch this way.  Usually I'll do 2-3 steps ups with the final size around 1L.  Using this culture I decant the clear liquid and pitch the lees into a 2-3gal batch, and the cake from the 2-3gal batch into a full 5gal of wort.  I believe you could easily go straight to a full batch this way but you might want to add some yeast a day or so in to ensure good attenuation and to prevent a complete acid bomb.(Bacteria grow faster than yeast, but are self limiting)

With my normal 2gal to 5gal approach, typically the 5gal batch isn't quite as sour as the 2gal batch. This is because the bacteria actually inhibit themselves with the acidity they produce, potentially killing some strains off and overall reducing their numbers (this is why chalk is added to the starters).

Going this route I've had nothing but great luck, and have never dumped a batch.

The beers typically start our very very fruity and tart (peach is generally what Ive gotten - your mileage may vary), and become increasingly bretty and funky with time. This evolution is my favorite aspect of wild brewing. There's nothing like opening bottles a year apart and tasting!

Before I finish I should acknowledge that going this route may or may not work with a sour mash easily. You could potentially grow up a culture and add it to the mash, but you might still get off flavors. This is on my list to try in the near future.  However, I have to admit that I'm generally not a fan of boiling soured beers, as it kills the evolution of the beer during aging, in addition if you boil your going to get a lower ABV beer than you planned on.  While its souring yeast in the culture are making ethanol, if you boil your losing any alcohol that was formed during the souring process.

One last caveat is that some strains of brett can oxidize butyric acid, producing isoamyl butyrate, which supposedly tastes and smells like pears.  Depending on strain in your culture this may get rid of butyrate, if that's your sole issue (unlikely), but it will likely take a very long time (1yr+)


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