Saturday, March 28, 2015

Belgian Beer History: Peter Bouckaert

I had the pleasure last week of listing to a lecture by Peter Bouckaert, the Brewmaster at New Belgium, on Belgian Beer History. I thought I should write down some of the key points he made before I forgot.

He started by having everyone shout out what their own impression of Belgian Beer was. He got responses like "Trapist", "Sour", "Wild", "High Alcohol", etc. He then pointed out that in reality the majority of the beer made in Belgium is pilsner. In addition he mentioned that ~10% of the market is "beer for kids" and had us taste Avril, a Dupont table beer. A style traditionally made from the last runnings.

Peter went on to talk about the history of beer in Belgium and the surrounding area, all information that you could read about elsewhere. What I want to record are some side notes that he made.

  1. American Malt is too high in protein. This came about because the Macro Brewers need all that protein so that when they cut their wort with corn and rice there is still enough Free Amino Nitrogen (FAN) and enzymes to convert the starch. He mentioned that the protein is too high to make a big beer without needing to add sugar.
  2. 1554 is actually from a 1447 book and by the sounds of it only loosely based on what was found in the book, he even had to decide if it should have hops or not.
  3. Peter's Reinheitsgebot has only 3 ingredients, Experience, Knowledge, and Creativity
  4. American brewers should not use the word Lambic, it takes away for the authenticity of real Lambics.
  5. Keep beers simple, he showed a panel for a trapist brewery with 3 buttons, one for each of the beers that they make. The irony is how complicated the beers are from such a simple process.
He finished by telling us that despite all that he just went over here and now are the best time and place to be a brewer. Made me very proud to be in the Colorado Craft Beer community.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Triple Chocolate Coffee Milk Stout

Triple Chocolate Coffee Milk Stout

Winter is in full swing in Colorado. We just set a record for February snow fall and the temp is 15 F outside. Know what that means? Time for some Stout! I was talking with my buddy John and we were both reminiscing about a Chocolate Stout he had brewed last year. He also mentioned that he had coffee from a local rooster, Coda Coffee. With that in mind we set out to brew a Chocolate Coffee Milk Stout. The only problem was deciding what yeast we wanted to use. Last year the Stout was brewed with Ringwood yeast, which I personally hate because of the aromas it produces in the finished product. Long story short we decided to brew a 12 gallon batch and split it into 3 carboys with 3 different yeast strains, and so Triple Chocolate Coffee Milk Stout was born!

The recipe was the same as last year but with a bigger batch size.

2 of the 3 strains we were using


OG: 1.050


15 pounds 2-Row Base Malt
2.5 pounds Chocolate Malt
1 pound Flaked Barley


2 oz East Goldings @ 30 minutes

Yeast (Bought from local company Inland Island)

INISBC-315: English Ale V (Listed as good for ESBs)
INISBC-316: English Ale VI (Not sure but has to be better than Ringwood!!)

At 14 hours all three were already fermenting away.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Yeast Starters: Contamnination

Yeast Starters: Contamination

I like to make yeast starters. I feel that the best way to get the proper cell count at the beginning of fermentation is to prop up your cells, get them ready to chew through sugar, and pitch them into the fermenter after a nice period of exponential aerobic (with oxygen) growth. By adding yeast that has just finished growing aerobically into a properly oxygenated wort (8 ppm) fermentation should fire up within 14-18 hours. This significantly cuts down on the chances of anything else starting to grow in the beer.

Recently I saw a T-Shirt at my local homebrew store that said "F*#k Your Yeast Stater" - John Palmer 3:16", made me laugh but also made me think. Of course the home brew store does not want you to make a yeast starter, they want you to buy more yeast. So I started talking to the manager and he said the idea was to get you to make the best beer possible so you stick with the hobby and that he would rather you under pitch than mess up a starter by getting it contaminated.

Lately I personally have had some issues making starters. I ordered some plate for contamination testing (WLD) which turn yellow when bacteria is present. I started testing my starters and they kept coming up contaminated. Made me stop in my tracks. I panicked and desperately started searching for the source. I own a pressure cooker and cook all my starters in it, was that the source? I use a flame and alcohol to make sure everything is staying clean, was poor sterile technique the source? In the end I found the culprit, the initial vial itself. I ended up testing 3 homebrew vials and each one had bacteria. I found three White Lab vials that contained bacteria, WLP-566, WLP-565, and WLP-005. Don't believe me? Try it you self. Here are some photos for proof.

3 different White Lab Vials tested on WLD. Each was incubated 24 hours at 37 C
If the photo of the plates is not enough to convince you here is a photo of the bacteria that I found growing on the 566 plate at 400 X magnification.

Bacteria at 400 X. White Labs 566 Plate

Pretty nasty right? I did not gram stain the bacteria but it looks like bacillus of some kind and based on how yellow the plate was I would guess it is lactobacillus. Maybe the T-Shirt was right, if all the vials come with bacteria in them it would be wise not to grow it up!

Update 4/25/2015
Purchased two new White Lab Vials, WLP-005 and WLP-530. Both were contaminated. WLP-005 had acid producing rods and WLP-530 had small chains of cocci like I have noticed in 566 before.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pumpkin Beer 2014

It has been an unusually long and warm fall in Colorado. The leaves are slowly falling from the trees, the temperature is still in the high 70s, and it is the perfect time of the year to brew a pumpkin beer. If everything goes as planned I should have carbonated bottles by the time Thanksgiving is here to share with family and friends.

I have been using a similar recipe for several years now, about 90% pale malt and 10% 20L caramel malt. This gives the beer a nice orange color. I also add 3 pounds of pumpkin for a 5 pound batch to the mash. In the past I have always toasted the pumpkin in the oven before adding it to caramelize it. For spice I add 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice per gallon of wort 5 minutes before the end of boil. This level of spicing is slightly less than I would like so I add some vanilla and additional spices right before bottling.

This year I decided I wanted to mix things up a bit and deviated from past years. I happened to have some molasses on hand and wanted to experiment with adding some to the boil for both color and flavor. I also had some fresh cascade hops picked by a friend that I hope will make a nice addition to the beer.

The recipe that I settled on looked like this.

3 gallons
6 pounds Pale 2 Row
1/3 pound special "B"
1 pound molasses
2 pounds toasted pumpkin

1 oz Fuggles at 60 minutes
1 oz home grown Cascade at 15 minutes
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice at 5 minutes

1 vial of Inland Island Oregon IPA Yeast

I mashed the pumpkin with all of the grain at 148 F for an hour with a batch sparge for 20 minutes at 175 F. The molasses was added at the start of boil.

Update 10/27/2014
12 hours in fermentation is raging, yeast took right off.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Baby's Barleywine Ale


My wife and I recently welcomed a new addition to our family, a beautiful little girl. In celebration of her birth I brewed a Barleywine to share with friends and family and a few extra to age for when she is older. I based the beer on a past recipe "Barley Wine 2012" which turned out fantastic. It was so good in fact that the bottles I intended to age ended up in my belly before the year was out. Using this recipe as a guideline I decided to up the roast, toffee, and chocolate and dial back on the hops to make it more of an English Style Barleywine. I also wanted to test out a yeast blend that I had acquired to the Brewing Science Institute labeled BSI-85. The blend includes a variety of English ale strains to create a diverse ester profile and California Ale Yeast to make sure that the fermentation does not stall out.

This is the recipe that I settled on:

Grain Bill:
71% Maris Otter
11.5 % Malted Wheat
7% Caramel 60
7% Caramel 80
3.5% Special "B"

90 minutes  Magnum 32 IBU
30 minutes Magnum 21 IBU
5 minutes Challenger 5.5 IBU

I mashed at 148 F for an hour to create a highly digestible wort
Starting Gravity 1.088
Final Gravity 1.020
ABV ~10%

Pitched BSI-85
Primary Fermentation 2 weeks
Seconday 3 months at 65 F
Aged 3 months at 50 F
Bottled with table sugar and fresh yeast

Tasting Notes:
Beer turned out great, carbonation is subtle which really lets all the flavors come through the beer as well as the body. Sweet and warming, well balanced at the finish. The roast really comes through as does the caramel, toffee, and chocolate.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Sympossium 2014

It is that time of year again!

For the past 4 years I have been lucky enough to attend the Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Sympossium. It is a get together for any brewers in the Rocky Mountain region and the day is spent listening to presentations from leaders in the industry, drinking beer, and net working.

This year presentations were given about malting, setting up a sensory analysis program, marketing, Crafting A Nation, brewing lager beer, and hop utilization. I thought I would share a couple of the tips I picked up this year from two of the presentations.

1) Brewing Lager Beer: The Slow and Expensive Way -Ashleigh Carter

  • Ashleigh is an experienced brewer who has worked at both Dry Dock and Prost. She travels regularly to Germany and knows more about German beer than almost anyone I know. Her talk focused on brewing Lager beer in a traditional fashion. She recommended a few things...
    • All Lager beer can be made with 5 malts and 2 hops, but for any one beer in the style you should only be using 3 malts and 1 hop at most.
    • pH is very, very important, and here are her recommendations. Mash (5.2-5.5), Begin Boil (5.2-5.5), End Boil (5.0-5.2), End Fermentation (4.2-4.4)
    • A thinner mash is better (in particular for decocting), she recommended 4:1 to 5:1 liters:kilograms
    • Mash long and low (temp 145-148)
    • Boil no less than 90 minutes (Colorado Altitude)
    • Knockout cold
    • If you need to make a water adjustment add CaCl2 at 50-100 ppm
2) A Look at Hop Utilization - Jeff Nickel, Jason Mehberg, Jason zumBrunnen

  • I have gotten to hear several talks from the folks at AC Golden in the past. They always do a great job of presenting data to back up what they are saying. They also have all the cool toys to analyze their beer and the opportunity to play around with recipes and ingredients. The topic this year was hop utilization and how perceived bitterness relates to measured IBUs.
    • The rule that we have all been taught is that you have to boil hops in order to isomerize the Alpha Acids and add any bitterness to your beer. The guys from AC Golden blew that out of the water with their presentation. They tested different conditions and how they effected IBUs measured by HPLC or Spectophotometery. According to their results IBUs were increased in the whirl pool, mash hopping, and first wort hopping. All times when hops should not have been able to isomerize. This shakes the very foundation of hopping!
    • The second half of the presentation looks at increasing IBUs in homebrews that were dry hopped. They tested three sets of homebrewed beer before and after dry hopping. Each time the IAA (Isomerized Alpha Acids) increased, some by 25%, just through dry hopping. The data is still preliminary but I am going to follow up with Jason when he has all the results in.
Yet another great year at RMMS drinking beer with the people who brewed it and learning about new developments in the state of craft beer!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Solera: Perpetuum


Two years ago a couple of my friends and I raised money on kick starter to brew beer, buy barrels, and age sour beer. Last summer we had two release parties and had a great experience sharing our creations with fellow beer enthusiasts. Although the group that was responsible for the project have all moved on, some of that beer is still left in the form of a Solera. For the first time I will be pulling from the Solera and adding back fresh wort. Before I get to that let me tell you a little bit about what a Solera is and how this particular one came about.

From Wikipedia:

"In the solera process, a succession of containers are filled with the product over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in thesolera is tapped for part of its content, which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles."

As you can see the concept is pretty basic, you take a portion of the old beer out and make up the difference with new beer. In this case I only have a single barrel that is being aged. The barrel came about when the Wild Brewing team was bottling 90 gallons of beer. We came down to the last 5 gallons in the first two barrels and decided to put them into carboys so that they would settle out (the yeast cake was kicked up in trying to get out all the beer). When we came to the final barrel we found out we did not have enough bottles and had to leave 15 gallons of beer in the barrel. I was uncomfortable leaving the barrel half empty and so we topped it off with the 5 gallons from the other two barrels and 5 gallons of fresh beer. That brought the barrel back up to 30 gallons with a mixture of 15 gallons of Cherry Saison, 5 gallons of Flanders Red, 5 gallons of a Pale Sour, and 5 gallons of something resembling an all Brett Wit. Since that time the barrel has been topped up with extra wort from several batches of beer, mostly sour or all Brett beers. At this point it has an impressive amount of microflora both from batches of beer, the original inoculum, and several sets of bottle dregs. Here is a list of just the microbes added through beer additions.

  1. Yeast
    • French Saison (3711), Chimay, Farmhouse (3726), Saison (3724), Cherry Yeast, Scottish Ale Yeast 
  2. Brett
    • Drei, Crooked Stave (CMY-001), B. clausenii, B. bruxellensis, B. lambicus
  3. Bacteria
    • L. brevis, L. delbrueckii, Pediococcus
A couple of weekends ago I decided it may be best to move the beer into a new barrel that did not have cherry pits and a bunch of autolysing yeast in the bottom. I used a barrel that had been cleaned and moved all of the original Solera beer into the clean barrel along with 5 gallons of new beer (a highly hopped Scottish ale). This should give the bugs something to survive on and get the beer off any dying yeast.

I tasted the solera beer at the time I was moving it and it was very tasty! A nice round sourness and a whole lot of fruit in the nose. It was a light red color which I hope to darken up by adding darker beers in the future. In about 6 months I will take out 5 gallons and bottle it and freshen the barrel with new beer.