Solera Project

>> Monday, January 19, 2015

If you read through a few of my posts, it's probably pretty apparent that I love sour beers. A recent article on homebrewtalk.com peaked my interest in trying something I hadn't tried before, a solera project. The basic idea is you sour age a beer in some kind of vessel, then you pull off a portion and replace that portion with fresh young beer. You repeat this process about once a year or so and you end up with a (hopefully) complex blend of various aged sour beer. Traditionally the vessel used for this was an oak barrel, but in the HBT article the author suggests using a sanke keg. A friend of mine offered up a sanke keg that had been sitting in his garage for years, so I jumped at the opportunity.

I brewed 10 gallons of lambic back in May of 2014 for Big Brew Day and I figured I'd use five gallons of it for the initial fill of the solera. The rest will come from another 10 gallon batch, 5 gallons of which will be fermented with a brettanomyces strain cultured from Crooked Stave St. Bretta and the other five with Roeselare. The base beer will be similar to the lambic recipe but with a few tweaks.

I decided to build a cart for the keg so I could easily move it if needed. I figured this would:
  1. Make it easier on my back when I did have to move it.
  2. Help to not disturb the pellicle or stir up sediment when I had to move it.
  3. The added height will help when it's time to rack to a corny keg or bottling bucket.
  4. I just need an excuse for a welding project every once in a while.
The cart is pretty simple, four legs, crossbars up top to support the weight of the filled keg and more down below to provide some structural support. Oh and casters of course so it's easy to move. 

For the keg itself I simply removed the spear, then fitted the neck with a #11 drilled stopper. The stopper fits perfectly and creates an airtight seal without having to modify the keg; simple, cheap, and should work just fine.

I'll store the solera in my basement utility room where it stays around 68F year round.

That's about all there is to it...except for brewing the beer of course.

Here's the recipe as I brewed it today:

7.0# Rahr Pale Malt
3.0# Dingemans Pilsner
3.0# Best Malz Chit Malt
6.0 Flaked Wheat
3.0 Pale Wheat Malt
168g Aged Hops (60 min)
Yeast Nutrient
St. Bretta dregs (for 1st 5 gallons)
Roeselare (for 2nd 5 gallons)

Mash at 149F for 20 minutes. Raise to 158F for 20 minutes.
90 minute boil
Ferment at 68F

Update 1/21/2015
Everything went fine during the brew session. I pitched the Roeselare without aerating while the brett half was aerated. The Roeselare half showed signs of fermentation within the first six hours while the brett half took about 36 hours to show signs of fermentation. If all goes well I'll be racking these beers into the solera in 2-3 weeks.

Update 1/26/2015
Both halves are progressing nicely. In the pic below, Roeselare is on the right and St. Bretta dregs are on the left. It might be hard to tell in the photo, but the Roeselare seems to have a lot more yeast and bugs in suspension, so it's a few shades lighter in color.

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Dark Saison 2014

>> Sunday, November 30, 2014

I ran to one of my local brew shops the other day to pick up some gas tubing for an upgrade I'm working on (nitro teaser) and I figured I'd pick up one of Wyeast's PC offerings for the quarter. I decided to go with 3726 Farmhouse and brew up a dark saison of sorts. Wyeast's desscription is as follows:

Wyeast 3726-PC Farmhouse Ale™
Beer Styles: Saison, Biere de Garde, Belgian Blonde Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Belgian Golden Strong Ale
Profile: This strain produces complex esters balanced with earthy/spicy notes. Slightly tart and dry with a peppery finish. A perfect strain for farmhouse ales and saisons.
Alc. Tolerance           12% ABV
Flocculation              medium
Attenuation               74-79%
Temp. Range             70-84°F (21-29°C)
I'm using a fairly simple grain bill on this brew but I am incorporating some concord grape juice into this recipe. I'm hoping it will add some fruity complexity, but I have to admit I've never brewed with grape juice. Winemakers kind of frown on concord grapes, so I'm kind of rolling the dice on this one. This beer is probably going to turn out awesome...or gross. I'll get some tannins from the grape juice so I'm using debittered malt to try to get color while minimizing any perceived astringency. I've also never used Nelson Sauvin hops, but they are supposed to contribute grape and berry flavors. Here's the recipe as I'm making it:

7.0# Dingmans Pilsner Malt
1.0# Simpsons Golden Naked Oats
6.0 oz Castle De-bittered Malt
4.0 oz Crystal 10
1.0# D-180 Belgian Candi Syrup (0 min)
35g US Goldings (60 Min)
14g Nelson Sauvin (10 min)
2.5g chamomile (5 min)
14g Nelson Sauvin (Whirlpool)
Whirfloc
Yeast Nutrient

96oz of Welch's Farmers Pick Concorde Grape Juice (preservative free) added halfway through fermentation (gravity should be around 1.031).

Mash at 148F, 90 minute boil, start fermentation at 68F then raise temps to 80F over several days.

Update 12/2/2014
Gravity had dropped to almost 1.020 by the time I got home from work today. I was hoping to catch it around 1.030. The krausen is still about two inches deep so I went ahead and carefully added the grape juice.

Update 12/3/2014
Fermentation is very active after adding the juice. It had slowed a bit before adding the grape juice yesterday.

Update 1/7/2015
I pulled a little sample today. This beer is very fruity with a definite concord grape aroma. The flavor is much more subdued. It's not horrible but I can't quite decide if I like it. I'm going to try to get it bottled this weekend so I'll see how it is once it's carb'd up.

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Baltic Porter - Red Wine Barrel Project

>> Sunday, November 09, 2014

Today I'm brewing a Baltic Porter that's going to spend some time in a red wine barrel. One of my friends from my homebrew club (ZZ HOPS) acquired the barrel and asked for some help filling it. Projects like these are the kinds of fun things that result from participating in a homebrew club.

Here's a link to the original recipe and below is the way I brewed it (adjusted for my system efficiency and available ingredients).

8.5 # Avangard German Munich I
5.375 # Dingemans Pilsner Malt
6 oz Crisp Pale Chocolate Malt
6 oz Crisp Chocolate Malt
6 oz Dingemans Cara 45
6 oz Dingemans Special B
42.5g Magnum (60 min)
28.3g EKG (5 min)
0.5 Whirlfloc
0.5t Yeast Nutrient
WLP001 California Ale Yeast

Mash at 152F, 90 min boil, ferment at 65F

Brewing Notes
No real issues to speak of. My gravity came in a couple points low at 1.088; target was 1.091. My mill jammed as I was milling my grain for this batch. I took it apart and expected to find a pebble. I wasn't able to find the source of the jam and I ran it through for a second crush without any issues. I chilled down to about 70F then transferred to the fermenter and placed it in the ferm chamber set to 65F. I'll let it chill overnight then pitch the yeast.

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