Flanders Red

>> Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'm a huge fan of sour beers. The funny thing about sour beers is people seem to either love them or hate them...there really isn't a whole lot of middle ground with them. One bad thing about living in Utah is the selection of commercial sours is pretty limited. The first sour I ever had was a Lindemans Framboise lambic at The Bayou in Salt Lake City. Admittedly, when I tried it years ago, I was still a bit of a beer noob but it was unlike any beer I'd ever tasted. It's still my number one recommendation for people that claim they don't like beer. Next came Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René, which I think I prefer over the Framboise because it isn't quite as sweet. Next came a Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale on a GABF trip followed by Temptation, Supplication and Beautification from Russian River Brewing. Long story short, I love the sours.

I'd been planning on brewing a sour for a long time, but never got around to it. The tough thing about sours is it takes a long time to develop the complex wine-like flavors they're known for. With most homebrews, you're able to enjoy the fruits of your labors within 3-5 weeks of brewing them. For brews like a Flanders Red, you're probably looking at about a year before it's ready to bottle. The longer you put off brewing a sour, the longer it will be before you get to enjoy them. So I bit the bullet and bought a Better Bottle that I'm dedicating for sour beers and I brewed my Flanders Red back on 10/29/2011. As the name implies, this style of beer originates in the Flanders region of Belgium. For more info on this style, click here. Here's the recipe as I made it:

5.25 # Dingemans Pilsner Malt
5.25 # Briess Vienna Malt
1.00 # Briess Light Munich Malt
0.5 # Weyermann Pale Wheat Malt
0.5 # Dingemans Aromatic Malt
0.5 # Weyermann CaraMunich II
0.5 # Dingemans Special B
0.8 oz Aged hops** (60 minutes)
1.0 oz Oak cubes (French Medium Roast) soaked in a couple ounces of Cabernet Sauvignon
Wyeast 3763 Roesalare Blend (no starter)

Mashed at 154F for 90 minutes. 90 minute boil.

** The aged hops are my homegrown hops from the 2009 harvest. This was when my hops were in their temporary locations, so it's a mix of varieties resulting from intertwined bines. For sour beers you don't really want any hop flavor or aroma; that's where aging comes in. I aged these hops by placing them in brown paper bags above my kegerator. The changing temperatures over the years has completely stripped them of any hop aroma.

Brewing Notes: The brew day was uneventful with no issues. Time will tell how well this thing turns out.

Fermentation Notes: Given the long duration for fermentation/aging, I'm fermenting this one in my basement utility room. Fermentation was very active the following morning and pushed up through the airlock. I ended up removing the bung for a couple days until fermentation had subsided.

11/18/2011 - Fermentation picked up and pushed through the airlock again but subsided within a day.

11/24/2011 - I opened a Temptation from Russian River for T-giving and pitched the dregs. Things are definitely smelling funky in there.

12/4/2011 - Added oak cubes soaked in Cabernet Sauvignon.

12/31/2011 - The airlock is showing a little bit of positive pressure, so it seems to still be chugging along slowly. I haven't tasted it yet and I don't see any point in taking a sample for probably another month. There's a lot of krausen residue in the fermenter that's obscuring my view. I can see a what looks like krausen on top when I remove the bung and peek through the opening. I'm not sure if this is a pellicle or not. I wasn't planning on racking to secondary but I may end up doing so just so I can see what's going on inside.

2/11/2012 - Added dregs from a Russian River Supplication

3/30/2012 - I couldn't wait any longer so pulled my first sample. As I pulled the sample, I was a little nervous, crossing my fingers that this beer is headed in the right direction. I smelled it and it definitely has a funky sour aroma. Taste-wise, there's a really nice tartness developing. I was a little surprised that it had such a great sour flavor already. I think it's mostly lacto at this point because I'm not picking up any vinegar-like flavors or aromas associated with acetobacter. It's very drinkable right now but I'm going to continue to let it age. I'll probably pull a sample on a monthly basis from now on so that I can see how it changes as it ages.

5/4/2012 - Pulled another sample and it's got a nice sharp sourness with some great complexity from the brett and bugs. Again, I'm surprised it tastes this good already. I'm still not detecting any acetic acid character. Acetic acid production is accelerated in the presence of oxygen and suppressed when oxygen levels are low. Plastic buckets tend to have relatively high oxygen permeability compared to other fermentation vessels. I'm aging this in a Better Bottle and the manufacturer claims very low oxygen permeability even though it's made out of "plastic" and so far it seems to be working great.

9/22/2012 - I don't mean to brag, but this is an amazing sour. This one is turning out pretty much exactly how I hoped it would. It definitely has sharp sourness similar to some of the beers from Russian River Brewing Company. I think this one is going to be ready to bottle next month. Don't get me wrong, I'd drink it right now, but I'm going to try to be patient for another four weeks.

10/9/2012 - With the one year mark quickly approaching, I'm about ready to bottle this brew. I'll be checking the gravity again soon and if it's stable, it'll be in the bottle soon. It's going to need to be re-yeasted in order to carb successfully, so the plan is to use 1.5 grams of Enoferm RP15 Rockpile wine yeast per five gallons of beer. The reason I'm using a wine yeast is they tend to be more tolerant of the acids found in sour beers. About half the batch will be capped and the other half will be corked.

10/31/2012 - I ordered the Rockpile yeast for re-yeasting from More Wine and it should be here today. Looking forward to getting this in the bottle this weekend.

11/3/2012 - This went in the bottle today. I used 84 grams of sucrose and a somewhat heaping 1/4 teaspoon of Enoferm RP15 Rockpile wine yeast. I try to avoid measuring by volume but this is about what I usually use for priming homemade soda and that's worked out well. I re-hydrated the wine yeast in boiled water that had been cooled to 72F. I corked and caged 20 Belgian bottles. The rest went into a 12 or 22 oz bottles and were capped. I had a little bit leftover that I sampled. It's very nicely tart, so much so that I don't expect anyone that isn't "into" sour beers to like it much. The level of sourness is very similar to how I remember Russian River's Supplication. I've got a holiday beer tasting coming up in just over a month and I'm hoping it will be carbonated by then. However, I've never re-yeasted a beer and I've never used wine yeast so I'm going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

1/11/2013 - I'm really happy with the way this beer turned out. The carbonation level was a little lower than I wanted, but other than that I had no complaints. I think the amount of yeast was appropriate, but it needed a bit more priming sugar. I took some to the Holiday Beer Tasting mentioned above. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it (there were several "wow's")...or at least nobody wanted to hurt my feelings. Like most good beers it gets better and better as it warms up a bit. When it's fresh out of the fridge it's mostly sour/tart but as it warms up the complexities start coming out.


Special Bitter

>> Friday, December 23, 2011

Recirculating the mash
I've been doing a lot of higher gravity brews lately so today I'm brewing up something closer to a session beer, an English Special Bitter.  I brewed an Ordinary Bitter earlier this year and it was one of my favorite brews.  High gravity brews are fun, but at the same time it's nice to be able to have something on hand where you can drink more than one without getting trashed.  Here's the recipe as I made it:

9.5 # Crisp Maris Otter Pale
0.5 # Castle Aromatic
0.5 # Briess Crystal 120
0.25 # Briess Special Roast
1.2 oz Kent Goldings 60 minutes
0.5 oz Kent Goldings 20 minutes
0.5 oz Kent Goldings 1 minute
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale (limited release Wyeast Private Collection)

Mash at 151F for 60 minutes.
Ferment at 68F.  This will be the first time using my new fermentation chamber.

Brewing Notes: I've been having a problem with over sparging on the last few brews resulting in an over-filled boil kettle and an over-filled fermenter.  This sometimes results in messy fermentations because with active ferms, the krausen pushes through the airlock.

To remedy this, I made a dipstick out of a BBQ skewer so that I can measure volumes at 5, 6, and 7 gallons in the boil kettle.  For most brews with a 60 minute boil, I'll run off 6 gallons to the boil kettle.  This should result in five gallons of finished product in the keg.

The target OG for this recipe was 11.7P based on approx 70% efficiency.  My pre-boil gravity was 13.2P and post-boil was 16.1P.  13.2P is a SG of around 1.053.  I plugged 1.053 into  Brewer's Friend Brewhouse Efficiency Calculator and it's showing a Brew House Efficiency of 78.86%.  I was expecting something in the 75%-80% range, so it's good to know I'm in the neighborhood.  I used the BrewHeads calculator as well and got 78.6% using theirs.  I plan to check this on the next few brews and see if I'm consistently getting this efficiency.

Update 12/29/2011 - Even though I was very careful with my volume, I still had some krausen push up through the airlock.  Fortunately I caught it in time and it didn't make much of a mess.  Since it's in my ferm chamber and since I'd previously washed the chamber down with a disinfecting bleach solution, I decided to just pull the bung out of the lid and let it ferment away without an airlock.

Speaking of fermentation chamber, it's working great. My plate chiller got the wort down to about 62F so I let everything stabilize and warm up a little bit before I pitched the yeast.  I didn't time it, but I'd guesstimate it was about an hour after I'd transferred to the fermenter before I pitched the yeast.  I'm fermenting at 68F and pitched the yeast when it got up to 67F.  I checked everything last night and there is still a very dense head of krausen on top.

Another observation, in theory the CO2 generated during fermentation should displace at least some of the air in the ferm chamber.  This definitely seemed to be the case because when I reached in to wipe up the little bit of yeast that had pushed up through the airlock, I took a breath in but didn't feel like I really got much O2.  I'd liken it to trying to catch your breath at a higher altitude than you're used to.  I don't think there's high enough concentrations to cause someone to lose consciousness, but it would be interesting to try to get a reading of the concentration.  And if there was a practical way to reclaim it, that would be kind of cool

Update 3/30/2012 - This is a great easy drinking beer.  This is definitely one I'll be making again.

Not the best pic (cell phone) but you can see the cone of hops and hot break material as I'm running off to the fermenter.


Fermentation Chamber

>> Monday, December 19, 2011

Update 5/29/2013: Unfortunately the chest freezer died. I'll soon be working on another one that will hopefully last a little longer. RIP Ferm Chamber 1.0

Here's my newest piece of equipment.  It's a chest freezer that I've modified to use as a fermentation chamber.  A while back, I realized fermentation temperature control was one area I was really lacking.  My HERMS brewing system provides for very accurate and repeatable mash temps.  Fermentation temp control is just as important as accurate mash temps when it comes to consistent repeatable results.  I have lagering ability but I've been lacking heating ability.

There are commercial heating solutions on the market such as the Brew Belt and the FermWrap heater.  My understanding is they work very well, but the only problem is I have a mix of fermentation vessels (conical, glass carboy, bucket, Better Bottle) and none of the commercial products seemed to work for all fermenters.  Considering  my needs, a fermentation chamber seemed to be the best option.

I found a used Haier 7 cubic foot freezer on KSL classifieds for $50.  Seemed like a bargain since it has built-in cooling capability and it is well insulated.  For heating capability, I went with the Brewer's Edge space heater from Williams Brewing.  This is essentially a heating pad/mat that sticks to the side of your fermentation chamber.  It takes up zero space inside the chamber and it's only 25 watts so it should cost next to nothing to run.  It's advertised that it can keep a small space up to 20 F warmer than ambient air temps.  I tested it with a five gallon bucket of water and it actually exceeded the advertised capability; it held 70F in an unheated garage with overnight lows in the high teens and low 20's.  I may pick up a second one as extra insurance against very cold nights.

To control the heating and cooling cycles, I built a controller based on the eBay aquarium temperature controller.  Its functionality is well documented on HBT, so I won't go into too much detail here.  These work great and it's the cheapest dual stage controller I've come across.  The only con is for us in the US, these only display the temp in Celsius  This can be easily remedied by making a chart to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit.  For anyone interested in building one, here's the link to the thread on homebrewtalk.

I needed a little extra height inside the chamber to accommodate my conical fermenter so I built a collar similar to what you'd typically see on a keezer project.  I decided to use a PVC fence rail for this because PVC is a good thermal insulator and I shouldn't have to worry about rot, painting, warping, etc.  I used some PVC angle to reinforce the corners.  I also made some some simple wooden L-brackets to fit inside the rail to further reinforce the corners and provide a secure mount for the relocated hinges.  For adhesive, I went with Plumbing Goop Contact Adhesive & Sealant.  I was hoping to find something that would essentially weld the joints and form a strong permanent bond.  I couldn't find anything like that but this Goop product seemed to work fairly well.

I mounted the collar using double-sided tape and caulked all the joints/seams.  I also caulked the corners of the freezer interior.  I did this for sanitary reasons just in case I ever have a messy fermentation (I don't want anything funky growing in the corners).  The collar was then insulated with two layers of 1" rigid foam insulation.  I also used some aluminum foil tape to help seal joints/crevices in the foam.

Lastly, I welded a dolly for the fermentation chamber so I can easily move it around the garage.  To minimize lifting, my plan is to clean and sanitize the fermenter, put it in the chamber, then pump cooled wort directly from the boil kettle into the fermenter.

I haven't added it yet, but my plan is to add a fan and some ducting that will constantly circulate air in the chamber.  This will help ensure consistent temps without stratification.  I haven't had a chance to ferment in it yet, but it seems to be working very well.  After finishing it up, I've been testing it with a 5 gallon keg filled with water with the temperature probe taped to the side and insulated with a piece of foam.