Friday, 21 June 2013

First Wild Yeast Hunt

I've been hush-hush on my wild yeast hunt, aside from a few posts on the methodologies I was planning on using to purify and identify wild strains of yeast. But I haven't been sitting still - the hunt's been on, for over a month. This post is a mid-hunt writeup; at this point I have a number of yeast strains, but I have not yet completed a full analysis of their fermentation properties, the flavour of the resulting beer, nor have I done any form of species identification aside from a bit of selective media and pictures taken under a microscope.

The isolation process is fairly simple. Six kernels of malt were dropped into a small tube containing 6 ml of 1.040 unhopped wort. At specific intervals a small amount of fermenting wort was sterilely removed and plated on a wort-agar plate containing penicillin and streptomycin. These antibiotics prevent the growth of bacteria, ensuring that only wort-fermentating yeasts (and other fungi) are purified.

My sampling strategy is simple; using information gleaned from two sources: Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Jeff Sparrow and the paper Brewhouse-Resident Microbiota Are Responsible for Multi-Stage Fermentation of American Coolship Ale, I picked a series of time points in which specific organisms should dominate the ferment, but I am hoping shorter time points will suffice, under the expectation that the fermentation process will be accelerated due to the small volume and relatively large inoculum. By plating out at these time point I hoped to get enriched cultures of very specific yeast species, notably:

  • Day 4: Oxidative yeasts like Pichia & Kloeckera apiculata
  • Day 10: Fermentative yeasts like Saccharomyces
  • Day 20: Saccharomyces, some Brettanomyces
  • Day 30: Saccharomyces, some Brettanomyces
Progress of the ferment.
L:R: Day 1, Day 4, Day 10, Day 20 & Day 30

As always, the rest is below the fold...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Tasting Notes: Sour-Mash Berliner Weiss

A Bad pour that highlights the huge
head of this beer.
So its been a few weeks, and the Berliner Weiss is ready.  The beer started at 1.032 and ended at 1.006.  Nearly white in colour, with a wheat beer haziness, and a thick heavy head, this beer appears to be a conventional wheat beer.  That impression fades with the first whiff of the beers aroma - which is dominated by a sour lactic aroma, and only mild hits of hops and malt.

This strangeness is enhanced when the brew is sipped.  A strong and slightly pungent lactic acid acidity dominates the beer, overlaying a mild maltiness - more sourness than any sour I've tried previously, but not unpleasantly so.  The hop flavour is subtle; detectable more because I was looking for it than any overt presence.  One of the odder aspects is the mouthfeel of the beer.  as suggested by the low OG, it is thin and dry.  But that is paralleled by an unusual carbonation - fine bubbles that nucleate on the tongue, tickling the mouth - bubbles more at home in a sparkling wine than in a beer.

Overall I really like this beer - unbelievable refreshing, sour and tart.  A true summer treat - but one which is an acquired taste.  But, since this beer is normally served mixed, the taste test isn't over yet

Lacking both raspberry and woodruff syrup, I was limited to mit schuss (sugar), mixing with another beer, and something uniquely Canadian - lets call it 'mit Ahorn' (with maple - AKA maple syrup).

mit schuss: To serve this mit schuss I made a simple syrup using equal parts table sugar (sucrose) and water.  This was heated in the microwave until the sugar was dissolved.  This was added bit-by-bit to see the effect.  At low doses this cuts the sourness without significantly altering the flavour profile.  At higher doses the sweetness begins to emerge, while the sourness fades ever more into the background.  All too soon the amount of sugar added was too much, producing an unbalanced sweet beverage with a mild malt flavour.

Mixed with Beer: Traditionally, Berliner Weisse is mixed with a hoppy lager like pilsner.  I didn't have anything like this on hand, but I did have my Saison.  There is only one way to describe a 50:50 mix of the two WOW!!!  Yes - 'wow', in capital, with multiple explanation marks.  The grapefuit and vinous  notes of the saison blended with the lactic aroma went perfectly with the lactic acid aroma of the weisse, accenting the citrus nature of the saison.  This unexpected symbiosis worked at the flavour level as well - the acidity of the weisse balancing nicely with the fruity hop and yeast character of the saison.  Even the saison's bitterness worked with the weisse, with the combined weiss sourness + fruit hop/yeast flavours + bitterness producing an amazingly well balanced beer.

mit Ahorn:  My maple syrup to weisse ratio was a little more on the maple side than ideal; none-the-less, the sweetness of the syrup cut the sourness of the beer significantly.  A bit of maple aroma can be detected, but the biggest difference is the taste.  The taste-forward sourness is gone; in its place was an overly-sweet malt flavour. Surprisingly, despite the over-use of the syrup, little maple flavour was detectable.  Given that the same effect can be reached mit schuss, I'd recommend against the maple.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Grand Opening: Forked River

Good turnout!
In exciting news, the little city of London in which I live opened its first craft brewery - Forked River! Even more exciting, the owners are all members of my brew club, the London Homebrewing Guild. They started delivering kegs to pubs last week, but this weekend was the grand-opening of their brewery for public sales.

Why it took so long for us to get our own craft brewery, when the craft brewing scene has been exploding in the province for over a decade, is a mystery to me - perhaps its because Labatts (a Canadian mega-brewery) originated here, perhaps it was because of something else, but for some reason London seems to have missed the craft brewing revolution that placed small breweries into nearly every Ontario city.

I am happy to say the drought is over, and that Forked seems to have been greeted by Londoners with open arms - many positive news articles have been written (1, 2 & 3), and their grand-opening was packed. My wife and I showed up a half hour after the doors opened, and we could barely get inside. It took nearly 45 minutes to snag our free samples, and to grab a growler of beer & some swag. From others I heard that it remained packed right through into closing, and that over 1000L of beer was sold in just 5 hours!

I, of course, grabbed a few for myself - a growler to take to work (two of the owners graduated from our grad program), plus two bottles for my own enjoyment.

Forked River currently brews two beers - a Capital Blonde Ale and Riptide Rye Pale Ale. Both are very enjoyable and well built beers.

The Capital Blonde (left) is an on-style blonde - pale copper in colour, modest bitterness & hop character, some esters, mellow, and easy-drinking. My wife doesn't like many beers - she likes this Blonde!

The Riptide Rye is a different beast. Rye adds a unique flavour and mouthfeel to a beer - its dry, almost astringent, with a crisp and spicy finish. Again, the guys at Forked River have done it right - the rye character is there, but balanced as to avoid the astringency that comes with too much rye. A bit of yeasty esters and some nice hop bitterness and flavour round out this beer.

Sadly, these beers are only available direct from Forked and in a few pubs around London - if you're passing through I'd recommend you give them a try. If yo live here, you should have been at the opening last weekend...

Tasting Notes: John's Saison

A pint of Johns Saison
So it took a while, but the John's Saison is done! Its fruity, dry and refreshing, just as I remember john's original brew. The beer is great - quite the refreshing summer brew, and it has a decent kick to boot!

The beer started with a gravity of 1.054 and ended at the amazingly low 0.998! The beer is hopped with a range of 'new' hops, giving it a wonderful fruity/vinous flavour and aroma that is very unique & enjoyable.

Aroma: The aroma of this beer is unique - the Nelson Sauvin hops used in the dry hop are known for providing a wine-like aroma, and that comes through quite strongly in this beer; close your eyes and you may think that you're about to indulge in a glass of white! Underneath that is a hint of grapefruit, a common characteristic provided by Citra hops.

Appearance: Unlike what the above picture suggests, this beer is crystal-clear, and a dark straw/light copper in colour. The 'haze' above is condensation - we've got 96% humidity today, so no force on earth will keep it away. The beer pours with a thick, creamy head that persists for a long time, leaving belgian lace along the sides of the glass.

Flavour: Citrus flavours - provided by the hop-bursting with Citra & Armillo Gold hops - dominate this beer. Beneath the citrus flavour of the hops is a dry, but slightly malty, beer. The citrus flavours dominate early in the sip; later on a more typical hop bitterness emerges. Throughout is a modest sweetness - produced by the esters of the saison yeast used to produce the beer. Because this beer was fermented cooler than is normal for saison's, this characteristic is suppressed...meaning that I need a way to warm my beers. The high levels of dry-hopping have left a slight vegital flavour that is occasionally noticeable. Luckily, that flavour fades with every passing day.

Mouthfeel: As the low FG would imply, this is a thinner beer that is almost water-like in its mouthfeel. This is not a detractor, and indeed, is on-style. This is balanced by a sparkling effervescence that further lightens the mouthfeel. Even with the low finishing gravity, this beer doesn't cause any astringency or drying of the mouth.

Overall: While this recipe is a modern twist on the classical saison, it reflects the style well. It is a very enjoyable beer to drink, and goes well will BBQing or sitting in a hammock after mowing the lawn. The balance of hop, malt and yeast characteristics is skewed more to the hops than is normal for this style, but none-the-less, the beer is well balanced and a joy to drink. This beer easily is in the top 10% of those I've brewed.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Easy Sour: Sour-Mash Berliner Weiss

Grain Bill: 50% Wheat Malt 50% Pils
This weeks beer is a wonderful summer beer that can go from mash tun to glass in as little as a week. This style is rarely found outside of Berlin, despite having a long-lasting reputation as the "champagne of the north"; an appellation provided by Napoleon's troops during their conquest of Germany.

Berliner Weiss (or Weisse) is a deceptively simple sour beer. Its key characteristic is a taste-forward sourness, provided by ample quantities of lactic acid. Low in alcohol, effervescent and dry, with a lactic acid pucker, this beer is great for hot days, patios & BBQs. Its intense sourness is not enjoyed by all, so it is commonly served with simple syrup (‘mit schuss’) or flavoured with either woodruff (‘waldmeister’) or raspberry (‘himbeer’) syrups. It is often considered the most refreshing style of beer.

Warming the mash water
Berliner Weiss recipes are simple; all start with a 50/50 mix of Pilsner and Wheat malts, and some add in a bit of table sugar to dry out the beer. Minimal hop flavour/aroma is provided by a light hopping with German hops. Starting gravities are typically 1.028 – 1.032, producing an alcohol content of 2.8-3.5%. From here the style can remain simple, or get quite complex. Lactic acid bacteria like lactobacillus or pediococcus are used to provide a strong dose of lactic acid, while neutral ale yeast ferment out the beer. Some feature a mild Brett character which adds a hint of fruitiness and funk to the beer.

There are two major ways Berliner Weiss can be brewed - a classical sour ferment, or a more modern sour mash. Sour ferments are the same as for Belgians sours: months-to-years in duration, complex, and unpredictable. Sour mashes are the polar opposite - and an excellent entry point for a brewer interested in sour beers. Instead of relying on souring organisms in the ferment, a sour mash instead introduces them into the mash. Over a few days the mash sours, after which the sparge and boil kill these organisms. The beer can then be fermented with a clean ale yeast, kegged, and be ready to drink in as little as 7 days after the mash is started.

As always, the meat is below the fold.