Friday, 29 May 2015

Tasting Notes: Return of the Black Mamba

The label for my tap handles
So I've posted a few recipes this year, but have done a bad job with the follow-up (i.e. tasting notes). So here's the notes from this months earlier brew Return of the Black Mamba.

This is a Black Imperial Rye IPA, hopped predominantly with home-grown cascade hops - 250g (about 1/2 lbs) worth. This is the second iteration of this recipe, the first being brewed with my virgin crop of hops. The first time around this beer was good; the second time (this time) around the beer is pretty good - and with a few tweaks I think the third attempt will be stellar. But enough of that - what's the beer like?

The beer pours black, with a modest beige head that lasts, and lasts, and lasts. Held up to a light, the beer is crystal clear and reveals a dark-red hue.

Aroma: The aroma is hop-forward, resinous, with a bit of rye's unique character in the background. Despite the darkness of the beer, the aroma of roast is minimal, although the roast note gets stronger as the beer warms.

Nice lookin' pint!
Here the beer could use some work. Upfront you get a good dose of Cascade goodness; mostly in the form of resin, but a bit of citrus comes through (I've found my home-grown Cascades lean to resin & spice more than citrus). Underneath that is a surprising amount of malt sweetness - unexpected given the low mash temp and use of dry-enhancing rye. There is a strong chocolate note, but thanks to the use of Carafa Special II, without any astringent notes. Unfortunately, the beloved character of rye is hard to find, despite it accounting for 25% of the grain bill. With homegrown hops its hard to predict bitterness, but I was overly conservative this time around and the bitterness is a little on the mild side. As with the last time I brewed this beer, the character of the Conan yeast is not obvious - there is a nice "generic" ester profile, but the peach/apricot nature of the Conan yeast isn't clear.

All of the above works out to a pretty nice imperial porter. But dammit, this was supposed to be an IPA! The beer needs less body, less chocolate, and a whole whack more IBUs!

The beer has a medium body - not as light as I was hoping for, but not unusually heavy for an Imperial IPA. The level of hopping is sufficient to give a nice lingering bitterness - with a subtle hint of chocolate - but again, not at the level (of residual hop bitterness) that I was hoping for.

Despite my above whining, this is actually a pretty nice beer. Nice balance of malt and hops, easily (too easily!) drinkable, and deceptively hides its nearly 8% alcohol content. But its not what I had envisioned in my mind for this beer - I was hoping for a drier, more bitter beer with a robust rye character. I'm going to thoroughly enjoy drinking this keg of beer, but changes will be made the next time I brew this beast.

Next Time:
So this recipe is nearly there, but next time (Return of the Return of the Black Mamba?) I'd make three - hopefully final - changes:
  1. Reduce the amount of Carafa Special II by one third to one half, to reduce the chocolate notes.
  2. Replace about 10% of the gravity from the pale malt with sugar to provide a drier finish.
  3. Increase the bittering charge to 50-60 IBU (from its current ~35 IBU) to make or a bolder bittering - giving a final IBU of 70-90.

Michael Tonsmeire Drops Some Knowledge

My favourite home-brew channel (Chop & Brew) just posted a video of sour beer guru Michael Tonsmeire discussing the brewing of sour beers. He starts off with the basics (advice to follow if brewing your first beer), but goes into some of the finer details later in the video. So grab your headphones, a homebrew, and retreat to a quiet corner of your home and let the knowledge flow through you...



Want the Cole's notes version of the details? Here's two handy tables:
Controlling Funk:
Maximize Minimize
Add wheat malt Avoid wheat malt
Perform a ferulic acid rest (42C/1208F for 15-30 minutes) Avoid low-temperature rests; go straight to Saccharification
Primary ferment with a spicy strain (Belgian, hefeweizen) Primary ferment with a clean yeast
Use a phenolic Brett (B. lambicus, B. bruxellensis) No Brett, or a mild brett (B. claussenii)
Sour beer in primary fermenter (autolysis = phenols) Rack to secondary after fermentation. Optional:  cold crashing/fining/filtering
Bottle condition Force carbonate

Controlling Acidity:
Maximize Minimize
High saccharification temperature (158-160F, 70-71C) Low saccharification temperature (146-148F/63-34C)
Use less attenuative brewers yeast Pitch highly attenuative brewers yeast
Sour with L. brevis and Pwediococcus Use Wyeast/White Labs L. delbrueckii, or L. buchneri for souring

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

So this happened...

I'm sure that this will come as a surprise to no one, but I'm a bit of a nerd. Hell, I was a nerd before being a nerd was cool - WTF happened there? I grew up on a pretty much constant stream of SciFi & dystopia - Star Trek, Star Wars, Mad Max, Knight Rider, Alf, Dr. Who, Red Dwarf, the Jetsons, X-Files, Star Gate, Futurama...lets just say that list goes on for a while.

Anyway's, this guy:

Is now this guy:

And then this happened:

And apparently there will be a part 2...
(all of Wil Wheaton's blog posts on homebrewing can be found here)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Lacto Starters

Starter wort, for the L. brevis and L.
to be used in my upcoming beer
Its almost time to brew a quick sour for the upcoming summer...which means that it is time to begin preparing starters of the lacto, sacch and brett going into the beer. Its been a few years since I blogged about brewing this kind of beer - a sour Berliner Weisse which can be ready in as little as 10 days - or which can act as the basis of more complex beers through the addition of Brettanomyces, fruit, herbs and blending with other beers.

But more on that later. Today's post is on a topic I get asked about with some regularity; namely, how to prepare a starter for Lactobacillus. A proper starter is especially important for sour worting, both to minimize the risk of infection by other bacteria, and also to ensure a reasonable souring time (a few days).

The good news is that lacto starters are easy - almost as easy as yeast, but you do need a bit more equipment.

For the starter you will need:
  1. 1.040 starter wort (or apple juice, or MRS media)
  2. Yeast nutrient (optional, but a good idea, especially if using apple juice)
  3. A temperature controller
  4. A heat source (I use a crock-pot)
As always, details are below the fold.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Purifying Yeast from Infected Cultures - Part 2

A couple of days ago I put up a post describing the first step in purifying a contaminated yeast culture. In that post I described a simple method (requiring some specialized reagents) which allows a contaminated sample to be depleted of a contaminating bacteria, and also to provide semi-pure cultures of Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces. But as far as that method goes, it doesn't ensure complete depletion of the contaminants, nor pure cultures of Sacc or Brett.

So how do we get a totally pure culture? The answer...streak plating, followed by a quick screen to ensure purity.

Details below the fold.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Purifying Yeast from Infected Cultures - Part 1

Mixed Saccharomyces (large ovoid cells) and Brettanomyces
(elongated cells) yeast culture contaminated with cocci
(top-centre "string") and rod-shaped bacteria
One of the most requested topics I receive is how to clean up an infected yeast sample. I've alluded to the use of streak plates, and basic identification of organisms, etc, for cleaning up yeast previously, but despite that I've yet to give a detailed example of how I go about cleaning up a contaminated yeast sample.

Provenance has smiled down on me, in the form of an infected attempted bottle culture of a mixed sacch and brett fermented saison from The Bruery, provided to me by a local home brewer. The contamination was not a "good" one - i.e. not a lactic acid bacteria contamination - but rather one that produced a rather putrid sulphur/brimstone aroma.

So how do we fix that...and how can we easily get pure strains of the brett and sacc strains used in the beer?

In this, the first part of a 2-part post (part 2 can be found here), I will go through a basic procedure to enrich the Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces from the infected culture using a selective/differential media and culture conditions to enable the growth of the desired yeast species while inhibiting the growth of the undesired bacteria and yeast. In part 2, hopefully posted later this week, I'll go through a final clean-up procedure to ensure the resulting cultures are, in fact, clean of the contaminating yeast and bacteria.

As always, details are below the fold...