Thursday, 21 September 2017

So long, and thanks for all the fish

I am happy to announce that this will be the last post, here at ...

Why happy you ask - because Sui Generis Brewing is moving to a new home,!

This will be the final post here at blogspot, and I will be shutting down commenting. But don't fear - all of the posts will be preserved here for prosperity, and also have been moved to the new site where commenting will remain active.

I hope you'll drop by and check out the new digs, and that you will continue to join my in my brewing adventures!

Bryan/Sui Generis Brewing

Friday, 15 September 2017

One Half Million

Today,  (Friday September 15th, 2017), at 4 AM Eastern Time, my blog recorded my 500,000th visitor! When I started this blog I had intended it as little more than a brewing log that I couldn't use; I never expected for it to evolve to what it is now, nor did I ever expect as much interest as I have received.

Thank you to all my readers (and watchers of my youtube channel - 154,695 views and counting) for making this endeavour the success it has been, and for your on-going support (and questions/feedback).

I know things have been slow here on my blog, and on my youtube channel, but that is because I am working fervorously behind the scenes to modernise and update my blogging platform. A few quick posts are in the work, and I am hoping to have the new site ready to launch in early please stay tuned!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Please Excuse The Mess

Please excuse the lack of posts and videos lately...The SG Brewery (and my family) have recently moved to the country, and I will return to my regular brewing/blogging/vloging activities later in the summer.

And look out for some changes too - a new website, new video features, and maybe even a little bit of social media.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

At long last, how the cheap beer kit turned out.

Back in early December 2016 I posted a rambling "brewversary" video, looking back at my 20 years as a home brewer. As part of the video I attempted to rebrew my first ever home brew - a Coopers Lager canned malt kit. The goal was simple - to see if 20 years of experience was sufficient to enable me to make the kit beer taste good, as my notes from 20 years ago (and my vague memories) indicated that my first batch of beer was horrible. I've actually had a few people ask how that beer turned out, and as it turns out, back in January I pulled a half liter that I force carbed and tasted. So its well neigh time for the big reveal... was nearly "flawless", and therefore horrible. I had managed to make an on-style and off-flavour free light American lager. The sort of beer yellow fizzy stuff you buy for a buck a can. Minimal malt flavour, minimal hop character, no yeast presence. Boring, dull, get the gist. Which left me with a problem - what the hell do I do with 23L of piss-water?

Inspiration struck me as I drank a glass of wild cider a few nights later. I had made the cider in 2015, brewed exclusively with the wild yeast present on the apples pressed for the cider. It was fantastic - good apple taste, with a mild funk in the background to provide some complexity. So I swirled up the dregs from the bottle and dumped them into the beer. I figured that, at worst, I'd get a bit of a show and end up with a best I may convert the beer into something less boring.

And a show I got - within weeks I had one of the gnarliest pellicles I've had on a beer in a while.
She's a think of beauty!

The pellicle persisted until early June. Three weeks of a stable 1.001 gravity (down from 1.011) indicated the beer was ready to package, and in early July I transferred it to a keg. Interestingly, the beer had acquired a slight pink tinge during ageing; probably from oxidation, but perhaps contributed by the bugs from the cider.

The yeast and bugs from the cider did exactly what I hoped they would - they converted this boring light lager into something more like a farmhouse ale or even a saison (despite the absence of wheat). Importantly, the milder character of the yeast/bugs didn't overwhelm the wild taste of the beer, providing just enough character to make the beer interesting, without overwhelming the character.

I now love this without further ado, the tasting notes.

Appearance: The beer is a light copper, bordering on straw in colour, and has a very faint haze. It pours with a thick white head which dissipates over a few minutes into small ropes of foam. The beer is highly carbonated (3 volumes), and as a result is lively in the glass.

Aroma: Very little of the base beers aroma is present, and indeed, the aroma itself is quite mild. Dominating the aroma is an earthiness, much like freshly turned loam. A subtle pear-like fruitiness emerges as the beer warms.

Flavour: The flavour of this beer is superb. It is very dry and thirst quenching. Up front is a modest malt character - not the bready character of pilsner malt, but rather the more grain-like character of 2-row. There is a subtle hint of hop flavour, but just barely noticeable. The real star of the show is the yeast character. The cider yeast/bugs imparted a modest earthy/woody funk; not dissimilar from the flavour of a chanterelle mushroom. The yeast also provided a subtle pear-like ester whose "sweetness" helps balance out the funk. The beer is very slightly acidic; not to the point of being tart our sour, but acidic enough to stand out from conventionally brewed beers. The aftertaste is a lingering earthyness and subtle ester character.

Mouthfeel: The beer is light and effervescent in the mouth. It is very dry and light bodied, leaving your refreshed and wanting more.

Overall: This isn't the best beer I've ever made, but it is much better than how it began, and it is a perfect summer beer. I don't think I'd rebrew the beer as-is, but I could see using the cider culture to brew other light summer ales in the future; the balance the yeast achieved is fantastic, allowing for the production of tasty, but light, farmhouse style beers.

Monday, 3 July 2017

One Solera, 2 Beers

Brewing a refill for
the LHBG solera.
Over the past 5 years I've maintained a series of solera's - two at home which, sadly, after 3 years of successful operation died to a bit of neglect on my part. The third belongs to my brew club, for whom I manage the solera. Starting this winter I am planning on a series of posts and videos about solera brewing, but as a bit of a prequel, I thought I'd share a brief post on by brew clubs solera (LHGB Solera) and two beers I prepared from the first pull out of it.

Firstly, for those of you who don't know, a solera is a method of continually producing sour beer. For a sour beer solera, a fermenter (often a large barrel) is filled with beer and allowed to ferment and age. At a set interval (usually between 6 months and 1 year) a portion of the solera is removed and bottled, and the solera topped off with fresh beer. Over time the effective age of the beer in the solera will approach a average age which will then be retained for the remainder of the solera's lifespan. For example, for the LHBG Solera, we remove half the beer every nine months, leading to a beer which will eventually converge on an effective age of 1.5 years. How effective ages are calculated, managing a solera, and other topics, will be the subject of some future posts.

The LHBG solera has been designed to be a middle-of-the-road sour beer; modest funk and restrained sourness. The beer is ~5% ABV, 50:50 mix of pilsner and wheat malt, and 10IBUs. This recipe was selected for a few reasons - the beer is aging in a white wine barrel, and this lighter tasting beer should allow for that character to shine through. Secondly, it allows members of the brew club a lot of flexibility in turning their share into something unique, through adding fruit, spices, or blending with other beers.

Refiling the LHGB solera.
The first time the solera was filled we brewed the beer on the personal brewing equipment of 10 volunteers, which was then pooled into the solera. The logistics of this wasn't trivial, leading our club to decide to build a large brew-rig to fill barrels (we have two at this time). Construction took a lot longer than expected (18 months), which was a happy mistake as it gave the beer a good bit of age on it, and got us to a point where we would have a solera with a stable effective age of 1.5 years. The first beer from the solera was a little more acidic than planned, and lacked brett character, so we tweaked the refill recipe to adjust. IBU's were increased to suppress sourness, performed a ferulic acid rest and fermented with a Belgian yeast to increase brett character, and finally, we added another sour culture to the mix to try and bring out a bit more complexity in the beer. These adjustments highlight the power of a solera - you can tweak a sour beer as it ages, to get a desired and consistent product.
Pellicle on the LHBG solera, as viewed during the refill.
A little over a month ago we "withdrew" the first beer from the LHGB solera, and shared the beer among interested club members. I am moving in the very near future, and has such had to do something quick with my share, as moving some carboys of sour beer are not really an option. Half of my share I bottled straight-up. The second half I put on some hibiscus for a week, whose fruit character should complement the sour beer nicely. The beer was bottled using sugar and champagne yeast, and left to carbonate for the past 6 weeks.

Straight Sour

Appearance: The unmodified (straight) sour beer pours with a thin and short-lived head. Body is golden in colour with a slight haze and a nice effervescence.

Aroma: Aroma is lactic with a notable white-wine note. Missing from the aroma is any hint of funk - no mustiness, leather or barnyard to be found.

Flavour: Up-front is a strong lactic tartness and a modest white wine character. Behind this is a bit of a bready malt character and a touch of hop bitterness. The flavours are a little unbalanced - the acidity is too high given the lighter nature of the beer, and this acts to hide both the wine and malt character. There is no brett funk at all in the flavour. There is also a slight off-flavour on the after taste; a touch of diacetyl which leaves a bit of butteriness on the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Acidic, crisp and dry. Aftertaste is a lingering acidity in the back of the throat, and a bit of a buttery sweetness.

Overall: Not bad for the first pull from a solera, as there has been no chances to correct for flaws yet, but still in need of improvement. Good news is that all the flaws are correctable, and on the re-fill we modified the recipe to give more brett character (which should also clean up the diacetyl) and to suppress the lacto to make it less acidic. I'm stuck with my share as-is, but if I had the time I'd blend this beer with a saison to cut the acidity, add some funk, while still allowing the white wine character to shine though.

Hibiscus Version

The choice to add hibiscus was based on a few factors. The first was speed - hibiscus was something I could add and bottle on time for our big move. The second was balance - hibiscus adds a sensation of sweetness (although not actual sugars) which can help to counteract the acidity of the beer. Finally, its floral/fruity flavour should complement the white wine character of the beer nicely.

Appearance: Strawberry-red, with a touch of haze. Unlike the straight solera beer, this one has some additional head retention, with a modest white head that lasts for a couple of minutes.

Aroma: Remarkable similar to the unmodified version; acidic with a touch of white wine. The aroma is perhaps a touch more fruity than the unmodified version, but only slightly so.

Flavour: This is where the big difference is. While still acidic, there is enough "sweetness" from the hibiscus to counter-act it somewhat. It is still a very sour beer, but is less harsh and better balanced than the unmodified version. This helps to bring out the white wine character, with the hibiscus acting to accentuate the berry character of the wine rather than acting as its own flavour. And while I know this is purely perceptive, I cannot detect the diacetyl note that is present in the unmodified version.

Mouthfeel: Dry, crisp and acidic. Despite the less acidic taste on the tongue, the beer still gives a lingering acidic burn in the throat. Aftertaste is an acidic berry character.

Overall: The hibiscus makes this a more balanced beer than the unmodified version, but as with the unmodified form, this one too has some flaws that will be corrected by adjustments to the solera's recipe.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Apparently DMS is Still a Thing

DMS-Rich Vienna. Don't let
its yummy appearance
foold you!
I've been brewing since the bad ol' days of the mid-1990s. Back then malt quality is not what it is today, so we had to use a lot of tricks to get good beer. One of these was the 90 minute boil, a necessity when using Pilsner malt (and other minimally-modified malts), to drive off DMS. DMS, for those who do not know, is a sulphur-based compound present in malts which in high enough concentrations gives your beer a cooked-corn aroma and a green-vegetable-like flavour.

Obviously, something you don't want in your beer. But, luckily for us, boiling drives it off...hence the old method of boiling lagers (and other Pilsner-malt rich beers) for 90 minutes.

The good news is that malt quality has dramatically improved over the past 20 years, and the levels of DMS precursors in malt are pretty low compared to historical norms - so low that experiments by Brulosophy found it hard to detect, even after short boils. This improvement in malt quality has led homebrewers (including myself) to do things previously unthinkable - no-boil, 100% pilsner malt sours, 60 minute boils for most lagers, etc. Some of the best lagers I've brewed, like the Vienna & Pilsner I brewed last year, used 60 minute boils with great success.

So imagine my disappointment when I brewed a Vienna this year, using all the same methods and near-identical recipe to last years brew, only to find that the resulting beer had an intense DMS aroma and flavour - probably the worst DMS off-flavour I've had in a beer since the late 1990's. The beer is not undrinkable - in fact, I served it at a recent party and received good feedback - but it is flawed and not up to my normal standards. So what went wrong?

Vienna is prepared in a similar manner to Pilsner malt, meaning it has a similar risk of DMS precursors - but should also be subject to the malting improvements over the past two decades. I've brewed beers previously made of 100% Vienna, with 60 minute boils, without issue. But there is one difference - this was my first time using Weyermann Vienna; all previous batches used Vienna malt from Breiss. Although the character of the malt from each manufacturer is very similar, slight differences in their malting process may have led to different levels of DMS precursors in one malt versus the other - this conceivably could occur even on a batch-by-batch basis within the same manufacturer. That said, a google search failed to find any suggestion that Weyermann had higher levels of DMS in their Vienna than Breiss; although I did find a few reports of DMS in Vienna-heavy beers.

A second issue may have been batch size - I did a 40L batch this year, in place of a 20L batch last year. Because I use the same pot for both sizes of brews, the recent batch had half the surface area:volume ratio, which would slow the volatilization of DMS.

A third issue may have been boil vigour; while I have an over-powered burner on my brewing rig, the larger boil volume, brewing of the beer on a cold day, plus a lot of wind on this years brew day, meant that the boil vigour and rate of boil-off were not as good on the more recent batch.

At the end of the day, I think there are a few things to be learned from this batch. The first is that I probably should return to 90 minute boils for beers brewed using malts with high potential for DMS; especially if brewing larger volumes or on a day where boil vigour may be an issue. The second issue is that I should brew mission-critical beers - e.g. those intended for parties - with a bit more lead time, to allow for additional ageing (or a brewing of an alternative beer) should issues like this arise. And lastly, this beer allowed me to relive my youth, through recreation of flavours that were common in the early years of my brewing "career".

Monday, 12 June 2017

Beer on the Brain - Where the Wild Yeasts Roam

A few days ago I posted episode 3 of my "Beer on the Brain" series. This new video looks at new science which finally identifies the wild source of Saccharomyces cerevisiae - and its not fruit or tree bark, as we long thought...

Friday, 12 May 2017

To Vrai or Not To Vrai - Another White Labs Controversy?

The Short Version

Brewing practices in both home and commercial breweries have undergone somewhat of a revolution over the past decade, leading to a cohort of brewers who approach brewing from a much more technical & microbiological perspective. As a direct consequence of this, some commercial yeast products have been revealed to be other than what the manufacturers have stated - in at least some cases, with the manufacturer themselves being unaware that their product was a yeast/bacteria different from what they believed they had. In this blog post we reveal that the yeast sold by White Labs as Brettanomyces vrai (WLP648) - ironically a yeast mis-identified previously by the same manufacturer - is, in fact, a blend of two different yeasts - both are Brettanomyces bruxellensis, but are separate strains...although strains which appear to have evolved from a recent common ancestor.

Some Background

Brewing practices have changed dramatically over the past decade, with procedures such as sour worting, wild captures, and home/brewery isolated yeasts going from rare experiments to commonplace brewing practices. This change in brewing practices has led to some issues with commercially sourced yeasts - as one example, the growth of practices such as sour worting have revealed yeast-contamination issues in packaged "pure" strains of Lactobacillus. Similarly, the more microbiology-centric practices of home and commercial brewers has led to some unexpected revelations, including identification of "Brettanomyces trois" as a unusually flavourful strain of conventional brewers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). I was part of that effort, and the results of my and others work in identifying this yeast are the subject of a previous post. According to the manufacturer, this mis-identification was due to a chance contamination of "Brett trois" by this strain of Sacc, leading to the release of the "correct" strain of Brettanomyces, under the 'vrai' (French for 'true') strain name.

But is the strain name accurate - is this truly a pure strain of Brettanomyces? Most of us assumed so, even though this strain shows some characteristics when used as a pure culture for primary fermentation that run contrary to how most Brettanomyces behave when used for primary fermentation. When used in primary fermentation, most Brettanomyces act much like Saccharomyces - they rapidly ferment the wort, usually leave some residual sugars behind, and don't evolve over ageing as much as beers do when Brettanomyces are added during secondary fermentation - e.g. there is a lack of phenol production and super-attenuation. Beers brewed with WLP648 do ferment out fairly quickly, but tend to be more highly attenuated than beers brewed with other strains of Brettanomyces as the primary yeast. In addition, beers brewed with WLP648 also show some development during ageing similar to that of beers with Brettanomyces added to secondary - i.e. emergence of phenolic "funk", and additional attenuation of the beer. So is WLP648 simply a more aggressive Brettanomyces than other common brewing strains, or is something else going on?

To our knowledge, it was assumed by other brewers that Brett vrai was simply a somewhat more attenuative strain of Brett - that is - until my friend and brewing collaborator (and co-author of this blog post) Devin streaked WLP648 on a wort-agar plate. Initially, the plate appeared as one would expect of a pure culture - all colonies on the plate appearing similar in size, shape and colouration. But over a longer incubation time smaller colonies began to appear between the larger colonies, leading us to speculate that there may be a second strain of yeast in WLP648.

Using a combination of classical microbiology, microscopy, gene sequencing and test batches, Devin and I explored the two strains of yeast present in WLP648, demonstrating that Brett vrai contains two unique strains of Brettanomyces bruxellensis, strains which share a relatively recent common ancestor, but are otherwise quite different in their morphology and brewing characteristics.

Experimental details can be found below the fold.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

My Warm Lagering Method

I must apologise about my poor blogging output over the past year or so, but there have been some big changes behind the scenes which have got in the way of my blogging and brewing...but I've not been completely inactive.

As my regular readers may recall, I've done some test brews using a newer "lagering" method in which lager-style beers are produced using lager yeasts fermented at ale temperatures (post 1, 2, 3 and 4). Motivated by these successes, I've brewed over a dozen lagers using this method in order to refine this process, with my last two batches produced using the same refined method. The first of these was a German-style pilsner; specifically the "Myburger" Bitburger clone from "Brewing Classic Style". Not only was it delicious, but I had trouble telling it apart in side-by-side tastings from its commercial cousin. The second beer was a doppelbock, and was everything I'd expect from the style. The take-home lesson from those two brews is that you can make very good "lagers", true to style, without the need for prolonged cold fermentation. Indeed, the Pilsner was 2 weeks grain-to-glass, and a month for the doppelbock.

All the gory details are below the fold.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Necessity - The Flower Vase of Invention?

I ran into a bit of a hiccup in preparing for a brewday this weekend. I had just finished preparing my starter and was getting it setup on the stir plate. After the usual jostling, I got the stir bar engaged to the magnet in the stir plate and turning slowly. Satisfied that everything was stable, I turned up the speed on the plate, producing the usual satisfying whirlpool in the starter. No sooner than I started my next task - checking my inventory of malt - did I hear a "ping"...followed by the sound of a slow drip of liquid.

Turning around I saw, to my horror, that the plate had thrown the stir bar and cracked the flask (you can see a bit of the crack, left-side of the image). The starter was too big for my smaller flask, so looking around I came across the only available container - a flask of flowers. Long story short, the flowers have been moved to a less visually pleasing container, and a bit of bleach rendered their vase clean and sanitary. The bottom is too thick for the stir plate to work, but it makes for a pretty starter!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Adam's Pale Ale (an APA...get it?)

I've done a poor job of blogging recently, so here's my first attempt to getting back on track. Back in February I helped a friend (Adam) learn to brew on my system. This beer was designed with his tastes in mind - hoppy but not too bitter. A classical-ish American-style Pale Adam's Pale APA (get it, that's a beer "joke", or maybe a dad "joke"...regardless, its some sort of a joke, I swear).

Appearance: Golden with a modest white head. Sightly cloudy, although not as cloudy as it appears in the picture.

Aroma: Peaches. Lots and lots of ripe peaches...but there are no peaches in this beer.

Flavour: Overall I am happy with this flavour, although I would tweak the balance of flavours if I rebrew this beer. Upfront is a fruity hop character with a slight catty bite - courtesy of the large late addition and dry-hopping with Amarillo and Simcoe hops. Behind this was a slightly sweet, but otherwise fairly neutral, malt backbone. The hop bitterness was low - to my tastes a little too low to properly balance out the malty sweetness and hop fruitiness. Either a lower mash temp, or drawing back on the Munich malt, would give a more pleasant balance of flavours.

Mouthfeel: Modest body, accentuated by a lower level of carbonation, made for a creamy feel to the beer. Aftertaste was malt-sweetness and hop fruitiness. No lingering bitterness what-so-ever in the aftertaste.

Overall: A pretty good beer. The balance of sweet and bitter is a bit more towards the sweet than I would prefer, but its easy-drinking, hop-forward and delicious - just what Adam ordered.

Recipe below the fold.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

New Mailer System!

Mailer showing dividing lines, numbering & yeast deposited
on spots 1, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11. Click for larger image.

As many of my readers know, I run an extensive yeast bank and frequently exchange yeasts with other homebrewers from around the world. In the past I've used a simple mailer system that allows yeast to be sent by letter mail. While this system worked very well, it had two major drawbacks. Firstly, it was a lot of work to prepare the mailers, taking me about an hour to prepare enough mailers to exchange 48 or so yeasts. Secondly, they did not always pack nicely into envelopes, leading to a few envelopes being returned by the post for being too thick for letter mail.

For my last few exchanges I've used a modified form of this mailer system. It is much easier to setup than the old mailers (enough mailers for hundreds of yeasts can be prepared in the time needed to make enough of the old mailers for a dozen yeast), and packs very nicely into envelopes. The only downside is that it is a little more work on the end of the recipient, as multiple yeast are now packed onto a single card.

Full details of the new mailer system can be found below the fold.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Cider 2016

Every year I brew a few batches of cider, using cider pressed at a local cider mill. 2016 was no exception, although I scaled back this years batch of cider to a single batch...mostly because we've still got two half-batches worth of 2015's cider remaining.

This years batch is a bit of an experiment, but one which came out fairly well. To backtrack a bit, last year I prepared a batch of cider which I allowed to ferment using only the wild yeast present in the cider. This cider was good, but not great - it was extremely dry, and the earthy/musty flavour was a little more intense than SWIMBO would prefer (I liked the strength of it, but I brew cider for her, not for me).

This year I took a hybrid approach, to get the higher complexity of a wild ferment while restraining the wild character to a more modest level.

The one issue I ran into this year was the raw cider itself. The cidery which sells my brew club cider produces raw cider for local grocery stores. As a consequence, they do not worry about the blend of apples used, so long as the sweetness falls within a specified range. With alcoholic cider making, professional cider makers will use deliberate mixes of different types of apples to get a proper sugar content, while making sure that the amount of residual tanins and acids are appropriate to lend the fermented cider a nice balance. The cider we received this year was very sweet (O.G. of 1.052), and was clearly made almost entirely of dessert apples as there was almost no acidity or tanic character to the raw juice. As a result the fermented cider was quite dry, thin bodied, and somewhat weak tasting - issues I addressed by an alternate method of back-sweetening which was a smashing success.

Details & tasting notes below the fold.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

She's Just That Pretty

I've already blogged about my "Sour Grapes" berliner from late 2016, but she's a pretty beer and worthy of another photo!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Power of Staged Fermentation - Sour Grapes

Progression of the beer from: Day of grape addition (left) to 4 months later in the glass (right)
I am a bit of an experimentalist at heart, and one area in which I do a lot of "experimental" brews is using the staged addition of pure cultures of wild or commercial yeasts & bugs, pitched at varying times, to produce unique sour beers that cannot be produced through conventional brewing techniques. I've made beers with similar complexity to classical sour beers using staged-addition of bugs, but that's not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about using these methods to make good beer from difficult ingredients. In this case, wild grapes.

Wild grapes are pretty common place across North America, and they come in two "flavours" - European wine grapes that have escaped the vineyard and native species of grapes. Wild European grapes are pretty similar to the grapes you buy in the grocery store, and can be used as would any other wine grape in sour beer brewing. Truly wild grapes are another beast. In fact, my first attempt to brew with these turned a rather lacklustre 2-year old golden sour into an unpalatable mess. Thankfully I only added grapes to one gallon of that beer, and rescued the rest with a more classical cherry addition! There have been attempts since, and none (until now) were worth writing about.

There are nearly 70 species of wild grapes native to North America, so I'm not sure how true the following statements will be for brewers in other regions of N. America (or elsewhere), but for people in Ontario and the north-eastern US, this should be relatively accurate. The three species of wild grape native to my area (Vitis riparia, V. aestivalis and V. labrusca) are quite different from their European cousins. These grapes are much more intense than their European cousins; while the juice of European varieties are generally used to make wine undiluted, our local wild grapes need to have their juice diluted between 1:2 and 1:5 to produce a wine with a tolerable taste. The grapes themselves are quite small (0.5 cm diameter or smaller), have a very thick and tannic skin, have a much higher malic acid content, and have a much larger seed portion (relative to the amount of fruit) compared to their European cousins. And it is those characteristics that make them hard to incorporate into sour beer - essentially, enough grapes to give a nice grape flavour also imparts a lot of tannins, malic acid and grape-seed character.

Tannins are astringent and drying, and while nice in small amounts, they can quickly become overwhelming and unpleasant. Indeed, tannins are often made by plants for the purpose of deterring animals from eating the plant - the term "tannin" comes from their ability to tan leather, so you can imagine how excess amounts make your mouth feel. Malic acid is also quite harsh - almost as harsh as acetic acid - and like tannins can be pleasant in small amounts but becomes harsh and overwhelming quite easily. The seeds of grapes are also problematic - they contain some earthy and woody flavours that are pleasant, but the high seed content of wild grapes means these characters can be somewhat strong, and in my experience, clash with brett phenolics.

My attempts at using these grapes in conventional sours failed because of these characteristics - the malic acid would make an already acidic beer far too acidic and harsh, the seed character would amp up the funk, which in turn clashed with the high levels of tannins. Even pressing the grapes for juice doesn't solve these issues (aside from the grape seed flavour) to any meaningful extent. But where traditional sour brewing methods failed, "experimental" methods succeeded.

More Below the Fold

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Fact of Fiction - Can Pathogens Survive in Beer? The RDWHAHB Edition

Its time for the third instalment of my pseudo-series Can Pathogens Survive in Beer (Part 1 - of course they can, Part 2 - Moulds). To summarise parts I and II, yes there are a number of pathogens that survive in beer, and yes, moulds can release poisonous mycotoxins into beer, but generally speaking proper sanitation and controlling your brewing environment can eliminate these risks.

Today's edition is a little different; my previous posts get "cited" a lot by people who seem to have been scared by my posts away from testing new organisms as potential brewing bugs. As one example, a few months ago at Milk the Funk a discussion on the potential use of Lachancea fermentati (a lactic-acid producing yeast) to make a "single organism" sour-beer. The interest readily split into two groups after a case report was found of a patient in Texas who suffered fungemia (blood infection) with Lachancea fermentati. This led many people who at first were anxious to try brewing with this yeast to become fearful about even letting it near their brewery. Yet I, and a few others, made beers with this yeast...and we're all still here and no one got sick. So what is going on? Why would I (a microbiologist by trade) risk making a beer with a known pathogen?

The answer, as always, is below the fold...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Beer on the Brain - Your Lyin' Hydometer

I'm excited to announce the next video in my Beer on the Brain series...Your Lyin' Hydrometer. In this video I quickly discuss how hydrometer readings can lead you astray when brewing high gravity beers.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016 In Review

Last night, somewhere around midnight, 2016 came to an end...meaning its time for my annual look back at the year that was.

The Good: Both my blog and youtube channel continue to grow in popularity; my blog reaching 394k views, and my youtube channel 103k views. Most of the beers this year came out either good or excellent, including what may have been my best Berliner Weisse to-date. My brewing output is up slightly over last year - 16 beers/ciders, plus a few batches of wine. I added a bunch of fun yeasts to the yeast bank, and found two new loves in the form of Kveik yeast and fast-lagering with W34/70.

Of course, this year was also my 20th brewversary, and the celebration of that went well...and is still continuing.

The Bad: Brewing output is still down compared to historical norms, and I ran dry a few times this year. My posting of both blog posts and youtube videos has also suffered this year, despite starting a new series of short videos intended to overcome last years rather meagre offerings.

The Ugly: Turns out I was growing my hops all wrong...I hope to fix that in 2017.

Some Quick Stats

My Favourite Blogs of 2016

(in no particular order)
I cannot claim to have any big things planned for this year - more posts and videos, and ore brewdays, I hope. I also hope to electrify my brew setup...but those plans have been in the works for 3 years and have never advanced past the planning phase, so I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.