Brewing Log – Rye Saison and Saison #2

Soooooo……. about those brewing updates I promised last post. Here’s some notes from my first two attempts at brewing a Saison.

Rye Saison and Saison #2
My infatuation with brewing farmhouse ales has hit full swing. I’m really trying to hone in on a great saison recipe. The Rye Saison I brewed for Big Brew is now just a memory. I didn’t take any tasting notes, but recall the sharpness from the rye being pretty dominate. There wasn’t too much flavor from the spices or citrus in the mix. I wanted to start the recipe with a very small amount of blended spices and gradually step them up in the next batch (if needed). The phenols from the Wyeast 3711 fermented intentionally warm (+70F) really came through, which I think also accented the rye. Overall I was very happy with the finished product for a first attempt.

For my second attempt I decided to cut the rye and opted for a higher percentage of wheat. I used a combination of wheat malt and flaked wheat, which really contributed nicely to the mouthfeel in my opinion. The amount of spices was increased to allow more perceived flavor. The last major difference I made was keeping the fermentation temperature closer to 65F. This batch was brewed on 4/28 in order to be kegged for Jen’s surprise 30th birthday party on 5/18. Given the fast turnaround time the beer was a little cloudy, but it could’ve also been from the wheat. The keg kicked in a couple of hours, which is always a good sign! I was very pleased with the way it turned out. It was definitely an improvement from the first attempt. Here’s the recipe:

Jen’s 3-0 Saison
Brewed April 28, 2012
Yeast: Wyeast 3711
Starter: No
Batch Size (Gallons): 5.5
Target Original Gravity: 1.055
IBU: 26
Efficiency: 79%
Boiling Time (Minutes): 60
Color: 5 SRM
Mash: Single Infusion @ 151F (60 minutes) – Batch Sparge

Grain Bill:
5 lb Pilsner (48.5%)
21 oz White Wheat Malt (12.7%)
1 lb Flaked Wheat (9.7%)
1.5 lb Munich Malt (14.6%)
1.5 Pale Malt (14.6%)

Hops/Additions:
60 min 1 oz Tettnang (4.8%)
20 min 1 oz Czech Saaz (3%)
15 min Irish Moss
10 min 1 oz Czech Saaz (3%)
5 min Spices:
Coriander (16 grams)
Grains of Paradise (1/4 tsp)
Star Anise (6 blades)
Bitter orange peel (1/2 oz)
Sweet orange peel (1/2 oz)

Because Wyeast 3711 is such a beast and I’ll be brewing with it again soon, I decided to wash the yeast from this batch. There’s a ton of instructions and how to videos on the various methods to harvest yeast. I basically follow Bernie Brewer’s how to on hombrewtalk.com. The only things I do differently is use less water (and jars) and place the carboy on its side when allowing it to sit. This way the yeast gets disturbed less when pouring into the mason jars. Here’s some pics of my process:

Catching up…

Hey now! It’s been a while, but there hasn’t been much brewing lately. I’ve been out-and-about recently enjoying some great music and also drinking some quality brews. My brewing efforts have revolved around carefully watching over my RIS, Dieci Anni Di Dolci. It’s been fermenting for over a month at ambient temperatures between 62-72F. Airlock activity has slowed and the yeast is slowly falling out of suspension. My last gravity reading was right around 1.030, which would indicate 71% attenuation. Hopefully these warm temperatures allow for a couple more points to drop. The hydrometer samples still have a “hot-liquor” taste that I think will mellow as it ages… still very tasty.

In the meantime, I’ve been preparing a nice twist for this brew. My goal was to make this something special, so I’ve incorporated medium-plus toast french oak cubes soaked in bourbon. Many expert brewers say the cubes should impart different layers of flavor and are intended for longer aging as opposed to the chips. The bourbon… why the hell not?! My process involved the following:

  1. Measure 1 oz of oak cubes
  2. Using a vegetable steamer, sterilize the cubes for 15 minutes
  3. Clean and sanitize mason jar
  4. Add cubes to jar and fill with enough bourbon to cover the cubes.

That’s it for now… hopefully some brewing is in my near future. I’ve been reading up about and tasting some great saisons and biere de garde styles. But for now here are some pics of my bourbon oak cube experiment:



A beer ten years in the making

One of the greatest things about home brewing is the ability to brew batches to commemorate any special occasion. In my family celebrations and beer go hand in hand. So, it made sense for me to brew a majority of the beer for our wedding last May. Jen and I thought it would be a great personal touch to the biggest celebration of our lives. It was a ton of work to brew and bottle over ten cases, but to share this special day with family and friends enjoying the beer I brewed was really rewarding. The whole process is documented at my old blog if you’re interested in reading more.

Our little love story started ten years ago when Jen and I met while working at an Italian restaurant, Vinny Testas. This past week we celebrated our ten year anniversary, so I knew a special batch was in order. Because of this milestone, I had some specifics planned for this beer: 1) I’m shooting for 10% abv for obvious reasons 2) I want a beer that will age well so we can crack one open on our anniversary for years to come 3) I wanted to use the washed Wyeast 1056 saved from the batches made for the wedding. This wouldn’t be an easy task considering the age of the yeast and my modest brewing rig.

I decided to go with a Russian imperial stout and made a starter with the washed yeast last week. After a little lag time the starter took off and looked/smelled healthy. I stepped it up two more times to ensure it was ready for pitching. To eliminate any doubt of healthy fermentation, an extra smack pack of 1056 would also be pitched. With that out of the way I was left to wonder, “How the hell am I going to make five gallons of 10% beer with a five gallon igloo mash tun?!” No fear… BREW STRONG!

I can proudly say that 14 pounds of grain will fit in a 5 gallon igloo cooler with a 1.1 quart of water per pound of grain ratio…barley (see pic below). I collected about 6.75 gallons of 1.060 wort after batch sparging. To boost the gravity, I added dark DME in 15 minute intervals throughout the boil. When all was said and done, I added three pounds throughout the boil and hit 1.105. This brew day was full of improv and probably wouldn’t have turned out so well without the help of a refractometer.

I’m happy to report fermentation took off almost immediately and is still chugging away. All signs indicate this batch will be a success. My plan is to give it about a month for primary then rack it onto something special. With a little luck it’ll be ready in time for our 11th anniversary.

Dieci Anni Di Dolci
Brewed February 19, 2012
Yeast: Wyeast 1056
Starter: Yes
Batch Size (Gallons): 5
Target Original Gravity: 1.101
IBU: 96
Efficiency: 76%
Boiling Time (Minutes): 80
Color: 55 SRM
Mash: Single Infusion @ 153F (60 minutes) – Batch Sparge

Grain Bill:
11 lb Marris Otter
1.5 lb Chocolate Malt
1 lb Roasted Barley
12 oz Flaked Barley
4 oz Special B Malt
3 lb Dark DME (added at 60, 45, and 30 minutes)

Hops/Additions:
80 min 4 oz Centennial (7.5%)
15 min Irish Moss
10 min 1 oz East Kent Golding (4.5%)
5 min 1.6 oz East Kent Golding (4.5%)
2 tsp Yeast Nutrient

We’re going to war!

The finishing touches have been put on the first two brews of the year. I’ve tried to give extra attention to both batches throughout every step of the process. Hopefully it pays off because I decided to enter both beers in a BJCP sanctioned competition. The War of the Worts is a local competition hosted by Keystone Homebrew that draws over 700 entries. It seemed to be a perfect opportunity to get some honest feedback. But enter a contest without even tasting the finish product? Why not!

The Lucky 7’s IPA ended up being 7.6% abv and crystal clear. Even though I dry hopped with over an ounce of Citra pellets, the beer was very bright during transfer. The long cold conditioning stage seemed to be a huge help to clear anything suspended. Although this beer fits in the guidelines of an imperial IPA, I decided to enter it as an IPA. This beer was right on the border of IPA and IIPA. It seemed to be better suited as a stronger IPA without the imperial notation. I have high hopes for this one.

The Citritine Ale ended up being more of an experiment towards the end. Just like Lucky 7’s, this one finished clear with some nice Citra aroma from the dry hopping. I was still getting a little sweetness from the clementines, but felt it could use another layer of flavor. Randy Mosher covers a technique of adding a spiced tea at bottling in Radical Brewing which I’ve been wanting to try.

The general concept is to take a small sample of beer, add the spiced tea and then scale it up for the batch. With a couple of unsuspecting friends visiting I decided to give it a shot. I prepared two teas: One with clementine zest and coriander and another with ginger. The consencious of everyone who mixed and taste tested was that the ginger lended itself best to this beer. One critique was the beer tasted a little watery, which I definitely agreed with.

In the end I decided to combine ginger with some fresh cinnamon sticks to hopefully create a ginger snap bite. The tea ended up being about 16 ounces made with three sticks of cinnamon and two tablespoons of fresh ginger. This one was entered in the contest as spiced beer (21A) because I felt the cinnamon and ginger would be more pronounced. Only time will tell…

Fermentation TLC

It’s no secrect that control over fermentation temperatures can be the difference between a good homebrew and a great one. I’ve always been a proponent of proper fermentation and strived to at least maintain consistent ambient temperatures. This time of year it’s easy to ferment in the lower 60’s, but summertime can present a challange. Today I made the first step to maximum control and hopefully the opportunity to brew new styles.

Before I continue you should know I’ve become a homebrew hoarder. Because of this I’ve aquired a couple refrigerators over the past year. Things that others consider trash can sometime be of value in the brewing process. So it was a huge score when my parents’ old fridge didn’t sell on Craigslist. Oh the possibilities… a kegerator, fermenation chamber, yeast bank… or maybe all three! After staring at this thing for weeks I finally decided to set it up in the back room and take baby steps.

My first thought went to the batches I’ve been dry hopping. They’re almost ready to bottle so I figured it would be easy to use the fridge to cold crash. This would only require assembly and the construction of a reinforced shelf to handle the weight of the carboys. I have a Ranco single stage temperature controller, but didn’t find it necessary at this point since the cold crash process is only a couple days near freezing. Baby steps here…

After cleaning up the back room and the fridge I measured, cut and assembled a small wooden shelf. It wasn’t exacly the prettiest thing, but it’ll hold. I felt the day was a success considering it was built fairly quickly with scrap wood and nails. I’ll check the temperature tomorrow morning and hope to be around 40 to 45F. My goal is to achieve improved clarity with a few days of cold conditioning. And then… the murky, uncharted waters of LAGER.