Category Archives: style

Home-brew Update: Matt turns sour

I haven’t been blogging much lately, but that’s because I’ve been busy experimenting with my beers. I’ve brewed 6 batches of beer, plus started my own yeast bank and played around with sour beer program a bit.

IMG_2409I did a lot of research for my sour beer program. I started in this back in August with my first Flanders Red and Lambic, but I’ve added two more reds, a Berliner Weisse, Oud Bruin, and a Sour Farmhouse Ale that used a split primary fermentation to give the lacto a headstart. In addition to the sours I have made a Robust Porter and a Schwarzbier and kept all the different strains used in the yeast (and bug) bank.

The most recent Flanders Red batches were brewed as a single batch and the recipe was based on the one in Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff. It was brewed as a full batch and fermented for in the primary with Wyeast 1056, but then split between two secondary fermenters with the larger part getting the Wyeast Rosaelare blend and the other part getting the Wyeast De Bom. They’re now aging with a bit of oak in the fermenters.

The Berliner Weisse was done as a no boil/no hop batch. Michael Tonesmeire talks about this in his book, American Sour Beers. I asked him about the hops, which his recipe show being added in the decoction part of the mash and he suggested that the IBU levels were so low that your could forgo them, so I did. I also didn’t do a decoction mash, just a single infusion. Lacto, half pack of Brett L., and a clean ale yeast (house culture of Wyeast 1056) added. The main fermentation went well and its now resting and hopefully getting delicious.

IMG_2512The Sour Farmhouse Ale is the one I’m looking forward to the most. I dream of kicking back in the heat of summer with a few bottles of this. This was originally split in two and had lacto in one half and WPL566 Belgian Saison II in the other. The lacto part was kept warm (pitched at about 100 F) on a heating pad and after a couple of days when both were going full on they got combined and had a third of a pack of Brett Brux. added. The ferment took off and is quite vigorous as I’m typing. I will slowly warm this a bit as it starts to finish to make sure it drys out good.

My Oud Bruin was fermented out for a week with the same house culture of Wyeast 1056 as the Berliner Weisse (large starter split between the two) and half a pack of Brett L. Then racked onto about 500mL of the lacto half of the Sour Farmhouse Ale and then had Pedio and a half pack of Brett Brux. Hope to try this in the summer and maybe drink it in the fall or winter. We’ll see how it comes along.

My Flanders Red from last August has a nice profile, but was a bit lacklustre in both the complexity and the sourness. It is sitting at SG 1.006, which says to me that it’s probably pretty much done the ferment, so I’m guessing the sourness is pretty locked it, and the one-dimensional level of complexity is probably more-or-less set as well. So, I think that this can use some new fermentable and judging by the flavour I’m thinking cherries and probably some fresh bugs to chew on them. Its 6 months on and another 6+ months with cherries should build up the complexity I’m looking for.

IMG_2515The Lambic tastes good. I was a bit afraid with this one because it was brewed and just had the Wyeast Lambic Blend added, capped off with and airlock, and left untouched. I had no idea what to expect, and I was please it didn’t taste like vomit. It actually tastes like a traditional lambic, more or less. It’s young and some more age will help, but it’s right in the ballpark already. I am happy with this one so far. But, because I fell like experimenting, I think that half of the batch will get put onto raspberries and aged another 6+ months. The SG is 1.002 and if thats going to hold steady I will bottle up some to drink this summer (I’m thinking I will leave some to age longer for later blending).

I must admit, I’m having fun with this sour program, but it takes forever (it seems) and I’m really looking forward to drinking these beers. Look for more updates and it moves along.

Cheers!

Stylizing Beer

Some beer styles are the result of geography, history or culture, others seem to have been dreamed up out of thin air. Bodies like the BJCP or Brewers Association often define them, and sometime they are just called beer. (In Belgium, for instance, there were no historic beer styles. They varied from town to town, family to family, based largely on local preference.)

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Defining beer styles is useful, though, because it gives us a common frame of reference. If I tell you I have an IPA or a stout, you have a pretty good idea what I’m talking about without tasting it. It also makes comparing and contrasting beers much easier. Mike Dixon (Communications Director, BJCP) explains. “Let’s remove all beer styles and names and just give them numbers from one to infinity,” he says. “How would you ever decide what to drink? Often consumers may see a style they do not know, but it allows them to eventually understand the bitterness to be expected from an IPA or the roasty nature in a stout.”

The BJCP has defined and redefined beer styles based on historical and modern beers. It attempts to define what home brewers are currently doing, to create a level playing field. “Where the style guidelines really come into play is at competition,” Dixon says. “I don’t see the guidelines influencing brewers unless they are entering competition.”

Jamil Zainasheff (author of Brewing Classic Styles, style columnist of Brew Your Own magazine and “Chief Heretic” at Heretic Brewing) agrees. “I don’t think very many pro brewers let style determine what they brew,” he says. “They might start off with an idea of what they want based on a style, but then often take it in their own direction.”

Marketing usually affects people’s beer choices more than style itself. The old English IPA style is a good example. As more brewers had success with it, more brewers embraced it. Each wanted its IPA to stay out, so IPAs got bigger, bolder, hoppier. Soon there were Double or Imperial IPAs (DIPA or IIPA), Rye IPA, Belgian IPA, Black IPA, White IPAs and so on. The label “IPA” was a way to sell the beer to consumers; the only thing these beers have in common is that they’re hoppy.

“Most pro brewers rely on style descriptions to sell beer to their customers,” Zainasheff says. “Sometimes the beer labeled X style has no resemblance of that style, but drinkers assume that it is an example of the style. If you label anything IPA, then it sells better. Doesn’t matter what beer it is, it just sells more. Are all of these beers IPAs? No, but that is what affects purchasing trends.”

Consider the International Trappist Association (ITA), which voted to relabel its centuries-old beers as IPAs. “Though we are pious servants to the Lord first and foremost, we are also running a business here,” says Orval brewmaster Father Nelson. “So, in the end, we must give the customer what they want, and apparently what they really want is just to see those three letters printed on the bottle somewhere.”

The producers of Big Beer have responded to the craft beer swing in consumer tastes with faux craft beers. Coors produces Blue Moon and AB-InBev (makers of Budweiser) makes Shock Top. Dixon doesn’t think that approach will work. “Once people taste craft flavour they don’t want a macro lager as often as they did before,” he says. “Soon enough those people find other beers to try and we have new fans of craft beer adding to the craft market share.”

The next big thing might actually be a return to basics. “There are all sorts of crazy things being brewed,” Zainasheff says. “I think there might be some beers that stick around from it, but in general I think people are going to get a little tired of the extremely weird beer. I think there might be a bit of a refocus on some old standards. Wouldn’t you like to see a brewery offer a nice, ordinary pale ale? It is getting near impossible to find them anymore on the West Coast.” That swing may already be happening, as session beers (low to moderate strength beers, 3-5% ABV) rise in popularity, bucking the previous trend of high-octane IPAs.

Whatever happens, small craft brewers will brew what they like to drink, experimenting along the way, and beer drinkers with adventurous palates will keep trying their creations. The good ones will stick around as other brewers emulate them, including the macro brewers who are starting to feel that market dominance slip away, bit by bit.

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Brooklyn Brewery – Brooklyn Lager

IMG_0702.JPGBeer snobs will tell you the lagers are passé, but anyone who honestly believed that has never tried this one. Brooklyn Brewery’s version is a textbook example of how good a lager can be. It’s crisp, clean, refreshing and perfectly balanced.

From the brewery: In the late 1800s Brooklyn was one of the largest brewing centers in the country, home to more than 45 breweries. Lager beer in the “Vienna” style was one of the local favourites. Brooklyn Lager is amber-gold in color and displays a firm malt center supported by a refreshing bitterness and floral hop aroma. Caramel malts show in the finish. The aromatic qualities of the beer are enhanced by “dry-hopping,” the centuries-old practice of steeping the beer with fresh hops as it undergoes a long, cold maturation. The result is a wonderfully flavorful beer, smooth, refreshing and very versatile with food. Dry-hopping is largely a British technique, which we’ve used in a Viennese-style beer to create an American original.

Appearance: Clear amber with a thick off-white head; beautiful lingering lacing.

Aroma: Smells of toasted brown bread and orange blossoms, with a hint of caramel.

Taste: Instantly refreshing; dry and crisp with a hint of lemon juice. Dry, hoppy aftertaste with a quick quenching finish. Goes down easily.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation and perfect balance. Just enough of an aftertaste to make you reach for another one.

Overall: My favourite lager, hands-down. Perfect for a hot summer day, but eminently drinkable in any season. This is ridiculously flavourful for a lager. Like most lagers, it pairs well with most any savoury food, but it would be a real treat with a fiery bowl of Southwestern chilli.

86/100

Guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing).

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Bugs In My Beer?? Adventures in Mixed Fermentation, part 1

 

IMG_1684.JPGA year-and-a-half ago, in January of 2013, I brewed an English styled Old Ale using a limited release Old Ale Blend from Wyeast – which was a yeast blend that included a culture of brettanomyces. This was my first encounter with brettanomyces, or brett (known as the king of wild yeast).

Brett is cousin of saccharomyces, which is what typical brewers yeast is (and the same as bakers yeast, just a different twig in the same branch of the family tree). Both are in the same family of fungus (yes, fungus!) and will ferment sugars into CO2 and, most importantly, alcohol. Most of the time brewers do their best to keep brett out of their beers, avoiding it like the plague for fear of contaminating their “clean” beers. Brett creates flavours that are typically referred to as “funk” and are described from “fruity” to “barnyard” and “horse blanket”. It sounds pretty bad, but is one of the main flavour contributors to Belgian and American styled sour ales, changing flavour over its long maturation period (months to years). It can be manipulated, somewhat, with the conditions set out by the brewer in the wort/beer, temperature, time, and brett strain (like yeast, they’re not all the same).

So, why would anyone want to tempt fate and contaminated beers? Flavour, experimentation, to prove you can, sheer insanity – somewhere in there.

After my initial brett beer I did nothing more in the way of “mixed” fermentations until recently when I decided that I wanted to go back down that road. (Mixed fermentation is when not just brewers yeast is added, but brett and/or bacteria cultures to sour the beer – my original brett Old Ale, for example, had brewers yeast and brett). I had been reading a lot on The Mad Fermentationist blog about his experiments with brett, as well as, lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterial fermentations as is done in traditional sour beers from Northern Europe and by newer breweries in the US. This sparked that urge in me to try it. I’ve had several sour ales before and love them, and I’m not afraid of trying new experiments (nor am I afraid of contaminating my other, clean beers – basic sanitation and common sense should help).

So, what did I do?

First thing I did was culture up the dregs from my Old Ale using first a small amount (250mL) of unhopped wort in a mason jar covered in tinfoil to see what would happen. After two weeks it was smelling and looking good, pH and gravity had dropped, so I had a taste and it was nice and fruity (cherry-like). Next, I added it to some lightly hopped wort (900mL) and put in an airlock, and this is where it sits as I’m writing, sill fermenting/aging. I hope to use this culture to ferment out an pale ale and added it to some other fermentations.

The next bit of experimenting came from inspiration after reading American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire (also the operator/writer of The Mad Fermentationist). I made a small (300mL) lightly hopped wort (13 IBU) and added nothing but 10 or so ripe blueberries from my bush in the backyard. I have no idea what I will grow in this one, but if the test come out (pH, gravity, smell) its probably safe enough to taste and then we’ll see if it was a success (note of caution – attempting to grow something from the wild can be dangerous. There is a possibility of mold or E.coli or other nasty things growing in that wort. There are some indicators that its safe or not, but I’m no expert and I don’t advocate following my word on this). My hope is to capture some local wild yeast and souring bacteria that will make tasty beer. We’ll see how it goes, wait for a future post on this.

I have also purchased ingredients for a lambic beer, including Wyeast Lambic Blend, which is a blend of brewers yeast, brett, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. This will be a more traditional attempt at a sour ale. I also plan on a red type ale as a side experiment with the lambic blend, my house cultured brett blend, and a standard ale yeast. I will post on this once they are made.

So, as I start out down this long road to sour ales, I feel like I’m part brew master and part mad scientist. I can see the need for more airlocks and jugs of various sizes (and space for them, and understand/tolerance from my wife) in the near future. The path to great beer is always exciting, but now that I’m on this path I feel a new brewer, excited like a kid in a candy shop with cash in his hand. Look for upcoming posts as I brew and experiment.

-Cheers!

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BEER MONDAY REVIEW: Affligem – Blonde

20140310-114950.jpgAffligem Brouwerij is an Abbey brewery in Opwijk, Belgium (think monks chanting as they brew the beer and you’d be pretty close). Founded in 1074 by Benedictine monks it is the oldest abbey in Flanders. The brewery is now 95% owned by Heineken (since 2001) which has greatly helped with export and production.

Appearance
Golden orange in colour. Cloudy, but no sediment to speak of. Pours with a big, fluffy, white head that lasts until the end. Pretty decent lacing as you’d expect.

Aroma
First thing is the sweetness in the aroma with notes of pear and apple that fades to a slightly bitter and dried fruit aroma. There’s also some malt and grass with a slight hint of alcohol. Some floral notes from the hops.

Taste
The taste is smooth with some spice and clove. The classic Belgian yeast flavours come through with fruity and banana notes. There are some herbal qualities with a lingering lemon peel flavour on the tongue. Slightly sweet, but a dry finish.

Mouthfeel
Medium mouthfeel with a good level of carbonation. Well balanced with a very slight oily finish, or possibly an impression of an oily finish coming from the lemon peel flavour.

Overall
Impressive. Easy drinking and balanced all around. Nothing about this beer turns me off. Would be great on a cold day as a warmer, but would be nice and refreshing on a hot summers day as well.

88/100

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REVIEW: Mongozo – Premium Pilsner: Gluten-free, Fairtrade, Organinc

20140301-154245.jpgMany people avoid gluten whether it’s by choice or due to health reasons, but is this any reason to avoid good beer? Belgian brewery, Mongozo, has a line of gluten-free beers for people who are looking to stay away from gluten, but still would like to have a cold one. Their Premium Pilsner is gluten-free, but also certified fair trade and organic.

Here’s what Mongozo’s website says:

“Mongozo has developed a gluten-free lager, making it possible for people on a gluten-free diet to enjoy drinking beer. The brewing process for obtaining a gluten-free beer can vary, and in the case of Mongozo Premium Pilsner it involves the gluten being removed from the beer. This innovative technique ensures that the beer retains its lager flavour. A renowned laboratory checks each batch of beer brewed for the presence of gluten. The beer is then only sold if less than 10 ppm of gluten is detected and it can therefore be labelled as gluten-free. Mongozo Premium Pilsner is Certisys-certified for the use of certified-organic barley malt, rice and hops. The system of checks in place for the organic sector guarantees that products are genuinely organic. The approved label used by Mongozo is a European label issued by the Belgian Certisys inspection and certification body.”

I’ll admit, avoiding gluten isn’t high on my list of things to do and this would be my first gluten-free beer, so I can’t compare it to thers, but I can compare it to other pilsner beers.

Appearance
Perfectly clear, golden yellow, with a slight white head. Some lacing.

Aroma
Pretty typical lager aroma with a touch of sulphur and malt. No real hop aroma.

Taste
Nice balance with malt and hops. The hop flavour is mild, but in good contrast with the malt sweetness. The bitterness is a bit rough, but not over powering. Pretty easy drinking.

Mouthfeel
Light with good carbonation levels.

Overall
Overall this is not a bad beer, a fairly run-of-the-mill pilsner, nothing to turn me off from it. Having never had any other gluten-free beers, I can only imagine that this one would stack up nicely to most of the market.

75/100

What will be in store (and your glass) for 2014?

Every year we see more and more people converting to craft beer. People are waking up to flavour and to the not so mundane – this is not a new trend. Since the early ’80s there has been a a steady growth in craft beer – at first it was small, but every year the market share is of craft breweries is growing. Today, more and more beer drinkers are looking for something that isn’t a pale, light flavoured lager, but something that is different. And what was “different” last year may be mainstream this year as many craft brewers are trying to keep up with what their customers want to drink. The craft beer movement has come on strong in Canada and with a fast growing number of brewers in the Maritimes we are on the edge of a beer revolution.

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So, what will 2014 bring?

It looks like big, hoppy IPAs will continue to be popular. The trend in ever higher alcohol and “the more hops the better” philosophy will keep rolling as drinkers can’t seem to get enough and the hop train keeps rolling from the west to the east. “The West Coast has been on the IPA bandwagon for a long time, but that being said, it’s a trend that keeps growing stronger.” says Tracy Phillippi of Garrison Brewery (www.garrisonbrewing.com), “Brewers out west are finding new & creative ways of using hops (hops in mash, hop filters, dry hopping, hops in bottles, etc.)… At the same time, new breweries in Toronto, seem to be starting with flagships styles that have mass appeal, but people still want aggressive IPAs. I think that’s one reason that our IIPA has done so well in the LCBO.”

In a twist counter to the big IIPA trend, low strength, session beers are increasing in popularity. As Sean Dunbar from Picaroons Brewery (www.picaroons.ca) in Fredericton, NB said, “There’s a much longer conversation to be had over beers sometime.” This is trend that not only Picarons sees, but across the nation because, well, sometimes there is a longer conversation to be had.

Local, and experimental beers. Drinkers are looking for the next think. People are willing to try new things that are coming out of their local brewpub and are also looking for the small, true craft beer – they want to know the people who brew the beer. “Niche, terroir-esque, and original beers are garnering a lot of attention in the market” says Jeremy White of Big Spruce Brewing (www.bigspruce.ca), adding “[It’s] going to be an interesting decade in craft beer.”

Sour beers of Belgium. These tart and refreshing beers are one of the oldest styles of beer. They’re produced using very traditional methods, allowing the beer to be “infected” with a variety of microbes that is truly a biological experiment gone right. Though these styles have been around for pretty much forever, they have had a falling off in popularity in their native European home, but are experiencing a serge of popularity this side of the Atlantic. Peter Burbridge of Bridge Brewing Company (bridgebeer.ca) says “Since we opened we have seen an increased awareness and demand for Belgian beer styles” adding that he sees the trend of sours coming to the Nova Scotia market.

2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year of beer. “I really think we’re (East Coast) finally seeing the growth in craft beer that other parts of North America have seen for the past several years” says Tracy Phillippi. “It’s exciting to see people come to craft beer for the first time, because in most other parts of North America it’s a longstanding trend.”

Cheers to a great year of beer!