Tag Archives: brewing

Drink N Brew Hits The Airwaves!

This past Friday evening I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Sheldon MacLeod Show on News 95.7 to talk beer. If you tuned in to listing, thanks, if not, you can check it out here. Thanks to Sheldon and News 95.7 for having me on. It was great to share some of my beer geek knowledge.

-Cheers!

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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!

Banking on the Yeast

OK, we’re now well into 2015, the hectic holiday fun is over and things are returning to normal. I enjoyed many great beers over the holidays but brewed little. But I have been up to some home-brewed fun. I’ve decided to start my own yeast bank; this probably makes me certifiably nuts.

Living where I do I don’t have a local home brew shop that carries liquid yeasts, or even quality dry yeast. Though I do travel often enough to be able to get what supplies I need, I still find the selection of yeasts and other “bugs” for my beers lacking and I have to resort to making online orders. This isn’t just costly, but I also worry about the viability once it makes its way through the mail (although I haven’t had an issue…yet). I almost always make at least a small starter for my beers and make sure the yeast are happy and ready to go for brew day and I do my best to ensure that I’m pitching the right amount of yeast for the beer I’m brewing. I like to use and experiment with different strains and I figure with all this its just easier if I could always keep yeasts on hand, hence the Drink N Brew Yeast Bank.

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Full disclosure: I have no experience outside high-school biology and chemistry in working in a lab setting, and I have no education in microbiology whatsoever. I do own (and did read) Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White and there are a lot of great websites and YouTube videos show how to work in a clean environment at home. So, I went to eBay and found some test tubes, petri dishes, sterilized inoculation loops, and agar power. I also added to my collection of flasks now ranging from 50mL up to 2000mL for culturing and got a pressure cooker (my autoclave stand-in). It looks like a mad scientist’s lair or maybe a meth lab in my basement. So, I made my self some plates and slants and then put some yeast on them from some pure yeast sources. I’ve now collected a couple of different strains of yeast, and have a few others along with some brett, pedio, and lacto cultures waiting for different upcoming brew days (I see a sour beer post in the future), all of which will make it to plates and slants for storage.

My yeast bank is in its infancy now, but I’m on my way to having a good collection and a interesting side home brew project. I have just cultured up my first pitchable size of yeast from a plate (three little colonies from the plate to what I figure is about 300 billion cells) and right now all seems well. I’ll post an update on this when I have the results.

-Cheers!

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The Contract Brewhouse: Is this the future of craft beer start-ups?

IMG_1847.JPGWe all know that there is a huge boom in the craft beer industry. The market tastes have shifted from the mass-produced, pale larger to a wide range of flavourful beers made by a host of small brewers. Many beer enthusiast, home brewers, and business people are getting in on the growing market share that is craft beer. But breweries are expensive. The average beer lover can’t afford a brewery, nor have the financial backing to raise the capital that would be needed to set one up.

But what if you see that opportunity? What if you have a sound marketing plan and a great recipe? What if you’re afraid of getting yourself into that much debt? Enter the contract brewhouse. Businesses such as Brew Hub will make your beer, for a cost, but they float the overhead. Sure its not the same as owning your own brewery, but you can be a professional brewer with distribution to the beer drinking public.

It almost seems too easy. It wouldn’t do the industry any good if the market got flooded by bad beers from people who have no business to be brewing. On the other hand, this would be the opportunity for some really good brewers to get started. It could also be a way for many small established breweries to move beyond their regional boarders. I might be afraid of losing control of my product. I can control what happens in my own brewhouse, but not necessarily a third-party. You would have to rely on someone else’s idea of quality control and consistency.

Like it or not, this seems like a business model that will be here to stay. The lure of getting your beer produced without taking all the risks will be to great of a draw for many aspiring professional brewers. And why wouldn’t it be?

-Cheers

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Axe Grinder: Hoppy pale ale for the coming cool months.

 

 

IMG_1825.JPGAs the nights start to cool and I find myself shopping for the little one’s school supplies, I know that summer is ending and fall is closing in on us. Late August is hop season. This is the time of year that the hops on the farms and in the backyards of the very avid home brewer are maturing and are ready to be picked for beer. I don’t have a hop farm or even a rhizome or two in the yard (yet), but I do love hops. The fall, to me, signals the time to brew something hoppy. Though, admittedly, I am not as big of a hophead as some of people (I’m looking to you on the West Coast), but I do love that big hit of hop flavour and aroma. I love a great balance beer with big notes of citrus, pine, and even a bit dank.

So, whats left to do, but brew a hoppy pale ale.

I worked out a recipe a while back, but never got to brewing it until recently. I was looking for something that was moderate in strength (mid-5% or so) and moderate in bitterness, but big in hop flavour and aroma. I always like to try new things and my local home brew shop started to carry Falconer’s Flight, a blend of Pacific Northwest hops from Hop Union – loads of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral notes, by all accounts – so I thought that would be perfect for a pale ale.

Brew day was two weeks ago and went great, no problems or anything. The beer was fermented at 19 C and was finished up in about 10 days. I gave it a couple of extra days and then chilled to 2 C for a day or so before putting it into a keg.

Since its fresh in the keg I will give it a few days to get carbonated, but I can say that out of the fermenter it was pretty awesome. The aroma was almost pure grapefruit, so much citrus with just a touch of the grains. The favour was much as the aroma, loads of citrus – grapefruit, lemon, and some tropical hints. With a pretty solid bitterness and just enough of the malt backbone to keep things in check this beer is balanced nicely.

I can’t wait to see how it is in a few days, but I think I may have hit on my perfect “house” pale ale recipe after more than a few tries. Stay tuned for some tasting notes in the near future on this one. Click here for those who want to try it check out my recipe for the now named Axe Grinder.

-Cheers!

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Rare Bird – Pale Ale

20140607-123944-45584492.jpgRare Bird is brewed in Guysborough, Nova Scotia buy Authentic Seacoast Brewing Company. Using “pure artesian water”, hops, and Canadian malt they make small, handcrafted batches in Maritime brewing tradition.

From the brewery:
“Rare Bird Pale Ale is an immensely drinkable East Coast interpretation of this classic beer style. Using pure artesian water from Nova Scotia’s pristine Eastern Shore, Rare Bird Pale Ale starts with a nice hit of hops on the nose, a delicious balance of specially selected malted barley and both English and North American hops in the middle and a dry finish that delivers a refreshing beer of rare character.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Deep amber. Clear with a nice lasting head and good lacing.

Aroma: A bit of hops, but not as predominate as many North American styled pale ales. Some light fruit notes, probably from the yeast used.

Taste: Bitter on the back of the tongue, but sweeter up front. Some citrus and earthiness, with notes of caramel. Balanced overall.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light body. Slight oiliness from hops.

Overall: Nice and easy drinking, even at 7% not over powering in any aspect. This East Coast pale ale is well crafted with a beautiful balance that makes it a joy to drink.

78/100

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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!

Crystal vs. Caramel Malts: Are they so different?

ImageCrystal or Caramel malts are listed on nearly every recipe from porter to IPA, bitter to schwarzbier, all-grain and extract (with grains, of course), but why is it sometimes called crystal and sometimes caramel? Is there a difference or are these two words totally interchangeable and just up to the writer? My brew software generalizes them together and so do most websites (including this one), so whats the deal?

 

I’m sure many would just say they are the same in every way, but thats not really the truth. Sure they are similar in usages and share the same colouring levels and similar flavours, but there are real differences. 

In a nutshell, what are crystal/caramel malts? 

They’re a grain (typically barley, but might also be wheat, rye, or some other grain) that have been malted and put through a process to covert their starches into sugars, like mashing in the husk. The grain is then roasted/kilned to the desired colour. The resulting malt is ready to use and doesn’t need to be mashed (though it can be) since the starches are already converted. This makes a great grain for steeping when making beer with just extracts. It adds some fermentable sugars to the wort, but it adds a lot of longer chain sugars that help build body and good head retention. They also add some sweetness and flavour, and add colour to the beer. As you can see, this is a pretty useful malt and its no wonder why its in so many recipes. 

So, whats the difference? 

It comes down to history first and process second. Crystal malt first developed in Britain in the lat 19th century, most likely in response to the decrease in the gravity of British, and therefore malt and flavour, of beer that was being produced. These malts allowed for the lower grain bills to still produce a favourable beer.

When home brewing was first made legal (again) in the US, there was a flood of these European “crystal” malts into the US, but the domestic maltsters were already producing a similar product but calling it “caramel” malt. Much of the time it was exactly the same process, making it the same malt, but in some cases it was made differently.

For simplicity sake (and to make a distinction), I will call them “crystal” and “caramel” malts, though many times malts these names are used interchangeably by maltsters, causing more confusion. I will use the names to indicate the difference between the process, but you will have to get confirmation form your supplier (if you can) as to what process was used to produce the malt you’re buying. If you can’t get the information about the malt, if you crack a bit of it open and 90+% of the kernels are a glassy, crystallized sugars inside, then its crystal type. If its uneven and a mix of different centres to the malt, its caramel type.

The biggest differences between crystal type malts and caramel type malts comes down to the equipment used and the heat of the process. In both cases, the barley (or another grain) is malted and then this “green” malt is steam-cooked in the ‘sacch rest temperature range (60-70 C, 140-158 F) to convert the starches to sugar.

The crystal malt name refers to the “crystallization” of the sugars. In this process the malt is “cooked” in a roaster that can, if needed, achieve temperatures in excess of 700 F. The conversion process is quicker in the roaster because it can easily get to temperature while the grains remain moist. Conversion can be complete in under an hour and then the malt is roasted. The grain is heated to the point of “crystallization” of the sugars, called “hard crack”, this is above 300 degrees F (anyone who has made candy will know what this is about). This is a caramelization of the sugars and makes a toffee/caramel taste that varies with the degree to which the malt is roasted. 

Caramel malts are produced in a kiln and it is not nearly as hot as a roaster. The temperature of a kiln can’t make 300 F to produce the “hard crack” caramelization like a roaster can. This process is similar in that the malt goes in wet, but because of the limitations on the temperature, and the size and shape of the kiln, the malt starts to dry on top before the conversion is complete causing the process to be a lot longer. Also, since it can’t get as hot, to achieve the colour it takes longer, and the way the kiln works means the grains can be unevenly roasted. This longer, cooler process will produce some caramelization, but not to the degree of the roaster. The flavours produced are from Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction with sugars and amino acid: heat + amino acid + sugar = hundreds of flavour compounds and a discussion for another post) that may be similar to caramel flavours that varies with the degree the malt is kilned.Image

So, its two sides to the same coin?

Yes and no. Yes, as in it produces malts that are similar in usage and flavours. No, as in the malt produced is chemically different and will have a slightly different flavour (Maillard verse caramelization). Due to the way the colour is formed from one type to the other, a crystal malt with a Lovibond colour of 40 degrees (Crystal 40) and a caramel malt of 40 degrees (Caramel 40) probably won’t taste quite the same, but could be used interchangeably to produce a similar colour and body in a beer. Crystal malt tends to be a cleaner, more pure sweetness, while the caramel malt, though sweet, has a more bready, biscuity flavour.

Most of the time it will be crystal types malts that are found on the market. The majority of the European maltsters will be producing the crystal type and a good portion of the North American masters will be the same. It’s not to say one will be better for your beer than the other, but it is to know the differences, know what you want to achieve, and understand how to get there. And always, let your tastebuds lead the way and keep good notes.

For more reading on this see Terry Foster’s and Bob Hansen’s article in the November 2013 issue of Brew Your Own magazine or this article from Briess

 

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