Wednesday 31 October 2012

No-sparge Brewing - A simple approach to more malt flavor?

For homebrewers, the sparging portion of the brew day (where you add water to your grain bed after draining the wort from your mash, to rinse remaining sugars out of the grain) usually comes down to two options: batch sparging and fly sparging. Batch sparging - the more popular option - involves adding all of the sparge water at once (or in two portions, if your mash tun can't hold it all), stirring well, and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before vorlaufing and draining the wort into your boil kettle. Fly sparging, on the other hand, requires sparge water to be added at a continuous rate, while simultaneously draining into the boil kettle. This results in a slightly-increased efficiency, but obviously involves more time (approximately an hour).

A technique that seems to be growing in popularity eliminates the sparge from the process... conveniently enough, it's called no-sparge brewing! It's pretty straight-forward... you mash as normal (with or without a mash-out), vorlauf and drain the first-runnings into the boil kettle. Instead of sparging, you then make up the remaining volume by adding brewing liquor (a fancy name for water used for brewing) directly into the kettle. This is the method suggested by Gordon Strong in his book, "Brewing Better Beer".

Why do this? Apparently, it results in a richer and more-intense malt flavor, with less harshness compared to other methods, according to Strong; he also mentions that the resulting beer is also a bit deeper in color, with lower acidity. This may not be a technique you'd use for a hop-forward beer, such as an American IPA, but for malt-forward beers, such as Scotch Ales, it sounds like something worth trying.

One thing to keep in mind here is that with this method your efficiency will obviously take a big drop, which means that no-sparge brewing is more expensive. Since you're adding water to your first runnings to get up to your boil volume, as compared to lower-gravity second runnings from a sparge, you would have to use more grain than normal for your mash. Strong suggests measuring the gravity and volume of your first runnings, which you can then use to calculate your efficiency for future no-sparge brews. This basically means your first attempt will be a bit of a guinea pig-approach. As for this first attempt, Strong writes that a 1/3-increase in your grist is a good place to start.

A slightly different no-sparge method is suggested by John Palmer, another very well-respected and well-read homebrewer. Palmer's approach involves adding the water that you would normally use for the sparge (roughly 1.5 times the water used in the mash) into the mashtun at the end of the mash. The full amount in the tun is then drained into the kettle, and should equal your target boil volume. This method has the benefit of requiring less grain then Strong's approach (approximately 25% more than the standard grain bill, instead of Strong's 33%). However, the disadvantage is that your mashtun would obviously have to be large enough to hold the entire amount of brewing liquor and grain; maybe not a concern for small (lower-ABV) beers, but could easily cause trouble with bigger, or even moderate-strength beers for those of us with 10-gallon mash tuns. You would also have to calculate the temperature of the additional water to add, so that you don't exceed 170 F, which may lead to leeching of tannins into the wort. For Palmer's full article (and some handy calculations you can complete to make things easier), check it out here at the Brew Your Own site.

I've never personally tried the no-sparge method, but I've been considering it for awhile. My next planned brew day (which should be within the week) is going to be a second attempt at the Southern English Brown style (recipe and tasting of my first attempt here). A low-gravity, malt-forward beer, I thought this style may benefit from a brewing method that's supposed to increase malt flavor and intensity. I already have my recipe planned out; I'll likely follow Strong's method and multiply all the grain amounts by 1.33, and hope that I get relatively close to my target OG.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Tasting : Zombie Printemps

While the separate 8 L or so of Saison that was racked to secondary still sits on 600 g of raspberries (along with some yeast dregs from a bottle of Fantome Saison), the plain portion has been bottled for about 5 weeks now. I've only had several bottles, but I think I like how the beer has turned out. Despite aiming for 3.5 volumes of CO2, I'd definitely go higher next time, as the carbonation didn't come out quite as high as I would have liked (Saisons are generally very carbonated, as in "bottle the beer in Duvel-type bottles" high).

From some individual descriptions of the Wyeast 3711 French Saison blend, I was expecting more fruitiness to come through in both the aroma and flavors of the beer; however, while it IS present, I feel that the spiciness/phenolics win here. The beer DID attenuate very well, however (FG 1.004), and the characteristic dry-finish was achieved nicely.

Next on the Saison brew-list is a clone of the very tasty Oxbow Freestyle #5, based on some very helpful notes from the head brewer/co-founder of Oxbow Brewing, Tim Adams. Hopefully that will be something I'll be able to tackle in the next month or two.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large, white fluffy head. Fades slowly, to 1/2-finger or so. Body is a golden color, and slightly hazy.

Aroma: Fruity and peppery, with some definite alcohol coming through. Some of the spiciness in the aroma could be coming from the Saaz hops. The alcohol fades to a background presence.

Taste: Fruity and spicy, again with the pepper being prominent. A bit of spicy hop flavor. Some phenolics in there; I don't think it's from wild yeast or chlorine-treated water. Very dry finish, with moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Moderate-high carbonation, medium-light bodied. Some alcohol warmth, but nothing harsh.

Overall: Not bad at all. Don’t know how much I hit/missed the mark here. I’d like the beer to be more on the fruity side... seems to me it’s leaning towards spicy. Still, it mostly looks the part, has some pleasant character in the aroma and flavors, and finishes dry and pretty well-carbonated.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Brewing a Berliner Weisse

Since I finally got around to bottling both halves (cherry and non-cherry) of my Flanders Red - that I originally brewed over 18 months ago - I thought it was time to brew another Sour beer. I had originally intended on delving deeper into Sours, and maybe trying a different style every 3-6 months, since it takes so long to build up inventory of them... but unfortunately, it didn't happen. Some Sour beers take longer to reach their peak than others; Berliner Weisse - a very pale, low-ABV, tart, acidic, refreshing beer - doesn't take quite as long as some (a minimum of 3-6 months), so I decided to go with this style. Throw in the fact that the last few batches I've bottled have been >7-8% ABV, and it makes it a no-brainer!

Berliner Weisse (nicknamed "Champagne of the North" by Napoleon... not Dynamite) comes from the Berlin area of Germany, dating back to the 17th century. Apparently it used to be a lot more popular (in terms of brewery production) than it is now. In Germany, it is still often served with a choice of flavored syrups to cut down on the tartness, but on this side of the pond most people drink it un-syruped.

One of the more readily-available Berliners (in the U.S., anyway) is Dogfish Head's Festina Peche. It's a tasty peach-flavored beer, but not one that I would really call very tart or acidic. I had a better example of the style on tap at Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, ME... Haverhill Brewery's Beerstand BerlinerWeisse, from MA. It was great - very tart, slightly sour, and extremely refreshing on a warm day. Unfortunately, Berliner Weisse isn't a beer style that is commonly brewed by most breweries. I would imagine this is due partly to the time necessary for it to achieve the appropriate sourness and acidity, as well as that many consumers don't want to spend more money on craft beer that has LESS alcohol. Sadly, big flavor usually doesn't win over big-alcohol, even for most beer geeks.

As for your standard Berliner recipe, you're not looking at anything complicated, here. Basically a 60/40 or thereabouts ratio of Pilsner malt and Wheat malt... that's it. No specialty malts, no adjuncts; at least not for the majority of the recipes I've seen floating around. The hopping is even MORE simplified - you're only looking to provide 3-8 IBUs here, with no flavor or aroma additions needed. The reason for this basically comes down to what really sets apart this style from other beers.

Like other Sour beers, Berliner Weisse requires the addition of bacteria. You CAN achieve the sourness in this beer in other ways, notably adding lactic acid to bring the pH down ("like microwaving a steak", according to Jamil Zainasheff), or by performing what's known as a sour mash, where you throw in a couple handfuls of grain after the mash is complete. Grain is notoriously coated with Lactobacillus, which creates lactic acid and therefore provides the acidity needed. The sour mash method requires more guess-work, because you have to decide how LONG to let the sour mash continue, and you may be unintentionally adding other bugs as well.

The other method is more expensive, but is a simpler and more accurate way of getting the acidity and sourness that this beer needs. This involves adding commercially prepared bugs, or specifically, Lactobacillus. Wyeast 5335 is a Lactobacillus delbruckii culture that you can add along with a yeast strain. I went ahead and purchased one of their private collection smackpacks, Wyeast 3191 Berliner Weisse blend, which has a German ale yeast, Lactobacillus delbruckii, and a Brettanomyces strain as well. I've since been told by other homebrewers that this blend doesn't produce as much acidity as one may desire from this beer.

According to this recent presentation at the 2012 NHC, the best way to get the most acidity in a Berliner would be to first pitch a Lactobacillus strain for one week, and THEN pitch an ale yeast, to allow the Lacto to start making some acid. Apparently the presence of the ale yeast can inhibit the Lacto to some degree. Lactobacillus is a bit finicky; it grows best at temperatures around 90 F, does a bit better with lower amounts of oxygen, and HATES HOPS. This is why you want your IBUs so low... a "bitter" environment will inhibit Lactobacillus growth. Because of this, you don't need a lot of hop utlilization in the boiling stage, so Berliner Weisse only needs to be boiled for about 15 minutes. In fact, I've seen recipes before where the wort isn't even technically boiled... just brought up to about 210 F for awhile, and then chilled.

I plan to leave the beer in primary for three weeks or so, and then rack to secondary for about 6 months. Like other Sour beers, it takes time for the bacteria to produce enough acid and the Brettanomyces to give some funk. I may decide to rack some of the beer onto some fruit at that point, but right now it's just another waiting game. Hopefully it won't take the 15 months the Flanders Red took before I was happy with the flavor!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.031, FG 1.006, IBU 4, SRM 2.7, ABV 3.3%

1.59 kg Bohemian Pilsner
1.14 kg Wheat malt

Hallertau - 21 g (2.75% AA) @ 15 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3191-PC Berliner Weisse Blend (PD Sept 11/12)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed Sept 30th, 2012, by myself. 50-minute saccharification rest with 9 L of water for a mash temp of 149 F. Mashed-out with 4.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp low at 162 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of 6 gallons.

- SG 1.031 (target 1.029). 15-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout; took about 35 minutes to get to 66 F. Poured into BB. OG a bit high at 1.033. Pitched yeast, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after.

1/10/12 - In AM, already signs of activity in airlock. By PM, some beer in airlock, bubbling 2 times per second, temp 72 F.

2/10/12 - In AM, airlock had blown off. Replaced with new one, bubbling every 4-5 seconds, temp 72 F.

22/10/12 - Racked to secondary.

10/4/13 - Gravity reading of 1.006 (target FG).

6/5/13 - Racked about 8 L onto 700 g of frozen and then thawed cherries. Bottled the other ~3 gallons with 137 g table sugar, aiming for 4 vol CO2 with a max temp of 72 F reached.

UPDATE: I apologize for forgetting about this post! I never did put up any tasting notes, the reason being that the beer never got very sour and I stubbornly waited for the pH to drop a bit more, but it never did. A recent reading had it at about 3.85. I'd say both beers, the plain half and cherry half, would at best be described as "lightly tart". The cherries do provide a pleasant fruitiness to the beer, but otherwise, as a Berliner Weisse, it's extremely lacking. I know now that pitching Lacto on its own, and then fermenting out the beer after the pH is where you want it, is the way to go.