Friday 11 October 2013

Brewing a Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merica clone

In September, my wife and I were lucky enough to make another trip to San Diego, one of the beer meccas of the U.S. Despite being accompanied by our 16-month-old daughter, we did pretty well in the beer department, I thought; I personally had 36 new beers during the week we were there. Along with trips to the San Diego Zoo and several beaches, we also visited Modern Times, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens (Liberty Station location), Pizza Port Ocean Beach, and a few choice beer bars, such as Toronado.

As expected, many of the beers I had were fantastic... lots of very hoppy IPAs and DIPAs were consumed! However, one of my favorite beers of the trip was a hoppy Saison brewed by a fairly new brewery called Prairie Artisan Ales... out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yep. Oklahoma. They brew many different types of Saisons; the one I had was called 'Merica. It was fabulously grassy and fruity, with a good amount of funk in both the aroma and flavor. When I arrived home, the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast I had ordered from my LHBS arrived; I had originally planned on brewing a Modern Times Lomaland clone, or some other Saison, but I decided to attempt to put together a 'Merica clone recipe.

Searching the internet for other attempts at 'Merica clones turned up nothing. There IS some helpful info on Prairie's website, however:

"‘Merica is a single malt, single hop saison. It’s brewed with floot malted pilsner and 3lbs per bbl Nelson Sauvin hops. The beer is conditioned with 2 brett strains and wine yeast."

While I've never brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops before, I just happened to have 8 oz of it from an order I made with Yakima Valley Hops a few months ago... 3 lbs/bbl equates to about 8 oz for a 5 gallon batch. Perfect! It was meant to be (Disclaimer: If you put your mind to it, you can convince yourself of anything in homebrewing). Nelson Sauvin is a New Zealand variety hop that has been quickly growing in popularity over the past few years. It is well-known for a strong fruity flavor and aroma: gooseberries, passionfruit and grapefruit, or a Sauvignon Blanc (white wine) character.

I thought I'd try sending a direct message to Prairie's Facebook account, asking for a bit more help with the recipe, but unfortunately they didn't respond. I mainly wanted to get a rough idea of the hop schedule, and find out whether the beer was dry-hopped or not (I assumed it was, from the strong aroma). I dug around a little more, and found the IBUs (35) listed on the Shelton Bros. (beer importers) site; they also note that the beer is "heavily dry-hopped". After a little more searching on Prairie's website, I found that their Standard Saison (their "everyday" beer) is dry-hopped with 1 lb/bbl of Motueka, another New Zealand hop variety. I figured this was a good number to shoot for in the dry-hopping of my 'Merica clone, which amounts to about 2.5 oz for 5 gallons.

The grist of the recipe was easy, obviously - 100% pilsner malt - with 3 grams of Gypsum thrown in the mash, just to increase the calcium levels of my water a little. As for the hop-schedule, however, I was on my own. When you're hopping a beer to about 35 IBUs with 8 oz in a 5 gallon batch, and the hop variety has an alpha acid % of 11... well, it seems to me that you pretty much have to avoid any early hop additions, or the IBUs on the beer are going to end up being too high. I fooled around with the additions on Beersmith, and decided to go with three at increasing amounts: 1 oz at 10 minutes, 2 oz at 5 minutes, and 2.5 oz at flameout, with a 15-minute hop steep. That should get me roughly around 35 IBUs... and hopefully one hell of a lot of hop flavor and aroma. And a lot of hop sludge leftover.

Now, while I've brewed with Brettanomyces in the past, I've never strictly bottle-conditioned with it. Because Brett is capable of fermenting carbohydrates with as many as nine molecules of glucose (compared to brewer's yeast max of three molecules long), it can slowly chew away at leftover sugars in the beer for months, and even years, producing more CO2, increasing the risk of gushing and bottle bombs.

Don't get me wrong, lots of breweries bottle condition with Brett, and it certainly doesn't always result in exploding bottles. Orval is probably the most well-known Brett-bottle-conditioned beer out there; I've opened bottles that were over three years old, and there hasn't been any gushing at all... just fantastic, mouth-watering funkiness! For the homebrewer, the two main issues when adding Brett at bottling are how MUCH Brett do you add, and how much bottling sugar, if any?

There's some good articles out there about approaches to take (check out this one from The Mad Fermentationist), but I'm going to keep it simple for myself, and take the safe route. I decided on splitting the batch in two from the very beginning: 
  • Half will have the bottle dregs from several Brett beers pitched in over time. I'll try to start pitching the dregs before the 3711 is completely done fermenting, because in my experience with it, it can ferment LOW, which wouldn't leave much in the way of sugars behind for the Brett to work on. Not a very accurate approach, but hopefully it'll be ok. When the gravity seems to have plateaued, I'll dry-hop for a week or so and then bottle it as-is.
  • The other half will be fermented with JUST the 3711, dry-hopped for a week, and bottled without Brett. I figure this is a good way to a) have a Saison to drink a little earlier, and b) compare the qualities that the Brett hopefully adds to the other half.
I'm not really sure what the added wine yeast at bottling provides to the beer, but I'll probably add a little dry wine yeast that I have on hand, at least to the Brett-half, just for the heck of it. Some of Prairie's beers are starting to show up in Maine, I believe, so hopefully I'll find a bottle of 'Merica when I'm there later in the month to compare to my results.

UPDATE: After I tweeted the link to this post, Prairie responded back about the hop schedule. They say they use a 60-minute bittering addition (so, it would have to be very small), and 1 lb/bbl whirlpool, 2 lb/bbl dry-hop. This translates to 2.5 oz Nelson at flameout for a 5-gallon batch, and 5 oz for dry-hopping. So, I was right for the whirlpool, but added hops at 5 & 10 minutes that should have gone into the dry-hop, for the most part. 

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.007, IBU ~35, SRM 4, ABV ~6.5%

5 kg (100%) Bohemian Pilsner

Nelson Sauvin - 28 g (11% AA) @ 10 min
Nelson Sauvin - 56 g @ 5 min
Nelson Sauvin - 70 g @ flameout (steeped for 15 minutes)
Nelson Sauvin - 78 g dry-hop for 7 days (divided in two, 39 g for each half-batch)

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (with a 1.5 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum in the mash

- Brewed on October 7th, 2013, by myself. 60-minute mash with 16.5 L of strike water, mashed in a little under target temp of 151 F. Sparged with 5.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.5 gallons in the kettle.

- SG at 1.044, slightly over target of 1.042. 90-minute boil. Final volume a bit over 5.5 gallons. Flameout hops steeped for 15 minutes, then turned on immersion chiller. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured ~10 L into 3-gallon Better Bottle, and the rest into a 6-gallon BB (lots of trub got into this half). OG on target of 1.056. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2 for each half, and placed in laundry room, ambient temp about 72 F.

- 8/10/13 - 14/10/13 - Over this week, visible fermentation was never fast and furious, bubbling about 3-4 times per 10 seconds in the airlock, temp 70 F.  Gravity got down to 1.009, so I attached a heat belt to the non-Brett portion and turned it on, bringing the temp up to the high 70s. Pitched the bottle dregs of two bottles of Orval into Brett portion.

- 25/10/13 - Added dry hops to non-Brett portion directly into primary.

- 29/10/13 - Bottled non-Brett portion with 85 g table sugar, aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 10 L and a max temp of 78 reached.

- 4/11/13 - Over the next few weeks, pitched bottle dregs of three more bottles of Orval and one bottle of Allagash Confluence. Racked Brett portion into secondary on Nov. 12th.

- 28/11/13 - Added dry-hops to Brett portion into secondary fermentor.

- 4/12/13 - Bottled Brett portion with 67 g table sugar (and ~1/8 pack Lalvin EC-1118 rehydrated yeast... a white wine yeast, unfortunately realized I didn't have any red wine yeast), aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 2.13 gallons with a max temp of 78 F reached.

- 24/12/13 - Tasting notes... damn, what a delicious beer! Huge Nelson presence, lots of fruit (berries, specifically)... amazing! Close to the real thing, but more hoppy and lacking a bit of hard-to-place funkish character.