Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Gose two ways: Cilantro & Lime, and Oaked, Lemon zested, Southern Cross dry-hopped

I've been homebrewing for over seven years now, and like most of those brewing for that amount of time, I pretty much brew beers that I know I'm going to like. By that, I don't mean that I know all of my beers are going to turn out well - they don't - but I try to brew styles that I enjoy the most. I used to experiment with plenty of styles, tackling recipe after recipe from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles, which really is a great way to start brewing, especially when you haven't tried a lot of different types of beer. For someone in Atlantic Canada in late 2009, you didn't have a whole lot of options out there, and if you wanted to try a Belgian Golden Strong, for example, you either had to travel, or you had to brew your own.

While there are a few beer styles I don't really enjoy, most of them I'm good with... but that doesn't necessarily mean I want to have 5 gallons on hand. So now, I brew a lot of hoppy beers, some Belgian styles, and some sours, for the most part. And I usually like to keep them pretty simple, focusing on the hops and yeast, with maybe a bit of experimentation every once in a while. But lately, and I can't quite figure out why, I've been trying to experiment even more. I don't agree with throwing a bunch of weird crap into a beer just because, but as a lot of brewers out there have proven - pros and amateurs - sometimes you can make it work.

Last year, I brewed my first Gose. Aside from using Lactobacillus plantarum capsules to sour the wort, this brew involved a bit of experimentation, as I added lime zest to half of the beer, and dry-hopped the other half with Citra. Both beers were tasty, but the lime half was the better of the two; it was extremely refreshing, with the lime character working perfectly with the salt and tartness of the base Gose. I knew when I had it that I would brew it again, and I always meant to add more than just lime zest the second time around.

Once spring hit, I knew it was time to try this style again. It's great anytime of year, of course, but a nice Gose during spring and summer is really a beautiful thing. Is there a more-perfect beer style for this time of year? Salty, tart, refreshing,.. and low-alcohol. Luckily, I already knew what I wanted to do with it this time around. As mentioned, I really enjoyed how the lime zest worked in the first Gose I brewed; shortly after brewing that beer, I started thinking that I'd take it even a step further. The Margarita-like qualities of that beer made me think of Mexican food, which often features lime as well. And what else do you see in a lot of Mexican dishes? Cilantro!

That may seem a bit odd for a beer, but after a bit of Googling I could see that others have tried it before. And Fredericton's first cidery, Red Rover, has a one-off named White Witch that features fresh cilantro; they've been making this sporadically for more than 2 years, and it's really tasty. I was a little unsure of exactly how much cilantro to use in a Gose, so I contacted Red Rover's Adam Clawson for a bit of advice, which he was nice enough to give. However, I wasn't completely positive that a Gose with lime zest and cilantro would work well... and if it didn't, I'd be stuck with 5 gallons of it. So I decided to brew the beer, sour the wort, boil, and then split the batch. But what to do with the other half?

After a bit of thought, I decided to go with that OTHER zest, lemon. I've never worked with lemon zest in a beer before, and couldn't think of a reason why it wouldn't work well in a Gose. I went a bit further, wanting to dry-hop this half as well, so I looked through all the hop varieties I had in my freezer to see which ones also had notes of lemon. Southern Cross seemed like a good choice, as it also has descriptors of lime. But no, I didn't stop there! I continued crawling out further on the limb and made the odd choice of adding some oak.

Now, as I mentioned, I'm not usually the type to throw everything I've got into a beer. One of those breweries I mentioned above that really seems to make experimenting work is Grimm Artisanal Ales. I was lucky enough to try a couple of their beers a year or two ago, and I realized that when done properly, a bit of oak flavor in a Gose can work. IF DONE PROPERLY. I rarely brew with oak, and when I have, it's almost always been with oak cubes that I can safely let bob around in a Flanders Red for a year or so. This is the problem with oak... too much of it can completely ruin a beer (for me, at least).

I won't get into all the various forms of oak there are (French vs. American, medium-toast vs. light), but what is important to point out is that the smaller the form of oak, the more surface area will be in contact with the beer. More surface area means a faster extraction of oak flavors... but it can also mean a harsher oak experience. Make sense? When you're talking about a beer like I'm brewing here, though, you don't want to be using oak cubes that can require months for a gentle oak presence to enter the beer... freshness is key. We're using zest here, and hops, so don't want to age the beer. And this is how Grimm does it. How do I know? I asked them!

Owner Joe Grimm was kind enough to answer an email I sent about how they added oak to their beers. He admitted they have many methods, but for a beer like their Vacay (a delicious dry-hopped sour conditioned on white oak), they use lightly-toasted oak spirals. Unfortunately, I don't have access to oak spirals here, but oak chips are pretty close. Joe recommended a week at the most, but what it's really going to come to with adding oak is tasting it every day or two until it's where you want it, just to be safe.

This post is getting long-winded, so let's get on to the recipe. I basically brewed the exact same beer as in the past, with a simple grist of equal parts Pilsner and Wheat malt, and about 4% Acid malt thrown in to drop down that mash pH. Mash, sparge, vorlauf, all that, and bring to a very brief boil before chilling down to around 100 F. I then pitched my Lacto starter (which I made up days before with Lactobacillus plantarum capsules - for the full approach, check out my previous post) and let it sour for a couple of days till the pH got to around 3.4. Transfer back to the boil kettle, boil for 5 minutes (with a small hop addition to get a measly 7 IBUs or so), chill to the mid-60s F, and pitch a package of US-05 and hope to God that the pH isn't too low for it to start fermenting (if you want to be more sure, it's not a bad idea to ferment with a Saison or Brett strain, both of which can handle lower pH better than an American strain can).

Luckily, it did ferment out fine. Of course, I had split the wort in two and oxygenated each well, in order to be more confident that the US-05 would do its job. Once fermentation was complete, it was time to start adding the extra ingredients. I decided on kegging one half and bottling the other, so I racked one half to my dry-hop keg and added the freshly-zested lemon zest and the oak chips. I was torn on how much of the oak chips to add; I read a wide variety of recommendations online, and ultimately decided on 18 grams. I really was worried about overdoing it, so this seemed safe. After a week, I was starting to get a bit of oak flavour, so I pulled out the oak and lemon zest and threw in the Southern Cross for another 5 days, then racked to the serving keg and carbed it up.

The other half I added the lime zest and cilantro in a mesh bag directly in primary. So, how much cilantro? I was originally planning on 100 grams or so, but then came up short! I had asked my wife to pick up a bunch at the grocery store, but unfortunately it turned out to be a measly bunch. I also was growing some at home, but I still didn't have the 100 g, ultimately coming in at 62 g. I also wasn't sure what to do with the cilantro to make sure it didn't further infect the beer, so I chopped it up fairly fine, washed it and sprayed it lightly with Starsan. I didn't want to boil it or steam it, in case it took away some of the flavor. After I brewed the beer, I read that you can soak it in high-proof grain alcohol to sanitize it? Anyway, found out too late, but my approach seemed to do the trick (in hindsight). After a week, I racked it to the bottling bucket with table sugar to carbonate, and bottled it up.

So, how did these turn out? Let's start with the Cilantro Lime Gose, since I've had more feedback from friends (naturally, since it was bottled, it has been easier to give away). Personally, I really like it. The lime works as well as it did in the last beer, and the salt level is just where I like it. As for the cilantro, it could definitely stand to have some more... it IS there, in the taste anyway, but if I brewed it again I'd definitely try to get closer to the 100 g I initially aimed for. Other beer geeks seem to have enjoyed it, and the combination of flavors seems to be working well.

As for the lemon zested-oaked-dry-hopped half, that one is more of a conundrum. I wasn't sure how I liked it at first. I found the aroma kind of... weird; I got a very odd oak presence, but like I was smelling it through a barrier. Does that make sense? No, it probably doesn't, because I don't really get it either. The flavor, however, was much better - the lemon zest came out really nicely, with some extra citrus from the dry-hop (although you'd never know I used the equivalent of 6 oz for a 5 gallon batch). Just a touch of oak in the taste, which was perfect. As for others who have tried it, some have loved it and commented on wanting a keg for their house, while some have definitely not enjoyed it. One person found it too astringent, and one outright didn't like the oak. I understand that, but, if you try an oaked Gose, you kinda gotta know what you're getting into, no? Luckily, the oak presence in the aroma came down very quickly, and now I find it a refreshing, easy-drinking summer beer.

Ultimately, for me, both beers are winners, especially for a first go. The Cilantro Lime Gose is the winner, coming out as being slightly more refreshing, and just a better fit, overall. If I brewed it again I'd definitely add more cilantro; as I mentioned early, maybe up it to 100 g and go from there. I think the oaked Gose was an interesting experiment, and something I'd like to try again from a different angle.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.033, FG ~1.009, IBU 7, SRM 2.9, ABV ~3.2%

1.4 kg (47.9%) Bohemian Pilsner
1.4 kg (47.9%) Wheat malt
125 g (4.3%) Acid malt
+ 100 g Rice hulls

Polaris - 14 g (17% AA) @ 5 min

Southern Cross - 88 g dry hop for 5 days for 1/2 of the batch

14 g freshly-ground Coriander seed at 2 min
25 g Sea Salt at 2 min

Half #1:
Lime zest - 6.5 g in secondary after fermentation is complete, for 7 days
Cilantro - 62 g, washed, in secondary with the lime zest, for 7 days

Half #2:
Lemon zest - 7 g in secondary after fermentation is complete, for 7 days
Oak chips - 18 g in secondary with the lemon zest, for 7 days

Bacteria/Yeast: Lactobacillus plantarum capsules (5) in a 1 L starter; after souring, wort fermented with 1 pack rehydrated US-05

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on March 20th, 2017, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9.5 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.033. Brought to a brief boil, then chilled to 95 F. Added 5 mL of phosphoric acid, then racked to carboy, pitched Lacto starter, attached heat belt and set carboy on heating pad. Four days later, the pH had dropped to 3.4 - this is with the temp never really getting about 75 F, even with the heat belt and pad.

- Transferred wort back into kettle, brought to a boil. Started 5 minute boil, added hops, coriander and salt at time above. Chilled down to 62 F and poured into two 3 gallon BBs. Aerated for 60 seconds and pitched yeast at 64 F. Fermentation visible by next day, continued for two days at about 70 F and then slowed quickly. Took a gravity reading on April 8th, sitting at 1.009.

- Racked one half to dry-hop keg and added oak and lemon zest in two separate, sanitized mesh bags. After about one week, removed both bags and added Southern Cross. Five days later, transferred via CO2 to serving keg and carbed.

- Added lime zest and cilantro to the other half, in primary, in a sanitized mesh bag. After one week, bottled with 62 g table sugar for approximately 10 L, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 with a maz temp of 70 reached; also added 1/2 pack rehydrated champagne yeast.

I was going to show pictures of both, but they really do look exactly the same.
Appearance: Bright yellow body, with a lot of haze, for both beers. The white head is medium-sized, and doesn't fade TOO quickly (seems like the phosphoric acid added before fermentation is doing its thing).

Aroma: Cilantro Lime Gose (CLG) - Bright aroma of fresh lime takes the main stage; slightly sour. The presence of cilantro here is, at best, extremely light. Oaked Gose (OG) has an oddly-dull aroma - I get a bit of oak, but it's quite muted and blocking anything else. After a few weeks, this went away and the lemon zest came out much better.

Taste: CLG - Big hit of lime and tartness in the flavor; acidity works well with the lime, of course, and the cilantro comes through more than it did in the aroma (still, would rate it mild at the most). OG - Much stronger than the aroma, with the lemon zest combining well with the Southern Cross dry-hop... although I admit, I'm not quite sure how much of the dry-hop is coming through. Only slightly oaky. Both beers have a great level of salt in the flavor as well.

Mouthfeel: Both beers are light-bodied, with moderate carbonation. Smooth; not watery despite the low ABV.

Overall: I enjoy both beers, especially now that the OG has cleared up a bit. The oak kind of works, but I don't know how necessary it really is... a worthy experiment, we'll see if I do this again. CLG is a real winner, a great summer beer that I have to admit is - despite the overuse of the word these days - quite crushable.