Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Homebrew Tasting: Petrus Common

This California Common wort with Petrus Pale and Oud Bruin was my first beer that I attempted the bottle dregs in 1 gallon container experiments. So far my techniques have changed only a little bit. I now make starters for the dregs by pouring 4-6 oz of 1.030-1.040 wort straight into the bottle a few days before brew day. I have also been trying non sour beer dregs with some good success (look forward to future posts).
The beer has changed considerably over the course of a year and a half. And to be honest I hope it will continue to change with time.
  • Be careful with oak cubes on pale beers (.25 oz French Oak/ 1 gal for 15 months was too much)
  • Do not use hoppy/bitter wort for long aging sour beers. The aged hop flavors are not good and the bitterness clashes with the sourness. The bad hop flavors and bitterness have faded in this beer, but not enough. Now dry hopping a sour beer at bottling is a different story.
  • Learn to taste and then adjust the beer as it ages. For example, I added oak cubes to this beer before I really tasted it and knew that it would keep this underlying bitterness. What I should have done was held back on the cubes and then dry hopped this beer before bottling. With my sour beers now I taste every 3 months and starting month 6, after the beer's character has started to development, I will make adjustments.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Flandria Fixed Gear (Fixie) Conversion Project - Wheels/Hubs

For Fixed Gear Conversions you have 4 options
1. Most Expensive, but Easy, Safe, and Pretty: Buy a replacement rear wheel with a wheel that has a track/fixed hub or flip flop hob (has both fixed gear side and single speed coasting side)
2. Easy, but Ugly:You can just keep your old multi speed cassette on, but remove the derailleur. Your chainline probably won't be perfect but should be close.
3. Some Work, Sorta Ugly: Take your old rear cassette and remove the outside lock ring. Then  remove all the different gear sprockets. Just pick the rear sprocket that you want and put on spacers instead of the other sprockets so the chain line is straight with the front chain ring.
4. Good Amount of Work, Not the Safest but Pretty: (This is the method I chose) Unscrew the whole rear cassette from the hub. The hub will only have the normal right-handed threads for the cog and not the additional reverse threads for the lockrings used on track/fixed hubs. Warning: There is the possibility that the sprocket on a hub without a lockring will unscrew while back pedaling. Therefore it is recommended to still have brakes on a fixed-gear bicycle using a converted freewheel hub in case the cog unscrews while back pedaling. It is also advisable to use a thread sealer for the cog and bottom bracket lockring. The rotafix (or "frame whipping") method may be helpful to securely install the sprocket.  
 You will have to buy a separate sprocket that has a thread that fits on to the hub. I suggest buying a name brand cog as I have read reviews that the cheap ones have weak threads that will strip. I bought a Surly cog off ebay for $20 shipped. Above is the easy part.
Next you will need to add spacers to your rear axle until the front chain ring lines up directly with the new rear sprocket. This is a bit of trail and error. Now you have a nice chain line that will run smoothly, reduce wear and reduce the chance of the chain falling off. 
The most difficult part is dishing then truing the rear wheel. What this means is that when you are looking at your rear spokes they will be longer on one side of the hub than the other. This is done to offset the hub because the rear cassette takes up a lot of room along the axle. And the tire needs to be centered between the rear stays to work with rear brakes. (If you don't have rear brakes the rear wheel doesn't have to be in the exact center, but the bike will run more efficiently without uneven wear on the tires). See the picture below for how it will look before you re-dish and true the wheel.


On to re-dishing, meaning to move the tire rim in relation to the hub. The spokes will need to be loosened on the short side (cassette side) and tightened on the long side. The spokes can be adjusted 2 ways; 1. Using a spoke wrench on the inner part of the rim or 2. (my preferred method) by removing the tire and inner-tube and adjusting the spokes with a screwdriver. The spoke wrench method is nice for trueing and small adjustments but the screwdriver method is much easier for large adjustments like re-dishing a converted fixed gear wheel.

Start at the inner-tube valve stem and work your way around. Apply some light oil or lube in all spoke screw holes to make sure you don't break a spoke because that is a game changer. Begin by loosing with 1 revolution then move to the next spoke and tighten 1 revolution. This process will take a while so keep going around until the rim is centered over the hub. 
Once you have re-dished the wheel now you must make it true. Truing just means to make sure the tire runs smoothly with no wobble. The best way to do this without an expensive truing stand is to set up a ruler between the rear stays. Now adjust the spokes one by one so they are centered on your ruler. I find it the easiest to pick one side and make sure that side of the rim stays at that point (see tape edge pictured above or watch this video on truing bike wheels). This takes a lot of patience, but if you succeed you will have accomplished one of the most difficult skills of a bike mechanic.

Good luck.

Step 1 - Background, Disassemble
Step 2 - Frame Painting
Step 3 - Handlebar & Fork Assembly
Step 4 - Gearing (Gear Ratio)
Step 5 - Wheels and Hubs
Step 6 - Custom Leather Saddle
Step 7 - Custom Leather Handlebars

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making Lemonade Berry Lemonade

Lemonade berry bushes are everywhere in San Diego County. And I have always wondered if they really taste like Lemonade. The berries are available pretty much all summer and are bright red so they are hard to miss. After reading this Lemonade Berry article, I decided to go pick some berries and create a drink a couple ways.

The berries were picked in late July when the berries were very red and starting to become sticky. I also made sure to pick berries far from any roadway because the sticky film on the outside will attract all sorts of stuff.

I used 1/2 cup of berries per 1 cup of water or 2:1 Water to Berries. I tried to rinse the berries in a strainer, but it didn't work well. I ended up just removing as many stems and debris as possible. To fill the cups I used both cool water from the filter and then also added boiling water to the other cup. As you can see below the boiling water changed the color immediately. I then let them steep over a few days and the hot water cup ended up darker.

Now for the taste test. They both tasted the same and all I could taste was citric acid. It tasted like biting into a lemon. The lemonade berry was a bit more earthy and did lack a true lemon taste. So using these proportions it was undrinkable and could be diluted to 4:1 or I prefer mine to taste even more mild at 8:1. The best use for these berries are to throw a little bunch (typically 10 berries) into your water bottle, shake and enjoy. It will be the equivalent of putting a lemon in your water.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dreg Series: Fantome Speciale De Noel Dark Saison

One of reasons I started to enjoy Saisons is because of Fantome. They have a loose grip on the "style", but you know when you taste the beer that it has been made in a Farmhouse in Belgium. The impression I get from the lineup of beers is that the brewer, Dany Prignon, tries to brew beers that may have been brewed like the original Saisons. And what I mean by that, from interviews I've read Dany uses a secret mix of spices and even different fruit juices to add complexity to his beers. None of the beers I've tried necessarily taste like any particular spice or juice but are there to up the impression of other flavors (similar to garlic in cooking). I feel like this is a method that brewers would have used on the old farms by just adding some produce that they had in excess on their farm.

It was a pure joy to harvest the yeast for this beer. This beer seems to have so much going on, but the flavor does not taste muddled. This is a skill that I am constantly trying to figure out. I think it has to do with providing certain flavors that are typically tasted with different parts of the mouth. I experienced this recently with a spiced cider where from the aroma you got cloves and banana. Then the initial taste was sweet apples and then finished with a dry cinnamon flavor. This is the experience I want to have in these types of beers. Send me on a flavor roller coaster.

For this batch I did not create a starter for the dregs, but should have in hindsight. I did not get any activity for 2 days so I decided to also add the dregs from Fantôme La Dalmatienne which I had saved in a White Labs vial from a previous drinking session. You could actually see a decent amount of yeast that settled in the vial. After adding this vial the fermentation took off within 12 hours.

08.16.11 Update
Gravity - 1.007
Smell is pretty clean with a touch of acetic acid and sweet wort. The taste follows with a sharp acetic acid bite and a sweet malt background. The acetobacter must have been working over the 2 day lag period I had with these dregs. (From this point on, I have been making starters for all the dregs. I only need about 6 oz and I pour the boiled 1.040 wort right into the flamed bottle.) I will give this beer some more time before I consider this a failure. I have had batches in the past that started out with an acetic bite, but I have mellowed out with time. I'm not an organic chemist but what I believe is happening is that as the beer mellows there is an equilibrium reaction happening with esters, acids and ethanol.

Ex. Acetic acid + ethanol -> ethyl acetate

"Ethyl acetate is synthesized industrially mainly via the classic Fischer esterification reaction of ethanol and acetic acid. This mixture converts to the ester in about 65% yield at room temperature:


Thanks wiki -
Next for this batch I am going to add some non traditional wood - I think cedar (like Spanish Cedar from cigars would go well with this beer)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Experimental Beer: Dark Saison

This is my third and final brew in my Saison Series this summer. I gradually increased the starting gravity for each of these brews. For this batch I was aiming for a very big Saison and something similar to Saison Speciale De Noel from Fantome. I also stole ideas from a Black Saison thread on the Babblebelt and as always, I compared to what the Mad Fermentationist has tried. The plan is not really to have this beer to drink in the Summer, but to be ready for the cool (not cold) San Diego Winter Nights.

One of my favorite beer flavors is the dark fruit flavor. For me, it is pretty hard to go over the top. I even tried to put figs in my Belgian Dubbel last year with mild success. A small portion of this one will probably be secondaried with sun dried figs (homemade of course). But to give me a base of dark fruit flavors I used some Special B and more of my favorite Black Treacle (which tastes like super sweet raisins and prunes).

I am also going away from Pilsner malt because with a malty beer like this the Pilsner won't really show up. Plus I would prefer a bit more biscuit flavor from just Belgian Pale Malt. To really boost that malt flavor (which I did by adding only Munich to my Black California Common) I added a large percentage of Vienna Malt. Then to make sure this beer gets dark enough and has a bit of roast (reported to help the aging process too) by the time its ready to drink I added some Carafa II. Oh and some Flaked Barley to help with head retention.

Recipe: Dark Saison
O.G.-1.073  F.G.-1.004   IBU-25 Size -6 gal
SRM-27  ABV-9%  

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
7 lb Vienna Malt (44%)
6 lb Belgian Pale Malt (38%)
12 oz Flaked Barley (5%)
8 oz Carafa II (3%) 
8 oz Special B (3%)

1 lb Black Treacle (6%) - Added Day 3


.75 oz Amarillo, 9.5%, pellet, 90 min, 25 IBU

250 mL Wyeast 3711: French Saison and Dupont dregs Slurry

Brew Day:
Brewed: 6/4/11
Kegged: 7/9/11

(see water profile)

Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1 qt/lb
Mash Volume: 3.5 gal(2 gal of soft water)
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 148F @ 60min
Strike Temp: 164F
Sparge Volume: 6 gal (3 gal of soft water)
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F

Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 7.5 gal
Boil Time: 90min
Post Boil Volume: 6 gal

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.073
Ferment Temp: Day 1- 70F (ramped up 1F/day up to 78F)
Primary Length: 21 days (more laziness than necessity)

For this beer I will do several tasting and see how it changes with time. I also did a 1 gal batch with Fantome Speciale de Noel  dregs that I will post about soon.

Update - Tasting 10.20.11

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Flandria Fixed Gear (Fixie) Conversion Project - Gearing

The proper gearing is the biggest decision that you are going to have to make when making a fixed gear bike. And the best way to make this decision is on a multi-speed bike. Go ride where you plan to ride your fixed gear and try to ride around in different gear combinations till you find the one you like the best. Once you agree on the gear ratio you liked the best write it down (# of teeth on front crank - # of teeth on rear sprocket).

The other way to figure out what gears you want in the front and back is to use a specific Gear Ratio or Gain Ratio (good article by The Sheldon Brown).

Gear Ratio (old way, common, not universal but close enough) is pretty simple : # of teeth on front crank / # of teeth on rear sprocket. This measurement requires that when comparing bikes with the same Gear Ratio they also have to have the same wheel and crank size. And this is not always true. So then came along the Gain Ratio (more accurate, but not really needed since the change is usually only a few percent difference between bikes)

EX: 52 teeth on chain ring, 19 teeth on rear sprocket = 52/19 = 2.75 Gear Ratio.

Now a lot of people will ask what ratio they should use. This is not easily answered because it is based on fitness level, riding terrain and style. (That is why I suggest my multi-speed test above). But here is a general guideline for Gear Ratios (The lower the Gear Ratio the easier to pedal):

  • Hilly or Cruising (when you want more style than speed) - 2.5- Speed at 80 RPM = 16 MPH
  • Average (some hills, some flat, cruising, BMX) - 2.75 - Speed at 80 RPM = 17 MPH
  • Super Flat (or City Riding with big acceleration) - 3.00 - Speed at 80 RPM = 19 MPH
And if this is all too much math for you use the web program I use to calculate Gear Ratio - Rabbit

Once you choose your Gear Ratio then you have to decide what chain ring to use. Since 36/12 and 45/15 both give you a Gear Ratio of 3. But SIZE MATTERS. Big Chain Ring - Less wear on chain and sprocket, but a bit heavier than a Smaller Chain Ring.

I went with a 52 - 19 (Gear Ratio of 2.75) as this allows me to ride around downtown and still get up the hills to North Park.

Next Post will be about how to install the proper cog onto your rear wheel or hub.

Step 1 - Background, Disassemble
Step 2 - Frame Painting
Step 3 - Handlebar & Fork Assembly
Step 4 - Gearing (Gear Ratio)
Step 5 - Wheels and Hubs
Step 6 - Custom Leather Saddle
Step 7 - Custom Leather Handlebars
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