Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dreg Series: Maredsous Belgian Dark Strong

Just like I did with the Belgian Pale Ale and Belgian Dubbel, I wanted to try other Belgian yeast strains on the same base wort (Belgian Dark Strong this round). And the easiest (and cheapest) way for me to accomplish this, is by using bottle dregs. When picking what yeasts to use I chose my favorite examples of Belgian Beers that work with dark malts. To be honest, I haven't really met a Dark Belgian beer I disliked. 

For this round, I decide to use the yeast from Maredsous Bruin. From my internet research, I have found that this appears to be the Duvel yeast since Moorgat owns both breweries. The Duvel yeast is supposedly WLP570 and Wyeast 1388. According to White Labs,  WLP570 Belgian Golden Ale - "From East Flanders, versatile yeast that can produce light Belgian ales to high gravity Belgian beers (12% ABV). A combination of fruitiness and phenolic characteristics dominate the flavor profile. Some sulfur is produced during fermentation, which will dissipate following the end of fermentation." And I have said before that I really enjoy my Belgian beers with a balance of fruit and phenols. And it looks like this yeast will do well with the high alcohol and provide good attenuation.

A simple 6-8 oz starter of 1.030 wort was used in the original bottle. This was allowed to build up over several days and then all of it was dumped into the 1 gal batch. There was active fermentation in less than a day and it was going strong. Active fermentation lasted about a week and then the batch was aged for another 1.5 month before being bottled. Fermentation ended at 1.008, which is 90% attenuation and 10.7% ABV.

The initial taste during bottling is nicely balanced with no obvious off-flavors and a decent amount of alcohol heat. The first bottle will be sampled in 6 months.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Belgian Series: Belgian Dark Strong Ale

I decided to brew a Belgian Dark Strong as my third and final beer in my Belgian Series for this year. I always lean toward dark malty beers and I love the style, but I wasn't sure how well I could brew it. I haven't brewed very many high gravity beers. Last year, I brewed a 10% Golden Strong and initially I thought it was a pretty big failure. Then I let it sit for 6 months and it turned out to be one of my best beers and highest scoring beers I have ever made. Knowing this, I decided to go big this year and then just be patient.

After looking at a lot of recipes I realized how similar the grain bills are to Belgian Dubbels. But the extra amount of malt and alcohol really change the flavor profile. Brew Like a Monk has a great recipe section on Belgian Dark Strong Ales. And here is another great presentation from Gordon Strong on Designing Belgian Dark Strong Ales. The recipe is almost identical to my Belgian Dubbel just about 25 gravity points higher and no Dark candi syrup.

This was an interesting brew-day also. The day started around 5 in the morning, before the sun had even come up (I was trying to finish brewing before my wife got back from a bachelorette party). It was actually my longest brew session and not because of my stupid mis-haps with the copper manifold like last time. But I just had a hard time with my efficiency so I ended up boiling for 2.5 hours and with 5.5 gal instead of 6.5. The long boiling actually probably helped the flavor of this beer.

For yeast, I really liked how the Rochefort and Achouffe cultured yeast samples turned out in my Belgian Pale Experiment. I wanted the beer to be balanced, but still have some nice phenols from the Achouffe yeast. I had plenty of yeast from the 1 gal batches, so it was all pitched into a small starter the same day and I had activity in 12 hours in the main batch. And look at that 96% Apparent Attenuation.

Recipe: Belgian Dark Strong
O.G.-1.089  F.G.-1.004   IBU-32
SRM-17.4   ABV-11.4%   Batch-5.5 Gal

Grain Bill:
8.5 lb Belgian Pale Malt (52%)
2 lb  Munich Malt 10L (12%)
1 lb Aromatic Malt (6%)
1 lb Flaked Wheat (6%)
1 lb Flaked Barley (6%)
8 oz Caramunich (3%)
8 oz Caravienne (3%) 
8 oz Special B (3%) 
1.5 lb Table Sugar (9%)

.7oz Magnum , 13.5%, pellet, 90 min 36.7 IBU
150 ml of cultured Rochefort dregs and 150 ml of cultured Achouffe dregs

Brew Day:
Brewed: 8/26/11


Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1 qt/lb
Mash Volume: 3.5 gal
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 150F @ 60min
Strike Temp: 167F
Batch Sparge Volume: 5.5 gal
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F @ 30min

Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 7.5 gal
Boil Time: 150min
Post Boil Volume: 5.5 gal

Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.088
Ferment Temp: Pitched at 64 and allowed to free rise 2 degrees/day up into the mid 70s
F.G.: 1.004

I also did 2 - 1 gal batches with dregs from Maredsous Brune and St. Bernardus Prior 8. There will only be a follow-up post for the Maredsous version since the St. Bernardus version was murdered. I knocked it off the shelf after 3 days of fermenting. Talk about the worst time to spill my first batch. The highest gravity with still plenty of sugar left in it and it was a dark colored beer on light carpet. After about 3 weeks of cleaning it is barely back to normal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

San Diego Beer Week 2011: Top Brewers Book Signing

The San Diego's Top Brewers Book Signing event was my first event for this year's San Diego Beer Week. The event was conveniently located only a few blocks from my house at Mission Brewery. This brewery is a great venue, it is by far the largest tasting room and open space I have ever seen for a brewery. It is so large that for some events they can drive in food trucks. This time the space was taken up with tables for the 18 top brewers to sit, talk and sign your copy of the book.

The event really was a beer geek's dream. I was able to meet the owners and head brewers of all the breweries that I respect in San Diego. And do this all in one night. I have read countless articles and watched a lot of video interviews with these guys, so it was nice to meet them face to face.

But to be honest, what do you say to them when you have a few minutes at a book signing?

I asked a few questions, but didn't want to get too technical since this was more of a social event. Here are some of the highlights:

Jim Crute @ Lightning Brewery: I was able to introduce myself and ask him about tasting some of my homebrew. I have been meaning to do this for a while since the brewery is literally a block from my work. So now I feel confident to walk in there and ask him for some comments (which I will post here).

Tomme Arther @ Lost Abbey: I was curious how he treats his sour beers because they are honestly making some of the best in the world. One thing I have been a proponent for in the homebrew world, is to taste the beer every 3 months or so and add or change something if needed. I was curious if he did the same. He told me that they don't touch the barrel for at least 9 months and usually a year. At that point he will decide if it should be aged longer or is ready to be blended. He will only add fruit to the beer if they were given a bunch of fresh fruit. And he is a big advocate for blending and I agree, but this part can be harder for the homebrewer.

Jeff Bagby @ Pizza Port: I didn't really know what to ask. I was curious why he thought they have done so well in competition. After asking the question, I realized that the answer was a much larger than can be explained at a book signing. As expected he basically told me it comes through experience, meaning being critical with your process and ingredients and keep striving for that flavor you want. By having 4 restaurants and brew systems they have the ability to make a lot of batches of beer and with input from  the different brewers of each location.

As for the book, I'm not great at reviews. So here is a short synopsis:
- Great history on the San Diego beer scene
- Complete descriptions of breweries, which is nice to hear the stories behind each
- Food recipes - are a little involved for the at home chef with most recipes having 10+ ingredients

In Summary, a nice 2 hr read and coffee table book. But the reason I bought it was to speak with the brewers. And my favorite part of the book is not even in print - they send you to their website with videos from each brewer tasting their own beer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Flandria Fixed Gear (Fixie) Conversion Project - Custom Leather Handlebars

In an effort to make the bike look completely custom. I used the same leather from the seat to also cover the handlebars. This was actually much easier than I thought. I am not going to do much of a detailed write-up because this is much easier to learn by watching a video. And this is the one I recommend:

Here are the main things to remember:

  • Start at the end of the bar and work to the middle. (This prevents tape slipping)
  • Do not use tape with a sticky side or add glue to the tape because you will need to constantly be re-adjusting (the leather needs a lot of stretching and re-positioning to avoid wrinkles)
  • Leave a 1/2" - 1/4" hanging off the end. You may need to trim some excess so it will fit in the bar end.
  • Use electrical tape to finish and make sure to keep good tension will wrapping.

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homebrew Tasting: Belgian Pale Ale - 3 ways

I have finally gotten around to tasting all three versions of the Belgian Pale Ale. This is a tale of success and failure. To remind you the three versions used all the same wort with a different yeast in each:

I think the recipe for the wort worked pretty well. The color was dead on with a neat burnt orange tone. The malt backbone was solid, but really allowed the different yeast flavors to shine. I am becoming a bigger believer in how the Belgians brew with a very simple grist with the only complexity coming from yeast and the occasional candi sugar. And this may be the direction I try next year. I also think that I may need to change how I treat the yeast. From reading through Brew Like a Monk the Belgian brewers are very particular about the pitching amount. They typically underpitch compared to American brewers, but they can get away with this for a few reasons:
  • They want more flavor development than most clean american beers and most of the flavor components are created during the yeast growth phase.
  • They pitch very healthy yeast, coming from an active fermentation.
  • They ferment at higher temperatures that promote cell growth and healthier cells.
575 Version - I must have been in a hurry when kegging this one because it picked up a Brett infection and a Brett strain that is currently in a strange phase. It seems I need these constant reminders to completely dissemble, clean and replace o-rings if going from a Brett to clean beer. And this beer got funky fast since it was sitting at room temperature in the brewing closet for a month.

Rochefort Version - Actually somewhat clean for Belgian standards. The beer is very drinkable, but not all that interesting or complex. Warming the beer up did help bring out more flavor. If I was to use this yeast again I would make sure that the malt and hop bill were very interesting. So I think it would do great in a Belgian Dark Strong or even a Belgian IPA.

Achouffe Version - The crowd favorite and without a doubt, felt "Belgian" to everyone. You could smell this beer from a couple feet away and the taste was equally intense.The famous Belgian phenols were strong, but not overpowering into the smokey or plastic level. The beer finished nicely dry and had a great malt backbone.

This was a neat experiment and great way for me to try several Belgian yeast strains at once. One thing that confused me about these beers was that they used the same wort and were carbonated to the same amount, but the head retention was radically different. I never thought yeast could have this much effect but it must.

2012 NHC Results for Achouffe Version
(Changed considerably after my initial taste, should have tasted a bottle before submitting)

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