Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Saison Series: Spelt Saison

The Summer of Saison continues and is unlikely to stop, even going into this Fall. (I'm planning another Dark Saison, but this year's will be more focused on spice and roast versus last year's on dark fruit.) My other goal this year with brewing Saisons is to try different grains. In the Table Saison, I used rolled oats (tasting notes coming soon), this more American-strength version has spelt and the Dark Saison will have rye. Now, spelt is nothing new, actually it is one of the oldest forms of grain and is a hearty type of wheat. It was grown in the Saison producing regions of France and Belgium, so it was historically used. There is even a commercial sample that are pretty easy to find, Blaugies Saison d’Epeautre.

For the spelt, I found it at my local Whole Foods in the raw - unmalted form. The spelt cost $2/lb which is about standard. I still needed to crush the spelt so I put it through my grain mill along with the barely. The one thing that I noticed is that it is a much harder kernel and was difficult for the mill to process. However, it is about the same size of barley so if I mixed them together the grain ran pretty smoothly. I was a bit concerned about the quality of the crush, but I hit my numbers so that is what counts. Also I have read that some brewers have used a cereal mash, but that doesn't seem necessary since the gelatation temperature is about the same as wheat (since it is a type of wheat). I had no problem with conversion and next time I will probably do a more tradition Saison step mash with a protein rest. The protein scum on top of the mash was crazy thick and during the boil there was huge protein chunks floating around.

The malt bill and hop schedule were kept pretty traditional. The water profile is also higher in Sulfates to help with the drying impression and still kept on the lower mineral side. The only unique part is that I tried to get all my color from the boil. I slowly ran-off the wort from my mash tun and tried to get as much kettle carmelization as I could. And then did a 90 minute boil.

As for yeast, I picked my 2 favorite strains from the Great Saison Experiment I did a couple months ago. These are at least my favorite strains so far, I also picked ones that were pure cultures because I will be adding different Brett strains at bottling.

Recipe: Traditional Spelt Saison

Batch Size 12.0 gal        O.G.-1.060                                                             F.G.-TBD
IBU-32                             SRM-4 (but should be higher with long boil)    ABV-TBD

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
20 lb Pilsner Malt (80%)
4 lb Raw Spelt (16%)
1 lb Acid Malt (4%)

1.75 oz Super Styrian, 9.5%, pellet, 90 min 32 IBU
2 oz Styrian Goldings, 4.5%, pellet, Whirlpool

Re-used Cultured Dupont dregs - 5 gal batch
Re-used ECY08 - 5 gal batch
Re-used Brett Drie - divided in 2 - 1 gal batches

Brew Day:
Brewed: 8/5/12

50/50 Blend of San Diego tap water and Distilled

Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.25 qt/lb
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 148F @ 60min
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F

Boil Details:
Boil Time: 90min + a slow sparge from the mash where the first runnings were boiled rapidly

Ferment Details:
Ferment Temp: pitched at 70 then used an electric blanket to help increase temps. 82 by Day 2, 85 Day 3 and then held around 85 for a week.

So with these 12 gallons of beer I'm going to make a lot of different variations. The 5 gal batches will be split with 2.5 gallons of each getting dry-hopped to create a "Farmhouse IPA". The other 2.5 gallons (.5 gal each) will get split with different Brett strains at bottling:
  • Logsdon Brett Strains
  • Brett Drie
  • ECY03 Brett Strains
  • Allagash House Brett Strain
 I'll have a follow-up post about the Brett Drie Experiment I did with this batch.

Friday, August 24, 2012


I have been hearing about the SUDS COUNTY USA movie for at least a year and have anxiously been waiting for its debut. My wife works in the same building as Sheldon Kaplan, owner of Ibhayi Media, who produced/edited/created the film. My wife, Ashley, told Sheldon that I'm a homebrewer and he would give us small updates about the film. Finally after 2 years in the making, on August 14th at Green Flash Brewing's giant tasting room (pictured below) I finally got to see the film.

This is a historical documentary about brewing beer in San Diego. It ended up being about much more than that. This movie does a great job telling a story and one that is particularly interesting for anyone involved with beer. The interviews are done in such a way that you really start to understand the personalities of the different people responsible for the craft beer movement (in San Diego, but very relate-able). About half way through the movie, you even start wanting to cheer them on.

The beginning goes into the pre-Prohibition history and has some great photographs from the time. And then the main bulk of the movie has to do with early pioneers in the craft beer industry in the mid 80s to 90s. It does a get job chorincling their struggle and interweaves several story lines that end up confluencing in the end. At no point in the movie was I confused, and I think that is a difficult thing to master in a documentary type movie.

The movie does a great job showing the connection between professional brewer and the homebrewer. It was especially exciting for myself to learn more about the history of my homebrew club, QUAFF. I never knew the early history and all of the notable brewers that came from the club including Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River, Skip Virgilio and Peter Zein of AleSmith, and many more local brewers that have made it big.

Who Should Watch It
I realize that not everyone reading this review is located in San Diego and is as interested in this film as I am. And at first I wondered how well this movie would do outside of my little homebrew/craft beer bubble in San Diego, but once I saw the movie in its entirity the movie just tells a great story. If you happen to be interested in craft beer or homebrewing then you will find it even more intriguing.

Sheldon plans to have DVDs and a bigger debut at GABF in Denver this October.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Barrel Project: American Farmhouse Chardonnay Saison

I finally got to brew some funky beer in a barrel. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time. In my limited experience tasting sour beers, the beers that come from barrels seem to have a better complexity and blending of flavors. (And they also have much higher chances of failing.) The other reason I've been excited to brew in a barrel is because of the idea of collaborative brewing in a group.

This whole project started when a fellow QUAFF member (Steven) sent out an announcement:

I just picked up a Chardonnay barrel (French Oak) from Caruth Cellars in Solana Beach, and was wondering if anyone from the group would like to join me in filling it up. I’m wanting to make a Saison using the WLP 670 american farmhouse...

I instantly jumped at the opportunity and so did 4 other brewers for a total of 6 brewers. We end up having 3 brewing 12 gals, 2 brewing 10 gals and 1 brewing 6 gals - totaling 62 gals. This number is just about perfect for brewing in a 59 gal wine barrel.

Steven wanted to do primary fermentation in the barrel. I thought this was a fun idea and would make the organizing a bit easier. I contacted a few people with experience - Sam Tierney (intothebrew) who fills the barrels in Firestone's Union System and Levi (Funk Factory) who has done primary fermentation of a lambic in a barrel - they both concurred to leave about 10 gals of headspace in the barrel. So that was our plan, 50 gals in the barrel and 12 gals in carboys that can be added once fermentation calms down in the barrel. We also all found a day that we could brew at the same time and fill the barrel straight from each of our brew kettles.

The next big task was recipe generation. Steven did a good job by starting us all with a solid Saison recipe that was based on Jamil's recipe in Brewing Classic Styles. After about 20 emails, the group we had tweaked the recipe with everyone's comments.

After another 20 emails, we figured out who was going to pick up what supplies and bring them to the group brew day. We were able to get the base malt in bulk and also the hops, which really helps to reduce cost. The next mission was getting enough yeast to ferment 60 gals. According to Mr.Malty, we would need 24 vials or 8 vials with a 36 liter starter (~10 gals). The first plan was for all of us to make a 2 liter starter with 2 vials.

Then one of the group members, Chris, came up with the idea to ask White Labs for a 2 BBL (63 gal) pitch of WLP670. White Labs had the yeast ready in about a week and Chris picked it up the day before our brew session. Just as an FYI, this 2 BBL pitch cost us $150 ( I don't think we got a QUAFF discount). It makes me wonder how much big breweries pay and I guess it makes sense that they re-use the yeast so often. For our next barrel, I'm going to recommend that one of the members brews a 10 gal batch and then we use the yeast cake for the barrel.

Recipe: American Farmhouse Chardonnay Saison

Batch Size 60.0 gal        O.G.-1.055           F.G.-TBD
IBU-25                             SRM-4.5               ABV-TBD

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
100 lb Pilsner Malt (85%)
7.5 lb Munich (6%)
7.5 lb Wheat Wheat Malt (6%)
3 lb Acid Malt (3%)

6 oz Premiant, 11%, pellet, 90 min 25.6 IBU
6 oz Pacific Jade, 14%, pellet, Whirlpool
6 oz Pacific Jade, 14%, pellet,  Optional Dry-hop

White Labs American Farmhouse Blend - WLP670

Brew Day:
Brewed: 7/29/12

50/50 Blend of San Diego tap water and Distilled

Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.25 qt/lb
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 148F @ 60min
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F

Boil Details:
Boil Time: 90min

Ferment Details:
Ferment Temp: Encinitas Garage Ambient

The Brew Day was about as much fun as I've ever had brewing. It was a long brew day starting around 9 and ending close to 6. Most of that time was spent sharing beers and other beer geeking activities.

Here are a few lessons we learned on our first Barrel Project:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan - with our group of 6 brewers it took about 4 weeks and 40+ emails to get everything arranged.
  • Bring a corded drill - we lost over an hour on brew day because the cordless drill can't mill that much grain on a single charge.
  • American Malt comes in 50 lb bags instead of 55 lb - we were dangerously close to not having enough malt.
  • Keep your group as small as possible - even with 6 people communication starts becoming more difficult.
  • Work out the financials and brewing calculations before brew day - homebrew and math don't mix well.
We are predicting about 3 months in the barrel. Then corking a case of 750s and a 5 gal corny for each person.
And since the barrel now has Brett in it, I think the next batch will have to go total funky with something like Russian River Temptation.

Update 08.10.12
The fermentation has been steady going this whole month and the 2 - 5 gal carboys have been added to the barrel. We will also top up the barrel with about 3 gals of boiled water with 2 lbs of sugar added to help with producing CO2 in the headspace, reducing the amount of headspace and the simple sugar should dry the beer out a tad more.

The gravity is down to 1.010 and since it is still fermenting plus will age for a few month with the Brett I imagine this will drop down a few more points.

This is the comment on the taste so far, "I must say this tastes absolutely amazing right now!! It has a nice fruity taste from the chardonnay. Let the funk begin."

Part 2 - Bottling
Part 3 - Tasting

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