Monday, September 17, 2012

Homebrew Tasting: 2011 Flanders Red + Blending Tips

I have been slacking on doing reviews for my homebrews lately, but that will change soon. I haven't been able to brew as often lately (due to a few recent changes that I'll share soon). I also realized I have far too much beer "cellaring", so this combination means I need to start drinking.

I'll start with a review of my award winning Flanders Red. I am reviewing my 2011 batch of Flanders Red. I have a yearly tradition that every May I bottle and brew a new batch with some slight adjustments based off the previous batch. The batch I bottled this year had the right elements as you can see below in my review, but needed tweaking in order to better meet the style. This was my first attempt at blending this style beer and I'll share some advice from the experience.

Blending Advice (Notes from a Novice):

 - Most Important Step: "Tastualize" your final product. This is very important as you taste each component, you have to figure out how it will fit in to your Final Blend. This sort of knowledge can really only come from experience. Taste as many beers from that style and figure out what you love in each beer.

For example, my "Perfect" Flanders Red:
Aroma - Leads with cherry pie notes, then follows with oak (vanilla/coconut) and a sweet/sour balance. No sharp notes (like vinegar), the acetic acid level should be low enough to come across as a rounded soft sourness.
Taste - Flavor should mimic Aroma with same intensity of each character. I like my first taste to be sweet pie cherries, then some less sweet - candied dark fruits flavors from the malt and finish with the oak that helps to balance the sweetness and sourness so it feels drinkable and medium to full body.

 - Look for differences between your batch and the "Perfect" beer

After I tasted my current batch and reviewed my "Perfect" Flanders Red, it was easy to identify what was missing. This batch needed that middle dark fruit flavor complexity and need an increase in mouthfeel.

 - Evaluate options for missing components

Luckily, at the time of blending I had my Imperial Stout still aging in a keg. The Imperial Stout was very fruit forward and had very little roast character. After tasting it, it would better be labeled as an Old Ale. Using a graduated cylinder, I did several different ratios until I found a ratio I liked.

 - Have experienced and non-experienced drinkers review your beer

Over the years I have realized the value in having both experienced beer judges and casual drinkers try my beers. The experienced judge's feedback is obviously helpful, but the casual drinker's feedback helps in other ways. Often times they aren't stuck on the common flavor terminology plus they don't know the style, but can tell you if they like it or not. If a casual drinker tastes a gold medal beer from almost any category in a homebrew contest, I will venture to say they will like it. To be the best beer for that style it will have  great flavors that work together.

For the Flanders Red that we are discussing, I did this exact thing. I got my blend into as many mouths as I could. I had well respected beer judges try it and asked them to give me honest feedback. I also poured this for several friends that have never had this style. I learned that my "Perfect" beer is not always the most preferred. The majority of the feedback was to increase the sweetness (More toward Duchesse than Rodenbach Grand Cru). So for my competition blend, I added a bit of sour cherry juice and pomegranate juice to increase the fruit flavors and sweetness.

My final blend ended up being:
85% Flanders Red
10% Imperial Stout
2.5% Sour Cherry Juice
2.5% Pomegranate Juice

The blend was carbed up in a 2 liter bottle using a carb cap to around 2.5 volumes only 2 days before the competition. I left the bottles in the fridge to help with clarity and make sure the extra sugar wasn't consumed to add extra carbonation. This beer placed 2nd in Category 17 at the San Diego County Fair (which has turned out to be a huge competition) and after talking with the judges it was a coin flip for 1st and 2nd. My scoresheet was lost, but wouldn't be too helpful since this was a one time blend. For future competitions, I plan to open bottles and blend starting 2 weeks before the due date.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Brett Drie (Trois) Overview + Spelt Saison Results

First, a confession - I have become slightly obsessed with a single cell organism.

 I have posted my experience with Brett Drie (WLP644 - Brett B Trois) (Avery 15 Brett) in a couple different online sources so I thought I would compile some of the information.

WLP644 -Brett B Trois - Homebrewtalk Thread

WLP644 - Babblebelt Thread

I have been brewing with this strain for about a year and a half. The back story is that one of my homebrew friends cultured this from a bottle of Avery 15. The yeast is referred to as the Brett Drie strain. If you have read through Chad Y's paper and website he discovered that there are actually 2 strains present (Chad still uses these strains at Crooked Stave in addition to others he has isolated). They were each used in his thesis experiment and the fermentation is well documented.

My friend, Adrian, gave me a vial and Neva at White Labs one too. It took White Lab's quite a while to come out with this yeast and not sure how well it relates to what I have been using. Did they isolated one strain or do any manipulation?)

I do know that I get the flavors and attenuation that others have reported from using WLP644. After my first time using this Brett I was hooked. The tropical fruit notes were great, they literally filled the room when I was bottling.

Best Bitter with Brett Drie -  1.048 - 1.010 - 79% Apparent Attenuation - Mashed 154 - 8% crystal malts  - 30 IBUs -no aeration - big tropical fruit - nice w/ Goldings

I have tried it in several different styles of wort since that first test batch (link above) and consider it my house Brett strain. I mostly use it in Primary as in the examples below. (I have also used it at bottling in some Saisons and was not all that impressed with the results - mostly some light traditional Brett funk flavors.)

Old Ale wort -  1.079 - 1.014 - 82% Apparent Attenuation - Mashed 154 - 7.5% Crystal Malts, 8% Turbinado sugar  40 IBUS - 8.6% - aerated - sour and decently complex in 3 months - one of my favorite beers I've ever made or tasted.

Hoppy Bitter (Extra Special Brett-er) - 1.049 - 1.006 - 20 IBUs - Dry-hopped w Nelson - testing it with a Hoppy wort - no aeration - fermentation fruit notes played really well with tropical fruit notes of the Nelson hops - my best hop forward beer I've made.

Table Saison with Rolled Oats - F.G. (.999) - 103% Apparent Attenuation. Mashed at 147 with 80% Pils, 15% Rolled Oats, 2.5% Acid Malt, 2.5% Piloncillo sugar - very clean on first taste, going to dry-hop half with HBC 342 hops (aroma and taste was weak) and now added 1 oz of Calypso hops

The Brett will produce some acid (acetic) if you aerate it well, the acidity is just enough in my opinion to give people the idea that it is a wild beer, but no where near a sharp bite. If you do not aerate, then the yeast will still produce the fruit flavors, but with little to no acidity and a very "clean" taste.

I get a very quick fermentation from this yeast, but I'm making large starters. I usually start with some saved yeast in a White Labs vial that is 1/8 full of yeast. I do a 4 oz 1.020 starter , then a 32 oz 1.040 starter, then 64 oz 1.040 with a week between each. According to my estimates (very rough) and this calculator ( - based on Sacc), I had some where around 220 billion cells. The majority of the activity seems to be done in a few days and then I get some residual for another couple weeks.

As for temperature, my first batches were all fermented in the 68 - 72 range. Well, for this most recent batch of Spelt Saison I wanted to test this temperature dependence. I split the main batch wort into 2 - 1 gal batches. One batch was fermented with a normal Saison temperature profile (start in the low 70s and free rise into the 80s and held for a week). The other batch was temperature controlled in the fermentation cabinet at 63-65 for 2 weeks and then brought up to mid 70s. The fermentation looked complete after 2 weeks.

Saison Profile - 1.000 - nice spicy notes, Belgian phenols and light fruit notes
Low Ale Temps - 1.000 - nice spicy notes, Belgian phenols and light fruit notes

I was surprised by the results, both were 100% Apparent Attenuation and 7.9% ABV. These both were allowed to ferment out for a total of 3 weeks before bottling. I'll do an official taste test in the following weeks.

Flavor Progression:

The beer starts very clean (no noticeable acidity if you don't intentionally aerate) with huge tropical fruit flavors. I refer to the flavor as POG (Passion Orange Guava). After a month or so that flavor starts going toward over ripe fruit with a bit of funk. And long term the beer has gotten progressively more sour (I may not have a pure culture), but not more than a mild tartness. And the tropical fruit flavors remain and are mixed with more traditional Brett funk notes.

Nothing to worry about if you are kegging, but for bottling I have been waiting about 3 -4 weeks. And the stability in the bottle is great. You can use standard priming sugar amounts. This Brett strain and most of them have very low flocculation. You may need to assist the yeast to floc out with a cold crash and a bit of pressure. Also gelatin and racking will greatly help.

One thing I have just noticed in my latest Table Saison with 100% Brett is how clean the fermentation profile turned out. The beer was mashed at 148 with 20% rolled oats. This beer fermented from 1.044 down to 1.000 in about a week. I am thinking that without very many complex sugars (from a higher mash temp or crystal malts) that the Brett does not produce the same esters. Also it did not have a lot of hop compounds to play off either.

Please feel free to ask questions and suggest ideas for future experiments. (I am interested in seeing the fermentation limits of this yeast - 20% Brett Beer anyone?)
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