Winter Brewing

For makers of barrel-aged mixed culture beers, winter is a busy time. The season brings with it a number of time-sensitive events.

Most notably, the cooler weather makes it possible to brew spontaneous batches of beer. Not only do the overnight temperatures facilitate the necessary temperature drops from boiling to fermentation temperature but also the colder weather inhibits non-ideal yeasts and bacteria in the environment.

Additionally, winter is blending and bottling time for many wineries. After their harvest in the fall, winemakers allow their presses to ferment before beginning to taste through their new wine and barrels to decide what this year’s vintage will include.  As the wine gets moved around, wineries will put some of their new ferments in new oak and rack older vintages for bottling. For brewers, this means that it’s barrel time. Picking up fresh barrels is both preferred in every case and clearly the best time to rack fresh beer if residual flavours are desired.

Picking up my first 4 barrels
Picking up my first 4 barrels

This winter I have brewed 4 spontaneous batches and filled 9 barriques (228 l wine barrels) with a diversity of base beers and yeasts. I have also been foraging/collecting/wrangling wild yeasts from a myriad of sources. As I don’t have a brewery, this means I’m basically a super serious home-brewer. On the former, I’ll have an announcement on this in the next 3 months, I promise. On the latter, that means I have about 2000 l of barrel aged beer right now. Whoops.

All of the things I have been doing have been to help me increase my knowledge of working with mixed cultures. Its all well and good to talk about this all day and play with these strains on a small scale, but I needed to fill barrels before I felt like I could really start to learn. Below is my current barrel log.

Name Make Oak Current use
α Seguin Moreau French No-rinse Gold, innoculated with 3278 (Lambic Blend) (11/8/16)
β Seguin Moreau French No-rinse Gold, innoculated with 3763 (Roeselare) (11/8/16)
γ Tonnellerie Sirugue French 196 l Gold, 32 l Uralla, NSW spontneous wort
δ Dargaud & Jaegle French 187 l Gold, 41 l Gerringong, NSW spontaneous wort (12/7/16)
ε Seguin Moreau French 183 l Gold, 42 l Marrickville, NSW spontaneous wort
ζ Seguin Moreau French No-rinse, no-innoculant BE-256
η Dargaud & Jaegle French No-rinse Raw wheat Saison + bottle of 2014 Gerringong mixed culture saison
θ Seguin Moreau French No-rinse, no-innoculant Raw wheat Saison
ι Saint-Martin French 210 l No-rinse, no-innoculant Raw wheat Saison, 10 l Gerringong Spontaneous wort (6/8/16)

All of these barrels were collected from Canobolas Smith winery in Orange, NSW. They are filled with mainly 2 beers, one just called Gold and the other Raw Wheat Saison.

I wrote about the saison previously here under ‘test brews’. It has turned out fairly hoppy and is tasting very good after 3 months in barrels η, θ and ι. These three have very little if any funky developments, which is what I wanted. These barrels were not rinsed before racking into them as they were racked out of only a day previous. Murray at Canobolas Smith is a very minimalist winemaker and I was interested in the beers development in the presence of wild wine yeasts. The beers have a beautiful soft mouthfeel (30% raw wheat helps) with touches of fruity chardonnay and spicy Motueka hops. Last week I pulled 10 l out to package at home and topped the barrel up with 10 l of spontaneous wort cooled the night before. (photo below)

Barrels η, θ and ι (one has a holding solition) ageing with rustic insulation
Barrels η, θ and ι (one has a holding solution) ageing with ‘rustic’ insulation
barrel pull and inoculation
barrel pull and inoculation

‘Gold’ is a beer that I brewed to fill my second lot of barrels that came in. Like most of my beers, it is quite simple and was produced as a blending beer, produced for secondary ferments. It ended up 80% local pilsner, 10% NSW oats, 10% raw NSW wheat with ~20 IBU’s of aged and fresh hops from NZ and an OG of 13 P. I mashed hot (68C) to leave some longer chain sugars in for the secondary ferments. I fermented with BE-256 which is a pof+ (see Phenol Production § here) dry Belgian strain produced by Lesaffre most notably used by De Ranke for their clean beers. The beer fermented to 3.5P and tasted okay considering it was an absolute sulphur bomb. I was pretty happy I didn’t need that beer anytime soon. I filled 6 barrels with Gold and as you can see above, all but one now have something else in them.

The 3 spontaneous batches are all a little different worts and cooled in different locations across the state. Two are hopped and one has a very slight (near 0) hopping rate. That one, in barrel δ is tasting nice and tart, while γ and ε are developing their characteristics slower and without much tartness, which is to be expected with a higher hopping rate. They all follow the Black Project/ MTF tips/suggestions for cooling rates and SA/V ratios. They were all 45-50 l batches cooled overnight in an insulated kettle to around 25 C the next morning.

Last week, I inoculated α and β with propped up mixed cultures from Wyeast. Im not sure why I did this; but there they are. Those are certainly sitters and I’m not overly excited about them but it will be interesting to see how they develop as controls against the totally wild inoculations.

IMG_2623
Barrels α – ζ (only 6 are full, the others have a holding solution)

ζ and θ are waiting until I am happy with a mixed culture of wrangled yeasts. Below is a table of what I currently have collected that is tasting good. I have already dumped a fair amount of these ‘experiments’ because they smell nasty or have made me feel sick. My wife seriously thinks I’m strange. So these are the good ones…

Strain/culture Current vessel Media Location Volume (l) Notes
Saison/sourdough Nalgene APA wort Home 2
Saison/orchid Nalgene APA wort home 2
Bretty wine Nalgene unhopped DME wort Home 2 no signs of ferment
Bretty wine Erlenmeyer flask unhopped DME wort home 1 some bubbles
Dried grapes Bosco jar unhopped DME wort home 0.5 *taste, step up to nalgene
Dandelions Nalgene unhopped DME wort Brewery 1.5 *taste, add wort
Wattle Blossom Nalgene unhopped DME wort Brewery 2

The standouts from this are definitely the cultures from dandelions, wattle blossom and my own sourdough culture.

part of my wrangled yeast collection
part of my wrangled yeast collection
pellicle on the sourdough culture
pellicle on the sourdough culture

 

My 4th spontaneous batch this season is only 10 l in barrel ι with the rest in a glass carboy co-fermenting with the Dupont strain. I am really interested in this batch. I have been hearing a few things about using coolships just for that, cooling, and then pitching yeast after. It sounds really cool to me and also super functional. I love not having to clean/prepare my heat exchange! This one is less than a week old so we will see what happens overtime.

the coolship cooled saison just post inoculation with Dupont
the coolship cooled saison just post inoculation with Dupont

 

That is pretty much all the brewing I have been doing. Besides this, the winter has seen me purchase of the most expensive piece of homebrewing equipment ever, a Anton Paar DMA 35! This thing is the bomb and will let me take super accurate gravity readings of all my beers in barrel while only using about 10ml of beer. I have very limited experience with them, but the brewers I know who have them adore them.

Anton Paar DMA 35, the works
Anton Paar DMA 35, the works

I have so much more information and details on these beers to share, but it is just too much for any blog. Questions/concerns are appreciated. I will keep updating about the progress of these experiments, what has work and what has failed. My twitter might be the best for binary yes/no reviews of the beers.

As I alluded to before, these ‘experiments’ are all pointing to something I am super excited about but have to keep under the wraps for now. Im pretty bad at that, keeping my mouth shut whole thing, so fingers crossed not too much longer. Until then, best!

Antipodean blues

Over the past few months I have repeatedly caught myself daydreaming about moving back to Europe. It’s not just the proximity to great beer cultures, it’s more the lifestyle we lived there. It’s unrealistic for me to have continued my early retirement forever. From a funding perspective, well, that just wouldn’t work.

But its not the working part that I’m finding difficult getting back used to. Instead, its the not working solely on my passion.

While in Spain, I was able to devote all of my working thoughts and moments towards the message I wanted to send with my beer. Everything from its composition to its presentation occupied my thoughts and time. It wasn’t that the work was easier to do because I am passionate about it (it wasn’t); rather, it was because I felt like what I was working on would have an impact. I don’t know how that sounds. Maybe a little cliche, possibly a bit wanky, most likely it’s absurd… we are talking about beer here. (oh, and not to mention the fact that my current job is pretty much dream job material, thanks Batch!)

But this just means that things aren’t moving as rapidly or as dynamically as I felt they were before. So, posts are less frequent… I’m sorry about that. Also, my timeline is changing. Many of the things that I am working through (sorry to be mystic) take longer than I expected. It’s a combination of being the nature of the beast as well as having to split my time. I’m not embarrassed about this. I’m glad I am keeping the blog and sharing these experiences, delays and thoughts as they arise. Others may deal with things differently, but it helps keep my eyes open and it feels honest.

So, here is what is happening..

-Test brews: I racked a 30% raw wheat saison into wine barrels last weekend. This beer is a follow up on my last test brew which I wasn’t totally happy with. When I finally get to taste some of this properly, I will write a full post. The main goal of this one was volume. I needed to fill the barrels I was receiving so I needed a lot. Again, more on that later.

-Connections: I’ve been really lucky recently to meet a whole bunch of new people who are helping me gain insights into this project. Meeting these other artisans is totally inspiring and is keeping my energy levels high. I might try to put some of these conversations on the blog.

-Yeast wrangling: I’ve been collecting all kinds of things and fermenting them in wort. It’s been really fun and rarely leave the house without a sample tube to store things that catch my eye. These are all tests and mainly helping me gain more experience working with wild yeast. It’s been really fun being a little more in-tune with the nature directly around me, so recommended!

-GABS: I’m on the flight right now back from Melbourne after attending the Great Australian Beer Spectacular. It was great fun, but far better was meeting a handful of people who read the blog. Always enjoyable putting faces with names!

-Locations: We have not settled on a location. I am often down of the South Coast over the weekends still working on this. The main hurdle in this category is council permissions. This was totally expected but we have been finding that our case could be intricate. I hope to have more to say in the coming months.

-Inspiration: I have to say lastly that being back in Australia for good few months now has totally confirmed my desire to work with this land. I have been lucky to visit a few new places as well and see it through other’s eyes. We live in a terribly beautiful country with layers of rich culture and sometimes wild nature. It is abundant, I can’t wait to explore this more.

Well that’s all I can think of for now. I’ve been pretty active on twitter recently posting random little thoughts or movements. Thats usually a pretty good gauge of what I’m up to. When I get a good sample of the barreled saison in a fortnight, I’ll post the full writeup.

Simple Saison

To me, process is more important than recipe. That wasn’t always the case, I remember fawning over clone recipes, sourcing uber specific hops and getting nervous about missing a hop addition by a minute. I cant pinpoint it but over time I have become almost lazy about recipes. If I had to choose, I would say a watershed moment was that first day at Brasserie Thiriez. As a brewer, Daniel was both relaxed and totally in control. Over the time I was there, I don’ think we actually ever talked about recipes; instead, we spoke about yeast health, fermentation temperatures and bottle conditioning. You could argue that these are part of the recipe but I think for the most part recipe in homebrewing means malt bill, mash temp and hops.

After Thiriez and talking with other like-minded brewers, I kind of don’t care about what percent of this or that malt is in their beer. Whats more important is how do you treat that malt, what is it going to do for your yeast, does it make sense to use that ie. are you buying it from the other side of the world. Same with hops, if you want a noble hop aroma there are a handful of good options… I could be wrong but I feel that the soul of beer is formed by how it has been treated rather than what it is made from. For me, that’s what sets Farmhouse beers apart from the rest and that’s what I care about in the beers that I will make.

The beers at my brewery will basically fall into two categories, short turnaround (~3 months) beers and aged beers (6+ months). Within each category I will try to have some staples. For example, I need a 5% saison iv’d into my arm at all times. So I’m planning on brewing a base beer that I can use for all kinds of stuff but also drink fresh and really enjoy. As a side note, I’m not super concerned with making sour beer… if my yeast takes it that way, so be it… if not, so be it. Anyway, I basically want to have this beer that is versatile, changes with the season and gives consumers a good introduction to what we are about. So thats the one I am working on first, for now I’ll call it my simple saison.

The big question for me at the moment is to step-mash or not to step mash. For my first iteration of the recipe, I went will a full on step regime. Later, I’ll brew the same beer using a single infusion and taste the differences. That being said, I probably wont choose the single infusion anyway. Im in the step-mash-is-good-for-yeast camp so its going to be hard to get me out of there. Also when I do start operations, I’m likely to throw all kinds of under modified or raw cereals into my mash so best to start off with what I know works. To be honest, the only downside of a step mash I can think of is time and there are multiple upsides. So if I can brew on a system that can handle it… its gonna happen.

Here is the recipe, 100% Gladfield NZ pilsner malt to 5% ABV and 20 IBU’s of Motueka. Im using this NZ craft malt until the Australian craft maltster Voyager gets up and running, and Motueka, well I had it on hand and I do like it. Bonus is that its from the Southern Hemisphere so its pretty local.

For the mash, I went full on starting with a ferulic acid step at 45C for 20 minutes. I am going to play with this, but I am interested in seeing how a boosted clove profile develops over time, especially once bugs get involved. The rest of the mash is pretty much Mad Fermentationist/Brasserie a Vapeur (a al Hors Categorie blog)/ Weyermann suggestions. So infusion to 55C for 20′, then heated to 61C for 10′ then to 66′ for 30′ before the sparge/mash out at 75C. I was brewing on a Sabco rims system so the last two steps were from recirculating past a heating element.

On the day, I brewed 45 l and split the batch into three fermentors. The main point of this first batch was to test clean yeast strains. Before I started to mix things up by throwing in some bugs, I really wanted to test a few yeasts under my probable ferment schedule and see which one I liked the best. I pretty much know its gonna be WL565 because when that thing gets good wort and a hot ferment, it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve used WY3711 enough to know its probably not what I want. In the weeks previous I could only get my hands on 565 and 566 so those make up my first test. I pitched a healthy, active starter of 565 into 20 l of the wort, then 566 into another 10 l and then mixed the two into another 12-15 l of wort. I didn’t bother with pitch rates or anything this time round. That could come into the equation later, but for my purposes on this round, this should do it. I bittered to 19 IBU’s with additions at 60′, 5′ and 0′. 50% of the IBU’s came from the 60′ addition and the other two both represented 25%.

After knock out, I transported the beers to their fermentation chambers (fridges with stc-1000’s). They were all fermented at 28 C for 1 week. After the week all three beers were terminal around .5 deg P. Sadly the hydrometer I was working with was pretty dodgy so I couldn’t get the best reading. After the week, they were all transferred into clean, sanitised and CO2 purged corny kegs for their garde at 12 C for another 3 weeks.

Its been a week since I transferred them and I am itching to see what happens after the next 3. Naturally, I tasted each of them before transferred and while they had their small differences, because of the hot ferment the phenols were super heavy. If I packaged those beers straight away, you would recognise them as a saison straight away; however, they were lacking flavour complexion and depth. These phenols should chill out during the garde. After the garde, I am going to package and bottle condition for 2 months before tasting. I will update this post with tasting notes.

So, what’s next. While these beers finish, I am going to pick some funk for small batches of secondary ferments. I will write a separate post about how I am going to do this which should follow in a few weeks.

 

Decisions, decisions

In my previous post, I made it clear that this hobby and passion of mine is becoming my livelihood. While I have been professionally brewing for 3 years now, taking on this project is a whole new undertaking and seems far more personal, not only because its my neck on the line but also because I feel so passionate about Farmhouse beer.

I so wish for my future brewery to be an authentic introduction for the indoctrinated to Farmhouse beer, its traditions and its philosophy. While writing my business plan, these elements have crept into pretty unassuming places. It has become really apparent to me, even in these early stages, how influential having a Farmhouse approach is to so many business decisions.

For one, lets talk about timing. I am expecting my fastest beer to take 3 months from brew day to release. I have talked enough on this blog about the reasons and examples of extended fermentations that include some ‘garde’ time as well as the importance of proper bottle conditioning. We know this is best for the beer; but, it creates a pretty real cash flow issue for a young brewery. Consider placing an order for malt, lets say it takes 1 week to get to you, you brew with it, ferment that beer for a month, then bottle condition for another two. Once you release that beer you distribute (self in my case) it over 4 weeks. That would be pretty good, 4 weeks of sales and COD, but thats not the reality. Most accounts would have 30 day credit and as many business owners know, that’s also not the reality. All up, we would be looking at around 4.5- 5 months between payment for materials and payment for our product. As a start up business, this means we need a lot more operating capital as part of our initial investment than other breweries.

Two, equipment. In order to encourage characterful yeast esters, I want to ferment is shallow, wider vessels than most other breweries. Searching for vessels like this has actually been much harder than I thought. I knew that Brasserie de la Senne had theirs made, but I didn’t realise that it must have been out of necessity. In fact, the closest thing to what I am after is actually foeders. So instead of fighting it… I’m now just going to switch to 100% oak fermentations. Foeders carry their own problems and price points; however, they are going to make a huge difference in our fermentations. When I thought about it more, the more it made sense. These vessels were the original Farmhouse fermentation vessels, so although they are pretty scarcely used for primary fermentation, it’s probably worth a shot. I know Casey Brewing and Blending is doing 100% oak for all their beers but I’m honestly not sure of many others who are doing it. Let me know if there are more, I’m genuinely interested in learning more about it.

A third major difference, raw materials. I have been speaking with suppliers and producers about varieties, lead times, prices, etc. However, throughout the whole thing I can’t bring myself to choose to the cheapest or most convenient supplier. When I am producing, I will owe it to my consumers to use local ingredients if I am calling my product local. I think Fonta Flora is a leader in this field. I love how on their labels clearly identify which of their raw materials are from their immediate area. Im not sure if my labels will have ingredient lists but, if Im calling my product authentic… it better be. If you are in Australia, check out Voyager Craft Malt. They will be malting their own crop this year starting about now actually. Its a great outfit and I am really hoping I will be able to support them when I am up and running.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; but, its just an insight to some of the decisions I’ve been making. On other fronts, we have been working with a local real estate agent to find a place, the business plan had gone though its fifth or sixth revision and we are weeks away from a logo and branding. Things are happening on few different fronts, so its pretty exciting.

The next post will be about the beers I am making right now running some tests on yeasts, times and bottle conditioning.