I’ve been brewing with other people in the DC area a lot lately. I forgot how much fun it could be brewing with another person. It is great to get back into it. A few years ago, my friend Mike Thorpe came over to observe a brew day. He was excited to get into brewing and just wanted to see the process start to finish. I don’t recall what we brewed but it was probably a saison or an IPA. Maybe he remembers but I doubt it. He has far exceeded my abilities as a homebrewer in the subsequent years. Mike has become a great resource for me all things concerning saisons and low alcohol beers (his focus). He has since moved from Northern Virginia to Chicago, but we stay in contact. Since he and his wife are in Chicago now and I have never been to Chicago, I drove my little family to Chicago in mid-May for a short vacation…much drinking was done. I wrote a beer tourism post about the trip and at the end of that post, I said that we also brewed a beer together. This is the post for that beer.
We decided to do this as a collaboration of sorts (see how trendy we are?). We brewed a 10 gallon batch and split the wort between the two of us and pitched different yeasts. I pitched my house yeast (Dupont and Brettanomyces claussenii blend) plus some of his Brettanomyces bruxellensis culture, and he pitched Yeast bay saison blend, a Brettanomyces blend and dregs from a few bottles…his will be more complicated than mine methinks. His write up of the brew day is found on his blog “Spontaneous Funk.” For the purposes of this post and blog, much of the information in his write-up of the day will be repeated here but I will be reviewing both versions of the beer, his and mine.
Batch # 2014.11
10 Gallon Batch (5 gallons fermented in Maryland and 5 gallons fermented in Chicago)
Brew date: May 25th, 2014
Bottling date: August 6th, 2014
ABV: 6.0% (estimated)
SRM: 3.4 (estimated)
IBU: 30.2 (calculated)
12.5 lb Pilsner
3.5 lb Flaked Wheat
2.0 lb Flaked Rice
1.0 lb Acid Malt
Mash: Single infusion for 60 minutes at 155* F
Mash pH (est.): 5.38
5 mL lactic acid added to the sparge water to get it to a pH around 5.5.
Boil: 60 minute
4.0g Calcium Chloride (all into the kettle)
3.0g Sodium Chloride (all into the kettle)
3.0g Gypsum (all into the kettle)
2.0 tsp. Wyeast Yeast Nutrient at 10 minutes
1.0 oz. Columbus (17.5 AAU) at 60 minutes
4.0 oz. Nelson Sauvin (12.0 AAU) at flameout
Beer was pitched with some Brettanomyces bruxellensis and some of a yeast cake from the Experimental Hop Lemon Zest Saison. The yeast was pitched the night before I left Chicago and I left the fermenter in Mike’s basement…it was probably around 65 or 70 F in there. By the morning there was airlock activity. I loaded it into the car and drove it home. The fermentation was allowed to go for three months, I wanted to give the Brett a chance to funk this thing up.
There was some confusion about the water amounts for the mash, not enough water was added initially. This was eventually corrected.
The fermentation of this beer is mildly comical. Since it was a collaboration and we were driving back to DC a day later, I put it in my bottling bucket and packed it into the car. The fermentation was definitely going during the drive home. We ended up staying the night in Cleveland, OH and left the fermenter in the car overnight. The car smelled like carbon dioxide and hops in the morning. It was a relatively chilly night so I doubt the beer got much hotter than 60 degrees in the car that night. The fermentation was mostly done a few days after we got home.
Despite the fermentation being mostly done, I put the bottling bucket in the corner for a while to let it bulk age and to give the Brett some opportunity to get funky. I added 5 ounces of sucrose to the beer to carbonate it to about 3 volumes. I decided to bottle up half of it in 500 ml bottles (hefeweizen bottles). The second half of the beer was left in the keg to naturally carbonate. It will go on draft when something kicks.
I returned to Chicago for a baby shower and got the opportunity to do a side-by-side with the two versions of Flowerfield. I’ll review Mike’s first then mine.
So Mike’s Flowerfield. The beer is yellow and a little hazy with a nice white head, small and medium bubbles, decent retention, moderate carbonation.
The aroma is not too funky, a little sweet, interesting, a little grainy. Hints of sourness.
Beer is surprisingly biscuity and has a grainy aftertaste that detracts from the overall beer. After a few sips it becomes the dominant flavor. It is that cereal, graininess overall that makes this beer less enjoyable than hoped. Not a repeat for me unfortunately.
Mike also blended this beer with a saison that used a lot of Meyer lemon zest. It looked the same, pretty much, but had a strong citrus note to it, the grainess was still there in the aftertaste but overall, the beer was much improved. He didn’t tell me the proportion but I would guess the Flowerfield is the minority in that blend.
My Flowerfield: Beer is slightly darker than Mike’s but not by much, moderate carbonation, white head, small bubbles, low retention, some lacing.
Aroma is strong but almost smells like diacetyl. That is my first impression but I’ve never had this strong an aroma of diacetyl in any beer ever. The more I smell it the less it smells like diacetyl though and the more it smells like vanilla or something in that family of flavors. Mike suggests it smells like ladyfingers, the cookies. I buy that, the biscuit aroma comes through a lot and there is NO BRETT. That is really disappointing.
This beer tastes similar to Mike’s version in that it is biscuity and has a strong grainy aftertaste. Since that flavor is common between the versions, it is unlikely to be a fermentation issue, more likely something we did on brew day. We broke it down to ourselves and couldn’t think of anything odd that happened that day. This beer is also unfortunately not a repeat for me.
Possible improvements (for future batches):
Not sure what to put in this section since this was a “one off”…but I hope I get to brew with more homebrewers as collaborations in the future. This beer is not my favorite and I’m a little bummed but we can hypothesize what went wrong with this beer….although it was so simple that it is hard to pinpoint a likely cause.
A few possibilities where mine went wrong. We clearly did something on the brewday, messed up the mash or the sparge, to extract some off flavor from the grain. We had some early confusion about the mash, but that resulted in a thicker mash initially and a thinner sparge, maybe that is where it happened? Always double check your volumes. We were likely busy drinking beer and talking about gardening to notice.
Second, I used my Dupont yeast from one of my hoppy saisons PLUS some Brett b that Mike had in a jar in the basement. That jar had a similar aroma to the diacetyl I smelled in my beer. I don’t know the providence of that Brett b strain but I don’t think I’ll use the yeast cake from this to make additional Brett b beers.
Overall, a fun experiment with an unfortunate outcome. This will not sour me on further collaborations and I love the beers Mike makes, this was just a miss for us.
There are several beers in fermenters right now. Currently there is an Experimental Hop Saison, a Russian Imperial Stout (but that’s going into a barrel soon), a Chinook Rye saison made with 20% rye…and a Sage Brett saison …a little nervous about that one. On the schedule to be brewed is a Wakatu Saison and another Galaxy Saison fermented as a 100% Brett beer.
A couple of non-beer posts coming up. A few hot sauces are fermenting away…writing those up right now. I smoked some malt the other day using my Bourbon barrel smoker, writing that up as well. I also am throwing a small Trappist ale tasting for a friend and I’m writing up a “rant” about what it means to be a Trappist ale.
“Things don’t make me nearly as happy as talking and having a beer with my friends. And that’s something everyone can do. ” — Drew Carey