- the event was a follow up to last year’s journey to the center of the barrel, a whirlwind of barrel-aging, winemaking, beer blending, and local-focused fine dining that left me humble and grateful for the opportunity to participate. honestly, I felt that last year’s experience was too over-the-top to be matched, much less bested, by any subsequent event.
- I couldn’t have been more wrong – FW doubled down and pulled out all the stops to create an experience unlike any other. upon our arrival david walker ushered us to FW’s original grassroots brewing facility, which is now the home of andrew murray vineyards. andrew himself poured us a glass of his recent harvest and ran through some winemaking 101 before we all headed back to a luxe campsite for some amazing santa maria-style barbeque and some breaking news.
- the news had to do with my favorite topic – wild beer. DW and AM were joined by jeffers richardson and “sour jim” crooks from their barrelworks program, who poured samples of their upcoming (and very impressive) bretta rose and let it slip that many future wild projects were in the works. I was stoked to hear that these projects involved collaborating with andrew murray and aging on both grape juice and pomace – we tried samples of both techniques and I was excited to see the potential for pomace aging (it imparted a vivid strawberry character that was very unique). later that night I was able to share some bottles of cabrillo, vizcaino, and my kriek while talking shop with the whole crew.
- the next morning we cruised up to the paso robles facility where head brewer dustin kral gave us a comprehensive tour of FW’s latest developments, including massive fermentation space increases as well as intricate kegging and canning(!) lines, which should help streamline production and make it even easier to get fresh beer in your hands (I’m pumped for the possibility of some canned pivo pils in the future)! speaking of fresh beer, we also participated in a quality control tasting session, where we saw firsthand how age and warm temps warp fresh, hoppy beer into something less than desirable. I’ll have to bring the whole QC thing up the next time AP questions the three beer fridges humming along in the basement.
- the trip ended with a bang over at villicana winery, home to RE:FIND distillery. alex and monica villicana treated us like family, walking us through their four-run distillation process on their alembic still and talking us through a gin blending session that resulted in one-off custom gin and tonics. we finished the night with an amazing outdoor dinner provided by FW’s chef that was accompanied by outstanding custom cocktails and FW beers. before leaving, alex and monica presented us with bottles of writer’s blanc, a white whiskey commemorating the LABB weekend that was made by distilling a massive quantity of FW’s 805 blonde ale. I was humbled not only by the thoughtfulness and generosity of FW and RE:FIND, but also by the spirit itself – like their brandy, the whisky has wonderful character and body, especially when compared to many white/neutral spirits. the fact that they re-purpose an otherwise disposable juice cut to make their brandy is icing on the cake. I cannot overstate how cool this place was to visit.
- on the ride back to LA my head was spinning (and not because of the parabola JV cracked open to share on the blogger bus). collaboration, innovation, community pride/support, and local sourcing of high-quality ingredients to create a great product with a local identity are all ideas that FW champions, and those ideas make it easy to stand behind a brewery, regardless of whether they make a world-class product (which FW undoubtedly does). the weekend left me inspired and motivated to not only continuously strive to improve my own brewing/business processes, but to also appreciate and support an area for what makes it unique. thanks again for a great weekend!
Archive for the ‘ideas’ Category
- as a result, I was motivated to create something in the same vein as beers like orval, rayon vert, brux, etc.
– beers that are somewhat sessionable yet earthy and spicy, with a rocky head and a funk that grows over time in the bottle/keg.
- I was also intrigued by beers such as the historic ballantine IPA that was supposedly aged for a year in oak and aroma hopped with hop extract, and wanted to incorporate some of those unique characteristics as well to create a unique “wood aged brett pale.”
- I ended up going with a grain bill of maris otter, vienna, crystal 80 and 40, and wheat for a solid malt backbone, with a starting gravity of 1.062. I bittered with columbus and added late aroma additions of chinook and simcoe for layered pine notes and a smooth bitterness (~55 IBU).
- for fermentation purposes, I split the batch between ECY17 burton union and WLP510 bastogne. I had originally planned to go with ECY10 old newark (one of the original ballantine strains) but my starter was so violently active (after less than six hours) the majority of top cropping yeast blew out of my erlenmeyer flask and my leftover pitch didn’t go anywhere. east coast yeast is the only provider whose vials I will directly pitch into wort without stepping up (the ECY17 vial took off in only an hour or two after pitching).
- after two weeks in primary at a controlled 65F, the WLP510 fermentor was at 1.01 and the ECY17 fermentor was at 1.013. I racked both into corny kegs, primed with 2.5oz. sugar, and pitched orval bottle dregs into each. I was planning on adding an american oak cube to each keg as well, but didn’t have any lying around. I am also tossing around the idea of dry hopping them before serving (which might be challenging now that I primed the kegs).
- I’m planning on tapping the kegs after three months and seeing which version works better with brett. the base beers both tasted great during kegging, so hopefully they’ll keep improving!
as hinted in my earlier post, I decided to use my new freezer real estate to jack (fractionally freeze) my cider.
- originally intended as a basque-style cider served in sagardotegis, after two years(!) in a keg my cider was dry and satisfying, but not significantly funky or complex, as I had hoped (I believe this has to do with apple selection, wild yeast availability, and the quick initial fermentation brought on by simple apple sugars).
- as a result, with a little under four gallons of cider hogging one of my four house taps, I decided to free up space and simultaneously create some holiday-appropriate hooch by jacking the cider.
- although my previous attempt at jacking/eising was successful, it was slow and involved significant oxygenation of the resulting product. in fact, most online eising references suggest simply freezing your beer/wine/cider in a plastic gallon jug, inverting said jug over a receptacle, and letting the end result trickle out of the bottom over the course of a two hour period until the ice in the jug is clear. although this technique would seem to maximize yield, it would do so at the expense of a higher proof (and oxygenates the hell out of the liquid as it drips out).
- as a result, I decided to try a different technique for jacking my cider. first, I transferred the cider from a 5 gal corny keg into a 2.5 gal corny keg (after purging the latter with CO2), leaving about a third of the keg empty to allow for expansion during freezing. then I tossed the smaller keg into the freezer of my new kegerator for a 24hr period. after removing the keg from the freezer, I knocked the bottom of the keg against the ground a few times to center the ice in the keg.
- I then purged some sanitized bottles with CO2, tapped the keg, and began filling the bottles from the tap (my growler filling insert/tube didn’t fit my portable tap or I would have used that as well to further limit oxygen exposure while bottling). at first, the tap yielded a small trickle of liquid (presumably from ice in the dip tube), but after a little pouring, shaking, and knocking, all the ice was dislodged and my bottles filled up in a matter of minutes.
- after no more liquid could be poured from the keg I popped the lid and saw that at least 2/3 of the keg’s volume had turned to ice. I dumped this ice in my sink, but it would be possible to use the drip method described above to wring out every last drop of cider and increase your yield.
- now for the tasting notes:
- applejack (sampled ice cold immediately after jacking)
- appearance: straw gold, minimal carbonation, hazy (likely due to chill haze)
- aroma: boozy, floral, apple esters
- taste: palate coating and prickly, strong warm apple
- overall: a great, easy drinking holiday alternative to standard cider
- my 3.5-4 gal of 7%abv cider yielded approximately one gallon of applejack. the results of my jacking method were great – compared to other drip methods, “keg jacking” is much faster (10 min vs. 2 hours+), results in a higher proof result (at the cost of a reduced yield), and minimizes oxygen exposure. I’m definitely planning on repeating this process with my next cider.
after over three years of dutifully servicing hundreds of homebrew pours, my keezer/kegerator gave up the ghost.
- it wasn’t too surprising, as I had purchased the chest freezer used, and cycling the freezer repeatedly to act as a refrigerator using an inline temp controller couldn’t have been good on the compressor. despite the significant effort I had put into my now-dead keezer, I wasn’t too sad to see it go. the lack of air circulation and humidity control resulted in an accumulation of moisture that even a large dessicant couldn’t control, and it was always a pain swapping in full kegs since they had to be awkwardly lifted to fit over the lip of the keezer collar.
- therefore, my replacement was a full-size refrigerator. I scored a used model on craigslist that matched my other basement fridge – many thanks go out to MS for helping me swap fridges though my narrow basement staircase. after getting the fridge into position, I cut one head off a full-sized barrel using a sawzall and mounted it to the fridge using some threaded bolts. four faucet holes and a little internal hacking/improvising later resulted in a kegerator that clearly conveys my preferred aging vessels.
- the fridge fits four corny kegs without modification (with room for bottles in two bottom drawers), and my tiny CO2 tank tucks nicely into the door. as a bonus, the freezer seems sizable enough to start working on some more ice concentration projects. a little thanksgiving applejack, anyone?
it’s hard to believe that it has been over eight months since I first pitched bkyeast’s isolates into some neutral blonde wort to experiment with.
- the initial tasting was a little underwhelming, likely due to the fact that I hadn’t given each strain enough time (only about a month) to work its magic. therefore, I stashed some bottles aside and promptly forgot about them until a few weeks back, when I popped them into the fridge to chill. here are the results.
- WY3191 brett isolate
- appearance: fluffy white head that lasts, good clarity
- aroma: citrus, lemon, earth
- taste: dry, lemony, slight mustiness, great prickly carbonation, slight acidity
- overall: very tasty, great end product, good option for a long-term saison
- cantillon iris isolate C2
- appearance: bubbles rush to top of bottle when opened, fluffy, fine head
- aroma: complex dirty funk with slight medicinal edge, unique, almost floral
- taste: creamy, coating mouthfeel, slight perceived sweetness
- overall: interesting aroma, lacks the dry effervescent brettiness that I prefer
- cantillon iris isolate C3
- appearance: vigorous, fluffy, long-lasting head
- aroma: chalky, fruity hard candy, medicinal finish
- taste: creamy, sweet, floral
- overall: another interesting result with good carbonation, just not as exciting or dramatic as WY3191
- in the end, I preferred the carbonation, finish, and acidity of the WY3191 isolate. who knows, maybe it will make another appearance in the future…
last weekend’s firestone walker invitational was incredible.
- after reviewing my photos of the event, it became clear to me that the focus of the invitational was on relationships – friendships between brewers, media, and industry representatives, valued business and social ties between producers and consumers, and the intertwining of a brewery and its community. the majority of my shots were portraits of those involved with and passionate about beer and its associated culture, local to international in scope. as the day progressed I discussed current events with south bay media, caught up on the latest releases from northern california, the midwest, and the east coast, and swapped beers and stories with brewers from as far away as germany and japan.
- oh, and then there was the beer. the available selection at the festival was over-the-top, and included dozens of world-class beers of all styles and gravities, from the palate-assaulting three floyds barrel aged dark lord and cigar city’s brandy barrel hunahpu to the sessionable birrifico italiano tipopils and refreshing barrelworks/mikkeler lil’ mikkel. those examples were just the tip of the iceberg – the selection was really comprehensive and unique, and was likely the best I’ve ever encountered at an event.
- my unforgettable barrel journey to paso robles was my first exposure to the passion and generosity of firestone walker, and the fw invitational picked up right where the former left off. both satisfying and inspiring, this event is one I can’t wait to revisit for many years to come.
seven months had passed since I pitched my house slurry into my dark saison wort, so I broke out my autosiphon, a keg, and some bottles and got busy.
- the beer finished at 1.005 (6.5 brix) for a final ABV reading of 7.07%. my gravity sample had an assertive, rich fruit aroma and a smoother sourness than what I remembered from my first dark saison batch.
- in addition to kegging five gallons and bottling close to five more, I also racked around 2.5 gallons onto 2lb., 2 oz of frozen persimmons from my earlier harvest in celebration of my last last “sour” saison for the forseeable future (although I did save the slurry, so you never know…). after six months the fruited batch will be bottled, and we’ll see how the delicate persimmon notes add to the total package here (or if they can stand up to the already prominent fruit presence in the beer).
- after contemplating multiple sampling techniques, I decided to avoid unnecessary oxygenation by pulling a my sample from a small hole drilled into the barrel head. from what I have read, vinnie cilurzo of russian river pioneered this method, and his advice proved to be right on the money. you can check out funk factory’s tutorial as well (however, I would drill the hole about halfway up to reduce the force of the sample stream). also, be sure to be ready with a glass and stainless nail at hand before drilling (mise en place!).
- my sample came in at a gravity of 1.005 (5.45% abv). I took the following notes:
- lambic solera
- appearance: pale gold with sediment in suspension
- aroma: assertive barnyard with lots of funk
- taste: tannic with a complex funk up front and a lemony, acidic finish
- overall: I’m very happy where this is headed at 10 months, and am excited to see further development (increased intensity in flavors/aroma?)
- It’s going to be hard to hold out for another couple of months with this one, but I have a good feeling it will be worth the wait…
has it really been six months since my last house saison went in the fermentor?
- as I had mentioned during the last house saison brew day, even though I was more than pleased with how my house saison line had evolved (and had gotten very positive feedback from the tasting public), I felt that the beers themselves were a bit redundant. more specifically, I feel as though my house saisons had become dark and light versions of a “wild” beer instead of a “saison,” and I also considered white and banning to be superior to their house saison equivalents (e.g., they had a more balanced acidity, a more complex/deeper funk, etc.).
- as a result, I decided to rework my “house saison” six-month fermentation lineup by focusing on a rustic, somewhat high gravity base beer finished long-term with brettanomyces:
23 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 80.7 % 3 lbs Wheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 2 10.5 % 2 lbs 8.0 oz unmalted spelt, cereal mash Grain 3 8.8 % 4.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 24.4 IBUs 1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] – Boil 15.0 min Hop 5 3.0 IBUs 1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 6 0.0 IBUs 1.00 oz Saaz [4.00 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 7 0.0 IBUs
- I ended up with an OG of 1.067 and initially fermented at 69F with a stepped up starter of WLP565. hopefully the saison yeast will stall in about week (as this strain is prone to do), at which time I will add a vial of WLP650 (as well as an oak cube or two). I also mashed at 155F to slow down the sacc and help give the brett a foothold. the relatively high mash temp (and use of unmalted spelt) should counteract any thinness caused by the serious attenuation of my yeast blend.
- during the main mash, I performed a cereal mash on the unmalted spelt addition, following my earlier unmalted wheat mash method. to avoid a stuck mash, I added copious amounts of rice hulls to the cereal mash before adding it to the main mash tun (it worked like a charm). the spelt should add some depth and mouthfeel to the finished product, as well as some complex fermentables for the extended fermentation.
- after six months in the fermentor I’m planning on dry-hopping this batch with 2 oz. of EKG and 1 oz. of saaz for a week before bottling/kegging. then it will be time to formulate its dark house counterpart!
during the last couple of weeks I set aside some time between the lights and action of the holiday season to finish up some projects from the last few months.
- first up was the bottling and kegging of the three variations of the rye amber I brewed a month ago. the five gallons of all-brett B (FG: 1.008, ABV: 5.83%) and standard saison (FG: 1.005, ABV: 6.3%) each went into kegs, while the two gallons of saison/brett blend (FG: 1.006, ABV: 6.14%) were bottled. after some thought, I primed with brown sugar for a little extra depth in the finished product – the molasses in the sugar seemed to complement the nuances of the saison in particular.
- upon tasting samples of each variety, the saison predictably produced the most assertive aroma and flavors, while the brett B variety was somewhat neutral. however, after recently tasting a matured version of my all brett B blonde, I’m confident that the brett complexity will develop in the rye amber (the blonde had a very refreshing, funky, and dry brett character after a month in the fermentor and another in the bottle).
- WY3191 brett isolate: decent carbonation, clear gold, transparent; lemony, tart aroma; clean taste with a slight bretty lemon back; mellow and drinkable
- cantillon iris isolate C2: very little carbonation, amber gold, transparent; funky fruit nose; floral earthy taste; pretty good depth/complexity, may add something interesting to a saison or wild beer, seems like it would take a while to fully develop
- cantillon iris isolate C3: very light carb, amber gold, transparent; light stone fruit, characteristic brett finish; like C2, would make a good complementary fermenter, like C2, may have to wait a while for all the flavors to round out here
in addition, I finally got around to waxing a bunch of bottles for the long haul.
- I waxed up my mead, banning, and apricot lambic bottles with dark grey wax, which represented the last of this year’s vintage. I hit my bottles with a different color wax for easy age identification and display consistency. I also buy my wax in big bulk chunks that I melt down in a larger coffee can over the stove and then pour into a small tomato paste can for bottle dipping so that the melted wax can reach further down the neck of each bottle.