Archive for the ‘ideas’ Category

homegrown saison

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

with local temps hitting the low 90s, I knew there was only one style I could safely ferment without using a fermentation fridge – saison.

  • although I currently brew a house saison twice a year, that project turned sour quite some time ago, and I was in the mood for a relatively lower gravity beer that showcased local produce from my own backyard (and that I could server to friends who had not yet become accustomed to wild/sour beers).  as a result, I threw together a variation of a classic saison with some sweet orange zest from my backyard valencia orange tree and a homegrown vojvodina hop addition:
    • 18 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 81.8 %
      1 lbs 8.0 oz Wheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 2 6.8 %
      1 lbs Munich Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 3 4.5 %
      8.0 oz Caramunich Malt (56.0 SRM) Grain 4 2.3 %
      1 lbs Candi Sugar, Clear (0.5 SRM) Sugar 5 4.5 %
      4.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] – Boil 75.0 min Hop 6 29.8 IBUs
      1.80 oz Orange Peel, Sweet (Boil 5.0 mins) Spice 7
      2.00 oz Saaz [4.00 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 8 0.0 IBUs
  • I mashed at 147F and added a small orange’s worth of zest at flame out.  I guess the use of valencia oranges is apropos in a summer saison, since as it turns out valencias are the only orange variety in season during the summer.  I should note that a little zest goes a long way here – less than a tablespoon’s worth of zest was enough to create a pleasing but subtle orange aroma in 12 gallons of wort.
  • I also added to the wort 2.75 oz of last year’s homegrown vojvodinas, which are a hybrid of northern brewer, golding, and a wild yugoslavian hop.  the vojvodinas added some depth and variety to the herbal/spicy saaz hops I also added after the boil.  I also added a pinch of fresh ground pepper to the boil after reading about it a while back over at the mad fermentationist.
  • I hit a starting gravity of 1.058 and added a starter of wyeast 3726 pc farmhouse when the wort cooled to 89F.  you read that right – after reading some illuminating articles and forum posts, I decided to pitch at just under 90F to get the most out of this strain.  fermentation was visible overnight and is still chugging along (despite a surprising lack of krausen/blowoff).  after a month I’m planning on kegging and bottling seven gallons and racking the other five into secondary with some brett b for the long haul.




three years of

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

this week marks three years since the first blog post on












white II, new tap handle

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

after kegging and bottling the first run of white, I saved a few pints of slurry from the fermenter and put together the second version of this sour brown.

  • I only changed up a couple of recipe elements, subbing in my super-low alpha saaz hops for last year’s spalter (for 4 IBUs instead of 16) and mashing higher at 156F (12 gallon all-grain recipe):
    • 22 lbs Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 1 78.6 %
      3 lbs Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM) Grain 2 10.7 %
      2 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 3 7.1 %
      1 lbs Carafa III (525.0 SRM) Grain 4 3.6 %
      3.00 oz Saaz [1.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 5 3.7 IBUs
  •  I ended up taking a long phone call during the mash, which extended my mash time to close to 2 hours.  I’m thinking this helped boost my efficiency, since I ended up with an OG of 17.3 brix (1.072), which was a little higher than I would have liked.  I pitched the saved slurry with a single vial of WLP530, and in less than a day I had a raging fermentation with krausen blasting the cover off of my half barrel fermenter and pouring out the top.  a bout of hot weather forced me to start fermentation at close to 75F, but I have read online that the abbey yeast strain is very temperature tolerant and even thrives at warmer temps, so I have high hopes here.

after waxing and storing my vizcaino bottles for the long haul, I also got around to fabricating my second custom tap handle for my kegerator.

  • after the resounding success of my first tap handle experiment, I made a point to keep an eye out for potential tap handle material during my travels.  while playing some incredible disc golf over at solitude a few weeks ago, I came across a pile of aspen branches and scored a perfectly cylindrical chunk from the bunch.  after a little sawing and drilling, a wood insert nut was tapped into the branch and a new tap handle was born.  now I have reminders of two great trips on display every time I go to grab a pour in the basement.





ventura, dodger stadium

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

last weekend AP and I threw together a last-minute day trip up to ventura.

  • after battling unexpectedly heavy traffic on our way up, we finally broke free and made it over to surf brewery, a roomy brew pub that just celebrated its first anniversary.  we sat down with some take-out from a local deli and ordered up a flight of their current offerings – all were pretty decent, with their vienna lager and anniversary brown being the most memorable.
  • I was also excited to see a well-stocked homebrew store on premises that had a thorough yeast and specialty grain selection.  there’s nothing quite like planning out your next brew day and filling your grain bill while tossing back some local brews.  in fact, I’m surprised more craft breweries don’t offer at least a basic selection of homebrew supplies for sale that they already buy in bulk (e.g., base malt, common hop varieties, etc.).
  • after decompressing at surf, AP assigned a time limit and dropped me off at the wine castle to quickly peruse their inventory.  the store owner and employees were very enthusiastic and helpful, and their cooler selection was killer, with beers like new belgium’s brett beer and sculpin highlighting the lineup.  their bourbon selection was quite impressive to boot.
  • once AP dragged me out of the bodega, we headed to main street.  after battling the crowds and mediocre service at winchesters grill, we walked over to anacapa brewing for some consolation.  after pairing some decent food with some passable house brews, we decided our time was up and hit the road.
  • ventura was fun, but I have a feeling that next time we head up in that direction the superior beer and food scene in santa barbara might merit the extra 45-minute drive.

on another note, I was taken by surprise last weekend when ML went on a beer run at dodger stadium and came back with a couple healthy pours of firestone walker DBA (I was expecting an ice cold budweiser to go with my dodger dog).  after perusing several articles berating the poor beer selection at the stadium, I guess other dodger fans have higher expectations than myself (although I wouldn’t complain if some eagle rock or ladyface taps appear…).








thrashlab videos

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

the thrashlab videos I mentioned earlier have been posted, with cameos by yours truly along with some friends from eagle rock and pacific gravity.  the craft beer/homebrewing video paints a pretty concise picture of the current LA beer scene, and the how to homebrew video is a well-filmed oversimplification of me putzing around in the garage.  enjoy!

the craft beer video:


the homebrewing video:

imperial stout tasting, beer bargains

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012


after being sidelined with a nasty head cold last week, I celebrated getting back on my feet by cracking open a bottle of my imperial stout for a tasting.

  • after experiencing some carbonation issues, I hit the bottles with some wine yeast and set them down for a couple of weeks.  the new yeast did the trick, eating up the residual bottling sugar I had added earlier and carbonating up the bottles in a heartbeat.  my latest gravity reading indicates that the beer’s FG didn’t shift (it stayed at 1.02), so hopefully I won’t have to worry about the wine yeast eating some unfermented sugars and overcarbing the bottles (I’m still planning on testing a bottle every week for the next month though).
    • appearance: pitch black, even when held to the light.  1″ tan head fades to 1/4″ after a few minutes but sticks around.  a great looking beer.
    • aroma: intense roastiness with a bit of booze on the back end, slight hint of sweetness
    • taste: creamy mouthfeel with a sharp, dry finish and carbonic bite.  great roasted malt flavors but not a ton of complexity.
    • overall: this beer still isn’t my favorite, but the champagne yeast worked great and really transformed this beer.  it’s amazing how strong carbonation can completely change a beer’s profile.  hopefully the finishing bite created by the wine yeast carbonation will mellow over time.  I’m looking forward to comparing this to the version I finished with brett in the keg.


while kicking back with the aforementioned brew, I got to thinking about the frenzy surrounding “elite” beers here on the west coast – beers that are either exceedingly hard to find locally or costly when they do come around.  I know I’m not alone in feeling envious of locals of prominent foreign breweries who can cruise by their neighborhood watering hole at their leisure and pick up some extraordinary beverages for a song.  however, I have also come across consistent beer “bargains” on a weekly basis that (in my opinion) match the quality and complexity of their elusive style counterparts, often for a fraction of the price.



  • for example, anyone even remotely interested in craft beer has at one time lusted after a bottle of westvleteren 12, a limited-availability belgian quad that is admittedly delicious.  however, instead of shelling out $20+/bottle online or booking a flight to belgium, I recommend heading down to your local and grabbing a bottle or two of st bernardus abt 12, an equally tasty quad that goes for $4.99/bottle around here.  the similarities between the two beers are striking, which makes sense when you consider their shared history.
  • additionally, it seems that everyone and their cousin has a hard-on for anything cantillon these days.  it doesn’t help that the van roy’s creations are nowhere to be found in the state.  I have to admit, they might be my favorite foreign brewery and put out some incredible beers, but instead of chasing down cantillon’s geuze and paying a mint for it, I recommend nabbing some bottles of drie fonteinen’s oude geuze instead.  in fact, although cantillon’s kriek is safely in my top five beer list, I have to admit that I prefer drie fonteinen’s geuze to its cantillon competitor (and I’m not the only one). plus, I can easily get 375s of it (seasonally) for just $9.99, which in my opinion might be the best beer deal out there these days.
  • further, I know of a ton of guys who love orval with a passion.  however, it’s kind of hard to get behind spending $5-6 a bottle for a session beer during a barbecue.  plus, I’m never too sure how long my bottles have been sitting in some hot truck or warehouse on their way over.  as an inexpensive local alternative I recommend checking out green flash’s rayon vert, which is less than half the cost and tastes to me what I would imagine orval would be like from the source.  I reviewed both earlier HERE. 
  • other beers I could generally label as “bargains” when considering quality, price, and accessibility would have to be rodenbach grand cru ($9.99/750mL), old rasputin imperial stout ($8.50/4 12 oz.), and bigfoot barleywine ($14/6 12 oz.).  again, this is only on the west coast, so your results may vary.
  • as much as I like hitting the road to hunt down an elusive regional favorite, it’s reassuring to know that many world-class beers from around the globe are readily accessible from my own back yard.  enjoy!

june PG meeting, house saison IV, thrashlab visit

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

last thursday was the third thursday of the month, and as with all third thursdays, I headed up to culver city for pacific gravity’s monthly meeting.

  • I brought along bottles of my imperial stout and vizcaino for some sensory analysis – vizcaino’s bretty/fruity aroma and golden strong characteristics were well received, and the consensus regarding the imperial stout was that lack of carbonation and high finishing gravity hindered the overall package.
  • as a result, after kegging my clean portion of belgian amber and dosing the other portion with brett b, I individually opened each bottle of my imperial stout and re-yeasted them with red star premier cuvee dry wine yeast.  I contemplated trying a dry ale yeast first, but the beer’s high abv made me doubt that method’s success.  I plan on trying a bottle next week and chilling the bottles once adequate carbonation has been achieved to reduce the risk of overcarbonation.

I also got around to brewing the fourth iteration of my house saison after bottling the third batch last week.

  • keeping with my previous strategy of alternating light and dark variations, I strayed slightly from last year’s recipe with a few modifications, including the use of dark, pungent liquid candi sugar and low-alpha hops early in the boil (12 gal recipe):
    • 18 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (3.0 SRM) Grain 2 72.7 %
      1 lbs 8.0 oz Munich Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 3 6.1 %
      1 lbs 8.0 oz Wheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 4 6.1 %
      1 lbs 4.0 oz Carafa II (412.0 SRM) Grain 5 5.1 %
      1 lbs Caramunich Malt (56.0 SRM) Grain 6 4.0 %
      1 lbs Candi Sugar, Dark (275.0 SRM) Sugar 7 4.0 %
      3.00 oz Saaz [1.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 8 4.1 IBUs
  • I also mashed higher than normal at 156F and hit my target gravity of 1.059 (14.5 brix) exactly due to a smooth sparge/lauter.  I gave my house slurry a couple days head start and then pitched a single vial of WLP566, which took off in a few hours.  after brewing this batch I came to realize that what was once a slight riff on a saison has evolved into sours somewhat comparable to blanc and banning.  as a result, after this batch has been kegged and bottled, I plan on returning to brewing a standard saison (likely with a high finisher like WLP565) with a simple post-fermentation brett addition (maybe some WLP644?).
  • also, during the start of my brew day the crew from thrashlab (specifically, the subculture club derivative) stopped by to film a general homebrewing how-to as well as to interview me about my process/brewing history.  everyone involved was a consummate professional, and filming went fairly smoothly.  it was definitely neat to share my love of homebrewing and hopefully turn some more people on to the hobby.  stay tuned for a link to the final video(s), and be sure to scrutinize all minutiae and call me out on any mistakes…




house saison bottling, vizcaino notes, fixing barrel leaks

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

last week, while topping off airlocks in the fermentation room, I noticed that yet another six months had passed since my last house saison started fermenting.

  • after grabbing some bottles and other goodies from south bay brewing supply, I cleaned out a corny keg, blasted everything with sanitizer, and got to filling.  the saison finished at 1.004 for a final ABV of 7.5%.  the beer is light gold, crystal clear, and has nice acidity as well as a strong tropical fruit aroma.  I’m considering serving this through a randall stuffed with bright citrus hops or blending some of it with a standard saison.

I also got around to tasting my first batch of vizcaino that had been in the bottle for two months:

  • appearance: pale gold, fine but thorough effervescence, 1/4″ head that manages to stick around as the beer warms
  • aroma: fresh cut fruit/melon with slight esters and brett in back
  • taste: vanilla oak with a warming alcohol finish, slight bit of earthy brett funk in there as well
  • overall: although this beer lacked significant sourness due to a low mash temp and late lacto/pedio additions, the fruit and funk brought in by the brett do complement the overall package, although I’m not sure it was worth a year’s worth of aging…

I also noticed a slight leak at the bottom perimeter of one side of the head in my solera barrel that had slowly worsened to the point where a few ounces of beer had escaped (much to the delight of some fruit flies).

  • instead of waiting for some barrel wax in the mail, I tapped into some homebrewer ingenuity and rolled a small piece of warm water surf wax into a cylinder, which I then pressed into the seam of the barrel head with a pen tip and smoothed out by running the head of a small allen wrench along the seam.  worked like a charm!




secondary brettanomyces addition analysis, tasting

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

after sampling an older bottle of temptation last week, I was inspired to delve more into secondary brettanomyces fermentations.

  • initially, I read up on temptation’s powerful effervescence and dry, earthy funk.  it turns out that although most all clone recipes for temptation call for healthy additions of lacto and pedio, the real star in temptation is the brett.  in fact, vinnie himself notes that he “like[s] the Temptation for its straightforward Brett character” and that “[o]ver time, some Lacto and Pedio have infused in the beer, but it is minimal.”
  • tasting temptation made me realize that having a brett-specific beer in the lineup could be a refreshing accompaniment to sour-focused beers.  in fact, although I only detected a mild acidity in the beer, the complexity of the oak, carbonation, and earth made for a great experience.  therefore, I compiled a group of beers that included brett-based secondary fermentations for comparison:
    • orval (~1 yr old based on label)
      • appearance: amazing fluffy head that keeps expanding after the pour, vigorous fine carbonation, darker golden color (likely from an extended boil)
      • aroma: subtle, rich earth with spicy european hop notes
      • taste: spicy hop back with subtle, balanced earthy brett notes, delicate esters when glass warms
      • overall: I can see why this brew’s reputation precedes it – there is a very well balanced interplay between the hop bitterness and brett
    • rayon vert (relatively fresh)
      • appearance: slightly lighter than orval, still a solid gold with great head and carbonation
      • aroma: fresh, vibrant earthy hops
      • taste: less bitter hop back than orval, more assertive funk, still well balanced
      • overall: a great west-coast twist on a classic, fresh, balanced, and drinkable
    • matilda (2010)
      • appearance: golden color, almost identical to rayon vert (orval is darker)
      • aroma: sweet, oxidized malt
      • taste: sweet (almost cloying), slightly estery, oxidixed like an old barleywine
      • overall: not in the same ballpark as the other two, no brett character at all (maybe earlier versions are more bretty?)
  • In the end, I walked away with some observations and a few ideas for the future:
    • I was amazed by how well the fresh earthy dry-hop character of rayon vert complemented the earthy funk provided by the brett.  it was my favorite of the bunch, and gave me a little insight as to what orval may taste like before its journey westward.  I definitely need to set aside a four-pack to see what some age does to the bottles.
    • as much as I enjoyed the “slight brett in the pale ale” profile, I preferred the overwhelming brett character provided by the long-term oaked secondary fermentation of temptation to the at-bottling brett dosage from orval and rayon vert.  as a compromise, I’m thinking of mashing high (~155F), fermenting out with a belgian sacc strain for a week (or maybe just 2-3 days), adding brett B and orval dregs, letting the brett work itself out for six months, then dry hopping for a week and bottling/kegging.  that, and darkening the grist to add a little more body.  stay tuned…




may PG meeting, cider, belgian small beer, temptation notes

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

the third thursday of may was last week, which meant that I was headed to culver city for PG’s monthly meeting.

  • the monthly style was IPAs, which drew a ton of kegs (12+) and commercial bottles as well as a great crowd (the raffle was especially entertaining).  after resting my blown-out palate, I pulled the cork from a bottle of my cider, which had just turned the corner after being sick with pedio for several months (a good thing!).  I was pleased with the results and held a more detailed (and lupulin-free) tasting last night.
    • basque cider
    • appearance – pale gold, great clarity, very slight carbonation
    • aroma – earthy funk, sweet cooked apple, spice
    • taste – clean, light funk up front with a lingering apple finish, mellow acidity
    • notes – although not as funky as I would have hoped (aroma was stronger than actual taste), this is a great alternative to a standard cider and a good intro to the wild side for the uninitiated
  • I also had a chance to try out a small beer I had made in the parti-gyle method while sparging vizcaino II.  I collected around six gallons of wort at around 6 brix and pitched a starter of WLP500 that I decided to leave out of my main batch.  after adding about 1/3 gal of leftover sour cherry juice from cabrillo II, the beer finished at 2.8 brix for an abv of around 2.6%.
    • pinky (belgian small beer)
    • appearance – golden apricot color, fine effervescence, fluffy white head
    • aroma – light floral belgian yeast, clove spice, slight belgian phenols
    • taste – light and crisp with a dry, slightly bitter finish, palate scrubbing carbonation
    • notes – good budweiser sessionable alternative, lawnmower beer, could use during a tasting as a palate refresher
  • I also managed to choke down a three-year-old, delightfully bretty bottle of temptation (004X1) and pitch the dregs into vizcaino II.  it had been a while since I had tried that beer and I was somewhat surprised to find very little lacto or pedio sourness in the flavor profile – just a very assertive brett character reminiscent of orval that provided a fluffy, long lasting head and great carbonation.  hopefully some of that brett character comes through in vizcaino!