Apricot Gueuze-style Review

Apricot Gueuze

The leftovers from a broader Gueuze-like blending session, transformed with apricot.

Over the course of three years, I brewed three different three-gallon batches of sour lambic-like beer that were ultimately further split into single-gallon vessels and fermented individually with a total of nine different mixed cultures. The end goal of this process was to select the best five gallons of beer and blend out a classic version of Belgian Gueuze-style beer.

While I was pretty happy with how the base blend turned out, I was left with an additional four gallons of beer that was less than stellar. The primary fault in these beers was that I dramatically over-hopped the early batches with roughly 1 oz. / gallon of aged Cascade hops. Even though these hops were declared to have 0% alpha acid by the vendor whom I purchased them from, they still managed to impart a fair amount of bitterness and astringency. I have since read accounts from other brewers, including Jester King, who relayed similar stories about the dosing rates of aged hops in their early spontaneous beer experiments. According to Jester King’s blog, they currently use approximately 1lb. / barrel (0.5 oz. / gallon) of aged hops in their spontaneous beers.

Rather than toss the beer outright, I opted to rack the best three gallons into a new vessel and have it go through a secondary fermentation on three pounds of apricot puree. This was allowed to ferment for another four months before being packaged and bottle conditioned.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 23F Fruit Lambic

Aroma (7/12):
Overripe, juicy apricot is the primary aroma component, although there are some low, funky Brett aromatics that are somewhat grassy and hay-like. For being such a complex aged beer, the nose is rather simple, but still inviting. Malt character is almost nonexistent though there is a touch of light crackery malt.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer pours a hazy gold with a bright white, tightly bubbled and persistent foam.

Flavor (8/20):
Juicy apricot flesh is supported and enhanced by a medium-plus lactic acidity and sourness. There is an unfortunate bitterness and slight astringency that comes off somewhat harsh against the acid. The finish has a touch of an odd, somewhat metallic flavor that is hard to put a descriptor on. Brett funk is pretty demure on the palate and only comes off as a bit of earthy grass with the slightest whisper of plastic. The malt manages to be a touch bready and soft.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium body with fairly low levels of carbonation. More fizz would help lift the beer off the palate and, perhaps, allow a little more complexity to pop on the aroma. There is a tannic astringency that is not particularly pleasant.

Overall Impression (5/10):
Given that the origins of this beer was the rejected blending components from my gueuze blending session, I am happy that the beer retains a level of drinkability that wasn’t present in the individual blending components. The apricot has helped to soften the harsh bitterness and tannin from the original beers; although, not to the point where it isn’t a distraction on the palate. My hope is that as this beer continues to age, some of the harshness will mellow. Time will tell.

Good (23/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Homebrew Alley competition in NYC.

Mixed-culture Saison – Hops vs. Lacto!

Hoppy Mixed Culture Saison

Great head retention, on this beautiful golden saison.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the past couple of years maintaining a mixed culture of Sacc, Brett, and Lacto; and using it to make some pretty nice tart, funky saisons. The culture started its life as a blend of cultures grown from Saison DuPont bottles, The Yeast Bay’s Amalgamation Brett Blend, and White Labs Lacto Brevis. Over the 6+ generations I’ve used the culture, it continues to produce great beers that have an awesome Brett fruitiness that plays especially nicely with big punchy dry hops. Initially, I was very concerned that too much drift would occur in the blend of different organisms, but the culture has remained remarkably consistent in its fermentation characteristics—something I hope stays true for many more generations.

One thing that I’ve always known is that this mixed culture reacts differently to varying levels of kettle hopping, especially in terms of lactic acid production. I’ve observed this anecdotally over several batches, but never completed a side-by-side experiment. For fun, I decided to actually test the culture on two very similar worts to see just how different the beers would become.

For starters, I used the hoppy saison recipe that has turned out quite good in the past.

Base Saison Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 69%

Original Gravity: 1.050
Color: 4.45 SRM
Bitterness: 0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
5 lbs (71.4%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1 lb (14.3%) Flaked Oats
1 (14.3%) Weyermann Rye Malt

Mash Profile:
150°F – 60m
170°F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4g Gypsum (to mash)

Kettle Additions:
0.25 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.25 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Yeast:
Mixed Saison Culture

The Experiment

Two identical batches using the above recipe were brewed back-to-back. The key difference is that Batch 1 received hopping at the end of the boil in the whirlpool, whereas Batch 2 did not and was instead given a post-fermentation dry hop. Other analytic differences between the two batches are outlined below.

Batch 1  – Whirlpool Hopped at End of Boil
Hopping:
2 oz. Mosaic (12.3% AA) – Whirlpool 15 m
4 oz. Azacca (10.3% AA) – Whirlpool 15m

Attenuation: 76%
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Alcohol: 5%
pH: 3.27

Batch 2  – Dry Hopped Post Fermentation
Hopping:
No hops before fermentation.
2 oz. Mosaic (12.3% AA) – Dry Hop 2 Days
2 oz. Azacca (10.3% AA) – Dry Hop 2 Days

Attenuation: 80%
Terminal Gravity: 1.010
Alcohol: 5.24%
pH: 2.71

The Results

Both batches of beer turned out extremely unique (and quite delicious). I am guessing most people would be surprised to find out that the two beers were produced from the same mixed culture and remarkably similar recipes.

As expected, the whirlpool hopped beer developed significantly less acidity than the batch that was not hopped prior to fermentation. Tasting the beers, it is very obvious that the beer that did not receive kettle hopping is significantly more sour than the beer that was hopped in the whirlpool. That said, the whirlpool hopped beer did develop a light lactic tartness that is consistent with its 3.27 finishing pH.

It is also interesting to note that the kettle-hopped beer attenuated slightly less than the beer that only received a dry hop. I would have thought the opposite would have occurred with the lower pH inhibiting attenuation by the Brett / Sacc in the culture. The difference of .02 SG is probably not significant enough to draw any real conclusions, but it is an interesting anecdote.

The sensory aspects of the two beers are strikingly different. The beer that received kettle hopping ultimately developed a much higher level of the traditional flavors attributable to the Brett in the mixed culture (funk, overripe fruit) whereas the Lacto-heavy dry-hopped beer is much more two note with lots of acid and a significant fruity, dry hop character. It is unclear to me why the kettle-hopped beer developed more Brett character and it will be interesting to see if the dry-hopped beer eventually develops these characteristics. I hope to keep some of the beer around to see if the flavors ultimately converge at a single point or whether they continue to remain two incredibly different beers.

UPDATE: The dry-hopped version of this beer placed first in Category 28, American Wild Ale at the 2016 Joint Novembeerfest / Puget Sound Pro-Am.

Bioreactor Culture A – Gen 2

Bioreactor A2

Bioreactor A2 – Sour red with a subtle toasty background.

The somewhat laborious process of maintaining mixed cultures via what I’ve called, for lack of a better name, my Bioreactor Project is beginning to bear fruit (or in this case, sour beer). The recipe and review below represents the second generation fermentation of mixed culture “A”  grown up from the following beers:

  • Cantillon Gueuze
  • Tilquin Gueuze
  • Russian River Beatification
  • Crooked Stave Surette
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

I’ve managed to consistently maintain the bioreactor on a 4-month refresh cycle. The results so far have been positive, although I’ve noticed that the fermentations have rather sluggish starts, which is a bit concerning. If I were to implement this program on a commercial level, I would decrease the refresh cycle to something more reasonable, perhaps refreshing every couple months. Unfortunately, the practicality for doing this at a homebrew level is somewhat limited (at least for myself).

For this iteration of the recipe, I wanted to see how the souring culture might synergize (or clash) with a slightly toasty malt background. Vienna malt plays a prominent role in the beer bringing a subtle toasty note to what should be a fairly funky sour beer.

Specifications:
Size: 1.25 gal
Efficiency: 66%
Attenuation: 85%

Original Gravity: 1.054
Terminal Gravity: 1.014
Color: 11.13 SRM
Alcohol: 5.25% ABV
Bitterness: 0 IBU
Terminal pH: 2.60

Malt Bill:
2.75 lb (91.7%) Weyermann Vienna Malt
0.25 lb (8.3%) Weyermann Carared

Mash Profile:
160°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
Added to mash: 2g Calcium Chloride

Hopping:
0.25 oz Aged Cascade Hops (0.0% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.25 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15m
0.25 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10m

Yeast:
Bio Reactor “Culture A” – racked from a 4-month old fermentation using the same culture

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28B Mixed Fermentation Sour Beer

Aroma (8/12):
Prominent pie cherry, fruity Brett aromatics on the nose with a punchy level of lactic sourness. There is a nice soft, bready malt nose featuring light toast along with some oxidized dark fruit (think prune). Some of the more funky Brett aromatics of wet hay and earth are subtle, offering background complexity. As the beer warms, the beer exudes a nutty, almost Amaretto-like aroma.

Appearance (0/3):
The beer strikes a deep copper tone with light chill haze. A vigorous pour offers up a very slight white foam that quickly dissipates. The beer is a bit under-carbonated, making head formation a difficult task. Also not helping matters is lactobacillus’ ability to degrade foam positive proteins.

Flavor (12/20):
The beer strikes a medium acidity, primarily lactic in nature although a touch of acetic acid is perceptible. The first sip reveals a prominent THP flavor that is reminiscent of Cheerios, which is actually quite pleasant when tasted in concert with the lightly toasty Vienna malt base. There is a low level of residual sweetness which helps take the edge off of some of the stronger acetic acid notes. Interestingly, when tasted at 4-months old, the beer had a fairly robust plastic-like phenol which seems to have been transformed at this point into other more positive flavors.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium to medium-light body with a very low carbonation level. The beer is in desperate need of something to lift it off the palate; a task that the acidity only marginally accomplishes.

Overall Impression (6/10):
The beer falls a bit flat, but does offer up some interesting complexity, particularly in the commingling of some of the THP and toasty Vienna malt characters. The touch of oxidized malt flavor plays nicely with the Brett fruitiness—something that I think could become even more interesting if actual fruit (think tart pie cherries) were introduced into the mix.

Good (27/50)

Gueuze Blending for the Homebrewer

Gueuze Blending

The nine individual blending components spanning a 3-year-period that will become my Gueuze style beer.

Update 4/2/2017 – This beer placed 2nd in the first round of the National Homebrew Competition and will be moving on to the final round at Homebrew Con in Minneapolis.

All the way back in 2013 I started what was both my first mixed-fermentation beer, as well as the first part of a three-year long project to produce a Belgian Gueuze style beer. When I started the project, three years was an almost impossibly long time for me to look into my brewing future. I had only recently begun brewing again after a nearly seven-month hiatus following a cross-country move from Seattle to NYC. Committing the space, time, and cooperage to an extended project like this was definitely a leap of faith. But the funny thing with time is that it makes a habit of flying by and here I am, three years later, writing about my Gueuze blending experience.

In many ways, Gueuze transcends the boundaries of what we typically consider beer to be. While the ingredients are basically the same as most beers we know, to those uninitiated to the world of sour, it is an entirely different beast. Acidic, fruity, funky, earthy, spicy, dry, spritzy—all of these commonplace Gueuze traits add to the synergistic complexity characteristic of these beers. It is a balance obtained through a rigorous blending process which ultimately produces a harmonious beer comprised of individual characters that on their own can be somewhat polarizing.

For me, Gueuze stands out not only for its delicious character, but also for the almost mythic process in which three annual vintages of Lambic beer are blended together to create the Gueuze blend. There is a romantic notion associated with the idea of blending different vintages of wild beers to create a happy harmony that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is pure liquid alchemy.

Blending Gueuze is not unlike the blending methods used by winemakers. As a vintner takes varying percentages of different grape varietals to produce a composite product, Gueuze production is approached in a similar manner. For my blend, I was able to choose between nine different 1-gallon batches—the result of splitting the original three batches three ways with secondary fermentation incorporating varying mixed cultures propagated from a host of commercial batches of beer.

2013
Base Culture: Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend

Secondary Cultures:
– Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
– Tilquin Gueuze
– Russian River Beatification

2014
Base Culture: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend
Secondary Cultures:
– Russian River Framboise for the Cure
– Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
– Blended House Culture of Various Origins

2015
Base Culture: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend
Secondary Cultures:
– Sante Adairius Cellarman
– de Garde The Duo
– Allagash Cuvee d’Industrial

Tasting and Blending

Gueuze Blending

From left to right: the three-, two-, and one-year-olds.

Tasting nine individual batches of beer can be somewhat complicated. Simply keeping track of each beer is a chore, as is understanding the traits of each specific component. I found it necessary to simplify the process and hone in on specific traits and characters that I wanted to balance out in the final blend. I focused on trying to think about each beer in terms of broad categories: fruitiness, alcohol heat, sweetness, dryness, bitterness, astringency, acidity, and funkiness. Knowing that I would only be blending out five gallons from my 9-gallon stock allowed me to be picky and only choose the best of the class for my blend.

On my first pass, I found that specific samples stood out as delicious examples that could stand on their own while others exhibited specific off-flavors or traits that would be a problem in the final blend. The 3-year-old batches all exhibited a rather bitter/harsh/astringent character—something that I’ve since chalked up to the somewhat high levels of hopping these beers incorporated (using hops that were labeled as debittered, but which I suspect maintained a fair amount of their bittering capabilities). This trait made me confident that the final blend would likely only include these batches in a somewhat minimal fashion where the astringency would act to produce mouthfeel, balance, and complexity without being overbearing.

Four out of the nine batches stood out from their peers as being pretty exceptional on their own. All of the 2-year-old batches and one of the 1-year-old batches had a great balance with moderate to high levels of fruitiness, acid, and complex funk. These would act as the base for my blend.

Once all of the batches were methodically accessed, I began the process of producing a handful of test blends. Using a graduated pipette I created varying blends for trial. Having a second palate throughout the entire blending process was indispensable. Luckily, The Homebrew Wife was around to lend her taster and expertise to the process. We all have varying tastes and sensibilities when it comes to beer. Having two or more tasters at your disposal helps to ensure you’re not blending something that is flawed due to a blind spot in your own taste buds.

Ultimately, the final 5-gallon blend utilized seven different blending components:

10% – 2013 w/ Tilquin Gueuze
20% – 2014 w/ Russian River Framboise for the Cure
20% – 2014 w/ Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
20% – 2014 w/ Blended House Culture of Various Origins
10% – 2015 w/ Sante Adairius Cellarman

2.75 gallons of the leftover beer was racked over to a clean carboy with 3 lbs of apricot puree for additional aging.

Packaging

After such a commitment of time, it was with a lot of anxiety that I packaged this beer. My main concern was achieving a high level of carbonation in the beer. This presents a challenge in terms of choosing the proper bottles as well as ensuring that the yeast in the beer can ferment out the priming sugar in such a harsh, acidic environment.

To achieve a high level of carbonation, I primed the beer with dextrose to a calculated 3.1 volumes of CO2 with the anticipation that I may receive a slightly higher level due to a low amount of additional attenuation in the 1-year-old portion of beer. When priming a beer to this level of carbonation, it is extremely important to use heavy glass bottles specifically designed to accommodate high carbonation. Using standard beer bottles to carbonate to this level will cause dangerous bottle bombs!

To hedge my bets in terms of achieving carbonation at all, I packaged the beers with a fresh slurry of Safale US-05 yeast that had been fermenting in a wort starter that was pre-acidified to a pH of 4.0 using lactic acid. This strategy was employed based on research completed by Matthew Bochman from Indiana University in regard to terminal acid shock for bottling conditioning yeast in sour beers. The IU study concludes that using an acidic growth medium to pre-adapt yeast prior to bottling conditioning in acidic environments can lead to better consistency in successfully bottle conditioning sour beers.

Tasting Notes

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 23E Gueuze

Gueuze Blending

The Final Blend

Aroma (12/12):
The beer emits a beautiful nose that is both incredibly complex, but also very refined and well composed. The aroma starts with a prominent lactic component intermingled and energized by intriguing fruity aromatics reminiscent of both pie cherries and some bright tropical fruit. The bright fruit is kept in check by a substantial amount of barnyard funk with aromas of leather, earth, and hay. No alcohol, nail polish, or other common flaws found in sour beers. Fantastic.

Appearance (1/3):
The beer is a medium gold with just a whisper of haze. The head is bright white with medium to low persistence.

Flavor (20/20):
Amazing. The beer is highly acidic, yet remains soft and supple with a balanced and quenching disposition. Somehow underneath the cacophony of complex yeast and bacteria-derived compounds, a beautiful touch of slightly sweet pilsner malt character remains. There is a light touch of tannin, likely from the aged hops, that brings another balancing agent to the table. The flavors fall along the entire spectrum of sour beer, from fruit to funk with beguiling flavors that elude flavor description. One of the best beers I’ve tasted.

Mouthfeel (5/5):
The beer leaves an overall impression of dryness and effervescence. The beer is quite light bodied, but the acidity provides a soft roundness.

Overall Impression (10/10):
It is not hard to love a beer when you are acutely aware of the dedication and sustained effort required to produce said beer. But falling in love with a beer is a whole different matter. And I am definitely in love with this beer. I can unequivocally say that this is the best beer I’ve ever created and believe it would hold its own if consumed alongside some of the best sour beers in the world. The beer manages to be wonderfully complex, but also incredibly approachable and highly quenching. Having learned a great deal about long-term aging, mixed-culture fermentation, and blending in the process of creating this beer, it is profoundly rewarding to have also arrived at such a satisfactory end product.

Outstanding (48/50)

Gueuze Blending

Looks like I’m not the only one that loves this beer.

 

Bioreactor Culture A – Gen 1

Sour-Cellar

The current state of my sour beer cellar. 20+ vessels (mostly 1-gallon) in various states of aging.

It’s been well over a year since I started my bioreactor project. What started as a method to maintain a single ‘house’ mixed culture has grown into maintaining 3 separate and distinct mixed cultures. Each of these cultures is refreshed every 4 months by brewing a new 3-gallon batch of beer and splitting it into (3) 1-gallon jugs for each culture. In addition to the 1-gallon refreshes, with every refresh I grow up a separate large slurry of one of the cultures and pitch it into a larger 3-gallon test batch.

Over a year in, the first of the cultures, “Culture A” (I know, very creative) has begun to produce the first finished 1-gallon batches of beer. The recipe for this beer and review is below.

“Culture A” Provenance

“Culture A” started its life as bottle dregs grown up from the following commercial beers:

  • Cantillon Gueuze
  • Tilquin Gueuze
  • Russian River Beatification
  • Crooked Stave Surette
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

bra1Bio Reactor – Culture A – Gen 1 – Recipe and Review

Specifications:
Size: 1.5 gal
Efficiency: 80%
Attenuation: 85%

Original Gravity: 1.054
Terminal Gravity: 1.008
Color: 3.95 SRM
Alcohol: 6.11% ABV
Bitterness: 0 IBU
Terminal pH: 2.86

Malt Bill:
2.25 lb (90.0%) Best Pilsner Malt
0.25 lb (10.0%) Briess Cara-Pils

Mash Profile:
158°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
Added to mash: 2g Calcium Chloride

Hopping:
0.25 oz Aged Cascade Hops (0.0% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.25 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15m
0.25 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10m

Yeast:
Bio Reactor “Culture A”

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28B Mixed Fermentation Sour Beer

Aroma (9/12):
Quite fruity and tart on the nose with aromas reminiscent of sour cherry, berries, and perhaps a little tart apple. There is a fair amount of Brett funk on the nose—hay, leather, wet earth, and then some cinnamon-like spice with a touch of plastic-like phenol.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer paints a deep golden hue with crystal clarity. The beer pours with a nice, white foam, but quickly dissipates, likely due to lactobacillus’ ability to degrade foam positive proteins.

Flavor (13/20):
The beer leaves an initial impression of stark dryness and acidity though manages to balance with just a touch of residual malt sweetness. There is a low crackery malt character that is amplified by a hint of Cheerios-like THP. The beer has a tannic character that is reminiscent of apple skins. Most of the funk exhibited on the nose is subdued on the palate. The acidity is primarily lactic in nature, which is somewhat surprising considering the abundant amount of head space that was in the carboy during aging.

Mouthfeel (3/5):
The beer manages to feel crisp in spite of what is a fairly low level of carbonation. The acidity is soft and round not sharp or biting. A little bit more carbonation would be a welcome addition.

Overall Impression (6/10):
This is a very nice, refreshing sour beer with just enough funky Brett aromatics to keep it interesting. While blending is typical in sour beer production, this beer manages to remain somewhat balanced without any additional intervention.

Very Good (33/50)