Sour Blond with Apricots – Recipe & Review

Sour Blond with Apricots

Sour Blond with Apricots – Light and Refreshing

One of my all-time favorite flavor combinations in beer is that magical concoction of a lightly sour blond ale and ripe acidic apricot. For me, this is one of the preeminent examples of synergistic beer formulation.

This particular beer starts with a lightly tart base beer provisioned with an ample, earthy Brett funk and naturally occurring stone fruit-like fermentation esters. The sour base reinforces the inherent acidity in the fruit while the slightly phenolic Brett funk finds harmony with the somewhat tannic and earthy qualities that the apricot skins bring to the table. Apricot sour beers can easily become overly acidic (to my palate)/ So with this beer I hoped to start with a mellower sour base beer in order to prevent too much sharp acidity after the fruit had been added and fermented out. If you’re looking for an insanely sour fruit bomb like Cantillon Fou’Foune, you probably don’t want to use this recipe (or, if you do, bump up the fruit addition). If you prefer a mellower, more nuanced beer, then this recipe is on point.

Sour Blond with Apricots Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 62% (no sparge)
Attenuation: 83%

Original Gravity: 1.048 (does not consider apricot puree)
Terminal Gravity: 1.008
Color: 4.77 SRM
Alcohol: 5.23% ABV (calculated, does not consider apricot puree)
Bitterness: 0 IBU

Malt Bill:
5.0 lbs. (66.7%) Dingemans Pilsner Malt
1.0 lb. (13.3%) Briess Flaked Wheat
1.0 lb. (13.3%) Briess Flaked Oats
0.5 lb. (6.7%) Weyermann Carafoam

Mash Profile:
158°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4 g. Gypsum (to mash)
2 g. Calcium Chloride (to mash)

Hopping:
1 oz. Aged Hops (0.0% AA) – 90m

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

Yeast:
1L – Bioreactor A House Mixed Culture

Secondary Fruit:
3 lbs. 1 oz. – Vintner’s Harvest Apricot Puree. Added after 10 months of primary fermentation. Beer was allowed to referment on the puree for an additional 4 months.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28C Wild Specialty Beer

Aroma (11/12):
The beer features a complex bouquet of mixed-culture funk. The Brett character is strong with plentiful aromas of wet hay, grass, as well as some fruitier stone fruit elements. There is some acid character on the nose that is tangy and bright. The apricot aroma is somewhat nuanced but well-integrated with the funk, featuring an overripe, fermented fruit character. There is just a touch of grainy malt that sits in the background. I wish the apricot would pop a bit more against the complex fermentation-derived aromatics.

Appearance (1/3):
The beer is a medium golden with a slightly milky haze. Abundant white bubbles form a soapy head when poured, but quickly dissipate.

Flavor (13/20):
Initially the beer showcases a bright, medium-plus lactic sourness. This acidity is complementary to a bright, juicy apricot note that is reminiscent of nicely ripened fresh fruit. The complex Brett funk that was apparent on the nose is pretty subdued on the palate and gives way to the beer’s other fruity elements. The finish is somewhat short, leaving a one note impression of acid and fruit. There is a slight, plastic phenol on the finish.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
The beer is medium-low in body with medium-low carbonation. The beer feels a bit flat and could benefit from a bit more carbonation.

Overall Impression (8/10):
This is a nice, enjoyable fruited sour beer. The fruit melds well with the funky base beer, but would could benefit from a bit more concentration. The sourness in the beer is pleasing and clean without being over-the-top and palate destroying. Nice beer, although it may not stand out in a beer competition due to its more nuanced character.

Very Good (35/50)

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

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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.

Sun Shower Saison Review

Sun Shower Saison

After much planning and some apprehension, The Pour Report homebrew wife finally brewed her very first beer this summer. While the brew day itself went quite well, the final product, christened Sun Shower Saison, wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. Conceived as a refreshing, low-alcohol “tart, crisp, and slightly fruity beer” for the dog days of summer, Sun Shower was able to live up to most of what I’ve just described. The most disappointing characteristic was the flavors contributed by the saison yeast, specifically the peppery spiciness. While I’ve always considered myself a fan of saisons, I’m finding that my palette interprets the peppery spiciness as more of a distraction than a complement to the beer. On the flip side, I have discovered that there is no such thing as “too tart” when it comes to my palette and I wish Sun Shower had a little more tartness to it. As a result, I find myself very much disliking this beer and already have plans to rebrew this recipe with a different yeast. Stay tuned to see how Version 2 turns out…

Tasting Notes:

Jessie’s Review:

Judged against my original intent to brew a “refreshing, low-alcohol tart, crisp, and slightly fruity beer”

Aroma (8/12):
Peppery with a hint of ham (reminiscent of the carved ham station at King’s Table Buffet). When fresh, the Galaxy hops bring a nice melon (mainly cantaloupe) flavor.

Appearance (2/3):
Yellow-to-gold range (if there are any designers reading this, think PMS 7405). Relatively clear, but with very poor head retention.

Flavor (10/20):
Peppery spiciness with melon and a touch of salt. A subtle hint of barnyard funk and tartness.

Mouthfeel (3/5):
Very light body with seltzer-like qualities. Could afford to be more carbonated.

Overall Impression (5/10):

If I had set out to brew non-alcoholic water, I’d be ecstatic! But as it stands, I’m satisfied that my first beer came out without any major flaws.

Good (28/50)

 

Nick’s Review:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 34C Experimental Beer

Beer Description: Ultra low alcohol (3.0%) saison. Minimal malt, light fruity hop character, soft lacto sourness. Dry, crisp, effervescent, quenching.

Aroma (7/12):

A whisper of sulfury egg hits the nose first, but blows off quickly and is followed by a fairly prominent Belgian yeast note featuring some light peppery phenol, a touch of clove, and a subdued generic fruitiness. There is a touch of yogurt-like lacto and some soft hop aromatics reminiscent of mango, citrus, and perhaps a touch of pineapple and honeydew melon. The nose is subtle, but nuanced.

Appearance (1/3):
Pale gold with a light haze. A low white head forms, but quickly dissipates under a crackle of soda pop like fizziness. No retention whatsoever.

Flavor (14/20):
There is a soft bready malt flavor that is quickly underscored by a fairly expressive peppery yeast character. The beer is somewhat tart, although much less so than I would have expected given the pH tested at 3.14 prior to pitching Saccharomyces. The beer is bone dry. The hop flavor is generally fruity and citrusy, which plays nice with the acidity in the beer. There is no hop bitterness. The beer gives an impression of mineral water with an almost seltzer-like finish.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
Extremely low-bodied with spritzy carbonation. There is a slightly astringent tannin present. The beer is very quenching, although perhaps a bit watery.

Overall Impression (7/10):
This is a nice refreshing beer. I think to be on target with the recipe’s design intent it needs a bit more tartness and residual body to make it more sessionable and expressive.

Very Good (31/50)

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)