Mid-Week Mini-Mash: Fake Flanders Red (Sour)

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Last night, and probably much against my better judgement, I decided to get another mid-week mini-mash on.

I find the mini-mash style of brewing (see here: https://yeastismybitch.com/2015/10/30/first-steps-in-all-grain-brewing-the-mini-mash/) particularly satisfying as it means I can try things out without sacrificing 23L of wort and several hours of work; plus of course, it’s a doddle to clear up.

The mini mash also helps me to prove to myself that I’ve still got the moves and can hit my targets as an all-grain brewer, especially as my bigger brews are mostly done in the partially automated Braumeister…

So, a Flanders red, eh?  It’s a style that I dearly love: you know, solid and malty with a good sour tang and a delightful acetic acid/vinegar edge.  If it helps at all, try to think of balsamic vinegar…that sort of theme.  Is that better?

The malt bill for this recipe was (very loosely) based on recipes for Rodenbach/Duchesse de Borgogne clones that I’d seen on the web – albeit with substitutions based on what I had kicking about in the grain box:

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The mashing happened at between 66 and 67C as I was busy with other things whilst it did it’s bit on the stove-top.  I’m not a stickler for maintaining temperature too closely when it’s such a small batch, and north of 66C and south of 70C was my mash temperature window.  That range should also provide a slightly less fermentable wort for any Brettanomyces present to get chewing on.

All went off OK, but I did taste the wort towards the end – and that one gram of Magnum in the recipe seems to have imparted a little more bitterness than I cared for, so let’s hope that it doesn’t upset the Lactobacillus too much (Lacto doesn’t generally flourish when there’s too much hop bitterness, hence only 8IBUs in this recipe…I’m hopeful that L. Plantarum is a bit more hop tolerant than others I’ve heard about)

And yes, a 45 minute boil!  Whatever next!  And with Pilsenser malt too!  Aren’t you worried about a DMS bomb and lack of hop isomerization, Jon?!

Umm, no.  Bitterness, is bitterness as far as I’m concerned, and in all my brews so far I’ve never come across DMS yet; Although, If I get it this time I’m prepared to eat my words…but, to be on the safe side, I did boil the wort rather violently…

Yeast-wise, as this was a tiny 1 gallon batch, I wasn’t going to jizz away seven or so quid on the traditional Flanders “Rosealare” yeast ‘n’ bacteria culture – instead relying on the yeast and Lactobacillus and god-knows-what that came out of the fermenter that had my (puzzlingly, well-fermented) Berliner Weisse in.

I just did a standard yeast wash procedure (https://yeastismybitch.com/2015/06/01/washing-and-re-using-yeast-for-fun-and-profit/) on the gunk left after bottling the Berliner – and stuffed the washings in the fridge; oh yeah, and I also threw in some bottle dregs from a Lindemans Cuvee Rene that I polished off last week, too.

This delightul yeasty soup should contain Lactobacillus Plantarum, an unknown but plucky brewers/wild yeast of some sort and assorted other yeasts, Lacto cultures and Brettanomyces strains from the Cuvee Rene sediment.

The fun thing about all this is that I’ve no clue how long this will take to get going, ferment right out, drop in acidity and then eventually drop bright and clear.

What larks…

I’ll post updates.

PS: 8am yesterday morning and the airlock was starting to bubble, so that’s a good sign.

Belgian Dubbel with Cherries – Tasting

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Well.  It seems I’ve managed to produce a largely clean (i.e. non-Sour) beer in the time it normally takes to produce a full-on aged and soured beer.

But look at it…doesn’t it look pretty?

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This was supposed to be last year’s Christmas beer…but it’s sort of ended up being this year’s potential Christmas beer.

Here’s the original post and recipe: https://yeastismybitch.com/2015/10/01/deck-the-halls-with-festive-bollocks-a-christmas-belgian-dubbel-with-cherries/

As I said in the post, I was hoping it’d only sit for a couple of weeks on the fruit, but it seemed so happy and looked like it was having another ferment so I put it into two demijohns under airlock and forgot about it.

I bottled it a few weeks ago (a year later) and now it’s time to taste…

As I said previously, it’s a nice colour with a good running bead.  I got the carbonation smack-on this time.

The nose is largely neutral, clean smelling but with some trace of fruit.

The body is thin, and we’re not exactly in complexity-central with the taste.  The finish is fairly dry and there’s some fruit – but it’s not sweet fruit, it’s fermented out fruit.

It’s not particularly sour as such, but there is some tartness – and that’s coming directly from the sour cherries, so it’s a malic acid (think crab apple sharpness) sour contribution rather than any microbial action – and that malic acid might also be contributing to the overall dryness.

I can’t discern any Brett character, so what we’ve got here is probably an aged dry fruit beer…a style that I seem to have invented, only for it to fall immediately into obscurity.

I’m in two minds about whether I like it or not.  I can’t quite work out whether the malic acid is too much, or if it’s a bit “something and nothing”.  I’ll keep a few bottles back and see how it goes…another year can’t hurt, can it?

Next time I try this: I’ll ferment the base beer cleanly, then bung in fruit and a culture of lacto and some interesting bacteria to do the job properly.

Keep your eyes peeled for that one…

In the meantime, I’ll let my taste-testers deliver the final verdict…

PS: The un-fruited Belgian that this beer is based on is still going strong – which is code for still having bottles of it left; big corked bottles too.  I tried one the other week and it’s not bad at all, despite my initial misgivings.  So there’s a lesson for us all…age your Belgians for a year or so in the bottle and see how they change.  Same for Saisons: I have one coming up on two years in the bottle – I’m looking forward to trying one of those at Christmas…

Cider Day 2016

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Why am I doing this?  I’m not even really that keen on cider…but I know a lot of people (including my nearest and dearest) who are…

I live next door to a farm that has a reasonably-sized orchard and my neighbours are more than happy for me to take away the windfalls.

So I did – a whole two wheelbarrows-full.

Next I popped to Hops and Vines in Witney to hire a scratter and cider press from the ever-cheerful and ever-helpful Archie and Jenny.

As it was a weekday in the midst of the school holidays we set up a production line: the kids washing the apples in a bucket, Eve halving them and me scratting and putting the occasional turn on the cider press.

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We probably only had a couple of hours in total to do our pressing, so it was wash, hack, scrat and press as quickly as we possibly could; and, looking at the wheelbarrow – full of not entirely squeezed-dry pomace – we had left afterwards, I’m sure we could have forced a fair few more litres out.

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But, we ended up 21 or so litres – and that’s probably about enough for me, Eve and a few “bribeable” colleagues and public officals*

(*I lied about the public officials…there’s laws about bribing those sort of people for Chrissakes…)

In all it took about a half-hour to clean-up, get the stuff back to Archie and Jenny and the juice into the fermenter…

So all of that sounded rather jolly didn’t it?  Hack, scrat, squeeze and then ferment – how easy is that?

Not very, that’s how…

Prepare yourself for heartache that has been the last 10 days:

I moved the fermenter full of juice to the spare room, and after letting it settle for a bit, stuck in 3 level teaspoons of Campden powder, sloshed the lot about and put it under airlock.

The idea being that the Campden powder (Sodium Metabisulpate) should kill off the wild yeasts and bacteria so that I could get a reliable ferment from a packet of cider yeast…or so the plan was.

After two days the sulphur dioxide produced by the Campden powder should have been largely gone, so I pitched a packet of Gervin G13 cider yeast – taking care to rehydrate it with warm (but cooled from boiling) water from the kettle.  Once the yeast was creamy and well-hydrated I just dumped the lot in and left it to it’s own devices.

Unfortunately it’s main device over the next two days was to do precisely eff-all.  Despite me rousing it every six hours, it still did nothing.

Alarmed by it’s lack of acticivity I added some pectolase (I’d like my cider clear, I think) and waited a few hours while the juice dropped clear, and then – after deciding that the sulphiting might have killed the Gervin cider yeast -I added some re-hydrated Lalvin Champagne yeast.

In the next two days – and despite regular rousing – it again did precisely sod-all.

I even added a little yeast nutrient and moved it to the warmth of the airing cupboard to try and gee things up a bit…

…nothing, nowt, zip, nada.

After speaking to Archie and Jenny again they gave me a consolation packet of Mangrove Jack cider yeast – which I made into a starter with some juice from the fermenter, mixed 50/50 with boiled and cooled water.

I waited for the starter to get foamy and then dumped that in. Archie also suggested maybe some oxygen was required, so in went the sanitised stainless airstone and 30 seconds of pure oxygen was bubbled through the fermenter.

Two days later and I wasn’t exactly at high krausen, I was more at a sort of “high scum” with an occasional bubble of CO2 from the yeast sediment at the bottom of the fermenter.

Something was happening…albeit very slowly.

A day later and there was a thick and creamy krausen on the surface with some tantalising, but infrequent, bubbling.

Sunday morning the krausen had dropped and was replaced by some rather more violent activity: a swirling hell-storm of a ferment, with streams of bubbles whirling around in the now-turbid apple juice.

The surface of the juice resembled champagne in a saucer-glass with a vigorous effervescense dancing on the surface.

As each bubble burst it sent forth a fine mist of liquid – which hung like a thick fog under the glass of the carboy.

Now I’m worried that it’s gone slightly too crazy and we’ll be in fusel alcohol city, but there’s no malt in it, it’s just apple juice and the packet of yeast says it’s fine to ferment anywhere between 12 and 28c (I wish I had that temperature band for beers!)…I guess we’ll just have to see what comes out at the end.

At this rate I suspect it’ll be done in a couple of days…and then it’ll need at least two weeks for the acetaldehyde to be cleared up by the yeast and the whole lot will need to drop clear.

The take-aways?  God, I don’t know: Be patient? Oxygenate two days after sulphiting? Don’t make cider again unless you’ve got a strong mental outlook?

This whole think makes me realize how comfortable I’ve got with fermenting beer…I haven’t had one exercise and prey on my mind as much as this bloody cider…

Should I try wine next? Am I really that much of a glutton for punishment?

Cider updates will follow…

Hops and Vines: http://www.hopsandvineshomebrew.co.uk/