Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bottle Conditioned Beer

Few average beer drinkers are aware of the variety of packaging options--bottles, casks, growlers, filtration, bottle conditioning, pasteurization, krausening, etc.--and how these affect the product they receive.  In particular, bottle conditioned beers are very common and require special storage, handling, and serving practices to ensure the beer is delivered as expected.  They contain live yeast which are fed a measured amount of simple sugar to naturally produce carbonation before settling to the bottom of the bottle.  Bottles must be stored upright in a cool dark place--optimally around 50F--to prevent lightstrike, oxidation, and to let the yeast settle.  Before serving, the beer should be chilled to an appropriate serving temperature for at least 24 hrs to equalize the partial pressure of carbon dioxide, then poured into a clean glass, leaving the yeast sediment behind.  The dormant yeast is not harmful, but is not an expected part of the flavor profile for most beer styles.  Many of the finest beers in the world are bottle conditioned, but improper handling can ruin the beer.

Everybody knows the difference between a keg and a can, but besides beer geeks, few are aware of the variety of packaging options--bottles, casks, growlers, filtration, bottle conditioning, pasteurization, krausening, etc.--and how these affect the product they receive.  The packaging is intimately tied with the optimal storage and handling practices as well as serving conditions, and knowing how to treat a beer at each step can make or break a beer.

I don't have the time or space to cover everything--there are entire courses and books about the subject--but I do want to talk specifically about bottle conditioned beer and what makes it different from a can of Bud Light.  After all, this is the method I use for bottling my beers; if you're drinking one, I hope you're enjoying it in the best possible light.

Bottles vs. Cans
There's been a lot of discussion in brewing world lately over the difference between bottles and cans, as more craft breweries switch to cans.  Cans offer a number of advantages for commercial brewers: cheaper, thinner, lighter, more durable, better thermal conductivity (chills faster), tighter seal, lightproof, and product differentiation.  As a consumer, the most important difference to be aware of is that bottled beer is susceptible to lightstrike, also known as "skunking."  Light--especially the higher energy end of the spectrum where you'll find UV, blue, and green--causes the iso-α-acids (which give hoppy beers their bitterness) to break down into the same sulfur-based compound that gives skunk spray its offensive odor.  Brown bottles filter out most of this shorter wave-length light, protecting the beer better than green or clear glass, but you won't want to leave any bottle out in the sun all afternoon.  When treated properly, cans and bottles will deliver the same product, package-conditioned or otherwise, so it's primarily a question of convenience and marketing.

Bottle Conditioning
But what defines bottle (or can) conditioning?  Well when a beer is fermented, most of the yeast settles to the the bottom of the fermenter and goes dormant after it finishes its work.  However, a small percentage remains in suspension.  If the beer is then packaged with a small amount of simple sugar, this yeast will awaken and ferment the sugar, producing a small amount of alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The alcohol and flavor compounds produced will be insignificant compared to those produced during primary fermentation, but in a sealed package, the carbon dioxide provides natural carbonation.  The amount of sugar directly influences the amount of carbonation, allowing brewers to produce both smooth English ales as well as the effervescent Belgian products.

This is the traditional way of doing it, but what are the alternatives?  Well many brewers force carbonate in a holding tank before bottling instead of adding sugar, some filter out the yeast and other haze-inducing elements prior to carbonation, some pasteurize the yeast to get a more stable product, and others reintroduce a yeast (the same or a different strain) specifically for carbonation and conditioning.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each method, and the form of packaging often reflects the brewery's position vis-à-vis tradition, flavor, logistics, and budget.

In case you missed it, let me reiterate an important point: bottle conditioned beer contains live yeast.  This certainly is not harmful (even beneficial if you believe this interview with Jim Koch), but it means that the beer in your fridge is essentially a living thing and will continue to mature over time.  While they are not actively fermenting, yeast can continue to break down other fermentation byproducts and off flavors (such as harsh fusel alcohols) that made it into the finished beer.  Some styles benefit from aging--particularly strong beers like imperial stout or barleywine--as these undesirable flavors diminish or as other flavors creep to the forefront.  However, lighter styles (both in color and alcohol content) usually deteriorate as hop flavors fade and oxidation stales the malt.

There general advice for storing beer applies equally to all beers, but there are a few practical points that are especially important for bottle-conditioned beers:
  • Avoid extreme temperatures:  High temperatures accelerate oxidation in all beers, causing staling.  This is less of a threat in bottle-conditioned beers as the yeast scavenge oxygen during the refermentation, but will still happen eventually.  High temperatures also accelerate yeast metabolic processes.  This speeds yeast ageing and can lead to autolysis, or rupturing of the yeast cells, releasing unwanted flavors into the beer.  On the other hand, dropping the beer below freezing will also cause autolysis and risks rupturing the bottle.  The sweet spot is around 50-55F for long term storage, but a refrigerator works perfectly fine for your everyday beer.
  • Store upright:  Unlike wine, beer is best stored upright to minimize exposure to any oxygen in the headspace.  In bottle conditioned beer in particular, the yeast will settle to the bottom of the bottle.  If you're careful not to agitate the bottle, you can pour off the beer at serving and leave the yeast behind.
  • Drink it:  If you don't have a specific reason to cellar a beer, it's probably best to just drink your beer.  Some styles hold up better over time than others, but most pale styles like IPA, wheats, and pilsner are best before you even get your hands on them.

When you're finally ready to drink your beer, the first step is to get the beer to serving temperature.  This isn't as simple as throwing the beer in the freezer for 10 minutes and dumping it in a red Solo cup.  First of all, temperature has a big influence on both how the flavors are presented and how we perceive them.  Cooler beer releases fewer of the volatile aromatic compounds detected by the olfactory receptors in the tongue and mouth.  In addition, cooler temperatures on the tongue decrease sensitivity to both sweetness and bitterness.  There are plenty of resources online to help guide you in choosing an appropriate serving temperature for your beer, so I won't go into that here.

But temperature plays an important role even before the beer is served.  The carbon dioxide that forms carbonation is more soluble in beer at colder temperatures, and slowly diffuses back and forth between the beer and the headspace as it warms and cools.  It can take up to 24 hrs for a beer to reach equilibrium after being placed in the refrigerator, so allow your beer a day or two to sit at serving temperature (or refrigerator temperature is usually close enough for most beers) before serving.  Not only does this ensure the proper carbonation level, but allows the yeast to settle out, reducing the risk of gushers and producing a finer, denser head.

The same goes for glassware: the shape of the glass can affect appearance, carbonation, head retention, and aroma, and there are plenty of people online who will tell you exactly what you have to use and why.  Some of it is tradition, as in the case of Belgians where every beer has its own glass, but there is certainly a noticeable difference between drinking a beer in say a goblet and a pilsner glass.

But again, before the beer is even poured, the glass must be painstakingly prepared to receive the sacred elixir in an ancient ritual predating the Belgian abbeys known as "cleaning."  Seriously, cleaning is a big deal.  They say that cleaning is 90% of brewing (the other half is fermentation), and it doesn't end when the beer is packaged.  Anything clinging to the glass--besides being disgusting--provides nucleation sites for the carbon dioxide to come out of solution, and any lipids--from milk, fats, soaps etc.--will bind to head-forming proteins and kill the foam.  Most people just drop all their glassware in the dishwasher which effectively clears debris, but leaves detergent residue which is just as problematic.  Immediately before using a glass, I always a give it a hot water rinse to remove detergent residue followed by a cold water rinse to bring it down to serving temperature.

Last but not least, I want to reiterate the single biggest (and easiest) thing to remember when pouring a bottle conditioned beer: there's yeast at the bottom!  Don't dump it in unless you want to drink it.  Yeast adds a thick haze and potentially even floating chunks of yeast which, although most obvious visually, also lend a creamy/spicy yeast flavor that for most beers is not an intended part of the finished product. For some styles--namely American and German hefeweizens--that's expected, but those are exceptions.  In general, it is best practice to gently decant the majority of the beer off the yeast, leaving the last inch or so in the bottle.  As mentioned earlier, there's nothing wrong with consuming yeast, so don't let the dregs (this is where the term comes from) go to waste.

If this seems like a lot to remember, realize that most of these practices apply to any beer: store upright in a cool dark place, chill for at least 24 hrs before serving, and serve at a style-appropriate temperature.  Then focus on the steps that are unique to bottle conditioned beer: letting it sit undisturbed to settle yeast to the bottom, and gently pouring the beer off the yeast into a clean glass.  If handled properly, bottle conditioned beer presents a unique drinking experience, and--particularly in stronger beers like imperial stouts, barleywines, and quadruples--can continue to evolve and improve with time.  Many of the finest beers in the world are bottle conditioned, but even Westvleteren XII can be ruined by inattention.

Further Reading:
Beer Magazine: History of Beer Packaging & Looking Forward
Martyn Cornell: A Short History of Modern Beer
Martyn Cornell: Bottle-ageing Beers
BYO: The Do's and Don'ts of Cleaning Beer Glasses

Saturday, July 19, 2014

#26 Heady Topper Clone - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

I harvested fresh Conan from last week's session IPA after I racked it onto the dry hops.  This yeast is definitely still active, bubbling away like molten bread dough in my makeshift yeast brink (also known as a glass jug), so it should be ready to tear through the high gravity wort.

After some difficulty getting the strike water to settle at 162F, the mash went pretty well.  Saccharification rest temp was on target and stable at 148F.  I didn't get as high a temp out of my mash out infusion as I hoped (158F), so the sparge was also too cool (154F).  If I had been on top of things I could have adjusted for it, but didn't think it would be that big a deal.  Turns out it may have been, since the mash efficiency (not brewhouse efficiency) dropped from the estimated 81% to 70%.  Moral of the story, watch your sparge temperatures!  The higher gravity and thicker mash was a factor as well, but I would be surprised if that was all of it.

I did get some odd measurements on the mash pH though.  I measured the pH before adding the mash out infusion and got a reading of 5.85 which is way too high.  I recalibrated the meter and everything.  But then both the 1st and 2nd runnings read 5.25 pH which better reflects the target pH.  I'm hoping I just got an odd sample and the beer turns out fine, but high pH could potentially be another reason for the poor extraction.

Once the boil started, I ended up getting a bit behind during the boil: hops, chiller, whirfloc everything.  Basically the boil got extended to a 95 minute boil.  Whatever, more evaporation.

With the low efficiency, the gravity ended up coming in a little low at 1.070 vs 1.074, but I'm not too concerned since I usually prefer drier double IPAs anyway.  It's amazing how much wort the hops soaked up though.  Who'd have thought that would happen with 10 oz of hops in the kettle?  Duh.

Chilled to 63F, 45 sec. 02, pitched an unmeasured quantity of thick Conan yeast slurry (aiming for 100 ml), fridge set to 64F.

2 Days: Temp to 70F.

7 Days:  Fermentation looks complete.  Added the first charge of dry hops directly to the fermenter.  I'm going to do two stages this time since there are so many dry hops (5 oz. total), so I split them evenly.

12 Days:  Wracked onto the second charge of dry hops.  This beer is already pretty tasty, even warm and uncarbonated.  It's one of the few batches that I was happy to down the entire gravity sample.  It finished a little high though at 1.017 SG (74% ADF) which is surprising considering this is Conan yeast with a fermentable wort and a pound of corn sugar.  The heater was off and the temperature in the fermenter was down to 66F, so maybe this yeast needs more heat to finish strong.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#26 Heady Topper Clone - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

Oddly I don't have as much to say about this beer as I did the session IPA last week, even though this one is more or less the headliner of the two.  I guess that one took more creativity, because this IPA is pretty much by the book.

I picked up the Conan yeast because it's supposed to be the bees knees for IPAs and I really haven't found a yeast I like more for them than good old fashioned Chico.  Of course that means I have to brew an Imperial IPA with it, and I just so happen to have an abundance of the exact hops I need for a Heady Topper clone.  I took my recipe from this thread on HomeBrewTalk.  Now I haven't had the original beer and don't really care if it comes out exact, so I made a few tweaks to suit my equipment.  Viz. eliminating the hop stand, moving those hops to flameout and the 5 min and flameout hops to 20 min.  Here's the recipe I'm going with:

Imperial IPA
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated ABV: 8.1 %
Estimated OG: 1.074 SG
Estimated FG: 1.013 SG
Estimated Color: 6.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 130.3 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 81.4 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amt         Name                                     %/IBU
14 lbs      Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)           87.5 %
12.0 oz     Carastan - 30-37L (35.0 SRM)             4.7 %
12.0 oz     White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)               4.7 %
8.0 oz      Corn Sugar (Dextrose) (0.0 SRM)          3.1 %
1.50 oz     Columbus [16.10 %] - Boil 75.0 min       62.7 IBUs
2.00 oz     Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 20.0 min         43.4 IBUs
1.00 oz     Columbus [16.10 %] - Boil 20.0 min       24.2 IBUs
2.00 oz     Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 0.0 min          0.0 IBUs
1.50 oz     Amarillo [10.60 %] - Boil 0.0 min        0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz     Centennial [10.30 %] - Boil 0.0 min      0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz     Columbus [16.10 %] - Boil 0.0 min        0.0 IBUs
1 pkg       Vermont Ale (Conan) (GigaYeast GY054)    -
2.00 oz     Simcoe [14.40 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days      0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz     Amarillo [10.60 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days    0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz     Centennial [10.30 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days  0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz     Columbus [16.10 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days    0.0 IBUs

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion @148F with 1.25qt/lb, 1.5 gal Mash Out, 4 gal Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 16 lbs
Estimated Cost: $35.68

Sunday, July 13, 2014

#25 Session IPA - Brewday

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

I bought the yeast for this batch from MoreBeer, and it arrived warm in a cardboard box with no attempt at cooling.  Ideally I would make a starter to make sure the yeast is healthy, but this beer is basically a yeast starter for the next batch.  Also this a GigaYeast "Gold Pitch" meaning double the cell count (200 million) of a standard vial or smackpack, and the recommended pitch for this beer (Mr. Malty) is only 150 million, so we should be ok.

I decided last minute to bump up the mineral additions in this beer.  Usually I brew with pretty soft water, only adding gypsum and calcium chloride to get the calcium up to 50 ppm with an appropriate chloride to sulfate ratio.  My beers have been generally pretty soft though, so after watching this interview with John Kimmich, I figured a bit more bite might be nice in an IPA, plus the extra calcium would help the yeast flocculate quicker; Conan has a reputation for slow flocculation.  I didn't get too aggressive, but we'll see if it's noticeable.  Kimmich also mentions that he prefers a lower mash pH for his IPAs so I'll give that a try, shooting for 5.2 pH with the lactic acid addition instead of 5.4 like I usually do.  Final mineral profile:
65ppm Ca  -  3ppm Mg  -  80 ppm S04  -  50ppm Cl  -  35ppm CO3

Brewday 7/13/14:
Today was pretty miserable.  I tried to brew after our noon softball game, so I got a late start and was more tired than usual.  On top of that I tweaked my knee at the game which kept getting worse as I hobbled around, and by the end of the day I could barely walk (but we won, so it's all good).  It also slowed me down enough that I had trouble staying on pace; I didn't even have enough time to stop and smell the flowers!  (Which as everybody knows is the best part of brewing an IPA.)  Thankfully the beer itself went pretty well according to plan.

I shot for 154F with the mash, but I overestimated the mash tun temperature, so I came in low at 151F and just let it ride.  I listened to an interview with Kai Troester where he explained that a major advantage of a mash out is that it accelerates the a-amylase enzymes to liberate dextrines still locked in the malt's endosperm.  Since I've had low efficiency and a major part of that has been a coarse crush, I decided that adding a mash out to my own mash would be a great way to increase efficiency.  After 55% and 58% efficiency in the patersbier and quadrupel respectively, I figured 65% would be a reasonable increase factoring in the lower gravity.  My efficiency shot all the way to 74%, and I ended up with 8.5 gal of wort instead of the expected 7.6.  I went with a bit more vigorous boil to make sure I could fit the whole thing in the fermenter so the OG ended up 3 pts high at 1.041 (which might push this beer over 4%) but was still right at the limit of 5.5 gal.

Comparing clarity after boiling, fermenting, and dry hopping

30 sec. 02, pitched at 64F, fridge set to 64F.

2.5 Days:  Temp up to 70F.

5 Days:  This beer still looks to be fermenting a bit.  I turned it up to 72F because I need it to finish out so I can harvest the yeast tomorrow!

6 Days:  Well turning up the heat didn't do anything since the heater went out again.  I don't know what's up, must be time to buy a new heater.  I racked it off anyway to harvest the yeast and add dry hops.  The SG was at 1.015 which is definitely higher than I expected, and only 63% apparent attenuation.  Maybe the yeast that's still active will continue to nibble away at the remaining sugars; I definitely sucked up some yeast during the transfer.  The tastes also reflects the low attenuation: the hops are definitely there, even before the dry hops, and the malt flavor is fantastic, but a tad sweet.  Fingers crossed that Conan gets to work.

10 Days:  I want to have this beer this weekend, so I'm going to go ahead and keg it.  The gravity dropped a few more points to 1.011 which is much better.  I'm sure it could have used some more time--12 days grain to glass is ambitious--but I have friends visiting and an empty tap.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

#25 Session IPA - Recipe

Recipe     -     Brewday     -     Tasting

This recipe is kind of a mash-up of three separate ideas that I'm hoping fit together, so I'll explain each of them separately.  With challenges at each of the three staples that anchor the fabric of a beer--yeast, malt, and hops--it seems like the perfect beer to brew as I listen to the new Jack White album.

First off, this will be my first beer with Conan!  No not the comedian, the barbarian, or even the librarian.  Conan is an English yeast strain brought to America by Greg Noonan (whose book I'm currently reading) at the Vermont Pub & Brewery, that has since become famous as the house yeast for his former apprentice John Kimmich at The Alchemist.  His double IPA Heady Topper is supposed to be the best thing ever according to all of the beer rating websites (I haven't had it myself), so it sounds like there's been a huge demand among homebrewers for the yeast.

Conan is not available through the major yeast labs Wyeast or White Labs, but GigaYeast, a new yeast company in the bay area, has recently begun selling to homebrewers.  I picked up a package for a double IPA (coming up next!), so as I've done in the past for big expensive beers, this one is a trial run and a glorified yeast starter.  As yeast grows best in low gravity wort (around 1.040 OG) and low gravity beer require less yeast, this will obviously be a low alcohol beer.  I've been wanting to do a session IPA beer for awhile--my roommate Chris thoroughly endorses this--and the Conan yeast should go well with that.

But when I say "session IPA," I mean actually English "session" strength.  Not a ~5% ABV hoppy pale ale, but a 3-4% beer that still tastes like a west coast IPA.  It's a big challenge to maintain enough malt flavor and body to keep the beer interesting, but if the English can do it then I bloody well can.  Michael Tonsmeire shared some great advice on making this happen in a BeerSmith podcast, and you can also find the highlights distilled on his blog.  Some important points include using using high character, low attenuating yeast, more specialty malt, a higher mash temp, and less bittering hops.  I started with his grain bill from that post, but scaled back the Vienna malt in favor of a bit of Victory malt and flaked oats.  After my experiments with the dark mild last winter, I was comfortable upping the number of specialty malts without things getting muddled.  I think in an IPA the biggest concern is usually keeping the malts out of the way of the hops, but the small addition of oats should smooth out the malt character so it's just a textured backdrop for the hops rather than a distraction.

But what of those hops?  I assure you, there will be hops.  One of my favorite IPAs is Topcutter from Bale Breaker out in Yakima, and they were nice enough to share their hop schedule.  The recipe is loaded with Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic and I took this as my starting point.  I like the idea of trying out Mosaic as I've never used it and it's supposed to taste like Jesus in flower form, so I'm going to punch those up a notch and adjust the others based on what I have on hand.  But just as important as the variety of hops is when they're added.  It's common in bigger IPAs to add the bulk of the hops later: Topcutter has a large portion of the hops added at flameout and in the hopback, while Kimmich goes so far as to say he doesn't boil any hops in his brew kettle.  But this is not a big IPA.  In a Brew Strong podcast, Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer discussed how hop oils themselves can add to a beer's mouthfeel which will be important in a lighter beer like this.  Ballast Point brewmaster Colby Chandler (who brews another of my favorite IPAs, Sculpin) has also said that midboil additions are critical in session IPAs, and I see how the oily hoppiness could fit nicely.  Ideally I would like to increase the 20 min hops just a bit, but that also adds IBUs.  With the Simcoe hops at 14.4% α-acid, it doesn't take much to reach the target 40 IBU!

Whew, didn't know I would need so many words for such a small beer.  So without further ado, here's the recipe:

Session IPA
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated ABV: 3.9 %
Estimated OG: 1.038 SG
Estimated FG: 1.008 SG
Estimated Color: 6.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 41.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 77.4 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt       Name                                       %/IBU
4 lbs     Pale Malt (2 Row) US (1.8 SRM)             47.1 %
3 lbs     Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)                      35.3 %
8.0 oz    Carastan - 30-37L (35.0 SRM)               5.9 %
8.0 oz    Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)                     5.9 %
8.0 oz    Victory Malt (25.0 SRM)                    5.9 %
1.00 oz   Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 20.0 min           28.5 IBUs
0.50 oz   Mosaic (HBC 369) [11.50 %] - Boil 20.0 min 12.5 IBUs
1.00 oz   Amarillo [10.60 %] - Boil 0.0 min          0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz   Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] - Boil 0.0 min  0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz   Simcoe [14.40 %] - Boil 0.0 min            0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg   Vermont Ale (Conan) (GigaYeast)            -
1.50 oz   Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] - Dry Hop 5.0   0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz   Citra [12.00 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days         0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz   Simcoe [14.40 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days        0.0 IBUs

Mash Schedule: Single infusion @154F, 1.5qt/lb, 1.25g mash out, single batch sparge
Total Grain Weight: 8 lbs 8.0 oz
Estimated Cost: $36.90
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