Wednesday, 18 June 2014

BIAB #7 - Vienna Sorachi Saison

A while back I received a message from Graham, one of the fellow Macc Homebrew Club members, mentioning he was having a bit of an email chin-wag with James Kemp, former brewer at Buxton, Thornbridge and Fullers, giving him loads of useful advice on brewing a black IPA. Now, if anyone is going to know how to brew a BIPA, then it’s James, as he is the brewing experience behind the likes of Buxton’s Black Rocks and Thornbridge’s Wild Raven no less. The basic gist of the conversation was that a large flame out hop addition will add a fair chunk of bitterness, which most brewing software will actually register as zero IBUs, and you make up the IBU numbers with a smaller 60 minute addition. Doing this will apparently result in a much smoother bitterness and flavour. This intrigued me so I did some research and stumbled across a great article on late-hopping on, which in a way stated the same thing, with views from well known US brewers such as Alesmith and Firestone. 

So with my next brew, I was planning on another SMaSH, revisiting a 100% Vienna malt base and throwing in the 100 grams of Sorachi Ace I had recently acquired from Al. With Sorachi having such a lemony flavour profile it made sense to go saison, so I ordered a sack of malt and some Danstar Belle Saison yeast from the Malt Miller. Having read the Mrmalty article, I totally ripped out my hop schedule and decided to go bold with a single 100g 10 minute addition. 

Not only will this be the first time using a different yeast from tried and trusted US-05, but I had also recently upgraded my kit with the acquisition of a new 29 litre Brupaks boiler, doubling my brewing capacity in an instant. Still being short on brew space I planned to continue down the BIAB route, but at least I now had the option to throw a separate mash tun in the mix further down the line to go traditional all-grain. Instead of sewing together a new larger grain sack I just bought two metres of voile material from the local textile shop, doubled it up by folding it in half and pushed it inside the boiler. I’d then simply just gather up the corners and hoist out the makeshift sack. Ta-da! 

On brewday I thought I’d try a 90 minute mash in an attempt to squeeze some more efficiency out of the grain as I had been falling slightly short with my predicted gravity. Having the grist sat in the voile lining within the boiler made stirring the grain so much easier and I can safely say that this time there wasn’t a single dough ball. The only drawback to this method is lifting the sack out, as 5 Kg of wet grain certainly isn’t light! With the back straining and the grain dunked in the sparge water it was time to put my new boiler through it’s paces. I had read various reviews about the safety cut-out inconveniently kicking in mid boil with the Brupaks boilers, but my problem was that it wasn’t even turning on! After a period of head scratching, I realised I had switched it off at the wall when mashing in...bloody rookie!

With the one and only hop addition the boil was a pretty laid back affair and having a boiler fitted with a bazooka hop filter meant I could just lob the lot in rather than having to put them in hop sacks, which felt reassuring as I have suspected that I’ve been losing a bit of hop utilisation with the hops jostling for space in sacks. I have to say I was seriously pleased with how well my new purchase performed. No only was it a more vigorous, rolling boil than I was used to with the ‘old pot on stove’ solution, but it reached the boil in record time, knocking at least 30 minutes off the waiting time. 

With the boil done it was time to see how well my old copper coil coped with cooling double the amount of wort. Initially it was working a treat, but then the cooling slowed down massively, almost to a halt. I know passed a certain point, it does take longer to cool the wort down, but this was taking an absolute age. I was convinced my coil wasn’t up to the task of cooling that volume of wort. It was only when I pulled out the thermometer probe and it remained at 60 degrees I realised the damn thing was broken...again! Thankfully, after last time it failed it’s purpose, I had bought a backup spirit thermometer and things were indeed cooling, but not quite at the pace I was expecting. Maybe I was just being impatient due to the cooling times I experienced with my previous kit? 

With the wort continuing to cool, I made a start on getting the yeast rehydrated and ready for action. I was so used to buying single packs of US-05, which is enough for a 21 litre batch, I neglected to RTFM for the Danstar Belle Saison and so didn’t realise it equated to a gram of yeast per litre of wort, and they come in 11 gram packs! Thankfully before brewday, Graham, from the club, was putting an order in with the Malt Miller so I piggy-backed on his order and he managed to get the extra pack to me in plenty of time...phew! I boiled up 220ml of water in a conical flask (another recent purchase) and left it to cool to the desired temperature (30-35°C) with some tin foil covering the opening, helping things along by running cold water over the base of the flask. Once it hit around 34°C I emptied the two sachets of yeast into the container, broke up any clumps with the end of the thermometer and let it sit for 15 minutes per the instructions. 

With the wort getting close to the pitching temperature, I transferred it into the FV and left the temperature controller to take over temp measurement duties. It was still a bit high so I let it sit for an hour or so, not ideal, as the yeast really needed to be pitched as soon as possible. I threw the yeast in and left it to do it’s thang. The temp rose to around 22-23°C and stayed there for a couple of days, but Danstar advise not to cool it and just leave it to work it’s magic. With it being a Saison of course you want those Sainsony esters! 

The OG was bang on my predicted figure of 1.050 so the extra mashing time seems to have worked a treat. Swigging down the sample, it was indeed very bitter, with lovely fresh lemony citrus notes coming through, perfect for summertime drinking. All-in-all, it was a pretty successful brewday. 

Fermentation completed without a hitch, with the temperature controller only kicking in towards the end of the cycle. It made a change to be bottling more than 20 bottles, meaning I'd have enough to hand out and also enjoy myself! So, the finished product - it was definitely a saison, with that sharp, undeniably yeasty flavour coming through in spades, but thankfully the lemony citrus tones of the Sorachi was right up there alongside, both playing off nicely against the Vienna malt base. Great result, if I do say so myself.

 Name Type EBC Percentage  Amount
ViennaGrain5.9100 %5 Kg

 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Sorachi Ace11.8 %100 gBoil10 mins

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Macc Homebrew Goes to Red Willow...

In Macclesfield we have an annual event called Barnaby Festival. A mix of art, music, food, film and just about anything else remotely cultural… and it’s kind of a big deal around these parts. The mother of one of our Macc Homebrew members, Tom, is one of the organisers behind the event and a seed was planted that there should be a Macclesfield born-and-bred Barnaby beer (since named Trouble at Mill). There’s only one brewery in this town that could make this happen - Red Willow! After numerous meetings everyone was on board the plan was a-go-go. However, as a twist it was to be a collaboration beer with the Macc Homebrew guys and Red Willow! At one of the recent meetups, Toby had spoke of supplying each of us with a brew pack, containing the same grain, hops and yeast. We all go away, brew a beer and then the best one gets scaled up and brewed at the brewery! Four of us - myself, Mike, Graham and Tom, all expressed eagerness to be involved, of course, it was too good of a opportunity to let up! A week or so passed and there was no word from Toby, then out of the blue one Tuesday afternoon we all received an email:
Bugger me time is flying and we need to get the Barnaby Beer brewed, not on a small scale but 2000 Litres, so who is around Saturday?
Eeek! A bit short notice, but thankfully my lovely wife gave me a free pass for the day, so I was raring to go. The seemingly man of leisure (just because he seems to brew all the time), Tom, was also free, but unfortunately for Graham and Mike work and family life had them tied up for the morning, but luckily they would be available in the afternoon - just in time for the cleaning! 

Toby followed up his email outlining the recipe we would be working with; a 4% ABV pale ale with lots of fruity floral hops, an already delicious sounding summer session ale! Saturday rolled around and Tom and myself arrived bang on 8AM eager to get started, but not before a whirlwind health and safety tour. Toby pointed out all the things that could kill, maim or dissolve our faces. With the formalities out of the way and our adrenaline well and truly pumping, we got stuck in sorting out  the grain - only 13 sacks of Maris Otter with a dash of caramalt and torrefied wheat. Whilst we were busy Martin, a photographer, had turned up to capture the brew day for the Barnaby festival website. We took it in turns to feed the malt into the mash tun, whilst the other clambered up the step ladder and stirred the mash. If the beer tastes salty then that’ll be Tom’s sweat as he frantically tried to break up the dough balls forming as I fed the grain too fast. Once done we put the lid on the mash tun and set the timer for 60 mins. With nothing else to do Toby tasked us with some general brewery duties, namely cleaning casks and bottles, but it was all in a good cause as we would be bottling Red Willow’s superb smoked porter - Smokeless.
With what felt like thousands of bottles cleansed (in reality it was probably only around a 100) and left to drain on a bottle tree, Toby pointed out the bench bottle capper and labelling machine to myself and Martin and then set about filling the freshly cleansed bottles. What did surprise me is how much beer goes to waste when bottling, which Toby estimated at around 50 litres! All that lovely Smokeless going down the drain! Two homebrews worth at that! This was no time to get all sentimental, I saluted the dark liquid sailing past me in the drainage trough and set about getting the surviving beer capped and labelled. The labelling contraption did take some figuring out as I hadn't noticed the pedal under the bench that made it work, but we soon got into a flow and were boxing up beers at a rate of knots. In the meantime Tom had finished sorting out the casks ready for washing and had taken over the bottle filling duties. I’d estimate at this point we probably lost a fair few more litres of beer to the drains! Before we knew it we had filled and packaged easily a couple of hundred bottles, not bad for a band of novices.
So pleased with our efforts we hadn’t even noticed that Toby had begun sparging the wort and transferring it into the kettle, with a lovely golden glow of summer emanating from the sight glass. After a little bit of tidying up around the brewery it was soon time to dig out the spent grain and with impeccable timing Mike arrived just as I had climbed inside the mash tun. Luckily for me he was eager to get his hands dirty and offered to take over. It was soon becoming apparent that the majority of the work involved in brewing beer on a large scale is cleaning! 
Not long after Mike had began jet washing the interior of the mash tun Graham arrived completing the homebrew gang. Whilst we waited for the wort to get up to the boil, Toby filled the time in with brewery tales of HMRC bills, dealings with Virgin Trains, importing/exporting, drunken landlords, it was a great insight into this business. He was also kind enough to let us sample a few of the beers he currently has aging in barrels in the back of a storeroom. A gorgeous tart sour that will eventually join the Faithless range (Red Willow's experimental and one-off brews) and Ruthless, a cherry stout that first hit the pumps at the bar last Christmas, which was tasting even better than I remembered. The cream of the crop though was an early sample of the 10% imperial stout he has currently conditioning for Christmas. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I've found a Strannik beater! 
With the wort getting up to a boil we decided on what hops we would add. We all agreed that floral and fruity were the way forward for a light summer session ale, so Chinook for bittering and then a mainly a mix of Amarillo and Simcoe for flavour and aroma. I was surprised that the 60 minute addition in a 2000 litre brew was a mere 300 grams, compared to the 4Kg we threw in at flame out, not to mention the 5Kg of T90 pellets Toby was planning to dry hop with! The brewery was smelling incredible! With the boil done Toby began transferring it into the FV via a plate chiller and heat exchanger, with the heated water then pumped into the tank that will supply the next mash, very efficient! 
Using a pretty hefty hose it took around 45 minutes to transfer the chilled wort into the FV. One thing I did notice was that other than letting the wort drop into the FV from the top, there was no other aeration involved. This is something I was recently reading up on, of which there are numerous methods and theories that brewers employ, but I had always just dropped the wort from a height into the FV, so it was reassuring to see a professional brewer using this simple method too. With the FV filled it was time to pitch the yeast, which Toby had recently harvested from another brew. Again we’re not on small measurements here, but gallons...a couple of 5 gallon brew buckets worth were chucked in there! With the hatch sealed, it was now down to the yeast to do their stuff. With the brew done there was nothing left to do other than clean the joint up. Graham had the envious task of climbing inside the kettle to scoop out all the spent hops around some evil looking heating elements. After around an hour of scooping, jet washing and sweeping, we were done. Weary, tired and wet there was only one thing to do...get our arses down to the Red Willow bar for a well earned scoop! Beer tastes so good after a massive brew day like that.
All-in-all it was a fabulous day and a useful insight into the beer brewing business and our thanks goes out to Toby for the excellent opportunity. It was a hard day’s work, but that doesn’t matter when you’re making excellent beers!