Anything I’m Fermenting

January 5, 2014

Lardo Pt. 2

Filed under: Meat — iwouldntlivethere @ 11:53 pm

In response to a comment received on the previous post, I’ll do a quick update.
The lardo cured OK, but I don’t like it that much because of the the brown sugar – it came out tasting a bit cloying. If I was to do this over (and plan to as I have more back-fat to use) I will omit the sugar and maybe some of the herbs and just stick with salt, thyme and garlic.
In the hope of improving the taste, a friend cold-smoked the cured lardo, but I think the smoke wasn’t long enough as the flavour did not change much. A bit better though.

February 14, 2013

Lardo, pt 1

Filed under: Brining,Meat — iwouldntlivethere @ 8:06 pm
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For future reference, I’m just noting what I did to make lardo:

  • 4.5 lbs back fat, skin on – three 1.5 lb pieces about 1 to 1.5 inches thick
  • 0.75 lbs coarse salt
  • 6 oz brown sugar
  • large sprig of rosemary
  • large handful of fresh thyme, de-stemmed
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 splashes anisette (Bosco)

I’ll be curing each piece in a ziplock bag, in the fridge: one 2, one for 4, and one for 6 months. I’ll update with photos at those points. This recipe is adapted from here (great blog!).

(I bought a half pig recently from Wallace Springs Farm, though there was a mix up at the abattoir and this back fat is from some random pig, not the heritage, non GMO pig I bought! Oh well, we’re trying again in a couple months)

February 14, 2012

Sake pt 2: Fail!

Filed under: Brewing,Sake — iwouldntlivethere @ 4:23 am
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Fail! Just want to report and discuss the failure of the koji batch.

I didn’t take photos, but after 12 hours the koji was looking great – starting to stick together, getting a good covering of white fuzz. Then… it flat-lined. The white fuzz disappeared, the rice just looked like boiled (n.b. – not steamed) rice; it smelled nice and koji-ish, but wasn’t sticking together. It just didn’t feel right. I gave it an extra two days, but nothing changed, so I composted it.

I wasn’t obsessively monitoring the temperature, but I did notice it go up to 103F once. However, my suspicion is that it over-heated. Unlike in Bob Taylor’s method, where the rice is spread out on a plastic tray, I tried using a ziplock bag. I believe that this reduced the surface area of the growing koji enough to enable it to create enough internal heat to cook itself. Also, there’s a photo on the Ontario Spring Water Sake Co’s homepage of a cake of koji – it isn’t very thick, maybe 1.25 inches. Considering the size of koji batches they make, where growing the koji in thicker cakes would save a lot of space, it must be important to them to keep the cakes thin. The over-heating hypothesis also explains why the koji failed after apparent success – it took the first 12 hours to build up enough cell mass to generate heat. Live and learn; good thing I have lots of koji-kin!

I’m trying again, but with the rice spread out in two plastic containers:

It's just two trays stacked on top of each other.

The lids are not closed, they don’t even fit well into the cooler, so there is a lot of air exchange. They’re mostly there to keep condensation off the rice.

Here’s the thickness of the rice (very fluffy at this point):

You’ll probably notice the brownish spots in the photo. I absentmindedly forgot to close the lid of the koji-kin jar when I was innoculating this batch, and about 20 g of koji-kin rice fell in. I just went with it and mixed it in and hope this is enough innoculant, and that nothing bad will happen.

I’ve also been thinking about the placement of the thermometer probe in the rice. My feeling is that putting it in the middle of the rice means that the outside could get pretty hot before the heat reaches the middle. However, once the koji is generating its own heat, if the probe is not in the middle, it will not be measuring the maximum temperature. Not sure what to do yet.


February 10, 2012

Sake: The Mother of All Ferments, pt 1

Filed under: Brewing,Sake — iwouldntlivethere @ 8:53 pm
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I’ve never really liked sake. The stuff served at sushi joints and even izakaya type places around here always seemed insipid – drinkable, but not worth searching out. Then somebody got me to go to a tour/tasting at the new Ontario Spring Water Sake Company‘s Izumi sake brewery nearby. The sake they make blew my mind – I really, really liked it. I guess all it takes to be a good sake is being a freshly made, unpasteurized, 100% rice sake made in small batches by expert sake brewers! If you can get your hands on some, you should.

Of course, this being me, I now had to try making some myself. Turns out it’s not that easy, but not impossible. What’s really intriguing about sake is that it can involve three fermentations – one by koji mold to create amylase enzymes to break down the starch in rice to simple sugars, one by lactic acid bacteria to slightly acidify the mash, and one by yeast to make the alcohol. Beyond this the cool thing about the yeast ferment is that it happens on the grain, as the enzymes from the koji break down the rice, so the yeast is fed a steady amount of sugar over the period of the fermentation. This allows the yeast to ferment to much higher alcohol levels than found in other fermented drinks, without distillation.

From various sources, it seems to be accepted that the main objective in sake making is to minimize flavour. The main flavour components of finished sake come from the koji mold, plus a little from the yeast. The regular practice is to use highly milled (polished) white rice – the more milled, the less flavour, the better. The yeast ferment is kept fairly cold to prevent much flavour creation (like in lagers), and even the lactic acid bacteria’s contributions are negated by the common practice of using refined lactic acid to acidify the mash.

I guess this is why the mass-market sakes I had were not appealing, as they use further practices to reduce the flavour like carbon filtering (Zima, anyone?), diluting and adding alcohol, etc. Even some of the high-end sakes I’ve since tried have been very uninspiring because they didn’t taste like much. However, there seems to be a happy zone achieved by some sake brewers where off-flavours are reduced, but there still remain enough other flavours to make the sake interesting and enjoyable.

The sake brewing method I’m using is based on the instructions found on Bob Taylor’s excellent website Taylor-MadeAK – Brewing Sake, and the insights (and koji spores) gained from Home Brew Sake. Rather than repeat what they’ve already written about, I’ll just note my variations. As with all my posts on this blog, my main objective to to record my thoughts and processes for myself in the future, and secondarily for anybody from the public to learn something.

Step 1: Make Koji

1.1 Rinse, soak, drain, then steam 5 cups short-grain white rice (3.5 for koji, 1.5 for the moto):

Rinsing rice half-way

This is after about ten changes of water

Rinsing Rice end

This is after at least 20 changes of water; you can just about see the rice now

I gave up rinsing after about half an hour of continuously rinsing and changing the water. The water was still cloudy at this point, but there was no end in sight, so maybe starch from the actual rice grains was washing into the water.. In any case, the rice turned out fine, so I’m not concerned.

The rice soaked for 2.5 hours (this includes the half hour of rinsing) – this is about the time I found I needed based on earlier trials with this type of rice (Shirakiku Brand Calrose rice). It drained for another couple hours (we went for dinner), and I steamed it for 45 minutes in a steamer lined with a piece of leftover mesh material from the bag I use for brewing (‘voile’ curtain sheer fabric). I have this fabric on hand, and the rice doesn’t stick to it.

Rice loaded into steamer, lined with voile fabric square

1.2 Innoculating the rice

After steaming the rice for koji was cooled on a cookie sheet, then loaded into a large ziplock bag (the rice for the moto went into the fridge). I had made a batch of koji previously that I let go to spore, rather than use for sake. This is the source of spores for the koji (the original spores come from Home Brew Sake). To inoculate, I punched a lot of holes in the lid of a mason jar with a nail and hammer – this is very effective because the holes made sharp little points on the inside of the lid, which abrade the rice/spore/koji mixture and help release the spores. When I’m not using the koji-kin, I put a paper coffee filter over the lid to allow the koji-kin to stay dry and fresh, but not escape.

Inside the lid

The perforations are quite sharp!

Koji Kin in Jar

The jar is covered with the filter seen in the background when not in use.

To actually get the spores onto the rice, I lay the ziplock bag of rice on its side and put the koji-kin jar’s mouth into the bag, then close the zipper of the bag as tightly as I can around the mouth of the jar. Then I invert the jar over the rice and shake it up and down for a bit. When I see a layer of spores on the rice I remove the jar and close the zipper fully, then mix the rice up inside the bag. The rice is then dumped onto the cookie sheet again, and fully mixed by hand.

Repeat the process once more – the rice should look a bit green from the spores. Try not to let air into and out of the bag when you are shaking the jar as this releases the spores from the bag before they’ve had a chance to stick to the rice.

1.3 Incubating the koji

The inoculated rice must be kept in a warm, humid environment. As per Bob Taylor’s instructions, I made an incubator out of a cooler, with some minor modifications. For a heat source I used a cable heater meant for reptiles – it’s cheap, readily available, doesn’t need to be modified (no thermostat), has a safety margin in that it doesn’t heat beyond 50C, and is waterproof. The instructions say not to use it near water (likely for liability issues if the silicone coating has been scratched by, say, an iguana), but during my first koji attempt, the cable was under a centimeter of water for many days with no problems. For this time, I’m using a different configuration to keep the cable off the bottom of the cooler where condensation collects – better safe than sorry. But in any case, it can easily handle the damp and condensation inside the cooler.

(NOTE: This method – using a ziplock bag – DID NOT WORK. The koji over-heated, see Sake pt 2.] Also, the rice is in the same ziplock bag I used to innoculate it as it can be folded over, but still open to the air (see photo). In my first attempt at koji I found that condensation would drip off the top of my cooler and onto the rice, making little spots of infection on the surface. The bag will prevent this. Like Bob Taylor, I use a temperature controller I have for brewing beer to keep the temperature around 96F.

Incubator loaded with koji

The temperature controller is to the right, its temp probe is inserted into the bag of rice in the cooler.

Here’s a photo of the incubator empty. The rectangular plastic container is to hold the bag of rice off the bottom of the cooler, and the small one holds water for humidification. The repti-heat cable is wrapped around the bottom half of the cooler, and is taped in place with aluminum vent tape (what I had on hand, I presume it is heat and damp proof).

Empty Incubator

June 30, 2010

Lauku Alus, part 2

Filed under: Beer,Brewing — iwouldntlivethere @ 5:24 pm
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Looks like I’ll be making this beer again – for both good and bad reasons. (more…)

June 23, 2010

Lauku Alus (No-Boil Latvian Country Ale)

Filed under: Beer,Brewing — iwouldntlivethere @ 7:16 pm
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Introduction :
This spring I started researching online about the local beers in Latvia, where my grandparents are from. I found out that there is a fairly vibrant culture of farm-house brewing still being practiced, although it is mostly old-timers now. As such it is in a bit of danger of dying out, so there are efforts in Latvia to record how these beers are made. Some of this info has made it online.
One of the interesting things about these beers is that many are made without boiling the wort after mashing – it is simply allowed to cool, and yeast is pitched. Hops are boiled separately, as a hop tea that is added to the wort. (more…)

March 12, 2009

Absolutely! Dry Beer.

Filed under: Brewing — iwouldntlivethere @ 6:41 pm
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Rather than respond to Sjoerd’s question in the comments, I think it is worth discussing it in it’s own blog post.

Here’s the question (I’ve edited it a bit to summarize):

I wonder if it is possible to create an absolutely dry beer, by first doing the alpha-step on 73 degrees, and then adding beta-amylase enzymes and continue mashing at 60 degrees. I remember reading that enzymes reside in the liquid parts for the most. Most of the starch, however, resides in the non-liquid parts. (more…)

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 9

Filed under: Uncategorized — iwouldntlivethere @ 2:54 pm

So what does it all look like, when you put it together?

Here are the recipes I ended up using for the Champagne of Beers. The first one is for the sourmash part of the beer, the second for the main recipe:

Sour Mash (part of Champagne of Beer)

A ProMash Recipe Report

Recipe Specifics

Batch Size (L):           4.50
Total Grain (kg):         1.20
Anticipated OG:          1.059
Wort Boil Time:             60    Minutes


%     Amount     Name                                  Origin              Potential SRM
75.0     0.90 kg.  Lager Malt(2-row)             Canada         1.036      2
25.0     0.30 kg.  Flaked Rice                                             1.040      1

Out of a total of 6 kg of grain (including sugar), 1.2 kg was used for the sourmash (or 1/5th). It was mashed using a typical mash temperature of 67 C for 60 minutes, but was not boiled, and no hops added. After mashing, the grains and mash were transferred into a sanitized plastic jug. This, after souring, would be added to the regular mash to lower the pH, and kill off the lactic acid bacteria.

From what I had read about sourmashing, all I needed to do was add a handful of unmashed pale malt grain, and the naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria would do the rest over the next 3 days. Furthermore the temperature of the sourmash should be kept at around 50 C to ensure that the lactic acid bacteria thrive, and other contaminant micro organisms suppressed.

Well, I added a handful of malt grain, and kept the sourmash in a cooler with lights to maintain the required 50 C temperature. And nothing happened. It didn’t sour, it didn’t ferment, it didn’t stink. It didn’t do anything for two days. I thought maybe the high temperature was the problem, and removed the sourmash from the cooler and just put it by a heat vent in my house. Another handful of malted grain and a day later, nothing was happening; again no souring, no fermenting, no stinking, no gas. No action.

In desperation I added a tablespoon of the sourdough bread starter I keep. That did the trick. A day later the sourmash was fermenting vigorously. Tasted clean, sour, and a bit fruity. I’ll show pictures in the next posting.

What does this mean? Probably that it is harder to start a sourmash than it sounds. I don’t have any other lessons from this. Other than that keeping a sourmash at 50 C is not necessary, or beneficial. I’m just glad I had a sourdough culture available to kick start the sourmash.

And a picture of what it looked like!


Notice the bulging sides of the jug, and the inflated plastic wrap over the opening – very actively fermenting.

March 10, 2009

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 8 (finally!)


So I’ve been otherwise engaged for the last few months. Sorry. Maybe this will make Sjoerd happy? The cliffhanger I’ve left you with was how will I make the Champagne of Beers ‘dry’? Actually, the cliffhanger is more like how did the beer turn out!

In regards to the dryness, I aimed to ensure a complete conversion of starches to simple sugars (as far as possible) by regulating the temperature. I started relatively low (around 63 C) and stayed there for 30 minutes. Then raised the heat to 67 C for another 30 minutes, finally I brought it up to 70 C for 30 minutes. The first step is ideal for beta-amylases, so they get to make a lot of simple sugars. Unfortunately, they leave behind a lot of starch because they are stumped by branches on the starch molecules. So the rest at 67 C (the typical homebrew saccharification rest) tried to get the alpha-amylase into the action to break apart the big starches into smaller ones – but still allow the beta-amylase to continue its work chewing up the starch into simple sugars at the new end-points of the starch molecules created by the alpha-amylases’s snips. The final rest, at 70 C is to get the alpha-amylase into its happy place. Unfortunely, this is hot enough to cook the beta-amylase, but my hope was that it would have finished its work by now. However, the alpha-amylase could still snip apart ‘branch-limit dextrines’ and other complex sugars in to smaller, hopefully simpler ones, that the yeast could then tear into (and so drying out the beer).

The other contributor to dryness in the Champagne of Beers is all the cane sugar I added to it. This is a bit counter-intuitive (isn’t sugar sweet, which is not dry?). Being completely composed of a simple sugar, the yeast can convert all of it into alcohol. So no worries about sweetness. In addition, by relying on cane sugar for a substantial part of the extract in this recipe, the proportion of complex, unfermentable sugar is correspondingly lower. Further, I believe that the taste of alcohol itself balances sweetness, so the added alcohol content in this beer also will make it taste dryer.

The yeast for this beer ( Wyeast’s 1388 Belgian Strong Ale yeast) is also known for finishing dry – one of the considerations in choosing it.

Finally, I have been fermenting it a long time in secondary – several months now. With hope, the yeast will have become desperate enough to try eating any sugars in the beer. This may take some time to be noticable, because the activity level of the yeast is so low, but that’s why this long period is partly for.

November 22, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 7

Getting near the end of this series on the Champagne of Beers – you may have noticed that I combined two characteristics – low bitterness, and no hop flavour or aroma. That was simply because it really didn’t serve any purpose to separate them – both related to the use of hops. Here are all the characteristics I am aiming for, with the one’s already discussed struck out.

1. Very light colour

2. Fizzy, but without much head

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv

4. Noticeable acidity

5. Light body

6. Clear – minimal cloudiness

7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma

8. Fruitiness

9. Dry (i.e. not sweet)

8. Fruitiness. When beer is described as being fruity, it usually means that some of the flavours noticed in the beer are more usually associated with fruit – raisin, prune, plum, wine, cider, banana, citrus, etc. Occasionally it means that fruit have been literally added to the beer at some point.

Champagne, being a wine, is made from grapes, a type of fruit. So while champagne is not usually described as fruity, it is only because that would be stating the obvious (wines are sometimes described as being ‘fruity’, if fresh fruit flavours are very noticeable). Fruitiness in beer is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes undesirable, depending on the style and the drinker’s expectations. Many Belgian ales, continental wheat beers, and English ales have pronounced fruit flavours. Golden lagers – the major type of beer produced currently – are generally devoid of them, and they would be considered a fault. Certain American ales have strong citrus flavours that come from heavy hopping with certain types of hops.

These fruit flavours come from many sources – the malts used, the yeasts used, and the hops used. In my case, my malts will not contribute much fruit flavour. On the other hand, using a lot of cane sugar as part of the grain bill is said to contribute to wine or cider flavours, although this is a result of the yeast more than any flavour in the sugar. Usually beer makers try to avoid this cidery-ness by using dextrose – a sugar different from sucrose. Another thing I hypothesized may help is using jasmine rice for the rice in the beer – thinking the jasmine is somewhat fruity. I have just cooked a batch of the rice, and it really does not have much of a scent other than rice. So either the rice I bought does not have a strong jasmine scent, or that the scent is so subtle that it is unlikely to make it through mashing and fermentation.

Yeasts are not just the agents of fermentation in beer, they also contribute enormously to the flavour profile of the beer. Many beers with essentially identical grains and hops nevertheless taste very different due to different yeast strains at different breweries. Even if the breweries started with the same strain, the yeasts will evolve differently in the different breweries, leading to differences in flavour. Yeasts produce the esters and polyphenols and other chemicals that cause the fruit flavours in beers. The yeast strain I’m using (I just activated it an hour ago) is known for making fruity and spicy flavours in beer. This obviously works well for my objective – even the spicyness is not really a problem I think. It also likes to ferment at relatively high temperatures. Higher temperature ferments tend to produce more flavours – again sometimes a good thing (as in many ales) and sometimes not (as in many ‘clean-tasting’ lagers and ales).

In terms of the hops – in theory I could add some American-style hops to the secondary fermentor to provide the citrusy flavours associated with them, and not worry about bitterness. However, I’m holding off because strong citrus scents are not usually associated with wines, and because dry-hopping would add a lot of regular hop flavours, something I am trying to avoid (in order to distance the ‘champagne of beers’ from beer.)

In sum, I hope to get fruit flavours from using a lot of cane sugar, from using a yeast known to produce fruity flavours, and from fermenting at a relatively high temperature – around 20 to 22 degrees.

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