Anything I’m Fermenting

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…)

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March 10, 2009

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

Hey,

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.

November 21, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 6

Filed under: Beer,Brewing — iwouldntlivethere @ 9:40 pm
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At this point in this series on the Champagne of Beers I will finally provide a photo for us to look at. 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)

7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma. Superficially, this should be an easy characteristic to achieve – just reduce or eliminate the hops altogether! But hops play a complex and many-faceted role in beer, so it isn’t that simple. Or maybe it is, and I’ve just fallen for the mystery surrounding beer making…

Hops are traditionally associated with the bitterness of beer, which they do indeed impart. Less appreciated is their contribution of flavours and aromas to beer. Also less known are their anti-bacterial and anti-oxidative roles.

The bitterness and flavours of hops come from prolonged boiling in the wort. The boiling isomerizes some of the hop oils and resins, making them soluble. The longer the boil, the more bitter the beer (within reason). Adding more hops obviously also adds bitterness and flavour. Hops also impart aromas to beer from volatile oils. These are, paradoxically, driven off by long boiling, so hops tend to be added in several additions to the wort – some at the beginning, some at the middle, and some near the end. Sometimes brewers also ‘dry-hop’ beer – adding hops to their secondary fermentors – to get extra hop aroma. I do this usually, as I like the hop aromas.

Of course, we’re talking about the champagne of beers, not just any beer. This means that, like champagne, this beer should not be bitter, and should not have strong hop flavours or aromas. Beyond simply imitating champagne, I’ve read that bitter and acid flavours don’t work well together. Researching this, I came across an interesting article about Lambic beers in the NY Times. Meant as a come-on to wine snobs, what struck me was the author’s repeated comparison of lambic beers to champagne. This is a good sign, as what I am brewing is somewhat like a lambic in it’s lack of hop flavours or bitterness.

But as I allude earlier, achieving this is not a matter of simply eliminating the hops, because the anti-bacterial and anti-oxidative properties (I’ll call them preservative power) of hops are still valuable. This is where the accumulated expertise of lambic and ‘plambic’ brewers really helps out.

Hops have an ‘interesting’ or frustrating property, depending on how it affects you: they gradually go stale, or become ‘aged’, meaning that they lose their bittering power over time. It is frustrating when making normal beers, as your hops require special storage conditions, and you need to keep recalculating their bittering power over time to compensate for the aging. However, in the case of making lambics, or plambics (pseudo-lambics brewed outside of Belgium), this property becomes interesting, as brewers can used aged hops for their preservative power, without the bitterness.

As I haven’t owned hops long enough to age them (2-3 years) properly, I had to artificially age them (artifice within artifice! Artificially aging hops for an artificial champagne). This involved heating the hops in a 95 degree (200 F) oven for several hours. Here you can see the difference between the fresh (on the left) and ‘aged’ (on the right) hops:

Fresh vs. Aged Hops

Sorry about the focus, but you can clearly see that the aged hops became much lighter in colour – even yellowish. They lost their hop aroma (which pervaded my apartment during the baking – as warned, it smelled quite cheesy at times) as well. I guess to ensure the perservative power, lambic brewers use ridiculous amounts of these aged hops – equivalent to between 3 or 4 ounces per 5 gallons (i.e. multiples of the amounts usually used).

How much of these aged hops to use? On one hand, why not use 4 ounces for the batch? Well, I’m not convinced that these artificially aged hops have truly lost all their bittering power. When I crushed some of the hops, the some hop aroma was apparent, so perhaps some bittering power is hiding in there as well. As well, Micheal Tonsmeire reckons on his (awesome) blog that inoculating your wort with a pure culture of yeasts and maintaining generally sanitary conditions during the fermentation reduces the need for the preservative power of the aged hops – the chances of the beer becoming infected with unwanted microbes are much reduced compared to the conditions of traditional lambic breweries.

I’ll probably use 2 ounces of aged hops – a bit more than Mr. Tonsmeire, and a bit less than traditional lambics.

November 11, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 4

Onward on the quest to brew a champagne of beers! So far I have discussed how to achieve a very light colour, fizz without head, higher alcohol content, and a noticeable acidity. Here are all the characteristics I am aiming for.

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)

5. Light body. I’ve already discussed this somewhat in the post about the alcohol content because both the level of alcohol, and the body of the beer relate to the type of grain used for mashing. A lot of the ‘body’ in beer comes from proteins and residual sugars that remain in the beer after fermentation. In contrast to beer, wine does not contain much protein, or residual sugar (in dry wines anyways), so this beer needs to reduce the amount of protein and sugar left.

The first strategy to achieve this was already discussed – namely that I will use a considerable amount of refined sugar and rice. Refined sugar can be completely fermented, leaving no residual sugars, as long as the alcohol content is not too high (which it won’t be in this beer). It can also act as a sort of ‘subsidy’ to the yeast, giving it ‘cheap’ energy so it can devote more effort to breaking down longer-chain sugars. This is referred to as drying out the beer. This dryness is also a phenomenon of the palate, as the fermentation of the refined sugar increases the alcohol content without a proportionate increase in residual sugar or protein, so the beer tastes dryer or more alcoholic (alcohol and sugar balance each other somewhat, in terms of taste; that’s why most cocktails are sweet – to hide the alcohol).

Rice is partway between using refined sugar and using barley malt. During mashing, the starch in rice will be broken down in the same way as it is in barley malt – it will produce mostly simple sugars, but also more complex long-chain and branching sugars that yeast finds difficult to ferment, and so they make it into the beer. These residual sugars usually don’t taste that ‘sweet’, but do make the beer taste thicker, richer, and maltier. While rice will contribute residual sugars, it does not contain much protein.

The protein content of beer is one of it’s defining characteristics. Without the protein, beer would feel like pop. But in this case, I do want it to taste pop-like, within reason. Wine does contain tannins, phenolics, and polysaccharides among other chemicals that contribute to mouth-feel. I think that with the exception of wine tannins, many of these are also found in beer. To reduce the protein content of the beer, I will use refined sugar and rice, as these both contain little or no protein. Further, during the mashing, I will utilize the protein rest.

John Palmer, in his excellent on-line book How to Brew describes the protein rest as being around 52 degrees, for 20 – 30 minutes. He warns that using a protein rest when mashing well modified malts (like the 2-row barley malt I will be using) is unnecessary, and “would break up the proteins responsible for body and head retention and result in a thin, watery beer.” Perfect.

Changing the mash temperature is another way to reduce the body and sweetness of beer. Regular mashing temperatures (the saccharification rest) are around 67 degrees. Palmer states that: “A lower mash temperature, less than or equal to 150°F [65.5°C], yields a thinner bodied, drier beer”. Again, perfect for my needs, so my target temperature will be between 65 and 66 degrees. This is because the lower mashing temperature favours beta amylase, which produces a lot of simple sugars. There is a bit of a cost to this – the mash efficiency declines because some of the starch will not be converted. Beta amylase is not able to break apart starch molecules where the molecule branches – alpha amylase is needed to break off the branched sections.

November 10, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 3

This is the third installment of a series of posts on how to brew a beer that is like champagne. In the last two posts I discussed how to achieve a very light colour, fizz without head, and higher alcohol content. Here are all the characteristics I am aiming for.

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)

4. Noticeable acidity. This may be the most involved part of making this beer, as it is a new process for me. Unlike most beers, wine balances its flavours, alcohol, and sweetness with acidity, whereas most beer balances these with bitterness. From most accounts, it sounds like it’s an either-or situation, as bitterness and acidity don’t seem to go well together for most people’s palate. In any case, I am trying to emulate a champagne, so I need to make my beer acidic, and not bitter (see Characteristic #8).

Beer was originally bittered with hops as the anti-bacterial action of the hops helped preserve it. Using aged hops contributes some of that action without bittering much, but the acidity (and higher alcohol) also help to preserve the beer, and allow it to age. This is, in principle, the same reason wine can be aged, due to it’s higher alcohol content and acidity.

There are several approaches to acidifying beer: using sour malt, making a sour mash, souring the fermenting beer, or simply adding food grade acids directly to the beer. I don’t have sour malt, so I will not be using that approach, and I don’t have and don’t want to use food grade acids. That leaves using a sour mash, or souring the beer.

Sour mashing creates lactic acid from the wort, before yeast fermentation. It can occur spontaneously because the production of malt creates ideal conditions for naturally occuring lactobacillus (and other souring microorganisms) to multiply on the malted grain. By boiling the sweet wort soon after mashing, brewers prevent their beer from souring due to these bacteria. However, if after mashing the sweet wort is innoculated with unmashed grain (the temperatures during mashing are high enough to knock off a lot of the bacteria), and allowed to ferment at temperatures around 50 degrees for two or three days, the wort will sour considerably. In fact, it will sour so much so that it becomes unpalatable for most – too sour, and too many ‘off’ flavour (cheese, etc). This is easily remedied by only sour mashing a portion of the grain, and then adding the sour mash to the rest of the grain at the end of the mashing, and boiling all the wort collected.

This allows you a fair degree of control over the amount of acidity. To properly mash a beer as light as the one here, I would have needed to add a bit of acidity anyway – using around 5 – 10% of the grain in a sour mash would contribute enough acidity to lower the pH of the entire mash enough for efficient mashing. At this level however, the acidity is not apparent to the palate. It is recommended that first time makers of sour mash beer use up to 20% of the grain for sour mashing. As I wish to have a noticably sour beer, I will use a little above that recommendation: 25% of the grain.

The other approach I could use is to sour the beer during fermentation. I’m leaning away from this due to several problems. One, I don’t have a good innoculum, and don’t wish to spend much, so won’t ship it in. I could possibly use a soured beer as an innoculum – but they have the problem of containing Brettanomyces and other ‘bugs’ that taste good in the beer in question, but are not really appropriate for champagne, I believe (not sure though…).

I’m also a bit nervous about souring the fermenting beer as it can be unpredictable at the best of times. Raj Apte has written the best explanation of brewing sour beers I’ve found (http://www2.parc.com/emdl/members/apte/flemishredale.shtml), and even he states that “Lactic [acid] levels are notoriously hard to control…” in the context of souring fermenting beer.

Furthermore, he suggests that using a sour mash is a good way to make sour beer quickly – he notes that it is not a method for replicating Belgian sour beers, as they need time to develop the Brett culture and flavour, but is good for such beers as Berliner Weisse. In a way, this beer is like a strong version of Berliner Weisse – light bodied, sour, etc. They even add sweeteners to it, much like they do to champagne (cassis, etc).

So here’s my proposed method to sour mash. Take 1/4 of my pale malt and rice grain and mash it (I’ll use distilled water to ensure the pH is low enough on this first mashing). This I will place in one or two (depending on it’s final volume) plastic 4 liter jugs, along with a handfull of unmashed malt grain and some cold water to reduce the temperature to 50 degrees. To keep the sour mash at 50 degrees for three days, I will hold it in a cooler, along with enough mini Christmas lights to maintain the temperature (see my tempeh making post to see a picture of what this would look like, approximately). On the third day, the sour mash will be mixed into the regular mash just before ‘sparging’ (not the best term when dealing with BIAB).

November 7, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 2

Filed under: Beer,Brewing — iwouldntlivethere @ 7:18 pm
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In the last post I explained why I am planning to brew a ‘Champagne of Beers’, essentially a beer that is an attempt to clone champagne. Here are the characteristics I am aiming for. I already discussed how to achieve a very light colour and fizz without head.

1. Very light colour

2. Fizzy, but without much head

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv

4. Noticable 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)

The next aspects of brewing a champagne clone are:

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv. I think part of the appeal of champagne is that it is the closest wine comes to being beer (ignoring wine-beer blends). It has the carbonation and lightness of some beers, but has the alcohol content of wine. So people drink it much more easily and quickly than wine generally (lest the carbonation dissipate), so they get tipsy quicker and more so than usual – leading to good times! I also understand that a lot of its appeal is marketing and its association with significant events.

So the Champagne of Beers needs to be significantly stronger than typical beer. At the low end, wines are around 8%, which happens to be at the higher end of beer. I could go higher, but it gets complicated, and harder to control flavours and body. This would interfere with other objectives like a light body, and dryness.

Achieving 8% alcohol is not that difficult – the grain bill is simply increased enough to ensure enough sugar is created, and so enough alcohol will be fermented. However, barley malt is a flavourful grain, and mashing can produce significant quantities of long-chain sugars that do not get fermented, contributing body, sweetness or maltiness, and flavour to beer. These are generally good things, making beer palatable.

However, I don’t think they’ll work well in this case – obtaining higher alcohol content strictly through barley malt would add proportionately more unfermentable sugar, making the beer thick and sweet/malty tasting – things I am trying to avoid. The solution to this problem is to use neutral grain adjuncts (non-barley) and refined sugar. Grain adjuncts commonly used include corn and rice – corn adds corn flavour, but rice is practically tasteless. The grain bill I am looking at would call for about 58% barley malt, 21% rice, and 21% sugar. The sugar is completely fermentable and does not contribute any flavour  or residual sugar. Yeast fermenting refined sugar can add some cidery flavours – not a bad thing in this case. As well, if so much sugar is added that the alcohol content kills off the yeast before all the sugar is fermented, sugar will be left in the finished beer adding sweetness. This is unlikely in my case as I am only aiming for an alcohol content of 8%, below the toxicity level of most yeasts.

Speaking of yeast, I will be using Wyeast’s 1388 Belgian Strong Ale yeast. It is well adapted for higher alcohol content (good), produces some fruity flavours (good – see Characteristic #9) as well as spice flavours (not so good), finishes dry and tart (good – see Characteristics #4 and #10 ), and has low flocculation (bad – see Characteristic #6). It’s recommended fermentation temperature range of 18 – 27 degrees is good for the fermentation conditions I have. JJ recommended it, and while not perfect, I think it probably is the best yeast for my beer, overall.

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On a different note, last night I had a Budweiser – haven’t had one in years, and the only other choices at the Korean place we were at were Coors Light or Coors Canadian. In many respects, the Budweiser was like what I am aiming for with the Champagne of Beers – it was very light coloured, minimal hop aroma or flavour, not bitter, light body, very clear and had zero head (it may have been partly the plastic cup I was drinking from). I think if it had had more alcohol, acidity, and fruity flavours, it would have fit my characteristics! Not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it confirms that you could brew a beer much like champagne.

One other thing I noticed is that it’s bubbles were big and formed everywhere, like a pop, rather than small and forming from individual spots like in a champagne. The good news is that I have noticed that my homebrews form bubbles much like champagne does – I think it may have to do with bottle conditioning.

November 6, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’

(My earlier poll for what to write about is currently tied 0-0-0-0-0, so I feel free to write what I want)

Next summer is my ‘champagne birthday’ – where the age I’m turning is the same as the day of the month on which my birthday falls. The only problem is that I don’t really like champagne / sparkling wine. It’s better than still wine, and I can drink it, but I don’t truly enjoy it – especially for more than a glass or two.

SO, I’ve decided to try brewing a beer with characteristics similar to champagne:

1. Very light colour

2. Fizzy, but without much head

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv (yes, I know it can be stronger)

4. Noticable 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)

My next few posts will be my thoughts on how to achieve these objectives:

1. Very light colour. This isn’t too hard; I will only use base malt (2-row barley malt), uncoloured sugar, and rice (minimal colour) as an adjunct. The colour from this should be around 2 SRM.

2. Fizzy, but without much head. A bit more involved. I will try a protein rest during mashing at 50 degrees for 30 minutes (see http://www.howtobrew.com/section3/chapter14-4.html). This should break down the protiens that usually cause big heads (foam) on beer when it is poured. This has the added ‘benefit’ of reducing the body of the beer, making it feel more watery (see Characteristic #5).

Another aspect to this will be the use of aged hops for bittering. Hops usually provide chemicals that link with  protiens in beer to promote head retention (see http://www.byo.com/departments/884.html). Aging removes a lot of this power. Using aged hops has the added ‘benefit’ of reducing hop flavours and aroma (see Characteristic #7). One downside is that certain hops (esp. US grown Cascades and related hops) can impart a strong citrusy aroma to beer, so using aged hops works against this – which would have helped with Characteristic #9.

Fizz-wise, I think that regular bottle conditioning (together with the lack of body and foam) should be sufficient carbonation.

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