Brewing Belgians – Saison brew day

I really like saisons.  I say I’m passionate about them but others have used the word obsessed… whatever.

Several months ago I decided I wanted to brew a saison but rather than jumping into it and brewing away all willy nilly, I researched saisons like crazy.  I drank as many as I could find and made a spreadsheet with notes on color, carbonation, aroma, flavors.  Then I took that sheet and I wrote to the brewers of my favorites and told them what I liked about their beers and asked them for tips on brewing mine.  As a side note, there are certain breweries that are very friendly and helpful to homebrewers, New Holland Monkey King is one of my favorite saisons and they not only replied to my email but we chatted a bit (via email) to help me fine tune my process.  I talked to local commercial brewers and asked for their advice to achieve what I wanted in my beer and I emailed White Labs to ask for tips on the way to best get what I wanted out of the yeast I chose to use (WLP566) and they were glad to share some advice with me.  See?  Passionate.

I forgot to get pictures of the process prior to fermentation so instead here is a picture of a Tactical Goat.

I forgot to get pictures of the process prior to fermentation so instead here is a picture of a Tactical Goat.

After a ton of research I finally found what I wanted to brew and this weekend we brewed it up.  I’ve noticed that my favorite saisons seem to be more fruit forward with phenolics in the background, rather than the other way around.  It turns out I’m also a fan of wheated saisons, many of my favorites have a touch of wheat in them.  My final recipe included Pilsen malt, some white wheat and Belgian candi syrup with Hallertau Hersbrucker, Saaz and my personal favorite hops, Mosaic.  We’ve dubbed this one Synesthesia Saison and we were going to use the tagline Taste the Rainbow, but I think that’s being used already.

We mashed the grains at 148° for 75 minutes then did a double batch sparge at 168°, this one had a 2 hour boil to carmelize the sugars a touch for both color and flavor.  Hops were added at first wort, 60 minutes and flameout, the Belgian candi syrup was also added at flameout.  We put 5 1/2 gallons in the carboy and pitched our yeast starter then capped it up and into the fermentation chamber with it.  Within 12 hours this thing was spinning like crazy.  A nice, fast, aggressive fermentation.  I’m really excited to see how this one turns out.

On a geekier note, after seeing a post on a homebrew forum where someone else did this I added a wireless IP video camera (I got a Tenvis JPT3815W) to the fermentation chamber so I can watch it from the comfort of my easy chair.  It’s pretty awesome.  Right now I can only view it from my network, since my router is being a pain about letting me have access to my ports, but I plan to get this online where anyone can see it.

Fermentation Creeper Cam

Fermentation Creeper Cam

In case you’re a saison fan as well, here are my favorites.

Tim D’s Top 5 Saisons
1) New Holland Monkey King
2) Stillwater Cellar Door
3) Goose Island Sofie (2012)
4) Stillwater Stateside Saison
5) Dupont Saison Cuvee Dry Hopping.

Racking, tasting and testing.

We’re feeling some withdraws over here at tMHBC.  We haven’t actually brewed in about a month now and it’s starting to stress us out.  We’ve had plenty of other stuff to keep us busy but as of this weekend our beer pipeline is running dry.  We do have some meads fermenting, but we’re still a few months away on all of those.  We need to brew soon before Brian does something crazy… er.

The lack of actual brewing sure doesn’t mean we’ve not been busy.  Last weekend we bottled our Kiwi Kaleidoscope IIPA (which we’re pretty sure is going to be awful) and this weekend we racked over 5 gallons of our Pirate Pancake Syrup mead to secondary so it can start clearing up.  This was started on 09/28 so we’re just short of 3 months into fermentation.   The samples from this were excellent, I think this is going to be a fantastic mead.  We’re also planning another batch of this using blood oranges that we’ve dubbed Sailor’s Warning, I’m really starting to enjoy meads.

5 gallons of delicious Pirate Pancake Syrup

5 gallons of delicious Pirate Pancake Syrup

We sampled some of our Nutstalgia – Coconut this weekend and it was pretty good.  The aroma is awesome, roasty and nutty with a nice coconut fragrance, and the taste is much the same but nothing “amazing”…  just decent.  So far we’ve sampled the plain, black cardamom and coconut versions of this and my favorite has been the plain brown ale.  It’s a very solid, above average brown ale in my opinion.

Nutstalgia Coconut Brown Ale

Nutstalgia Coconut Brown Ale

Other weekend bottling of a Brickwarmer Holiday Red Ale, a kit brew from Northern Brewer that was done for a friend’s wife as a gift to him for Christmas, and testing out our fermentation chamber to see if it can successfully hold high temps for brewing Belgians.  So far it’s been holding a 5-gallon carboy of water at 90°F for 3 days so looks like we should be good.  I imagine the chamber is sealed well enough that once it’s up to temp it doesn’t have to work that hard to hold it there.  Provided temps continue to hold well we’ll brew a saison after the first of the year, I’m still researching and formulating the recipe right now.  I think we’ll slide in one more brew day after Christmas and before the saison.  Brian’s been researching some sessionable IPA’s and we’ll likely brew that and our Sailor’s Warning this weekend.

I hope everyone reading this has a very Merry Christmas and an awesomely prosperous and Happy New Year!

Heating things up… adding heat to the fermentation chamber.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  Mine was awesome, my family all lives out of town but I was able to see everyone earlier in the week and then on Thanksgiving Day I had invites to join two groups of friends for dinner.  I shared some of our Horsey Holidays Horse Pop, which was a hit, and ate and drank until I couldn’t move.  I was able to roll myself into my easy chair with a glass of bourbon and a cigar and called it a night.  Good times.

Horsey Holidays - Tis' the Season

Horsey Holidays – Tis’ the Season

A little while back I shared my info on wiring up the STC-1000 temp controller for heating and cooling a fermentation chamber.  At the time there was no need to add heating but now that temps are dropping it’s a necessity.  After researching a few options I originally went with a small space heater in order to help circulate the warm air.  This worked great for about a week but then the heater died, after sitting overnight the heater started working again but I didn’t trust it to keep our beer safe, so I added a Zoo Med Ceramic Infrared Heat Lamp to the chamber.  It’s been going for a couple weeks now and is holding rock solid.  Note that there are a couple types of reptile heat lamps, this one is ceramic and emits no light, probably the better choice for a fermentation chamber.

Fermentation Chamber with Heater

Fermentation chamber with heater.

Close up on the heat lamp

Close up on the heat lamp.

As you can see from the chart below, there was minimal variation in temps throughout the fermentation process.  I started the fermentation at 62°F (all temps converted from °C) for a couple days then ramped it up to 64°F.  The temperature range once the controller was set to 64°F was 63.68°F to 64.40°F, a variance of only 0.72°F  over a 2 week period (not counting the heater dying) and never more than 0.40 degrees off the target of 64.0°F.  Pretty impressive control.  I was also impressed that the heat lamp was able to pull the temp back to 64°F in <12 hours.

Click chart for full size image.

Fermentation Temperature Chart

Fermentation Temperature Chart

We’re getting ready to rack the beer onto some fruit for secondary fermentation this weekend and we’ll monitor the process with temp control there as well.  I’ve read/heard a thousand times that temp control is the biggest change a homebrewer can make to affect the quality of their beer.  This brew is a huge IIPA so I’m can’t wait to see what we get out of it.  We’ll report back once the beer is ready.

A triple brew day and more lessons learned.

This Friday we had another brew day here at tMHBC.  We’d planned to do two brews – a Lemon Wine and an Imperial Stout.  On the way to the “brewery” Brian called me to ask if I had cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  I’ve learned not to ask why so, I just told him I did and left it and that, I figured I’d discover what kind of craziness he was up to soon enough.  It was a nice day for a brew and we had a couple of friends join us as well for some cigars and sharing of some craft brews.  We’re living the dream over here, folks.

Brian showed up and started plopping jars of honey, citrus fruits and raisins on my counter and busted out a little Fleischmann’s action to boot.  While diving into the recesses of the interwebz, he’d stumbled on a recipe for Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead and decided to try it out.  It’s a very, very simple recipe that is said to produce a very good mead.  It’s drinkable after a couple months and supposed to be excellent at about 6-7 months.  Starting it now should have this ready for us at the holidays.  We’ll keep you posted.

Joe's Ancient Orange Mead

Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead

Next up for the day was some Horse Pop.  “WTF is Horse Pop?”, you ask. (Some of you likely know the reference already, for the others… enjoy. PS – NSFW) Horse Pop is our version of Skeeter Pee lemon wine.  While I love the concept of Skeeter Pee I really hate that name.  I wanted a classy name, one you’d be proud to serve to your pastor or take to the yacht club.  “Pardon me, but might I top off your Horse Pop, good fellow?”  “Oh yes, it’s quite delightful… merci.”  It’s going to be awesome.

So after fighting with Brian about adding malt or hops or berries or whothehellknowswhat to the recipe we finally made “by the book” Skeeter Pee.  This is a quick fermenting wine and should be ready to bottle in about a month, just as the heat of summer hits us hard here in Atlanta.  I hear it’s a very sneaky drink and comes in at 10% but drinks like Kool Aid, easy to get out of control if you’re not careful.  Fermentation can be tough to get going with lemon-based beverages but I made a yeast starter and it started up nicely not long after pitching.  I look forward to bottling this one and getting stupid on it.

Horse Pop.  Some assembly required.

Horse Pop. Some assembly required.

The final brew for the day was V1.0 of our Signature Stout.  Brian and I both love a good stout so we decided this is the first style we want to perfect.  We’ve come up with a recipe that puts us in the right range of where we want to be with ABV and bitterness and using some malts we know we love.  This sucker has 18 1/2 lbs of malts in a 4 gallon batch.

This one, of course, is a bit more involved than the mead or the lemon wine.  We have to watch mash and sparge temps and time hop additions, etc.  We followed the recipe to the “T” and we’re dumbfounded when we missed our OG by 0.020.  A HUGE number to be off, and we know we followed the process dead on.  BUT… one thing we missed was how much wort got stuck in the deadspace of our mash tun.  The answer is “a lot”.  That much grain held a lot of water and we should have given it longer to  drain, we also need to upgrade the MLT drain hose as it’s quite possible even with the supports that amount of grain and water restricted our flow.  We didn’t notice how much was trapped right away but the next day, while cleaning it out, there was a lot of liquid that had settled.  A lot of delicious, sugary gravity that we missed out on.  Lesson learned.

The stout still looks very good and the wort tasted great.  Hopefully we’ll get a nice brew out of it but we’ll have to go back to the drawing board to get a perfect and reproducible recipe for our stout.

Black Gold, Texas Tea, Imperial Stout

Black Gold, Texas Tea, Imperial Stout