Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sour Cherry Melomel

I've gotten in the habit of putting together a few batches of mead each year and this is the first for 2010. At one or two years age before they are really good in most cases, I feel like I should continue doing this so as to eventually have a nice turnaround. My first attempt was last July (2009) and I bottled it early. I did several things wrong with it including pitching a weak yeast just before leaving on vacation so I couldn't feed it during the first few days. We also moved over the winter and the carboy got shook up more than I'd like on the car ride even though I was extremely careful with it. I also didn't rack it enough times and the bottles have sediment. It ended up with a very yeasty flavor to it which I'm hoping will mellow out a little with more time. For now, it's not great, but it's not something I would dump either. It's just below average in my opinion for now.

My second batch was started in early September of 2009 using cranberry blossom honey delivered by a friend from a beekeeper in Tomah, WI. I haven't tasted it recently, but I have high hopes that although it also didn't get the best treatment while moving, it will hopefully turn out better.

Now that I've done this a couple times and have some experience under my belt, I set out to make what I hope will be a much better end product. I pciked up 2 gallons of sour Montmorency cherry juice from a local store, 12 lbs of Wildflower honey from Northern Brewer, augmented with 4 more lbs of Basswood honey from our local homebrewing store in Racine.

Sour Cherry Melomel

brewed on: 6/13/10

12 lbs (1 gallon) Wildflower honey (northern brewer)
3 gallons water
2 gallons sour cherry juice (SG 1.051)
4 lbs Basswood honey (added later once yeast krausened)
aerated extremely well, added 2 tsp wine yeast nutrient & 1 tsp yeast energizer

yeast: BM45

More yeast energizer & nutrient added once per day for the next 2 days.
Re-aerated around 1.5 days later with addition of Basswood honey.

I'm shooting for something on the sweet side to balance the sour cherries, thus adding more honey. I was originally planning on 5 gallons, but it ended up being 6 with the addition of the Basswood honey. Possibility of topping up down the road with more cherry juice after racking.

I need to sit down and figure out the approximate OG on this one due to the late honey addition and cherry juice.

I didn't get to take an OG reading since the fermentables were not added together. However, I've calculated the gravity roughly as follows:

expected OG - 1.098
FG - 1.020
ABV - ~10.5%

7/13 - Transferred to secondary. SG @ 1.020. Alcohol a bit harsh. Still very cloudy. (Need to add a handful of raisins soon.)

12/10/10 - bottled. FG 1.020

Wine Yeast Experiment

Awhile back I listened to a Sunday Session podcast with Shea Comfort (from 11-23-08.)If anyone reading this hasn't listened to it I *highly* recommend it! They cover two different topics, both of which are quite helpful. The first deals with using wine yeast in beer.

Most wine yeast is incapable of digesting maltotriose which is one of the complex sugar chains present in malt. Since there's no malt in wine/mead/cider, this normally isn't an issue. Comfort talked about an enzyme called Convertase AG-300 which, when added to the fermenter in very small amounts, breaks up all the complex sugar chains into simple sugars that are easily fermentable. This will completely dry a beer out though unless a tiny, tiny, tiny amount were added.

Wine yeasts are interesting creatures to use in beer fermentation because they can impart some great fruit flavors and big mouthfeel (even in drier beers, since it isn't coming from residual sugar like most homebrewers are used to) to the final product. Ale and wine yeast strains are all members of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, as opposed to Saccharomyces Pastorionus (lager yeast) and Brettanomyces strains. Some Sacch C. strains are killer, some are neutral, and some are susceptible. The way this breaks down is that killer strains secrete compounds which will completely kill off a susceptible strain within about 12 hours. However, they will not affect neutral strains. Neutral strains and susceptible strains will coexist fine. Pretty much all standard ale strains are susceptible.

The problem in using wine and ale strains in the same batch becomes that the wine yeast will kill off the ale strain, but won't be able to digest the maltotriose, thus the need for AG-300 enzyme to break down the maltotriose into simple sugars. Other approaches include adding the wine strain later in fermentation, after you've gotten what you want from the ale strain, or blending from a split batch using 2 or more different strains of yeast.

They discussed several different wine strains on which I took notes. White wine yeasts tend to impart either apple/pear, or tropical/citrus flavors. Red wine yeasts tend to impart cherry or berry flavors. I will outline some of the notes on specific strains here:

Susceptible, white, general fruit salad

Killer, white, champagne yeast, relatively neutral flavor, general background winey (fruit/grape, not alcohol) Useful for Belgians, etc. Good for bottle conditioning a finished beer due to its strength.

Killer, white, peach and stone fruit flavors

Killer, red, fresh berry. (Comfort suggested Stout, Porter, Kriek, Lambic as possible uses)

Killer, red, cherry, big mouthfeel (won't get broken down as it dries out). Comfort suggested 1/3 this yeast, 2/3 ale yeast in split batch. Cold crash a lot and re-yeast to bottle.

Killer, red, berrylike flavor
Convertase AG-300
suggested dosage of .08-.28ml/gallon

I ordered some Convertase AG-300 to play around with and brewed a batch as an experiment. I decided to do a split batch and ferment part with WY3711 French Saison strain. (I had several packs of this in the fridge, and I really like it. I chose it for this simply because it was onhand and I was hoping the spiciness would complement the fruitiness of the wine yeast.) I opted for BM-45 for the rest to see how much cherry flavor and mouthfeel it produces.

I stuck with an extremely simple grist since this was an experimetn, adding only a small amount of Crystal malt to an otherwise all base malt bill.

Wine Yeast Experiment I

brewed on: 4/30/10
expected OG: 1.044

Expected IBUs: 31
mash temp: 152F

8 lb Maris Otter
1 lb Crystal 40L malt

2 oz Willamette @ 4% - 60 minutes
0.6 oz Kent Golding @ 4.8% - 15 minutes


1.5-2 gallons - BM45 Brunello
4 gallons - WY3711 French Saison yeast

The BM45 batch finished very early after just a couple days and I added .25ml of Convertase. Within 12 hours the fermentation picked back up again for several more days!

6/13 - The 3711 batch finished at 0.002, not unexpectedly as this yeast is a monster. The BM45 (w/ Convertase) batch completely dried out to 0.000! I have to admit I was disappointed in the lack of overwhelming cherry flavor I was hoping for from this batch. However, as I sipped the sample I did begin to pick it up. However, being bone dry obscures it a little. I blended the 2 batches together in a secondary. While I'm not expecting anything amazing from this blend, I do think the spice and fruit will complement each other well still. I need to decide if I want to augment this somehow to add some residual sugar, or possibly brett and something for it to nibble on. We'll see when I taste the blend soon, given some time to actually blend together completely.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cherrywood Smoked Porter

Brewing at my friend Dan's house is becoming a regular get-together every few months. We got together on 5-23 for our most recent brewday. (I'm obviously very behind on my posting here. . .) On past outings to our local Northern Brewer store in Milwaukee I've been tasting various grains that I wasn't familiar with. The Briess cherrywood smoked malt really stood out to me, and to my taste was definitely better than the normal beechwood smoked stuff. Tasting this grain inspired me to brew a smoked beer, although it took a few months to actually get around to it due to the large to-brew list I've had going lately!

When the weather is nice, as it was this time, we all brew out in the yard or on the deck. I tend to do my mash/sparge inside though due to ease of using the kitchen table. Apparently when I was doughing in the guys could smell the smokey aroma from this grist all the way outside and across Dan's relatively large yard! I have to admit, it did smell pretty damn good.

Cherrywood Smoked Porter

brewed on: 5/23/10
expected OG: 1.060

Expected IBUs: 37
mash temp: 154F

6.4 lbs American 2-row
4 lbs Munich malt
2 lbs Briess Cherrywood Smoked malt
12 oz Crystal 40L malt
11oz Chocolate malt
7 oz Debittered Black malt

.75 oz - Columbus @ 14.2% - 60 minutes
.75 oz - Willamette @ 4.9% - 15 minutes

Wyeast 1968 - London ESB Ale

With the nice weather the temperature in our house really jumped curing the first 12 hours after I pitched the yeast and this thing took off, but the ambient temp was in the mid-70F range. I quickly moved it down into the basement which is in the low 60s instead. This is supposedly on the really low end for this yeast which has been known to floc out very easily, and sometimes too soon, so I made sure to give the pail a good swirl 2-3 times a day for the first few days. I mashed pretty high, at 154F, and my Beer Alchemy software was predicting a FG of 1.020, but when I racked this beer to the secondary it was at 1.015.

6/13 - racked to secondar
y. OG 1.015. This beer tastes delicious! The smoke flavor is very subdued in the nose, but present. Nice thick mouthfeel without being too sweet. The smoke flavor is perfectly balanced with other elements of this beer. It starts off tasting smokey with tiny hints of dark fruit that I like in small amounts in some porters, but transitions through notes of roasted coffee, and chocolate. This might very well be the most complex flavor profile I've gotten in a non-sour yet. Like a good wine, the flavors roll over the tongue one by one for several seconds. I can't wait to get this bottled and hope the level of smoke stays present until it is conditioned.

This is a funny picture one of the guys took. He did an extract batch with a small bag of grain to steep. Afterward he hung it from a tree for some reason. It was maybe four inches wide. I'm actually standing 9 or 10 feet behind the bag and the camera is extremely close to it. It's a funny optical illusion though!

7/3 - Bottled w/ 2.5oz corn sugar