Monday, July 27, 2009

Saison Experiment

A few notes on my saison experiement:

1. Saisons
  • In the words of K. Florian Klemp, "The French word for season, saison, has become a stylistic designation to distinguish a group of beers from Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. Today, these historically seasonal ales are brewed year-round. Saisons present a complex character that is both aggressive and subtle. Unmistakably Belgian and unequivocally rustic, they beckon exploration. "
  • BCJP style description
  • Ever since I first tried beer on my 21st birthday, porters have always been my favorite style. But over the last year or so, saisons have been giving it a run for the money.
  • My idea was to do two different saisons: the first would be more traditional and get its spicy characteristics directly from a specific saison-style yeast; the second would use a more neutral belgian yeast and get flavor from the additions of spices and wildflowers
  • Notable commercial examples: Boulevard Saison w/ Brett, Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux, Fantôme Saison, Moinette Biologique, Saison Dupont Vieille Provision, Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs and The Bruery Saison de Lente

2. Fermentation Temps

  • While the general rule of thumb ale yeasts seems to be fermentation around 70 degrees on the high end, saison yeasts are recommended at 80 degrees or even higher
  • That makes them perfect for summer and the higher temps should bring out the spice and fruity esters that saisons are known for
  • I'm 4 days into Rêve de Wallonia and 3 days into Saison de Deux Médecine and have been keeping them in the kitchen for the most part to maximize the heat
  • Ambient temps have been mostly in the 80's, reaching as high as 92 (!!)
  • Fermentation has been strong and I will be taking samples in the next 3-4 days

3. Spices / Wildflowers

  • Previously I've used a few spices (corriander, grains of paradise) in an Imperial Wit, but here I used several new to me.
  • In the tradition of using local ingredients, I wanted to use wildflowers picked while on a backpacking trip. I picked a bunch, but many turned out to be inedible. Yarrow however worked. The dried yarrow I got was from Eastern Washington and the wildflower honey from Western Washington.
  • I like the general idea of using wild ingredients and plan on doing a spruce tip IPA soon

4. Brettanomyces
  • Another layer to this experiment was to use Brettanomyces wild yeast for the first time
  • Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing: Brettanomyces (also known as Brett) is feared by most brewers and winemakers alike. In fact, there are some local winemakers who will not set foot in our brewpub in Downtown Santa Rosa due to our use of Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is actually yeast, it ferments and acts the same as every other "conventional" yeast, it just has the propensity to continue fermenting through almost any type of sugar, including those natural sugars found in the wood in an oak barrel. Brett is very invasive and if not handled properly can become out of control in a winery or brewery, but, if used properly with care, it can add rich aromas and flavors of earthiness, leather, smoke, barnyard, & our favorite descriptor-wet dog in a phone booth.
  • While used for many years in classic beers such as Orval, brett has become quite popular in recent years and has been showing up in saisons as a secondary yeast
  • My choice: Wyeast 5151-PC Brettanomyces claussenii - Isolated from English stock ale, this wild yeast produces a mild Brett character with overtones of tropical fruit and pineapple. It ferments best in worts with a reduced pH after primary fermentation has begun. May form a pellicle in bottles or casks. Typically used in conjunction with other yeast and lactic acid bacteria.
  • Brett will certainly change the flavor of my beers and should also help them attenuate and dry out - something you want in a saison
  • Using brett will requiring purchasing some new equipment, hoses, etc. b/c you can't rid the critters from anything that is porous; glass carboys will be fine

5. Batch Splitting
  • I'm doing several new things with these two beers with the big one definitely being the brettanomyces
  • In order to fully understand its impacts on each recipe, I will be only using it in part of each beer
  • I will take each beer, split in half and only put brett in half; thus ending up with essentially four different beers
  • The results should go along way in understanding not only brett, but also the high fermenation temps, use of spices, etc.
  • This is something I plan on continuing in the future in regards to using oak again, adding fruit, etc.

Batch No. 18 - Saison de Deux Médecine

Saison de Deux Médecine

Brewed - July 26, 2009

Style - Saison
Source - Saison du Mont variation / Northern Brewer

  • 6.0 lbs. Pilsner LME
  • 2.0 lbs. Vienna Malt (partial mash)
  • 1.0 lbs. Flaked Oats (partial mash)
  • 1.0 oz. Hallertauer (60)
  • 1.0 oz. Hallertauer (15)
  • 1.0 oz. Hallertauer (0)
  • 1.0 lbs. Rainier Fireweed Honey (0)
  • 4.0 oz. Dried Yarrow (0)
  • 1.0 oz. Fresh Yarrow (0)
  • 1.0 oz. Valencia Zest (0)
  • 1.0 tbsp. Powdered Ginger (0)
  • Wyeast #3522 Belgian Ardennes
  • 750 ml starter w/ 1/2 cup DME
OG - 1.056
Primary - 7 days
Secondary - 28 days

Bottled - August 30, 2009

FG - 1.014
Attenuation - 75.0%
ABV - 5.5%


2.5 gallons spiked with Brettanomyces Claussenii

Date - September 27, 2009
Secondary - 245 days

Bottled - May 19, 2010

FG - 1.006
Attenuation - 89.3%
ABV - 6.55%


  • first time doing a partial-mash, which was a little tricky b/c I don't have a good strainer, second large pot or effective ways to maintain specific temperatures; it was good to finally try and with a few small improvements , should be an effective change in my brewing process and helping bring more flavor and body to my brews
  • Yarrow is a white flowering plant that is found in Eastern Washington and many other areas; it is edible and is used in several herbal remedies
  • some of the yarrow used was picked while backpacking in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park
  • first time using a bunch of spices as well and i was nervous about quantities, esp. adding too much ginger and yarrow
  • a small scale would be a good item to pick up so I can better measure the weights of the spices
  • a hectic brewing day, including smashing my hydrometer and rushing to my buddy's place in the middle of the boil to borrow, fun
  • fermentation not quite as vigorous as the first saison, but still going well - wort ended up being quite muddy brown and the krausen was dark green from the yarrow

My one shot during the mini-sparge

After yarrow was added

Batch No. 17 - Rêve de Wallonia

Rêve de Wallonia (Dreams of Wallonia)

Brewed - July 25, 2009

Style - Saison
Source - Tasty Brew / Northern Brewer

  • 6.0 lbs. Light DME
  • 1.0 lbs. Wheat DME
  • 1.0 lbs. Dextrose
  • 2.0 lbs. American Crystal 10L
  • 1.0 lbs. Belgian Carapils
  • 1.0 oz. Styrian Goldings (60)
  • 1.0 oz. Styrian Goldings (15)
  • 1.0 oz. Styrian Goldings (0)
  • Wyeast #3724 Belgian Saison
  • 750 ml starter w/ 1/2 cup DME
OG - 1.074
Primary -64 days!!
Secondary - 28 days

Bottled - October 25, 2009

FG - 1.010
Attenuation - 86.5%
ABV - 8.4%


2.5 gallons spiked with Brettanomyces Claussenii

Date - September 27, 2009
Secondary - 189 days

Bottled - May 19, 2010

FG - 1.008
Attenuation - 89.2%
ABV - 8.65%


  • my first saison!!!
  • Wallonia is the region in southern Belgium where the saison style originated
  • starter was very active prior to pitching
  • slight extension of boil time b/c I missed the 15 min. hop addition
  • used 5 gal carboy and blow off tube
  • airlock activity w/in 6 hours; I will always use a yeast starter!!
  • forgot to add the dextrose at the end of the boil, so the next day I dissolved it in water, boiled to sanitized, cooled and dumped into the carboy (this was about 18 hours after the yeast was pitched; it was already going strong, but went wild when the sugar was added
  • keeping track of fermentation temps, but have mostly been in the low 80's so far

Fermenting away in the kitchen to keep warm

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Brewing

So last summer I basically closed shop for the warm weather months and decided not to even toy with the higher temps and slow cooling condo. Yet I've come to learn that there are several yeasts that can handle the higher temps and in a few cases, are recommended to ferment at 80 degrees or higher. Saison yeasts are good examples and I will be brewing two different types in the next few weeks.

But the wee heavy I brewed last weekend needed to stay near 70 degrees during primary fermentation. By late Sunday morning it was pushing 80 degrees, so I covered it with a wet towel, made an ice bath and tried to keep my pantry cool by covering the windows. It worked well and was just a tad below 70 degrees for several days.

Batch No. 16 - Heavy Things

Heavy Things

Brewed - July 18, 2009

Style - Scotch Ale
Source - Northern Brewer kit

Best Commercial Example (IMO): Alesmith Wee Heavy

  • 12.0 lbs. Gold LME
  • 0.5 lbs. Simpsons Crystal
  • 0.375 lbs. Dingemans Biscuit
  • 0.125 lbs. Simpsons Roasted Barley
  • 1.0 oz. Brewer's Gold (60)
  • Wyeast #1728 Scottish Ale
OG - 1.086
Primary - 7 days
Secondary - 91 days

Bottled - October 24, 2009

FG - 1.028
Attenuation - 67.5%
ABV - 7.6%

- extract was almost 4 months old: better to brew than throw away!!
- used yeast starter for the first time; activity w/in 5 hours and full blow krausen w/in 12
- I was a little rusty w/ some big spills near the end
- so hot!! ran out of ice and cooling the last 10 degrees took a while

Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Yeast Starter

July 17, 2009

Over six months ago I purchased a simple yeast starter kit from Northern Brewer, but it had been sitting on my shelve collecting dust. In short, a yeast starter is a method of prepping your yeast to dramatically expand the yeast cell count. A healthier yeast count should speed the fermentation process and hopefully better attenuation. For stronger beers, say OG of 1.080+, a yeast starter is strongly suggested. I was planning on finally brewing my Wee Heavy on July 18th and with an projected OG of 1.083, this was finally the time to make one.

After some literature review and searching a few websites, I found that some of the water-to-wort ratios seemed quite different, but I stuck with something relatively close to my directions and used 750 ml of water with 3/4 cup of Golden Light DME.

Yeast Starter:
  1. Smack yeast at least 6-8 hours before starting
  2. Start at least 12 hours before pitching
  3. Mix 3/4 cup of DME with 750 ml of water
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and slow boil for 15 mins.
  5. Sanitize flask, stopper, etc.
  6. Remove from boil and dump into flask
  7. Cover top w/ tin foil and insert thermometer
  8. Chill flask in ice bath to ~ 70 degrees
  9. Once chilled, dump in yeast & insert airlock
  10. Shake periodically & store at expected pitching temp

The whole process is quite simple and took just over 30 mins. A small stir plate would work wonders for a yeast starter, but minus one I did try to shake periodically. After 14.5 hours there was no noticeable activity (krausen or airlock activity), yet the starter was muddy brown with suspended yeast. Also the airlock bubbled pretty good after shaking, so some gas was built up. My flask is quite big (2 liter) compared to the actual starter (750 ml).

Covered with foil

Ice bath

All finished

2009 Pro-Am - Results

June 26, 2009

So, today the results were released. None of my scores placed, but they all received very good scores. For reference, my one entry last year score a lowly 21.
  1. Liquid Karma v2 - Specialty Ale (23) - 31
  2. Russian Lullaby - Belgian Strong Golden Ale (18D) - 33.5
  3. Bamboozled - Smoke Ale (22B) - 33.5
  4. Kinza Imperial Wit - Belgian Specialty (16E) - 30.3
  5. Hop 99 - Old Ale (19A) - 30

My goal was to at least place in the top 4 of the style category, but I just missed out with the Russian Lullaby place just out of honorable mention in the Belgian Strong category (I was most satisfied with this b/c of the effort put into that one and it involved some new techniques). Overall those are some great scores though and validates what I think of those beers and my overall brewing skills. The judges' feedback received was very valuable and I can't wait until next year!!

The overall buddy Colin's brew "From Belgium, Wit Love" was selected to be brewed by Rock Bottom (Bellevue) and that was actually the brew I helped him back in May...Congrats Colin!!

Competition Summary:

300 Beers

10 States

13 beers selected to be professionally brewed!


1st Place: Steve Milnes's "Kolsch"

2nd Place: Mark Trent's "Valle de Oro" (Belgian Specialty Ale)

3rd Place: Mike & Steve Brown's "Caber Toss" (Strong Scotch Ale)

Honorable Mention: Jeff O'Neal's "The Kind" (Classic Rauchbier)

Pro-Am Qualified Selections:

Baron Brewing Company - Joel Pratt's "Goat Roper Scotch Ale", Strong Scotch Ale

Big Al Brewing - Mike & Steve Brown's "Caber Toss", Strong Scotch Ale, BREWED

Big Time Brewery and Alehouse - Ryan Hilliard's "Pale Ale", American Pale Ale

Diamond Knot Brewery - Eric Surface's "Vader-Ade", Schwartzbier

Elliott Bay Brewery - James Golovich's "American Barleywine 2007", American Barleywine, BREWED (selection made in 2008 PSPA)

Elysian Brewing Company - Mark Joy's "Pucker Puss", Wood Aged Beer, BREWED

Flyers Restaurant and Brewery - Mark Emiley's "Formico", Foreign Extra Sout

Issaquah Brewhouse - Nathan Zorich's "Rochefontaine's 9", Belgian Dark Strong

Ram Restaurant and Brewery (Lakewood) - Steve Milnes's "Golden Strong", Belgian Golden Strong, BREWED, Photos

Rock Bottom Brewery - Bellevue - Colin Lenfesty's "From Belgium, Wit Love", Witbier, BREWED

Rock Bottom Brewery - Seattle - Tim Hayner's "No Spit Wit", Witbier, release celebration August 6th

Snipes Mountain Brewing Company - Karl Vanevenhoven & Derry Jefferis's "American Pale Ale", American Pale Ale

"Recreational" Selections

Baron Brewing Company - Alison Sheafor-Joy's "Tangy Mole Brew", Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer

Powerhouse Restaurant and Brewery - Jim Brischke's "Fairly Common", California Common

Saturday, July 18, 2009

2009 Pro-Am - Judging

May 30, 2009

Not only did I enter 5 beers into the 2009 Pro-Am, but I also participated as an apprentice judge. My buddy Colin is also chair of the WAHA Education Committee and for a while he had suggested taking part. We've had tastings before and I've rated beers and all that, so my palate has developed for certain styles and beer in general. Right now I have no desire to go through the whole Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), but also realize the value that judging has for my own beers, but also homebrewing in general.

I was a little nervous going in and whether I should be judging other people's beer, so I tried to read up on the BJCP style guidelines. Now I love beer, but trying to read a 50+ page style guide was a little much!! I never realized though what a great source the guidelines are though for the homebrewer as you progress in brewing different styles and styles you've never heard of.

Judging was held at Larry's Homebrew Supply in Kent and I ended up judging Stouts (American Stout, Dry Stout, Foreign Extra Stout and Sweet Stout) and American Barleywines - 12 beers in the first flight and 8 in the second. Seems like a lot of beer, but you don't drink too much and each flight took well over 2 hours to complete. I was teamed up with experienced judges and the general procedure was to sample 2-3 oz. of the beer and review via the score sheet and guidelines as references. After scoring, we would discuss and revise scores as needed (generally want the scores to be within 8 points I think).

I think i did pretty well as a judge and made effort with all my comments b/c getting those on my beers is what I take most out the competition. It was an eye opening experience in terms of how competitions are run, how to win, how much of a crapshoot it is, etc. (I can go into that later), but a perfect way to learn about beer while meeting many other local homebrewers. Anyway, it was a great day and I tried many killer beers!! Pretty cool to know that there are so many good homebrewers out there.

A few photos.....

2009 Pro-Am - My beers

May 23, 2009

My entries into the 2009 Puget Sound Pro-Am
  1. Liquid Karma v2 - Specialty Ale (23)
  2. Russian Lullaby - Belgian Strong Golden Ale (18D)
  3. Bamboozled - Smoke Ale (22B)
  4. Kinza Imperial Wit - Belgian Specialty (16E)
  5. Hop 99 - Old Ale (19A)

Style guidelines from the BCJP

The Pro-Am is a homebrew contest where the winners go on to recreate their beers with a professional brewer and then have that beer entered into the national Pro-Am at GABF - how cool would that be!!!

Misc. Tasting Notes #2

More tasting notes from May:

May 3, 2009

Russian Lullaby - plenty of carbonation and fluffy white head to the edges; clear and much more so than yesterday with Colin; a little darker too with mid-level gold now; bananas, mild cloves, plenty of bubblegum; soft, yeasty sweet texture; drinks smooth and thin; quite dry with plenty of sweetness (more than I remember); fruit and mild syrup quality to it; seems quite different from the bottle yesterday and I'm not as happy with this one

May 22, 2009

Hop 99 - Today I needed to decide on what style to submit this into the Pro-Am as an IPA/Imperial IPA just wouldn't fly; pours dark amber with foamy white head; stale hops, lemons and grass; drinks crisp and sweet with sticky hops and candy malts; fruity esters and very sweet; there is no American Strong Ale category, so I put this one in Old Ale

May 24, 2009

Russian Lullaby - solid pop and pours a fluffy white head; pale gold against the light with faint bubbles; aromas of stale malt, hay, dry flowers and spicy yeast; a little syrupy, dry and sweet; flavors of stale grains, lemons and very mild spice; quite sweet (more than expected) and a little thin, but I think it's drinking very well

Liquid Karma #2 - dark brown with minimal tan head; aromas of coffee, cookies, toffee; drinks dry with chocolate, coffee and mild bitterness; this is the best it has tasted so far; fizzy body and lots of smooth coffee; I'm thinking a smoked coffee porter would be a good combo

Bamboozled - jet black with nice tan head; chocolate, roast, mild smoke; dry, rich and sharp; body is lacking as usual and this finished super dry; perhaps my fav homebrew yet and drinking these three great brews together was very gratifying

National Homebrew Day @ Beacon Hill Brewing

May 2, 2009

On National Homebrew Day I had the pleasure of joining Colin at Beacon Hill Brewing to assist on two all-grain batches that would ultimately be sent to the National Homebrewers Conference (HBC) in San Francisco. Colin is a kick ass homebrewer and all around great guy who was eager to let me join in and show me the ropes.

I've been on brewery tours, but this was really my chance to see first hand the all-grain brewing process. Colin has quite the set up, which today was up on his porch to shield from some springtime rain. Not a bad spot with occasional views of the Cascades to the east. He has a tiered set up to allow gravity to feed the hot water to sparge the mash and then the wort drain into the kettle. The system may look a little rough around the edges, but every feature has been customized by Colin and it is a constant work in progress for improvements.

It was a great day and Colin always welcomed my questions as I tried to soak it all in. In between the technical chats, there was plenty of time to enjoy multiples of his homebrews that were pouring from his tap system (me so jealous!! haha). The goodies imbibed: Russian Imperial Stout, Robust Porter, Belgain Pale, Dopplebock, Cedar IPA, Still Nacht clone (11%!!) and a Belgian Golden. Also enjoyed my own Russian Lullaby with praises from both Colin and Rodney.

The brews of the day: Belgian Wit and Cedar IPA (IPA with whirlpool hop addition and aged on cedar chips)

Thanks Colin for a great day!! It gave me a lot to think about in terms of what homebrewing can be and what I want to accomplish as a homebrewer.


Dry-hopping w/ Leaf Hops

Just a friendly PSA about dry hopping - using leaf hops sure looks pretty, but they are a royal pain when it comes time to siphon and bottle!!

Bottle Conditioning - Russian Lullaby

April 13, 2009

So this was the day I finally got around to bottling Russian Lullaby, my first Belgian Strong Golden Ale. With this beer I tried to do several things to improve and bring out the traditional BSGA character. The final step would be in my bottling and conditioning where I would add yeast along with sugar directly into the bottling process (the same yeast used during fermentation).

Here's a little rundown on bottling condition Belgian ales:

With some help from my buddy Colin, I was able to target my between 3.5 and 4.0 volumes of carb. This would mean that in addition to the yeast, I would also be using quite a bit more sugar than my normal bottling process. I would end up with about 16 oz. of sugar (1 cup).

  1. Boil sugar for 5 mins. as normal
  2. Let cool to approx. 75 degrees
  3. You want to mix yeast and sugar solution at same temp)
  4. Mix yeast and sugar into the bottling bucket
  5. Continue bottling as normal
Another key here was to try and store the bottles around 70 degrees (or more) for at least 3 weeks to allow the yeast to do its thing. I did this next to a heater with a cardboard barrier.

All in all the process was quite easy and I am just pumped for this beer. Attenuation was fantastic and it came out to 7.5% ABV.

First taste from sample: Color was crystal clear gold (my lightest brew) with aromas of grass and apples; mildly sweet with lemons, flowers and yeasty notes; almost cidery in the uncarbed form; yeah!!!!

Photo of the sample:

Misc. Tasting Notes #1

Well, keeping this current hasn't worked out like I thought, so here are some various tasting notes from back in March and April:

March 11, 2009

Bamboozled - beautiful pour with foamy tan head and perfect carbonation; body is thin and jet black; aromas of smoke, roast and mild meaty-ness; drink very dry; flavors of chocolate malt and smoke; could have a little more smoke as well as some sweetness too; this is becoming one of my favs yet though

Kinza Imperial Wit - minor carbonation; pours clear and amber; obviously quite dark for the style (wheat malt?); lots of coriander, slight spice and yeasty character; fruity and fresh finish; the body is a little syrupy and i think too much dominated by the coriander; decent though and well liked by others

March 20, 2009

Liquid Karma No. 2 - slight pop and pours thin, clear cola brown; only been bottled for 12 days; faint white head around the dges; crisp, smooth fresh coffee aromas and flavors; slight roast and sweetness; super thin though and hope that improves over time in the bottle; lots of potential, but wish there was more body, sweetness and texture

April 8, 2009

Liquid Karma No. 2 - been bottled about 30 days now; dark brown and foamy tan head emerges; nose is killer with rich coffee, vanilla and cookies; seems that flavors still need time to meld together (i hope!!)

April 25, 2009

Hop 99 - quite curious how this one would turn out; pours clear, light amber with faomy off white head; sugary, super sweet and quite bitter; mild butterscotch; certainly the most body i've had yet in a beer; sweet, hoppy and sticky; seems to be moving towards a butter bomb, so will have to get the opinion of others soon

Liquid Karma No. 2 - foamy thick tan head up to 1/2"; sweet coffee, oats and chocolate; becoming more creamy than before with mild richness and chocolate flavors; thinness is a little disappointing and coffee not quite as strong, but certainly improving as it sits