Tag Archives: fermentation

Tasting: Old Ale


Last December I brewed the first beer I’ve ever intended for really long-term aging, an Old Ale. This recipe is based on the recipe that was built on HomeBrewTalk for their 11-11-11 swap beer. The idea is to have lots of people brew the same recipe, and to swap it in a year with other people to see how similar or different they are. As I modified the recipe, I didn’t enter in the bottle swap.

Appearance – Crystal clear, burnt gold color, with a bright white head that subsides fairly quickly.

Smell – Wow, this is when you know it’s not your average beer in hand. Loads of oak and vanilla in the nose, along with sweet caramel notes, and a bit of aged aroma (mustiness?).

Taste – More oak and vanilla, some fruitiness – raisins and dates, as well as sweet caramel. The brett comes through a little more, though the oak is really dominating at it’s current age. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes with time. Alcohol hits at the finish, but it’s very, very smooth for 12% ABV, but you can tell this one’s got a kick.

Mouthfeel – Low carbonation, which works well for the booze. The low finishing gravity keep the caramel notes from getting too sweet, which makes this one a really nice sipper.

Drinkability & Notes – Really pleased with the results of this batch. The oak is a little much right now, it’s hard to get past


Book review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

wild-brewsHomebrewers are taught from the very beginning that sanitation is priority #1, and that anything growing in your beer other than saccharomyces (brewer’s yeast) is the worst thing possible, and as a result, we spend a lot of time cleaning and sanitizing. Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow brings to light a tradition of making beer with saccharomyces in concert with a handful of other microorganisms, and it’s good.

Of these styles, most Americans would be lucky to have heard of a lambic beer before, most of us have not. Wild brews introduces us to a handful of beer styles going back hundreds of years, all made with wild organisms. While science has allowed us to identify many of these organisms, and Wyeast and White Labs have clean cultures available commercially, Sparrow tells us that nothing is quite the same as when you let nature take it’s own course.

These beers become more like a fine wine, a product of their environment (or terrior) and a product of decades if not centuries of developing a signature blend of microorganisms within the brewery, which cannot be replicated by pitching a culture from a lab. These organisims live in the very walls of the brewery, and most importantly, in the oak barrels that the beer is aged in.

Sparrow takes the reader through a history of wild brewing, highlights the most well-known styles, tells us where we might travel to find examples still being produced, and then spends several chapters getting down to the nitty-gritty of production, fermentation and packaging of these beer varieties, rich in tradition, and like a fine wine, worth the wait (some of these beers take 3 or more years to get from brew to bottle).

For styles, Sparrow covers Flanders Red and Brown ales, Lambics and Gueuzes. For each style, he provides a history and regional background, as well as a standard formula one could use to formulate a recipe, as well as a description of each beer’s flavor profile. In the history chapter, Sparrow covers not only the evolution of the different beer types, but the where and the why of it all, broken down by region. The chapter Drinking Wild Beer covers current breweries manufacturing wild beer, and what they have to offer, including some US breweries.

The rest of the book moves from the where and the why and into the how. Beer Souring Microorganisms covers the major bugs responsible for wild brewing, but the reader is reminded that there are many that are not catalogued as easily that play an important role in authentic lambic beers. Production Methods, Wild Fermentation, Fermentation and Maturation Vessels and Finishing the Beer continue to break down the process into additional chunks, walking the reader through each phase with plenty of information.

If you have ever had a sour or an acid beer, and want to learn more, I would strongly recommend this book. I know that after reading it, I’m not far away from my first beer made with more than saccharomyces.

Pitching the right amount of yeast

I’ve been reading Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff lately, and he offers one piece of advice which I have recently taken to heart, and have found to be extremely helpful. Jamil often repeats that you should pitch the right amount of yeast, and that this quantity is often more than most would expect.

When I began home brewing, I began with all extract kits. For better or worse, these kits only required that you follow the brief instructions enclosed within, and your beer would come out fine. I did this successfully for a long time, and developed the notion that one packet of yeast per batch of beer was the correct amount. This turns out only to be the case in extremely mild, low-gravity beers. For many mid-range beers, the right amount is 2 packets, or vials of liquid yeast. This can be expensive, especially with liquid yeast, which is why making a yeast starter can be so helpful. It only requires a small amount of malt extract, and you can vastly increase the amount of yeast you have available to pitch.

When I first learned about yeast starters, it was my impression that they were only necessary for large, high gravity beers, and I made one for fun, but didn’t realize that it can make the difference between a clean fermentation and a slow, strained fermentation, or even a complete versus incomplete fermentation.

While I haven’t managed to over pitch yeast into a batch yet, I have had some very active and complete fermentation. The last batch I made was using yeast that claimed 73% attenuation, but my actual was well over 80%, which was great.

Yeast are the workers for your finished product. You may feel like you’re doing all the labor, but the real alchemists are the yeast — tiny little creatures who can make the difference in the flavor, aroma, and character of your beer. Respect the yeast, make sure there are plenty of them to do their job, and you’ll be rewarded.