Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Smoked Brown Ale With Rye (3/24/13)

I like smoked beers quite a lot, but I've never brewed one before. My favorite commercial examples are Stone's Smoked Porter, Hill Farmstead's Holger Danske, and the classic Schlenkerla line of rauchbiers. The last two of these are both brewed with beech-smoked malt, which tends to be less intense than peat-, apple-, or alder-smoked malts.

For this beer, I wanted to emphasize the food-friendly nature of smoked beers. It is, therefore, moderate in alcohol and bitterness, and full-bodied with a bit of residual sweetness. The half pound of chocolate malt brings a bit of roast flavor (complementing roasted meats and vegetables) without overpowering the beer or the accompanying food. I also added some rye malt to the recipe, which plays well with the smoke and complements a wide variety of savory dishes.

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Soft, savory-sweet beech smoke. Peppery rye. Hint of roast.

Taste: Chocolatey/nutty, with a strong toffee sweetness from the crystal malt. Sweeter than I expected, but still good. Smoke flavor continues throughout, and the rye comes out in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall impression: I very much like the smoke/rye combination. Next time I think I'll cut back on the crystal malt a bit and substitute a de-bittered black malt for half the chocolate.


ABV: 5.8%
IBUs (Tinseth): 28
OG: 1.063
FG: 1.019

Mash adjustments: 5.5 grams Calcium Chloride
Sparge adjustments: 1 drop 88% lactic acid
Mash in: 156F
Mash length: 60 minutes
Efficiency: 74% (83% conversion efficiency)

Yeast: WLP007 (Dry English Ale)
Starter: 1.25 liters
Pitching temp: 66F
Max temp: 68F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 2 15% 36.00
Smoked (Beech) 6 46% 37.00
Medium Crystal 1 8% 34.00
Chocolate 0.5 4% 28.00
Malted Rye 2.5 19% 29.00
Barley (flaked) 1 8% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 0.75 60 12.0%

This was my first brew with my new grain mill. The rye malt did not mill very well. I think next time I'll double-crush it.

4/16/13: #7 bottled to 2.2 vol. CO2 Quite smokey, complex flavors, but a bit sweet. The English crystal is very good (toffee/caramel flavors) but a little too intense. Next time I'll drop the crystal to half a pound.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Failure (3/26/13)

When you write about your own projects, there's always a temptation to emphasize your successes and avoid talking about the mishaps. However, I think that we experimentalists have an obligation to document failures as well as successes.

One of the most spectacular failures of my brewing career occurred with this last attempt at a Berliner Weisse. I performed the same souring technique that I used in my previous, highly successful, batch of Berliner Weisse: Mash and boil normally, then leave the beer at 95F—after adding lactobacillus but before adding yeast—for a few days. I knew something was wrong within 24 hours of souring. Instead of the cabbagey aroma of dimethyl sulfide that I expected, the beer smelled like parmesan cheese. After three days, I tasted very little acidity, so I let it go for another 24 hours. At this point it had some acidity, but it was a back-of-the-throat, acetic acidity, not the clean lactic acid I was hoping for.

The next surprise came when I measured the gravity after souring: 1.005. The beer had already fermented! The lactobacillus should have produced enough acid to deter any other fermentative organisms, but apparently did not. Nevertheless, I boiled the beer for 60 minutes and added a packet of yeast. The beer still smelled strongly of cheese after boiling and fermenting. Not even close to drinkable. I dumped the entire batch and threw out the bucket I fermented it in. This marks the first time I've dumped a batch before bottling.

My theory is that the lactobacillus culture I bought was not viable and hence did not produce enough acidity to protect the wort from the trace amounts of wild yeast and bacteria that managed to infiltrate the covering of plastic wrap and tape that I placed over the kettle during souring. In the future I will make a starter with the lactobacillus to hasten souring and ensure that the bacteria is alive before adding it to a full batch of beer.

Update: Thanks to Greg Noonan's excellent, though technical, book, New Brewing Lager Beer, I now believe that my main problem in this batch was a Gram-negative bacteria known as Clostridium butyricum, which produces butyric acid—a major component of the aroma of Parmesan cheese. In order to protect against these bacteria in the future, I will sour my beers at a higher temperature—say 115 - 120F—because clostridium bacteria are inactive above 112F, while lactobacillus delbruckii is active up to 131F.


Gravity before souring: 1.032
Gravity after souring: 1.005

Mash adjustments: 5.5 grams Calcium Chloride
Sparge adjustments: 1 drop 88% lactic acid
Mash in: 153F
Mash length: 60
Efficiency: 63%

Yeast: US05
Bacteria: Lactobacillus delbruckii (White Labs)
Pitching temp: 65F

Malts Mashed Amount % Max Pts.
2 row 6.5 90% 36.00
Barley (flaked) 0.75 10% 32.00
Hops/Additions Amount Time AA%
Magnum 0.25 60 14.0%

3/29/13: More cheesy than cabbagey aroma during souring this time. Souring has progressed more slowly, although identical inoculation rates and souring temperatures were used. The lack of pilsner malt would explain the lower levels of DMS this time.

3/30/13: 96 hours in. No krausen has formed this time, however, the beer seems to have fermented.  Boiled and pitched US05.

Even after a 60 minute boil and a few weeks of fermentation with yeast, the beer retained a strong parmesan cheese aroma which is quite unpleasant.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cafe au Lait at Home

While I love espresso machines with all my heart, I doubt I will ever have one in my home. Money, of course, is one obstacle. A good commercial machine like a La Marzocco Linea runs about $5k used. While there are a multitude of models of home espresso machines, most all of them have quirks of one sort or another. Even if they can reach nine bars of pressure, most home machines have issues with temperature stability—issues that commercial machines largely avoid due to their greater mass. And that's not even mentioning the grinder, which in many respects is more important than the espresso machine itself.

Cost aside, making espresso inherently involves a certain amount of waste. It takes at least a couple of shots to dial in the grind on a coffee, and dialing-in has to be performed daily (if not more often) as well as whenever switching coffees. In a commercial context, a few wasted shots a day is not a big deal, but for a home enthusiast who's only drinking a couple of shots a day, dialing-in could mean that 50% of the shots pulled are test shots.

For these reasons, I mostly drink brewed coffee at home. I've used the Hario V60 cone more than any other device, although I also have a Kalita Wave and an Aeropress. However, a lot of people really like steamed milk, and it's nice to be able to offer guests that option. So I recently acquired a Bellman stovetop steamer, with the intention of using it exclusively for hot chocolates and chai lattes. But, curiosity getting the better of me, I've started using it for coffee drinks as well. Since I don't have an espresso machine, I can't make lattes or cappuccinos, but I can make cafe au laits with very strong coffee from an Aeropress. There are, however, limits to this technique.

The biggest difference between an Aeropress and an espresso machine (there are, of course, many differences) is that the Aeropress is an immersion brewing device, while espresso is a percolation brewing method. What that means is, the Aeropress incorporates a steep time during which most of the extraction occurs, while an espresso machine is continually pumping in fresh water for the entire extraction.

As Vince Fedele recently confirmed (see the fourth-to-last paragraph of this post for more details), immersion methods of brewing coffee require a greater amount of coffee to reach the same level of extraction. This effect is exaggerated at very high doses. Therefore, in order to make coffee by Aeropress at a similar strength and level of extraction as espresso, you have to use a lot more coffee.

Option One: Whole Hog

So what happens if we try to mimic a good shot of espresso with an Aeropress? For this trial, we'll choose to model a moderate ristretto shot. We'll aim for a liquid yield of 40 grams and an extraction of 19%. Let's figure out how much coffee and water I should use.

For immersion brewing, the equation to calculate extraction is:

Extraction[%] = Water[g] * Strength[%] / Coffee[g]

Since the Aeropress retains 1.5 grams of liquid per gram of coffee, we can calculate yield as:

Yield[g] = Water[g] - (1.5 * Coffee[g])

Espresso can range in strength from 5% to 15%, depending on how the shot is pulled. Let's shoot for 10%, which is about average for many specialty coffee shops. (That's about what a 20g dose for a 40g yield comes out to at 19% extraction.) If you work through the equations, what quickly becomes apparent is that achieving coffee at 10% strength by immersion is hugely wasteful. Sure, you can keep adding more coffee, but your yield will keep decreasing, and if you add more water to increase yield you also have to add more coffee to maintain 10% strength.

What that means is, at 10% strength, for every 100g of water you add, you'll only get 20g of liquid, because the amount of coffee you have to add (53 grams, in this case) retains so much. And with infusion methods, all of that retained liquid is extracted coffee. So if you wanted to produce 40 grams of liquid at 10% strength in an Aeropress, you would have to use 106 grams of coffee! (If anyone wants to check my math, shoot me an email.) And I don't think that you can fit that much coffee and water in an Aeropress. So, if we're defining espresso as coffee at a similar strength and volume as what is typical for specialty coffee, then it is impossible to make espresso in an Aeropress.

Option Two: Half Hog

So let's lower our sights a little. How about if we aim for 5% strength? Now we're only losing 39% of our liquid in the grounds. So we only have to add 65 grams of water and 17 grams of coffee to get our 40 grams of liquid. But we'll also need to increase our liquid yield in order to (partially) compensate for our loss of strength. So let's scale the recipe up to produce 60 grams of liquid, using 25.5 grams of coffee.

Now that we have our brew ratio sorted out, we can move on to the actual brewing process. In order to get a proper extraction, a very fine grind should be used. I generally stick with 200F water for everything, so that's what I used for this method. I brew the Aeropress inverted, aiming for a total brew time of 2 minutes, including pouring and pressing. Pressing should be done slowly to avoid channeling.

To be clear, this is not true espresso. It is very strong brewed coffee. It lacks the sweetness and body of a good shot of espresso, but is superior to anything I've had out of a superautomatic machine.

Milk Steaming

The Bellman steamer is not an ideal steaming device, mainly because it has a single-hole tip and limited steam pressure. It's also more difficult to clean than commercial steamers because the tip isn't removable. However, with some practice I've been able to make latte art quality microfoam fairly consistently. Some general tips for using this steamer:

-Preboil the water in an electric kettle. It's much faster than waiting for the water to heat up on the stove.
-Only fill the steamer halfway.
-Wait for the safety release valve on the steamer to start whistling before you try to steam anything.
-Keep the steamer on medium-high heat while steaming.
-Use a 12 oz pitcher.
-The Bellman takes much longer to heat up milk than a commercial steam wand, though foaming may occur rapidly. For this reason, it's easy to overaerate your milk. If you do overaerate, scoop off excess foam.

This method makes a nice small (4-5 oz) milk drink.

Thanks to NetPhilosopher on coffeegeek.com, on whose work I based this post.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Acid Experiments, Part 1: Iced Tea

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I like the acidity that lemon brings to iced tea, but I don't want my iced tea to taste like lemon—I want it to taste like tea. Therefore, I decided to run some trials adding different amounts of various pure acids, to try to achieve a neutral acidity that would complement the tea flavor.

For the first test, I tried malic acid (powder), lactic acid (88% solution), and acid phosphate (a solution containing phosphoric acid partially neutralized by phosphate salts). Malic acid is found naturally in fruit like grapes and (especially) apples. Lactic acid is mainly found in substances that have undergone lactic fermentation, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, sour beer, and some wines and ciders. Acid phosphate was once used at many soda fountains, and has recently made a minor resurgence in the world of craft sodas and cocktails. In the future I will also try citric acid (found in citrus fruits) and straight phosphoric acid (often added to modern sodas).

Since the malic and lactic acids I used are very concentrated, I had to be precise with my measurements. After undershooting and then overshooting my desired level of acidity, I settled on a ratio of 1.3 grams of malic acid or 4.2 ml of lactic acid per liter of tea. I did not much like the taste of the acid phosphate with the tea, so I didn't try very hard to dial it in.

I found that, at similar levels of perceived acidity, lactic acid enhanced the tannic astringency of the tea, while malic acid did not. I therefore preferred the tea with malic acid. I also found that tea acidified with malic acid makes a very nice lightly sweetened tea with (the equivalent of) 3 teaspoons of sugar per liter of tea. And I don't usually like sweet tea!

If anyone wants to give this a try, I'd love to get another opinion. The malic acid was $12 for a pound, and I very much doubt I will ever use all of it.

Note: I do not recommend adding acids to iced coffee. It's weird.