Archive | October, 2012

Fargo!

30 Oct

Ya sure, dontcha know.

This is one of the first greetings I received when arriving in Fargo, North Dakota this past Saturday (in jest, of course). This weekend I had the honor of being asked to speak at the annual Hoppy Halloween Challenge, hosted by the local Prairie Homebrew Companions. I was invited to attend by Susan Ruud, also of the AHA Governing Committee, whom I had the recent pleasure of judging with at the recent Great American Beer Festival. When Susan picked me up from the airport in Fargo, the snow had just started coming down…just for me.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with this particular competition, it’s centered around Halloween. While all of the familiar beer categories are judged, they also have some additional categories that are based around the them, each beer delivered to the judges complete with an elaborate presentation and the audience watching. Attendees to the banquet also dressed in costume, and I’m embarrassed to say, I failed to pack one. If you know me at all, you know how much I love costumes. Medals were awarded, which were attached to hand-made lanyards, by club member Vince, also Halloween themed (this year specifically, was mummies). As the evening wore on, I was able to taste many excellent beers – both homebrew and commercial. I was having such a fine time, that I stayed up with the group until the wee hours of the morning when I finally stumbled down the hall to my room for some much-needed sleep.

The following day, Susan organized a brew day at Eric’s house, another club member. We were joined by several others throughout the day, and brewed a 20 gallon batch of Belgian Dark Strong on Eric’s all electric brew system, which he built himself. We intended to split this batch into four, so I had shipped ahead some yeast – WLP500, WLP515, WLP530, and WLP545 – so some starters could be made. I have to admit, I didn’t do much to assist with the brewing, but it doesn’t seem right to come between a man and his brew system (unless he asks of course!). I did handle the yeast though, as you might have guessed.

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Steve, Eric, Dick

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Me, with my lil babies!

All in all, it was a really enjoyable weekend. I came away with a suitcase full of fun beer-related souvenirs. I had the chance to visit a new city, drink some great beer, brew some beer and best of all, I had the fortune to meet and spend time with some really great folks – Susan, Tom and Nancy (who you may know, since they were recently crowned President of Brews), Eric, Dick, Steve, Karl, Vince, Tony, Mike and Carla, Paul and Amy (best costumes of the competition), Ellen the Biology professor at Moorehead State, and so many others (I apologize for not remembering everyone’s name, I really did try). Thank you Fargo and thank you Prairie Homebrew Companions for such great hospitality!!

It’s safe to say, I’ll be baaack!

Q&A: Michael Tonsmeire/The Mad Fermentationist

29 Oct

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The Mad Fermentationist is a veritable treasure trove of information for brewers at all levels of experience, stuffed to the gills with posts on topics ranging from advanced tutorials on capturing microflora and commercial yeast dregs to point-by-point, beginner’s primers on the most basic of homebrewing operations. Site owner Michael Tonsmeire also maintains a robust library of original and clone recipes on the site, several of which will become commercially available in some form as offerings by Modern Times Brewing, a nascent San Diego brewery that has enlisted Tonsmeire’s expertise in the recipe formulation process. This Q&A was conducted via email.

Q: How and when did you get into brewing beer?

I took a trip Ireland for my 21st birthday where I drank Guinness at the “brewery.” The following summer, a friend I’ve known since elementary school introduced me to good American beer (e.g., Dogfish Head and Ommegang), quite a change from the carbonic macro lagers I didn’t enjoy at college parties. Beer Advocate was a big help early on as I tried to locate and drink a good example of each style. I’d always enjoyed cooking (especially big, involved recipes), so brewing was a logical combination of these two hobbies. I started brewing beer my last semester in college (Carnegie Mellon) while taking a student led class, Beer Brewing and Appreciation. My first batch was an extract brown ale (our mid-term assignment) with my friend Nicole. It turned out well and I was hooked. After I graduated I made the switch to all-grain, and have been brewing about twice a month ever since.

Q: What made you decide to start the site?

Six years ago I moved to Washington, DC to start a new job, and I didn’t have a good outlet for my brewing energy. I originally started The Mad Fermentationist to have an easy place to access my recipes online, a place I could link to rather than typing the whole thing into posts on homebrewing forums. Appearing on Basic Brewing Radio for the first time for a tasting of my split-batch hop experiment, and having recently brewed my first few 100% Brett beers sent me off in the direction the site ended up.

Q: What do you look for in a yeast strain?

I don’t like fussy yeast strains. I like strains that will get the job done without a lot of hand-holding; those that are forgiving over a range of temperatures, pitching rates, gravities etc. Although in the end I’ll excuse a lot of that if the flavors produced are good enough. I tend to like drier beers, but a strain’s natural attenuation is something I can adjust for with tweaks to the mash and fermentables. I think it is important to ferment several batches with a strain to begin to understand how it reacts to different conditions. The first time I use a new strain I usually start with a relatively conservative approach, pitching the ideal amount of yeast suggested by a pitching rate calculator at the low end of the suggested fermentation temperature range. From there I’ll adjust depending on the results.

Q: What are your favorites? Top performers?

I probably use California Ale (001) most frequently, it stays out of the way in hoppy beers, and performs consistently. For Belgians I’m an Abbey Ale (530) guy, because it provides a wonderful range of characters depending on how warm you let it get. For saisons I really enjoyed my first batch (a moderate gravity recipe with spelt) fermented with Saison 3. For English beers I favor English Ale (002), it doesn’t have the minerally character I find off-putting in some other yeasts (I’m looking at you 023). I’m planning to give Dry English Ale (007) a shot soon since it is supposed to provide a similar flavor with a bit more attenuation. I don’t brew a lot of lagers, but German Bock (833) really stands out as a terrific strain for the malty examples. I currently have an ~11% ABV Weizen Trippelbock that was fermented with it sitting in a five gallon malt whisky barrel from Balcones. Really excited about that one!

I’m a big fan of both White Labs Brett claussenii (645), and the recently released Brett Trois (644) for primary fermentation. For true sour beers I tend to pitch bottle dregs from unpasteurized sour beers along with brewer’s yeast more than commercial yeast/bacteria blends.

Q: Hops have dominated the collective consciousness of much of the craft brewing community for many years now, but lately the tide seems to be turning a bit, with yeast-forward beers such as saisons and sours becoming increasingly popular. What do you make of this phenomenon?

I’m not sure if hoppy beers are falling out of vogue, or people’s interests are diversifying as more people discover good beer. Rather than making hoppier and hoppier beers, I’m excited to see all of the new hop varieties being released each with their own unique flavors. We’re also starting to see many breweries turn to more characterful yeasts and base beers for their hoppy beers than the standard get-out-of-the way malt/yeast of many classic West Coast hoppy beers. Things like Belgian IPAs, Cascadian/Black IPAs, White IPAs, dry hopped sour beers, hoppy 100% Brett beers etc. From a commercial stand-point, hops are also tricky because of the year-to-year variations in their availability. As a homebrewer I can just buy whatever hops are available and brew something that suits them, but commercial breweries are put in a difficult spot when the signature hop for one of their beers becomes either expensive or impossible to buy in the quantity they need it for an established brand. Yeasts and malts are much more reliable to procure, so there is less worry about having to adjust a recipe.

I think there will also be creative brewers looking to create new flavors in their beers by any means necessary. Microbes other than brewer’s yeast (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus) can create flavors that are impossible to recreate with any other method or ingredients. Acidity rather than bitterness creates a very different balance for the beer, opening up other flavor combinations not possible in a highly hopped beer.

Q: Talk about your role in the development of Modern Times beers.

A few years ago I traded a few bottles of my homebrewed sours to Jacob McKean in exchange for some excellent craft beers. Apparently he enjoyed them enough that about a year ago he contacted me and asked if I wanted to work for his brewery-in-planning, Modern Times. After trying my hardest to get out of it by explaining to him that I live in Washington, DC several thousand miles from where the brewery would be located and had no plans of moving out there, he suggested I consult, developing recipes from a distance. For most of 2012 my homebrewing has been devoted to brewing and re-brewing tweaked test batches that will hopefully be released commercially in 2013 when the 30 bbl brewery opens in San Diego.  Currently some of the leading contenders for year-round beers are a creamy Oatmeal Coffee Stout, ~5% ABV Saison, ~4.5% Citra/Amarillo American Wheat, Red Rye IPA, and a Dank Amber IPA highlighting Nelson Sauvin.

We’ve been playing with some quicker funky beers like a 100% Brett IPA and a Belgian single bottle conditioned with Brett, but we are also planning to have an extensive barrel-aged souring program. I’ll be spending a few months in California around the time the brewery opens to fill barrels and help dial in the recipes on the much larger scale. Jacob is still searching for a Head Brewer, but fund raising is complete, and he is closing in on signing a lease for a building (which will also house a tasting room). It will be exciting to taste those first scaled up batches, each of which will be about the same volume of beer as I’ve produced in my eight years as a homebrewer! I’m also excited that we’ll be close to White Labs!

Q: Could you talk a bit about the text you’ve been working on which focuses on American sour ales.

I’ve been researching and writing the book for about two years now. I started out just writing my thoughts on brewing sour beers at home. As it grew I decided it would be fun to talk to some of the best brewers of sour beers in the country. While there have been several books focused on Belgian and German sour beers, none have given more than a passing mention to the American brewers doing it just as well. Luckily for me, American brewers in general are much more open than their Belgian counterpart; almost all of the 30 or so I’ve contacted have been willing to share their opinions and details of their processes.

I’m hoping that the book will answer all of the practical questions that brewers might have about brewing sour beers: from the obvious things like selecting the right microbes, what sort of base beer to use, determining whether or not barrel age, how much fruit to add, and how to blend; to easy-to-overlook practical aspects like how to measure acidity (pH or titratable acidity?), what sort of bungs to use, and how to compensate for the carbonation lost to aging in oak. Currently I’m waiting for the last couple brewers I interviewed to provide comments on the sections that cover their breweries before final copy-editing takes place. I’m in late-stage discussions with Brewers Publications at the moment, but if that falls through I’m prepared to self-publish.

Thanks so much, Mike. Be sure to check out the Mad Fermentationist site for (much) more information on all things homebrewing, fermentation and yeast oriented. 

Cider Sensory

25 Oct

The Yeast Lab has been pretty busy these past few weeks. However, all work and no play makes for a very long day in the lab. Lucky for us, our yeast culture specialist, Allison, went to graduate school with one of the owners of 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Oregon. He wanted some feedback on an apple cider he recently just bottled, so we thought we would end a hard work week with some cider sensory.

(From left to right) Tiffany, Katie, Steph, Allison, Maureen, and Hannah

We, of course, had to make this scientific and judged on aroma, flavor, and carbonation. All-in-all we thoroughly enjoyed the aroma and flavor of apples, berries, and stone fruits. It was crisp and very refreshing for a “fall-like” San Diego afternoon. The cider was also very well carbonated and “MMMmmmmm…..tasty”.  Please send more!

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Plans for the Flanders

23 Oct

Back in March, I decided to brew a Flanders Brown.  I knew it would be some time before the beer would even be servable, so I wanted to plan ahead.  In keeping with our White Labs tasting room tradition, I split the batch and used four different Brettanomyces strains.  And I did two different batches, with the intention of doing a second comparison of Brettanomyces in primary fermentation vs. Brettanomyces in secondary fermentation.  For the trials of Brett in secondary, I used WLP550 – Belgian Ale Yeast as the primary fermenting yeast and I added the Brett after I had reached about 70% attenuation.  For the Brettanomcyes, I used:

WLP644 – B. bruxellensis trois (our new strain this year)

WLP645 – B. claussenii (the pineapple)

WLP650 – B. bruxellensis (the classic)

WLP653 – B. lambicus (the horsey, cherry pie)

To get a little added complexity to the beer, I added some oak chips, although I think I could have done a bit more here.  Hope you get to come by and try the 8 beers – we’ll have a special release tapping on Friday, November 9th of San Diego Beer Week!  I hope you enjoy!

Here’s to bugs 

White Labs and GABF

17 Oct

White Labs enjoyed a busy week at the just-completed Great American Beer Festival – and so did its brewery clients and the rest of the beer world. Of all the gold, silver and bronze award winners, 74 percent are White Labs customers. Most order yeast and those and others also utilize the company’s expanding Analytical Lab Services department. White labs supplied three certified judges for the competition — Chris White, Neva Parker and Troels Prahl. When it came to other activities, White Labs had a booth at the festival, entertained brewers at a nearby club on Thursday night, co-sponsored the Brewers Gathering on Wednesday night, and participated in many other functions throughout the week. See you next year!

White Labs Brewing the White House Beer

8 Oct

After seeing the news story about the White House brewing beer at home, we were struck by the fact they were A) homebrewing (how cool is that?) B) using dry yeast C) using a yeast made outside of the USA.  I guess they don’t know there are companies in this country that specialize in making liquid yeast cultures for beer, and in particular, one that is named WHITE Labs 🙂

As such, we decided it would be fun to clone this recipe, dry yeast and all.  Of course we couldn’t resist turning it into one of our tasting room experiments, so a couple of weeks ago, I brewed 2 batches of the White House Honey Ale (all-grain) on our brew sculpture.  I split up these up and used four different yeast strains – Windsor dry yeast (which the original recipe used),WLP001 California Ale Yeast, WLP005 British Ale Yeast, WLP039 East Midlands Yeast.  

I started the first batch at 8am on a Friday, then realized I forgot to pick up any Biscuit Malt, which was part of the recipe!  I had to make do for this one and go and get some Biscuit for the second brew.  Oops!  But I guess sometimes that kind of stuff happens and I just had to go with it.  On another note, it seems all of San Diego homebrew shops are out of honey, a key piece of this beer.  I went to three different shops and bought out everything I could find.  The beer will be brewed again this week, but not by me.  So not only will it be fun to see how the different yeasts do, but different brewers.

We’ll have the beers on tap starting the week of October 22nd – and we want you to come by the tasting room, try them, and vote for your favorite.  Decision 2012!  We’ll take votes up until election day, and reveal the results on election night, November 6th.  Hope to see you there!

White Labs in the news

7 Oct

The Scientist interviews White Labs’ Neva Parker about the now-famous “beard yeast.”
Also, San Diego Magazine names Belgian Golden Ales in the White Labs tasting room as Beers of the Week.

A real fan

7 Oct

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There is a world of dedicated homebrewers out there, but one guy really wants to share his love with others. A gentleman with the tattoo in this photo came into the White Labs tasting room this week. He told company people that he wanted a tattoo that had all the materials he uses for homebrewing, including White Labs yeast. His devotion to the hobby and White Labs is greatly appreciated!

Check your QC results

5 Oct

White Labs Inc. has long provided detailed QC test results to breweries. Now, this same detailed information is available to those buying homebrew packages. The intensive testing has always been a hallmark of White Labs, and these numbers are now available for viewing at Yeastman.com. Simply create or log into your account, and on the first page that pops up, you will see two elongated circles under the main menu, one for Test Kit Entry and one for Yeast QC Reports. Follow the latter link. Thus, it is a one-click process once your Yeastman account is open. (For those with commercial accounts, please follow the Analytical Lab Services tab in the top menu bar). When the lab page opens, enter the Lot # from the vial in the designated box, and view your results. A report at the bottom of the lab pages explains the various test results.

White Labs and GABF 2012

5 Oct

White Labs Inc. is helping to sponsor the Great American Beer Festival, along with a host of other industry, brewery and community sponsors.
White Labs, along with the other partners of the Craft Beer Quarterly, are again sponsoring the Brewers Gathering. Additionally, the GABF Pro-Am competition is sponsored by Brewers Supply Group, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Hopunion and White Labs. Homebrewers team up with professional brewers to vie for top honors in a field of 96 entries. Entries are brewed by professional craft brewers in collaboration with American Homebrewers Association (AHA) members.
Meanwhile, Beer for Boobs, the breast cancer research fundraising effort staffed by many White Labs fans, will have a booth at this year’s GABF. Attendees can find the booth at P18. Beer for Boobs will have lots of great merchandise. Help tap the cure against breast cancer by visiting this booth and picking up some of the great merchandise!