Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You can go all grain: or.... How to rule the world from your stove top:

If you brew on your own, how should you brew?  What is the most fun?  What makes the best beer? and what can you do on your own to make the very best beer with the most affordable equipment? Well if you are like me, you have an enthusiasm for brewing, you would literally brew 3 or 4 times a week.  Brewing is not a chore that you enjoy occasionally, brewing is your relaxation.  Cleaning doesn't bother you.  Bottling doesn't bother you.  It is all an escape from other pressures in your life, and the end result is hand crafted delicious beer.  And I am here to tell you the most affordable way to brew, and the most efficient, is to do small batch all grain BIAB no sparge on your stove top.  If you've been brewing extract, you probably own everything you need.

When I brew on my own, I brew small batch.   I brew 2.5 gallon batches of beer.  Usually I brew 2.75 gallons and try to bring 2.25 gallons to package. So calling it 2.5 gallons is a misnomer.  It packages 2.25 gallons.  That is a case of beer.  I try to use minimal equipment, the less equipment, the less cleaning.  I brew in a bag utilizing the no sparge technique, When the grain bill is high OG, I generally partigyle my batch. That means I get 5 gallons of beer from a single brew day.   I use a small stainless wort chiller, in an ice bath. I bag my hops to reduce trub space. My fermenters are cake icing buckets I got from the bakery at Walmart. There is a bulb seal in the lid, so they are air tight. They are FDA approved and BPA free. To aerate I pour the batch back and forth between the kettle and the fermenter 3 or 4 times. To ferment I choose forgiving yeast, or I choose a yeast that benefits from higher temperatures. I do not generally control fermentation temperatures on small batches.  I probably should, but I have 1 small refrigerator/fermentation chamber and it is used for lagers.

Batch one boiling, Patigyle mashing away!
Two 2.5 batches from one grain bill!
Once I started brewing small batch, I found that I brewed a lot more than most people, usually 2x a week.  That is a huge reason my beer is so much better than most home brewers.  I brew more often.  I have more practice.  And I started producing more beer, with less stress,  Bottling became easier.  It is no big deal to bottle one case of beer.  Sanitation became no big deal,  I can easily lift and clean any of the things I use to brew small batch.  I can easily carry the fermenters around and place them on the counter.   I find that I can brew any style of beer easily at 2.5 gallons without any loss in quality.  One gallon batches of beer are not nearly so forgiving but I make them too sometimes for recipe development and to brew something fun or weird.

To keep costs down on small batch I look for style appropriate bittering hops that have high alpha acids.  (Example when I brew my English IPA I use Admiral or Target for bittering).  I think about the cost and expense of brewing a lot. I often brew batches that feature high alpha acid hops.  like my Two Hearted ale clone, or my Zombie Dust Clone.  These hops save you money by the very fact that they are higher in AA%.  My local home brew store sells hops by the 1/10th of an ounce.  So, I buy them there.   I adjust them up a bit because they are exposed to oxygen at the LHBS.  If it is a special hop centric beer, like my dIPA I order pre packaged hops in 1 ounce packages.  These are flushed with nitrogen and provide you the very best freshness.  I like BSG, they have been good to us, but I am also a fan of YCH Hop Union.  Both companies offer pre packaged hops.

I often re use my yeast cakes by planning several brews on one yeast cake, increasing the OG with each batch.  I do not truly wash yeast. I do a modified wash where I collect some of it in a mason jar, I let it settle. Alternatively, I pour off almost all of it into the new batch leaving behind only the chunky gross stuff in the bottom.  I get crazy fast and complete fermentation using this method.  An example, With Safale S04, I make a Centennial Blonde followed by an English IPA and finally by a Scottish Ale. With Safale US05 I make a Cream Ale, followed by a Bells Two Hearted Clone, finally a double IPA.   This saves you a lot of money. Specialty beers are made with yeast harvested from our larger batches of beer.  Learn to wash yeast, it will save you a lot of money.   There are so many videos on yeast washing.  Here is my favorite.  His approach is very similar to mine.

Crushing your own
malt saves you a lot.
And improves your
beer dramatically.
I get my grains in bulk,  We brew a lot. So grains don't last forever, and I brew a lot on my own, but if you search around at your local home brew stores, you will find that you can get a bag of two row for about $35.00 to $40.00. Even a bag of Munich or Vienna will only be about $50.00 with no shipping. I also have been known to toast my own grains and make my own crystal malt.  But for small batch there is really no need, it is so affordable to grab the specialty grains at the local home brew store.  I like Rahr, Weyermann, Cargill, and Muessdoerffer, oh and Dingeman and Warminster... and and and...

The process is straight forward.
  • The day before brew day 
    • I dechlorinate the water with 1/2 of a  Campden Tablet.
      • That is all you need for de chlorinating your water
    • I crush the grains
  • On brew day
    • All of the water goes in the pot
    • The water is treated to adjust the pH.  
      • I am a fan of Five Star 5.2 stabilizer for small batch
      • I am a fan of Acidulated malt for small batch pH adjustments
    • The water is heated lid on to strike temperature
    • My false bottom/cake rack is put in the kettle
    • The grains are placed into the bag and lowered into the water
      • After 5 minutes I check my pH, if it is too high, I add some acid malt to lower it.
      • I don't even crush the acid malt.  I just add .1 to .2 lbs to get the pH corrected.
    • The heat is turned off once the grains go in.
      • I step mash a lot, but that will be handled in a later post.
      • I also have a valve on my kettle, so I can recirculate with a pitcher if I want. 
    • The grains are recirculated or stirred every 15 minutes, and the lid is left on during the mash.
    • I don't care if I lose a couple of degrees, and you shouldn't either.  
      • It really doesn't matter if your mash falls from 152 to 146 F. 
      • If it falls too much, turn on the heat and stir, but undershoot your target temp. 
    • At the end of the mash it is just like any other batch of beer. 
      • Bring to a boil
      • Add hops
      • Add extras
      • Chill (ultra fast on a small batch)
      • Aerate 
        • I aerate small batches by pouring them back and forth between the fermenter and the kettle (which I rinse out first)
      • Pitch yeast
        • You may not need an entire package of yeast. 
          • You can seal up the rest and use another time. 
      • Ferment -  if I need to keep a small bach cool, I ferment it in a laundry tub. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hot Video Brewing Action... the French Country Ale Brew Day

You'll know you are becoming a great home brewer when you can adapt on the fly and still nail your; gravity, color, and volume.  That is just what Mark and I did today.  But let me back up and explain what happened and how we got to where we wanted to be.   And congratulations to you for reading this blog today, because today and today only we will reveal a great secret tool for making decoction easier. 

The plan today was very straight forward.  We intended to brew a french country ale.  A rich, malty, high alcohol, luxurious country ale.   Not a saison and not a farmhouse ale, a french country ale. The recipe was inspired by "Farmhouse Ales" by Phil Markowski. In the book, Markowski explains that most of the Biere de Garde beer in France is actually brewed with clean ale yeast. Not with Saison or Monastery yeast. The idea of turning Biere de Garde into an estery Saison, or spicy, phenolic beer is an American idea.  Well that struck a chord with us.  So we planned the recipe, we knew we were going to make 3.5 gallons and take 3 gallons to the fermenter.   We knew we were going to step mash and do at least one decoction.  We knew what our color was going to be, or what it was supposed to be.   And then we started brewing.  And that's when everything changed.  The color wasn't right, the wort was delicious, but not decadent.  We had to do something to get the beer we wanted. 

But fortunately for us, and for you our somewhat loyal readers, we have prepared ourselves for just about any brewing situation.   And we knew just what to do to get the beer we wanted. 

We started with a betaglucan rest at 119 F.   We were actually shooting for 116 F, but I recently filled the cavity of the Cajun Injector Electric Turkey Fryer with ceramic foam, and boy oh boy does it hold heat now.  Listen to me round eye, when you make changes to your system, you will have to learn your system all over again.  There is virtually no heat loss on a small high gravity (high grain) batch of beer.  That is exciting, that means we can hold temperature on our mashes in the future with out any problem.   

Our next rest was supposed to be at 132 F, but we were not impressed with the color at all, and so... we decided to pull an additional decotion.  Rather than doing a single decoction to go to mash out, we were now doing a double decoction. So we pulled the grains and let the element in the kettle raise the main mash slowly to 146 F.  Slowly, was the key, by going slowly we went through the protinase rest as well. Mark kept a close eye on the main mash while I handled the first decoction.  And by the way, we used Vienna Malt by Muessdoerffer.  Amazing stuff, after the first decoction the wort tasted grainy, and bready, with slight caramel and nut notes. 

When we returned the decoction to the mash we raised the temperature from 146 F to 154 F. But we had an ace up our sleeve.  While we were decocting we added a second bag to the kettle and we scooped the remaining grains into the bag... When we poured the decoction back into the kettle we poured the decoction into this second bag... By now you know we were up to something.  And here it is.  A second bag is a great help in a decoction.   This is a great technique,  we hope you'll give it a try. 

With the help of the bag we were able to easily pull a thick mash decoction for mash out.  Mark handled this decoction while I started weighing hops and additions, and updating the brew log. The second decoction, gave us even more richness, and a beautiful color.   We added the decoction back into the main mash when we both thought the color was where we wanted it.   When we added the decoction back in, our temperature came up to 166 F.  So we turned on the element and rose to 170 F. for 10 minutes. 

We then pulled the bag, set it on a colander over the kettle, vourlauffed the entire volume of wort, and sparged to a volume of 4 gallons.  We generally only lose about .5 gallons an hour in the electric turkey fryer.  Our Gravity was 1.060.  Perfect.  The sugar addition and the boil would take us to 1.074.  

The boil was uneventful standard home brewing stuff.  We added Northern Brewer as a first wort hop,  Mt Hood for flavor, and Styrian Golding for Aroma.   We added Irish Moss, and Yeast Nutrient.   At the end of the boil we drained the wort into Mark's 5 gallon kettle, chilled in the sink, in an ice bath.   Once we were at temperature we poured the wort back and forth between Mark's kettle and the fermenter.   This is an easy way to aerate.   Our gravity was 1.074.  So we pitched 1.25 packages of Fermentis K-97, Kolsch yeast.  

Lots of yeast, a rich healthy environment, lots of nutrient, lots of aeration... this beer should be amazing.  Really looking forward to trying this one. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Advanced Mashing for advanced results

This is a beer for the common man of France,
The French country ale shares it's heritage with
Biere de Garde, but unlike BDG doesn't need
long periods of lagering to finish malty and clean.
John is out of town for the Holiday weekend.  So that leaves the rest of the Counterbrew team to carry the torch. The infusion mash Tripel will have to wait a week.  So we're brewing at Mark's this weekend. We are making a french country ale, not a saison, not a farmhouse ale.  This beer is not yeast centric. It's a rich malty clean country ale. If you want to get technical this is a Biere de Garde.  But it doesn't really need to be lagered because we are using K97 Kolsch yeast.  It will be clean at packaging.   We will be step mashing  8 lbs of grain in the turkey fryer, then pulling a decoction to raise to mash out, adding even more malt flavor and color.  It's going to be a lot of stirring, but we are up for it.  Stirring?  Yes, stirring.  When ever you are doing a step mash, and applying direct heat, you should stir your mash.   Your goal is to keep the temperature consistent through out the mash and to keep the areas close to the fire from over heating. So if the element is on, we are stirring.

What?  You can't use a spoon to keep temperatures consistent, you have to have a eHERMs, recirculating wort, blue tooth controlled wort production machine!

Well yes, yes you can use a spoon.  I can and do all the time.  It's just home brew.  You can do what ever you want.  And I want to brew 3.5 gallons of a french country ale with a luxurious malt profile and mouth feel.   And they way you do that?  You step mash, and you do a decoction.  Both techniques have been covered ad nauseum on this blog, recently.  So I won't get into too much detail on that today.

Wait a minute, hold on now you're brewing a weird size.  What the holy heck?  Why can't you just do things the way the beer police say to do them? 

Well in truth, at Mark's we dont want to make a 5 gallon batch.  He lives in a loft.  We don't want to carry beer from the kitchen to the laundry room for chilling.   So we make a smaller batch and chill it with an ice batch in the sink.

This weekend we will be showing you that you can combine techniques.  They are just tools.  And we'll be applying the knowledge we have built with you on this site to use step mashing and decoction,

So here is the recipe, and the process.  Just in case you want to brew along.

color will be
between these
Belle Terre - 3.5 gallon biere de garde - really a french country ale.
1.074 OG
1.014 FG
24 IBUs
11 SRM - may be slightly higher due to the decoction
7.9% ABV

5.5 lbs of Vienna Malt -
the longer
you decoct
the darker
the color
.75 lbs of Munich
.75 lbs of C20
1.0 lbs of Table Sugar
.50 lbs of Aromatic
.50 lbs of Biscuit

.6 oz of Northern Brewer at First Wort  9% AA = 5.4 AAUs
.5 oz of Strisselspalt at 25 Minutes to go in the boil 4% AA = 2 AAUs
.5 oz of Strisselspalt at 10 Minutes to go in the boil 4% AA = 2 AAUs

1 tsp of yeast nutrient

Fermentis K97 Yeast 2 packages.  Added Dry to chilled wort

The Mash
The grains will strike into 4.5  Gallons of 120 F water - The grains will rest at 115 F for 15 Minutes
The mash will be stirred and heated to 132 F - where it will rest for 15 minutes
The mash will be stirred and heated to 146 F - where it will rest for 30 Minutes
A decoction will be pulled and brought to a boil for 15 minutes  no need to rest at 150 -
The decoction will be added back into the main mash to raise the temperature to 168 F.
The grains will be pulled and set on a rack above the kettle to drain. squeeze to get to volume.
The pre boil volume should be about 4 Gallons.

From here on out it is just like any other batch.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A beer geek guide to step mashing: Planning the recipe... Belgian Tripel

Once again we are humbled by your response to the "Beer Geek guide to Step Mashing".  We are all truly touched by those of you who went right out and tried step mashing for the first time this weekend.  Thank you for your comments and photos on Google+ and Facebook. John is going to get us more active on Twitter and several other social media sites.   And for those of you who did not rush right out and step mash.  There are two more posts, this one, and an actual brew day.  In about a month we will be doing the ultimate beer geekery Bohemian lager Brew day where we combine both infusion mashing and decoction.

Ok, so you want to try a step mash.  You want to experience all of the benefits of this traditional mashing process.  You want to have more connection to your mash.  You want to have more involvement in your brewing.   You read the previous post, and you know that resting a mash at certain temperatures can have a significant impact on your final product.    So how do you plan the recipe?   If you haven't read the previous post, now is the time to go back and read it.

Well, sports fans, John is our resident recipe planning guru, but I will share my process for planning a step mash with you in hopes that you will follow a similar train of thought when you design your recipe.  I will be sharing a recipe for our Belgian Tripel (Desir et la Nuit)  And I will be sharing the process I followed to create the recipe.  The first thing you should know is that this recipe began life as a La Fin du Monde Clone.   It was the step mashing that took this recipe to the next level.  It was good as an LFDM clone.  But after we added the step mashing, the recipe went to another level.  This is without question the best beer we have ever brewed, and that is saying a lot.   This is among the very best beers that I have ever tasted.  I am obviously proud of it, and I dearly hope you will try it.  I am confident that it will become part of your standard lineup.

So,  we begin with a desire to take our LFDM clone and make it somehow even better.   We loved the malt profile.  We loved the slight expression of honey.  We were not trying to correct problems as much as we were seeing if the recipe could become even better.   And boy oh boy did we succeed.

What we wanted
  • Malty, grainy, bread-like, and sweet, without being cloying.
  • Reasonable clarity - we didn't want it to be perfectly clear, but not chunky either.
  • Full attenuation - a very digest-able wort
  • High alcohol that is completely hidden by the flavor of the beer
  • Rich mouth feel
  • Luxurious
Jerry Vietz,  Unibroue
Master Brewer.
Now this is a big list.  And we were trying to actually improve on a beer that is world class.  A beer that is revered and adored by all but the skinniest jean wearing hipster beer nerds.   A beer made by artisanal brewers in Chambly, Quebec, Canada.  A beer made by a brewery that uses French words, and classic Belgian techniques.  A seemingly insurmountable task.

But we had an advantage or two, or three.  We are home brewers.  We have access to the full range of techniques.  We are unbound from the limitations of a commercial brewing system.  Step  mashing is available to us.  We were able to taste our wort as we mashed.  We are only brewing 10 gallons,  Adjustments are easy.  So we knew what we wanted, how did we make it happen?  Let's break it down.

Acid Rest -  We wanted some clarity and we wanted a good mouth feel,  We also wanted a beer that would have have a great fermentation and attenuation.   Sounds like we need to rest for a while at a temperature that would promote Glucanase activity. Glucanase, as you may recall breaks down Beta Glucans. So 115 F for 15 to 20 minutes.    Remember at 115 F Some Peptidase is also active.  Which is fine, we'll accept whatever ferulic acid is produced by this rest, even though phenolic flavor is not our focus with this beer.

The mash will begin to thin out in
the protein rest.
Protein Rest -  We did not want extra Phenols or Esters in this beer.  We were happy to accept whatever the yeast produced with whatever ferulic acid that was created by the Acid rest.   It is our opinion that true Belgian Tripels are not particularly spicy or phenolic, maybe just a hint.  So we wanted a protein rest that would improve clarity without diminishing mouth fee.  We needed to have a rest that promoted Proteinase.  Proteinase breaks long chain amino acids into medium length amino acids. Sounds like we need to rest at  133 F to 135 F for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Saccharification rests will be at temperatures you are more
familiar with.  Make sure you taste your mash before you
 move on to the mash out. 
Saccharification rest -  When brewing a Belgian Syle beer, we adhere to the concept of digest-ablity.  It is more than just fermentability.  It is the Belgian concept of respecting the grain, producing the ultimate mout (wort) from the grain.  The ultimate, color, mouthfeel, and ferment-ability.  We need this beer to finish completely without losing mouth feel.  Now remember we are going to get some great mouth feel from our protein rest.  So we can afford to have a saccharification rest that would promote maximum extract and create a wort that is highly digest-able.  Our strategy would be to rest at 146 F for 30 minutes, and then rest at 156 F for 20 minutes.  We have found that this strategy creates a wort that will provide fully convertible sugars for the yeast.

A thin mash decoction is just wort that you pull, and bring
to a boil in order to raise your mash to mash out temps.
Mash out-  We believe in mash out, if you don't that is cool.  I'm not your brew mom.  You can skip this if you want.  But for us, this is another chance to further break down the long chain proteins that can impact your beer negatively. We mash out with a thin mash decoction wort.  So we would be doing a thin mash decoction and mashing out.

If you have a recirculating infusion mash system, then just follow the temperature schedule.  That is one of the few justifications for the expense of these systems.  They make step mashing a breeze. Fill with water, set your temps, go through your steps... done!  I still am attracted to the recirculating BIAB systems, like Brausupply, Colorado Brewing Systems, High gravity, and Grainfather.

We do not have a recirculating mash system, yet.  Although we are working on converting the keggle to a gas powered recirculating system.   When we brew 5 gallons we can heat our mash.  We have an electric turkey fryer that can pull double duty as a mash tun.  But when we brew 10-gallon batches, we tend to use a 100-quart rectangular cooler.

So, how would we be able to do a step mash for a 10-gallon batch, in a cooler that has no heating element?   The answer is an old technique that you may or may not be familiar with.  We would be doing an infusion step mash with boiling water.

Infusion mashing is adding boiling water to your mash to increase the temperature of the mash.   It is how we did step mashing in the dark ages.   The concept is simple.  When you add boiling water to the mash, the temperature increases.   So, in theory, you can add enough boiling water to raise the temperature of your mash from step to step.

Wait, won't that kill the enzymes?  Well, yes, a few.  a few of the enzymes will be denatured.  But the overwhelming majority will survive.  The enzymes will not be affected enough by the boiling water to impact the mash or the mash efficiency at all.  It may seem counter intuitive but it works.

But how do you know how much water to add?  For that, we turn to our trusty old friend... the interwebs.  There are so many great brewing calculators out there.  Some of them will even calculate the amount of boiling water you need to add to change the mash from one temperature to the next rest temperature.  I generally use Beersmith or Brewtoad.   But for mash water calculation I turn to "brewers friend"  Mash Infusion and Rest Schedule.   I am a fan of brewersfriend.com.  When they make recipe input easier, I will probably switch over to it.  It is rich with features, and even includes basic water chemistry.

OK, so to calculate the infusions, you have to start with some basic information.  You have to know your batch size, your total lbs. of grain, your water to grain ratio and your boil off rate.   Your boil off rate?  Yes, how else will you know your water to grain ratio?

The acid/beta glucan
 Rest will be very thick.
Relax, you're adding more water.
So our recipe has the following characteristics.
  • 27 lbs. of grain
  • Grain absorption rate .1 gallon per pound of grain.
  • Boil off rate is 2 gallons per hour
  • So we start with  15.7 gallons of water.
    • The math
      • 27 lbs. of grain will absorb 2.7 gallons of water
      • Pre-boil volume is 13 gallons
      • Post boil volume is 11 gallons
You have to know this so you know how many gallons you can not exceed.   When you are infusion mashing you may end up doing no sparge, or very little sparge.  RDWHAHB, it works.    This is true because when you are infusion step mashing you will be adding water throughout the mash to raise temperatures.   Every recipe is different, every mash schedule is different, it will make more sense as you do it more often.   Sometimes it will come out just fine and you'll have extra wather for sparge, sometimes there won't be much left.   Just don't exceed your total water needed.  As you plan your recipe you will know if you have extra for sparge.  Remember you could use your wort for sparge.  You could just vourlauff a lot, or recirculate a lot,  That will have a similar effect.  But it is easier to just plan on a slightly lower efficiency.  We plan on 75% with this method. You do gain back some efficiency from the step mash.

So here is what brewersfriend.com mash infusion and rest calculator comes up with
  • Strike with 8.37 Gallons of water at 123.1 F - Rest at 115 F for 15 to 20 minutes.
    • Wait, wait, wait.  15 to 20 minutes?  why not a specific time? 
      • OK here's why.  Your next addition may or may not be boiling yet.  Relax, times are not as big of a deal as you have been taught.
  • Add 2.5 Gallons of boiling water, stir while you are adding - Rest at 135 F for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Add 1.8 Gallons of boiling water, stir while you are adding - Rest at 145 F for 30 minutes.
  • Add 2.8 Gallons of boiling water, stir while you are adding - Rest at 156 F for 30 minutes.
    • At this point you have used 15.47 gallons of your alloted 15.7 gallons.
    • So just add the other .23 gallons of water to the mash out at 168 F. 
  • Pull a thin mash decoction large enough to bring the mash to 168 F. About 4.75 Gallons.
Whew!  That is a complicated mash schedule.  And Long, Probably almost 2 hours.  Yes, 2 hours.  But it is so worth it.  First of all, it is fun and active.  You will be far more in touch with your brewing.  Second, the flavors and mouth feel can not be recreated any other way.

You may have also noticed that we are using 27 lbs. of grain and 15.7 gallons of water,  You can not pull this off in a 10 gallon round cooler. So if that is your mash tun, be prepared to do a 5-gallon batch instead of a 10 gallon.   The mash at it's largest will be 17.82 gallons.   Our desire to do no sparge, and to do infusion step mashing is part of why we have a 20-gallon rectangular cooler with a door on top.

Next, this coming weekend we will be brewing this recipe with an illustrated guide to step mashing with infusion step mashing.   We will also partigyle the grains.  A 1.074 beer will produce a 2nd runnings wort of about 1.037.  A quick sugar addition will turn that 2nd runnings batch into a 1.050 session saison.   So, talk about efficiency?  We're getting 15 gallons of beer from this one batch of grains, and we could get 20 if we wanted 20.    The saison we will have some fun with.  Think Jake has some ideas for hops and dry hopping.  Should be fun.

Additional content;  While researching this recipe I discovered tastybrew.com mash infusion calculator.  I'm impressed.  We probably won't try it with this recipe, because we know brewersfriend.com works so well.  But I will definitely be giving it a go on my own.  Here is what it came up with for our infusion rest schedule.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Beer Geek guide to Step mashing... Understanding the Science Behind the process

Adding boiling water to raise temperatues.
Infusion step mashing.
So coming up we will be doing an infusion mash on our "Desir et la Nuit" (Belgian tripel with honey). What is an infusion mash?   Well, an infusion mash is a technique for raising temperatures in the mash with boiling water.  It is a step mash.  A step mash is a mashing technique where your mash rests at progressively higher temperatures during the mash.  You don't need a pump, you don't need a direct heat source for your mash tun.  All you really need is your mash tun and a way to boil water.  For those of you who have only brewed single infusion style.  This technique can open your brewing up to all kinds of new possibilities.  And, if you want to make truly world class Belgian style beers,  you will have to step mash.   There are mash elements that can not be created effectively with out step mashing.

Now, it is time to handle the argument against step mashing.  Many of you will say there is just no reason to step mash.  You will claim that modern malted grains are highly modified already and that they do not need to undergo the transformations that occur in a step mash.   To you I say... yeah, you're mostly correct.  Mostly, but not entirely correct.  What?  What the heck...just tell us what you mean.   Relax round eye, I will.   But first you have to take a moment and understand why step mashing is viable and important.

There are more enzymes at work in your mash than beta and alpha amylase.  There is more going on in your mash than the simple conversion of starch into sugar by these enzymes.  Want to make super clear beer?  Even more difficult want to make super clear beer with wheat or rye?  Learn to step mash.  Want to make an authentic Belgian style beer with lots of phenolic punch?   Learn to step mash.   Want to have more fun brewing, and be more active during the mashing process?  Learn to step mash. Want to control your water pH with minimal acid additions?  Learn to step mash (although acid rest for pH adjustment is tough to justify even for me)  Want to reduce chill haze in your beer?  Learn to step mash... I can keep going but I think the point is established.  LEARN TO STEP MASH.

great local home brew store in KC.
Recently I attended a meet and greet at a local home brew shop.   Some very competitive and experienced home brewers were present.   We each brought several bombers to share and try.   When we got to my Belgians, specifically The BSDA, the Tripel, and Alegement (raspberry blonde) the tone of our conversation changed.  They were clearly impressed by what we had made.  Comments abounded about the quality, aroma, and the taste.  One brewer said, and I quote "I'm so f*&kin glad you aren't competing right now".  While that was certainly an ego boost, what was more shocking was their reaction to my process.  Questions broke out about how we did it.  When I answered that each of these beers underwent a step mashing process the responses were all over the board.

There's just no reason to step mash, you're wasting time.  Give me the recipe and I'll prove it to you, a few additional grains can produce the same thing. 
Please be more specific on your process, exact temperatures of rests please...where was your pH, what were your water additions.. what phase was the moon in?
Wait, wait, wait... you actually did a betaglucan rest?

click on this and save it.  trust me you need it.
I know our beer was enjoyed that day.  I know our beer left a big impression.  I know, they know, that we are coming for their medals next year.   And I know I changed at least one of their minds on step mashing.   And 3 of the 4 have qualified for the NHC final rounds at some point in their brewing career/hobby. These are serious brewers.  They had great advice to share with me as well, on reducing oxygen exposure, and maximizing IPA flavors.  It was a great exchange of ideas.

So what are the steps of a step mash?  and more importantly what do they do?  And what are the enzymes you are dealing with at each step?

The ACID rest;  Temperature Range 95 F to 113 F,  Active Enzyme Phytase, Glucanase

Why perform an acid rest?  Well in truth, you don't really need to do an acid rest for the production of pH lowering acid,  unless you are using under modified grains, or unless you want to lower mash pH with minimal chemicals.   Phytase works actively on a molecule found in grains called phytin.  It creates phytic acid which can and will lower your mash pH.   But it takes along time (60 minutes) and really only does well in soft water.  If you ever want to do a true, rustic brew with minimal additions, this is the way to lower pH without chemicals.  It is also a pain in the ass and takes forever.  It is much easier to add some Acidulated Malt to the grist.

Step mashing improves clarity!
The real reason to do a rest at this temperature is to break down beta glucans (gum). Beta Glucan is a gumy carbohydrate that surrounds the starch molecule of a grain.   They get in the way of the amylase and glucans are the chief contributor to chill haze in your beer.   A brief rest at these temperature ranges will allow
glucanase to break down the Beta Glucans.  End result, clearer beer, and slightly better conversion.  Especially important for wheat, and rye.   Ever wonder why Berliner weiss is clear, and American Wheat beer is cloudy?  Glucanase is why.

The PROTEIN rest;  Temperature Range 113 -138 F,  Active Enzymes Proteinase, Peptidase

Why perform an protein rest?  Well actually you should view the two protein related enzymes differently.  They work at different temperatures.

Proteinase works at 131 F to 138 F and is thought to reduce haze with out reducing body.  It breaks long chain amino acids into medium chain amino acids.  You want medium chain amino acids in your beer.

Peptidase works at 113 F to 128 F.  Peptidase breaks medium chains into their components.   So if you want to express maximum esters or phenols in a Heffeweis or in a BSDA, you really should consider a protein rest around 115 F.  The key acid you are trying to maximize is called Ferulic acid.  A Peptidase rest will help you maximize it's availability.  Then all you have to do is use a yeast that is POF+, or phenolic off flavor positive.   If on the other hand you are looking for clarity, without a loss in mouth feel,  you should consider a mash rest that maximizes Proteinase action (136 F).

The SACHARIFICATION rest;   Temperature range 140 F to 162 F, Active Enzymes Alpha and Beta Amylase.

If you are reading this blog,  you probably already know a bit about beta and alpha amylase enzymes.  You have been told that alpha works at higher temperatures and breaks long chain starches into medium chain starches.  You have been told that beta amylase breaks off the branches of longer chain starches into highly fermentable sugars.   Everything you have been told is true.   But let's get more specific.   Beta amylase is active from about 132 F to about 151 F.   A long rest at optimum beta amylase temperatures can produce a highly fermentable wort that will finish dry.   Alpha amylase is active from about 150 F to about 163F.   The optimum temperature is around 156 F.  A rest at alpha amylase will improve the mouth feel of a beer.   Remember beta amylase can not break up the longer chains of starch.   Only alpha amylase can do this.  

A step mash allow you to produce a highly ferment able (Belgian concept of digest able) wort that still has mouth feel.  Our tripel is almost 9% alcohol.   We got over 80 % efficiency and 81% attenuation of the wort.   But the mouth feel is luxurious and rich.   The beer is clear, the color is burnished gold.  You can not do that with out a step mash.  Don't argue this point it is a simple fact of biological chemistry.   You can come close with grain additions, and fining.   But you can not get it exact.

An optimum temperature for an easy mash is 150 F to 152 F.  You kinda get the best of both worlds at that temperature.  Kinda, but not really.   We see high efficiency from step mashing, always in the high 70 s.  And remember we are generally no sparge / partigyle brewers.  So efficiencies approaching 80% from a no sparge are pretty fantastic.

The MASH OUT rest;   Temperature range 168 F +, Active Enzymes - none.  

The point of the mash out is to turn off the enzymes.  The brewing enzymes are, in fact, proteins. Like all proteins they are trying to bind to something.  Trying to work on something, trying to interact.   By raising the temperature above 168 F, you are damaging the working parts of the enzymes and basically turing them off.  They can no longer act on the starches and proteins.   By doing this you create a less viscous wort and a wort that will flow more completely and with more of its desired sugars and flavors into your boil kettle.   Again this is a fact, there is no reason to argue it.  You can argue whether or not it is worth it, but you can't argue the science behind the reasoning.

Conclusion and call to Arms;

Listen, brew how you want.  Brew in the way that is the most fun for you.  But please, don't refuse to understand a technique that can improve your beer just for the sake of narcissism.  Don't stick to one style of brewing because you once shot your mouth off on a brewing forum about it's benefits or lack there of.   Remember, I was once the anti BIAB, anti no sparge, traditional brewing Nazi.  I was the jerk saying they just didn't work.  I was the idiot arguing on forums about the absolute necessity of fly sparging.  I changed by trying new and different approaches.  Not only did it improve my beer, it made brewing loads more fun.   So give this technique a try.  It works.  It will open up subtle flavors to your brewing that you can not develop with out it.  The best brewers in the world use step mashes. It will improve your beer.  And more importantly it is so much fun.

Here are some time tested proven step mash programs.   I have used them all.   They all work.  And yes they take longer.  If you have an automated system, then these are a walk in the park for you.  If not, you'll have to do some math.  We'll cover that math in our next installment.  Planning your Step Mash.

A Step Mash for clarity and body.
100 F for 20 minutes
134 F for 20 minutes
145 F for 30 minutes
155 F for 20 minutes
168 F for 10 minutes

A Step Mash for maximum phenolic expression.
100 F for 20 minutes
113 F for 35 minutes
134 F for 10 minutes
150 F for 30 minutes
168 F for 10 minutes

A simple step mash for maximum extraction of sugar
100 F for 20 minutes
150 F for 45 minutes
168 F for 10 minutes

Step mash for dry beer - dry stout & dry lager like ales
145 F for 30 minutes
152 F for 50 minutes
158 F for 30 minutes
168 F for 10 minutes

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Easy Decoction... no additional time... 2 part decoction step mash

There is a reason real
Bohemian and German
Lagers are made with
decoction mashing.
Wow, and thank you all for the amazing response to the decoction series.  The questions and conversation sparked on Facebook, and on Google+ have been fantastic.  We have some more decoctions coming up.

Sunday's brew was a traditional tripel decoction.  We skipped the proteolytic enzyme rests.  They do help with breaking up proteins and with head retention.  Many brewers report creamy meringue like heads from decoction.  This is especially true when you include the acid and protein rests.  In a couple of weeks when we do the bohemian pilsner, we'll do the full totally geeky process begining at 95 F, then we'll do infusions to 110 F and 132 F, and then a triple decoction. We'll use minimal chemical additions.  Should be exhausting, should be fun, and should make some world class beer.   But you have also heard me say over and over that decoction is just a tool.  A tool you can use to improve your beer.   We also do decoctions on lots of different styles of beer, and we have developed a simple two step decoction process.

Today in an effort to make clear our easy two step decotion or "Easy Decoction"  I am writing the process and posting a recipe for a hoppy pilsner.  You must have temperature control to make this recipe. If you do not have temperature control, then I would suggest using Fermentis K-97 yeast. Fermentis K-97 is a Kolsch yeast.  It produces minimal esters, 23 ppm.  It will be very close.  But you will have to fine the Kolsch yeast with gelatin, or another fining agent.  They are notoriously bad flocculators.   The good news is this is a process you can use to make any style of beer, but works best for all German Lagers,  Belgian Ales,  American premium lagers and any beer where you are using under modified grains.  (anything called floor malted or organic benefits from decoction, although I would recommend multiple rest for these malts, acid, protein, beta, alpha mash out )

Decoction is no big
deal.  You can do it!
Our Easy Decoction method does not add hours to a brew day, the additional time is around 30 minutes.   That is half an hour more time to dramatically improve your beer.    I hope this is helpful to you all.   More than anything I hope you come to understand that decoction, and infusion mashing are just tools.  You can use them to improve your beer.  You can use them because they are fun.  You can use them separately, or you can use them together.   In a later post, we will make a Bohemian Pilsner where we actually use infusion step mashing and decoction.  Of course no technique can replace the importance of good sanitation, and proper fermentation.   So if you are having issues with off flavors, you need to work on those techniques before you worry about decoction, infusion or partigyle.  Here is the other great news, you do not need to have fancy gear, pumps, or recirculating anything in order to make great beer with these advanced techniques.  And nothing will get you more in touch with your beer than these hands on brews.  

You can also use these techniques for small batch.   I love small batch brewing. Standing at the stove channeling my inner Belgian Monk or German brewmeister.  I brew far more often than you see on this blog.  I am always screwing around with something.  I usually brew 2.25 gallons when I brew small.

Ja Whol! - inspired by Pivo Pilsner.

OG 1.050
FG  1.012
Color 4 - 5 SRM - your recipe calculator will say 2 srm. The decoction adds the color.  Decoction also gives the beer a shimmering brilliance.

IBUs - 58
ABV 5%

9.5 lbs of Pilsner -  we recommend Weyermann Barke Pilsner or Cargill EuroPils

Boil Additions
1 oz of Magnum at 60 minutes - 14.7% alpha acid = 14.7 AAUs
2 tsp of yeast nutrient at 15 minutes
1 tsp of Irish moss at 12 minutes
1 oz of Spalt Select at 10 minutes  5% alpha acid = 5 AAUs
1 oz of Spalt Select at 5 minutes   5% alpha acid = 5 AAUs

Fermentis 34 / 70 two packs (if you can't lager then use Fermentis K-97, one pack)

Dry Hop
2 oz of Hallertauer Saphir for 5 days.3.2% alpha acid = 6.4 AAUs (LHBS may just call it Saphir)

Mash procedure;   Our mash is very thin, often no sparge or very little sparge.   It works fine.
  • Rest at 146 for 20 minutes
  • Pull a decoction of 1 quart per pound of grain. 
  • Put decoction into a separate kettle. 
  • Rest decoction at 150 F for 15 minutes then bring to a boil for 15 minutes stirring constantly.
  • Return decoction to the main mash, temperature should rise to about 156 F.  
    • The mash temperatures are not as big a deal as you think.  As long as alpha amylaze is activated by your second decoction you are fine.   Don't exceed 165 F.
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pull the thin mash decoction through your valve.  Pull enough thin mash to raise the temperature to 168+ F. 
  • Bring thin mash to a boil and then return it to the main mash.  The temperature should come up above 168 F.  
  • Mash out rest for 10 minutes. 
  • Boil and make additions as normal.  Watch for boil overs when ever you decoct. 
Dry yeast, especially
Fermentis 34/70 is a
great yeast for lagering.
At the end of the boil chill to fermentation temperatures and aerate.  This is a lager, so you will need to use additional yeast and lots of aeration.   We generally chill to as low as we can with our Jaded Hydra and then put the fermenters into the chamber to get them to pitch temps.   The next day we aerate and pitch the yeast.

Here is another shocker...we prefer dry yeast for lagers.   Dry yeast is packaged with oxygen and nutrients.  So we don't even rehydrate.  We just pitch the yeast right on top of the aerated wort.   We use the fast lager method so many of you have read about on Brulosophy.   Because we aerate the next day, we generally ferment in plastic buckets.  We aerate with a sanitized paint mixer.  Say what you want, 5 minutes of this gives plenty of O2 for the yeast to use when using dry yeast.  Since we use the quick lager method we are not experiencing any oxidization from the buckets, the beer isn't in there long enough to oxidize.   We generally go 10 days at 52 F, then 10 days at 68 F, then 10 days at 34 F.   It makes clean crisp perfect lagers. 

Fermaid K can help your yeast
finish strong.  Remember it's all
just yeast.
If fermentation gets stuck, which can happen with a lager,  we add fermaid K yeast nutrient and swirl gently.  We dont want oxygen at this point. Gently swirling gets the yeast back up into suspension.   We have had great success with this method.  Jake took a beer that was stuck at 1.030 and got it down to 1.018 by swirling gently daily. 

The total time for the decoction mash will be around 90 minutes.  A full on triple decoction usually takes us around 2 hours and 20 minutes.   So this is way faster than a traditional decoction mash.  And way more fun than just sitting around in the garage during the mash.   

I hope you will give decoction mashing a try at some point.  It really is a ton of fun.  And it improves your beer.   And this recipe is fantastic.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Triple Decoction Munich Helles - Home brew geekery

He can't carry anything, but he can
damned sure grind the grains!
Warning fellow brewers, don't
leave pilsner near John.  He eats
it like pop corn... all day.
Sunday was a beautiful and peaceful day in KC.  A gorgeous day to brew.   Brewing with a team is great.  There are things you can not do by yourself that you can do with just a little help from your team.  Our team is spread out right now.  Jake was at the TPC in Jacksonville.   Mark is still in Brazil and John is hampered by a torn Achilles tendon right now.   But there is still a lot he can do.   Fortunately for us, John's lovely wife stepped up and helped a lot.  (Thank you Beth).

So Sunday, John and I set out to brew a triple decoction Munich Helles with Cargill Europils.   Europils is grown in Canada, but made following traditional European practises.  We think it is fantastic stuff.   Our hops were BSG small package Hallertauer Mittlefruh.

Our goal was to stick to traditional brewing as much as possible, and to make things easy as possible.

We used no water treatments other than camden to knock out the chlorine.   The pH adjustment was made with 1lb of acidulated malt.  Our pH after dough in came in at 5.44.  The wort tasted amazing.   I am not saying we are committed to this approach all of the time.  In fact, I would say generally we will make full water chemistry adjustments.   But today, John and I were geeking out and channelling the wisdom of the German brewers of old.

Silicone gloves are a must have
for a decoction brew day!
In fact,  I would suggest
that they are a must have
for all BIAB brewdays!
We let the grains rest for 15 minutes at 132 F before pulling our first decoction.  This is called the enzyme wash.  It allows the majority of the enzymes to get into the liquid.  Our trusty 1 quart metal mesh strainer broke, So we had to use a pitcher to remove the grains from the mash tun.   I strongly suggest that you, use a mesh strainer.   If you don't have a mesh strainer, just go get one, and know that if you decoct a lot, you will be replacing it once a year.  Using a pitcher was such a pain in the ass, and on a brew day you know is going to be long, it just isn't worth it.   But we made do.  The first decoction rested at 150 for 15 minutes and then was heated to a boil.  Jake's jet burner makes quick work of decoction heating.   Beth, John, and I took turns stirring the decoction boil for the 15 minutes.   And then the entire decoction was returned to the main mash.  The temperature rose to 145 F.  I do need to say, if you do not own silicone gloves, you really need them for a decoction brew day. You will be lifting heavy kettles full of boiling grains and wort.

Decoction Mashing, what it looks like.

We rested at 145 F for 15 minutes and then pulled our next decoction.  The second decoction is faster. You really don't need to rest at 150 on the second decoction.   You can proceed straight to the boil. Once again Beth, John and I all took turns stirring for the 15 minutes.   The second decoction, really all decoctions will seem really dry when you first put them in the kettle.  But they will give off the wort as they come to a boil.   By the time you are done with the decoction it will be soupy.   So don't worry just keep stirring.   We returned the decoction to the main mash and rested for 20 minutes.  The temperature rose to 155 F.

After 20 minutes we pulled a thin decoction.  Now, what the heck is a thin decoction?  It's just wort.  We pulled 4 gallons of wort from the mash and brought it to a boil.  When it boiled we poured it back into the main mash for the mash out.  The temperature rose to 170 F.   We rested for 10 minutes and then collected 11 gallons of wort for the boil.  You can use this techniqe for any mash out.

Our target wort gravity was 1.034.  We were at 1.042.   So we overshot again, but we were with in a reasonable tolerance.  The proteins kept building during the boil.  Even with Fermcap S we almost had boil overs.   I know that decoction completely unbundles the proteins, I'm sure this has something to do with our results.  Hallertaurer is low this year 2.5% alpha acid. So we added  .6 oz of warrior at 60 minutes, just to get our bittering where we wanted it. We added 1 oz of Hallertauer at 60, .6 oz of Warrior at 60, and 1.5 oz of Hallertauer at 5 m.  The beer was chilled to ground water temps of 57 F with our Jaded Hydra Chiller.  We let the chiller run for 10 minutes to get to 57 F.  next time we'll set up a final chiller with a sump pump and the old immersion chillers.  Just get a hydra.  Don't whine about the cost, it's the best money you will spend.  We can chill 10 gallons from boiling to pitch temps in about 6 minutes.

Rigorous Boil.  That was Jake's nickname in college

The boil was too rigorous we ended up collecting only 9 gallons of wort, at 1.068 OG.  4.5 gallons in two plastic fermentation buckets.  The simple solution was to add a gallon of spring water to each fermenter.  The beers were placed into the fermentation chamber which was set to 52 F.   After work tonight I'll be swinging by aerating, and pitching the yeast.   We are pitching 34/70 into one of these, and S23 into the other.    That way we can compare the two Fermentis yeasts and decide which one we prefer for this beer.

Overall this was a really fun and fantastic brew day.  I'll admit, I love decoction.  It is a blast.   And it doesn't have to be intimidating.   And it isn't just for german brews.  You can, and we have, add a decoction to your favorite ipa recipe and really create a great malt backbone.  Now, I know a lot of you will argue that decoction is not necessary.  And to you I say... you are correct.   You can make really fine beer with out decoction.   I know a lot of you will argue that decoction makes no difference, and to you I will say... you are just wrong.   It makes a tremendous difference in color, mouthfeel, and in taste.    So I encourage all of you to give it a try.  You wont be disappointed.

We have some exciting brews coming up.   We have a full team triple decoction Pilsner Urquel clone coming up.   We will be making our amazing tripel, because we are out of it and we all want more.  But we will be making it in a 10 gallon batch.   Then we will be making the fall beers.   A festbier (easy decoction), a BSDA, and for Beth a pumpkin beer.  Then our focus shifts to winter beers.   So by mid to late summer we will be making a fall Saison, and some great big Stouts for winter consumption. But don't fret sports fans, Mark and I will keep making some weird small batch stuff, wine, and sours.  So keep checking in.

Friday, May 13, 2016

THE ACTUAL TRUTH ABOUT YEAST: The Brett Episode; with Kevin Lane of Fermentis

Here is the next episode in the yeast series.  This one is long but awesome.  Espcecially if you are a sour or wild beer brewer.   Kevin has so much good information to share.  I know this one is long, but if you are serious about making Brett sour beers, it is a must read.  Fermentis

Sour beer brewing is less challenging than you may imagine, but takes far more cleaning, sanitizing, and planning than you could ever concieve.  If you are a new brewer, this probably isn't for you.  If you are more experienced, well then give these articles a read.  Sour brewing is rewarding, and you can make world class beer at home.  Much of this information is covered in our other posts on the subject.  Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4

What is Brettanomyces?

Brettanomyces isn't just another kind of Saccharomyces.  It is an entirely
different species of yeast.  Full size available ath the end of the post.
Brettanomyces (Brett for short) is another genus of yeast, not just a species difference like ale (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and lager (Saccharomyces pastorianus). The genus itself is considered to be a wild yeast strain, but all yeasts were at one point in time wild; brewers from a couple of centuries ago thought fermentation was magical (sometimes I still think it is). Brettanomyces species have been cultured and are now produced in “pure” culture for use in brewing and other applications. Brettanomyces species are very different from Saccharomyces species, however one of the major differences is in sporification. The literal translation of Brettanomyces is actually “British fungus”. One of my favorite things about Brettanomyces is that people describe some of the flavor impact as “horse blanket” which refers to an interesting flavor component… the reason that people are taken back the first time they experience Brett beers.

What makes it different from ale or lager yeast?

There is a lot that makes Brett different from ale and lager yeast: the genus and species for one, the potential flavor compound production, the fermentation activities and the formation of a pellicle, just to list a few. What is important to know is that it is a very different organism and does not ferment the way that brewers are accustomed to, with ale and lagers. Brett have the ability to ferment out most of the carbohydrates that traditional brewer’s yeast leave behind; some even have the ability to ferment larger carbohydrates beyond tri-saccharides, like maltotriose. Another key to understanding and using Brett is that the flavor impact is greatly influenced by the time of use and stress factors.

Are there different kinds of Brettanomyces?

There certainly are different kinds of Brett. It is a completely different genus. Some Brett have been isolated from different regions of the world and some have been isolated from different industries: beer, wine and other industries (we won’t go into this). For both beer and wine, Brett is viewed, for the most part, as an infection. Some beer styles need Brett for the beer to fit into that style category (Lambic and gueuze come to mind) and can actually improve the flavor slightly in wines (research the impact on red wine production, if you are interested). The most common strains of Brettanomyces are anomalus, bruxellensis, claussenii, custersianus, naardenensis, and nanus. Each species will present different characteristics and flavor impact on the beer (or wine) and will have a different preferential fermentation environment (think S. cerevisiae vs. S. pastorianus).

What are the flavors produced by Brett yeast?  

There are many flavors that are produced by Brett, some that are the same/similar to Saccharomyces and others that are unique to the Brettanomyces genus. I have been fortunate enough to use Brett in both primary fermentation and as a secondary fermentation and the flavors produced are extremely different in each. The major sensory compounds associate with Brett fermentation, weather primary or secondary, would be 4-ethylphenol (horse blanket component mentioned earlier), 4-ethylfuaiacol (4-EG, similar to 4-VG phenolics) and isovaleric acid (smells like old, aged cheese).

Why is Brett called wild?

Brett is called “wild” because of the impact on beer that was primarily fermented with Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces ability to survive and ferment carbohydrates that are usually remaining after the Saccharomyces has finished. Again, I have to remind everyone that cerevisiae and pastorianus were once wild yeast but are now isolated and produced so they are more pure strains, however humans are doing this with Brett, so I can’t use that to explain why it is called wild.
Another reason for Brett being called wild, is due to the flavor implications. Beers that contain Brett won’t necessarily have a “horse blanket” or “aged cheese” flavor, but it is possible to detect those flavors if the Brett has been stressed. Actually, all Brett beers (meaning primary fermentation done without Saccharomyces) have a very nice, fruity character, similar but not the same as Saccharomyces beers. Of course, there is still some background notes of the “off flavors” produced by Brett, but the beers could be mistaken for Saccharomyces beers, by the untrained pallet. Getting back to the question, I think another reason for Brett being called “wild” is because they are present in the air and on the skins of fruit. Again, I have to go back to the fact that this is how humans started pure Saccharomyces cultures, but there is less commercialized Brett today (not to say that it will always be this way). Traditional lambic producers will use “coolships” (koelschips) for cultivating natural yeast and bacteria that are in the air during certain times of the year and with certain weather/environmental conditions. This allows any natural, or “wild”, yeast and bacteria to land in and grow in the cooling wort. If you ever have the chance to see one (there are a few in the US), it really is a sight to see!

Does temperature of fermentation impact Brett fermentation like it does ales and lagers?

Yes, temperature definitely affects the Brett. It is always important to know that any microorganism that is used in beer, wine, or any other “fermentation” such as bread making or cheese making will be susceptible to the environmental conditions such as temperature. Generally, Brett will have similar reactions to temperature as our friends, Saccharomyces.

So will Brett perform well at lower temperatures?

Brett will ferment at lower temperatures. Just how low… that is dependent on the species and strain (again, think ales and lagers). Depending on the species and strain, Brett will produce a cleaner flavored beer at lower temperatures, generally speaking.

So it will ferment, but it won’t put off some of the same flavors?

Exactly! Many flavors produced are environmentally influenced. An easy way to understand this is by comparing to ale or lager yeast (I seem to be saying this a lot, but for those who haven’t made Brett beers, it is an easy comparison to understand). If you are making an ale and you split the wort into two fermenters and ferment one at room temperature and ferment the other in a car, in direct sunlight in the South (like here in TX, in the summer), the resulting beer will be two completely different flavors. All other things the same, by only changing one environmental condition (ex. temperature, pitch rate, fermenter size/dimensions, ect) you will change the beer. This is the primary reason for having temperature control on fermentations. If you don’t have temperature control, your beer will be different every single time, with all  other things identical.

So, Brett produces esters, just different esters than lager or ale yeast?

Brett produces esters: some are the same as lager or ale yeast, but others are very different. Here, I will change the comparison. If you use two different varieties of hops in the same recipe, all other things the same, are you expecting the exact same beer? Answer is “no”. OK, this is different because hops aren’t living organisms in beer, but I hope that you can make the connection. As for the ester production, the rate at which and to some extent the esters produced are dependent on the stresses. Temperature is definitely a stress inducing condition as well as many others.

The reason I use hops as an example is because you usually aren’t looking for the same flavor profile as a Saccharomyces fermentation, when you use Brett. I mentioned some of the flavors above in a different answer, but Brett are able to produce compounds that Saccharomyces aren’t able to produce. This includes esters, phenols, organic acids released and a number of other compounds.

So stress and temperature have an impact, but what about pitch rate?

Pitch rate is an interesting topic. As explained earlier, the coolship method of cooling/inoculating wort was the primary way to get Brett into beer. Once modern laboratory practices were introduced, labs began collecting strains and keeping pure cultures. Another way that Brett is introduced into beer is by using oak barrels, which will harbor different yeast and bacteria, depending on the liquid that was kept in them. So, for both the coolship and barrel inoculation, the pitch rate isnot known.

For the use of modern, pure culture inoculation, the brewer is able to pitch at the rate that they want. Of course, just like with traditional Saccharomyces cultures, the pitch rate will affect the compound development during fermentation (both primary and secondary). General guidelines are that if you pitch low, there will be more stress and you will get a wider variety of yeast flavors.

Brett has a reputation for being a very aggressive fermenter, what is meant by that?

The aggressive nature of Brett fermentation can be described a couple of ways. As stated before, Brett can ferment “more completely”, meaning the sugars left behind by Saccharomyces in the same wort. Additionally, Brett forms the pellicle on top of the beer which limits the beer contact with oxygen and keeps the fermentation completely anaerobic. The pellicle will also keep other organisms from entering in a non-sealed container, like an oak barrel (for those who don’t know, oak barrels breathe, think the angels cut in whiskey production). A third way that Brett is aggressive is the speed of multiplication and culturing in either aerobic or anaerobic (the anaerobic cell multiplying is much more aggressive than that of Saccharomyces).

So Brett will attenuate a beer lower than normal ale and lager yeast?

Correct! This is what I mean when I say that Brett will ferment the sugars (carbohydrates) remaining after the Saccharomyces fermentation. Simply speaking, the more sugar that is fermented, the higher the attenuation.

Are there risks involved in using Brettanomyces?

There are huge risks involved in using Brett. When I was brewing professionally, I had three main enemies: lacto, pedio and Brett. If you ever visit production breweries using these organisms and they have a separate room or even building for their barrel aging, this is one of the major reasons why. When you introduce one of these organisms into the brewery (or your homebrewing system), it is very hard to get rid of completely. Once it is in your system, you have to do everything you can to get it out. Lacto, pedio and Brett like to be “that guy” who doesn’t get the point when you try to get rid of him.

Even with strict cleaning procedures, harsh sanitizing procedures and attention paid to all of your equipment, those organisms can hide in soft parts, like gaskets, buckets, cracks, scratches and any other surface or impurity in your system that is difficult to clean. The biggest problem with those organisms is that they will show their ugly/pretty face (depending on your opinion) until you get rid of them completely. They show because, like mentioned before, they ferment things that Saccharomyces do not. So, when you brew your next batch and use a cerevisiae, the cerevisiae finishes the sugar fermentation that it can and then the “wild” organisms finish what’s left.

So what special steps does a home brewer need to take when using Brett?

To be honest (and what I do) is keep it separate. I have a separate fermentation area with separate fermenters. I have a separate bottling bucket and a separate syphon. I KEEP IT SEPARATE. It is the easiest and best way to control those “infections” at home. It costs a little bit more to have separate equipment, but I am confident that I can still produce a clean, uninfected Saccharomyces beer and not have a Brett or lacto or pedio infection!

So guys, as we discussed in our Funkadelic mastery series, you really have to have separate gear if you are using any of the wild yeasts.   

Are there any special considerations when packaging or bottling a Brett Beer?  

First of all, know that there is the possibility of a pellicle, so if you syphon or when you are transferring, you may move some of that crusty, grey, mold-like cap to a different container. Know that if you don’t filter (I don’t and most homebrewers don’t) that the Brett will still be in the beer and will continue to develop flavors. Know that Brett can ferment more carbohydrates than Saccharomyces, so if you use speise (wort made for priming)  or extract or anything of the like, typical calculators will not work. You will need less of any of those than with traditional bottling.

Is wort composition is important?

Wort composition is always important. I think I have said it in previous Q & A’s, but the brewers main jobs are cleaning, sanitizing and preparing the environment for the yeast to be successful in the way that the brewer wants. Your entire job as a brewer is to make the environment that is perfect for the yeast, for the beer that you want. That being said, you have to figure out what you are looking for from the yeast and then brew to produce that environment.

Are mash temperatures then also important?  

Always, always, always important. If you mash in at 212dF you will only have the carbohydrates available that are in whole kernel malt. If you mash in at 173dF you will only have the carbohydrates available in whole kernel malt. If you mash at 100dF or 120dF or 151dF or any temperature below 172dF, you will have enzymatic activity from the natural enzymes present in malt (if the malts have diastatic power). I suppose that you could produce a beer by adding enzymes to the wort after that, but most homebrewers don’t have any glucoamylase at home…

We've heard that Brett can have weird reactions with Polyphenols and with Ferulic Acids, can you elaborate on this?

Polyphenols are the precursors for the volatile phenols that Brett produce to make the “Brett” odor. If the wort is lacking the right polyphenols, the Brett cannot change the composition and create those great/horrible odors (again, depends on how you look at it). The Ferulic Acid story is a little different. Brett doesn’t use the Ferulic acid directly to create its fantastic/disgusting (your opinion) flavors. Rather, Brett takes the 4-VG that Saccharomyces produces from Ferulic acid and converts it to 4-EG, one of the, simply put, Brett characters: horse-blanket. 

What general advice would you give new and intermediate brewers about brewing an a Brett Beer?

Buy fire proof equipment, so that when you are done with your Brett beer, you can pour gasoline over everything and start it on fire!!!  I am just kidding… I don’t even know if that would get rid of all of the Brett!!!

Ok, jokes aside:

(Kevin was joking, but many home brewers who brew Brett or other wild beers, myself included; use an entirely different set up, and minimize soft parts as much as possible.  As little tubing as possible, as few rubber gaskets as possible.  You have to look at your whole system. We have an auto syphon for clean beer, for brett, and for lactobascilus.  We have separate tubing for separate wild fermentations.   It never, ever ever gets used for anything but wild beers, and is stored in a different part of the basement.   The number one most important thing you can do is never touch any of your wild gear while you are brewing clean beers, and wash and sanitize your hands a lot, Star San does not kill yeast, keep a 10/1 bleach to water spray bottle handy if you brew sours!)

I think the best advice I could give would be to be very thorough with everything involved. There is a reason that most (possibly all) homebrewers don’t start with making Brett beers (at least on purpose!). Generally, brewers can clean and sanitize well enough to get rid of the Brett, but if you can’t you could end up having some “funky” beers or bottles exploding due to over carbonation. Using Brett in your brewery is similar to trying anything new. You have to understand it, apply your understnading, and then experiment with it. Some people do not like the flavors/aromas, others love that character. Some people like super hoppy beer and others hate it. It always comes down to what you want and the best explanation of homebrewing: you do what you want. Brett is slightly different because it could have a lasting impression on other beers, but still, just do what you want in your homebrewing and have fun doing it!

Additional Resources for sour beer
Themadfermentationist.com - Michael Tonsmeier's amazing site about sour beer.
Milk the Funk 
Sourbeerblog.com - really gets into the science of sour beers. great starting place.