Raw brett ale tasting

Appearance: Fairly clear light straw color with minimal head that dissipates quickly into a thin surface lacing. Vastly different from the other raw beers.

Aroma: Slightly hoppy with a rustic barnyard note: earthy, herbal.

Taste: Grainy, herbal, a touch of citrus/lemon, funk throughout. I love it. The taste is everything I want out of a farmhouse ale.

Mouthfeel: Fairly thin but not watery; hard to explain.

Overall impression: This is a great beer; like I said above, it’s everything I want a farmhouse ale to be. I’m really pleased with this, especially since I was initially considering dumping it. This was the other half of the batch with the cypress/lemon balm wort, fermented with a wild sacc/brett mix for four months. It had this sort of unpleasant dirt flavor going on that I really disliked, I think from the lemon balm? I figured I should try dry hopping it so I filled a bottle from the fermenter, dropped a couple of horizon pellets in and a carb tab, after a week it was pretty good. I tried it again with some glacier pellets and it was also good so I kegged it with both and I was blown away! The dirt flavor is gone and replaced by this pleasant citrus note. Additionally the hops just seem to accentuate the funk from the brett. I need to dry hop with these hops more, they really are my favorite varietals.

Another thing rather striking is the clarity of the beer. Considering the other raw ales were quite hazy this one is downright transparent. I don’t know if that’s from the time or the brett or both.

Raw Cypress Lemon Balm Tasting

Appearance: The beer is a pale amber and slightly hazy with a large pillowy head of foam that dissipates very slowly and never fully goes away. Quite a bit of lacing here as well.

Aroma: Grainy with a touch of an earthy herbal aroma and some fruitiness with a hint of lemon that comes out more as the beer warms up.

Taste: This is a malty beer with a fruitiness from the yeast and the herbs involved, it actually harmonizes quite well, nothing dominates. It’s not bitter but there is some hiding in the background, due to the beer’s dryness it, again, balances very well.

Mouthfeel: There is good body, it’s not thick like the spruce ale, but a nice body that sticks in your mouth for a bit after swallowing.

Overall Impression: This beer is very good, it’s extremely well balanced (toward the malty side). Considering that it’s a ‘herbal’ (not sure if cypress counts as a herb?) beer it’s not punching you in the face with either the cypress or the lemon balm and if you weren’t told they were in there you may have difficulty picking them out.

Brewing raw ale


Filling fermentors with unboiled wort

This past weekend I was able to try a brewing technique that I’ve been wanting to do for a few months now: Brew a no-boil beer, AKA Raw Ale. most brewers have been taught that you have to boil beer, that’s just the way it is and it’s not something to be questioned. Kind of like how beer always has to have hops and barley. None of these is necessarily true, and most of these requirements stem from laws governing commercial production of beer some of them dating back hundreds of years. The truth is, before the advent of large metal pots for boiling in and cheap abundant fuel sources, it was more likely that most beer was not boiled, just heated enough to hasten the conversion of starches to sugars. I’ll admit right off that the historical aspect of this is appealing to me, but more appealing is the amount of time and fuel I can save by brewing this way; practicality FTW.

But wait, you say, isn’t boiling necessary for various practical purposes, like sanitization and hop isomerization? The answer is not exactly. The three main reasons to boil your beer generally taught is to pasteurize your wort to prevent unwanted infection, to boil off DMS which will otherwise make your beer taste like canned corn, and to isomerize and dissolve alpha acids from hops into the wort to lend bitterness to your beer. There are some other things that also happen in the boil but these three are often touted as the main reasons why you have to boil your wort. Let’s talk about them.

  1. Boiling pasteurizes your wort. Actually pasteurization can happen at much cooler temps than boiling. It will happen in 30 minutes at 150F and in like 3 seconds at 160F. So your standard hour long mash should be effective pasteurization for your wort.
  2. Boiling drives off DMS. This is true, the thing we’re missing is that DMS doesn’t form until the wort reaches 175-180F so if you don’t go above this you don’t get DMS.
  3. Boiling isomerizes and dissolves alpha acids from hops. This is true and is the biggest drawback to brewing raw ale. However you can get some isomerization and IBUs by putting hops in your mash. By using high alpha varieties (I like Horizon) and in large quantities you can achieve an IBU level that is fine for a number of styles; styles I happen to enjoy. You’d probably have trouble getting to IBU levels required for a double IPA with this method, but for belgian/farmhouse styles 10-15 IBU is ok. I’ve also thought about adding hops in your strike and sparge water, I’ve read that you need some sugar in solution to get isomerization but have never actually seen any science backing this assertion up.

So having rationalized away most of these requirements, I felt confident to give raw ale a try. Due to it being Father’s Day weekend and me having an awesome wife, I was able to brew on Saturday and Sunday. This did indeed shave a couple hours off of my brew day so I was happy about that (and so was Anne). I brewed a spruce beer on Saturday and a lemon balm and cypress beer on sunday. I used slightly different techniques for each to see sort of what that would do for the beers.

Spruce beer


hopped strike water in the mash

For this beer I used the following recipe:

  • 14 lbs Northwest pale malt
  • 6 lbs Munich 20L
  • 4 lbs Flaked wheat
  • 4 oz Horizon hops (11.5% AA) in the mash for 70 minutes (60 minutes saccharification + 10 minutes mashout)
  • 4 oz Spruce tips in the mash for 70 minutes (60 minutes saccharification + 10 minutes mashout)
  • 4 oz Spruce tips in the mash for 40 minutes (30 minutes saccharification + 10 minutes mashout)
  • 4 oz Spruce tips in the mash for 20 minutes (10 minutes saccharification + 10 minutes mashout)

I mash in a cooler and I add water that’s well above my strike temp to the room temp cooler, then let the water cool to my strike temp before doughing in. Right before I added the water I though, i should add some hops now, so I dumped in about half of the 4 oz right before I added the 180F water to the mash cooler. It took about 12 minutes to cool to my strike temp of 166F when I added the grain the rest of the hops and the first charge of spruce tips. After 30 minutes I added the second charge and sorta kinda stirred them into the mash and the same again 20 minutes later. After the full 60 minute mash the temp was down to about 150F which is more than I typically lose. I’m going to blame opening the mash up twice and adding cold/frozen spruce tips to it; still an acceptable loss. I vorlaufed about 3 gallons until it was running quite clear and drained the mash. My first running gravity was 19° Brix (1.077) according to my refractometer. I added 7.5 gallons of sparge water at 180F and achieved a mashout temp of 168F that I let sit for 10 minutes and then vorlaufed and drained again. Second running gravity was 8.4° Brix (1.034).

After draining the sparge, I began chilling the wort for pitching yeast, hey, it’s a no boil! Chilling didn’t seem to be much shorter than when I boil which does make sense. Once I got it down to 80F I drained into two carboys and pitched yeast. For this beer I’m trying out a new local yeast I harvested in some final runnings from my last brew day in the spring that I left sitting open to the air while I cleaned and put everything away then I added a plum blossom from my tree and it was fermenting by the next day. The other half got my other test local yeast that has proven itself in a few batches already and I’d like to see the differences between these two. As part of my ongoing investigation into the theory that the dominant yeast around my neighborhood is an expressive fruity bubblegum belgiany yeast. The OG for the beer was 12.4°Brix (1.050) according to my refractometer and 1.046 according to my hydrometer so I’m not sure what to believe.

Update: Tasting notes for the spruce beer

Lemon balm and cypress beer


Lemon balm, cypress and hops in the mash cooler

On Sunday I brewed this recipe:

  • 11 lbs Northwest pale malt
  • 9.25 lbs Pilsner malt
  • 3.75 lbs Munich 20L
  • 3 oz Glacier hops (5.6% AA) in mash for 80 minutes (+ mashout)
  • .75 oz East Kent Golding hops (5.9% AA) in mash for 80 minutes (+ mashout)
  • .75 oz Fuggles hops (6.3% AA) in mash for 80 minutes (+ mashout)
  • 8 oz Leyland Cypress boughs in mash for 80 minutes (+ mashout)
  • 7 oz Lemon Balm plants in mash for 80 minutes (+ mashout)
  • 1 oz Glacier hops in first wort/whirlpool?
  • .5 oz Saaz hops in first wort/whirlpool?
  • 4 oz Leyland Cypress boughs in first wort/whirlpool?
  • 7 oz Lemon Balm plants in first wort/whirlpool?

For this beer I just dumped all of the herbal and hop mash additions into the mash cooler before I added the hot water that had to cool down it also took about 12 minutes to cool to strike temp and then I mashed for 60 minutes at 154F then I added 4 gallons at 207F to step up to 170F for 20 minutes. Beersmith says I should get around 8.5 IBUs from these mash hops. Then I did a vorlauf and drained into my kettle that had the first wort/whirlpool (i’m really not sure what to call that addition? first wortpool?) herbs. Then I sparged with 3.5 gallons of water at 170F to get a rinse of the remaining sugars. First running gravity 15° Brix (1.061), second running gravity was 9° Brix (1.036). Then a chilled, split between two fermentors and pitched yeast, one a combination of my two wild strains that contain brett and the other my first local yeast from the area. OG 13.2° brix (1.053).


Hops, cypress and lemon balm chilling in the first wortpool

My thought with the first wort/whirlpool additions is to get some more flavor and aroma from those hops and herbs. I’m not certain I’d really get much in the way of IBUs out of hops in this addition, but possibly? The reality of hops is that it’s not IBUs that give their preservative effects, if it was then stuffing casks of IPAs and other beers with dry hops for the voyage to India would have been pointless for the British. I also know a guy who added hops to a batch of pickles and they didn’t ferment, so IBUs don’t matter for preservation, just bittering, though other hop flavor compounds can give a perception of bitterness as well.

Update: I’ve added some misc notes and observations in a new post. Tasting notes to come soon.

Update: Tasting notes for the lemon balm and cypress beer

Brewing a Cypress beer

In Norway there is a tradition in a lot of farmhouse brewing to use a juniper infusion for your strike and sparge water. Basically, strike and sparge water are heated in the kettle with juniper boughs. Additionally, juniper boughs are used in the mash vessel as a filter bed/false bottom to aid in lautering.

I don’t have access to much juniper where I live, but I have a bunch of Leyland Cypress trees on my property and the boughs of this tree make a really nice tea. So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try making beer using cypress infusion in the spirit of traditional Norwegian brewing. It didn’t hurt that I am of Norwegian ancestry either.

So I trimmed a few branches off of a tree and set up my HLT and mash vessel with a bunch of cypress boughs for the brew.

I also took this opportunity to attempt a 15 gallon batch of beer. I have a 19 gallon boil kettle so I can’t quite do a full boil without making a huge mess via boiling over but I can get pretty close. I figured I’d just top up at the end of the boil before chilling, which is what I did.

The strike water had a nice piney aroma to it, I hopped with all glacier hops, which, if you’re not familiar with them, they are described as ‘hoppy’ which seems unhelpful, but it actually fits quite well. I really like these hops and I’d like to get some rhizomes to grow them next spring.

For the 15 gallon recipe I used the following ingredients:

  • Loads of spruce boughs (I didn’t weigh them) for the strike and sparge water, and also in the mashtun.
  • 18lbs Pilsner Malt
  • 2lbs Aromatic Malt
  • 2lbs Cara-pils Malt
  • 2oz Glacier Hops (first wort) @90 Minutes
  • 1oz Glacier Hops @10 Minutes
  • Mute Dog Abbey Yeast
  • Mute Dog Palatki Yeast
  • Brewery Ommegang House Yeast

Each of the three yeasts fermented a separate 5 gallon batch of the beer. I ended up unintentionally mashing a lot lower than I had planned. I think my problem is inaccurate volume measurements when I pour the strike water into the mash vessel. Anyway I mashed at about 148F for an hour and did a 90 minute boil. At flame out I topped my wort up to 15 gallons and chilled it down to 75-80F and drained into 3 separate carboys for fermenting with the three different yeasts. The OG was 1.039, one point higher that BeerSmith calculated.

After 2-3 weeks of fermentation I took some gravity readings and the gravity for each batch was crazy low ~1.001. I sampled all three batches and they were good, very dry somewhat saisony tasting. I kegged the batch that fermented with my Abbey yeast and left the other two batches alone.

After drinking off the keg for a bit, I felt like you couldn’t really taste much in the way of cypress in the beer. There was just a hint of something slightly different about the flavor of the bitterness that maybe might possibly be cypress, but it if you didn’t know about the cypress, you probably would even notice, let alone identify it as cypress.

I decided to try dry cypressing one of the other two batches. The beers had been in primary for about two months by this time. The batch with the palatki yeast looked to be forming some sort of brett pellicle so I figured I’d leave that one alone to get funky and dry cypress the batch with the ommegang yeast. I took another gravity reading and it had gone down to 0.997!

I collected 12oz of additional cypress boughs and added them to a brew bucket, then I racked the beer onto them, sealed up the bucket and put an airlock on. I let them steep for about a week before racking the beer into a keg. The beer has been in the keg for almost a week now and it is just beginning to get fully carbonated. It tastes incredible. I may have overdone the dry cypressing, it is intense in the aroma and flavor of the beer. An earthy, woody, aroma, followed by a fruity, almost christmas tree but not quite, citrusy/ascorbic acid flavor, with some malt and hop bitterness in the background.

I really like it a lot.

I’m not sure what fate lies in store for the last 5 gallon batch, I figure I’ll let it hang out for a few more months and see if the brett does anything interesting to it. I do know that I definitely like this beer and it will likely need to become part of some sort of seasonal rotation or something. I do want to see how the flavor might be different from boughs harvested in the spring vs late summer as my wife tells me she can definitely taste a difference in the tea she’s made recently vs the stuff made in the spring.

View all the photos from the creation of this beer on imgur.