Sled Dog Christmas Gruit

A member of my homebrew club suggested that we brew up the “twelve beers of christmas” mentioned in Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing. This idea was met with much enthusiasm and soon enough we had thirteen beers of christmas that were being brewed for a Christmas beer exchange and party. I chose to brew the Christmas Gruit, which is based on a smoked weizenbock with the addition of a number of gruit herbs, juniper being the most prominent among them.

I made a ten gallon batch of a smoked weizenbock using homegrown hops in the boil. After chilling I split it into two fermentors and each one got a different yeast, one used my wild hefe yeast and the other used a recently caught yeast from some wild grapes I found growing near my home while taking the dog for a walk. This new yeast seemed promising in the initial starters so I decided to risk it on a full batch, I’m glad I did.

Ingredients:
10 lbs Wheat malt
8 lbs munich malt
2 lbs crystal 60
2 lbs northwest pale malt
2 lbs rauch malt
2 lbs torrified wheat

2 oz homegrown Hallertauer first wort 90 minutes
1 oz homegrown Mt. Hood 30 minutes

OG: 1.070

After about three weeks I had to decide which batch to add the gruit herbs and spices to so I took a sample of each and added some crushed juniper berries to them both and let it steep for a few hours and then tasted them both. I decided that the batch with the new yeast lent itself better to the flavors of the juniper, the hefe yeast batch was accentuating the smoke flavor from the rauch malt (perhaps the due to clovey phenols?) which was fighting with the juniper flavor. So I kegged that batch at this point as a tasty smoked weizenbock.

I racked the remaining batch into a 5 gallon carboy to which I had added:
1 lb of honey
8 oz crushed juniper berries
4 bay leaves
1/2 tsp rosemary
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sweet gale
1/4 tsp mace

I left it to secondary on the gruit for six weeks or so, the honey should add about 7 points to the gravity and should ferment out completely. After the six weeks the gravity seemed* to be stable at around 1.007 (putting this beer at 9.1% abv) so I racked it into a bottling bucket with priming sugar and bottled into 12 oz bottles. This is the first time I’ve bottled an entire 5 gallon batch of beer in many years and it just helped to remind me of how great kegging is.

Since I was going to give a number of these bottles away at the exchange I decided that labelling would be appropriate. I designed the labels to be 7.5 inches wide by 3 inches high and printed three to a standard 8.5×11 sheet of paper and cut them out by hand. Since I was printing three to a page I decided to use three different Dora head illustrations for a bit of variety. I stuck the labels on with milk. Labelling bottles is nearly as tedious as filling bottles, once again: kegging ftw.

I’m really pleased with the new yeast, especially happy that it took the beer to 9%. It is actually quite similar to my abbey strain in the esters it produces. My next beer is going to be a split batch with these two yeasts side by side. I’m hoping they are the same, which would point to this yeast being the dominant strain in the neighborhood, though additional local harvests would need to be done to further verify if this is the case. The beer is quite good, and VERY junipery, especially on the aroma, with some additional herbal things behind the juniper and supported by maltiness in the background. If I were to make this again, I would cut the amount of juniper in half. That said it is still a very tasty beer and I’m pleased to drink it.

More photos

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.

Turmeric Bug

Ginger bug is the term for the wild yeast and (generally lacto) bacteria found on ginger. To get some you grate up some (non-irradiated) ginger root, combine it with some sugar and water in a jar and wait. I was reading in Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation that the same thing could be done with Turmeric and Galangal root. I’d never seen turmeric in root form for sale anywhere, but I happened to notice some the other day at my local highfalutin grocery store. It was pretty expensive so I just bought a tiny piece. I brought it home, grated it up, added a few tablespoons of sugar, a bit of yeast nutrient and some warmish water. A day or so later it was bubbling away rather vigorously!

I’m assuming I have some combination of yeast and lacto bacteria here. It smells like intense turmeric so it’s hard to tell if it is getting sour at all. I’m going to let it go for a week or so while I try to decide what I should do with it. I was thinking I’d like to make a turmeric ‘beer’ like a ginger beer, but the root is pretty expensive. Maybe I’ll just try a gallon batch for starters and see how it is.

More wild yeast

so what else is new? When I made cider last fall from my apples it began fermenting on its own, and in a panic I shoved a bunch of the Hefe strain in on top of whatever was already fermenting in there. So now I have a bunch of flocculated yeast from that batch and I was thinking I should try fermenting something with it and see what it does. Maybe I should try the cider first?

What I should probably do as a responsible yeast owner is to plate all of these cultures up and separate them from their friends. Well until I bother to get the equipment for that I remain in the realm of primitive yeast wrangler, I guess.

Harvesting yeast from honey

This has got to be one of the easiest ways of harvesting wild yeast, at least of the methods I’ve tried it worked on the first try and I’ll be brewing a beer to ferment with this yeast this coming weekend.

As you may know honey is naturally preservative, ie it won’t ever spoil on its own. Honey has some natural anti-bacterial properties in it, bees are pretty awesome that way. Of course one of the main reasons that honey won’t go bad is because sugar is a preservative. Yes, sugar. Ever noticed how the bag of sugar in your pantry also never goes bad? Sugar at very high concentrations is a preservative. Think of the fruit preserves your grandma used to make perhaps.

Anyway just because honey is a preservative doesn’t mean there’s not some of our friendly yeasty pals sleeping dormant in the honey just waiting for it to become diluted enough to get to work on all that glorious sugar. The key to harvesting yeast from honey is to get raw or unpasteurized honey. I was lucky enough to buy a whole bunch from a neighbor of mine that keeps hives in their back yard. So the yeast is a uber-local, yay!

Anyway, what you do is get a sanitized container, like an ehrlenmeyer flask or heck use a clear beer bottle. Add some of the unpasteurized honey, add about 4-5 times as much water as honey, plus a bit of yeast nutrient or energizer. Swirl it all up to dissolve the honey and nutrient in the water and then stick a bung and airlock on and wait. Don’t become discouraged it may take a few days, my concoction sat around doing what looked like nothing for a couple of days before I noticed the beginnings of fermentation.

I’ve only done this once and it worked, and was not contaminated so I’m not sure if that’s typical with harvesting yeast from raw honey or if I’m just lucky. However you will likely be able to tell by sight and smell if you have an infection. if it looks like you’ve just got yeast let it ferment completely and let the yeast settle. Then draw off some of the fermented liquid (which is technically mead) with a thief or baster and give it a taste. Mine had some fruity notes which I’m not sure if they were from the honey or the yeast (the local honey had a really fruity flavor to it) and no off tastes like bandaid or solvents.

If the yeast seems good then on to the next step: ferment a beer with it! which I’ll be doing hopefully this weekend. I put together a simple recipe for a sort of belgian pale ale and I’ll be adding my small starter of wild yeast to it and see what I get.

Is this beer infected? Yes it is.

A lot of threads over on the Homebrewing Subreddit ask if their beer is infected, and 99% of the time it’s not. Well this beer is infected! I infected it myself. Here’s the story:

A while back I harvested two different wild yeasts, one from some juniper berries I picked at the Palatki indian ruins in Sedona, AZ and the other from a date purchased at the local super market, though the date originated in Mexico. Both of these sources provided me with yeast and bacteria when I initially added them to starters. I washed these starters using chlorine dioxide (which I should really write a post about). I’d never washed yeast before and I wasn’t entirely confident that I wouldn’t kill the yeast along with the bacteria, so I saved a bit of each starter aside before I washed. The washing process did work however and I got my yeast sans-bacteria, these two strains became my Palatki Strain and my Fruity Strain respectively.

Since I am lazy I just kinda left the two vials I saved some of each initial strain out (covered of course) in my office for a few months, one of them grew a strange goopy yeast colored sort of pellicle, they both got rather sour (yes I did taste them). I have been wanting to brew up some sort of lambic-like beer and I thought to myself, I will just blend these two infected starter batches together and step that up and put it into a beer. So that is what I did. I won’t know how the beer turns out for a long while yet, but I pulled the beer out of my fermenting fridge today after being in there for 3-4 weeks in preparation to rack it into a new carboy for an extended secondary. and it had the funky pellicle on top. It is definitely infected:

So there you go, if you were wondering what an infected beer looks like. This one is infected and that’s what it looks like. Other infections can look different, but this is how mine looks.

I gave it a whiff after moving it and it has a sour but very fruity aroma, I’m looking forward to this beer, I think it’ll be excellent and I’ll have my very own bug farm for future sours.