Monday, June 6, 2011

Fruit Beer Tunes

I had the opportunity to take part in the Fruit Beer Fest media preview last week. The idea is to give beer media an early look (taste) of a handful of the beers to be poured at the fest. Presumably, the media writes up the fest, which offers free advertising for the event.

I brought a young and funky, Belgian pale to the fest and that was being sampled that night. The story behind the beer goes a little something like this: I wanted to explore Wyeast 3942 (De Dolle) in a few beers. As I usually do when experimenting with a new yeast, I start with a simple beer so the yeast is able to speak volumes. In this case, the beer was a simple pale ale with wheat, and a noble hops (i.e., Willamette, Saaz). I expected a lot more character out of the yeast than i got in the first pass with this yeast, but was surprised to end up with a fairly clean beer.

There weren't any solid plans for the beer so I decided to drop it into a pinot noir barrel sitting empty in the corner and so I did. Time passed and then the Fruit Beer Fest crossed my radar.

What to do? Hmm, I could dose the De Dolle beer with Wyeast Lambic Blend and add some currants. In the end, I decided on champagne currants. The beer was offered a short 2+ month maturation on the lambic blend before the whole currants were added. At that point, there was a little more than a month remaining before the fest so I pulled the beer from the barrel just in time for the fest. It's very funky on the nose. Earthy. The fruit rounded out the sourness produced by the lambic blend, but is lurking in the background for the most part.

Back to the media preview. Here I am sitting at the table with brewers from Upright, Burnside Brewing, Fort George and Block 15 (Carston from Alameda was there too, but not at the table). Admittedly, I was a bit star struck. A nanobrewer working out his garage sitting around the table with some very accomplish and talented brewers. On par with vast majority of people in the beer business, the folks around this table were all remarkably friendly people. Still, I was feeling a little out of place. Allow me to make a music analogy to illustrate how I felt sitting around the table tasting the beers from the fore mentioned breweries.

I was the eager musician sitting at the rock star table. Actually, it's probably more appropriate to liken them to symphony musicians given their fine tuned skills. All of these musicians were masters of their instruments and I was still hitting off notes, and maybe my instrument was even a bit off tune. I was (am) the apprentice musician wanting to play the tune just right. Listening to their pieces was really inspiring and motivating. It made me want to double my efforts to create well played beers.

I need to keep that motiviation going forward, but in the meantime I hope you don't mind if I get a note or two wrong as I learn to play. You should get over to the Fruit Beer Fest and sample some of the fascinating creations that will be available to taste. Maybe even try that funky tune from Beetje.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yeast Wrangler

I'm sure many of you are aware that the Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers fest is nearly upon us. I’ll admit that it’s one of my favorite fests. I find it fascinating that I can sample 30+ beers brewed with the same yeast. It’s really interesting to find the similarities among the offerings and revel in the creative capabilities of the brewers to wrangle the yeast into vastly different beverages.

Speaking of creativity, I think I may have taken the guidelines a bit too literally. I say this after reading about the various beers other breweries are bringing. Fruit, wood, and bugs galore are being employed by brewers. Good for them. My beer, Eleanor, is quite straightforward. A triple, if you must. I was not targeting a triple, but it vaguely falls into that camp.

My reference points derived from the dart toss were: Light, high alcohol and of course the Wyeast Trappist High Gravity yeast. I set out to brew a fairly malty beer, with a decent punch of hops, which are not generally characteristics associated with a triple. At the last second, I decided not to add sugar, so this beer is all malt. Since I brewed the beer early, the various components have had time to meld and hops subdue a bit behind the malt. The yeast, of course, took center stage in the end.

It is the yeast, this yeast, that confounds me. After a handful of beers fermented with this yeast, I found myself saying out loud that I’m not a fan of it. About the time I finish the sentence, I realize the more accurate statement is that I do not know how to ferment with this yeast to derive the characteristics I want and prefer. Yeast wrangling. I have yet figured out how to ride this horse to the planned destination. With the plethora of yeasts available to me, I guess I could walk away, but I’m not ready to do that yet. It is the exploration of the yeast that I find so intriguing about brewing and I’m not done exploring this yeast yet.

See you on Saturday
Friday, April 15, 2011

Taste of Esen

Many moons ago (fall of 2002), when Kaatje and I were a year into our marriage and sans kids-well, to be fair there was one on board-we made a trip to Belgium. I had the opportunity to meet Kaatje's family on the Belgian side and we explored many amazing places, but there is one day in particular that is central to this story. 

We had just finished lunch after a morning touring in and around Diksmiude when Kaatje's father suggested we visit a little brewery in Esen.

We pulled up to the classic old-world stone building that housed the brewery, but found it to be closed. Kaatje's father (Karl), not easily deterred by closed signs, went up to the large barn doors and found it was ajar. Emboldened he poked his head and in hollered out. Sure enough, he got the attention of someone inside and a few Flemish words later we were harked in.

One of the owners was onsite doing various chores. He was very welcoming and quickly started to show us around the place. I was a bit out of the loop at this point as all conversation was in Flemish, though that seemed to bolster the impressive old world feel. The brewery was clearly born in an era past. Many an American may have considered it dirty and not worthy of beverage production, but the beer was sturdy and seemed to fend off any attack by critters of the negative kind. After a stroll around the brewery, our host lead us to the bar and began pouring beers.

Granted at the time I wasn’t quite the fan boy of Belgian beers that I am now, but I thought it was pretty cool that we had this entire place to ourselves and the full attention of the brewer/owner. It didn't take long to determine these beers were hearty and strong. Our host was not pouring little sample tastes either, rather full glasses, so it wasn’t long before I was warm and happy. 

This was my introduction to De Dolle Brouwers. The ad-hoc nature of the visit, impressive old time facility and having the place to ourselves made this my favorite brewery visit in Belgium.

With this fine experience lingering in my memory banks I have been meaning to brew with Wyeast 3942, which is reportedly from De Dolle. As a quick aside, De Dolle used to get their yeast from Rodenbach, but it early to mid 2000’s when Rodenbach was sold to Palm, they no longer were able to source their yeast from Rodenbach. I’m assuming this yeast is post-Rodenbach days.

Unlike the bold malt character and high alcohol content that is common in De Dolle beers, I wanted to try and make something a bit more sessionable. With that in mind I targeted an amber ale. The first time I use a yeast I generally like to keep the malt, and hop profile in check because I’m interested in seeing what the yeast will offer. In this case the malt bill was 75% 2-row with victory, vienna, and crystal malts playing a supporting role. Oh, and a handful of rye for good luck. The hops were decidedly American, with Simcoe, Willamette, and Anthanum put to work. Finally, the beer was dry hopped with Amarillo.

You’ll have two opportunities to sample this beer next week. The first is at Bailey’s Taproom on Thursday 4/21 for Firkin Thursday. I’m a little nervous about this as this is my first venture into cask conditioned beer and I only have about 10 days to condition the beer-cutting it close. Finger crossed that works out. Quickly following that, the beer will be poured at Migration for Brewpublic’s Microhopic 3. Same beer, but presumably a different experience given the cask condition for the Bailey’s beer.