Monday, August 29, 2011

Reflections on a Gose: a tragedy in two parts

So, in my last post, I alluded to my Gose going bad. Well, I'm giving it another shot this weekend but in the meantime I wanted to tell my sad story...

Now, the first thing that went wrong was manageable: it was way more sour than I intended. The last time I brewed a Gose with lacto I let it inoculate for roughly 40 hours, and it dropped down to around 3.9. This time I let it inoculate for five days. The result? A pH of 3.2, which might not sound that different but, considering that pH is logarithmic, is. It's the difference between refreshingly tart (think lemonade) and downright sour (like an Oud Bruin). Not only did I feel this was more sour than I wanted, but it also raised the concern that the yeast may not be able to survive.

Well, it turned out the yeast was indeed able to ferment the acidic wort, though it still tasted more sour than I want. The good news was I had five gallons of Hefeweizen as well and could blend to the appropriate level of sourness. EXCEPT...

...while the Gose was in secondary I never changed from crimped foil to an airlock and somehow the foil cap blew off of my carboy while in my chest freezer. The result two days later was a white powder on the top of the Gose and a stench that could best be described as nail polish cleaner. Yup, had to dump all five gallons. It was a sad day, to say the least.

Now the good news is now I have an idea of the range of pH I'm dealing with. 40 hours? pH around 4, not bad but not exactly where I want it. 110 hours? pH around 3.2, which is too sour. So this time I'm thinking of shooting for around 75 hours with a pH of 3.45 (if my use of semi-log paper is accurate, which is a big if).

The other thing I'm doing is switching up my grain bill yet again. In this case, I'm planning on doing a split batch with my Münster Alt, which usually calls for 50% pils, 40% wheat and 10% Munich grain bill. However, Gose should be at least 50% wheat and, well, it's hard to find accurate info on Münster Alt so I decided to go with a compromise grain bill of 50% wheat, 40% pils and 10% Munich. So anyway, that's the plan for this weekend. Can't wait to see how this Gose turns out (and this time I'll be using a stopper and fermentation lock!).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Brew day: Rain Wrapped Schwarze Altbier

So... I guess it's time for my quarterly "sorry I haven't blogged much lately" opening sentence. I could rattle off the usual excuses . . . summer is busy . . . work and three kids kept me occupied . . . I'm married to the sea . . . etc. However, the simple truth is I was brewing like crazy for a while and so I haven't brewed since early July. Sure, there's been plenty of news I should've mentioned in the meantime (like how my Gose went bad or how I ended up in the Elite Eight for the Pilsner Urquell competition before the judges came to their senses and picked other people to finish in the top three), but I just never got around to it. But then I brewed yesterday, so that means time to get back on the blogging horse.

The quick and dirty update is yesterday I brewed a Schwarze Altbier ("black Altbier" for the Germanically-challenged). But since that's not a real style, I feel like I need to do some explaining. Back in May Leah and I vacationed in Germany. Part of our vacation included the obligatory stop in Düsseldorf, home to one of my favorite beer styles: Altbier. Now the term Altbier means "old beer," which refers to the fact that Altbier is one of the few surviving German ale styles after the lager revolution hit the country in the late 1800s. If somebody just says Altbier they're probably referring to Düsseldorf-style Altbier, though North German Altbiers (Kutcher Alt, Alaskan Amber) are fairly prevalent as well. There are also lesser-known Altbiers such as Münster Alt, a slightly sour ale with a generous portion of malted wheat. So "Altbier" itself is a somewhat fluid term.

Now getting back to Düsseldorf, there are four historic Altbier pubs that have been around since the 1800s. Recently, however, a new pub opened up--Kürzer Alt. I was curious to see what they would brew, and sure enough it was a traditional, Düsseldorf-style Alt (though if you look closely at the picture to the right, their tap was anything but traditional). Anyway, I was thinking that if I opened up a pub in Düsseldorf, I don't think I could compete with the traditional pubs when it comes to making a traditional Alt. Instead, I would make variations on the style as well as the traditional Altbier. And the first variation I thought of was a Schwarze Altbier--basically the Altbier version of a Schwarzbier, one of my favorite styles.

When it came to the recipe, my thought was to start with my Schwarzbier recipe and tweak it to make it Alt-like. So I started with 75% Pils/25% Munich. I had a pound of malted rye sitting around that I thought would work well so I threw that in. Then I added a pound of Carafa III (5% of the final grain bill) to get it nice and black. I discovered on the brew day that I only had 0.7lb. of Carafa but figured if it's not dark enough I'll add some Sinamar. Finally, I decided to go with 30 IBU's of bittering hops--slightly lower than a Düsseldorf Alt but the high end of the Schwarzbier bitterness range--and a generous addition of Tettnang and Saaz hops at knockout for aroma.

Not too much to report from the brew day itself. Time was of the essence yesterday so I went with a single infusion mash at 151°F. Due to some sparge water delays I ended up with a mash of just over an hour, recirculated and collected for about an hour and twenty minutes, and boiled for 75 minutes. I chilled down to about 75°F and ended up with 10.5 gallons at 1052 (a couple points above my target). I then put everything in my chest freezer to get it down to 58°F and pitched a slurry courtesy of my good friends at Metropolitan Brewing (as you can see below, my kids enjoyed hanging out with their robots while Leah got the yeast--and don't ask why my daughter is wearing a witch outfit; it's a long story).

So that was yesterday. I'm excited to see how this variation turns out, and am thinking it would be fun to do some other Alt tweaks if this one's a winner (incidentally, I do plan on brewing a Münster Alt this fall). And if it's really good, maybe I'll sell my recipe to Kürzer.