Monday, February 26, 2018

Salsbury's ESB v1.2

Looks a bit darker here than it really is
My last Extra Special Bitter (ESB) used continual hopping with Styrian Goldings. This version abandons that (primarily because the Zymatic can't simulate it) in favor of four hop additions.  This version also includes an ounce of Special B to bump up the malt complexity slightly. I'll also use Wyeast Thames Valley Ale Yeast this time around because I'm already using half the package for the Manny's Pale Ale clone I'm brewing and it'll shave a little off the cost of this batch. According to Wyeast's web site, this is an appropriate ESB yeast.  I've also decided to add a few pellets of East Kent Goldings to bring a little bit of a familiar flavor to the beer without overwhelming it.


3.5 pounds Maris Otter Malt
10 ounces Crystal 40L
7 ounces Crystal 60L
5 ounces Crystal 10L
5 ounces Victory malt
1 ounce Special B
0.30 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
2 pellets East Kent Goldings @ 5.3% AA (60 min.)
0.30 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (30 min.)
3 pellets East Kent Goldings (30 min.)
0.55 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (15 min.)
5-6 pellets East Kent Goldings (15 min.)
0.55 ounces Styrian Goldings @ 6.3% AA (5 min.)
5-6 pellets East Kent Goldings (5 min.)
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1/2 packet White Labs Thames Valley Ale 1275 yeast

The PicoBrew recipe crafter suggests that the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.055 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 33
  • SRM: 17
  • ABV: 5.1%
  • Starting Water: 3.12 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
Actual results post-brewing were:
  • Actual Original Gravity: 11.1 Brix (adjusts to 1.046 SG, 9 points below expected gravity)
  • Actual Final Gravity: 1.002 SG
  • Batch Size: 2.3 to 2.4 gallons
  • ABV: 5.1%
Brewing Notes

The brew went according to plan, though the grain bed did not get completely soaked. The edges in the front and back on the left-hand side remained dry. Despite that, gravity came out fairly close to the expected number and the volume was closer than I've often been with the Zymatic.

I pitched half of the yeast in the Pale Ale and the other half in the ESB.  I also pitched half of a vial of Clarity Ferm into each beer, to remove the gluten and help reduce chill haze.

After brewing this batch, I re-read the Zymatic manual on the subject of cleaning. I ran two full rinse cycles through the machine, washed the step filter, and re-read the manual on the subject of cleaning. I removed the posts from the keg to find that they were badly soiled. I removed them, disassembled them, and cleaned them well with PBW. After rinsing them, I reassembled them and the were good as new.  The dip tubes were also cleaned.  I'm ashamed to admit that I missed that part of the cleaning process in the manual.  That explains some of the trouble the system seemed to be having flowing wort in and out during the brew.

02/28/2018:  After a couple of evenings of the airlock on the fermenter appearing totally still, tonight there is some bubbling from the airlock.  When you place just over 2 gallons in a 7.5 gallon fermenter, it takes a while for the yeast to generate enough CO2 to cause airlock activity.

03/02/2018:  I've kept the beer in a cooler part of the basement in lieu of temperature control. The thermometer has shown it staying down in the lower 60's despite airlock activity being visible now. A sample pulled from the fermenter was a little sulfury by not very sugary, indicating that fermentation is moving along nicely.

03/05/2018:  The airlock activity has been non-existent for a couple of days, so I have dosed the beer with gelatin finings and moved it into my mini-fridge to cold crash for a few days before bottling.

03/10/2018:  The beer was bottled today, using 1.5 ounces of corn sugar. Yield was 24 twelve-ounce bottles. The bottles were placed in a 72F "hot box" for conditioning.  Final gravity registered 4.75 Brix on my refractometer. Given the OG, BeerSmith calculates that the beer finished at 5.7% ABV and claims the FG is 1.002 SG.  It should be ready to taste test on March 18.

03/17/2018:  I poured a bottle of the beer to try it out. There was a strong diacetyl aroma to it, but the flavor was otherwise fine. I will need to give this beer more time to condition, so that (hopefully) the yeast will clean up this buttery aroma.

03/29/2018:  I opened another bottle tonight. It poured a nice deep copper color with finger-thick beige head that lasted quite a while and left some spotty lacing in the glass. The aroma is primarily malty with a touch of herbal hops.  The flavor starts with a mild hop bitterness, which gives way to a malt-filled middle that mixes hints of biscuit, slightly toasty, and a hint of caramel and plum. The mouthfeel is medium bodied.  For my taste, it's a touch too dry and bitter, but not extremely so. The diacetyl I detected in the earlier tasting is gone now. I need to do a side-by-side with v1.1 to see whether I want to take v1.1 or v1.2 into competition.

04/07/2018:  It occurred to me why the beer seems too bitter. The hopping was based on a final volume of 2.5 gallons, but the Zymatic rarely produces a batch that high. When you recalculate the IBUs based on the actual yield of 2.3 to 2.4 gallons, the bitterness rises from 33 IBUs to over 47 IBUS. This is still within the BJCP guidelines for the style, but only barely.  This implies that I need to revamp my hopping in future to assume a 2.3 gallon batch in order to avoid over-bittering.

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

04/23/2018:  The results from Barley's Homebrewing Competition are in.  This beer received 28, 30, and 33 total scores from three separate judges.  Below are some of their comments:

  • Aroma (scores 5, 6, and 8)
    • Dark malt in aroma
    • Caramel note, grassy
    • Fruity aroma, apple
  • Appearance (scores 1, 3, and 3)
    • Golden brown, good clarity, light head retention
    • Rich rusty color, clear, good foam lacing
    • Dark red color is perhaps a bit dark for style, good clarity
  • Flavor (scores 10, 14, and 12)
    • Bitter, almost astringent and lingering. Doesn't beg for another sip. Not good malt balance.
    • Bready, strong notes of British malt bill, caramel/vienna?, herby bitterness, borders on astringent finish
    • Very malty, but dry. Biscuity, toasty. Nice malt flavor but really lacking hop flavor and bitterness.
  • Mouthfeel (scores 3, 3, and 5)
    • Carbonated well, a little light
    • A little thin, but drinkable
    • Medium body is good. Good carbonation
  • Overall impression (5, and 7)
    • Needs better balance and lighter color. Back off some of the darker malts and replace with lighter caramel.
    • Solid take on style. Hops seem slightly overbearing on the end.
    • Flavor is nice and clean, but almost totally lacking in hop character that you would expect for this style.
Note that each bullet above represents the comments of one specific judge.  While the scores were within a 5-point range, the judges' comments were interesting.  One judge described it as lacking hop character and bitterness, while the other two felt (as I do) that it was a bit too bitter.  My own quick score for the beer was a 35, which is a bit higher than the Barley's judges, but close enough.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cloning Georgetown Manny's Pale Ale

The real Manny's Pale Ale from
Georgetown Brewing in Seattle
One of my relatives spent time in Seattle and fell in love with Georgetown Brewing's Manny's Pale Ale. Now that he is here in Central Ohio, he can't get the beer anymore. I thought it would be nice to try to brew a clone of the beer for him.

I started with a visit to the Georgetown web site, which yielded the following information:
  • 2-row Pale malt and Caramel malt are used
  • Summit and Cascade hops are used
  • Original gravity is 1.051 SG
  • Final gravity is 1.009 SG
  • ABV is 5.4%
  • IBU rating is: 38
  • English Ale yeast is used
For the next step, I formulated a tentative recipe based on the image of the beer on their web site and the above information. I asked the brewery by email if the brewers would offer any advice.  All I learned was that they recommended using the Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley ale yeast.

Searching on the web, there are various forum posts out there that suggest possible clone recipes which include:
  • 80% 2-row Pale, 10% Caramel 60L, and 10% Cara-Pils - with a 20% hopping of Summit at 25 minutes, 40% Cascade at 10 minutes, 40% Cascade at 0 min, and dry hopping with Cascade
  • 76% 2-row Pale, 8% Cara-pils, 8% Caramel 40L, and 8% Caramel 20L - with all hopping in the last 20 minutes of the boil
  • 75% 2-row Pale, 17% Caramel 40L, 8% Cara-Pils - with Summit used as a first wort hop and Cascade added at 15, 5, and 2 minutes
  • 86% 2-row Pale, 5% Cara-pils, 10% Caramel 60L - with Summit at 60 minutes and Cascade at 15 and 5 minutes, plus Cascade as a dry hop
  • 85% 2-row Pale, 9% British Crystal 55L, 6% Cara-pils - with Magnum at 60 minutes, Cascade at 15 minutes and 1 minute, plus Cascade as a dry hop
  • 91% 2-row, 7% Caramel 40L, and 2% Cara-pils - with Cascade hops at 15 and 5 minutes
Assuming that these are in the ballpark of the actual recipe, we get a grain bill something like this:
  • 75-91% 2-row Pale Malt
  • 7-16% Caramel Malt, some combination of 20L, 40L, 55L, and/or 60L
  • 2-10% Cara-Pils (although it looks like Georgetown may have used this in the past, they probably do not today since it's not listed as an ingredient now)
On the hops side, the consensus seems to be that Summit or Magnum hops was either used at the start of the boil or at the 25 minute mark, with Cascade used later in the boil and for dry-hopping.

With this analysis as the basis, I formulated my first-guess recipe.


4.5 pounds of 2-row Pale Ale Malt (86% of the grist)
12 ounces of Caramel 60L Malt (14% of the grist)
0.45 ounces of Summit @ 16.7% AA (25 minutes)
0.30 ounces of Cascade @ 5.3% AA (15 minutes)
0.30 ounces of Cascade @ 5.3% AA (5 minutes)
1.00 ounces of Cascade dry-hopping for 3-4 days
1 packet of Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley yeast
3 gallons plus 16 ounces of starting water
1/2 tsp. Gypsum in the starting water

The Zymatic recipe crafter suggests that the finished beer will have these qualities:
  • Original gravity: 1.056 SG (vs. 1.051 for the real beer)
  • Final gravity: 1.015 SG (vs. 1.009 for the real beer)
  • SRM: 12 (slightly outside the BJCP guidelines of 7-10 SRM)
  • ABV: 5.4% (same as the real beer)
  • IBUs: 38 (same as the real beer)
  • Volume: 2.5 gallons
  • High efficiency mash profile
I decided to add the Summit late in the boil so that I could increase its flavor contribution without overshooting the target bitterness level.  Adding gypsum should also help to punch up the hops flavor.  

Brew Day Notes

I measured the ingredients and loaded them into the Zymatic, then powered it on and got it started brewing. About 5 minutes into the process, our Internet connection inexplicably dropped. When it did, the Zymatic shut down and waited for me to tell it that the Internet was back.  I found this rather annoying. It should have downloaded and held the brewing program, so it should have been able to tolerate a missing Internet connection for a few minutes. I would have been fine with losing the temperature data and status information it collects - but not so happy losing a batch of ingredients.

After resolving the Internet connection and restarting the brew process on the Zymatic, it continued with the Dough In process.

Near the end of the boil, the machine made some slurping noises that seemed to indicate a clog. I ran several rinse cycles after the brew, which pushed out bits of "gunk" that probably were associated with the clog. After that, it seemed to behave fine.

The original gravity measured 13.0 Brix, which (after adjustment) works out to 1.054 SG. That's within two points of the estimated 1.056 SG that the recipe software predicted.  The wort was chilled to yeast-safe temps, treated with Clarity Ferm, and the yeast pitched into it.  Since there was enough yeast to consider doing a second beer, I brewed my ESB after that so I could split the yeast between the two beers.

02/28/2018:  After a couple of evenings of the airlock on the fermenter appearing totally still, tonight there is some bubbling from the airlock.  When you place just over 2 gallons in a 7.5 gallon fermenter, it takes a while for the yeast to generate enough CO2 to cause airlock activity.

03/02/2018:  I've kept the beer in a cooler part of the basement in lieu of temperature control. The thermometer has shown it staying down in the lower 60's despite airlock activity being visible now. A sample pulled from the fermenter was a little sulfury and a bit sweet, implying that the yeast still has a bit of work to do.

03/11/2018:  Today, my wife and I bottled the beer using Cooper's Carbonation Drops for priming sugar to ensure a consistent level of carbonation across the batch. The beer already has a decent flavor, though if I had dry-hopped it as I originally intended, I think it could be better still.  Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn't have a chance to drop in the dry hops until fermentation had finished - which runs the risk of oxidation.  The refractometer registered a final gravity of 6.1 Brix, which BeerSmith says is a final gravity of 1.005 SG and an alcohol content of 5.7%.  The beer should be ready for taste testing on March 18.

03/15/2018:  Taking a bottle of the beer out of the hot box and chilling it, I was disappointed to discover that despite the recipe creator showing a color comparable to pictures of the real Manny's Pale Ale, this beer is considerably darker - a deep brown in fact. It's nothing like a pale ale.  Although drinkable and pleasant, I consider the recipe a failure and will be brewing a 2.0 version ASAP.

As you can see below, it's almost a dark copper color. Flavor is fairly caramel-forward with hops in the background - nothing like a pale ale should be.  It's a drinkable beer, for sure, but not a good one.

This is definitely NOT a pale ale

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Two Months with the PicoBrew Zymatic

I received my PicoBrew Zymatic in late December 2017.  Since then, I have brewed 12 batches of beer in it.  I've developed a reasonable understanding of its good and bad points.

On the positive side, it's insanely easy to brew with it.  Measure your ingredients, load them into the system, load the recipe, hit a button, and wait.  It's mostly a hands-off process from there.  When it's finished (and because I don't want to ferment in the corny keg), I transfer the beer to a kettle, chill it, then transfer to a fermenter. This process takes about 20-30 minutes.  Cleanup is easier than with my previous system, and parts of that are automated as well.  The Zymatic gives off a "brewery" aroma if you're within about 10-20 feet of it, but is undetectable outside that range (at least to me).  The beer coming out of the Zymatic is as good as any I've made elsewhere.

On the negative side, the machine has its limits. Compared with other brewing systems, it's not as efficient.  Depending on the recipe, grain crush, and mash profile used, I've seen brew house efficiencies as low as 55.3% and as high as 76.4%.  With The Grainfather, I don't recall ever seeing an efficiency below 70%. So you need more grain to hit a gravity target with the Zymatic than with The Grainfather. That combines with the fact that the Zymatic has a 9-pound grain limit (versus The Grainfather's 20 pound limit).  This means the bigger, higher-gravity beers aren't as easy to brew with the Zymatic.  They're possible, but you're going to be resorting to things like adding malt extract, doing reiterated mashes, or boiling down the wort to increase the gravity.

The Zymatic is also unpredictable in its finished volume amounts.  Despite specifying a 2.5 gallon volume in the recipe crafting tool, I frequently end up with 2.1 to 2.2 gallons of wort.  This isn't a big deal, but if you were planning on that extra (approximately) half gallon for some reason, you'll be frustrated.

Gravity is also somewhat unpredictable, but if you crush the grain yourself (in the 0.045 range) and measure the water carefully, you'll come out pretty close.  For my last few batches, I've seen:

  • Belgian Single:  Estimated gravity 1.047 SG, actual 1.050 SG
  • Belgian Dubbel: Estimated gravity 1.075 SG, actual 1.067 SG
  • Saison: Estimated gravity 1.055 SG, actual 1.058 SG
  • Tripel: Estimated gravity 1.085 SG, actual 1.086 SG
  • Saison 2: Estimated gravity 1.068 SG, actual 1.065 SG
With the exception of the Dubbel, those all came within 3 points of the estimated gravity. I'm not sure why the Dubbel came out so low. Maybe I didn't measure the water as carefully.

Probably the worst thing about the Zymatic is that it can overflow its grain tray during the mash if you are not staying on top of it.  A mash that brushes up against the 9 pound limit, or one that includes a significant amount of wheat or oats, or just giving it a bit too much water, can result in a real mess.  The very first batch I made, their Pico Pale Ale kit, foamed excessively out of the grain tray, overflowed the drip tray, and made a huge mess on the floor that took a while to mop up. I had only left the machine alone about 10-20 minutes.  Two other batches of the 12 I've made have had foaming or overflow problems as well.  One of those was relatively minor and resulted in a tiny puddle on the table.  The other was huge. It covered most of the table top, almost the entire shelf underneath the table top, and a path across the basement floor to the drain, where it puddled up a fair amount.  That took a while to clean up.  I've made it a habit to check on the machine about every 10 minutes during the first 30-40 minutes of mashing, just to watch for potential foaming or overflow issues.  Making sure the machine is level, that you're measuring water carefully and not getting too close to the grain limit will help.

The other frustrating thing about using the Zymatic is the recipe editor. You have two mash profiles by default - a normal single infusion mash and a high efficiency mash. The normal infusion mash is incredibly inefficient. That's the batch I had 55% efficiency on.  The high-efficiency profile delivers on its promise but can only be edited in their "advanced" mash profile editor.  That editor is easy enough to work with, but there's a catch. If you change the profile and save it, then go back to change an ingredient (e.g., to correct the alpha value of the hops), the changes in the advanced editor are discarded.  If you're not aware of this quirk, you'll find that the mash doesn't behave as you intended (it goes back to the default).  This is a huge bug that I'd think PicoBrew would fix, but they don't.

Still, I give the device credit. It's allowed me to focus on recipe development, to brew on days when I couldn't afford the time to stand over a mash and kettle, and to easily make smaller batches (and thus avoid accumulating too much homebrew). Despite its frustrations, I am overall happy with it.

2018 Saison v2.0 (Salsbury's Saison)

Probably my favorite Saison out there is Saison Dupont.  I recently read Jeff Alworth's The Secrets of the Master Brewers and reviewed his notes about how Dupont's beer is made.  I used this to inform my own Saison recipe which will hopefully come close to it.

A few notes from Alworth's book, for those thinking of making a Saison:
  • Dupont uses untreated (but very hard) hard water from their well to brew the beer, and they don't consider it to be a crucial element in the beer's flavor.
  • Although Dupont uses a 90-minute boil over an open flame (to deepen the color), you should be able to use a 60-minute boil if you add a color malt to the grist.
  • Dupont's strain of yeast was the basis for Wyeast 3724 and White Labs WLP565).  This strain doesn't do well at low temperatures and needs good aeration to avoid stalling out. 
  • Dupont uses 100% pilsner malt.
  • Dupont mashes in at 113F, then raises the temperature slowly over the next 1.75 hours until it reaches 162F.  Then they boil over 90 minutes to reach the gold color they want.
  • Dupont generally hops with Belgian-grown Goldings hops but does sometimes alter this depending on the available crops.  They only use two additions, one at the start of the boil and one in the last minute of the boil.
  • Dupont uses shallow, square fermenters.
  • The Dupont yeast is pitched at 77F and reuses the yeast up to 100-150 generations.  They let it ferment at temperatures up to 102F before doing anything to lower the temperature.
  • Primary fermentation lasts 1-2 weeks.
  • A different culture is used for bottle refermentation, and conditioning takes 6-8 weeks. Bottles must be laid on their side during conditioning or the beer doesn't taste right.  
  • They don't pitch large quantities of yeast, but relatively small amounts. This, their brewmaster says, seems like a small thing but it makes a really big impact on the beer.  Underpitching the yeast stresses it and causes it to develop esters.
With all that said, here's my attempt at a Saison Dupont clone.


6 pounds Belgian Pilsner malt
0.25 pounds Cara-Pils/Dextrine malt (for head retention)
0.75 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
0.10 ounces East Kent Goldings hops @ 5.2% AA (10 min.)
0.25 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (5 min.)
3.25 gallons starting water
Yeast cake of White Labs WLP565 Saison yeast from Saison 1.0

Although I'm not a big fan of East Kent Goldings, I thought they might lend a bit of citrus to the finished beer (something missing from my previous Saison), so I mixed them in with the Styrian Goldings.

The Picobrew recipe crafter estimates that the finished beer will have these characteristics:

  • Original Gravity: 1.068 SG (actual 1.065 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 SG
  • IBUs: 28
  • SRM: 4
  • ABV: 6.9%
  • BU/GU: 0.43
  • Starting Water: 3.25 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was 2.5 gallons)

Mash schedule:
  • 20 minute dough in at 102F
  • 10 minute ferulic acid rest at 113F
  • 10 minute rest at 120F
  • 10 minute rest at 125F 
  • 10 minute rest at 130F
  • 10 minute rest at 135F
  • 10 minute rest at 140F
  • 10 minute rest at 145F
  • 10 minute rest at 150F
  • 10 minute rest at 155F
  • 10 minute rest at 160F
  • 15 minute rest at 162F
  • 10 minute mash out at 175F
This mash schedule is meant to reproduce Dupont's mash at 113F followed by a gradual increase in temperature to 162F over 105 minutes.

Mash and boil temperatures for the batch

Boil schedule:
  • 90 minutes: No hops addition
  • 60 minutes: 0.75 ounces of Styrian Goldings
  • 10 minutes: 0.10 ounces of East Kent Goldings
  • 5 minutes: 0.25 ounces of Styrian Goldings
  • 0 minutes: Chill to 77F and transfer to fermenter
This boil schedule should result in a color comparable to that of the real Dupont Saison.

After the boil was over, I transferred the wort to a kettle and used my immersion chiller to bring it down to 82F. From there, I pitched it on top of the yeast cake left over from the previous Saison batch bottled earlier in the day.  This may reduce the stress the yeast is under (since the yeast is unlikely to be underpitched this way) but hopefully that won't make a big difference.

Fermentation schedule:
  • 1 day at 80F or higher
  • 2 days at 90F or higher
  • 4-10 days at 80F or higher
This should get close to the actual Dupont Saison fermentation process.

Note:  I pitched this atop the leftover yeast from the first Saison I brewed. Unfortunately, I forgot to close the spigot on the fermenter after bottling that one, and about a bottle full of wort ended up in a big puddle on the floor. This was both humiliating and irritating at the same time, and meant a lot of extra cleanup work.

02/17/2018:  The brewing process went smoothly. and yielded 2.5 gallons of wort at what my refractometer measured at 15.5 Brix. After adjustment, this works out to a gravity of 1.065 SG, which is pretty close to the 1.068 SG the recipe crafter software predicted for the batch.  Color was a touch darker than I thought it would be, given that the recipe contained only Pilsner malt, but that was the point of a 90-minute boil in Dupont's recipe.

02/25/2018:  The airlock is showing no activity. A sample taken from the spigot on the fermenter looked like a fresh White Labs yeast culture.  The aroma was mildly funky. The flavor was dry, slightly citrusy, and the hops seemed well-balanced against the malt.  I think the beer will turn out well.  The blend of EKG and Styrian Goldings yielded a good hop flavor as well.

02/27/2018:  The beer was bottled and placed in the 85F "hot box" with Saison 1.0.  By April 10 it should complete its conditioning period.

03/17/2018:  I chilled and opened a bottle of the beer.  It has an excellent aroma, everything you expect to get from a professionally-made Saison. The flavor is light and pleasant, mixing some peppery spiciness and fruitiness along with the funk.  It's not too bitter, not sweet.  It's one of the best Saisons I've ever had - and much better than the 1.0 recipe I made earlier.  The 1.0 recipe lacks the aroma element and is bland in comparison.

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

The finished beer
4/12/2018:  Following the BJCP Guidelines and Scoresheet, here's how I would judge this beer.  (I wanted to do my own scoring to compare with what the judges provide later, to see where I my observations are relative to theirs. Am I on the mark, or way off?)
  • Aroma (10/12):  The aroma is funky, a little hoppy, and a little fruity. It could maybe carry a touch more spice to it or hint a little stronger of orange, but it's very good.
  • Appearance (3/3):  It's a nice orange-ish gold with thick white head that lingers a while and leaves behind lacing.  It's hazy but not totally cloudy.
  • Flavor (16/20):  Hops bitterness hits initially, followed with orange and a hint of malty sweetness.  The finish is pretty clean with a lingering peppery bitterness.
  • Mouthfeel (4/5):  It's got a medium body with plenty of carbonation. It could maybe be a little thinner, but it's pretty good as-is.
  • Overall (8/10):  This has all the elements of a classic Saison. The hop-forward aroma and flavor is present, but not overwhelming.  The notes of spice and fruit in the aroma and flavor combine with the usual "Saison Funk" to make a nice, easy-drinking beer.  It's not perfect, but it's pretty darned good.
  • Total Score:  41/50
4/24/2018:  The results from the Barley's judges are in.  My scores were way out of line compared to theirs.  The beer received total scores of 25, 23, and 27.  The individual scores and judges' notes are below:
  • Aroma (scores 6, 5, and 5)
    • Delicate fruit, (not sure what the next word is) and honey-like grain sweetness, hint of citrus peel (mainly orange), earthy farmhouse notes are present, orchard fruits (apple, pear) as well.
    • Strong (??) through head. Classic pils/hop character - faded quickly, no off aroma.
    • Nice. Slight spice.
  • Appearance (scores 2, 2, and 3)
    • Tiny climbing bubbles, thick white head, cloudy gold color
    • Strong, dense head 1/2", persists. (??) Bubble support. Straw. Light haze. Dense lace!
    • Slight haze
  • Flavor (scores 10, 8, and 10)
    • Earthy (autumn leaves), hint of orange peel and lemons, moderate hop bitterness, low-moderate hop flavor, esters a bit more than phenols (bubblegum, clove, chamomile), orchard fruits (mainly apple). A bit too much to allow anything to really shine. After some moments (??) vegetable flavor - infection?
    • Neutral malt, over(??) by earthy infection flavors. No hop flavor. Light vegetal note.
    • Spicy with malty after. Nice balance. Not a strong fruity element, but its in the background.
  • Mouthfeel (scores 5, 3, and 4)
    • Carbonation a bit too high (turns to foam in mouth), could be more dry
    • Medium body. Low carbonic. Flat. Barely oily finish. Low to no alcohol evident.
    • Carbonation good. Nice dry finish.
  • Overall Impression (scores 5, 5, and 5)
    • Close. Flavors are a bit jumbled. Would like to see fruit flavors accentuated and brought forward, or focus more on spices and use fruit notes to compliment. Focus on one but not both. Possible infection as an odd vegetable flavor pushes atop the rest of flavors.
    • Alas, a good Saison spoiled. Sediment and high carbonation without alcohol suggest a bottle contamination. Other bottles may be fine.
    • Very nice
At least two judges mentioned a vegetable flavor as a hint of a possible infection. That's something I will have to look for when I sample the next bottle.  I try to be very meticulous about cleaning and sanitation, so that comment worries me.

I've been trying to dial in carbonation using drops, since I've had too much in other beers because of inconsistent volumes coming out of the Zymatic.  For this batch, I used a large Coopers drop and three small tablets. I probably should have used only one or two small tablets to nail the carbonation amount.

I'll probably add some orange peel to the next batch to dial up the orange flavor. I'll also pitch on fresh yeast, as that may be where the notes of infection or vegetal flavors came from.  

Ultimately, I guess I liked this beer a lot more than the judges did.

06/03/2018: Because I wanted some additional opinions on this beer, I submitted it to the Ohio State Fair to see how it performed in competition there. It scored 25.5, which is in the ballpark of the scores I received at Barley's. At the fair, the first judge had this to say:

  • Aroma (5/12): Very muted apricot citrus aroma. Very low pepper spiciness. No hop aroma. No malt aroma.
  • Appearance (3/3): Dark gold color. Very hazy. Huge, dense off white head that lasts a long time. Continuously renewed by excess carbonation.
  • Flavor (10/20): Sweet start with a medium-low orange citrus flavor. Medium-low bitterness is low for style. No distinct hop flavor. Balance is to a lingering resinous citrus flavor. Finish is medium and aftertaste is alcoholic.
  • Mouthfeel (3/5): Very high carbonation - too much for Saison. Body is medium. Warmth is medium-high and lingers. Too aggressive. Would be more refreshing with lower alcohol.
  • Overall Impression (6/10): Good start. There is a distinct citrus character but could use some additional spiciness. Fermentation seems to have finished in the bottle leaving this overcarbonated and too high in alcohol. Read up on the specific yeast you used and what profile it wants to finish. Some yeasts will only ferment part way until the temperature is changed (putting in fridge).
  • Total: 27/50

The other judge said this:

  • Aroma (6/12): Citrus spice with some malt in background. Spicy hops also in background.
  • Appearance (3/3): Pale gold with huge creamy off white head. Hazy at first. Head is long lasting.
  • Flavor (8/20): Sweet malt initially. Some citrus and hops in background. Creamy.
  • Mouthfeel (2/5): Medium high carbonation and body. Alcohol is evident but may be more than the 7% guidelines call for.
  • Overall Impression (5/10): Suggest less malt in grain bill. Too heavy a body for this style. Enjoyable to drink but misses guidelines for this style. Too malty and too heavy in body.
  • Total: 24/50

Based on the judges' comments, there are changes I will make if I brew this again:

  • Shift the mash profile toward the lower end of the temperature scale for a longer part of the mash to reduce the sweetness a little.
  • Incorporate some sugar or perhaps Orange Blossom Honey in the grain bill to reduce the body and dry it out a bit.
  • Include some grains of paradise and perhaps some citrus peel to amp up the citrus element.
  • Consider Mandarina Bavaria hops or something else, perhaps even dry hopping a bit.
  • Include a secondary fermentation to help further dry it out before bottling.
  • Reduce the overall grain bill to drop the ABV down a little.

We'll see what happens in a 3.0 version.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tripel Karmeliet Clone 1.0

My homebrew version on left, actual Tripel Karmeliet on right
Bosteel's Tripel Karmeliet is one of the best Belgian Tripels on the market. The official web site (linked earlier) claims that what makes the beer unique is its blend of three grains, which they claim is a recipe dating back to 1679. Roel Mulder, on his Lost Beers web site, researched the original recipe and shared it with the world.  I scaled that recipe to the 2.5 gallon capacity of the Zymatic and gathered the ingredients to brew it.

The photo at the right is of the actual finished home brew and of a bottle of the real Bosteel's beer, poured within seconds of one another.


6 pounds Belgian Pilsen malt
2 pounds White Wheat malt
1 pound Flaked Oats
1.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh hops @ 4.0% AA (60 min.)
0.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh hops @ 4.0% AA (30 min.)
3.5 gallons water
1/2 vial Clarity Ferm
1 packet Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale yeast

Note:  I have since read an unsubstantiated report that Bosteels uses a Goldings hop variety in their Tripel rather than the Hallertau Mittelfruh reported in Mulder's recipe.  This is something I'll consider doing if I brew this again.

Mash schedule
  • Dough in at 102F for 20 min.
  • Ferulic Acid Rest at 113F for 10 min.
  • Protein Rest at 120F for 10 min.
  • Mash step 1 at 145F for 20 min.
  • Mash step 2 at 157F for 46 min.
  • Mash out at 175F for 20 min.
Boil schedule
  • 60 minutes - Add 1.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh
  • 30 minutes - Add 0.5 ounces Hallertau Mittelfruh
Picobrew's recipe crafter estimates that the finished beer will have these qualities:
  • Batch size: 2.5 gallons
  • Original Gravity:  1.085 SG
  • Final Gravity:  1.021 SG
  • ABV:  8.3%
  • IBUs:  34
  • SRM: 5
Actual measurements taken post-brewing were:
  • Batch size: 2.0 gallons
  • Pre-boil gravity: 18.5 Brix or 1.079 SG (after adjustment)
  • Original gravity: 20.1 Brix or 1.086 SG (after adjustment)
  • BU:GU ratio: 0.395
I loaded the water into the Zymatic's keg, the grain and hops into the step filter, and fired up the machine.

Brew Session Notes

I was surprised to see that the Zymatic had lost my Wi-Fi password during a week or so of disuse.  That had not happened before.  I thought perhaps there had been a firmware update but I saw no change in version number,

Having seen the Zymatic under-shoot volume on the last few batches, I added an extra 20 ounces of water to the keg.  This, combined with the 9 pound grain bill (including wheat and oats), appeared to cause a problem. I stayed with the device through dough-in and it all looked good.  When I came back about 30 minutes later, I had a serious mess on my hands.

The Zymatic had foamed out the top of the step filter, and leaked a lot of wort from underneath the lid. The leaked wort covered about half of the top of the table on which the Zymatic sat, covered nearly all of the shelf underneath the table top, covered about 20% of the anti-fatigue mat next to the table, and ran from the table, past the shelves where I keep the clean bottles, underneath plastic bins containing grain, underneath the shelving unit I use to store grain, and made a garbage-can-lid sized puddle around the drain in the basement floor.  It took me about 20-30 minutes to clean up this mess.  After the Zymatic completed mash out, I noticed there was still a lot of wort in it, so I paused it and made it drain a bit more.  When I went to resume the brew, it suffered a fatal error and rebooted itself.  When it came back up, I had to restart the brew and step it past the mash process.  Fortunately there were no leaks after that.

The finished wort measured only two gallons, instead of the 2.5 gallons I should have gotten.  I'm guessing the missing half gallon explained the puddles everywhere.  Gravity measured 20.1 Brix which was right on target.  I chilled the wort to 76F with my immersion chiller, pitched the entire package of yeast, and poured in half a vial of Clarity Ferm.  I don't plan to use temperature control, to give the yeast a chance to feel a little stress and generate esters/phenols.  This, combined with the ferulic acid rest, should allow the yeast to express itself.  According to Wyeast, 1388 generates a complex ester profile, finishing dry and tart, which sounds like a good description of Karmeliet's oft-cited "lemony" note.

02/13/2018:  A sample from the fermenter was cloudy.  A fruity aroma hinting at banana, clove, and bubblegum. Flavor is sweet and malty with just enough hops to balance out. Gravity registered at 1.021 SG, which is right where I expected it to finish out, so it may overshoot my target gravity. I bumped the fermentation temperature up to 76-78F.

02/25/2018:  The beer was bottled, but my available "hot box" options were limited thanks to the two Saison batches that needed very warm temperatures for six weeks, so I had to leave it out to condition at ambient basement temperatures of around 62-63F.

03/17/2018:  I chilled a bottle of the beer and poured it for a side-by-side comparison with the real Bosteels product.  The color of mine is a bit darker than the real beer.  Both have excellent and high levels of carbonation.  The aroma on mine hints at citrus, but the aroma of the real beer has a very clean and bright lemon note. I originally thought this might be coriander, but it seems much more like lemon peel or lemon zest to me now. It's almost a candy-like lemon aroma.  The body on mine seems more full than on the real beer, which is lighter and thinner.  Flavor is similar but I have to give the nod to the real beer there.  Mine (as I suspected when I read the recipe) is also more bitter.  The clone as brewed here is a good Belgian style Tripel, but the real beer is definitely better.

When I re-brew this, I'm planning to make a few changes:
  • Add clear candi sugar or corn sugar to lighten the body, dialing back the amounts of malt some to achieve the same level of ABV as the real beer
  • Add lemon peel, lemon zest, or a lemon extract
  • Consider using late-addition Lemon Drop hops to improve aroma and lemony flavor, or use East Kent Goldings with a light touch to get a lemony aroma/flavor
  • Definitely dial back the IBUs (I think the real beer is supposedly 18 IBUs)
  • Consider a cleaner-fermenting yeast (the clone's aroma was much more "yeasty" than the actual beer was) and use temperature control to ensure good yeast health
04/03/2018:  A family member who loves Karmeliet tried this beer over the weekend and felt that it was better than the real thing. He liked how it finished better than real Karmeliet.  I still plan to make some of the changes above when I brew it again soon.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2018 Saison v1.0

The finished beer - 2 mos. after brewing
This post starts with a shout-out to the good folks at Adventures in Homebrewing.  I recently ordered two batches worth of ingredients from them, one that became 2018 Belgian Dubbel v1.0.  The other was intended to be this beer.  Unfortunately, there was a mix-up and only about six ounces of the grain was shipped. When I contacted them to report the issue, they shipped replacement grain immediately and it arrived quickly. No hassle, no argument, nothing.  That's the way to earn customer loyalty.

The recipe below is from Beer & Brewing Magazine, dating back to July 2016. It's purported to be "in the style of" Saison Dupont.  I've modified the recipe slightly, both to fit the Picobrew Zymatic and to remove the East Kent Goldings hops, which I don't care for.  I recently read that Dupont most likely uses a Belgian Goldings variety rather than East Kent, and I prefer Styrian Goldings to East Kent Goldings.  I've also modified the mash schedule to mimic what Dupont does as well. (The BJCP guidelines for the style say that East Kent, Styrian Goldings and Saazer-type hops are all to-style.)


4.5 pounds Belgian Pilsen Malt
3 ounces Vienna Malt
2 ounces Munich Malt
4 ounces Caramunich Malt
1 pound Wheat Malt
0.50 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (60 min.)
0.25 ounces Styrian Goldings hops @ 6.3% AA (10 min.)
1/4 packet White Labs WLP565 Dupont Saison yeast

I plan to do an all-Pilsner malt version in the future to see how it compares to this.

According to the PicoBrew recipe crafter, this beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity:  1.055 SG (actual was 1.058 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
  • IBUs: 20
  • SRM: 7
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • Starting Water Needed: 3.08 gallons (I used 3 gallons and 16 ounces)
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was 2.2 gallons, added 1 quart to dilute some)
The mash schedule will be a modified version of Picobrew's Efficient Mash process:
  • Dough In for 20 minutes at 102F
  • Ferulic Acid Rest for 20 minutes at 113F
  • Mash step 1 for 20 minutes at 135F
  • Mash step 2 for 20 minutes at 140F
  • Mash step 3 for 20 minutes at 145F
  • Mash step 4 for 20 minutes at 150F
  • Mash step 5 for 20 minutes at 155F
  • Mash step 6 for 25 minutes at 162F
  • Mash out at 175F for 20 minutes
This should mimic Dupont's mash schedule somewhat. They begin with a ferulic acid rest at 113F, then gradually raise the temperature to 162F over the next 105 minutes.  It should result in a very fermentable wort and a dry Saison.

My fermentation plan is:
  • Post boil, chill the wort to approximately 82F
  • Infuse oxygen in the beer through a vigorous pour (and the Zymatic's natural tendency to incorporate air during pumping of the wort, so this should be well-aerated)
  • Pitch a smaller amount of yeast than normal, to encourage stress on it.
  • Place the fermenter inside my insulated zipper bag, after wrapping it with a heat wrap and a thin layer of insulation.
  • Seal the bag and set the temperature control to keep it at a minimum of 82F during fermentation, allowing it to get "as high as it goes" on its own above that.  (Dupont allows the beer to get to 102F before using any kind of temperature control on it.)
  • After two weeks in the fermenter, transfer to a secondary fermenter and let it rest another week, possibly with gelatin finings added.
  • Cold crash it and then bottle it, using corn sugar, and keep the bottles on their sides during conditioning.  I'll consider adding a different yeast strain at bottling.
  • Condition this way for six weeks.
This should also mimic what Dupont does and result in a good Saison.

Post-Brewing Notes and Observations

My grain mill got stuck on some of the malt during crushing and I had to fight with it a bit to get it to finish the job.  Fortunately that happened during the last few ounces of malt.

Dough in and mash went perfectly. The grain bed got fully soaked and even had a layer of water on top of it, so I wasn't concerned about it failing to hit its gravity.  It also did not foam significantly during the mash, which allowed me to focus on bottling my tropical stout and preparing the fermentation area to keep the fermenter warm enough.

Gravity came up slightly high (1.058 vs. 1.055) and volume slightly low (2.4-ish gallons after adding some distilled water) but close enough. I setup temperature control to keep the beer at or above 82F throughout fermentation. There was plenty of aeration so I'm not worried there. I pitched about a third of a packet of White Labs WLP565 liquid yeast, which is a little low and intended to stress the yeast a bit to improve the formation of esters. The ferulic acid rest should help there, too.

02/07/2018:  Over the last three nights, I watched the temperature of the fermenter and it hasn't seemed to go beyond about 81.3F.  I saw no airlock activity for a minute or so.  Concerned that I had underpitched the yeast too much, I took the risk of opening the fermenter and was rewarded with a Saison-ish aroma and the sight of about a half-inch of krausen atop the beer.  Satisfied that fermentation is taking place, I sealed the fermenter and put the insulated bag around it to keep it warm.  I'll check again on 2/11/2018.

02/13/2018:  I raised the temperature on the fermenter to 93F to allow the fermentation to finish out. A sample taken from the fermenter measured 10 an adjusted gravity of 1.010 SG and ABV of 6.4%.  I've heard stories of the Dupont yeast stalling out at a higher gravity, but did not experience it here. The sample is cloudy, a pale gold color, with a distinctive Saison aroma that's both a little fruity and a bit funky. The flavor is dry malt, with a definite hops presence, and a hint of citrus. The finish is very dry and slightly bitter.

02/17/2018:  Today, my wife and I bottled the beer with 2.25 ounces of corn sugar. According to Alworth's book, Dupont bottle conditions their beer in a hot room with the bottles lying on their side. I loaded all but six of the bottles into my "hot box" on their sides, so that I could compare them with the bottles loaded upright.  The temperature of the box has set to 82F.  Following Dupont's example, I plan to condition the beer for six weeks.  It should be ready for tasting around April 3.

03/17/2018:  I opened a bottle of this for a side-by-side comparison with the 2.0 version made a bit later. By comparison, this version's aroma is much more sedate than the 2.0 version. The flavor is also somehow more bland than 2.0, despite 2.0 having only Pilsner malt in it.  I'd stack the 2.0 version up to any Saison I've ever had.  This 1.0 version has a very mild Saison "funk" to it, a slightly fruity and primarily malty flavor, with very little spiciness to it. It's a decent and drinkable beer, but definitely not the equal of the 2.0 recipe.

04/11/2018:  I opened a bottle for the photo at the top of this post tonight.  It pours a slightly orange gold color with a thin white head.  The aroma has an element of barnyard funk to it, with some fruitiness and a touch of floral hops.  The flavor starts with a mild malty sweetness, a kind of orange-peel and orange juice flavor, hops bitterness, and little bit of a peppery bite to it. The aftertaste is bitter. Mouthfeel is medium-bodied.  It could probably use more carbonation, given the thin head.  It could probably also benefit from a floral honey or candi sugar to dry it out a little, though it's only mildly sweet. If I was a judge scoring this beer, I think these would be my ratings:

  • Aroma: 8/12 (yeast character could be more pronounced)
  • Appearance: 2/3 (thin head)
  • Flavor:  16/20 (should be a little more dry)
  • Mouthfeel: 3/5 (needs more carbonation)
  • Overall Impression: 7/10
  • Total Score: 36 (Very Good)

In other words, it definitely has some room for improvement, but it's a pretty good Saison as-is.  My Saison 2.0 version would probably score better.