Friday, June 26, 2009

Fermentation Friday - Riding the heat wave

The requisite farmhouse accouterments
Night in Day

The night never wants to end, to give itself over
to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.
Even on summer solstice, the day of light's great
triumph, where fields of sunflowers guzzle in the sun--
we break open the watermelon and spit out
black seeds, bits of night glistening on the grass.
-Joseph Stroud
With the longest day of the year having just past, the inevitable severe weather alerts warning of impending heat waves have begun to crop up. After an abysmally dry year, the hills are already crackling with dry brush, the deer eerily shedding their typically protective secrecy of their young fawns, bringing the whole family out from under cover in pursuit of green food and fresh water. It's an atmosphere that summons the chef away from the fire of the kitchen, preferring instead to let the heat of cooking to dissipate and mingle with the vapors of evaporate waving off freshly watered plants and heady trimmed grass. To my mind, the activity that aligns best alongside the bbq, the requisite lidded yellowjacket-proof bierstein, and the passive deep tissue massage of mellow, warm humidity, is the act of brewing, throwing yet another funnel of steamy aroma into the cloudless sky.

Ironic, then, isn't it, that while doing a bit of brewing makes for the perfect mid-summer's daydream, those same exceedingly high temperatures can easily spell doom for most beers during the subsequent fermentation stage, what with the yeasts most commonly employed for brewing ales preferring a summer in San Francisco's seemingly static sixty-something degrees. But we don't live in San Francisco anymore, and while yeast character in some brewing styles tend to be more subdued by the use of cooler temperatures, particularly those that employ the use of lager yeasts and long periods of cold storage, yeast itself can actually behave like a secret ingredient in many specialty styles, not the least being saison, a beer that happens to often employ a yeast that thrives at stunningly high temperatures. And with the mercury here hovering in the mid-eighties with the promise of high nineties in the near future, it's the perfect time to let nature take its course, and prepare to get your farmhouse funk on by brewing something where the yeast will truly benefit from being cooked, yielding that otherwise elusive level of orchard fruit, pepper spice, and lingering dryness that helps define how we currently think of saison.

Quite simply put, our response to this month's Fermentation Friday topic could be summed up, oddly, thusly:

Q: "How do you beat the summer heat?"
A: "Why beat it when you can join it?"

Brewed as the third installment in the increasingly ludicrously named Aleumination series, a sort of online collaborative open source brewing experiment, the recipe below [this is our version, mind you, and should in no way implicate the other homebrewers involved or imply anything about their talents at composing recipes] is a unwieldy weird beast, one that I'm not entirely promoting you all rush out to replicate. But for all intensive purposes (ie, that of being imbibed to fend off dehydration and give summer yard/farm work a smeary air of rustic delight), it's working out just fine, taking prime advantage of these long, hot days to work itself into condition.

Admittedly, the grain bill is ludicrously redundant, ill-measured, and disproportionate, but I gave it the green light by convincing myself it's true to (some variation on) the historical nature of saisons for them to consist of a variety of farm grains and little else. The real reason though: An interest in brewing something all-organic led me to purchase our ingredients via Santa Cruz's Seven Bridges co-op, where, as it turns out, they just happened to be having their summer sale, at which they were offering up a nicely discounted 15lb sampler pack of their different malts. Long story short, pretty much everything that seemed to fit the "farmhouse" bill made its merry way into the grist, with little worry for measurements or balance. When it turned out to be a full seven pounds worth of specialty grains, though, I put away my bags of spelt, kamut and oats for another day...

Summer Saison 2009, aka "The Insatiator"

4.40 lbs. Generic Liquid Malt Extract (Light)
1.00 lbs. Pilsener
1.00 lbs. White Wheat
1.00 lbs. Wheat Malt
1.00 lbs. Cara-Pils Dextrine Malt
1.00 lbs. Pale Malt (2-row) America
1.00 lbs. Pale Malt (2-row) Great Britain
1.00 lbs. Flaked Soft White Wheat

60 min 1.00 oz. Opal
30 min 1.00 oz. Tettnanger Tettnang
10 min 1.00 oz. Opal
0 min 1.00 oz. Tettnanger Tettnang

WLP565 - White Labs Belgian Saison I

Notes: Mash for 60 minutes at 149°. Pitch yeast when wort has cooled to 90°. Allow to ferment in a space where temperature doesn't drop below 75°. Rack onto oak in secondary fermenter and bottle when gravity has dropped to below 1.010.

Have at it, if you're game (and happen to have the Seven Bridges sampler pack in your fridge). Of course, none of this pertains to the "you think it's chocolate milk but it's watered down Belgian imperial stout" which we'll be brewing this weekend (except for it consisting of the remainder of the aforementioned sampler pack), but that's where having a cellar that never gets above 60° comes in awfully handy.

Many thanks to John at Brew Dudes for hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, a monthly blogging carnival gathered around the topic of homebrewing, originated by Beer Bits 2.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Local brewery (temporarily) expands

Optimistic bottles: Not half empty, but half filled...

I am seldom late for work, even by the obligatory rive minutes; I live far to close to the office to ever establish a genuinely feasible excuse. But, then again, I also seldom find my (albeit unlawful) bike route through town obstructed by a fully operational industrial beer bottling operation, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, noisily huffing through cases of bombers, which is exactly what I encountered yesterday. And but oh, what a brilliant scheme it is. For those of you who have ever wondered, how exactly does a modestly sized brewpub manage to dispatch bottles of four of their releases to accounts far and wide without painstakingly doing it by hand well past the 25th hour of the day, or by utilizing a contract brewer, here's your answer: a door-to-door bottling line:

No bikes or skateboards, fancy mobile bottling machines a-ok

That's right: The whole kit and caboodle rolls right off the back of a truck, plugs in to the tank line, and away it goes. Place labels on roll, empty bottles on the one end, caps on the crimper, and some waiting arms and empty cases on the other end, and you're off. Plenty of folks have seen what a bottling line looks like, but encountering a system like this running at full tilt in the middle of the street is nothing short of a spectacle.
Lining them up while the Altman crew looks on

Of the many good things Christian Kazakoff has brought to Iron Springs, it would seem his dedication to a bottling program has had the greatest apparent impact. Hard at work well before most folks were even up, he, Phil and Mike were already well on their way to filling the 200 cases of empty bottles that had arrived that morning, and by the time I rode past on my way home, there was nary a trace anything fishy had taken place, all the gear packed back up onto the truck, cases put away, but for a stray bottle here and there.
Bottle labels boasting a beer's water source have a long tradition

It's a beautifully reasonable solution, too, one that allows a brewery to flexibly make decisions about expansion without levying the enormous risk inherent in moving beyond "being a brewpub" and "getting on shelves". If it turns out to be a successful venture, you can always stage an encore performance with higher case numbers, and if it ends up applying too much pressure to your bottom line, you can simply write it off as an experiment to revisit later on. There's no equipment to learn, maintain, and pay for, no space to rent, and no fear of outgrowing the scale of your operations. At the end of the day, it's back to business as usual.
One down, 199 cases to go...

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