It’s dark, damp and misty out there. Still, the sky’s are lightening as I leave the house each morning and there are even a few flowers knocking about. Gorse is indefatigable, snowdrops are coming through and I think catkins count as flowers. With the full vibrant richness of summer stripped away I can also appreciate the subtler points that can now stand clear: The lichens are diverse in colour and texture; Moss carpets horizontal oak branches above the road; The pattern formed by the tips of branches are unique and distinctive.
My taste in beer tends to follow the seasons so at this time of year I have a yearning for darker ales: porters, old ales, stock ales, Flanders reds and oud bruins. I need to get better at brewing a desired style in advance of wanting to drink it. I’d love to be drinking my recent brews now but, with a bit of discipline, I will leave them alone until next winter.
The weekend just past was a marathon session of blending bottling and brewing. On Friday night I started by bottling the demijohn of Blend 1 on American oak chips. It had a soft, smooth, vanilla aroma and floral notes. The oak character might be better if it was more subdued. Let’s see how it develops in the bottle. I will be putting some of the blend of Blends 1, 2 and 3 onto oak but I might try light toast French oak for a subtle, more spicy character.
Blend 2 had developed a mega pellicle since November. I bottled 17 375ml bottles and retained a gallon demijohn to blend with Blend 1 and 3. There was a nail varnish and cherry aroma, though not unpleasant. Looking back I reported the same when I was propagating the the Rowan capture.
The remaining five single flower ferments were taste tested for blending. These were elderflower 1 and 2, rose, meadowsweet and heather. Again the character of each can be traced back through the stages.
|Originating Flower||Gravity||pH||Tasting Notes|
|Elderflower 1||1.006||4.9||Clear. Light gold. Aroma of pea flower. Did not taste due to high pH. BINNED|
|Elderflower 2||1.006||4.5||Clear. Light gold. Astringent flower and honey aroma. Spicy taste. Slightly harsh aftertaste.|
|Rose||1.005||4.6||Clear. Light gold. Soft floral aroma. A bit soapy in the mouth. The most floral.|
|Meadowsweet||1.009||4.4||Clear. Golden. Somewhat unusual but pleasant aroma – like tutti frutti. Also sweet biscuit and honey. Fairly clean in the mouth. The most interesting.|
|Heather||1.006||4.0||Clear. Golden. Not so distinct after the Meadowsweet. The most honey-like|
These demijohns were then blended and some bottles taken. As before there was no great contrast in acidity to balance out so I went for roughly equal measures. I bottled 4 Elderflower II, 4 Rose, 3 Meadowsweet and 2 Heather. The reason for the different number of bottles was that the 2.5 gal carboy wasn’t filling up enough. Elderflower I was binned because the pH was not low enough to be safe and the aroma of pea flowers wasn’t amazing. Some of the dregs from each demijohn were retained for the following brew. The dregs from the Heather had been kept in the fridge since it was racked off the plant matter.
Saturday morning was brew day. I wanted to brew something close to an Oud Bruin but with a nod to a brown porter that I brewed last year. That had been a clean fermentation but I had kettle soured half of it and it worked rather well – a sort of chocolate yoghurt; rich, smooth, cleanness.
For this brew I wondered if a bit of smoke flavour would add a nice complexity. I was concerned that I could end up with harsh, phenolic bitter flavours from the smoke, acidity and bitter roastiness so I asked others on Milk the Funk and Great Brettanomyces Facebook forums. I decided upon 15% cherry wood smoked malt. The consensus of opinion was that too little smoked malt would be indistinct and phenolic and the fruit wood smoked malts were less bacony. Oak smoked wheat was another strong recommendation. I also used Carafa I for a debittered roastiness.
Before Christmas I went to an open brewery event at Cellarhead, which is just down the road. The brewer, David Berry, recommended A Bushel of Hops. I’m so pleased and excited to discover this. Dorothy Hallamby is growing heritage varieties of hops and she’s based in my village. I’ve now got a big step closer to brewing local. I bought a blend of old English varieties that included Mathon, Cobbs, White Grape, Early Bird and Fuggles.
The recipes is below:
OG:1.060 FG:1.009 ABV:6.6% SRM:33 IBU:10 20L batch
44% Munich malt
26.5% Maris Otter malt
15% smoked cherry wood malt
5.5% Caramunich malt
2.5% Special B malt
1.5% Carafa I
5% rolled oats
18g Old English Blend (5.92% AA) at 60mins
Mashed at 68 deg C for 60mins. Boiled for 70mins.
Once chilled the batch was split, racking half on the slurry from last month’s Flanders red and half with with the combined wild slurry from Elderflower 2, Rose, Meadowsweet and Heather. The Flanders red was racked to secondary just before. To recap, this slurry was WLP565 Belgian Saison 1 and WLP665 Flemish Blend, which includes Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces yeasts with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria. I have read that the bacterial souring can increase when the slurry is reused so it will be interesting to see. It will also be interesting to see whether my wild yeast changes its character and whether it becomes more sour.
Down the line I am considering racking some of this onto Elderberries. It would be a nice nod to the source of the yeast. I think there is a dark elderberry ale called Ebulum but I’ve never had it. One to track down maybe.
London BrewCon Megablend update; Brewlab have packaged it all up and are sending it out so I need to plan what to do with it. It will be nice to see whether I can detect the character of my yeasts in the blend.
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