To recap, back in November I went to the London BrewCon and took part in the MegaBlend. For this Brewlab took away participants’ wild cultures, house cultures and bottle dregs, screened them, propagated the blend and distributed it around the world. My wild flower yeast blend 1 and 2 went into this. They did this all free of charge so it was an amazing effort by them. Last weekend I made my first brew with the culture and Emma Inch, a journalist and home brewer who had taken an interest in the project, came round to see what I was doing. The brew day was a week later than planned because of snow, which meant that the ingredients arrived too late and we were snowed in.
The brew day was a bit chaotic. I’m learning I’m not as good at multitasking as I would like. I attempted two overlapping brews – starting the second mash once the first was complete – and, with talking to Emma at the same time, my timings and attention to detail were a bit off. In the end the first brew went fine, the second was salvaged and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. It was really nice to meet Emma though and I look forward to reading her article.
For the MegaBlend culture I wanted to brew a pale farmhouse ale with some complex fermentables from unmalted grains and some extra body and mouth feel from rolled oats. Call it misplaced nostalgia but I also wanted a varied grain bill to add some preindustrial complexity and a sense of making do with what was available. The recipe is below:
OG:1.055 ABV:6.6% SRM: 7 IBU: 8
67% Maris Otter
10% Wheat Malt
10% Spelt Malt
8% Flaked Oats
5% Flaked Wheat
Mixed Bushel of Hops Heritage hops at 60mins and flame out
60min mash at 69deg C
I intended to add a little Epsom Salts and Precipitated Chalk to aid fermentation, as both magnesium and calcium are low in our moderately soft water, but I forgot… I also added 10 minutes on to the boil because the Protofloc went in late…
I had made a starter for the MegaBlend to ensure it was vigorous. Alison from Brewlab had told us it was big enough for 20 litres so cell count should have been fine. Because of the snow delay the starter had a week in the fridge following a week fermentation but it quickly became active again once I took it out. The aromatics coming off the starter were really appealing: there was an acetic acidity and depth of funk. Possibly wrongly, I didn’t pour away the starter liquid, mainly because the yeast was still active in suspension and also because the aromatics were so good.
Within 24 hours the airlock was very active and I opened the window to keep the room temperature below 20 deg C. After a few days the airlock had slowed to a regular bubble.
For my second brew I wanted a wort of similar colour, strength and character to top off the Flanders red. I had also become interested in stock ales from reading Country House Brewing in England by Pamela Sambrook and drinking Burning Sky’s Stock Ale. I intended to draw off 15 litres of wort and use 5 litres low hopped for the Flanders Red and 10 litres high hopped for the stock ale. I took far too little wort and so, post boil, ended up with 5.5 litres of stock ale and 3 litres to top up the Flanders red. I realised I had residual sugar in the mash so remashed and made a 5.5 litre batch of bitter. The mash had been left dry for at least an hour so I don’t know whether this will affect it. I think there was still residual sugar in the mash also. I clearly need to do some homework on brewing strong beers and parti-gyling. I started with the intention of brewing an entire ale and ended up parti-gyling. I realise I was winging it, messed up the volumes but I think the character and strength of the stock ale, flanders red top-up and bitter should be fine. I imagine the malt for country house brewing would be a bit less uniform than what we have today so I’ve used a mixture of Maris Otter, Chevalier (a heritage variety) and crisp amber malt to provide a varied complexity to the taste.
- Flanders red top up OG:1.073 ABV:8% SRM: 24 IBU: 11
- Stock ale OG:1.078 ABV:8.5% SRM: 23 IBU: 70
- Bitter OG:1.040 ABV:4.0% SRM: 17 IBU: 45
39% Maris Otter
11% Crisp amber malt (25L)
5.5% crystal malt (30L)
5.5% medium crystal malt (75L)
60min mash at 67deg C.
Stock ale hops:
- 50:50 East Kent Goldings and Mixed Bushel of Hops Heritage hops at 60mins (49 IBU)
- Mixed Heritage hops at 30mins (18 IBU)
- Mixed Heritage hops at Flame out
Flanders red top-up hops:
- Mixed Bushel of Hops Heritage hops at 60mins (11 IBU)
- 50:50 East Kent Goldings and Mixed Heritage hops at 60mins (29 IBU)
- Mixed Heritage hops at 30mins (22 IBU)
- Mixed Heritage hops at Flame out
I took samples of the Flanders red before topping up. The batch fermented on commercial yeast was racked when I made the Oud Bruin. It tasted fine but not quite happy in its skin yet. It wasn’t very smooth and hadn’t developed much acidity. Hopefully the addition of fresh fermentables from the top up will feed the bacteria as well as the yeast. The batch fermented on my wild flower Blend 2 was a lot smoother. Still a bit sweet and young so I hope it becomes more savoury with age. It took a couple of days for these to start fermenting. As is consistently the case, the wild yeast ferments slower and for longer, and this is still the case compared to the Roeselare Blend.
I also recently bottled Blend 3 and the reuse of Blend 1. A portion of Blend 3 has been kept back for blending with Blend 1 and 2. Blend 3 had a gravity of 1.004 and a pH of 4.3 with a spicy, Turkish delight taste. Blend 1 reuse had a gravity of 1.003 and pH of 4.4. The taste still had some body, which was surprising for the gravity, and the taste was clean but tangy.
Tasting notes…. Blend 2 has a strong nail varnish aroma, which is probably beyond pleasant. I will leave it a few months and see if it improves in the bottle. Elderflower has a floral aroma, a biscuity taste and creamy mouth feel. I particularly liked this one. Dog rose had a softer floral aroma than elderflower, a slightly darker colour and a taste reminiscent of Turkish delight. Heather ale was pale gold, tasted of flower honey with a tangy finish. The head quickly diminished.
I am concerned about the oxidation from blending and head space. Blend 2 has definitely suffered because of this and Blend 3 might be affected. While I’ve enjoyed drinking Blend 1, the single flower ferments have a cleaner, less creamy taste to them. This year I will only Blend if the ales will benefit from balancing out. I will still Blend the yeast though.
The first flowers are now out with a scattering of snowdrops and clumps of primrose. It feels like spring is breaking through. The birds are more active and the dawn chorus streams through the window in the mornings now. I might revisit primrose after using them last year. I read somewhere that veg near to the ground has more lactobacillus present. I’m wondering whether the same is true with flowers and will try and encourage a sour culture from them soon.