Half case of smoked porter on left, port barrel-aged Belgian brown on right

All  kinds of homebrew fun this past weekend. But unfortunately, not much of the actual brewing variety. For one reason or another over the past few weeks, I’ve neglected to keep my various beers moving along through the process. So I spent most of Saturday morning handling the tedium that is racking, bottling and kegging.

First up, I bottled my port barrel-aged Belgian brown ale, which smelled and tasted phenomenal coming out of secondary. The lactobacillus I added after primary fermentation definitely gives it a nice sour and acidic characteristic, and the oak comes through very well in the nose. Carbonated, this should be a very unique and interesting beer.

Second was bottling and kegging my smoked porter. I was nervous about this one, considering I’d never used smoked malts before and wasn’t exactly sure how much would be TOO much. Must be a case of beginner’s luck, as the 3 pounds of cherrywood smoked malt I added to the recipe really did the trick. Perfect smoky nose, and nicely balanced with the chocolatey malt. Really looking forward to this one. For the 3 gallons that I kegged, I set the CO2 pressure to about 15 PSI for the first day, then backed it off to about 8 PSI so it’ll saturate at about 1.8 volumes at 45 degrees F.

Third and fourth were racking my raspberry imperial stout and “regular” imperial stout to secondary, as they’d both been in primary for nearly a month. I normally don’t like to let beers sit on the yeast bed that long, but these beers were both so big I knew it was going to take a while to ferment out properly. The raspberry imp stout smelled very nice, as expected. It was the other imperial stout I was concerned about, because as you’ll recall it was the one that literally exploded all over my dining room after I pitched a very healthy yeast population. I left it to ferment in the open for about a week so the krausen could settle down, then I capped the bucket. No visual signs of bacterial infection when I opened it up again, but it did smell just a tiny bit off in some way. Kind of hard to pinpoint, as the alcohol kind of dominates the aroma (the OG on this was 1.150, FG 1.030). So I’m hoping that whatever may be in there subsides over the next several months as I let it condition in secondary. We’ll see.



Preparing to Rack


dsc01595This morning I cracked the lid on my fermenting Belgian Brown Ale and pitched an installment of lactobacillus, a bacteria found in some lambics. I got the 500 ml starter put together yesterday, and it fermented out very quickly, leaving a nice and healthy population of bacteria to work with.

With the lactobacillus, the goal is to complement the sweet malt and aromatic hops with a nice balance of  both traditional Belgian yeastiness (from the initial strain) and a slight sour acidity. Add on top of that the oak chips currently soaking in port that will be dropped into the secondary, and this one is sure to be a very unique, complex ale.

I also checked in on my Furious clone that’s been in primary for almost two weeks now, and while the bulk of fermentation has taken place, I can still smell a bit of diacetyl coming out of the air lock. I’ll give it another few days to rest so the yeast can clean things up, then rack to secondary where I’ll dry hop for a week with a couple ounces of Simcoe and one ounce of Amarillo.

dsc01590Another gorgeous winter day in the Twin Cities. Temps in the mid 30’s with not a cloud in the sky. For me, that means brewing in the garage. Gotta take advantage of these kinds of days when I can, as they’re few and far between.

In preparation, I spent a couple hours yesterday pouring over recipe websites, flipping through homebrew books, and generally trying to figure out what in the heck I wanted to brew. I have a pretty decent variety of homebrew in stock at the moment, and wasn’t really feeling like making yet another stout or your run-of-the-mill IPA. I really kind of wanted to do something different, a beer that didn’t necessarily adhere to any particular style. Something that promised to be unique, memorable and of course very tasty.

I called up my buddy Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head, and asked him if he had any ideas for me. Well, actually, when I say I called up Sam, what I mean is that I opened up his book “Extreme Brewing”, flipped to the recipe section, and found a very interesting one for a Port Barrel-Aged Belgian Brown Ale. I’m a sucker for any kind of beer that’s barrel-aged, whether it’s in bourbon, port, or scotch casks (e.g. my J.W. Lees Harvest Ale collection). So this recipe really jumped out at me, offering a unique challenge that hopefully will result in an enjoyable beer. 

Here’s what I’m using for the fermentables and hops: 

1.5 lbs Carapils (steeped)
6.6 lbs LME (boil at 60 min)
1 lb dark Belgian candi sugar (boil at 60 min)
1.5 oz Kent Goldings (boil at 60 min)
0.5 oz Saaz (boil at 20 min)
8 oz molasses (boil at 10 min)

I’ll use Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale yeast strain for the primary fermentation, and after I transfer to secondary will give it a shot of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus yeast strain to provide a sour, almost acidic quality common in most lambics and guezes. Kind of a departure from your standard brown ale, but what else would you expect from Sam Calagione?

Now here’s the best part. While primary fermentation takes place, I’ll marinate a quarter pound of medium roast American oak chips in a red tawny port wine, and then pitch them into secondary to give the beer that distinctive barrel-aged characteristic. I can already smell the rich, oaky goodness.

Should be a nice beer. I know at the very least I’ll have fun making it.