Monday, March 30, 2009

Belgian witbier tasting notes 3

Tonight's entry in the Belgian witbier tasting series (part 1 and part 2) was the Brasserie du Bocq Blanche de Namur. It is bottle-conditioned, highly carbonated, has a rapidly diminishing head, and is brewed with licorice in addition to the orange rind and coriander. The licorice is a subtle but interesting and pleasant addition. It is very smooth and has an unusual dry mouthfeel. Good balance. It's low alcohol at 4.5% and quite quaffable. One of my favorites.

know your yeast

I have learned what seems like a fairly obvious lesson: Before using an unfamilar yeast one should research its characteristics! Such confusion and annoyance I'd have been spared if only I'd looked at the Wyeast Labs web page for the 3944 Belgian Witbier strain before brewing my witbier:

Produces a complex flavor profile with a spicy phenolic character and low ester production. Phenols tend to dominate other flavors and dissipate with age. Ferments fairly dry with a finish that compliments [sic] malted and unmalted wheat and oats. Sometimes used in conjunction with lactic acid bacteria to produces a sharper finish. This strain is a true top cropping yeast requiring full fermenter headspace.

Flocculation: Medium-Low
Attenuation: 72-76%
Temperature Range: 62-75F, 16-24C
Alcohol Tolerance: 12% ABV

I was unfamiliar with the term top cropping. Ale yeasts are generally top-fermenting, but as fermentation diminishes the krausen breaks down and the yeast drops to the bottom of the fermenter. A top-cropping yeast does the opposite, with the krausen growing as fermentation subsides and the yeast rises to the surface. is informative, with good photos, and the recommendation that the fermenter be agitated once or twice a day in order to maintain the desired pace of fermentation.

This is exactly what had been puzzling me about the witbier (which is again fairly busy after racking to the secondary) and now it makes perfect sense. This is the first low flocculation yeast I have used, so that aspect of its behavior was also unfamiliar.

Silly homebrewer. Never again will I use a yeast without doing some research.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 6

Airlock bubbling had slowed to a few times a minute and I'm just tired of having it in the primary (still krausen on top, though) so I racked the Belgian witbier to the secondary. Gravity is now at 1.017; expected final is 1.014.

Flavor is, frankly, disappointing. I am having trouble characterizing the bothersome aspects but the closest may be the green apple and cidery flavors of acetaldehyde. This is a common fermentation byproduct and it may be that this yeast strain produces a large amount, or just that the beer is too young. A solution to this, I see now that I've racked, may be to keep the beer on the yeast. Yay. Another may be to maintain a warmer temperature during conditioning. I can give that a try. Rousing the yeast can help; racking would have done that.

I have read that diacetyl production is encouraged by aeration during fermentation (which is not on its own a bad thing). That would make sense, given the prodding I've had to do while in the primary. Diacetyl may taste buttery. I don't know that it's jumping out at me, but it could also be a factor. The solutions during fermentation are the same as for acetaldehyde.

Well, I do hope this cleans up over the next week or two. It's sure not what I was hoping for.

Gah! And now my camera is going berserk too. Well, I guess it's been a good run with the old Canon A80. Must be time for an EOS-1Ds Mark III!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cuban sandwiches

Cuban sandwiches made with today's pan Cubano turned out great. Awesome, the boys pronounced them. Chef can't hope for much more than that!

I thought the fairly expensive provolone I bought today had a problematic bitterness, which did not go undetected in the sandwiches. A milder provolone or swiss would have been better.

Other than that, they were quite good. The bread performed exactly as I'd hoped, browning superbly and compacting well, without being too hard or gummy. I'd make it again for these or other sandwiches, pressed or not.


Belgian witbier tasting notes 2

I picked up a few more Belgian witbiers at Big Star Beers the other day, continuing my survey of bottled wits. It was my first time there. Although the cashier was helpful (and very busy) the store's organization is not ideal for this particular quest. A list of what they have in stock would be useful for someone who is trying to track things down by style rather than country of origin or random principle that I did not quite grok. Of note, they did not carry Celis White, but the store's premise is that they while they carry 1000 beers they will also track things down for you. I should test that.

So far of these I've tried:
The Deschutes wit is fairly clear and very subtly flavored. I'm not sure it's a great example of the style. On the other hand, there are some examples that are so overbearingly spiced that they are unpleasant. I'll take this over those. I don't think this is bottle-conditioned. The head is comprised of fairly large bubbles and dies quickly. Certainly a worthy session beer.

The Ommegang is much less subtle and extremely hazy, with a towering but not long-lasting head. Very good. It's bottle-conditioned, and the label instructions are to avoid picking up the yeast, unlike many others. I wonder what leads to the various recommendations.

The White Rascal is bottle-conditioned and nearly opaque. Yeast consumption is advised. It has a more persistent head and assertive spice flavors. I'd say it's right in the sweet spot of the style for my taste.

James Beard's Cuban bread 2

I wanted to make a more authentic Cuban bread, so I started with the James Beard recipe and added a little lard. Well, about 1/4 cup of bacon drippings, actually. I proofed the yeast in the full volume of warm water with a few teaspoons of sugar. I reduced the salt from 2 tablespoons to about 1 1/2. The dough was easy to work with and rose very aggressively. I shaped the 12 to 14 inch loaves using a technique I read about in a couple of places, slapping down the dough and then folding it over. I didn't go so far as to roll it, though. This time I made a long incision down the full length of each loaf rather than diagonal slits. The deeper slits worked better; I should try 1/2 inch next time.

These loaves rose much better than the last ones. I didn't take them quite as far when baking, ending up with a somewhat softer, lighter crust. The crumb is considerably more open and soft. The flavor of the fat is detectable and pleasant. Overall, very good.

This is pretty much exactly what I wanted for Cuban sandwiches. I'm planning to make them for dinner.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 5

Well, this witbier has been educational from the get-go. Tonight, as we were watching the pounding of Duke and Memphis, Isaac off-handedly mentioned that my beer sure was a mess. Err...can you be more specific, son? Brown goo all over. Yay. And apparently it was like that this morning.

Last night after checking the gravity I rocked the fermenter several times to see whether that would knock down the krausen and to perhaps get some of the yeast off the walls. Some time during the night it apparently got very, very busy again, but this time I had an airlock on it instead of the blowoff tube. Big mistake. There was a primordial pond of thick, rich, and stinky glop on the lid. I threw away the airlock after mopping up the mess and installing a new one.

So this is twice with this beer that there hasn't been any noticeable CO2 production, I have agitated the wort, and that night it goes berserk. I wonder if this is a trait of the Wyeast 3944. The airlock is bubbling politely now, once every several seconds.

Update: The next morning it's still bubbling every 8 seconds.

Update: Every 10 to 11 seconds in the evening.

Update: Same pace after another 24 hours! I'd say that this qualified as a stalled fermentation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 4

Tonight I checked on the witbier to see whether it was ready for racking to the secondary fermenter. Peeping through the airlock hole I was surprised to see a healthy mound of krausen still atop the wort. I drew some from the spigot and measured the gravity at 1.025 (assuming that's a good place to get a sample). That still has a ways to go. I'll give it several more days and check again.

Flavor was pretty unpleasant. It was very cloudy, almost opaque, and I'm sure I got a mouthful of yeast and other crud from the bottom. The sweetness is about what I'd expect for that gravity. The spice notes were obvious. It looks like this is going to have a much more coppery hue than some of the pale yellow commercial witbiers I've tried. Speaking of which, I think I still have a Hoegaarden in the fridge. Not for long!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

premixing and storing Five Star Star San sanitizer solution

While casting about for reasons why the witbier wasn't doing what I thought it should, I wondered whether there might be a problem with the way I was using the Five Star Chemicals Star San sanitizer. I typically mix a few gallons, use what I need, then store the rest. It occurred to me that it might lose its efficacy when stored so I went to the company web site, found the contact info for the tech support and new product development guy, and shot him an email. He replied very quickly (and gave me permission to quote him):
If you are going to do this, use DI water to make up the solution. Tap water contains metals that can cause the solution to go bad over time. If you use DI water, keep the solution out of UV light and extreme temperatures, the solution will not degrade. People then ask the question, "How do I know if it is still good?"

Answer: Is the pH below 3.5 and the solution clear. If the solution turns cloudy, it is starting to go bad.

Jon Herskovits
Five Star Chemicals

So, I haven't been using deionized water, but neither has my solution grown cloudy in the matter of days or weeks that I've stored it. Mixing Star San is very easy, so there's really not much reason for me to make more than I need other than that I do like to keep a spray bottle handy. I'll have to check the pH and see how long it keeps with my tap water. I haven't seen DI water at the couple of grocery stores I've checked.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Belgian witbier tasting notes

This weekend I've been tasting all of the bottled Belgian witbiers I can find. So far, that is:
Not much new to say about the first three. It's the first time I've had the Hoegaarden in a bottle, and it's pretty close to the draft. I really like the New Belgium. Blue Moon is OK.

I was surprised by how much I liked the Sam Adams mainly because I have never had a single Sam Adams beer before this that I enjoyed much. I've had probably six or seven types, on draft and in bottles, most recently the Christmas seasonal pack. I don't know what they all have in common, but there is some flavor component that just does not do it for me. The white ale, however, is not bad at all. It is darker than the Hoegaarden and New Belgium, more subtle in its flavorings, and has a lot of particulates. It doesn't make me jump up and down like a little girl with a new Growing Up Skipper doll but it's very drinkable.

As for the Henry Weinhard's... holy squatting three-legged dog in my yard. It is an abomination. It smells like Orange Crush, is a perfectly clear orangey color, and tastes like a bitter old orange peel. The flavor really is close to an orange that has begun to go bad and has acquired that terrible combination of overripe sweetness and spoiled bitterness.

I wonder whether I can find Celis White at one of the specialty shops like Big Star (worst web site since 1994). Full Throttle Bottles doesn't have it, but does have a few others to try.

Update on the Sam Adams: I had it on draft recently and it was very nice. I'd still take a draft Hoegaarden if given the choice, but it was quite serviceable.

first hard apple cider, part 4

This morning I racked the ciders into new gallon jugs, for the sake of clarity, and we had a taste. Another week or two and I'll bottle them. Here they are after racking, looking quite different than they did on March 11.

Number 1: Gravity is about 1.002 but it's not a good reading because of persistent bubbles. It might really be at 1.000. Flavor is tart and dry. Maybe a hint of yeastiness. There's nothing unpleasant about it. I didn't do a great job of keeping some of the sediment out when racking, so it's a little murkier than the others.

Number 2: Gravity is right around 1.000. Flavor is tart and dry, hint of yeast. We both like it a little better than #1 but it is very, very similar.

Number 3: Gravity seems to be below 1.000 but it's not a great reading. Good enough that I do think it's less than 1, though, which would put this at well over 9% ABV! The others will be around 7%. Flavor is rounder, less tart, less dry, but not sweet. There is more detectable sweetness but it doesn't feel well-integrated into the whole. The flavor of the brown sugar is clear. If that flavor persists into the final product then it's not a winner for me. This one is still fermenting slightly, judging by the small amount of bubbling in the airlock.

We both like 2 best. If it mellows for a while and is carbonated I think I'd like it tremendously. I'll have to keep some of it as a still cider, though, for comparison. I'd never had a still cider before now and I  liked it fine that way, although I suspect that I'll prefer it sparkling.

They have really clarified nicely.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ethiopian greens, misser wot, and injera

I figured it was time to try something from the Recipes from Afar and Near cookbook that we got at the Pacific Science Center's Lucy's Legacy exhibit. I didn't have everything I needed to make the berbere, or red pepper spice mix, that is present in so many Ethiopian dishes (no fenugreek for one) and thought it would be wise to see and taste an expertly made injera bread before trying to make my own, so I went to the tiny Zuma market (and restaurant) in Greenwood. There I bought a pound of berbere, some red lentils, a big bag of whole fenugreek, and a bag of injera. The injera are enormous! Fifteen inches in diameter, and the bag of 10 must have weighed three pounds.

For dinner I made the greens (no more specific name is given) and misser wot.

The greens recipe calls for collards (and spinach if desired), jalapeño or bell peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, and oil. I used collards with a few mustard greens that I had on hand, and a jalapeño and an Anaheim pepper. It's a robustly flavored dish; I'd have been happy to use several hot peppers but didn't want to be the only one who would eat it. It was good but had an unfortunate bitterness. I think this was because the garlic and ginger were too old, and also because they are added very late, at a point where you definitely don't want to overcook the greens. Next time I'd add them to the browned onions and mellow them before adding the greens and peppers.

The misser wot, or red lentil stew, consists of a ton of onions, olive oil, garlic, ginger, berbere, salt, red lentils, and tomato paste. It has a very nice sweetness from the onions and some heat from the berbere. It's quite nice. I'll bet the leftovers are going to be very good tomorrow.

We ate both with our hands by tearing off pieces of injera and pinching bite-sized portions of the greens and misser wot. The injera is very spongy and tears easily, but is surprisingly strong. It gets a little soggy after a while, but holds up well. It has a tangy flavor that I imagine not everyone would enjoy on its own (I liked it) but it worked wonderfully in combination with the other dishes.

It was a fun meal, and easy to prepare, once I got over the sobbing caused by several hours of onion chopping.

2009-03-22 Update: I may like cold leftovers more than most people, but the cold misser wot with injera is excellent! As I expected, the flavors have improved overnight.

sourdough bread 8

I set out to make a sourdough that was an amalgam of the recent almost no-knead bread and the 1-2-3 no-knead sourdough recipe, but with the idea that I'd knead it however long I felt like. That would mean a less wet dough, but with the beer and vinegar flavoring assistance and starter instead of dry yeast.

  • 15 ounces (3 cups) bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 fluid ounces Budweiser lager
  • 3 fluid ounces whey
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (pretty thick this time)
This produced a much drier dough than the last one. It came together in just a few seconds of mixing. I covered the bowl with plastic at 17:00 and left to rise.

At 8:00 I kneaded for a few minutes. It was very resilient and smooth, always wanting to return to the shape of a ball. It rose for another two hours, I kneaded again, and let it rise for another hour and a half. It was very easy to work with. And I really like this technique of letting it rise on a sheet of parchment paper draped over a skillet.

Into the 500 degree covered dutch oven it went for 30 minutes at 425, then another 25 uncovered, reaching an internal temperature of 206.

I think this is the best-shaped loaf I've made: fairly round and nicely domed. It's nearly hemispherical.

The dutch oven was on the lowest rack this time. Last time it was on the second lowest. The bottom crust of this bread is quite a bit darker and thicker; I like it less this way.

The crust and crumb are really nice. I am a little underwhelmed by the flavor, though. It's definitely good, especially with butter and a bit of upper crust, but I expected it to be more assertive. I am certain that I can taste the Budweiser! The interior alone is soft, resilient, and chewy; the sweetness of the beer comes through, along with surprisingly faint tartness. With the crust included the flavor is dominated by the toasty and yeasty notes and has a good mouth feel. But the bottom crust is definitely too done, tasting burnt, and thick enough that it's hard to cut.

Good stuff:
  • structurally, very nice
  • great tasting crust
  • dough easy to handle
Stuff to work on:
  • problematic bottom crust; try the higher rack again
  • need more flavor in the crumb
2009-03-22 Update: The crumb near the center of the loaf seems denser than what I encountered in the first few slices. I think something needs to be done to get a better rise. Perhaps I rushed it.

coffee: the world in your cup

Seattle's Burke Museum has had an exhibit running for a couple of months now called Coffee: The World in Your Cup. It was recently extended through September 7, which means that despite my procrastinatory nature I may manage to see it. What I'd really like to do is attend on a weekend for one of the tastings. The Batdorf & Bronson demonstration on May 9 would be interesting:
Green coffee buyer Scott Merle will demonstrate the characteristics of new crop coffees from Central America. Learn how to discern ultimate freshness in this comparative coffee tasting with Olympia specialty coffee roasters Batdorf & Bronson.
If we do Ethiopia as a grubtrotting country the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony on April 5 or June 7 would be an appropriate augmentation:
Ethiopia's coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian social and cultural life. But don’t be in a hurry! Ethiopian homage to coffee is sometimes ornate, and always ceremonial. The coffee ceremony takes us back to a time when value was given to conversation and human relations. Sit back and enjoy because it is most definitely not instant.

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 3

Last night I spent some time reading a very helpful sticky thread on fermentation at HomeBrewTalk. I did not realize that fermentation could take 72 hours to begin, or that sometimes completes without any noticeable airlock activity. After reading that, and many fermentation tales, I felt silly for having popped the lid and stirred. At most I should have sloshed it around for a while, but probably I didn't need to do anything.

At 4:45 this morning I heard a stentorian Glalalooplooploop from the fermentorium down the hall. I leapt out of bed, grabbed a flashlight, and inspected the primary. The sanitizer jar was bubbling merrily, lots of krausen in the blow-off tube, and every now and then there was the sort of eruption that had commanded my attention.

I'm not sure long it did this, but as of 8:00 there is again no visible activity. I'll probably take a gravity reading later.

I don't know, of course, whether my stirring prompted this, or whether it would have done it on its own at 60+ hours. There's also the possibility that the bucket lid wasn't tight, but I don't think so. I'd get movement in the blowoff tube with the slightest pressure on the lid.

In any event, this was a good experience.

Friday, March 20, 2009

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 2

Over 52 hours after pitching the yeast into the Belgian witbier there are no signs of active fermentation. Drat. All these things seem to be right:
  • big fat puffy yeast smack-pack, smacked 3+ hours before pitching
  • proper wort pitching temperature
  • expected original gravity
  • good ambient temperature (70)
  • everything cleaned and sanitized
  • aerated water and wort
The only thing I can think of that could be wrong is that I did not stir or otherwise agitate the fermenter after pitching the yeast. I pulled the stopper and saw that there was a nice foamy layer of krausen, but there is just no detectable CO2 production at all. Is it possible that the yeast stayed atop the wort and has set up shop in just a very thin layer, and that CO2 is being absorbed? I decided that I'd give it a good stir to see what might happen, so I boiled a long-handled stainless spoon and flailed it around in the bucket for a bit. Now I suppose there's an increased chance of infection, but it's all moot without fermentation.

If nothing has happened by tomorrow afternoon then I guess I'll pick up another pack of the Wyeast Belgian wit and pitch again. How annoying.

scariest brewing term

Hands down, decoction mashing. Owie.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

hot air popper roasting 4

I've been experimenting a bit more with the Popcorn Pumper hot air popper, exploring its heating behavior and maximum temperature and capacity. It can easily exceed 450 degrees (the most I can measure with a compatible thermometer), several minutes of pre-heating will get it there, and behavior changes dramatically based on bean quantity.

With the same beans (classic Italian espresso blend) I've now seen that the difference between roasting two and three ounces is dramatic. With more beans, second crack actually happens, smoke appears, and surface oil becomes evident, all with very little change in roasting time. With three ounces and a preheated popper, 8 minutes will deliver FC or greater.

At four ounces, the popper sounds like it's working a little harder but still moves the beans fine. There's much more vertical action, with beans bouncing nearly all the way up to the opening rather than just swirling. This is the most I've tried, but I think it can handle more as long as the beans aren't being prematurely ejected. Further, this can even reduce the time required to achieve a given roast level.

So my initial ideas were incorrect. Adding beans, not removing them, will increase the temperature and decrease the relative roasting times. It does make sense that the cumulative effect of the exothermic reactions in the individual beans will be greater with higher volume and density. Besides bean quantity and roasting time a significant variable is preheating time. That looks like it might provide a few minutes of control over the total time. Achieving much more control would probably require modification of the popper and/or control over input voltage. Regarding the latter, I do have some crude control given that the dining room and kitchen lights are on the same circuit that I've been using. The dining room will draw 500 watts and the kitchen 450. There's a clear effect on the popper's performance!

On 2009-03-16 I roasted four ounces of Yemen Mokha Sharasi. This is no longer available from Sweet Marias, as far as I can tell. It took only six minutes in the preheated popper to hit a raging second crack and blow off quite a bit of smoke. Roasted weight was 3.2 ounces, or 80% of original.

Not that these tasting notes matter much, since my remaining four ounces are probably all I'll ever have, but they do illustrate a few things.

Shots pulled immediately were horrible. I mean, the worst espresso I've ever had. Overpowering solvent-like flavors. There was improvement after 24 hours, with the raw gasoline flavor abating somewhat. I was unable to detect any of the theoretical fruit flavors, though. After 48 hours it had become quite good, with just a faint solvent edge and noticeable sweetness and fruitiness. It was pretty good straight and very good in a milk drink. Long, mellow aftertaste. After 72 hours, the recommended minimum rest period, it was really nice. No off flavors, some pleasant sharpness, and definite sweet and fruit notes. I would put this into my regular rotation.

So the lessons are that good results certainly are possible with this popper and I shouldn't rush to judge those results.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

third brew (african amber ale), part 5

It seemed like the brewing of another beer was a good time to see how the African Amber clone was coming along, despite it being less than two weeks in the bottle. I opened one of the bottles marked US and poured into a pint glass. This Russian Roulette with the seven unsanitized bottles should be interesting!

No head to speak of, but it's well carbonated already. I think it tastes great and is well balanced. For the first few swallows it struck me as having a tartness that I didn't recall being there before, but then it went away. Maybe I just needed a palate cleansing.

I'll probably give it a couple more weeks before doing a comparison with its namesake. However, this is an ale that I could contentedly drink any time.

thermal equilibrium of hot wort and cold water

Regarding my wonderment about the calculation for final temperature of a mixture of hot wort and cold water, I dug out my old Halliday and Resnick Fundamentals of Physics (second edition!) and turned to chapter 20, Heat and the First Law of Thermodynamics. It's a matter of solving for the equivalence between the heat lost by the wort mass and the heat gained by the water mass. The specific heat of wort and water can probably be assumed to be equal and therefore be factored out. If I'm thinking straight that means that

mwo(Tf - Two) = mwa(Twa - Tf)

where m is mass, T is temperature, wo is wort, wa is water, and f is final.

Really, when solving for final temperature, this just works out to an average of the temperatures weighted by mass:

mwoTf - mwoTwo = mwaTwa - mwaTf

mwoTf + mwaTf = mwaTwa + mwoTwo

Tf(mwo+ mwa) = mwaTwa + mwoTwo

Tf = (mwaTwa + mwoTwo) / (mwo+ mwa)

As it's the proportions that matter it's fair to use volume instead of mass.

So, if the wort boils down to 2.5 gallons and is at 212 degrees, adding it directly to 2.5 gallons of 38 degree water from the refrigerator would result in 125 degree wort in the fermenter. That is still going to take a long time to cool to yeast-pitching temperature relying solely on heat conduction through a plastic bucket into room-temperature air. That's all time during which oxidation damage can occur and off-flavors can be created.

So I think the technique espoused by The Cellar's witbier instructions is suboptimal. At a 1:1 ratio of wort to water, the wort should be cooled to about 120 degrees before being added to the refrigerator-temperature water in the fermenter in order to hit an 80 degree target.

fourth brew (Belgian witbier), part 1

Belgian witbier (white beer) is a spicy, tart wheat beer hazy with suspended proteins from unmalted wheat. It is flavored with coriander seed and sweet orange rind. It's a good summer beer and in a fit of optimism, considering the extremely crappy spasticity of our weather lately, I figured I'd brew some now in anticipation of future warmth. Right!

I've tasted only a few but have generally enjoyed witbiers. In bottles I like the New Belgium Mothership Wit quite a bit. I've had the very different Hoegaarden witbier on draft and find it pretty tasty, too. I've been less impressed with Blue Moon but have had it only a couple of times, both draft and bottled. I would like to track down Celis White, which is made by the creator of Hoegaarden wit.

There is an interesting witbier presentation at and an article wtih some history at As a style, witbier almost disappeared until Pierre Celis resurrected it in 1966.

I selected the recipe available at The Cellar, and online at I already had coriander seed. They had no Belgian pilsner malt so I had to choose between a Belgian pale and a German pilsner. I went with the pale, thinking I'd be geopolitically correct, but in hindsight it probably would have made more sense to use the pilsner. The Hallertau hops were in both pellet and leaf form. I went with leaves mainly because I haven't used them before. The only other choice was between the Munton's dry ale yeast and the Wyeast Belgian Wit liquid brainer there. Complete ingredients:
  • 4 pounds dry wheat malt extract
  • 1 pound extra light dry malt extract
  • 1 pound unmalted wheat
  • 1/2 pound flaked oats
  • 1/2 pound Belgian pilsner malt (subbed Belgian pale 6L)
  • 2 ounces Hallertaur hops (these were at 3.6% AA)
  • 1/2 ounce sweet orange peel
  • 1/2 ounce ground coriander seed
  • Wyeast Labs 3944 Belgian Wit liquid yeast
I put all grains into their own bags. This is wheat on the left and malted barley on the right.

They went into 2.5 gallons of water as it heated to about 195 degrees in 30 minutes or so. The water became slightly cloudy wort within a few minutes.

It came off the heat and steeped for another 10 minutes. I rinsed the bags into the kettle with a quart of hot water.

The gravity of the wort at this point was about 0.995 at 150 degrees F. Using the correction formula that should be adjusted by 0.0187, giving 1.014 as the post-steeping gravity.

The spent oats was pretty much a glob of porridge. The spent wheat tasted pretty much like wheat.

All the dry malt was stirred in while off the heat. This produced ample foam, but by using the same technique one uses for adding polenta to boiling water I avoided clumping. Kettle went back on the heat and the foam eventually dissipated without any real danger of a boilover.

About 45 minutes later the kettle was at vigorous boil so I added the hops in a hop bag. The leaf hops smell fantastic when their vacuum-sealed bag is opened!

The bag really wanted to float, so I agitated it periodically throughout the hour-long boil, making sure that both sides were down and that there was some water exchange within the bag.

I see from Palmer that there are two types of German Hallertau hop (Hersbrucker and Mittelfrüh), and also that domestic Crystal hops are known as CJF-Hallertau. The bag didn't offer further identification so I don't know what they are, specifically. This Cellar page says they are grown in Washington, though.

After an hour the kettle came off the heat and I threw in the bag containing the orange peel and the coriander to steep, covered, for 20 minutes. The coriander seed is the large, oblong, Indian type. I've read that the smaller, round type is less desirable, but that's what they appeared to have at the brew shop. I ground the seed in the usual spice grinder, which was clean but had a distinct cumin scent. I don't think that will be a problem. I actually read somewhere that cumin is the "secret" spice in Hoegaarden.

The recipe calls for sweet orange peel, but from what I've read it's bitter (Curacao) orange that is more commonly used. This bag wasn't labeled as sweet or bitter so I don't really know what it is.

The hop and spice bags were then rinsed with 2.5 gallons of cold water into the fermenter. At this point I began thinking about this recipe's approach to wort cooling and did not like it. The wort, at the current temperature (still at about 180 degrees F in this case), is supposed to be poured into the fermenter, and then left to cool to 80 so the yeast can be pitched. I was suspicious of how long this might leave the wort at an undesirably warm temperature, so I instead placed the kettle in the sink with water and cold packs for a little bit, dropping it quickly to under 100 degrees. Adding this to the 50 degree water (distilled) gave me a temperature of about 78. I did some quick online searching for this calculation but didn't find one. I'll need to dig up an old physics text.

I poured back and forth several times to aerate. At this point I noticed that the seal on the spigot wasn't seated properly. Grrr. Had to empty the fermenter into the kettle and a couple of the gallon water jugs in order to fix that. This is a good thing to double-check in the future.

Pitched the yeast at about 77 degrees and plumbed a blowoff hose. The Cellar didn't have a large one, so I'm using a segment of 5/16 siphon hose. I doubt this will be necessary, considering the gravity of only 1.052.

The flavor of the wort is only faintly hoppy, as would be expected. An orange note is detectable but not assertive. The sweetness at this point pretty much dominates.

As for color, it seems awfully dark. It doesn't look like it's the result of the specialty grains (the pale instead of Pilsner, in particular) based on the color of the wort after steeping. Hmm.

After nine hours, nothing from the blowoff tube yet.

Update: After 17 hours, still nothing. I'm surprised. The wort is at 70 degrees now. I realize that I didn't shake the fermenter after pitching the yeast, so it may not have been well-distributed, but I'm sure it was well-aerated.

Also, I took a closer look at the online version of the recipe and saw that it has some differences from the printed sheet at The Cellar. It actually calls for 4 ounces total of boiling hops, and specifies a total of 17.5 AAU. That would produce a pretty different beer, I suspect, than the 7.2 AAU I used. That's annoying.

first hard apple cider, part 3

After a week the cider fermentation has slowed considerably. Number 3, with the brown sugar, is showing the most activity but it's a small fraction of what it was at its peak.

Yesterday I noticed that the cider had cleared sufficiently to reveal the thick layer of particles accreted on the bottom.

I wonder what the white streaks in the sediment are. I hope it's not inadequately dissolved additive of some kind. If so then it's either the yeast nutrient or the pectic enzyme, since all three have it.

Number 3 is the least clear by a long shot.

Another week or so and I'll have a taste.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

almost no-knead olive rosemary bread

After Tracey brought home a loaf of the really great Calamata Olive Toscano bread (so soft and chewy and complex) from Borracchini's Bakery I decided that I'd bake a modification of the January & February 2008 Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead modification of the Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead bread.

The Cook's Illustrated article is informative, digging a bit into the chemistry of the no-knead recipe in an attempt to preserve its easiness and structure while improving the flavor. Briefly, the highly hydrated (85%) dough and long rest promotes extremely effective autolysis, which greatly reduces the amount of kneading required to align the proteins. It can even reduce it to zero because the proteins may have been snipped into such small bits by the enzymes in the wheat that there's no manual disentangling required. This is responsible for the great crumb. However, the tiny amount of yeast is not a satisfying flavor substitute for the complexity of a fermented starter. A small amount of acetic acid in the form of vinegar can substitute for that tangy fermentation byproduct, and a lager beer can provide yeasty complexity. The difficulty with such a wet dough is its delicacy, though, making it hard to handle without deflating and results inconsistent. A less wet and more forgiving dough can be used if a small amount of kneading (even 15 seconds!) is used to develop the structure.

As I didn't have any suitable beer on hand I had to purchase Budweiser at the grocery store, where Isaac and I ran into his substitute teacher for the day. I was grateful that she didn't offer me a Slim Jim or dip of Skoal when she saw the Bud. I felt a little better after getting it home and decanting into a Terminator Stout glass.

I suppose for my first attempt I should have stuck with the basic recipe, but since I had whey on hand from the recent farmer cheese making I figured I'd use that instead of water. And I had the olive and rosemary idea in my head, so I went in that direction too. The ingredients ended up being:
  • 15 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • 7 fluid ounces whey
  • 3 fluid ounces Budweiser
  • 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
Dry ingredients and rosemary were whisked, liquids and olives at room temperature were added, and mixed into a rough ball. This ended up being pretty wet, probably because of the moist olives and I think I may have had a touch too much liquid.

It rose well overnight (oven light, door ajar) but was very fragile, rippling provocatively when I agitated the bowl. If I'd been thinking I would have skipped the kneading entirely, but instead I gave it a try.

It sighed audibly and had lost much of its volume by the time I was done abusing it. It was much too sticky and soft to retain much form so the "shaping" of the "loaf" was a rather abstract exercise. It rose for another two hours, regaining much of its volume but remained flat.

Slicing (gashing) the top made it very clear that I need to sharpen my knives.

I preheated the dutch oven for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, dropped in the dough, lowered to 425, and baked for 30. Smelled fantastic within 20 minutes and looked great at 30 when I removed the lid.

It was done in another 20, at 208 degrees internally and sounding nice and hollow when knocked. It was a little squatter than I would have liked but still exceeded my expectations.

As for the most important thing: Wow! Tremendous success! Aside from wishing that it were taller I couldn't be much more pleased. Texture is excellent and flavors are great. It's by far the best bread I've baked. The boys loved it, even preferring it to the Borracchini's bread.

I think that the Borracchini loaf has considerably more complexity its flavors, but I would happily eat this bread any time.

Next time I will ensure that the dough is drier so I can administer a proper kneading and shaping. I'll bet that will produce a rounder loaf, though I'm not sure how the texture could be improved. This is really nice: Soft, stretchy, great glutinous bubbles and sheets, and crackly but not rock-hard crust.

2009-12-23 update: Best results to date using roughly this method are written up here.