The Stand & The Single

Reader alert – I started this post 5 months ago.

The Stand

Let’s start from the top: I’ve been on the hunt for a brew stand. I’d thought about making one, getting one made, buying one right out , sat around looming at craigslist and walked the lanes big-box home improvement stores looking for possible structures and so forth. Nothing was ‘just right.’ I’m quite particular about most everything – research to find the ‘right thing’ can be exhaustive, to the point of missing out on ‘good enough’ items due to waiting. It can drive other people crazy – namely my wife, my father-in-law, anyone directly affected. It can be maddening, but to me persistence and patience pay off.
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A few months ago a Craigslist ad popped up, a sale for some shlub’s entire brewhouse somewhere in the depths of South Bend, Indiana – easily a 4-hour drive. I posted the link to the local homebrew facebook group with a serious offer to buy up the stand but not the entire deal; I had no need/want for the rest. Long story short that is what happened. Some helpful guy snatched up the whole lot and contacted me to have me come take the stand. In the crunchy earth mid-winter that is January in the Midwest, I rolled into St. Charles with a three hundred pound plus behemoth. My brew stand is a three tier gravity stand with two natural gas burners (3rd eventually coming). It’s a heavy iron stand centered around a thick-walled 3″ pipe. It’s an exciting step toward being content with the hot-side of my brewing. A big plus: Not having to lift the mash and HLT. While it won’t necessarily make better beer, it’ll make brew days more manageable.

I’ve also procured a keggle (kettle meets keg) as well; excellent for never worrying about ten-gallon boil overs again. It’s been great thus far.

The Single

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Bouncing around in the back of my head for a while was this beer I’ve wanted to do for some time. It’s a less-common style outside of breweries/monasteries: a small(er) beer that takes on a lot of interpretation – some have caramel malts or long boils or are this or that. For me, I believe the focus should be on something simple, drinkable, and not really ‘for the public.’ A Belgian single, patersbier, etcetera.

My version comes from a couple of recipes for a single I found that built around their entire malt bill being pilsner malt. My choices were German or Bohemian at the LHBS I chose the latter. I also added some Carafoam b/c I “feel” like I’m getting better head retention using it thus far, even if it is placebo.

The brewing part of the day was relatively uneventful – fired the MLT after finishing the stand, ground grain, mashed in at 152f, got the sparge water headed, sparged, boiled and tossed in hops, cooled, and pitched. I also bottled four batches and we were on our way.

I bottled half in 750ml Belgian crown-capped – plainly put: pry off champagne bottles – at four vols of co2 and the other half in standard bottles at 2.8 volumes. Side-by-side tasting notes very soon. As a preview, they are both lovely with nice mellow hop and malt profiles with the primary focus on the yeast.

Post-Solera

Time cures all may – nay, is a misnomer.

My last post – which was in October – was about this very subject. I was hot to trot. Four of the containers were spot-on for making a killer blended sour beer. When I finally carved time to peel the lids open again just last week… utterly inane drivel. Let me start with where my head was. I set up an action packed brew day where we’d knock out a handful of critical projects – bottle 8 gallons, fruit/spice 8 gallons, brew off 8 gallons of IPA with a focus on bottling the first pull of soleras I had fallen for in October.

Turns out, it was their swan song.

Let’s start with the look. Spread across the lids was mouse poop and spots of hardened pee/yeast/wort. I can’t blame my father-in-law Gary, the guy’s got mice and went through at least 15 of them before the traps stopped springing. My beer just had to sleep there, Gary had to live in it. A bag of peanuts was broken into less than 12 hours after he bought them, and they were inside his cupboard. With that said I inserted the wine thief/turkey baster like a surgeon. I didn’t even want to graze the edge of the lids. My brew buddy, Travis had a sinking horrified look on his face after I pulled them. He would never not think about the little pills of faeces when drinking this beer. I’d have an uphill battle myself. Some were super clear and some were murky, but they were all a lovely gold. I had that going for me.

The smell and taste? Flat. Like a radio hit you’re tired of hearing. No depth, on the verge of wallpaper, it was as if we were lapping at the feet of ghosts. Uninspired husks of what could have been. I hesitated and tried them again. Travis was nervous and without words. I tried my damnedest to get my brew-partner to speak up about his love of one of the samples or that somehow they could be rescued, but lost as I was – likely drowned in the fear of getting E. coli or some rat-butt thing that makes the evening news.

Then came the guilt. After the decision, then he wanted to save it, age it, resuscitate, anything. Nope, I was set, and we spent the better part of the day dumping and cleaning six buckets – thirty gallons of this stuff. The basement smelled like the death of a bar floor. A couple of the soleras were so oxidized they were simply vinegar and brought a sharp note of over-ripeness to it all.

Am I sad that it didn’t work out? Of course. There was always that risk, but I wanted to give it a go. Would I do it again? Very unlikely. I’d be willing to age 10 gallons maybe in a more robust fermentor than buckets, as well as age them in my basement where I could taste it much more often and bottle it without hesitation. Ever onward, learn from what I did wrong – age in plastic, rodent control, didn’t bottle at peak, left unattended, arrogance – and keep moving.

Time is a vice anymore – squeezing me thin. When I worked from home only three days a week, time wasn’t a weight but a free-flowing currency. My time wasn’t worth as much. Not so anymore.

Solera Update – Sept/Oct ’15

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I pulled a small sample from each of the six containers recently and was shocked.

First the bad news: Two buckets not swell. Sour beyond saving and flat in flavor – likely the puckering acidity pushed everything resembling taste out. Simply put, it made the beer next to undrinkable, and likely not able to saved from blending. It maybe could go into some dry saison that needs a punch up, but that is for later. My best guess is this these were the two which has issues keeping the airlock filled. For some reason beyond my comprehension, two airlocks were chronically dry.

The other four? Ideal. A pinch of tart, but mostly an ebbing tidewater of taste. They are on point in a way that I had always wanted my wild beers to be. Not overwrought with lactic acid in a flat one note accordion drain. A couple are a smidge malty and have a pinch of rye spice flickering across the tongue. I think I’ve got something here.

I’ll update with more details after a second tasting with my brew partner.

Bottle Taste – “The Quad”

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In the wandering, flowing timeline of moving back to Illinois, the city, and what we were going to make of our life, I bumped across styles once again. It floated into my mind that I’d add brett to a style in which I’d never personally had (narley even a bad example). There was a low hum and talk of favoring one recipe over any other, on a forum I haunt and I made plans – came to find out the guy has quite the reputation on his recipe. I’m a real butt and of course can’t brew anything to the slated recipe, and as such I of course had to take liberties. Mine added dashes of rye, added oak, brett, different yeast, and slightly altered malts. My fault also may have been not taking notes through the year and half process, but again here we are. A bottle was also shipped to a close homebrew-nerd long-distance friend B Hall, who will have his own review.

I should say after bottling I felt as though it changed so much from where I wanted, I nearly abandoned all hope. My plan was to allow the bottles to mature for sometime in a desperate attempt to save a beer from the brink. The brink approached like an abandoned house fire, you’ve just got to watch it degrade into something.
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Fallen Dekkra

(recipe)
the nose: in this bottle it was hard, and nearly impossible to miss: grape runts. As if someone had taken a bottle of water and a package of runts and thought it’d make great babies. There was also acid and low funk – like fleeting wafts mixed with of lots of very “dark cherry.” After an hour or more, it started warming up to “spicy medicine,” a boozy version of what we took as kids.
the palate: As it hits, it’s oak and a “buttery” sort of slick texture. Brett/cherry funk play up more and not the grape. It’s quite, quite dry for something that held a high starting gravity. It’s low “slickness” makes for an interesting drink, and a lot of the complexity in mid/late palate. Mild oak/vanilla with roast is the far back palate. Meandering splashes of coffee feels like your chasing tastes. There is a light “grape” taste and malt is nonexistent – thanks to the brett. My thoughts on how it came to be is this: oak, dark malts, brett all dry out, fruit up and mix to create this flavor. It’s not ‘bad’ but it can be ‘off’.
The result: 7.5/10 – still a favorite, even though in many ways it’s lost a lot about what I initially loved about it. Lis still loves it, Travis still loves it. B Hall’s wife seemingly liked it. It’s not bad, just marred.

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Dekkra on Plums

the nose: “the grape runt” flavor is still there but is much more subtle. This version is analogous to macerated plums. It’s got smells less acidic, even quite sweet, like a bag of candied plums. There is also an interesting floral note floating around in there.
the palate: much more tart, and residual sweetness – both do so well it makes my mouth water. The roast is nearly non-existent/faded; oddly enough it’s much cleaner, less complex. Really nice to drink. No oak, MAYBE vanilla, and more carbonation. The acidity and plum push out A LOT of the “grape” – or maybe the plum compliments the profile? It’s got a very lightly roasted coffee flavor hidden deep in the aftertaste. Sipping makes it almost candy-like, but no over-sweetened. This version is seemingly better and more “rounded.”
the result: 8.5/10 – easily something I’d bring out for a friend’s visit or as a treat to myself along a year. I’ll be going through these much more slowly. I’d like to see how the plums, and flavors age together.

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the takeaway: No brett. Yes plums. No oak. Yes age. No bulk aging. Yes high gravity. No rye. I think I have a soft spot for this beer. I love it even though I can’t really figure out why. It sounds insane, but I’m not alone on it. So it’s not a Quad – at all. Okay so I don’t know shit about style. That may be obvious by now – and maybe that is part of my problem. I tried to make this beer a handful of things instead of what it was supposed to be: a great quad that had gusto. I grew out it’s hair, let it stay out late and didn’t treat it right. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it any less. I will, for sure, be brewing this again; about a month or so before plum season and adding a decent helping of plums. The dark malty belgian flavors played so well with plum that I’m hooked. If I were to wager, I’d guess I’d make a split batch with half being just the base. My problem isn’t keeping the grain bill simple, it’s keeping everything after simple and the Dekkra series one was a perfect example of that. This time it’ll be ready for fall when that time comes – a brew calendar and the beer doc are working in conjunction to make a happy 2015.

More soon.

Bottled Taste – House & v2

About a month ago now, I pulled my last ‘house’ beer made about two years ago and the follow up v2 version. Again, in light of clarity and direction, I’ve taking the highlighter or more likely a red pen to my brews.
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h1

the nose: quite bright, fleeting funk and little else. suds are in then out, likely under-carbed.
the palate: lightly tart, more like “lemon,” much like citrus acid. It ‘becomes’ funky, more like much-to-ripe fruit; reminds me of the dank days of summer and forgetting to eat the fruit bought the week earlier and thought a pineapple was a good idea. A strange bitterness…? This may be unlikely due to its age, dryness masquerading as such? It could be its dryness coupled with the funk and acid confusing my taste buds. It’s flavors and very “clean” – which sounds silly for a wild brew, a wine term to fit: round is much more fitting. It’s wine-like, more so than h^2 . Very sharp as it warms and gives that high-acid top-of-stomach tickle.
the result: 7.5/10 – a decent first attempt, and I’d more than likely give it a lower score had it not been the no wistful beacon of “first focused wild brew”. It’s pulled it self through the mud though, cleaning up its stumbling flavors that made it a ‘only one’ level of attitude
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h2

the nose: more grapefruit-like than h^1, still bright. Much more funk forward, but still little else. Not sure what I’m looking for – malt, hops, or else is long gone taken by the critters and living creatures dumped into making it what it is – but something, anything to add depth
the palate:

  • slightly tart
  • mellow tartness and funk battle for attention on the palate, nicely complex
  • seemingly more dry, leaves palate wanting more, VERY dry
  • “thicker” mouthfeel which plays into a more ’round’ taste and drink; it’s difficult to define, very dry thick, and sour
  • heavy white head turns weak and flimsy overtime

the result: 8/10
hard to say which i liked more. Nostalgia plays it’s hand, so I’d have to pick house version one.
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blended

9/10
The rough edges of both are smoothed, made for a wonderful, nicely ‘quenching’ brew. Not more “simple” but less work for the tongue to decode, it was someone less ‘punching tart.’

what I’d change: Honestly, I’m not sure. I’d at least wait to drink the “last one” a bit longer, but now we know. I think the rye plays a slow meandering spice that floats away over time which I’d add more of. I likely also would bottle early and then allow them to age in bottles due to too much O2 – too tart? A part of me likes the ‘rough around the edges’ form of their early days, something about it’s beastly nature made it interesting, hard, intriguing – and something I couldn’t get in the store.

‘Bullfrog’ V4

In the messy hall of a room I call the brew house and others call the brewery, things are shaping up. The fermentation/yeast fridge is kicking up its first lager, the burners still tumble through their paces, and I’m left feeling a large debt to the man who hosts me, my beer, and most importantly watches my son for 6 hours twice a month. So I brew him a batch. His very own choice of ESB meets amber meets his tastes.

v1

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The first iteration came in 2013 when I was firing up the kettle at Gary’s and he brings up a good point on having ‘all of this beer’ in his basement and he “can’t drink any of it.” A quick brainstorm, detailing, and the very next brew day an ESB is poured through the stained aluminium pots and out into the standard pails. My memory is its simplicity, under hopped, mildly caramel and malty. He loved it.

v2

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2014 rang in and he wanted something more “amber” so in went MO, Victory, and a dash of corn – this round was split between 1335 (Brit Ale II) & 1275 (Thames). It was ‘fine’ not better or worse to my palette – that is until an infection took hold and make it maple syrup. We tried to allow it to sit, but the malty backbone took hold and the thickness never let go – the first bottles to ever get a dump. Away with ye.

v3

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The kind and bull-headed man of a father-in-law I have kept attempting to drink the mess I crafted and I felt it necessary to rectify. Malt was shifted to 80 & 40L, a dash of roasted barley, and a few oz of homegrown hops – yeast split to Steam Beer and s-04; I was testing his tastes, putting his keenness for British strains to the test. He didn’t blink, s-04 was favored right away, even pre-carbonation. It’s under hopped (again), much too malty for my tastes, but is really getting along nicely. Then he says he’s ready for v4 – and to “brew the same beer last year.” I smile and sigh.

v4

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This beer is a tag-along. The thing I left out here is that Gary gives a lot of this amber away. He drinks most of it, sure, but he’s apt to give buddies of his 6 packs as parting gifts and house warming presents. I won’t mince words, I think these are the fellas that think anything with a beer-like flavor fits their preferences. But, and this is a huge but, it’s a larger audience than my ‘this-is-good’ host. So again, this is a tag-along beer to take with him on an extended trip to the far-flung deserts and mountains of the south-west US. Two cases, all four cases? Who is to say. Only him. Drinks for him at the hotel, sixers gifted to hosts, yurt-neighbors, and the like.
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I caught a rare Gary the day before brewing v4 saying an amber he drank was ‘flat on flavor’ and an ESB having a bit more “something.” Rye. It popped in the old noodle right as he said it. So here we go – I couldn’t just leave enough alone. 5% rye, a bit of c120, and lots of 2-row – that’s it; biscuit malt had every intention of making the mash, but it was left in my bag – ever onward. I also doubled, even tripled the amount of hops – still using his whole leaf homegrown hops. They still held a good amount of aroma after a freezer stay in vacuüm bags for 6+ months but I wanted something with BALANCE finally, the quality of the leaf home-style cascades just weren’t there. This version is split between s-04 (from a cider pitch) and OLY-006; my thoughts drifted to Gary romanticizing his brewery, his hops, and a locally grown yeast to those cracking a bottle or two of ‘his beer.’ Report on taste, experience and more soon.

Take Aways: nail down efficiency and boil-off; I’m always way over on mash efficiency by ~10 points (70 vs 80 percent), as well as boiling down more than I want (ending a smidge lower than ~8.5 gallons) which means just about everything I brew is higher gravity than intended. Really need to get a handle on proper liquid measurements.

Bottled Taste – Wet Hopped Earl Gray Pale Ale/IPA

First, I recently noticed I don’t write a lick about the taste of a single beer I brew – unless in passing. Not really a great way to 1) log them for myself. 2) sit down and think about the beer beyond good vs bad 3) report on impression to the audience (or lack there of). So here we are, leaping head first into this thing.

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Earl of Gray Pale

The Story: I already wrote about this beer a few times, but here it is in short and total: So I wanted to do brew a clean beer (finally) and thought a nice neo-american pale using fresh picked wet hops would be great. My brew buddy, bless his enthusiasm, tooth the reigns while I and my father-in-law picked hops. Miscommunication on when adding hops and so there ended up with a 90min and 60min addition along with 30 and 10 and 0. It was remote dry hopped with help from my father-in-law who, bless his enthusiasm, ended up leaving the air locks dry. Okay fine, so I bottled it anyway. That is what we’re left with.

The nose: malty, mellow funk, caramel notes; that is it. Seemingly blah mix of malt. Honestly one of the least aromatic beers I’ve ever smelled – just… nothing. Very odd. Maybe it was the cold I have/had, but there wasn’t anything. I went as far as dumping and sloshing a sample in a smaller glass to get something, anything from it. Failure at every pass.

The palate: boring, not bitter enough even for even a pale. Clean, with a little more noticeable, but still light, funk. Flavor is light and fleeting with a meandering off flavor, most of the malt forwardness is gone and I’m left with a limp beer.

The result: 2/5; an uninspired pale, drab; needed A LOT more hops; no hint of the tea besides a strange tannin (maybe?) that I can’t put my finger on – which could be some strange off flavor I don’t recognize.

What I’d change: A LOT more hops, 1:5 on these fresh picked hops was nowhere near the right ratio. Use straight bergamot instead of cold brew tea. Dry hop it myself. Bottle it sooner. Try it again.

 

Delayed Update – Nov 14

I’ve been a heavy crashing ocean of emotions as of late and writing here has not been at the top of my list. I’m working on a full overhaul of the website at work, squeezing in little of anything else until it’s done. When I’m not coding the site, relearning css, reading up on Bootstrap, I’ve been watching The West Wing or playing a few hundred years of Civ V – basically escaping any kind of “work” I can. Admittedly, writing here should not be work, but as a way of relaxing, reflection, and else – it’s been more or less a weight on my ever-growing list of ‘things I should be doing but am not’.

In brew news:

The “brewhouse”

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Essentially, everything is done – save for the stand. NG burners were tested and were pretty damn hot, but ever got to boiling – likely due to too much heat going ‘out of the sides’ and being too far from the pot. The floors were painted, a tile backsplash finished, the fridge moved in with temp control set in, all good to go. Just one piece of the puzzle to go. I’m sure I’ll find more I want to change/add.

The fuck up

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A Pale went IPA when 8oz became 16oz at 60min; an IPA became a funky-failure cascade when an unexperienced helper dry hopped it. It’s final conclusion will likely be a drain pour, but I bottled it incase there are miracles left in the world.

The Chocolate Yawn

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I’ll be the first to admit I’m jaded. Oaking beers comes with a long arduous thought on a complimentary and warranted flavor/aroma pairings,  spices are all but out, fruit is utilized sparingly, and big fat beers are fine, just not ‘a thing.’ So when I got a bottle of peanut butter extract my first instinct was the throw it away, but there it loomed waiting for its place. My brew buddy is  all grinning excitement for the cute things like that – don’t fault him, he’s free to like whatever he wants. But we made a Chocolate stout with a nibs added at FO and added to secondary and aforementioned of flavoring is headed in at bottling and away we’ll go. I sound excited, don’t I?

Upcoming

Solera #3

Barrel Aged Wit

Bullfrog Vacation Beer

September’s End, Brew Update – 2014

Sometimes, seemingly more often I care to admit, I don’t get around to writing here. That and the beer page have kind of fell to the wayside now that Finn is at Pre-school and I’ve two more days of work. That has left me consuming instead of creating on my free time. While this relaxes me, it ends up making me despise the lazy part of myself. And well, here we are, stuck with a bit of writing to be done here and best intentions waiting in the wings. Pause no more, faithful, journey with me across the roaring fire and tumbleweeds.

Wet “Pale”

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While stuck in the seemingly endless cool summer with bottles of thirst quenching punchy sour beers and funk this and infected that, I could stand no longer the unsteady ground of complexity. I wanted a drinking pale, something to herald in fall, something to keep a steady pace in the fridge. All of those things and to keep my non-sour-drinking-wife happy. In the midst of brew day, a fellow just one town south announced his homegrown hops ‘up for grabs.’ I shuttled my brew partner and myself over to said fellow’s house and hacked down bine after bine. We found a ratio of 1:5 of dry to wet and made a quick change to dumping in whatever was picked – high alpha or not, it was to be a snowflake. My compatriot has been taking lead on brewing, as I’ve been desperately trying to hold on to someone’s interest, even a mild one, in brewing. Clear communication being our foible, the boil received an extra dose. I laughed at our now possible ‘session IPA’ and went back to picking hops. Recent taste tests resulted in confusion – seemingly less bitter than even say a standard pale. Denny’s Favorite (WL1450) and US-05 were dumped and are only slightly different at uncarbed sips. Cold brewed Earl Gray will go in at bottling.

Sasion de pompoen

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Well, you’ve done and bit me on the toches, dearest autumn. I don’t like spice beers. I don’t enjoy (almost any) pumpkin beers. Yet here we are, deep in exposition about slogging our way through a day crafting one. Sure, I told myself, a pumpkin beer with real pumpkin and soft on the spices. Turns out, with plenty of reading, that pumpkin doesn’t exactly ‘taste’ like anything save for the spices strewn across its glistening orange surface. Fine. A pumpkin beer without pumpkin. The base was a wonderful orange hue from dashes of 40L & 80L & wheat. I made a tincture of spice shelf goods and rum. It tasted fine, and we’ll see how those tiny flecks deal with a bit of a soak in the finishing beer. I feel I could have done better with this one, sure Belle Saison and 3711 are okay choices, but fresh spices, or at least whole spices, would have been ideal. I wept inside a bit while dashing ground dried ginger into a small jar of murky cinnamon and clover water. Time will tell – a keg to my brother-in-law.

Extra Special Bullfrog

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I can’t say much about this beer, it’s the second version of an amber I brew for Gary. I can say much about the man behind it though. We’ve been crashing Gary’s retirement just about every other Tuesday, and sometimes in rapid succession. Where some folks, even some family, would reel and tire of the whirlwind visits, Gary’s interest only grows. I’ve grown from using a small corner of his basement and garage to taking completely over in the small back room of his garage and nearly all the basement; bottles stack high, bucket fermentors creep ever so slowly across his basement floor, furniture and rugs get soaked, equipment is bought and installed, and he grins and actively involves himself in all of it. I am unsure my heart would be into homebrewing, due to its location, as much as it stands now without the Gary Mielke touch. I am continually humbled by his fervor for this hobby of mine. Least I can do is brew the man a beer every so often.

Up Next

Peanut Butter Chocolate(?) Stout
Solera #3

Solera Brewday #2

In the long days of this seemingly never-ending cool summer – I’m left with even keeled and mellow wild beers.

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Solera #1 is still sitting on its cakes and fearfully, had a dry airlock one of the couple of visits I made while Gary was out West. A sample was pulled and it’s right where I wanted it. A bit worried about it getting too tart now, but we’ll see 1- where everything ends 2- if it indeed does tart up.

This past brew day went swimmingly – besides a watery mash – hit high 80s on my mash efficiency and right about the amount I wanted ending up in the fermentor. I relied on the local homebrew store having the WL670 I use, but alas. I trudged on, thinking big picture: all wonderfully blended anyway. #2 ended up with Wyeast 3209 Oud Bruin Blend & Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend; both fitting well into the larger puzzle of the solera pretty well. Letting the yeast thing go I’ve opened the doors allowing for shifts and subtle changes as it ages. Let it go and let it grow.

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side notes: sampled the Quad finally and it’s got me hot and bothered. Wheat wine was overbearing & “hot,” and <1gal got a treatment of #2 cherries & #1 of raspberries – making it more of a fruit wine, still tasty and interesting. Most of what is pouring is quite good and things are finally coming together.

Lesson learned: hang up your hang ups