Sours!

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The beer market is really changing in northern Virginia.  When I first opened, I used to brew a brett brux pale ale frequently.  People would ask me if my name was Brett, or would comment on the odd taste.  I put my first true sour on, a wonderful, very tart tripel with roeselare yeast aged a year, to pretty tepid response.

Consequently, I gave up on sours for a while.  However, I did manage to score some East Coast Yeast Bugfarm Blend, a very cool sour blend with over a dozen brett strains.  I went to work on a sour red that I stuck in neutral storage for a while.

As our two year anniversary approached, more and more people were asking about the sour.  I decided I might as well put it on for the anniversary party, after a year and a half of aging.  The beer had turned out rather nice; it was lacking a bit in acidity but had a terrifically complex brett flavor.  It turned out to be a very big hit!  I was surprised at how much more accepting and interested people were in the beer.  Furthermore, a lot of people appreciated the restrained sourness.

I had previous put out a well-received sour, a really nice kettle-soured Berliner weisse with sweet orange peel called Weisse City.  The weisse was super-clean, though, with no brett funkiness whatsoever.  People really liked it.  But are people ready for the spiky, wild, gaminess of a brettanomyces-brew?

I think so.  That’s why I’m going to start offering a rotating sour beer year-round.  The beer will be a mixed fermentation lacto and brett, similar to Crooked Stave’s beers, that has a one month tank time.  In addition, now that I have a good source for local produce, I’ll be going very heavy on the fruit in a lot of beers.  I have some experience doing this back when I was homebrewing–my sour brett brux brown with raspberries remains one of my favorites I’ve ever made.  The criticism of fast, lacto-based sours is that they lack complexity, but with brett and fruit, you can make sure they taste three dimensional.  In addition, the sours we are going to offer won’t be super sour, so they will be more accessible and have some malty complexity.

Now, on to the fun parts: the gear and the process.  The equipment part of this was a bit of a challenge.  To keep this program running, I needed cheap fermenters, brett yeast, and lacto.

For fermenters, I went with Speidel 60 L plastic fermenters.  If you’re unfamiliar with my setup, I have a 1.5 BBL electric system and some Stout conicals that I use to brew most of the beer.  I also have a 15 gallon keggle and jet-burner with a cooler mash tun and two SS Brewtech stainless conicals that I use to brew test batches alongside the main brew during brew days.  I absolutely cannot afford any cross contamination with my fermenters or diaphragm pumps that I use for kegging, so I needed some separate gear for the sours.  The Speidels were a logical choice: heavy HDPE plastic that won’t scratch, wide mouth for adding fruit, and cheap price.  Normally, I keg under CO2 pressure with my stainless conicals so there is no exposure to oxygen, but brett is an oxidative yeast, and I feel pretty comfortable racking via gravity into cornelius-style kegs and then purging with CO2.  This also allows me to use the big stack of cornies that have been gathering dust in my garage, and not cross-contaminate my sankes.

The next challenge was the yeast.  I’ll be using brett brux as my house brett strain.  To maintain a constant population, I got another 5000 ml flask.  I made a starter with about 20% maltodextrin and 80% DME.  The brett should be able to hang out for a while on my badass stirplate chewing on the maltodextrin.  Three days before pitching time, I’ll pour off a portion of the starter into a mason jar and pop it into the refrigerator.  Then I’ll pull it out, decant, and let it warm to room temperature during the brew day, and then pitch.  Afterwards, I’ll replace the lost starter volume with fresh wort.  It will take some trial and error to get the right population, but the best I can achieve without a lab is a good estimate based on volume.

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Brett is only part of the fermentation, however.  Lacto needs to be maintained.  To accomplish this, I’ll be using a trick that a fellow brewer at one of my favorite breweries taught me.  Two words: fage yogurt.  Yep.  Take one spoonful and pop it in a 2000 ml flask of unhopped starter wort.  Let it sit at 100 degrees in a warm water bath heated by a small aquarium pump.  Refrigerate, decant, and pitch.  Cost for a pitch: less than $2.

Both the brett and the lacto will be pitched at the same time.  The beer will be cooled to 90 degrees, which should give the lacto a comfortable start.  Brett does quite well at 80-85, so as the beer sits and ferments at room temperature, the brett will naturally overtake the lacto.  In addition, the oxidative brett should help keep the lacto from working with O2 and producing butyric acid.

The last key to the fermentation is this: after two weeks fermentation time, I’ll pitch some belle saison yeast.  Belle saison is a dry equivalent of French saison.  It tolerates high levels of alcohol and low P.H. and has an extremely high attenuation.  It is a great way to finish off brett beers in a timely fashion, since brett is a sluggish primary fermenter.

The sours I plan on making will only clock in at 8 IBUs, so I am hoping this fermentation plan achieves the right level of sourness.  If the lacto doesn’t do it’s job, I will use food-grade lactic acid to add some tartness.  If the lacto does too good of a job (which I doubt) I will cut back on the pitching rate next time.

So there you have probably my most technical, geeky post I’ve ever written.  I’m sure this process will take some trial and error, but the great thing about it is that it does things the way I try to do everything: effective and cheap, using the limited resources I have access to.  If I get this down, I can use the same approach when we expand to our bigger location.

The four sours I will be releasing are:

Altruism: sour quad with wineberries

Nepotism: sour golden strong with apricots

Agathism: cherry kriek

Barbarism: sour triple IPA

On a final note, here’s the first recipe that I plan to try:

Altruism

13 gallons

1.090 OG

8 IBU

30 lbs pilsner

6 lbs D-180 candi syrup

2 lbs C-40

2 lbs aromatic

1 lb special B

0.25 lbs chocolate malt (300 l)

0.75 ounces Galena (11.4 AA) @ 60 minutes

4 lbs wineberries, frozen and thawed, added to fermenter on day four of fermentation.

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Beers and Cigars

970498_729487383758678_6002433966899910948_nAh, beers and cigars…could there be a better pairing?  (You might be saying scotch…shhh!)  Since we are located beneath Leesburg Cigar & Pipe and have a very nice patio open during the warmer months, many customers like to enjoy a cigar with their beer.  But what is the right type of cigar to go with each beer?

I’m not very good at pairing food with beer, but I have spent a lot of time outside with a brew and a stick, and I’ve found that most people go about it wrong.  When it comes to cigars and beer, pair mild with dark and full with light.  It is similar to some food pairings.  For example, IPA actually pairs well with carrot cake.  Contrary to what a lot of people think, IPA doesn’t really pair well with much, but if you match it with something very sweet, it cleanses your palate between sips.  Opposite pairings work well with cigars, as well.

So instead of reaching for that big imperial stout with your maduro cigar, try a lighter Belgian beer instead.  Belgian yeast really helps cut through the flavor and refreshes your palate.  If you’re smoking a light, spicy Connecticut, try a nice brown ale or porter.  Our black Belgian tripel is an excellent accompaniment to a mild cigar.

If you’d rather go for some more full-on flavor, IPA can pretty much overpower any cigar flavor and will “pair” pretty well, so that’s always an option.  So without further ado, here are my top three cigars.  These represent something affordable–everyday smokes.

1. Punch Bareknuckle.  Flavor: full.  I was never a huge Punch fan until I tried these.  Simply put, these are incredible in every way.  Full, but not overpowering, with a complex spice flavor that is just perfect.  My favorite.

2. Rocky Patel Connecticut.  Flavor: mild.  RP Connecticut is just a wonderful mild smoke, with a pleasant, aromatic flavor that is sure to please anyone.

3. Sancho Panza Double Maduro.  Flavor: full.  This double maduro is as creamy and flavorful as a perfect shot of espresso.  Delicious.

I frequently stock these three cigars in our little humidor, so grab one to enjoy outside or wander upstairs for a wider selection.  Summer will be over in the blink of an eye, so make the most of it!

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Brewing English Beers

10708601_820562431317839_7253150899409655501_oEnglish beer styles are some of favorites.  Malty, easy-drinking, and distinct, English ales are fun to brew and present a unique challenge for experimentation.  The different styles of English beer are not extremely popular in America, where American IPA tends to rule the land.  However, they can be some great beers to brew.  Best enjoyed fresh, a bottle of Fuller’s gathering dust on the store shelf can never compare to a nice English-style pint made nearby.

So, what defines an English beer?  First, it’s the malt.  English barley is more highly kilned, producing a flavor that is toasty, with a touch of honey.  With Maris Otter or other UK barley as the base for the beer, you’re going to get a fuller malt profile even without specialty grains compared to a pilsner malt or American barley based beer.  Graham cracker isn’t too far off.

Second, it’s the yeast.  English beers use English ale yeast, top-fermenting yeasts which tend to be a bit fruitier than American ale strains.  They can also leave more residual sugar, resulting in a fuller malt profile, which compliments the grain bill.

Third, it’s the hops.  In comparison to spicy noble hops or citrusy American hops, English hops tend to taste earthy and sometimes floral.  You might get a bit of fruitiness, but more like orange marmalade rather than grapefruit or mango from Centennial or Citra hops.

Last, English beers tend to be more restrained in general.  You’re not looking for the bold roasty flavor of a robust porter, the in-your-face citrus of American IPA, or the high ABV of an imperial ale.  You don’t want that.  More hops and roasted malts will cover up that great toasty malt flavor.  Furthermore, with English hops, a little goes a long way.

From a brewing perspective, I like designing English-style beers that are a bit outside the box.  It’s a challenge, since the styles are generally fairly restrained and simple.  Here are three recipes I greatly enjoy, named after my setter, Logan.  The first is a pretty standard beer, but the rest are something you don’t see too often.  As you can tell from the recipes, I am a fan of the Fuller’s strain.  Ferment cool and perform a diacetyl rest for optimum flavor.  I also love Target as a dry hop–it has an orange flavor that is a nice compliment to earthy EKG hops.

Logan’s Song: English pale ale

This is a really basic English bitter that is a fantastic everyday beer to have.  A nice showcase for Maris Otter and crystal malt.  Just killer on nitro.

5.5 gallon batch size

1.050 OG

30 IBU

8.5 lbs Maris Otter

0.75 lbs Crystal 60

0.25 lbs Crystal 120

0.5 ounces Warrior (18.9 AA) @ 60 minutes

2 ounces East Kent Goldings @ 2 minutes

WLP 002 or Wyeast 1968 yeast

Bad Boy: Black ESB

This beer is interesting and very tasty.  Think of it as a stout, minus the roastiness.  It’s dark, smooth, and hoppy, with a firm bitterness.

1.060 OG

40 IBU

8 lbs Maris Otter

0.75 lbs Carafa III special (dehusked)

0.5 lbs Crystal 15

0.5 ounces Warrior (18.9 AA) @ 60 minutes

2 ounces East Kent Goldings @ 2 minutes

1 ounce Target dry hop

WLP 002 or Wyeast 1968 yeast

Lord Logan: English IPA

This is a pretty cool beer that is a bit like a hoppy English barleywine.  It tastes similar to Avery Hog Heaven.  Amber malt is a great way to give a quasi-smoked flavor to beers reminiscent of pre-industrial revolution porters that used malt kilned over wood fires.

1.085 OG

75 IBU

14 lbs Maris Otter

1 lb Amber Malt

1 lb Turbinado Sugar

0.5 lbs Caramel 120

1.5 ounces Warrior (18.9 AA) @ 60 minutes

2 ounces East Kent Goldings @ 2 minutes

1 ounce East Kent Goldings dry hop

1 ounce Target dry hop

WLP 002 or Wyeast 1968 yeast

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2015 Brewery Garden

20150416_131541 I like to use the term “farmhouse nanobrewery” to describe our Leesburg location.  If you’ve ever visited the brewery, it obviously isn’t on a farm, but you might not have noticed our little garden and the multitude of cool things we grow.  The nanobrewery garden may be small, but like the brewery itself, we put a surprising amount into a small space.

Here’s a short rundown of the produce we grow and what we use it for. First, we have three hop plants: Willamette, Chinook, and Columbus.  This year, we are adding a fourth: Sorachi Ace.  This hop, developed by Japanese macrobrewery Sapporo, has a very distinct lemon flavor.  We will be using it in our hop-forward hefeweizen, Laughing Man.  The other three plants are harvested for our two fresh hop beers: Nature’s Warden dark IPA and Force of Nature double IPA.  When you use hops fresh rather than after drying, it gives the beer a vegetal, resinous quality.  The hop trellises are made from bamboo that we heat, cure, and seal with polyurethane. The next new addition are wineberries and mulberries.  These berries, native to Asia, are invasive species in Virginia and can be found all over the place.  Fortunately, they produce some tasty berries!  Wineberries are very much like raspberries, and we’ll be using them in our sour brown ale, Provisionale.  They tolerate shade very well and should grow nicely in their new home against the fence. Also new this year: carrots!  These heirloom carrots will turn out in all three natural carrot colors: orange, white, and purple.  The Dutch popularized the orange carrot, but a hundred years ago it was common to find carrots in a multitude of colors.  We will be using them in our imperial carrot saison, Doctor Feelgood. The last new addition are hot peppers.  It’s still too cold to put the seedlings in, but we will be planting out habaneros and cayennes for the two variants on our IPA, Storm: peach habanero and cherry cayenne.  If you haven’t tried these yet, they are some really great chili beers.

In addition, we also have an elderberry tree for our elderberry quad, black currants, some nice perennials such as salvia and coreopsis, lavender, lantana, and some lobelias which I will be putting in soon. If you have any questions on anything, feel free to ask here!  Looking forward to another great year in the garden!

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Chili Pepper Beers

IMG_20150501_131012I love chili beers.  The bright flavors and heat go perfectly with fruity hops in an IPA, and the heavier, smoked flavors make a great addition to a porter or stout.  Before I had tried a chili beer, I thought the concept was interesting, but more of a novelty.  After trying Stone’s Smoked Porter with poblano peppers, I realized that a properly made chili beer is delicious.

I wanted to offer a chili beer at Crooked Run, but in smaller batches, preferably as a variant on one of our other staple beers.  Last weekend I put the two experimental variants of our American IPA, Storm, on tap.  They both turned out perfect and sold out in two seconds!

The two beers were a peach habanero and cherry cayenne version.  The peach habanero is really cool because the fruitiness and heat from the habanero combines really well with the peach flavor.  It makes a really bright beer with a light heat.  The cherry cayenne is quite different but equally as enjoyable.  Cayenne has a “dirtier” flavor than habanero–think a bowl of chili versus bright fruit.

Storm is a single hop Galaxy IPA, with intense tropical flavor from my favorite hop.  When designing these beers, I wanted to be very careful to not create something that was difficult/impossible to drink.  While I found Habanero Sculpin to be enjoyable, it was a bit too hot.  I felt comfortable backing off on the heat, with the fruit addition as another element to keep the beer interesting with a subtle spicy flavor.

Here are the recipes for these beers for a 5 gallon batch size:

Storm

1.065 OG

63 IBU

12.5 lbs two row

1 lb C-15

Bittering hops: Warrior @ 60 minutes

Aroma hops: 3 oz Galaxy @ 2 minutes

Dry hops: 3 oz Galaxy for 5 days

Yeast: US-05

Peach habanero: add one can of Vintner’s Harvest peach puree to cooled beer before pitching yeast.  Add 3 ounces of de-seeded and de-stemmed habaneros, sliced in half, to beer along with dry hops for 5 days.

Cherry cayenne: add one can of Vintner’s Harvest sweet cherry puree to cooled beer before pitching yeast.  Add 9 ounces of de-seeded and de-stemmed cayenne peppers, sliced in half, to beer along with dry hops for 5 days.

As you can see, this is a very simple twist, and the results are great.  The fruit adds a nice color to both versions.  One note: the capsaicin content of peppers, particularly habaneros, can vary wildly.  I erred on the side of caution with these beers, and I believe these amounts are a good starting point to produce pleasant but noticeable heat.  Your mileage may vary, but even if your peppers are considerably hotter, you should still end up with a drinkable beer.  Chilis are naturally anti-microbial and don’t need to be sanitized, so just add them directly to the beer.  One further note: always wear gloves and do not touch anything when handling habaneros or other hot peppers.  I did a good job of this, except that I forgot to wash the handle of the knife I used to prep the peppers.  A week later, I picked up the same knife and touched my nose later…oops.

This year we are planting habaneros and cayennes in the brewery garden, and will be producing these two beers regularly!  Cheers!

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Stainless Steel Fermenters

Friday was a very exciting day for us.  We got our stainless fermenters!  We purchased two 1.5 BBL and one 3 BBL stainless fermenters from Stout Tanks in February and have been counting down the days until they would ship.  Well, they finally arrived!

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So what’s the big deal?  Not only will it mean better beer, but it will also mean more beer, as we will be doubling production in order to get some beer out to some accounts in preparation for our expansion, as well as bottles.  In addition, we have one 14 gallon conical en route from SS Brewtech, which we will use for test batches and variants. For the past year and a half, we have been using plastic inductor tanks from Ruralking to ferment our beer, a great cheap option for nanos.  They have served us reasonably well and we have made some fine beer with them, but they have some limitations.

So why the change, and why after this long? First, the inductor tanks are neither airtight nor lightproof.  Even after lining the collars with food-grade sillicone, I was never able to get them completely sealed.  In addition, HDPE is oxygen permeable, although the rate is so low it is negligible for a two week fermentation time.

Second, the inductor tanks do not have a port for racking above the yeast.  When I kegged, I would hook up a diaphragm pump to the bottom of the cone and pull from there.  Even after dumping yeast, I would inevitable pull some of it into the kegs.  Not terrible, as it would settle out, but it required my kegs to be babied, as any shaking would result in the yeast getting kicked up.  Even handled gently, they still sometimes required a period of 15 minutes to settle after moving them in order to serve brite beer.  Not good, and especially not good for sending beer to restaurants and festivals.  Why not install a port on an inductor tank?  My feeling was that this would be an easy point for contamination, using a bolted on ball valve or plastic spigot that would be very hard to remove and clean.

Third, dry-hopping isn’t as effective in an inductor tank.  Since I had to pull from the cone, I couldn’t add my hops directly into the beer since they would end up in the keg.  Instead, I had to add the hops inside a nylon paint strainer bag tied to the side of the fermenter.  With less dispersion and contact area with the beer, I would get less flavor out of my dry hops. Lastly, there was no way to deal with the negative pressure when kegging.  Air would be pulled down into the top of the tank as I kegged the beer.  Not terrible, as there is a fair amount of CO2 sitting above the beer, but not optimal. With the new tanks, beer can be racked from above the cone using CO2 pressure.  By simply taking the blow-off tube from the top and attaching it to a CO2 tank and regulator outfitted with a low pressure gauge, I can push the beer out of the racking port at 2 PSI and into the kegs.  No exposure to air or light, just brite beer. Why didn’t we get these sooner?  When we opened in 2013, there was only one manufacturer of smaller conicals, Blichmann Engineering.  While Blichmann makes some cool things, their fermenters were around 3 grand a piece.  Now, there are a couple companies making nanobrewery-sized equipment.  Our fermenters ran $1200-$1500 each–much more affordable for us. We celebrated the arrival of our new tanks by brewing our Galaxy single-hop American IPA, Storm, and two variants: a peach habanero and a cherry cayenne version!

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Crafted

Necessity is the mother of invention.  At Crooked Run, we not only make beer, but a lot of other things as well!  With a tight budget and a lot of needs, we have crafted a lot of items and built out much of the interior ourselves.  We re-purpose and reuse whenever possible.

First, we needed tap handles when we began draught distribution.  The first attempt at tap handles was to purchase stock handles and design stickers for them.

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This proved to be a very bad idea, as the blank handles are commonly misappropriated by bars when they don’t get a handle for a new beer.  They just take a blank handle and put a sticker on it.  At $30 a piece, we could not afford to lose any handles.  We set about coming up with a solution: a relatively inexpensive handle that could not be used for any other beer.  On such a small scale, custom-fabricated handles from manufacturers were out of the question.  We needed to be able to make something ourselves.  Fortunately both Lee and Sean have a lot of skill in construction and wood-working, and have been able to make some pretty cool stuff.

These handles are made from live-edge cedar.  The all-purpose handle has the lettering burned in using a wood-burning kit.  The metal leaf-seal is fabricated by our friend with a water-jet.  The other handles we are making are stamped with linoleum-cut artwork created by our friend Mike.  These handles are for individual beers we commonly serve, and there are more to come!

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Tap handle

Using the same techniques, we also made coasters.  The leaf seal on the other side is a lino-cut, and the lettering is once again burned in.

Coaster

Our jockey box cover is made from slats from a pallet, painted with a dark walnut stain.  A metal strap gives an appearance reminiscent of a barrel.

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Our bar top , tables, and shelves were made by our friends at Eco-Friendly Lumber in Warrenton.  A lumber mill and furniture maker, Eco-Friendly Lumber specializes in large pieces of live-edge wood.  Getting the bar top into the brewery was quite a challenge: 500 lbs of American white oak!  The shelves are also oak, and the tables are cherry.

Table and bench

 

Bar top

We like to use a lot of chalkboards around the brewery.  Sean made all of our chalkboards, and our bartender Daniella is an excellent chalkboard artist!

Chalkboard

Sean made our big cabinet for the brewing area.  Using a projector screen, Lee and I superimposed the leaf logo on the cabinet and painted it in.

Cabinet

Our flight paddles were a Sean creation.  We wanted to design something that could hold our narrow flight glasses securely, and would not tip over.  Drain holes allow them to drain and dry while hanging on the wall.

Flight paddle

We put in chair rail made of pine trim and Pergo.  Pergo is a faux-wood that floats freely on the wall, so it can expand and contract without warping.  The chair rail adds to the decor, but also protects the wall from inevitable scuff-marks when moving fermenters and equipment around.  The ledge is made from pieces of the old deck at Market Station that we salvaged from the dumpster, sanded, and sealed.  The upper trim is made from the cutouts from the wooden barrel rack that Lee made.

Chair rail

The brewery garden contains three kinds of hops, elderberries, raspberries, black and red currants, and a variety of flowers.  Bamboo poles give the hops structure to climb.  I harvested the bamboo from a friendly Leesburg resident’s yard, cured it with a heat gun, and sealed it with polyurethane, which keeps it from splitting and getting discolored.

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Lastly, our newest addition is a window sign.  Lee made the sign out of wood from his parents’ barn in New York.  The slats are over 100 years old!  On the other side of the sign is a chalkboard where we can write messages for departing patrons.

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Sometimes having a tight budget is a good thing.  It forces you to be creative, to work with your own two hands, and to produce something unique.  If you have any questions about these designs, feel free to message or email me!  Coming soon: new patio furniture for 2015!

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