Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cloning King Titus

I don't always clone beers, but when I do, I clone Dos Equis.

Actually, that's a lie: while I *don't* usually clone beers (it's only my second), I am certainly not going to clone Dos Equis. No offense to "The Most Interesting Man in the World," but we have radically different tastes in beer.

However, when I do decide to clone a beer, I try to look towards a beer that I consider a hallmark of the style. And when it comes to Porters, I cannot think of a better example than King Titus.

King Titus is a Robust American Porter brewed by Maine Beer Company. At 7.5%, it's big and full of tons of character. The brewer describes the beer as a "take on an American robust porter. Dark, thick, chewy, chocolaty, and of course, generously hopped." 

For a few more details, I cracked open a fresh bottle to give myself some current tasting notes:

Appearance: Pretty thick black with a tan head, little to no light penetration.

Aroma: Full of chocolate. I'm not getting a much for hops in the aroma at all.

Flavor: Dark chocolate with an almost lacto (milky) presence; super smooth. A little bit of roasted coffee in the background, balanced with faint candied orange peel. Leaves a long bitter finish. The hops are clearly there as they balance out the sweetness of the body, but I wouldn't say this is a hoppy beer.

Mouthfeel: A thick milkshake with lots of body.

When it came to designing the recipe, I thankfully wasn't totally in the dark as Maine Beer Company generously lists their ingredients for King Titus on their website. They write:

King Titus Vitals:

Color – Dark Chocolate
ABV – 7.5%
O.G. – 1.075
Malt – American 2-Row, Caramel 40L, Caramel 80L, Munich 10L, Chocolate, Roasted Wheat, Flaked Oats
Hops – Centennial, Columbus

In terms of my own recipe, I wanted to stay as close to the original recipe as I could though I did make a couple small changes that I expect will complement the final product nicely. The grain bill was easy enough, though I changed the percentages several times before finally deciding. In an effort to replicate the bigger body of the beer, I tried to mash in a little higher than usual (154°) using a single infusion mash (which is typical for my home system).

Freshly roasted wheat
When my homebrew store didn't carry Roasted Wheat, I decided to roast my own. I found the process so tremendously easy and pleasing that I'm fairly certain I will roast my own grains from now on. I simply put a pound of un-milled wheat on a cookie sheet and baked in the oven at 400° until they were nicely browned and I could smell them. They smelled absolutely fantastic and had a most wonderful nutty flavor. I let them cool overnight, milled them the next day, and added them to the mash.

I got a little stuck when considering the hops. The last tagline of the brewer's description ("generously hopped") sort of threw me off. The hop presence of the beer is minimal at best, with only a vague earthiness in the background of the mouth. It is my estimation that the hops primarily serve to balance the beer and prevent a boozy character.

Thus, I opted for roughly 68 IBUs with hop additions at 60, 20, and 15 thinking that this would serve to balance the beer, while leaving some faint hop flavors without being described as "hoppy." Though MBC doesn't list the IBUs on King Titus, Founders lists their Breakfast Stout (a comparable porter/stout in my opinion) at 60 IBUs, thus leaving my beer a little more generously hopped. I opted for Magnum  as opposed to Columbus for the simple reason that I mixed up when I bought them (Magnum is used in their stout, Mean Old Tom.) Considering I'm using these hops as bittering hops anyhow, I expect no major change in the finished product. 

For yeast, I decided to try a simple yeast blend with of both 1054 and 1272 (WYeast American Ale and American Ale II). My hope is that they balance each other out, bringing out the best characteristics of both the hops and the malts in the finished product.

The Psalmist

4 Gallons – 90 minute boil

OG: 1.080

60%  American 2-Row
9%  Chocolate Malt
8%  Munich Malt
6%  Flaked Oats
6%  House-roasted White Wheat
4%  Caramel 80L
4%  CaraStan (37L)

1 oz. US Magnum (13.5% AA) - 60 minutes
1/2 oz. Centennial (8.7% AA) - 20 minutes
1/2 oz. Centennial (8.7% AA) - 15 minutes

American Ale (WYeast 1056)
American Ale II (WYeast 1272)

Single infusion mash at 154° for sixty minutes.

And the name of the beer? King Titus (named after an ape) reminded me of King David (don't ask!), who is credited with the authorship of most of the Psalms. 

Stay thirsty my friends!



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wild Thing!

On September 14, Lord Hobo in Cambridge, Massachusetts will be one of the twenty-two bars in the United States lucky enough to host Zwanze Day: the international release date of one of Cantillon's more popular wild ales. This will actually be my first year participating in the international phenomenon that is Zwanze Day, and as a big fan of Jean van Roy (brewmaster of Cantillon), I am significantly excited.

And yet, the beer event I am most eagerly anticipating this weekend is not actually tasting Cantillon's celebrated beer, but rather the wild ales of local brewer Jean-Claude Tetreault, brewmaster of one of Boston's newest nanobreweries, Trillium Brewing Company. Not even yet open for a year (Trillium opened their retail shop on March 21 of 2013), Tetreault has been impressing Boston's beer community with beers like Fort Point Pale Ale (a perfectly balanced hoppy Pale Ale full of tropical fruits and a mineral crispness I have only otherwise found in Hill Farmstead) and Sunshower (a tremendous saison dry-hopped with Amarillo and Falconer's Flight and so drinkable, one would never believe that it clocks in at 8.5%). But as much as Tetreault enjoys brewing these beers, his biggest passion might just lie with Wild Ales.

I was first introduced to Trillium's Wild Ales at the American Craft Beer Festival in June. It was there that Tetreault released "Bug Valley:" a Wild Ale fermented in Petite Syrah American Oak barrels and inoculated with a wild house yeast culture. This beer was, in my opinion, the runaway for best beer at the fest. (And trust me, the competition was stiff!) It also made me realize that Boston might just have one of the best breweries on the Eastern seaboard.

Pitching 5 gallons of Bug Blend
Photo courtesy of Trillium Brewing
Despite maintaining a retail shop for only six months, Tetreault is no newcomer to Wild Ales. As a home brewer, he has been brewing Wild Ales for three years, and over that span has cultured a unique yeast strain he calls the "Trillium Bug Blend." This blend is a constantly evolving culture that he began propagating during his homebrew days. As Tetreault explained, the culture is a mixture of "some commercial microbes (Sacch, Brett, Lacto, Pedio) as well as microbes that I propagated from the dregs of some of my favorite beers/breweries around the world (ie. Jolly Pumpkin, Fantome, Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon, Russian River, etc.)." This unique house strain features prominently in many of Trillium's Wild Ales (Bug Valley included).

Trillium's physical brew space is not large, and unlike Fort Point or Sunshower, Wild Ales take years to ferment and age. Their earliest Wild Ales were brewed in only 1.5 bbl batches in temperature controlled enclosed stainless steel, carboys, or barrels. Their current 10 bbl setup uses a modified open stainless milk tank that is used exclusively for their Wild Ales. While using open tanks is a traditional brewing method, it introduces several obstacles. Explains Tetreault: "[Because] it is not a pressure vessel, we need to rack out of it into barrels after initial fermentation has slowed… and stops producing a protective blanket of CO2." [For those non-brewing readers: Racking a beer is the process of transferring the beer from one vessel to the next. The timing of this transfer becomes critical when brewing in open tanks; when yeast eats the sugars present in unfermented beer (aka "wort"), they release a CO2 as a byproduct. This CO2 acts as a buffer to protect the beer from the outer elements. However, once primary fermentation is finished and the yeast is no longer producing vast quantities of CO2, the beer loses it's natural force field and becomes subject to millions of random microbes.]

Though they are among Tetreault's favorite beers to brew ("I am always trying to find ways to sneak in wild beers into the production schedule."), due to the time and space required to brew Wild Ales, Trillium rarely releases them. That Trillium is releasing not one, but three different Wild Ales this weekend… well, that is an event to be celebrated!

The cellar.
Photo courtesy of Trillium Brewing
I asked Tetreault about the three beers he will be releasing, and my anticipation to sample his newest experiments rose with each description. The first beer is "Culture Club," a 6.7% abv Farmhouse Ale that he describes as "the result of a study in wild fermentation microbes." In an effort to learn about the unique characteristics of different commercial and house yeasts, Tetreault brewed a simple rustic saison, which he then split into five gallon carboys, each inoculated with a different yeast strain. "We began blending some together," he explains, "and, unlike beers with a myriad of hops which can muddle the flavor/aroma profile, we found the samples with the most variety seemed to have a beautifully complex depth of flavor." Thus, all of the test batches went into the Culture Club blend, and he and his partners are trying to work out a way to scale this process up to their 10bbl system.

The biggest beer of the weekend is "Cuvee de Tetreault," an 11% American Wild Ale fermented with their Trillium Bug Blend. "Cuvee is a bit of a hybrid, in that the base recipe is a sort of a cross between a Belgian Quad and Imperial Porter. Dark candi syrup and black currants add a depth of character and back up the malt and fermentation character." The beer was then aged on both American and French Oak, and locals can expect to see later vintages of this beer further aged on wine grapes and released in bottles.

Also being released on Friday is "Lineage Wheat," a Wild Farmhouse Ale brewed with grain from local malter Valley Malt and fermented with a yeast he cultured off the skins of grapes taken from Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, Connecticut. "The culture has evolved and matured over the past three years into... something intimate and personal, but [also] true New England wild ales. I think fans of wild beers will pick up both a lot of similarities to other wild fermented beers they enjoy, but hopefully will also be able to recognize a distinctness that's best experienced instead of described in a few short sentences."  This particular yeast culture has a special sentimental aspect for Tetreault, as he and his wife Esther were married at Saltwater Farm. (Tetreault describes his process of culturing this unique yeast blend on his blog.)

Trillium Taproom
Photo courtesy of Trillium Brewing
All three beers will be released as a part of Beer Advocate's annual "Night of the Funk" festival this Friday. For the lucky ones with tickets, I urge you to beeline to the Trillium booth to sample these three beers. They will also have a limited supply of these beers available at the brewery starting Friday, 4pm. Trillium currently does not have a bottling line (something they hope to change in the upcoming months), so all beers will be for growler fills only. Due to Massachusetts law, Trillium can only pour their beer into a Trillium branded growler: the empty growlers are for sale for $5 and are available in 32 or 64 oz sizes. Please note that Trillium is unable to pour samples at the brewery at this time. (This is by law, not by choice!)

Trillium is located at 369 Congress Street in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. You can follow Trillium on Twitter, @trilliumbrewing

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy with a Hefeweizen

Happy Independence Day!

Today in Boston was a scorcher. Humid and hot, the thermostat got all the way up to 95° F. On a day like today, there is one beer I grab for right away: a Hefeweizen.

Hefeweizens (which translates as "Yeast Wheat") originated in Bavaria and are perfect summer beers. Though I had enjoyed a good hefe now and then, I really fell in love with the style on one of my earliest trips to Germany. Drinking German Hefeweizens can spoil a person, though, and when I returned to the States, I found myself quite disappointed with most of the domestic versions. With the exception of Will Meyers' Hefe-Weizen from Cambridge Brewing Company (Which, for the record, is the absolute best American Hefeweizen I have ever tasted. Pouring a murky gold that is radiant in the sun, it is topped with a thick foamy head that features a fantastic aroma of clove. Tasting like a spicy banana bread, this is a beer I look forward to every summer.), the bulk of American wheat beers couldn't really match the perfect balance (that of banana and clove, wheat and pilsener grain) that was the German Hefeweizen. 

I was so determined to replicate the German hefe, that for the better part of 2011 I brewed them over and over. And though I ended up producing a couple of nice beers, nothing was every just right. I tinkered with everything, messing around with the grain bills, the hop schedule, the fermentation temperature. In the end, I was always happy enough to drink the beer, but never proud enough to say: "That's it!!"

Then, by pure accident, I found the perfect recipe this past June. The stage was Wheatfest: a home-brew festival I hosted featuring all wheat beer. About two weeks before the fest, I decided to quickly whip up a hefeweizen, and through the process, I think I learned a lot about what makes – for my taste buds – the perfect hefe. As it turns out, it's not nearly as complicated as I ever tried to make it.

The Recipe

The recipe itself was formed based upon the grain I had laying around the house: roughly 50% wheat with a half pound of Munich malt that was in the back of my grain bin. Though I had used Hallertau hops for all my earlier versions, this time I threw in Tettnang at 60 and 30 minutes (again, just because I had them). The simplest grain bill I could have ever possibly put together.

Rhönring Hefeweizen
3 Gallon Batch

3 lbs (52%) Valley Malt Red Wheat
2 lbs (34%) Belgian Pilsen 2-Row
1/2 lb (8%) Munich Malt
1/4 lb (4%) Rice Hulls

1/2 oz Tettnanger (3.7% AA) - 60 minutes
1/2 oz Tettnanger - 30 minutes

WYeast 3068

OG: 1.049

The Yeast

For my earlier hefs, I was using Safale WB-06. But after my experiences with my maple beer, I since decided to only purchase WYeast for all future beers, so I opted for that instead, choosing WYeast 3068.

The Mash

German wheat beers are traditionally brewed by decoction mash. A rather time consuming process, it involves reaching each rest temperature in the mash schedule by boiling a certain quantity of the grain (or grist) for about 15 minutes before adding it back to the mash. Boiling the grains can help make the starches more friendly for the enzymes as well as create unique and often more complex flavors. The merit of decoction versus infusion mash is often debated amongst home brewers, but in an effort to be as authentic as possible, all of my early Hefeweizen recipes used at least a double if not triple decoction. However, on this brew night, time was of the essence, so I only did a single infusion mash (which is what I ordinarily use for most of my beers).

Some argue that in place of decoction, one should throw in some melanoidin malt, claiming that in small quantities it can replicate the flavors generated through decoction. I may have considered it for this recipe, but as I didn't have any in the house, I just left it out.

To learn more about decoction mashing, including the chemistry and methods, I suggest reading this article


In my previous recipes, I did a lot of temperature adjusting. For example, for my fourth version, I pitched the yeast at 61°, fermented it at 64° for five days, raised to 70° where I fermented it for five more. For this particular recipe, though, in an effort to keep it simple and work in harmony with the other beers fermenting in my fermentation chamber (i.e. temperature controlled refrigerator), I simply pitched at 68° and then fermented it for one week at 70°.
The Beer

The beer had a quick turnaround time: ten days after brewday, I was happily sipping a fully carbonated beer. 

And wow! I had on my hands the best damned hefe I had ever brewed.

The beer was crisp, clean, with only the right amount of banana. Though there was some clove flavors present, the beer wasn't overly spicy, and at 4.8%, it was dry and immensely drinkable. The finish had a slight graininess to it that gave it some depth, and the hop schedule (which gave the beer 21 IBU: a tad higher than the average hefe) lent a nice subtle hoppiness that complimented the beer's character. I don't often say this about my beers, but this was an A+ beer. 

Lessons Learned

By pure accident, I really had stumbled upon the best recipe I could. Perhaps the biggest takeaway was really how easy these beers are to brew, and that at their core they are very simple: simple grains, simple hops, simple temps. Let the ingredients shine on their own.

I also feel that I can now lend a voice of experience to the constant decoction-or-infusion debate that is constantly raging on nearly every homebrew forum online. Though some swear by it, I really found that the single infusion mash in no way inhibited the flavor, nor did the flavor lose any complexity. Similarly, I did not miss the melonoidin malt. Does this mean that centuries of German brewers are wrong? Of course not, but I would argue that at the end of the day, it is truly a matter of opinion and preference. There are those who swear they taste the difference, and to those, I say by all means! do a decoction. Regardless, I encourage every home brewer to try it and decide for themselves as it is a great learning experience. As for me? I'm going to enthusiastically reclaim that extra two hours on German-beer brewing day and stick to single infusion mashing.

Regarding the yeast, I again give props to WYeast. This yeast fermented so clean and with the exact right character, that it really outshone the SafAle from previous batches. It is worth mentioning that if you are wanting a dry beer lower in banana esters, 70° seems to be the ideal temperature for fermentation. I have a friend who also contributed a hefeweizen to Wheatfest using the same WYeast strain, and his beer was bursting with banana flavor. The only difference? He started low (64°) and ramped up to 72°. Again, a matter of preference, but my personal tastes lean towards a drier beer.

And perhaps the most valuable thing I learned was just how easy and inexpensive these beers are to brew; I don't think I'm ever buying another domestic example again! (Well, I'll probably sneak over to Cambridge and sample that Hefeweizen again. In fact, I might just go there now...)

Do you have a favorite hefe recipe? Share it below!



Monday, June 10, 2013

The Horrors of Homebrewing

Glass or Plastic?

I love homebrewing, and like many homebrewers, my "hobby" often borders on "obsession." When my schedule allows it, it is not uncommon for me to brew as often as once or twice a week, and I total about 180 gallons a year. If you think that sounds like a lot, on the spectrum of homebrew enthusiasts, it really isn't: I have a friend who brews upwards of 500 gallons a year.

As with any culinary adventure, some batches are phenomenal experiences and yield the most amazing beer. Others result in such a failed experiment that I just dump it all down the drain. And yet others are such an awful experience that it makes me question why I do this at all…

I have had three notable misadventures. Two of them (one involving a bottle miscue and the other the keg from hell) I will save for a later post. My most recent debacle, though, I feel is worth mentioning because it addresses an issue that every homebrewer faces: to ferment in glass or plastic.

I hate plastic. I don't use plastic for anything, and I use glass for food storage and cooking as often as possible. Thus, when I began homebrewing three years ago, I had every intention of buying a glass carboy.

At the time, however, all of the sales staff at Modern Homebrew in Cambridge, MA strongly dissuaded me from buying glass, encouraging me instead to invest in plastic buckets and plastic "Better Bottle" carboys. They reasoned that plastic was not only less expensive, but also less apt to break or crack.

Knowing absolutely nothing at the time, I heeded their advice and began doing my brewing exclusively in plastic. But I always felt weird about it: I really wanted to ferment in glass.

About a year ago, a friend lent me his glass carboy, and I started to use this glass carboy more and more often. If I had the glass available, I would use it. Besides, regardless of how well I cleaned them, my plastic buckets always smelled like the previous batch's hops. Glass, on the other hand, never held onto residual odors. (I should mention: I never found any flavor differences in the finished beer fermented in plastic versus beer fermented in glass.)

Then it happened.

I had had a long night at work, getting home around 12:30am. As I am brushing my teeth, I start smelling beer. This was curious to me, as I had no open bottles and hadn't drunk any beer at my home for the last few days.

I did, however, have three beers fermenting: my Maple Tripel and Patersbier were both in my brew fridge (the former in a plastic bucket, the later in a one gallon glass jug), and a DIPA dry hopping at room temp in my dining room in a glass carboy.

I stepped out of the bathroom and looked at the DIPA: I had wrapped the carboy in a towel to prevent light penetration, and that towel was soaked with beer.

At this point, the beer had already been dry hopping for about a week. But there was no mistaking what I was seeing: the carboy had a crack.

As there wasn't a pool or puddle of beer on the floor, I assumed it must be a small crack somewhere in the carboy that, over the past week, had slowly been leaking beer. I lifted up the towel to see if I could find the crack. The carboy looked OK, though it was clear I had lost about a half gallon of beer.

I decided to take the towel completely off (it was fastened with safety pins) to get a better look, and as I did so, my knee lightly bumped the side of the carboy. What happened next seemed to play out in a dreadful slow motion…

The base of the carboy stayed exactly where it was, but the entire top of the carboy slid off to one side, and immediately I had a beer tsunami: five gallons of beer gushing out of the carboy onto my floor (and all over my feet and slippers!)

Panicked, I watched all the beer and fresh Newport hop flowers flow across my floor, toothbrush hanging out of my mouth. I should add that I rent an older house, and the floor is slanted, so that all the beer wound up flowing towards the wall underneath all the furniture of my office space (power cords!!!)

I am completely bamboozled as to how this ever happened, but basically, it looked as though someone had taken an industrial glass cutter and cut off the entire base of the carboy. The only thing I can surmise is that it must have been handled too roughly in the recent past, and that there was a hairline crack in the carboy when I racked the beer. Perhaps the pressure of five gallons of liquid was too much for it and it expanded. I don't know. It's all rather odd to me.

The pain of losing this beer was immense. Yes, it was two hours of cleanup and my house reeked of stale beer for about a week. But I had invested so much energy into this beer: I really had high hopes for it. And, it was brewed with all Newport hops from Rhode Island. I suppose the only nice things about this was that for the first thirty minutes after the spill, the entire house smelled like a pine forest. Unfortunately, the entire house smelled like a dirty dive bar for the next ten days!

I did take away one valuable lesson, though: I am going to invest in more Better Bottle plastic carboys.



Tripel Threat

In Search of the Best Belgian Tripel

The moment Chimay released their "Spéciale," a new special-release beer from the famed Trappist Brewery, I knew I had to try it. Not only do I love all of their offerings, but I am so fascinated by Trappist brewing traditions, that anytime one of these fabled monasteries release a new recipe, I need to try it. (And any longtime readers will know that I am a sucker for good marketing!)

Then I saw the price tag: $26.99. Ouch. My taste would have to wait.

Several other friends were lamenting over the same thing: we all wanted to try this beer, but none of us could justify shelling out nearly $30 for a single bottle of beer.

Naturally, we pooled together and bought the bottle to share. But now we needed to know: what was the best tripel for the dollar?

We chose nine beers, the selection of which was simply determined by what was easiest to find at our local liquor store. Considering the basis of this comparison was what beer we could theoretically have as a "house table tripel," we didn't want anything too esoteric or difficult to find. (The exception, of course, being the Chimay Spéciale which was a limited release beer.)

Without further ado, here's what we found:

Chimay Spéciale (26.99/22oz) $1.23/oz

Bottled 6/12. A spicy nose with cloves, lots of forward hops, and hard butterscotch candy. Big and sweet in the mouth, biscuity with hints of cinnamon and even a little pine. Tremendously boozy and hot, we all agreed it would probably do best with some age and time. (10% abv)



Chimay Cinq Cents (14.99/22oz) 68¢/oz

Bottled 2012. Half the price, but not half the quality. Much darker in color with a big clove bouquet. Fairly dry and hoppy, with flavors of dry biscuit, lemon grass, and a little tropical fruit. (8% abv)

Westmalle Tripel (5.99/33cl) 54¢/oz

An amazing floral nose with flavors of honey, scones, graham cracker, and butterscotch. Truly a wonderful beer from start to finish. (9.5% abv)


Allagash Tripel (11.99/4pk) 27¢/oz

A surprisingly earthy nose with hints of postage stamp, especially when compared to the Trappists. Sweet but not syrupy, it has a remarkably light body. Little dryness and almost no hop presence with the cloves lightly in the background, there is also the requisite biscuit flavor we've come to expect. Massively drinkable with no hint of the alcohol: this beer goes down easily. (9% abv)


Unibroue La Fin du Monde (11.99/4pk) 27¢/oz

A spicy honey-laced aroma that reminds me of hard water (seems high in Magnesium). Spicy in the mouth as well: almost peppery with a lot of clove and hints of vanilla and oak. Not overly dry nor overly sweet, this is a perfectly balanced beer. (9% abv)


Boulevard Long Strange Tripel (11.79/4pk) 25¢/oz

A bit of a farmhouse funk in the nose, the beer begins rather dry and finishes fairly sweet. Little clove, but there is a spicy pepper flavor that mixes with candied and dried bananas. (9.2% abv)

Weyerbacher Merry Monk (13.99/6pk) 21¢/oz

Aromas of bubblegum and Laffy Taffy. Overly sweet, there is a distinctly candy/carnival flavor to the beer: bubblegum, cotton candy, and carmel corn. (9.3% abv)


Avery Nineteen (9.99/22oz) 45¢/oz

Bottled April 2012. Sweet and super floral with honey, lavender, and rosewater flavors. A lovely beer, but almost nothing like what I've come to expect in a triple. (8.2% abv)

Tripel Karmaliet (4.99/33cl) 45¢/oz

Spicy and effervescent. Flavors of tangerine, cinnamon, and cloves. It surprised me how similar it was to the Boulevard. (8.4% abv)





Our Verdict:

The best overall tripel was a unanimous decision: Chimay Spéciale is a good beer, but not worth the money. If money is no issue, spring for the Westmalle Tripel instead. It's a classic for good reason.

Despite our unanimous love of Westmalle Tripel, we differed on which beer was the best value for the dollar. My personal favorite was La Fin du Monde: I could drink it all day, and it's a beer I regularly return to. The other taster, however, opted for Allagash Tripel. At the same price per ounce, you can't go wrong with either.

There's many more tripels out there to try. Do you have a favorite? Let us know!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Maple Truth

Brewing With Maple Sap

While I was in Berlin over the summer, I was first introduced to the idea of a beer made entirely from maple sap. On one of my visits to the Berlin Bier Shop, store owner Rainer Wallisser pointed to a bottle of beer he had just gotten from a Russian brewer. With a sly smile, he said: "There's no water in that beer." Enjoying my confusion, he explained how the beer was brewed with only maple sap in place of water. Though I didn't get to taste the beer, I was immediately fascinated with the concept and pledged to brew one of my own.

I wasn't entirely sure how I would ever procure the necessary quantities  of sap required to make an entire beer, but this past Spring, I discovered that a friend of mine makes maple syrup every year from his roughly fifty trees in Newton, Massachusetts. I asked him on a whim how much he would charge for roughly ten gallons of maple sap. "Charge?" he scoffed. "I'll just give it to you!" Turns out his trees were having a banner year, yielding as much as 164 gallons within the first week.

I began formulating a recipe, but was rather surprised to see just how little information was available. Despite living in a region full of maple trees, there was surprisingly local president (I have since found a couple other brewers who have done the same.) Even the internet was little help; plenty of brewers using maple syrup, but essentially none using maple sap. By far the most helpful article was the 1988 winter issue of Zymurgy. The author, Morgan Wright, answered several questions, though by brewday, I still had far more that remained unanswered.

Recipe Formulation

Carbonated Maple Sap
Lawson's Finest Liquids, the Vermont nano brewery of great fame, has an award winning Maple Tripple (sic) beer as well as a "hearty Vermont Ale" called "Maple Nipple." Both are brewed with Maple Syrup (not sap), yet the Maple Tripple (which I had tasted at the American Craft Beer Festival) was the first thing that came to mind when I began brainstorming recipe possibilities. Though I don't know the details of his recipes (he tends to be rather secretive), I do know that he uses a lot of Vermont maple syrup.

By itself, maple sap is a pretty subtle beverage. In the past, I have enjoyed the carbonated maple sap Vermont Sweetwater Bottling Company, but I found the sap from my friend's trees vastly different. This sap was silky and smooth on the tongue with a slight woodsy flavor. Any maple flavor was tremendously faint.
12 Gallons of Sap

I knew, therefore, that I wanted to brew a pale beer, and though I personally find the Lawson's Maple Tripple a little too sweet for my own tastes, I love the concept of pairing faint maple and woody flavors with that of a Belgian yeast strain. I had contemplated a Maple Porter, but I felt that the dark malts would mask the subtle maple flavors of the sap, and I wanted to let those flavors stand for themselves. Thus it was decided: a Maple Tripel it would be.

I was actually quite lucky: my friend gave me more sap than I had expected, giving me upwards of 12 gallons. This meant that I would have enough sap to do a five gallon Tripel and a one gallon second runnings Belgian Pale (a Patersbier).

Deciding to brew a Tripel meant choosing a yeast strain. I have brewed many Belgian-inspired beers, and my favorite strain with which to work is the Chimay strain: WLP 500 or WYeast 1214. I ordinarily opt for the WYeast offering, but my local homebrew store was understocked in 1214. Because of the spontaneous nature of my brew day (I was given the sap just days before, and I didn't want it to sit any longer than necessary), I was unable to do a yeast starter and thus had to be totally reliant on the store to have enough packets of either yeast. The store had two packs of WYeast 1214, and three of WLP500. I bought them all, deciding to pitch the 1214 in the Patersbier, and the WLP500 in the Tripel.

Formulating the grain bill was a little challenging, for I had no idea how much sugar to expect from the sap and how that would react with my wort. Morgan Wright suggests that sap contains 1 1/4 pounds of sap per six gallons. This seemed like a good ballpark from which to work, and I built the recipe with that in mind.
5 gallons

72% Belgian Pils
8% US 2-Row
8% Cara-Pils
4% Weyerman Abbey Malt

1oz Tettnang (60 minutes)
1oz Tettnang (30 minutes)

White Labs 500

I decided upon a two hour boil, in hopes of concentrating the maple flavor and caramelizing some of the sugars.

The Patersbier was hopped 1/2 oz of Sterling at 60.

The pre-boil gravity reading was for the Tripel and Patersbier was 15.2° and 5° brix respectively.

Water Chemistry

I generally stay away from water chemistry. I live in Boston, and we have a good water supply. Though some brewers would alter their water to accommodate a German pilsener or a Belgian Quad, I opt to keep mine the same. That way, it gives all Churchyard Beers a certain character that is unique to this region.

But now that I wasn't using Boston water, I naturally wondered how the water chemistry of sap would effect the finished beer. I hypothesized that the different minerals in sap might actually contribute more to the finished flavor profile than the presence of maple (a hypothesis I have since confirmed).

In his Zymurgy article, Morgan Wright supplied the a rough estimate of the mineral content in sap. And though I assume that the mineral content varies from region to region depending upon the soil, I am also assuming that his estimation is at least in the same ballpark as other maple trees.

Because I was doing a Belgian-style beer – and using a Chimay strain – it was interesting to compare this profile with those of those of the Trappist breweries. Below is a chart comparison:
Westmalle and Chimay readings are taken from "Brew Like a Monk" by Stan Hieronymus

It was interesting for me to discover just how different the water profile of Boston water is: because it is very soft water, most of the minerals found in other water supplies are present in only very small amounts. However, because every measurement in the Maple Sap was fairly similar to one of the Trappist breweries (with the exception of Chloride), I decided to forgo any alteration of the water profile, aiming to keep the beer as pure as Newton's sap.




I fermented both beers at 72°, allowing yeast to naturally ramp up the temps over time to roughly 80°. The Patersbier was fermented for two weeks and then kegged with a PSI of 8. The full beer sat in primary for four weeks, then kegged & bottled.

The Patersbier


With only one gallon of Patersbier (named "Newton") in my keg, I was able to drink a fully carbed beer within two days of kegging. The beer was a light golden color with absolutely no head retention. There were some small black flakes that settled on the bottom of the glass, but they contributed no off flavors or aromas. I am not entirely sure what these are, though I assume they must be a byproduct of having used sap.

The beer itself was everything I look for in a Patersbier, and I couldn't have been happier: easy drinking but with plenty of character and flavor. Super dry with a faint woodiness, it was crisp with just a hint of spicy clove in the back. And while I certainly wouldn't call the beer "hoppy," there was a long lingering bitterness that suggested far more hops than were actually present. (A friend felt the beer had a certain Lager character.) The dryness was likely a combination of the sugars in the maple sap as well as the Chimay yeast which usually finishes quite dry.

There was absolutely no discernible maple flavor to the Patersbier. Blindfolded, I wager no taster would ever guess it was brewed with sap as opposed to water. Even the woody flavor I mentioned was so subtle it really could have been a byproduct of the mineral profile as much as the fact that it came from a tree. While I expected to find little maple flavor, I was surprised just how little there actually was (and by "little," I really mean "none!")

This Patersbier was easily one of the best beers I had ever brewed, and I was really curious to see how it would compare to the full version. Because I wanted to age some of the bottles and see how the flavors developed over time, I decided to keg one gallon, bottle three gallons, and pitch brett into one gallon.

Nature's Kiss


The full version of the Maple Tripel (named "Nature's Kiss") couldn't have been more different from the Patersbier. With an FG of 1.012, it clocked in at 9.1% abv. As one might expect with such a high alcohol level, the beer had a residual sweetness to it that immediately set it apart from the dryness of Newton. Despite the sweetness, there wasn't much booziness. A much darker beer, it had a dark caramel orange color with more of the black sediment present in Newton. The beer had a tremendous banana aroma and flavor, and was arguably one of the most banana-y triples I've ever tasted.

This huge banana character really gave me quite a pause, and I realized that I had inadvertently
created another experiment: I had now learned just how different White Labs is from WYeast. Both yeasts were held at the same temperature and had the same grain bill. Of course, there were other variables, not the least of which was massively different OG's, but the results of these two beers gives me a reasonable basis for the hypothesis that the WYeast Chimay strain ferments out much drier than its White Labs counterpart (a characteristic I like in a beer.)

As I continued to work my way through my kegged beer, I couldn't get past the banana character. I experimented one evening with adding 1/2 tsp of Woodford Reserve Bourbon to my glass, and I was tremendously impressed with the result. The bourbon helped to smooth out the beer, and the vanilla notes of the bourbon complemented the banana notes of the beer so well, it was truly a match made in heaven! (I continued to add bourbon to every remaining glass!)

Roughly a month after finishing my keg, I cracked open my first bottle (which I had primed with maple syrup from the same trees). The beer had a lovely head and was significantly better balanced than it was in the keg. I intend to cellar most of the bottles for about a year and see how they respond to some age.


In the end, the two beers were really so tremendously different from each other, that it was hard to believe they were basically the same recipe. But despite the differences, there was one characteristic the two beers had in common: no discernible maple flavor. All maple sap, two different beers, no maple flavor. Here is what I can take away from my maple sap brewing experiment:

• Maple Sap in no way impedes the brewing process. The pH levels are similar enough to tap water that all the proper conversions happen during the mash. If brewing with sap, the sap can sit for as long as five days in a refrigerator with no ill effects (cloudiness does not effect flavor).

• Maple Sap imparts no maple flavor when used in the quantities required to make beer. Considering that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup, this shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise.

• If more maple flavor is desired, I recommend using maple syrup or reducing the sap in a pre-mash boil.

• Despite the lack of maple flavor, maple sap has a very unique mineral content that does effect flavor. Personally, I find this to be a pleasing flavor profile, and I do not think any further alteration of the water chemistry to be necessary.

One further thing to consider: The sap I used for these beers was early-season sap. As the season progresses, the sap becomes much thicker with more highly concentrated sugars. This is why "Grade B" syrup (usually made in April) is much darker and has more intense maple flavor than it's younger cousins "Grade A" or "Amber." If one were to brew with sap from a later in the season, the maple flavor would likely become more present.

In the end, I found this to be tremendously fun experiment, and one I may do again – after all, that Patersbier was one of the best things to ever come out of Churchyard Brewery. But I feel I can safely conclude that brewing with maple sap doesn't really produce radically different results than brewing with water. If maple flavor is what is sought, it really makes more sense to use maple syrup in addition.

I would be really interested to hear other people's experiences. If anyone has brewed with sap, please share!



Monday, May 27, 2013

A Foolproof Brewery

The Rising Star of Rhode Island Beer (*)

As most American beer aficionados know, New England is quickly becoming a beer destination region. Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and my home state of Massachusetts are all overflowing with breweries, and new ones are popping up seemingly everyday. As one brewer explained it: "You can't wave a fish without hitting another brewery in Boston!" And though I found it a rather unusual analogy, he certainly made his point.

Rhode Island, however, seems to be lagging behind it's sister states. At current count, the state has eleven breweries and brewpubs, two of which – though with offices in Rhode Island – are actually brewed out of state. According to the most recent Brewers Association "Capita per Brewery" chart, Rhode Island ranks 35th out of the fifty states.

On a recent visit to the state, I was able to take in one of Rhode Island's newest breweries: Foolproof Brewing Company in Pawtucket. Despite having opened in January 2013 (a mere five months ago), the brewery has an impressive brewing space and has just expanded into the Massachusetts market.

As the brewers explained to me, Rhode Island has very specific laws regarding brewery tasting rooms (something that is currently on the floor of the state legislature and may be changing soon). State law stipulates that a brewery can neither sell nor give free samples on the premises (this includes growlers), yet, a brewery can charge patrons for a "tour," which can then include "samples" (aka pints) of their beer. Foolproof certainly does their best to make the best of the law: for $10 I was given a rather informative 60 minute tour, three pints of their beer, and a glass.

The beers are designed by brewmaster Dammy Olsson. A former chemist and homebrewer of twenty years, he quit his job in 2006 and began training programs in Chicago and Munich. He later went on to be the head brewer of Pennichuck Brewery in New Hampshire before joining forces with Nick Garrison to launch Foolproof.

Foolproof offers three regular beers (both in cans and kegs) and two seasonals. The first of the mainstays is Barstool, an American Golden Ale modeled in the style of a Czech Pils. I didn't get an opportunity to sample that beer, but I did get to try their other three offerings.

Backyahd IPA (no, that's not a typo) is an English-style IPA with Fuggles and Cascade hops. Brewed with Cara Helles, Malted Wheat, and 2-Row, the beer is a solid IPA: a little earthy, mildly sweet, but very drinkable and refreshing at 6% abv.

Next up was Raincloud: a robust English-style Porter with as many as seven different malts (2-row, roasted barley, cara60, Special B, Black Patent, Munich 60, and Munich 120). Also hopped with Fuggles, this was probably my favorite beer they offered and is well worth trying: with a thick, foamy head clinging to the side of the glass down to the last drop, the beer had rich cocoa flavors, as well as a slightly tart coffee character. Inky black in appearance, the beer clocks in at a reasonable 6.5% and is super drinkable: this is a beer I could sip all night.

The final beer I got to sample was their Winter Seasonal, Revery. A 10.5%
Russian Imperial Stout, the beer was smooth and not cloying with absolutely no booziness. Up front flavors of dark caramels, molasses, maple, and vanilla-infused bourbon made this a lovely beer to end my tour session. Though the beer is now discontinued, one may still be able to find a bottle floating around.

[Though I have not tasted it, I have heard great things about their spring seasonal: Le Ferme Urbaine, a Farmhouse Ale.]

As a final aside: the reader may be wondering why all of my photos display glasses bearing the name "High Jinx." This was the originally intended name; however, no more than one week before the official launch date of their beer, they were informed that the name was trademarked by a winery that was not yet even open! Thus, they had one week to find a new name that still used their jester logo. After much internal debate, the team settled on Foolproof. (Now with hundreds of these glasses, the brewery sells them 2 for 1.)

A hearty "Cheers!" to the brewing team at Foolproof. If you find yourself in the Providence/Pawtuckett area, I recommend a visit to the brewery, though you'll have to find a different location to take some home.



(*) So apparently I'm not a very good blogger. Despite having very good intentions of writing a second installment to "The Thirsty Traveler: A London Beer Guide," over two months have elapsed and I haven't written a word. Though part two will come some day, I felt in the meantime it was time to start publishing again. If you're clamoring for more of my opinions on the London beer scene, shoot me a line.