Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kombucha - 1

First...what is Kombucha? I guess I'm not too surprised why just about everyone I talk to doesn't know what it is. I was in the same boat not too long ago.

Kombucha is the Western name for a fermentation of sweetened tea using lactobacilli and yeast cultures. The tea contains a symbiosis of yeast species and acetic acid bacteria. Species of yeast found in the tea can vary, and may include: Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. Find out more about its components, medical properties, history and preparation by visiting wikipedia.

Its distinctive and acquired taste can be summed up as acidic, sour, tart, bright. After a few experiences, I have grown love it...maybe even crave it at times. I would sum it up as a unique refreshing tart and fizzy beverage that stimulates the senses of smell and taste. Its a great aperitif as it wakes up my mouth and causes me to want to eat and drink a healthy meal. I like to compare it to one of my favorite beer styles...Gueuze. So, if I can make a steady supply, I'll get to enjoy a healthy/non-alcoholic "gueuzy" beverage and produced at a quicker rate at a much lower cost than commercial bottles.

After talking with David about getting into brewing kombucha as a daily tonic, I looked into buying a basic kit, or at least the culture itself. I'd have to order it through the mail, and its somewhat pricey. So then I fell upon a great blog where the Mad Fermentationist got a culture to grow after propagating it from a commercial bottle. I decided to give it a try to see what would happen.

In less than 2 weeks, it seems to be working. At least "whatever-it-is" is now about 4 times the size. It also smells healthy. Last night I added more ssweet tea, to keep it going. At this point I'm very optimistic. Hopefully, in about a month, I can start making some good tasting kombucha.

These pictures show the culture at about two weeks. You can see bubbles underneath a mass of culture at the top, and lots of strandy stuff in the solution. Its reminds me of a jellyfish.

After transfering it to a larger and broader glass bowl, I found out that it had a healthy thin "skin" or membrane covering the entire surface. Its very exciting to see it progressing so nicely. I will definitely add more parts/posts as it develops.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dandelion Wine

While taking a leisurely morning stroll through Winnemac park with David and my baby Cadence, we stopped to look at all the dandelion patches. David already told me about sensible foraging tips. And after locating what looked like pretty healthy and undisturbed patches, we started gnawing on some of their leaves. Dandelion is a source of potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus and iron. The leaves are a richer source of Vitamin A than carrots and contain some amounts of Vitamins B, C and D. So then we had the idea to make some dandelion wine.

The next morning we cycled back to forage. Looking at some recipes online informed us that we had to pick a good 2 quarts of flower petals. While Cadence ran around in the wind, we sat down and plucked away. It's a good thing we got there early that morning, because the ground crew were already out cutting the lawn. We collected our bounty just in time.

All the recipes for dandelion wine called for water and white sugar. Not so good for our tastes. Instead we decided to go with a mead recipe that was close to one I made before. Here's the recipe we came up with.

Dandelion Wine
1 gallon
Brewed 5/17/07

2.5 lbs. Raw Honey
75 oz. Organic White Grape Juice
64 oz. Dandelion Tea (2 qt flowers in 64 oz. water)
1 Large Lemon Rind & Juice
1 Minneola Rind & Juice
.5 tsp yeast nutrient
Irish Moss

Wyeast Dry Mead Yeast

I include this one as a "healing beer" because it has a lot of healthy fermentables in it. After it's fermented, hopefully it will be a refreshing and healthy beverage. Our goal is to drink it fresh/young in September as our final CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organic food shares come in.

We are excited to support a local organic family farm out in Brodhead, WI. Its called Scotch Hill Farm. They grow over 100 varieties of vegetables and herbs in rotating crops throughout the year and make all-natural goat milk soaps. Tony drives into Chicago to deliver the produce every week at a number of locations (Oak Park, Logan Square & Ravenswood).

CSA organic food shares/recipes will add a lot more meaning to the beers and wine we make. Hopefully we will uncover a synergy of Slow Food meals matched with great tasting home made beers & wine.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Belgian Pale Ale - Conception - Recipe & Brewday Stats

First off, I have to give a lot of credit to my wife Sarah. She's been more "open" to trying my beers, and beer in general. As a result, she's found out which styles please her taste buds. For quite some time her beer of choice was Lindemans Framboise. She has also enjoyed a number of IPA's, including the DC Rye IPA I brewed a couple years back. But now she's found a new favorite called Tripel Karmeliet put out by Brouwerij Bosteels in Belgium. This beer gets great ratings on Beeradvocate (90) and Ratebeer (98), and I would agree with most of their comments. It's like a big Belgian/wheat beer with a great big citrus/caramel aroma and flavor with a mouthfeel thats super smooth, creamy and well carbonated.

With hopes to make Sarah happy, I'm getting ready to brew my first "Belgian" style. Though it wont come close to the Tripel Karmeliet, it will be a good basic Belgian pale ale to build future recipes on. For this one, I'm going for a golden refreshing summer brew...a Belgian Pale Ale. With a target OG of about 1.051, the ABV will come in at about 5%.

The ingredients are mostly Belgian with a little Munich and Indian Jaggery. A mild addition of Styrian Goldings and Saaz will add to its complexity and provide some bitterness and flavor. Mild spice additions will lean towards very light "peppery" notes with just a sprinkling of orange rind and coriander (since I didn't get good Indian coriander and orange, we decided to not include these ingredients).

I've never used Belgian yeasts before, but I think the Wyeast Ardennes should provide a balanced Belgian flavor. This will be the first time I'll try out a "batch sparge" technique. After hearing Denny Conn talk about it on Basic Brewing and reading his site for the 3rd time, I'm intrigued. (his article is also at TastyBrew)

Brewday was yesterday, Sunday, May 20th. Batch sparging went well. Not that I'd want to, but if I had to, I think I can brew alone with this method. I also agree with my bro that fly sparging is more fun with more people. The first water addition was added at a water/grain ratio of about 1.85qts/lb, and after flushing the first runnings we hit 3.75 gallons perfectly. After adding the second 3.75 gallon mashout water addition we hit the temp right on at 170*F, and again flushed 3.75 gallons. This resulted in a perfect 7.5 gallons of runoff.

Now comes the part that is sort-of boggling my mind. I took a pre-boil gravity and it came out to about 1.037...very low. So after plugging in some calculations I decided to correct the situation with a longer boil and added .25 lb more jaggery cane sugar. We also scaled down the bittering hops by .25 oz.

After it was all said and done, the final gravity came out high? 1.058! Not sure how that happened. I'm siding with the second of two possibilities: 1. Boiling really did raise the gravity significantly? 2. The gravity contribution of jaggery is impressive?

Thanks Travis for your comment. It pushed me to search out the answers. Using TastyBrew calculators, it looks like the jaggery sugar contributed about 5.8 gravity points. The boiling from 7.5 gallons to about 5.9 gallons rose the "grain" gravity by 11 points (very good to know, and much more than I thought). And my brewhouse efficiency for that day was about 79.4%.

Belgian Pale Ale
5.9 gallon primary

Fermentables (OG: 1.058)
7 lbs. Dingeman Belgian 2-Row Malt 3.2*L
3 lbs. Durst Munich Malt 8.3*L
.5 lb. Dingeman CaraVienne 21*L
.25 lb. Dingeman CaraMunich 57*L
.75 lb. Jaggery Palm Sugar

Hops & Spice (IBU: 22)
1.25 oz. Styrian Goldings, 4.8%, pellets, 60min.
.25 oz. Styrian Goldings, 4.8%, pellets, 15min.
.25 oz. Czech Saaz, 2%, whole, 15min.
.5 oz. Czech Saaz, 2%, whole, 5min.

Wyeast 3522 - Belgian Ardennes (forgot to activate the pouch until wort chilling phase, but its just an indicator that yeast is alive and well)

Brewday Stats

Water Adjustment: .3g gypsum/gallon, .3g CaCl/gallon

H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.85qt/lb
Mash Ph: 5.2
Sacch Rest Temp: 152*F
Sacch Rest Time: 1 hr
Pre-boil Vol: 7.5 gallons
Boil Time: 1.5 hrs
Post-Boil Vol: 5.9 gallons

OG: 1.058
Color: 8-9 - Golden Amber

Brewhouse Efficiency: Approx. 79.4% (using TastyBrew calculators)

Fermentation Temp: 74-77*F
Cost: $30.70, .54 cents/12oz bottle, $3.24/6-pack

Please check out a brief description of this beer at here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Homebrew Tasting - 6/11/07

I'm planning a home brew tasting. It would be a lot of fun to bring local home brewers together to share stories, knowledge and most importantly our beers.

Over the past year I've met a number of brewers, and I'm going to see if I can get in touch with them. I've got a bunch of lagers ready, and I'd like to know what others think of them. I'd love to see/taste what others have brewed as well. And now I have some "young" Belgian Pale Ale bottled on June 1, during primary racking.

I'm hosting it at my place in Rogers Park. It will be held on Monday June, 6th. If you're a home brewer, live nearby and are interested, please email me. Feel free to comment here as well. It will be a very casual thing lasting a couple of hours with some taste-bud cleansing snacks on the side.

Thank you

redted8 at

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Ancient Ale - A Very Old Ale

I think I'll call this very old ale...Ancient Ale. Today marks 6 months of aging, and the longest I've ever bulk aged a beer. Since its original conception, I've significantly changed my attitude along side its progress. Since it's still "healthy," I've pretty much determined that its best to let it age in bulk...indefinitely. Periodic sampling will dictate my course of action.

On March 5, I wrote about how a pellicle was forming on the top of the tertiary fermenter. At that time it was still pretty cool in our dining room. Since then the average ambient temperature has risen. As a result, fermentation has really picked up. So much that the intensity of rising bubbles has caused the thin slimy pellicle to completely fall apart and into solution. I was really curious how it would grow...oh well.

Also we described its youthful state from sampling a bottle filled during secondary racking. Click here to see the entry "Pellicle" for the description (in small print). In that post I wrote about making flavor additions like dried fruit, rinds, dry hops, and spices. At this point flavor samples will help to confirm whether those additions will add any real interest.

Now that the blend of Lambic yeast and bacteria have been working on the residual sugars (1.030 before Lambic Blend) for 108 days, I'm please to see that the gravity has dropped around 6 points to a current gravity of 1.024. At this time I describe the Ancient Ale as...

An aroma of fruits and soft flowers (lily) malt and some citrus. It comes as a surprise that the bold hop flavors and aromas prior to the Lambic blend have vanished, or are too subtle for me to sense. The hop presence is only detectable within the bittering qualities. There is a very fast succession of flavor. It starts with a dark fruit flavor. A slit second after that a brett/"horse-like" taste rushes over the tongue and fades rapidly. Then the fruityness comes back with spicey flavors. In the finish there are malt notes and a lingering mild sourness towards the back of the tongue. An alcoholic flavor with a very slight oxidized quality hangs around. There is definitely a more thin and sherry-like quality. (Since my brother is very good at pulling out all the most subtle flavors in most food and drinks, I'm waiting to add his critique to my own.)

Though I'm positive the characteristics will evolve, at this point my ideas for this beer are to add some dry hops, but I'll wait until the flavors get more intense.

The recipe was formulated primarily by using the book Designing Great Beers, and other online sources. I like how Ray Daniels talks about how some versions of Old Ale can be aggressively hopped, and some can have a definite presence of bacterial souring. From what I could tell from the tables, I came up with a recipe that should fall within the range. The thing is, I've never had an old ale before. I'm not really sure how aromatic they are, nor how hoppy or malty. I'm going with what I think an old ale could taste like. So far I'm please with what's happening to it. It's definitely unique, and all my intentions for it are unfolding quite well.

Ancient Ale (Very Old Ale)
Brewed on 11/5/06 - 6 gallon primary
SG after Primary: 1.030

Bottled: 3/11/08
FG at bottling: 1.019
ABW: 6.72%
ABV: 8.4%

Grains (OG 1.083)
10.00 lbs. 2-Row Pale Malt
4.00 lbs. German Vienna
2.00 lbs. Belgian Aromatic
1.50 lbs. Flaked Wheat
0.50 lb. Belgian Special B
0.13 lb. Roasted Barley

Hops (57 IBU)
3 oz. Kent Goldings 6.6%, whole, 75min.
1 oz. Kent Goldings 6.6%, whole, 10min.

Wyeast 1728 - Scottish Ale (13 days in primary, 1 month secondary, 14 months in tertiary)
Wyeast Lambic Blend (added to tertiary on 1/17/07)