Beer Tasting: Raspberry Belgian

20170423_154842My first attempt at a fruit beer was fairly decent…it was quite refreshing on a hot day, and the two gallons or so got depleted pretty quickly. I did squeeze in a tasting before it was all gone, with plenty of ideas for next time.

  • The Basics
    • O.G. = 1.039; f.g. = 1.011; 3.8% abv; 3 SRM; 15 estimated IBU
  • Aroma
    • A very nice raspberry aroma front and center!
  • Appearance
    • Clear and pinkish-red. The head is off-white, low, and modestly persistent.
  • Flavor
    • Slightly tart and dry, with not much in the way of malt character. The raspberries come through as mild and a nice complement to the tartness.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Fairly thin, with moderate carbonation and a dry finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • I like where this recipe is heading, but it needs some pretty heavy modifications. I think the low starting gravity (1.039, versus 1.043 as requested by the recipe) hurts things a little bit, and so a bit more attention and adjustment to the starting wort to match the higher gravity is in order. I don’t think mash temperature needs much adjustment–I would likely just add in a bit more base malt and perhaps double the oats to add a bit more mouthfeel. Next time, I might also consider swapping out some or all of the pilsner malt for 2-row, to give the beer a touch more malt character. The raspberry comes across quite nicely; I think the amount and the technique worked out well. I’m pleasantly surprised in particular by how clear this beer turned out! It’s really pretty. Finally, the beer is less tart than I expected. Next time, I might do a 24 hour kettle sour before boiling.
  • Overall
    • 5/10

Beer Tasting: Claremonter Weisse (Me vs. BJCP)

berliner_weisseThis Berliner Weisse was my first award-winning brew! So, I wanted to do my own tasting to see how it compares with the judges’ assessment. It seems like an interesting exercise to calibrate my taste buds, and reflect on how my tasting skills are developing.

  • The Basics
    • Starting gravity = 1.032; final gravity = 1.010; abv = 2.9%; IBU = 5
  • Aroma
    • Low malt, mostly dominated by a tart pear aroma.
    • BJCP Judges
      • “slightly sweet, tart, honey, bready”
      • “Aroma is low lactic, low hop (grassy), lemon, dough (medium), grainy”
  • Appearance
    • Brilliantly clear and pale straw color, with a low white head that thins fairly quickly.
    • BJCP Judges
      • “pale golden, very clear”
      • “Pale yellow, brilliant clear, medium head with medium head retention and medium lacing. Head is white and creamy.”
  • Flavor
    • Pleasantly tart, with a gentle bready character at the back end.
    • BJCP Judges
      • “lemony, tart, wheat, buttery aftertaste, lemon zest, slight diacetyl, clean”
      • “Malt is fresh bread, dough, grainy, lemon tart, all in medium intensity. Nice and clean lactic soureness balanced by malt. Low bitterness. Finish is dry with lingering malt and lactic flavors.”
  • Mouthfeel
    • A fairly thin body and effervescent carbonation, with a dry and crisp finish.
    • BJCP Judges
      • “good mouthfeel, creamy, decent carbonation, could take more”
      • “Light body, medium-high carbonation, light astringency.”
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is a very nice beer! I’ve noticed that some of the “barnyard” character from initial samplings has receded a bit with age and under cold storage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can’t say that Berliner Weisse is a style I would always drink, but this has been a tasty experiment that bears repeating.
    • BJCP Judges Overall Impressions
      • “Great beer, could have more aroma, but it’s very pleasant; could lower acidity.”
      • “I enjoyed this beer! It’s highly drinkable, refreshing, still supported by nice malt and lactic sourness that balance with each other. Great example!”
  • Overall
    • 10/10
    • BJCP Judges
      • 39/50
      • 44/50

What Did I Learn?

It’s interesting to compare tastings by various people; on looking them over, I have a few immediate reactions.

First, the overall characters of our assessments overlap pretty broadly. The judges think it’s a good beer, and I think it’s a good beer. The overall style characters–tartness, etc.–are also on everyone’s palates.

For areas of difference, I suspect a few things are going on. First, I wasn’t tasting in the context of a BJCP competition, nor was I tasting in the midst of a flight. I also would bet my beer vocabulary is less developed–or developed in different ways–than the people who judged the entries. For instance, the differences between “doughy” and “bready” are still a bit mysterious to me. A lot of that is perception, of course, and maybe some of it is a bit of over-analysis. In any case, I can certainly do more to refine my vocabulary.

One thing that puzzles me is the judge who saw the entry as slightly undercarbonated–I would suspect that just is from where they saw it in the flight, or maybe pouring technique by whoever was pouring. It is comforting to know that the other judge saw it as well-carbonated, which matches my own perception.

This has been a worthwhile exercise all around. My tastebuds aren’t horribly out of alignment, I can do a little more to develop my vocabulary, and my first attempt at a sour was a success. Time to brew some more!

Claremonter Weisse Bottled

After about a month in the primary fermenter, I finally got around to bottling my Berliner…err, Claremonter…Weisse. The beer has a pale straw color and a definitively tart flavor, with just a touch of grainy malt alongside that.

The final gravity was 1.010, down from 1.032, which translates to 2.9% abv. I had a yield of approximately 4.5 gallons total, which I primed with 4.05 oz. of priming sugar (dissolved in 2 cups of water), for a target of approximately 2.6 volumes of CO2. This is approximately in the middle of the range for the Berliner Weisse style (2.4 to 2.9 vols).

I made the decision to bottle rather than keg, because this doesn’t seem like the kind of beer that I really want to plow through quickly. It is supposed to keep fairly well due to the high acidity, so I’m happy to let it stick around for awhile. Bottling yielded a total of 6 22-oz., 5 18-oz., and 24 12-oz. bottles. I’ll let this carbonate for awhile before sampling (and will also make some syrups).

Claremonter Weisse

Wort in the kettle, after souring
and just before the boil

Sour beers don’t do much for me; like most brewing fads, the majority of examples I have tasted are too over the top to be enjoyable for more than half a glass. Occasionally, something grabs my attention–for instance, I experienced a Lichtenhainer at NHC that was absolutely delicious and refreshing. More recently, fellow homebrew club member Jason brought a tasty Berliner Weisse to our club meeting. I was intrigued, but didn’t think souring was for me. I had heard that once you go down that road, you basically have to commit a set of fermentation equipment to sours (to avoid cross-contamination of non-sours). It didn’t seem worth it for a type of beers I don’t plan on brewing frequently. This all changed when I learned that Jason’s Berliner Weisse was made using a technique called kettle souring*.  Basically, everything is soured before the boil–no need to contaminate carboys, hoses, or kegs! Quick, easy, and mostly painless. With some additional information in hand (both from Jason–who also gave me an extra lacto culture–as well as an online presentation via Five Blades Brewing), I set out to give souring a try.

The grist for this is simple, and the techniques (outlined below) are fairly simple too. Although it’s technically a Berliner Weisse, more or less, there are enough American twists that I renamed the beer to reflect its geographic influences. Apologies to my German friends.

*This is a great example of how joining a homebrew club has paid off for me; I’ve tasted all sorts of styles I wouldn’t have otherwise, and have been clued in to new techniques by my friends in the club. I probably never would have made a sour beer if not for my homebrew club!

Claremonter Weisse

  • 2.5 lbs. Pilsner malt
  • 2.5 lbs. white wheat malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops (whole), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Lactobacillus Blend (Omega Labs, OYL-605), prepared in 1L starter
  • 1 pkg. California Ale yeast (WLP001), prepared in 1L starter 8 hours in advance
  • On Tuesday, October 20, I prepared a 1L starter at ~1.040 gravity (100 g of extra light DME in 1 L water), and adjusted the pH down to 4.4 using 88% lactic acid. I boiled the starter in a 2L flask, and cooled it down to 100°. Then, I added the Lactobacillus culture and let it propagate for two days.
  • Because this was a fairly small batch, and because I wanted a quick mash with minimal equipment to clean, I followed a brew-in-a-bag protocol for the mash. On Thursday, October 22, I heated 6.85 gallons of water to 154°, and added the grains in a big bag. The mash stabilized at 150°. After 30 minutes, I added a little heat to slowly bring the temperature up to 152°, and let it ride back down slowly until 60 minutes had passed after mash-in. At this point, I raised the temperature to 168°, and let it sit for 10 minutes. In the end, I had 6.1 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.027. This is 86% efficiency!
  • I added ~3.3 tsp of 88% lactic acid to the wort, to bring the pH down to ~4.5. I added some ice packs to cool the wort to 95° and pitched the bacterial culture. I covered the wort with saran wrap to minimize oxygen. 12 hours later, I turned on a heat pad to help raise temperature a bit, to 85°. I let the Let sit until 2 pm on Saturday, October 24.
  • The pH was down to 3.4 by Saturday afternoon. A thin white pellicle covered the entire surface, and the wort had a slightly cidery aroma. I took the relatively pleasant odor as a good sign.
  • I removed as much of the pellicle as I could, and started a very hard and vigorous boil. After 40 minutes, I added the hops for 5 minutes and then removed them. After a total of 50 minutes on the boil, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to 78°. I transferred approximately 4 gallons of wort into the fermenter and pitched the yeast.
  • The official starting gravity is 1.032. The yeast was pitched on Saturday, October 24, 2015, and I had signs of fermentation by that evening, with a good krausen by the next afternoon.