Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Amalgamation Autonomous

Between June 21st and 23rd of 2012, the National Homebrewer’s Conference will be held in Seattle….or actually, our sister city across the lake: Bellevue.  While I can’t speak from personal experience, I’ve heard that it’s the mother of all beer events for anyone interested in beer and needless to say, I’m eagerly waiting for next summer.  As a home brewer, one the exciting things about the conference is that you and your club have the opportunity to serve your creations to the masses, both during club night and during your allotted time in the hospitality suite.  Year over year the conference has been growing in attendance, and with last year’s volume at nearly 2000 people, it’s very telling that we’ll need a lot of beer on hand to dole out.

While I’m sure that each member of our club will work independently on their own contributions, together we wanted to produce something that represented the mission and character of our club and a sour barrel project seemed like just the ticket.  While we knew that other clubs in the area were receiving barrels from the Washington Homebrewer’s Association, we made the assumption that the majority would be of a red wine variety since most white wine barrels are repurposed for red after their oak properties have been fully extracted.  So, in order to be a little different, we set our sights on acquiring a freshly emptied white wine barrel.   The process was intensive and after contacting nearly 60 regional wineries, we lucked out when Maison Bleue Winery told us that just two days prior, they had racked their award winning Petite Joie  Marsanne from the barrel.  After a seven hour round trip and 200 bucks poorer, I was back home with two beautiful French oak barrels (more on the 2nd barrel later).

Determining what to fill the barrel with proved to be an even more complicated task.  Rather than generating one recipe, we took a unique approach by first determining what components we wanted the beer to have and then allowing the six contributing members to create their own recipe that, when combined together in the barrel, would possess those qualities.   To prevent a complete mess, each brewer had to develop a recipe that fit within this list of group-determined guidelines:
  • ·         The grain bill needs to be generally light in flavor so as not to mask the flavors of apricot, peaches, and marzipan that the wine that was once in the barrel exhibited.
  • ·         Wheat should be used in significant quantities so that there’ll be plenty of long chain dextrins for the bacteria and brett to feed on during the long fermentation/maturation process (~30%).
  • ·         IBUs should be kept below 12 so as not to inhibit any lactic acid production from lactobascillus.
  • ·         Original gravity should be kept around 1.042-1.043.
  • ·         To enhance complexity, the greater the variety of strains of bacteria/wild yeasts the better (so long as they’re proven). 
  • ·         Individual batches should be inoculated with souring organisms no later than primary fermentation. 
  • ·         SRM should be no higher than 4.
In the end, eleven different batches of wort were brewed and each was fermented at home before the barrel fill day.  The data on each individual recipe, as well as aggregated barrel stats, can be viewed by clicking here.

On June 7th, we all transported our beers to my friend Paul’s house where the barrel had been previously set up in his garage.  Since the barrel had been emptied and gassed with sulfur dioxide only 6 days prior, it was recommended to us by Vinnie at RR that we fill up the barrel with water the night before so as to help flush out any lingering gas which would otherwise potentially inhibit the growth/reproduction of our desired souring organisms.  So, after draining the barrel of the water, we then flushed it with C02 and racked in our different beers. 

Depending on how it matures, we’re hoping that in late spring of next year we can rack out 30 or so gallons of the beer to age on some freshly frozen apricots (going for that sort of Fou’foune thing).  The rest of the base beer will then be divided between the contributing members for each to once again put their own spin on it.

7/29/13 - Racked all of the beer out and into kegs.  Barrel was rinsed out and immediately refilled with fermented and inocculated wort (similar grist and structure to AA).  In time, I'll add a post about this beer, but for now its temporary name is B1b.

4/5/14 - Took 1st place in the 1st round of the 2014 National Homebrew Competition NW division.  It was entered under category 17 as a Gueuze.

6/4/14 - Brought home the silver medal in the final round of 2014 NHC.

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