Saturday, September 1, 2012

Small batch experiments

I brew 3.5-4 gallons batches. Most of the time the beers spend 3-4 weeks in primary (of the plastic bucket variety) and then I rack them to the bottling bucket and bottle. However, occasionally I move a beer into a 3-gallon glass carboy for extended aging. When I do this, I tend to have a little beer left over in the primary. Recently, instead of dumping this out, I've been racking this left over into a 1-gallon glass jug so that I can try something different with it by adding fruit and/or spices and/or souring cultures. My first experiment of this sort was to add the dregs of Cisco Brewery's Dark Woods to about a half gallon of my 2010 imperial porter, Tabula Rasa. I was a bit skeptical about souring such a big and roasty beer, but it actually turned out fantastic. This success has emboldened me to continue on with this sort of small batch experiments. The only problem I have though is that I haven't really figured out a way to efficiently bottle them without losing too much volume in the process, which is why I currently have several of these in my cellar aging longer than anticipated.

Current experiments (from left to right in the above photo):

Blueberry Wine
I thought I would include this here even though it doesn't fit in with the rest of my beer experiments. Pure blueberry juice from Trader Joe's, augmented with wildflower honey (also from Trader Joe's...I love this place BTW...whenever I shop there I spend a lot of time in the juice aisle thinking about what I could ferment). This particular batch has been sitting there for almost a year now. I should probably bottle it.

Spiced Wheat Wine
Dried Thai red dragon chili peppers, star anise, grains of paradise, and cacao nibs added to my dark wheat wine, Bene Victum. Go bold or go home, right?

Sour Cherry Oatmeal Stout
Tart cherries from Oregon Fruit added to my already funky oatmeal stout. Definitely looking forward to this one.

Sour Kölsch (Crooked Sunbeam)
Oak cubes and the dregs of Russian River's Temptation added to my Sonnenstrahl Kölsch. I added a little DME-based wort with some German Opal hops, lemon peel, and grains of paradise as well to give the RR bugs a little extra to chew on. I only added a little oak, but I am nervous that I have let this beer sit too long. Might be an oak bomb by now.

All of these are probably ready to go into bottles. I just need to find the time to deal with them! Hopefully I'll get it together so that I can get tasting notes for these posted sometime by December.


Jeffrey Crane said...

I do a lot of these small batch experiments. I do something similar where I'll brew an extra gallon (6 instead of 5) and either ferment with my main batch and then to the 1 gal jug or use dregs to do the primary fermentation.

It sounds like you have some great beers and the small scale allows you to be very adventurous.

As for your bottling dilemma, I experienced the same thing (I take it that you don't want to use your typical bottling bucket). For priming sugar I use the online calculators scaled to 1 gal, I end up priming mine on the high side (~2.8 Volumes) so it comes out to an easy 1 oz of table sugar per gallon. I pour the sugar solution into a sanitized jug and pour my 1 gal batch into that jug. Then I just pour right into bottles and cap. If it has been aging for a while I'll add some cheap dry wine yeast.

When I'm feeling super lazy I'll just use the carb tabs and pour carefully off the 1 gal container straight into bottles.

Also about your oak. If you are using cubes, then the flavor intensity doesn't really increase after a month or two. Actually, it tends to do the opposite as the beer penetrates further into the cube extracting softer flavors (more vanilla or nutty notes which help to meld flavors). So it is more important how much oak you put in at the start rather than the contact time (at least for cubes).

Jim Lemire said...

@Jeffrey - interesting idea concerning bottling. I hadn't thought about just pouring into bottles. Any issues/concerned with oxidation?

I'll probably weigh out priming sugar on a per bottle basis (or pick up some carb drops at my HBS). I can't be sure exactly how much liquid is actually in the jugs. I've never bothered to take any real measurements.

Thanks for the note about the oak. I hadn't realized extended time on the cubes wasn't much of a concern.

I really need to get these into bottles soon. I really need to get my fall beers going too!

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