Organic lambic one year later

With VeganMofo over, time for quick homebrew update.

On November 7th of last year, I brewed my first lambic.  About three weeks before the deadline for the National Organic Brewing Challenge, I bottled up 1/2 gallon of the nearly 1 year-old organic lambic, with the intention of entering it into the comp. Before I sent it out, however, I sampled a bottle with Kevin the weekend of our Stone IRS tasting. I was very disappointed to find the beer was flat, vegetal tasting, hazy…a drain pour. Needless to say, it did not get entered.  As the samples from the fermenter tasted awesome, I felt it must have been a shitty bottling job and/or it just needed more time.  It was probably too soon to open a carbonating bottle.  I left the other bottles to sit for a few more weeks, then, on the beer’s birthday, I gave it another try. Wow! I was simply blown away. VERY happy with the results.

The appearance is amazing. Brilliantly clear, golden straw-colored body, with a delicate head of tiny bubbles. The aroma and flavors are very similar: funk/mustyness, lots of grape notes and a touch of pineapple/citrus. Definitely sour/tart, but not overwhelmingly so. Dry finish,  that makes it very enjoyable to drink.

Right off the bat, I found it to be a lot like the flavors of Cuvee de Castleton, without the sweetness and complexity of Cuvee’s muscat grape addition. Yesterday, I brought a bottle to a sour beer tasting with some friends that are all very familiar with the Cuvee de Castleton. They too got the same impression. Among the 20+ sours we had (including some of the greats, like Lambicus Dexterius and  Isabelle Proximus), it held its ground. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

A few notes about this beer worth mentioning. First off, I think the complicated mash schedule is worth the effort. It seems to me, this gave the microbes a lot to chew up and resulted in a very nice fermentation. Also, I did not use any primary saccharomyces strain, with the exception of the Belgian ale yeast in the Wyeast Lambic Blend. Traditional lambic is not made with a primary saccharomyces strain, so I choose to ignore the advice of some expert homebrewers like JZ, who say to start the fermentation with a neutral yeast strain. Instead, in an attempt to mimic what would happen when wort is added to inoculated barrels at lambic breweries, I simply pitched the pure culture lambic blend and the dregs at the start of the fermentation process. It took a bit longer to get going, but it definitely did not have a problem attenuating. The beer is already below 1.000 and is basically living off of the unconverted starches at this point. I believe this gave the beer the signature aged lambic complexity earlier on in the process.

Finally, once the beer was fermenting, it never moved. Again, like traditional lambic, it was never moved off of the yeast cake, as this provided a food source for the microbes as well. A year of aging and absolutely no off flavors from autolysis. During the bottling process, I did move it into a keg. With the increased headspace and fallen pellicle, I want to be able to keep the oxygen out of the beer by purging the keg with CO2.

I intended to brew another lambic this year to, eventually, blend into a geuze. However, I don’t know how much longer I can take living in Albany. I need to return to the civilized world, where a vegan who doesn’t drive isn’t considered a complete weirdo (i.e., Portland). As I can’t move a carboy of aging lambic, I probably will not commit to the geuze and will bottle this lambic up in the next few months.

At some point – perhaps the next Organic Challenge – I’ll enter it into a competition for more objective feedback. Anyway, I think this is a solid recipe, perhaps my best so far.

11 Years of Stone Imperial Russian Stout & Vegan Feast

Stone IRS is like no other beer. In the opinion of VeganBrew, hands down, the best beer on the planet. I do not say this without due consideration of the “best beers of the world” from sites like and A king’s ransom has been spent drinking through those lists and, more often than not, Stone IRS would have been preferred. It’s  uniquely flavorful and complex, yet balanced and incredibly drinkable…and the best part, it’s created by a vegan brewer: former Stone brewmaster Lee Chase.

Over the past few years, I’ve made it my mission to collect a bottle from each year’s release of Stone IRS. After a friend secured the last bottle I needed to complete the vertical (2001)  on ebay a few months back, I decided it was time to open a decade worth of this amazing beer. On October 2nd Kevin came up to Albany and the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 bottles of Stone IRS were opened and enjoyed with friends.

The bottles were all opened at the same time and about 2 ounces of each year was poured into 11 cups labeled with the appropriate year. Unfortunately, we did not have enough glassware to use real glasses, so we had to use plastic cups. However, since all of the beers are pitch black, this didn’t change the experience much.

It was very interesting to see how the years (and storage) changed this beer. Without a doubt, the 2001 was the year favored by everyone. The chocolate and roastyness shined through and the bitterness was mellowed and complimented by the sherry notes and the sweetness of the beer.  I assume this bottle was also the beer that was handled the best. I’m fairly certain it was purchased at the Stone Winter Storm the year before, which means it was stored in absolute perfect aging conditions at the brewery most of its life. Anyway, it was fantastic, while the 2002 was terrible – seemed to be infected. The 2006 had some serious oxidation problems, which made it taste like a moldy basement. The others had a lot of the awesome flavors found in the 2001, just a bit more muted. Nonetheless, an epic tasting, which ended with a few other guest bottles (a growler of Ithaca Outdoor Harvest Ale, a bottle of Old Rasputin XII Kevin brought up, a bottle of Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam from the Wood and a bottle of Captain Lawrence Barrel Select). Also, we mixed in two bottles of the Stone IRS clone Kev and I brewed last year, which seemed to be enjoyed just as much as the original.

So, on to the food (after all, this is the Vegan Month of Food!!)…October 2nd also happens to be Mohandas Gandhi’s birthday, World Farm Animal Day and the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month. To commemorate the day and to make the omnivores who joined us more aware of the deliciousness of vegan food, Kev and I cooked up some good eats to pair with the decade (+1) o’ Imperial Stout. First, we made up some Gardein Beefless Tips in the porter-bourbon sauce from this recipe.

Next, made up the Apple and Squash Risotto recipe from Mac & Cheese, subbing the wine with Unibroue Ephemere (used for the last broth addition). All served up with a side of freshly harvested kale, sauteed in garlic and olive oil.

The food came out excellent, with many compliments from the non-vegans at the table. The meal provided a nice heartiness that helped us make it through the tasting fairly sober. The porter-bourbon sauce added a rich punch to the beefless tips and the Ephemere risotto was a very pleasant compliment of sweetness and stick-to-your-ribs starch.

Amazing beer, great food, good times. Maybe we’ll have to do something similar for a 12.12.12 Vertical Epic tasting?

Smoked porter review

A few months back, I brewed up a smoked porter – based mostly on Stone’s smoked porter.  I liked the results quite a bit, so much so I got through the entire keg in about 2-3 weeks time. Before finishing it off, I bottled up a six pack to enter in competitions. I did have some hesitation, as JZ says in Brewing Classic Style’s (somewhat of a bible here on VeganBrew), “(t)he worst smoked beers I’ve ever tried were all made with smoke flavoring or peat-smoked malt. I recommend never using either, no matter how tempted you might be.” Well, I was very much tempted by the Stone smoked porter clone recipe that appeared in the Dec 08 issue of BYO. I decided to ignore these words of advice from a champion homebrewer, which, surprisingly, was wise. I entered the peat-smoked porter into the 13th annual Brewer’s East End Revival Brew-off and took first place in the smoked beer category. Now, that’s not to say peat-smoked malt will always work. In fact, one judge commented “Nice job with the smoke. Peated malt can be a killer & I think you did a nice job taming it.” So, my guess is, if using peated malt, use it in moderation. A lot of recipes call for pounds of smoked malt – I only included a quarter pound, which went a long way. Anyway, here is my take of the beer:

Aroma: Slight sweetness, with a coating of smoke. No hops or anything from the fermentation.One judge noted musty cellar smells that he associated with the peat.

Appearance:  Rich dark, yet clear, body, with coffee colored foam. Plenty of head that sticks around as a thin film on the edges of the glass.

Flavor: Smoke is there, but doesn’t hit you over the head. More chocolate and roast. Smoked beers are judged by the balance of smoke and the flavors of the underlying beer. I find this to be quite balanced, with a clear porter character being enhanced with some smokeyness. One judge mentions some acid tastes, but says not enough to offset the beer. The Mt. Hood hops give it an earthy flavor that suits the style well. There might be a touch too much sweetness, depending on what style (brown or robust) of porter this is meant to be. I think it’s intended to be a robust porter, but one judge assumed brown. I may have to explore this further next time, as it might have helped to have a clear impression of the base beer. By the way, I did end up adding .3 oz of bourbon soaked oak chips in the secondary for 2 weeks. I don’t notice any bourbon or oak flavors. If you want that to come through, probably need at least an ounce, or use wood cubes and age longer.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with a dry finish. Light carbonation, but enough to help bring out some of the more subtle malty flavors under the smoke. A light ashiness, but not burnt astringency.

Overall: I really enjoyed this beer. I may need to bring down the mash temp a touch to drop some of the sweetness on the next batch. However, it might be that sweetness that is helping balance the smoke. I dont know what age will do, but I plan to keep a few bottles around for another competition in the fall.

Wit Minus Minus Tasting Notes

Here’s a stab at tasting the Gluten Free wit I talk about here.

Poured at room temperature into a pint glass.

Appearance: Golden color – should be a tad paler to be closer to a true wit.  I swirled the bottom of the bottle (these were bottle conditioned) to add a douse of yeast to my pour.  A couple of inches of foam built up but disappate rapidly.  The head is not even remotely close to what a normal barley or wheat-based beer produces – these are fluffy with large bubbles that pop easily.  Within seconds there is nothing visible except for scant bubbly lacing on the outer rim at the liquid level.

Aroma:  orange, orange, and more orange.  Kind of smells like the crappy orange juice from concentrate you’d find at a crappy hotel continental breakfast.  I clearly went overboard with the orange marmalade on this one.

Mouthfeel: Carbonate does not persist.  This is a real bummer.  I can see how sorghum is not a simple drop-in replacement for malted barley extract.  No head retention and funny behaving carbonation.  This has been in the bottle for around a month now, so it has had plenty of time to carb up.  A true wit would be refreshingly carbonic here.

Taste: Too orangey.  Way too orangey.  I feared that I overdid the chamomile and coriander, but those are dwarfed by the orange here.  Sucks.  I think it kind of ruins the experience.  The orange tastes mildly syrupy too, even though the fermentation left a fairly low amount of residual sugars (1.012 FG – within the range for this style.)  Slightly sour tang to each sip (something I was warned amount with sorghum.)  Aftertaste is not so clean.  For comparison’s sake, last night after my Fishtown Beer Runners 5.5 mile run, I had a Long Trail Belgian White, which was the most coriander-filled beer I have ever had – but the finish was immensely clean and refreshing – leading me to want to take another sip each time.  This beer?  Not so much.

Overall:  Eh.  I won’t dump this pint, but it is probably my weakest beer since the plastic debacles I experienced early on (before I learned about chloramines and how abundant they are in Philly water… and how much yeast love to feast on them, creating some vicious off-flavors.)  Too syrupy and too undercarbonated to truly enjoy it.  Personally reminds me of the unauthenticness/artificial-ness I get from a Blue Moon.  Beth seemed to like it, as did Brett and Jaime, but the true test will be Keith, whom this beer was designed for and whom I can always count on to give me unbiased critiques of my beer.

What I would change in the future:

  • Much less orange marmalade.  Probably 1/3 of the amount I used.
  • Some more buckwheat flour.  Beer was not hazy enough until I swirled the yeast in.
  • Use Brewferm Blanch yeast instead of Safale T-58.  No complaints about the yeast flavor, but I think this flocculated a little too well.
  • Force carbonate it with co2.  Not sure if the yeast just was not healthy enough from the sorghum, or what, but I expected a more carbonated final product.  Force carbonating with co2 is pretty foolproof.
  • Figure out how to get better head retention.  I used 8 oz of maltodextrin here but that was not enough.  Adding GF quick oats or oatmeal would be helpful, but I am pretty sure they need to be converted with a base malt – which won’t exactly work here.