Rebel without a clue

After a week delay, thanks to my not-so-local homebrew shop, I brewed up another fun experiment. This time I am bringing the funk to a darker level. A stout fermented with Brettanomyces Lambicus and Lactobacillus. A stout with a beat you can dance to. Road Runner, Rebel Stout.

Ever since I took a slight step back, as I mentioned last time, brewing has become easier and even more enjoyable. This brew day was smooth even though I was introducing a new piece of equipment (an electric HLT) and the process with this beer was a little different. I hit all my numbers and had amazingly clear and quick run-off. In the boil is where this brew day was different than usual. Since the beer is intended to be partially fermented by Lactobacillus, the IBU’s from the hops would be a problem. Lactobacillus rolls over and dies at the mere mention of hops. To get around that I ran off 5 liters of beer after 15 minutes of boiling and before the first hop addition. This was then chilled and had Wyeast Lactobacillus thrown in. The rest of the wort continued to boil and receive two additions of East Kent Goldings before being chilled and pitched with a good starter of Wyeast Brettanomyces Lambicus. If my hillbilly math works out the OG should be 1.058 after blending (5 liters @ OG 1.050 + 15 liters @ OG 1.060).

One of the things I wanted to accomplish here is to see what a real lactobacillus fermentation will produce compared to the lactic acid laden Acid malt I used in the last beer. Obviously this stout will have a bunch of other flavors in the way but I still think I should be able to pick up on the complexity of the lactic character and be able to compare that aspect. We’ll see.

Road Runner – Rebel Stout
  • beer after blending: 20 liters
  • OG of total blend: 1.058
  • Expected FG: 1.012??
  • Expected ABV: 6.1%
  • Expected IBU: 27
  • Expected Color: 69.5 EBC (35 SRM)
  • Boil duration: 60 minutes
  • 40% Pale Ale
  • 40% Munich
  • 8% Aroma
  • 6% Roasted Barley
  • 6% Dehusked Chocolate (800 EBC)
  • 30g East Kent Goldings @ 45 minutes
  • 20g East Kent Goldings @ 10 minutes
  • Single infusion mash @ 68°C (154°F)


  • 5 liters un-hopped wort – Wyeast Lactobacillus
  • 15 liters –  Wyeast Brettanomyces Lambicus
If it doesn’t turn out well I may have to change the name to Dead Duck – Drain Pour Stout

Brewed on April 3, 2011

Update April 8, 2011: Despite pitching a large amount of brett L and Lacto, there was no sign of activity for the first three days. After 72 hours there was some positive pressure in the airlocks but no real sign of fermentation. Now almost 5 days later there is still no krausen and not much activity in the airlock. Getting worried.

Update May 4, 2011: pretty much right after my last update the beer really took off. That was the longest lag time I’ve had on a brett beer. Fermented nicely and the two are now blended together. The brett portion was at 1.020 but will continue to slowly come down (I expect it to stop around 1.014). The Lacto portion is not so easy to measure since the lactic acid it produces is actually denser than water so a hydrometer is useless (I should have taken pH readings before and after). The sourness developed very nicely on the nose and in taste. A bit of appley balsamic flavor with a bright crispness underneath and slight vegetal. Went well with the chocoalte notes in the beer. Tasted different ratios of the two portions but surprisingly enough 1/4 lacto portion to 3/4 brett portion tasted the best. So all 5liters of lacto portion went into the brett batch. Now the beer needs to sit a couple-few months.

a duck on my calendar

Imagine if there was a sort of chart with all the days of the year listed in order. Now imagine that you could plan future events and then note these events on this list of days.  Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, much to my surprise this magical list already exists and there is even one hanging on the wall in my kitchen! All, joking aside, I am trying to get over my fear/lack of planning. Last year I had a serious problem of having to ditch brewing and barbecuing days because they weren’t planned far enough ahead for life to comply. It seems to be going better now. In fact I just had a  brewday this past Sunday, and there is a serious pork smoking session planned in a couple weeks, and the next brewday is planned in March.

Enter the Ugly Duckling:

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but smells a bit funky, then it must be the Ugly Duckling American Sour. Sunday’s brewday was another venture into sour beers. A funky and tart sessionable beer with citrus hop notes. Well, that is the idea anyways.

There are several ways to get lactic tartness in your brew (Lactobacilus, pediococcus, sour mash, pure lactic acid) but I decided to try something simple I had heard about from a few pro-brewers, a relatively high percentage of Acidulated Malt (or Acid Malt). This malt is a Reinheitsgebot way of controlling your mash pH but using higher ammounts will also give you some lactic flavor (see this link for some more info.. scroll down to “Berliner Weisse from Weyermann Acidulated Malt”). It won’t be as complex a lactic character as some other methods, but for what I want in this beer it should be good. Especially when considering this will be a 100% brett fermented beer. Oh, and brett favors a lowered pH to do its thing, so win win.

Ugly Duckling American Sour:

  • Wort volume after boil : 20 liters
  • OG: 1.048
  • Expected FG: 1.010 – 1.012?
  • Expected ABV: 4.8% – 5%
  • Expected IBU: the math says 36 but with mash hopping my experience says it will seem lower
  • Expected color: 11 EBC (4.6 SRM)
  • mash efficiency: 76%
  • Boil duration: 60 minutes


  • 56.5% Pale – 2.2kg (4.85 lb.)
  • 30.5% Munich – 1.2kg (2.65 lb.)
  • 9% Acid malt – 350g (.77 lb.)
  • 4% flaked oats – 160g (.35 lb.)


  • 35g (1.2 oz) Amarillo – mash hop

No kettle additions. After aging for a while I will dry hop this with more Amarillo.


  • single infusion mash at 67C (153F) for 60 minutes


Ugly Duckling was also a bit of a process re-working for me. Over the years I have tried playing with my process  to raise efficiency, cut time, or just look cool. In the end I wasn’t happy with the stuck or slow sparges, the running around and the extra worry. This time I re-evaluated my technique. I even turned back the adjustment on my grain mill a bit. In return I had a great brew day! It was very easy and relaxed and I was even able to pull off a brew in less time than before. My efficiency was slightly lower (76% instead of 80%), but I was expecting that.


February 13th 2011 – brewed: Brew day went very well. It was perhaps my most relaxed brew day to date.

March 15th 2011 – racked this over to secondary so it can age a while before dry-hopping. It was sitting at 1.010 SG. I’m finding these all brett beers are best after about 5 months or so.

July 17th 2011 – dry hopped this beer with 30g Amarillo whole leaf hops. The aroma before dry hopping was quite funky. Good barn-yardy notes!

July 29th 2011 – The duck is in the bottle! FG went a bit lower than expected 1.006! Bottled 17 liters (damn dry hops soaked up my beer) primed to get me 2.7 vol CO2 carbonation. Beer is tasting quite nice. Big orange notes. A good lactic  sourness with big fruity brett and amarillo all combining to a sort of orange and lemon juice combo.

another 2010 list

Its that time of the year when every beer blogger comes up with their  “Best Of” lists. I generally avoid such listings on my site, and I also avoid doing much beer reviewing since there are a thousand others doing that and they can actually write. However, for some strange reason I thought I’d give it a go this year. So it is time to unveil the inaugural 2010 Golden Goblet Awards! Some of you may be thinking that this sounds familiar, but I can assure you that any resemblance to other yearly blog-based awards is purely by coincidence. Sure there is that thing called the Golden Pint Award, but that’s completely different. First of all it’s British, and then there’s….. ok, it’s plagiarism, thievery, flattery or whatever you want to call it,

Hopefully some fellow Belgian beery-types will follow suit and post their Golden Goblets online as well. If you would like to participate, either add your winners in a comment here or post them on your own blog and post a link here. Feel free to add, delete, or change the categories and have some fun with the open category at the end.

…And now for my winners!

  • Best Belgian Draught/Cask Beer Saison Dupont… its just so damn drinkable! Alvinne Wild Undressed was a close second
  • Best Belgian Bottled BeerOerbier Reserva This beer knows how to please me!
  • Best International Draught/Cask Beer – Tough one, but perhaps Marble Decadence. I really enjoyed all the Marble cask beers at the Borefts Bierfestival… Damn fine beer
  • Best International Bottled Beer – Tied betweren Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura and Haandbryggeriet Dark Force
  • Best Beer based/induced Experience – Nocturnal Brew and BBQ at Alvinne
  • Best Beer LabelOdell’s St. Lupulin (I know it actually came out in 2009 but I didn’t see it then) Odell’s labels are great in general with their screen print style graphics. I’d love to have some large prints for my wall.
  • Best Belgian BreweryAlvinne. Maybe it’s because I took a class there, maybe it was the collaboration brew I did with them, maybe it’s for all they do for craft beer in Belgium, maybe it’s because thery’re real good guys, or maybe it’s just because they brew some good beer and don’t mind taking a risk. Expect big things from them in the future.
  • Best International BreweryJolly Pumpkin
  • Pub/Bar of the YearMoeder Lambic Fontainas
  • Beer Festival of the Year – First place goes to Pre-ZBF (from now on called the Alvinne Craft Beer Festival). Second place, De Molen’s Borefts Bierfestival
  • Beer Retailer of the YearAlvinne. not only do they brew beer but they have a shop filled with gems from around the world… and that doesn’t happen in Belgium
  • Best Beer Book or MagazinePete Brown‘s Hops and Glory (again, I was late with that one)
  • Best Beer Blog or Website – First place- The Mad Fermentationist (great source of brewing inspiration). Second place- Thirsty Pilgrim (that boy can write)
  • Most interesting online pressence for a brewery: Real Brewing at the Sharp End with the 52 brews project.
  • Food and Beer Pairing of the YearAlvino 2009 with smoked Pork Tenderloin
  • Beer I’m most looking forward to in 2011Brasserie Dupont’s Monk’s Stout
  • In 2011 I’d Most Like To…  Brew on a real brewery system… perhaps get a true Birdsong beer out there.
  • Open Category – I’m calling this the “Get On That” trophy (Goes to any beer or beer related thing that showed a lot of promise but just seemed to miss the mark. Also known as the “Better luck next year” trophy): unTappd. Far from perfect but this little app has been getting some use on my iPhone. It allows you to quickly post what you are drinking and where you are drinking it. If only it had a bit more social interaction and the ability to add a simple rating to ratebeer if you so desire… oh yeah, and throw in a dash of Pintley‘s reccomendations and Beercloud‘s food pairings, then you’ll have a winner (They all offer something, but none offer enough). So get on that unTappd peeps!

fermentation for the lazy

I Finally got around to bottling my two 2+ year old dry meads. That is the nice thing about mead, it needs time to age before it’s really ready. Ok, that’s also the bad thing about it, but as long as you have enough beer around you should be able to just forget about it for a year… or more.

These two Canola honey meads were fermented with Wyeast Bordeaux and Kitzinger Tokaj. Both ended around 0.990 (coming down from almost 1.080), are very clear and are almost colorless. They are tasting nice but lacking something. I am starting to think that the drier a mead ends up, the more it needs some tannins from oak aging. Unfortunately neither of these received any oak. Lesson learned.

I’ll do a grand mead tasting somewhere in the future but right now I’ll just say that I quite like the character I am getting from the Tokaj yeast. I wonder what this would do in combination with some bugs in a sour beer? Perhaps a good candidate for a Test Pilot brew.

I also racked over my most recent mead. This Linden blossom mead marked my first attempt at a sweet mead. I took the approach of making a massive mead in hopes that the yeast would reach their alcohol tolerance and just give up, leaving behind unfermented sugars. Unfortunately the Kitzinger Bordeaux yeast took it down to 1.005 already and I expect that it will end even lower. So we’ll be looking at a massive 17%ABV dry mead!?! Oh well. I racked half of this mead onto Noorderkrieken (sour cherries) and the other half will be getting an addition of chipotle chilis in a couple of months. Then part of those two will be blended into an unexpectedly dry and boozy cherry-chipotle mead. Looking forward to that one!

testing testing

As previously posted I will be supplimenting my all-grain brewing with some quick extract batches in the hopes that I can experiment more often. Well, after a friend (one of the few Mexicans in Belgium) handed me a bag of Chipotle peppers straight from the mother land, I knew my first experiment had to be a Chipotle pale ale. Chipotle peppers are not exactly common here in Belgium so I was very happy to receive these. I know I’m not the first brewer to throw some peppers in a beer but I’ve never done it and thought it was time to try it myself. Time for the innaugural “Test Pilot” brew!

The things I want to test with this 10 liter (2.6 US gallons) batch are:
  • the handling and amount of peppers to use in a beer
  • the combo of Nelson Sauvin and firey spice
  • smoke (from the smoked peppers) in a pale ale
  • only using late hop additions (30 min or less in boil)
  • chipotle peppers and hops

    I kept the malt extremely simple. I did however use some old extract I had in the cupboard as a portion of the total DME bill…. hmmm, maybe that wasn’t the best idea though. A touch of chocolate malt was steeped in the kettle before adding the malt extract and boiling. The roasted malt will hopefully support the smoke and give a touch of earthiness. Since extract has already had the snot boiled out of it in it’s creation, a full 60 minute boil is not needed, and since I was only adding late hops I only boiled for 30 minutes. I added the small amount of chipotle peppers with 5 min to go in boil and let the wort sit for 20 minutes before cooling. The sample I tasted did show a very low spice level in the back of the throat and a nice level of smoke. We’ll see what the yeast does with this. If the final flavor and spice level seem to be a going in the right direction than I do plan on brewing a more “serious” all-grain version. Man, I really hope that old DME won’t get in the way too much. Damn my cheapness!

    flight of the Night Owl

    Last saturday at Den Proefzolder the Night Owl took her first flight. This beer had only been in the bottle for about 10 days so I was a little worried about what I would find in such a stong but young beer.

    Taking my nose to the glass I was hit with caramel covered apples and pears. Molasses and a touch of licqourice show up as well. Luikse siroop (a popular pear and apple based thick syrup that Belgians spread on bread) would be a good descriptor. Surprisingly there was no real trace of the quite generous East Kent Goldings dry-hopping, just a faint unidentified herbal note that faded in and out under the fruit.

    Flavor-wise it is much the same story. Big bold fruit (Luikse siroop), some licqorice and caramel notes. Perhaps a touch of butterscotch too. There is enough herbal and lightly spicy bitterness to keep the beer from becoming too sweet. I also get a slight roast character in the very back. The beer does feel quite balanced and the alcohol is well-hidden. You do get a good swoosh of sweet alcohols but you have the impression that this is a 8-9% ABV beer, not almost 15%. That makes it a dangerous brew, so like it says on the bottle “Don’t turn your back on this one.” Overall I am very happy with where this beer is going.

    The label did not turn out as well as I had hoped. Somehow the printer had taken my vector files and managed to create a low resolution print. Everything is pixelated! That isn’t too bad for the main image on the label but the finer text on the right is barely legible. After taking a few sips of the beer you won’t be able to hold the bottle still enough to read it at all. Oh well, like I tell myself every morning, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?

    Once this beer has some age on it I will do a proper evaluation. Its just too young for such a massive beer. I am sure that that will be the consensus when this beer is served at the Borefts Beer Festival at Brouwerij De Molen in a couple weeks. We’ll see what all those Ratebeerians think (now that makes me nervous!). Night Owl should start to show her true colors around christmas time, and therefore help to make the holidays warm and merry!

    basics and beyond

    Life seems to get more and more busy as Lil’ Smokey grows older. It is nearly impossbile to schedule a period of 5+ hours, just for myself. Consequently, my lists of “beers to brew” and “experiments to try” keep growing longer. Well, enough is enough. I’ve decided that I’m going to supplement my infrequent all-grain brewing with some extract brewing.

    While brewing with malt extract (and steeping grains) is very common back in the US, here it has a bad reputation. Everyone has made it clear to me that you can’t brew good tasting beer with extract. I take that as a challenge. There were some pretty kick ass extract beers coming out of our kitchen before I made the dive into all-grain. Plus, it will allow me to brew more often. In a couple of hours I can brew up a batch and have the kitchen all cleaned up. Perfect for a quick night-time brew after the little one is in bed. Whether it is making a simple beer for poker night or a split batch for comparing yeasts, I think extract brewing will help keep me sane.

    Speaking of things to try, I have been thinking of ways to cut down on oxygen exposure during the fermentation/transfer/bottling processes. I may have come up with something worth testing (perhaps with an extract batch?). It involves using two fermentation buckets. One is of course for the fermenting beer, and the second one collects the CO2 from fermentation. This bucket full of CO2 then becomes your secondary fermenter or bottling bucket. With a little hose magic you can ensure an oxygen free transfer between the buckets. I put together a quick PDF that explains it in more detail. Click on the image below to see it.

    if you are wondering where the top photo was taken… that is the brew hall at Mort Subite.

    Hops and Glory in a sea of wine

    Coming back to a rainy Belgian reality after 10 days of sun, sea and grilling on the Cotê d’Azur can hit you like a ton of wet bricks. Thankfully I can dull the pain with a variety of good beers. Something I missed while in the south of France (unless you call Kronenbourg 1664 and Heineken “a variety of good beers”). Now I do appreciate a nice wine, but sitting in the hot sun looking out over the sea while lil’ Smokey splashes around in her pool just doesn’t feel right with a glass of wine. A nice chilled beer in a glass that you can grab without your little finger sticking out feels so much better. That and the fact that I was finally getting around to reading Hops and Glory by Pete Brown meant I was really hankering for a decent pale ale.

    I’m not going to give an in-depth book review here but if you like the idea of an awkwardly British man carrying a heavy keg of beer across oceans of mishaps while uncovering that the history of binge-drinking goes way back… well then this book is for you. Part Fawlty Towers, part Indiana Jones this book will make you laugh, cry, desire to travel the world by tall-ship and make you quite thirsty. Pete definitely has a knack for telling a good story and for getting himself into just enough trouble to make sure that story has some zest. So put down that copy of Twilight you’re reading and dive into the world of international beer smuggling, brazilian hookers and cartoon meat with Pete. (If you go to Pete’s blog you can order the book via an amazon link).

    Now, down to the cellar to see what IPAs I have waiting for me!

    the more the merrier – part 2 (brew)

    The Nocturnal brew session at Alvinne was not just about barbecue. As the name suggests it was also about brewing beer. Glenn, Davy and Marc (the Alvinne three) had been toying around with the idea of doing a night time brew-fest for quite a while, but they didn’t have a recipe. I suggested a big ass barleywine since they needed a big beer to test the alcohol tolerance of their new house yeast. Normally I prefer more sessionable brews but I thought that this could be a fun challenge. Davy asked if I wanted to come up with an idea for the recipe so I promptly got to work in Beer Alchemy. To my surprise the Alvinne boys agreed to brew it as is. Not only were they going to brew it, but they wanted to release it as a “collaboration” beer with Birdsong Brewery (that’s me). To make the beer complete, I was also asked to design the label. I am not a graphic designer but I do like to play one in the brewery. As you may have figured out from the image above, the beer is called Night Owl. That is not the actual label but rather the design direction that the Alvinne crew chose from some quick ideas I showed them.

    We’re calling it a Belgian Barleywine. Now I am certainly no fan of “beer styles” and I don’t like to try to pigeon hole beers, however, beer styles can be useful when coming up with ideas for beers, or when describing beers. For Night Owl I basically started with the idea of an English barleywine and twisted it into a truly dark Belgian beast of a beer. It won’t be a Belgian Dark Strong, it won’t be a Quadrupel… it will be a Belgian Barleywine, whatever that is.

    3.5 hectoliters of Night Owl were brewed but I adapted the recipe here for homebrew scale, 20 liters (5.3 gallons). You may need to adjust the recipe for your brewhouse efficiency:

    Night Owl:
    Wort Volume After Boil: 20.00 l
    Expected OG: 1.134 SG (including sugar addition during fermentation)
    edit: above SG was our target.. we actually were just a touch lower. About 1.130
    Expected FG: 1.020 SG
    Expected ABV: 15.6 %
    Expected IBU (using Rager): 77
    Expected Color: 112 EBC (43 SRM)
    Boil Duration: 75 mins

    • 52% Belgian Pale – 5.7kg (12.6 lbs)
    • 21% Munich – 2.27kg (5 lbs)
    • 4% Biscuit – 450g (1 lbs)
    • 4% Special B – 450g (1 lbs)
    • 2% Dehusked chocolate (800EBC) – 225g (.5 lbs)
    • 17% Dark Candi Syrup (200 EBC) – 1.8kg (4 lbs) – added a few days after fermentation begins
    • 28g (1 oz)East Kent Goldings – first wort hopping
    • 28g (1 oz) Magnum (just a touch of Pioneer was added at Alvinne since we ran out of magnum) – 60 minutes from the end
    • 28g (1 oz) East Kent Goldings at flameout
    • we will most likely be dry hopping this beer with the equivalent of 56g (2 oz) East Kent Goldings

    single infusion mash at 67-68C for 90 minutes

    relatively hard West Flanders water


    Use the newly introduced Morpheus yeast from Alvinne. Culture this from a bottle of Alvinne beer but make sure the bottle says “Morpheus yeast inside.” You can read about the yeast here, if you can read dutch. This yeast is pretty clean for a belgian yeast and highly attenuative. It can produce a slight apple note. Its not as clean as the California Ale yeast but that may actually be a good starting point. If I was really trying to mimic this yeast then I may try a mix of California Ale yeast and the Duvel strain.

    This beer was brewed at night. By the time it was chilled and pumped to the fermentation tank it was around 2am. By 9am when we looked into the brewery we saw that the Morpheus yeast had certainly been busy. For more photos of the brewing of Night Owl (intertwined with photos of barbecue), click on the photo above.

    Keep your fingers crossed and pray that this beer turns out fantastic or no brewer will ever trust me again.