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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remember when I wrote an Article?

A couple of years ago I wrote an article on using oak in beer.  My friend Shea Comfort helped me with the sciency stuff, God Bless him.  Anyway, here it is.  Read it, print it and line your bird cage with it, whatever. 

Oak's Balancing Act

by Jason Petros
Originally appeared in Zymurgy May/June 2008

Oak has been used in brewing for many years, but recently it has seen a resurgence of interest due to its large flavor impact on both wine and beer. In the past, the oak
flavors gained from storage in wood were considered to be a secondary benefit. Now, with the popularity of stainless steel fermenters and storage tanks, brewers and
vintners alike are able to use these flavors as a creative addition to their products.

When used properly, oak can lend the most beautiful, full and rich properties of the wood and weave them delicately into the beer. When used improperly, oak can destroy the balance that you have worked so hard to achieve, and can taste like you are chewing on tree bark. A little knowledge on what oak is all about can be the difference between turning a good beer into an award-winner or lawn food.

What exactly happens when you put oak in beer? 

Oak is full of many flavorful and aromatic compounds and chemicals that, when added to beer, create another level of depth and complexity. Examples are furfural, which lends caramel sweetness, or eugenol, which is clove-like. Vanillin, the most recognizable flavor, tastes and smells like vanilla. Lipids, which constitute the oils, fats and waxes found in the wood, are responsible for oak lactones, which lend coconut and aromatic wood flavors. These are the basic flavors found in all types of oak, and the ones we as brewers are looking for. The important thing to think about when choosing oak for your beer is, ?How will these flavors interact with the flavors already present?? Knowing which type of oak contributes which flavors is key in matching beer to wood. The three most common types of oak are American, French and Hungarian, each with its own balance of flavor and complexity. American oak has a great aromatic sweetness along with a nice vanilla component. It provides a sweet and full mouthfeel to beer, easily paired with most malt combinations. French oak also has an aromatic sweetness as well as providing a full mouthfeel, along with cinnamon and allspice characters. It is widely praised for its sweet spice and ?confectionary? flavor compounds (custard, butterscotch, milk chocolate). Hungarian oaks are said to provide a high amount of vanillin properties, along with roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate characters. The flavor profile of oak is enhanced during the toasting process. Which compounds come out in what ratios depends largely on the variety of oak and the level of toast it received, ranging from light and untoasted to dark and heavy. When the oak is toasted, the characteristics unique to that varietal are brought out and defined.

For example, American oak at a light toast level will lend a fresh wood and coconut character to your beers, but as toast levels increase to medium/medium-plus levels, these flavors are decreased and more vanilla and caramel notes are brought forward. Medium-plus is typically the best of all worlds in dealing with toast levels, as it brings out the qualities you would normally find in a heavier toast, without diminishing the vanilla and other ?softer? qualities found in a lighter toast. There are many different oak delivery methods, including aging your beer in a full-size barrel, and using sawdust or barrel replica kits. Oak chips and oak cubes are the simplest for homebrewers to use. A barrel is not feasible for many homebrewers, as they require a lot of hard work tokeep them in good working order (clean, stored properly and bacteria-free). Sawdust can be hard to work with and will take some extra time to drop out in your beer, not to mention its lack of complex flavors. Staves and other barrel replica kits are geared more for use with large barrels that have lost much of their oak impact, and are often too large to be used easily in carboys. Chips and cubes, however, are very ?user friendly? and do not need any sort of extra attention or care like their larger counterparts do.

Oak Chips and Oak Cubes

Chips are flat shreds of oak, usually about two inches long. Because there are only two sides to an oak chip, the wood reacts quickly to the heat during toasting andboth surfaces are toasted to an even level.  This gives the wood a rather one-dimensional flavor. Chips have a very short extraction time in beer, usually about a week or so, which make them ideal for use in the fermentation process. Yeast will actually metabolize certain oak compounds, like vanillin and furfural, and leave much of the spice and other characteristics behind. This creates a nice foundation to build off of with any later oak additions. Beers that do well with this method include English bitters and American pale ales-styles that generally don?t benefit from a longer aging time. Oak cubes have several layers of toast due to the thickness and shape of the cube. A toasted oak cube will have varying degrees of color along each side-these layers represent the level of heat penetration during the toasting process. Heat is what brings out all of the different and wonderful flavors of the wood, and different temperatures with different woods for different lengths of time develop different flavors. Oak cubes replicate the complex flavors of a barrel better than chips because the cubes are able to have multiple toast levels like a barrel would. Think of it as ?what you see is what you taste,? where the different colors of the cubes provide more flavors than the single color of the chips. Cubes also have a much longer extraction time, from about two weeks up to a year depending on the size of the cube (the beer has a lot more wood to penetrate than with a chip) and the longer extraction time enables the beer to absorb the full character of the oak, and not just one or two facets of it. Cubes are ideal for beers that require a lengthy aging process such as imperial stouts and barleywines.

The Process

Many homebrewers have not experimented with oak, mainly due to one fear-sanitizing! ?How should I sanitize this stuff?  Do I soak them in sanitizing liquid, boil them in water?? Sanitizers should not be used, as the sanitizer will be absorbed by the wood and carried over into your beer.

A simple way is to steam the wood, killing anything that may be living inside. One method is to put the wood in a Pyrex measuring cup with just enough water to cover the wood. Cover the top with a saucer and heat it in the microwave until the water starts to boil. Turn the microwave off and let the wood steam for two minutes. Repeat the process twice. This should kill anything that may be living in the wood. Add the oak and the water left behind to the keg, as the water will have a nice oak essence to it. If you plan on soaking your oak in alcohol, such as whiskey, this is all the sanitizing you will need as the high percentage of alcohol will kill anything that may be living in the wood. Kegs are the best container to store your beer while it is aging on oak. You can carbonate it at the same time, and it is much easier to pull samples than from a carboy.  Once the beer has been racked into the keg, it is time to add the cubes. Eventually the cubes will end up sinking to the bottom of the keg, and because this is also where the dip tube will be pulling your samples from, you will no doubt taste a very unbalanced beer. Every three weeks or so, rock the keg gently back and forth to ensure the portion of the beer that is in contact with the oak gets properly mixed with the beer toward the top of the keg.

If you are interested in trying your hand at a bourbon-aged oak flavor, try soaking your cubes for two weeks in a few ounces of bourbon or whiskey, and discard the whiskey before adding the oak to your beer (I find Wild Turkey blends well with darker beers). It is very easy to overdo the addition of bourbons or whiskeys, and less is definitely more which is why I prefer letting the cubes ?dose? the beer over time. The oak should be up front, with the booze layered softly under the malt. If the flavor is not pronounced enough after two months of being on the oak, adding bourbon straight to the keg is acceptable, but be careful not to overuse it.  Tasting the beer over the next few months is a great way to see how the flavors and oak compounds blend and merge into your beer. After the first week on the oak, you will begin to taste hints of different flavors, but I find that they really start to meld after about four to six months. The longer you leave your beer in contact with the wood, the more of these great compounds will become infused with your beer. The cubes will continue to add flavor up to about a year. A great way to get that deep, complex oak characteristic is to use a one-two punch of chips in the fermenter and cubes in the keg. Adding oak chips to the fermenter will allow the beer to absorb some of those basic oak flavors we are looking for,
and gives the cubes a nice foundation to build on when they are added to the beer after fermentation. Half an ounce of chips per 5 gallons of wort is a nice place to start. You may find some beers need less, and some need more. Feel free to experiment and find a starting point that bestsuits you. The best part about oak is that it complements almost any beer!

Making beer and using oak are very similar: they are both easy to do, yet the best results require a subtle hand that is achieved only by repetition. If your first wood-aged beer does not turn out right, try again, maybe with less oak, or a different toast level-or perhaps a different varietal altogether. Maybe a blend of American chips and French cubes is the answer for your porter-who knows? Above all else, be patient. The world of oak awaits!

Jason would like to thank Shea A.J. Comfort from yeastwhisperer.com for his technical information on oak.

This article was used with permission from Zymurgy

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recipe: JP's Oak and Dry Nibbed Oatmeal Stout

After years of typing out my recipe to brewers, I am finally putting it in this stupid blog.  This way I can just link to it and not have to make excuses as to why I'm too much of a lazy mess to dig my sheet out and bang these keys.

This is a beer that I have been working on for almost 3 years, and it is one that does very well at my house, but not so great at competitions.  It hovers in the 35-40 rang every time, but never clears a medal.  Comments are that it is too light, not roasty enough, or some other crap.  Which is all true, and I deny none of it.  My oat stout is a beer that I make for myself and I purposely made it on the lower end of the style because that's how I like my oat stouts.  If you do, too, you might like this beer.  It's also the recipe I brought to NHC this past year, with oak and cacao nibs added - details of which I'll post below.

11 Gallons
60 min boil
70% Eff.
1.058 SG
WLP001 @ 64F

17 lbs British Pale
2.5 lbs Flaked Oats
1.5 lbs Carafoam
1.5 lbs Crystal 75
1.5 lbs Pale Chocolate Malt
.75 lbs Black Roasted Barley
.75 Carafa II

3 oz NB @ 8% AA for 60 min boil
3 oz BKG @ 7.5% AA for 5 min

Now, if you want to add some oak, I would suggest adding about an ounce of French Oak Chips to the fermenter.   This will create some mouthfeel and give a good foundation for the oak cubes later.

Once the beer is in the kegs, add an ounce or two of cubes (not chips.  C-U-B-E-S) and let that beer age for a few months.  If you want to add nibs, put about 6-8 ounces in a hop bag and drop into the keg.  Let those sit as long ass the oak.  With this beer, I usually let it sit for a month before I can't help myself and start drinking it, leaving the oak and the nibs in the keg until it blows.  But it doesn't peak until about 2 months have been put  on it.

Of course, this beer sits well by itself - no oak or nibs needed.  I sometimes only oak and nib one keg, so I have one straight and the other all funked up.  Good times.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Scratch Pad

You remember back in high school when the counselor would take you into his office and ask, "So, what do you want to do when you graduate?".  I never knew what to tell him.  "Nothing" was shorter on the pay scale than I had hoped, and "Doctor" just had too much schooling attached to it.  It was "Director" for a number of years, but I went down that road for a bit and realized I wasn't as into it as I thought.

I'd say "Actor" now, or "Radio Douche", if I could.  "Blogger" seems too ... I dunno, 2005 to really say out loud in polite conversation.  After all, doesn't everyone have a stupid personal blog?  And how well does that pay?  

But getting to write for a living wouldn't be that bad - in fact it would be pretty fun, depending on the topic.  And it's something I don't think I'm too bad at.  This blog is just more of how I speak, more like an unfiltered transfer of thoughts to pixels.  I would church it up more if someone was actually paying me to write for them.  

I think my top writing job would be working in Hollywood, either on scripts or maybe a TV show.  Perhaps even writing jokes, though I hear those guys who write jokes for shows and talk show dicks have to come up with like 45 jokes a day.  I'm funny, but not that funny.  Then again, neither are the jokes they come up with.  When was the last time Leno was funny?  Sometime around 1987 I think.  Which is just a small example of the lame, hack jokes I can write for you.  Thank you. 

Second would be doing the Disneyland blog.  OMFG, that would rule.  If you have never seen their blog, click on that link and check it out.  It's kind of boring and bland, and needs a punch in it's gut.  There are so many great things to write about inside of Disneyland proper that I cannot imagine why they feel they would have to do videos of some goofy Italian guy making tiramisu.  Let's get more off-target please.  Please!  I have so many good ideas for stories there, it's just not fair to anyone else.  

I know this probably isn't the most interesting thing that your hero, me, can share with you.  Trust me, I know.  But hey, I was bored and thinking about what I really want to do, and thought I'd share it with someone.  Penis. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Tee-hee, my titles are so clever.

I made ribs yesterday, and after posting a pic of them, some of you wanted to know what I did.  Normally I wouldn't share this stuff because it kind of bores me to write, but I'll write about anything if asked.  Almost anything. 

I got two sides of pork ribs from Costco.  Cut one up and froze it in foodsaver bags, the other I cut in half and marinated it for two hours in a small amount of white vinegar/juice of one lemon/porter.  Not sure if the amounts matter, just put in lots of beer and not so much vinegar. 

I pulled them out and dried them off, then applied my home-made rub, that I stole from "How To Grill", by Steven Raichlen.  If you want to either learn how to BBQ (or grill), or you want to start making your own sauces and/or rubs, buy Stevens books.  The man knows what he writes about and his recipes are great starting points for cooks of any level.  The one I made (pictured above) was a take on his Basic Barbecue Rub, and my version goes like this:

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
3 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons coarse salt
3 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
a sprinkle of nutmeg
Mix together with your fingers, breaking up the brown sugar.  Sprinkle over the meat and rub in.

Anyway, so you do that, rub it on the meat, then put it in the fridge (covered) for about an hour.  Not sure why, don't really care.  It works.

Meanwhile, I went outside and set up my Big Green Egg for indirect cooking (meaning I put a little platform in there to lift the meat away from the coals).  After an hour, I slapped the meat on the grill, added my Pecan wood chips and went to make my mop sauce.

A mop sauce is optional, but I like to use it because I really like fucking with things I'm making/brewing/cooking.  It's more of a souther BBQ deal than, say, Kansas City, and I like the bite the vinegar gives.  The sauce I made is listed below, and I put it in a spray bottle and hit the ribs with it every 30 minutes.  Again, taken from "How To Grill", and this is my take on the Basic Barbecue Mop Sauce.

1 cup white vinegar
1.5 cups Homebrewed Irish Red Ale
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 shallot, thinly sliced

The spray bottle ended up getting clogged by the pepper, so next time I'll get a brush or something.  Though I hate cleaning that shit.  

Anyway, after 6 hours the ribs were done.  I put a light coating of Stubbs barbecue sauce on them for the final 20 minutes or so and then took them off the grill.  Sauce is where I prefer not to make my own.  I love Stubbs a great deal - it's the best BBQ sauce I have tasted, and the other times I have tried my hand at sauces, I just ended up making spicy ketchup.

There they are.  9 hours in the making, but worth it.  Smokey, with a hint of spice.  

If you guys have any good recipes for rubs or sauces, let me know. I'm always on the lookout for new stuff to try. 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fraiche Hops

I have had hop bines in my backyard for a few years now, but have only used the hops in brewing once.  No reason, just lazy.  This year I decided to at least pick the things off the bines, in hopes that would force me to use them.  As it happens, I was planning on brewing anyway, so for the first time in four years, I have homegrown hops to brew with.

The question is, "What is a good hop and what is a bad hop?".  I have noticed that on my bines, I have cones that are large and many more that are small.  Some are bright green, others are almost parchment-like in color.  Are these bad?  I have no idea, but I think I'd rather dump them, just to be on the safe side.

On the left are the hops I think are best - they are solid green all around, not super wet (damp), and smell like hops.  The ones on the right are papery in color, the leaves are opening, and are small and not really firm.

I went through my pile and pulled the white ones out entirely.  Was this needed?  I have no idea, but it sure made me feel better.  And I think that some of the things we do as homebrewers are simply to make us feel better.  More like commercial brewers.  I mean, now I can relate when I talk to a pro brewer about "hand selecting my hops".  Besides just pulling the packet from the shelf.  

The beer I'm brewing today is the "Hop Grenade" Pale Ale that I made with Rodger Davis over at Triple Rock.  It's a hoppy, West Coast session ale (1.044 SG, 52 IBU's), and I really enjoy it.  I want to add my wet hops to the flavor portion, but the bag they are in is just smelling like pine resin right now, and I'm not sure I need that in my beer.  I just don't know what to do about it. 

In the end I decided to add two ounces with 20 min left in the boil, then another two ounces with 5 min left.  This is in addition to my regular hop schedule.  The way I see it, my homegrown hops have such a small amount of Alpha Acids that it won't really affect my IBU's, it's more for flavor than anything. 

Here are some pics of the fresh hops:

I forgot that I don't have a screen in my boil kettle, so I had to fish out the majority of the whole hops before starting my cooling cycle ... DOH!

In the end, the beer came out a few points under, and looking like green soup.  Should be interesting.