January 31, 2012

Barrel Notes: Day 4

It is a much different picture down there than a couple days ago.  The barrel stopped foaming over yesterday, and I've cleaned up the mess.

I didn't expect the small barrel to start fermenting for a week due to the smaller pitch, however, it has already started!  Initially I set it on top a bucket to catch the mess, however, it hasn't threatened to foam over, and considering the shorter fill, I don't expect it.

Even though things look calm from the outside, fear not, there is plenty going on inside.

Wow does it smell good down there!  So far I have smelled pineapple, grape, orange citrus, and that Berliner Weisse lacto bomb.  Not only that, but I haven't picked up any offensive notes.  It's hard to smell the smaller barrel as so much is coming out of the bigger barrel that it over powers the room.  Even when putting my nose close I haven't been able to smell anything unique.  Its far too early to expect to notice any difference due to the different yeast pitched and smaller barrel size, but its something to keep in mind when checking in.

500ml champagne bottle

I love these bottles -

500ml is the perfect size.  The only question is do you "cork and cage" or "cork and cap" the top?  Lets take a poll.  Leave a comment and let me know if you prefer caps or cages.

Anyone with some Photoshop skills want to put a Funk Factory label on there?

January 29, 2012

Barrel Notes: Day 2

Upon returning from Central Water's 14th Anniversary party, I walked down to the basement to put bottles in the cellar.  To my surprise I was greeted by this:

Whoa!  I'm not sure when fermentation had started, but this picture was taken less than 48 hours after filling.  Judging by the amount of foam and beer on the floor, it could have been 36 hours or less.  Between my priming efforts and the yeast pitched, I'd say the numbers game is in my favor!

After seeing how much beer I was losing, I recalled reading that Cantillon has started short filling their barrels to reduce the amount of loss during primary fermentation.  Given that my small 5 gallon barrel was lacking about a gallon, I decided to siphon about a half gallon of wort from the large barrel into the small barrel.

Filling the Barrel

My Friday was spent filling the barrel.  Unfortunately I don't have a lot of pictures as I was too busy working, but i'll share the ones I did take.  The wort was ready for me and was split into 2 drums with 30 gallons in each.     they had the drums sitting on a pallet and simply fork-lifted the pallet into the bed of my friend's truck.  As I mentioned earlier, my plan was to simply siphon the wort down to the barrel once I got the drums back to the house.

With the truck backed up to my house, I slowly submerged the siphon into the drum.  I closed the valve and pulled the siphon out of the drum, through my basement window, and to the barrel.  Opening the valve, wort started flowing!  However, the end of the tube that was in the drum had turned and was above the wort, so instead of pulling in more wort, it was pulling in air, and the siphon ran dry.  After figuring out what went wrong, I was able to get some assistance and kept the end of the tube in the wort.  The drums quickly emptied, however, I didn't think about putting a tube after the valve which would enable me to fill the barrel from the bottom.  Instead, all of the wort dropped from the top of the barrel to the bottom, which created a lot of foam. For future reference, I would suggest adding that section of the tube to the siphon, as well as designing a way to make sure the other end of the siphon stays at the bottom of the drum.

OG: 13.95 degrees Plato (1.057 SG)               Ambient Temp: 57°F

Here I am with the filled barrel.  The yeast from East Coast Yeast has also been added.  There ended up being enough wort left over that I was able to fill one of my small 5 gallon barrels.  So, with some friends visiting that night, we fired up the steamer and drank a glass of Tilquin Oude Gueuze.  After the small barrel was steamed, I gave it a quick rinse, and then we added the wort.  However, we lacked yeast.  We were headed to Central Water's 14th Anniversary party the next day, so I filled a Nalgene bottle with some wort and brought it along.  I knew there would be a bottle share and likely a good assortment of sour beers that I could collect the dregs from.

As you can see, I got just that, and there were probably another 3 bottles added after that picture.  The next day when I woke up, that Nalgene was under pressure, and I had to burp it throughout the morning until I was able to get home and add it to the barrel.  Its not as big of a yeast culture pitch, so it will likely be a while before I see activity in the small barrel.  The big barrel on the other hand....

January 26, 2012

Final prep before barrel gets filled.

The yeast has arrived:

A box from East Coast Yeast arrived today!  1 liter of "Levi Funk Lambic Blend".

The barrel has been primed:

You can kind of  see a white film on the wood.  That's the Cantillon yeast.

And the 1" siphon has been cleaned:

A 1 inch tube with a shut off valve.  It will be submerged and filled with wort from the bed of a truck outside my house.  Then, closing the valve, I will be able to fish the 20' of tube to the barrel in the basement.  Open the valve and a siphoning action will start and fill the barrel!

January 24, 2012

Priming the Barrel

Yesterday I talked about what is meant by "priming the barrel".  My yeast had settled after being washed, so now its time to get to work.

As you can see the liquid on top is still beer-colored (but not nearly as dark as previous), so I siphoned that off.  Really there is no need to remove that liquid as I intend on diluting the yeast anyway, however there would be residual flavor from the DME, so its probably best to remove it.

I boiled ~3 gallons of water and then let it cool back to room temperature.  Using some of the water, I filled the growler, and shook up the yeast, and then emptied the growler into the pot of water.

Using a funnel, I emptied the pot of diluted yeast into the barrel.  Unfortunately I slipped a bit, and you can see I spilled some.  It looks a lot worse than it actually was.  I don't think more than a couple pints of liquid were spilled, but it made a mess.

Also, you can see the barrel is resting on a track of wood.  These are old pieces of timber I found in my basement, but they are almost identical to the size of railroad ties, which you could buy at any landscape/garden store.  I highly recommend doing this as it makes rolling the barrel much easier.

Its quite difficult to get the camera lens and a flashlight over the bung hole at the same time, but here are a couple pictures I got of the inside of the barrel.  (you can click on the images to enlarge them)

This one is from the top looking straight down right after filling the barrel.

This picture is from the side looking in after I had rotated the barrel a few times.  

The pictures are deceptive in that it looks like there is much more liquid inside than there actually is.  I will continue rotating the barrel throughout the week until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Update:  I realized 3 gallons was too much water, so I let the yeast settle in the barrel and poured out about a gallon and a half worth of the liquid on top.  If anyone is trying to repeat this process, I'd say use 1 gallon of water.

January 23, 2012

Stacking the Deck...

Spontaneous fermentation is achieved by exposing the wort to the air. Everywhere around the world there is yeast and bacteria in the air, so why does spontaneous fermentation seem to only work in Belgium? Some believe the ambient air in Belgium has more good yeast/bacteria in it that undesirable microbes.  While this may be true, the brewers of Belgium also have had hundreds of years to refine their barrels.  After a beer sits in a coolship to pick up some ambient yeast, it is then put into a barrel to ferment.  That barrel had been used to previously age lambic, so there are plenty of resident microbes to guide the fermentation process.  If a barrel did not produce good lambic, they would throw it out (or burn it to heat the brewery).

Here, we have not been doing this for hundreds of years.  We can still open the beer up to the wilds of the air, but for my first barrel I want to emulate the effects of the barrel already having aged lambic.

To do this, I am basically diluting desired yeast with water and adding it to the barrel (see follow up post).  The oak will absorb the water and the yeast will become resident to the barrel.  I will be priming with the Cantillon Gueuze culture I built up and will now wash.  I siphoned off the beer until just the yeast cake at the bottom was left.  Give that a good swirl and dump it into a growler.  After the growler sat in the fridge for a few minutes it had already started to settle.

Since this yeast is not left over from a complete brew cycle, there will be no hops sediment at the bottom, and I don't expect to have much of a protein build up.  I am going to work under the assumption that what I have is nearly all yeast, so my efforts here are not to separate out the yeast, but rather concentrate it and remove the "beer" from it.

I let that sit over night to further settle, and then siphoned off the liquid on top.   With a concentration of yeast left, I added water that had been boiled and cooled.  I will let this settle (if necessary siphoning of the liquid on top) and add this to some water.  That diluted yeast mixture will then be poured into the barrel and rolled around to coat the walls.

January 22, 2012

Steam Cleaning a Barrel (part 3)

Third time around.  I've finally got a functioning and effective barrel steam cleaner.  My previous attempt was somewhat amateur and had it's issues.  Here is a more professional steamer equipped with a pressure gauge, control valve, diffuser and all the right fittings (video below, another video here).  For a truly professional steamer, check out Cantillon's barrel cleaner!
All the parts were found at a local hardware store, and cost ~$50.  The little nipple valve on the top of the pressure cooker was removed and replaced with an adapter to 1/2" pipe.  From there I attached a pressure gauge and a shut off valve.  I know that the pressure cooker is regularly used at up to 15 psi, but am unsure of what its actually maximum is.  So, to be safe, I will maintain pressure of no more than 15 psi.  At the end of this section is a connection to 1/2" hose, which enables me to attach a diffuser.  The diffuser is simply a pipe with some small holes drilled into it for the purpose of evenly releasing the steam throughout the barrel's interior.

The goal of steaming the barrel is to kill the bugs (yeast and bacteria) living inside the wood.  Its unlikely that one would be able to kill ALL the bugs, but steaming them should kill the vast majority.  What I'm trying to do here is make an environment in which the desired concoction of bugs can be added and will be able to take over.

Given that this is my first time using this barrel, I first needed to soak it with hot water to extract the wine flavor from the wood.  I did this by turning my water heater up to the highest heat.  Once heated I connected a hose to my basement wash basin and turned on the hot water.  As you can see from the following picture, the water entered at ~170 degrees.
Obviously the water heater couldn't keep up and, once the barrel was full, the final temperature of the water in the barrel was 150 degrees.  I let that soak for about 14 hours (at which time the water was still 120 degrees), and then pumped the water out.  The water that came out looked nearly clear, but had a hit of pink to it.

The steaming process on the other hand penetrates deeper into the wood and pushes out the wine.  After I finished steaming there was a puddle of dark liquid at the bottom of the barrel.  My final step in cleaning was to give it a final rinse by completely filling and emptying the barrel.

The next step will be to "prime" the barrel...

January 18, 2012


Sikaru was brewed thousands of years ago by one of the oldest known civilizations; the Sumerians.  Like Lambic, Sikaru was spontaneously fermented, and brewed with a ratio of 35% wheat and 65% barley. In one writting, "A hymn to Ninkasi" (Ninkasi is their goddess of beer), the brewing process is outlined.  A "beer dough" and malts were mixed together in pots of water and heated [Mash], then poured [Wort] through large reed mats to strain [Lauter] and cool [Coolship].  Ninkasi (goddess of beer) would then ferment [Spontaneous Fermentation] it into beer.  It was then filtered and then put in large storage vats.  Its incredible how similar that is to the Lambic brewing process.  It was also commonly sweetened with dates and honey.

One difference you may notice is that they didn't use hops, but the hops used in Lambic are aged long enough to lose its flavor, and therefor only a preservative. I think I will have to try making a small batch of lambic with dates and honey and call it Sikaru.  (Update: Sikaru is in the barrel)

January 17, 2012

East Coast Yeast

Al Buck, microbiologist and avid homebrewer, has been making and sharing brewing cultures for years both locally (Central Jersey) and across the US. He's now making some cultures available through Princeton Homebrew and through special projects.

Al is the brewer behind The Bruery's Grand Funk Aleroad.  He helped Goose Island with their Juliet barrels.  And according to his Facebook page, they are doing something with New Belgium.  However, I think the biggest testament is the fact that their entire stock is sold out.  Al will be sending me a blend of their yeast/bugs for my pilot lambic barrel project.  Given the fact that homebrewers can't stop raving about its results, I have high hopes.

January 4, 2012


The skin.  The pellicle is the thin layer that forms on the top of the wort.  It occurs when yeast, especially brett, come into contact with oxygen.  The first time you see it, it looks a little scary.  But once you come to understand what it does, its kind of neat.

The pellicle looks like it would be bad for the beer, but in actuality its very good.  A lot of things happen during the lambic brewing process as sort of a "self-check" or corrective measure, this is one.  The yeast likes a little oxygen, but not a lot.  It forms this protein based skin to separate the wort from the oxygen.  The pellicle also protects the wort from unwanted bugs such as acetobacter that would just destroy the beer and turn it into vinegar.  Take another look at the picture.  Its kind of pretty isn't it?

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