How Tos

Tutorials and the like. How to make stuff.

Wine / Beer Blending Notes

So the next step on from brewing and secondary fermenting the Kiwi saison was to blend it with some Sauvignon Blanc wine from Marlborough, New Zealand. My friend Simon worked for a winery in NZ and amazingly managed to blag us some wine for the purposes of these trials. Thanks very much to the good folks at Saint Clair winery for providing the bottles for sampling.

I decided not only to trial the Sauv/Saison blend (inspired by the Mad fermentationist post) but also to trial some Pinot Noir blended with a Flemish Red I made in August 2015, as well as a porter of mine that soured through my poor sanitation practices that I was trying to rescue instead of chucking down the drain. It’s hard to say goodbye to something you’ve laboured over so much! In this case I was hoping the wine would boost the beer rather than just polish a royal dog turd.

As Simon is an experienced winemaker, I thought it would be great to have him along and show us the basic proceedings of a simple wine blending session. We decided to go fairly simple, with trials blending the wine with the beer at 5, 10, 15 & 20% by volume so for example, we’d add 5ml of wine and 95ml of beer, 10ml plus 90ml and so on. This was all done by using scales (1g/ml) as they’re more accurate than measuring. Only problem is if you add too much it’s difficult to correct if you’re blending directly.  I’d bottled and carbed a litre of each beer a few weeks previous especially for the session. The saison had been conditioning for 3 months with brett in a keg, and the Flemish red had been ageing for around 8 months – and 2 with a small piece of oak wine barrel stave. The sour porter was brewed in November and started souring after about a month.

Saint Clair Malborough Pinot Noir Sauvignon Blanc

The wine was measured out and blended with the beer at the percentages proposed. We had 6 glasses in total for each beer blending session. Taking care to make sure that the glasses were all identical for consistency. The first was unblended beer, the second through to the fifth were beer/wine blends of 5, 10, 15 & 20% by volume, then the final glass was wine only. We didn’t worry too much about blind tasting tests for simplicity’s sake and also because we didn’t have so many glasses, and the purpose wasn’t isolating a specific flavour – more looking for a sweet spot within the blending percentages. Having the ‘naked’ beer and wines as a comparison, then being able to walk upwards through the blend strengths was enough for the purposes of the session.

First up was the Kiwi Saison. The aroma of NZ hops had died down considerably since I had kegged it – not surprisingly after three months in the keg. I also understand that brett can interact with the various hop oils to produce aromas of it’s own. The beer had aged with the brett very well, there were still some classic saison peppery notes, however there was a light fruity aroma on the nose reminiscent of apricot, as well as a light tartness present. All in all, I was very pleased with the results and it was one of the best saisons I’d brewed to date. The NZ Sauv Blanc was a classic example of the wine – one of my favourites: minerals, passion fruit, lime on the nose, a real fruity punch. Light, crisp and refreshing. Gorgeous.

Tasting the beer in the 5-10-15-20 steps was a very interesting process. At 5%, the wine aromas were perceptible but not really adding too much, at 10% the aroma starts to come into play, at 15% the blend was perfect – a wonderful interplay between the fruity/pepper of the beer and the bright, zesty aromas of the wine. At 20%, the wine overwhelms the beer flavour. There was quite a strong cutoff here and everyone agreed on the 15% as being just right.

The sour porter was a bit of a rescue case. The aromas were a mix of roasted malt, some acidic brightness and something else that wasn’t so nice for me – maybe some parmesan or something funkier. I’m not so familiar with the Pinot Noir grape, and expected a fruitier wine based on two bottles I’d recently had from Naked Wines. The Saint Clair pinot is a much more subtle beast. As Simon mentioned – it’s a wine comparable to old world wines like French Burgundy. Complex with a moderate body, the aroma is subtle and delicate. I was worried that the wine would be overwhelmed by the beer, and unfortunately a wine with a full-bodied fruity hit was what was needed for the sour porter. We found that 20% was the sweet spot for this one. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to mask that unknown aroma, although it did improve the beer, I didn’t think it right to throw away such a large amount of good wine to improve a below average beer. We decided that maybe it was worth trying with a punchier, fruitier red wine. I’m either going to do that, chuck some rosemary in, or just ditch the batch and chalk it up to experience.

As a side note, I’d put aside a gallon of the Flemish red to age with some damsons and was hoping that this bottle might be the magic bullet to go with the sour porter. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and it was still a bit naff. The damson aroma seemed very muted after chilling in the fridge and even when we warmed it up, it didn’t seem to make much difference. A turd is but a turd, by any other blend, it seems.

wine beer blending session

The Flemish red I had more hope for. The beer itself had been massively improved by the addition of an oak stave. The sweet vanilla aromas really rounded the beer out a lot and made what seemed quite a simple malt/lactic tartness on the nose into something more complex and satisfying. We found something similar in this case as well, there was a sweet spot that we all agreed on, around the 10% mark. The wine added some depth, a slight astringency as well as an amazing red tint to the beer, however, at 15-20%, the wine overpowered the beer, pushing those vanilla notes down and masking their presence.

I had considered blending the wines into the keg but I’m going to blend a couple of gallons of the saison and the Flemish red and a keep a couple of gallons of them without the wine blended in to see if they’ll age differently in the bottle and have another side by side comparison to do in several months when they’re ready. Watch this space!

I’ve included the Flemish red recipe below. After primary fermentation with WYeast Abbey 1214, it was aged with a vial each of White Labs Berliner Weisse blend WLP630 (I needed to use it up!) and White Labs WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix for around 8 months.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
23 L 60 min 10.275584 13.469416 1.063 1.016 6.275050
Actuals 0 0

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Flanders Red Ale 23 B 1.048 - 1.057 1.012 - 1.014 10 - 25 10 - 16 0 - 0 0 - 0 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Belgian Pilsen Malt 2 kg 30.89
UK Munich Malt 1.8 kg 27.8
UK Vienna Malt 1.8 kg 27.8
German CaraMunich I 250 g 3.86
Belgian Special B 125 g 1.93
UK Light Crystal 500 g 7.72

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Australian Helga 20 g 60 min Boil Leaf 5.5

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Wyeast 1214-Belgian Ale 74% 0°C - 0°C

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Rest at 66°C 60 min

Fermentation

Step Time Temperature
Aging 0 days 0°C

Notes

14ml of Lactic acid to add.

Get started with all grain beer brewing for under £30

This is a guide to making a beer with the minimum amount of gear possible. A lot of this kit you’ll be able to find in your kitchen – but even if not, you should be able to get started for under £30. I’ll update it in time with a video, some pictures or even a fancy infographic but this’ll do for the time being.

This method is heavily inspired by the BIAB (Brew in a Bag) brewing method. The main difference between this and the traditional homebrew method is that you don’t have a separate vessel for mashing and boiling and you can use the full quantity of water for the final wort in the mash. I tend to sparge (pour a kettle or two’s worth of warm water over the grains once they’re out of the wort) to extract a decent amount of sugar from the grains but it’s not essential.

The recipe is at the bottom of the page.

Equipment needed:

  • 1 x 2 gallon pot (big enough to fit in your oven for the mash – if it’s too big don’t worry)
  • 1 x nylon brewing bag (from your homebrew store – Brew in a Bag-style)
  • 1 x thermometer (get an infrared one or one with a cable so you can have it monitoring the temp while it’s in the oven)
  • 1 x demijohn or small fermenting bin (preferably with a tap at the bottom for sampling or
  • 1 x airlock
  • bottles + capper (if not using swing lid or screw top bottles)
  • 1 x syphon hose
  • 1 x hydrometer or refractometer (better!)

Ingredients:

One of the things that can overwhelm (it certainly did me) and even put off the homebrewer at the start is the sheer number of ingredients available. After a while you do get used to it but it’s a bit of a hump. I’ll try and explain what you need right at the start at least.

Malt

Most beers have a base malt (for fermentable sugars) like pale or pilsener malt and a speciality malt (for flavour and colour and not so many fermentables). To start out find a recipe with either pale malt only or pale + crystal. I’ve chucked in a bit of torrified wheat to the recipe as this helps with head retention (keeping your head for as long as possible!).

Hops

Again, get what you need once you’ve decided on a recipe. Store in sealed bags in the freezer once you’ve used them. For your first beer try just using a single type of hop – I’ve used American hop type Cascade for this one.

Yeast

Get some Safeale S-04 or S-05. They’re proper workhorses and you shouldn’t have any issues with stuck fermentations or the like. You’ll learn that different yeast give off different flavours in due course but for the time being, don’t worry. Make sure the temperature where they’re fermenting is a stable and 18-20C. Higher or lower and you may have some issues.

Water

Most people don’t tend to worry about water in the beginning. I’d tend to agree but I would also say that it should be high on the list of your priorities to get organised – it’ll have a massive effect on your beer quality. Head on over to our Brighton water page if you’re in the area and you should have a decent enough idea about what to do with your water treatment. Head to Murphy and Son and get a water test done if you want your water properly treated.

All of these you can get online somewhere like the maltmiller or brewuk. I can supply some as I have a few spares.
 

Part 1: The Mash

  1. Turn the oven on to 65-70C.
  2. Add 9 litres of water to the pot (you may need to make a dipstick or to etch markings in the side of the pot to get an accurate measure of the volume in the pot) and heat up to about 70C.
  3. Weigh out your malt according to the recipe
  4. Place the nylon bag in the water
  5. Add the malt to the water
  6. Temp may drop here due to the lower temp of the malt being added to the water – adjust temp to 67C if needed
  7. Place in oven for 1 hour – the oven should hold the temp of the mash due to the external heat being the same as that of the pot. There are other ways to do this – you can insulate your pot to hold temperature, you can keep it on the hob and check every 15 minutes and adjust accordingly. Whatever works with your kit.
  8. Pull bag out, waiting for liquid to drain. Do not squeeze as this adds undesirable flavours to the beer.
  9. Measure water – the grains absorb water so you’ll need to adjust the levels here. During the boil, 10-20% of the water will evaporate so you may want to get the pre-boil volume to 9-10 litres as the final volume is 8 litres. You might want to “sparge” at this point – by running some water over the removed grain bag and placing that back into the wort. I use a colander (to sit the grain bag on) and a steamer (to allow for even distribution of the water over the grain bag) in the fermentation vessel. Just make sure you collect the water and add it to the wort before the boil begins.

Part 2: The Boil

The hops are added at different intervals depending on whether they’re bittering or aroma hops – bittering at the beginning and aroma towards the end. In most recipes the boil is 60 minutes and hop additions are indicated as time before the end of the boil – ie “60 minutes” at the beginning and “15 minutes” is in the 45th minute of the boil. Do make sure you have an accurate way of measuring the hops as small amounts can be important at this quantity. I’ve got a scale that measures down to 0.1grams – they’re less than £10.

Recipes measure hop additions from the start of the boil. So if it says “60 minutes”, then it means it’s 60 minutes before the end of the boil, if it says “15 minutes” it’s 15 minutes before the end.

  1. Bring the water up to boiling
  2. Add first (60 minute) hops. I put mine in the (cleaned) nylon bag I used for the grains as it gives freedom for them to swill around but means I don’t have to filter afterwards. If you’re not using a filter you may want to just use a sanitised sieve when you’re pouring the wort into the fermentation vessel to strain the hops out.
  3. Add any more additions into the boil as it goes along.

Part 3: The Cold Drop

You need to cool down the wort (the liquid) as fast as possible now. I just chucked it in a sink full of cold water and changed it once. Took about 30 minutes.You can add ice to speed this up. You can get or make an immersion chiller, counterflow chiller or better still, a plate chiller if you’re working with larger volumes of wort. It needs to get down to at least 20C for it to be right. Any higher and you might risk damaging the yeast.

It’s important to know that at this stage, you need to pay special attention to hygiene. After the boil, you want the least amount other bugs to come in contact with the wort – so clean and sanitise everything that the wort comes in contact with.

Note: at this stage you could use a hydrometer (it’s a glass tube that sits in another tube with the beer at room temperature in it – how high it sits determines the sugar content) or refractometer here to measure the “Original Gravity”. This is a measure of the sugar content in the beer before fermentation has begun. This will help for a couple of things:

  • If you compare that with the “Final Gravity”, you can work out the ABV (Alcohol by Volume) ie % alcohol.
  • You can work out the efficiency of your brewhouse. This means that when you’re designing recipes in the future you can take into account this figure. If you get a 4% beer instead of your planned 6% beer due to a lower efficiency – the massive amount of hops you chuck in will overwhelm the beer and taste extremely bitter.
  • During fermentation, if it stops (ie bubbles in airlock stop) or you’re not sure if it finishes, a quick measure of the gravity will tell you how much the yeast has fermented of the wort. If it’s at the level to be expected, then go ahead and bottle. If it’s less than expected, then you’ll need to do something about it. Certainly, don’t bottle.

Part 4: The Ferment

  1. Clean the demijohn and bung with cleaning solution. You can buy special brewery cleaning stuff like StarSan. If you’re on a budget, use 1 capful for a half demijohn full of thin chlorine bleach solution and rinse thoroughly. Other options are baking it in the oven or using some antiseptic tea.
  2. Use a sanitised funnel or jug to pour in the wort, making sure that if you’re using a demijohn, you allow about 2 inches clearance from the neck to allow for the yeast cake which will rise above the surface of the wort.
  3. “Pitch” in the yeast.
  4. Bung a clean finger over the lid and give it a good shake to oxygenate the wort. Yeast loves oxygen before fermentation begins. Later on, you’ll do everything you can to prevent the fermented beer from being oxidised. I use a santised hand blender with a whisk attachment and it does a lovely job.
  5. Wait. Fermentation should start within 24 hours. If it doesn’t, you might need to pitch in a different pack of yeast. 2-5 days should be enough for the beer to finish fermentation. It depends on external temperatures, yeast type, wort strength.
  6. Give it about 2-4 weeks before bottling. This is called conditioning.

Part 5: Bottling

  1. After a month or so of conditioning, syphon the beer into bottles, making sure you don’t add or stir up any of the sediment at the bottom.
  2. You’ll need to prime the beer with sugar. You can either syphon the beer into another vessel and “batch prime” ie add sugar syrup to the whole lot and stir well, or you can prime it bottle by bottle if you have some accurate scales. The batch priming method is easier but there’s a risk of oxidation and contamination with this. There are online carbonation calculators for this.
  3. Wait for about a week or so for the remaining yeast to ferment the added sugars – the CO2 released will carbonate the beer as the bottle is under pressure.

Part 6: Drinking

I’m guessing no one needs instructions for this part… Just send me an invitation!

Here’s the full recipe:

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
8 L 60 min 26.309286 6.645124 1.055 sg 1.014 sg 5.380353

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Standard/Ordinary Bitter 8 A 1.032 - 1.04 1.008 - 1.01 25 - 35 4 - 14 0 - 0 0 - 0 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
UK Torrified Wheat 0.03 kg 2.14
UK Crystal Rye Malt 0.075 kg 5.34
UK Pale Ale Malt 1.3 kg 92.53

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
US Cascade 10 g 10 min Boil Leaf 7
US Cascade 10 g 60 min Boil Leaf 7
US Cascade 15 g 0 min Boil Leaf 4.5

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
DCL S-04-SafAle 73% 0°C - 0°C

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Rest at 68°C 60 min
Raise to and Mash out at 0°C 0 min

Fermentation

Step Time Temperature
Aging 0 days 0°C