Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Orval Dregs at Work

I had been extremely excited about my upcoming run of Belgian-style beers, all to be brewed one after another (no non-Belgians in between) and using the same esteemed yeast purportedly sourced from the Trappist brewery Westmalle (and also used by Achel and Westvleteren). Inching up in alcohol, from Belgian Pale Ale to Dubbel to Tripel, this was to be, admittedly, my most ambitious (in terms of uninterrupted focus) series of Belgians yet created.

Well, here we learn, by inverse anyway, of the value of practice and experience in brewing. Being my first time with this yeast, and in some cases with the style, an unfortunate possibility came to pass when none of the three beers came out quite as good as I'd hoped (the Pale Ale being the least offensive of the three), with an unfortunate phenolic bite being a hallmark showing through most clearly in the Dubbel. (The Tripel, for its part, at this point remains so alcohol-laden as to accomodate fixation on little else. Many bottles of it, and the other two, have been squirreled away where neglect and age will hopefully bestow their favor.) Brewing all three in succession did not afford the chance to apply lessons learned within the course of this three-brew series; doing so will have to wait until next time.

In an effort to (1) turn something unspectacular into something potentially interesting, (2) free up space among the taps, where I faced the unappealing prospect of having to trudge my way through mostly full kegs or let them sit and hope things improved, and (3) provide an excuse to buy and drink a beer I don't have often enough, I blended the remnants of the Pale Ale and Dubbel into a carboy (with a dash of Black IPA added for extra bitterness and flavor), created a small amount of additional wort, and pitched into it a starter of cultured-up Orval dregs from two bottles.

Here is what things look like a little more than 48 hours into the experiment:

Note the rather sizeable mat of krausen. This tells me one thing primarily: Orval dregs must not contain simply the "wild" yeast Brettanomyces that helps to lend the beer its signature flavor, but some strain of Saccharomyces as well. Indeed, this much has been speculated upon on brewing forums and even suggested on the Orval Web site itself. I say this because Brett is understood to be a relatively slow worker (activity here kicked off in a matter of hours) that creates a pellicle on the beer's surface.

The addition of around 0.5-0.75 gallons of fresh wort will provide the Saccharomyces and Brett more sugars to consume and assert themselves (while also hopefully countering somewhat the off flavors of the previous fermentation). Additionally, this new wort was given about 2 ounces total of late hops – a small 5-minute addition of Santiam and a flameout addition of Santiam and Mt. Hood that was steeped. This again was intended to provide additional complexity to cover up off flavors while also serving as a nod to Orval's notable late hopping. I think the unusually dark surface of the krausen may owe to this extra hop matter being pushed up to the top. My Frankenstein's monster might be dry-hopped as well, like Orval is.

There's no telling how this odd amalgamation of mine will turn out. My hope is the Brett will impart enough funky goodness to overcome the previous yeast's footprint, while further drying out the beer and helping to accentuate the newly added hops. Did I mention this is my first foray into the use of "exotic" strains like this? Doubly exciting.


Anonymous said...

I have only made a few brett beers to date. Four months ago I made baig starters for the bretts, used a stir plate and kept the temp at 82F for a week. Once pitched into 4 "finished" beers the bretts (lamb and brux) both took off like a normal second fermentation.

So in my experience the orval dreg starter could still be just plan brett yeast.

I hope so, because the 3 bottles in my fridge and the 3711 Saison are getting a dose of D2 sugar and orval dregs built up in the same manner!!

Good luck,


Brad said...

Saison yeast with Brett ... sounds like it could be good!

Jeffrey Crane said...

Well I was planing on doing the same thing with brewing a single - dubbel - tripel all in a row. I was wondering what you did wrong and you would change next time.

Brad said...

Jeffrey, I wish I could say. Underpitched or underoxygenated? Though I had thought I was good on both counts there. The fermentation fridge was set at around 64, so it would have gotten warmer during high activity but not out of hand.

The good news is the aggressive phenolic character appears to be aging out, albeit rather slowly and only somewhat.

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