Category Archives: Beer Philosophy

New Year, New Brew

Last year my main resolution was brew more of the beer that I drink.  It was a simple resolution, and one that I achieved further than I would have believed.  With this added experience, I have gotten better at brewing and anticipating what a beer will taste like before it has finished.

As many of you who homebrew may know, there is such a joy in cracking open that first bottle of a batch to discover that all the hours of work and months of waiting have yielded something delicious, and in many ways, something better just because it was handmade.  While many of my beers this year have contained flaws, there are a few choice batches that come to mind that I will have a hard time forgetting.

So while I plan to continue to experiment, this year I am going to focus developing a set of recipes influenced by Belgian ales, utilizing the same yeast and implementing techniques and designs I’ve learned this year.  I’m brewing my first batch today of what is to be a brown session ale infused with hibiscus and orange peel.  From this I will use the yeast to brew another recipe, higher in alcohol.  And I will continue to step it up with these recipes.  Right now I am looking at a portfolio of 4-5 different brews, some being alterations of those I did this past year.

I will follow up on the recipe for today’s brew soon.  Now I must attend to the boil.

To a new year, full of new ideas, experiences, and joys!

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Filed under Beer Philosophy, Brewing

Thoughts on IPA (and Other Hop-Forward Ales)

I want to start this post off first by saying that I love hops and I love hoppy beers.  While the rest of this may seem like I am railing against IPAs, I am not.  I am fortunate to live in a great city for food and beer, a city that has largely taken the importance of local, wholesome cuisine and ran with it.  I realize that many are not so fortunate, but I also think there may be some other people out there that will agree with what I am about to say, which is this:

I have had it happen several times that I go into a local bar/pub, and when I sit down and take a look at the beer menu, I find that nearly 80% of beers listed are some sort of pale, American-hopped ale, many of those using similar, if not the same, varieties of hops and yeast.  I would venture to say that most craft beer drinkers wouldn’t be able to discern the difference between some if blindfolded.  With the rise of IPA, it seems more and more people are associating it with good beer.  Where it once was that Bell’s Amber Ale and Oberon were considered their flagships, Bell’s Marketing Director, Laura Bell, is quoted in the new issue of Michigan Beer Guide as saying “Two-Hearted could take over Oberon as our number one selling beer if we can ever make enough of it.”  And while I love Two Hearted, it shows the rising demand for more and more hops.

So back to the bar–I really just want more variety and more knowledge.  I get discouraged when I look at a menu and I have to search for something that is more balanced towards malt and yeast.

When people find out that I make beer, usually the next thing they ask is “So, do you make IPAs?”  And while the short answer is yes, I do, I immediately want to tell them about my Belgian Dark Strong in the works, or the 20 gallons of various sour ales I have aging/fermenting right now.  Just like there is more to beer than light American lagers, there is more to it than IPAs.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I need to figure out when I’m going to have time to bottle my pale ale.

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Filed under Beer, Beer Philosophy, Hops

Two new beer books worth checking out

I love reading about beer.  Whether it’s a historical account of ales of olde, innovative and interesting recipes, or tales of other countries’ drinking cultures, I enjoy sitting down and taking as much of it in as I can.  Two beer-related book releases have got me pretty excited.  Let’s start with the first, released this past Tuesday:

 

That’s right–a whole book about Stone Brewing Co. and their history.  But maybe one of the most exciting and interesting parts is the amount of Stone recipes listed in it for the sake of homebrewing.  Here’s more from CraftBeer.com:

Inside THE book

  • behind the scenes look at the 15 years of Stone Brewing Co., straight from co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner
  • An in-depth history of beer through the ages, revealing how four simple ingredients combine to make liquid magic
  • Pointers on properly storing and pouring craft beer, as well as a primer on pairing beer with food
  • Recipes from the award-winning Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, including Garlic Cheddar and Stone Ruination IPA Soup, and the (in)famous Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings
  • Never before released homebrew recipes including Stone Pale Ale, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine, and Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
And then there’s a release that a lot of people have been waiting for.  Coming out October 7th (Tuesday) is The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by none other than Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery fame.
Yes, that’s right–960 pages of well-researched beer goodness.  It’s going to take more than a six-pack for me to get through it.  More info from CraftBeer.com:

Features

  • Most comprehensive reference work on beer ever published
  • Over 1,100 entries by renowned beer experts across the globe
  • Entries on every aspect of beer, including chemical, technical, social, cultural, and linguistic
  • Editor-in-Chief Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, is the foremost authority on beer in the United States
  • Ideal resource for both practical information and engaging beer anecdotes
  • Foreword by Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio
So if anyone needs a gift idea, or a desire to learn and a need for beery inspiration, I would recommend either of these books.

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Filed under Beer, Beer Literature, Beer Philosophy

To Boldly Go

As one of the world’s oldest beverage, beer is a well-trodden path.  The use of plants–grains, herbs, fruits, sugars—by humans to produce alcohol has been well covered, reproduced and discussed.  And yet, here I am, creating another document on beer and the making of it. Just as music was howled out primordially and raw, just as it became movements, as new instruments still wet from the womb were plucked and slapped and pounded, as people met in groups to perform and celebrate, as this music was formed and reformed with new attitudes—so has beer brought us together, challenged our tastes, and given us reason to celebrate.

When contemplating the purpose of this blog, I came to the conclusion that I did not want it to be simply another blog on homebrewing, nor did I want to wear down the  paths of beer culture and history. There are a great deal of people who know more on all of these subjects than I. Instead, I will speak from a personal perspective—this is the beer I make, these are my thoughts on the brewing of it, and to a larger degree, my beliefs on our relationship with it. So I’ve decided to take this plunge into putting it all down in words.

To exemplify this endeavor I have poured a bottle of a sour ale I brewed last December, knowing very little about how to make a sour ale and how much time should go into it. It is certainly sour, like biting into a lemon, and while it would benefit from carbonation, as well as less acetic acid (think vinegar), the smell of it brings me back to the time I brewed it and watched it bubble away in the fermenter. It brings me back to the first time I took a sample, and subsequently shared that sample, smiling at the puckering faces of my friends. This batch was a couple of firsts for me: I did not use malt extract and extracted the malt sugars myself, and I used brettanomyces and souring bugs for the first time. Here’s the recipe:

Red Beauty

Malt bill:

4lbs. Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)

3lbs. Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)

2lbs. Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)

1lb. Wheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM)

8oz. Aromatic Malt (26.0 SRM)

8oz. Special B (180.0 SRM)

Hops:

1oz. East Kent Goldings (4.5%) for 60min.

1oz. Whole leaf Cascade dry-hopped

Yeast:

White Labs WLP650 Brettanomyces Bruxellensis

Dregs from Jolly Pumpkin La Roja and Bam Biere

Mash at 154 for one hour. My efficiency was low on this, so my target gravity was 1.050. Fermented hot, around 85 degrees in a bucket primary for four weeks, then transferred to a glass carboy for two-and-a-half months aging, or until fermentation has completely ceased. This stopped at about 1.008 for me, and did not move.

To say that my approach to beer is experimental is completely true. My tastes are often exploratory, and while I enjoy a well-crafted brown ale, I am more likely to try to make something that allows me more creative freedom. While I try to stay away from the gimmickry and extremism that many US craft brewers are guilty of, I want to explore, piece by piece.  My intent is not to be excessive or kitschy, but unique, with my ears to tradition and my eyes toward the horizon.

So here’s to knowledge and experience, here’s to new challenges and adventures–beer is just another (delicious) vehicle.  Here’s to enjoying it together.

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Filed under Beer Philosophy, Sour Ale