So how does this all relate to brewing? If all you read was the Internet and its colorful collection of home brewing blogs, you’d be convinced that every bearded Tom, Dick and Harry was making blue ribbon beers. “Awesome”, “amazing”, “you made this?”, “nobody even touched the (insert commercial beer name here)” and “we kicked the keg in (insert duration of time here)” are phrases you’ll likely read most often. As someone who has judged a few home-brewing competitions and at the risk of sounding like a wet blank, and I can assure you this isn’t always the case. Brewing, much like life, has a learning curve. Just when you think you’ve got this brewing thing figured out with a few solid batches, you get thrown a curve ball. Why did the same recipe only separated by 2 weeks turn out completely different? Even commercial brewers, ones that you probably held in such esteem reserved for Gods before you started homebrew brewing, aren’t immune to the occasional shitting of the proverbial bed. Fret not, user of the Internet — If misery loves company then I’d like to remind you that even a cowboy steps in shit sometimes. If you didn’t fail at some endeavor concerning brewing this year, then you obviously weren’t brewing hard enough!
Here are some of the highs, as well as some crushing lows, of my 2016 brewing season.
Hops: I realize that this is the equivalent of sinking a four inch putt. Growing hops are about as easy as girls who smoked in high school. In the event of a nuclear apocalypse and a Hunger Games styled draft, hops would be plants’ answer to insects’ selection of the lowly cockroach. That said, hops are still killed all over the globe so we are going to call this a ‘win’ now matter how much of a concession it might be.
Very Small Modern IPA by Terry Foster: This one is so simple it almost hurts. 97% Maris Otter, 3% darkish crystal to 1.037. English yeast. All Kent Golding (it’s what I had) to mid 20s for IBU.
Second running beer soured with Swanson’s L. Planatrum: I was happy with this one because it’s essentially like playing with house money. Collect the ass-end of a mash (also known as a “partigyle” depending on your socioeconomic status or lack thereof) from a big beer. Anything in the 1.020 – 1.040 range without a heavy roast presence will suffice. Add 2 capsules per gallon into a keg with wort. Hold that keg at an elevated temperature, say, 30c / 86f for a day or two. Finish with a boil then ale yeast or just toss in the fridge as is if you like the taste.
Non-American hops: What a novel idea! Try them. You might like them. I’m wading my way through a pound of East Kent Goldings and really enjoying the journey.
OYL-057 HotHead Ale: Neutral, high temperature capable, attenuative yeast that isn’t a saison. WIN.
Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast: I used this on a small wheat beer to build up some yeast for my annual barley wine this summer. The crispness it delivers is most excellent. WIN.
Lallemand Danstar Windsor dry ale yeast: This yeast is so low flocculant it looks like gravy pants but provides a beautiful comprise between hops and malt as well as a body difficult to achieve in sub 4% beers. WIN.
Keg fermenting + top cropping yeast: Two of the yeasts I tagged as my favorites this year are top croppers. However, they are not suitable for keg fermenting even with Fermcap-S. Perhaps if I read the full description of Wyeast 1007, I would have ended up with more than 4 gallons of finished beer. FAIL.
Hoppy session beer: I’m having a hard time getting it dialed in. It’s hard to resist the urge to go hop heavy. Going heavy with Centennials hops late in the boil has been leaving me really heavy in the citrus rind department. It makes my holy grail of low alcohol beers, Firestone Walker’s “Easy Jack”, that much more impressive. FAIL.
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale yeast: A suitable yeast in my book but I don’t feel like it was worth the extra effort or price. Not as floocculant as the description says in my experience. FAIL.
Session beer with Magnum: In an effort to push my session beers in to the 2% range as well as to kill some left over Magnums (the hops, not the condoms), I made a session beer that could best be described as Pilsner Urquell Lite. I fucking hate canned Pilsner Urquell. I narrowly avoided a drain pour by giving this to my neighbor who has a funnel in the place where his mouth should be.