This one is brought to us by Amateur Hour, our good friend Erik Baldwin. Enjoy….
Home Brewing is a Lot Like Fishing
(And other observations of mildly compulsive pleasuredrinkers)
In the same way that a lazy parent bribes an annoying child with candy to stay quiet during an important phone call, the Beer Blotter Crew bribes me with promises of public exposure to keep my fingers out of the sparge during the brew process.
Act One: The Dedicated Amateur
Amateurs like to speculate. From our position, hovering like fruit flies around the rotting tomato of professionalism, we’ve learned that the best way accomplish any goal is to slightly modify expert instructions by adding our own clever shortcuts. Flying in the face of safety, logic and tradition, the dedicated amateur can turn even the simplest task into a labyrinthine convolution of do-overs and back pedaling. This is evidenced clearly in the homebrew process.
“Wow, that looks pretty lumpy” (Poke the sparge with my car key)
“That’s not sanitary. You could contaminate the entire batch”
The dedicated amateur knows the best way to deal with a contamination issue is to hope for the best.
“Nah, It’ll probably be ok, my car keys are pretty clean, as far as car keys go. I drive a BMW”.
Act Two: Yeah, I’ll be back in a minute
Anybody who’s ever brewed beer at home knows it’s a waiting game. Waiting for water to heat up, waiting to add grain, waiting for wort to cool down… Bah. The dedicated amateur recognizes these gaps in productivity as opportunities to drink beer somebody else has conveniently brewed for you.
Because of repeated and prolonged absences during the brew process, much of the amateur’s understanding of how beer is made is gleaned from questions ex post facto.
“So, did you guys add the hops yet?”
“No, we’re just sanitizing the kettle right now.”
“Oh, for sure, yeah. Let me know if you need anything, I’ll be inside for just a quick second.”
(2 hours pass)
“Boy, that malt really smells good, when are you going to add it?”
“That’s trail mix. I brought it to snack on.”
The dedicated amateur, above all else, knows better. When he sees someone struggling at a simple task, such as seating a cork firmly into a carboy, he is more than willing to do it right for them.
“Damn, this cork isn’t fitting right.”
“Here, let me try it.” (plop) “Yeah, no, it doesn’t fit. Somehow it fell right in. Is that a problem?”
“Get the hell out of here.”
**Let me take a brief moment to apologize on the delay for our Hopfest in review article. We are working on something epic with two writers. For now, Erik provides a taste of our day.***
Every now and again, I run across a beer that’s so interesting, so tasty and so different than my normal preference, I become mildly obsessed with it, and spend most of my time trying to track it down. At Brouwer’s Hopfest last weekend, I found just such a beer.
Midnight Sun Brewing Co’s XXX Black Double IPA was my favorite beer of the festival. Before you ask, yes, I had a Wisdom Seeker and a Blind Pig and an Ace of Spades, and all the standouts. I even had a few very limited Firkins and a cask beer or two. Those were all exceptional, don’t get me wrong, but the XXX stood out for a couple good reasons.
Having spent most of the morning in a blissful hop-induced delirium, the surprise of XXX’s sweet, almost stouty malt profile was like taking a sip of lemonade on a hot day. The mouthfeel was almost as creamy as a good porter, but it finished strong with a not-to-dry, but fully developed hop bite.
Again, touting the wisdom of our very own Timperial Stout, balance is king. He taught be that over-emphasizing one flavor can lead to an underwhelming experience. I’m going to state my almost assuredly unpopular opinion that Russian River’s Blind Pig is a one-trick-pony. Sure, it’s an impressive trick, but drinking what is essentially hop extract got old after about 8 ounces.
Midnight Sun, however, has crafted a beer with such depth…such complexity, that one schooner wasn’t nearly enough. Unfortunately for me, I have to wait until January when they begin shipping it down to Washington, where it will be exclusively available in 22oz bottles for only a few months.
**Amateur Hour is our new (first) column, written by wordsmith Erik Baldwin. When Erik is not writing, he’s playing in Seattle band, The Beats, Man. After a way too long and irritating departure – Erik is back to talk about his journey to beer.***
Most people start to realize at some point that beer with flavor is preferable to the alcoholic bilge water your grandfather drank. What they don’t realize, however, is that there is more to flavor than just hop intensity and bitterness.
I can’t tell you how often I hear from people who jump on the microbrew train and constantly tell people “I’m really into hoppy beers”. Well, friend, I’ve got some news for you. There’s more to life than Pales and IPAs.
Here are a couple styles that usually don’t have an over-developed hop profile that I’ve been experimenting with lately.
This antique Belgian style originates in Wallonia (The French-speaking half of Belgium) and is typically known as a “farmhouse ale”. That is to say, the farmers pretty much kept it to themselves for a long while. It’s a lighter, low ABV style that goes down nice and easy after a hard day plowing the barley fields. You could call it the Gatorade of beer, but even I would cringe.
Look for a bubbly, smooth golden brew with strong yeast flavor and hints of peppercorn and citrus. Outstanding examples include Dupont’s mysteriously smooth-yet-bitter Avec les Bons Vœux and the always impressive and delightfully spicy Double Mountain Bon Idée.
Now, before I get ahead of myself, I have to admit, I’ve become completely obsessed with sour ales. The depth and variety of sour beers increases everyday, and brewers keep finding ways to make them better and more creative. So what’s the story?
The sour style is at its heart a “happy mistake” that Belgian cellar-dwellers stumbled upon ages ago. At some point, an unhappy brewer realized his batch had been inoculated by wild yeast floating around his caveau. He was in luck, though, because it turns out wild yeast turns the Belgian red or brown ale into a delicious, effervescent delight of a beer.
Expect sours to run a range from bright, golden strong ales to deep, rich browns and ambers. Most have a shockingly flavorful front, full of berry and wine notes. Some are much more tart than others, so experiment a bit and find out where your taste lies.
Some outstanding examples include Cascade Summer Gose, which, incidentally has salt added at some point during the boil, and Russain River Consecration. Now, I could write an entire post about Consecration alone, so I’ll save the majority of the details, but let me just say this: it is brewed with red currants and aged in oak Cabernet-Sauvignon barrels, weighs in at 10% ABV and drinks like champagne.
So, who needs IPA anyway?
Next week: IPA: the world’s greatest beer.
Choose the right beer for the circumstance. BBQ’s demand a crisp, refreshing beer that won’t make you sluggish in the sunshine. Disregard stouts and porters; daytime drinking of these black, grainy monsters is best left to the experts. Also, avoid beers with high ABV like trippels and imperials. It’s early in the day, after all. Passing out in direct sunlight can lead to nasty consequences.
Consider a summer seasonal, like Deschutes Twilight. It’s a fairly light, well-rounded pale sporting good hoppy front flavor and subtle maltiness. At 5.0%, it’s not going to ruin your horseshoes game, either.
If that’s still a bit stoogey for you, you’re probably ready to graduate from my column. Nonetheless, I’d recommend a red ale. Oft touted as “the epitome of balance”, reds offer a combination of sweet malt flavors and sharp hop tones.
One of my new favorites is the Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale. The list of things that make this beer outstanding is ridiculously long. Impeccable mouthfeel, perfectly roasted malty front, tangy, not overly bitter hop finish. It’s everything you could ask for. My one gripe about this beer as a BBQ beverage is that it’s 6.9%, meaning you can’t pound them all afternoon and expect to put on a good show at the volleyball court.
So take it from me, fellow amateurs, there’s no excuse for stoogeyness. Not, at least, as far as your beverage choices are concerned.
**Amateur Hour is our new (first) column, written by wordsmith Erik Baldwin. When Erik is not writing, he’s playing bass for Seattle band, The Beats, Man.***
For your average 18 21-25 year old, beer is more of a tool than a beverage. Its single reason for existing is to “enhance” the already chaotic experiences of being young. That is to say, it’s less about the drink than the drunk.
Macro-breweries are more than happy to oblige, with offerings priced somewhere between the shrapnel in your pocket, and what’s available between the couch cushions. I drank the Schlitz, the High-Life, and the PBR, and I loved it. It was easy. Soon enough, I even believed these beers were my preference. I sought them out, debating weather the extra 35 cents was worth it for Olympia over Rainier, scoffing at my snobby friend who sprang for a sixer of Henry’s.
The years went by, the hangovers became easier and more frequent, and I saw more and more friends drinking beer from glasses instead of cans. Wild, fearsome beers that smelled of yeast and grains, and lacked the familiar uriney hue that all my favorites shared. It was difficult to watch these people shell out 4, 5 or even 6 dollars on a single beer while I happily plopped down two bucks a pop to get just as drunk as they were.
They’d make me try their micros, talking up one characteristic or another. “It’s hoppy, but not overly bitter” they’d say, or “I’ve never tasted a stout this chocolaty”. Clumsily trying to decipher the relentless, overpowering flavors of these beers, I’d inevitably succumb to the objections of my underdeveloped palate. I didn’t know hops, I didn’t know malt, I didn’t know body or balance.
Then I moved in with Timperial Stout, the cellar-dwelling beer-meister responsible for shifting my paradigm. Everyday, watching him imbibe new and unfamiliar brews made me realize how much more there was to beer than a buzz. Our cupboards and fridge were flooded with IPA’s, Porters, Imperial this’s and Trippel thats. Sampling, tasting, and comparing, I cobbled together an appreciation for the subtlety of craft beer, and began to develop respectable preferences.
I started off slowly, of course, experimenting with rich, malty German bocks and lighter blond Belgians. Spaten Oktoberfest at Feierabend in Seattle was an early favorite. The wonky label and European origin made me feel like a real beer drinker, and the ridiculously mellow, smooth flavor made it easy to put away a liter or two in a sitting.
Things got really serious for me a couple of years back, when I tagged along to Sour Beer fest at Brouwer’s. Initially, the idea of weirdly fermented, out-of-control yeast strains contaminating my beer was slightly off putting, but oh, was I wrong. I’d never experienced a beer that didn’t taste quite like beer before. The sour ales had an odd, kombucha-like tang that I found immediately irresistible. The doors to beerland had been thrust open before me, and I was finally ready to stumble through, glass in hand.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy an ice cold Coors now and again, I’m no elitist. It’s just that my interests have shifted from quantity to quality.
I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the endless stream of delicious and clever beers brewed by maniac geniuses across the globe, and every now and again I’ll bring you an update on my progress, maybe make an amateur’s recommendation for an amateur’s palate. I might even start liking Porter this year.