Leveling up

December 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, I spent some time brewing with Daniel, a new friend of mine and significant other of one of my other friends/coworkers (for my day/not-brewing job). He is a veteran homebrewer of at least three years, and it was neat hearing his perspectives, seeing his setup, and seeing what he emphasizes.
He and his brewmatey Chris brew 5 gallon batches that are all-grain. They have a mash tun and a large stainless steel pot that is marked at useful volumes (e.g. 5 gallons). I had a chance to witness the process from start to (near) finish, including sanitation with an iodine solution. The all-grain method is one that I have not yet embraced, and I’m not sure if I will for some time if at all: it requires more equipment, and one has to boil down a large volume of liquid to 5 gallons (which can extend the brew day process by hours). Time, if anything, is probably the most limiting factor for me. While I have the capacity to do 5 gallon batches, I have started predominantly with 2.5 gallon batches to speed the process of experimentation and innovation. I think I also prefer using Starsan to iodine: since the latter is odorless, tasteless, and doesn’t require rinsing, it is much easier to use. At any given time, I have at least 10 gallons of Starsan solution rotating between storage buckets, bottling buckets, and carboys.
Interestingly, Daniel has a strong affinity for Belgian ales. Fortunately, the American homebrewing and craft brewing community seems very diverse and has a lot of different stylistic interests and preferences, but I think that many others I have met before now have been very much attuned to hoppy beers (like India Pale Ales, which is a very popular American craft brewing style). This is also reflected by the menus of pubs and bars. For me, I have only recently come to develop some appreciation for heavily hopped beers, so it is refreshing to hear from someone who has been further around the block than me and still prefers less hoppy beers. Daniel’s significant other Katherine obtained a diamond-shaped seal of Tripel Karmeliet which is mounted on his kitchen wall like a shrine. It is his Holy Grail of beers to replicate: he is meticulously and carefully cultivating a colony of yeast obtained from a Tripel Karmeliet bottle with hopes of coaxing the essence of the brew out of the yeast and into an upcoming brew. I recently had the opportunity to try Tripel Karmeliet, and I can see why it makes such an appealing goal: tripels have a lovely blending of malts with the fruit-aroma esters of Belgian ale yeasts. The key, I think, is in the yeast, which is an area that Daniel has been focusing on. He introduced me to the world of liquid yeasts (including “smack packs”) and wort aeration (with a pump and “diffusion stone” which looks exactly like the same ones I used in my aquariums years ago).
Through this process of learning to homebrew, I am trying to approach my learning in stages: this first stage has been a lesson in the process and also in malts. Of all the variables that can be altered, I think that malts are probably the simplest, particularly now that malt extracts have become affordable and variable. At this time, I am trying to taste the difference in different volumes of malt and see the difference in color from different malt extract blends. Overall, I’m trying to maximize what I can do with malt extracts while working on a reasonable budget. My homebrews are trending towards using more malt with a higher alcohol content as a result. At least at this time, I don’t taste much of a difference between brands (e.g. Briess versus Muntons dry malt extract, or Northern Brewer versus Midwest Supplies liquid malt extract), so I’m tailoring my malt usage to the individual homebrew. So far, I have made two batches of Blackjack and Year of the Rabbit with different malt balances (between dry and liquid, and overall total malt content).
After my experience brewing with Daniel, I started trying more Belgian ales and have been developing a taste for them (I was already predisposed with my liking of witbiers). I recently obtained a bottle of Ommegang Abbey Ale, a dubbel, and fell in love with it. I had tried it before at a recruiting dinner when I found it enjoyable alongside steak tips, and then I tried it again at home with the First Brew Matey, savoring each sip. After that, I have decided to move to the next level: homebrewing Belgian ales, and with it, yeast cultivation!


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