Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two New Beers

Carbing/Conditioning next week - An experimental IPA1, aggressively hopped and made with only a single base malt.
In fermentaton - A hybrid American Amber/British Bitter2 that fell foul of viciously chaotic circumstances.
Clear as a bell
1. The IPA, dropped clear and racked off the sediment

Today's tale concerns the unintentional hybrid Amber/Bitter we've concocted...

We started this past weekend with grand dreams of exacting and specific plans of controlled process and mimicking a specific beer. Several commercial breweries are kind enough to give folks a general approximation of what malts and hops go into their beers. One such which seemed like a widely available one for side by side comparisons was Elysian's Mensroom Red. Our plan was simple, to take the information on that page and use our knowledge (and exceptional software!) to try and get the best approximations of malt and hop amounts, mash schedule and yeast types to best hit bitterness, color and alcohol levels of the original beer. Through this we hoped we could come out with something that might at least stand up to a taste test, if not a full side-by-side comparison. Oh the ignorance and naivete of the inspired homebrewer!

The following is a lesson I'd learned before but had somehow deigned to forget for this exercise: 
ABC - Always Be Changing! Homebrew supply stores are to a great degree at the whims of the commercial brewing industry. The malt types that are in abundance are those that are grown and modified for various recipes favored by the local big players. It limits (or expands in some cases) what is available as excess for homebrew supply. Our recipe called for using a less common (though not unheard of) malt type as base and thus when supplies were purchased, the fact that the supply shop we settled on was completely out of that specific grain type was most alarming.
2. Into fermenters - an experiment with different yeast types

This led to a somewhat misguided attempt to substitute out various malt types and panic leading to bad choices. There was a safe conservative path to take and it was summarily ignored. We ended up with our smallest grain bill yet, and our smallest overall mash ever. This caused all kinds of observed problems with maintaining mash temperature to successfully convert starches to sugars (this may have been a limitation of our temperature gauging equipment). We added hot water, we added more hot water and when that appeared to fail we directly fired our Mash Tun, risking scorching the grains and making a mess of the whole thing. Luckily we managed to reach some kind of equilibrium and get a semi-decent mash (although it showed greater and lower than desired temperatures at all times). However, due to the measure of the grains and the chaos of the mash we were left with something that pre-boil, represented a significantly weaker beer than we'd planned. This is where the art and science of the process of brewing comes into play in its fullest force. Left with a beer with sugars less dense than desired, and an impending boil, we simply boiled the heck out of it and came out with something that we feel is going to be a worthy addition to our repertoire. There will be less volume, but that is certainly something we can live with.
The hop bed - post boil. Performs excellently as a filter bed for those undesirable and coagulated proteins

So the lesson learned (or perhaps reinforced) here is to always be thinking on your feet and open to whatever may be coming out of left field. Keeping your head and making good choices when things go wrong is essential in brewing as in life, if your best laid plans appear to be collapsing around you, take a moment and think about it. You are probably much more capable of improvising a win than you think at that very moment. I have a feeling the resultant beer of this past weekends session is going to be quaffable in the very least and has the potential to be the happiest accident of all. And even if it is an offense to the taste-buds, we still learned a lot and had a ball making it.

Come the end of this month we're going to have 3 beers on tap and another knocking on the door. Methinks some kind of social event is in order!