Thursday 27 July 2017

To Brew List Slight Return

I just noticed that it's about six months since I posted my To Brew list. As much for my own interest as anyone else's, I thought I'd run through what I've done since then, and what the current list of ideas looks like.

Well, since January I've brewed:

  • The American Amber that was in the fermenter last time. It took a while for the flavour of the crystal malt to smooth out, by which point the hops had lost their edge a bit. Fairly respectable, but I probably wouldn't brew it the same way again.
  • A second bash at Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby. Alright but a bit boring - I was hoping for something really rich and fruity, which didn't happen. The search for a really good strong mild recipe continues.
  • A vienna-rye IPA with citra and simcoe. Really good - big fruit from the hops, but with a nice, rich, spicy base. I'm going to re-use the basic idea here, possibly with different hops.
  • A golden ale - basically Extra Pale Maris Otter and lots of Challenger hops. Nice enough, although the plan to get more of an idea of what Challenger really tastes like by going heavy on the late hops didn't really work. Apparently it tastes like beer.
  • A kettle sour that ended up getting drain-poured. Ironically, I think it was using US-05 for the main fermentation during a heatwave that actually killed it.
  • A rye saison with saaz. I've only just bottled this, but the sample tasted good.

Of the plans that haven't happened, the mirto milk stout still seems like a good idea - the spicy blueberry flavour of the myrtle berries should be a good fit for a sweet and roasty beer - but it's not really a priority to get it brewed so it keeps not happening. The idea for the Euro-Hopped blonde sort of evolved into the golden ale, and the red rye IPA into the vienna rye thing. I still like the idea of brewing something historic - more of that later!

So what else is on the list now?

First up, on accounts of not having a brewfridge I'm basically stuck with saisons if the weather's hot. Maybe a version of the rye / saaz thing but with fruity New Zealand hops? Maybe something autumnal with golden naked oats and Bramling Cross? Maybe something nice and simple to bottle with brett?

Next, I'm definitely planning on brewing a Victorian mild recipe - possibly the Lovibond XX from Ron Pattinson's book. The local homebrew club are doing a theme of "mild, porter and stout" in November, so it'd be fun to mess with the brief by bringing something strong and pale.

I'd also like to brew a lightly hopped Belgian pale ale and bottle it with Brett. Bottling with Brett (rather than pitching it into secondary) saves a lot of worries about infecting your regular fermenter, but comes with the risk of exploding bottles if there's too much stuff left in the beer for the brett to eat. The idea here would be to use swingtops, open one every few weeks to check that they aren't going gushy, and vent them if they are. Future iterations of the recipe could tweak the priming sugar and/or the recipe to get the carbonation level right.

Finally, I'd really like to try brewing a really big stout - possibly the 1914 Courage Imperial from Ron P's blog. I'd have to do two mashes and two boils to get a full fermenter of the stuff, but it'd be worth it to have a nice big beer to drink over winter.

I guess I'll check in on how that goes in another six months!

Friday 7 July 2017

Beyond SMaSH

The topic for this months Session, hosted by Mark Lindner at By The Barrel is SMaSH beers - Single Malt and Single Hop.

The first thing that I'd say here is that as far as I'm concerned, SMaSH is very much a learning tool for brewing rather than a trend that particularly interests me as a drinker - and in fact, while single hopped beers are fairly common, I can't ever remember having seen a commercial beer that made a virtue of its single-maltedness.

As a bit of homebrew pedagogy, thought, it seems to have a lot of traction; searching homebrew forums will turn up dozens of threads on suitable combinations and recipes for SMaSH brews. The reasons for this popularity are fairly clear - it's a simple formula to remember, it has a catchy name, it's got obvious learning value, and it steers the brewer clear of a number of recipe-building pitfalls while encouraging them to focus on the fundamentals of producing a good, clean, balanced beer.

What's interesting, though, is that this is generally the only expressly "educational" style of recipe that people use, and it's obviously limited in its scope. We conduct methodical explorations of Maris Otter and Pilsner malt, or Goldings and Cascade, but when it comes to roast and amber malts, sugars and yeast, we still tend to bash on haphazardly on a basis of "well, I brewed a thing with it once that came out well..."

If I ever published a book on homebrewing - something that might take a while, as it'd require me to become at least vaguely competent first - it'd be a book of recipes. Or rather, a book of families of recipes. Each one would have a basic version, which would be reliable, simple and bordering on bland, but then a series of variations, each of which would put a different ingredient under the spotlight. So a malty bitter might be used to learn about different varieties and grades of amber and crystal malts, a pale Belgian ale could be a good starting point for trying out different brewing sugars, and a clean American IPA grist would provide an obvious base to experiment with New World hops.

It's obviously possible to work towards this sort of approach as a novice homebrewer, but it's slowed down by the fact that even reliable basic recipes take a while to work out at this stage, and picking suitable quantities for your more exotic additions is bit of a shot in the dark.

So if anyone is thinking of writing a homebrew book, this is one that I'd buy! And if anyone isn't thinking of writing a book, but has recipes that they use in this way, then I'd love to hear about them.