|Brassier au Baron in northern France.|
This year has brought me temporarily to Europe again - for about 6 months this time - which means another break from brewing. But I've been able to take advantage of the time for maintaining friendships and building new ones in Belgium. These have been great for my beer education and have provided plenty of inspiration for when I return to brewing in spring 2016. Some of these Belgian travels make it into posts on here and there are more in the queue waiting, but if you'd like to follow along with the Belgian travels the best bet is the blog's facebook page.
2015 in Review
I'd say 2015, and especially the past few months, was a really big year for this blog. Some of the most viewed posts (and a couple of my favorite posts that didn't get quite as big of a response) of the blog's 2+ years came since September. Posts were shared by people I don't know to prominent beer groups and I got personal mentions from the facebook pages of a couple breweries/blenderies/brewers/blenders that I really admire. This is a great building of momentum that I hope to carry through 2016. More than at any other time with this blog, I have half written posts and post idea outlines waiting for me to make the time to sit down and write them out. Hopefully that comes shortly.
|Setting up for blending in 2015.|
2) Connecting with other bloggers/beer enthusiasts: This showed up in the 2014 year in review, and is something that has been a major part of 2015. As I've mentioned elsewhere, one of the coolest things about this blog is that it helps to connect me with others thinking about similar things. This opened up some cool opportunities such as a 20 single strain brett tasting in June. As the readership of the blog grows, I hope/expect that this will continue. In addition to this, being back around Belgium has helped me to make new connections and strengthen the ones I made back in 2013-2014.
3) Milk the Funk: I've been increasingly involved with Milk the Funk (facebook and wiki), which splits my beer writing energies away from this blog a bit. My contributions to the wiki come in chunks here and there with a bit of a long gap, but I'm still a pretty active member in the wiki building (probably one of the top three or so averaged over the year). Most of the wiki work (by a large margin) is done by Dan and I have to thank him for that work and for keeping me on track by gently reminding me of the things I said I'd do on the wiki and haven't done yet.
|My friend Matt mixing the mash.|
In addition to this collaboration brewday, I have some professional brewing-related collaborations/connections in the works on Vancouver Island that should be announced throughout the year. Don't get too many crazy grand ideas - no announcements of opening my own brewery coming soon. Just some cool projects in the works.
5) On the home brewing front 2015 was a pretty good year. I continued my barrel aging projects (one 30 gal/~112 L barrel and one ~60 gal/~225 L barrel). After blending away most of my long term aging beers, I brewed a bunch more and I have something like 15 carboys waiting for me in Victoria. I began to do some fruiting of aged beers to gain more understanding of fruiting levels and usage. On the clean side I brewed a bunch of saison-insired beers, mostly table-strength with an OG around 1.030. I've been quite happy with these and plan to continue brewing a lot of table strength beers.
Goals for 2016:
1) Develop a house mixed culture - So far much of my brewing has been focused on carefully controlling blended yeasts to optimize blends and get repeatability. After trying out a good number of blends/ratios I am reasonably settled on what I want to form the foundation of many of my beers. So now I'd like to build that up into a mixed culture of yeast and bacteria that I can use and re-pitch for a good range of saison-like beers. Something along the lines of what Jester King is doing, where they can use their yeast and get 'clean' tasting beers that are ready on a faster time scale but continue to develop in the bottle (like Petit Prince) as well as longer time scale beers that show the mixed-microbe character when they are released. In order to do that I'll need to find some bretts that I like and that don't go through a strange phase in the middle that would prevent their ability to produce a younger beer as well as some bacteria that I can control well by hopping and temperature. So that's in the goals for this year.
|Open cooling a spontaneous beer.|
3) Continue research into historic and modern Belgian beer and brewing - This has been one of the big new steps I've taken over the past year and I'm pretty excited with how its gone so far. I did a bit of research into Grisette (here) which is a project that is still ongoing. I also started some research into historic lambic (part 1 and part 2). This is a major project and will be something I am adding to for quite some time (as constrained by my lack of French competency and my slow progress toward learning it). But I am still acquiring resources that I plan to make slow progress through. I have some news here that will be announced throughout 2016 as well.
4) Master the use of hops - Obviously I don't mean this literally, as that would be a lifelong project, but I'd like to learn more about getting the most out of hops. In my 2015 goals I mentioned the possibility of working on hop use in pale ales. I didn't end up doing that and probably won't brew may pale ales this year either, but I would like to catch up on newer hop varieties and non-European hops in general.
Also, I've been gravitating increasingly toward hoppier Belgian beers. Mainly those with noble-type hops, though there are certainly some excellent Belgian/French beers with new world hops (such as some from De La Senne and Thiriez). I feel like I am able to consistently get a good hop character from noble-type hops, but when I compare my beers to some of my favorite commercial examples sometimes they aren't quite there. I think some of this is just in hop levels (and I am moving toward using more and getting more bitterness) but some also is from use (including dry hopping, which is something I don't often do). So the goal for the year is two-fold: I'd like to feel like I am getting more out of the hops I'm using and, for the main goal, also expand the range of hops from which I feel like I know how to get what I want.