Friday, January 9, 2015

New Year's Plans and 2014 Reflection

A bit of non-beer time in northern Italy
For the past couple months I've noticed that I have often been independently on the same page for brewing with Amos at Browne and Bitter (hop-forward saisons, spontaneous fermentation, sour soleras...). But I can claim no such thing with this post. I shamelessly got this idea from reading his recent plans for 2015 post (an idea he says he got from other blogs). Although perhaps there won't be too much in the way of technical brewing info or recipes in this post, I'll benefit from laying these ideas out (and thinking them through a bit more as making such a list entails) and hopefully you'll benefit from either being prompted to make a similar list of your own or from seeing my process for why I am focusing on what I am focusing on.

One of my favorites from 2013-14: Geuzestekerij De Cam
I'll start with a quick breakdown of what stands out to me as I look back on my last year of brewing. I spent about 9 months away from brewing due to a move to Mainz, Germany from the start of October 2013 until the end of May 2014. While this provided plenty of great opportunities to visit breweries, try beers, and speak with brewers in Europe (mostly Belgium) as well as time to do a bit of traveling not related to beer, by the time I returned I was really ready to get back to brewing. Spending that long not brewing but thinking and reading about the beers I wanted to brew and planning out some recipes, combined with wanting to make up for lost time, had a big impact on the brewing that I did in 2014.

Year in review

One boil split into 4 different petite saisons.
1) Directed, planned and repeated brewing - I did this sort of thing before 2014, but planning and specific goals directed my brewing this year much more than before. Most of the beers I brewed in 2014 were in a pretty similar range, and I repeated multiple recipes with minor changes while the memory of the earlier batch was still fresh in my mind and while some bottles were still around. In addition to these replicates with different hot sides and slightly different recipes, I split a lot of batches for different treatments in the carboy (or at bottling). This regular and repeated brewing let me directly test certain aspects of my process while eliminating almost all of the other variables, which let me improve what I'm doing with a bit more confidence that the results weren't due to something other than what I intended to change.

When I wasn't brewing a variation of a recipe (and even when I was) I spent more time planning the brew day and what processes I was going to use. Full disclosure - I spend a lot of time planning and taking notes. Some of my friends give me a good-natured hard time because of it. And I know that some people don't enjoy those parts of brewing and would rather brew a bit more spontaneously. That doesn't work as well for me but if that's what you find enjoyable about the hobby and you are happy with that, then I think you are fine to keep with it. Anyway, this planning helped things run smoother on brew day, but more importantly the brews were easier to learn from since I knew and thought about what I was going to do before I did it. Therefore I was able to test out more stuff, and when not directly testing something I still had a good record of what I did and what my reasoning was for doing it.

Racking from the open primary into barrels and secondary.
2) First commercial brew - In October a local brewery Moon Under Water asked me to collaborate with them on a saison. This was a big milestone for me as a brewer and an awesome experience. The brewers Clay and Jeff were great to work with. I've continued to work with them on barrel aging projects and general brewery operations, which has helped me to do more with barrel aging and souring than I could as a homebrewer and helped me learn about the day to day operations of a brewer. Like many homebrewers I have had thoughts of commercial brewing. I'm not sure if it is right for me and if it would take some of the fun out of brewing, but starting to work with commercial brewers and learning more about commercial brewing definitely helps me know what I would be in for if I were to go that route. And if not it is a pretty fun experience for expanding my homebrewing and getting to sit down in a bar with friends and drink the beer.

3) Connecting with others thinking about similar things -Starting up this blog has connected me with other brewers outside of my local homebrewing community. There are plenty of great brewers locally and I definitely learn from the things that they are doing, but discussions with others in different areas thinking about the same sorts of questions and brewing the same sorts of beers as me has helped me learn more about brewing the styles I am interested in (from both the discussions and the research I do to help feed the discussions) and has given me some new ideas. This is something that has happened much more than I expected it would.

4) Milk the Funk - In the later part of 2014 I started contributing to the Wiki for Milk the Funk, a new facebook group, forum and wiki for info about brewing sour and funky beers. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of the name, but perhaps there is a good story about why they chose it that will make me like it (I felt the same way about The Rare Barrel until I heard their story). Anyway, that doesn't change the fact that it is a great resource for and community of brewers who love brewing the sour and funky beers. If that's the sort of thing you are interested in and haven't checked it out yet, you should. I'm happy to be contributing to the wiki to help bring together one site for info about brewing these types of beers and resources for learning more. It's a work in progress (as wikis will forever be) but some great stuff has been put up in a relatively short amount of time so far.

Plans for 2015

1) Work on blending - The 'magic' of many of the beers I am most inspired by comes in how the beer develops in the barrel and how the brewer/blender uses the unique character of each to create a final product or final products that they are looking for. There are a few non-blended sour beers that I've had that I thought were really excellent, but the vast majority are blended. I've done a small amount of blending so far, but this has mostly been at bottling or in the glass with different homebrews

By 2016 my barrel capacity won't be this awesome, but there is room to dream. At 3F.
This sort of thing requires sufficient time input to have enough aged beers around for the blending, and I now have enough aging beer around that I think I can get more into blending. And using the characteristics of some to add a missing element to others. To further this I have brewed an acid blending beer (basically a rather acidic beer that I can use to adjust the acidity of others) that I plan to keep around and top up as needed with fresh wort. And I also have a brett blending beer around, and will likely brew a second in the coming months. I'll use these more acidic or brett-forward beers to guide a series of soured saisons, which may also be blended together, to what I am looking for in aged and somewhat but not sharply acidic saisons.

I expect a long learning curve for this. I imagine I'll try a couple of processes for the blending before I come up with the best one. And I would like to practice on shorter time scale brews like saisons before venturing into lambic-oriented blending of long-term complex mixed-microbe fermentation brews. I may also extend this blending to some clean beers, but for now the focus will be on soured saisons. It will be almost all carboy sours at this point as well, but hopefully I can put the two oak barrels that I share with friends to use with blending (and also hopefully expand my barrel aging).

2) Continue targeted brewing with style focuses - I think many of the advances I have made this year in brewing are due to pretty directed brewing. I'd like to continue with the yeast blending work I've been doing and solidify some blend selections. I also plan to work toward a blend of different bretts that I am happy with. I like some of the brett stuff I've done so far but I haven't found the right combination to get what I am looking for. So I'll probably transition a bit more toward working on adding single strains and blends to saisons to find the brett blend I'm looking for.

If I decide to step away from brewing funky and saison-oriented beers I'd like to do some focused work on hoppy pale ales. Over the last year I have been shifting toward lower abv more drinkable beers. I generally like having larger volumes of good low ABV beers (that are still flavorful) than A DIPA/barleywine/imperial whatever. Not that I don't also like those in moderation, but that's the way my brewing and beer consumption has been shifting. I like drinking beer, what can I say... So anyway, the goal with the hoppy pale ales is to try different processes for trying to get the hop character in some of my favorite commercial hoppy beers. I've brewed some alright IPAs before and I've been happy with them, but some breweries just really stand out in excellent hop use (and it's not always more is better) and I want to work on that. We'll see if I can be torn away from saisons and funky/sour beers long enough to work on this.


  1. Thanks for the shout out! I'd be interested to hear how you went about brewing your acidic beer?

    1. Yeah, sure thing Amos. You're doing cool stuff. The acidic beer is a pretty simple lacto-forward beer. I approached it sort of like a berliner in terms of fermentation, so it doesn't have a ton of complexity. Perhaps in the future I could use a brew that I didn't intend to be a acid blending beer but got too acidic, and that would probably be better, but for now I think this should work.

    2. To follow this up, my plans for the acid beer didn't really work out. I did a lacto primary for a while and then added brett but it didn't get as acidic as I wanted and was overall not that great. I may try something similar with pedio (I have been gravitating mroe toward pedio anyway) and more fermentation complexity but we'll see.

  2. "You see, the Funk is a living creature. It's 'bout the size of a medicine ball, but covered in teats. It came from another planet, and landed on Bootsy Collins's house. "

    1. Thanks Dave, it definitely makes more sense now. Especially the picture. And i now have more appreciation for the name. -Sidenote about the Rare Barrel name for any that didn't know. That comes from the idea of finding one stand out barrel in a cellar of hundreds of barrels that have all been treated more or less the same. And in that one barrel, which they call the 'rare barrel', the small differences in conditions and microbes were right for something exceptional.