Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Brew Year Halftime Update

It's about halftime in the cool-temperature brewing season, as well as the end of another calendar year. I've managed to complete two full cycles of three beers each since the beginning of September, bringing my total for 2009 to 16 batches. That's still a few batches shy of our household's legally allowed maximum (200 gallons, if anyone is keeping track), but is nonetheless a new personal best.

Besides the quantity of beer brewed this year, I've been generally pleased with the quality. The first four beers I brewed in 2009 all won ribbons at various competitions, and a couple of my more recent brews (I think) would be worthy contenders, too, if I were to bottle and enter them as well. So far, my personal favorite is the Brooks Leather Saddle Mild I brewed back in September. It's a near-perfect clone of Moorhouse's Black Cat dark mild, and if judging in a competition, I'd give it an "excellent" BJCP score of around 40 out of 50. I used the same yeast in subsequent batches of Penny Farthing ESB and an English-style version of my Century IPA. The former was just OK--very clean and drinkable but rather lifeless--while the latter was probably my best IPA brewed to date. We've nearly finished off one of the two kegs of IPA, which proved extremely drinkable despite being full of interesting stone- and tropical-fruit flavors derived, presumably, from a combination of the malts, hops, and yeast-derived esters. A second keg of the same beer remains untapped as my first-ever experiment in wood aging. It spent a month on a small handful of Hungarian oak cubes, along with a pitch of Brett C. wild yeast and a couple of weeks dry-hopping. While not really historically accurate, it's nonetheless an experiment inspired by the IPA style's history as a colonial-era ale made for long ocean passages between Britain and British India. If nothing else, I'm anxious to see in 2010 what sort of complex (and hopefully still drinkable) ale is the result.

With summer temperatures now a relatively distant memory, I'm finishing up my last brewing cycle of 2009 with three lagers: a Munich Helles, a Bohemian Pilsener, and a Maibock. Primary fermentation is now finishing up with the last of these, while the first two are lagering. Because I had such success earlier in the fall with my English ales, I'm going to repeat a similar cycle early in the new year: another mild, another English IPA, and then one half-batch (5 gallons) each of my robust porter and a new idea for an oak-aged strong ale based on a clone recipe of Lagunitas's phenomenal Brown Shugga. I'll likely follow these ales with yet another round of lagers, and then as the weather gets warmer later in the spring, an overdue series of Belgian-style ales.

That's what's brewin' around here. May everyone have a Beery Christmas and Hoppy New Year!