Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring and Summer Brews

I haven't brewed in a few weeks now, but it feels like an age. My Blue Blood lager is in the bottle (to be opened for the first time this weekend), and my Red Pheasant Pilsner will be in the bottle soon. It is high time to plan some brews.

Many of you are aware of the hop shortage, and that is something that has been weighing on my mind as I was planning recently. I have a fair bit of hops left over from the winter brewing, and I've actually laid my hands on another ten ounces of several different varieties, so I should be okay for a while.

But hops are only a small part of the picture. Two pieces that I have recently read have sort of changed some of the plans that I was making for my upcoming beers. The first is the book Brew Like a Monk. Having cut my beer drinking teeth on German beer, I felt a small bit of disdain for Belgian beers. Reading that book completely changed how I look at beer, think about beer, and has caused me to revise some of my goals for brewing beer. The Belgians make some amazing beers, and there are quite a few of them who use one grain and one type of hops in their beer. They use the yeast to drive the taste.

The other was an article in Brew Your Own magazine. There was a column in this month's issue where a guy was complaining to the columnist about how his pale ale basically always sucked. One of the key things the writer said in his answer was to try and keep things simple at the beginning. I look at homebrew forums alot, and there are tons of dudes with a post title like: First AG-Double Imperial IPA. Their grain bill looks like a laundry list, and they're using four different types of hops. That's all well and good, but what if it doesn't taste right? How do you decide that it was the 1/2 pound of CaraPils that was too much versus dry hopping with three different varieties? It's very easy to go from a complex taste to something that is just weird.

That kind of brings this post full circle. Up to this point I've paid attention to yeast, but only insofar as I was interested in pitching the proper amounts. My recipes have not been needlessly complex, but I would like to get a little more acquainted with individual ingredients, to know when I can push the envelope a little or when to back off.

To that end, my beers for the spring and summer are going to be very simple recipes. One or two grains. One or two hops. I'm going to try and limit myself to two different kinds of yeast (an American ale yeast, and a Belgian ale yeast). I think if I can make consistently good beers within those narrow parameters, I'll feel better about adding ingredients in future brewing seasons.


The Bearded Brewer said...

Good post. I have gone through a simliar realization in the past. I think that once you start getting some good beers under your belt you think you should go nuts. But I look at a lot of recipes that are as simple as 2-3 types of grains, and with the hop shortage I think "If I can't really taste this, why am I spending so much money on an ounce of this?"
I've tried to simplify my recipes and have found that I'm consitently getting better beers. Trying to brew organic helped me limit what I could add (due to available grains) but I think that actually was a good thing.

I was reading through Brew Like a Monk last night too. I think that Belgian beers were always intimidating until I started reading more about them and realized that for all of the snobbery that can exist in the beer world (precise to the style guidelines, etc.) there's something refreshing about Belgians. They really are about creativity. There are no real guidelines, and you can play with spices, ingredients and malts and you are making a unique beer.
Good luck! I'll be curious to see how it turns out.

Kevin LaVoy said...

Thanks for the props.

I think it's really true about brewing something simple first. If you can brew a good beer with one kind of grain, one kind of hops, and some yeast, then you're a good brewer. I don't know that it's possible to skip straight to great brewer. You've got to get the basics down pat first. You're either consistent or lucky. I'd like to be consistent.

Ted Danyluk said...

I wanted to add here that some of my favorite brews have also been the most simple. Lower gravity, balanced hopping, and a simple recipe usually equals great beer.

Even when I return to a bigger beer, or one with a long list of ingredients, it doesn't win me over as much as the others. It seems like simpler beers with subtle, yet noticeable flavors can be more complex.

Keep it up. I'm looking forward to hearing what you find, and how you like these various simplified beers.