My Homebrew Strategy: Serendipity

Style. Possibly the most contentious issue in beer. It could be argued that beer styles didn’t even exist until 1977 when the late Michael Jackson (The Beer Hunter, not a particular recording artist) published his comprehensive World Guide to Beer. In one stroke he redefined what it means to appreciate beer, comparing local varieties from all across the globe. From Wikipedia:

However, despite an awareness by commentators, law-makers, and brewers that there were different styles of beer, it wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s World Guide To Beer was published in 1977 that there was an attempt to group together and compare beers from around the world. Jackson’s book had a particular influence in North America where the writer Fred Eckhardt was also starting to explore the nature of beer styles. The wine importing company Merchant du Vin switched to importing beers mentioned in Jackson’s book. Small brewers started up, producing copies and interpretations of the beer styles Jackson described.

Many brewers outside the U.S. microbrewing scene, Belgians especially, continue to brew without regard to style definitions such as those supported by the Beer Judge Certification Program. Many refuse even to acknowledge the existence of such a rigid framework. There are many good reasons for this repudiation. The history of categorization of beer is byzantine at best: spend a few moments reading Shut up about Barclay Perkins and you will get an idea of how convoluted nomenclature can be.

Further discussion on this topic will have to wait for another time. I am using this simply to illustrate the rationale for my strategy when homebrewing; that is, serendipity. To put it simply (as a certain homebrewer said): Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. Beer has been brewed for millenia. In this modern age of scientific inquiry and quality malt, hops, and yeast, you can’t possibly make a beer any worse than somebody before you made. In fact, it is quite likely that it will turn out at least decent, and probably pretty good. It certainly won’t kill you. That’s the beauty of beer!

So when I sit down to hammer out a recipe, I am rarely thinking in terms of style, and never in terms of a single beer. Many go to great lengths attempting to recreate a particular commercial beer. This is entirely unproductive, as the adaptation considerations are uncountable. You will end up with a product somewhat similar but in truth not at all like the beer you were aiming for. It is much better to brew a beer and afterwards categorize it. Not only will you be more satisfied with the end product, you will learn more. You will get to know the tendencies of your yeast, the hardness of your water, and the flavor and aroma of your malt and hops. Following a recipe does not make a brewer. Enough didacticism.

My friend Jen recently gave birth to an adorable girl. Back in April she sent me this message:

You’re going to be an uncle! Well, you would be if you were my brother. Try to find the perfect beer for that!

So I started thinking about making her a fest beer to celebrate when she could drink again. It’s supposed to be a secret so don’t tell anyone, ok? Sure I had five months to plan, but I still didn’t get it done in time. Fortunately now she’s not getting any more not pregnant – as far as I know! Though I had decided on a recipe by August, I still didn’t get around to brewing it till September. Anyway, I went all out for this one: a ton of munich malt, real Hallertauer hops, and a double decoction mash. I lagered it for two and a half months in the cellar at Millstream and force carbonated (my first time!). It is obvious I am inexperienced, as the carbonation came out a little low, but not unpleasantly so.

The beer is named in honor of Skeletor, Jen’s daughter. Don’t worry, that’s not her given name, just what we called her in the ultrasound. It pours clearer than any homebrew I have made, just the faintest hint of haze. It is a shade of burnt orange and the head (what there is) is off-white. The aroma is supremely malty. Bread and caramel notes dominate, but some fruitiness comes through.

This beer is quite quaffable, but I must say the flavor is somewhat strange. Strong malt and bready character is most apparent. There is also a serious fruitiness that reminds me of raspberries or black caps. I notice a saltiness that I attribute to yeast autolysis (PDF warning). This beer is as dry as you can get. The light hop bitterness comes through the clean flavor. Even though the carbonation is much too low, the palate is quite lively.

So this beer is not too bad. But back to my point about serendipity. I had originally planned on brewing something like an oktoberfest for the celebration. Despite using lager yeast it ended up very fruity, and the remaining yeast gives a strange character. Fortunately in Germany they make a style of beer much like oktoberfest in strength and color, but with yeast in the bottle. They call it kellerbier (or cellar beer for germanophobes). That’s what I mean when I say don’t worry about style. Beer is beer is beer, and like that stupid quote goes, “shoot for the moon cause even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”

By the way, that Alt I referenced earlier is pretty good, I’ll post about it sometime. Now if only my Young’s glass didn’t have a chip.

+Skeletor Oktoberfest Kellerbier

RateBeer: 3.3 (3-7-6-3-14)

7 lbs. Munich malt
2 lbs. 2-Row malt
2 lbs. Victory malt

1/2 oz Hallertauer Tradition, 75 minutes
1/2 oz American (PNW) Mt. Hood, 75 minutes
1/8 oz Hallertauer Tradition, 30 minutes
1/8 oz American (PNW) Mt. Hood, 30 minutes

– Mashed in with 3 gallons 140F water to stabilize at 122F for 10 min protein rest
– Pulled first decoction (thickest 1/3), boiled, added back to stabilize at 150F
– Pulled second decoction, rest 20 min at 160F, boiled, added back to stabilize at 170F

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