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Oakes Weekly - December 25, 2003
Ramble on My First Homebrew
December 25, 2003
Written by Oakes
It’s Christmas and I’m on vacation, so this may be a bit of a ramble. Beer wise, it is such a busy season. I actually have had to compress things a little bit due to having my wisdom teeth out. That meant no beer for a week while I was on ibuprofen and would like to preserve what’s left of my poor abused stomach lining. I couldn’t imagine life without spicy food so I have a distinct interest in avoiding the mixture of ibuprofen or acetaminophen and alcohol.
<P>Of course, I’ve done weeks without beer before, and with relative effortlessness at that. But it’s a little bit different when a) you don’t have a choice and b) you have around twenty new beers waiting for you in the fridge and a handful of other old favourites. I mean, the week I couldn’t sample a beer was the week that I received a handful of beers that my parents brought in for me, the week a trade came in, and the week that my Secret Santa package arrived. Plus I had a stock of St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout that I’d purchased to fulfill a trade, and some Trois-Pistoles that I’d purchased for a recipe (actually the pork belly papardelle recipe from the Ratebeer recipe section).
<P>Speakings of that recipe section, I will be soon adding the recipes for the food we had at the Toronto gathering. There wasn’t any beer involved, but they’re part of Ratebeer history now. Plus people have been asking me for them. I encourage anyone who has contributions (and I know mr_kimchee and I aren’t the only people on this site who love to cook) to submit them and build up this resource.
<P>Another component of the recipe page is of course homebrew. I will naturally expect winners from the Ratebeer Homebrew Competition to submit their recipes, but I think we could do with a few more homebrew recipes on the site. It’s odd how sometimes the homebrew scene and the beer geek scene are totally disconnected (Toronto) but in other places (Halifax and Buffalo to name a couple) they are inextricably intertwined.
<P>Speakings of the Homebrew Competition, I just wanted to remind everyone that January 31st is getting tight for even the quickie beer styles like ESB, IPA, Irish stout and porter. We’d love to see a great turnout. With the logistics in the capable hands of Tim Herzog and the Flying Bison Brewery, I will be spending much of January arranging some sweet prizes.
<P>Considering we did about ten beers last year, and I would say that 8 of them were pretty damn good, and four were downright excellent, I can’t wait to see what turns up at the end of January. It won’t be like my first homebrew competition that’s for sure. A homebrew store opened up in the one-horse town in which I spent my university years. I naturally bought some equipment and decided to make a bitter. They didn’t have a lot of hops – a few small pouches on the shelf – but I wasn’t going all-grain anyway. They actually didn’t have a fridge at all, so all the yeast was dried. I won’t even get into my first experience with those silly pouches, jumping up and down on it trying to get the bloody pack to burst inside.
<P>So what I did was I bought a Yorkshire Bitter kit that was made by some company I have never heard from again. I decided to grab the lone pack of Cascades to give it some oomph.
<P>I reckoned I could improvise with my current kitchen equipment. I took my biggest pot - big enough for two small lobsters maybe – and filled it up with water and extract. It was way too small so I used a lot less water than I was supposed to and figured I’d dilute it later. I still filled the pot right up to the top, of course, because I didn’t know if the dilution thing would work and therefore wanted to minimize that. Even though I’d read Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing cover to cover, I must have missed the part about boilovers.
<P>Now, you have to understand, I wanted to make the beer, not clean up a litre of wort on the stove and floor, so I made that my priority. I continued with the beer production until I had pitched the yeast (dry, from the pack). Then I decided to clean up. Of course the wort on the stove and floor had dried up by that point. Yee-haw!
<P>I have to admit I love the smell of American hops mixing with the yeast in the fermenter. Some English brews, like Smiles Best, actually do a good job of capturing that vibrant fruity hoppiness. So having put the cleanup out of my mind (not too far, lest I repeat the situation next time out) I was living the dream. My first batch! It was only about 2.5 gallons, due to all of my water calculation issues.
<P>That should give you a hint as to what I would get when I’d bottled, carbonated and finally poured that first beer. Here’s another hint - I’d thought that the Yorkshire Bitter kit was unhopped extract. It wasn’t. In truth, I really should be considered a brewing pioneer because nobody back in 1995 was making 120 IBU session-strength beers.
<P>Undaunted by the marginal drinkability of my product, I entered it into the homebrew shop’s inaugural competition. A few of us weirdos sat around while the judges examined my absurdly overbittered “Yorkshire Bitter”, some ultra-thin stouts (think Hakim Stout, Saranac Black & Tan, or Labatt Porter for those who are familiar with those products), and an unhealthy supply of dubious lagers.
<P>When it came time to judge, I won my category almost by default as my marginally drinkable beer was better than the two other entries, neither of which were even remotely drinkable. The head judge for the Best of Show round was my economics professor. He declared that he had acquired a taste for hoppy beers while studying in England years before and therefore thought my beer, while bordering on the ridiculous, was the one he liked best (this wasn’t exactly a BJCP sanctioned competition). So I won Best of Show, which included a prize pack of ingredients. I was one happy guy.
<P>My subsequent homebrew experiences were just as rough. All my IPAs turned out over 100 IBUs, again years before this was cool. I did a berliner weisse once from a berliner weisse kit that produced a nice, slightly lactic nut brown ale, not unlike Newcastle. I eventually did make some decent product – IPA, mild, strong Belgian dark, hefeweizen – but it took a few tries and some help from people who knew what they were doing.
<P>All this leads me back to the Ratebeer Homebrew Competition. We have some great brewers, here. Guys with a real passion for it. We have five people signed up just to be there, and a couple more will probably come on board, too. I really encourage everyone to send in entries, and if you’re in the neighbourhood to come on down. No one is going thirsty, and if you’ve ever visited Flying Bison you’ll know that they’re great guys who make quality session brews – every town needs a brewery like this, really.
<P>As for Christmas, I’m writing this a few days before then so I’ll be able to cover that ground next week. I can rant about the woefully insufficient Terminal 2 at Pearson International. I can tell you about my visit to some of the breweries I missed on my last trip to Nova Scotia. And I’ve brought ‘t Smisje Calva Reserva and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Reserve with me so maybe I’ll tell you if I’ve changed my tune about barrel-aged beers. The week after I reckon I’ll present the Oakes Awards to 2003.
<P>But until then I hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas and planning some very cool things for the new year.
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