Beer and Pavement

Building Coalitions Through Homebrewing

Posted in Beer by SM on January 17, 2011

This mess should result in a good beer. The blog post probably will not result in anything good.

Disclaimer: From time to time, I have a great idea for a post on this blog. However, my execution fails to deliver. This post had promise, but it lacks focus. I start out by making a case for homebrewing being an integral part of coalition building only to suddenly delve into homebrew geekery. For this, I apologize. Read this if you like or wait for Wednesday’s post which should be better.

I am a homebrewer. I’m not this guy, but I brew my own concoctions from time to time[1]. I typically do extract brews. That’s all I’m committed to at the moment. Still, I can make a pretty tasty beer brewing with extract malt instead of using an all-grain system[2].

Homebrewing was added to my long list of hobbies partly as a way to demystify the brewing process and partly to be able to hold my own in beer discourse. I’ve never done it for financial reasons. Lord knows I blow the budget with extra malt and hops, but that’s fine. I want to like the beer I brew and it’s worked out fine so far.

What people don’t realize about homebrewing is that it can be a rather social practice. A friend taught me how to brew in his kitchen. In the process, we polished off several beers – homebrewed and professionally brewed – as various folk stopped by to check and see what was happening. I’ve had people over for brewing and bottling sessions and have attended such get-togethers when other dudes brew. And at every brew day, there’s beer consumed.

For this latest batch, I wanted to try a style that’s taken the brewing community by storm: the Cascadian black ale. Some refer to this it as a “black IPA” which makes no sense. How can you be “black” and “pale?” By naming it “Cascadian black ale,” the Northwest (in particular Oregon) are laying claim to the style. This doesn’t sit well with me either. There’s nothing I hate in my beer more than marketing. Others call it an “Indian black ale.” I prefer to call the style a “black bitter.” Of course, if you want anyone to know what you’re talking about, you call it a “black IPA.”

A black bitter is basically an IPA with a darker malt profile, typically picking up the roasted and sweet flavors of the malt to balance out the bitter fruitiness of the hops. At worst, the style is a little bit of everything we like in our dark and hoppy beers, pairing deliciously with hamburgers and pizzas, to name a few. It’s a versatile style that fits nearly any mood. At best, it’s an amazing conglomeration of bitter, citrus, pine, roastiness, and even chocolate. The best of the style somehow balance the sweet and bitter while blasting your senses with hops.

My black bitter is called “Big Black Bitter,” in honor of math-rock originators Big Black[3]. I haven’t done this in a while, but I created the label on the left for the 22 0z. bottles I plan to fill in a couple of months. The recipe is here, and you can probably tell that it should be a hop-bomb. My hope is that the malt profile matches, even compliments the intensity of the hops.

So, Saturday was brew day. The specialty grains steeped for 20 or 30 minutes, filling the house with a hot cocoa aroma[4]. I moved on to the boil and added the first portion of extract along with 2 ounces of Chinook in order to put the bitter in this beer[5]. At this point, the kitchen smelled like a chocolate pine forest. I knew something was right… Simcoe… Centennial… Citra… Amarillo…

As I moved through my process, buddies came by to watch, give advice, and even help a little. We sipped on a homebrewed dubbel that was all bananas[6], a couple of Ska’s Modus Hoperandi[7], and a New Belgium/Allagash Vrienden[8]. Hop schedules were debated and assistance was given when dealing with the sludgy hop flowers at the bottom of my brew pot (see above).

It was decided that to balance out the bitterness of the Chinook and roasted malt, I needed to hold onto an extra two ounces of hops for dry-hopping[9]. I’ll dry-hop with a Cascade/Citra mix in the secondary and Simcoe/Amarillo in the thridary[10]

Wait, have I lost you yet?

The point was that this hop schedule was determined as I went along and the three of us were able to discuss options and that would benefit the beer most. The nose is both the most important aspect and first feature to fade in a homebrew. The excessive dry-hopping should overcome this unfortunate side-effect of the homebrew. Lots of hops at the end will insure a piny/fruity aroma to balance out the roastiness of the malt.

Eventually, my beer found its way into a carboy with some yeast. Now, the waiting begins as the yeast does its job by eating the sugars in the beer and spitting out alcohol. Eventually, this should be a great example of a black IPA and possibly even a fine tribute to Big Black.

Homebrewing encourages creativity, community, and patience. The end result is a beer one can be proud of. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Stay tuned…

1Not often lately, but I feel a resurgence. I’ll finish this batch, collaborate on a couple more before doing another of my own in the coming months.
2Simply put, brewers typically make beer by processing grains, hops, water, and yeast. The work they do with the grains to make it fermentable is done for you when you use extract. It cuts some significant time and equipment from the process.
3I actually not much of a fan of Big Black nor math-rock. However, founder Steve Albini has recorded just about every meaningful record of the past 20 or so years. He’s had an incredible amount of influence on music and is under-appreciated. The least I can do is make a beer in his honor.
4These are for flavor and color. Right away, the water took on a black look, making the appearance of the beer match expectations.
5Chinook smells like it should be an incredibly bitter hop. I look for this beer to be heavy on the bitter side, which suits me well.
6Beer geeks will describe a beer as tasting like raisins or bananas. It’s cliched and imprecise, but it works.
7This beer’s quickly replacing Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale as the go-to beer in Middle Missouri. Pine forest in a can.
8Oddly enough, this beer has not been available in this part of Missouri. I grabbed a couple of bottles in Kansas City several weeks back and tried it on tap. It’s a fantastic Belgian-style sour; balanced with just enough sweetness. It has been one of my favorite beers of the last few months. Too bad it didn’t reach town. I still have one bottle left. Now, with whom will I share it?
9“Dry-hopping” always sounds like “dry-humping” to me. God. I miss dry-humping. I guess I miss college.
10I know that it’s tertiary, but I couldn’t resist calling the third occurrence “thirdary.”

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