2022’s Brew Year’s Resolutions

Once again, it’s time to look ahead to the new year of brewing. What would I like to achieve in 2022?

  • Session Beers
    • I’ve always had session-strength beers as a regular part of my brewing rotation, and have had some really great successes. I’ve done well with IPAs and stouts, and would now like to branch out a bit. I recently made a session strength dark mild, which I just put on tap and am really enjoying. A Scottish 70-/Heavy is on the schedule, and I might even aim for a patersbier soon.
  • German Pils
  • Pre-Prohibition Lager
    • I recently had the 1903 Lager from Craftsman Brewing Company (Pasadena), and this beer was amazing as a pre-Prohibition style lager that clocks in at 5.2% abv. The malt character was fantastic, against some really nice hop qualities. It’s hard to find much information on this beer, so I’m going to need to look around a bit in the world of pre-Prohibition lagers to figure out a comparable recipe. In any case, this is a beer style I want to make!
  • IPAs
    • I’ve made some good IPAs, and even some great ones, but I’ve not yet settled on a “house” recipe. I need to change that. I have found that “traditional” West Coast IPAs with a heft measure of Centennial and Cascade are most to my taste, so I want to revisit previous successes and see if I can’t replicate those. I might even return to a session rye IPA, to hit the session beer goal again.

2021’s Homebrew Highlights

This was a big year for my brewing, even if I had busy stretches with minimal time. As I enter the last few minutes of 2021, here are my thoughts looking back…

  • Favorite Batch
    • This was a tough one to pick! I had a decent number of beers I really liked, and so I chose the following two as my favorite batches:
      • Ill-Tempered Gnome. I don’t make American brown ales very often, but this one was just awesome. The hop character is particularly memorable, and I definitely want to make it again sometime.
      • Alstadt Altbier. I feel like I perfected my altbier game on this latest version of the recipe. Again, a very memorable beer!
  • Least Favorite Batch
  • Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
    • Winter Dream Ale. High-alcohol beers are not the sort of thing I do all the time, but this particular recipe was really enjoyable in the Christmas to New Year’s stretch. It had a nice mix of flavor and body, making an interesting beer without addition of spices or strange adjuncts.
  • Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
    • I had fun putting together an amber kellerbier, in Dimorphos Kellerbier. I really freestyled it in the recipe, and achieved a tasty result.
  • Upcoming Beer With Most Potential
    • I have another Pliny the Elder clone fermenting right now, and I’m crossing my fingers that it turns out well!
  • Best Technique Added to Repertoire
    • I’ve been using a Hochkurz mash semi-regularly, and like the results in terms of extract yield as well as fermentability and flavor.
  • Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
    • The HOPBOX was a lot of fun to play with, and gave me a nice IPA as a result. I’ll be enjoying the next iterations as they arrive this year.
  • Favorite Book(s)
    • For Christmas, I received a copy of Dark Lagers: History, Mystery, Brewing Techniques, Recipes (by Thomas Kraus-Weyermann and Horst Dornbusch)…it has been a fun one to browse! The historical information is interesting, the recipes seem solid, and the food recipes are also something I’ll look forward to trying.
  • Other Milestones
    • I had some fun with other fermentables this year, including creation of miso paste as well as injera bread. I’ve continued with sauerkraut and homemade mustard, all of which are fantastic accompaniments for beer and sausage.
  • Overall Stats
    • I brewed 31 batches of beer this past year, totalling around 150 gallons of beer produced.
    • No particular beer style dominated 2021, although I had three batches of German pils and two batches of American IPA as the most frequently brewed styles. Expanding into IPAs as a general category, I brewed seven recipes in the IPA world (including American, English, white, and double IPAs).

2020’s Homebrew Highlights

2020 was…2020. With everything that happened, from the pandemic to presidential shenanigans, this was one of the odder brewing stretches I’ve had. My homebrewing hobby was a bit of a respite from 2020, giving me a chance to disconnect and relax. Almost as importantly, homebrewing meant I had a steady supply of fresh beer even when the store shelves were bare, or when I really didn’t want to run more errands than necessary!

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

Tremonia Lager
  • Favorite Batch
    • It was hard to pick just one favorite, but Tremonia Lager stands out. The perfect level of maltiness in my version made it incredibly enjoyable, and it was ridiculously drinkable at just shy of 5% abv. More, please! In fact, I have another batch lagering right now.
  • Least Favorite Batch
    • Nothing was a complete dumper (in sharp contrast with the dumper year of 2020), although I found that the Kveik Pale Ale was the most disappointing batch. I blame my hopping strategy, not the yeast.
  • Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
    • Kveik the Keg Brown Ale was lots of fun, and turned out surprisingly well. If I have Hornindal Kveik on hand in the future, I’ll likely do more in this flavor space.
  • Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
    • “Favorite Batch” Tremonia Lager also wins this category! It was a new-to-me style (Dortmunder Export, a.k.a., German Helles Exportbier), and I had a lot of fun figuring out the recipe.
  • Upcoming Beer With Most Potential
    • I’ve got a few beers in the fermenter or keg that are still waiting to be put on tap, including a German pils, that rebrew of Tremonia Lager, a Scottish-esque ale, and a double IPA (clone of Avery Brewing’s Maharaja IPA). They’re all full of promise, but the one I’m most excited for is “Off the Rails Belgian IPA”. It’s currently in its second week of fermentation, as an attempt at a clone of Houblon Chouffe. It’s a pretty high octane beer, well on target to hit around 10% abv. The batch is going to condition for awhile before being ready to serve, probably a month or two at least. I imagine that this is going to be a beer that I’ll finish fairly slowly, and may not even put it on tap at the main keezer, but will just pull off a glass now and then using a picnic tap.
  • Best Technique Added to Repertoire
    • A few months ago, I transitioned to electric brewing, which has enabled mash recirculation as well as easier step mashing. I’m still on the learning curve, but the curve is starting to flatten out a bit. The brew day rhythm is locking into place, and I’ve steadily gotten more efficient with each batch.
  • Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
    • As mentioned above, kveik was a fun yeast space to play around in. I made three batches with it–a pale ale, a brown ale, and my holiday ale. It really does live up to the hype of fermenting cleanly and quickly.
  • Favorite Book(s)
  • Other Milestones
    • I’ switched entirely to stainless steel fermenters, after years of glass carboy use. Safety was a big concern, as well as ease of cleaning.
    • I had a lot of fun in the fermented foods realm, playing with some sauerkraut and other lacto-based items.
    • On the commercial beverage side, I’ve been sampling a variety of non-alcoholic options. They’re not a complete substitute for alcoholic beverages, but are a bit more interesting flavor-wise.
  • Overall Stats
    • I brewed 34 batches of beer this year, with around 160 gallons into kegs.
    • German Pils was my most frequently brewed style, with four batches. American pale ale followed, with three batches. American IPA, Dortmunder Export, Irish stout, and kölsch-style beers had two batches each. Lagers as a group comprised slightly more than a third of my overall brewing this year.
    • Overall beer strength was pretty middle-of-the-road, with a target starting gravity averaging 1.053 (median=1.048). My highest starting gravity was 1.105, for my homebrew club’s imperial stout barrel project. The lowest starting gravity was 1.031, for the Berliner Weisse.

2019’s Homebrew Highlights

2019 marked my eleventh year brewing out in California, and I feel like I’m squarely in the comfort zone of homebrewing. Yet, I didn’t let myself get too comfortable, either. This was a year to push myself with more lager recipes and some new styles. I’ve improved my packaging of oxygen-sensitive beers, and overall this has paid off handsomely. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights!

  • Favorite Batch
    • This was a great year, with several batches I really loved. Favorite batch for 2019 is a hard choice, but I think I’ll give a slight edge to the Alta California Lager. It was a virtually perfect beer, and I hope I’ll be able to get something close to it again in a future incarnation!
  • Least Favorite Batch
    • I didn’t have any complete disasters this year, so this is another hard choice. My recent brown ale was a bit of a disappointment, so that’s probably what I would nominate. I also haven’t gotten quite to the perfect Bohemian pilsner. Something to shoot for next year!
  • Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
    • I made a Breslau-style pale schöps, and it was just plain fun. I loved the challenge of creating a recipe for a style taste-unseen, and the result was really nice. It was a treat!
  • Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
    • Stygimoloch Bock turned out great in its inaugural run, and with a little more tweaking it’s going to be pretty darned amazing. I had fun working with the artist on the commemorative design, and had just as much fun enjoying the beer with friends.
  • Best Technique Added to Repertoire
    • I’ve perfected a partially closed transfer, to reduce oxygen exposure for sensitive beers like dry hopped IPAs and light lagers. Just like a totally closed technique, I purge the keg with CO2 by filling it with StarSan solution and pushing out the liquid. Rather than pushing the beer in with CO2 also, I just siphon in via the out port. As long as I don’t disturb the surface of the fermenter’s beer too much, I figure that oxygen introduction is quite minimal. I feel this is a touch safer than even minimal pressure added to a glass carboy, and the process also involves less equipment.
  • Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
    • Comet hops! I liked how my Comet Pale Ale turned out, and will be looking to try this again for future IPAs and pale ales.
  • Favorite Book(s)
    • I read the somewhat old Bavarian Helles volume by Hornbusch (from Brewers Publications), and rather enjoyed it. I picked up a few from this style-centered series when they were on sale, and have been working my way through them. The oldest date back to the early 1990s, when brewing and homebrewing were completely different worlds. Some of the recipes have value, and some I take with a bit of skepticism. Even so, the histories and background are super interesting, with more detail than the typical brewing article. The books are also a nice length to finish in one or two sittings, which is a rare sweet spot for the beer writing market.
    • On the cultural side, I think This Ain’t the Beer That You’re Used To: A Beginners Guide To Good Beer, by Dom “Doochie” Cook, stands out among books I read. It’s highly readable, and brings a fresh voice to the beer writing world. Check it out!
  • Other Milestones
    • This is the year that I finally figured out lagers. Around a quarter of the beers of 2019 were lagers, including everything from Munich dunkels to German pils to Mexican-style lager to bocks. I had more hits than misses, and can foresee even more lagers next year!
  • Overall Stats
    • I brewed around 25 batches this year; not as much as some years, but certainly not too shabby. There were times where I ran a little short on homebrew (mainly when I had extensive stretches of no-brewing due to work/family schedules), so next year I’ll try to plan things out a bit more.
Corn grits, ready to go into the Alta California Lager

2017’s Homebrew Highlights

20171113_1742532017 was a fun and productive year for my brewing. Here’s are some of the highlights:

  • Favorite Batch
    • Dunkel-Osteus
      • My first Munich dunkel brought together several techniques I had been practicing–water adjustments, late addition of dark grains, and lagering. It came out nearly perfectly, creating an intensely enjoyable and very drinkable beer.
  • Least Favorite Batch
    • Czech-ed Out Pilsner
      • My first dumped batch. When the hops have a funny aroma in the bag, they’re not going to have a better aroma in the brew. This ended up as a grassy-smelling mess (even though it looked beautiful). Lesson learned!
  • Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
    • Raspberry Belgian (version 1 and version 2)
      • I did two iterations of this batch; one with frozen raspberries and acid malt to provide fruit and tartness, respectively, and one with canned raspberry puree and kettle souring. The first batch hit the fruit flavor much better, although it wasn’t terribly tart. The second batch didn’t have nearly as nice of flavor or as pretty of a color, and was almost too sour. So, I’ll probably try another kettle-soured version that hits less acid (maybe a pH around 3.8?) and uses frozen fruit. With a bit of tweaking, this recipe should be a solid one.
  • Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
    • Red Rye Lager
      • I haven’t tasted the results yet, but this batch was just plain fun to plan and brew. I enjoyed experimenting more with rye, as well as applying my developing skills for lagers. It was probably the most creative brew I’ve done in awhile, in terms of going off-script for recipes.
  • Best Technique Added to Repertoire
    • Kettle souring with yogurt
      • I tried this with the second iteration of the Raspberry Belgian, and loved the concept. It’s way cheaper and easier than buying a fancy bacterial culture, and produces a nice, clean sourness. I want to try this with a few other styles, such as Berliner Weisse.

20170625_205023

  • Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
    • I discovered the Amoretti Craft Puree series at Homebrew Con this year (we got a bottle in our “swag bag”), and have really been enjoying playing with it. It seems to fill a nice niche in between fruit extracts and straight fruit purees; the blood orange variety went nicely with my American wheat beer, and I also crafted a tasty peach IPA with the stuff. 2018 will bring more brews with this series of purees!
  • Favorite Book
    • As we close out the year, I just finished Pete Brown‘s Miracle Brew. I’ve enjoyed Brown’s writing, since I discovered Hops and Glory, and this book is a worthy successor. Brown excels at combining travelogue with beer history, while being pretty entertaining in the process. Miracle Brew is no exception–he surveys the history and cultural influence of major beer ingredients, while introducing us to many of the folks behind the scenes. His books tilt towards the British (I got a bit lost in the otherwise enjoyable Man Walks Into a Pub, because I’m not immersed in British pub culture), but this one is cosmopolitan enough to be engaging even for us Americans. Highly recommended!
  • Other Milestones
    • It was a good year for blending beer and science communication; I had an article in Zymurgy on the evolution of hops, which presented a ton of new information on hops that hadn’t made it into the brewing literature yet. Additionally, I put together a slide presentation on the intersections between beer and paleontology, which I gave at several venues (including HomebrewCon).
  • Overall Stats
    • I brewed around 30 batches this past year–that’s a new record!