Friday, March 1, 2013

My Year of Homebrewing in Review - 2012


I brewed my first batch of beer on March 1, 2011. Each year on that anniversary, I'm going to look back and see what I've learned in the last year, pick out my best batches of beer, and contemplate the year ahead. As it happens, this year's Homebrew Anniversary is also the one year anniversary of me moving out of Brooklyn and heading upstate to Beacon, NY. With more space for homebrewing, I finally did away with partial-mash and extract batches completely. I built a stir plate, and eventually got my water report for the area and started adjusting my water profile. I also spent a great deal more time than is sane making my own beer labels. The next equipment upgrade I'd like to make is a kegging set-up, but given the space and expense required, that's probably a long ways off.

Two main themes of the last year for me were Brettanomyces experimentation and IPA experimentation. I played around with a number of 100% Brett fermented beers, and have a lot more planned for the next year. I also had the idea to culture Conan, the Alchemist's private yeast strain which is the backbone of Heady Topper. I've had great results with Conan so far, and will hopefully be fermenting a lot more beers with it in the future, including my next single-hop IPAs: Simcoe and Mosaic. Nelson Sauvin became my favorite hop (for the time being, at least), though I only have limited experience pairing it with other hops.

My Favorite Batches
This last year of homebrewing was, for the most part, pretty successful. I had a few stinkers, including one dumper batch, but the number of recipes I was happy with outnumbered the ones that left me disappointed. Here are my brews from the last year that I was most fond of:

100% Brett Belgian Golden Strong Ale
Brewed all the way back in May 2012, this batch marked the first beer of my brewing career that I can hardly muster a complaint about. I'm not saying it's the best beer in the world or anything, just that I can't point out any specific thing that needs to be improved; especially for the "style." It's unique, flavorful, and aging nicely, plus it gave me some valuable experience with 100% Brett fermentation and oak aging. While still not overly funky (as expected), the flavor brings a pleasant, nuanced depth that, in all honesty, I enjoy more than just about all the 100% Brett beers I've had from commercial breweries. I still have a sixpack of this, which I plan to stretch out over the next couple years.

100% Brett Trois Session IPA
Somehow, I had the best luck in 2012 with the most unorthodox beers I brewed. This 100% Brett Trois fermented pale ale is possibly(?) my favorite batch to date. Intensely aromatic, tropical, fruity, and just unlike any other beer I've ever tasted, this one set in stone for me that homebrewing really has some irreplaceable perks. It was awfully hard to see this one kick — though I have two bottles set aside for aging, as part of my continued experiments to see how Brett affects oxidation in hoppy beers over time. The next year will undoubtedly see a lot of Trois action from Bear Flavored.

Belma Single Hop IPA
Another case of: this is why I'm glad to be a homebrewer. I could not have ever tasted a beer like this otherwise, seeing as this batch relied on two elusive, secret ingredients: the new Belma hop variety from Hops Direct, which had just hit the streets, and the Alchemist's private Conan yeast strain, which I had cultured for my own nefarious purposes. This batch was the epitome of "pleasant surprise," as I expected something nice and educational, typical of single-hop IPAs, but was blown away by the unique, intense strawberry character this beer gave off when fresh. Once again, I've never had anything else like it, and while I enjoyed a few other IPAs brewed last year equally, this one stands out in my memory for its unexpectedness. Belma and Conan both have exciting potential. 

Oaked Rye English Bitter
My brews often lean heavily on hops and Brettanomyces. I do consciously try to switch things up a bit from time to time, while still including elements that appeal to my sense of experimentation. In this case, I tried to design an English-inspired beer based around oak and rye that would be quick, relatively cheap, and sessionable. Self-described "session beers", in my opinion, too often fall back on stripped-down, traditional brewing styles at the expense of imagination. Aging a nutty, biscuity English bitter on oak chips doesn't add much expense or hassle, but creates something you'll seldom see on store shelves. I was a bit shocked how much I liked the result. 

I should mention that a number of beers brewed in the last year won't be ready for drinking until sometime in 2013. If any of those are winners, I'll include them in next year's round-up. Over the next year—much of which I already have planned out on my brewing calendar, because I am obsessive—my experiments will pretty much continue in the same direction. I'd like to do more of a variety of 100% Brett beers to get a feel for each strain's character; I'd like to learn more about how Brettanomyces affects aging beer and hop compounds (outside of funk development); and how oxygen affects Brett fermentation; I'd like to nail the process for getting the oak flavor I want out of oak cubes and chips; I'll do more with Conan, if I can maintain a healthy culture; and of course, continue to try to perfect my IPAs. With my water chemistry finally figured out, I'll also be brewing more darker beers that hopefully won't suck.

Should be fun!

For a jump further back in time, here are my experiences from my first year of homebrewing.


  1. Those all sound really good... I'm particularly interested in the Belma IPA, since I, too, bought a pound from Hops Direct. Still trying to decide what to do with them.

    Yet another reason for homebrew trade in the near future!

    1. Thanks! Are you thinking about a single-hop with Belma before you start blending? I can think of a number of combos that would probably work well... I'm thinking my next iteration of my "Solipsism" IPA with Nelson Sauvin will drop the Citra and use a combo of Nelson, Belma and Pacific Jade.

      For a single hop, it's obviously good with Conan (in my opinion), but I think it'd be really interesting with a 100% Brett Trois ferment... something else I hope to try in a few months. Definitely plenty of excuses for a homebrew trade, I agree!

    2. I WAS going to do a single-hop experiment, and I may still go that route... the only problem is that my brew queue looks pretty full for a while!

      I agree, I think a Brett-fermented beer with Belma would be a great experiment. The description of lots of strawberry notes, combined with what Brett offers... just sounds like it would really work.


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