And see where we've gone over the past 30 months
(For those who aren’t in the know, I posted a page about beer and all of the wonderful glory that goes on behind the scenes when brewing beer. I felt I needed to follow up on that wonderful Thankbeerings Day)
So here we go
It’s been 18 months since I spoke about climbing and brewing in a post. I mean, in the last 18 months I’ve only posted twice anyways, so that’s probably not saying much. And my full post about brewing beer was 30 months ago!! But when I last wrote about what I do outside of work and music, I promised that I would update everyone with more climbing photos and a longer list of tasty brews. I’m here to say that I’ve finally delivered. Fashionably late, amirite?
Let’s see. Over the course of the last 18 months I’ve switched climbing gyms, experienced climbing out doors in multiple beautiful locations, brewed five new beers, met new people in both the brewing and climbing communities and even had both communities bleed together in little bits. And that was just the beer and the climbing! I don’t even want to get into other stuff that's happened, what with personal relationships, money, Irbe, New Wave, Star Wars, and all. Enough has happened that I could probably talk and talk and talk. Like that time that Irbe’s rear differential popped? Or that time I found myself in a relationship with a wonderful woman? Or that time that I got my Avid support certification? Or that time holy shit Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and the Star Wars marathon holy shit that happened!! Lots of stuff that I could talk about.
But I know what my audience wants. You want extreme action photos and super cool alcoholic beverages! Or at least, that’s what I’ve learned from modern advertising. And if I want to have people read anything I write, there’s got to be something XXXtreme in these posts, with cool images of people doing XXXtreme things, all while drinking all of the most awesome of beers!! Shit. I need scantily clad women too, don’t I? Isn’t that demeaning to women? I’m doing this all wrong. I fucked up again. There are no scantily clad women here. My bad. MOVING ON.
BEER IS GOOD
Let’s talk about beer. Beer is good. We all know this. And as I’ve said before, beer is better when you make it yourself, as so many things are. And I stand by that statement, but now I stand by it to a point. As I’ve found now with two batches of beer that I’ve brewed over the last year, shit happens. Or more accurately, doesn’t happen. And sometimes when shit doesn’t happen, beers aren’t what you’d like them to be, and beer is sad. Sad beer makes me sad by association.
The lil’ hint that I dropped in my Never Ending Climb post was, if anyone took a close look at that oddly colored bottle of Bulleit Bourbon, a big ol’ dump of smoked Hungarian oak cubes in that glorious glass bottle of bourbon. The oak cubes had the privilege of soaking for about three months before I brewed my 5B Barleywine. The 5B stands for “Big Boozy Boobies Barleywine (style) Beer”. Sidenote that I should probably touch upon for the people reading this who just had one of their eyebrows shoot up above their hairline after reading the name of the 5B Barleywine, and since everything needs to be quantified and named and understood, I’ve decided to name my little homebrew operation n00b Brewery! Because if there’s one thing that I understand about brewing beer, it’s that I’m a fucking n00b. And the naming convention that has somehow taken over when I've been brewing these beers? A naming convention that I personally think is a fun way of labeling beer (If done subtly, of course) that has the added bonus of not being done by every other micro brewery that has popped up? Boobs. Everyone loves boobs! And if in the craziest of those insane dreams that occur in between the sleep and wake stage of your alarm clock and snooze button, if I ever made any money off of the beer that I brew, I could give a portion of the beer profits to breast cancer! It's a win-win for everyone! So, back to the beer! 5B was brewed successfully, but then required a torturous aging process with and without the bourbon-soaked oak cubes for almost a year. The anticipation turned out to be both the best, and the worst, part of this beer. . .
A lil' bit of yeast cake, anyone?
A little bit of an explanation is again in order. . .
I tend to make up fantasy scenarios in my head and live in a bit of make-believe land a decent portion of my day. If I see someone walking down the street, before they’d even have a chance to say anything I’ve already come up with two or three scenarios and conversations that could happen. They’re all insane, of course, but still. Just an example. I do the same thing with beer. Once I brew a beer and it fills up my fermentation bucket, my mind is automatically thrown weeks, or in this case months, into the future. I’m creating possible end results in my head; a beer that comes out better than I imagined, a beer that comes out with bacterial strains that I don’t want in my beer that provide funky flavors that I don’t want in a heavy, sweet, oaky barleywine, a glass carboy that cracks open half way through the fermentation process and floods my kitchen, a beer that ends up with any number of issues that can occur throughout the brewing process. And all of those end scenarios will pop right back into my head every time I check the beer, rack the beer, bottle the beer, test the beer, see the beer sneaking cookies out of the cookie jar out of the corner of my eye, that’s never actually happened, beer brewing can be stressful. But the stress is supposed to be the tension before the climax where we get to enjoy wonderful hand crafted home brew. I also now want to make a cookie beer.
I live in a "Delirium", some might say?!?
GET IT?!? RIGHT?!? HA!!!
Concentrate, Whitaker! Concentrate!
Okay, let’s talk about IPAs for a second. IPAs are awesome. There are SoCal IPAs, with their pine and tropical fruit hop characters that are over the top bitter, there are English IPAs with perfectly balanced malt and hop bodies, and there are Black IPAs (Cascadian Dark Ales, yeah yeah yeah) with huge roasted malt and chocolate notes bashing into their sharp earthy hop counterpoints. And one IPA in particular that has stood out among other craft beers is brewed by Russian River Brewing: Pliny the Elder. The recipe for Pliny was made public some time ago in the name of open source beer creativity. I decided early on to brew the Pliny recipe for my third brew day, with the twist of adding 4 reduced red grapefruit to give it a bright citrus note on top of the large hop bill. It was great in every way. And so much better than the recipes that I’d picked up from the homebrew shop for my first and second recipes. So I brewed it again while I was waiting for 5B to age, this time with even more added grapefruit. An expensive recipe, over a month and a half of fermentation, careful temperature control, a double dry hop schedule, two weeks of bottle conditioning, all to find. . .
The bottle conditioning didn’t happen. Either the acidity of the grapefruit killed off the yeast, or the priming wort wasn’t properly mixed or properly prepared.
I forced my way through all 32 bottles of my grapefruit DIPA version of Pliny, in the name of beer testing.
The struggle is real.
The fantasy in my head, of a wonderfully bitter double IPA with a huge malted sweet bread body and big notes of red grapefruit and citrus was dropped to the ground. There it lay, large cracks forming across its bright surface, mirroring the cracks that were slowly forming in my brewer's pride. And rushing in, closely behind it. . .
. . .Back to the 5B. . .
For almost an entire year, I stressed about the 5B. When I racked the beer over the bourbon oak cubes, I worried about sanitation issues. When I cleaned off the bottles I had saved over the course of the previous months, I worried about the structural integrity of the glass. When I mixed the priming wort, I told myself I wasn’t going to have the same lack of carbonation I had with the Pliny grapefruit double IPA, and so I paid extra attention to the mix of the priming wort. When I corked the bottles I worried about the size of the corks and their ability to keep the bottles sealed during the bottle conditioning. And then I had to stare at the bottles in my conditioning fridge, for months and months and months. And unfortunately for myself, my worries about the outcome of the carbonation rang true. About 80% of the bottles of 5B lacked proper carbonation. Almost a year dedicated to a beer, and in the end all I got was a 20% success rate. And what made all of the those under carbonated barleywines even worse was that the 20% that were properly fizzy were amazing. Light vanilla and oak notes in a very well balanced caramel and toffee barleywine goodness. I even had other home brewers tell me that as a cask style of under carbonated barleywine it was still a good beer. But what they hell do they know? They were probably just being polite. What dicks.
My dream of a sweet, boozy barleywine with notes of caramel and toffee and vanilla shoots up behind my IPA fantasy and as they connect, the glass dreams shatter into dust, spreading out across the floor below me, glittering in a bittersweet beauty of broken dreams.
I am of course being a little over dramatic. . . a little. . . I realized early on that brewing beer wasn't always going to be glorious group brewdays and every brewday won't result in perfectly crafted double IPAs and deliciously complex barleywines.I heard a brewer say once that you won’t have a perfect batch until you’ve brewed at least 100 batches. That’s still a long way to go for me, and I’m still experimenting with even just the basic why that I brew. And I've already found that there will be peaks of great beers and lots of laughs, and lows of stuck wort chillers and failed bottle carbs.
But you have to fight back against failure by getting off of your ass and brewing more beer. Or something. I think that’s a saying somewhere. After the 5Bs, I’ve brewed an excellent Winter Warmer (I was thinking Winter Warming Hands, but never really solidified that name in my head) that was a little bit more of what seemed to me to be Scottish Ale, due to the yeast and a little lower original gravity than I’d wanted. And just a few weeks ago I brewed a very simple Hefeweizen recipe that I’ll see if I can tweak into something nice and original. I'll be bottling it this weekend, and then I’ve got plans for an all grain 1 gallon set up that I’ll brew very small batches in to test out new ideas, starting with a provided Jalapeño Saison recipe, then maybe a Chinese Grapefruit Saison, maybe a sour, depending on where my mind wants to go with it. With beer, there are always endless opportunities to try new things and to create new brews. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for n00b Brewery!!
Actually. . . it will probably be holding a beer bottle. . . now that I think of it. . .
This is just part I of this post, so there's no shout out to be found here. You'll have to wait until part II.