Friday, January 30, 2009

Fermentation Friday - Happy brew year

A remembrance of things past...
It's always refreshing to find that you're not the only one out there who takes a certain sick pleasure in pouncing on painfully obvious puns when spinning titles for discussion topics. So it was with a warming tinge of kinship that I read the theme for this month's Fermentation Friday, having hopefully induced a couple dozen groans of my own with the same retarded wordplay back in December in the the Aleuminati forums. If there comes a time in my life when obviously altering text for wincingly comic effect doesn't entertain me, it'll mean that some small part of me, raised on excessive Jumble and crossword exposure from my youth, has died.

Digression aside, today's topic revolves around homebrewing practices and how we resolve to change and improve upon them in the coming year. The timing couldn't be more appropriate, interestingly enough, as this weekend we'll be hosting a bit of a "homebrew inventory reduction initiative" (also known as a "kegger") in order to make a little space for a new year's worth of experimentation. While certainly not indicative of the range of batches we tried to pull off this past year (the bird being long gone, along with that witwheat and various others, long forgotten), there's a certain undeniable trend that cropped up while I was penning the tasting notes for our little soiree. A pattern emerged when I lined up the offerings, one that led me to consider an alteration to our habits, a habit I hadn't really seen spelled out so clearly:

Old Fashioned Ale – 9.0% abv
Black Lav Winter Saison – 9.5% abv
Early Bird Appelwoi – 9.0% abv
X’08 Holiday Ale – 10.0%
Het Mysterie – 7.5%
The Indoctrinator – 7.5%

Turns out we like to churn out stuff that's got a little kick on it, looks like. So, while I already resolved to make a change in my lazy packaging tendencies, another theme has emerged that may end up a dominating guide for 2009's time around the kettle: The Year of the Session. Strong American beers had long been in the minority not because they're any more difficult to produce, unlike what some marketers might want you to believe. They're in the minority because they're expensive to make, and in many places still, illegal to boot. Strong beers require more time, energy, and ingredients, which in turn demands smaller batches at sometimes prohibitively higher retail prices. As the craft beer scene has evolved, however, strong beer has been the battleground where the top producers have been vying for superiority amongst the burgeoning class of beer drinkers with money and the conceit of heightened taste buds, creating a situation where average alcohol levels (and along with them, cost) have been unceasingly building. Reflecting on our own brewing experiences, it's obvious that we're just as guilty.

And while Jay and I were recently joking that the typical 5%, even 6% beers currently labeled as being "session strength" should really be called "re-session strength" [Get it? See? It's that pun thing. I can't get over it], it seems a prudent time for brewers, along with homebrewers, to focus their skills on sub-5% beers that don't sacrifice flavor, proving they can maintain body and retain a geek's attention, worth savoring, warrant excited opinions... and maybe re-root folks to the simple brilliance of a set of styles so transparent and unshielding of their flaws, demanding of respect via the solid obviousness of its craftsmanship. In other words, to tap into something that's been relatively lacking on US soil ever since Prohibition, but something well understood in places like the UK and Germany: moderate-strength beers need not be watery nor bland nor incidental. They can, in fact, be points of pride.

So that's the plan (once the *ahem* imperial pilsner in the fridge is ready). While the next batch we're likely to tackle falls within the "re-session" band of the strength spectrum, it's a step in the right direction. To mild and helles, and beyond.

Many thanks to lootcorp 3.0 for hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, a monthly blogging carnival gathered around the topic of homebrewing, originated by Beer Bits 2. I also promise to cool it on the goofy Lomo photo filter. Next time you see a high contrast vignette on this site, it'll be from our Holga, I swear.



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