Fresh summer beer

Homebrewing is a test of patience. The few hours spent brewing are only the start of the process: after the beer is done fermentation, about a week in most cases, you have to rack it into a secondary fermenter to get the beer off the dead yeast cells to avoid off flavours and also to add dry hops if the beer calls for them, which you then have to allow to sit for another couple of weeks. From there it’s into the bottles, but first you have to add some priming sugar to the beer to allow it to naturally carbonate in the bottles over the course of a couple of weeks. All in all, you’re looking at a good five to six weeks between brewing beer and drinking it, which, when you’re excited about your beer, can be a long time to wait. All of this is to say that I am now drinking the IPA I posted about here and the mild I posted about here.

The IPA is fantastic.  There are some things I would like to tweak on it: it could benefit from having a slightly heavier body, and it finishes really dry, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it could be a little bit sweeter.  That said, it’s a wonderfully refreshing and drinkable beer with a solid but not overwhelming bitterness and a beautifully fresh citrusy aroma.  I had an embarassingly low yield with this–only eighteen bottles from a three gallon batch–which upsets me a little because I wish I had more of it.  I’ll have to make up another batch soon, probably with a couple of changes.

The mild is decent, but I’m less happy with it than I am with the IPA.  The problem with making a mild, as I sort of began to address here, is that while I have some experience drinking mild, it was from too long ago for me to have a very clear idea of what the finished beer should taste like (never mind that I was only in the very beginning stages of my beer education then and didn’t have close to the understanding that I have now), and vague impressions aren’t necessarily the best thing to go on.  I was too heavy-handed with the dark malt and so the beer has a lot of the roasted flavours that you would tend to associate with a style like stout, though it lacks the body of a stout.  It isn’t a bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t quite what I had hoped and imagined it to be.

I’m not sure what my next brews will be.  I still have some hops left over from the IPA and so I’ll likely brew another, slightly different version of it.  I would also like to get well out of my comfort zone and brew something Belgian-inspired, like a saison, most likely with some sort of fruit. I’ll be sure to post about whatever it is I decide to brew next.


In Praise of Small Beer

My brewing assistant, Susan.

I really love what Anna wrote for this blog about “foodie culture” and the way that it fetishises eating and drinking seemingly without regard for social context. What is true for food is likewise true for beer.  It goes without saying that I love what is usually termed “craft beer”, i.e. distinctive, flavourful, and well-made beers that come from a place of genuine love and passion instead of the dictates of a marketing department. But there is a sense in which the culture surrounding craft beer is, well, too much about the beer itself.

Take, for example,’s “Best Beers 2011” list, and note, along with Stephen Beaumont, that 39 of the top 50 beers are imperials. The beer writer and historian Martyn Cornell worries about how these lists will encourage brewers to focus on “extreme” beers to the “detriment of those of use who want nuance, subtlety and depth in our beers.”  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a beautifully complex 10% abv Russian Imperial Stout every now and again, but this isn’t an everyday kind of beer.  What we have here is craft beer’s “wine envy”: the idea that beer can and should be far more than the industrially-produced fizzy yellow stuff and can have a real depth and complexity that rivals the sophistication of wine. While this is not untrue, the problem with “wine envy” is that it only looks at the elite consumption and appreciation of wine for guidance. Sure, wine can be a perfectly aged bottle of Bordeaux from a good vintage, but it can also be a simple bottle of red table wine, enjoyed with friends over a long and comforting dinner, both of which can be great given the right context and company.  And so it should be with beer: a beer shouldn’t have to be mind-blowing and hammer your tastebuds into submission to be the right beer at the right time. Sometimes a less aggressive, thirst-quenching “session” beer is what you want, and it can be just as beautiful and flavourful as an imperial.

And so, partly because I was thinking of brewing one eventually, and partly because my coworker Julien was trying to push the homebrewers at work to brew milds inspired by CAMRA’s “Celebrate Mild in May” campaign, my latest brew is a mild.  With a couple of exceptions, such as Jester King Brewery’s hopefully not accurately named Commercial Suicide Oaked Dark Mild and some hard to find bottled imports like Moorhouse’s Black Cat, mild is a style of beer very rarely seen in North America.  It’s a traditional low gravity, light bodied, lightly-hopped British style of beer that was once favoured by the working classes because it could be drunk for lunch without interfering with work, but it almost disappeared as kegged lager became popular.  It’s now seeing a revival largely because of CAMRA’s tireless campaigning, but I think a large part of the appeal is that much like a lager, mild is fundamentally a refreshing and thirst quenching beer, though unlike lager it has a lot of depth and flavour.

I can’t claim that my version of a mild will be anything close to authentic.  There is a volume of the Classic Beer Style Series devoted to mild, but I haven’t read it.  My recipe is sort of based around my not very clear recollections of drinking Black Cat, though this is all interpretation with nothing solid to back it.  It will be hoppier than is strictly traditional, but this is because I find a nice hop aroma to add to the refreshing qualities of the beer–and hey, this is homebrew, so I have unlimited creative freedom here. I will let you know how it turns out.


May Day Mild

For a 3 gallon (11.5L) batch

1.25kg Maris Otter malt
0.25kg 40L Crystal malt
0.15kg Amber malt
0.15kg Chocolate malt

20g leaf Fuggles [5.2% AA] (60 min)
15g leaf Fuggles [5.2% AA] (5 min)

Whirlfloc tablet (Boil 15 min)

White Labs #WLP013 London Ale Yeast

Starting gravity: 1.038
Final gravity: 1.010
BU: 25.5
Colour: 22.0 SRM

Chilling wort