Happy New Year!

It’s a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies but looks are deceiving- it is ten below zero outside right now- and that is straight temp- not wind chill.

I’m taking a break (ie procrastinating) from a review article I’m finalizing for publication next month.

I have continued to be extremely busy at work since the relocation of one of our associates out to the area this summer.

Thus, I haven’t had much free time- and definitely no free time to write or post about personal stuff here.

Whereas most people only see in the photo only some shiny 5-gallon kegs washed and cleaned– in those twelve empty kegs I see endless possibilities…

It’s time for me to plan my brewing year!

Will I repeat a favorite recipe?

Will I try improving upon a brew I’ve made before?

Or will I try something entirely new?

I’ve already got a Bavarian Doppelbock planned- I hope to brew it next weekend or the weekend after that. I’ve won medals with that recipe every time I’ve brewed it. Two years ago, I did 5 decoction mash. Last year I was impatient; I did not want to take the time to do so many decoctions- so I only did 3. Although I won a medal again with it again this year, there was a noticeable difference. This year, I will do 5 decoctions again.

Decoction mash is a multi-step process in which part of the mash is removed to be heated separately. This does several things: it breaks up the starch molecules which permits a higher degree of extraction and allows us to obtain  the crisp, dry maltiness characteristic of many German beers.

When making bocks and Doppelbocks, it is impossible to fully replicate these styles by using malt extract recipes only. All grain brewing with decoction mashing allows the Maillard reaction to occur which is essential to achieve that rich “meatiness” of these styles. (think how flavorful the brown caramelization of roast meat in the oven is- thats the Maillard reaction).

I’ve never made a Munich Helles- so that too is also on my brew list to be made this winter while the weather remains cool enough to brew lagers. Our mountain aquifer water is outstanding for brewing dark beers and IPAs but hard water is not so good for light beers- so some closer attention to adjustment of brewing water will be in order.

As for other beers I will brew this year? I haven’t decided yet.

After brewing for almost 20 years, my own personal preference is for “big” beers- definitely no Bud Light or any other light American lagers for me- I consider those to be beer-flavored carbonated water.

When I say I prefer “big” beers, what I mean is a beer that is memorable, one that stands out from the crowd and which makes an impression. This could be a highly-hopped IPA,  or it could be a rich dark high-ABV (high alcohol) Russian Imperial Stout, or even a complex sour Belgian-style beer.

However, no one wants to drink the same kind of beer all the time- certainly not me- that would be boring. Life is short. The types of beer to be made and sampled are endless.

Someone asked me once, “You brew a lot, what’s your favorite beer?”

My reply: “I don’t have a favorite– but free and cold is always a great place to start.”

Almost more than the brewing itself, I enjoy sharing my creations with family and friends (As you might imagine, I have acquired a many friends who are willing to sample my beer). I try to brew for a wide variety of palates.

Suffice to say, whatever brews I make this year- it will be a wide variety of styles. Every year, I try to brew a couple of lighter ales and lagers, some middle of the road “not-too-dark, not-too-light, not-too-bitter” styles, always always an IPA (the hoppier the better), a complex Belgian or two- then some darker beers, preferably those with a higher ABV.

As a competitive homebrewer, I am always seeking unique recipes to win another medal- or a completely new style I’ve never made before to challenge my brewing skills.

Last year I won a number of medals at our local competition: 1st place Light Ale for my Kolsch, 1st place Dark Lager for my Doppelbock, 1st place Belgian-French for my Saison, 1st place in the Specialty category for my Double Imperial Stout (which went on to get 4th place in best of show) and then 3rd place IPA. I think it is now time for me to think about entering more regional/national competitions.

Our honeybees produced almost 300 lbs of honey this year. It was a amazing year for the bees- the rains did not stop and so the flowers bloomed and bloomed. Our bees were happy- so were we.

Much of the honey will be sold, but some I will use for making mead (honey wine).

I’m planning on making a berry melomel pyment. Melomel is mead made with fruit; pyment is mead made with grape juice. I will use elderberries, blackberries, black currant, and cherries- plus the juice of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes- along with wildflower honey from our bees- and then age long term on oak.  I intend for this to be a mead version of a deep dark red wine . I think I will call it: “Berry Py” but this will be dry and complex- not sweet.

I ‘d also like to make a carbonated hydromel. Hydromel is a low alcohol mead- ABV only 5 to 7%.  I am planning on using a Belgian Saison yeast to add some of those complex phenolic spicy notes which Belgian beers are known for- and then dry hopping it. It will definitely be unique- I hope that it will also be good.

Finally, I’ve never made a metheglin and would like to try.  Metheglin is mead made with herbs, vegetables or spices. I envision making a ginger metheglin, leaving just a touch of residual sweetness and then carbonating it- it would be like an alcoholic ginger ale- but for grown ups only.

I have a pear melomel and a raspberry melomel from last year still bulk aging- a little more time in the carboys will do them some good. There’s no rush to bottle.

If I don’t forget to submit my entries in time (as happened last year); I hope to enter my meads into the International Mazer Cup in Boulder, CO. Not a problem missing the competition last year. Mead, like many wines, improves with age.

It will be an interesting and valuable learning experience to get the feedback of judges. I was hoping to attend in person but because of the flooding from the heavy rains this summer, the venue has been damaged and the public event has had to be postponed until 2015.

Ok enough daydreaming about future brewing and mead-making. It’s time to get back to editing that review article.

I wish you all a happy, safe and prosperous 2014!


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