2016: A Beer in Review

2016 has certainly been… something, there is no denying that. Rather than dwell on what was without a doubt one of the most tumultuous year I’ve ever been a part of, I’d rather focus on the positives. What is a bigger positive than beer? There really isn’t any. This really was a great year for us in terms of brewing (not to mention drinking). Our general knowledge, understanding, processes, and ability to create all jumped up exponentially over the course of this year. We did about 20 batches this year, and we are itching to do more.

There were definitely some dudes this year and we weren’t without our issues (infection, carbonation). These issues are to be expected though and as long as you continue to improve and not make the same mistakes twice they can be more of positive than a negative. Without a doubt we did some beers that were probably (read: definitely) above our level of expertise… with very mixed results. I’m not upset with the fact that they didn’t come out perfect, that’s the beauty of this. A bad beer is very easy to remake and improve upon, it isn’t a terrible thing. The only way to get better is to fail, I strongly believe that. We’ve shown some pretty remarkable improvement this year, and I expect us to continue to trend upwards. I’d like to reflect on some of our better beers.

  1. Dry Hop Naked: A blonde dry hopped with Comet and Citra hops. The perfect mix between a light easy drinker and hoppy. The dry hop gave it the aroma of peach and mango while the beer itself was light on stonefruit and dry. Easily one of our best. We used Wyeast 1318 (London II) to ferment this and it was a huge success.
  2. Unnamed Robust Porter: There is actually a name for this, but everyone hates it… so back to the drawing board for that one. Really easy drinker this one was; roasted coffee and chocolate dominated the nose and the body followed with the same. It also had a nice biscuit flavor at the end. It finished a little high (1.024 from 1.066, FG was supposed to be 1.018) but it wasn’t overly sweet. The body was great for a porter, too.
  3. Gose: Fairly easy beer to make, but always delicious. I made a write-up about it on this blog, so I won’t get big into details. We’ve brewed this several times since our first attempt in March and it is always refreshing. We will continue to make improvements to it. We always kettle sour it, but maybe we can do a long term project next. We also added apricots to a part of this, it was phenomenal.
  4. The Gathering Storm/Grant Us Eyes: I put these two together because they are the same base malt recipe, with different hops. It’s our take(s) on a NEIPA, the newest haze craze sweeping the West Coast. TGS was hopped with Citra, Galaxy, and Simcoe and was also amazing. Passion fruit, Mango, and Grapefruit up front with a nice backend of pure dank. We used WLP090 for this one, which wasn’t the best choice (the beer dropped pretty clear) but it made little to no difference. Hopefully next time we can use the correct yeast so the beer can improve. For GuE we used a hop bill of Nelson and Mosaic. White wine and grapes is the perfect way to describe this beer. It was very balanced (not too bitter, not too malty) and always left you wanting more. Excited to revisit these next year.
  5. Brown Eye Woke: American Brown ale with Coffee and Vanilla. This is probably the best beer we made this year. We used Madagascar vanilla beans and Cloud Ripper (Modern Times) coffee for this one. The aroma is pure roasted coffee, there’s also some nutty type of smell that can be described as almonds. That isn’t a bad smell, in fact it really enhances the overall aroma of the beer. Upfront this beer is almost purely coffee with the nut-roast-chocolate (?) flavor coming behind it. There isn’t much vanilla here, but you can get a faint hint of it as the taste dies down. Maybe next time double down on the vanilla.

These are what I would consider our best beers this year – we do have a few beers that are not fully carbonated yet (Berliner Weiss, BW w/ raspeberries and blueberries, Saison w/ 6 strains of brettanomyces , peaches, and strawberries). So this list is subject to change!

We can’t list our best beer without going over our worst ones, either.

  1. One With the Shadows: A Russian Imperial Stout that just never worked from the get go. OG of 1.099 and a FG of… 1.065? What? Not enough aeration on the wort pre-pitch and maybe the starter wasn’t big enough, but it crapped out, and it crapped out quick. I even tried to pitch a second starter to get it moving, it did no good. After 2 months we decided to bottle it and needless to say, bottles exploded and walls were coated. It’s a shame, really. The beer itself tasted pretty solid. We are going to attempt this one again sometime soon.
  2. Impeached: A blonde ale fermented with 100% Brettanomyces (Brett bruxellensis and drei) and refermented on fresh peaches. Where to start on this one? Completely oxidized with no real flavor. All the initial samples of this beer were very positive. I assume our old bottling process had something to do with this. It took nearly 8 months to fully carbonate (I’m still not sure why?) and when it finally did there wasn’t much to it. It smelled great, like overripe peaches with some mild funk. The taste was a different story though… cardboard and mineral water pretty much dominated. Highly disappointing, but we are going to give it a go again next year.
  3. 2/16: Our first long term sour project. We brewed this in February of 2016 (hence the name) and just bottled it a few days ago. Smell is nice and funky with a sharp lactic bite, not a bad one either. The taste is pretty rough though; Tetrahydropyridine all over the place. Initially it tastes like a nice, complex sour. It is quickly dominated by biscuit-cracker-cheerios, aka THP. This is pretty disappointing considering we waited nearly 10 months for this to age. However, the taste was from the sample and I know that THP can be cleaned up by brett with time, so there is still hope. I had to include it because I’m severely disappointed.
  4. Yo, Homeboy: I want to preface this by saying that this isn’t a bad beer in anyway shape or form, but it didn’t come out how we intended. We had made a recipe for a Pliny the Elder clone with a few tweaks here and there. We were spot on with our gravity readings, IBU, SRM, and wort volume. Everything was going well until it was time to pitch the yeast. Our first choice of yeast (WLP090) was not available at the time so we went with a recommendation. The yeast itself was more of a lager yeast. It fermented at an insane pace for two days and blew the top off of our carboy twice (!). All the hop flavor dissipated and left us with what was essentially a lager. It was crystal clear and extremely light. Did I mention this beer was nearly 10%?

We plan on doing most of, if not all, of these on the list so we expect improvements to be made.  I think of the beers mentioned Yo, Homeboy has the potential to be the best. Everything about that beer until the final product was top notch. I fully expect that to be rebrewed several times in the foreseeable future.

You can’t have a retrospective without listing some goals for the next, because if you aren’t getting better you’re getting worse.

  • Continue to refine our brewing processes and recipes
  • Enter (and preferably win) in Homebrew Competitions
  • Create a better space for our brewing equipment
  • Have four (4) beers that always in rotation (constants)
  • Play more with water chemistry and begin the addition of adding oak to beers

These are very basic, yet can prove to be very effective goals for the upcoming year. We will strive for consistency, which is without a doubt a key component to creating something “living.” Josh and I both are both looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us. Ideas are flowing and it’s nigh time to execute them. Beer.

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