November 13, 2013

2013 brewing in review & 2014 brewing goals

Ever since I started my lambic solera in December of 2010 I have started thinking about my brewing years from December to November because each December begins a new year in the solera. At the same time I was also in law school and my brewing would ebb and flow with my school schedule and that late November-early December time period was the huge pressure crunch of cramming as much law into my head as I could and then vomiting it back out on the exam in the form of 10-20 pages of essay. Now that I'm liberated from the clutches of school I'm free to adopt whatever schedule I would like but the solera persists and I'm comfortable letting it set the start of a new brewing year, especially because I plan on adding a second solera (I'll talk about that in a later post).

2013 in Review

So overall I have been happy with my 2013 brewing year. My key goal for the year was to tighten up my technical approach to brewing and focus less on weird experiments. I feel like I have made a lot of strides in improving my mash technique and use of water chemistry although there is still room to improve. I also wanted to focus on brewing more straightforward examples of beer to facilitate that focus on technical brewing and overall I feel like those beers turned out well.

On balance I was happy with the beers I brewed. I also tried my hand at my first lager, which was a pretty solid success, and my first IPA. The IPA is still in the fermentor but I'm optimistic. I was also happy with several other beers, including Wildfire (mesquite smoked saison) and the second year's release of the lambic solera. Both the regular bottling and the blackberry bottling are quite delicious. I have several projects still in the works, such as a biere de mars, the double brett saison, the rye imperial stout on cask, the lambic solera and the Petrus aged pale clone that is finally getting sour. I was also fairly happy with Carburetor, my stout/sour blend that went in the bottle at the beginning of the year.

I also explored some other homebrewing fun, like teaching somebody else to brew, dry hopping a beer, joining the local homebrew club and discovering the Party Pigs make for decent casks. I know dry hopping and brewing IPAs is pretty standard stuff for most brewers but I really only started to develop a taste for hoppy beers over the past year or so. I still don't want to pound IPA all night but a hop forward pale ale or saison is quite pleasant. I even enjoy the occasional IPA. I haven't bought in on DIPAs yet.

2014 Goals

I'm very excited about my 2014 brewing year. It's going to be a good balance of crazy brewing, work on technique and trying to brew really solid beers. I still want to work on improving my brewing technique and with all the water chemistry/mash process/ph/etc. info that has appeared over the past year or so it's a really good time to work on that part of the brewing process. I did miss some of my more bizarre brewing but I don't feel like I need to swing the pendulum all the way back towards making every beer an experiment. Instead, I'm going to look at brewing a lot of straightforward beers but adding a tweak here and there of interesting techniques. My brews will mostly be a combination of German and French brews with the occasional American style slipped in. It will be an interesting mix of beers, mostly designed for quick consumption but a few will make fine beers to age. I'm going to bring back some sour mashing in a couple beers. More cask fun. And definitely more lambic.

What probably has me most excited is all the lambic. This December will gift me a third year's lambic from the solera and that means it's time to blend out of my reserves of the first two years to make gueuze. That's really exciting, not just because I find blending beer very interesting but because it also means I will have enough lambic on hand to drink it more frequently than I have been for the past couple years. The solera will continue to march on into the future. I may or may not look at doing another gueuze in the future since the solera process itself creates a blend of beer. I guess I will see how year three by itself compares to the blended gueuze.

I am also going to start a second lambic project with the hopes of turning it into something of a solera itself. Rather than rely on a lab blend and/or bottle dregs I am going to try a spontaneously fermented beer. I haven't worked out exactly how I am going to do it but I plan on leaving the beer out overnight to cool and then letting whatever gets in the beer do it's magic. I'm going to commit to letting that beer go as long as it needs. It will make for an interesting project at very least.

I'm also hoping this year will be the year my stupid hop garden will finally survive a summer well enough to hand over some hops. I'd like to slip in a really hoppy number or two from my homegrown hops but we'll see how that plays out. I'm not holding my breath.

I'm also reading a poor translation of Lacambre's 1851 publication about Belgian brewing with the goal of drafting some blog posts that go into greater detail than any of the information I've found online but in less detail than rewriting the whole book. It's interesting from a historical perspective and I find his snarky attitude rather humorous. I'd also like to take a look at trying to develop recipes out of his descriptions and other sources.

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