To brew or not to brew…

I had to spend about half the day running errands, partly because I lost Tuesday this week – here in Vermont, the first Tuesday of March is Town Meeting Day, the ultimate example of local democracy in action. I got home from my errands today well after noon and by the time I unloaded the truck, checked on the livestock and ate a late lunch, it was almost 2:00. No energy, no motivation, no real urgent need to brew. Oh well, I had a lot of beer in storage, lots of full bottles. I could afford to skip a week.

But it didn’t feel right. I felt empty, unfulfilled. So here I am, almost 9:00 pm, and the kettle is heating up.

At the South Royalton Market, we get our malt extract in 33 lb. bulk jugs. I fill dispensing bins from these jugs, and when I have poured as much of the extract out as I can, I take the jugs themselves home to rinse out and either recycle or reuse. I use them to store raw maple sap prior to boiling, but also to carry water out to the animals, sometimes, and I have even used them as small fermenters on a couple of occasions. But here’s the thing – when I bring them home, they still have a few tablespoons of extract in them, stuck to the sides, inaccessible in their current state. I pour a pint or so of boiling water in to rinse them out and save that “rinse”. Usually I am rinsing out two or three jugs at a time, so I end up with a half-gallon of what is essentially wort – which I save, of course. I boil it for 15 minutes or so, and then can it in Mason jars.

Hard to read, but the hydrometer says 1.100

Tonight I poured 16 quart jars and 10 pint jars of these “dregs” into the brew kettle, 5.25 gallons. I am waiting for it to reach boiling, when I will add 2 oz. of my homegrown Cascade hops. After 15 minutes, I will add 1-1/2 oz. of my homegrown Cluster hops. After another 15 minutes, I will add 2 oz. of homegrown Chinook hops. The boil time will be 60 minutes total, and I will then chill it and pitch a vial of White Labs Super High Gravity Ale yeast (WLP099). What will it be? Not really a barleywine, although certainly in that strength range. Before boiling, the wort measured just about 1100.  I have no way of measuring the actual IBU’s, but guestimating based on the usual % aa of these hops, it should weigh in at something like 95 or so. It’s a little bigger and maybe not quite as bitter, but I expect this to taste something like Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale, one of my favorite beers of the last 10 years. So I guess I will call it “Suffering Bastard”, and maybe I will serve it with little paper umbrellas…

The Call of the Foghorn

A couple weeks ago I posted tasting notes for Sierra Nevada’s outstanding 2010 release of their Bigfoot Barleywine-style ale. Yesterday I got a chance to compare it with Anchor’s entry in the same category, Old Foghorn.

Two differences jumped out before I even opened it. 1) The stated abv on the bottle was significantly less – whereas Bigfoot weighed in at 9.6%, the Old Foghorn is only a “mere” 8.8%.  In the grand scheme of things, not an unforgivable flaw, but nevertheless… 2) Bigfoot was priced at $12.99 per six-pack, Old Foghorn a whopping $17.99. I could do the math out, but you can see that that .8% abv missing from Anchor’s beer flies in the face of the $5 a rack difference…

Anchor’s label proclaims it to be an all-malt beer (one would hope so!) and dry-hopped (most ales of the style are, frankly). Pouring it out, I noticed it was nowhere near as dark as the Bigfoot – merely a medium amber color, ever-so-slightly hazy, with a modest beige head. A huge waft of malt sweetness hit me, sort of a sweet pretzel/cracker aroma. There were some hops in the bouquet, but they were hiding behind the malt. The flavor continued sweet, leaning towards Graham crackers or ‘Nilla wafers – perhaps even too sweet, as there just didn’t seem to be enough bitterness to balance. Just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, I took a big mouthful and held it at the back of my mouth and breathed through my nose – not much, a bit of alcoholic warmth, some hoppiness but too restrained for my taste. This is just not as complex a beer as Bigfoot, I’m afraid, although it is certainly drinkable.

Breaking News: Bigfoot Sighting!

OK, I really like big beers. Belgian Tripels, Imperial Stouts, Old Ales, I enjoy contemplating the complexities of life through the huge flavors, over-the-top hops and higher alcohol content of the brewer’s extreme offerings. ‘Tis the season for the annual release of Sierra Nevada’s Barleywine, “Bigfoot”. I got my hands on a six-pack today and enjoyed one as a reward for grinding the grains with which I am going to brew tomorrow, and another while watching my favorite TV show tonight, “Leverage”.  Gotta tell you, I don’t remember as good a vintage as this 2010.

First contact: Gorgeous reddish-amber, crystal clear, and a well-developed off-white head.

Aroma: Hops dominate, but there is a lot of caramel/burnt sugar/general maltiness plus a wave of alcohol. The label says 9.6% abv. I believe it.

Body/mouthfeel: this is a rich beer, full-bodied and smooth. Not syrupy by any means, but definitely more of a mouthful than average. The carbonation levels not only make it “lighter” in body than it could be (and thus more eminently drinkable) but also really help bring out the hop bite. You get fizzy bubbles, but when they burst you get an awesome hop flavor.

Flavor: More hops than malt, but almost as much alcohol as hops. It’s bitter, as it should be but it’s also sweet. And  bitter again, and malty and sweet again… Folks, there’s so much going on in this beer you can lose track. Bread, raisins, bitter hops dueling with caramel,  molasses, not at all fruity, and seriously bitter… Did I mention that it’s pretty bitter? But in a good way….

Go get yourself some and see what you think.