One of the nicest things about being a beer blogger, aside from the fact that there is periodically more free beer than you can shake quite a large bundle of sticks at, is that if you profess that you’re interested in learning to be a brewer, people take you at your word. After the relative success of the St.John’s Wort Shameless Publicity Grab IPA, I was so impressed with myself that I thought it would be a good idea to join the discussion board for the Southern Ontario Brewers.
“Maybe,” I thought to myself, “just maybe, I’ll be able to find some new homebrew ingredient suppliers.” Let’s face it, if you’re an extract or partial mash brewer in Toronto it can be hard to come by liquid malt extract. You can get all kinds of grain and yeast and hops from various sources, but pale liquid malt extract is a difficult commodity to track down. So I sent in a submission to get the moderator of the board to allow me access.
Which he did, but not before asking whether I would like to hand pick an elite cadre of beer bloggers to attempt to brew a beer at the Amsterdam Brewery as part of the Learn 2 Brew open house the Southern Ontario Brewers (The only Canadian organization other than Stephen Harper’s cabinet proud that every member is an SOB) were hosting. I felt a little like Yul Brynner in the Magnificent Seven, except with a great deal more hair. I tried to sell it to the other bloggers this way: View it as a challenge. We get to put our collective money where our mouth is and see whether we have any right to be criticizing things other people brew. So, after sending out feelers to most of the bloggers I know, I ended up with enthusiastic people who were not going to be out of town.
Chris Schryer – You know him from the Toronto Beer Blog and as a genial man about town. As of the beginning of this project he has a combined beer-drinking experience of over a decade. No all-grain brewing experience, though.
Matt Caldwell – Maybe you’ve seen his blog, One Beer At A Time in which he attempts to expand his beer drinking experience by acquiring new and interesting beers that he hasn’t had before. Maybe you’ve seen his slightly Ross Petty-ish goatee. Total all-grain brewing experience: 0 hours.
It was a promising group with one slight skill related hiccup: Between the three of us we have less brewing experience than a kindergarten student. This is why I decided that it would be a good idea to find a loophole. I needed a blogger who actually knows about brewing. Someone who would give us a decent shot at not looking like jerks in front of the homebrewers:
Andrew Bartle – Member of the inaugural edition of the Niagara College brewing program. Erstwhile blogger and all around swell guy. Amsterdam employee.
Now, if you are going to be using a brewery’s homebrewing equipment, it’s generally a good idea to have someone on hand from the brewery to explain to you how it works. Without Bartle we would still be attempting to put together the supports in the interior of the lauter tun, or having gotten past that part of the process, it’s relatively likely that we would have burned Amsterdam down.
Recipe creation was the next step after making sure we had a team to brew with. Deciding which style to brew was a contentious. Schryer wanted a Light Lime Lager. Caldwell wanted a Black IPA. Bartle, I think, just wanted to brew, which is a good sign in a ringer. Because I don’t know anything about lagering beer and neither did anyone else on our team, Light Lime Lager was out. Black IPA was an interesting idea, but I’ve seen a bunch of them cropping up recently and I sort of wanted to do something different.
It’s a Christmas Ale, alright. Molasses, cinnamon and cloves. Relatively large hopping schedule too. The hop calculation function seems to be off on hopville.com at the moment, seemingly halving the effect everything has. That should be up around 77 IBU (Or at least it is according to actual brewing software).
I won’t suggest that you don’t run into some significant difficulties creating your first all-grain recipe. Which grains should I use? There are a huge number of grains available in any recipe generator. I have to assume that people are mostly deciding based on experience. I had no experience to draw on and I was essentially limited to what supplies I could have delivered to the event from Homebrewer’s Retail. Oh sure, I consulted people to see what they thought, but the majority of the suggestions were accompanied by a raised eyebrow and a sidelong look.
My feeling is that if you’re going to fail, fail big. If you’re an extra in a western and you get shot, give it the ol’ Wilhelm scream and throw yourself from the roof; don’t just slump over. Now, you may argue that that isn’t a good way to approach your first all-grain brew. Let me put it this way: Imagine the embarrassment of completely screwing up a generic mild or bitter. Much worse than using too much cinnamon while doing something interesting.
Next Time: The Brewday
Now: I’m going to go look at some butter sculptures and maybe get some fudge.