Story #1: When I was in high school a college improv troupe came to perform at our school. When they requested a location, someone yelled out “the projects.” One of the improv’ers, in a moment of hilarious naivety, took this to mean ‘projects,’ as in ‘school projects,’ and made some joke that I remember 0% of the substance and 100% of the incredibly awkward silence that followed. I remember that moment every time I hear the word “projects.” Truly a top 10 awkward moment in human history.
Story #2: This past weekend I had this silly notion that I wanted to make a beer. Not exactly out of the ordinary, except I had no idea what exactly I wanted to make. Again, this isn’t quite living up to Story #1, but bear with me here.
Every time I’ve gone to make a beer, I’ve had some idea in mind of what I wanted to brew. The Abyss Stares Back was the most intriguing of the Mr. Beer extracts I had; Second Son v1 and v2 were brewed with my brother’s birthday and Father’s Day in mind; Tonypandy was for Big Brew 2013; and Suicide By Hops and 187 were because I wanted to try brewing some IPAs (and try dry hopping, and yeast starters, and slightly bigger beers).
On Saturday I made a yeast starter without much inclination as to what it was going to be pitched into. On Sunday, I went to the homebrew store to buy the ingredients for a Black IPA (Cascadian Dark Ale). Ironically, one of the guys that works there was standing outside brewing when I arrived. I asked what he was brewing and he said, “A black IPA.” Serendipity.
I bought my ingredients, I went home, I cursed a fuckton, I brewed, I cursed a fuckton more, I cleaned up, I spilled hot water on my crotch and really started fucking cursing, and then I went to bed. End of story 2.
Somewhere along the way my indecisiveness about what I wanted to brew got me to drinking, which got me to thinking. I’ve sort of been bumblefucking my way through homebrewing without much rhyme or reason. Which, so far, is probably okay. I’ve only attempted 7 batches, only one got dumped (so far), 2 were passable and 2 were really good (with 2 more TBD). What’s interesting about homebrewing to me is that it is a lot like writing. Sometimes all you have to do is just do it and you’ll come up with something good that was fun and you can admire at the end. And then sometimes you try that and you end up with shit. With writing (the creative type, not the bloggy type) I’ve tried to force myself to write from different perspectives, use different styles, and basically perform exercises to improve my techniques. I could come up with a similar analogy for weightlifting, but I’m trying not to sound too bro-y.
So what is the point of this ramblefest? As I read through the various articles I’d saved for myself to read tonight I got to thinking about what I wanted to brew next, but also how I could brew something that would make me better at brewing. For purely economic reasons, I don’t want to jump into another huge DIPA without a better idea of what in the blue Buddhist hell I’m doing. So with all this in mind I made a rough list of what I want to try to tackle next in my brewing.
I love pumpkin beers. There is a good chance I will be making several starting in August until I can dial in on a recipe I like. I will also probably gain a lot of weight.
Relatedly, I also love Oktoberfest beers and I’ll want to have some of these lying around in the Fall/Early Winter.
My brewing notebook probably has more pages devoted to all the stout and porter variants I want to make than anything else. For example: cherry-chocolate stout, Kraken stout, peanut butter porter, Bourbon Imperial milk stout (what?), coffee porter… and so on.
Develop a “House” IPA
People love IPAs. I love IPAs. I could probably spend every weekend from here until the day my alcohol-bloated corpse kicks it brewing different types of IPAs. But as you might be able to tell by the stout list above, I don’t want to do that. Instead, I want to use the IPA as the beer I use to dial in my brewing process. That way I can track how I progress via one beer recipe (fine-tuning it along the way) and the changes in the product. Plus, I’ll always have an IPA around which is never a bad thing.
Examine the Base Malts
Like the writing exercise I mentioned above, there are certain exercises you can do to examine your style. Generally I’ve been brewing with Maris Otter because I like the name and it is darker and more interesting to me than “2-Row.” But I don’t honestly know much of the difference between Maris Otter, US 2-Row, UK 2-Row and Golden Promise. Considering these base malts make up the vast majority of the grain bill, I think I should do some experiments to get a better understanding of the differences between them.
So that’s my Steal Underpants/?/Profit scheme to making better beer. If you have any thoughts, advice, opinions… keep them to your damn self.
But, seriously, I’d love to hear them.