I had the rare opportunity to write a letter to my local public radio station the other day on the subject of homebrewing. It's not often that I hear about our humble hobby in the daily news, so the story of course caught my attention right away.
It is done. It is in the glass. More specifically – and importantly – it is in my mouth. And it is good. It is the saison that Mr. Science and Homebrews, Christopher Wood and I collaborated on. And it is damn tasty, if I do say so myself. And I do not often say that about my beers. And here is proof.
With a gentle pour it produced a huge, quintessentially saison-style, “rocky” head.
It has a lovely smell and is dry, crisp and refreshing. And I thoroughly enjoy drinking it. It is not overly funky or wild in either aroma or flavor but, nonetheless, there is a lot going on aromatically and in the mouth. And just knowing that it's a wild strain is half the fun anyway.
That's the quick assessment. Now let's get constructively critical....
I'm doing it. I'm making the jump. I'm finally going to go all grain.
I'm going to do tiny batches. I'm going to start out by doing one gallon batches.
One gallon? Why so small? You ask....
My second day at Vault Brewing Company involved the less sexy, albeit essential, aspects of professional brewing. I cleaned, sanitized and filled kegs from a bright tank, and set up continuous hop back (very cool). I also learned about their point of sale software that allows them to efficiently track daily revenue and determine which beers are consumed so they can plan their brew schedule around customer's favorites. While at Vault I also learned they had just begun barrel aging using apple brandy barrels. As a homebrewer we tend to think in the short term managing one or two beers at a time, but a pro brewer's planning extends much further as they may manage 10-15 different beers at a time and barrel age beers from months to years.
During my second day at Vault I also had a surprising encounter with fellow Byo.com blogger Richard Bolster (see my recent post for more details about our collaboration brew). All in all, the second day provided me with a behind the scenes look at the day-to-day operations of a brewpub.
As a scientist, I am always evaluating my brew day and comparing it to previous brews. My two days at Vault were an eye opening experience of how a commercial brew day compares to a day brewing beer in my garage. To my surprise, the process of brewing a 10 BBL batch of commercial beer wasn't much different from making 5 gallons of homebrew. The major differences included the obvious increase in scale, the attention to every detail and how it could affect the finished beer, and the day-to-day operational planning that would ensure ingredients were available to fill the fermenters and to satisfy the customer's craft beer thirst. When I asked head brewer Mark Thomas his thoughts on homebrewing vs pro-brewing he reiterated these thoughts by saying, "All the processes and theory at a homebrew level are applicable at a pro level, but now all the small details are critical for producing a consistent product. Things like mash pH, crush levels, sparge efficiency, isomerization, yeast cell count, O2 dissolve rate, flocculation, fermentation time, boil rate, water filtration, water mineral content, ingredient variation, enzyme content, yeast harvesting technique, etc., you will need to understand, and control or account for. The great thing is, you can learn and implement all these at a homebrew level. In a brewpub environment, you have the added equipment and processes required to dispense all this beer. I like to think of it as throwing a party for a few hundred of your friends, where you provide all the beer, every night."...
It's New Year's Eve. I'm off from work and home with the kids. Which means, obviously, that I finally have time - albeit ever-distracted, easily interrupted time - to bottle my saison.
Brewed two months before Christmas, it sat in primary for three weeks and in secondary until today. At nearly ten weeks that's the longest (not including the Old Ale) I've ever left a brew in fermentation before bottling. And if the taste I had this afternoon is any indication, the beer is just fine thank you very much. It's crisp and complex with that distinctive saison taste. It's bitter with perhaps a hint of tartness and dry as hell. (Though I'm not sure Hell is actually dry.)
The color, too, is spot on. It's hazy gold, like a child's drawing of the sun is how I'd categorize it....