Saturday, 4 January 2014

Homebrewing in 2013 - Thoughts on the Last Year

With the start of a new year, I figured I should do a look-back similar to what I posted in November of 2012, a year after I started this blog. When I initially started blogging, I don't think I really considered that I would continue this long. While my posting has been a bit off-and-on, I think I've been fairly consistent with writing up notes on my brew days within a couple of weeks, and tastings within... well, maybe not that consistent, but I'm almost caught up!

I've been brewing just over 4 years now, and the 2 years the blog has been active has definitely encouraged me to try to improve as a brewer. Have I done that? Well, I've certainly learned a lot, from experience and from meeting lots of other helpful homebrewers. While I've had some batches in 2013 that I haven't been crazy about, I've had some that I've felt were my best beers ever. Let's look at that a little closer, actually, when scrutinizing beers I've brewed since November, 2012...

My favorite homebrews of the last year:

James clone
Hill Farmstead James clone - It had been a couple of years, at least, since I actually tried the commercial version of this clone, but I was anxious to test the recipe from Mitch Steele's IPA book, and it was a real winner. I had to make several changes to the grist based on what I had available to me, but the combination of healthy amounts of Columbus and Centennial hops came through fantastic in the final product. Most likely not up to the God-like status of Hill Farmstead beers, but it really was quite delicious.

Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone - This is one of the few clone recipes I've brewed where I can actually get the commercial version fairly easily, since it's not that far away. I put the recipe together on my own, and had a bit of helpful guidance from Maine Beer Co. owner/brewer Dan Kleban. While I've found Zoe to be maltier than it used to be, the clone came out - in my opinion - very similar to the earlier, more-hoppy version. Probably the best Amber I've brewed to-date.

Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone - Another clone recipe that was conveniently provided for me, by The Mad Fermentationist... naturally, since he developed the recipe for the brewery back before they opened. I even got to try the real thing (and drop off a clone to Jacob McKean, owner of Modern Times) not too long after I started drinking my homebrewed version; both beers were excellent, with huge citrus/mango/etc. aroma and flavors, thanks to copious amounts of Citra hops, with some Amarillo thrown in. Anyone who can get their hands on these hops should give this recipe a try.

'Merica clone vs. the real thing
Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merica clone - I only recently posted the tasting notes for this beer, and I can say without a doubt this clone came out damned delicious, and quite similar to the real thing. A SMaSH Saison with pilsner malt and Nelson Sauvin hops, this beer has an amazing aroma akin to burying your nose in a patch full of berries. Although it was my first brew using Nelson hops, it's cemented them as one of my favorite varieties, by far.

My biggest homebrew disappointments of the last year:

Extra Special Bitter - One of two extra brews I managed to squeeze in late last 2012, I had been looking forward to this one. It was my first attempt doing a first wort hop (FWH) addition, and was also the first time I had "Burtonized" my water, adding lots of gypsum to the mash to mimic the famous, highly-mineralized Burton-on-Trent water supply. Unfortunately, the fermentation of the beer got stuck at a FG of 1.019. While I liked the flavor of the beer, despite the fact that it was less-attenuated than planned, eventual bottle gushing (and one bomb) ruined the beer towards the end.

Witbier - My second attempt at this style, the beer was brewed with 100% Belma hops, which I don't think ended up adding anything special. While the beer actually tasted and smelled pretty good, I had some sort of yeast problem which resulted in a stuck fermentation at 1.019 (my unlucky number?). I then bottled it, aiming for a lower-than-usual carbonation... but after a short period of time, still ended up with major gushing whenever I tried to open a bottle.

Imperial IPA (Russian River Pliny the Younger clone) - A major disappointment! I had really looked forward to brewing this beer, but even though it had more hops (including FOUR dry hop additions) than any beer I've ever brewed... it wasn't as hoppy as the four beers that were my favorites of the year. Not sure if it was due to oxidation problems, or what, but it hurt to be so let-down by this beer! Some other beer geeks thought the beer actually came out quite well, which softened the blow a little... but will I ever attempt it again? Maybe sometime, but definitely not for awhile.

All-in-all, though, all the beers I brewed over the last year came out at least decent (although I haven't yet tried my English IPA). I don't think I had any obviously-infected batches or any other complete duds, so that's a plus. It's pretty obvious that I've been spending a lot of time brewing clone attempts of beers (8 of the 15 batches in 2013), but I've been enjoying the challenge, to be honest. I find that brewing clones about half the time blends well with coming up with my own recipes.

So, how has the blog been doing, stats-wise? Well, there has been significant improvements in the number of page views it received by its 2nd "birthday"...

Page views for November, 2012 - 1,530
Page views for November, 2013 - 5,246

While this is still far below what the really good homebrew blogs get, I'm still happy with these numbers, especially considering limitations in my writing skills, posting regularity, and family members.

Most-viewed Posts - Dry-hopping Tips (5,565 page views), Alpine Duet clone (2,907), Brewing a Hill Farmstead James clone (1,212)

This is pretty similar to last year, except the James clone post hadn't been written yet. The Kern River Citra DIPA clone post and Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone post are quickly catching up in popularity.

At the end of last year's 1st-birthday post, I listed a few things I'd like to tackle for 2013... did I live up to them?
  • "Other things on the horizon for the next year include more sour beers (a Lambic and Oude Bruin, specifically)..." - Uh, nope. I was terrible, didn't brew one sour beer all year. Maybe the time needed for most beers to sour threw me off? Maybe it was the Berliner Weisse from late 2012 that never ended up getting sour that frustrated me?
  • "...a session IPA of around 3.5% ABV..." - Yes, just in the nick of time, a Session IPA featuring all Mosaic hops.
  • "a re-brew of my Oktoberfest and Sweet Stout from 2 years ago..." - Not exactly, but I DID brew a Vienna Lager, a style very similar to Oktoberfest. Missed the Sweet Stout, unfortunately.
  • "...and, of course, a few more new clone beers (including Smuttynose Finestkind IPA and Russian River Blind Pig IPA)." - Done and done, here and here, respectively... and they both turned out really tasty.
So, let's be generous and give me a 2.5/4 for hitting my homebrewing goals. I had also intended on posting more how-to articles, but unfortunately I neglected to do that, for the most part. I aim to do more of that over the next year; I'm currently in the process of trying to put together a post on figuring out how many IBUs you get from flame-out additions.
What's in store (hopefully) for 2014? I'll definitely be continuing my trend of attempting to clone some hoppy, commercial beers... I'll be brewing another Maine Beer Co. beer to start the new year - their delicious American Pale Ale, MO - followed eventually by a shot at The Pupil from the amazing San Diego brewery, Societe Brewing. I'll also soon be taking another crack at Alpine's Duet, the IPA clone that started bringing my first real numbers in terms of readers. Throw in a lager or two (I'm thinking a Classic American Pilsner and a Traditional Bock), a sour beer (I mean it this time... maybe a Flanders Brown Ale)... and, of course, more clones (TBD). Hopefully 2014 will also finally bring me into the world of kegging; I think it's necessary with all the hoppy beers I have planned.

As always, looking forward to more brewing! Thanks to everyone who reads this blog... there seems to be a large percentage of Americans checking in, so I know for a fact it's not just my family that's reading! Keep the comments and suggestions coming; I'm always anxious to learn more!

1 comment:

  1. Your Hill Farmstead James clone is the best homebrew I have ever tried! Would recommend this recipe to anyone.