Friday, 5 February 2016

2015 Homebrewing Year in Review

Well, it's time to write up another Year in Review post... I'm not really sure it's necessary, but it IS a good way for me to look back at the previous year and see if I met all - or really, any - of my homebrewing goals from the year before. So, here we go!

I was able to JUST manage to make 2015 my most-successful brew year yet... in terms of numbers, anyway. With 23 brews, I beat 2014's record of 22. Out of those 23 homebrews in 2015, TWENTY-ONE of them were hoppy ones. I've been brewing more and more hoppy beers for the last couple of years, but that surprised me when I counted them up. That's 91% of total beers brewed, compared to 68% in 2014 (15 of 22 total). I mean, I guess it's good to brew what you like, and to be fair, these weren't all just IPAs and APAs - there were several different "styles" I approached, including a couple I hadn't really seen before. But it IS a bit of wake-up call that maybe it's time to branch out a bit! However, the hop inventory in my freezer never seems to go down, so they will continue to make a hefty presence in the majority of my homebrews!

Looking back at these 23 beers, I would say that I was at least pretty happy with 18 of them. That's a pretty good ratio, I think. That's definitely not saying I LOVED those 18, just that they were at least pretty tasty, and I was happy enough to share them with others and not tuck them away in a corner where they couldn't be seen. The other five, for the most part, weren't terrible, but I certainly wasn't proud of them. So, let's look at a few standouts on either end from 2015:

My favorite homebrews of 2015:

Equinox Session IPA - Session IPAs seem to easily provoke feelings of love or hate in the beer world; personally, I don't get the hate. If I can get plenty of hop aroma and flavor in a beer, without the alcohol... perfect! With this one, the third in my one-hop Session IPA experiments, I finally dialled in a grist I was happy with... but it was really the Equinox hop that brought the love. Living up to its reputation for big aromas and flavors (with plenty of citrus and, yes, a touch of green pepper), it was easy-drinking and big on taste. I enjoyed it so much, I brewed the same recipe later in the year - something I never do.

100% Brett IPA with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc - My first 100% Brettanomyces-fermented IPA, I used Amalgamation - a "Brett Super Blend" made up of six different Brett strains - from The Yeast Bay to ferment the beer, and it came out pretty much where I wanted it to be. It was super-tropical, with enough Brett funk to make it clear that this was NOT your typical American IPA. The blend of Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc worked really well in this beer; it was the first time I had brewed with HB, and I was so impressed with it I made sure to use it again in future brews. My follow-up Brett IPA, brewed with Galaxy and Southern Cross, was almost equally as tasty.

"Baby Zoe" - This one was a Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone scaled down to 4.3% ABV. I'd brewed a regular Zoe clone in 2013, and it had turned out pretty great; I eventually decided I wanted to try brewing a session version of this beer. Not just to keep the alcohol down, but to see if it could be done without sacrificing flavour or body. Well, turns out simply scaling back the grist and upping the mash temp worked really well! The IBUs were decreased, but all flavour and aroma hops were added with the same amounts as in the regular Zoe, resulting in the perfect balance (for me) between the toffee-like malt character, a bit of sweetness, and plenty of citrusy, dank hops.

Baby Zoe

Alpine Nelson clone - On a couple of trips to San Diego, I've had several Alpine beers (which all lived up to the hype), but never Nelson, a "Golden Rye IPA" that always gets big ratings. When I stumbled upon a clone recipe on Reddit supposedly straight from Pat McIlhenney, I had to give it a try. Brewed with 17% Rye malt and hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross, I certainly can't say how close it was to the original, but it was damned tasty. This was a very juicy beer, despite the seemingly-small kettle additions (and NO whirlpool!), although the dry-hop was pretty large. Either way, definitely a recipe worth re-brewing.

Honorable mentions: Meek Celebration (2015), White IPA (with Amarillo and El Dorado), Belgian Red IPA

Homebrew disappointments of 2015:

Maine Beer Co. Dinner clone - Hooboy! Talk about your real stinkers! Where do I even begin with this one? I had been wanting to do something special for my 100th homebrew, and eventually settled on this beer because the commercial version is so delicious and highly coveted, and because I've had such great luck with "cloning" several Maine Beer Co. beers in the past. Hopped with Falconer's Flight, Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic, and dry-hopped twice at 6 lbs per barrel (yes, really), this was a massive undertaking. And expensive, as homebrews go. But I vowed to try it, and a total of 21.5 oz of hops were used for my measly 4.5 gallon batch. Unfortunately, the beer came out not good at all - it smelled and tasted sweet, and kind of like oxidized hops, even though the hops I used were supposed to be fresh. I was really flabbergasted as to what went wrong, then started reading several sources that said when you dry hop over a certain point, the pH of the beer can start to rise and affect the flavor and aroma, and needs to be adjusted with acid. This theory may hold true, as another former disappointment of mine was the hugely-hopped Pliny the Younger clone I brewed in 2013. Will I try this Dinner clone again? Maybe, but doubtful at THOSE hopping rates. If there was one thing this beer was a perfect example of, it was that more does not necessarily mean better.

Hello, my pretties! Prepare to be wasted!

Summer Session IPA - My fourth one-hop Session IPA, I was expecting great things from this beer. I was happy with the general recipe at this point (having loved the Equinox Session IPA mentioned above), I had a half lb of fresh, vacuum-sealed Summer on hand, and had heard overall good things about this hop variety. Unfortunately, the beer came out pretty boring - barely any hop character to speak of, it tasted more like a Blonde Ale than anything else. Several factors could have been the cause, but I feel like this hop, if used on its own, would work better in a SMaSH beer due to the simpler grist.

I also brewed a Witbier that I didn't post about - half was fermented with Wyeast 3944, the other half with 3944 and the Brett Amalgamation. I haven't bottled the Brett half yet (when I do, I'll be sure to write up a post), but the 3944 half was pretty gross... really odd aroma to it that someone described as "noodles". Nice. The 3944 slurry was used in the White IPA I mentioned briefly in the honorable mentions, and that beer came out really nice, so not sure what went wrong with the Witbier. But really, only a couple of real disappointments in 2015, so I'm happy there wasn't more.

Viewership for the blog has continued to climb, for the most part, with the majority of readers still coming from the U.S. (about 9 times as many). Here are the number of page views for the busiest months of the past two years:

Page views for Oct, 2014: 8,670
Page views for Nov, 2015: 11,506

Not exactly a huge jump, and much lower than the really popular homebrew blogs out there, but it at least proves that my parents have really mastered using that Refresh button in their browser. Hopefully things continue upward; last month was the biggest yet (despite only one new post, at the end of the month) with over 16,000 page views. The most popular post of 2015 (so far) is Brewing an American IPA with London Ale III yeast and high chloride water, probably the most boring-titled post in history. Despite that, it's already at #6 in post popularity, and will soon be taking over the #5 spot. Goes to show how London Ale III is growing in popularity in its use in hoppy beers, not to mention that more and more homebrewers are obviously learning that the previous lesson of "use lots of sulfate in hoppy beers" may not always be the best approach.

Ok, now let's see how many of my homebrewing goals for 2015 were actually reached:
  • "You can definitely count on more clone recipes (I've got something hopefully big planned for my 100th batch, which should be coming up in 2-3 months)" - They're definitely there - about 8 in total - but fewer than the year before. Guess I started experimenting more. As for the something big... unfortunately, I did follow through on that promise!
  • "...and I want to do another sour at some point (I'm leaning towards my first Lambic, which will likely involve putting at least some of it on fruit... blueberries?)" - Eh, kind of. The only real sour beer I brewed all year was a Berliner Weisse back in April, which I haven't bottled/posted about yet. I will be racking half on blueberries very soon; last time I checked, though, the pH was only at 3.85, so this one won't be sour enough, unfortunately.
  • "I also plan on playing with some more of the IPA sub-styles (e.g. White IPA), and possibly stretching some of those out a bit further." - Yes, definitely. With the White IPA, Belgian Red IPA, and Brett IPAs mentioned above, along with several Session IPAs, the India Pale Ale was definitely the star of the year.
  • "On top of all this, I'd really like to re-visit 2-3 of my favorite beers over the past couple of years, ranging from outright rebrews to variations on past recipes." - I always say this, and in 2015 I actually did it. As I mentioned above, I rebrewed the Equinox Session IPA (in the same year!), my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone (with half the batch fermented with the yeast formerly known as Brett Trois), and my Hill Farmstead James clone, among others.
As for 2016, likely more of the same. Lots of hoppy beers, for one. I'll definitely squeeze in a few more clone attempts; look for at least one featuring a delicious Trillium beer sometime soon. And I really do hope to do more sours, for real this time. I'm going to take a couple of cracks at kettle-souring some beers, and adding various fruits, spices, and/or hops to them. I'd love to do another long-term sour, too, since the Oud Bruin I brewed close to two years ago has finally been bottled, and is tasting pretty good. Finally, I really hope to brew at least one experiment-style beer, where I compare 1318 vs US-05, for example, or maybe even changes in water chemistry. We'll see if that actually comes to fruition or not!

Thanks everyone, for following more of my ramblings throughout 2015! Cheers to another year of beer!

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