Monday, March 19, 2012

More Variety and More Efficiency

I have maintained an internal debate within my homebrewing-obsessed mind for quite some time - variety versus efficiency.  Having a variety of beer styles available to taste keeps the hobby new and interesting.  It allows the brewer to experiment with a number of different beer styles and learn new techniques.  Given homebrewing's currently increase in popularity, there is no shortage of interesting ideas in the magazines, podcasts, and online forums.  There is certainly no way to ever try all of those ideas, but brewing greater variety allows the brewer to at least pretend to chase that fleeting dream.  Variety appeals to the creative side of the homebrewing hobby.

Brewing efficiency, on the other hand, allows a brewer to dial in their brewing process.  If the brewer constantly switches recipes, it is hard to lock down the process and truly improve as a brewer.  Many educated sources state that the most technically difficult brewing task to complete is to brew the same recipe several times and have the batches taste the same.  This is the challenge of the professional brewer, who's clientele demand that their favorite brand taste the same or they may look elsewhere for quality beer.  Efficiency can also relate to time, our most precious commodity.  With the appropriate equipment, a brewer can produce significantly more beer in the same period of time that it would take to produce lesser amounts of beer in smaller batches (think 5 gallons versus 15 gallons - it does not take much longer to get triple the production volume).  Consistent use of the same brewing process also provides familiarity and time-saving techniques during the brew day - see Brew Your Own magazine's March-April 2012 on Speeding Up Your All-Grain Brew Day).  In many ways, efficiency is the ideal driving the technical side of the homebrewing hobby.

But, I ask, why is it not possible to strive to have a little bit of both.  This question is driven primarily by an article I read in the September/October 2010 issue of Zymurgy, entitled More Beer from Your Brew Day.  In the article, Drew Beechum explains that he likes the efficiency of brewing 10-gallon batches, but gets bored of drinking the same beer day after day.  The boredom has driven him to explore ideas to get more beer variety out of the same base beer.  The techniques he developed feature alterations of the base beer during the boil, fermentation, aging time, and packaging processes.  I interested enough in his discussions of aging beer on different products, such as oak, fruit, and cocoa nibs that I decided to attempt it myself.

My local club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA) have started conducting fun internal competitions using the Iron Brewer model.  The latest competition featured white wheat, Chinook hops, and grapefruit.  I did not want to have an entire batch of grapefruit-flavored beer, so I elected to use some of Drew's ideas.  I brewed an oatmeal stout recipe with a significant amount of wheat malt and a bittering charge of chinook hops.  After the beer fermented out, I transferred some of it to two sanitized and CO2-purged 1-gallon glass jugs.  In one of these, I put 1.5 pounds of frozen sour cherries I had bought at a farmer's market.  In the other jug, I put 1.5 oz of cocoa nibs I had left over from another beer.  I plan to dose the remainder of the beer with a tincture I made from the zest of two grapefruit soaked in vodka, using a technique I outlined in a previous post.

I hope to end up with three distinct beers (one kegged and the other two bottled) from one brew day.  This should give me some variety, while using efficiency gained from brewing a familiar recipe at a comfortable 5-gallon brew size.



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