Friday, January 11, 2013

Cheese Making | Lewy's Blackout IPA

The more that I brew, the more I become enthralled by the transformation that takes place during fermentation.  One good way to look at the steps involved in making a beer is simply the process of catering to the needs of a microscopic dynamo.  Proper temperature, pitching rate, oxygenation, time, darkness, food source and a myriad of other variables combine to make yeast (and the other organisms that ferment wort) do so in a way that speaks to our taste.  In a BN Sunday Session interview (begin listening at 47:00) with the owner and brewer of Cantillon, Jean Van Roy, he makes a telling statement about his role as brewer, saying, "The beer doesn't need a brewer...I'm not a brew master.  A master dominates the product, a master controls the product.  I can't do it...the beer is a partner."  His words make a lot of sense to me, as letting go of control is an essential part of brewing complex beers.  An artisanal product requires contact and connection with its producer, but will languish when that producer attempts to impose complete control.

Beer is just one of many products that are "alive" and influenced by yeast and bacteria.  Beer, wine, pickled foods, breads, cured meats and cheeses are just a few examples.  I've made bread for years, in traditional ways and using a bread maker, and have started to do so with more frequency.  Bread making is a craft that provides almost undelayed satisfaction.  You can bake a loaf of bread and eat it within a few hours or a day.  This makes it easy to experiment and easy to enjoy.  It also makes mistakes much more bearable.  But, there's something exciting about products that have to ripen and change over time.  It forces the producer to let go and have faith in the process and requires the embrace of uncontrollable variables.  It's one reason why I tend to gravitate toward beers that need aging and blending and other processes that require the influence of time to be effective.  It's also the reason why I started making cheese.

Cheese Making

Cooking curds
Partially pressed Jack cheese
Cheese and beer have a lot of similarities.  You can make a simple, enjoyable beer with basic, approachable processes, and plenty of room for error.  You can do the same with cheese and related products, making yogurt and cultured buttermilk and other simple dairy-based products that can be made and consumed quickly.  But the big, complex flavors you find in aged and bacterially influenced beers and cheeses requires patience and faith in the above-referenced uncontrollable processes.  So after making yogurt and getting a feel for the process, I made what will become my first hard cheese.  It's a Jack cheese made using a recipe provided by a cheesemaker named Brad Sinko and reproduced in Mary Karlin's excellent book Artisan Cheese Making at Home.  I made a few mistakes, pressing it in the wrong size mold, and struggling to maintain some of the temperature variables while cooking the ingredients, but the process was enlightening.  I was also able to use some of the left over whey to make bread.  The Jack will age in my fermentation chamber for the next two months while time conspires with the unknowable to make it into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Blackout IPA

Lewy's Blackout IPA

I also found time to make a beer.  In the course of close to 10 years and nearly 120 batches of beer, I've never reproduced a beer made by another homebrewer without altering it in some way to suit my tastes.  I decided to recreate an outstanding Cascadian Dark Ale made by my friend Lewy, following the recipe he provided as strictly as possible.  Blackout IPA is dark and hoppy, but different than most other similar beers I have experience with.  Lewy uses Glacier hops as the primary aroma component, making the beer unique and enjoyable.  He was nice enough to give me hops for the beer from his immense cache.  Read Lewy's original post here.  I hope my version can do it justice.