Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Squashing My Inhibitions About Harvest Beers

10# butternut squash
I'm not an especially picky eater, but there are a few things I don't really care for.  Usually the reason is textural and not connected to flavor.  Eggplant, watermelon and most squash (excepting zucchini) are all high on the list.  So, I generally steer clear of harvest beers and have avoided brewing the compulsory fall seasonal pumpkin ale that so many brewers despise but feel inclined to make.  I subscribe to the rationale behind brewing pumpkin beers as a use of fresh seasonal ingredients and a way to celebrate a change in the season, I just never liked them much.

The only similar beer I've actually enjoyed has been Hair of the Dog's Greg.  On a trip to Portland, OR a few years ago, Greg stood out among a ton of excellent beers that I tried.  It's unique in that it doesn't have any hops in it, and has a very simple grain bill.  The beer is different than any other I've tried.  It has a wheat-like cloudiness and a big pilsner flavor and aroma, but the squash adds a mild sweetness that's really complimentary.  It seems like unorthodox ingredients often get marginalized in an attempt to minimize their quirks, but retain the novelty of their use in a beer.  The simplicity of the Greg recipe allows the three (four if you count water) ingredients to stand out and enhance each other.   Alan, the owner, was kind enough to share some information about the recipe with me, and I went ahead and brewed it as best I could.

Greg (courtesy of Alan Sprints from Hair of the Dog)

15# German Pilsner    
10# Butternut Squash
WLP028 Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast

Greg making a mess in my fermentation chamber
I made a large starter the week prior to brewing as the gravity potential is pretty large in the recipe.  On brew day I peeled, seeded and cubed the squash, then roasted it in a 375 degree oven for an hour and a half.  The squash started to brown and soften, as the sugars caramelized.  I mashed all of the grain and the squash together for an hour at 152 degrees, then gathered the wort and sparged the grain/squash bed to round out the volume.  A 90 minute boil got me to the gravity I wanted (1.070), and the starter was pitched after chilling through the Chillzilla.

It was strange brewing without hops.  I set the pot boiling and didn't have to add anything else until flame out.   Their contribution to beer is one of my favorite aspects of recipe formulation, so I felt like I was ignoring an important process.  I also learned while looking into this beer that Butternut squash provides a better pumpkin flavor than actual pumpkin and that it is often used as a substitute for the real thing in pumpkin beers.  The starter I pitched got the beer going quickly, and I expect it to be done in time for Halloween.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lagers, a Black IPA and a Pyment

Much has happened in the past two months but I haven't been able to coalesce it all into something coherent until now.  I embraced the opportunity to set drinking and brewing aside for a time while my now annual lager brewing escapade evolved itself into a drinkable product.  During that hiatus I suffered a debilitating ankle injury hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC, started working again, traveled to Joshua Tree National Park, and bought a pop up trailer, among a myriad of other things.  Today I bottled both my Amarelle Tart Cherry Bock and the Nordic Porter that I brewed in early June.

The Amarelle Tart Cherry Bock received a solid 7+ pounds of Montmorency tart cherries over two weeks ago.  The result is a sparklingly clear, bright red, malty fruit explosion that weighs in at a drinkable 5.3 percent ABV.  I'm not too sure if I can still call it a bock, but I plan to anyway.  In any case it's drinkable and pleasant, with beautiful aroma and color.

The Nordic Porter evolved away from my original funky intention.  While tasting it sporadically over the past 8 weeks, I started to question whether the addition of Brett in secondary was warranted, and that I might just dose it at bottling.  As it improved with lagered age, I started to wonder whether Brett at bottling might only muddle what turned out to be a very cleanly fermented porter.  In the end I bottled it all without any bugs.  Maybe it'll have some success in competition as a straight and narrow Baltic Porter.

In between, I found time to brew a Black IPA.  With a hop schedule loosely based on Blind Pig, I thought that I'd try to really accentuate the difference between expectation and reality with an SRM of 27 and a strictly IPA aroma and flavor profile.  Danzig Black IPA was dry hopped yesterday and will be on tap in another 10 days when my kegerator comes back online.

Tomorrow I'll be making a new mead.  My very first mead will turn 10 years old in roughly 9 months, and I regret not making meads more often.  The past few that I've made have ended up sweet and cloying for my taste.  This next mead will focus on a better balance of desirable characteristics.  It will officially be a pyment (or is it a melomel?), with 12+ pounds of Cabernet grapes from my friend Steve asserting themselves next to 8 pounds of raw clover honey sourced by Lewy in a honey buy I made last month that included my brother Jeff.  I plan to add some acid blend at some point (if warranted), and finish it off with a white oak spiral to try and increase the underlying complexity of the final mead without making too much of a specific flavor impact.  Lalvin 71B will probably provide the magic.  Check out the recipe below: