Friday, March 4, 2011

Novices and Bigger Beers

When I started out brewing, I was still relatively unfamiliar with the different styles of beer that existed. I knew I liked pale ales, IPAs, and even had a special place in my heart for Belgian-style Wit (or White) beers. While I was known among my friends for a very long time for liking beer, the depth of my knowledge of the various styles was not that deep.

As I began developing recipes, I was also going to forums on home brewing and rating beer at places like I started learning about other beers and commercial styles of these beers. Eventually, after having a conversation via private message on ratebeer with a guy from Wisconsin, he pointed out that since I live in northwest Indiana, I must get to drink a lot of Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. I had not known about this beer, or the events surrounding Dark Lord Day, but I became intrigued.

After buying and trying the Dark Lord in 2007, I began on a quest to clone this beer. Searching for recipes on the internet proved to be easy. However, the technique on brewing a beer that was around 13%ABV did not also come with these recipes.

While the first version of this beer turned out to be pretty good, I learned a couple of things about brewing bigger beers. One thing being your efficiency completely drops when you use greater than about 17 pounds of grain. I’m sure if I was wiser about mashing techniques, I could have gotten closer, but I doubt I would ever be able to achieve the 75% efficiency I was looking for. Longer mash times than 60 minutes might have helped achieve this. There is also an interesting method in Randy Mosher’s book, Radical Brewing, about taking half the grain of a big beer, mashing it, then using the wort collected from the first half and mashing the second half of the grain with that wort instead of using fresh water. I haven’t tried this.

I didn’t come here to discuss how to brew bigger beers, though. I’d rather each person learns this process by their own means. I would be happy to discuss this at another time. What I wanted to discuss was how new home brewers tend to get into the hobby, and right away they want to make a 10% ABV beer.

You can be successful doing this, and I’m not against it, but I think there’s something to be said for easing yourself into the hobby and not attempting to make boozy beers right away. I’m not sure you can get a complete understanding of what is going on with big beers.

Of course, this is just my opinion, and recently, I had a friend make a double IPA and he used just one packet of Nottingham yeast. Suprisingly, to me, the gravity started out at 1.090 and within just a week, was down to 1.015. He said it tasted great just after a week. Shows you what I know.

It just reminds me of the scene in the movie, Weird Science where Gary and Wyatt are trying to impress the other two male “cool guys” in the movie, Max and Ian, by making a second girl. When they get to the discussion about breast size, Max and Ian say, “Bigger tits”. Gary disagrees but in the end, frustratingly says, “Give ‘em the knee shooters.”

Of course, it is a hobby, and you should make what you enjoy. I just enjoy the journey a little more.

Give 'em the knee shooters...