The Session #92: How Did Homebrewing Change Your View of Beer?

The SessionI wish I could say it was because I was at Elysian Brewing’s Great Pumpkin Beer Festival this past Friday that I missed posting for The Session, and that’s mostly true, but frankly I also just forgot the lead-up in time to get a post in the queue. But, since it was also the weekend of the Great American Beer Festival, I figure there was likely a fair chunk of folks who didn’t get to this month’s Session in a timely manner either, so it’s all good.

Something our host Jeremy Short over at Pintwell had even commented on, though wisely had his own Session post written early. And the topic for this month? Paraphrasing slightly, How Did Homebrewing Change Your View of Beer?

The idea of this session is how making something changes your relationship with it. For example, when I first started homebrewing I wasn’t a big fan of lagers. After learning to brew I realized how complex and particular lagers were and I came to love them because of that. Here are some ideas to get your writing juices flowing:

For the homebrewer:

– How did homebrewing change your view of beer? Do you like beers now that you didn’t before? Do you taste beer differently? Does homebrewing turn you into a pretentious asshole?

There were more examples, but you get the idea and this first option applies directly to myself as it is.

I got into homebrewing roughly concurrently to when I was getting into craft beer, back in the mid-1990s, so if anything I would say homebrewing was equally instrumental as craft and micros were in opening my eyes to the possibilities of beer beyond macro-brewed industrial lagers. I don’t know how common a path that might be for most people; I suspect that people are introduced to craft/import beer first and discover homebrewing later, if at all, and therefore might look at homebrewing in the same way as they might look at “real” brewing—difficult, technical, something only a few people can learn.

I don’t know. But for me, homebrewing was the great equalizer. Reading about different beer styles further made me want to seek out commercial examples, while at the same time trying a craft brewery’s beers made me want to figure out how to brew them myself. Realizing that knowing how to brew meant that potentially any style or beer, commercial, historic, foreign, what have you, could be duplicated at home—that’s powerful! Or to put it another way—

  • Don’t want to wait in line or pay big prices for that bottle of Dark Lord Imperial Stout or The Abyss? Brew your own!
  • Want to recreate a lost or historic style that nobody is brewing? Brew it yourself!
  • Have an idea for a beer with wonky ingredients that nobody has thought of before? Well, I’m sure somebody has, but what’s stopping you? Brew your own!

So homebrewing for me demystified beer even as it helped me learn about the possibilities of beer beyond those industrial lagers. But then again—those same industrial beers, knowing how to brew myself and knowing hard hard it actually is to brew pale, light, clean, consistent lagers—definitely gave me a new respect and appreciation for just what it does take to brew them. As a result, I’d like to think that instead of making me a pretentious asshole about beer, it did the opposite and made me appreciate well-brewed beer all that much more.

(I’m sure there was a period there that I was a pretentious asshole, but hopefully it was a short period. These days I’m pretty open to anything and try to simply celebrate the beer, regardless of style or brewer.)

(Of course, homebrewing has educated me about actual flaws in beer, so “not a pretentious asshole” doesn’t mean I don’t recognize a bad beer.)

In essence, I suppose homebrewing made beer more accessible to me, removed the mystery but increased the appreciation of beer. And at the same time, when I encounter a beer that is a mystery—a “how did they do that?” moment—I have a toolset for figuring that out. And that’s a big part of the fun.

Sisters Fresh Hop Fest, and some thoughts on fresh hop beers

I attended and thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Sisters Fresh Hop Festival this past Saturday, and while I don’t have a review with pictures per se (as the setting, layout, attendance, and so on was basically the same as in past years, and you can review some of my past reviews and photos for it here and here), I do have some commentary about it and some general thoughts on fresh hop beers.

Sisters Fresh Hop Fest 2014 glass

I seem to capture this shot at this Fest every year. I can’t help it, it’s just a cool angle to capture!

All in all I had 11 tasters of the 34 fresh hop beers that were pouring, as well as sips of a few others my friend Sandi was drinking. The beers I had were:

  1. Old Town Brewing, Sterling Kolsch (Sterling hops)
  2. Base Camp Brewing, Wet-Hop Dry Hopped Helles (Cascade hops)
  3. Ground Breaker Brewing, Meridian Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Meridian hops)
  4. Deschutes Brewery, Fresh Hop Oktoberfest (Willamette hops)
  5. Portland Brewing, MacTarnahan’s Fresh Hop Amber Ale (Unknown variety)
  6. Old Town Brewing, Cent’s and Censability Fresh Hop Pale (Centennial)
  7. Rat Hole Brewing, Fresh Hop Rye IPA (Unknown, donated variety)
  8. Full Sail Brewing, Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Simcoe hops)
  9. Three Creeks Brewing, Hop Wrangler Fresh Hop Red (Chinook hops)
  10. Three Mugs Brewing, Big D’s Memorial (Simcoe hops)
  11. Fort George Brewery, Fresh IPA (Simcoe hops)

I also had a taste of 10 Barrel’s Big Daddy Fresh (Centennials), Rat Hole’s Blood Orange Fresh Hop Pale (donated variety, though Susan Toepfer from the brewery told me the majority were Chinooks in that one), and possibly some others.

My favorites from this list were the Old Town Sterling Kolsch, the MacTarnahan’s, and two of the Simcoe beers—Full Sail’s Pale and Fort George’s Fresh IPA. In the end I voted for the Sterling Kolsch—every year the Fest awards the “Golden Bunny” people’s choice award to the favorite beer, though I haven’t heard who won.

One of the things I really like about this Beer Fest—a realization which really only gelled for me this year, whereas in previous years I would look at the hops used but would choose based on brewery and beer style that sounded good—is that it offers up the opportunity to sample a wide variety of hop varieties side-by-side, in beers that are not entirely dissimilar. It’s a great showcase to understand how each variety differs in real time; it’s also a good way to test some theories. For instance, theory: Centennial hops are “off” this year.

I’m basing this on an admittedly small sample size and an anecdote. But there is something in this year’s crop of (fresh) Centennial hops which seems to be lending a harsh, sharp, almost metallic (or steely) flavor to the beer; astringent and perhaps overly tannic. I first picked this up a couple of Fridays ago when I had a pint of 10 Barrel’s The Boss, a fresh pale-amber ale using these hops, and it was a bit off-putting (especially when expecting that bright, fresh, green character).

10 Barrel’s Big Daddy Fresh, also brewed with fresh Centennials, had that exact same character. However, it was brewed by Shawn Kelso in Boise, Idaho, on a completely different system than the one here in Bend that The Boss was brewed on. So my suspicion strongly became the hops. I went back for Old Town’s Cent’s and Censability in large part because I wanted to sample their Centennial beer, and while it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as in the 10 Barrel brews, that same sharp and astringent-to-the-point-of-metallic was there, in the background.

I mentioned this theory to a fellow sharing the table with us, who happened to be from Independence (Oregon), and he confirmed it and told me he’d pulled out all of his Centennial hop vines this year. Now, I don’t know that this is damning evidence, but that’s not entirely the point. The point is, were it not for this Fest and the opportunity to sample several fresh Centennial hop beers in one sitting (not to mention chatting with random beer fans), I may have been left just thinking I had a not-so-great beer. Instead, I have some idea how this year’s fresh hops are affecting beer in general.

(Note to self: talk to some hop growers and see if this theory holds up further.)

The best hops I sampled this year were the Simcoes, in at least two of the three Simcoe-hopped beers I had. (The Three Mugs Big D’s Memorial was so big—9.3% abv—it just obliterated any fresh hop character.) They were very orange-y and smelled fantastically fruity, and had a spicy, peppery flavor like fresh mustard greens that was really appealing. I need to acquire some cans of Fort George’s Fresh IPA just for that Simcoe alone.

I wish I had polled the various brewers as to how they managed their fresh hop additions. For the most part, I know most brewers only use fresh hops at the end of the boil, for the aroma additions, and use “regular” dried/kilned hops for bittering. (“End of the boil” encompasses late hop additions, whirlpool, hopback, etc.) I do that myself, though the very first fresh hop beer I brewed used all fresh hops for bittering and aroma—and I remember it was very vegetal-y up front, holding a heavy, musty, overly-boiled-greens character. The real benefit in using fresh hops is to get that fresh presence, which you don’t get from boiling long.

However, Susan Toepfer (Rat Hole Brewing) told me in addition to a majority of Chinook hops (donated) in their Blood Orange Pale, they also use all fresh for bittering, aroma, everything. Of course, Rat Hole is still small enough that it’s not impractical to do so, whereas larger breweries on much larger systems simply can’t—the volume of fresh hops would be too great.

It begs the question: are fresh hop beers really “fresh hop” if you don’t use all fresh hops throughout the brew? I would say yes.

Deep thoughts. In general, the Sisters Fresh Hop Fest was a great event to enjoy a whole bunch of one of my favorite seasonal “styles” of beer, and if you get a chance to attend a similar event, do so! The Portland Fresh Hops Fest is coming up this weekend at the Oaks Amusement Park. Get all the details here.

Oh and I also see there at the first-ever St. Paul Fresh Hops Fest is taking place the following weekend, in St. Paul, Oregon. So there’s another opportunity. Get these beers while you can!

Received: Coors Colorado Native IPL

I recently got onto the Coors mailing list (technically MillerCoors), and today received a package from the AC Golden Brewing Company which is a subsidiary venture in the vein of Blue Moon. That package contained AC Golden’s Colorado Native India Pale Lager.

Colorado Native IPL

Now, I’m not going to get into that whole goofy “craft vs. crafty” debate, simply because it’s a marketing ploy. As far as I’m concerned, the main question should be: Is the beer good?

In this case I’m intrigued and looking forward to sampling these bottles. They brewed this IPL to 6.5% abv and 62 IBUs which makes me think the hops should be fairly prominent, and by focusing on finishing and dry-hopping with Centennial, Cascade, Nugget, and Crystal, there should be some good American hop character present.

I will report on what I find.

Portland Brewing Noble Scot

Portland Brewing Noble ScotI have to say I definitely enjoyed Portland Brewing’s fall seasonal, Noble Scot, of which they sent me two bottles a few weeks ago. With the weather cooling off it’s been a good beer to enjoy and will be sticking around for another month.

Noble Scot is a Scottish-style ale, 6.5% abv, with the brewery’s description stating, “Noble Scot is a complex and full-bodied Scottish Ale with notes of toast and caramel and a sweet, subtle smokiness for the bonnie days of fall.” It has a more complex grain bill than some of the Portland Brewing lineup: 2-Row Pale, Smoked, Carapils, Roasted Barley, and Melanoidin.

Appearance: Classic brown color, with auburn highlights that looks lovely when held up to the light. Light tan head.

Smell: Rich and nutty with a roasty, warming, almost spicy aroma that’s a little bit chocolate, a little bit biscuit, and steely. Hints of smoke are present, though not predominant for me.

Taste: Malty with a layers of flavor revealing a deft hand with the grain bill—a solid pale malt base with a depth of graininess that makes me think crystal malts, roasted grains, a touch of (pale) chocolate, something like Vienna or Munich and more. [Speculation before I looked] It doesn’t get cloying, it’s got a balanced, dry presence that has the hint of tang (the roasted and chocolate notes I think, along with the smoked malt) but it’s not thin either. Earthy bitterness but it’s definitely malt-forward and hearty.

Mouthfeel: Shy of medium-bodied, but it has a rich and broth-like feel with a drier finish.

Overall: I quite like it. It’s got a well-balanced “fall” feel to it in the maltiness and it hits the spot.

Look for it in both 22-ounce and 12-ounce bottles. According to the website, it will be available through October 15.

Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 81/100. RateBeer: 3.22/5, 66th overall percentile.