Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues

Things are falling apart. For a time everything was going so well. After the brew-a-thon mentioned in the last post two months ago, I've not had want for beer. I had plenty. I tore into the Amber quickly. Fortunately I made 10 gallons of it and partitioned them into two separate vessels so I could age one a tad more and enjoy them a tad longer. I had such a surplus that I bottle-conditioned Andrea's Almond Amber Ale, which had been aging for nigh two months. The Black IPA spoiled on me. I don't know what went wrong and that troubles me more than anything. I tasted it and got a headache, sure enough a few weeks later a white filmed developed at the top, sure sign of spoilage. The brewing of the IPA went better than expected. I followed a Dogfish Head technique and continually added hops the full 60 minutes of the boil - one ounce at start of boil and a handful every five minutes or so - bringing the total to four. It is currently sitting in more whole leaf Cascade hops as I write this.

I took a vacation. Three weeks along the West Coast. We met some friends in L.A. and we all drove north to San Fransisco. Parting ways, my wife and I flew to Portland and hopped (no pun intended) a train to Seattle before flying home. It was wonderful. I ate some great food and drank some amazing beers. But this blog is not about what I did on my summer vacation. This blog is about my homebrew and that was no vacation.

While I was touring the coast, with an average temperature of 72 degrees F, my carboys were sitting in a dark closet where the average temperature just outside was in the triple digits. I cannot imagine how hot it got inside but I'd save 85 is a conservative estimate. Once Andrew Godley of the Parish Brew Company gave me a piece of advise that I knew to be true, but never took to heart. Temperature Control is the most important factor in fermentation, he said. I paraphrase of course, I was pretty drunk on IPA at the time, but I am feeling the effects of my folly.

Temperature control costs money. I have little. As I've stated in the past most of my equipment has been donated including the initial kit. I told myself the off temperatures would add "local color to my beer," but it has only added funk. Andrew had a vast array of chest freezers. I have one but it's being used as a keg-orator and generally is colder than desired. I did some lagering in there once, but only once. Most of my brews are ales. Ales ideally ferment at low 70's or upper 60's range, say 68-72 degrees F. We're lucky to get those temperatures in the winter here in South Louisiana. I can see why the Northwest is an ideal climate for brewing with 72 all year long, I loved it there.

So when I returned from my vacation I had less than a gallon of Amber Ale left in the keg-orator, a batch of spoiled Black IPA I have yet to clean out, a carboy of IPA still dry hopping one month after the initial transfer, and five gallons of bottled Almond Amber Ale all roasted in the Louisiana heat. The last of the 10 gallon Amber was safe in the keg-orator, but it didn't last a day after my homecoming. I consoled myself with a six-pack of Almond Ale and a few loose 22's, and for the first time since I can remember I drank a beer that was absolutely undrinkable.

Let me amend that; I've never drank one of my beers that was undrinkable. If other people give me their beer and I think it nasty, I'll quaff it quietly or politely leave it unfinished, but for the first time it was one of my beers that tasted like feet. Again I don't know what went wrong. Everything tasted fine during the transfers so it was an error in bottling or the damned heat. I don't need to sugarcoat it to myself or spare my own feelings - this beer is terrible. I tried everyone of the six-pack and two of the 22's hoping that the flavor was a fluke of the individual bottles, but no. Each and everyone I had to pour out. Right now I find myself with a five gallon excess of marinade beer, a position usually reserved for High Life, and a slug bait*.

I sit in my air-conditioned home afraid of the heat. I've stopped by a few brew stores for ingredients and even bought Washington grown dried figs during my travels, all to make a fresh batch of Rouge Huit, but I cannot bring myself to brew. It is brutal not only on human life, but on yeast cultures**. I'm not worried about sweating in the heat, but at these temperatures the yeast will produce funky flavors rather than mellow bready goodness. As I write this the spoiled black IPA rests in a carboy right behind me. There's no need to clean it out as there are no other batches to take its place. I have everything ready to transfer the IPA, the last of my homebrew, into a keg for consumption. But if the Almond Amber funked-up in a bottle, what's to stop the IPA from spoiling in its carboy. I'll know when I muster the courage to try it.

But all hope is not lost. I've got some new toys to help beat the heat. My dad gave me a cylindrical refrigerator, one that you might see Powerade being kept cool in at a convenience store. A carboy won't fit in it, but my food-grade plastic bucket - converted for lagering - might. In addition my mother-in-law is getting rid of a standup freezer. If I attach a temperature regulator to it and reinforce the shelving I can keep it at 68 degrees F constantly and store up to four carboys at a time. It'll take a little investment on my part and the time and energy to import the equipment from Lafayette, but it might be just what I need for the Summer Time Blues.

* Handy tip: If your garden is plagued with slugs, take a can lid or other semi-shallow basin, fill it with beer and leave it in the garden. The slugs will be attracted to it and drown in it.

** Historical Fact: Before refrigeration, refreshing summer beer was brewed in the winter and fermented in cool cellars for the yeast esters to develop those mellow tastes, and winter beers were brewed in the summer for the yeast to impart those heavy funky warm flavors. This of course takes a lot of foresight, planning, and temperance.