Saturday morning I began cleaning out the garage, after years of procrastination and excuses. I made a false start two years ago and got through a dozen boxes of memorabilia before other demands took over and the job was abandoned. The room that theoretically is supposed to be a place to park the car soon soon reverted to its wild, primordial state of recycling bins, lawn care equipment, bicycle parts, and cardboard boxes upon plastic bins of the detritus of family life: all those items you have no need for today or this season or anymore but aren’t ready to part with, not yet.
This week was bottling week for my home brewery: last Friday I bottled a Celtic Ale (May 18 post), on Tuesday I bottled a Belgian style Dubbel (May 1 post), and yesterday I bottled my Christmas Ale, a recipe that attempts to copy Chimay Grand Cru “Blue”. I brewed the Christmas Ale on April 27, and racked it to a secondary fermenter on May 4, after the initial active stage of fermentation had settled down. Then it rested in a dark quiet closet for nearly six weeks until bottling day. Three days before bottling day, I pitched another dose of fresh yeast to prepare the beer for the second fermentation in the bottle. With most brews this second dose of yeast isn’t necessary, but when a beer has such a high alcohol level, it’s pretty standard procedure.
This beer was an experiment that turned out well. The basic idea was to brew an ale that mimics a lager. Lagers are not in the repertoire of most homebrewers and craft brewers – their need for controlled, lower temperatures for fermentation and conditioning than are needed for ale requires the acquisition of dedicated refrigeration equipment in most cases. Here’s the story of how I brewed an ale at home that is close in profile to a German pilsner – a “mock-pilsner”.
I’ve enjoyed Chimay beers since I first began to drink them about 20 years ago. I like all three of them, but the Première or “Rouge” is my favorite, in an “I could drink this every day” sort of way. The monks at Scourmont Abbey have been brewing this beer since 1862, although the current recipe dates back to the late 1940s or early 1950s when Father Théodore re-established the brewery after World War Two. As described by the brewery, it is like all Chimay beers “mellow, forthright, and powerful”.
Why did I wait so long to try to make this beer at home? Perhaps it was knowing how difficult it would be to resist drinking it before it has matured. Although I have brewed a few Belgian Dubbels over the years, this was my first attempt to copy one from Belgium.
Today I am making my Christmas beer. Like many brewers (home or otherwise), I like to make something strong and special for the holidays. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the gravity a beer has (yielding a higher ABV), the longer it takes to ferment, condition, and mature. I try to schedule my brewing to take into account the varying amounts of time involved for each batch. Generally speaking, quickly maturing beers take around 4-6 weeks, medium-term beers 2-4 months, and long-term beers can take anything longer, up to and over a year! Last year I didn’t get my act together early enough to brew a strong ale for Christmas, and ended up making an Oatmeal Stout – it turned out great, but it was only 5% ABV.
This year I decided to try to make a copy of Chimay Blue “Grande Reserve”. I am following a recipe from the book Beer Captured by Tess and Mark Szamatulski. Often I will try to brew a clone of a commercial beer I like, adjusting or changing the recipe to suit my tastes or the ingredients available; just as often I concoct new recipes on my own after scouring through the books I have and postings on the internet for ideas. I’ve never brewed a Belgian Tripel before, although I’ve made several Dubbels, so I thought it safe to follow a recipe. In any case Chimay Blue is not called a Tripel by them – they call their “Cinq Cents” their Tripel – the Blue was originally brewed as a Christmas ale, in fact. From what I understand, it is basically a Tripel with a slightly heavier, darker malt profile, and the addition of “grains of paradise”, a spice. It will be the strongest beer I’ve made, with a target original gravity of 1.086, and around 9% ABV.
I started brewing beer at home twenty years ago. I’ve been an on-again, off-again homebrewer: production has been interrupted several times due to household moves (5), parenting, job changes (too complicated to number or discuss), and the waxing and waning of personal interest. A year ago my son encouraged me to pick up my hobby again – my equipment had been sitting in a box in the garage for nearly five years. I had found the demands of a full-time job, part-time job, and graduate school all at the same time too much to be able to consider taking the time to make beer at home. Those were sad years for the state of beer in my house.
All told, I’ve brewed 62 five-gallon batches of beer in the last 20 years, and 21 of those in the last year. 21 x 5 = 105 gallons, so I am still way under my legal limit of 200 gallons/year for my household, I know, I’m working on it! Statistics for my 62 batches fall out like this:
Welcome to my very first blog post. You can expect this blog (=beer log) to discuss all things beer from the perspective of a Nashville beer drinker and home brewer, although I reserve the right to go off-topic if it suits me! Please bear with me as I learn how to negotiate the technology, and as I decide what to write about, and how.
My beer interests largely revolve around my home brewery and my fascination with the American craft beer phenomenon, although they include a strong interest in traditional imported styles (especially English and Belgian). The craft beer movement is exploding here in Music City, with several new excellent breweries having opened in the last few years, and availability of craft brews from around the country in restaurants, bars, and stores growing at an exponential rate. It is truly a beer renaissance.
I first started brewing beer at home 20 years ago, and have seen the home brewing hobby grow tremendously in the years since as well (much more on this in future posts). Home brewers today can emulate virtually any style they wish with available techniques, equipment, and ingredients, and the practice of home brewing so naturally complements and overlaps that of checking out what folks who have gotten their priorities straight are doing commercially (getting it out of the garage and into distribution!).
Hoping this will be fun and informative for both me and you – cheers!