Brew the right holiday beer
Jason Ebel, co-founder
Two Brothers Brewing Co. (Warrenville, Ill.)
Well, the first thing you need to do is crack open a beer. Second, you need to brine your turkey. While it brines, it’s time to brew some beer. When I think of a beer that goes with Thanksgiving dinner, I want something lighter and crisper and not too filling. The meal is filling enough. I would try something like an English Dark Mild ale that will bring some of those dark malts in and cross the flavor profile of the dinner. Keep the alcohol light so you can have several without ruining your dinner. Leave the pumpkin for pumpkin pie. Don’t put it in your beer. Once you’re done with that, it’s time to start brewing for Christmas. Make sure you brew something with power and spice that will warm you up by the fire. It helps with those cold winter nights.
Pitch rates are imperative
Joe Walts, quality control manager
Ale Asylum (Madison, Wis.)
It’s common knowledge that cleaning and sanitation are two of the most important skills a brewer needs to make consistently great beer. A close third, in my opinion, is fermentation control: pitching the right amount of viable yeast cells, giving them enough oxygen and controlling fermentation temperature until the rate of fermentation hits its peak. I’m going to focus on pitch rate today and save the rest for another time. I like to aim for 0.75 billion cells per mL of fermenting beer per degree Plato of original gravity for most ales, and 1.25 billion cells/mL/P for lagers and cold-fermented ales. Converting those rates into dry yeast weights or starter volumes from common homebrewing units would eat up this whole paragraph, but you can download a spreadsheet that will do the work for you at sites.google.com/site/republicbrewpub.
One thing to keep in mind is that yeast cells in a vial or smack pack will die as they sit in storage, so your starting cell count will rarely be the 100 billion cells typically advertised by the manufacturers. A ballpark estimation that yeast stored in a refrigerator will lose about 5 billion cells per week after the manufacturing date (this will get you closer to the mark without needing cell counting equipment). Most dry yeast manufacturers guarantee minimum counts of 5 billion to 6 billion viable cells per gram, but typical counts are much higher. They can be as high as 20, but assuming 14 has given me better results at home. Although dry yeast can be sprinkled directly onto your wort, your fermentations will be more consistent if you hydrate your yeast with 10 mL of 80-90 F water per gram of yeast. I like to pre-boil the water for sanitation and let it cool to the hydration temperature. Good luck and happy brewing!
Keep it simple, grasshopper
Brock Wagner, founder and brewer
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. (Houston)
Early in my homebrewing and in my cooking, I used to believe that more ingredients led to more complex flavors. While this can be true, I’ve discovered that the best recipes use the fewest number of ingredients to achieve the desired outcome. By using just a few carefully selected ingredients, the flavors come across the palate as bright. Using lots of different types of malt or hops or fill in the blank can result in muddled beer with all sorts of notes competing for your attention.
Here, the fun really begins. Now the quality of each of those ingredients becomes crucial. Make sure your hops are in good condition. Try different malts from different maltsters, and certainly don’t forget the yeast. I can’t tell you how many times finding the right yeast has been the glue to a recipe, allowing hops to shine, drying out the malt, or adding complexity to the nose and flavor. Our simplest recipes often turned out to be the most difficult to develop. They have also won more GABF medals than our more complicated recipes. Lawnmower, Weedwacker, Santo and Elissa are all single hop beers. Summer Pils relies on a German pils malt and uses an indulgent two hop varieties. Our first beer, Amber Ale, has two malts and two hop varieties. Happy brewing! And remember, you don’t have to throw in the kitchen sink.
Fruit flavors can be fun
Chris Sarls, CEO
Oregon Fruit Products (Salem, Ore.)
In the craft brewing market, we’re seeing an exponential rise in flavor experimentation. From sour beers to fruity ciders to hoppy meads, brewers are adding berries, citrus or tropical flavors to give the market something new and exciting. We love working with brewers this time of year when they’re looking for those classic holiday flavors — cranberry, cherry or our new blood orange, in particular. They love partnering with us because our product is consistent and can be stored in ambient temperatures year-round with little waste or spoilage.
Many of these fruit flavors would work well with just about any homebrew. There really is no right answer for which fruit matches a particular beer, so experiment. The great thing about homebrewing is that you can tap into your inner mad scientist and create some really interesting brews that will potentially be worth repeating. But like all good science, you have to be able to balance controls with variables. When adding fruit, try using a high-quality fruit puree that will provide the same consistent quality and flavors that so many of the craft brewers are using today when they use commercial purees. That way, when you find a formula you love, you can replicate it. And make sure to document everything because you never know when you’ll hit the jackpot.
Professionals need to be homebrewers
Steven Courier, chief brewer
SLO Brewing Co. (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
Homebrewing is the single best action to take if you are looking to get any job in the beer industry. As the industry grows and matures, getting a brewing education is fast becoming a prerequisite to getting a brewing job, which is great. But you still need to homebrew. Nothing will bring you closer to your craft and expand your knowledge and feel for brewing than homebrewing. I have met hobby homebrewers with more knowledge and excitement for beer than some professional brewers. And I’ve met fresh-out-of-brew-school graduates with plenty of knowledge but without the skills to actually make beer. My advice is, yeah, definitely go to school, but homebrew too. And do it a lot, and talk about it a lot. Join clubs, chat rooms and competitions. Go to festivals, local breweries, non-local breweries, conferences and beer pairing dinners. And always talk about your last brew or your next brew or somebody else’s brew. Many brewers are open and excited to hear about your brewing because there’s a good chance they will learn something too. We learn so much from each other. Our industry has always been led by people who started out with a passion for homebrewing, and they recognize that passion in others. And usually they’re hiring. Sure, they’re hiring out of brew schools, but that delicious Imperial Stout you homebrewed over the Thanksgiving break will set you apart and demonstrate your well-honed brew skills.
Go easy on the spices
Derek Gallanosa, head brewer
Abnormal Beer Co. (Rancho Bernardo, Calif.)
When fall rolls around, it’s the season for pumpkin and spice beers. Through trial and error, I’ve learned one valuable piece of brewing knowledge pertaining to spice usage: Go easy on them. Spices are assertive and have the potential to consume the flavor of the beer. Gentle spice usage creates an aromatic, flavorful beer, without an overpowering essence. In my opinion, the best spiced beers have hints of seasonal flavors, while the base beer remains both recognizable and enjoyable. An example of a spice I use is star anise that takes on a sweet, yet strong licorice-like flavor. Instead of using an entire star, I advise using a half of one point for a five gallon batch.
On that same note — treat coffee as a spice. The rich and complex coffee flavor can easily overwhelm a beer, making a coffee stout taste like bitter, alcoholic coffee. To add to that, a beer heavily saturated with coffee creates a bell peppery, jalapeño aroma and taste. I like to use coffee lightly and add other ingredients to complement it, like cocoa nibs. This was my strategy in shaping the recipe for Abnormal Beer Co.’s Mostra Mocha Stout, a 5.1 percent oatmeal milk stout. This is one of our most popular beers — a big aroma and big flavor without being overwhelmingly bold and boozy. Using spices lightly, coffee included, will enhance the nose and taste of a beer.