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A beer for Father’s Day

In 2008 I was not yet a father or the owner of a brewery. This meant that I had plenty of time to listen to podcasts and homebrew, converging with episodes of Basic Brewing Radio. The 2008 keynote address at the National Homebrew Conference was given by Boston Brewing Company’s (Sam Adams) Jim Koch, which James Spencer dutifully recorded for BBR.

One of the anecdotes Koch told was how he makes sure to brew a batch of beer at home with his kids each Father’s Day. I thought that was a fine idea and made a note to do the same. In 2010 I had a six month old who was too busy being six months old to really be of much help. 2011 and 2012 were a little better, but it wasn’t until this year that I felt my son would really understand what was going on and be interested in helping.

The design

When Spider Man wants to help you brew you say YES

When Spider Man wants to help you brew you say YES

I wanted to brew a beer that was high in alcohol and low in hops. It wasn’t because I’m a “quantity over quality” kind of guy: quite the opposite, in fact! I just know my limits. Last year I set out to make a black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale or whatever the hell you want to call it, which I actually had intended to brew a year and a half earlier. The brewing went fine, but then life intervened, as it is wont to do, and I never got around to dry hopping it. It was probably two months before I admitted defeat and bought a case of 22oz bottles from Niagara Tradition. I figured it would be a good test to see how resistant beer is to autolysis.

The beer turned out fine, but it was by no stretch of the imagination a black IPA. It’s actually surprisingly good considering the lackadaisical trip it took from grain to bottle but the hops had faded by the time I took my first sip. My inattention to detail (or “laziness” as those inclined to brevity might put it) would lend itself better to a higher alcohol beer, where time would hopefully increase the complexity of flavors rather than strip the good ones out. I mean hell, I’m still sitting on a case of mead from 2008 that I tend to forget I have.

The beer, then: a Belgian dubbel. Fermentation temperature gets too hot? No problem! Sit around for a while? It’s “aging.” As added bonuses I haven’t made one before and Justin (of Risk fame) likes them quite a bit (even if I have two examples of how I’m not celibate).

Now then, a disclaimer: if you’re a brewer you doubtlessly will either be noticing things I do differently than you or be aghast and shocked by things I do terribly wrong. To that I say two things: 1. Remember that Rudy is the brewer for CBW and I’m just the web monkey, so any perceived ineptitude shouldn’t reflect on the brewery; and 2. If you ask 10 homebrewers for advice you’ll get 12 different responses.

The recipe

Milk crates: high tech brewing

Milk crates: high tech brewing

I had grand intentions to read through Brewing Classic Styles, consult the NAH listserv, design my own recipe, solve the mortgage crisis, etc. In actuality I realized I had forty five minutes to run to the store and get back before I had to go to Consumer’s for a tasting, so I hit up Homebrewtalk’s recipe database and chose something that looked good: amc22’s “simple dubbel.” I made a few tweaks based on feedback and what there was at the store, and came up with:

  • 10 lbs pale malt (UK)
  • 4 oz Special B
  • 1 lb dark candi syrup
  • .5 oz Northern Brewer (9.6% aa) @ 60
  • .25 oz Hallertauer Mittelfruh (4.5% aa) @ 30
  • .25 oz Hallertauer Mittelfruh (4.5% aa) @ 5
  • Wyeast 3655 Belgian Shelde (1.5L starter)

Mash at 155°, 60 minute boil.

Naming a beer is 30% of the fun (10% of the fun is brewing it, 58% drinking it and 2% butterscotch ripple). I’ve liked taking musical inspiration for beer names well before I knew Rudy and Ethan (it’s part of why we get along so well), and since I’ve been on a kick revisiting the glitchy hip hop act Prefuse 73, and reflecting on how I don’t do this much anymore, I went with “Suite for the Way Things Change.”

The brewday

There are certain things you forget when you only brew once a year. The first is that you should check your equipment regularly, and not store a copper immersion chiller outside when there’s water in the line or else it will freeze and crack the tubing. Thankfully there was a spare at the brewery that I was able to grab: otherwise we wouldn’t have been brewing anything.

Despite the rainy weather I was reminded why I loved homebrewing (and why you should love it too). It’s an easy, relaxing day of sitting outside and listening to music. I have been wound to varying degrees of tightness recently and so it was great to sit in a camping chair and listen to music while watching water boil.

That’s the thing about brewing, at least homebrewing: 80% of it is sitting around watching liquids heat up. It’s relaxing but not exactly thrilling for a 3 year old, especially when he goes down for a nap before the boil starts. He missed out on the fun of dumping the hops in! Perhaps next year.

I know it's too light! The dark candi syrup hasn't been added yet. Patience.

I know it’s too light! The dark candi syrup hasn’t been added yet. Patience.

He was able to help me mash in, however, as that’s stirring grains and water together. I kept up my tradition of missing my target mash temperature by a huge margin, which I’m attributing this time to pouring the water out of my kettle’s ball valve through the cold air into the mash tun. I should have instead dumped it in batches, but it seemed like the best way to let him help while minimizing potential contact with 164° water. I aimed for 155° and got 149°, so… oh well, I guess. It will be drier than usual.

All things considered I actually did pretty well. I got over 80% efficiency and the carboy was bubbling so effervescently the next day that, uh, I’m going to have some cleanup to do. Brewing also used to be an all day affair for me: I’d wake up at 7 and finish cleaning up around 6. Due partly to a higher powered burner I was completely done by 3:30 and squeezed in an episode of Mad Men before th’ boy woke up.

We’ve been checking on it daily, and haven’t added the candi syrup yet to allow the fermentation to settle down a bit. I’d like it to get added when the yeastie boys are in full swing, but when we started pouring it in yesterday it started coming out, undissolved, pretty much immediately. In the next day or two we’ll add that in, and then bottle it, oh, I don’t know, some time before his fifth birthday, ideally.