Have you ever drank a beer that became a battle, more than an enjoyable experience? Maybe a beer that was far bigger than you had anticipated? Something you felt determined to drink, just so you can say you conquered that son of a bitch, and you are all that is powerful. Or perhaps it is something that is just so bad, all you want to do is slap it around a bit. Or maybe you were on the verge of passing out, but you just wanted that one last beer, and the valiant struggle between taste bud fulfillment and the velvety embrace of sleep that ensued.
My story comes in two parts: the making of the beer that did me in, and then the doing.
Beer the first: The Beer of Myst’ree
Long ago, back before CBW and children, I had been quite active in the Niagara Association of Homebrewers. The idea came to me one day: a group brewing session with random ingredients.
The premise: anyone who wanted to could participate. On the brewday you would bring:
- 1-2 lbs of base malt
- 0-1 lbs of specialty malt/adjuncts
- 0-1 oz hops
We did some basic finagling on the fly to turn the ingredients into a real beer, then we brewed it. The final result:
2lbs Marris Otter (Dan)
1lb Mild 2 row (Ethan)
~2.5lbs Golden Promise (Todd)
~3.5lbs Light Munich (Tim)
3lbs UK Pale malt (Keith)
1lb Toasted malt (Todd)
1lb Belgian Carapils (Tim)
2lbs Malted rye (Ethan, Keith)
1lb German wheat (Keith)
1lb Flaked wheat (Dan)
1oz ~12-13% Millenium @First wort hopped (Dan)
.85oz 7% UK Challenger @FWH (Ethan)
~2.5oz 8% Palisade @Continuous (Tim)
1oz 7.5% Cascade @60 (Dan)
1oz homegrown Cascade @30 (Todd)
~1.5oz homegrown Cascade @15 (Todd)
~1.1oz homegrown Willamette @5(Keith)
1oz 8% Palisade @Dry hopped (Tim)
Mashed at 148
We had fun. You wouldn’t necessarily know it now, but at the time the joke went that Ethan was unable to brew a beer without including rye. It also had two kinds of wheat, and I swear Ethan brought corn, but maybe we didn’t put it in.
Ethan took the fermenter home and kegged it when it was done, giving all the participants a growler. Which brings us to part two:
Beer the second: Bacon beer
You can influence me pretty easily, okay? Ever the sucker for a fun or interesting idea, I often found myself doing things “for the Vine” before Vine existed. Like when my friend Matt, excited by my homebrewing ability, kept saying “We have to make a bacon beer!”
He had my interest. I knew of a few things right away: for one, no actual bacon. Pork plus beer equals gross1. However: much of what we consider bacon flavor actually comes from its smoke: recreate the smoke, recreate the bacon. I believe I used this recipe:
12 lbs 2 row, 6 lbs of it smoked
1 lb Munich
1 oz Millennium (~12%aa)2 @60
I built a smoking basket out of screen door mesh and took the 2 row to my father in law’s, where we smoked it over hickory in his water smoker. Then Matt and I set a date: we would make the beer on Easter Sunday.
Then Easter came and we had some scheduling miscommunications. I stayed with my family longer than I intended. He took a nap. We connected eventually, but the hour grew late. We didn’t get started until almost dusk, but damn it we were making this bacon beer.
The beers meet
The Beer of Myst’ree comes in here: I pulled out the growler to drink while we brewed. Advice for new brewers: don’t drink while you brew3. I had a few years under my belt, though: I knew the procedure and associated steps and hey, my friend and I were hanging out together.
I don’t remember if we had decided beforehand or on the fly, but for some reason we had to make the batch smaller than five gallons. It may have been “Who wants to drink five gallons of a beer that might suck?” or it might have been “Whoops, we don’t have as much of some ingredients as we need.” This all happened four or five years ago, so I don’t quite remember specifics beyond that we shot for three gallons instead of five.
Then it got dark. I hadn’t brewed in the dark before, and I haven’t again, partially because my house doesn’t have any lighting to speak of in my back yard. We carried on.
If you’ve come into retail to buy growlers from us you’ve probably heard me talk about “the magical extra pint at the bottom of every growler.” You see a little liquid in the bottom, you think “just a small bit left” and pour it in your glass, and suddenly you find it full. That theory started with the Beer of Myst’ree. Dark, late and with just a bit left in the growler, I dumped the last bits into my glass. It filled up to the brim.
It might be important to mention here that as far as our readings could tell4 The Beer of Myst’ree stood at something like 8.5% abv.
The Beer of Myst’ree and I fought and it took me by surprise. It kicked my ass. I realized I felt drunk: I had never brewed drunk before either. Or in the dark. Or this late. Or with smoked malt.
We finished after 10 pm, bedtime by my standards, and drained the wort into the fermenter. We got two gallons. Somehow we boiled off an extra gallon, or I made a mistake in my calculations, or something, but 20-30% of the beer was missing. Well, 20-30% of the water. The thing with brewing and calculating specific gravity is that if you have the same amount of fermentable sugars — say, enough for a three gallon batch — but less liquid, the sugars don’t go away. They just get more concentrated, resulting in more alcohol.
Our bacon beer became 8% abv.
After it finished fermenting I kegged it and took a sample. Thick. Chewy. Heavy. Overpoweringly smokey, and not in an appealing Schlenkerla way. It did not taste good and I did not enjoy drinking it.
I tried blending it with a light, mild amber I made and it would become technically drinkable but only in the sense that I put time and money into this stuff so I should probably choke it down. After a year I tried it again and found it remarkably good, or at least remarkably no-longer-godawful, but by then I needed the keg. I dumped the last of the bacon beer, and with it went the mystery of what the hell happened that night.
The mystery, fittingly enough, caused by Myst’ree.
You’ll notice I used that Millenium for everything: I had a pound of it and tossed it in for bittering everywhere for quite a while. ↩
And sanitize the goddamn hell out of everything. ↩
I don’t know how much we could trust the hydrometer readings, as the Myst’ree’s initial gravity was one point lower than its preboil, which makes no sense. ↩