Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 The Year in Beer

With 2018 staring me in the face, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at 2017 from the perspective of my home brewing activities.  What did I accomplish?  What did I learn?  Did I improve?  Did I contribute anything to the hobby?  What's next for me?

What Did I Accomplish?

I read that the average home brewer makes 8.3 batches per year. This year, I made 35 unique batches representing 20 different styles, which I guess places me well above the average.

The styles I made most often were Belgian Strong Dark, Belgian Dubbel, and Extra Special Bitter (ESB).  I've been trying to master the Belgian styles and come up with recipes that will be my "go to" versions of the styles.

I managed to make beer using three different equipment configurations this year.  I made most using the iMake Grainfather RIMS system.  Several were made using a setup cobbled together from a sous vide cooker, induction cooktop, kettle, strainer, and Ziploc bag.  (One of those batches became my "house" ESB recipe and was scaled up for The Grainfather.)

What Did I Learn?

I actually learned quite a bit this year. Some of the highlights:
  • How to scale a beer from a 1-gallon sous vide setup to a 5-gallon Grainfather batch (maintaining gravity, color, and flavor), and have started working on doing the same with the PicoBrew Zymatic and its 2.5 gallon batches.
  • If I do the right calculations on a recipe for a commercial beer, I can brew a beer that is extremely close to that commercial beer.
  • It's possible to brew a beer with breakfast cereal, have it turn out well, and surprise others with just how good it can be.
  • I learned a little about how BJCP judged events work, and gained valuable feedback from the judges on ingredient freshness and the subjectivity that can enter the judging process.
  • My recipe instincts are decent, though I'm still not quite at the point where the recipes I create entirely by myself are always what I want. Roughly half of my "created from the ground up" recipes were objectively considered good (with one of them getting a silver medal at the Ohio State Fair) and the rest no better than mediocre. This is something to work on in 2018.
  • I learned to make mead, though my first two attempts were not so good. Since there is a good meadery here in Columbus, I may just stick to beer.
There is probably more, but that's what comes to mind.

Did I Improve This Year?

This is not an easy question to answer.

On the purely objective side, I have been able to brew beers that come very close in gravity, color, and volume to the recipe numbers.  This was not the case in prior years, so that must be improvement.

My recipe instincts, both looking at a published recipe and deciding if I'll like the finished beer and creating/modifying recipes, are probably improving. I've only recently started tracking feedback from people who try my beers, but the feedback I get is generally getting more positive. Many more people are telling me I should do this for a living than ever before.  I take that to mean people are seeing improvement and like what I'm doing.

I've been able to shave time off the brewing process using both the sous vide and Grainfather setups. I've been able to reduce the elapsed time and hands-on time commitment through use of the Zymatic, so I have been able to devote more time to other things without sacrificing the quality of my beer. I consider that an improvement, even if only a "quality of life" kind of thing.

What Did I Contribute to the Hobby?

An article I read in one of the home brewing magazines suggested that the "stars" in the home brewing community are people who not only brew great beer and expand their knowledge, but also give something back to the hobby. 

I've kept in touch with several home brewing friends throughout the year. I've shared little tips and tricks I learned, but with them and here on this blog.  Hopefully people have found this information valuable and useful.

I've shared all of the recipes I brewed throughout the year, combined with photos of the brewing process, photos of the beer, tasting notes, and thoughts for improvement.  Hopefully others who are looking to brew similar beers find these posts helpful.

On the other hand, I've not joined a homebrew club, done any formal presentations at conferences, written any books (yet), or done anything with a group of people. I have some ideas about that, but I haven't acted on them so far.

What's Next?

In no particular order, here are things I'd like to accomplish in 2018 with regard to homebrewing:

  • Tune my Beersmith settings to make it easier to scale recipes between the Zymatic, Grainfather, and other systems.  This means getting a decent Zymatic profile sorted out in BeerSmith.
  • Continue to fine-tune the wort correction factor for my refractometer through comparison measurements using the refractometer and hydrometer.
  • Set up a permanent "home" in my basement for the Zymatic to avoid some logistical problems associated with having it setup on my brewing work table.
  • Continue to get rid of older accumulated brewing grains, then better plan my brewing so that I don't accumulate much in the future.
  • Use the Zymatic to produce a number of "self-teaching" beers to help me learn the differences imparted by specialty grains, yeast strains, mash schedules, etc., to better inform recipe changes.
  • Nail down my "house" recipes for at least the following styles:
    • Belgian Single - this is pretty close and needs only minor tweaks
    • Belgian Tripel - I've yet to make one I'm totally happy with
    • Gulden Draak clone - I've already begun work on this
    • Trappistes Rochefort 10 clone - I'm pretty close on this
    • Extra Special Bitter (ESB) - I think I have this, but need to make one more batch
    • Cascade Pale Ale - I've tried a bunch of things with this one but haven't quite hit it
  • Accumulate notes and ideas for a book on brewing.

Tune in about twelve months from now to see how this all turned out...

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