Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 - The Year in Beer

Last year, I took the time at the start of the year to review my homebrewing experiences for the prior year and reflect on what I'd like to accomplish in 2018.

What Did I Accomplish in 2018?

I brewed almost 50 batches of beer in 2017 (48 to be precise). That's up from 36 batches in 2017, 17 batches in 2016, and 15 batches in 2015. That's well above the supposed average of 8.3 batches per year of the hypothetical "average" homebrewer according to the AHA.

I brewed approximately 25 different BJCP styles during the year, including the Tropical Stout, Belgian Single/Dubbel/Tripel/Quad, Saison, Pale Ale, IPA, Scottish 80 Shilling, ESB, Blonde Ale, Australian Sparkling, Irish Red, Cream Ale, English Brown, Dark Mild, Pumpkin Ale, and others.

I entered three competitions: Rhinegeist, the Ohio State Fair, and Barley's Ale House. I didn't place at Rhinegeist. At the State Fair, I took home a fourth place ribbon for a Belgian Tripel. At Barley's Ale House, I won the entire competition.

Late in 2018, I joined the Scioto Olentangy Darby Zymurgists (SODZ) home brewing association and continued my membership in the American Homebrewing Association.

I brewed beer using three different setups during the year: the PicoBrew Zymatic, the Brewie+, and a system I've used before, an induction cooktop and steel kettle.  My Grainfather setup did not see any use in 2018.

Last year, I said that I hoped to accomplish the following in 2018:
  • Tune my BeerSmith settings to scale between Zymatic, Grainfather, and other systems more easily. While I did get better at this, I found the Zymatic nearly impossible to predict. It seemed that no matter what I did, it rarely came close to the gravity and volume I calculated.
  • Continue to fine-tune the wort correction factor for my refractometer. As it turns out, the factor I had was fairly accurate. When comparing wort using a glass hydrometer or the electronic Tilt Hydrometer, I was fairly accurate with the factor I was using.
  • Set up a permanent home for the Zymatic in the basement. I achieved this, but also "semi-retired" the Zymatic in November when I received the Brewie+.
  • Get rid of older accumulated brewing grains.  I found a home for some of these, and have not had to throw much out this year. 
  • Use the Zymatic to produce a number of self-teaching beers to learn the differences between different specialty grains, yeast strains, etc.  I did not make any real progress toward this goal.
  • Nail down my "house" recipe for the following styles:
    • Belgian Single - I only made one of these during 2018 and I didn't care for it.
    • Belgian Tripel - I've got two recipes that are approaching this goal.
    • Gulden Draak Clone - Although I've tried a few times on this, I've yet to come anywhere in the ballpark... though one attempt produced a really nice Dark Strong Ale.
    • ESB - I made three variations on this in 2018. Each one got me a bit closer to my goal, but I still can't say I have my "definitive" recipe yet.
    • Cascade Pale Ale - I "detoured" from this to try to produce a clone of Manny's Pale Ale, so I'm no closer to having this recipe done.
    • Trappistes Rochefort 10 Clone - The recipe which won for me at Barley's was one of my attempts to clone this beer. While I feel like I got a good beer, it's not by any means the equal of the true Rochefort 10 beer.
  • Accumulate notes and ideas for a book on brewing. I've yet to feel like I've got something worthwhile to write and share yet. Maybe in 2019.

I managed to accomplish the first four of these goals. I made some progress on the other three, but can't claim to have really accomplished them.

What Did I Learn in 2018?

Some of the highlights among the things I learned this year:
  • In the past I've bottled some beers before they were finished fermenting. This led to some of these brews foaming over when opened weeks or months later. Since then, I've been using the Tilt Hydrometer to better gauge when fermentation has finished. This has not totally eliminated the problem, but has reduced it considerably.
  • I've been able to create several of my own recipes "from the ground" up and turn out a good beer. Some of those have gone on to place in their categories in competition. I don't believe I've really mastered the art of recipe creation, though.
  • Often, a beer that I really like doesn't do as well in competition. I don't know if that's because I'm "over-scoring" myself when I review my beers or because the judges are looking for things (or finding flaws) that I can't detect.
  • Despite what you might hear in forums online or at your local homebrew club, it is possible to win competitions with beers brewed in automated systems like the PicoBrew Zymatic. In fact, one of the first two beers I brewed in that system is the Tripel that took fourth place at the fair.
  • Making a good Christmas Ale or Pumpkin Ale with your own recipe is harder than it seems. I made both this year and neither was especially good to me, though others seemed to like them.
  • Probably my second-proudest accomplishment (apart from winning at Barley's this year) was learning how to brew a beer that exceeded 20.5% alcohol by volume. The experience inspired me to try brewing a 16% English Old Ale a few weeks later.
  • I also learned to extend the life of a package of liquid yeast by making a starter, splitting it between a batch of beer and a "jar for later use". I got 3-4 batches from a single yeast package toward the end of the year with no negative impact on the beer (that I can see).

Those are the top-of-mind things I learned this year.

Did I Improve This Year?

It's difficult to answer this objectively.

On the one hand, I went from third place at Barley's last year to first place this year. That would appear to be improvement over 2017.  

On the other hand, although I went from having no Trappist Ales place at the Ohio State Fair last year to having one make fourth place this year, last year I took home two silver medals at the fair (versus a fourth-place ribbon). You could argue that this was a step backward. On the other hand, I'd placed two Trappist ales into the fair in the hopes of placing in that category "period"... so in that sense I did better than in 2017.

What Did I Contribute to the Hobby?

I've shared the things I've learned over the past year in this blog, which is available to any home brewer who has an interest in reading it. 

I've also helped fellow home brewers at work and elsewhere, who had questions or problems with their beers. 

What's Next?

For 2019, here are the things I hope to accomplish:
  • Attend most of the meetings of the SODZ group, with allowances for the fact that in 2019 I've got a wedding (my step-son's) to attend, a graduation party (my nephew's), a different graduation party (my step-son's and his fiancee's), and other events to attend which may take me out of town when the SODZ meetings happen.
  • Brew an IPA for my step-son's wedding, to share with guests.  This assumes we're able to get a recipe that works for my step-son and his fiancee before the end of March.
  • Get at least one medal at the Ohio State Fair's Homebrewing Competition.  I don't care which style or even whether it's a gold/silver/bronze.
  • Compete in at least two homebrew competitions.  This can include the fair, Barley's, Rhinegeist, or others.
  • Brew at least three lager style beers. Probably a Pilsner, a Doppelbock, and a Malt Liquor recipe I've been mulling over.
  • Brew my Belgian Dark Strong Ale at Barley's.  This is sort-of a given, unless you look at al the events going on this year that fall during the April to June timeframe when the Barley's competition takes place.
  • Nail down my "house recipes" for the following styles:
    • Trappist Dubbel
    • Trappist Tripel
    • ESB
    • Doppelbock
  • Brew at least 10 styles of beer I've never brewed before.  I've managed something like 35 of the approximately 118 recognized BJCP styles. I'd like to increase that number in 2019.
  • Brew at least one beer at 16% ABV or higher that (to me at least) tastes good.

I'll be back in about a year (hopefully) to tell you how all this turned out.

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