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The Belgian Mare Says Hello!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Girls Are Back On-line

Not much on the brewing front this week. I have three beers in the cellar and a fourth in the fermenter. I should have enough for holiday gifts with a bit left over for me.

The best news is that our older hens have decided to start laying after a two month layoff. The new girls have started laying for the first time. We are getting a steady four eggs per day with as many as nine. Production is enough that I have started putting eggs out for sale. How long this will last, I do not know, but last year we got eggs through the winter.

The young Leghorns are laying the smallest, whitest eggs I have ever seen. The older Aracanas are laying giant, misshapen green monsters. Must be the weird weather.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Closing The Hop Yard

After an up and down year, that ended on an up note, the hop yard has been closed up for the winter. As my loyal readers may recall, early spring brought the promise of a big harvest as the third year hops reached the top of the trellis in only four weeks. Alas, six weeks of nearly continuous rain came close to spelling disaster.

In the end, half of the third year hops were drowned out. But an unexpected boost came when about half of the first year plants produce hops. The net result was a greater harvest than the previous year, but still less than the promise of spring. Such is the lot of the farmer.

So far, I have brewed two beers with this year's harvest. The first is the New England Cream Lager, which has exceeded all expectation in terms of flavor and hop character. I have never had a beer that has hop flavor like this one. It is like plucking a flower off the vine and popping it in your mouth. The second is another experimental beer that is on the boil as I write these words. Needless to say, I have high hopes for this beer too.

I confess to a bit of sadness as I took down the support lines and cut the dried vines. The surviving third year plants left stumps like small trees. I need to remind myself that this is just the natural cycle and that each stump represents a future harvest.

As I cut down the dried vines, I, once again, caught the aroma of fresh hops. It was the plants were telling me not to worry. We will all meet again in spring.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Creating A New Style

I have never been one to accept sharp definitions of beer styles. When one views brewing as an art, as I do, the idea that a particular beer style is or can be a clearly defined target is anathema. All styles must be open to interpretation and innovation or they are dead. So perhaps it is both fitting and ironic that I would embark upon creating my own style.

I did not at first set out to create a new style. I simply wanted to do something that did not appear in any of my recipe books. Then it occurred to me that by avoiding all possible styles does one not effectively create a new style? Indeed, it treads into the realm of famous paradox: "The set of all things that are not the members of any set."

So what was the result of this desire for difference? I decided to create a "cream" lager. In defiance of the concept of lagers as clear, light, bitter beers, and ales as heavy fruity/malty beers, I would create a lager that was heavy and smooth, a little malty, and with a distinct, but not bitter, hop flavor.

I am only on the second batch, but I believe I am on to something. This second batch, after only 15 days in the bottle is among the best beers I have brewed. It is a bright gold, creamy, full bodied lager. The flavor leans toward the fruity (a bit like Steinlager) but with a strong malt presence. The hop character is distinct: I am reminded of the aroma of the hops on the day I picked them. It is not a harsh bitterness. It is more akin to tasting the whole flower of the hop.

How did I achieve this? I suppose I should not give away trade secrets, after all this may become one of the flagships of our brewery. Then again, in the spirit of brotherhood among brewers, I guess I can give out the basics so that others can interpret my new style. The ingredient list is actually quite simple: pale Pearl malt, 20L crystal malt, lactose, and my own hops. Oh, and a touch of molasses for priming prior to bottling.

So what name did I give this new style I created? After a bit of thought, I decided to honor both geography and content. I decided it should be known as New England Cream Lager. Let us hope that many will enjoy it and none feel compelled to define it!

A new style is born...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mixing Yeasts

A short time ago I was reading about the farmhouse ales of Flanders. A reference was made to "mixed culture" yeast being used to ferment those beers. I realize what is meant by the terms "mixed culture" or "mixed strain". Yet, given that understanding, my mind was sent upon another train of thought.

I began to think along the lines of a different type of mixed culture. I contemplated a type of mixture that went beyond the mixing of two or three closely related strains of ale yeast. Indeed, I conceived a cross cultural mix that would have made Victor Frankenstein shudder. Genius or madman, I was set upon my course. Only one mix would satisfy me.

So, Dear Reader, I must now confess to you that I committed the ultimate beer sin, an abhorrent crime against nature. I have brewed a beer using a mixture of ale and lager yeast!

While I know that committing such an abomination may well cost me both my regular readers, I could not turn away from my course. A part of me needed to know what would happen. So the deed was done. As we speak the fermentation is slowing down and the beer, if one may still call it that, will be transferred to the secondary fermenter in the morning.

What shall the final result be? That, I cannot say. Whatever the result, it shall be reported here for all to contemplate and consider.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dark Lager

After thinking a bit about which beer to brew I decided on a dark lager. I had tried to brew a dark lager a few years back. That effort ended with me being awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of bottles exploding. I had not tried again since then.

Why I decided on now as the time to once again tempt the dark side of lager beers, I cannot say. Perhaps it was simply the need to once again face that which had defeated me. Whatever the reason that compelled me, I, and my tasters, are glad that I did.

The recipe for this was a figment of my own imagination, flavored by my past experience. I started with a base of pale Pearl malt with some 20L crystal malt for a bit of flavor. Then I added a couple ounces of dark wheat malt for some sharpness in the flavor and a bit of color. The last ingredient was Kent Goldings hops.

For a yeast, I used one of my new favorites, Saflager dry lager yeast. This is a powerful, fast working yeast. When I bottled, only half the bottles were primed, with dry malt extract.

Unlike my previous effort, this time no bottles exploded. The result was a well carbonated (both primed and unprimed) dark lager. The flavor had a hint of hop bitterness with a very crisp sharpness from the wheat malt (and possibly the yeast) that was dominant and led to a dry finish. The unprimed bottles were slightly smoother, but very close to the primed bottles in flavor.

I gave this beer to several outside testers. I was a bit worried that it may be too sharp for some tastes. I need not have worried,it received universal approval. Ah, sweet success. I guess sometimes we need to revisit our failures to, quite literally, taste success.