The Return of the Keg
Let’s hear it for small victories!
This blog has been somewhat neglected for the last year, and in fact, the last several years. No, not neglected; just back-burnered, like a few quarts of extra wort run out from a mash tun into a saucepan to boil in case it’s needed for something, only to be forgotten until the brewer smells evaporated malt syrup burning on the stove seven hours later.
It’s been an adventure for me for the past few years, gradually adjusting, then unadjusting and readjusting to rapid changes in life. As I’ve continually tried to balance the demands of fatherhood, my career, the never-ending project that is my new house (it’s still “my new house” after two years, and I don’t see that changing soon) and now a podcast about the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, something had to fall by the wayside. That something was brewing, because it’s hard to set aside an entire day to brew a batch from all grain, and it’s hard to commit to dry hopping, kegging, and all the rest on schedule to make the best possible beer.
No brewing means no blogging about brewing, and because I don’t want to turn this blog into just a bunch of reviews on commercial beers I’m drinking, I haven’t had much to write about here. But that did change recently. (Woohoo!) I’m not quite certain that I’ve turned the corner and will be brewing regularly again, but it’s worth reporting that I’ve made some progress.
I just kegged for the first time in several months. Almost a year ago, I came up with two new recipes inspired by my family’s growing obsession with Walt Disney World, including a Star Wars-inspired black IPA with Galaxy and Mosaic hops. After months of thinking “By Yoda, that sounds good,” I carved out some time five weeks ago to pull the Grainfather out of the garage and brew the beer I’d been thinking about.
I’m proud (and a bit shocked) to say that I still seem to know what I’m doing. I had no major mishaps on brew day; the biggest speed bump was a half-hour delay caused by me forgetting where I had put away a couple of the many small metal and rubber bits that make up the Grainfather’s pump filter system. After I located them, it was smooth sailing. I missed my target OG by a few points (1.065 instead of my target 1.071) but I’ve never been one to get too upset by missing gravity targets. My FG was on target at 1.017, so I ended up with a more quaffable 6.3% ABV beer than the seven-percenter I was expecting. Even kegging went smoothly. It helped that I had a nice shiny new keg in a box with no leaks ready to receive the brew.
It was nice to have three beers on tap in my three-tap kegerator for about 24 hours. The following day, though, I emptied one of those three kegs, so I once again have an empty slot. Fortunately, I have a plan for that tap: the light, crisp honey wheat with floral East Kent Goldings hops I planned last year will be a wonderful beverage for spring in Texas. I hope to carve out time for another brew day for that recipe in early April.
But for now it’s back to fatherhood, work, and podcasting about Tolkien. So while this isn’t quite the story-ending “Well, I’m back,” of Sam Gamgee in the final chapter of The Return of the King, I can honestly quote Bilbo Baggins in the same chapter by saying, “And now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey.”1
Now if I can just find the time to clean all this equipment.
1 Quote taken from the book, not the Peter Jackson film.
“Chill Bill” avenged
Well, happy Father’s Day to me!
Finally, two months after ordering a new kegerator to replace the late, great “Chill Bill”* which passed away while my family was on vacation in April, the replacement has been installed. If you happen to follow me on Twitter (@shawnbou21), you’ve already seen the pictures and you know it’s glorious.
I certainly waited long enough. Not for the shipment, though. The kegerator was here a long time ago, sitting in a cardboard box for something like five weeks waiting for me to find the time to open and assemble it.
A travesty, you say? Certainly. But May was a pretty hectic month that kept me busy with my day job, my family and my other life-consuming hobby of Tolkien podcasting, so I had to do what I had to do. And what I had to do was … nothing with the kegerator.
But I finally got that sucker up, and did I mention it’s glorious? The exterior is all stainless steel, not that black plastic top I had on my old one. The industrial look of the stainless steel is accentuated by a T-shaped three-tap draft tower that I ordered separately to install in place of the tower that came with the fridge unit.
Now all I have to do is:
- give it a name, and
- fill it with beer.
The first task should be easy. I’m going to try farming the name out to the social media sphere and see what we come up with. If you have any ideas, please post them here or find me on Twitter or Facebook (My Brew Home). Any play on the old kegerator’s name “Chill Bill” would be welcome (such as “Chill Gill,” “Chilly Willy,” etc. – but those are all now disqualified!) but I’m not setting any real rules. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know. This could be disastrous, either because I’ll get a barrage of responses along the lines of “Keggy McKegface” or worse, I’ll get no responses at all … but I’m feeling confident. Ready to roll the bones. Bring on your best ideas, if there’s anyone reading this at all.
The second task is already in progress. Tap #1 is already flowing with the remains of Belfast Breakfast Oatmeal Stout, and I’ve got a batch of session IPA fermented, dry hopped, and ready to be kegged any day now. Getting that third tap flowing is going to be a little harder, because I’ll need to brew another batch soon and of course that’s an investment of eight hours on a weekend (after I had trouble stringing two hours together to assemble the As-Yet-Unnamed Kegerator). But summer is here, and it seems like the perfect time to brew, so I’m going to make it happen. The weather is perfect for the honey wheat I’ve been dreaming of.
More to come as the kegerator gets filled … look for an update in the coming weeks as the session IPA gets kegged and Tap #2 starts flowing. After that I’m going to need something to write about, so that will be two good excuses to make time to brew.
So stay tuned, and until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
*Note: Never actually referred to as “Chill Bill” until after its death.
Bineta Applebum, you gotta put me on
As I’ve written before on this site, I’m not much of a cider guy. I don’t hate it or anything, but I will nearly always reach for a beer first, and I admit to not completely understanding the current cider craze. Sorry, cider fans … I just think they all taste pretty much the same.
But there’s a time and a place for them, or rather several times and places. Two times and places that immediately come to mind are:
- My backyard in mid-May, when spring begins to turn into a scorching Texas summer
- A party at my house, when my kegerator is broken and I need a fast/easy small batch of something to serve to my friends
Cider – at least the way I make it – is so easy, it’s the go-to whenever I need a small batch to pop into the kegerator (or, in this case, into a KEGlove cooler sleeve) to fill an empty tap. All I do is pour a few gallons of organic unfiltered apple juice into a fermenter, pitch a bit of dry yeast, and wait. Okay, sure, sometimes I just pitch yeast directly into the glass jug the juice came in and ferment in that … I’m a Louisiana boy by birth, and we like to keep things simple.
Except when we don’t. And this time I didn’t.
I decided that for my recent batch of cider, I would mix things up a little bit. I’ve been hearing a lot about hopped cider – and having not tasted any (see above re: “I will nearly always reach for a beer first”) – and seeing as how I have a ton of hops in my freezer, I thought now was the time to try it out for myself.
The somewhat experimental cider – experimental not in the sense that no one is doing it, because everyone is; but experimental in the sense that I just winged it without bothering to do any research on how they are doing it – ended up being called Bineta Applebum Hopped Cider – in reference to the song “Bonita Applebum” off the first album by A Tribe Called Quest, but spelled B-I-N-E for bine, like a hop bine … get it?
P.S. – I know that if you have to explain a joke, it’s a shitty joke.
P.P.S. – R.I.P. Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who was taken from us in March 2016 in between the deaths of David Bowie and Keith Emerson and Prince and oh my God this year has sucked for music fans and it’s not even June.
You know what? To paraphrase Charlie Papazian, let’s just get on with the recipe.
This really is one of the easiest brews I’ve ever done. Here are the ingredients:
- 2 gal (4 half-gallon bottles) Trader Joes Honeycrisp Apple Cider (unfiltered juice)
- 1 oz Cascade hops (7.1% AA)
- 2 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 packet Mangrove Jack’s Burton Union Yeast (M79)
The main point of interest here is the hops, so let’s talk about them. I chose Cascade because I have a crap-ton of them on hand, and I figured if this was an experiment I might as well use the most basic American hop imaginable just to keep down on weird variables. I wanted to add half the hops before fermentation, and half afterwards as dry hops.
For the pre-fermentation hops, I brought a pint of the juice to a boil, then turned off the heat and added a half-ounce of Cascade and the yeast nutrient. I steeped this mixture for as long as it took me to sanitize the fermenter and pour the rest of the juice into it.
A word about the yeast nutrient: it’s not absolutely essential, and I’ve made good cider without it. The sugar in apple juice is fructose, which is pretty easily handled by ale yeast. But I didn’t want to take any chances, partially because I was going for a clean ferment to let the hops shine through, and partially because my Mangrove Jack’s yeast was 11 months past the expiration date. (If you won’t tell anyone, I won’t … tell anyone else, that is.)
Once the bulk of the juice was in the fermenter, I added the hot hopped juice and pitched the limping-on-its-last-leg expired yeast (in case you’re wondering, it worked just fine). The OG measured 1.046.
The cider fermented over the next three weeks to a FG of 0.996, giving an ABV of 6.6%. Not too shabby for a bit of juice from a plastic jug and some bargain-bin yeast. I added the other half-ounce of Cascade I had set aside for dry hops. One week in the fermenter, and then into my small-batch keg it went.
The cider was a hit. It was refreshing, the hops came through nicely, and everyone at the party could detect a little something special in the cider even if they couldn’t quite figure out what it was. We nearly emptied the short keg in an afternoon … there was one glass left in the keg by the end of the day, which allowed me to get this picture and toast to a successful experiment:
I will brew this again someday, maybe even with more interesting hops, the next time I need a small batch of something to fill an empty tap or satisfy a party need. But I’m hoping that won’t be the case again anytime soon, because I have recently received a freight shipment of …
my brand new kegerator!
… and the kegs of beer I have sitting in a fermentation chamber cranked down to 37°F to keep fresh will soon be on tap again. I hope to get the kegerator set up and running in the next few days, and don’t worry, I will document it here with all the appropriate fanfare and celebration. Watch this space for updates, and until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
Just when things were getting back to normal …
We’re back from vacation. I’ve got a couple of recipes queued up to brew soon. This blog is back up and running, and there’s a session IPA in the fermentation chamber awaiting a dose of dry hops.
Everything was just getting back to normal at myBrewHome when my kegerator broke.
It still runs, but it doesn’t cool. So I’ve got three kegs of beer sitting in a hot box at 77°F right now (that’s 25°C for my overseas readers, and too bloody hot for craft beer fans worldwide).
I’m not nearly handy enough to fix it. I got into the homebrewing hobby to make beer, not gear, and the only household appliance I know how to take apart and rebuild is a desktop computer (a skill I doubt will help me here). I’m sure it’s going to need a new compressor or something, and any repair guy will tell me to replace the whole thing. So I’m just shopping for a replacement now.
I’ve got a beer fridge stocked with commercial bottles and cans, so I won’t go thirsty, concerned readers. And replacing the kegerator will give me an excuse to finally install the fancy new draft tower I ordered a while ago but haven’t had the time to unpack. But in the meantime, my bar area seems tragically quiet and dark without the hum of the kegerator or the faint blue glow of its temperature readout.
I’ll post an update as soon as I have one. Have strength. We’ll get through this.
Until then, a memorial for my first kegerator, complete with the white-on-dark Monotype Corsiva Italic font I always see in memorials on rear windshields:
Farewell, gentle appliance. I will always remember the joy you brought me, my family and my friends. May Ninkasi receive you into her arms.
Rough Draft Recipes: Unauthorized Disney Edition
By the time this is published, I will be on a plane for a week-long Disney vacation with the family. The little ones will spend the week basking in the glow of fireworks, the thrill of rides and the utter fabulousness of a certain snow queen, while my wife and I will count the footsteps from the Dole Whip kiosk to wherever we can occasionally find a decent beer on draft. They’re there. Trust me. They aren’t easy to find, but they’re there.
Okay, I’m bending the truth a little. Not about the beers (they really are there if you know where to look), but about Momma and Daddy’s lack of enthusiasm for the whole Disney thing. Actually my wife is totally into it, and I am definitely not too proud to sing a rousing chorus of “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” while sailing out of the darkness of Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course Disney now owns the Star Wars universe, and Jawas and stormtroopers will litter the landscape more than strollers. And, as my closest friends know, I absolutely love the wordplay and hilariously maladjusted cast of characters in the Winnie the Pooh series … so yeah, I’ll be as happy as a bear in a honey-tree with the whole Disney thing.
My kids are similarly obsessed. Both of them are very big on Mickey. More to my own taste, though, my son is fascinated with Star Wars (he loves the Dark Side and runs around saying “I’m Kywoh Ren!” – should I be concerned?). My baby daughter learned the word “Pooh” before pretty much any other word, and she means the bear, not … the other thing.
In honor of my family’s unanimous love for these stories and characters, in fact, I decided a few weeks ago to design beers to commemorate both Winnie the Pooh and Kywoh – er, Kylo – Ren. So without further ado, below are the first drafts of the recipes I’ve come up with.
Warning: minor spoilers in the notes below for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is landing on home video this week. Watch it, then read this.
Kylo Ren beer: Dark Awakening Black IPA
- 13 lbs 8 oz American pale malt
- 12 oz Dehusked Carafa III
- 8 oz Chocolate Malt
- 6.25 AAU of Mosaic hops at 60 minutes
- 7 AAU of Galaxy hops at 60 minutes
- 12.25 AAU of Mosaic hops at flameout
- 14 AAU of Galaxy hops at flameout
- 1 oz of Mosaic hops for dry hopping
- 1 oz of Galaxy hops for dry hopping
- American ale yeast (Fermentis SafAle US-05)
OG 1.071, IBU 75.8, SRM 37, ABV 7%.
Notes on ingredients:
Grain – American pale malt because it’s an American IPA. Dehusked Carafa III is a standard dark malt for the style that adds color without astringency. Chocolate malt is a little unorthodox, and will add a bit more body and roast flavor than typical for the style, but the roasty notes should add a welcome roughness around the edges, just like that unstable young man in black and that fuzzy-looking lightsaber he carries.
Hops – Mosaic and Galaxy are both fantastic hops and delicious in IPA. Mosaic is trendy and still a little bit new on the scene, but you can’t argue objectively with its capabilities. (Hello, Kylo.) And Galaxy … well, you know. Far, far away and all that. There are a lot of hops, but I want it bitter. Bitter like an emo kid who thinks the best way to get back at his parents is to take over the galaxy.
Winnie the Pooh beer: Silly Old Bear Hunny Wheat
- 6 lbs Maris Otter
- 1 lb 8 oz Flaked Wheat
- 4 oz Crystal 15
- 5.4 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes
- 1.8 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 15 minutes
- 2 lbs Honey at 5 minutes
- English ale yeast (Fermentis SafAle S-04)
OG 1.047, IBU 27, SRM 4, ABV 5.4%.
Notes on ingredients:
Grain – Maris Otter because it’s as English and traditional as A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin. Flaked wheat to stuff the beer with velvety smoothness. Crystal 15 to add a touch of honey sweetness. And of course, honey in the kettle near the end of the boil when it’s “Time for something sweet!”
Hops – Not the focus of this beer, so just a little bit of East Kent Goldings for enough hop bitterness and character to balance the sweet, fruity crispness of fermented honey. The bitterness is on the high end of the spectrum for American wheat and on the low end of the spectrum for an English ordinary bitter.
If you’d like to offer any tips or suggestions while I’m away on vacation – or even brew one of these before I get around to it – please share your thoughts here. Soon after I get back from the Most Magical Place on Earth, I’ll try my hand at brewing one or both of these myself.
Until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
Scotch-Irish Stout: the Davy Crockett of beers
You could say I’m a “high concept” recipe designer. I like to include ingredients that have some fun meaning or reference so that each beer recipe tells a story. Sometimes, though, the concept is way more unique than the recipe itself.
My wife has (and therefore my two kids have) a strong strain of what Americans call “Scotch-Irish” heritage. They’re the people who left Scotland to settle Ireland in the 1600’s when the English started crowding them out, then came to America in the 1700’s after the English followed them to Ireland, only to move out west and build homesteads on the frontier when they found the American colonies populated by – you guessed it – more English.
Scotch-Irish is the heritage of the early American moonshiners who started the Whiskey Rebellion, of Davy Crockett and Texas President (back when it was an independent republic) Sam Houston, and the kind of anti-establishment iconoclasts who’ve defined the American cultural landscape from Mark Twain to Alec Baldwin. They’re tough. They’re rugged. They’re unapologetic individualists who don’t take crap from anyone. They know it, and they make sure you know it.
And they all claim to be related to Davy Crockett. They really, really love Davy Crockett.
For a descendant of Italian immigrants like myself – whose ancestors left the strangling misery of a life of endless toil on farms in Southern Sicily to enjoy the unbounded freedom of endless toil on farms in Southern Louisiana – it’s usually easier to just let the Scotch-Irish have their way, especially when you’re outnumbered 3 to 1. Even when their Protestant Irish self-importance leads them to openly proclaim wild and baseless assertions like “Bushmills Whiskey is better than Jameson!” one learns to just concede the point before some’un reckons it’s time to fetch a musket and settle things the frontier way.
But I love ’em. I love ’em almost as much as they love Davy Crockett, and that’s a lot. So when formulating a recipe for a “Scotch-Irish stout” recently to celebrate the lineage of 75% of my household, I sought to brew something bold. Uncompromising. Full-bodied but smooth and pleasant. Sufficiently Irish, but with that untamable individualism common to the Scots and their frontier American descendants.
I started with my recipe for Anna Livia Irish Stout. My most recent variation on that was:
- 6 lbs 14 oz Irish pale malt (Malting Co. of Ireland Stout Malt)
- 2 oz Acid Malt (for a lactic tart hint; the notorious “Guinness tang”)
- 2 lbs Flaked Barley
- 1 lb Black Roasted Barley
- 10.8 AAU of English hops (East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, etc.) at 60 minutes
- Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP 004)
OG 1.049, 42.2 IBU, SRM 34, ABV 4.9%. Good astringency, a bit of tartness … a little higher gravity and alcohol, but otherwise a fair approximation of an Irish Stout, BJCP 2015 style 15B.
The first thing I did was “Scotch-Irish up” the recipe up by replacing the Irish base malt with British malt. I didn’t have Golden Promise – which would have been my first choice as a Scottish/Northern English barley variety – but Maris Otter was close enough. I also increased the amount of base malt to result in a stronger beer, befitting the burly in-your-facedness of the Scotch-Irish people. I also removed the acid malt to divorce the Scotch-Irish stout from the Guinness/Dublin legacy that inspired my Irish stout, and replaced that with base malt.
I believe every stout should have some flaked grain in it for that creamy, coat-your-palate mouthfeel. But flaked barley is famously used in Guinness for that reason, so I nixed it for being too Irish. Oats are a staple of Scottish cuisine from oatcakes to haggis, so I replaced the 2 pounds of flaked barley with flaked oats, which is always (to me) a big step up in mouthfeel from flaked barley.
So, to balance that silky mouthfeel of the oats, I wanted a little residual malt sweetness. So I cut the black roasted barley by a few ounces to reduce astringency and added a half pound of chocolate malt.
British hops are pretty all-purpose, so I kept those the same. I also kept the Irish Ale yeast. Although I could have Scotch-Irished the recipe up a bit further by replacing the yeast with something like White Labs WLP028 (Edinburgh Ale), I felt I needed something to retain the Irish character before my Scotch-Irish stout became a Scottish stout. After all, if this had been a real beer brewed by Scottish immigrants to Ireland, the method of pairing imported British ingredients with an indigenous Irish yeast would have been a likely way of brewing it.
So in my mind, I had created a recipe that was wholly unique. Something as original and individual as the Scotch-Irish heritage I was celebrating! I patted myself on the back for a job well done, then looked at the BeerSmith window open on my computer and saw the following recipe staring back at me like Davy Crockett down the barrel of a musket.
- 8 lbs Maris Otter
- 2 lbs Flaked Oats
- 13 oz Black Roasted Barley
- 8 oz Chocolate Malt
- 10.8 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes
- Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP 004)
OG 1.057, 40 IBU, SRM 37.5, ABV 5.8%, with medium hop bitterness and malty, chocolatey sweetness. (And if you’ve already spotted the problem, shh! Don’t spoil it.)
It seemed that my “wholly unique” and “original” beer recipe had turned out to be a completely in-style Oatmeal Stout, BJCP 2015 style 16B.
The punchline is that I don’t even really like oatmeal stouts. What’s worse, my Scotch-Irish wife (who loves Irish stout) kind of hates them. But in hindsight, it’s hilarious to think that I ever thought I was designing anything other than the perfectly reasonable but ordinary oatmeal stout that I got.
Don’t get me wrong. The beer (christened Belfast Breakfast Oatmeal Stout) turned out to be delicious. It’s sweet and smooth, easy drinking but unavoidably stout without coating your palate like a pint of motor oil. And as you can see, it sure is pretty to look at. My roundabout way of backing into a recipe for an Oatmeal Stout (with a capital O. S. for “Oh, Sh-t”) instead of intentionally trying to design one, actually produced a version that I like a lot more than any commercial oatmeal stout I’ve ever had. So there’s that. But it’s an interesting lesson in being so high-concept, getting so wrapped up in my own cleverness, that I fail to see how what I’m doing is nothing new. How it’s been done before … many, many times.
There’s still something unique about it in the unique combination of ingredients I used to get there – and I will make it again, especially next time I get a hold of some Golden Promise malt; I might even brew an imperial version and age it with oak and some Bushmills.
But as it turned out, the only story my supposedly high-concept Scotch-Irish stout tells is “Once upon a time, Shawn accidentally brewed a surprisingly decent oatmeal stout. The end.” Decent beer, not much of a story. Or is it? In today’s foodie world where we celebrate the pedigree of every ingredient that goes into our food and beverage, from floor-malted barley to heirloom tomatoes, maybe it’s enough to have an interesting story behind the ingredients used to make something familiar.
At least, that’s the story I’m sticking with. And I think Davy Crockett and every Scotch-Irish American would approve of me going against the … uh, grain … with a little blustery self-importance.
The recipe is posted in the Recipes section of the website, along with its more Irish cousin Anna Livia Irish Stout. Try them both and tell me what you think … and until next time, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
A Toast To … A spunky brewster
Here’s something new I learned this week.
In an article titled “How Did Hops Get In Our Beer?” in the January-February issue of Brew Your Own magazine, author Horst Dornbusch briefly covers the history of hops from ancient Rome to today. About midway through the article he references the medieval natural history text Physica by the noted Benedictine abbess, mystic, musician, scientist and Catholic saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). According to Dornbusch:
Perhaps the most consequential historical reference to hops in beer is a small passage in a book by Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century abbess, physician, composer, brewster, and adviser to the German Emperor Frederic Barbarossa … Hildegard describes the medicinal value and beverage application of the “hoppo” plant as “a hot and dry herb, with a bit of moisture,” which “is not of much use for a human being, since it causes his melancholy to increase, gives him a sad mind, and makes his intestines heavy.” Importantly, she observes that hoppo “putredines prohibet in amaritudine sua.” One Latin expert, Pricilla Throop, translates this as “its bitterness inhibits some spoilage in beverages to which it is added making them last longer.”
Hildegard’s name should be familiar to any devotee of medieval history, women’s history, or cultural history. As hinted by Dornbusch, she was an expert in disciplines as diverse as science, theology, philosophy, medicine, poetry, music, and linguistics, and left behind a vast body of writings related to the many subjects she studied. My introduction to her work was many years ago in college, when my girlfriend (now my wife) did extensive research on Hildegard for a senior thesis on medieval women mystics. Upon reading this article, I immediately asked my wife if she knew that Hildegard was a brewster*. She did not, although she was familiar with Hildegard’s scientific work on plants and animals.
I shouldn’t be surprised. The brewer-cum-mystic has been a part of beer culture since the beginning, from the hypothetical prehistoric brewer-shamans described by Dr. Patrick McGovern in his excellent book Uncorking the Past to the ancient Sumerian priestesses of Ninkasi, to the Trappist monastic brewing tradition that lives on today in Belgium and elsewhere. But I was unaware that Hildegard, who’s felt almost like a member of my extended family since my wife’s thesis on her years ago, had been part of that tradition.
Certain that Hildegard’s brewing accomplishments must have been as extensive as her accomplishments in every other field she delved into, I eagerly took to the Internet to find out more. But sadly, there wasn’t much to find. The reference to hops in the Physica is well-documented, and has earned Hildegard a place in inspiring brewers all over the world. But I’ve found nothing conclusive about any further contributions to brewing history: no recipes, descriptions, or anything like that. One questionable printed source credited Hildegard with being the first brewer to put hops in beer, but the BYO article would refute this; Dornbusch found references to hopped beer as early as 827 in the work of Saint Ansegisus of Fontanelle, an adviser to Charlemagne some three centuries before Hildegard was born.
Regardless of how deep her interest in brewing may or may not have gone, Hildegard was a true polymath, making significant contributions to every field she approached – at a time when few women had the opportunity to dabble in even one of these fields. As the new father of a little girl, she’s someone I want my daughter to know about. Honestly, she’s someone that everyone – brewer or beer drinker, woman or man – should know about.
And her testimony to the bitterness and antibacterial properties of hops in beverages should qualify her as an unofficial patron saint of that most revered of styles in the modern beer canon, a beer style as versatile as the great woman herself: the IPA. So next time I pour a glass of IPA, I’m raising a toast to St. Hildegard von Bingen: a Renaissance woman before there was a Renaissance.
*Though it’s generally only heard as a surname today in non-beer history circles, within beer history circles the term brewster is widely known as a traditional English term for a female brewer, though Martyn Cornell pointed out on his blog Zythophile back in 2007 that it’s not quite that simple.