National Homebrew Day, Part 2 – Tasting the Frog and Gnome
About a week ago I wrote about the two big bottle-conditioned beers I brewed to commemorate the births of my children: Old Froglegs Barleywine and Gnome Brew Wheatwine. I set a reminder for myself to taste both of them on National Homebrew Day (May 7) and write up the results here. So here we are.
Both of these beers were brewed for extended cellaring and aging. My master plan – probably a very bad plan – is to ration the bottles out slowly on special occasions and give the last bottle of each batch to my children on their twenty-first birthdays (never let it be said I don’t think long term!). I say “probably a very bad plan” because I suspect that after twenty-one years, it will be little more than fancy-pants malt vinegar in the bottle that I give to my kids … in which case I’ll gladly help them fry up some fish and sprinkle the ancient beer on some chips.
So maybe twenty-one years is too ambitious. But as they were brewed with aging in mind, it’s not too surprising that they’re both still getting better. In fact, the barleywine – which just celebrated three years since its brew date – seems to be getting close to its peak. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Beer 1: Old Froglegs Barleywine
Brewed April 29, 2013. Bottled December 6, 2013.
Old Froglegs poured a deep, cloudy mahogany with little carbonation and no head retention. Sniffing it was a delight, and I just wanted to crawl into the glass and explore its complexities – black cherry, tamarind, a cordial aroma like Grand Marnier.
The flavor didn’t disappoint either. After nearly three years in the bottle, it’s very smooth with no burn at all and no boozy bite. It’s thick, not quite syrupy but hefty like a liqueur, but the sweetness is full of caramel and melanoidin and not at all cloying. My wife got some woody flavors from it, though there was no wood in it. All in all it was a little like sipping brandy: a vinous, palate coating and very sophisticated-seeming beverage. It’s hard to imagine it getting better, and I’m starting to wonder whether I should worry less about saving bottles for the future, and enjoy more of this beer now while it’s so good. These are dangerous, dangerous thoughts …
Beer 2: Gnome Brew Wheatwine
Brewed February 23, 2015. Bottled November 2, 2015.
A bit lighter in color than its older brother, Gnome Brew poured more of a dark bronze color. Similarly lacking in carbonation, and with no head retention. The aroma was nowhere near as complex, and there wasn’t much aroma to speak of at all. I got a hint of apple and pear, but that was it. Not green apple like the acetyldeyhde tang of green beer, but a riper, fruitier apple … but still pretty ordinary. There was a hint of alcohol on the nos as well.
The flavor was good, but coming on the heels of a well-aged barleywine, it was unfortunately lacking. A bit boozy – not at all a surprise given this has been aging in the bottle only seven months – and with a thinner mouthfeel, so it lacked that delightful “cordial” quality of the barleywine. There are good flavors in there: cranberry, red wine and/or port, a bit of tannin. And it’s much smoother than it was when I opened the first bottle at Christmas 2015. But it still has a way to go before it’s quite where it needs to be.
Here are both beers side by side, with Old Froglegs Barleywine on the left and Gnome Brew Wheatwine on the right:
I don’t have to tell you it was a lovely evening. The only better way to celebrate National Homebrew Day would have been actually to brew (but it was my son’s birthday party; see last week’s story for details). And it was a wonderful way to remember the past: how in the weeks after each of my kids was born, I rallied myself – against the lack of sleep, the struggle to adjust to a needy new person in the house, and the feeling of untethered confusion about the future that accompanies the birth of a child – to brew a batch of beer that would give me a long-lasting memory of the time. Both beers have certainly done just that. And what delicious memories they are.
Check out the complete recipes for both beers in the Recipes section of the site.
Next week, I’ll write about the homebrew we served on tap at the birthday party on National Homebrew Day: a simple and tasty hopped cider that’s perfect for a Texas spring day. Until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
National Homebrew Day 2016, Part 1 – Brewing the Frog and Gnome
Saturday, May 7 is National Homebrew Day, which the American Homebrewers Association celebrates with its annual Big Brew. Homebrewers across the USA will head to their patios and garages to fire up their systems on the same day, like some coast-to-coast hive mind straight out of the pages of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal science fiction novel Childhood’s End (but with beards and cargo pants); linked by social media and a common tipsy feeling. What better way to celebrate the fact that being a homebrewer has never been cooler in this country, that the brotherhood (and sisterhood) is growing faster day by day?
Unless you’re like me, and you won’t be homebrewing that day.
Now, before you scroll straight to the bottom of this page to post hasty invective against my not showing solidarity with my homebrewing brothers and sisters, let me explain my two very good reasons:
- I have no room to ferment another batch of beer until I keg the session IPA waiting in the closet, and I can’t keg that batch until my deceased kegerator “Chill Bill” is replaced; and
- It’s my son’s birthday party.
If #1 made you feel sorry for me, good. If #2 made you think I’m an awesome dad, great. Never mind the fact that my son’s birthday was almost a month ago and that this party is just a small affair to allow a few friends to celebrate with him, given that we were at Walt Frigging Disney World on his actual birthday. (See? Awesome dad.)
So I won’t be brewing. But that won’t stop me from enjoying a tasty homebrew, right?
Oh, right. The broken kegerator. So drinking draft is out of the question.
Fortunately, I do have a couple of bottled homebrews at the ready. For the past few years, I only bottle commemorative beers for cellaring, but I just happen to have a bottle each in the fridge of the barleywine I brewed to celebrate my son’s birth in 2013 (and bottled for sampling at future special occasions, such as his birthday … it seems almost like I planned this all along, doesn’t it? I didn’t), and the wheatwine I brewed to celebrate my daughter’s birth in 2014.
So in honor of National Homebrew Day, I have decided to drink both of these big beers after the kids go to bed. Rest assured that two bottles of 11-12% ABV homebrew in a row should have me nice and tipsy like the rest of you. Solidarity, brothers and sisters.
I wrote about Old Froglegs Barleywine back in 2013, and the recipe is posted here. Gnome Brew Wheatwine, on the other hand, has not yet made an appearance on this blog. So I’m posting the recipe below and a little bit of the story behind it.
Gnome Brew Wheatwine
Story: I set a high bar for myself by brewing an American barleywine as my first homebrew after my first child was born. So when the second came along, I had to do something similar. And since I still had most of the barleywine in my cellar, I decided to do something “similar but different”, and brewed a wheatwine.
Wheatwine isn’t exactly a style that’s littering the shelves at the local bottle shop. I first heard of the style when I picked up a bottle of Boulevard Brewing’s Harvest Dance, and found it lighter and brighter than a syrupy, boozy barleywine. So a wheatwine seemed like an excellent thematic companion and a flavorful counterpoint to the barleywine I already had a stock of.
The BJCP Style Guidelines don’t even have a category for wheatwine, and there aren’t many recipes out there. So beyond the bulk of advice I read online that said “make a barleywine with up to 50% wheat,” it seemed like I had free rein. I went back to the recipe for Old Froglegs, and modified it with the goal of using almost half wheat and making an end product that was lighter and fruitier. Here’s what I ended up with:
- 10 lbs White Wheat Malt
- 9 lbs 8 oz American Pale Malt
- 3 lbs Vienna Malt
- 8 oz Crystal 40L
- 8 oz Caravienne Malt
- 2.5 oz Chinook (13% AA) at 60 minutes
- 1 lb Agave Nectar, light
Yeast: Safale US-05 (28.75 grams)
Comparing it to the above-linked recipe for Old Froglegs, I split the base malt nearly in half with slightly more wheat than barley, and replaced the body malts with lighter versions (Munich with Vienna, Crystal 60 and 150 with Crystal 40 and Caravienne). Chinook was simply the highest alpha hop I had on hand, for maximum bitterness and no real flavor contribution. And I really liked the added fermentability from the pound of piloncillo I added in the boil to Old Froglegs, so I added simple sugar to the kettle here in the form of light agave nectar. I mashed at 149°F for 90 minutes, collected 9.5 gallons at 1.069 and then boiled for about 2 hours to achieve an OG of 1.101.
The beer fermented for 4 weeks before it was racked to secondary to age for another eight months. When it had smoothed out to my satisfaction, I bottled it with a half-pack of Danstar CBC-1. This is an incredible yeast for bottle conditioning. I highly recommend it when bottling beers with high ABV, after long aging, or both. It’s made specifically for bottle conditioning, but it’s not always easy to find, so in a pinch one can use champagne yeast.
The FG was 1.016, yielding a final ABV of 11.3%. I designed a label and named the beer Gnome Brew Wheatwine in honor of our daughter Vesper (Confused? Let’s just say that nicknames given to newborns before they’re discharged from the hospital have a habit of sticking around in my family).
So how did it come out? To be honest, it’s been in the bottle for less time than it was in the carboy, so it’s still mellowing, showing rapid improvement month to month. I’ll know for sure how it is this month when I open a bottle on National Homebrew Day for a side-by-side tasting against my 3-year-old barleywine. So watch this space, because I’ll be back next week with tasting notes for both beers.
Thoughts or questions about the recipe in the meantime? Comment below, or find me on Facebook. Happy National Homebrew Day a few days early … and until next week, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
Welcome to myBrewHome!
If this is your first visit, welcome! Pour yourself a beer and take a look around. Let me know if you like what you see or if you have questions about anything.
If this is not your first visit, you may notice that the name and look of the site have recently changed. So, still pour yourself a beer and look around, but rest assured that everything that was here before is still here. All posts from 2015 and earlier are still in the archives, along with the Brewing Glossary and the Recipes section that I hope to be updating soon. But I’ve changed the name of the site to reflect its new direction and focus.
What do I mean by new direction and focus? Well, my previous mission for this site – formerly titled Last of the Zyme Lords – was to merge my love of homebrewing and craft beer with the my love for writing and the geekier things in life, such as fantasy and science fiction. That mission kept this site alive for a long time, but I put it on hiatus early in 2015 when the birth of my second child started an avalanche of life changes in a very short time. I was never sure if I would come back to writing regularly on this site.
So here’s the good news: I’m back, and the site is back. And I’m still interested in all the same geeky stuff I was interested in before. In fact, if you’re interested in such things, check out The Prancing Pony Podcast, a podcast about J. R. R. Tolkien I co-host that launched in February.
But now that my life has changed, my priorities have changed, and so has my attitude towards brewing. Brewing and beer are not just another geeky pursuit for me anymore. I no longer brew just to pursue the excellence of a technically perfect (or as close as possible within my means) glass of beer, or to come up with recipes and names that reflect my love of Tolkien, Doctor Who, or Japanese horror movies.
Again, I still love all of those things, but they’re not my only inspiration as a brewer anymore.
As my family has grown, we’ve moved into a new house that was built with homebrewing in mind. Homebrew is a part of every event I host to see friends that I don’t see nearly enough anymore now that family life keeps me busy. I’ve brewed for baby showers, births and birthdays. My cellar is stocked with big beers brewed in commemoration of family milestones. I’ve explained it all on the page “Why ‘myBrewHome’?”
So we’re still having lots of fun over here, but our focus has expanded a bit. I’m happy to report that my kids are turning into geeks as big as I am. But at this point, I’m just as likely to brew a beer inspired by my son’s fascination with Kylo Ren or my baby daughter’s obsession with Winnie the Pooh as I am to brew a beer inspired by hobbits, Godzilla or John Landis films.
In fact, a Kylo Ren Black IPA or a Pooh Bear Hunny Braggot sounds delicious right about now. To the recipe creator!
Stay tuned, and I’ll be back very soon with more brew talk. Until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
In praise of the debilitating stomach virus that made me sick yesterday afternoon
I was just getting going again. After taking a break from brewing for four months to enjoy the summer being a toddler daddy – not to mention to avoid the hottest brew days of the year – I started brewing again Labor Day weekend with a nice simple pale ale to restock the kegerator. I followed that a week later with a lavender mead I brewed to honor the birth of my daughter who’s due at the beginning of December. Two brews in one month. I had momentum, and I was all set to take the hat trick by brewing again today.
Today’s brew was going to be an ESB to serve later this fall at a party to celebrate our new baby. Whatever we don’t drink at the party, we’d save to be our “coming home” beer, and my wife’s first drink after her pregnancy.
The timing was great. The pale ale was ready to keg yesterday, so all I had to do was get it in the keg and I could soak the fermenter overnight, have it clean and ready to receive a malty delicious new ESB wort today. It was all so perfectly planned …
Then, inexplicably, yesterday morning I came down with a stomach bug that left me pretty much unable to even sit up straight, let alone be on my feet. I was back in bed before noon, and woke up three hours later parched and needing a drink. The water kind, not the alcohol kind.
I’ll breeze through this next part for your sake. All I’ll say is that as soon as the water found its way to my stomach, it decided it wanted to be out again. And it wanted to take everything else in there with it. There’s nothing like a four-round toilet-hugging session in the afternoon to leave you feeling bruised and abused … I pretty much gave up on trying to get anything done that day. I had a vague sense of that screwing up my plans somehow, but I wasn’t really thinking about it at the time.
It was only later that I realized that I hadn’t gotten the pale ale kegged, and I wasn’t going to with my energy sapped. Not to mention a number of other chores and errands I hadn’t gotten done that needed to be done before Monday. There was no way I was going to brew this weekend!
This morning, getting dressed to do the stuff I was supposed to do yesterday, I felt sad and disappointed at missing a brew day I was really looking forward to. But I quickly realized something that I should have realized a lot sooner.
The beer I planned to brew is to celebrate the birth of my baby girl! My first daughter, second child, and if everything goes according to plan, probably my last. Doesn’t she deserve something a little more special than an Extra Special Bitter? I know it’s got “extra special” in the name, but surely we can do better. And then an idea hit me. November party, late November/early December birth … we need to get some sweet potato in there!
So after some research and careful consideration, I’ve adjusted my ESB recipe into a Sweet Potato ESB recipe that I will brew next Sunday. It’ll be made from a mix of Maris Otter and Golden Promise malts, Kent Goldings hops, organic sweet potatoes from our CSA, whole cinnamon and nutmeg. It’ll still be low-to-medium alcohol – a necessity if I want to turn it around in five weeks, but always a good idea for a party beer or for momma’s first beer after coming home from the hospital.
So thank you, stomach virus, for making me unable to get anything done yesterday, and forcing me to take the extra time to realize how to turn my recipe into a perfect tribute to autumn and a much more fitting welcome to my new baby. I appreciate your contribution to my craft, stomach virus. And I think it’s safe to say that I will always remember you.
HULK SMASH!! – orig. attrib. to Dr. Robert “Bruce” Banner, shouted by little boys everywhere
I recently took a break from my own frantic child-raising adventure to help my wife host a baby shower for friends expecting their first baby in October. The main request we got from the expecting parents was to make the event couples-friendly and laid back, with food, beverages and fun for the ladies and guys alike.
So in true Zyme Lord fashion, I decided to brew a beer.
I love having guests over to try my homebrew. It’s a great way to get objective feedback and improve my beer. This was a unique opportunity to reach beyond my closest friends – all of whom are already familiar with my homebrew – and get feedback from lots of people I didn’t know as well … most of whom I’ve worked with and gotten to know at other get-togethers, but who I hadn’t yet had a chance to have a beer with, let alone one of my own.
My kegerator was stocked with three kegs, but I wanted the special release beer to be the go-to tap. So it had to be something everyone could enjoy, regardless of their level of beer geekdom or personal style leanings. It should be in a popular and accessible style, and of course low-alcohol enough to keep the party family-friendly (it was, after all, a baby shower). I just didn’t know what.
Then one day when I was at the house of my expecting friends, flipping through the dad-to-be’s staggering collection of Hulk comics, the answer punched me in the face like a big green fist: I’d brew a SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer in honor of one of my friend’s favorite comic characters.
I’ve made beers from a single malt and single hop before, but this was my first recipe following the SMaSH ethos: a platform to showcase the unique flavor and aroma of a single base malt and single hop (ideally added throughout the boil to reveal its bittering, flavor, and aroma characteristics). I designed my SMaSH as a pale ale, fermented with a clean, neutral yeast: full of flavor but easy drinking, interesting but not intimidating.
Also in true Zyme Lord fashion, I chose ingredients for symbolism as well as flavor. The grain bill was 10.5 lbs of Maris Otter malt mashed at 154°F for 60 minutes. I thought the nutty flavor of Maris Otter would be great unadulterated, and it was also a fun choice to commemorate the English ancestry of the growing family who were our guests of honor.
I also wanted to incorporate ingredients from Oregon and Maine, the two states where my friends have their roots. Oregon was easy. I used Willamette hops (4% AA), adding them as follows for just under 40 IBU:
- 2 oz at 60 minutes
- 1.25 oz at 15 minutes
- 1 oz at flameout
Finding an ingredient to represent Maine was tricky. I located a few boutique maltsters up there, but even if I could get them to sell me a single sack of grain at an acceptable price, I doubted I’d get it shipped in time. So I ended up breaking the SMaSH rules and adding a small amount of adjunct: 8 ounces by weight of Maine maple syrup, at the start of the boil. This was a minuscule addition in a 5-gallon batch; enough to add 2 tiny gravity points but no flavor. I added it for no reason really other than to say it was there – a technique I refer to affectionately as “KISS blood”. A little cheating was worth it to tell the story.
The OG was 1.058 and I pitched a single pack of Safale US-05 dry. Fermentation took off quickly thanks to a little yeast nutrient in the boil. After 15 days, it finished out at 1.010 for 6.3% ABV: not quite as sessionable as I was shooting for; but what the hell, the party was only three hours. I dry hopped with 0.75 oz of 4% Willamette for nine days.
We served the beer frat-house style, with the keg in a bucket of ice. No pumps or picnic taps, though – this was the maiden voyage of my new portable paintball tank CO2 rig and post-mounted faucet from KegConnection.com.
As it turned out, the visual of a battered old Cornelius keg sitting in a bucket of ice with a hose hanging off one side and a tap handle mounted to the other was an excellent conversation starter. I spent a lot of the party talking about homebrewing and getting to know some friends better. As for the beer, it was smooth, just hoppy enough, and very refreshing. We went through 4 out of 5 gallons before the party was over, and some guests were inspired to try a flight of all four brews I had on tap in the house. A smashing success, I’d say.
See what I did there?
Old Froglegs, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love brewing barleywine
Daddy loves Froggy. Froggy love Daddy? Ribbit. – Hedy Lamarr (that’s Hedley!), Blazing Saddles
Big beers seem to be the norm for some homebrewers. The word “imperial” is thrown around at homebrew club meetings more than at Star Wars conventions, and barleywines seem far more prevalent at the homebrew level than commercially. I suspect many people become homebrewers just to hoard gallons of nose-hair singeing strong ales for a fraction of the cost of buying it commercially. Not me. I mostly drink beers around 8% ABV or lower, and my brewing habits reflect that.
Like many homebrewers, my mash efficiency suffers with bigger grain bills. I get great efficiency with beers around the 1.050 mark, but with beers around 1.070 it’s decent (not astounding). Satisfied with brewing beers mostly in the 1.050-1.080 range, I’ve haven’t bothered to rock the boat by trying a bigger brew. Over time, the idea of brewing a really big beer like an American barleywine became a little intimidating. Imagine a whole category of the BJCP Style Guidelines staring back at you when you close your eyes, whispering, “You’re not man enough to brew me, and you know it.”
Oh, but there’s nothing like having a baby to change your perspective. Faced with responsibility for an adorable but needy new organism while surviving on Clif bars and fifteen hours of sleep a week, the most intimidating non-baby-related activity in the world sounds like a vacation. That first month, I probably could’ve been talked into skydiving. So when someone suggested I brew a barleywine to commemorate Lucian’s birth, my enthusiastic response of “WHY THE HELL NOT!?” was, I’m sure, loud enough to be heard across the Texas Hill Country. I decided to make it the first beer I brewed after he was born.
I started with a name: Old Froglegs American Barleywine, after a nickname we gave Lucian within hours of being born (his legs were constantly crossed as a newborn). The recipe was big but simple, in keeping with my recent emphasis on fewer carefully chosen ingredients. 19 pounds of Maris Otter formed the base: a premium malt more expensive than plain American 2-row, and on a grain bill this big cost adds up. But Maris Otter has great flavor, and besides, how many “first beer after my baby was born”s do you get? I added 3 pounds of light Munich for melanoidins and a half-pound each of Crystal 60 and Crystal 150 for caramel and dark fruit notes. If you’re counting, that’s 23 pounds of grain (plus rice hulls) that would go into my 10-gallon cooler mash tun.
Expecting that high a ratio of grain weight to mash tun volume to seriously impact my efficiency, I took a few measures to compensate:
- Milled my own grain
- Increased sparge water/runoff and extended the boil
- Included kettle sugars for extra fermentables
By milling my own grain I hoped to achieve a finer crush than what I’d get at the homebrew store – admittedly a crap shoot, not knowing how their mills are set. I didn’t actually buy my new Barley Crusher MaltMill for this brew, but it happened to be its maiden voyage. Earlier this year I realized that brewing with a newborn around would require flexibility, since daddy tasks might pop up unexpectedly on the weekend (I was right). With a malt mill in my arsenal, I can buy unmilled grain and crush it on brew day, ensuring fresh malt even if brew day is postponed by a week or more.
I doughed in at a stiff 1 qt/lb and added the rest of the liquor (to 1.25 qt/lb) only after I was sure that my mash tun would fit it all. It did, barely. I sparged to collect just shy of ten gallons of wort, which didn’t fit in the brew kettle, so I saved the extra in a pitcher and added it to the kettle as it boiled down. I didn’t actually start the boil timer until all the wort had been added and boiled down to my usual starting volume. All in all, the boil lasted about 150 minutes.
Once boiling was underway I added a pound – 2 pressed cones – of piloncillo (a.k.a. panela), an unrefined cane sugar particular to Latin American cuisine. I’d had it in the pantry for some time and it seemed a great addition to a barleywine, with its rich molasses flavor and high fermentability leaving the beer high in alcohol and low on cloying sweetness. Protip: smashing the cones with a meat tenderizer before adding them is great stress relief.
I added only 60-minute hop additions to the boil for bitterness. I had 1.75 ounces of Warrior and 1 ounce of Galena in the freezer, so I used them. I also added yeast nutrient to the boil because of the high gravity and 4% adjunct sugars.
I met my gravity target and then some, achieving an OG of 1.114. I pitched 2.5 packets of Safale US-05 dry (I ran out of time to rehydrate) and it took off like a rocket, with bubbles coming through the airlock less than 16 hours later. Two weeks later, the beer was at 1.023, which appears to be its final gravity. I racked it to a carboy at the end of May.
It’s going to stay there for months. I plan to bottle it in November so it’s ready to drink on Lucian’s first Christmas. Since I’m not an everyday barleywine kind of guy, I’ll save it for special occasions, birthdays and other milestones. I think I can get several years of good aging out of it if I treat it right. Even if it starts to decline after a while, I have to save at least one bottle to share with Lucian on his 21st birthday.
And then I can embarrass the hell out of him with the Froglegs thing.
Homebrew Tips for New Dads: Commemorating the event, a great excuse to drink!
Well, I’m back. – Samwise Gamgee
I haven’t written for this blog in nearly two months, as I’ve gradually adjusted to the ups and downs of being a father to my first child. Learning how to change, bathe, and sing Queen songs (including a special diaper-time version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with peepee-related lyrics) to my newborn son Lucian was only the beginning. I also learned to deal with: an increased share of the housework to help Momma, an upheaval of my sleep schedule, a return to my day job, and the happy stress of many wonderful visits from friends and family anxious to meet the little dude in the blue onesie.
With all of that going on it was hard to find time to write, which was fine because I wasn’t doing all that much to write about. If your blog is about homebrewing, when you ain’t homebrewing you ain’t got much to say.
Did you catch that? Practically no homebrewing for two months. The horror! Almost as horrific as the fact that “bottle washing” means something entirely new to me now that I have a baby (interestingly, I don’t dread washing baby bottles like I did beer bottles – no labels).
Even though I haven’t done much brewing, I have partaken liberally of the fruits of my homebrewing labor. Thanks to some careful planning before the birth, I’ve managed to keep the pipeline flowing during my hiatus. But preparing for these brewless weeks wasn’t just about making sure I had enough booze to get through the newborn period. Far from it. You see, I’m a commemorator.
The things we create – a beverage, a story, a carpentry project, even the name we give to a child – form a record of our past. Each creation is a snapshot of who we were when we created it, a representational image of our brain at the moment of creation. Those snapshots exist long after the “me” responsible for the creation has changed forever – years after, if we’re lucky – and are like little running shoes for the feet of our memories. That’s one of the reasons why I believe every human being should create … something.
Of course, if what you create is consumable food products like beers and meads, there’s a shelf life to consider, so they won’t last forever. Sure, the right brews (imperial stouts, barleywines, meads, fruit wines) can be cellared for years if designed and handled properly, but at some point you’ll open and empty the last bottle. They’re not quite as permanent as other creations can be. But the unique thing about brewing to commemorate important life events is that the enjoyment of those creations (i.e., the drinking of the beer after it’s fermented/aged) creates its own memories that are worth holding onto in their turn.
The day we brought Lucian home from the hospital, Lisa and I shared a bomber of Le Petit Plésiosaure Saison, a Summit-hopped saison loosely adapted from Brooklyn Sorachi Ace that I brewed in February. The name (French for “the Little Plesiosaurus”) is an homage to an adorable cartoon poster of the Loch Ness Monster we have hanging in Lucian’s room. We gave bottles of the saison out as favors to friends who came to our baby shower and asked them not to open it until we announced the birth, and we did the same.
I’m thrilled to report that this saison exceeded my expectations and also wowed my friends, not all of them beer geeks: a refreshing, dry, aromatic and spicy saison perfect for late spring/early summer that hides its 8% ABV under layers of citrus, chamomile and subtle phenolics. We’ve made it through nearly all of the bottles we had left over, and that’s okay. This beer was intended for drinking fresh in hot weather, for refreshing breaks from the hard work of keepin’ this baby happy. When I have my last taste of it later this summer, I’ll pause to celebrate the end of the first phase of Lucian’s life and the beginning of the next. In fact, his 3-month birthday sounds like a great time to finish off the batch. Challenge accepted.
The other commemorative brew I’m enjoying between sessions of therapeutic baby bouncing is Lucian’s Landing Ginger Metheglin, a ginger mead I made in October with the goal of bottling it right before the baby was born (but Lucian landed early, so I didn’t bottle it until after). I aged it from October to April, by which time all of the fresh ginger root aromatics in the must had evaporated – only a pleasant ginger tang on the palate remained. To replace the lost aromatics, I steeped 3.5 oz of fresh ginger root in 8 oz of boiled water to make a ginger tea and added that to the carboy along with 4 oz of crystallized ginger in a muslin hop sack. After 4 weeks, I bottled it and had labels printed with my own design evoking the inspiration for my son’s name, a second-century work of early science fiction satire called True Story (often translated as True History) by Lucian of Samosata.
We plan to drink some fresh and save some bottles for special occasions (first Christmas, birthday, etc.), so the snazzy bottles were a must. Most recently we opened a bottle on Sunday, Lucian’s 2-month birthday, and found that mead paired quite well thematically with a marathon viewing of Game of Thrones Season 3 before the finale Sunday night. Pale golden and nearly crystal clear, it has just enough ginger to tickle the nose and palate before the unmistakable earthen notes of honey come in, then recede giving way to a fruity, ginger ale-like finish. I’m proud of it.
I like to think that someday Lucian will appreciate things like the fact that his dad made a special mead in honor of his birth, even though he couldn’t enjoy it himself (though maybe one day, who knows …). There’s no way of knowing now, of course, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep doing it for myself. Being a father is hard work, and I’m sure it’s only going to get harder. Though it’s already proving to be well worth all the effort I put into it, finding time to remember “me” amid the multitude of self-sacrificing tasks to be completed has been an important step in retaining my sanity. And that’s who me is (erm, I am): A homebrewer. A commemorator. A big frickin’ sap.
My more perceptive readers may have noticed that above I mentioned “practically no homebrewing”. Don’t tell anyone, but I did manage to squeeze in one brewday before April – the month of my son’s birth – was over. That was yet another commemorative brew, but one I won’t be drinking for a long time. I’ll tell you all about it in an upcoming post. The only hint I’ll offer before then is: Ribbit.
This Sunday, remember to wish a Happy Father’s Day to your dad or a dad you know (or yourself if the gift-wrapped dress socks fit) … and to my fellow new dads out there, just starting out on this difficult but rewarding journey: have a homebrew with me. We deserve it.
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