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.
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.
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.
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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