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Summer Beer Challenge

July 18, 2010

You might notice that a few of the beers on here are titled with “summer.” These are all beers that I attempted to perfect over the course of spring and early summer to have some good homebrew to share with my family when driving through on a move back to Wisconsin from Oregon.

I got the idea from an e-mail my dad sent me in April or so that was a recipe for a “red” beer. I don’t know if it was an irish red, an amber, or something else but it got me to thinking that it would be cool to have some good stuff to let him try when I saw him again. Unfortunately I was in possibly my worst string of beers since I’d started brewing, so I wasn’t too confident that I’d be able to come through.  I started thinking that what I really needed was to do a lot of brewing and just save the ones that turned out well.  Luckily over the course of the experience  I got to where the process isn’t such a function of chance, and I feel confident that most of the beers I make will be solid (even if the recipe or style won’t be to my liking – see Evil Twin).

In order to accomplish many brews in just a few months, I looked into brewing smaller batches.  I found a few resources online and several opinions that it was too much work for too little reward.  Not being deterred, I picked up 3 1-gallon jugs at the homebrew shop and ingredients for 1-gallon batches of a red, a pale ale, and an ESB.  The red I got because the recipe I’d been sent was a red (not that I followed that recipe), I got the ESB because in my brewing to date it had been my best, and I got the pale ale because it just sounded like a good summer beer.

These first batches were all extracts, but I quickly learned (with my second batches) that I could do all-grain with such small grain bills.  You can read the pages for the individual brews (once I get them all up), but over the course of the whole experiment (which I’m essentially done with now), I brewed 4 pale ales, 3 ESBs, and 1 red (or 2 if you count the Evil Twin).  I’ve succeeded in brewing 1 really solid batch each of a pale ale and ESB (and I have high hopes for my latest pale ale which is still in the fermentors).  I abandoned the red after the first attempt, to keep a fermentor open for my first competition beer – a Scottish that I think turned out pretty well – and unfortunately I don’t have a good red to show for the experience.  Hopefully the other good stuff will suffice, though.

Without the transition to smaller batches, I’m not sure if I would have gotten the practice to improve my brews to the level they are now, but unfortunately I think I may be outgrowing them.  Brewing nearly every weekend has shown to be not quite enough (and a little tiring) so now I’ve been throwing in the occasional full-batch.  So I see where the naysayers were coming from, but for the right reasons, small batches are a good thing and I think I may stick with them for a while longer until I get some more good recipes in my corner.

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