Tuesday, March 1, 2011

One secret to great home brew beer

Like many scientific breakthroughs, I've accidentally stumbled upon something that seems to drastically improve home brewed beer. It turns out to be something that is simple in theory, but very difficult in practice.

The tale of my discover goes thusly:

A couple of weeks ago my wife determined that she was sick and tired of the mess that I've made of our spare room, which she has so kindly allowed me to take over as my nanobrewery.

Of course, my first duty was to begin sorting through all my bottles which were scattered about rather haphazardly. Hidden under a desk to shield them from light (if you aren't aware, UV light is bad for beer - it breaks down hop oil and is responsible for the skunky aroma some beers get), I discovered three unlabeled one litre pot-stopper bottles. One contained a thick, black brew I easily identified as a stout I brewed last March. The other two contained what looked like light ales, but I have no idea which ones, since I've brewed about a dozen batches of "lighter" ales since I started this hobby in January of 2010.

My friend Lee came over, and as soon as I mentioned that I had a couple of mystery bottles, he demanded that we immediately open one of them to see what elixir was contained within. (Note: he's a British ex-pat, and so he has no compunction whatsoever of drinking a room temperature beer.) So to satisfy my friend's curiosity, I grabbed a couple of full pint glasses and pressed open the plastic cap on the bottle. It jumped open with a pleasantly loud "thump", and I poured out the contents into the two glasses. It was perfectly clear and beautifully carbonated, looking like a store-bought beverage crafted at a professional brewery.

We took a drink, and, all modesty aside (modesty? I've heard of it!), it was one of the best beers I've ever tasted. It turns out that bottle was from the third beer I ever brewed up, which was bottled last March: a honey blonde ale. What was surprising was that the rest of the batch (which wound up being drank within three weeks of the date I bottled it) had never fully carbonated. But over 10 months of aging, it had carbed up perfectly, and the flavour had become incredibly complex, with a strong, but not overpowering honey taste.

So the secret seems to be: age, age, age. Basically, you need to bottle or keg your beer and don't drink it for a long time. If you love beer the way I do, you realize how futile a task waiting can be!

NOTE: Okay, so I can't really take credit for this discovery - two of the most common rules about homebrewing I've found on many beer forums are: 1) Sanitize and 2) Be patient (let it age!) But who doesn't love adding their own anecdotal evidence to a body of data? Besides, the volume of posts on beer has been disappointingly sparse on this blog so far, so I had to do something to rectify the situation!

Also, Brew Your Own magazine has an interesting article, "The Effects of Storage Conditions on Homebrew Quality", in their current issue, stressing that how you store your aging beer is also very important. Unfortunately, the article isn't available online. Essentially, the point seems to be that aging beer in a fridge or dark, cool place (like a cellar) with a stable temperature is the best way to either maintain or improve flavour over time. A location with variable temperatures seems to negatively effect the taste of beer.

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