Thursday, March 27, 2014

Telephone 25: So You Like Craft Beer?

One of my many insights from the Lexington Craft Writing: Beer, the Digital, and Craft Culture conference was that I should be doing more to contribute to writing about craft beer in an interesting and thoughtful manner. After all, I hang my hat upon my ability with words. So upon my return to Dayton, I contacted Telephone Weekly, a local magazine about writing a craft beer column for them. These are the results:

          I think beer is important. For good or for ill, beer-related activities consume a fair share of my waking hours: reading, brewing, judging, writing, ruminating, or even just drinking. And while my personal sentiments regarding beer are neither novel nor ground-breaking, beer matters. To put it bluntly, good beer is a civic responsibility. Think of it like voting, only more fun.
          Undoubtedly, beer as a symbol for the social fabric of community and nation will strike many as odd. Still, that belief informs my interest in beer; it is, after all, what led me to this column. As an advocate for local craft beer, I think that enthusiasm for craft beer is important, but without the reciprocal knowledge to complement that enthusiasm, you might as well throw your vote away. Similarly, beer cannot be divorced from the social, political, and economic factors that go into its production. Ignoring the ethical dimensions of beer production is not that different than naïve enthusiasm: it ignores communal obligation by ignoring the less pleasant features of the social contract. It may be your right to be a bad citizen—it’s a privilege, actually, but that’s another matter—but as my mother repeatedly reminded me during my childhood, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Thus, while I’d like to focus on providing readers with a greater context for local craft beer, I will not shy away from the thornier elements informing these issues at a local level: when appropriate, I’ll be critical of producers and consumers alike. Maybe I’ll burn some bridges along the way. Hopefully not, but who knows? I will say that craft beer—and here I am speaking of the philosophical idea of craft beer and not the actual nuts-and-bolts business side of the equation—matters more, specifically as it relates to the larger good of the community.
          Before getting to the job at hand, I’d like to offer a bit more regarding my personal background—the justificatory beer biography, so to speak. While I would like to pretend that my witty, clever repartee is more than enough to bring you all back for more, some divulgence of practical knowledge is no doubt also required. That, and as my editor will undoubtedly point out, journalistic integrity requires just such an accounting. I began homebrewing fifteen years ago; I moved to Dayton in 2006, and joined DRAFT, the local homebrew club. I’ve been blogging about beer since 2009. Additionally, I’ve been a beer judge through BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) for the last five years, and more recently, I’ve been involved with a couple of the new breweries that have opened: I volunteer at Yellow Springs Brewery when I can find the time, I’m on the Fifth Street Brewpub Co-op’s Beer Team, which tastes and troubleshoots pilot beer recipes with the head brewer (I’m also a co-op member), and I’m good friends with the new assistant brewer at Warped Wing. I initially met most of these people through DRAFT; as the Dayton beer community has expanded, so has my network of friends. Still, I am not paid by any of these entities—the University of Dayton pays my bills—so when I speak here, it is as a consumer advocate for local craft beer, not for any of these (or any other) specific institutions. From my perspective, smarter consumers means better beer: both producers and consumers have their part to play in developing Dayton’s beer scene.
          After all, it is an exciting time for beer in Dayton. When I first moved to Dayton, there wasn’t a brewery to be found; now, the greater Dayton metropolitan area is home to several breweries with more are on the way. However, while Dayton is now a beer town, it is not yet a good beer town. And it has a ways to go—quite a ways, in fact—to be considered a great beer town. I know that many people reading this will undoubtedly disagree. Vehemently, in fact. They’ll cite line and verse of all the great things Dayton breweries are doing, many of which I would undoubtedly agree with. At the same time, though, consumers have a responsibility to hold local breweries to a greater standard of quality—sure, local is great, but buying beer just because it is made locally regardless of quality is not: that’s called marketing. This tension between the enthusiasm for craft beer and the honest assessment of it as a commercial product is where the vast majority of productive conversation regarding local craft beer breaks down. When beer drinkers resort to parroting back marketing as self-evident truth, they choose to be cheerleaders for the economic interests of breweries and not consumers playing their part contributing to the development of local craft beer. Yes, breweries are businesses—they need to turn a profit to continue operating—but they should not turn that profit at the expense of the consumer. When I am served a beer from a local brewery that should have never been released to the public, I am left with one of two conclusions: either they don’t know enough about beer production to discern that there is a problem or they just don’t care about their customers. Neither prospect is flattering to the brewery, and yet this problem continues to happen—far more than I would care to admit, in fact. Given the enthusiasm surrounding craft beer in Dayton, we need a larger body of consumers willing to argue for quality, not just those willing to swallow the Kool Aid.
          To argue for quality requires treating beer as more than a fashion accessory—it means educating yourself as a consumer in order to take responsibility for helping to make things better. While I will talk more about this next week, part of the problem facing the Dayton beer community—whether intentionally or unintentionally—stems from a disregard or dismissal of beer style.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hibiscus Saison Brewday

This is an experiment that I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but am only finally getting to it now. Nothing like adult obligations to put your life into perspective. Anyway, I am declaring this my Spring saisonal, the second saisonal of the year and the fourth beer in the ever-growing Great Saison Chain of Being. That beer does look a bit creepy in the carboy, doesn’t it?

173. Hibiscus Saison
3 lbs. Dingemanns Pilsner
3 lbs. Best Malz Spelt
2 ¼ lbs MFB Pilsner
1 lb. Weyermann Acidulated
½ lb. flaked barley

Mash @ 151° F for 80 minutes w/ 3 gallons RO water & 5 g. gypsum; collected 1 ½ gallons @ 1.072
Batch sparge @ 168° F for 20 minutes w/ 4 gallons RO water & 5 g. gypsum; collected 4 gallons @ 1.024

Collected 5 ½ gallons; topped off to 6 ¾ gallons, brought to a boil (70 minutes), & added:
w/60 to go: 1 ½ oz. Willamette leaf 7.8% AA

w/15 to go: 1 oz. Styrian Golding pellet 2.0% AA

w/10 to go: 3 g. Wyeast yeast nutrient

½ lb. table sugar

w/0 to go: Styrian Golding pellet 2.0% AA
2.5 oz. hibiscus leaves

Let sit for 20 minutes; chilled and racked onto Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse from 172. Saison

Primary: 3/17/2014 @ 72° F
Secondary: 4/12/2014 @ 1.004
Bottled: 6/2/2014 w/ 4 oz. table sugar

OG: 1.044
FG: 1.004

Tasting Notes: The idea behind this beer—using hibiscus in a saison—is good, but this particular version is not that good. I don’t like the Wallonian Farmhouse yeast (I didn’t like it much in 172 either), which probably colors my perception, although the hibiscus does cover over some of the burnt phenolics I get from the yeast in the other beer with this yeast. The beer pours a dirty pink, with a voluminous, long-lasting head that carries a slight pink hint. The nose is floral with a slight fruit tartness—I’d call it hibiscus, but that is a bit obvious—and some slight creaminess backed with pepper. The beer is bright and tart on the tongue—from both the hibiscus and the acidulated malt—with just a hint of body after the crisp bite from the carbonation. Flavors open with a floral fruitiness that is slightly cherry, and transition into pepper and dry cracker. The finish is rustic and a bit uneven—it is slightly scratchy via the carbonation, and not as clean as it needs to be, although there is a bit of lingering hibiscus sourness that makes up for it. There are some flavor components in the final third that I can’t quite put my finger on—a slight burnt flavor mixed with what I’ll labeling the intangible yeast elements—that make me label this beer pedestrian. The hibiscus components are solid; I’ll certainly revisit that part of this beer, as well as the grain bill. I’m just going to find another yeast to try, and maybe add something small like a couple grams of grains of paradise at flameout with the last hop addition. So close to wonderful, but missing that element that brings it all together. Stupid Wallonian Farmhouse. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bockfest 2014 Beer Judging

This year I was a bit more mercenary in my Bockfest beer judging experience. There was no messing around afterwards and having a beer, no visit to the underground labyrinthine caves beneath the brewery, no trip to Party Source or 50 West, no ogling giant goat heads. Just judging. Drive down, judge some beer, drive home. I kinda liked the experience.

Like last year, I judged Bock beers; I was paired with Scott Lafollette, who runs the show at Blank Slate, and a third judge whose name embarrassingly escapes me. Oh well. My shame is now publicly acknowledged, so I can move on. Anyway, as per usual, Scott was an excellent judge partner, as was our to remain nameless third judge partner. So after we rolled through our section of the flight, I left Scott to mini-BOS judging and got the hell out of town. Back to the DYT.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Saison Brewday

Being that this is the year of the saison around these parts, I’m putting another yeast into the mix today: Yeast Bay’s Wallonian Farmhouse. Chalk this up to round three of the Great Saison Chain of Being, and shake that stick again. 

172. Saison
6 lbs. MFB Pilsner
3 lbs. Best Malz Spelt
1 lb. Weyermann Acidulated
½ lb. flaked barley

Mash @ 151° F for 90 minutes w/ 3 gallons RO water & 5 g. gypsum; collected 1 ½ gallons @ 1.080
Batch sparge @ 169° F for 20 minutes w/ 4 gallons RO water & 5 g. gypsum; collected 4 gallons @ 1.024

Collected 5 ½ gallons; topped off to 7 gallons, brought to a boil (90 minutes), & added:
w/60 to go: 2 oz. Willamette leaf 7.8% AA

w/20 to go: 1 oz. Willamette leaf 7.8% AA

w/10 to go: 1 oz. Styrian Golding leaf 2.9% AA
1 White Labs Servomyces capsule
½ lb. table sugar

w/0 to go: 1 oz. EKG leaf 5.41% AA

Chilled, racked to carboy, and pitched Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse

Primary: 3/5/2014
Secondary: 3/17/2014
Bottled: 4/12/2014 w/ 4.0 oz. table sugar

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.006

Tasting Notes: