Jul 22 2011

Brewing All of the BJCP Styles – Halfway There and What I’ve Learned

So, I decided to brew all of the BJCP styles a year or so ago.

I think it is because I like goals and challenges, but I also noticed that I had been brewing for quite a few years and there wasn’t a lot of diversity in what I was brewing. I was always trying out new and interesting styles, but it seems like every other batch was an IPA or some hoppy creation. I had the skill to brew more difficult styles and it seemed silly that I wasn’t flexing those brewing muscles.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that I had hit the halfway mark. Of the 80 styles of beer outlined by the BJCP, I had brewed 40. And, as an interesting side note, 20 of those 40 brewed styles had won BJCP competition medals. Which is a nice bonus, since I set out to simply brew these styles and it was a subjective measure (my opinion) or whether or not I had hit the style, rather than an objective one (like a BJCP sponsored competition medal) of whether or not I had been successful.

Takeaways so far?

Hoppy beers are easy – Bottom line: hops can cover up a lot of flaws in a beer. Sure, it can be difficult to get a clean, crisp, huge and complex hop aroma and flavor into a beer. But there are a lot of places to hide in an IPA. Darker ales, like porters and stouts, can be forgiving, too. This is a good thing if you are just starting out, or you’ve had a sloppy brew day.

Lagers don’t have to be hard –  Lagers are all about a big pitch and temperature control. If you can’t control the temperature of a fermenting batch or if you don’t have a huge slurry of active yeast to pitch, you really ought to rethink making a lager. Unlike the hoppy and dark beers I mentioned above, lagers have nowhere to hide flaws. You have to pitch big and control the flavors created by the yeast. Otherwise I suggest just making the style with an ale or San Fran strain instead.

Patience is the key – This makes sense for lagers, that require weeks at near freezing temperatures, and wild and sour beers, that need time for the brett and bugs to tear through the “unfermentables”. But I think we, as homebrewers, often drink our beers too young. I’ve gotten myself into the practice of letting ales ferment for a week and then sit on the yeast for another week to clean themselves up. And lagers definitely require 2 weeks of fermentation with a diacetyl rest to finish strong.

Where I think the real opportunity is it letting your beer set in the bottle or keg as few extra weeks. How many times have you tasted your beer a month in and thought, “Wow, this is awesome. It is really peaking right now.” What if you had waited a few more weeks and you ‘d of had even more of your beer at its peak? Sure, some beers, like wet hop or hefes, need to be enjoyed sooner than later, but your beers will benefit from a little age. Give them time. Show them patience.

Brew to style on the first batch – This drives me insane. If you’ve never made a doppelbock before, why are you trying to make a raspberry doppelbock? I love playing with fruits, spices, vegetables and wood, but nail down the style first. Make a saison without pepper and see what the yeast does naturally. It might be just what you wanted, and the grains of paradise you are adding to the boil are going to be excessive.

If you cannot help but fuck with your beers, split the batch. Treat one half to a traditional process and add whatever batshit stuff you want to the other, but make sure you have a control or you’ll never learn how did, as well as what went right and wrong.

Don’t like a style? Homebrew your own! – I know this sounds crazy, but making a particular style has been the key to me enjoying that type of beer. I’d never enjoyed a fruit or a smoked beer until I made one of my own. It is not that I did it better than others, but you are more forgiving with your own beers. You understand the aroma, mouthfeel and flavors that define the style. It clicks in your head. Well, at least it does in mine.

What will the next 40 styles be like? – Well, they will be the beers I’ve avoided or didn’t have the ability to do before. In the case of the Light Lager category, a little bit of both. I’ve got most of the Scottish and British styles to brew through, as well.

There are lots of malty and lager beers in my future. I’m looking forward to the challenge.