Jan 17 2012

Barlow Brewing 2011 Homebrew Year in Review

At the end of each year (2009 and 2010), I go through the stats of my homebrewing adventures and try to identify some trends and larger takeaways. I brew a modest amount of beer each year, and usually set a goal of making 60 gallons, which only equates to brewing a 5 gallon batch each month. That goal, many years ago, was bold and reaching. Nowadays, it is a pretty low bar, but it keeps me on track.

Looking back at 2011, four trends define that brewing year: hiatuses, organic beers, the lack of sours, and some competition success.


The Hiatus(es)

I go in waves with homebrewing. If it was my job, I’d be happy to brew, cellar, or package every day. But as a hobby that needs to be squeezed into the cracks and spaces between family, work and daily life, there have to be breaks. I took three hiatuses this year and did not brew at all during the months of March, August, October and November.

I do not know if that model is more beneficial to my overall zeal for the hobby, or if I’m better off keeping to a steady schedule. I know that feel a bit more excited about a brewday after some time off, but I also feel sloppy and out of practice when I do brew, as well.


Organic Beers

Organic beers just kinda happened this year. After planning to experiment with Rakau hops, which were organic, I decided to go ahead and make that entire beer organic. Then, I was in the Bison/New Brew Thursday competition, which required that I brew an organic beer, too. And then, in retrospect, my cider, perry, and mead were organic creations, as well.

I’m repeating myself here, but I couldn’t detect the difference between a normal and an organic beer. The bottom line with organic, from a creative perspective, is that you reduce the number of ingredients you can work with to make a beer. I like the idea of organic brews but, for the foreseeable future, that will always be secondary to my desire to use the exact hops, malts and other ingredients I want to use to make the beer that I want to drink.

But my awareness has changed and I no longer think, if I ever did, that organic beers are inferior. And that is something in and of itself.



This one actually surprised me and freaked me out a little. Although I bottled, added dregs to, and won medals for sours, I only brewed 5 gallons of sour beer last year. Since it can literally take years for a sour ale to fully develop and become drinkable, this was huge hit to my pipeline.

Although I still have plenty of bottles of my fruit lambics and a few of my Flanders Reds, I quickly realized that the weekly work of maintaining brett and sour beers was important, and they can make you forget that you having nothing in the pipeline.

After that epiphany, I immediately brewed a Berliner weisse that I hope might be turning the corner by the time the weather gets warm.  But I’m screwed for sours for most of 2012. Perhaps that is a mark against the hiatus model, which would have had me, at least, making filler beers in the in-between months.




This was a good year for me for BJCP and other competitions.

My goal for 2010 was to try to get a beer into the final round of the National Homebrew, and I squeaked in a beer and a cider. For 2011, I was hoping that I could get a beer or two into the final round again, and perhaps get one of those to medal.

Fortunately, I had three beers make it to the final round of the NHC: my “Tobias Fünke” Flanders red, my “Fargin Eishole” eisbock, and “Slow Motion Walter, Fire Engine Guy”, which was an oak-agerd, smoked Baltic porter.

I thought my flanders red, which had gotten a 1st place ribbon in the first round of the NHC, had a good chance, but it was my eisbock that won a bronze medal in the final round of the National Homebrew Competition. That was amazingly cool, and it proves that anything can happen in the final round.

In other BJCP competitions, I won a Gold, a Silver and a Bronze in the Dominion Cup, and two Gold and two Bronze medals in the CASK competition. Both were poor outings for me, but I’ve got no one to blame for them except the brewer of those beers. Yes, me.

Outside of BCJP competitions, my brett saison won first place in The Bruery’s Batch 300 Contest for French/Belgian ales, but it did not win a the overall competition. And I made it to the final round of the Bison/New Brew Thursday Organic Homebrew Competition, but I did not win that final round.

I also won a qualifying and the final round of the Iron Brewer competition. That was a bunch of fun, and it is always nice to have an excuse to talk shit with HopfenTreader and Simply Beer, as well as drink great and experimental beers.



What will be my big trend for 2012? I’m getting a late start on planning that one out. Obviously brewing a bunch of sours, and I’d like to make a few full-flavored session ales, as well. Short term, I need to look into brewing beers for this year’s National Competition, but I might be dead in the water there, too.


If you are into stats:

Weights and Measures
Gallons of Beer: 82
Gallons of Non-Beer: 14
Pounds of Grain: 172
Pounds of Hops: 3.06

Average Batch Size: 5.1
Average ABV: 6.5%
Average OG: 1.061
Average FG: 1.012
Average Pounds of Grain per Batch: 12.3
Average Ounces of Hops per Batch: 3.3

By Category
Ales: 14
Lagers: 2
Ciders: 1
Perrys: 1
Meads: 1
Sours: 1
Organic: 4 (2 beers, 1 cider, and 1 perry)

Medals and Ribbons
BJCP Competitions Entered: 3
Medals Earned: 10
National Homebrew Competition Ribbons: 3
National Homebrew Competition Medals: 1

Favorite BrewTriple Lindy / Churchill Downs (bourbon barreled Triple Lindy)
Favorite Brew (Runner Up) – Aardbei (Strawberry lambic)
Worst Brew – Piper Down 1 & 2
Favorite NameYou’ll Shoot Your Rye Out
Favorite Name (Runner Up) – Up on Cripple Kriek
Biggest Trend – Organic Beer


AHA NHC Ribbons



Jun 15 2009

Sour Beers and the Long Feedback Loop

Making beer is like anything else in the world.  You have to do it a lot to get really good at it.  Sure, you can make some fantastic beers right from the start, and your skills evolve even faster if you have the right resources and people to mentor you along.  But being able to make something special on a consistent basis takes a lot of trial and error, and getting used to the quirks of your home brewery.

I brew fairly often and I always aim to brew over 60 gallons a year.  (That is more than most brewers I personally know, but far, far less than the real homebrew addicts.)  Brewing a least once a month is relaxing, cathartic, and it keeps me from getting rusty.  The biggest benefit is getting things very right and very wrong, and learning from them.  If I brew a BJCP style that I’m not really happy with, I make it again.  Maybe not the next month, but usually soon after. 

Given my latest addiction to brewing sour ales, my new dilemma is figuring out how to speed up the feedback loop on beers that take several years to make.  I have a Flanders Red (Stupid Sexy Flanders) Ale that I brewed at the end of May, and it is fermenting away.  I’m pretty excited about trying it out, but it really isn’t going to be ready until May of 2011.  That is a long time to wait for that sort of feedback.  

Was I right to pitch a neutral yeast first?  Should I have just pitched the Roeselare blend from the start?  Did I use an oak with the right degree of toast?  Was the malt bill right?  Were there enough remaining sugars for the brettanomyces to dig into?

And what do I do with the sour beers that I brew in the meantime?  Do I try different methods and ingredients in those batches to contrast?  Because I might have gotten it accidentally “right” the last batch….

So far, I’ve been lucky with the lambics and Berliner Weisses I’ve made, but they can certainly be improved upon.  I have the feeling that I might be splitting some of these batches, in the future, to help accelerate the learnings about these wonderful beers that aren’t all that wonderful for the impatient brewer.


Apr 13 2009

Wild Ales: Letting the Right Ones In

I reviewed Avery’s Brabant recently, and the world of sour beers is expanding, but I don’t know if a sour beer can be the next IPA of the beer world.  Those steps are a little steep and narrow. 


I’d love for everyone to enjoy these unique beers, but I also have a secret: I’m OK with them not becoming the next big thing. 



I remember the guys from Mystery Science 3000 Theater being interviewed about their program, and they were asked if they were worried about viewers not understanding their really obscure jokes.  They said that was OK.  That the “right” people will get them.  I’m not being a snob here, I just think not everything needs to go mainstream.  We all, at sometime, have wished our favorite garage band didn’t catch a break and become the next big thing. 


Anyway, Lessley Anderson wrote a nice article about the expanding world of sour ales.  It hits the difficult balance between conveying the right facts, and throwing out the more shocking terms like “moose urine” and “baby diaper”.  It is a much better primer than I could ever write.


Your Beer Smells Like Goat: Beer geeks revel in weird, funky wild ales.