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Community: Why I brewed a beer for Christmas in January

Posted by zeith on 2/09/2015 at 11:10:45 AM


When I first started brewing, there was very little community, majority of the time it was just me.  I got introduced to homebrewing after a cross country drive quickly turned into a brewery tour from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Seattle, Washington for an internship. After my roommate/driving buddy and I arrived in Seattle after trying 20+breweries along the way, we quickly bought our first homebrew kit and brewed our first batch. We brewed a few extract + steeping grains beers by following LHBS instructions and learning as we went. We drove back to college after stopping at another 20ish breweries and I knew I needed to continue this hobby. However, time got the better of me. Next thing I knew I had graduated, moved out to Seattle full time, and slowly picked the hobby back up.

I had been a long time lurker of reddit (/u/zeith) and figured the only way to improve was to read and practice. I picked up a few basic brewing books and started reading reddit daily. I failed a ton of beers, experimented a lot, swore a lot, and brewed a few average beers. I rarely shared my beer with others except with my brewing buddy from the internship who ended up becoming my roommate again. We would occasionally brew together, but I spent a lot of time on my own; reading, planning, thinking and dreaming.

After eventually moving to All Grain, I decided to stop flying solo and wanted to involve myself in a community and I picked reddit. I started posting more and got to know a few of the regulars. We shared ideas, theories, jokes, and for the first time, I felt part of a community of brewers. It was one thing to go to a craft bar and talk about the beer with the regulars. It was a completely different beast to get lost in debates about flavor profiles, fermentation and the science behind homebrewing.

One redditor approached me one day and asked if I would be interested in writing for his blog and I happily signed up. As you may have guessed, that redditor was Olan from HomebrewDad. From that one blog post (and his first guest spot), I got to meet a large number of the charter members. Ever since then, we drank beer, watched, and occasionally gave advice as Olan built up HomebrewDad to be the community it is today. Cue cheery emotional music. 

Now what the hell does community and all of this have to do with Christmas beer? Let alone brewing one in January? In December of 2014, I had asked the charter group if they would be interested in brewing Randy Mosher’s 12 beers of Christmas for 2015 and sharing the beer with everyone in the group. We quickly realized that, yes we want to do this, but no we didn’t want to brew the Mosher beers. We wanted to brew our own Christmas/Holiday Inspired/Kolsch-Cal Common because Marshall hates Christmas Beers beers. And thus, the first Homebrew Dad (HDB) Christmas Beer Advent Calendar kicked off.

Being an addict of Belgian beers, wanting something to warm us during Christmas 2015, and inspired by Scaldis Noel, I opted to brew a Belgian Barleywine.  The goal of the beer was a strong, malty, layered caramel beer highlighting Belgian yeast flavors but NOT be a fruit, bubblegum or clove bomb. As you may know with Belgian yeast, they attenuate like crazy. I would need to mash high in order to leave some residual sugar to balance the caramel notes otherwise it would end up a cloying sweet mess.

When I brew Belgian Beers, I almost always start by selecting the yeast I want to use and building the rest of my ingredients around there. WLP 510 AKA Orval Strain caught my eye due to its acidic finish and ability to let a little malt shine through, perfect for a Barleywine. I also read that 510 used to be a platinum strain but will now be a year round strain. Perfect. With that yeast in mind, I started formulating my recipe, focusing only on Belgian ingredients with the exception of the turbinado sugar and bittering hops.

Off I go to my LHBS to buy my grains and yeast and they don’t have 510 in stock. No worries. I pick up the platinum strain of WLP515 (De Koninck) for my new yeast collection. I call up the other 2 stores (which I had never been to before) and they inform me the only carry Wyeast. No worries. I ask a friend of a friend who lives really close to White Labs in CA and ask him to pick me up the yeast as he’s coming into town later in the week. Flash forward a few days later and I receive the yeast from him, except its WLP500 (Chimay). Seriously? I can’t catch a break with this yeast. I must be invoking my inner Olan who is known for battling Murphy time and time again.

In a last ditch effort I call my original LHBS to see if they got a shipment in yet. Due to the switch from Platinum strain to year round, White Labs was backed up in shipping it out so sadly, no yeast. My LHBS employee, knowing me well and knowing I’m frustrated, offered me a bag of Brun Fonce candi sugar. He was initially saving it for himself but knew that it would work well in a Belgian Barleywine since the sugar will elicit dark fruit and light caramel flavors to increase the complexity.

I ended up brewing the Barleywine at the end of Jan and since I had two amazing yeasts, I split the batch into two 3 gallon carboys. This decision was made easier by dumping in a part of the trub into each carboy to hit the batch size due to my small kettle. I missed my OG slightly, but I was not phased and quickly hit the beers with a heavy dose of O2. Both are happily fermenting and 4 days after the start of fermentation, I added the Turbinado Sugar and Brun Fonce at high krausen. The beers will continue to age for another 2-4 months and then I will bottle the beers and forget about them until we have to mail them out for the Christmas swap. Each of the 12/15/18/we have no idea how many beers will be made beers will be consumed 1 day at a time leading up to Christmas. Expect some future blog posts regarding the tasting of these beers.

As I look back on organizing this Christmas beer exchange, brewing the beer, and the crazy yeast adventure, I realized that I finally belong to a strong community of homebrewers and friends. If it wasn’t for Brulospher’s of the world, I wouldn’t be dumping my trub into the carboy. Matt (to Brew a Beer) helped with the recipe formulation and provide invaluable high gravity brewing tips. My LHBS for enriching my beer with new ingredients and ideas. Olan (HBD) for always reminding me that Murphy strikes all the time and for organizing the homebrew dad community.  The folks of /r/homebrewing who love their “is this infected” and how can I make my “chocolate bourbon oaked stout aged with vanilla beans, star anise and orange peel better?” posts yet still find a way to help lots of new brewers into the family. If it wasn’t for this collection of brewers, I would still be brewing extract beers, I wouldn’t be reading organic chemistry in my free time, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing this article today.

It is this community that attracted me to homebrewing, and it will be this community that I grow as a homebrewer. Cheers.


Share this recipe on reddit

Batch Size (gallons)6
Recipe typeAll Grain
Style19B. English Barleywine
Original Gravity1.091
Final Gravity1.015
ABV9.98% (basic)   /   10.07% (advanced)       [what's this?]
Color14.1 SRM
Boil Time97 min

YeastWhite Labs WLP500 (Trappist Ale)
White Labs WLP515 (Antwerp Ale Yeast)

Pale Malt (2 Row) Belgian16 lbs77.9%3
Turbinado1 lb4.9%10
Brun Fonce1 lb4.9%3
Caramunich Malt1 lb4.9%56
Caravienne Malt 12.48 oz3.8%22
Aromatic Malt 12 oz3.7%26

Challenger (Boil).55 oz607.5%12.8
Magnum (Boil)1 oz6014%37.1
Styrian Goldings (Boil)1 oz55.4%2.8

for complete recipe (with details like mash and fermentation temps), click here

When not brewing, reading, drinking, or writing about beer, Jordan is slaving away like many others in the software industry and exploring the Pacific Northwest with his family. You can look him up at reddit as u/zeith, or on twitter as @MarcheseBrewing.

Tags for this post: Christmas, beer, belgian, barleywine

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Love this post, man. This distills so much of WHY I wanted this site to grow into a real community. Great job!

posted by homebrewdad on 2/09/2015 at 11:54:12 AM