I view the whole process of learning to brew beer as a rite of passage. At this point, you have accepted you’re looking for something more in beer. What that something is, you might not know yet and that’s cool. The important point to remember is someone that answers the call to brew their own beer is taking control of their destiny and, in many ways, starting a new chapter of alcoholic appreciation. It’s like learning to shave; always best under the guidance and supervision of someone experienced, and start with safety razors whenever possible.
The thing about shaving is once you start getting skills with the razor, you want to impress your peers with artistry. Dudes start shaving sideburns, moustaches, beards, goatees and a whole number of other things (not sure if ladies go through a similar stage or not here). In terms of brewing, this is the equivalent to starting to play around with different hop varieties, specialty grains and extracts. You’re creating a beer identity or style for yourself at this point. Then, the stage where you really want to impress people with something special inevitably comes. Spices, fruits, wood and maybe even some beans start finding their way into your beers. These complex entities have the potential to be grandiose, wonderful and orgasm-inspiring experiences. To keep the shaving metaphor rolling, I believe this stage would be the shaving equivalent of man-scaping.
Now, before you tell me I’m full of shit just think about it. Man-scaping one-ups your shaving game just like adding more complexities to your beer one-ups your brewing game. And let’s be honest, it’s primary purpose is to entice the consumer and jack up (possible pun?) the value of your product. Do it right and you will have a beautiful, balanced and appealing work that will make people want to wrap their lips around the tip of your bottles and have them begging for more [beer]. Do it wrong and you have scarred your junk [genitals], ego and reputation in the short term so you’re best off hiding from people and wearing whitey tighties (or granny panties) for the next few weeks. The upside? As long as no real tissue damage occurs, you can just wipe the slate clean, so to speak, and wait until you have something to work with again. In case I lost you, in terms of beer, you may still end up with something drinkable. It just might not exactly be what you were intending. It’s a gamble. A gamble taken mostly by the incredibly brazen or blissfully stupid. I’m still trying to figure out which category I fall into while writing out the events of my first ambitious brew: The Apple Pie Wheat.
The first hurdle was figuring out how to brew with apples. This wasn’t a topic I found widely discussed outside of people talking about sour apple off flavors from fermentation. Exciting and interesting reads, but it didn’t help me with the apples I planned on tossing in my boil. So, I did the next most scientific thing: make a mess in the kitchen. And by mess I mean chop up a couple apples, toss them into boiling water for an hour and see just what I get out of it. Know what you get? Something that tastes eerily like stomach acid. Apparently all these years when I woke up from a long night of drinking, hungover as all unholy shit and dry heaving, I was tasting weak apple juice. This did not deter my research, and I actually crushed up the boiled apples and added that juice to the mix to see if that helped. This yielded slightly more pungent stomach acid. Awesome. Even though this sounds like a huge failure, I still had an idea of how much flavor and bitterness the apples provided in a gallon of water. That is useful.
Based on my little experiment, I decided on skinning and chopping up 10 apples, or roughly three pounds of apple flesh for my five-gallon batch. Next, I had to figure out how much spice to put in the brew. Based on the apple experiment, I figured the fruit was not going to be what would turn this from a “Shave and wait till next time” experience to an “Accidentally cut your schwanz and bleed out” situation. That would fall on the spices. They would be the X-factor to absolutely ruin a beer. I wanted something subtle but noticeable, and using cinnamon and allspice didn’t help. They are pungent spices and simply overpower all flavors if used in the wrong quantities. I did my little gallon-of-water experiment again, but I got impatient…
I boiled the allspice for 10 minutes. And I boiled the cinnamon for zero minutes. That’s right, I didn’t even test the fucking cinnamon. I don’t know what I was thinking. Even while typing this sentence I’m shaking my head. I’m basically setting myself up for a disaster here, folks. I got a good idea of what 10 minutes of allspice will do, but I’m leaning toward the blissfully stupid side of the spectrum at this point. To make matters worse, I could slice my proverbial dick off. That would just not work with my social calendar.
Other than my questionable preparation, the brewing process was pretty standard. I confirmed dry extract is the fucking devil, didn’t anticipate the cold apples bringing my boil temperature down nearly 10 degrees and then topped it all off by changing the time I added my spices. The allspice ended up getting yanked early when I pulled the apples at 20 minutes left on the boil due to the fact that I’m a moron and thought pulling three pounds of apples would just magically come out on their own. I think I ended up removing a lot of hops when I did that too. Combine that brain fart with spraying sanitization water all over myself while cleaning out the fermentation bucket and, as a final middle finger from my beer, having the lid blow off shooting a whole ton of fucking yeast up onto the ceiling at 3am, I was pretty pissed at this batch by the time it was ready to rack over to secondary.
Once the beer had a chance to sit for a while, it was time to sample it and see how my quick wits and instincts faired. It poured London-foggy copper, which initially pissed me off until I remembered wheat beers are usually cloudy as hell. The beer smelled of fresh cinnamon and allspice but no real hop aroma could be noted over those two, and that made me pretty nervous. Did I just mutilate my dick? Did I just play the world’s most sadistic version of just the tip and finish what my circumcision started? Was my manhood and brewing prowess about to be tarnished forever?
No! While I missed the whole apple pie mark, it was an entirely drinkable spiced wheat with an ever-so-slight tartness. I would say on the man-scape scale, it fell into a “Shave it all off and try again later” category which, any person interested in the self-preservation of their genitals would be happy to accept. Genitals preserved!
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.