Ramble On

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recapping 2014: Those Brewing Adventures

Brewing a batch of Black Widow IPA with fresh hops.
When I started this little recap series, I mentioned how the topics in my blog posts have evolved since I started Hawksbill Cabin in 2007 – from the projects renovating the place in the early days, to getting to know SNP through a series of hikes and research, up to now, when my posts are dominated by brewing and other beer related subjects.  This morning I did a quick scan of the posts in 2014, and there was not a month that went by when I didn’t write something on the topic, so I guess it is fitting to close out the year with one more post about brewing.

A glass of the finished product.
I started brewing with one gallon kits in 2011 – I’d grown interested in it over the years as friends and acquaintances would break out fresh brews they’d made for the holidays, dinner parties, or for no reason except friends getting together.  My friend Stan has been brewing for more than 20 years, and so has neighbor Dan – they both invited me to help them on a brew day, as did Brendan, and that’s all it took.  My formative beer-drinking experiences were spent in my 20’s in Berlin (the base I was stationed at was near a brewery, in fact!) and Western Europe, so I suppose that only added to my interest.

Dan at the start of his harvest in July.
Starting from those three basic ingredients outlined in the Reinheitsgebot – the German purity law – which were water, hops, and barley (yeast isn’t listed but is at least as important as the others), there is plenty of room to create something new and special.  I guess that is what I like about it: in addition to the styles to try and master – saisons, farmhouse ales, porters, stouts, IPAs, bitters, and (someday) lagers – you can vary the ingredients to produce a craft that ranges from honey lavender kolsch to whiskey barrel porter (I’ve made or I'm making both!)…there’s simply a lot left to try and do.

Some of Dan's Cascade hops in the dryer.
Looking back on the year as a brewer – I’d have to rate the experience of picking Bill’s hops and then brewing those IPAs (here and here) as one of the biggest successes of the year.  Not only did I get to extensively use a locally produced ingredient (and I still have enough left for two more batches), but the black IPA recipe was adopted and customized for my equipment.  I went as far as to dry hop some commercial hops at the end for aroma in order to be sure I had a well-rounded product I could be proud of – and it was that.

Hops picking with Bill and John, maybe one
of my favorite photos of the year, too.
In 2015 there are going to be a number of opportunities to create beers with local ingredients again – there’ll be the hops, of course, and there is a crop of Page County grown barley that was recently malted for brewing by my friends at the Blue Ridge Brewers Association.  We used that barley recently for a batch at Dan's brewery.  Plus, there are local ingredients that we can add to make unique beers:  honey, lavender, cucumbers, watermelon, and pumpkins – not to mention the rye whiskey they’re distilling around these parts!  It will be a good year for brewing, building on all that I’ve learned in 2014.

A portion of the fresh Cascade hops from
Bill's hop yard.

One of the vendors I buy a lot of my ingredients from has a motto:  “Brew, share, enjoy.” That’s probably the part of the experience that is most important to me, especially the “good friends” part of sharing and enjoying.  So here’s to all of you, readers – have a great 2015, and most importantly, enjoy the journey!

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