Category Archives: Brewing

And the Winner of the Tart Side Challenge is… Me!

Turnagain Brewing graciously hosts a contest each year for members of the Great Northern Brewers Club called the Tart Side Challenge. Ted and Mary Rosenzweig, owners of the brewery, give each club member one gallon of wort containing the brewery’s proprietary sour culture from the solera tank we all affectionately call Big Bertha. Our task is to flavor the wort any way we wish, and to ferment it into beer. The entries get judged at the GNBC annual summer campout, and then Turnagain Brewing brews the winning recipe. Last year, Maria won the contest. When I created the recipe for my entry this year, I referred to my experience making small batch beers. I had been mixing beer and fruit for a couple of years now, and I know how much fruit to add to make a beer explode with flavor. I wanted to bottle-condition this beer, since oxidation is one of the easiest and worst things that can happen to a beer at this stage.  I also know that people generally tend to like slightly stronger beers over weaker ones. Since this was a beer tasting committee I was aiming to please, I added a 1/2 cup of malt extract to not only slightly increase ABV, but also to restart fermentation. I also added some of my own yeast from my yeast ranching project, since bottle-conditioning doesn’t work without yeast present.

I was unsure what fruit I wanted to put into the beer. Last year Maria won with a blueberry recipe, so I knew blueberries were a crowd pleaser. I also love the Piña Colada beer Ted has been making for Serrano’s Mexican Grill. It all became clear to me when I was making my morning smoothie with a healthy dosage of sour yogurt, pineapple, and blueberries.  Blueberries and pineapple would play the starring roles in my beer.

Ted didn’t have enough space to ferment my beer, so he used a French oak barrel, which added Brett to the equation. Ted and I were sipping on the finished beer at the brewery and I suggested that he bottle my beer, so we could cellar it to allow the Brett to develop. Since I’m the local beer artist, I also offered to make a label design for my beer. 

I had to design the label quickly, and I think best when I am out running on the trail. The next morning I figured it all out when doing my five mile loop.  I came up with the name, “Solera Eclipse” and decided upon a design inspired by the yin yang of T&C Surf Designs.  Ted’s solera is where the wort originated, and an eclipse is a noteworthy astronomical event.  The yin yang showed off the the contrast of the blueberries and pineapple perfectly.  Since it was fermented in Ted’s favorite old wine barrel, I included some barrel parts in the design making a sun. 

I am very excited to try the commercial version, I have one bottle left of my homemade version, and I look forward to sampling them back to back! The beer will be released at my art opening at Turnagain Brewing tomorrow (12/03/2021)! I’ll be there 5-8pm, and hope you’ll stop by to try my beer, check out my art, and buy a couple bottles to cellar.

Cheers to Turnagain Brewing for doing this fun contest for GNBC!

Ted taking a small sample of my beer from the barrel to see if the Brett flavor had sufficiently developed.
My design for the bottle label.
Solera Eclipse sour ale with blueberries and pineapple.

A Surprise Trip to a Hop Farm!

We recently got back from a trip to America — I hadn’t left the State of Alaska for over two years!  Maria and I had to go to Pullman, WA to attend my aunt’s memorial service.  We decided to make the flight worthwhile by extending our trip a bit to go see some of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park.  Did you know there are 63 National Parks in the US? The Olympic National Park is pretty wet in late September.  The highlights for me were walking to the Sol Duc waterfall, and soaking in the hot springs there.  Hot springs are nice in the rain. We also saw the biggest Sitka spruce tree in the world, and the largest red cedar tree.  They are huge! 

The largest red cedar tree in the world!

We had to drive to Pullman for the memorial, so we decided to stop in Yakima along the way, because we knew it was time for hop harvest!  First thing we did was go to the hop shop, Yakima Valley Hops.  Surprisingly, this year’s hops were not available there yet.  I bought a little bit of last year’s harvest, which smelled pretty good.  The sales attendant was very helpful and told me to come back in three weeks when the hops would all be ready for sale.  We asked about stopping at a local farm, and she recommended going to CLS Farms, and maybe we could get a tour there.  That evening we went to the Public House of Yakima, and sampled about 15 different fresh hop ales!  Some were good, and some were quite… interesting.  We learned about NDA — non-disclosure ale, which means the hop variety used in that beer is a secret!  The Public House offers 5oz pours and serves up flights of different brews.  Saturday was going to be the big fresh hop beer festival, but we had to be at the memorial at that time.  Still, I feel I got a pretty good example at the Public House of local fresh-hop IPAs.  

All fresh-hop IPAs!
NDA – non-disclosure ale

In the morning we planned to stop at Bale Breaker Brewing, our favorite brewery (with a small hop farm) in the Yakima Valley, to get supplied for the trip to Pullman, but they were not going to open until 3pm.  Instead, Maria found directions to CLS Farms, and we followed a hop truck into their parking lot.  I nervously knocked on the office door and a strapping young man came out.  We told him what we were about, and asked about a tour.  He said he could give us a tour right now!  They were actively harvesting El Dorado hops, a critical ingredient in some special West Coast IPAs.  He said a lot of it goes straight to California to Stone Brewing, for their “Drink By” series, and the El Dorado IPA.  Huge plants were being loaded onto the conveyor and being stripped of flowers.  The air was astringent with pungent hop aroma!  It felt like breathing IPA.  There are two hop stripping machines at CLS, but what was really interesting was the kilns that dry the hops.  Rows of huge flat trays about 50×50 feet large, and four feet deep were filled with full cone hop flowers!  After a couple of hours they pull up ropes from the bottom of the trays, and the hops from the bottom are stirred to the top — a cool, low-tech way to ensure an even drying process.  Next, we went to the baling station.  I wanted to buy a bale from our guide, but it was 200lbs, and I don’t know how I would have gotten it back to Alaska.  I could have bought some fresh hops on the spot, but our tour guide said they start going bad after 24 hours.  We got a picture with the hop pile at the baling station, and I guess that will have to be good enough.  Our guide said that most of their hops go straight to CA, with Sierra Nevada, and Stone Brewing showing up with fleets of trucks and getting the stuff straight from the farm.  I have to say I was a little jealous of the quality of the hops that were not available to me, a super small-time home-brewer-artist guy.  

We stopped at Fred Meyer and bought a few six packs of Bale Breaker brews, and headed to Pullman.  I will never forget the hop farm experience!  Those guys need a brewery at the farm to give the whole hop experience, something for us hopheads to wet our lips with, and not just smell!            

Cultivating a New Yeast Culture for My Cherry Beer

A couple weeks ago my mother-in-law gave us a bag of organic cherries from Costco that she said were too sweet for her.  I thought, “Great! I will make a beer with them using some of the yeast I have been cultivating from a project I started well over three years ago.”  I have been a little too busy to brew on the regular schedule that I normally follow.  When I went to look at my yeast, I saw mold in it, and it smelled like old socks.  Three years of use is a very good run for a yeast culture. I think it might have happened because I had started using a smaller malt-extract-to-water ratio for feeding it. So, I started over again, making a new yeast culture, and I got to play with my yeast science equipment.  

After I collected the yeast in a baking pan from the air next to an open window in my condo in West Fairview in Anchorage, I put the starter into an Erlenmeyer flask.  Before, I had used a growler.  I brewed up a batch with the cherries after feeding the yeast for about two weeks.  It was frothing in the flask when I pitched it into the cherry beer wort I made.  When the flask was open, I also took a small sample out and viewed it with Maria’s new microscope (I gave it to her for her birthday, she requested it). It is now happily fermenting away in the corner of my second bedroom.  I only brewed a gallon, and used one pound of cherries.  The wort tasted great, so I have high hopes for the final product, but you never know when utilizing wild yeast.  There will only be 8, or 9 bottles total as the cherry puree and trub will absorb some liquid. I intend to brew another gallon batch this weekend but I will use lingonberries instead of cherries.  

Cheers out there!  I hope you find tasty beers to keep you fortified during the pandemic!  

The science station.
The new yeast culture viewed through the microscope. The big green blog is a hop particle.
The yeast culture in the flask, and a small batch of cherry wort ready to ferment in the green jug.

Stop Blaming the Beer!

Many people have told me that beer is bad for your health.  Some even say that it makes men grow breasts, not to mention a beer belly.  There’s an “herb-an” legend that hops contain estrogen, which causes male bodies to start resembling those of pregnant women.  Obviously, drinking too much alcohol, whether it be wine, spirits, or beer, is bad for you, especially your cardiovascular system and your liver functions.  My doctor told me a guy my size should only consume on average two drinks per day.  She did not say that beer was any worse than the other beverages.  I have heard doctors say that wine is better than spirits, or beer, because at least you are getting a little bit of grape juice.  It seems to me that straight distilled alcohol is the harshest on your system due to its dehydrating effects.  

Where do the fatty guts and man breasts fit in?  I was talking to Dr. Ted over at Turnagain Brewing and he said that plant-based estrogen is different from animal estrogen, and will affect your body differently.  So, drinking hoppy beer is not like taking an estrogen pill, which would probably make a man grow boobs.  People tend to overeat and drink too much when they are stressed out, and this pandemic is intensifying the problem.  I am no doctor, but it seems to me increased stress leads to lack of motivation, and lack of exercise.  Sedentary lifestyles lead to a testosterone level decrease.  Quit blaming the beer, make healthy decisions, workout!  Even a 30-minute walk every day will make you feel great!  Cut back on those extra snacks, remember to take time to make that bowel movement, and then maybe beer will lose that negative stigma.  Cheers to verisimilitude!  Don’t let anti-beer propaganda make decisions for you!  

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #82 by Scott Clendaniel. July 21, 2016. Rainier BEAR. 11"x14", oil on panel.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #82 by Scott Clendaniel. July 21, 2016. Rainier BEAR. 11″x14″, oil on panel.

How I Won My First Beer Brewing Contest – by Maria Benner

This is a guest post by Maria Benner, the Business Manager of Real Art Is Better.  Scott asked me to write this post today about my experience winning my first beer brewing contest.  He had a lot to do with that!

During Alaska Beer Week, one of the events is Turnagain Brewing‘s Tart Side Challenge.  Members of the Great Northern Brewers Club who choose to participate pick up 1 gallon of unfermented wort from Turnagain Brewing, which is the brewery’s base for its sour beers.  Then contest participants flavor the wort at home with ingredients of their choice, bottle the beer, and submit it for judging.  The brewery then brews a big batch of the winning recipe.  Well, Alaska Beer Week was re-scheduled at the last minute this year in January, so I missed it, because I was in India.  So, Scott showed up to the brewery to pick up his 1 gallon, and Ted, the owner, let him take another gallon on my behalf, and the two of them entered me into the contest by proxy.  Scott called me, and asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him to put blueberries in it.  He flavored my gallon with frozen whole organic blueberries from Costco, and added a little DME for extra carbonation.  When I returned from my trip, I bottled the beer, and then we submitted our entries to the brewery a couple months later.  Scott flavored his batch with honey and ginger, which was delicious!

The judging took place at the GNBC annual campout in June, and my blueberry beer was declared the winner!  So Ted called me to congratulate me, and to ask me how I made the beer, so I told him that I was in India, and Scott flavored it.  So Ted called Scott to get the recipe.  Turnagain Brewing was short on fermentation capacity, so Ted fermented my blueberry beer in a red wine barrel.  So the beer turned out very different from my/Scott’s version, but it was really tasty!  The red wine barrel added depth, and a bit more sour flavor.  Ted also boosted the amount of blueberries by 25% to 1.25 lbs per gallon, and pulverized them, instead of adding them whole.  The result was a deep purple beer!  We named it Blueberry Avalanche.

Well, the big release date was set for August 12th, but no one checked with us, and we had already planned to be at our cabin in McCarthy during that time.  So Ted was kind enough to arrange a wholesale of one pony keg to the owner of The Potato restaurant in McCarthy, just so I could also drink my beer along with everyone else on the 12th.  Scott and I personally delivered the keg to McCarthy.  The night before the big day I texted the owner of The Potato to ask when my keg would be on draft.  She told me we had to finish some keg of kristallweizen first.  So the next day I texted her again, and stressed the importance of debuting my blueberry beer on August 12th, the same day as in Anchorage.  She was kind enough to switch out the kegs, and I was super happy to drink two pints of my beer in McCarthy on the release date!  Some of my friends in Anchorage were drinking it at Turnagain Brewing, and sending me messages about how much they liked the beer!  I heard it was very popular.  There were only six pony kegs in existence, and they were all gone in less than five days.

Thanks to Turnagain Brewing, my hubby, the GNBC, and The Potato for making this experience so fun for me!  I’m looking forward to participating in more brewing contests!

“Brewed by local Maria Benner”

Cheers!

 

National IPA Day, or Business As Usual

Today is National IPA Day!  For me, everyday is IPA day, but it’s nice to know that there’s a day especially dedicated to this hoppy style of brew.  I’m celebrating in the small community of McCarthy, Alaska, where IPA is the most popular style of beer aside from PBR.  I feel the only reason people drink PBR here over IPA is the price.  IPA requires a lot of hops, which makes it more expensive.  When I brew a five gallon batch and I dry hop the beer to make it an IPA, I lose a gallon due to hop absorption.  I need a huge french press to squeeze out the hops from the beer!
On Saturday Maria and I went to Cynosure Brewing, and were drinking a really fresh dry-hopped Hazy IPA called #005.  We convinced the local restaurant in McCarthy “The Potato” to purchase a keg per our recommendation.  The owner and beer purchaser for The Potato was an easy sell on a keg of IPA.  She said that IPA is the most popular beer they sell at the restaurant!  So the #005 is here and I can stop on in for a draft of the freshest IPA around.  I have a 1/6 barrel keg, here at my cabin, of Glacier Brewhouse IPA, which I had bought a few days before I made it into Cynosure.
In honor of the important holiday, tonight I will be having a little IPA tasting.  I have a couple of different selections from Anchorage Brewing and Broken Tooth Brewing, as well as the keg.  Cheers to hoppy beers!  IPA all the way!

Enjoying Cynosure Brewing’s #005 hazy IPA at The Potato in McCarthy, Alaska.

Life Is Short, Drink Good Beer, and to Get Good Beer, Buy Local!

I have made a new commitment to myself to only buy beer directly from breweries in order to get the freshest product.  Not just for on-site consumption, but also for savoring at home.  I’ll probably still order a beer occasionally at local bars and restaurants, although I will still seek out local offerings.  When I travel I will do the same thing — buy beers directly from local breweries in the area.  While traveling I have definitely picked up some shelf turds at the local grocery store.  No more!  From now on it’s from the brewery direct!  I have three main reasons for doing this.  The first is to get the freshest beer possible, especially of the IPA variety.  The second reason is driven by economics — my money is going directly to the breweries, and I strongly believe in supporting local businesses.  Lastly, I’m doing my small part to reduce waste by using re-usable containers to purchase my liquid nourishment.

Scott Clendaniel enjoying an IPA at Turnagain Brewing

Enjoying a fresh-hop IPA at Turnagain Brewing

Nothing is more disappointing to taste than a seven-month old IPA that has been left next to the heater on the liquor store floor.  When I was doing the Year of Beer project I came upon such beers fairly frequently.  A stale cardboard-like malt backbone with a cheesy, vegetative hop aroma is not how the artisans who made the beer wanted their product to taste.  All the local breweries in Anchorage store their beer properly, and the overall flavor is so much better!  IPA always tastes great directly from the brewery!

Celebrating Cynosure Brewing's third birthday

Celebrating Cynosure Brewing’s third anniversary!

Aside from getting the freshest product available, I like that my hard-earned money is going directly to the breweries, helping to keep the product more affordable, and stimulating our local economy.  Not many products available in Alaska are made here, but beer is definitely one of them.  I always get a smile from brewery employees and management when I tell them about this new policy of mine.  I’ve been spending a bit more, but I am not upset with my purchases.  In the pre-prohibition era, people had to buy locally as distribution was not up to the current capabilities.  Every town had its local brewery and its local flavor.  A growler used to be a wooden bucket with a lid.  The 20th century’s automation and big business homogenized, packaged, and marketed mass produced macro-brews, resulting in a lack of a local brewery scene.  Beer is available from all over the world, not just Europe.  Today I can buy beer from Zimbabwe if I feel like it.  Although, the last African beer I drank was pretty stale, and not much better than an AB inBev product.  I say drink beer really brewed “the hard way,” and drink straight from the brewery! 

Local beer artist Scott Clendaniel with one of his paintings that 49th State Brewery bought

I buy local beer, 49th State Brewing buys local art!

In addition to being good for our economy, buying a local product that is often sold in reusable containers is a win for the environment.  Grain comes in big bags, so do hops.  The heaviest ingredient, water, is locally-sourced, and we are lucky to have very good water here in Anchorage for making beer.  Mother Earth is smiling every time you get a growler filled and don’t have any waste material.  If we all bought locally brewed beer, less fuel would be spent shipping beer from all over the world, less water would be drained from dried-up aquifers, and less waste would be left in our local landfill!  If you don’t want to consume a whole growler in one evening, and you don’t like drinking leftover oxidized beer the next day, opt for a half growler (howler) fill.  You could also splurge at the local home-brew shop and buy a U-Keg one gallon CO2 charged growler, which holds ~12 servings and keeps beer fresh for a long time.  Or go big and get a whole home-brew style draft setup and buy at the gallon price-point.  Anyway, there are many container options out there, just find the right one for your drinking habits.

Simply stated, “life is short, drink good beer!”  And to get good beer, buy local.  There are so many great options right here.  King Street Brewing and Midnight Sun Brewing have six packs for about $10.  Glacier Brewhouse offers growlers for as low as $6 every Tuesday, which is cheaper than many out-of-state options per ounce.  Anchorage Brewing is putting out world-class four-packs and amazing bottle releases.  Turnagain Brewing, 49th State Brewing, and Cynosure Brewing all fill growlers, and l love stopping in for a glass in house.  Anchorage produces barleywine, IPA, stout, hefe, lager, pilsner, saison, spruce-tip ale, and many other interesting-flavored malt beverages that are on par with anything available worldwide.  The closer you consume to the brewery, the fresher your beer will taste!  Cheers to Anchorage, our breweries, and to drinking locally!

This Alaskan Summer Has Been Smoky, So Why Not Smoke Some Meat?

pork bbq

Pairs well with a sour beer!

Alaska has had a dry and hot summer, and that’s a recipe for wild forest fires, which have made the air smoky for most of the summer.  So we decided, we might as well start smoking meat!  I smoked salmon in my Big Chief electric smoker this year, which keeps the temperature colder than a Texas-style BBQ, making it more suitable for fish.  Although, I suggest barbecuing some pork — it is my current favorite!  What could pair better than an ice cold brewski with a pile of delicious BBQ?

A couple of years ago I was over at my friend’s house and he had just pulled a brisket off his Traeger smoker.  I was amazed at how delicious this otherwise nearly-impossible-to-cook piece of meat was, and he told me how he slowly smoked it for over 12 hours in the pellet smoker.  Since then, I have been obsessed with real BBQ.  I can tell you what it is not: steaks, sausages, burgers, salmon, chicken, or anything else that is cooked over high heat.  That would be grilling.  A hot grill is the antitheses to BBQ.  Now there is nothing wrong with grilling, it’s a good way to cook the meat fast and produces delicious outdoor cooked treats, but it ain’t BBQ.  Grilling happens at 400 – 600 degrees and sears the meat.  BBQ needs to be done slowly and at low heat.  It involves cooking less desirable cuts of meat for several hours, which then makes them highly desirable.

The word barbecue comes from the Caribbean native people Taino’s word Barbacoa and refers to the process of burying meat in a pit oven wrapped in agave leaves.  Texas-style BBQ is a bit more complicated, and needs a specific tool to achieve the desired effect.  Whether it be a computer-controlled Traeger smoker, or a stick smoker, you need a way to produce smoky heat that can be kept at an even 200 – 250 degrees for many hours.  Ribs and roasts are normally preferable, but you can BBQ a suckling pig or larger cuts of meat.  

I have a stick smoker in McCarthy where I prepare my BBQ.  It has a lower compartment for burning the fire, and a larger chamber above where the smoke filters through and exits through a smokestack chimney.  I use oak lump charcoal to keep my fire going and I use chunks of wood to produce the smoke.  I prefer mesquite for that real authentic Texas flavor.  It takes about an hour per pound of meat, so a 3lb boneless pork shoulder takes about 6 hours to BBQ.  The smoker is big enough to handle larger cuts of meat, so you can either make two at once, or smoke for a lot longer with bigger cuts of meat like that brisket I mentioned earlier.  Since you are cooking the meat at low temperatures for a long time, that breaks down all the proteins and makes what would be a tough grilled meat a tender smoked delicacy.  The meat looks blackened and it is the black part, referred to as the bark, that is really good.  Make sure you get to try a piece with some BBQ bark — it has the most smoky flavor that is sooo good.  I like to wait an hour after pulling the meat from the heat, and I use a meat thermometer to make sure it hits 180 degrees — the perfect time to pull the meat.  I like to have some fresh buns ready to make pork sandwiches.  You will probably need some BBQ sauce.  Don’t buy the BBQ sauce with liquid smoke in it.  You only need some sweet tangy sauce to add to your already smoked meat.  Oh, and don’t forget to pair your meat with your favorite beer!  The only beer I wouldn’t use to pair with perfect BBQ is a smoked beer.  There is already enough smoke in the meat!  I would go for a tasty fruity sour ale, or a killer hoppy IPA, but there ain’t nothing wrong with a Euro or American pale lager either.  

Cheers to BBQ!  Meat and beer are really, really tasty! 

pork bbq

A pork shoulder right off the heat — resting for one hour.

Hours of chill time!

Product Review – uKeg 128

ukeg growlerwerks

In 2014 I was really into craft beer, well I guess I should be honest — I am still really into craft beer.  I might just know more now about it than I did five years ago, which means I realize how much more there is to learn!  Anyway, in 2014 I was releasing a new beer painting every day, and so 2014 was the “Year of Beer” for us.  We entered a giveaway on Twitter for a uKeg pressurized growler by a new company called GrowlerWerks in Portland, OR, and actually won!  We were really excited, and I remember telling everybody about it.  Well, the uKeg didn’t show up in 2014.  In 2015 we contacted GrowlerWerks inquiring about the contest, but apparently the company was struggling with production delays, so it didn’t arrive in 2015.  A few months ago I started seeing these things all over the place: the local home-brew shop (Arctic Brewing Supply), Zymurgy Magazine, and at the homebrew club meetings as well.  So we decided to ask whatever happened to our uKeg one more time.  Well, we received a very nice and apologetic reply from GrowlerWerks, and a few days later, the uKeg, along with a bonus insulated steel pint cup arrived!!!  Better late than never.

A uKeg is a fancy insulated stainless steel growler with a cap that houses a CO2 cartridge.  It has a pressure gauge, a sight glass, and a mini-tap allowing beer to be poured without the beer oxidizing.  I have had a draft system in our house since 2006, and I’ve enjoyed home brewing for quite a bit longer than that.  A 5 gallon keg can be a bit much (the 2014 me would be shocked to hear me say that), and I’ve lately been making 1 gallon batches — part of my house yeast and coolship project.  I brewed two one-gallon batches this week and now I can use the uKeg to dispense my homebrew.  I wanted to test the system so I made a trip to my favorite beer store here in Anchorage, Alaska — La Bodega. It has many draft beers available for sale, and when I asked if I could fill the 128oz uKeg they said, “Of course!”  

I had it filled with an exclusive IPA brewed by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. for a restaurant called The Potato, located in McCarthy and also Valdez.  The beer is called Hop Potato IPA, brewed with (no, not potatoes) Idaho 7 hops.  This is a one batch beer at this time, so you can only get it at The Potato restaurants in Valdez, or McCarthy, but there is also only one keg at La Bodega because the owner is friends with owners of The Potato.  I enjoyed this beer greatly two weeks ago at the release party in McCarthy, so naturally I filled the uKeg with this IPA.  So my house might be the only place in Anchorage to get a draft pint of Hop Potato from a CO2-charged dispensing growler keg, thanks to my uKeg!

Using the system is pretty easy.  I first cleaned and sanitized the uKeg with just an iodine rinse and a second rinse with plain water.  Then the fill at the growler bar.  Put the cap together with the CO2 cartridge, adjust the pressure and pour away!  There is a cute little button to lock the tap closed so it won’t pour out while in transit.  The gooseneck on the faucet swivels in order to fit better in a backpack. The people at GrowlerWerks really designed this product well!  It holds two growlers, so expect to pay double, but you won’t have to feel obligated to finish the beer in one session, since it will stay fresh in the uKeg. 

Cheers to GrowlerWerks for inventing the uKeg and bringing draft beers to the nano scale!  

ukeg growlerwerks

Would You Drink Whatever Lives in the Air in Anchorage?

Have you ever wondered how a spontaneously-fermented beer is produced?  Well, they don’t just put the wort (unfermented beer) into a regular fermenter and wait for something to happen.  It’s a bit more complicated than that.  There are biological critters in the air — bacteria and yeast.  These microbes are safe to humans and necessary to life as we know it.  I have been studying beer extensively for over a decade now and part of that study has been brewing beer at home.  I wouldn’t call myself a zymologist, as I tend to leave the scientific method out of my practices.  I’m more of a beer artist when it comes to the brews I make at home, focusing more on the process and outcome than knowing exactly which variables cause the results.  I like to think about monks brewing in a monastery — it’s not like they had microscopes and pH strips hundreds of years ago.  An interesting piece of hardware that the brewers of old did have is a Koelschip, or Coolship, which sounds a lot more high-tech than it actually is.  A Coolship is simply a flat open fermenter that resembles an enormous baking pan, or a small swimming pool.  The hot wort is pumped into this open fermentation vessel and allowed to cool overnight and naturally become inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria that live in the air.  It is then subsequently pumped into barrels, or a secondary fermentation vessel.  

I decided this would be fun to try at home on a very small scale — about 2 bottles.  What did I use for my Coolship?  Well, a baking pan, of course.  I have done this several times now with mixed results.  I make a small batch of wort with dry malt extract (DME), and add a hop pellet or two (I like to use Citra, one of my favorite hop varieties).  Then I set the Coolship next to an open window in my condo in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.  Spring and Fall seem to be better times of year for this when I have heard there is more yeast in the air, and the air temperature is neither too hot, nor too cold for the wort to start spontaneously fermenting.  I left the Coolship out for 4 nights and then poured the contents into a growler and capped it with an airlock (no need to make vinegar here, I was trying to make beer).  The results have been… very interesting. I definitely made a wild beer.  The original two bottles were nearly unpalatable (I heard it described as prison beer), but when I made a second generation of the stuff, it started to become a lot more palatable, and arguably delicious!  I think the yeast in my Coolship was strained and just needed to become a little more domesticated (and I also added more hops).  

Pouring the beer from the “Coolship” into my tiny fermenter.

Looks good enough to drink.

There is a fun relationship between hops and yeast.  The hops themselves don’t make the yeast start tasting good, it’s the collaborative efforts of the yeast working alongside the hops that make beer tasty.  Hops provide nutrition for the yeast.  So, I invite you to try this yourself, if you are getting bored of your current beer making procedures.  See what kind of flavors live in your part of the ‘hood.  I suggest you start your own yeast ranch.  All you need is a baking pan!  Cheers!