Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Apartment Lab, or Adventures in Fermentation

In Jack London’s great novel The Sea Wolf, the cynical captain Wolf Larsen says, “I believe that life is a mess…it is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves…but that in the end will cease to move.” Wolf Larsen was a cheery fellow. But for all his certainty that yeast is something pointless to be dismissed, it really has an element of magic in it, don’t you think?

I don’t have much experience using yeast, other than a relatively successful baguette a few years ago. But now there’s a creature in my closet, a madly frothing and fermenting creature. Two weeks ago, I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather and decided to try my hand at homebrewing. Clearly, I steered away from the example of Captain Wolf Larsen, and towards the example of Captain Haddock.

The Beast in its Igloo cooler.
Living as we do in a relatively small New York apartment (though gargantuan compared to our last place), and suffering as I occasionally do from maladies of the oh-my-aching-back variety, I took up the good people at Brooklyn Brew Shop on their little one gallon kit. That's it in the picture above, inside an igloo cooler, chilling in its water bath.
It turns out that a one-gallon batch is just small enough to make every single homebrewer on the internet chortle from beneath a towering stack of empties as they write out checks for their latest back surgery. The end result of a single gallon is about eight to ten beers. That sounds fine to me, since I imagine I’ll go through a few lackluster batches before getting my system sorted out.

Incidentally, it takes a lot of research to sort that system out. Mrs. Quail has been very patient with my new obsession, especially considering that she’s more of a whiskey gal than a beer gal (alas, home distilling remains illegal.) It also takes a lot of small purchases – I’ve supplemented the Brooklyn Brew Shop kit with a few extras to make my life easier. I’m starting with the India Pale Ale that comes with the kit, but being more a fan of the yeasty and malty than the bitter and hoppy, this will probably be my last IPA. During a taste test at Brooklyn Brew Shop’s mini-class the other night, Mrs. Quail wondered if she was flat-out allergic to hops. They are full of pollen, after all. I’m planning to work more in the Belgian style, which is heavier on the yeast and lighter on the hops flavor, with perhaps some foray into English Barleywine, which is sweet and malty and strong enough to put you under the table faster than Frodo.

I’ll provide updates as results come in on the IPA currently fermenting away in the closet carboy (see the off-Broadway sensation “The Closet Carboy” at NYMF next fall!) If anyone else feels like trying this out, in New York there are supplies at Brooklyn Brew Shop (and all local Whole Foods carry the 1 gallon kit), Brooklyn Homebrew in Gowanus, and the Bowery Beer Room at Whole Foods. For friends in Maine, there’s a place on Forest Avenue in Portland, and for anyone else, there’s the online store of Northern Brewer.

I can probably preemptively state that this first attempt will fall into the “that just don’t taste right” category. But for now, here are ten beers in the Belgian style that do taste right, and which I heartily recommend (though I don't own these images):

Rochefort 8 (Belgium)
La Chouffe (Belgium)
Sofie (Illinois)

Jack D’Or (Massachusetts - the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project website is amazing)
Maredsous 8 (Belgium)
Jenlain Printemps (France)
Allagash Tripel (Maine)
La Trappe Dubbel (Holland)
Orval (Belgium)
Brooklyn Local 1 (New York)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

How did I miss the "Closet Carboy" reference before?
I quite enjoyed your IPA, Travis. And I look forward to your other yeasty endeavors.