Aug 292008

Fermentation Friday was started by Adam over at Beer Bits 2, and it’s a chance for all homebrew bloggers to sound off on a singular theme at a set date – the last Friday of each month (check out Adam’s post explaining the origins).

This month Fermentation Friday is being hosted by Bunz at The Panhandle Beer Snob and Redneck Brewery, and he has asked us to answer the following question: What, in the opinion of others, is the best beer you have ever made and why?

Thanks to Bunz for hosting, and make sure to check out his roundup post to see everyone’s responses!

This is an interesting question for me, because there are not a lot of people out there who have sampled my beers. None of my friends are huge beer drinkers, and those that have tried my brews did so very early in my brewing career – I fear I may have scared them off. So, the only consistent audience I have had is my girlfriend and her parents.

Girls like beer

My girlfriend likes my beer!

I’ve come a long way from those first brews, and every brewday finds me tweaking the process just a little bit more, shooting for that perfect batch. I’ve absorbed a huge amount of knowledge from books, online forums, and my (get ready for some crazy alliteration) beer and brewing blogger bretheren (whew!), which has helped me hone my skills. As I have developed as a brewer, the beers have gotten much better. Because of this progression, an easy answer to the question is: Whatever beer I brewed last was the best, according to girlfriend et al.

Now, I think my skills are starting to plateau. My equipment is pretty much where I want it, and I’ve gotten much better at dialing in my system and hitting my numbers. I have the procedures down, and am much more comfortable with all aspects of the brewing process. This means my beers are reaching a consistent level of quality. In other words, I’ve got all the big stuff down – now it’s time to start working on refining the small details of brewing and try to reach the next level.

How does all this relate to the question at hand? Well, if I had to pick the one beer that had the best reception, both in my own opinion and the opinion of others, it would have to be the beer I recently made where everything “clicked” and turned out exactly as I had planned. That beer was my Sunset Wheat Clone recipe that I brewed back in June of this year.

This beer turned out wonderfully – the finished product had all the great characteristics of a refreshing summer wheat. The mouthfeel was smooth with a touch of wheat creaminess (which I attribute to the protein rest I did during the mash). The flavor held a slight hint of lactic sourness, but it was balanced perfectly by the light hop bitterness and hint of boysenberry sweetness. The alcohol content was low enough to enjoy a few in the summer heat, but high enough to not taste like a light beer. The Kölsch yeast I used provided a nice, clean, crisp flavor.

The summer wheat got rave reviews from all who tasted it, and I have already been forced to promise several repeats. While I am proud of the brewing execution and how all my planning and hard work paid off, the style itself probably had a lot to do with the good reviews. The beer was the perfect bridge brew, light enough to be inviting to non-beer drinkers, but with enough complexity to appeal to us beer snobs as well.

It thrills me that I feel in control of my brewing now, and that other people can enjoy the results. Hopefully, their favorite of my beers will be whichever one is in their glass at the moment!

Jun 272008

Every Spring, BYO magazine runs a homebrew label contest, and every year I forget to enter. They just announced the 2008 winners, and I once again kicked myself for missing the deadline. Then I remembered – hey, I have a blog now, and can share my labels with you, my faithful readers. I’m no graphic artist, but I do enjoy messing around with the fine arts – so, without further ado, here are a few labels I’ve made for my homebrew over the years (click any of the labels for a larger picture).

First, my flagship brew, Engine 97 Steam Beer. This beer got its name from an old steam engine running out of Essex, CT. We visited the train once and I took a cool picture of engine #97. It seemed a natural fit for a steam beer, so I put the photo to a Van Gogh backdrop and came up with this:

Engine 97 Steam Beer label

Engine 97 Steam Beer label

Another “production” label I made was for a batch of Joe’s Ancient Orange mead I made for a mother’s day present for a few moms in my life. The label was designed for a 375 mL dessert wine bottle, so it is in portrait orientation instead of the standard landscape. This was done very quickly, so it’s not very sophisticated, but I like to think it captures the fun and simple essence of the mead. Either way, the moms seemed to like it!

Mother\'s Day Mead label

Mother's Day Mead label

Now we get into the labels-in-progress. That’s right, folks, as a special present for frequenting my blog I’m giving you the behind-the-scenes tour of the art studio!

This one was created for my Client #9 Apricot Pale Ale. This beer was brewed as the Eliot Spitzer scandal broke, and I decided to pay homage to my ex-governor by naming the beer after him. I never finished it, since I haven’t bottled any of this recipe yet – I switched to kegging around the same time. I also don’t really like the fonts or the text, but it is ready to be finished as soon as I brew another batch.

Client #9 label draft

Client #9 label draft

Finally, here is something I came up with last year, when I had the idea to brew a boysenberry wheat beer but never got around to it. This beer became reality in a roundabout way when I brewed my Sunset Wheat clone recently and decided to sub in my boysenberry flavoring instead of blueberry like Leinenkugle’s uses. If you haven’t already, check out the June WoT post and drop a comment suggesting a name for this beer. Once I get that nailed down, I’ll put the finishing touches on this label.

Boysenberry Wheat label draft

Boysenberry Wheat label draft

You may have noticed the nautical flags in each label. My brewery is called Harbor Beer Company, and the nautical flags spell out HarborBeerCo. I’m still working on a logo for a bottlecap or neck wrap, probably something with a lighthouse or boat motif.

Well, that’s it! Let me know what you guys think, and if you have any labels of your own to submit, send them in! If we get enough, maybe we’ll do our own label contest!