This is my first contribution to the Session, a monthly collaboration of beer bloggers writing on a chosen beer-related topic. This month The Beer Wench has chosen “Frankenstein Beers” as the topic du jour. Links to all of the blog posts can be found in the comments section of the Beer Wench’s Frankestein Beer column. Read more about Beer Blogging Friday (a.k.a. “The Session”–I know, I’m a few days late!) over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.
Southern Illinois is a bit of a black hole when it comes to good food and drink. (Although much has changed in the last year and a half, due to the persistent efforts of one Shawn Connelly, a.k.a. The Beer Philosopher, and the effects of Kindling Spirits, Food, and Florals, and its extensive craft beer selection in Carterville.) There’s no great bar, no great brewery (although Big Muddy is making inroads), no great restaurant (although Tom’s Place and Yellow Moon might just be close, and Melange is right behind) and no great home brew store (although Windy Hill recently announced that soon they may start). The closest truly great place for home brewers is St. Louis Wine and Beermaking in, well, St. Louis. Our local place, Old Town Liquors, is great in a pinch, but you’ll never be able to find the extensive array of yeasts, grains, hops, or equipment that someone serious about their craft needs to make good beer.
Recently I started brewing with a good friend of mine, Ryan Tockstein, a home brewer who recently moved to the area from a little further upstate. Ryan teaches chemistry and was a member of a home brew club in Edwardsville when he was a student there. He is serious about beer. Several weeks ago we were itching to brew but hadn’t planned early enough to order our ingredients from Northern Brewer in order to get them in time for the Labor Day holiday, so, we decided to support our local home brew store, and make a Frankenstein beer with whatever ingredients we could cobble together at Old Town Liquors.
The plan was to make an IPA. When we got there it became obvious that instead of doing an all grain batch, we’d have to do at least a partial mash since none of the grains were crushed (and neither of us had a grain mill), and the cost of the grains was about twice what it normally was. In order to do a 10-gallon batch (hey, we both needed enough beer to make it worth our efforts!), we had to buy roughly 12 lbs of uncrushed grain and 10 lbs of liquid malt extract. Of course, there were only 4 lbs of any one grain, so we ended up freakishly patching together 4 lbs of Pale Malt, 4 lbs of 2-row barley, 2 lbs of Pilsner malt, 1 lb of rye, and 1 lb of roasted barley. That would be combined with 6.6 lbs of extra light malt extract and 3.3 lbs of light malt extract.
Old Town is the kind of store you have to dodge soon-to-be drunks in the parking lot, and climb over already-past-drunks in front of the door to enter. Bud Light is likely the biggest seller, and the surprise of discovering home brewing ingredients is worn off by the skeptical speculation about their age and where they may have been before arriving on the shelf. Old Town is also like the castle in Emerald City for home brewers in the area, however, because it’s the only place where you can get ingredients, and there are ingredients hidden around every corner. Just ask at the front counter, for example, and you’ll be led to a back room where a wall–glowing green, I swear!–of fresh hops (well, fresh except for those two bags with big holes in them) stare at you in vacuum-sealed packages. Who knew hops were even available in southern Illinois (although Windy Hill just started selling their own–if only we’d had those a month ago!)? Well, to make our Old Town monster we loaded up on 1 oz Norther Brewer, 1 oz Columbus, 1 oz Fuggles, 1 oz Saaz, and 2 oz of Willamette (I said this was a Frankenstein beer, didn’t I?). In general we were going with somewhat earthier hops to complement the darker, earthier beer we were about to create with the rye and the roasted barley.
For yeast we used a couple packets that I still had at home: one safale yeast and one Nottingham.
The morning was an exercise–literally–in crushing grains by hand. We went back in time to an era without grain mills and with two rolling pins and a couple of gallon Ziplock bags (surely the monks were using those in the middle ages). We crushed 12, count them 12, bags of grains by hand. Exhausted, we mashed them in at about 160 degrees, and then sparged to our 10 gallons of water. That was already at the 4-hour mark and I had an appointment, so Ryan finished the batch without me. He added the malt extract and racked to two 5-gallon carboys.
In the morning he woke up to this horrifying scene
The evidence: One airlock, three feet from carboy; yeast splatter marks on the wall; giant yeasty foam emerging from neck.
One carboy overflowing with beer. I guess that 1-year old Safale yeast still had some kick.
We let it sit for about a week and then dry hopped with the hops that were left: 25% Columbus and 75% Northern Brewer in one carboy and 75% Columbus and 25% Northern Brewer (for a total of 1 oz in each carboy), in the other. The majority Northern Brewer only sat in the secondary for a week before we bottled. The other sat for two weeks and was bottled last weekend.
But that means that I got to try this monstrous concoction and can report on the results…
It’s strange, I’m not going to lie. We were worried that it would be too light when we bottled. The aroma is fantastic, but it felt a bit thin for all those hops, and for the style. However, after sitting in the bottle for a week, and now for two weeks, it’s really built up some body. There’s a great roasty rye flavor that’s well balanced with the other malts, but the hops are almost a bit too grapefruity. So you get this deep charred flavor, which, if that were the only thing distinguishing this IPA might be interesting in itself, and then you get this great aroma from the hops, and good hoppy earthy citrusy flavor, which would also be interesting if it were the only distinguishing character of the beer. But together, they’re… well… kind of a Frankenstein of a beer. A bit patched together, but hey, he had his good parts, too, right? I mean, my God, he was ALIVE afterall! That’s got to count for something. I’ve got a special place in my heart for him… I think he’ll age to become the kind of monster who, let’s face it, isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but you’re okay with bringing to parties.