My latest brew, a citrus summer ale, is done. It’s good. Great, in fact, which has me a little worried.
At this point, I’ve finished four home-brews, and each batch has turned out better than the previous. I’m not used to this many consecutive successes in any hobby I’ve undertaken. Every time I take up a new venture, whether it be music, cooking or technology related, something goes terribly awry and leaves me wondering why I tried it in the first place.
That hasn’t happened (yet) in brewing, and I’m enjoying my four-for-four streak while I can.
Brew No. 4 is easy to enjoy. It’s the definition of a summer ale — light, crisp and refreshing. This amber beer is the clearest I’ve brewed so far, with less murkiness than I saw in my raspberry-pomegranate effort.
Into a glass, the pour builds a nice white head on the beer, which clings to the glass for all its worth with every sip, leaving “levels” of foam behind that are a satisfying reminder of each swig.
The flavor is amazing. The statement I’m about to make might make me sound like a mother who thinks their child’s very-average term paper is the greatest literary work of the century, but here it is: This is the best summer ale I’ve ever had. There, I said it.
My assertion may be egotistical, crazy and ridiculous — but I intend to keep drinking this perfect product of imperfect labor.
When I first take a sip, the light, zesty aroma of orange, lemon and just a hint of lime hit my nostrils; then comes the crispness and light citrusy character of the Sorachi Ace hops. When I tried the first bottle, I was shocked that, despite only adding shavings and juice from a lemon, lime and two oranges, distinct hints of flavor and aroma from all three fruits were easily picked up.
It’s stunning that such a small addition to 5 gallons of liquid can make such a strong showing.
The cooking and fermentation processes were key in giving this light beer so much character and flavor. Dumping the citrus shavings and juice into the boiling brew allowed them to pasteurize and started to draw out the flavor.
Fermentation finished that work. I let primary fermentation last for 14 days in the first bucket because I kept forgetting to do the transfer to the second bucket. This turned out to be a happy mistake because when I finally got around to the transfer, an unusually thick layer of sediment — more than an inch deep — remained at the bottom of the first bucket.
It took me a few moments to realize that this sediment wasn’t just made up of the dead yeast cells that had settled to the bottom after finishing their work, but also the peel shavings and pulp from the citrus fruits. They had been completely sapped of any color, odor or texture. The beautiful, bright shavings had been reduced to an unrecognizable, colorless, gluelike substance totally devoid of any of its former goodness — sacrificed for the greater betterment of my beer.
The fruits’ loss was not in vain. All that color, aroma and flavor — everything that was once positive about these fruits — was absorbed into this 5-gallon batch of some of the best beer I’ve ever tasted.
In any other season, I might not be as partial to this brew. But on a hot summer day with the sun beating down, a good citrus beer is more refreshing than lemonade ever could hope to be. And even fans of stronger beers appreciated the hoppy bitterness that sneaks its way through the lemonade-like flavors.
Now, how much gusto does this brew carry? Time for more beer math (the only kind of math I enjoy anymore). Remember our equation?
Percent of alcohol by volume (ABV) equals 1.05 times (starting gravity minus final gravity) divided by final gravity, all divided by 0.79 times 100.
ABV = (1.05 x (1.043 – 1.009) / 1.009) / 0.79 x 100.
That comes in at around 4.5 percent ABV, about the same as the raspberry-pomegranate beer I brewed last time — though each of my low-alcohol-content brews has had more of a kick than the numbers would suggest. My 4-percent home-brews seem to have a much stronger effect than the mass-produced beers that claim to have a 4-percent-plus ABV. I plan on looking into this phenomenon in a future column. It could just be attributed to my dilapidated math skills or shoddy hydrometer readings.
All in all, I think this brew is my proudest work, so far. I’m sure I’ll probably say that about every beer I make, but this is the only one that friends and family have unanimously loved. Sadly, the 48 bottles I got out of this batch will not last long — demand is simply too high.
I’ll enjoy this beer and this summer weather while they last.
In the meantime, I’m trying to determine what my next brew will be. I’m looking for suggestions from readers.
Bring it on. Brew on.
Nick McCrea is a Bangor Daily News city reporter. This occasional column chronicles his first endeavor at beer brewing. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or look up The Hopeful Hopster on Facebook.