This is an episode of the Living Proof Brew Cast.
Another unusual set of recording circumstances, we recording in the New America studio space so we could fit in this week’s show around a particularly crazy schedule on John’s part. The focus of the show was equal parts old and new, doing our first vertical tasting of one of our homebrews and a 2-for-2 since each of the bottles of my oatmeal stout, the Sun-dial in the Shade, were 22 ounce bombers.
Thankfully, the first bottle, from the very tail end of 2010, was still more than adequately carbonated. We both noticed how much hotter the older beer was, being 7.7% ABV versus the batch after it, at 5.5%. That particular difference is a strong endorsement for using a refractometer as it would have helped us catch and prevent over diluting the batch from January of this year.
John compared the 2010 Sun-dial to a Port City Porter he enjoyed recently. I was grateful for the comparison considering how nervous I was making this stout. It was the first beer I brewed after putting my brewing kit back together, getting much more into beer than the months before this beer where I was just assisting John in brewing in his kitchen. I shared some of my thoughts on why a stout as a first beer, resonating with Andy Sparks recent suggestion on Basic Brewing Radio that every brewer should have a stout recipe to go to.
John’s first beer brewed was a brown ale, one of the recipes he considers a go to recipe. He expanded on the idea, really en joying the notion of having a set of recipes in hand that a brewer knows well and can make again and again. For me, this was the first of three beers that chart out a stronger push into designing my own beers. Even though this beer started as a clone, as did my dubbel, I have happily been evolving them on my own.
John offered that clone recipes are a good place to start, that imitation can be instructive without getting in the way of making something uniquely our own. I thought that this evoked a strong parallel in other pursuits of craft, such as painting. Our good friend, Bret the brewmaster at Growlers, has shared a thought from the other side of cloning beers that is encouraging. He freely shares his recipes because he very well understands that any given brewer can start with the same instructions and ingredients but end up with a very distinct end product. This suggested another parallel to me, of my wife’s cooking. Andrea may start with a recipe from whatever source but if it is something she enjoys making, she rapidly moves beyond referring to the recipe, opening up to experimentation and creative play with stock dishes she makes week after week.
John was curious about my sort of studied approach to some aspects of brewing, whether it is of a piece with my interest in programming. I explained that I think it has less to do with technology and more to do with the investment in practice required to improve at any demanding craft or pursuit. I related it to my study of Tai Chi and also to our protest beer from last Summer. I also suggested that a certain amount of competence in a given recipe supports a different sort and level of play in its making.
John described a model of how creative mess and considered contemplation, a sort of notional cleaning up of the mess, form a fruitful interplay. He felt you need to indulge both chaos and stepping back to edit and polish, relating it to the art of writing. I strongly agreed, digging more into the advantages of these two complementary aspects of creative work. Further I explained how ignoring the technical fundamentals can lead to frustration. Building a certain body of core technique helps cement and support progress and exploration on the purely creative side.
John brought us back to the beer, asking for impressions on it after it has warmed. We both agreed that it had a certain astringency, a tang, that was not unpleasant but perhaps a little surprising for the style. It certainly held its carbonation very well, one of the things I was most concerned with when making this first batch. I filled in some of the history around that anxiety and the improvements on my approach to charging I’ve made since. John contrasted that to his technique for charging, that we both now use the approach we each used on our very first beers. He dug into how the different sugars may also play a role in the resulting head formation and retention.
We next opened the 2012 version of the Sun-dial oatmeal stout. I explained some of the differences in the making of this beer, intentional and unintentional. For starters, we used far more grain in the making of this beer. The grain bill was supposed to have the same proportions of specialty malts but I was distracted and ended up adding up to four times the amount of dark malts. Despite that difference, I was surprised at how close this batch was in flavor to the previous year’s version.
John felt that the bigger roast notes and the more vigorous carbonation helped make up for the lower amount of alcohol in this batch. Even though the head subsided relatively quickly in John’s glass, we could see it was still fizzing pretty vigorously. I was more interested in how the differences evolved in the warmed, opened up beers as well as in how they both follow their own trajectories in the aging.
Speaking of aging, we talked about how patience can pay off. John shared again one of his favorite stories about how beer and mead makers differ in this respect. My own store of patience made this vertical tasting possible. John leaned a little more on the other end, that beer can be enjoyed relatively quickly. I thought it actually offers a good balance, that you can enjoy beer soon and you can set some aside to age and enjoy as it mellows. John said that he increasingly is thinking of making larger batches, which would help serve both aspects as well as offsetting the squeeze on our time these days to brew. I agreed that this is worth considering, especially considering how generously we share our beers.
I speculated on some further tweaks I might like to try with the next batch of this beer. I thought I might like to get a bit more sweetness, maybe using a short multi-rest, reverse mash but not to the same extent as that we used on our more recent brews, the porter and the dubbel. I shared some of my original thinking in selecting this recipe and building up some expectations of what I wanted to get out of this beer. Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout is one of the clones I also considered. While I am not entirely up to the challenge of an 18% ABV beer, there are still qualities in that beer I want to try to merge into my stout.
John dug a bit more into the challenge of making such a high gravity beer. Specifically they require more careful balancing of the much larger amount of malt involved. I agreed that making such a beer would be a fun design challenge as well as in the making. If we have the time, I think we could have a lot of fun with not just using hops, but all the sorts of elements that help here. We both have been meaning to get a barrel for experimenting with oak aging beer.
We diverted from beer, for a bit, to discuss the studio in which we recorded this episode. John shared his very earliest roots in multimedia. I waxed rhapsodic about how John’s hard work brings so much value to all of the work that goes on at New America. John agreed, expanding on the opportunities for digging into the news of the day with so many great voices, as exemplified by the new podcast, The Sidebar, that John has such a strong hand in. Just earlier in the day when we recorded, John was working with Rebecca MacKinnon, a colleague of mine who wrote “Consent of the Networked” and has done and continues to do such amazing, in-depth work. All of this was really a first hand way of explaining why both John and I have been so crushed for time, lately, for brewing and beer questing.
John offered another invitation to come and find us at Balticon where we’ll be on many panels and have a gathering where we’ll be sharing beers and more stories, including the very beer we tasted on this episode.
You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.
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