Thursday, May 3, 2007

One for the brew-it-yourself crowd

This may be the beer version of harmonic convergence …

Come Saturday, thousands of homebrewers -- propane burners, grain sacks and array of gadgets in tow -- will gather at hundreds of sites worldwide to strike mashes and boil hopped worts together in metal kegs repurposed to create beer instead of dispense it.

Then the brewers will raise their glasses to toast the freedom and triumph of because you can

Welcome to the Big Brew, the spirit and face of National Homebrew Day, a first-Saturday-in-May tradition that collectively demonstrates that from the comforts or confines of your kitchen, garage or backyard you can craft a lager, stout or IPA that’s as tasty as anything Sierra Nevada Brewing makes in Chico, California.

This year is the 10th for the Big Brew celebration; 3,000 homebrewers, whether individually or in beer clubs, are forecast to participate throughout the day and join in a simultaneous toast at 1 p.m. EST.

Some brewers will concoct beers from their own recipes. Others will embrace the unity fostered by the American Homebrewers Association and mash in from the three recipes annually provided by the AHA. (This year’s styles: an IPA, a Belgian strong ale and a doppelbock. For more about the recipes, click here.)

For the uninitiated, the Colorado-based AHA is the umbrella group that champions the hobby that’s been legal in the U.S. since Jimmy Carter tried to outrun the public antics of his brother Billy. (But to be sure, homebrewing goes back much, much further. Pick a historical figure, a person from antiquity even, and you probably have a homebrewer, or homebrew drinker, at least.)

The AHA tracks Big Brew participation and the amount of beer made by urging brewers to register their sites and report the outcome of their efforts. Last year, more than 7,000 gallons were brewed by more than 2,500 participants at 229 sites worldwide, the AHA says.

Here in New Jersey, members of the homebrew club PALE ALES -- that’s a long acronym for lager and ale enthusiasts from the greater Princeton area -- plan to strike six or seven communal mashes (to produce 10 to 15 gallons each) amid the scenic environs of Suydam Farm in Somerset County. The farm is known for dabbling in Jersey-grown hops and has hosted PALE ALES’ Big Brew and accompanying cookout for a few years now.

Among brews planned by the club, says member Andrew Koontz, is one they’re calling Mondo Roja, a lager (or ale, depending on whatever yeast type folks ultimately elect to use) in the mold of Mexican beer Negra Modelo. The choice is a nod to the fact that Homebrew Day falls on Cinco de Mayo this year.

To that end, the PALE ALES gang will also sip on some margaritas and plans to whip up some mint juleps, since the Kentucky Derby -- the more renown first-Saturday-in-May event -- also takes place on Homebrew Day.

Farther south, in Gloucester County, you’ll find the back lot of homebrew supply shop Beercrafters a beehive of brewing activity.

Look for a monster mash of 200 pounds of pale malt to be struck about 8 a.m. From that will come 90 gallons of wort to be divvied up among brewers, who’ll customize it with specialty grains they’ve steeped separately. Yeast donated by Flying Fish, Iron Hill and Triumph Brewing will await the boiled-then-chilled worts to eventually transform it into the guest of honor, beer.

Big Brew has drawn as many as 500 homebrewers to Beercrafters, but folks there say the turnout is always hard to predict.

If you want to come, you’re welcome, but please remember it’s a demonstration not a festival. So bring an interest in brewing, not merely a thirst.

Save that for the toast to because you can.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Kilobrew update

Long Valley Pub and Brewery has put the word out: Batch 1,000 Brewmaster's Reserve makes its drinking debut in just 10 days.

Recap: This is the imperial stout the Morris County brewpub created to mark the kilobatch milestone (and had forecast putting on tap last month; but hey, you can't rush a good thing).

To that endeavor, Long Valley brewmaster Joe Saia really dressed this beer up before portioning three barrels into cold conditioning in steel tanks and another four into bourbon barrels for some white oak styling. And with the special handling comes a staggered, one-barrel-at-a-time release of the brew.

Quoth the pub about their 9% ABV raven beauty: "Batch 1000 is an Imperial Stout whose stark, jet black body is topped with a deep toffee colored layer of foam. Its robust flavor is made up of dark chocolate, dark fruits, and blackstrap molasses. The malty sweetness of this stout is balanced by an abundance of caramel, chocolate, and roasted barley that lend themselves to a lengthy burnt, bittersweet finish. "

Come the evening of Friday, May 11th, Joe will ceremoniously make the first pour of Batch 1,000. When this barrel is gone, you'll have to wait awhile for the next release.

The beer, after all, is named Brewmaster's Reserve.