July 28, 2011

Notes on a Brewday: Eye of the Sun Winter Ale

I'd like to toast homebrewers in the southern United States. I have too much skin to haul full liquor kettles across my backyard or stand over a 200,000+ BTU propane stove when the summer swelter gets angry. My desire to brew suffers under an oppressive 86 degree dewpoint & 116 degree heat index. Such afternoons signal it's too late to brew any lawnmower beer that isn't already sweating in hand; it's time to get a winter ale brewing.

The recipe I chose to be kissed by summer's cattle-prod lips was NB's Spiced Winter Ale, a malty-drinking holiday beer sharing English & Scottish heritage. The omnipresent radiant stare of the midday sun on this day left me lethargically anxious for a trademark Minnesota early freeze. I'd like this batch to be ready for frostbitten lips well before the end of December, when I'm used to festive spices in my glass.

I set up under the shady cover of my garage, having stuffed grain, hoses, nutrients, clarifiers, stirring & measuring equipment into my mash cooler to reduce the number of trips to the house across the griddle-hot backyard sidewalk. Having been under the eye of the sun a mere two minutes, the heat haggard kicked in as I lugged my strike water kettle with squinting tunnel vision towards the garage. Blacktop might have done just as well as the Banjo Burner that day.

A sweet steaming mash drew desperate flies to the scene, though they couldn't keep me company for the 60 minute starch conversion. I flipped on the radio & sipped an inappropriate but oddly refreshing American rye ale. A serene brewday can usually cast away lingering worldly troubles, but on a day when Scandinavian-sounding northern MN towns are hotter than northern Africa, I was left to stare stoic at the boiling kettle & to attempt to remember the faraway concept of "snow day." At wort chilling time, my immersion chiller paid for itself, letting me view its efforts from my A/C-laden kitchen. How I wanted my stomach to be the vessel the chilly wort would occupy.

I believe that a good heat-sweat dripping into the boil kettle adds karmic volume. When the ambient temperature is more than enough insulation for a mash tun, it's a sign that it's time to turn the malaise of summer's climate into a malty drink for the shorter days that will someday break through. If you've got a fridge with a temperature control or a reliable basement, make a deliriously hot day the event to brew your dark-of-winter ale.

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