Tuesday, April 14, 2009

wild beer at the track

Like, duh, I almost forgot. I still gotta talk about the wild beer(s) that I started with the fruity dregs of the wild winter mead. First mentioning it there, then procrastinating more, without thinking or trying to tease, I mentioned it again as being the "other gallon" during the sourdough blonde post. Sheesh, with only a few bottles left, I better talk fast, so, here goes:

So, picture us transported back in time to the fruity dregs of the mead. I poured a gallon of cooled wort into my carboy containing still actively fermenting fruit and whatever remained of the mead. I added an airlock, gave it some shaking to aerate the whole thing and sat back. By the next day it was a foamy beast, happily breeding millions and millions more of my friends. On day two I siphoned out the liquid component into another fermenting vessel and put the top back on. When I saw no more activity, I bottled it. Then, as you can see here, I gave it a try along with some of my first sauerkraut. The beer was super fruity, but also crisp and dry, with only a hint of sour. I immediately wished I'd brewed far more. Next time. The kraut? Crunchy still, with great flavor, but a tad salty. Needs some washing with fresh water. Enough though, let us get back to the beer, or more importantly, the yeast that makes it happen.

My sourdough starter is at least three years old. Surely, this is domesticated, but, at what point did it become so? For that matter at what point does anything become domesticated? I would still call this post-mead, fruity tasting beer wild, but what about after I culture the yeast from it and add it to another batch? Because I did just that. Then I brewed a much bigger beer in every sense. More hops, more malt, darker color, bigger batch, just to push the limits and see what this yeast could do. I figured that if it could ferment a 10% alcohol mead, then it could do a "big beer" (9%). I'm this yeast's biggest fan and cheerleader, we just scored big AND we were playing at home, again, so, what the hell, huh?

The "big" beer started fermenting like a champ. There was vigorous convection in the carboy and things were proceeding along better than expected. When it gave the first signs of slowing down I took a gravity reading to figure out how close to done we were. It smelled dee-lish, but, the reading only came up half-way there. Crap. I covered up the carboy and left the room to go scratch my head somewhere else. It hurt with the beginnings of thinking that I might have introduce another yeast if I couldn't revive this one. The wild yeast cheerleader in me felt ashamed. I consulted my brew buddy and he recommended I go get a cold one from the fridge before I think about it anymore. Solid brewing advice from someone I can always count on.

After a few days of wondering what the hell happened, I broke down and went to the home brew shop. I got enough ingredients for a gallon and a half batch, and with sunken shoulders bought a "professional" yeast to do the job. I figured I could get this beer going and then add my half done beer to it. The beers were similar enough that the overall blend would be alright. But wouldn't you know, the half-done beer had a mind of it's own. As I was boiling up my new batch, I noticed a few bubbles that weren't in it a few hours ago. Huh? New activity? I finished brewing batch 2, pitched my yeast, and checked on the naughty little yeast in batch 1 again. Yep, a little jet lagged perhaps, but certainly back on the job after a week of time off.

Weird things happen, and sometimes you just have to accept that despite their seeming oddity to your own familiarity, really are firmly planted within the realm of normal. Like here at racetrack. If rocks blowing across a muddy lake bed are within the bounds of normal, then why can't a yeast wake up when it senses competition? (And talk about weird, click on the picture and notice how the track in the foreground aims toward the rock in the distance and seems to have made a correction to avoid a collision!)

Anyway, to finish the story, the yeast pulled it's shit together and finished the job, all on it's own accord and sense of time. Then I stepped in and dry hopped the hell out of the two gallons or so, managing to bottle it in time to enjoy hauling out to one of my favoristist places, here at the track. In perfect conditions, with the last light casting long shadows across the playa, bringing out the finest of textures (despite the poor photography and severe lack of mega-pixels), we chose a table to enjoy the brew.

Wow! Big and red, a touch sweet and yet totally hoptastic, this beer is crazy! After a long day of hiking in single digit humidity conditions, it was more than enough to warm the tummy and get the brain contemplating the bigger questions in life:
What am I here for?
How do the rocks really blow across the mud?
How does a single cell organism, sense competition and alter its behavior?

Who knows. But I'll think of this view whenever I think of this brew.


K and S said...

the beer sounds delicious and way to go on making your own kraut, I was perusing some recipes on the net recently on making my own and didn't realize how easy it would be to make some!

Anonymous said...

Hey there--it's Elisabeth from Backpacker magazine. I can't for the life of me find your email address, and I'd love to talk to you for another foodie story. Can you shoot me an email at ekwak@backpacker.com? Thanks! Looking forward to talking to you again.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Do it! And if you are any bit afraid of how long it takes to ferment sauerkraut, then start with kim chee. The types of cabbage used usually only take days to ferment, not weeks......

Anon: Nice chatting!