December 18, 2007
The government believes you should use ethanol as a fuel. They have enacted policies to incentivize ethanol production. Those policies, as I pointed out here, have unintended consequences:
But let’s look at what’s happened. First, we started hurting poor Mexicans by threatening their access to affordable corn tortillas, a staple of the diet for the impoverished in that country. Then, it was found that the high cost of feed corn for animals will end up resulting in high costs and lower supply of meat. And now, it’s spreading to milk. You know, full of calcium, the stuff we tell children will give them strong bones? Great work, Congress!
And now it’s hit me square in the gut, in my beer supply:
I’ll explain what’s happened to the price of Malt and Hops and why, what can be done about it, and why you are going to see prices jump likely between 15 and 25% on the retail end for Craft brews in a matter of weeks.
In late September I was told by another brewery that malt was going up about 40% and hops 30 to 40%. I started calling suppliers and they confirmed this was true, and also that they have no prices locked in yet. Additionally, I was informed that many farmers are not honoring their contracts to the fullest extent (don’t blame the farmers please) due to the crazy price situation that’s evolving in crop farming, with corn being twice the price it was last year.
What does corn have to do with it? Our supplier tells us that with Uncle Sam’s push and financial support for ethanol the price of corn has doubled and many farmers grew corn instead of barley this year. In the UK, where the EU has also required ethanol production, rape seed is the crop of choice and again, a lot more profitable than growing barley and wheat. Couple this with bad weather and growing conditions this year and in Europe and you have a crisis in barley supply. We were told this was coming in early summer, but we assumed our malt company might have meant a 10 to 15% increase in price, not this. When we finally got nailed down pricing last week, one malt price was up 45% and the other up 56%.
As a homebrewer, I just felt this pinch. I knew it was coming eventually, but wasn’t sure how soon or how drastic it would be. I needed to buy some malt for this weekend’s brew session, and went to my usual supplier, who usually has the best prices on just about everything. I was shocked to see that malt prices had jumped 30-50% (depending on variety) since my last order in November.
I’ve been further dealing with the effects of a worldwide shortage of hops, as supply has become inconsistent and prices have shot up, but I can at least blame that on the market. There are some very natural supply-and-demand forces that have affected that market over the last decade, and the market will respond to increase supply. And, to be fair, there are weather-related reasons that the barley crop was not as plentiful as past years. But when government steals my tax dollars and uses them to further exacerbate shortages in the things I want to buy, it’s a double-whammy, and it makes me resent them even further. Instead of having natural supply-and-demand, there is entirely unnatural and inefficient government-created demand that is taking away the incentive to supply malt.
The last thing I need is government policies creating additional cause for shortages. It may be rather “unimportant” that I homebrew beer. And after all, as a hobbyist, I’m willing to spend plenty of money on my hobby, as my constant equipment purchases show. But I look at brewing as a potential future career, and watch as struggling breweries are now forced to deal with this shortage and hope that their consumers are willing and able to afford price increases.
For me, this is an annoyance. For some craft brewers, this might be the difference between being able to stay afloat in business and shutting their doors. It may just be beer, but as I pointed out when discussing the milk, tortilla, and meat price increases:
Simply put, look at how the cost of government is affecting your food. In addition to all the farm subsidies, price supports, and all the other nonsense, they decided to make a completely separate mandate regarding ethanol in the energy supply. What happens? Your cost of living goes up, and your standard of living goes down.
They’ve made some lobbyists and farmers very rich with these policies. And being politicians, they’ve been using your money– not theirs– to do it. They take your taxes, use them to create incentives which make what you want to buy more expensive, and then (especially in the example of beer) tax the hell out of the end product anyway.
I realize some of our readers are in favor of government. So please, can you even attempt to justify this? Why should I be paying three different ways for the government to make some farmers very rich?
December 14, 2007
Well, these two beers have been fermenting for a while— too long, in fact. The Belgian Lighthouse Ale was brewed in early August, quite a long time for a 4.5% ABV beer to be sitting around “aging”. The Belgian Witbier was brewed back in early September, which is a bit long for the style, but the bigger issue is that it sat on the yeast for 2 1/2 months, which means it is in danger of a symptom called “autolysis”, where the live yeast begins “eating” the dead yeast, causing off flavors.
Both were bottled two weeks ago. The Lighthouse is still slightly undercarbonated, which I think has to do with the fact that it has sat for such a long time. It should be fully carbonated in another week or two. The Belgian Wit is about at the right level of carbonation.
As for the taste, the Lighthouse is pretty much spot-on for what I intended. It’s a light-colored ale, with a mild-yet-not-boring taste. Hop levels are low, so the bitterness should not be off-putting to most beer drinkers. Where I think it shines is the use of Vienna and Caravienne malts. They give the beer a depth of body, but without really a heavier caramel note, like you’d find in a Bass. The belgian yeast also lends some complexity, but it’s nowhere near as fruity or spicy as heavier belgian ales. I still need to take it to experienced BJCP judges to get an idea if there are any flaws that my novice palate is not detecting, but that is something I’ve got plenty of time to do.
The Belgian Wit is a different animal. At the moment, I don’t taste any technical flaws (although like the Lighthouse, I need to take it to someone more experienced to get a better sense), but I think there is a recipe flaw. The original recipe called for 1 oz of crushed coriander seed, 1 oz of sweet orange peel, and 1 oz of bitter orange peel. On advice from the guys at beeradvocate.com, I dropped the coriander by about 50%. I should have done the same with the orange peel. If anything, I think the orange is a bit too powerful. That being said, it’s still a tasty beer. The only issue I have is the slight overspice of orange, I like everything else. And someone who appreciates a little heavier orange note might find it preferable the way it is.
Next Sunday (Dec 23), we’ll be bottling 5 more gallons of Lighthouse, as well as 10 Gallons of the re-vamped recipe of the IPA I entered into the Sam Adams contest, and 5 gallons of a Rye Pale Ale. All told, that’s another 8 cases of beer to split between three of us. At the same time, we’ll have 10 gallons of Belgian Tripel aging, and brew 10 gallons of an Amber Ale and 5 gallons of a milk stout. That will all be bottled in early or mid-January. So within two months, we’ll have bottled 50 gallons of beer. Good stuff
December 6, 2007
No, he’s not dead, but we had to give him away. Guinness, over the last several years, has showed some aggressiveness to small children that bothered us. He never did anything outright to go after Wyatt, but he typically ignored Wyatt and had growled at him a few times when he couldn’t ignore him. Some people have told us that a dog tends to understand when there’s a new member of “the pack” and will treat them accordingly, but Guinness would bite Joanna and I, so being part of the pack didn’t mean much to him.
So over Thanksgiving, we gave Guinness a trial run with a new family, who are good friends of Joanna’s aunt. And a few days later, we talked to them and they told us “We’re keeping your dog, he fits perfectly in our family!”
For a long time, I’ve felt that our lifestyle isn’t quite right for Guinness. He’s a high-energy dog, who needs attention and the ability to run. In a 2-bedroom, 800 square foot apartment, with a baby taking all of our time, we couldn’t really offer that. His new family can. They have two kids in the teenage years (note, this is an age that Guinness doesn’t get aggressive with), another few dogs, room in their yard for him to run, and generally a much more active lifestyle.
How do I know it was a good decision? Last weekend, my wife and I went to go check on him in the new house. Well, the two boys were playing ping-pong, and Guinness was running from one end of the table to the other chasing the ball. He hadn’t seen us in two weeks, and we walked in to say hello, and he didn’t even give us the time of day. When he came by, I grabbed him and he was nice for a moment, but then wanted to get back to the game.
When I say he’s in a “better place”, he really is in a better place. It sucks not to have him around here, but I really think it’s a better situation for him, a better situation for us, and really a great situation for his new family, who already love him. They’ve already given him the nickname “Turbo”, which is definitely fitting, and he’s already become a member of the family.
So below are quite possibly the last few pictures of Guinness that will make it to this blog… We’ll miss this little psychopath…
December 3, 2007
With crazy schedules, a new baby, and all the travel both work-related and personal, brewing hasn’t been a priority lately, and it’s been pissing me off to no end. For nearly 2.5 months, we’ve had 25 gallons of beer in fermenters, at least 15 gallons of which needed to be bottled at least a month ago. But we never had the time to get around to it, or to brew more.
10 gallons of the IPA that was a finalist in the Sam Adams LongShot. In typical fashion (for me), despite how highly it was rated, I decided to make a few tweaks to the recipe. It should help to smooth the hop character (when the beer is young), which is something that I had wanted to do. It should also increase some of the depth to the malt character, but without turning it into a “malty” beer. It’ll just be a slightly more solid backbone for the beer.
5 gallons of a Rye Pale Ale. When we were in Denver, my brother-in-law had several rye ales and enjoyed them, so we decided to give this a try. The last time I brewed with rye, I had a stuck sparge that took 2.5 hours to complete. Then, it got infected during fermentation. Ugh! Thankfully, this one didn’t have the first problem, and I’m not expecting the second either. We’ll see how it turns out. I used Chinook for bittering, Chinook and Cascade for flavor/aroma, and will then dry-hop with some additional Chinook & Cascade. It’ll have a heavier malt characteristic than the IPA, and I think it should come out to a nice well-rounded beer.
Both batches should be ready for bottling the weekend before Christmas, when I hope to also brew 15 gallons more.
5 gallons of a Belgian Witbier. We tasted this, and all the flavors came through pretty well. I didn’t detect any flaws, but then it’s still uncarbonated, so we’ll see. I think I’m starting to get better at tasting flat warm beer and understanding how it will turn out, so I think this is well on its way.
5 gallons of Belgian Lighthouse Ale. Again, I tasted this, and it seems to have come out exactly as I had expected. Should be very light and drinkable (for people who aren’t big beer drinkers), but not boring. My brother-in-law is having a Christmas party next Saturday, so we may put it to the test on some beer novices. We also have another 5 gallons waiting in fermentation that we had planned to bottle (but we were short on bottles), so we’ll get those bottled before the party Saturday.
Roughly 14 bottles of an American Barleywine I brewed in March. This beer was brewed back in Georgia, and my neighbor and I split the batch. We’ve had inconsistent carbonation on the bottles, and we both believe it’s due to overstressed yeast. So I popped all my remaining bottles and added a little bit of yeast. We’ll see where they go.
As previously mentioned, the 15 gallons brewed yesterday and the 5 gallons of Belgian Lighthouse Ale waiting to be bottled are still in fermenters. In addition, we have 10 gallons of a Belgian Tripel (named “Tripel Threat” because 3 of us brew together) that we transferred to secondary to age. I expect we’ll bottle this sometime in January.
I hope to make the next brew day the weekend before Christmas. At that time, we’ll bottle the two beers brewed yesterday, but continue to age the Tripel. I’d like to brew the following that day:
10 gallons of “Adam’s Red Ale”, which needs a better name. Adam is the third member of our brewing crew, and this was a recipe we made for his first-ever beer. It turned out really tasty (as only a 5 gallon brew), so we need to make another 10 gallons of it. It’s more of an Amber than a red, so we’ll continue working on that name!
5 gallons of an unknown beer. The only constraint is that we’ll probably re-use yeast, so we’re stuck with a beer that uses a standard California Ale yeast. However, a LOT of beer uses that yeast, so we should be good to go there. I might try to make a stout, since I rarely do so and we’ll want to avoid hoppy beers (due to a worldwide hop shortage).
General Brewing News:
I tried something new yesterday. Typically to “sparge” the beer (for those of you who don’t know the process, this is where you rinse water through the “mash”, the hot water and grain mixture), I had been using a small pot or measuring cup to manually pour the water. This time, I used a bottling bucket up on a tall wire rack to hold that water, so that I could simply use two valves to control flow rates, and keep the process much more automated. It’s something that I’ve been putting off for a while (since we don’t have a “sculpture” yet), but it worked great. We’ve got a few extra kegs that need to be cut open, and then we need to weld up one of these:
We probably need two of them, one for the 5 gallon and one for the 10 gallon rig. Once we have that, the process will be much smoother and easier from a labor standpoint.
Of course, we still need a scale and grain mill, so if anyone wants to buy me a Christmas present…