If you’re a homebrewer, there are a lot of benefits to being a member of your local homebrew club. You get to hang out with other people who are passionate about crafting beer, drinking beer, and talking about beer. You get ideas from other brewers for recipes, you learn new techniques, and you sample beers that are often unlike anything you’ll find in a restaurant or store. As a novice brewer (2 1/2 years now), I really appreciate getting feedback on my beers from more experienced brewers and people who have trained their palates to taste nuanced flavors and recognize flaws in beer.
Many homebrew clubs also provide more formal instruction, tutored tastings, and other types of events. Recently my local homebrew club, the Bloomington Hop Jockeys, organized an Iron Brewer competition for club members. If you’ve ever watched Iron Chef, you have a good idea of how things worked. Each participant was required to use two of three ingredients: Dry English Ale yeast (WLP 007), coconut, and Thai basil. We had two months to plan, brew, and condition our entries.
For my entry, I decided to use a fairly simple grain bill for a light wort that would highlight the coconut and Thai basil flavors. My base malt was American two-row, a pale malt that provides a lot of diastatic power. I added some Vienna malt, which is kiln dried to be a little darker than pale malt and which imparts a golden to light orange color. I also used a little Cara-Pils to increase the head retention and body of my beer. I used Saaz hops for bittering because it’s clean and floral and adds a Noble hop aroma.
After a week in primary fermentation, the gravity had fallen from 1.049 to 1.011. The Dry English Ale yeast is known for being highly attentive, so I gave it another week to finish its work and clean up after itself. At that point the gravity was 1.006, making the alcohol by volume (ABV) around 5.6%. I transferred it to secondary and added a sanitized dry hop bag with 1 pound of toasted coconut and some chopped lemongrass that we had grown in a pot on our back deck. A week later I transferred it to a 5-gallon keg, at which time I added 2 cups of fresh Thai basil “tea”. After a week in the keg, I had my first taste and was very pleased with the result. The flavors of the Iron Brewer ingredients and the lemongrass really came through. The beer continued to improve over the next couple of weeks, and I noticed that it was especially refreshing in warmer weather.
Last night at our monthly homebrew club meeting was the moment of truth: the competition judging. There were 10 entries and more variety than you might expect given the constraints. There wasn’t a single bad entry in the bunch, but some didn’t feature the competition ingredients as much as others. One had a strong curry flavor that was interesting, but I don’t think I could have had more than a few sips of it. Every club member had the opportunity to taste each entry and cast a single vote for the winner. The entries were numbered so that, theoretically at least, no one knew which beer belonged to whom. The winning beer received 5 votes, but two runners-up each received 4 votes, so clearly it was a close competition. I thought that my beer—dubbed Liz Lemongrass—would fare well, but I was pleasantly surprised when it was chosen as the winner! Below is a commemorative label and the recipe.