A Tale of Two Ales

As recreational brewers, we’re a little… lax in our note-taking during the brewing process (right down to forgetting to save our recipes, at times). That means when something goes wrong, it’s a little harder for us to determine exactly what we did to cause the problem.

The latest case in point comes from our two “Lawnmower Ales,” light(er – still around 5% at least… and that estimate further shows that we need to be more diligent with note taking) summer brews that we made a conscious effort to brew on the cheap. Both are composed almost entirely of 2-row and 6-row pale malts, cheap-ish hops, and cheap yeasts. We didn’t go all-out on the cost-saving measures, but each ended up running shy of 20 bucks.

One of the beers came out really cloudy, and with a sour (not a good sour) taste that left us struggling to finish off our 5-gallon keg of it. The other, which I tried for the first time last night – probably more than a month after trying the other one – is more along the lines of what we were going for. The beer is fairly clear, and though the flavor and body are a little on the light side, that’s what we were aiming for.

Without better note taking, it’s going to be impossible for us to nail down what it was that caused the differences between the beers. A few hypotheses, however:

  • Better yeast in batch #2.
  • Cascade hops in batch #1. We’ve had trouble with cascade-hopped batches in the past, both in terms of cloudiness and the sour taste. The Sparty On Tequila Pale is the most prominent example of this – and it had the additional ignominy of being our first batch with numerous bottle-bombs. There could be some technique we’re doing improperly when using Cascades.
  • Contamination. It’s no secret that, to us, the drinking process is just as important as the brewing process – and they often take place simultaneously. Maybe we’ve gotten soft in maintaining sanitary conditions.

We’ve also been having a common off taste in some of our other beers recently – but we can’t pin down the source. Paul hypothesized that it might be warmer fermenting conditions, but I think that’s likely not that case, as ales are intended to ferment in the 70-degree range, where we have them. Without speaking to more experienced brewers (remember – we’ve only been doing this for just over a year), and having them tell us what that flavor is even called, much less what leads to it, we could be in the dark for a while longer.

That reminds me… it’s been far too long since we’ve attended a meeting for the Ann Arbor Brewers’ Guild. Now that the brewing crew is fully healthy, hopefully we can make it to the next meeting.