For the second year in a row my collaboration for the Barrel Bragging Rights even has been brewed with Iain McOustra, head brewer at Amsterdam. Last year we brewed a kick-ass beer called McNulty’s Olde Ale, which was my first real experience participating in making a beer from start to finish. It allowed me to pick up some buzz words to help when I’m talking to brewers (Hey, how’s your starch conversion? You use isinglass?). I also realized how long it takes to brew a beer – waiting for the mash and hot water to turn into wort, then boiling the wort and adding hops – which basically means a lot of standing around and waiting (at least a quiet weekend morning). Basically, I thought I was a pro and ready for this year.
Wrong, of course. In the past year, Amsterdam got a true pilot system, which made it easier to brew one-off beers. This time I went on a weekday, which meant the brewery was buzzing with activity. The final change for this year was a change in our brewing technique – the sour mash. (I still can’t fully explain how it works, so read that article if you’re curious.) Sour mashing is a multi-day process, which you can either look at as spreading out the brewing process or breaking it up into chunks. The end goal is obviously a purposefully soured beer, which gives the first clue as to the style of the beer.
From spending some time with brewers, I’ve learned that beers often start with a name and ours was no different. Except that the initial name only helped us pick a style of beer and then was promptly forgotten about. So now we knew we wanted to make a Flanders Red Ale, but only had a couple of months to do so. When you look at some of the classic examples of the style (Rodenbach, Duchesse du Bourgogne), they are often a blend of a younger beer with ones that have been aged in oak barrels for up to two years. We knew ours wouldn’t be a true Flanders Red, but there was enough time to make the beer and let the lactobacillus do its thing. Plus the beer was going to be served from oak barrels, which could add an extra layer of complexity to the beer that would fit within the style.
Research was done into traditional ingredients for a Flanders Red, like the Special B malt and corn (one example of a time when corn can be used to make a beer other than a macro lager). Then came the true collaborative part of the brewing process – figuring out what we wanted the beer to taste like. For the most part this consisted of me throwing out buzz words – sour! fruity! funky! wine! – and Iain using them to make a recipe. If this process works, it will only prove the talent and skill of Iain. (That he has put up with me for two beers is further evidence that he is one the nicest people I’ve ever met.) My contributions were limited to doughnuts and a bottle of Driftwood Bird of Prey, because I’m not above bribery.
That’s the story behind Call Me Flem-Ishmael. I had a taste a couple of weeks ago and the beer was coming along spectacularly and will have only improved as the yeasts continue to work away. Barrel Bragging Rights will be your only chance to try this delicious beer, so be at the Monk’s Table on Friday night and watch Iain and myself be crowned victors.