By Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge, homebrewer since 1979, and club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
Topic: Moose in Beer?
A fellow brewer and BJCP judge, Tom Gentry, owns a homebrew store in Goodlettsville, TN called Rebel Brewer. He is about as dedicated to the craft as one could be without wearing a backwards jacket and living in a rubber room. I know this because he hasn’t recommended using one of his kids for an adjunct yet. Unless he has a secret Ceylon lab down cellar.
Do he know yet that that he’s actually the one to blame for building the Ceylons? Tom, give me one read eye light move to the right if you do, one to the left if you’re clueless about your guilt in the almost total extinction of the human race in the future.
(Isn’t adding “total” to “extinction” a bit redundant? Yes, ‘a bit redundant?” Indeed, “a bit…” Slap Ceylon “face” and continue with article…)
Anyway, I drove up to Goodlettsville to offer him the second addition of ferm tabs to one of my many experimental beers. I know, BJCP now calls that category “specialty,” and I judge it that way. But frankly, if I were organizing that list it truly would be “experimental,” and not bounced off of that broad based of a term. Otherwise we get beers that match other categories and only qualify for “specialty” because someone threw in a little bit of something like chocolate that doesn’t belong in there, or makes a pale ale with a lager yeast. Now mixing three werts, one ale fermented, one lager and a very small batch with a real funky Belgian yeast? Now that’s “experimental.” “Specialty” just doesn’t cut it.
Well that experimental ale I brought him is called Grapenuts Grog.� I was having a carbonation problem. He pretended he was pissed. “I’ve always wanted to brew a Grapenut beer, and damn you… you beat me.” Well, Tom, just wait until I introduce you to my secret devices in my cellar. Can you say, “Give me another? Another? Another, Mr. Master Over Me Brewer, please?”
I kid. Except for the -based beer. Consider������ Tom and then think about it Tom. The Brew Gods are waiting.
Naw, I’m joking about that too.
Tom has dreams of a Captain Crunch beer. Not me. I already know I’m not fond of corn taste in beer, which is why a lot of the big brewer beers like Miller stay as far away from me as possible. I do go for their homebrew-based brethren though in competition, only because that’s judging beer: something I love to do. But I have had many weird beers including several versions of rhubarb ale and several editions of Maplead… not honey-based: no honey at all, but maple syrup. I rarely brew the first now because judges seem unable to discern rhubarb from DMS. And I don’t make Maplead anymore because no matter what I do, what I add, how much I carmelize, no judge: including myself, can distinquish it from mead. Why spend sometimes more than three times the cost for good maple syrup when you can do it with honey? And why do it when no matter how well you describe your entry even highly ranked judges still write on the form for my entry something like what one Master wrote, “Try a better grade of honey for this mead,” when I clearly marked everything in huge capital letters, “THIS HAS NO HONEY IN IT. IT’S MAPLE SYRUP-BASED.”
I know. The judge probably never even saw that when the forms were printed out. But after this happened over and over, all I can say is… well, unprintable.
I’ve also just brewed a Shredded Wheat Bran Brown. Promising.
While these are just a few of the weird beers I have brewed, I do respect the ability to fit into a narrow category, yet brew a distinct, unique beer. The problem is I really have no interest in doing it myself. There are already many incredible versions of these beers. Plus, my favorite way to brew is minus borders: up until recently I had dropped measuring specific gravity. I know: sacrilege. But it was actually working quite well. Plus I got tired of buying hydrometers and coming back to use them only to find them broken: unused. Now I have a really nice refractometer; so nice I feel like I’m cheating on my beer or something.
I feel no desire to tweak some recipe to fit someone else’s idea of what makes a “perfect version of a…” If I were an astronaut I’d rather go deep into outer space and discover new planets than go into orbit after the trillionth orbit by other astronauts and have to copy what parts of their efforts NASA considers “perfect form.” I’ve heard all the arguments that usually start with “you have to learn to go by the rules before you break them” and I have yet to meet a brewer that spent a lot of time brewing by strict guidelines then made excellent exotics. The best brewers I’ve met love making both. I just wish I did too. I envy them.
Am I that crazy and out of the box? Maybe not. But I think it’s obvious I have tried.
Many judges hate doing the specialty table. I admit: I rarely am placed there for two reasons: the obvious…. I’ve often entered in a category which disqualifies me, and because I always tell them: wherever you need judges the most. But because of that that qualifier, when I judge somewhere other than my own Nashville competition, I do wind up on the specialty table from time to time, and while I enjoy it… it’s tough. So undefined. You must have a base beer the judge can bounce off of, which I actually think is a tad unfair. The idea, I would think to a certain extent, is to create new categories to a certain extent. Yet I understand; probably more than any non-judge, you have to give a judge some handle to grab a hold of, some borders. Otherwise it would be like telling a judge in a criminal trial that there is no such thing as “illegal” or “legal.” It’s all a matter of opinion. How fair would that be?
I know far too many who would rather our justice system be more like that. Of course I think they’d change their minds fast if they were the defendant. And those who enter their beer in competition might feel the same way when they get forms back that are even less based on some standard because the judges had no guidelines whatsoever.
I enjoy the specialty table, although I use my dump bucket more there than on any other table… except maybe Belgian. I love Belgian beer too, but it’s all too easy to go from “oh boy, funk” into, “ewe, funky.” And its far too easy to get into, “OK, that’s enough of that,” taste bud sense.
I have had a few meat-based specialty beers: not my favorite, although oyster stout with plenty of smoked oysters can be interesting, or smoked salmon. It is a little too easy, as I wrote on one form, to paraphrase, for “the fish to swim away with the recipe.” So if someone wants to brew with their fresh kill, a Maine moose, hey I’m all for taking a sip… but maybe just a sip. Personally I would smoke it or use unique spices. On its own I’m not sure moose would make that much a difference until it did… and then you would rather have had the moose simply walked away from the recipe: or hunted the hunter. And since moose don’t brew as far as we know, we’re probably safe from the other specialty that would arrive in our brew glasses from that hunt.
A glass of Britney Spears Stout, anyone?
I understand those who refuse to go this far off the mash “beaten” path. They can be excellent brewers, the discipline can help and it absolutely is to be admired. If I wasn’t so dedicated to brewing by the seat of my pants I would say to myself, “Why not do both?” Of course I have yet to brew Fruit of the Loom Lager, or Hanes Hefeweizen. No plans yet. I’ll keep you posted if I ever do. But if it were high alcohol, would I call it, “Da Underwear Bomb… er?”
I have said too many times to myself when shaking my head at some brewers arguing about who has the best equipment or getting all anal about their beer, “It’s a friggin hobby, folks, a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun.” I suppose “fun” is a matter of personal definition. And as long as you don’t insist everyone be like you, or that all the beer I brew must fit perfectly “in category,” I won’t insist everyone toss out most standards.
We do need both.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
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