When you’re a homebrewer, sometimes the product is greater than the sum of its parts and sometimes it’s a mess you pour down the drain.
Three weeks ago I bottle my Harvest Ale, a lovely dark amber spiced ale made with roasted butternut squash. When I’d bottled it I saw a measuring cup full of clear liquid left on the counter. When bottling beer you have to add some priming sugar, in the form of powdered corn sugar dissolved in boiling water. Was it possible I somehow didn’t add the sugar? I thought I remembered checking to see if it was cool but I entered that wonderful sweaty-forehead spiral where you begin to doubt everything. Did I forget to put on deodorant today? Is there a child still sitting patiently out in the car? Did I remember to turn in my final paper in high school English? Should I have just taken a tiny taste of the liquid to see if it was water or sugar solution? Yes. Did I? No. I bottled and moved on.
Sunday I cracked open a bottle of Harvest Ale, my reward for a long brew and bake day. No pressure, no fizz. It was as flat as an overworn metaphor. So I took a sip then dumped it down the drain. I got a second bottle and opened it, wondering how badly I’d messed up. When you were a kid did you ever pour vinegar into a bottle of baking soda and cheer the volcanic eruption? That was how the second bottle opened, frothy eruption over my hands and the floor. I dumped that in a glass and opened a third bottle. Completely flat. My reaction:
Now the great debate: open the remaining bottles, pour into a sanitized bowl, and add more priming sugar and yeast, or hope for the best with the last few bottles? I re-primed the whole batch and put it back in the closet to carbonate. It’s likely that EVERY bottle will now be a little Vesuvius, but at least it won’t be flat. And here’s the kicker: my wife proclaimed it the best-tasting beer I’ve made yet, even though it was flat. So…a successful failure.
Then there’s my English Jaggery Ale. This was supposed to be a mild English ale with low hop bitterness and beguiling amber caramel flavors. My first bottle tasted too fresh, the flavors unblended and sharp, a teenager with lots of tricks but no style. It would be better in a week, I told myself. Two weeks on I tried it again. On first look, the color and head are spot on.
The flavor? Still too young. I think by Halloween this beer should be mellowed out and a proper English quaff. I may have to buy a bowler and a bamboo-handled umbrella. Tip top!