Victor, a coworker of mine who also homebrews, gave me some pellet hops earlier this year. I stuck these in the fridge alongside several other packages of hops – pellet and whole leaf – that I’d purchased many moons ago, and made a mental note to find a recipe in which to use all of these accumulated hops.
In early June I finally got around to looking for such a recipe. I had to brew something for the annual Fourth of July block party. It’s been my tradition for the last couple of years to wheel my kegerator out onto the porch and make my homebrew available to any adults who wanted to try it.
The recipe I found was an American style IPA, with a big dry hopping schedule. It used mostly amber malt with a small amount of specialty grains for some complexity. With this recipe in hand I headed off to my local homebrew supply shop. I was disappointed, once there, to learn that they didn’t have all of the proper ingredients: they only had half of the needed amber malt and none of the specific specialty grain. I was faced with the decision to select an entirely new recipe on the spot, or to try to modify my selected recipe based on what was available.
I’ve never been particularly good about creating recipes. I don’t yet have a solid understanding of how the base ingredients work together in the boil to produce specific flavors, so I was reluctant to try to improvise. But I was also in a bit of a hurry, and substituting a few ingredients seemed easier than identifying a whole new recipe.
In the end, I decided to improvise. I replaced the missing half of amber malt with wheat malt, and used a different specialty grain. The brew went off without a hitch, and the wort fermented quite nicely. I racked it to the secondary where it stayed for an additional two weeks, and finally kegged it. Since I had gone so drastically off-recipe, I referred to this as my “frankenbrew,” with a little of this and a little of that. Chances were high, in my mind, that it would be a horrible monster of a beer.
On the Fourth, I wheeled the kegerator onto the front porch and put a sign on it declaring free beer (adults only). I didn’t make any additional effort to spread the word to the neighbors, but within the hour I was getting comments and compliments about the beer. Several of the folks at the block party were also homebrewers, and there was much discussion of the craft.
The beer turned out to be absolutely delicious. Most people who tried it returned several times for refills. All five gallons were quaffed in just a couple of hours, to my surprise and delight. I’m a little sad that there’s no more for me to enjoy, because I know I’ll never be able to reproduce this exact batch. Ultimately I’m okay with that, since I brew not for the science or the precise reproduction of a specific recipe, but rather for the fun of the process in general and the delicious end result of that process.