I brewed my latest beer this weekend, an India Pale Ale in the more traditional, British mode, that I’ve named “A Sprig of Grass.” The name comes from a Thomas Jefferson quote, “There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.” All of my beer names in some way relate to the founding fathers or the Scottish Enlightenment. The connection for this beer is the use of an English, noble hop that is often described as grassy.
I have been describing this as my first IPA. That’s only partly true. I helped someone brew a similar beer, in name and style, before. It wasn’t my recipe. And that person is no longer a friend.
As a brewer, this year has been about returning to my passion, my resolve. I had allowed too much of my hobby to depend on someone who in the end turned out to be unreliable. The pace of my brewing had been petering out. My recurring plan to keep brewing some core recipes each year while adding new, experimental ones never got past the 3rd recipe in my regular rotation. Worse, this past year I had stretches of weeks and months without any of my home brew on hand to share and enjoy myself.
I started the year with a new recipe, a barley wine I named “Moderate Imperfection.” That beer is currently conditioning through the end of the year in my sub-cellar. I inaugurated the new gear I wrote about earlier with that beer. It will book end the year nicely, I hope, helping me return to my passion and rewarding me well if I keep to it.
I don’t really consider that beer a new recipe or fully a step out of my recent rut. It is its own thing. Each beer since–my dubbel and my 80 shilling–have been recipes from the backbone of my rotation. This IPA really is the first stretch past my old, not particularly impressive, high water mark as a home brewer.
It is more than that, too. The beer that inspired it never lived up to its potential. The first batch was supposed to be oaked and never was for no good reason. The second batch wasn’t even dry hopped and like many beers my former collaborator made in the last couple of years, was really quite lackluster. I really wanted to make that right, to salvage from that experience a beer to make on my own, that lived up to its promise, that allowed me to continue to hone my craft.
I went back to the books, encouraged by my research around Burton ales that I used as the base of my barley wine. The grain bill on the old beer was perhaps well intentioned but given everything I’ve learned and right, it wasn’t quite right for this style. I not only took more from the historical formulations of a British IPA, this beer is the first time I have tried altering my water chemistry. Granted, what I did was modest, just adding a bit of gypsum, but I feel like it is a better expression of my craft than just upping the quantity of hops or over complicating the grain bill.
Of the four beers I have made this year, this is only the third I have brewed with friends. I love brewing with friends, doing so makes the labor seem easier and the day all around more fun. I am still blessed to have friends willing to help, to contribute their knowledge, and to accept whatever humble skill or practice I can impart. I grew to hate not being able to brew without help. This year’s dubbel is the first beer (other than a Mr. Beer kit I received years and years ago) that I brewed entirely by myself. I would have gladly welcomed company and help when making it but when folks took ill, I was able to carry on by myself. In so doing, I’ve now kept up a pretty solid cadence of brewing every six weeks. That frequency means if a friend misses a brew day, there is always another right around the corner.
“A Sprig of Grass” won’t be my last new beer. I may have one more recipe in me to reclaim, we’ll see. The next one will be wholly new, regardless, a rhubarb heffeweisen, that I plan to brew in mid-June. After that, I am not sure, until the days start to grow short, when it will be time for my usual year end recipe, an oatmeal stout. I am open to suggestion, there will be plenty more brew days this year to try new experiments, styles and techniques.
“A Sprig of Grass” is my attempt to make something about my recent past cosmically right, to redeem myself and perhaps fabricate some closure from an ending that really lacked it. Pun fully intended, it is a bitter resolution but, as the hop lovers understand, bitterness is only a small part of what a well hopped beer has to offer. I hope the finished beer is fresh, clean and new, so perhaps it is a fitting commemoration of a successful new beginning as well.