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Brewer’s Notes – Part 1: That Goddamned Dunkelweiss

The problem with having a craft beer hobby AND a habit of procrastinating, is that when I say I’ll write a series of posts on a particular topic, it’s quite possible I will drop the ball.

With that said, I mentioned that I would be writing a series of posts on my brewing experience at Four Horsemen Brewing Company. For those that aren’t familiar with the back story, I was invited to put my palate and knowledge of beer to work at this downtown South Bend brewery, while learning from one of the most experienced brewers around, Stephen Foster. Having the leeway to brew whatever style, with whatever ingredients, whenever I have spare time, really is the opportunity of a lifetime.

So I’m going to attempt writing about this more often, for those interested in the brewing process, on top of the drinking process. It would have happened much sooner, but I realized all of my spare time was wrapped up in brewing, thinking about brewing, or hanging out at the brewery, and writing took a back seat.

I’ve written quite a bit this evening, and it just keeps getting longer, so instead of requiring people to read for a ridiculous amount of time, I’ve split this up into at least 3 parts, maybe 4, who knows. The intention of this series of posts is to be a summary of events, beers and experiences over the last 4 months, and what I would like to to do moving forward… After that, hopefully I can keep the updates flowing as I brew and continue to learn.

The first beer I did, while leaning heavily on Stephen for direction, was an American Pale Ale. You can read more about it here, but suffice it to say, my obsession with hops really shined on this one. I ended up brewing 3 batches of this one, mostly experimenting with mineral levels throughout, and much to my surprise, it was actually pretty good! This was quite a bit more hoppy and viscous than a typical pale ale, but when it went on tap at the brewery for those to try, it received great response. This would be the basis for the most recent version of Pale Ale that sold out at the brewery within two days.

Next up was a series of Dunkelweiss (German for Dark Wheat) beers that Stephen asked that I tinker with. This was my first great test of will in brewing. This damn Dunkelweiss did not want to be brewed, seemingly no matter what I did. The first version was WAY too salty, and while dumping it out, which is already painful enough, the air was filled with the smell of ultra-salty ocean water. I wasn’t going to give up that easily though, so I brewed another. Still too salty! And another with the calcium chloride and sodium chloride turned down… again, salty!

By this time, frustration was building. 3 batches, and 3 days of brewing, down the drain. Maybe brewing wasn’t for me? Maybe I should resign myself to enjoying the fruits of others labor. I’m ashamed to say I wanted to give up, and I said as much to Stephen. He could have just accepted that and moved along, but he didn’t. He told me that if brewing was so easy, everyone would do it. According to him, I was doing fine, and even he has to dump a batch occasionally; his batches are far more expensive than mine. Lastly, he said that if I were going to throw in the towel, I would still be welcome back any time to brew and hang out. This support went a long way, and after a week of working through the string of bad batches in my head, I was right back at it. Could that be a defining moment in my career? I guess time will tell.

Back to this Goddamned Dunkelweiss. With greater resolve, I brewed two more, this time with the calcium chloride and sodium chloride brought waaaaay down. The result; one infected batch which tasted like band-aids, and another that actually turned out nicely. I finished this series batting .200, but the slump was busted, finally.

My favorite aspect of dark beers is a roasty, coffee-like quality, which the non-band-aid flavored version certainly had. This was my first beer to make a showing outside of the brewery, at the Blue Chip brewfest in Michigan City. Feedback was mixed, but mostly positive, with the best compliment coming from an American Serviceman who was accustomed to drinking German beers from being stationed there; he said it tasted authentic and that he really enjoyed it! The funny thing about this style – I’ve never had a Dunkelweiss, and to this day, I’ve never had one aside from mine. Stay tuned in the next day or two for “Part 2: Getting Better”

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