Monday, September 8, 2008

Experimentation is Fun!

One of the coolest things about brewing your own beer is the freedom to experiment. Freed from the constraints of having to please anyone but yourself, freed from the tyranny of trying to make a buck selling the end product, the homebrewer can try out any weird, wonderful idea that strikes them. Some will be flops, of course, but every once in a while lightening strikes and you come up with a fantastic beer.

This same spirit of freedom and experimentation exists in many of the microbreweries around our country. (Not surprising, given that many of our microbrewers started out brewing at home...) While they may lack the total freedom enjoyed by homebrewers, many craft brewers can afford to take chances which would horrify a large or even a regional brewer. Case in point: Kenai River Brewing's Single Hop Series.

This micro has been brewing outstanding beers since 2006, but just brewing wonderful beers wasn't enough for these guys. Doug, the brewer at KRB, conceived an interesting experiment: how could you come to grips with the exact impact using one variety of hops has on a beer versus using another strain? Doug decided that he would brew a series of IPAs, each exactly identical in ingredients and brewing procedure except for the variety of hops used. In the course of 2007, Doug brewed 6 batches using Amarillo, Summit, Simco, Columbus, Centennial, & Cascade hops in succession, followed by a batch using all six varieties together. As each brew went on tap during the course of the year, KRB saved a keg. Finally, in February of this year, the brewery held a tasting with all seven brews on tap at once. Personally, I found it incredibly instructive to be able to taste identical beers side by side, knowing that any difference between them was solely from a different choice in the variety of hops used. I think it's made me a better brewer and a more enlightened beer drinker. And shouldn't that be something we all strive for?

So to Doug and the rest of the team at Kenai River Brewing, I say: Well done and keep it up! So far this year we've had Single-Hop IPAs using Phoenix and Ahtanum hops, with more coming down the pike.

Man's eternal search for {beer} knowledge continues...

P.S. On 1 October, Doug will be putting his Winter Warlock on tap. This is an English-style Strong Ale that has been aging at the brewery since it was brewed last fall. I was lucky enough to get to taste it last March. Given how absolutely superb it was then, I shudder to think how good it must be now. I for one will be heading to KRB on 1 October, growler in hand. I'd suggest you do the same, as this brew is bound to go fast.


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