Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kolsch No. 01

This month's Beer Hates Me post is a special and unique one. It's not a beer that anyone reading this can get and one that only a handful of people have tasted. It's also the next step in the evolution of my personal beer education. This...is an honest and open evaluation of my first successful homebrew. My Kolsch, No. 01.
The Beer:
First things first, I never intended to become an avid homebrewer (nor am I one...yet). It is something that organically grew from my appreciation of beer, the current social climate around craft beer, and some good friends & their passion for the hobby. Being surrounded and interested by all those elements led me to take a crack at making my own beer. I kept it simple though. I brewed using an extract kit and chose a style that only required one short fermenting period. Essentially, I just brewed a fancier, fresher version of what one would get if they purchased a Mr. Beer kit. To be honest, I didn't even know specifically what a Kolsch was or how it tasted. So, naturally, before I began brewing, I hit up the internets and researched just what a Kolsch was and how it should taste. Interestingly enough, true Kolsch beers are a specialty to the Cologne, Germany region much like the way that true champagne comes only from Champagne, France. But whereas the latter has to do with the grapes associated with the drink, this is simply defined by the "K├Âlsch Konvention", an agreement between the members of the Cologne Brewery Association. All that said, I got me a Kolsch and by golly, I was gonna brew the fuck out of this beer!
So after a quality brew day with some friends who are far more advanced and working on all-grain systems, this beer sat in my closet until it came time to bottle and consume. But before doing so, I opened up a store-bought Kolsch (Reissdorf Kolsch) to compare the two side by side. While the Reissdorf was considerably clearer, crisper, and better carbonated, it's taste was nearly identical to my own. In fact, I actually preferred my own after a few sips. Where the Reissdorf came across tasting very bready and almost stale, my Kolsch had a slightly more hoppy bite to it that went along with the malty characteristic inherent to the style. However, I also felt that my Kolsch was more watery than the Reissdorf. Both beers were very drinkable and a growler of my Kolsch went quickly when presented to my homebrewing buddies on their next brew day the following month. And to add a meta element to this post, a pint of it is quickly being consumed as I write this now.

The Buzz:
With other beers that I consume, I'm always fully aware of the alcoholic content of it before I ever open the bottle. With a beer that I brewed myself, I could only go off the targeted gravities of the recipe that I was following. The gravity, of course, is essentially what measures the alcoholic content of a beer. And my Kolsch was supposed to have an original gravity of 1.048. Although I measured it at around a 1.050 before leaving my brewing buddies, you're supposed to check the gravity again after a few weeks to see if the beer has stabilized and is ready for the next step. However, being that I'm at the most novice of steps in homebrewing, I neither have the instruments to take this reading nor do I fully understand how to properly take the reading itself. However, when it came time to bottle, cool, and ultimately drink, the Kolsch did a fine job of providing a mild buzz after a couple pints. Of course the fact that it was noon and I hadn't eaten yet could certainly have contributed. But at least I was sure that this beer had properly set up and the yeast ate the sugar like the good little buggers are supposed to. Ironically though, when it came time for me to drink this for the purposes of the blog (48oz worth on a full stomach over the course a a few hours), there was little buzz to speak of. That isn't all surprising, being that most all kolsch's are low in alcoholic content and mine in particualr should have been roughly 4.5% abv according to the recipe that I followed. That would put this beer near the bottom of the list for potent beers that I've had for purposes of this blog. Not a bad thing per se, but if I want a session beer, maybe next time I'll try making a mild.

The Hangover:
Before brewing this beer, my good friend Mark (see Wipeout IPA for more on Mark) mentioned to me one night how he's like to just spend an evening moderately drinking his own beers to see how they held up in getting him drunk and how they affected him the next morning. Did the fresher ingredients and controlled environment of every step heighten or lessen the drunken aspects of consuming beer for a night? Would they make a normal hangover better or worse? Longer or shorter? All things that were (and are) perfectly tailored for myself and this blog. And so, the morning after I lined up my Kolsch for testing, I got an answer. Homebrews give you hangovers! Not neccesarily crippling, death-knell hangovers. But certainly accute nausea and aching headache hangovers. When I first awoke at the sound and nudging of two dogs eager to eat and pee, I was extremely dehydrated with a pounding headache and weary stomach. As they ate, I drank a massive jar of water (I drink normal drinks---and the occasional brew---out of jars). While they pee'd, I popped pills. When all three of us were done, we retreated to the couch together to promptly pass out until the wife and foster dog awoke us all a couple hours later. The water and pills helped in managing what at first appeared to be a miserable reaction to my own beer but they certainly weren't a cure-all for my ailments. The rest of the day was a gradual decline in sickness as I ate, showered, and got outdoors into fresh air. The stomach returned to normal and the headache faded away. On a level of 1 to 10, this post-experiment hangover fit right in to the middle. And for a beer that I made on my own, the good news is that I'm not afraid to try again out of fear of a bad hangover. The bad news is that I'm no closer to nailing down just what specifically about certain beers affects me so bad.


The Verdict:
And so my review on my first attempt at brewing comes to a close. I'm quite pleased that I brewed a very drinkable beer. I did learn a lot. And I enjoyed the enitre process overall. I also subsequently learned that the Kolsch style, while very good, isn't neccesarily one that I'd drink again any time soon. It lacks the hop-forward quality I like in most pale ales and the malty sweetness I enjoy in porters, stouts, and ambers. So it kind of lives in this middle ground of beer stylings that don't satiate my palate or appetite. More importantly though, this beer is responsible for kicking a new interest into high-gear. I'm more eager than ever to brew my next batch of beer. I've been perusing homebrewing websites, kits, and equipment on a near daily basis looking for what to do next. And I've decided, that much like this blog, brewing a beer on a monthly basis is going to be a very enjoyable experience.
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