A while ago, I was browsing YakimaValleyHops.com (maybe kinda sponsored link?) for Caliente hops, which weren’t available. I sent an email to their customer service department about how disappointed I was the variety wasn’t available.
When I had brewed with Caliente in the past, I was blown away by the tropical fruit notes. Now that I was looking to use it again, I was surprised it hadn’t taken off with commercial and homebrewers, as the mango, peach, and pine notes seemed to be what people have been going crazy for in their beer.
I received a very polite email saying they regretted Caliente hops were not available, and could I please send them my mailing address? So I sent my address to them.
A short time later, I received a small package with three hop varieties and some swag in it. I know they can’t do this kind of thing for everyone, and I totally did not expect it. But I am looking forward to making some beers with these, and at one of them will be heavily dry-hopped with those Mosaic LupoMax pellets!
And That’s not All! . . .
I recently went back to Yakima Valley Hops to peruse their selection again. The first thing I noticed was that they had re-designed their web site.
As brewers, it’s easy to fall in to a rut of making beers that we know we like or sound interesting. Maybe there’s a recipe you found online for a hot, new commercial beer you can’t get your hands on.
But one of the things that really forced me to step outside my brewing comfort zone was joining a local Iron Brewer Competition. It combined the craziness of Iron Chef, homebrewing, and a 16-place playoff bracket.
The photo above was from my first year participating, back in 2013. It was so much fun, and how many times do you decide to brew a milk stout with 3 types of ginger because you’re inspired by the flavors in gingersnaps? Not enough times, unless you’re trying to use a weird ingredient.
That first year, in 2013, the competition was organized by Brewer Jon, who now owns Zymurgy Brewing in Menomonie, WI. I helped him with the next couple iterations, and had a great time.
One of the challenges with a multi-round competition is scheduling. Until I was trying to arrange dates that worked with all the contestants, I didn’t realize how hard it was to coordinate 16 different schedules to both allow enough time to produce a beer and not conflict with family events.
Weirder and Weirder
Since the competition drew inspiration from the Iron Chef TV show, where contestants didn’t know what unusual ingredient they would have to highlight, the challenge ingredients got more and more unusual.
Some of my favorite beers resulted from challenges that were a concept, rather than a specific ingredient. My gingersnap milk stout was fine, but in subsequent years, one of the best beers of the competition was an answer to the challenge of “pancake breakfast”. Brewers could interpret the challenge however they wished.
The pancake breakfast beer was downright amazing. Its stout base combined with added coffee to present that roasty, coffee flavor I love right away in the morning, which faded into flavors of maple syrup complemented by a lingering toasted bread flavor that reminded me of pancakes.
And even the beet beer was pretty good.
Find a Challenge
Whether you can find a similar competition in your area, I have no idea. But if you have the chance, don’t be afraid to jump in and enjoy the weirdness.
If you can’t find a competition, but can get a few friends together, pick a challenge ingredient and #BrewUpAnAdventure!
OK, use what you like may not be the best advice. Better advice would be to use what the consumer of your seltzer likes. It makes a difference.
Some general guidelines, though, are that you will want to use a yeast strain that is known for a fairly neutral flavor profile. In the photo below, both strains below are known for being fairly neutral. These strains are commonly used in meads and fruit wines, where you would not want yeast character to overpower the more subtle characters of the musts.
When I’ve made hard apple cider in the past, I learned quite a bit about my wife’s preferences. Yeasts considered neutral, like US-05, produced enough esters that my wife did not enjoy those ciders. She preferred the ciders I made by fermenting them with champagne yeast.
I agree that the end product tasted more like apples when fermented with the champagne yeast. However, as a beer lover, I did enjoy the extra esters from the ale yeasts.
What’s the Goal?
In my opinion, the goal of making a hard seltzer is to make a base for other flavors to be added to. My wife’s preference for champagne yeast does seem like the logical route to me.
By producing a seltzer with minimal character, it gives you the flexibility to select your desired flavor without interference from the fermentation character. There are a few things that will help you reach that goal.
It is critical that everything you use to make your hard seltzer is properly cleaned and sanitized. Since your goal is a neutral background for your selected flavor, you do not want a wild yeast, bacteria, or flavors from your last batch of beer to corrupt your seltzer.
You’ll also want to make sure you boil the sugar and water to eliminated any risk of contamination.
You’ll want to give your yeast the best chance for producing a neutral product. Given that most recommendations for hard seltzer recommend using a neutral-flavored sugar, you will need to add the proper amount of yeast nutrient for your batch.
Keep your yeast from throwing off-flavors that can be produced if the yeast gets stressed.
You’ll want to make sure the fermentation temperature is stable and in the recommended range for that yeast. Too hot can produce fusel alcohols, which are not pleasant to drink, but too cold can stop the fermentation prematurely.
Even temperatures near the edges of the ideal range for your yeast can cause the yeast to produce more esters or phenols.
Making seltzer for friends and family who don’t like beer can be a great way to share your passion for brewing! Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you and your group enjoy.
Let me know what works for you, or what doesn’t.
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