lessons in patience, part 1

Point: when it comes to good beer, freshness counts for a lot.

Counterpoint: most homebrewers (myself included) “release” their beer before its peak.

Think about a beer you had at a brewery’s taproom, where it travels maybe 20 yards from its inception, versus a serving of the exact same beer that’s been shipped all over hell’s half acre and done time in a warehouse or two. Think about every Eurolager you’ve ever had that traversed the Atlantic before sitting right under a display fridge’s fluorescent bulb in its green bottle. The fluffiness of a Weissbier or the oily immediacy of a hop-forward pale ale are not things that improve with time.

Still: balance in all things, right? There’s something to be said for patience, and I re-learn those lessons from time to time even after the better part of two decades brewing at home.

Case study 1: 2012 wet-hopped Double IPA.

Like most of the country, we had a hot, dry summer here in MN and my backyard hops didn’t yield nearly the volume that they have in years past, but it seems like the strenuous growing conditions caused what cones were produced to have high concentrations of oils. The Centennial in particular seemed extra-resiny and sticky this year – powerful sugary, candylike lemongrass-orange citrus and dried herbs (mint or even rosemary?). My fingers were coated in green-gold hop glue after picking a couple pounds, then mesh-bagging and tossing them straight into 10 gallons of conditioning double IPA (based on the Pliny recipe published in Zymurgy a while back).

After 7 days, I separated the hops and racked the beer to kegs for carbonation. Another 7 days or so after that, samples poured of this 7.5% abv beer (about 4 weeks old at this point) were so aggressive with hop acid as to be almost undrinkable, the hop character one-dimensionally grassy and biting, nothing like the intense Centennialness of the fresh cones. I left the kegs in the lager locker at 35 F while I regretted the potency of homegrown Centennials and pondered brewing another beer to blend it with or aging it for a couple years to make some kind of West Coast-ified stock ale thing.

Vintners describe bottle shock, a phenomenon whereby a wine that’s perfectly sound in the barrel temporarily turns to crap after the (apparently traumatic) agitation of bottling, only to regain its mellow after a week or two. Maybe this was my first run-in with hop shock, because just a couple weeks later it was a miraculously different beer: the much-missed alcohol and malt stepped out of the shadows and the aromatics of the hop profile settled down into a citrus-orchard haze, a glass-coating and towering white meringue reminiscent of Tammy Wynette’s hair in the 1960s. It had smoothed out so much that even my double IPA-averse wife asked for her own snifter of it … and finished it! Citizens, I’ve brewed many highly-hopped beers and know more or less what to expect as they age, but this was a new one for me. Maybe it was the crop year, maybe it was a little more cold-conditioning, maybe it was Chinatown.

Lesson: trust the beer, give it time, don’t mess with it.

Upcoming case study: Brainhurter the Russian Imperial Stout. Stay tuned.

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24 thoughts on “lessons in patience, part 1

  1. I personally have felt for years that many homebrewers are drinking their beer too early. It was some time into my 12 year brewing hobby before I really started making more hop forward beers. So most of the beers I made did need a couple months to really come into a peak zone. I still generally prefer my hoppier beers sooner rather than later, but I definitely see your point. And you are not talking about months of aging, just weeks. Drink no beer before its time, indeed. Now if my Wet Hop Imperial Mild will only come around, I’ll be as happy as you…

      • I don’t get enough sun in my current garden to really get into growing wet hops, but the new place I’m looking at buying (From my grandmother, who is sadly having to be put into care), has plenty of exposure. Would love to buy some rhizomes and get into wet hopped beers.

        Was really inspired by seeing the BTV three mess with ’em, and I’m really thinking about a dank and hoppy ludicrous IPA.

        Hi there, Don!

    • Second to that!! I kegged some IPA last summer, it was then really grassy, (cascade) & unbalanced. Now started to shine and on top of, it’s crystal clear 🙂

  2. I work in a field (web) that prizes instant results, and since I started homebrewing I’ve come to realize the pleasure of patience. I also became a big fan of Brewing TV in the last year, and since September have been dealing with a Dawson shaped hole in my brewing life until finding this blog. Thank you for continuing to share your wisdom, and good luck in your future endeavors!

  3. I had a similar experience last year with a very aggressive 1+ lb Imperial IPA last year.

    It tasted amazing while bottling and 4 weeks later but the first week after carbonation was a mess
    I could never figure out what happened until I took a few bottles to a friend’s house where they were jostled by my overly hyper dogs spotting another dog out of the car window.

    When we opened them I got that super sharp raw lupulin gland spicyness and grassy flavor I tasted initially came back

    I have since wondered if it had something to do with the actual settling of particles mellowing the flavor or if it had any connection to the fact that the hops I used were high in Beta acids.

    • Yeah … they’re homegrown so I didn’t and have not done any sort of lab-grade quality control or evaluation, but I’ve used them for many years both dried and fresh, even in beers with higher BU:GU and IBU levels, and never had anything quite like this, so I’m left thinking it’s either a function of some part of the maturation chemistry or the crop year conditions, or a mix.

      • I know for example Capsaicin producing plants seem to produce that substance in higher quantities when they’re stressed. I wonder if there’s a paper somewhere about Alpha / Beta / Oil production in hops under poor or otherwise stressful conditions. That’d be a cool read.

  4. I will take that advice. I brewed from a Surly Bitter Brewer kit because it is one of my favorite beers. I thought during the process I had everything right on the money. I hit the OG perfectly, etc. But, after letting it sit in the bottles for three weeks now, it still has an off flavor that I cannot pinpoint. It almost seems a little “yeasty” to me. I was about to dump the whole batch in a fit of rage, but instead have decided to just let it sit in its nice little dark corner and hope for the best. Thanks for the reminder on the patience thing. Keep up the GREAT work!!

  5. I brewed the same recipe (Pliny clone from Zymurgy) and after about a week in the keg (3 weeks from brew day) it tasted really harsh and sharp, a week later it was glorious (4 weeks). I didn’t wet-hop mine, but used the dry hopping from the recipe. I think with that much dry hopping it just takes a while for the flavors to mellow and blend a little bit – I’m sure with wet-hops it would take even longer. Now I’m trying to figure out when I should kill the keg by, it’s currently 8 weeks old and I must have at least 2 gallons left.

    • Yup. I basically subbed the dry hop schedule with all backyard Centennial – smelled great going in, things got rough, got better, and here we are. Enjoy your last couple gallons!

      • Quick update – at about 8-9 weeks from brew day the aroma started to fade – started to smell stale and a bit oxidized. I’ve heard it said that dry hopping is akin to giving your beer a death sentence.

  6. Patience is indeed a virtue that I lack. I’m ashamed to admit that I won’t brew certain styles – beers that I otherwise really enjoy drinking – because of the length of time from grain-to-glass. Apparently I’m not alone here as a number of heavy-hitter homebrewers have written extensively about this topic before. From my experience, which undoubtedly falls far short of you and your loyal readers, IPA’s of the imperial sort are fickle creatures. I tussled with Jamil’s Hop Hammer recipe this summer and found the “green beer” to be almost undrinkable. It took putting a few miles on it in the keg to mellow it out. Granted, all of the hops I used in the batch were commercially sourced and not fresh from my garden. The chemistry behind those hop-derived compounds that ultimately make their way into wort is indeed rich and perhaps still poorly understood.

      • Not to hijack your post here, but I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between the science and art of brewing. Even when I seemingly think I have all of my technical ducks in a row I occasionally end up with an unsuspected and downright peculiar beer. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, learning new things is a good thing, but sometimes I think we, as homebrewers, have to chalk up the unusual to the magic behind the brewing process. Truth be damned, Dawson! Sometimes, at least…

        • I totally agree, Dan. If anything, I come down more on the side of art, or at least science serving art instead of vice versa. It’s a balancing act – the logical conclusion of science-brewing w/o art is watery yellow, bland, and bottom-fermented; but I think the flipside is inconsistency excused as artisanship and/or “interesting” beer with a hodgepodge of crazy ingredients of which one taster glass is plenty.

          • This is how I feel about it, Michael Dawson. I guess I’d loosely fall somewhere between “Scientist” and “Engineer” in my professional life, and I’ve been a cook since I was about 5. That’s very much coloured my life and approach to most things, and brewing beer (which I guess I’ve been doing for about 15 years in some manner) has always really engaged me in all three of those areas.

            The creativity of formulating my own recipes (I almost never follow anyone else’s recipe), mixed with the science of fermentation and the engineering challenges of actually producing the wort… so much fun!

  7. I tend to allways age my bigger hoppy beers for a while before drinking, and have not had your experience yet, but I have noticed that some commercial yeasts will do downright crazy things to hop flavor and aroma. I had a pale ale hopped with glacier and cascades that was fermented with 1272, around a month it lost every last bit of aroma, 2 weels later it came back, and two week later gone again….. Where was I going with that? I dont know.

  8. Nothing is more soul crushing, though, as waiting for your hops to mellow only to find that you have a small window between smoothed and dull…. But then again all you have to do is brew more, big problem right?

  9. waiting not what us beer drinkers like to do, but well worth it!!!
    shallow grave porter turned fantastic by waiting 2-3 weeks after keggin
    i have a batch of furious waiting for me, this one might need a little extra time
    it is very hop forward, but seems to be mellowing a bit

    • I had a similar experience with a batch of Furious…. I was still pretty new to hoppy beers and let it sit in bottles for abour two weeks. I was all excited about it and gave it out to a bunch of family and friends to try. No one liked it and it certainly didn’t taste like Furious. I got mad and dumped about 3 gallons down the drain. Now, about nine months later, I found a stray bottle sitting in my dad’s fridge. I popped it open just to give it a try and, BINGO! It was awesome. I let my dad have a taste and he said it was spot on. We then argued about who got to finish it. Lesson learned.

  10. With most of my more complex brews, I end up saying that the “last one was the best one”. I know I should clue in on this and let things age more but, alas, I am just a home brewer with a curiosity and a thirst! One day…

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