The death of a Michigan winter is always a reason to celebrate. When the last few cold days sputter out and give way to glorious spring weather. That's right, the time for 4:30pm sunsets has passed, sweatshirts are replacing winter jackets, and you're a week or so away from forgetting all about the gym membership you signed up for in January. But one important question remains: what the hell beers are you going to make? Here are some ideas.
Maibock. Mai literally means May in German. Also known as Helles or Heller Bock, this is a strong lager intended to be drank in the spring time. If those brown Bocks and Dopplebocks were a fuzzy sweater or parka in the winter, this is a nice light windbreaker. Still a good strong beer at 6-7.5% ABV. Being lighter in color, bright malt and bitter balance, and dryer, Maibocks embody the fresh promise of spring in a bottle.
Ever used Chamomile in a beer? I have. It was pretty good. I once did a Pale Ale with an ounce of dried Chamomile at flameout. Go for a light Pale Ale subtly hopped with an herbal, floral type hop. Styrian Goldings, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, EKG, or Strisselspalt are good hops to pair with Chamomile. The flavor and aroma of Chamomile is unique. If you have ever had Sleepytime Tea, you know what Chamomile is like. Flowery and sweet, it reminds me of juicy fruit gum. The flavor is perfect for spring flowers and crisp fresh days.
Spruce Tip IPA. If you don’t like piney flavors, move along. If you are into a good dry gin, do this. When the blue spruces are adding new growth this time of year, go pick a couple freezer bags of them. You know they are ready when the ends of the branches have the lighter colored, tender tips on them. Add them directly in the boil. You can experiment with timing. More time in the boil will add a sweeter pine flavor as the boil will bring out more of the natural sugars in the tips. Less time in the boil generally adds a stronger pine aroma and distinct gin-like quality. I did a Spruce and Grapefruit IPA once as an experiment. I added only enough hops in the beginning of the boil to impart some bitterness and preservative properties. The rest of the beer was all tips and grapefruit peel at 20, 10, and flameout. It was really nice. It tasted just like any other IPA that has a strong citrusy/piney hop flavor and aroma.
As we move later into the spring and the days warm up. Some more light options are welcome. Time to ramp up those Farmhouse Ales. Saisons and the like are wonderful quenchers. Get the funky spicy yeast flavors paired up with a wheat and oat heavy malt bill to really welcome the warmer weather. Ferment these a bit warmer with a farmhouse style yeast. Upper 70s and even a brief stint above 90F can really get our favorite fungus cranked. Pair these spicy flavors with coriander and citrus peel to round out the complexity. A fine Saison in the glass is like sunshine on tap.
A new style to the party is the Brut IPA. I think the bright hop and super dry finish would complement the change in season as well. Crisp and fresh is what spring is all about. I have never made one of these personally, but I do like to drink them. Yes, a major component is plenty of hops in the whirlpool and dry-hop. The real hallmark of the style is that super dry finish. To achieve this, you will need to mash at low temps. Low like 145-148F and be sure you are getting full conversion. Another trick is to add the enzyme amyloglucosidase. This enzyme is not new to the brewing industry. It has been used for a while to get big sweet beers down to more palatable levels. It will break down those longer chain, less fermentable, sugars that normally the yeast can’t touch. Add the amyloglucosidase at the end of normal primary fermentation and it will ramp the ferm back up for a few days as the yeast is provided with new, previously un-fermentable, sugars. This results in a bone dry beer that is still bright and hoppy. Damn, I’m thirsty now.
Try some of these styles and bring them to a meeting. We would all love to try out your interpretations. Also, keep your eyes on the webpage. Check out the new primetimebrewers.com (note .com not .info) and subscribe for updates in your email. Everything is on the webpage. --DT