Whew, I'm finally getting around to posting again. Thanks to everybody for their great comments and feedback via e-mail. I'll try to keep the updates coming more regularly.
For starters, I noticed that we got a mention on Jamil Zainasheff's podcast the other day. Check out the very start of the "Christmas Beer" episode to see what they had to say (then check out my original comments here.)
The big event beer-wise in our neck of the woods was an annual picnic that we had a week ago Saturday. When we moved here to rural Wisconsin we started holding annually what we called our Harvest Festival. It has typically been attended by well over one hundred folks and features lots of great locally grown food and, in these later years, homebrewed beer as well. A crowd of over one hundred sounds like a lot and it is, but in our Latin Mass apostolate the kids outnumber the adults by a fairly significant margin. This bodes very well indeed for the future of the Latin Mass and it also cuts down on the amount of beer that one has to provide. (If you want to know more about our Latin Mass apostolate located in the beautiful rolling hills of Wisconsin, you can check us out a bit here. The picture above is a Solemn High Mass at our apostolate on Easter of 2005. That's my son Christopher on the far right.)
Often the feast has been at our place, but this year's harvest festival (or Whoop Ti Doo, as they called it) was held at the home of our friends, the Schuh's. The featured "guest" was a whole roasted hog, cooked to perfection by our friend and fellow-Latin Mass afficionado, Jim Schroeder. (That's Jim Schroeder and Jim Schuh helping that pig off the truck and out of its cage.)
This year I supplied the beer and I had three varieties on tap. The first was a pale ale, in the British style. This was from a very simple recipe of two-row pale malt, a bit of 60L crystal malt, and a bit of biscuit malt, bittered with Fuggles hops and fermented with a British-style ale yeast (specifically, SafAle S-04 dry yeast.) This batch was made from all grain and was about three months old when consumed. In my opinion the bittering was off--I have very, very hard water from my well and I believe that this is causing some off-bittering problems in my all-grain beers--but the crowd enjoyed it anyway. I have started cutting my water 3:1 with distilled prior to brewing and it seems to help.
The second beer was a brown ale. This batch was a real milestone for me in that it was my first ten gallon batch. It takes only a fraction longer to do ten gallons than five, so if one has the equipment and limited time (like me) it's a really great way to go. It's definitely best to know ahead of time that you can consistently make decent beer, though, since it's pretty sad having to throw away five gallons of homebrew, let alone ten. In the end, I actually got 11 1/2 gallons of beer out of this batch and that will take some explaining.
This was from a recipe I got from Jamil Zainasheff's podcast on Mild Ales and indeed, this was supposed to be a mild, which is a relatively weak beer which still has a lot of flavor. This recipe has a British pale malt base and was heavy on the chocolate and darker crystal malts. But for some whacky reason, my wort [pre-fermented beer] prior to fermentation was way, way too strong. I must have gotten very good efficiency in extracting the sugars from this malt, but I also must have accidentally added too much two-row pale malt because it was physically impossible for my wort to be that strong based on the original recipe. I had to add additional water to this batch and in the end I got 11 1/2 gallons. I split this wort into two fermenters. In a 5 gallon fermenter I used WYeast 1968 London ESB yeast. In another fermenter with 6 1/2 gallons I used SafAle S-04 dry yeast. The only difference was the yeast and the two batches turned out radically different. The 1968 batch is much crisper and has less perceived sweetness, with a sharper coffee note coming through. The S-04 batch is breadier, sweeter, and the caramel and toffee notes really shine out. I prefer the S-04 batch, but I served the 1968 batch at the hog roast because I thought perhaps it would appeal more to a broader crowd. It was indeed a big hit.
Finally, I served out a very basic stout that I had made from a can of Ironmaster pre-hopped Irish Stout extract, supplemented by about 1 1/2 lbs. of dry malt extract. I steeped some additional roasted barley and chocolate malt and fermented this batch with Nottingham dry yeast. This is a very quick and easy beer to make but, after about two months of aging, really comes out smooth and creamy. At the picnic, not as many folks tapped into this stout, but those who did enjoyed it.
By the way, I'm really sold on these pre-hopped cans of malt extract. Between my wife, four kids, church, job, and farm, I don't always have a lot of time to brew. Sure all-grain beer is more challenging to make and frequently better to drink. But some homebrew is better than no homebrew. So forget about the snoots who think that brewing from extract is for yokels. Don't let the best become the enemy of the good. Just Brew It!
All three beers were a big hit and it was a joy, in the fullest sense of that word, to share my creations with a crowd of appreciative people. This is one of the things I love most about this hobby--it's not just about making beer that I can drink myself. It's about sharing something that I have crafted with pride and bringing some good cheer to others.