Monday, July 18, 2011

The Homunculus Cometh

The Homunculus Cometh!
2011 Smuttynose Big Beer Series Release #4

Homunculus, the newest addition to the Big Beer Series portfolio, is also the first beer to move up from our single-batch, draft-only Short Batch Series.  Inspired by “Houblon Chouffe” from Belgium’s Brasserie d’Achouffe, our beer was first brewed in 2007 and was called “The Gnome.”  This was a great name for an individual, draft-only release.  Once the decision was made to scale-up to a Big Beer size, we decided to change the name in respect of Achouffe’s branding and image.  We chose “Homunculus” not only because it’s loosely synonymous with “gnome,” but also because of the word’s absurdity.

So what is a Homunculus?  The term, Latin for "little human,” shows up in disciplines as diverse as psychology, alchemy, and biology.  As you can see from the label art, we were captivated by the biological roots of the term.  Before lenses could be ground and microscopes could be built (circa 1600), medieval scientists constructed many theories to explain the origins of human life.  “Preformationism,” widely accepted at the time, proposed that each new child grew from invisible, miniature versions of themselves (homunculi). 

Enough genetics, let’s hear about the beer!  Like the label says above, Homunculus is a hoppy, Belgian-style golden ale. A special yeast strain created a generous alcohol content of 9.9% a.b.v.  The simple grain bill of 2-Row, Weyermann Carahell, and some cane sugar lends some sweetness, but also a lightness of body.  Bravo hops are used exclusively at the beginning of the boil for a moderately aggressive 45 IBUs, while late boil additions of Sterling contribute a subtly spicy hop flavor.  We’ve already got the makings of one tasty beverage, but Homunculus' real moxie comes from its pungently aromatic dry-hopping.  We infused 150 barrels of beer (4650 gallons) with 176 pounds of Nugget hops and 264 pounds of Sterling hops.  That's nearly 3 pounds of hops per barrel of beer! 

We'll begin shipping Homunculus the week of July 11 and it should begin appearing in stores not long after that.  

Stat Box
9.9% ABV
45 IBU
Starting Extract: 20˚ Plato   Finishing Extract: 2˚ Plato
Malt: North American 2-Row, Weyermann Carahell
Hops: Bittering-Bravo, Flavor-Sterling, Dry-Nugget and Sterling
Yeast: White Labs Trappist Ale Yeast, WLP-500
Special Guests: Cane Sugar, to lighten the body.
Production Size: 150 barrels (4650 gallons)  

Homunculus should pair well with a wide range of dishes.  Its juicy fruit character will accentuate earthy foods like terrines and pâtés, sausages or hearty stews.  Homunculus also has enough acidity to stand up to white, creamy pasta sauces and grilled salmon.  For cheese courses, we suggest nearly any choice except blue cheeses.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Smuttynose Short Batch #12: Noonan

These days, new beer styles and sub-styles seem to pop up every few months, especially if you include barrel-aged variants.  The Black IPA has enjoyed a current wave of trendiness but there's nothing new about the style.  The first batch of Black IPA was brewed on December 4, 1994 by Greg Noonan and Glenn Walter, at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, VT.  Despite a West Coast attempt to appropriate the style and name it "Cascadian Dark Ale," we're calling our expression of the style what it is- a black IPA.

 We've named Short Batch #12 "Noonan," in memory of Greg, who passed away on October 11, 2009 of lung cancer.  Greg was many things in the brewing community; teacher, author, grassroots activist and founder of three New England brewpubs, The Vermont Pub and Brewery, Seven Barrel Brewery, and Amherst Brewing Company.  Greg literally wrote the books on Scotch Ale and Lager Brewing and was part of the earliest, pioneering generation of New England brewers (which includes Greg's friend, our own Peter Egelston), opening the VPB with business partner Steve Polewacyk in 1988.  The brewing community was genuinely shocked when news of Greg's passing hit.  He hadn't told anyone about his lung cancer diagnosis, so it all seemed very jarring and sudden.  Our staff had always enjoyed talking with Greg during trips to Burlington each summer for Vermont Brewers Fest, so the decision to name our Black IPA after Greg was made without objection.  Over the last few years, the Black IPA has begun to appear everywhere from San Diego to Copenhagen.  Now we're ready to share our expression at this paradoxically-named beer style.

The main challenge when formulating a Black IPA is how to get the black color without making the beer too heavy and acrid.  Dark color in beer is often derived from additions of heavily roasted, and sometimes burnt, malt.  The darker the beer, the more dark malt you need, but you also run the risk of making the beer too astringent.  We knew we could get the hopping right, we just had to get enough color in the beer without turning it into a really hoppy porter.  We brewed a few test batches (one of which even made it on tap in our tour nook) before we got the color/flavor balance where it needed to be.

What we've ended up with is a light-bodied, non-acrid, dark-colored 6.5% beer with plenty of hop flavor and aroma.  Magnum hops contribute an elegant and refined bitterness that parallels the reduced astringency.  The late boil additions of Bravo and Sterling contribute a spicy, piney flavors that stop just short of being out of proportion.  Despite all the tasty hopping, Noonan's light IPA-style body makes this beer refreshing, something you don't normally find in a dark beer.

We packaged all 25 barrels of Noonan into (31) 15.5 gallon kegs, (36) 5.16 gallon kegs, and one firkin, that's on its way to the Great British Beer Festival as I type this blog post.  Domestic shipments will begin shipping in mid-July.  We have no plans to bottle Noonan at this point in time.

SSB #12, "Noonan" Stat Box
Malts: 2-Row, Crisp Pale Ale, C-60, Aromatic, Black, Carafa II
Hops: Magnum, Bravo, CTZ
Dry Hops: 44# Nugget, 44# Glacier  
Starting Extract 15°Plato
Finishing Extract 3.2°Plato
75 IBU
6.5% ABV