Fermenting: Pico-brewing

Short brim, small beer, nuff said
Short brim, small beer, nuff said

Micro-brews have been bhut jolokia-hot since the mid 80’s and show no sign of going anywhere but up on the hotness scale. Talking about micro-brews, of course, is even hotter. Presently you get to impress your friends with knowledge of hop varieties, yeast strains, grain bills, roasting, malting, milling, the lovibond scale, specific-gravity, attenuation rates, flocculation, the IBU scale, head retention, mouthfeel, dry-hopping, etc. etc. etc. Of course you got a 100% on your indie band or craft-beer quiz. The problem here is that all hipsters are into micro-brews and every self respecting hipster is a homebrewer that has at least three 5-gallon batches (including a coffee stout) under their belt. So how the heck can you impress anybody on the subject anymore? I mean you could go all out and make an amazing brewkettle out of a reclaimed keg, or an electric HERMs system, but let’s face it, Kevin is probably already slaving away on a project like that in his garage with a borrowed angle grinder.

When you can’t go bigger on a supertrend like micro-brews and homebrewing you have to go the other direction … smaller. This is a solid opportunity to multi-trend because, as we’ve outlined, tiny food is stupid-hot right now. Truth be told, on the surface there’s not really much to this one … you just brew a really small batch of beer. Of course how you brew it and more importantly who notices you brewing it are the most important details. You could probably go as big as a couple of liters, but to really impress you should brew only a single pint. Either play it safe and cask condition the only universally accepted hipster style of beer, an IPA, or go bolder with a Russian imperial stout. Many hipsters will love this because “Russian,” “imperial,” and “stout” are three of the top ten hipster words to use right now, rounding out the list are “paleo,” “crossfit,” “organic,” “artisan,” “heirloom,” “croudsource,” and “bodymod.” … but I digress.

On to the brewing. Make sure it’s a busy day in the neighborhood and invite a friend over to be your “assistant to the brewmaster” (use that exact title.) If you’re feeling confident don some lederhosen, but at the very least you should accessorize with a traditional Bavarian alpine hat, it has a short brim and we all understand the importance of that. Setup your brewstand somewhere in the middle of your driveway and make sure that no trees or shrubs block the view from the intrigued onlookers. We’re going to keep it simple today with a partial mash extract batch. Don’t use your usual 6.5 gallon stainless steel brewkettle, use the smallest pot in your apartment. (Of course you live in an apartment, mortgages are for slaves.) Your brewstand should be nothing much more than a coleman camp grill. Steep your specialty grains in an actual tea bag. With this small of a batch it would be easy to overdo the 40L caramel malt. Once you’ve steeped at 162F for at least 40 minutes, bring the now wort up to 212F for your liquid malt extract and bittering hop addition. As with the specialty grain, you need to go light on the hops. Two individual cascade hops should be good here. Boil for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally with your no doubt self-whittled hickory mash paddle. Turn the heat up to encourage a few hot breaks to coagulate proteins. Next, add your flavoring hop and wait another 10 minutes. Finally, add your aroma hop and rest. Extra points if you build a tiny immersion wort chiller to get the wort down to 70F quickly, but you can just add some cold water and probably will go this route because most of your wort from this pico-brew has boiled off. Pitch some obscure yeast strain that nobody has heard of.

small beer: check beret: check
small beer: check
beret: check

After brew day let it ferment for about three weeks and plan a tiny food party. If you took our advice and already did that (kudos) fear not; just send a pigeon to Ike, Theo, and Matilda inviting them to your house for a sampling. When they arrive have the pint/secondary fermentation vessel in the center of your reclaimed wood coffee table along with four shot glasses. Before you uncork (never cap) your pico-brew explain the benefits of smaller batch sizes and educate them on the metric prefix scale and be sure that they know pico denotes 0.000000000001 the size of the typical macrobrew batch. Speaking of that, it’s nowhere near ready to drink, but you could use this event as an opportunity to show off your macrobrew cellar. Pour each guest a 3oz serving and allow it to breathe. Note the head retention. As you bring your masterpiece to you lips inhale sharply through your nose. Swish it around a bit like a seasoned taster and comment on the fruity esters from the Belgian yeast strain and the noble hop profile. Look around at your guests, satisfied, and remark “for me, anything more than a 3oz serving cuts into the appreciation of the craft.” They will eagerly nod in agreement and probably say something using the phrase “right-size” and the word “mouthfeel,” even if they don’t know why.