31 December 2018
It’s been an interesting year fermentation-wise. The learning, tasting and experimentation have provided a welcome ongoing alternative to inevitably ineffectual musing on the broader state of the world. And the sharing of the experience–and products–have cemented existing friendships and led to interesting meetings which bring hope and excitement for the future. Thank you microbes, yeasts, and human co-conspirators.
Without a doubt, my main focus in terms of energy through the latter part of the year has been upping my brewing game. Sparked by a discussion with friends and fellow brewers in March, I realised that all the barriers to brewing I thought existed were, in fact, nothing but flimsy mental constructs. From that day, I embarked on a program of regular brews across a number of styles, and the results have (I feel - and have been told) improved over the course. The learning journey reminds me of that of baking bread–there’s a great deal of scattered knowledge to acquire, sift and internalise, and beyond that so much lies in technique, process and attention to detail. Only with brewing the iterations take longer.
That first solo brew of the year back in late March was an English ordinary bitter. I wanted to start simple. Though, as with many such things, simple is often the hardest thing to pull off successfully. A basic grain bill and light hopping leaves nowhere to hide, and plenty of space for technical errors–or indeed blandness/emptiness–to show through. As the year moved into its final month, I was pleased to finally pull off–in a collaborative brew with fellow Sam Sahai–a light, hoppy pale ale that really worked: low abv, but not lacking in body, firmly bitter with good aromatics. A real summer session ale. I’ve finished the year with a bitter and a mild, both brewed with invert sugars (which, it turns out, aren’t too hard to make) in the traditional British way. They’ll be ready in a week or two, closing the loop on this year in ales: 30 solo brews, of which there were 12 bitters/pale ales, six saisons, three stouts, two each of porters, Belgian blonds and IPAs, a brown ale, a kölsch and a mild.
On the baking front, it’s a been a solid year in terms of naturally-leavened output. Nothing too creative or innovative, but I’ve been finding some good consistency in sourdough bakes, with at least a couple of loaves most weekends. And reassuringly few disasters–which probably means I haven’t really being trying hard enough. I built a new starter mid-year after accidentally defenestrating the previous one. The moment I reached in the fridge to pull out the starter for a bake and found nothing was profoundly unsettling, like that feeling of walking in a room to fetch something and then not being able to recall what that something was, an intimation of frailty or the onset of madness.
What has fallen by the wayside somewhat over the last 12 months is lacto ferments and pickles. Partly due to time, partly due to a lack of inspiration. Armed with a copy of The Noma Guide to Fermentation, I’m sure I can overcome the latter moving forward. And the former - well, there’s never really a shortage of time when desire is strong enough, right?
So I’m closing out the year with a simple brined carrot ferment, touched with rosemary and capped with orange, preserving the final moments of 2018 to be enjoyed in 2019. Though perhaps, in the broader picture, much of 2018 would be better left in the past.