Tastes have become recipes. Those recipes have met practices on brewdays, and then found their way through the cell membranes of various yeasts, until the whole was poured into pint glasses. Those glasses were emptied into dozens of parched mouths; occasionally, a few of those mouths gave coherent, positive feedback. My three & some odd years of homebrewing have led me to a fine place where the only limits have been my imagination, palate & budget
Now comes the looming specter of the global economy ... shortages in the worldwide barley crop. A viciously scorching Siberian summer drove wheat prices to historic highs. And, now the hop harvest pits the incoming crop's lethargic yield, against the unwavering demand for more citrusy IPAs and amped-up pale ales.
The indicators, pundits, and even common sense farmers are suggesting 2011 may be the trifecta of brewing supply shortages. But I got into homebrewing for the ingenuity! Why would any of us be over our brewing stoves were it not for a sense of creativity, concept, adventure?
The fact is, yes, current outlooks suggest an overall shortage within the harvest of the ingredients we've come to know & love. What does the year hold in store for our kettles? I'll take the optimistic high road & get y'all set on a short list of possible remedies for any supply/demand issues that might arise in our brewing experience ...
Alter: If you're happy making pale ales, try switching up yeast strains. Like Wyeast 1056? Try White Labs 029; you'll find a more pronounced bite within the same malty neutrality. Wyeast 3711 French Saison is another clean-ish fermenter that can lend some new flavors to tried & true beers. Are Bitters more your taste? Esters really amp up the effect of hop additions. Try Wyeast 1968 & some Styrian Goldings additions to go where Magnum used to tread. Belgian strains add a lot of flavor. Wyeast 3522 & 3463 offer plenty of new possibilities to take over for late hop additions.
Rescale: Okay, maybe you don't wanna sell out to yeast character alone. If you've been cranking the IBUs into your brews, consider hopbursting late in the boil to compensate with smooth aromas. High alpha hops like Summit, Galena, and Warrior require scant bittering additions, allowing you to split even an ounce between three or four batches of even modest gravity beers. Extend your boil to 90 minutes & you'll take your hop dollars even further! Try multiple half- to single-ounce flavor & aroma additions of mixed varieties from the fifteen minute mark down for a bevy of fine flavor.
Juxtapose: It's not all about barley or wheat. NB is sourcing more varietal honey than ever before, giving you options like mead or braggot to fill your bottles & kegs. We now offer mid to lower gravity honeywines that use less honey. Any five gallon mead recipe is ready for the addition of a mere three pounds of malt extract & a mere ounce of hops to make a strong beverage that stands up to imperial ales. Try that with a three gallon batch & you've got yourself a ready-made honey-barleywine! For that matter, check out the blog about How to Make Sahti for something from the past when barley was scarce.
Inoculate: Wyeast made Roeselare Y3763 part of their year-round offerings. This versatile souring culture will open your world to Flemish browns and sour reds, as well as lambic, geuze, and that beloved of the wax-covered-bottles Krieks. Sour beers were poised to cut into the world of pale ales in the past year, but 2011 may be the perfect storm for brews that make use of unmalted adjunct grains and small charges of aged hops. Scrape those silver bags out from your frosty freezer & dry 'em out at room temperatures! Sour beers take more from Brettanomyces & aging on fruit than boiling with humulus lupus. If you can wait, you'll have a beauty of a special sour ale that can wow the hopheads among your crowd.
Diversify: You didn't get into homebrewing to just make IPA, now did you? It may not sound adventurous, an American lager, cut with adjuncts & sparsely hopped, is one of the most difficult beers to brew well, and will make something far greater than the mass-market macrobrew that drove plenty of us into the hobby. Remember, the quality is in your hands when homebrewing. Flaked maize or corn grits could also prove a new challenge to generate a fine new recipe. A popular hometown brew here in St. Paul even uses potatoes in the mash to substitute for barley - try a few cups of dehydrated potato flakes in the tun. And then there's always styles like coffee stout or cream ale that are ripe for tweaking and personalization.
Subvert: Stick it to the man! Grow your own! Spring will kick off hop rhizome season & the time has never been better to learn how to take bittering matters into your own backyard. Read up or watch Brewing TV - Episode 12: Backyard Hop Crop Report on how you can turn your backyard into your brewery's cash cow. There's also the prospect of growing your own barley, wheat, or other grains. If you don't have the backyard for it, an increasing number of neighborhoods are starting community gardens that you can stake a claim in. Maybe you know someone with a fallow garden that could use a pint & then some in perpetuity?
We brewers have seen supply shortages throughout thousands of years of history, and each time our wits have sharpened our brewing behavior to resiliently prop us up in the face of rising costs, failing crops & dire times. Now more than ever we've got a community of knowledge and the widest universe of options.
Let's not remember years of shortage as that, just a shortage. But rather as a wellspring of creativity!