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Brewing to the occasion

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Every year since we were our in our twenties, some good friends and I spend a few days each fall and spring to fish the runs of Lake Superior trout as they migrate up their home rivers. Every fall and spring I brew a batch or two of beer for the trip.

Nothing emphatically seasonal about these fall-run and spring-run beers - no Oktoberfest or pumpkin beer in October or Maibock in April - but the solitary brewing and communal enjoyment of them commemorates our own seasonal migrations and makes for a unique and tasty way to collectively mark the passage of time; a quiet constant next to the flashing-by signposts of life: jobs, wives, babies, the occasional bright fish.

Flies are tied to the chugging sounds of airlocks; tackle gets checked, tested, sorted, packed, unpacked, rechecked, retested, and repacked against the contrasting backdrop of patiently silent secondaries; layers of fleece and Capilene are staged on carbonating kegs.

The selections are, by some long-standing and unspoken agreement, always ales, usually something from the pale ale family: ESBs, bitters, IPAs of the American and/or Imperial varieties. A big robust porter or strong stout is not unheard of (one of these years I'm going to plan it out and have a burly Baltic porter ready ... maybe Spring '11).

Spring-run beers reflect a certain amount of cabin fever (or shack nasties, depending on where you hang your waders in the off-season), pent-up energy coupled with honed homebrewing chops from lots of cold-weather batches ... a more experimental, agitated mood. Like late-season snow sloughing off a balsam fir down the back of your jacket as you walk beneath it, rye and wheat and demerara sugar and all kinds of other things find a way into unexpected places. Like returning to a favorite pool after a long winter to find it totally changed by downed trees and runoff, yeast strains you haven't tried in a while get reintroduced and a familiar recipe suddenly surprises you.

Fall-run beers reliably make lascivious use of just-harvested homegrown hops: an all-Centennial wet-hopped IPA in '07, a standard bitter with Wyeast 1275 finished and dry-hopped with Centennial (try it!) in '06, an all-Centennial American pale in '05 ... you get the idea.

The first four-day stand of Fall 2010 starts in a few days, and this year's beer is kegged as of last night, absorbing CO2 as I type. Suffused with hops from first wort to secondary fermenter (Centennial [natch], Simcoe, and lots of their best friends) to echo the pine-tinged air, its color saturated rust-red like the iron-rich South Shore mud, propped up with a caramel-tinged full body and unsessionable ABV to take the sting out of both the cold air and the inevitable thrown hook, busted tippet, or wader leak in 36 degree water.

Its brewday was documented in this episode of Brewing TV. I'll repost the recipe here:

Cloverland Resinator India Red Ale

10.5 gallons, all-grain
Target OG: 1.064

Grist:

  • 20 lbs Maris Otter
  • 1.25 lbs Weyermann Caramunich II
  • 1.25 lbs Weyermann Carared
  • 0.375 lbs Briess Victory
  • 0.25 lbs Carafa III

Mash

  • 152 F for 60"
  • 168 F for 10"

Kettle

  • 1 oz Centennial @ first wort hop
  • 4 oz Centennial @ 20"
  • 0.5 oz Ahtanum @ 10"
  • 0.5 oz Centennial @ 10"
  • 0.5 oz Citra @ 10"
  • 0.5 oz Strisselspalt @ 10"
  • 2 oz Simcoe @ 0"
  • 1 oz Amarillo @ 0"

Yeast

  • Wyeast 1056

Secondary

  • 1 oz Ahtanum
  • 1 oz Simcoe
  • 1 oz Amarillo

Weddings, holidays, family reunions, sure; what other occasions do you brew for? What does your own beer commemorate for you?