We all have our favorite brews–even if you say you don’t; deep,deep down we all do. From IPAs to Pilsners, Steam Beers to Steinbiers, something out there floats your boat. What if we look that to another level? What if you were to design the perfect brew–a Tolkien-esque One Beer to Rule Them All. The perfect beer for you, personally. Would it be hoppy and dark or strong and light? Is it augmented with exotic ingredients or traditionally crafted? Would your One Beer be a historic recreation or something never before dreamt of? The sky is the limit on this one.
Well that’s not a tall order at all! Or rather, it’s impossible. I have a hard time choosing favorites, and when it comes to beer, what really attracts me is variety. All the different styles and possible flavors are wide ranging and fun to explore. At this point, it’s rare that I drink the same beer more than once… That being said, I suppose there are things that I’m a total sucker for, so perhaps we can create something I know I’ll love. Of course, I could probably come up with a dozen beers to rule them all, but here’s what I came up with when I tried to limit myself to creating a single beer that I’d be happy with drinking.
So here are the characteristics of my brew:
- General Style/Malt Bill – This is tough, but I’m going relatively dark. Something in the Imperial Stout, Old Ale, or Barleywine family. It’s killing me that this excludes IPAs, so let’s say this beer will be a Barleywine, as that will allow a huge range of possible expression when it comes to hops without excluding the darker crystal malts (and other specialty malts) that give those rich caramel flavors I love in a darker beers so much. Then again, a light roastiness or chocolate character is also quite nice, so Imperial Stout/Old Ale isn’t entirely out of the running either. But that’s a light roastiness, and not coffee.
- Hops – As mentioned above, I would want this beer to prominently feature hops. Neither Imperial Stouts nor Barleywines exclude this, so it doesn’t completely help narrow the field, but since we’re talking about hops, I’m thinking about those big, high Alpha Acid American citrus and pine bombs like Simcoe, Amarillo, and Citra (classics like Chinook and Cascade might also make an appearance). No Centennial. It’s a fine hop, to be sure, but I often don’t connect with that as much as I’d like.
- Yeast – Thinking about yeast makes me realize how difficult this exercise is, because I’m kinda disappointed that I won’t get to base this on a Belgian yeast (I suppose a Belgian Strong Dark or Quadrupel could fit here, but that would preclude heavy hopping, so that’s out). So what I’m looking for, though, would be something that ferments with relatively high attenuation. Obviously the beer won’t be super dry because it’ll be huge, but I also don’t want to make it undrinkable. So I’d tend towards a straightforward American Ale yeast, or maybe a highly attenuating British variety. Definitely no Brett or bacterial beasties – this won’t be a funky or sour ale.
- Barrel Aging – Regular readers probably knew this was coming. This beer absolutely has to spend time in a barrel of some kind. Bourbon Barrels are, of course, the classic choice, but I could also be talked into Scotch or maybe even stuff like Cognac or Brandy barrels. Not so much plain oak or old wine barrels, though who knows… The point is to impart that oak and vanilla character that will accentuate the richness of the malt bill (i.e. caramel and maybe chocolate). The one thing about this aspect that gives me pause is that barrel aging tends to tame beers with a big hop presence (i.e. Dark Intrigue)… but then, it also tends to tame roasty and coffee characteristics, and I think it probably adds more than it takes away. Let’s say Bourbon Barrel Aged. Or, if it doesn’t break the rules, let’s do an entire series of beers, starting with a “regular” version, then do a bunch of variants aging that beer in all sorts of barrels.
- Packaging – This thing will most certainly be packaged fancily. It will probably involve a cage and cork treatment, packaged in a box. And not a wimpy box either, one of them industrial strength boxes they use for bottles of Scotch. Heck, make it a wooden box or some other space age material or something. Also, the label will have a tasteful design, but also feature a hand written component. Perhaps make it a numbered bottle. Lots of information about the brew, and signed by the brewmaster or something like that. Perhaps something like Firestone Walker’s Proprietor’s Reserve series beers. Ultimately, this aspect of the beer don’t matter too much – it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts – but I’m a sucker for fancy packaging.
So what we end up with here is either an Imperial Stout or a Barley Wine (with an off chance of a Belgian Strong Dark/Quadrupel or that nebulous “Old Ale” style), heavily hopped with trendy American varieties, aged in a Bourbon Barrel (or perhaps a bunch of variants aged in different types of barrels), with a fancy package.
There are some commercial beers I’ve had in the past couple years that might help give you an idea of what I’m looking for: The Bruery Coton (and presumably the later iterations), Firestone Walker §ucaba, Parabola, or Anniversary Ale, Uinta Cockeyed Cooper, Ola Dubh series beers, Devine Rebel, and perhaps a dozen or so others. I suppose it’s fortunate that my One Beer to Rule Them All is a fairly common style, even if it’s not quite as common to really hit a superb example.
The final task in concocting my imaginary super beer is to give it a name. I’ve mentioned before that naming things is not a strongpoint for me, but I’ll do my best. The hope is that the above described beer would be almost mystical, transcendent, so I’ll go with the name “Societas Eruditorium Ale” (mostly because I made a similar reference in a recent post and thus the source is fresh in my mind). This is a name that would probably prove impossible to market, but since this is an imaginary beer, I’m free to make all the obscure references I want. In all honesty, this beer sounds kinda awesome. My powers as a homebrewer are probably not up to snuff, but I’d like to try making this someday. I might have some trouble with the barrel aging part, but apparently you can approximate that character using oak chips/cubes soaked in bourbon (or whatever spirit you want). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.