Recently I got a chance to meet up with fellow Memphis blogger and home brewer Brett Donnals of Bluff City Brewing. Not only does he make his own beer, but he's growing his own hops! He was kind enough to pass along some samples of his brews, and I was really excited to give them a shot.
A note on home brewing: You can make wine in your kitchen, but it's probably going to be worse than 99% of the wine available in the store. On the flipside, it's possible to make beer in your kitchen that is better than 99% of the beer available in the store. Because of the shorter fermentation period and the fact that you're not constrained by the seasons, it's quicker to learn how to make decent beer and the production is not dependent on sunlight, weather, geology, etc. Unlike Coors or Budweiser, you can change your recipe every week to suit your tastes without alienating millions of customers.
Plus beer is pretty forgiving of additional flavorings and ingredients. Want to make a pumpkin, blueberry, strawberry, or cardamom-star anise beer? Want to use a recipe from the Revolutionary War, Medieval Germany, or Ancient Egypt? Go for it! This creativity, innovation, and rediscovery is happening in garages and basements all across the United States. Some of your neighbors are likely into the hobby.
The numbers given for each of the beers reviewed here are IBUs, or International Bitterness Units. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer, though other flavorings and methods can impact the final taste and balance.
From left to right as pictured:
American Pale Ale, 53.3 IBUs.
Crisp and light, with medium bitterness and an overall refreshing quality. This one tasted best cold, straight out of the fridge, and had a short but tasty finish. Try this with a natural-case bratwurst that has a good "snap" to it and you'll learn why beer and sausage were meant to go together.
American Brown Ale, 62.8 IBUs.
Similar in style to Newcastle, but more bitter and with a lighter body. A great all-around beer for many different kinds of food. It stood up well to both white and supreme pizzas from Memphis Pizza Cafe. I can imagine this beer being great for Thanksgiving, preferably served from half-gallon growlers.
American Stout, 75.6 IBUs.
This pours an almost black color with a dark brown head, and has elements of coffee and chocolate. This one I felt was best as an after-dinner beer, particularly after it had come up to near room temperature. Cold it was difficult to get all the flavors; warmer it opened up and made for a smoother drink. Despite the highest IBU rating, it was well-balanced and delicious.
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Homebrewers are fun people to know, and a lot of times there's a few extra bottles or experimental batches rattling around in the back of a fridge somewhere. Check out Brett's blog, where he posts photos of the beermaking process as well as providing information on other microbreweries and local beer events.