Today I’m brewing a batch of one of my favorite beers I’ve ever made – a bourbon barrel-aged smoked chipotle porter. Quite a mouthful, but more about that in a bit. I’ve been home-brewing beer for about 5 years and churned out about 20 or so batches in varying styles, but I’ve seldom done this alone. Until recently, a good bulk of my brewing was done with a close friend of mine. He tragically passed away almost a year ago. I think about him often, but especially when I brew beer. He had a remarkable creativity in coming up with recipes. Certain songs or artists also bring him to mind. But mainly, when I brew, it’s to the memory of my late friend, John Dulmage (that’s his warm smile, while he capped bottles of beer in the cover photo).
This bourbon barrel-aged smoked chipotle porter, though, is a beast. It’s so much fun to make, and even more fun to drink. It’s gone by many fun names too – usually Two Smokin’ Barrels, because I smoke the two-row malt over soaked bourbon barrel staves before I brew the porter recipe, then I add bourbon barrel staves again in secondary fermentation. John had the most creative names for it, usually riffing on puns about our favorite metal and hardcore music. This gives it a sweet, caramel feel with a not-so-boozy bourbon character. Then there’s the chipotles: I take dried chipotles and de-vein and seed them, soak them in bourbon to “sanitize” them, and toss them in the secondary fermenter as well. The drinking experience is interesting because the mouthfeel starts with a slightly sweet, caramelly, malty porter (very full bodied, black beer with an espresso-colored head), and then as you swallow you get the hints of bourbon. It’s not until after you swallow, and especially if you exhale, that the slow burn of the dried chipotles creeps up and fills your throat with heat. Two Smokin’ Barrels is a favorite among my friends and family and, although I age it for several months, I can’t wait until it’s ready.
I guess you could call homebrewing a value-added hobby; it’s a more affordable way to drink some really stellar craft beer, or a more tedious way to drink clones of cheap industrial beers, or you can kick it up a notch and go full art-beer with experimental flavors and techniques. Brewing is also an incredible hands-on learning experience that led me to better appreciate and discern the malts, hops, adjuncts, and methods that go into some of my favorite beers. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great local homebrew supply store, My Old Kentucky Homebrew, to get everything I need. I’ve also been fortunate to share my love of brewing (and drinking) excellent beers with friends and family who enthusiastically wait hours, days, months to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
It’s a tradition to blast the entire Pelican discography while I brew. This cannot be stressed enough. I’ve written at length about Pelican before in posts over on Backseat Sandbar, and that band has provided meaningful music that I’ve associated with many life events throughout the past 12 years or so. Listening to them gives me reason to reflect, which is basically the scope of this post – a pause for reflection on some of the things and people that are meaningful to me.
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