Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Beard of Zeus - The Beard is Back

I hadn't expected to brew my old Russian imperial stout quite yet, but events conspired to rush things a little. Back in March I was getting ready to send some of my beers to the first round of the National Homebrew Competition. Winners in this Canadian qualifier would get to move on to the final round of the NHC, the biggest homebrewing competition in the world, held this year in Seattle. The stakes were high so the field was going to be strong. I didn't want to get my hopes up too much, but the thought of advancing to the finals and maybe having my beer judged alongside one brewed by Jamil Zainasheff or Gordon Strong was an inspiring thought, not to mention a scary one.

As I was getting some bottles down off a shelf I saw a couple bottles tucked away in the back that I hadn't noticed before. Pulling them out I looked at the caps. BZ, they said. The Beard of Zeus. I didn't realise I had any small bottles of my old Russian Imperial left. I had recently timidly offered a taste of this beer to a few pro brewers in town who I have a ton of respect for, and they said they loved it. Encouraged by this I decided to enter it at the NHC. When I told my girlfriend my plan to send these bottles off she replied, ever the voice of reason, "but those are the last two bottles, what will you enter if you win?" "I'll worry about that when it happens," I replied. Realistically, what were the odds of that?

A few weeks later the results were posted and, a bit tentatively, I began to scroll down the list. When I hit Category 13, Stout, I saw it... John Adair... The Beard of Zeus... Gold. The first thought through my head was, (pardon my language) Fuck Ya! The second one was, What now?

Fortunately for ill prepared amateurs such as myself, the NHC permits rebrewing for the second round, as this helps ensure freshness in styles where this is critical such as Witbier or IPA. Unfortunately, Russian Imperial Stout is not one of these styles by a long shot. In my experience, age is a critical aspect of an RIS, as it helps blend the flavours and cool down any hot alcohol character in a beer this big. The bottles that I had entered were a full year old and the NHC was in just over two months. Damn. However, there was still plenty of time to brew a second batch, and even if it wasn't aged to perfection at least I would have the chance to get some feedback on one of my beers from what were likely some of the best judges around. So I set to work.

The first question was whether to change my recipe. I toyed with the idea but it seemed right that it should be presented as similar as possible to the beer from the first round. I also remembered reading somewhere about a recipe that a highly successful homebrewer had come up with when he was first getting into the hobby. The beer had turned out fantastic and in subsequent versions he had always tinkered with it, but the adjustments always diminished the beer, rather than improving it. The secret to the beer's success was that one extra malt that didn't make sense, that one odd variety of hop that shouldn't have fit with the whole, but did for some reason. This individual could never have come up with this recipe later in his brewing career, not despite his experience, but because of it. This reminded me of the recipe for The Beard, which was one of my first recipes. I came up with it pretty much on pure intuition, with very little knowledge to guide my choices, so I figured I should leave it alone. The recipe would stand.

I was luckily able to find all the ingredients from my original recipe. Even the yeast worked out as an order had just come in at one of the local shops so it was in stock and fresh to boot. Although the brew was a little less smooth than usual as I hadn't brewed in over two weeks, my targets all came out where I wanted them and fermentation kicked in quickly and vigorously. If only I had a bit more time for aging.

Ingredients: British 2-row, roasted barley, flaked oats, wheat malt, chocolate malt, biscuit malt, brown malt, fuggles hops, wyeast 1028 London Ale


  1. Congrats John!!!! And all the best of luck in the National Home brew in Seattle. Keeping our fingers crossed.
    Cheers Don & Bonnie Bradley

  2. Thanks a lot, see you guys at the Moon very soon