Apart from family, there are two things that for me make life worth living. One, as you might have guessed, is home brewing. The other is fishing. Both are intensely satisfying ‘Zen’ activities. They each involve skill, and neither can be truly mastered even after a lifetime of practice. There’s always something more to learn. Taken together, they make a full meal and a damned good time!
About a month or so ago, an old acquaintance asked me if I would join him and a group of regulars on their annual fly-in fishing trip in northern Canada. For one week each Spring, this group of six guys goes completely primal, unplugged, and disconnected from the demands of civilization. It’s a week-long celebration of lake trout, camaraderie, and beer . . . lots and lots of beer. One of the regular fishermen couldn’t make it this year, so there was an open spot. One that I was enthusiastically willing to fill.
One of the other regular guys—one that would be on this year’s trip—paid me a visit last week so we could discuss what I could expect for the trip. There are rules, and I needed to be aware of them. Meals are shared, and each guy is responsible for cooking for the group on one day during the week. We are free to choose the menu on the day we are in charge of meals, as long as the menu involves lake trout. Also, because I am the newbie in the group, I would be responsible for bringing the single malt (of the whiskey variety, in case you weren’t sure ;). That is the rule, and rules are rules.
I asked him about weight restrictions for the flight into our remote lake. Clearly, beer would be much heavier to transport than other options. However, he suggested that a 19 litre keg was probably lighter than an equivalent volume of beer in bottles and may actually be a great option for the trip. As a home brewer himself, he suggested that I brew a keg’s worth of beer especially for this trip. He could provide a much lighter CO2 canister than mine, as long as I could provide the regulator and the lines. A plan was hatched.
The beer would be called “Hook and Hops Pale Ale” in honour of its destiny. It would be a medium bodied American-style pale ale, with a strong, but not overwhelming, hop character. I aimed for something that would appeal to a relatively broad range of palates, not knowing the beer preferences of my fishing companions. It would also have to sustain my own beer requirements for the duration of the trip. Consequently, it needed to appeal to my preferences as a card-carrying Hophead.
The recipe I developed made use of primarily North American ingredients. American two-row pale malt provided a sturdy backbone for the grain bill. The original recipe formulation called for about 9% of the grain to be 40 ºL crystal malt; however, my inventory would only allow for half of that. Therefore, 4.5% of the grain bill was 40 ºL and another 4.5% was 60 ºL crystal malt. This happy accident resulted in a beautiful golden colour that may have been a bit darker than what I was aiming for, but better suited to the beer’s developing personality. Generous and multiple hop additions, including varieties like Cascade, Chinook, and Northern Brewer, contribute a firm bite behind a malty front end.
Once it came time to add the wort and the 2.3 L starter to the primary fermenter, it was clear that once again, I miscalculated my water usage. This time, I overcompensated and ended up with more wort than would fit into a 19 L carboy. I pitched about 3/4 of the starter into the primary, but then added the extra wort on top of the remaining yeast in the starter jug. After primary fermentation, I combined the contents of the two fermenters which should make for an interesting blend.
The beer is happily bubbling away in a secondary fermenter as I write these words. Once it is transferred into a keg, it won’t see the light of day except in a log cabin on the shore of some remote northern lake sometime in mid-June. I hope it stands up well to the inevitable and constant presence of lake trout. Either way and despite the mistakes, it’s a champion beer in my eyes, because it will be my first home brew made exclusively for a fly-in fishing trip.