Mix It Up

Bev Blackwood - Blending your way to a better beer.

It’s something of a given that a brewer feels that the beer they serve you is the beer they want you to drink.Here’s the heresy: I say you can blend your way to better beer.Often when judging beer (within a style) I find all the beers in the final round to be lacking something.Maybe it’s a hop bite, a richness, or simply the special “something” that makes a beer go from good to amazing.Once we’ve made our decision, I will often combine the #1 and #2 beer and have a better beer, one that takes the best points of both and keeps the commonality of the style.It’s the beauty of a blend.

My good friend and fellow beer judge Jimmy “Play Stairway” Paige was the first person I ever met who was constantly combining available beers to create new drinking pleasures. We would sometimes be chatting at Saint Arnold after hours and he’d ask for a “Bramber,” half Amber, half Brown, or some other blend of the base beers they had on tap at the time.Now if you’re a purist, this will, in fact, make you crazy!Why would you want to mess up a perfectly good beer?

The short answer is that not every beer is, in fact, perfectly good.Brewers get invested in what works for them and if it’s selling, it’s all good, right?Leaving well enough alone is good business sense, it’s predictable, it’s consistent, it’s what your loyal drinkers have come to expect.However, having worked in a brewery for a few years, I know that recipes aren’t always stable and that some “tweaks” to existing recipes can substantially improve an existing recipe.Case in point was a beer we were making that went from 100% Maris Otter malt to 25% Special Pale Malt and 75% Maris Otter that made for a brighter beer with a clearer hop presence while retaining the malty notes it was famous for.Recipes change all the time, mostly due to changes in hop profiles, but often the malt bill or yeast can get tweaked as well, but as I noted above, inertia is hard to overcome.

Sailing Santa, From Saint Arnold Brewing Company is the blend I am most proud of… or was, since it’s not really mine anymore.Back in the day, it was ½ Christmas Ale and ½ Elissa IPA.Both of these beers are award winning, so that’s a good start, but I found the Christmas Ale a bit cloying and by adding Elissa IPA, I gave it that hop bite I wanted to bring it into (my) perfect balance.We called it a Sailing Santa (the Elissa is a tall ship that sails out of Galveston, Texas) but one of my fellow brewers wanted to call it “Christ on a Boat!” Before long, you could order a Sailing Santa in any good beer bar and get the blended product!Eventually, Saint Arnold started producing it pre-blended, but the past couple of years there has been a big change as they added spices to the beer.This year, they used Snap Hops, described as a “blend of hops, spices and botanicals” to give it a ginger snap note.

So whenever the beer in front of you has lost its “zing,” start thinking about how you can improve it.Order a beer you think might blend well with it and explore!If it doesn’t excite, leave the blend and move on to the new beer.Beer is all about flavor and you can create your own favorite… with a bit of experimentation!

The Author:

Bev Blackwood II is the Southwest Brewing News Contributing Editor for Texas and has been covering Texas beers for 17 years An award winning home brewer, Bev has also brewed professionally at St. Arnold Brewing Company and was part of the team that brought home Saint Arnold’s first Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2007. A long time member of Houston’s premiere homebrew club, the Foam Rangers, Bev teaches their Beer Judge Certification Program course and has also taught at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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