Last Wednesday, I went to my first meeting of the Lancaster Brewers Club. I had heard about this club from a couple different places, once online in a very old forum post and more recently from someone at a library function I went to with Amy. I’ve been wanting to check it out for a few months, but their meetings are on the same night as a 5k fun run at Snitz Creek, a local brewpub.
Anyway, I finally made it this month, and it was good one to attend. The club was conducting an ingredient experiment focusing on Crystal Malts. Nine members each brewed the same recipe, swapping out only the type of Crystal Malt and brought the results for everyone to sample and take notes on. The recipe was a basic American Pale Ale, with only Pale Malt and Crystal in the grist. The hop schedule focused on a blend of Simcoe and Amarillo late in the boil. The hopping was on the low end for a Pale Ale, intentionally to focus on malts.
We sampled starting at the lightest and going in order to the darkest. Some of the lighter ones tasted very similar, but the second to lightest, Cara Red was one of my favorites. I think this was the best actual Pale Ale of the whole night. Cara Red is a German malt that I have never used before. After this, I would like to give it a try. My notes say “toffee sweetness, more hop presence, fuller body, very balanced.” Not all of that has to do with the malt, obviously, but the toffee flavor was great and played perfectly with the hops.
Crystal 80 seemed to be a favorite for a lot of people. I listed it as my third favorite. I found that it had less hop character, and later found out that it was a partial volume extract brew, which accounts for that. The lowered hop presence made way for great malt character, though. I found this to have a very English taste, it reminded me of an ESB. An excellent beer and a reminder of how good extract brewed beer can be. I’m curious if the extract was English, though.
My other favorite was Crystal 150. Keeping in mind that an equal amount, .75 pounds, of each Crystal Malt was used in each batch, you can imagine that this beer bore little resemblance to an American Pale Ale. It was dark, though not as dark in color as I expected. The flavor was dominated by contributions from the 150. Prune was big note that I made.
Cara 8, Cara Vienna, Crystal 40, Crystal 60, Crystal 90 and Special B were the other malts in the experiment. I could definitely make a huge post just covering them all individually, but I want to talk more about my experience with the actual meeting.
I had a great time. I’m generally pretty quiet and shy, so these types of things can be hard, but everyone was very welcoming and, with the addition of lots of beer sampling, they made me feel very comfortable. I felt bad that I didn’t bring any beer to share, but I will definitely try to make up for it in future meetings.
After we worked through all of the Crystal experiment beers, everyone shared some of their other beers. It was great to try a beer and then be able to talk to the person who made it and see what they did. I feel bad that I don’t remember more names, but the brewer of that extract Crystal 80 beer and a guy who brought his hard cider with vanilla and cinnamon were among the people who shared information about their process with me and I enjoyed both interactions.
The meeting took pale at their normal spot, downstairs at Lancaster Brewing Company. I was excited just for that, as it is right in the actual brewery. The tanks are visible from the dining area through an opening in the floor, but I had never been down there. I am a big fan of Lancaster Brewing Company, specifically their European style lagers and it was fun to get into the brewery proper.
I have not officially joined the club yet, but I plan to at next months meeting. We’re meeting at POUR, another great venue in Lancaster next month for a pumpkin beer competition. I’m not sure if I’ll bring Plumpkin to enter the competition or just a more recent beer to share, but I’m already looking forward to it. If you’re in the area and are interested in joining the fun, you should. The club’s website is at LancasterBrewers.com and there is a calendar there that will give you the information you need to find an event you can participate in. If you’re not in the area but you have a local homebrew club and you haven’t checked it out… do it. You know your other friends don’t want to hear any more diatribes about the relative merits of various colors of Crystal Malts. Give them a break.