Saigon doesn’t seem to be a great place to be a homebrewer. As far as I know, there’s nowhere to buy grain, yeast, or hops in the city, and while there is and active community of homebrewers up in Hanoi, there doesn’t seem to be one in Saigon. I could be wrong–and if I am, I’d love to hear more about it–but that’s my impression from scouring the web.
This is tolerable, for me, because I brewed a hell of a lot–to the point of exhaustion, and being a bit tired of brewing–by the time I left Korea, and because Saigon has just broad enough a selection of imports for me to try new things (or familiar, beloved beers) occasionally, while not wanting to buy too much of them, since they’re not cheap here… and because brewing is enough of a passion for me that it tends to distract from other pursuits to some degree, such as the writing I’m trying to get done here.
But my Pending Posts queue on this blog has a whole bunch of brewing recipes I formulated, but never got around to brewing–everything from a soured braggot (that is, mead/beer hybrid, soured by wild yeast) to a Kotbuss–an endangered style of German altbier with molasses and honey in it. Still, if I could brew in Saigon, what would I be making? The answer is simple, really:
- Saisons: Saigon is in the tropics: a yeast that thrives at high temperatures is a plus, but besides that, Saisons are versatile, as they can be hoppy or very much colored by adjuncts and spices. I love Saisons, and they’d be the mainstay in my Saigon brewhouse.
- µIPA: I miss an assertively hoppy brew down here, where malty German styles dominate. Saigon has some decent Belgian beers (if you don’t mind paying for them) but nothing with any hop character. But I’ve also found I’m happy with a µIPA–a micro-IPA, that is–especially if the hops are Citra. I could do with a batch of Citra µIPA sitting around, to be savored one small bottle at a time.
- Alternate Method: I’ll probably end up settling for hop oil extraction, and dosing regular beer with some of the hop oil when I feel like a hoppier beer. I hope to get a few different varieties of hops, so I can have my pick of what to turn the regular craplager into: Citra, Cascade, Nelson Sauvin… whatever.
- Meads: I actually hope to be making meads soon. Honey is very cheap in Saigon, and I should be able to get temperature tolerant yeast here before too long. When I do, mead is what I’ll be focusing on.
But what if there were no limits? What if I were fully equipped with a home brewery right now, and grain and hops and an environment where I could cool fermenting batches of beer… in that case, what would I make? Which is also to ask: when I do get back into brewing, someplace where we figure we’ll stay long enough to justify buying homebrewing gear, what will I make?
Here’s a top ten:
- A sour ale. After actually making various sour ales, I’m not sure I care much about style. I mean, I probably will someday try to make samples of each of the popular sour styles–particularly Flanders Red Ale–but my favorite sours from my own brewhouse have been just beers I made, liked, and then soured with a hodgepodge of sour cultures, bottle dregs, and so on. I’d probably make the sour ale first or second, as they take a while to actually develop their Brett flavor and aromas and sourness. And I’d definitely want to dry dry-hopping a few gallons of it before bottling. I’ve been curious about dry-hopped sour beer for a long, long time now.
- A nice, firm English Mild Ale made with Windsor dry yeast. Because my wife loves an English Mild.
- A Grätzer with home-smoked malt (oak smoke, of course), because this is one of the beers I’ve loved most from my homebrewing experience.
- A Saison, especially one with blue agave syrup as an adjunct. Ferment with Belgian Saison yeast, as high as the temps can go. Lovely stuff. Assuming I could get spelt, I’d use that, too. Spelt is wonderful in Saisons.
- A Citra µIPA… and I’d make it a double batch, because with the bright, assertive hoppiness and the low alcohol level that makes it very sessionable, this beer goes fast.
- Believe it or not, a simple English Pale Ale with one or another English hop variety. I like these, too. Or, if I felt like it, some American hop. Those are nice as well. A good, solid, simple, no-bullshit beer.
- A 100% Smoked Porter. Because, if you home-smoke the malt, you can do this. I love smoky beer, though. What I think is “not smoky enough” is, to other people, the taste of chimney. This stuff goes relatively slowly, so it’s good to have fridge space for it.
- A Kotbusser, because it sounds like such an interesting little beer. (I described it above, by the way, if your memory is short.)
- An Imperial Pilsner, with a nice earthy hoppiness to it.
- Some kind of All-Brett Wheat Beer. Wheat’s not at the top of my list since a few okay whet beers are available here, but I miss a rich, thick wheat beer and I miss the vividness you can get with Brett C. Hell, maybe I’d even try an All-Brett C Belgian Wit. That sounds like a good time!
Runner-up is a Berliner Weisse, because all my experiences with those have been good… though this time, I’d add some kind of Brett to the mix, and sour it with lactobacillus.