After the relative success of my last batch, I tossed the plastic bottles that had ruined my first. Giddy on my mastery of brewing, I starting thinking about a third batch. The idea came to me at Cinco de Mayo (yes, these posts are increasingly late): what if I could make a better version of Corona?
Riverlife, the venue for the occassion, were serving “Mexicana” beer. No one could identify what it actually was. There were kegs from Two Brothers Microbrewery and CUB present but only one beer choice. Seems likely that it was some nondescript, factory seconds pale lager. I’m sure my mind was playing tricks on me but there seemed to be suggestions of maltiness in the “Mexicana”, which begs the question, what if you could combine the refreshment and lightness of a Mexican lager with some flavoursome ingredients? And so Project Quetzal and batch DR73 were born.
“Oh yes, Liam, you’re so original. Truly a genius of our time,” I can hear you say before you start a sarcastic slow clap. And then you add, “Didn’t Two Birds do something like that at GABS?” I answer, “Yes and shut up. Look, I didn’t say I was breaking the mould here, just looking for a direction to take my brewing in.” I abruptly bring the conversation to an end because I realise I’m talking to myself.
So, Mr Strawman McSmartypants, how do you propose someone with minimal brewing ability undertakes this? Well I start with the name. Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec god/”feathered serpent” and Quetzalcoatlus was an enormous pterosaur with a 10m wingspan from the Cretaceous Period North America. I want to name my beer after the latter, as Untappd has six beers listed under Quetzalcoatl. I don’t have time to say Quetzalcoatlus every time, so in the tradition of Australian laconicism, it’s just “Project Quetzal”.
The plan, eventually, is to make a Meixcan lager with a bit, not a lot, of flavour. Some hoppiness and some maltiness but nothing substantial as I want to retain the water-like, sessionable features of Corona because that’s one of its selling points. However, I can barely brew at this point, so I’m just going to buy the Coopers Mexican Cerveza kit, add some hops and see what happens.
After visiting the homebrew shop, I ended up going home with Saaz hops because apparently “aromatic” hops means “anything with low alpha acid” percentage (3.5% to be precise) – never mind that I had a cerveza kit and you sold me pilsner hops. I took a small sample of the hops and made a tea with it before adding it to the mix, which consisted of the aforementioned Cerveza kit and an adjunct of pale malt, dextrose and maltodextrin (“Brew Blend” if you’re ever at Annerley Home Brew). Incidentally, the mixing process is getting smoother and less messy. I finally got around to using my hydrometer properly and DR73 had a starting gravity of 1040.
I let it ferment for seven days. The first few days went smoothly, with a constant popping from the airlock, not unlike a ticking clock, signalling all was well in Yeasttown. However, Brisbane hit a cold snap that week, so I had to immerse my fermenter in hot water a couple of times toprevent the yeast from giving up. While this is an unsatisfyingly crude way of maintaining temperature, it did the trick and I knew fermentation was completely finished when there was bugger all happening and the temperature was above 25ºC. The final gravity was 1010 which, after secondary fermentation, would give an ABV of 4.5%. Parfait, as Mexicans would say if they spoke French.
I had to do the bottling by myself this time but, having gained an immense amount of experience last time around, I got through it in a slim three hours from cleaning bottles to finishing capping. Red crown caps were the seal of choice this time around. I managed to squeeze sixty-six bottles out, although given a couple of them have been inclined to spew head all over the place, that was a couple too many.
A two week maturation period worked well for VES0, so I did the same for DR73. The final result is quite interesting and not at all what I was expecting. To be perfectly honest, it tastes a bit like apple juice.
It’s a clean, dry, light feeling beer with perfect carbonation and a pale straw colour. It’s the flavour that makes it distinctive though: the hops have added a more-than-subtle, less-than-strong grassy, fruity flavour to what I imagine would be an otherwise pretty bland beer. It also has about two and a half IBUs, so I legally can’t call it beer (minimum is 4 in Australia).
While I have the same problems I did with the dark ale, namely drinking over an extended period tends to dull your tasting of it, swapping between the two keeps things fresh. Each time I get a new hit of DR73, the bizarre but pleasant flavour makes me stop and think.
What’s next then? In time, Project Quetzal will develop but the use of Saaz hops has opened my eyes a little to other possibilities. In the interim, I did mention that I was a grandson of a homebrewer and, to be frank, I’m sick of the kit and kilo approach. It’s time to make some real beer.