Blending is a useful method to fix a problem in a beer or to bring it closer to established style guidelines, as well as to bring an older brew back to life by blending in fresh beer, to dial in a recipe quickly, to achieve consistency between batches, to create layers of complexity in a beer, or even to invent a new style.
Duncan Bryant, a homebrewer and Web coordinator at the American Homebrewers Association, shares some thoughts on when and why homebrewers might consider blending.
To fix a beer or bring it within style parameters
Pick out the flaw in your beer and envision what you can do to reduce its presence. This method isn’t intended to create an outstanding beer, but to make a crummy one a bit more drinkable—and to save it from the drain.
To freshen up older beer
Older beer can be brought back to life by blending it with a new batch. This has been common throughout brewing history as a means of using every last drop of brew.
To dial in a recipe
Say you’re looking for the perfect bitterness level in a pilsner. Make one batch super bitter and one standard and then blend them together until you arrive at your ideal level.
Particularly in commercial brewing, portions of previous batches will be combined with newer batches to create consistency. If you’re after repeatable results, you absolutely want to keep careful measurements of ratios used in the blend. It can get trickier if you are working with more than two base beers, but it is worth the effort to keep track of all your mixtures so when you do find that magical combination you can re-create it.
Through blending, you can create unique complexity that otherwise you can’t achieve with unblended beer. You can blend a five-year-old version and a one-year-old version of the same recipe for a unique final product, for example; or blend beers made with the same recipe but fermented with two different yeast strains; or blend two or more completely different styles. The sky is the limit.
Collaborate with other brewers to fill a barrel
Many homebrew clubs collaborate to fill a barrel. They decide on a recipe and everyone brews a portion of it at home, then the different batches are combined in a barrel. It is a manageable way to age lots of beer without needing commercial brewing equipment. Some clubs take it a step further and tell everyone to choose their own yeast or hops, which makes for an even more unique brew once blended.
To add oak, spice, or an adjunct to one strand of the beer and blend it
On the flip side, if you’ve over spiced a beer, you can choose a beer, maybe the same base recipe, to blend in and help tone down the spiciness.
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To make the most of a high-gravity beer
In regards to ABV, some commercial breweries simply blend water with a batch to get more beer in a fermenter without brewing larger quantities. Just brew your beer stronger than usual and add water or a low-ABV beer to it in the fermenter to bring it down to the target ABV and create more volume.
Best Practices for Arriving at a Winning Blend
Ted Hausotter is an award-winning homebrewer from Baker City, Oregon, and a BJCP-certified beer judge. He’s been homebrewing beer since the “brown-hops days,” he says, and still brews about 200 gallons of beer annually. He took second place in Best of Show at the National Homebrew Competition about ten years ago with a blended beer and regularly uses blending as a tool to adjust and enhance his beers.
“What I’ve found with blending is that the beer tends to come out better than either of the parent beers in terms of complexity and drinkability,” Hausotter says. “In a sense, you’re a marriage maker. You’re trying to bring two things together into perfect harmony.”
Blending is an effective means to improve a beer that’s out-of-balance in terms of bitterness, sourness, tannins, or alcohol; or is otherwise “flabby” or one-dimensional.
Begin by identifying the missing element and what you think might help improve the beer and then pour equal amounts of the base beer into several tasting glasses.
Pick one or more beers that you intend to blend with and that contain the missing element you’re looking for and use a graduated cylinder to measure and pour proportional amounts into the base beer. You might start with a 50/50 blend and then blend in either direction until you find the sweet spot. “Then you just have fun tasting beer,” Hausotter says. Just don’t forget to take notes. Whether you intend to replicate your blend in a single batch or blend together larger portions, knowing the proportions of each beer should let you scale up the recipe using straight math.
As with brewing, blending together kegs requires the right environment to avoid oxidation or infecting your beer. Begin by sanitizing and purging all your kegs and lines with CO2 to create an oxygen-free environment for transferring the beer. “I don’t do it once; I do it ten times,” Hausotter says. “That way the beer is coming out of the bottom of one keg and into the bottom of the other keg, and everything is under a CO2 blanket at about 10 to 20 psi pressure.”
Connect a jumper hose from the out tube on your master keg to the keg you’re blending into, which should be sitting on a zeroed-out scale. Add in proportions of each beer by weight, gently rock the filled keg back and forth, and you’ve got your blend.