Because like so many other things in life, taste is, of course, subjective.
By adding, subtracting or substituting different varieties of grains, hops and yeast, or even changing the mash temperature by a few degrees, one can create an entirely new beer. Sometimes the result is worse than the original – sometimes nigh undrinkable – but sometimes it's an improvement. Sometimes this brewer even thinks he's reached perfection.
But almost as quickly I decide I could do it better, often to the chagrin of my beer-fan friends who question why I can't just accept that maybe this version is as good as it gets.
Brewing is a slow, methodical and – to this brewer – relaxing process that never ends. There is always an old recipe to tweak or a new recipe to start.
As a bureau chief for Courthouse News Service I have the opportunity to do plenty of field research across the western half of the country, and occasionally further afield.
My favorite recipes include attempts at recreating a brown ale and coconut porter from the same brewery on Maui, both of which I fell in love with on work trips to that special place. I had always rejected the use of coconut out of hand until some very friendly and inebriated locals at a bar in Paia demanded I try the beer. One sip and I was hooked. Though one can purchase the porter on the mainland, the pungent coconut flavor of the beer when first released from the brewery fades quickly in transport and storage.
The best oatmeal stout I've ever had comes from a small brewery in Bozeman, Montana, though a slightly less malty and lighter-bodied version from one of the oldest craft breweries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has given me vague notions that I can come up with a concoction of my own that balances the two, while borrowing from the unique hop profile of yet another favorite – this one from a brewpub in Anchorage, Alaska.
Another standby, especially when the weather is hot, is a Koelsch-style ale, a pale golden beer that is unique in that it is ideally fermented between the normal almost room temperature of ales and the very cool temperatures reserved for lagers and pilsners.
Koelsch is also unique because like champagne, a true Koelsch should only be brewed in the fun-loving city of Cologne, Germany, though as far as I know there aren't strict laws like there are for the sparkling white wine of France.
While many brewers in California in recent years have popularized a slightly hoppier version with a higher alcohol content called the Cali Koelsch, I try to brew a beer that reminds me of the clean, crisp and light beers served in small thin glasses that I remember from many trips to Cologne, some of which I spent perhaps too long drinking the beer while staring at the famous gothic cathedral across the square in the city center.
Though sometimes the travel seems like it will go on forever, in the end this brewer always ends up back home, by plane, train, automobile or more often a combination thereof, and there is always a new brewing project waiting at the end of the trip.
This weekend I'll be transferring a coconut porter from one fermentation chamber to another, and taking my first sips of another recently completed ale.
Courthouse News Service has covered the Contra Costa County Superior Court for more than a decade, and has provided daily coverage since 2011.
Contra Costa County Facts
County Seat: Martinez
Population: 1.04 million
Named After: Contra Costa means "opposite coast" in Spanish. Opposite of San Francisco, that is.
Contra Costa is home to Mt. Diablo, centerpiece of a state park. The summit of the mountain at the northern edge of the Diablo Range is 3,849 feet.
The Mt. Diablo name supposedly comes from Spanish soldiers who called a thicket "Monte del Diablo" when natives they were pursuing disappeared into the thicket. English-speaking settlers later misunderstood the use of the word monte, which can mean mountain or thicket.
Multiple attempts have been made to rename the mountain. Mt. Ronald Reagan is an oft-mentioned alternative.
On a clear day, you can see parts of 40 of California's 58 counties from the summit, including the cities of San Francisco to the west, Sacramento the east and the Sierra Nevada beyond.
The largest city in the county is Concord, population 122,000. The city was named Todos Santos (Spanish for All Saints) for a short time. A square in the city center still bears the name.
Concord was the original terminus of the Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail line that currently extends to Pittsburg/Bay Point and which will end in Antioch when a new BART station opens in the near future.
In 1944, a massive explosion on a Navy cargo ship at Port Chicago in the bay off Contra Costa County killed 320 sailors, merchant seamen and civilians working at the pier. The blast was felt 30 miles away.
Contra Costa County stretches from Richmond in the west to beyond Brentwood in the east, and to San Ramon in the south.
Known today mostly as a bedroom community for San Francisco, Contra Costa County was once a sparsely populated agricultural area. That was before World War II brought thousands of workers to the shipyards of Richmond, before the advent of the Interstate Highway System and before BART. More recently, the booming technology sector that has taken over large portions of the Bay Area further increased the population.
Though densely populated in some areas, Contra Costa County retains ample open space and rural areas in the far eastern parts of the county and in some pockets throughout the rest.
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