Last July I brewed up a batch of kölsch since it is a style of beer that pairs quite well with summer weather, activity, and food.

As part of the process, I racked (transferred) the beer from the primary fermenter to a secondary fermenter after a week or two since I wanted to age the beer a bit before bottling it. In the top of the secondary fermenter, I placed a fermentation lock to exclude bacteria and the like and still offer an out for any fermentation gasses that formed in the fermenter. A fermentation lock uses water to accomplish this task. The water keeps air out of the fermenter, but lets gasses bubble out through it to relieve pressure inside the fermentation vessel. For a variety of reasons, none of them good, I never quite got around to bottling the beer. Sometime in late October or early November, the water evaporated out of the fermentation lock. That meant that the beer was suddenly undergoing open fermentation, exposed to all the wild yeasts, bacterial, fungi and the like that were floating around my basement.

Normally, you want to avoid open fermentation when brewing because it is extremely difficult to control the taste and appearance of the final product when any random beastie floating through the air that can survive an alcoholic environment could take up residence in your brew and multiply rapidly. Faced with this problem, I punted and did nothing.

Time passed and I left for the Pole. In late January I returned and my mystery brew was still waiting for me. My sense of guilt and confusion hadn’t really lessened so I just let the mess fester.

In early March I finally got off my duff and tackled the situation head-on. If the beer was drinkable, I was determined to bottle it. If it was completely unpalatable, I’d pour the $40 of ingredients down the drain and call it an expensive lesson. I dragged the fermenter up to the kitchen, sterilized a siphon, and pulled two ounces out for a test. The beer smelled OK, even though the color was dark brown instead of a pale yellow. It was time for the big test, a taste.

I tipped the glass back and let a swallow of beer enter my mouth. The taste wasn’t bad, but the most interesting part was shortly after I swallowed the beer and my tongue went numb! A normal person might be turned off by a beer that numbs the tongue, but I forged ahead and bottled the whole batch anyway.

After two weeks of finishing in the bottle, I popped open a bottle for the big test. The bouquet was still flowery and hoppy; the appearance was still brown and cloudy. The taste…well, I was a bit letdown when it didn’t numb my tongue or anybody else’s who tried the brew. It’s extremely dry on the tongue and is actually quite an easy drinking brew. Considering all that could or should have gone wrong with the brew, I’m quite pleased that it turned out the way it did.

The brew’s name is 100 Year Kölsch for three reasons:1. Given a hundred years, I’m not sure that I could reproduce the beer given all that happened to it as it fermented in the open for months.

  1. We’re in the midst of a winter with snowfall totals that will likely take a 100 years to top.
  2. Madison officially topped the 100” mark for snowfall in this winter.