Saturday, December 20, 2008

Always a pleasure

If there's one thing I enjoy more than drinking my own beer, it's enjoying the beer of others--especially if it's well made. If the 'other' in particular has managed to make the leap to commercial brewing, there's not just the beer, but also the reminder that 'yes, it can be done.'

My office had its holiday luncheon, in combination with the class graduation luncheon, yesterday at DuClaw's. I've met their brewer, Bo Lenck, and he was very nice--even gave me a tour of the brewery, one-on-one, impromptu. Bo 'used to' be a homebrewer (a successful one, if the rumors I hear are true), and moved on to brew at DuClaw (I'm not sure if he's one of the founders, but it wouldn't surprise me). DuClaw's brewery up towards Aberdeen will even give away yeast to homebrewers (WLP-001, for the most part; that's their house strain). Nothing like coming away with a quart or two of yeast slurry...

Anyway, one of the students ordered the beer sampler yesterday. Now, I've seen the beer sampler before--it always seemed to be six or seven taster-size glasses of their 'usual' lineup. What they brought out yesterday, though, was fully twelve sampler-glasses, with one of everything they have on tap right now... Venom, HellRazer, Alchemy, Blackjack, Full Moon, Misfit, Kangaroo, Bare Ass Blonde, everything. Eep!

I went for what used to be my favorite, back before the hop shortage (ah, the good old days!), and ordered a Venom. Wow! They tweaked the hop profile; obviously, they still can't get everything the way they used to. It had a harsher, back-of-the-tongue bitterness that's difficult to describe; regardless, for all that it's still like chewing on a hop, it's not as smooth as it once was. I guess it's back to the Misfit Red, for me...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen Amber, and an upcoming brewday

This is overall a fairly pleasant beer. It's got a triply redundant name (Oktoberfest beers are, by definition, Marzens, and the lot of them are amber), which is odd by normal standards, but fairly tame by brewing standards. On the pour, the beer shows its 'amberness,' with a lovely pour; carbonation rises during the entire glass. The head is moderate and white, and dissipates fairly quickly. The nose is rich and full of malt notes, with a hint of a certain something I can't put my finger on, but tells me without a doubt that this is a Paulaner beer (I've noticed this same thing in every other beer of theirs that I've tried). First taste keeps with this impression: richly malty, with the Paulaner 'tang' following. The hop notes are a subdued spicyness, just strong enough to balance the malt. The finish maintains the lingering malt, but is quite dry. While a bit stronger than my average daily quaff, it's still very drinkable; it definitely falls into the "I'd order another" category. Let's say, 3.5 stars out of five...

I'll also be brewing again on the 14th. I'm leaning towards a fairly simple APA recipe; not too strong, not too hoppy. I think the compressor on my lagering chest needs a new charge of coolant--it's "just" holding a nice, cool 58 degrees--so it's ales for me for a little while, I think. (Somehow, I believe I'll survive.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Overdue Review

I've been quite remiss about getting this post in; the Thanksgiving holiday will do that to a guy. So, without further ado, here's what I've got to say about my selections on tap at present.

First, the Scottish 70/-. It pours a nice light amber, tending towards the brown rather than the golden hue of some beers. It's got a bit of haze, as well. The head starts nice and thick (about 1"), then dwindles down to a ring of bubbles that chases the beer down the glass. I'm afraid it's a little astringent; I probably over-sparged, or somesuch (I'd have to double-check my notes), and I *know* it's over-carbonated. The aroma is malt, but only weakly so--I'm not sure what I'd do to fix that, for my taste. (In fairness, I've never had a commercial 70/- that I can recall, so I may not be imagining it right.) The alcohol level is low, probably about 3-3.5%, which is what I was aiming for, so it has that going for it. And this is the infamous 'ever-carbonating' beer; I'm convinced, now, that it's got an infection of some sort (perhaps a wild yeast strain--aside from the tannic astringency, there's no flavor indication of anything else, that I can detect). Not bad enough, perhaps, to dump, but not really good. I'll rate this as 'probably not my favorite style,' and move on smartly from there.

The Belgian Dubbel came out a bit more like I had imagined. It's a lovely deep copper color, with a creamy head that dissipates to the expected lace after a few minutes. The aroma is primarily malt, with a good bit of fruitiness from the yeast; the fruitiness tends towards the darker, dried fruits (plum) with some of the caramelized sugar coming through in the nose. The body is medium, and its flavor follows the aroma fairly closely, with a touch of something roasted coming through in the end. I might ask for the flavors to be a bit more 'in-your-face,' but it's certainly not bad. It is of a significantly higher alcohol content than the 70/-; probably in the 5.5-6% range, but it doesn't have a fusel heat. It goes down quite smoothly, probably due to its having a cooler fermentation than I necessarily would have intended. Still, I'd order another--but I'll tweak the recipe, the next time I brew it.

All for now; I've got beers (and wine and cider) to rack, a mead that needs bottling soon, and assorted other chores that must be done before my next brew day. I *plan* on getting to that Paulaner by this weekend, but time will tell, as always.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Budweiser American Ale

Something you may not have every expected to see me do: a review of one of the new "micros" produced by the macro-brewers; in this instance, specifically Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser American Ale. Whatever else you may say about the macro-brewers, their quality control and consistency are second to none. (Granted, their quality may come into question...) The bottle poured exactly as expected, leaving a lovely one inch of head. It had a nice amber color, and retained its effervescence through the entirety of the drink. It smelled of hops, but not much malt in the nose. Upon drinking, its taste paralleled its aroma--lots of hops, no malt to speak of. It finished dry, with no particular aftertaste.

I'm guessing that they were aiming for an IPA; with a bigger malt profile, they may have even had a fairly respectable version. As it is, the American Ale is (while not great) quite drinkable, and far from bad--it passes the "I'd order another one" test, but much would depend on what was available--it might not necessarily be my first choice for what to order.

My next review: Paulaner Oktoberfest, and (probably) my Scottish 70/-.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Halloween Brew Day Recap

The (inaugural?) Halloween Midnight Brew went nearly without a hitch. Technically, everything went as expected; socially, it went basically as expected, also.

In the social aspect, it ended up being just me doing the brew. Hopefully, next year I can convince a few more people to come over. Still, I often find that doing a solo brew goes more smoothly than doing one with others around. (I'd rather have a few others around, if only so I can chat with them as I go.)

The burners were lit precisely at midnight; by half-past, the grain was being mashed. A hair over 22 pounds of grain, it turns out, is about half of my mash-tun capacity. (Good to know, I think...) I even had room enough that I could have done two infusions, had I wanted. Three might have been stretching it.

Due to the lack of other participants, and looking at the time, and having had a really long day, I decided that I had fulfilled the spirit of my goal, and decided to allow the mash to go overnight. I picked up where I had left off at about 9:30 on Saturday morning, heating water for the sparge.

My experience with 'big' brews has shown me that my efficiency tends to suffer; I'm not certain of the mechanics of why, but I accept the 'fact-of.' I only got around 68% efficiency, as opposed to my more typical 75%; still, things were well within acceptable norms. The boil was remarkably well-behaved, and I only lost a couple of ounces to boil-over. The re-constructed pump worked well. I even heated up a couple of gallons of plain water to help with clean-up (especially the pump). The yeast had been pitched by noon, and active fermentation was underway by nightfall Saturday. I may tweak the spice blend, should I do this again--maybe ditch the nutmeg, add perhaps a little ginger, bump up the cinnamon. Still, come the end of a year, it will be a nice brew, I'm sure.

I haven't decided when my next brew day will be; probably the weekend before Thanksgiving. That's rather late in the month, but it's the only one I have really free; hopefully, my December brew day will be earlier.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rebuilding a March Pump

So, as promised, here's a quick down-and-dirty on how to rebuild a March Pump with a new head.

As you may recall, I dropped mine, and broke off the intake side of the head:
I ordered a new one from MoreBeer, and it arrived shortly, in good order (but for the shipping box...):To install the new pump head, first you have to take off the old one. This is accomplished by removing four screws, located on the 'face' of the head. (Sorry for the blurry picture; the arrows indicate the individual screws' locations.)Having pulled the head off, you're faced with another quartet of screws on the inner workings of the head:With these removed, you can pull things apart. You're now faced with the impeller assembly:
A bit of tugging, and the whole thing will come apart nicely, including the impeller (the spinny bit) and its axle:
A quick inspection revealed a problem for me, however: mold had taken up residence on the impeller!
So, after much washing and scrubbing and sanitizing of the impeller, I was ready to re-assemble. The re-assembly process is identical to the disassembly process, only in reverse. In all, not counting the 'break' to clean things, it probably took me about 10 minutes to have the old one off and the new one screwed on.
Note to self: Run sanitizing solution through the stupid thing during post-brew cleanup, otherwise I'll be left with the possibility of infected batches...

That's all for today--lots of pretty pictures. I'll be brewing Friday night, so check back after!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pear Cider, and the UPS

My Hard Pear Cider has been started. As promised, I will document its progress. I used 100% pure pear cider, not mixed with apple cider or with water. The only things I added were some fructose I had laying around (to bump up the OG, in the hopes of this ending up with a little residual sweetness), some pectic enzyme (to help it clear), and the yeast. Here is the cider, before going in to the fermenter:

Images of it fermenting, and further progress, will come along shortly-ish.

As for the UPS: I've had issues with my local UPS drivers. Normally, they leave packages sitting on my front stoop, not bothering to knock, or ring the doorbell, or even yell to let someone know that they've been by. To expand upon this, some of the local neighborhood teens find it amusing to 'liberate' things from people's front yards--normally pink flamingos and the like, but small packages aren't outside the realm of possibility. This week, they hit a new low.

So, as I was cleaning up from my last Brew Day, I accidentally dropped my March pump onto the cold, hard tile of my basement. Ordinarily, things get dropped around here all the time, to no particular damage, but the pump heads are somewhat fragile things--while they can handle the heat of recently-boiled wort, sudden blunt force trauma is bad for them. With the impact, the pump head broke. 'No problem,' says I, 'I'll just order me a new one.' So I did.

The pump head arrived on Monday. Again, the UPS driver dropped off the box at the door, with no notification to anyone (my Lady Wife was home all day) that he had done so. But a look at the box:
...Reveals that it was handled less-than-gently. Fortunately, nothing inside was damaged; still, I am less than pleased with them, and they will (again) be hearing from me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


So, I found a source for 100% pear cider (no apples involved, just pears). The sample was quite sweet; the price was right. So, probably tomorrow sometime, I'll be adding some pectic enzyme and some yeast; by this time next year, it will have fermented out, come clear, and been bottled. Hopefully, it'll taste as good then as it does now--albeit changed slightly by the alchemy that is fermentation.

I think an interesting thing will be to document this brew. I'll post occasional (monthly?) updates, including photos and the occasional tasting note. We'll see how this ends up.

In other news, I'll be racking the Kolsch tomorrow; I may well rack the Wit, as well. The wit has decided to kick into fermentation again--I suppose it has decided it likes the cooler temperatures in the basement now that autumn has decided to really kick in. (Another couple of weeks at this rate, and the basement will be at its annual 'cool' temperature level.) No telling how much longer it'll ferment--I'd be surprised if it were more than a week or so, though. Regardless, the Kolsch will go in secondary for a few days, then head into the chill chest for a bit.

I'm also ready for my next Brew Day--this one will be my Halloween Brew. A nice Holiday Ale for Samhain. (It'll be ready for next year's holiday season--or at least, that's the plan.) I'm still waiting to see what everyone thinks I should do for it--the poll is off to the right... Vote early, vote often!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Quick note...

It's late, so this will be brief. The Brew Day on Sunday was a success; there were 5 of us (myself included) in total, and 3 brews were completed--2 all-grain, one partial mash. The Witbier was the final one of the day; I think it will be my favorite of the all-grain ones. The Kolsch was completed, as well, and my initial estimate is that it'll be as much like version 1.0 as to make no difference; we'll call this version 1.1. Version 2.0 will definitely see the hops scaled back a bit, although I'm not sure I'll cut all the way back to the recipe I based it off of.

I got an email yesterday from one of my brew-buddies, who happens to live down in Dun Carriag; it seems that the site for their War of the Roses event (for which I brewed the Wit) is dry. That's a shame; I'm really impressed thus far with how much citrus I'm detecting in the nose. I hope the brew can hang on to that until I find a venue to serve it.

In all, a good time was had, and beer was brewed. What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Brew Day Coming

It looks like this Sunday's Brew Day will be well-attended: at least three people have expressed the intention of coming. If things go as 'normal,' that's all that will be coming--but after University, the brew day may attract one or two others. Including me, I'm setting the over/under at 5, which is rather a large crowd.

I'm still planning on re-doing the Kolsch; one other brewer wants to do a spiced Saison 'half-batch.' Fairly simple brews, for the most part--the Kolsch, in particular, is straightforward. I need to hit Maryland Homebrew (my local supply store) for the yeast, hops, and about a half-pound of grain. I should probably refill a propane tank, too; I've got two that need swapping, and I'm not sure that the two that are hooked up will last the day.

The weather promises to cooperate this time, too. The last brew day was nearly rained out--Hurricane Hanna, or at least its remnants, was rolling through town just as the boil was starting. This weekend they're calling for clear to partly cloudy skies, and a comfortable 71 degrees F. We may be able to sit outside for large chunks of the brew day, even!

I should probably contemplate my Halloween brew, while I'm thinking of it. I've got it narrowed pretty well to two recipes; which one to brew is (as always) the question. Go with the 'bigger' (OG 1.090), more highly spiced recipe? With the 'smaller' (OG 1.075), more restrained one? Or mix-and-match? What say you, loyal reader(s)? I've added a poll at right to express *your* opinions. Let's hear it!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

University, October 2008

Yesterday was Atlantian University, and I taught my long-awaited Intro to All-Grain Brewing class. (Well, long-awaited by me, anyway.) Things seemed to go pretty well. I think that I'll stretch the class out to 2 hours next time, as that's really a *lot* of information to go through in an hour; I felt a little rushed for parts of it. 2 hours would also give me the opportunity to bring in a bit of equipment to help describe what's going on for the brew.

One thing that the class was good for was creating a number of new contacts. It seems that there are a number of folks both (relatively) locally and within a reasonable driving distance who want to learn to brew. Everyone who was in my class now has the URL for this site, as well as for my webpage; by extension, this means they have my email address, and we can arrange further hands-on classes at a later date.

Also, I let everyone there know about my upcoming Brew Day, a week from today. I believe I'll try for 'take two' of the Kolsch that practically disappeared last weekend. I'll have to use the Golden Promise malt, rather than the American Pale 2-Row that I used last time, but that should only improve things, I would think. Regardless, it's more beer, which is always a good thing, right?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tasting Notes, 10/1/08

Tasted tonight: three of my brews, specifically my Northern English Brown, my Russian White Mead, and my Unoaked Merlot. Tasters were: my Lady Wife and myself.

First up: the Brown Ale. This poured from the tap with a moderate
white head. (The first pint of the night had a perfect, 3/4-inch head.) The head dissipated within a few minutes, leaving a nice lace, and a ring of foam that chased the top of the beer down the glass. The aroma is of malt and fruity esters, perhaps a bit heavy on the fruit if anything. Visually, the beer is crystal-clear and a light amber-brown in color. The flavor mimics the aroma, with a nice malt forwardness balanced by the hop bitterness and some esters. It's a touch over-carbonated right now, so tastes a little thinner than it ought; the CO2 also adds a bite from the carbonic acid that really shouldn't be there. (Oh, the problems of not having independent regulators for the kegs...) It finishes rich, but a little dry. In all, a pleasant brew.

Second: the Russian White Mead. This is the third tasting of this mead; it's been in the bottle for nearly a year, now. It is scheduled for two more tastings, unless the next one shows vast improvement. This mead is hopped, which changes its aging characteristics drastically, compared to my 'usual' brews. It pours smoothly, with perhaps a bit of carbonation; the second glass had some bubbles in the glass, which may have been the result of agitation from the first pour. These dissipated quickly, and were not a factor in the taste. The color is a light gold, comparable to a lightish Chardonnay. Aroma and taste-wise, it is smooth, and not unlike a decent white; there's a backbone to it which is reminiscent of oak tannins, but not quite the same. Some oak would, in fact, probably benefit this mead immensely. It is definitely a dry mead, but not obtrusively so--it doesn't suck the water from your mouth like some white wines do. Well-balanced. I would call this good for the white wine drinker who's looking for something a little off the beaten path. Tasty, but my Lady Wife is put off by the 'grassiness' of the hops (which, to be fair, she tastes in nearly anything with hops in it).

Finally, the Merlot. Pours a deep garnet red. No carbonation, which is as it should be. The aroma is fruity and rich, promising a luscious richness. There is a backbone of oak and, yes, mineral, present, but it doesn't overshadow the sweetness, merely supports it. The flavor is all dark fruit and rich grape, again with the tannin support. It starts sweet and floral, and ends richly; the 'middle' leaves a little to be desired. There's a certain undefinable quality about it that says that it needs something. I had been aiming for the Georgian wines when I started this; it has the sweetness and mouthfeel, but lacks the spiciness and crispness of the Georgian reds. I believe a blend will do wonderfully to remedy this--perhaps 70%/30% Merlot/Gewurztraminer. I believe this one is ready to serve, and will age beautifully over the coming months (years?).

Ready for the Weekend

Well, almost ready, anyway. I've got my handout typed up; I just need to make sufficient copies of it. I also need to get my teaching points down by heart, as best I can. And once it stops raining, I can grab my grain mill and make a sample of well-milled grain. Other grain samples are prepped; other than those, that's all I really need! The student count was up to 13 this morning; I can guess at four, and make some wild stabs at who maybe two others are. Double or triple the 'usual crowd' will be a great showing, for something beer-related. I'm pleased!

I've also just finished comparing my recipe for the Kolsch from last weekend to the recipe I based mine (loosely) off of--and the hopping was, in fact, much higher than it really needed to be. To wit, the 'basic' Kolsch recipe didn't have the late hop addition at all, only the bittering. Still, I rather enjoyed that bit of it, even if I would tweak it downwards slightly. I think I'll keep to my recipe for the next version, but use the Golden Promise malt as a base, rather than the standard American 2-row Pale that I use. Hopefully that will bump up the malt flavor enough to compensate for some of the hops; a third batch (perhaps as late as January?) will see the hops shifting, depending on what version two ends up like.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Successful Investiture

And yesterday a good time was had by all. (Or as nearly all as makes no real difference.) Our new Baron and Baroness were successfully invested, despite the weather; my Lady Wife did her (usual) spectacular job with the feast, and the daughters were as well-behaved as could be expected. Yea!

I had two beers on tap, starting at about 4:30pm and going until I came back this morning to gather things up & help with site cleanup. Served were: the Irish Red Ale that I brewed up at Night On The Town, back in April at the same site; and a Kolsch that I literally threw together from what I had available on a surprise brewing day back in July. Of the two, the Kolsch was by far the more popular; even in my opinion (for what it's worth) it was the better brew. The Irish Red is the one that I've been bleeding pressure off of for going on two months now; apparently, it's still fermenting, and isn't done deciding what it wants to be when it grows up. It still tastes green, very yeasty, and--well, not finished.

The Kolsch, on the other hand, was nothing short of spectacular. The only 'ding' I could give it was that I'll probably dial the hops back just a touch next time. While the balance wasn't bad, they overshadowed the malt just enough that (again, in my opinion) it wasn't what it needed to be. All the same, the Kolsch was tapped out--all 5 gallons--in almost exactly four hours. I literally poured the last half-glass for His (new) Excellency at 8:30. I think that's a speed record for a brew at one of our events. (Even at Pennsic, all 2 long hot weeks of it, they didn't make it through a measly 8 kegs--I came home with 3 gallons of brown ale. If they drank everything like they hit the Kolsch last night, I couldn't bring enough beer to Pennsic--we'd need another truck!)

So all was well for that; I was well pleased with the responses I got. Further, I've got my handout pretty much done for University next weekend; I just need to go over it through the week until I've got it down pat. Not a problem. Then, the next weekend, it's Brewing Time! Perhaps a Kolsch is in order...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Another Upcoming Brew Day!

So, I have my Lady Wife's permission to have another Brew Day next month, although I suppose it could technically count for the month after. Yes, once the kiddies have gone to bed (following their trick-or-treating run), I'll be firing up the burners for the (hopefully) First Annual Halloween Midnight Brew!

I haven't completely settled on what to brew, exactly: right now, I'm leaning towards doing a nice, big Holiday Spiced Ale to lay down for next year's holiday season. I'll already have (hopefully) a new cider going for next year, meaning we'll be drinking the one currently in bottles here shortly. I'll have my lagering chest back after the Baronial Birthday this weekend, so a lager is a possibility. I rather thought, though, that given the (hopefully) annual nature of this event, a bigger beer to age until next year would be the best choice. (My other option is to do something that will be ready for January's event, but I'm not sure I want to go that way with a Brewing Event, when I can do something like that for a regular Brew Day.)

Anyway, that's my thinking at present. Stay tuned for further updates!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Revamped Beer Cart

So, despite the (torn? strained?) muscle in my back, yesterday was spent re-engineering part of my Beer Cart (from which I serve my brews at events). I had initially only intended to make a 'cooler' for the chill plate (a box for the plate & the ice), but ended up re-engineering much of the 'working' part of the box. To wit, I switched which end of the cart has the tower, 'tweaked' how the non-tower side hinges with the cart, and built the box. Pictures follow:
This is the 'cooler' for the chill-plate. I know, black isn't necessarily the best color for it, but it'll be inside the cart when in use, so solar-thermal heat absorption shouldn't be too big of an issue.

This is the finished 'serving top.' The tower is now matte black and a couple of inches shorter, which (due to the geometry of things) actually buys me a bit of room inside the cart. To compensate for the color (again, thermal absorption) I cut up some of the blue styrofoam insulation scraps and stuffed the tower full of 'em.

I also managed to get everything hooked up & tested; no leaks were noted. I may have to play a bit more with serving pressure from the CO2 tank--the lines overall are longer than I really like, but that's unavoidable with the plate--but I should be able to make this work. As mentioned, the cart will see its first 'live' use at Lochmere's Baronial Birthday this coming weekend! (Now, to make sure the beer is properly carbonated...)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Long, strange trip...

Or, at the very least, a long, strange week. I've been in a class all week, touching up some of my work skills. In addition, I'm overcoming a sinus infection that had me literally bedridden on Tuesday. With all of this, I haven't had much energy or motivation for beer (gasp! horror!), or for blogging about it.

Some of the other excitement for the week involved a glitch in the SCA event registration system (or, at the least, a miscommunication within it) that got the event I'm autocratting in January bumped from the schedule. I'm not certain yet how much action will be required on my part to fix it--the email I got regarding the issue seemed to indicate that it'll be taken care of by my Seneschal, but at this point I'm going to coordinate closely with him, as I don't want anything else to slip through the cracks.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Long weekend

So, our long-awaited 'replacement yurt' arrived over the week (the reason for the name is a long story, best saved for another post). Its frame is much bulkier than the original's was; its canvas/cover is much lighter. The folks who made it (about whom I'll converse with folks via email, not in an open forum such as this) neglected to 'create' a set of instructions for it; several (necessary) holes were also undrilled. All that aside, I'm pleased to (finally) have it. Saturday was spent setting it up, only to take it back down immediately. Today we've been extremely busy running errands, not least of which to include taking the yurt to the trailer. This required reorganizing the contents of the trailer.

Additionally, I've been working (in my copious free time) on the Beer Cart. I've got to replace the beer lines; I'm also going to be building a cold compartment for the chill plate. I've several ideas for that. Other minor changes include a latch for the access door, to keep it from swinging open all the time as it had done.

To top all of this off, my Lady Wife has had a pile of sewing to do; we've had to clean the house up for an A&S Night we're hosting tomorrow, and I've got bunches of stuff from research materials I need to make copies of, in addition to working on my class for University.

So, to make a long, rambling post even longer, I've been too busy this weekend to do much posting; hopefully, things will smooth out this week, and I'll be able to add a bit more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My 'rig'...

All this time, and I just realized that I haven't really described my brewing system (which I refer to as the 'rig,' and my Lady Wife calls the 'monstrosity'--I actually like her term better). I'll give just a verbal description for now, and in various posts to come, I'll detail the individual pieces one at a time, the better to explain why I've got what I've got, and where I'm going with it.

I do almost entirely all-grain brewing at present. (I don't really count my wines into my brewing, as they're completely from kits; I'm moving more into doing fruit wines, but going very slowly with them, as I find that they're finicky.) I started my all-grain adventures fairly recently, back in 2004 (coincidentally, that's also when I really got into the SCA, after playing off-and-on for a number of years). The first batches were done on the stovetop, using plastic buckets for a mash tun and various things of that nature. My wife was quickly persuaded to allow me a turkey-fryer, the better to move me outside. One fryer became two, and about two years ago I finally built myself a three-tier brewstand (the original Monstrosity).

After a number of brews, and many minor upgrades (bigger burners, kettle upgrades, mash-tun tweaks), I finally (early this year) broke down and converted my three-tier stand to a two-tier. It will remain thus for as long as I own it... I much prefer not having to lift a kettle of water onto an 8-foot-high 'shelf' (where the HLT was originally situated).

The rest of my 'system' includes a 70-quart Ice Cube cooler for a mash-tun (detailed in an earlier post here)--it replaced a 40-quart Gott-style cooler. My kettle is a 10-gallon Stainless Steel pot purchased from a local restaurant supply warehouse. For a HLT, I use the 8-gallon aluminum pot that came with one of the original turkey fryers. For heat, I've got two LP-fired banjo burners, each at present plumbed to its own propane tank. A home-built immersion chiller and a March pump round out the important bits. Again, I'll detail the parts in later posts.

My brews are kegged (save the *very* rare exception); I've got eight 5-gallon 'Cornelius' kegs. I lager the occasional brew in a chest-freezer with a temp controller. I've got glass carboys enough for seven brews in various stages (eight, if one is getting kegged soon). Plus an assortment of other miscellaneous bits...

All in all, I'd guesstimate that my gear has run me upwards of $2000, probably not much more than $2500. But then, I like my beer just that much.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Recommended books

So, I've been asked (again) what books I recommend for brewers. This isn't really an easy question, as there are so many books out there, and so many brewers, with so many systems, and so many different levels of experience. I'll give a rundown of what I'm telling people lately, and you can make up your own minds...

First and foremost, there's John Palmer's How To Brew. This book is an absolute must. Yes, I know a version of it is available online; do yourself a favor and buy the hard-copy (there's an amazon link off to your right...). Palmer goes through all the steps of brewing, starting with a simple extract brew, then leading you up through extract-with-grains and partial mash to going completely all-grain. It's very informative, explaining why the different steps do the things that they do, and which things exactly you'll want to do with which brewing style. There are recipes. There are some quite interesting nomographs, for those of you who are into that sort of thing. There are even descriptions of how to make some of your own gear (much like what I've built, although certainly there are others out there who can make it look prettier). If I could only have one book on brewing, this would certainly be in the running for 'the One.'

The second one in my list is by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer, and is called Brewing Classic Styles. This one doesn't really tell you much about how to brew, but it certainly will help you in deciding what to brew. It gives (at least) one proven recipe (in extract and all-grain versions) for every style of beer listed by the BJCP. I've brewed a half-dozen or so of these, and thus far they've all turned out fantastically. The recipes give a good starting point for recipes--by which I mean, if you're trying to brew a particular style, you need only 'tweak' the recipe to fit your setup; if you're trying something new, you can find a recipe that's close, and build on it from there. Once you have your brewing system pretty well established, and are comfortable with brewing beers, pick this one up--you'll be glad you did.

Third in the 'Grand Triumvirate' is Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers. This one again is for the more advanced brewer, not so much for the beginner. It goes into many of the styles in pretty good depth, analyzing a bevy of award-winning brews from each style. It was from this book that I first learned of the "bittering to gravity ratio" concept, which has actually informed some of my brewing decisions for the last several years (although I haven't really mentioned it much). It's not exactly a smooth read, being slightly technical, but if you want to improve your brewing, it's certainly worth the time.

That's all I have time for at the moment; I'll cover some more of my favorite books in later posts.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A day late

But, I survived. Brewday went fairly well, considering--torrential downpours during the first half, with rather strong gusts of wind afterward. Probably burned through more of the 'main burner' propane tank than I really like. First experience with the new mash-tun, too; it's nice, for being able to hold much more grain, but it'll take some adjusting to. Efficiencies were somewhat low for what I'm used to (I was typically hitting around 80%; the 70/- got 70% efficiency). Didn't hurt anything--the recipes were geared for 70%, so everything came out 'as planned,' sorta.

There ended up being three of us. My 'usual' partner-in-crime, my friend doing the barleywine, and my friend learning how to do all of this. All in all, I'd say the whole thing went fairly well. My next planned brew day will be the second weekend of October, I believe; I'll have to re-set the countdown.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tomorrow's Brew Day

Okay, so I'm all prepped (pretty much) for brewing tomorrow. The plan, for me at least, is to brew up a nice Scottish 70/-; I'm aiming for an OG of about 1.038, but will probably go over. The plan is to go with Golden Promise for the base malt (a Scottish malt for a Scottish ale), and add a bit of roast malt (ground really fine) at the end of the mash--just in time for sparging. That should provide color, without adding a lot of roasty bitterness/astringency. We'll see how that goes. Not much in the way of hops--3/4 ounce of Kent Goldings at 60 minutes, just for bitterness. Finally, I'll ferment as cool as I can arrange (I may even empty out the lagering chest)--probably around 60F--with the Edinborough strain of yeast.

Then there's the second batch: a nice Barleywine. This one looks to be interesting--it's a 'guest brew,' being brewed by/with a friend of mine. The recipe itself is from a friend of hers, and it will be a real test of the new mash tun--it takes a whole lot of grain. It should be interesting.

Also, I'm expecting a couple of friends to show up (other than the Barleywine Brewer mentioned above)--one of whom *may* brew something; he might even be bringing someone new to watch. The other one is interested in beginning to brew himself; I've been trying to drag him to a brewing session for about 2 years or so now. Finally, success! My evil plan comes to fruition! (heh heh)

I'll post more on this tomorrow, after brewing a bit.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Two memes

So, I've noticed two memes of sorts, lately, in the news. The most recent is an interest in things Belgian, particularly the Lambic variety. I can't complain, really--maybe it will spur others who otherwise wouldn't stray from the Bud-Miller-Coors 'herd.' The overall view has been positive, although some of it has been a little backhanded. All the same, I'll admit that the Belgian brews aren't for everyone: the most well-known are either strong and/or sour; nearly all the brews from that particular area of the world are a bit 'odd' by most standards. I personally think that they're all good, taken at teh right time and place--but then, that can be said of nearly anything.

The other big meme going around, and one that I've been seeing for a little while now, is a renewed interest in 'smaller' beers. Not 'lite' beers, but the classic 'session' beers--going no stronger, generally, than about 4.5% alcohol by volume, generally hovering around 3.5%. They're certainly just as flavorful as their 'bigger' brethren; but for as 'normal' as they are, they seem to be tougher to brew. At the very least, tougher to brew well, particularly by homebrewers--we tend to go for the big beers, the 'Imperial' versions of whatever. Even going for the Scottish 70/- I'm planning for this weekend is a bit out of the ordinary; I don't know the last time I brewed something that was under about a 5% abv. Here again, I can't really complain--such things will typically only stretch the brewers' skills.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Silly idea about wood...

So, a thought struck me as I was drifting off to sleep last night.

While the current material of choice for wooden casks is white oak, this certainly wasn't always the case. (I know that 'traditional' balsamic vinegar, for instance, is aged in as many as three different woods.) I would imagine that liquid-tight casks could be made from nearly any good, close-grained hardwood (fruitwoods, mostly). What sort of wood character would have been imparted to the brew by these?

Nowadays, we homebrewers have started playing a bit with oaked beers, adding oak chips to our fermenters & letting them soak in the brew for a while...

And this is when the light bulb went off: I've got a bag of apple-wood chips (nominally for smoking things) that I could use in the place of oak chips. I almost certainly wouldn't get the depth of character that I'd get with oak; I imagine it would be significantly more subtle, and I'd have to be careful what brew exactly I used it with, to not overpower the wood. But it would be interesting. And I can easily get similar bags of chips of different woods--cherry, maple, etc.

I've simply gotta try this. Something for me to play with over the winter brewing season, I should think. I imagine a nice Vienna lager, with maybe either apple and/or maple. If preliminary tests go well, perhaps a brown ale (or even a porter?) with some cherry.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Holy Foam, Beerman!

So, last night I 'floated' my keg of Pilsner. Not a problem--I happen to have another one that's been aging for a while.

I decided, though, to tap (briefly) the Irish Red Ale I did back in April (at Night On The Town). I intend to serve it (officially) at the Baronial Birthday, at the end of the month, and I wanted to check on it--make sure it's worthy, as it were. The beer has been kegged for quite some time, and the keg has been sitting under the stairs in my basement, nice and cool, since shortly after it was kegged (about 2 months, if memory serves).

A comedy of errors ensued.

First, I broke one of my cardinal rules: Always connect the beer-out line first, bleed some pressure, and pour a pint (clear the lines, let off excess CO2, etc). Then, when all seems OK, hook up the gas-in line.

A stream of swear-words later, and after disconnecting the gas-in line (and doing what I could to clear the backed-up beer from it), I set about clearing up some of the sprayed beer from the floor and side of the fridge under the stairs. Remembering the above rule, I connected the beer-out line, and went to pour myself a glass.

It would seem that beer under great pressure can jet out of the tap, redirect itself off the bottom of the glass, and fling itself across the hand pulling the tap, across the tap tower, and against the facing wall... A few more swear-words later, and a bit of mopping up with a bar-towel, and I eased up the pressure relief valve to bleed some of the CO2.

A final, careful pull on the tap, and: foam comes pouring out, rather milkshake-like in density and flow. Well, at least a huge mess wasn't made. After allowing the foam to settle and dissipate a bit into beer (only about a quarter of a glass), I took a sip... It's not bad, allowing that most of the bitterness is from carbonic acid, caused by excess CO2. So, I'm slowly bleeding pressure off, a little at a time, and hopefully by the end of the week I'll be able to draw a regular pint of the ale and check its actual quality. Even if it's not good (which I think would require a thorough cleaning of the keg, and probably a replacement of the gaskets), at the least I've still got several other brews that are kegged and can be brought as backup.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dry run of the new Mash Tun

So, I got everything assembled last night, and filled the tun with a bunch o' water. This was both to make sure that the spigot's gaskets were holding (no leaking around the edges), and to check that the laws of physics weren't being broken inside--that it would indeed draw the water all the way down to the tops of the manifold slots.

Worked pretty well, except for some slight air leakage around the connection between the manifold and the inside end of the spigot--the blame for which I could easily lay at the feet of a lack of teflon tape to really seal it in there. So, not normally a problem--I've got a roll of teflon tape for just such situations...

Which led to my cleaning & straightening about 80% of my brewing storage area, looking for the !*@&%^* teflon tape. Not a bad idea, in and of itself, as I really needed to do such a cleaning (and now I really need to actually finish the cleaning), but not exactly how I had intended to spend my holiday. Anyway, long about noon, I finally broke down and asked my Dear Lady Wife whether she had seen my teflon tape--and, as such things are wont to work out, she had. (For the curious, it was in my truck, in a 'tool kit' she had put together to go help out a friend.)

Long story even longer, I managed to clean out a bunch of crap I didn't remember that I had (and that I didn't need), providing me with space in the storage area to clear off a bit of the bar, which is always a good thing. Now, to get my Dear Lady Wife to stop piling books & such on the comfy chair down here, so I might be able to relax in the quiet with a pint & a nice book...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

More toys!

This is my new lautering manifold. It's not perfect, but it'll do, I hope--its inaugural run will be on the 6 September Brew Day. The whole thing is of a piece, except for the connection to the drain fitting (the uppermost bit of copper, in the picture). So, it'll just pull out for cleaning. I started with a hacksaw yesterday putting in the slots (on the underside, not visible in the picture), but got smart today & pulled out the jigsaw with a metal blade. The whole thing, when attached in my new mash tun (a 70-qt Ice Cube cooler), sits evenly along the bottom. I'm probably going to get a bit of fluid loss with the design (it has to angle up to get to the drain), but as long as my grasp of fluid dynamics is good, I figure it'll be the same as or less than my fluid losses in the cylindrical cooler using the Bazooka screen.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My birthday haul...

Yes, today is my birthday. Woohoo! 37 grand years. Anyway, I thought I'd show off a bit of the 'goodies' I've picked up today...

This would be from my mother-in-law... A bench-top bottle-capper, two (!) siphon starters, an assortment of in-line valves, some hose clamps, a hose cutter, and a 'sure-screen'. It's all got its use, but some of it will admittedly be staying in the plastic for now...

I also swung an Igloo Ice Cube cooler (70 qt) to replace my 10-gallon Gott-style cooler for the mash tun, and made some new liquid pick-ups based on this month's Brew Your Own! magazine. The latter were a necessity--the HLT didn't have any sort of pick-up at all, so I was losing about a half gallon of hot water per pot; the mash-tun was marginally better, but its pick-up was in the center of the pot (which sucks when a whirlpool is your primary 'filtration'). Moving the pick-up to the edge of the pot will help immensely, I think.

Then there was the sack of Golden Promise malt--but I was going to get that, anyway. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Time counts down

As I approach the next Brew Day (the 6th of September), the Lochmere Baronial Birthday (the 27th of September), and Fall University (the 4th of October). At these, I'll be brewing, serving a brew, and discussing all-grain brewing, respectively.

The most complex of the three, from my current perspective, is the class at University. I'm not sure what level my 'students' will be, or how many of them I'll have. I don't know how in-depth I'll be able to or will have to go. Right now, I'm aiming at something rather conversational, easing an extract brewer into brewing all-grain. I mean, really, the only difference is the mash--for an extract batch, the extract manufacturer has done the mash and sparge for you. The question, really, is will I have to go into the enzymatic activity (why the mash works), or just describe the process (broadly how the mash works)? Hopefully, I'll be able to get with Sorcha about this beforehand.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Completely Off-Topic...

In loving memory of Shiva, one of the best cats to ever grace us with his presence. Taken by chylothoraxis this morning. Catch yourself some tasty mice in your next life, big guy.

RIP. 2001-2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What's On Tap, 24 August

OK, here's what I have tapped, kegged, and in various stages of fermenting/aging:

On Tap:
Pils-style Lager
Northern English Brown Ale

Pils-style Lager
Irish Red Ale

To Be Kegged Today:
Sweet Stout
Belgian Dubbel
Pumpkin Pie Spice Ale

Foxglove Chardonnay Pyment
Radish Mead
Cherry Wine

Friday, August 22, 2008

What's coming up...

I've been asked to do a 1-2 hour class on all-grain brewing for the Atlantian Fall University in October. Shouldn't be a problem, beyond deciding how basic to make it. Do I go as elementary as explaining that 'beer is made (broadly) from malt, hops, water, and yeast,' or take that as a known? I've got ideas; and whatever level I decide to take it, I can always 'ad-lib' it at other levels of detail.

I'm also looking at a Brewing Day on the 6th of September. I haven't decided yet what to brew; I'm leaning towards a Scottish Ale, probably something in the 50/- range. I'm not certain if I'll try for a second brew. I'm open to suggestions... I'll have room in the lagering chest, so maybe a bock or a helles.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Welcome to the Blog...

Okay, this is the first post in a new blog. It's always difficult to get something like this started; hopefully, I'll be able to keep it rolling for a while.

I'm Misha, and I'm a brewer. Not a large-scale, macro-swill, multi-billion-dollar brewer; I'm a homebrewer. I make about 5 gallons at a time, and I brew what I feel like drinking. So far, I've been pretty successful... At least, most of my friends seem to think so. Most of this blog will deal with my brewing.

I also participate in something called the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA, a group of history buffs who get together and "play medieval" from time to time. In particular, within the Society framework, I'm a Russian merchant from Novgorod, circa 1550. Parts of my blog will deal with the SCA.

Don't worry, you won't need a scorecard to keep up with this (I hope). As this progresses, it'll start to make more sense.

I hope you stick around for the ride!

Recommended Books