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...

Recommended Books