Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone is doing well this Holiday season. The morning package-opening festivities have wound down at our house, and all parts of the dinner are at their proper stage (roasting, chilling, baking, rising, etc.). All is as right with the world as can probably be expected.

It did my heart good last night, listening to my two Daughters (ages 6 and 8) discussing what to leave Santa for a snack. "Something healthy" was elected for the solid part; the interesting thing was their discussion of what type of beer to leave him--whether he'd prefer an IPA (for its hoppy crispness) or a Brown Ale (malty sweetness). Wiser heads (my Lady Wife) prevailed, however, and Santa got a glass of milk. (For the record, Santa would have preferred the IPA; Mrs. Claus isn't such a hop-fan, and the Brown Ale would have been more her style.)

My web-site is undergoing changes, and I hope to have it back up fully early in the New Year. Please stick around, Dear Reader, for 2010--I've got quite a few things planned, projects to make, and (of course) beer to brew! Once again, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's On Tap, 15 December 2009

Well, it's been long enough since I've done an update, so here's what's perking:

On tap, I've got my First Class Pale Ale, and CC's Peachy Wheat. The Pale Ale is an American IPA; it was brewed the first of August. I figure I'm almost halfway done with the keg. It's got a bit of a haze to it, but is nearly clear despite that. It has a lovely aroma of Amarillo hops, a good malt backbone, and pours with a dense, rocky head that lasts to the last couple of sips. All in all, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5, and "yes, I'll have another."

The Wheat is an American Wheat Beer/Fruit Beer; I brewed it 'way back in June, so it's a bit past its prime. For all of that, it's still quite wheaty, despite being a bit more "kristall" than I might like. The peaches that were added late in fermentation make a faint background appearance. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of wheat beers--I brewed this for my Lady Wife--and so I'm not as devoted to this as I might otherwise be. I'll give it 1.5 out of 5, and a "what else do you have?".

On deck are two more of CC's beers (brewed, as above, for my Lady Wife): Cherry Brown Ale and Blackberry Stout. I'm reserving judgment on the Brown, but think the Stout might be noteworthy, albeit slightly low on the blackberry. Additionally, I have an American Brown Ale that started life as an Amber--it was a "kitchen sink" beer, using up some of my random ingredients, and came out darker than anticipated. It is likely to be mediocre-to-decent... Then, there's the ones I'm really looking forward to: An English IPA and a pair of Scottish 80/- ales. The EIPA went into the keg last week; one of the 80/-'s was kegged a couple of weeks ago, and the second 80/- was just brewed thes most recent weekend. The IPA tasted extremely well-balanced, with a lovely biscuity maltiness combined with a firm bittering, that I think will be marvelous to behold. The first 80/- seemed a bit sweet and under-attenuated; I hope that additional time, plus some carbonation, will dry it out a little.

This past Brew Day saw me doing a tweaked repeat of the 80/-. The weather tried to help by being "more Scottish"--it was about 35 degrees F with a cold rain throughout. In spite of that, I managed to hit my temperatures and volumes to a pretty good precision--I was aiming for an OG of 1.054, hit 1.056. I got a lot of yeast pitched, fermentation temps have been satisfactory since then, and it has smelled magical from the airlock. If this turns out as it has the potential to do, I will likely have a new permanent 'haus' recipe in my stable.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More from Overseas

As promised, this time around I'll opine briefly on more of the brews I had during my recent trip. Unfortunately, it'll have to be brief--I wasn't able to jot down notes as comprehensively as I might have liked. Nevertheless, here goes:

London's Pride (Fuller's): This was rich and malty. The hop balance was good. I could have had multiple multiple of these--more than I did, anyway.

Tetley's Draught Bitter: I had one of these in the airport in London. I found it to be a mild, flavorful session-type beer. Not bad, for being canned--the widget helped.

Caffrey's: This was from the mild/bitter family. It was thirst-quenching and dry, and overall quite pleasant.

Abbott Ale: I had this a couple of times, both from cask (served with a beer engine). It was tasty, but the first one I tried was from an old(-er) cask, and was getting a bit stale. The later one I had was pretty good.

Guinness Red: This tasted as though they went ahead and tried to sell a stout that they had messed up. It had the flavor profile of the stout, but tasted watered down. The marketing was accurate as far as the color--it was, indeed, red. Beyond that, though, I was disappointed to have to rate it a solid "meh."

Cairngorm Black Gold: A "Scottish Stout." This, in contrast to the Red, above, was good. Black Gold struck me, in fact, as a chewier version of Guinness' stout. Very rich and malty, and only 4.4% ABV. Quite lovely.

Kelham Goldihops: This had a similar hop aroma to my "First Class IPA". It is definitely in the pale ale family. It was session-ish, only clocking in at 3.8%, and tasty, but none of us could have more than a single pint, as it had a strong aroma of rotten eggs to get past. I'd have to try this from a different engine, or at the brewery, before I completely ruled it out, but for now, I'd pass on a second one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back from abroad

I returned this week from my previously-mentioned trip abroad. In all, I visited Scotland and Norway; technically, I was in Germany for a couple of hours, but as that was just the airport, I won't count it. While in Scotland, I managed to visit a number of pubs and taste quite a few 'new' brews; Norway had a much more limited variety.

The main pubs in Scotland that stick out in my mind are: Waxy O'Connor's, and the Black Friar's. Waxy's had the most interesting architecture I've seen in a bar--flying 'bridges' between platforms, three or four floors (depending on how you count them). My favorite draught there was Caledonian Brewing's 80/- Ale. Yummy--a nice near-session beer, well-balanced, with a nice roastiness and overall a very interesting, complex maltiness.

The Black Friar's boasted an ever-changing lineup of beers on draught; the ones I tried were all good, but most seemed slightly un-balanced in some way or form. I need to find my notes, and will list what I tried at a later date.

Oddly enough, my other favorite beer for the trip was another Caledonian Brewing offering--namely, Deuchar's IPA. It didn't strike me so much as an IPA as a well-hopped 'regular' Pale Ale, but I won't quibble over terminology. Again, it was a good session beer, clocking in under 5% (lower, even, than the 80/-), with a good malt backbone to support the flowery hops. Either of the Caledonian brews I would rate as "yes, I'll have another." (In fact, in both cases, I did...)

Thoughts of Norway (and the other beers from Scotland) in another post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A brief lull in activity...

So, I'm going to be gone for about a month, maybe longer, in the service of Uncle Sam. I'm hoping that upon my return I'll have a few beer reviews and some good stories to tell, but in the meantime, it's going to be quiet.

There was a Brewing Day this past Sunday, and three batches were made, all told: I did an IPA, and friends made a Braggot and an Alt. So far, things seem to be going quite well. I had available on tap my Pils from a while back; it developed into the most phenomenally clear, straw-yellow, perfectly-headed beer I've had in quite some time. I was pleased. Of course, that keg is just about to blow foam--it was pouring perfectly, then (all of a sudden) it went 'muddy' on me from dropped-out yeast. I tapped the American IPA I brew back in August, after filtering it about 2 weeks ago; I may have to run it down to a finer filter (I used a 5-micron) to get *real* clarity. Still, that's what this is about--experimentation.

That's the updates for now; check back again after Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When in Texas...

Everyone gave me the same two bits of advice for things to do on my recent trip to West Texas: "Order one of those thousand-ounce steaks," and "have some Shiner Bock."

Although I managed to avoid the first (not easy, in a land where menus read: "Beef. And a few other things."), I decided I should probably have a go at the second. And so I did--twice, in fact; once on draft, and once from a bottle.

My opinion? While die-hard Texans (you know who you are) will probably consider this blasphemy, the verdict on Shiner Bock is: "meh." I really don't see what all the fuss is about. I mean, it's not bad; compared to your generic macro, it's much more flavorful. But I wouldn't rate it as particularly anything special.

Some of Shiner Brewing's other lineup, on the other hand, is quite nice. In particular, I enjoyed the two bottles of Black Lager I had. I didn't get a chance to try the Rauchbier (a smoked Helles), but I wouldn't hesitate to do so, if and when the opportunity presents itself.

In other news, this past weekend was Lochmere's Baronial Birthday. I had several things in bottle and on tap, and was pleased to sample the offerings of a couple of other brewers. But for that, you'll have to wait for my next post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not a braggart, I...

But a braggot, maybe. I've been contemplating this one for quite some time, and am still not certain exactly what I'm going to do. I've got the honey--a full gallon of killer-bee honey, rich and tasty. To this, I'll add a basic beer-like concoction, and ferment. But what sort of concoction?

The grain bill is the obvious place to start. Malt will add a both color and a depth of flavor to the brew. But what to add? The BJCP guidelines seem to suggest that the braggot should be built off of a base beer style, but Ken Schramm indicates that it doesn't necessarily have to be so. I think that my course of action will be to do a basic, mostly light malt brew. I'll add some slightly darker grains, Special-B and/or a bit of Crystal 60L, just enough to add a reddish tint.

The hops are next on the hit parade. All of my sources call them "optional" in a braggot. I think a light hopping with something in a floral/noble bittering hop, just to cut some of the intense sweetness, is in order. Certainly nothing IPA-like; I'm thinking more the hopping levels of a mild ale, possibly even slightly less. I don't know necessarily what type of hops; perhaps a nice Hallertau?

Finally, there's the yeast to consider. Schramm's samples use Lalvin D-47, which supposedly flocs well and works to 12-14%. I think a better choice would be to start with a clean, alcohol-tolerant beer yeast, then perhaps finish up with something else in the wine variety, to "clean up" some of the residual sugar. A healthy lager yeast, combined with a cold ferment, could do marvelous things. But then, perhaps going straight for a wine yeast to start would be good. I'll have to play on Promash and look at starting gravity, attenuation, and alcohol percentages, then decide.

Lastly, while it's likely a while off, I'll need to consider containers. This won't be one to keg--it'll be far too strong for that. Small bottles will be in order. Perhaps after a light filtration and foce-carbonation. The bottles I've got on order from Shiloh Pottery will be lovely for presentation, too. I think I'll enjoy this process.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Recent events

So, I returned last week from my previously-mentioned trip to Pensacola, Florida. Good fortune smiled on me, and I discovered a lovely place called "Hopjacks". I can't say much about it, beyond that it was one of the better bars I've found, and it had the added advantage of being a really cool pizza joint. The wait-staff/bartenders were all extremely friendly and helpful, which was a big plus. The pizza was great. The 36 beers on tap were good, too, not to mention the additional 50 or 60 or so bottled varieties. All in all, I'd rate it a 9 out of 10, were I the sort to rate these types of things.

This past weekend was Atlantian Coronation; we have our first Russian King and Queen (Tsar and Tsarina?). I was in attendance, with the majority of a set of full Russian court garb. It would have been a full set, but there were a series of delays, which resulted in the Shuba not being completed. All told, though, my Lady Wife did a spectacular job on it--I looked great!

I brought the Great Beer Cart to the event, as well; I had just gotten it all set up, when we were made aware that the site was dry--even though that particular fact didn't make it into any of the event literature... I had "intended" to tap the SMaSH Pale Ale and a Pils. Everything made it home, safe and sound, and I can now report that the SMaSH came out fairly well, with good malt-hop balance, while the Pils ended up nearly IPA-like in hoppiness. I shall have to revisit that recipe.

The upcoming weekend is a four-day, but I'm not yet certain when I'll be brewing next... I may have to attend the funeral of a close friend's wife, which really isn't the sort of thing to encourage the gaiety of a Brew Day. With luck (and planning), though, I can arrange one before Lochmere's Baronial Birthday at the end of the month.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Return from a veritable Beer Wasteland

So, I've recently returned from visiting my parents in the lovely state of Georgia. Unfortunately, draconian beer laws there have only relatively recently been repealed, so good brews are somewhat hard to find. My father, fortunately, knows my preferences, and got a case of Sam Adams (perhaps my favorite non-homebrew beer) before I come down.

I've friends who goggle at the thought of me drinking Budweiser (from a can, no less!) at the VFW while in GA. I generally come back with the explanation that I'll typically choose the "best of what's available, for what I'm thirsty for" from whatever the selection is. Bud's good, for a mass-produced American Lager--I've got to give them points for consistency. But really, I should probably start doing something like ordering a Coke when I'm there.

My Lady Wife wants me to brew up a couple of batches of something--probably a "Premium American Lager"--and bring them, kegged, when we visit in December. I'm mulling it over--I've got a few things I'd like to put together, first, such as a filtration system for the beer. The HERMS project is on hold, temporarily, but it will probably get picked up again in a month or so.

Next week, I'll be in Pensacola, Florida. Does anyone have recommendations for good local brews?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bonus Brew Day

So, I had a friend over yesterday, and we did an India Pale Ale. The brew day wasn't planned (prior to Friday); really, it was a "drinking" day, with the brewing thrown in for fun. We were commisserating on not having been promoted again this year... But that's behind us, for now.

The brew went well; it's fermenting nicely--it'll be a lovely, hoppy, golden-amber brew. I also pulled the Dunkelweizen from the tap, and replaced it with the pale ale I did back in January. The dunkel was beginning to taste vaguely of nail polish remover, which is a sure sign it's going. There probably wasn't more than four pints left, anyway. The pale ale is a lovely, fairly "soft," floral thing. I'm not sure I'll go that direction again--it's good, but not exactly to my taste.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I Brew, and Why I Brew It

This topic has come up several times recently, and I felt that after some contemplation I should express my views.

The reasons I brew are many: I enjoy the actual process. Frequently, brew days are socializing times with friends. The "puzzle" of what style would be good, and what ingredients should go into making it, is enjoyable. And, of course, there's the end product. I brew beer at least as good as, and often better than, what I can buy. The beer I brew is also less expensive than store-bought, something I've put some time into achieving. And, finally, it's enjoyable to gather a group of my friends together, throw some meat on the grill, and have a good time--lubricated by some of my brew.

Something I don't care for, however, are those who drink solely to get drunk. Add to that group those who insist on only brewing highly alcoholic beers--constantly striving for over-10% batches. I'll admit, I've made a number of strong batches; I certainly don't think strong beers are inherently "bad." But I think that to truly call oneself a brewer, while limiting oneself to a single "style" (if "big" can be called a style), is to define "brewers" somewhat narrowly. There is great variety in smaller beers, and much complexity. They can require significant finesse. And they can be sublime.

All that being said, there is, of course, a place for everything. I'll be hosting a "Winter Warmer" competition at an event in January; I hope to have a good turn-out, and to see lots of really tasty brews. I may have some of my own to sample, but I won't be entering anything myself, of course (since I'll be running the comp). I should think about doing one for lighter, "lawn-mower" beers in the summer...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's on Tap, 9 July 2009

After a few fits and starts, here's what I've got going currently:

Tapped, I'm trying to finish off (finally!) the Dunkelweizen and the Sweet Stout. These two have been on-again off-again at the taps for several months now. The stout is good, but just a bit much for prolonged drinking; the dunkelweizen is likewise tasty, but it sneaks up on you with a kick. Recently finished were my Kolsch (Mk3) and the Hellesbock. The kolsch was in the last of my 'mystery' kegs, and remained over-carbed and foamy until the last 2 pints. The helles was lovely and malty, and I was actually surprised when it finished--I had expected another week or two out of it.

On deck, I've got a Pils, a Pale Ale, the two SMaSH ales, and my holiday lineup (two spiced beers--one Pumpkin Pie for Halloween/Thanksgiving, and another big one for Christmas). Now that I have a couple of kegs emptied, I can finally start getting my Lady Wife's requests carbed up. Her Cherry Brown will be first; it should be quite nice. The Blackberry Stout will be next--very stout, not so much blackberry, surprisingly purple. And the Peach Wit is awaiting the next free keg...

This weekend (Saturday!) I'm brewing again. I think I'll keep it to a simple Amber Ale; something with a good malt backbone and some nice hoppy spiciness. I've also got plans; as mentioned, Their Atlantian Highnesses have 'challenged' me to do a few brews, and things are in the works for them. Mainly, I've commissioned a stoneware aging crock for a half-batch of wine (going to split one, and do the other half in glass). While I was talking with the potter, I also requested a number of wine-bottle-size 'torpedo' bottles, for use at events and such. I should have all of that stuff in a couple of months (I hope).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cascades and Newport

Those of you who have followed my antics for the last couple of years (since before this blog) know that I include hops-growing in my hobbies, in the hopes of one day getting a harvest to use in a batch. I started out with two rhizomes of Mt Hood hops, but they mysteriously died shortly after putting out burrs. I replaced them with two Cascades rhizomes last year; I was able to harvest a few ounces from them.

One of the rhizomes sprouted this year, but it was nipped by birds (I'm assuming) before it could get more than a couple of inches long. The other one was dug up by the pup, as he went through that phase. Long story short, they both croaked. So, I ordered some more, rather late in the year (the order was placed in May, from Freshops). The rhizomes arrived on June the 12th. I ordered a new pair of Cascades, and inadvertently one Newport rhizome. They all got planted on June 13th.

The Newport was the first to sprout, but it withered and died within a week; I'm not sure what happened, exactly, but I don't think the rhizome was in the best of shape to begin with. No harm, no foul.

What follows are some photos of what the Cascades have been up to this month...

To the left, you will see the rhizomes, with the Cascades taking pride of place...

And to the right, the first shoot from the Cascades, 9 days after planting.

Here they are, four days later. These things grow like crazy!

And here they are, as photographed this morning (5 days after the last shot).

Watching them isn't quite as dull as watching grass grow; I've got nearly daily photos dating from their initial sprouting. I may be convinced to put up the series on the website (watching the daily change is interesting). Regardless, updates here in the blog will be forthcoming as the weeks go by.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Upcoming Brewing

My plans for the next few Brew Days are, admittedly, still somewhat nebulous, but I have some ideas. I have, of course, been 'challenged' by His Royal Highness of Atlantia to do a couple of brews; they will require the gathering of some additional ingredients, but nothing exotic. They should also take a bit more time than your average beer to produce, so doing them sooner rather than later is something of a must.

I have two large containers of varietal honey (1 gallon each raspberry and killer bee) that I need to do something with; they've been sitting around for over a year, and are quite likely crystallized. Larriland Farms (a local pick-your-own) has announced that they're in their black and red raspberry seasons; a melomel may well be in order for the raspberry honey. (I just picked up the latest WineMaker magazine, which has a lovely article on berry wines; that should help, as I've not had much luck doing the wine thing with fruit--although adding honey has always helped, it seems.)

Finally, on the 'plain beer' front, I'd like to do a relatively simple, nicely-hopped Amber Ale again. They're refreshing and tasty. I need to get through the current stuff on tap first, though, and I would like to see how the Memory Lapse came out finally; if I can taste it before my next Brew Day, I may want to do a repeat or a tweak of that.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Busy Week...

This week has been crazy--in a good way, I suppose, but it's kept me from updating either this blog or my website as quickly as I'd like.

I started the week going to Boston for some work-related training. A good time was had. I had anticipated being able to find lots of Sam Adams available everywhere, and was pleased to be right. My only wish would have been to have more than Boston Lager and the current seasonal (Summer Ale, right now) available on draft. A bit of a pleasant surprise was finding both Harpoon IPA *and* Bass widely available on draft.

That was followed up by my 20-year High School reunion last night; I re-met many old friends with whom I had fallen out-of-touch, and was able to catch up on the latest in their lives, while still being able to reminisce about old times. It was fun--a bit loud, but fun.

On the SCA front, my Lady Wife is planning a new feat of garb for me to wear to Atlantian Coronation in August. If she has her way, I'll out-shine Their Majesties, Their Highnesses, and everybody, in a set of full Russian-style court garb. I'll be hoping for cool weather... In the meantime, there are a few other events reasonably locally that I hope to be able to attend.

Brewing-wise, the batch from the last Brew Day was racked onto its fruit (it's a Peach Wheat Ale); the Blackberry Stout is progressing nicely--still purple, and with oddly little blackberry flavor; the SMaSH Ale "twins" are kegged & carbed, just waiting for their time to come. Other brews are planned, or have otherwise been planned for me. A full slate, indeed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Stir-Plate

As promised, here are some photos of my new stir plate:

This is it, in 90% of its glory. A few salient features to note: The knob on the far right controls the speed. The red switch in the center is power on/off (it lights up when on). The jack on the left-facing side is for the wall-jack.

Here, you see said wall-jack. I haven't yet firmed up the split in the cable with electrical tape, but that's not going to be either difficult or time-consuming.

Here it is, stirring away (at some water), full-bore. Note the nice whirlpool developed in the center. You can just make out the spinning white stir-bar at the bottom of the flask. Also, note the beautifully lit power switch. :)

All told, I don't think this even cost me $20 to make. The computer fan (the actual "driving force", if you will) was salvaged from a dead desktop computer. The enclosure I had purchased for my "greater" project, but subsequently realized was too small. I had the AC adapter from my other project (the HERMs Rig Controller), and only needed a female jack. The jack, switch, potentiometer, and knob I got at Radio Shack for under $10. Simplicity, itself.

I hope this has inspired you to make your own! I've certainly been bit with the do-it-yourself bug, after this. There's nothing like having a completed project, functional, made by your own hands, to make you want to create.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One project completed...

So yesterday, after months (years?) of occasionally looking at a partial pile of parts, I finally completed one of my many lesser brewing projects--I now have a stir-plate, for yeast starters and propagation and the like. I'd put together the computer fan and magnet before, but couldn't get a dimmer switch to adjust the speed, and was having difficulty imagining how I'd support the whole thing. Enter the various online forums I habituate, and the thread here. A nice, step-by-step tutorial, complete with photos.

I already had a fan and a project box (fan from an old computer that's slowly being cannibalized for parts, project box that was going to be for the HERMs controller). The HERMs controller (which is complete--just waiting to amass parts for the final build) is going to be powered by a 9V DC adapter (wall wart); I simply got a matching jack for its plug to use in the stir plate. Purchased a rheostat/potentiometer, a knob for it, an on/off switch, and some magnets, and assembled as per the instructions. (Pictures will be forthcoming soon, if I get around to it...)

Add one stir-bar from the LHBS (Maryland Homebrew), and after a little practice, it works fine! Woohoo!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brew, BBQ, family, and friends.

If ever there was a recipe for a better Brew Day, I don't know what it is. Had a couple of friends over (could have had more--you know who you are!), BBQ'ed some chicken, brewed up a batch of stout (to become Blackberry Stout, when all is said & done), and generally had a good time. The weather has been decent, so we spent the day outside. The yard is dirtscaped (no grass to speak of), and it's a tad hot with no shade out there, but we all endured--copious amounts of homebrew helped, especially the wit. I'd say that a good time was had by all.

Next month will quite possibly be my last brew day until late September or early October--I'll be off on a business trip for about two months. Much experimentation and tasting will be in order while I'm out. I'll try to manage a brew in early July, but there's no telling. Hopefully, I can have the majority of the HERMs system put together by then.

My Lady Wife assisted with a tasting/judging at Sapphire Joust yesterday; she's now even more eager to bring general A&S standards to the brewing community. We (they?) have been a bit lax, or so it seems to me. I mean, the reason I didn't enter the most recent Kingdom Brewer is that I don't/didn't have anything that I would enter into an SCA event--even though a couple of my brews at the time were fantastic--just not documentable. Between that and the cognitive dissonance with the standards for containers, I'm not keen on doing SCA brewing competitions, generally. Maybe in future; we'll see.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Time marches on

Well, the last Brew Day went remarkably well. Beer was brewed, so the important part was taken care of... Additionally, lots of people came over, and the whole event turned into a barbecue/potluck sort of thing. I'd say a good time was had by all... I was able to introduce a couple of people to mead, which is always entertaining; I'm proud to say that the response to my brews was overwhelmingly positive.

In other news, the next Brew Day will be on the 24th of May. I'll probably be following that up in quick succession with a Brew Day early in June. I need to clear out a couple of kegs to move some of the things currently aging; I should be able to empty one or two at the Barony's event at the end of May (On Target), so that should keep me in business for a while.

Progress on the HERMS upgrade continues. I'm waiting on some temperature sensors that I hope will work--I had absolutely no luck with the LM34's. I'm sure they're wonderful sensors (and I'd love to be able to get Fahrenheit temps without conversion from Celsius), but I just absolutely couldn't get the things to work. Hopefully the DS18B20's will do the job. I've got the relay working, and the LCD figured out, and I figured out the I2C interface last week for the clock and data storage. I've got to figure out the addressing for the EEPROM yet, but that shouldn't be a big deal. Otherwise, it's mostly just programming, with a little hardware to put together. Woohoo!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brewing on Sunday

This Sunday, at the request (insistence?) of my Lady Wife, I will be brewing a Cherry Brown Ale. I'm basing the foundation (the Brown Ale) on the Southern English Brown Ale recipe from Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. It looks like a solid brew, as have been every other recipe I've tried from the book. The plan is to let it primary as per normal, then rack it onto a can of Oregon Cherry Puree; allow it to re-ferment to completion, then keg. It should be a simple beer, and hopefully it will turn out well.

I also plan to attack the non-alcoholic brews again, trying another root beer. I believe I learned from the last root beer I tried (which ended up a case of gushers). In the grand scheme, as long as the flavor and mouthfeel are there, and there are *only* sufficient fermentables for priming the bottles, it should be OK. Or, it could end up a foul, vile brew. I'll be boiling up the 'regular' ingredients, less the sugar; cooling the 'tea' of sassafras root, etc., then adding the entirety of a bag of Splenda. That will give it non-fermentables for sweetness and mouthfeel. Carbtabs will provide sugar for carbonation. A bold experiment? Well, an experiment, at any rate. Time will tell how it turns out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Back from Vacation

San Diego was lovely. It's truly a nice town, with lots to do; the weather was good (when is it not, there?) and there was plenty to do and see and visit. To an extent, the only thing I could have asked for was to have a slightly less neurotic mother-in-law. Stereotypes? Who needs 'em!

In all, I limited myself quite a bit while there--mostly because I did most of the driving (GPS navigation systems are wonderful things). Partly because I didn't want to become a 'trained monkey' (my Lady Wife's words), expounding on the differences between various types and styles of beer.

We visited the Rock Bottom Restaurant in San Diego. It was really a nice place; my only true complaints would have to be that the fries were overcooked and too few (a minor thing, but really... are potatoes that expensive, these days?), and that the service was a bit iffy. We were a party of 9, which sort of explains it, but we were there at about 3pm, so it wasn't exceptionally busy.

Anyway, while there, I sampled one of the house beers: the Breakwater Pale Ale. It was truly a thing of beauty. Just the smell eased my burgeoning headache--lots of marvelous citrusy hop aroma, with just enough malt to balance. It was a lovely golden amber in color, and they brought it with a half-inch of creamy white head. The flavor was exactly what I had hoped; nice and crisp, and a marvelous contrast to the savory burger I ordered. On my scale of "would I order another," I have to give this beer a "yes, please. Two." Bravo!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Successful Brew Day

Well, last weekend's brewing went well. I brewed my follow-on to the French Pale Ale (this one with Carawheat), and Sorcha brewed a wit based on the last one I did. The ale came out well, but I'm concerned about the wit--I couldn't get a gravity reading on it over 4 Plato, which is exceptionally low. I suppose about 5 lbs of DME could be added; basically a "re-do" of primary fermentation, but I don't think it'd be the same. Ah, well...

The Perry was bottled, as well. Initial taste tests indicate that it most resembles a cheap white table wine. This is not a bad thing--just not where I had expected it to go. I meant to bottle the Lambic, but that will have to wait until next time. It's got a lovely wood flavor (from the oak table leg) under the tartness. There's a flavor to it that I'm not completely fond of, but it's not off-putting, and will quite probably age out as it sits.

I'm continuing to amass parts for the HERMs build. Apparently, if you ask nicely, many electronics manufacturers will send free samples! So, a couple of parts may arrive before horribly long (I hope), and drop the cost of the build by a couple of dollars. Every little bit helps!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lots to do

So, the Brew Day is coming up (three days from now), and I'm only just beginning to approach being almost ready. Granted, I've got the grains, and specialty grains, and hops, and a nice yeast cake--so, in that sense, I'm ready. My gear is still in its latest phase (while I learn PCB design, electronics, PICAXE programming, and a host of other things); fortunately, that phase is functional. But there's so much yet to do!

We've been having relatively decent weather of late, so we've cleaned up the back yard--but part of the assorted gardening/yard chores included splitting some spider plants. What were two large spider plants, hanging in windows in the living room, are now *four* moderately-sized spider plants, lounging in my Brewing Storage Room (avoiding a few early-spring frosts). On a somewhat related note, the hops (the ones the dog didn't dig up) are showing signs of life--small shoots are up; I'm just waiting for them to really get going...

I've got electrical diagrams and parts scattered across my desk, and tons of paperwork to file, just to have room to work. I'll probably do a bit of clearing of my Lady Wife's sewing table--just don't tell *her* that. And the Bar area is an unholy mess.

Why the frantic cleanup? Well, it's spring, for one--time for cleaning. I've also been contacted by someone who's interested in learning the Brewing Art--someone from the local Barony, no less! And it's a difficult thing to learn in a thoroughly messy environment. So, a bit of tidy-up is in order. Finally, if I'm to have *room* to brew, I've got to get a bunch of stuff bottled--the pyment can probably get bottled; the pear cider most likely can; the lambic should be about ready; my last two beers, the SMaSH and the Helles, are also coming ready for their containers. Egad, I've got to finish off a keg to have room, too... Ah, trials and tribulations...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March Brew Day

Well, it's around the corner. I'll be doing the follow-up to my SMaSH brew from last month: the same basic recipe, swapping out a pound of the base malt (which was all there was, last month) for a pound of specialty malt--in this case, I'm thinking some of the Crystal Wheat that I've got. I've had it for a while, and have been wondering what to do with it; without that, I'd likely go with a dark Munich malt or something similar. I'll be using the yeast cake from last month, as well--it seemed like a good yeast, once it finally got going.

The parts collection for the HERMS upgrade is moving along, as well. I've got the microcontroller, the temperature sensors, and a few other miscellaneous parts; there are a few things that I've ordered recently that aren't here yet. I think the biggest part of the actual HERMS upgrade will be a second pump. Moving up to keggles will be a "3.1" upgrade somewhere further on down the line. In all, I don't figure to have the rig switched to HERMS before August at the earliest, maybe September--although things have a tendency to leap ahead when I least expect them to.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rig Update Update

I'm slowly but surely getting the planning done for the HERMS update for my brewing rig. (I've decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that the update, when it comes, will make this Version 3.0 of the rig; I hope not to go much past about 5.0 in future.)

"Why," you may ask, "do you want to improve on a functional system?" The answer comes in several parts, most of which have been covered in other websites and blogs about HERMS systems:
1) Greater consistency between brews (greater repeatability);
2) Greater control over mash temps and steps;
3) Increased brew efficiency (arguable);
4) Increased clarity;
5) To satisfy my fondness for tinkering.

Of these, I'm claiming that #1 and #5 are the most important (in no particular order), with #2 coming a very close second. I'll believe #3 when I see it, and #4 hasn't really been a problem, for the most part--I've been thinking about filtering some of my brews post-fermentation, anyway.

So I'm still looking at going with the PICAXE--it seems most suited to my abilities (or lack thereof). I'm mildly frustrated (as I have been in the past) with the electronics side of things. The Venerable Guild of Electrical Engineers has kept their secrets well and truly hidden from the non-initiate; I'm picking up a thing or two here and there, and may even be able to explain some of it to the layman, when I'm done. And I'm gathering parts, one by one: a heating element has been acquired, and other parts are being negotiated for.

To bring the blog back around to "touch" the SCA, which I've been meaning to do for some time, a brewing contest has been announced for Sapphire Joust, here in Atlantia. I'm not sure that I'll be here for it, nor that I'm even going, but I'm contemplating entering something, just for the heck of it. Perhaps the French Pale Ale? Granted, it's almost completely undocumentable. But even getting just the feedback can be helpful, sometimes.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

On the road

First, an update, about last weekend's Brew Day: It was successful (perhaps predictably so), despite the weather. It went from merely cold, to cold and rainy, to sleet, to slushy snow, to cloudy, to breezy, to sunny and actually warm. I'm sure a couple of weather types were missed, but there's only so much time in a brew day.

The beer itself shows all signs of being good. There having been nothing darker than pilsner malt in it, it's going to be light in color. I turned the heat on the kettle before running off into it, so the heat caramelized the first bit of running as it came in. This should add a bit of color, as well as creating some melanoidins for mouthfeel. The Nugget hops had a better smell than I remember from the last time I used them; They'll add a (hopefully) good bittering, and a nice spiciness. The French Ale yeast seemed a bit slow to take off, but it was fermenting happily as of Tuesday.

In the meantime, I'm down in Georgia with my parents, helping out with a sick relative. I brought a pile of stuff to help with research into upgrading my Brew Rig. I've ordered a heating element for the heat-exchanger; I think I know what I'm going to use for the exchanger. The controller is going to be the difficult part; I've some ideas, though. This is going to be one of the slower equipment upgrades--the expenses for some of what I want to do could become somewhat prohibitive. But, I want to do this right, so--well, perfection takes time.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Equipment upgrades

I'm brewing this weekend, on Sunday, and will be doing the initial run with a new sparge-arm. This one is much more elegant than the drilled copper hoop I had been using; I was inspired by a sparger I saw in the most recent Zymurgy. It's made of PVC, with a bolt and some washers providing the 'spray' aspect. I've extended it a bit so that the hose from the pump won't get any kinks, and I think it'll work like a champ. We'll see on Sunday, I suppose. (Photos to follow; I'll try to take some during the brew day.)

I'm also deep in the planning stages for conversion of my rig to a HERMS-style system. I've got the process flow mapped, and know what I need (in broad strokes) to make it work. I'm looking into various possibilities for automating the recirculating/heat-exchanging. I'm leaning towards something either based on the Arduino platform, or something that looks innovative (and, more important, simple) called "PICAXE". At this point, only time will tell. I am not, unfortunately, an electrical engineer, nor have I been a computer programmer for decades, so there's absolutely no telling how half-assed this will turn out. All the same, I'm optimistic.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

SMaSH update

So, I've become more intrigued by the SMaSH concept of brewing. I'm now certain that that's how I'll do my next batch (a week and a half from now); I think I'll follow that up with a slight modification for the batch after that.

Rather than doing a basic Pils-style beer, I'll probably use an ale yeast, most likely one that will ferment at slightly cooler temperatures (the unseasonal weather we're having right now can't last). Also, to help add a bit of complexity, I think I'll play the Scottish Ale game and caramelize the first runnings a bit. That should darken things just a hair. (I'm debating using a Scottish yeast; I may go that way, or I may use an Alt yeast...)

Then in March, I'll repeat the technique as best I can, and use the same recipe, subbing a pound of the base malt for the pound of carawheat I picked up out of curiosity, not knowing what I'd do with it. I'll probably even pitch onto the yeast cake from the earlier batch. If I play my cards right, I should be able to do a nice side-by-side taste test; this would show me exactly what (if anything) the carawheat is good for. Heck, I could probably continue the experiment, subbing out the carawheat for other specialty grains (Munich, Victory, Crystal 80, Honey malt, etc.), and finally determine what each of those specifically does to a beer. I could even go all-out crazy, and decide which basic one I like best, then spend next year playing with different yeast strains for that beer. The year after, I could go with different hops. Hah! If I didn't get tired of the same beer month after month, I'd have some interesting data to play with later.

Maybe I'll do this, but after next month, hold it to every other brewing session...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

SMaSH brewing

So, I've been feeling the urge to do something rather basic for a brew. Something to highlight the complexity possible from a very simple recipe. A batch using just one grain, and just one hop, fermented as far as the yeast will take it. A quick search of the various brewing bulletin boards (such as my favorite, the Green Board) showed that I wasn't the first to think of such a thing. They call it "SMaSH" brewing--Single Malt and Single Hop. The predominant brew for this seems to be Scottish Ales, but there are others. At least one person did an all-Munich Malt brew (which would be yummy); there was one I recall that focused on Golden Promise malt. Hops seemed to be whatever was available and to the brewer's taste; yeast likewise.
In considering this for my next Brew Day (the 25th of this month), I'm looking at what I have on hand. While I've got some Saaz hops, I think I'll save those, and use some Nugget--it's stronger, so I won't have to use as much for a balanced bitterness. The malt is a no-brainer; I just picked up a sack of Pils malt. Where to go with the yeast is really the question. Pils malt with a single hop looks a lot like your standard Pilsner-style lager, but where's the fun in that, really? I mean, there's a whole world of yeast to explore. Any suggestions from you, my loyal reader(s)?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Last week's Brewing Session

Whew! I'm behind in my posting! Let's see, I had a Brew Day last week. I had thought about doing an American Amber ale, but decided instead upon a Helles Bock. The deciding factor for me was not wanting to have to get a variety of different malts (my 'stash' is running low) and not feeling up to doing multiple hop additions (I just wanted to brew, and relax). All told, the session went well. Keeping a rolling boil when the temperature is below freezing is difficult, but it was managed. It didn't take as much to chill things, either--pop the lid on the pot, let it sit for a while, then once through the (too-short) counterflow, inside. My biggest concern really was that a friend came over to brew a Scottish 80/-, and we didn't get around to it; I believe she'll be coming over to brew it tomorrow morning, before the Super Bowl. So, in short, progress. :)
In other news, I kegged the Pale Ale I did back in December. I'm gradually getting around to every bit of equipment I have to sterilize it, trying to get a handle on the mystery overcarbonation. I've got to pick up some bottles for the Pinot Noir (I'll do that today); that will also free up one of my 5-gallon carboys for secondary for the Helles. I need to bottle the 2 gallons or so of Pumpkin Beer I did on a lark--it actually looks decent; we'll see what it tastes like! And I need to get a whole bunch of already-kegged beer drunk. (Drank? Drinked? I need to look up the grammar for that...)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Event is over...

Well, Saturday was the event. Despite the hurdles, it was a success. Now, as has been expressed to the people in charge of such things, *never again*. I suppose things could have been worse; as it was, we only had to jury-rig water. The alarm was disconcerting--it turned out to be from the boiler, to let us know that the electricity to the boiler had been cut, after a surge. The classes went well, although getting things started and finished on time was quasi-organized chaos. Nevertheless, things seemed by & large to go fairly smoothly.

Next on the hit parade: brewing next weekend. I think I'll do a basic amber ale--gotta have stuff ready to go for spring and summer, after all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Books, books, and books.

Well, the Holidays are past. I received many many many excellent books, the which I'm perusing as time allows. Unfortunately, time isn't allowing as much as it might--I'm organizing the Barony's event next weekend, and "utter chaos" is an apt description. Still, as I go through them, I'll try to post the quick review here. Additionally, I hope to have a couple of brews tapped in the next week or two, and I'll take tasting notes and share them with you, my loyal reader(s).

I'll start today with Beer: Tap Into the Art and Science of Brewing
, by Charles Bamforth. This was a delightful read--very interesting from a technical, brewing background sort of way. It's not something anyone should pick up who's trying to learn how to brew, although someone trying to become more familiar with that tasty beverage they're sipping could probably do worse. Mr. Bamforth writes with a good deal of insight, as well as the occasional wry bit of humor. My only complaint is that his Englishness comes through in a couple of places--although I believe he would deny it (based on what I read), he seems to have a bias (completely understandable) for his native British beers, and on one or two occasions in the book displays what I can only describe as undue disregard for several other beer styles (the Schwarzbier, for example, is dismissed due to its lack of popularity in Britain). Still, this is a minor quibble, and all things considered, I'd have to rate the book a four stars out of five.

For next time: Books on unusual fruit, on cider, and (of course) more beer!

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