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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #15: Barleywine
A sort of companion to my Russian Imperial Stout (which I named Bomb & Grapnel), this is another beer I'm hoping to clock in at ~10% ABV. As with the RIS, I'm going to brew up a full 5 gallon batch, then split the result into two secondary fermenters. One will simply condition, the other will get an addition of bourbon soaked oak cubes (just like the RIS). At packaging time, I'll bottle some of each, then a blend of the two. With the RIS, the blend actually came out the best, though maybe the bourbon oaked one will hold up better over time (alas, only one way to find out).

For the recipe, I used one of my favorite barleywines as a guide, Firestone Walker's §ucaba. Fortunately for me, Firestone Walker is pretty open with their ingredients. Unfortunately, they're not quite as open with their proportions! So I took a swing, and made some tweaks along the way:

Brew #15: Barleywine
April 5, 2014

0.5 lb. Crystal 40 (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. Crystal 120 (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. Munich Malt (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Chocolate Malt (specialty grain)
9 lb. Briess Golden Light DME
0.75 lb. Turbinado Sugar
2 oz. Bravo hops (bittering @ 15.5% AA)
1 oz. East Kent Golding hops (flavor)
1 oz. East Kent Golding hops (aroma)
2 oz. Oak Cubes: Hungarian Medium Toast
16 oz. Bourbon (Eagle Rare 10)
Wyeast 1028 London Ale

Barleywine Ingredients

I'm shooting for something in the 10-11% ABV range here. Now, §ucaba is 12.5-13.5% ABV, but as I understand it, this is difficult to obtain for mere mortals like myself. Something about the laws of physics not operating the same in Firestone Walker's warehouses? Whatever, the point is that this recipe isn't quite the beast that §ucaba is...

I tried to keep my specialty grains reasonable as well. I think one of the reasons my RIS had such a high FG was that I included too much in the way of unfermentable sugars. So I toned that down here. I also added a small simple sugar addition, which should help keep that attenuation in check. Fingers crossed.

For the hops, it seemed pretty straightforward. Bravo for bittering and East Kent Goldings for late kettle additions, just like §ucaba. This puts the beer firmly in English Barleywine territory. According to my calculations, the IBUs should be somewhere in the 40-50 range, which is actually a little low, even for an English Barleywine, but then, §ucaba clocks in at 42 IBUs, so I'm actually on track.

For the oak cubes, I chose Hungarian Medium Toast (supposedly less intense than American oak, but more intense than French oak) and started soaking them in bourbon a couple months ago. I think one of the issues with the RIS was how long I kept the oak in bourbon, so hopefully the additional time will yield more complexity and less char (among other harsh tannins, etc...) Depending on how this goes, I may also keep this batch in secondary for an extra week as well (so 3 weeks primary, 4 weeks secondary).

Firestone Walker's house yeast is rumored to be similar to Wyeast 1968 (London ESB, same as WLP 002), but that has relatively low attenuation and low alcohol tolerance (which is yet another reason to question the laws of physics at FW). I ended up going with Wyeast 1028, which has a much better attenuation range and one of the higher alcohol tolerances (11%, which should work here). Also, since this is a big beer, I did a yeast starter. I've had trouble making starters in the past because I never took into account how much water is lost to evaporation. This time, I managed to get it almost right. Started with 1250 ml of water and 1/4 cup malt extract, and ended with about 900 ml of 1.042 wort (slightly high, but right around the 1.040 I was shooting for).

On brew day, the Original Gravity ended up at 22.3 Bx or 1.094, slightly lower than I was shooting for, but it should still be fine. I installed a blow off tube instead of the airlock, as I'm anticipating a pretty active fermentation.

So that just about covers it. This one should take a while, so I anticipate doing one more batch of something before the heat of summer makes brewing a bit more difficult. I'll probably do something sessionable that I'll keg, like a 4% pale ale or maybe a light saison for some summer drinking fun. Next up on the big beer front would be a Scotch ale, which may also get the oak treatment described above (though it'll likely also be lower in ABV)...

(Cross Posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on April 06, 2014 at 04:44 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #14: Fat Weekend IPA 2014
After ruining my last batch of beer with an overly ambitious yeast harvesting scheme, I've returned to a recipe that has worked in the past, and will no doubt work well again. Of course, I'm tweaking the recipe considerably, as I'm wont to do, but the basics are pretty well the same. As with last year, I'm brewing this batch of beer for a specific event in mid-March. It's called Fat Weekend, a annual gathering of portly friends from all over the northeast (and some points west). To be sure, we're not that fat, but as we like to say, fat is a frame of mind, and our caloric intake over the course of the weekend is easily 5-10 times our normal rate. Last year, we housed about half a case of my beer pretty quickly, so this year will be a full batch (as opposed to the 2.5 gallon batches I've been making). And again, there are some tweaks to the recipe and it is scaled up to a 5 gallon recipe, though I think it's pretty similar:

Beer #14: Fat Weekend IPA
Full-Batch (5 gallons)
February 8, 2014

1 lb. CaraPils (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
6 lb. Muntons Light DME
12 oz. Turbinado Sugar
1.5 oz. Simcoe (bittering @12.7 AA)
0.5 oz. Simcoe (flavor)
1 oz. Amarillo (flavor)
2 oz. Amarillo (aroma)
1 oz. Amarillo (dry hop)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 1272 - American Ale II Yeast

Fat Weekend IPA Ingredients

This was perhaps a bigger change than I let on. Gone is the Vienna malt, and I only really scaled up the CaraPils (for body). The Crystal 20 remains the same, and the Turbinado sugar was only partially scaled up. Hop wise, I went with a Simcoe/Amarillo blend, with Simcoe providing the bulk of bittering (and just a a bit of flavor) and Amarillo pulling duty on flavor, aroma, and dry hops. And just to switch things up a bit, I went with the American Ale II yeast, which seems to be a clean yeast that will still provide a little citrus boost to the hops (so I hope). Furthermore, I'm planning to keg this batch and transport the results in growlers.

So it might be a bit disingenuous to give this the same name as last year's Fat Weekend IPA, but hey, I'm working on it. From a recipe standpoint, I'm thinking this is just about where I want to be. Last year, I really wanted to use this Simcoe/Amarillo hop schedule, but was stymied by a lack of Amarillo and fell back on Falconer's Flight and Citra to make up for the difference. The only real change I could see myself making next year is if the Conan yeast becomes more widely available (whether that be ECY 29 (Northeast Ale) or something else), but I'm definitely curious about this American Ale II yeast (from the descriptions I've read, it seems to have similar properties, though it's clearly not the same yeast).

And this is a first, I forgot to take an OG reading. What can I say, I've been fighting a cold and hadn't quite gotten over it on Saturday. The recipe should have yielded something in the 1.067 range, and given my previous experience, I probably hit something around there. I'm pretty confident that after two weeks we'll be in good shape (somewhere around 7.1% ABV).

Next up on the schedule is some sort of barleywine, which I'd like to give a bourbon soaked oak treatment to (or perhaps I'll go with something more exotic, like Port wine soaked oak, we shall see), then do the whole straight, oaked, and blend of straight and oaked versions. From what I've had of Bomb & Grapnel, the blend seems to be doing the best, so maybe I'll lean more heavily on that... After the barleywine, something light and crushable for summertime consumption (either a 4% pale ale, or a light saison). Then I plan to do something similar to Red Heady again in the fall, hopefully not screwing it up that time. After that, who knows? Maybe a redux of my Christmas Ale (a spiced winter warmer) or another batch of Bomb & Grapnel (with some slight tweaks). But now I'm getting way ahead of myself.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on February 12, 2014 at 09:48 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #12: Red Heady
As mentioned earlier this week, I've attempted to harvest some yeast from old cans of Heady Topper. It seemed to work, though I'm not sure how much I was actually able to grow the yeast. It seemed pretty lethargic to start, it took a few days to seemingly do anything, and while I could see the yeast had grown, I'm still not entirely sure there was enough to be viable for a full batch. I guess there's only one way to find out, eh? I've been toying with this recipe for a hoppy red ale for a while now, and I'm pretty excited to try it out. It's also a batch that doesn't require lengthy secondary treatments (like the RIS or Brett Saison), so this may be ready by Christmas (red ale for Christmas? Sounds good to me), though I'm pushing it a bit close for that. Anywho, let's get this party started:

Brew #13 - Red Heady
December 7, 2013

0.5 lb. Crystal 60 (specialty grain)
2 oz. Roasted Malt (specialty grain)
3 lb. Briess Golden Light DME
3.3 lb. Amber LME
1 lb. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe hops (bittering @ 12.7% AA)
0.5 oz. Citra hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Mosaic hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Citra hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Mosaic hops (aroma)
1 oz. Citra hops (dry)
1 tsp Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp Irish Moss
Heady Topper "Conan" yeast

Red Heady Ingredients

Nothing particularly fancy going on here. Very simple specialty grains for steeping, partly because I just went for the Amber extract (I suppose I could have stuck with all light DME and incorporated the Amber malt directly, but this was easier). The Turbinado sugar is pretty large, I guess, but I should get enough body from the Amber extract and Crystal 60, so that should be fine.

I'd originally planned for a Simcoe and Amarillo hop mix, but apparently Amarillo hasn't made its way to my homebrew shop yet, so I fell back on Citra and Mosaic. Citra has been growing on me of late, and Mosaic is relatively new (released in 2012). Mosaic is apparently the daughter of Simcoe, and it has Simcoe-like properties, but also apparently a wider range of tropical fruit aromas. I'm sure this will turn out fine.

Original Gravity: 1.065 (about 15.8°Bx). This is just about on target, and should yield something around 7% ABV if all goes well. I am a little worried about the yeast though, so I bought a packet of Wyeast 1056 in case things don't go so well with the harvested Heady yeast. Fingers crossed for a strong ferment!

Up next on the homebrew front is the RIS bottling (hopefully next weekend), and then I'm not sure! I definitely want to do a Barleywine in the same way I'm doing the RIS (split batches, with one bourbon oaked, etc...) And Fat Weekend IPA is also on the schedule. I'm starting to accumulate a bunch of unused ingredients, stuff that's just laying around. Maybe I'll make something called "Clusterfuck Ale" with whatever I have laying around. I definitely want to make an easy-drinking sessionable pale ale for the summer (around 4% ABV). After that, who knows? I may tweak the saison recipe to get more Brett exposure, maybe incorporate some oak into that too. So many ideas, so little time (and only so much liver).

(Cross Posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on December 08, 2013 at 08:50 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Updates
Homebrewing is not a hobby for the impatient, especially when you get a taste for stuff like funky saisons or oak aged beers. My last couple batches have been such beers, so it feels like I haven't gotten much done lately, though in about a month's time, I'll (hopefully) be awash in more homebrew than I know what to do with. I don't know how curious you are about this stuff, but updates on three batches of beer (two already mentioned, one upcoming) are below. Apologies if this isn't your bag, but hey, there's some pretty pictures you can look at too.

First up, Kaedrôme Saison, brewed wayyy back in June, I split the 5 gallon batch into two. Half was bottled in July, the other half was put into secondary and dosed with Brettanomyces, crossing the Rubicon of Funk. The first half, a "regular" saison, is drinking rather well at this point, though I'm running a little low on supply. I brought a bomber to Thanksgiving, and the relatively high carbonation and dry palate were perfect matches for the hearty meal. That second half had been slumbering in secondary for about 4 months, after which I figured it was finally time to bottle it.
Kaedrome Saison, post-secondary
Final Gravity came in at 1.003 (6.2bx), which was a nice decrease from the 1.007 of the "regular" saison. Tasting the uncarbonated stuff, it seemed relatively light on Brett funk, but very dry (as you might expect from gravity readings like that). I was a little worried about bottling this after 4 months in secondary. Would the yeast be up to carbonating this after so long? It turns out that my fears were unfounded. I bottled on 11/16/13, and cracked open a test bottle (that wasn't quite a full fill) on 11/27/13. It wasn't perfect, but it had carbonated a bit, and was very drinkable. Again, it's a little light on the funk for now, but we'll see how it conditions in the bottle. I plan on bringing this to beer club next week, so we'll see how it's doing then.

Now I just need to freak out about all the equipment that touched the Brett. I'm sure I cleaned it all well enough, but it could be a bit nerve wracking because everyone says that Brett is so hardy that it will find a way to survive, like those dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Life finds a way. You can't see me as I write this, but I'm Goldbluming right now. It's sad. Anyway, I've ordered up some new tubing and other fittings, so we should be all good. And the old tubing/fittings will be used the next time I feel like making a funky beer (which will probably be sooner rather than later).

Next, that Russian Imperial Stout that I brewed a few weeks ago! I checked the gravity on 11/16/13, about two weeks after brew day, and it was still at 1.034, which was much higher than expected (especially after that super vigorous fermentation over the first few days). I decided to give it another week in primary, and opted to bottle Kaedrôme that day...

On 11/23/13, I transfered to secondary fermenters. Final Gravity was 1.031 (14.1 bx), which is still excessively high, but I figure giving this another three weeks in secondary would bring that down to something manageable. I'm guessing it won't get down to 1.023, but if I can get it to drop a few points, I'll be pretty happy with it. As mentioned in the original post, I split the batch into two secondaries, one straight up, the other with bourbon soaked oak cubes. The plan is to eventually bottle some of each, then bottle a blend of the two, yielding 3 total variants. I'm super excited to see how these turn out, but I'm guessing it will need to condition in the bottle for quite some time.

I used Medium Toast American Oak, and soaked it for two weeks in Evan Williams 2003 Single Barrel Bourbon. I boiled the oak for a few minutes up front to sanitize and get rid of some of the harsher tannins, then put them in a mason jar with bourbon. Here's a pic of when I first put the oak in the bourbon:
Oak soaking in Bourbon
And below is a pic after a few days. Note how much darker the bourbon got. The comparison isn't super fair because of the cap on the mason jar and the fact that some of the oak was sinking as it got saturated with bourbon (both of which are blocking some of the light and making it seem darker), but even when I hold it up to the light, it's noticeably darker. That medium toast is doing its thing, I guess.
Bourbon and Oak, after a few days
This is shaping up to be my most interesting batch to date. Can't wait to see how it turns out, and I'm really hoping for great things. Bourbon Barrel Stouts have become a true favorite of mine, so being able to produce something like that myself will be great.

Finally, another mad scientist experiment. I had some cans of Heady Topper left over from Operation Cheddar. Heady is, of course, a damn near perfect DIPA, and while I'm sure their hop charges, sourcing, and selection are superb, I think the thing that really separates Heady from the rest of the world is its yeast strain, the fabled "Conan" yeast that supposedly emphasizes the juicy citrus flavors in the hops. For some ungodly reason, neither Wyeast nor White Labs have cultured this yet (and they don't have anything comparable*), so I thought I'd harvest the yeast dregs from a couple cans of the stuff and see if I could whip it into shape.
Yeast Harvesting Goodness
I was a little worried at first, as I saw no signs of activity for at least three days. But before I could properly despair, I started to see some bubbles (it turns out that this delayed start is common amongst those of us nerds who have tried harvesting Heady yeast). Soon, I could see that the yeast had grown, and the fermentation was visible. Score. I'm going to crash it tonight and give it just a teensy bit of extra wort tomorrow night to get it into shape for brew day on Saturday. I'm planning on making a hoppy red beer (planning on Simcoe and Amarillo as the hops, but we'll see what my local shop has in stock). Wish me luck.

So it's going to be an interesting few months. If this Conan yeast thing works out, I'll try using it for the annual Fat Weekend IPA as well. And if the oaked RIS works, I might whip up a barleywine this winter and do the same thing...

* East Coast Yeast makes a Northeast Ale (ECY29) that is rumored to be based on Conan, but it's hard to come by...

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on December 04, 2013 at 11:29 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #12: RIS
I tend to limit my brewing activities during the summer, but now that it's getting colder, it's time to fire up the brewhouse (i.e. my kitchen). I've been toying with the idea for this batch for a while now. The concept is that I will brew up a full 5 gallon batch of Russian Imperial Stout, ferment it out, then split the batch into two for secondary fermentation. One will simply condition as normal. The other will get an addition of Bourbon soaked oak cubes. Then! At bottling time, I plan to bottle some of the regular stout, some of the bourbon oak aged stout, and a blend of the two. This is most exciting, though I gather it will probably take a while for all of this to come together and condition well. Brewing is not a hobby for the impatient. So let's get this party started:

Brew #12 - Russian Imperial Stout
November 2, 2013

1 lb. Crystal 60 (specialty grain)
1 lb. Debittered Black Malt (specialty grain)
0.75 lb. Chocolate Malt (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. Roasted Barley (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. Munich Malt (specialty grain)
9 lb. Briess Golden Light DME
2 oz. Columbus hops (bittering @ 16.3% AA)
1 oz. Cascade hops (flavor)
1 oz. Cascade hops (aroma)
2 oz. Oak Cubes: American Medium Toast
16 oz. Bourbon (TBD)
Wyeast 1450 Denny's Favorite 50

Ingredients for my Homebrewed RIS

Like my first attempt at a stout (which was nowhere near an Imperial, but still), the base of this beer is all light DME, so I'm getting all the color and flavor out of specialty malts, of which there are a lot. Indeed, this is the most malt I've used in a recipe since my second batch (a Belgian tripel), and this is a great deal more complex too. (I originally only planned on a half pound of Debittered Black Malt, but my homebrew shop was only selling it in increments of 1 pound, so I figured why not). Steeping the grains in 2.5 gallons of water (needed to add more because I was using so much grain), the wort got super black, almost like black ink, and smelled strongly of coffee. According to my calculations, this should come out at around 59 SRM (anything over 30 is generally considered "black", and my previous attempt at a stout was around 45 SRM).

Once I steeped and sparged the grains, I added 2/3 of the DME, adding the last 1/3 halfway through the boil. I actually had a bit of a boil-over mishap. Perhaps I started with too much water, which raised the level of the wort higher than normal (for me, at least). And it turns out that 9 pounds of DME takes up a lot of space too. In any case, I didn't lose too much liquid and the crisis was mostly averted, so all was well there (it just made for more cleanup, boo).

Aside from the amount and variety of malt, the other big change from my first stout recipe is a more well rounded hop schedule. I felt my last batch didn't have enough bitterness, and since this sucker is much bigger, I went with a high alpha hop in Columbus, and straightforward Cascade for flavor and aroma (not that those characteristics should or would be dominated by hops, but the Cascade should add some complexity, which is what I'm going for here).

Original Gravity: 1.098 (around 23.1°Bx). This is exactly on target, so I must have done something right! If all goes well, the ABV should wind up somewhere just north of 10% ABV, with enough residual sugar to stand up to the Bourbon and oak (FG should be somewhere around 1.023, assuming 75% attenuation).

Speaking of which, I used a Yeast starter for this batch. Yeast starters are not always necessary, but they seem to be a general best practice. All you do is pitch your yeast into a small amount of wort, which gets the yeast working and increases cell population dramatically, then you pitch the result into your full batch. For a beer this size, pitching more yeast is usually recommended, and will lead to a faster fermentation with less of a chance for off flavors or infection. This is my first attempt, and it seemed to go ok. Near as I can tell, I made a relatively small starter, and some recommend making a larger one, but I didn't really have time to keep stepping it up (I started it on Thursday night, and it was ready to go on Saturday). That being said, I'm guessing I significantly increased the amount of yeast I pitched, which is certainly better than just chucking one yeast packet in the wort (or paying another 6 bucks for a second packet).
Yeast Starter
So I figure I'll let this go in primary for two weeks, then rack to secondary (splitting into two three gallon fermenters) for an additional 3 weeks. As previously mentioned, I'll be adding bourbon soaked oak cubes to one of the secondary fermenters. Not sure which Bourbon I'll use for that task just yet (any recommendations? That Evan Williams Single Barrel in the picture is pretty good, but I might use something different) I also need to figure out if I'll need to reyeast after secondary (any ideas there? I see mixed reports out there...)

I'm really excited to see how this turns out, even if it probably won't be ready for a couple months (right around Christmastime). It should age really well too. In the meantime, I've still got that Brett dosed saison in secondary, and I think I'll be bottling that soon. And once the RIS goes into secondary, I plan to sneak in another batch of something less complicated. Perhaps that hoppy red ale I keep talking about...

Update: Fermentation is going strong. Since I was using a yeast starter, I began fermentation with a blowoff tube (instead of your typical airlock) and I'm glad I did. Within 24 hours, this sucker is fermenting like crazy. All was fine a couple hours ago, then I went out for dinner and boom, blowoff tube engaged fully. Otherwise, this thing might have popped the lid on my bucket, shooting yeast and partially fermented wort everywhere. Ha.
Blow off tube
(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on November 03, 2013 at 08:09 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Bringing the Funk
After two weeks in primary fermentation, the 5 gallon batch of saison has been split into two. About 2 gallons has been bottled (yielding a little less than a case), with the other three being racked to secondary and dosed with Brettanomyces Claussenii (WLP645 for the enquiring).
Vial of Brettanomyces
Crossing the Rubicon of funk wasn't particularly difficult just yet - it basically just consisted of opening the vial of yeast and dumping it in the secondary fermenter. The real test will come in a few months time, when the yeast has had proper time to work its way through the remaining sugars. Or maybe I inadvertently infected my entire house with Brett and will have trouble with all my future batches. The die has been cast, to continue the Rubicon metaphor.
Saison - before conditioning
Final Gravity: 6.9 Bx, around 1.007. As usual, my hydrometer gives a slightly lower reading, but we're still looking at somewhere around 6.8% - 7.2% ABV, which is a little higher than expected, but still on point. This puts attenuation in the high 80% range, somewhere around 88%. Hopefully, this mean there's enough residual sugar for the Brett, but not so much that the Brett version will be dominated by that character.

In the meantime, I'll have some non-funky saison to keep me busy (though I'll clearly want to save enough to do a side-by-side comparison once the Kaedrôme rises). I'm debating what to do with my next batch. Being the dead of summer limits options a bit. Saisons are great because they can ferment out at 70+ degrees with no real ill effects. But, you know, I just made one. I really want to make a hoppy red ale of some kind, and an imperial stout too. In both cases, I'd like a somewhat lower ambient temperature than will be possible during summer (and the bathtub trick is out because I'm redoing my bathrooms, though perhaps I could do something in a smaller container). And I'm going to want to do this split batch trick as well, dry hopping (for the red) and oak aging (for the stout) half the batches. Perhaps I'll just make it a busy fall.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on July 07, 2013 at 11:33 AM .: link :.


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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #11: Kaedrôme Saison
My fourth batch, brewed almost 2 years ago to the day, was a saison that turned out fantastic when it was fresh, but degraded over time (and become super carbonated). I've been wanting to make another batch of saison recently, so I took the recipe for the initial batch, toned down in terms of malt, and threw in some fancy Nelson Sauvin hops for yucks.

The real adventure this time around will be splitting the batch into two after primary fermentation: half will be bottled at that point, with the other half going into a secondary fermenter and dosed with Brettanomyces. I've long ago established that saisons are the least coherent style in the history of beer... which is actually one of the reasons I love them so much. My initial batch (and half of this current batch) was patterned after Saison Dupont, a classic of the style. The Brett dosed half of this batch will (hopefully!) be closer to Fantôme's saisons, which is where the name of this beer (Kaedrôme, get it?) is coming from (big thanks to Scott of Beerbecue for suggesting that perfect name).

Allllrighty then, lets get this party started:

Brew #11 - Saison
June 22, 2013

0.5 lb. Belgian CaraVienne (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Northern Brewer Pilsen LME
3 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
1 lb. Light Belgian Candi Sugar (liquid)
1 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (bittering @ 5.8% AA)
0.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops (bittering @ 10.9% AA)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (flavor)
0.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast (Primary)
White Labs WLP645 Brettanomyces Claussenii (Secondary)

Ingredients for Kaedrome Saison

I'll spare you the play by play, as that's mostly the same for every batch. The only thing I'll say about that is that my new kitchen kicks ass, and has removed 30-60 minutes from the process. It turns out that the "Power Boil" element actually lives up to its name (it still takes a little while, but much faster than my old stovetop). And the bigger, deeper sink makes cooling in an ice bath much quicker too. It only took a little less than 3 hours, including all the cleaning.

I hope the Nelson Sauvin hops work out with this one. I basically chose them on a whim, thinking they would go pretty well with the saison. I hedged a bit and used some Saaz that I had laying around too, so I hope it's a solid combo. Hop Additions at 60, 15, and 5 minutes remaining in the boil. Irish moss at 15 minutes. Orange Peel at 5 minutes. Pitched the 3711 yeast at 70 degrees.

Original gravity: 1.060 (14.6 Brix), pretty much right on target. My little homebrew app says I should be getting 80%+ attenuation out of this (maybe even as high as 85%).

Now I just need to figure out the process for the Brett dosing, but I've got a couple weeks for that. Again, general idea is to fill up my 3 gallon secondary fermenter, pitch the Brett in there, and bottle the rest of it right away.

I know very little about the different varieties of Brettanomyces, but in looking around, this seems like the one that fits me best. For the uninitiated, Brett is a wild yeast strain. It usually contributes funky, earthy characteristics to beers. Some people use descriptors like "horse blanket", "barnyard", or "band-aids" (among lots of other stuff, even smoky and spicy flavors), but that... doesn't sound good, does it? Indeed, Brett is generally viewed as a contaminant and thus something to be avoided, but if done properly, it can match really well with beer, especially sour beers. This saison isn't meant to be sour, though apparently the Claussenii strain that I'm using is more subtle than some of the others and contributes a "fruity, pineapple like aroma". I'm going for something along the lines of older Fantômes (which tended towards sour) or Logsdon Seizoen Bretta, but everything I read about Brett is that it's a little on the unpredictable side. So fingers are going to be crossed.

Since the primary fermentation yeast is going to yield a pretty dry beer to start with, I'm guessing that the Brett won't be a massive contribution, but that sounds good for my first attempt at this sort of thing. Unlike regular brewer's yeast, Brett will eat up pretty much any sugars left in the beer, so I need to give it a lengthy period to do its thing, at least a couple months. Luckily, it's a hardy organism and thrives in warmer temperatures (so summer was a good time to experiment with this sucker). On the other hand, my understanding is that Brett is difficult to clean, etc... and a lot of homebrewers advise keeping the equipment that touches it separate from your regular brewing materials. This should be fine, as I've basically been using the same stuff for two years and some of it could probably be refreshed anyway.

So this is going to be one of the more interesting batches I've ever made... if it goes well. Wish me luck!

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on June 23, 2013 at 04:51 PM .: link :.


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #10: IPA Bottling
After two weeks in the bucket, I bottled the Fat Weekend IPA today. Fermentation seemed to as well as usual. A week into the process, once fermentation had slowed considerably, I cracked the lid and dropped in an ounce of Simcoe hops. This is only the second time I've dry hopped a batch of beer, but hot damn, judging from the smells emanating from the bucket during bottling, I'm in for a fantastic little brew here. Last time, I got a huge grapefruit character, this time, I got a more well rounded fruitiness as well as a piney aspect that was very pleasant.

Final Gravity: 1.014, which is just about dead on what I was expecting. That being said, I also still seem to have trouble reading my refractometer. Comparing an actual hydrometer reading, I get something lower (around 1.012). The refractometer is showing something around 9.3 bx, which translates to around 1.016. I need to get better at this. Regardless, it's looking like I'm somewhere on the order of 7.3% to 7.6% ABV, which is close to what I'm shooting for, so all will be well.

Pre-Bottle-Conditioned Fat Weekend IPA.

Very pretty looking beer, a nice warm golden orange color, perhaps a hint darker than my last batch of IPA. As already mentioned, the aroma is fantastic, citrusy fruit and pine all over. I gave it a taste too, and I do believe this is going to be fantastic stuff. I got almost exactly 1 full case of beer out of this batch (2.5-3 gallons), which will be perfect. Though only half of what I normally make, I've found that hoppy beers don't last, and start to fade quickly. After 6 months, my last IPA was still good, but it was a bit of a malt bomb. This is something I've become more sensitive to as my palate evolves, so I'm glad I'll probably finish this case off before it has a chance to fade significantly. Fat Weekend is about a month out, which means that this should be fully conditioned and indeed peaking right about then.

Not sure what's going to come next here. I've been toying with the idea of an imperial red ale, but may also try a batch of barleywine or imperial stout too (and perhaps finally take the secondary fermentation plunge, complete with bourbon soaked oak cubes). Whatever the next batch is, I'll probably start it in March/April. If I end up going the big beer route, I'll definitely be spending more time conditioning the beer than usual, so it will hopefully be doing really well by next Autumn... But I definitely want to make a sessionable Summer saison, akin to my last saison attempt, but a little lighter. I'll plan for that in April/May, and that should last me through the summer...

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on February 20, 2013 at 08:23 PM .: link :.


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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #10: Fat Weekend IPA
So I've been slacking on my brewing hobby of late, though not without good reason. I spent most of December revamping my kitchen from the ground up, so there was much time when I simply wasn't capable of brewing anything (not to mention the sanitary conditions, which were obviously poor whilst work was proceeding). After putting some finishing touches on the kitchen in January, I'm finally ready to resume brewing. One of the nice things about my new kitchen is that I upgraded my stovetop, which now comes complete with a "PowerBoil" element that, you guessed it, boils water faster than my old stovetop (I'm forced to use electric, which is less than ideal for brewing purposes). And boy did that come in handy. I estimate that this shaved a solid 30-60 minutes off the brewing process, which came in at around 2.5-3 hours, including post-brew cleaning.

This batch is being brewed for a specific reason, the titular "Fat Weekend", a gathering of portly friends from all over the northeast (and some points west) which will be sometime in mid-march. Last year, I brought a variety of homebrews and was shocked to see that the Simcoe IPAs were the first beers to go (and got the best complements), so I'm making this specifically for that weekend. Let's hope it turns out well.

In terms of recipe, this is a variation on my Simcoe Single Hop IPA from last year (interestingly enough, brewed exactly one year ago to the day). For the most part, the malt bill is identical. A slight increase in Crystal 20, simply because my homebrew shop was only selling in half-pound increments, and I'm using pilsen for the entire base malt (which, again, is just based on what was available). The big change, though, is in hops. Instead of using just Simcoe, I'm adding in the trendy hotness of Citra and Falconer's Flight (both used in equal proportions for flavor and aroma additions). Simcoe will remain on bittering duty, as well as contributing the dry hop addition. Otherwise, we've got an identical recipe.

Beer #10: Fat Weekend IPA
Half-Batch (2.5 gallons)
February 4, 2013

.5 lb. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
.5 lb. CaraPils (specialty grain)
.5 lb. Vienna Malt (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Briess Pilsen Light LME
1 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
0.5 lb. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @13.2 AA)
0.5 oz. Citra (flavor)
0.5 oz. Falconer's Flight (flavor)
0.5 oz. Citra (aroma)
0.5 oz. Falconer's Flight (aroma)
1 oz. Simcoe (dry hop)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast

Overall, pretty straightforward stuff here. The only major change is the hops. Citra seems very much in the vein of Simcoe, but it's got a more fruity and less piney, woodsy feel to it. I also usually get a more herbal fruit out of it... nothing like a Euro-hop, but distinct from the grapefruit and pine character of Simcoe. Falconer's Flight is actually a proprietary blend of numerous hops, including Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, and other Northwestern US hops, apparently even experimental hops not yet available by themselves. The idea of this blend is to approximate the flavor of the trendy hops in a blend featuring those same hops, but also less trendy (and thus more readily available) hops. Tired Hands has made a few beers featuring Falconer's Flight recently, and they're exceptional, so I'm thinking they'll be a good fit here. Really excited to see how this will turn out.

Brought 2 gallons of water up to steeping temperature 150° F - 160° F in record time (less than 10 minutes), steeped the specialty grains for around 25 minutes or so, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, added the malt extracts, put the lid on to bring to a boil. Again, this happened in record time, at which point I added 1 ounce of Simcoe and started the timer. Realize I forgot to add the Turbinado sugar, so do some quick calculations, add about half a pound in, throw the lid back on to get the boil going a little better. 45 minutes into the boil, add half an ounce each of Citra and Falconer's Flight. I don't have a scale or anything, so I'm doing this by sight, but it seems to be working out fine. Also throw in the irish moss at this time. Finally, with 5 minutes left to go, I add the aroma hops, which is again split between Citra and Falconer's Flight.

Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 80° F, strained the wort (removing the hops) into the fermenter, and topped off with about a gallon of cold water, bringing the final temperature down below 70° (almost too low, actually, but still above 62°). This will produce slightly more than 2.5 gallons, but it'll all work out for the best in the end.

Original Gravity: 1.070. A little higher than my last batch, but not by much (this makes sense, given the hot scotchie adventure I engaged in last time). I'm guessing this will still clock in around the 7% - 7.5% ABV range, perhaps on the higher end, which is fine by me.

Like I did last time, I'll wait a week or so to let the primary fermentation stage end, then add the dry hops (1 ounce of Simcoe) for another week or so, at which point, I rack to the bottling bucket and bottle the suckers. I'm quite confident this batch will come out well.

After this one, I'm not sure what will be next. I've been toying with the idea of a hopped up imperial red ale, which could be a lot of fun (and would probably resemble the above recipe quite a bit, with some amber malt and maybe some other darker malts to balance things out). After that, I want to make a sessionable summer saison, similar to my last saison batch, if not quite as potent.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on February 06, 2013 at 09:37 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #9: Abbey Dubbel
I think I've mentioned this style as a potential next batch after, well, most of my previous beers. Well, I've finally pulled the trigger. This one doesn't come from a kit or even a clone recipe, though I did look at clones for St. Bernardus 8 and Ommegang Abbey Ale (two of my favorite dubbels). The real key resource was Brew Like a Monk, by Stan Hieronymus. Abbey Dubbels are generally dark beers, though that color comes more from dark sugars (usually candi syrup or rocks) than from roasty malts, meaning that these beers usually surprise folks who think they "don't like dark beers." The dubbel has Trappist origins, and they generally keep things simple. As such, what I ended up with wasn't particularly complex from a recipe perspective. I don't think I'll be able to replicate Trappist attenuation rates (which reach into the mid or even high 80% range), but I'm better at temperature control than I used to be, so I guess we'll see what happens. Here's the recipe:

Beer #9: Abbey Dubbel
September 29, 2012

1 lb. Aromatic Malt (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. CaraMunich Malt (specialty grain)
0.5 lb. Special B (specialty grain)
7 lb. Briess Golden Light DME
1 lb. Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (90° L)
1.5 oz. Hallertauer (4.3% AA, bittering)
0.5 oz. Hallertauer (flavor)
1 oz. Saaz (aroma)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity Yeast

Again, nothing super complex here. Trappists apparently don't use quite as much in the way of specialty grains, but the ones I'm using are not uncommon (especially the Special B, which is a key component for a lot of commercial beers). I get the impression that they use more sugar as well, though they're careful about additions and temperature control, something I have little control over. But for the most part, this seems like a solid, middle of the road recipe.
Homebrew Ingredients
I started by bringing 2 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I steeped the specialty grains for about 25-30 minutes. Removed grains, sparged with another gaollon of warm water, bringing the amount in the pot to around 3 gallons. Added all of the malt extract and candi syrup. This is the first time I used candi syrup, and I have to say, it's much easier to work with than the typical candi "rocks". After that, I covered and settled in for the boil, which took about 40 minutes (stupid electric stovetop). Once at boiling, I added the bittering hops and started the timer. The Hallertauer hops I got came in at a lower alpha acid percentage than I had planned on, so I had to do a little audible here and add an extra half ounce. Hopefully this will be enough... According to my little calculator thingy, this beer will come out at around 23 IBU, which should be plenty...

With 15 minutes remaining, I add the flavor hops and Irish moss. I had originally planned a full 1 ounce addition of Hallertauer here, but I had repurposed some of that for bittering, and from what I can tell, a lot of recipes eschew flavor hop additions entirely, so this should be fine. With 5 minutes remaining, I hadd the Saaz aroma hops. When finished, I plop the pot in my little ice bath, and wait for the temperature to get down to the 80°-90° range. Strained the wort into the bucket, and topped off with about 2 gallons of cold water (bringing the temperature down to a more appropriate 70° or so).

For the yeast, I went with Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity Yeast (packaged 8/28/12), which is apparently derived from the Westmalle strain (and since they make some of my favorite Trappist beers, I think that'll work for me). This yeast also has a high attenuation range and is apparently more tolerant of higher temperatures (ideal range 64°-78°). Since it's fall, temperatures are dropping, but the ambient temperature inside my house is still around 70°-75°, so I wanted to make sure the yeast would tolerate that. I've managed to keep the ambient temperature on the lower end of that range for the start, so here's to hoping things go well.

Original Gravity: 1.079 (around 19°Bx). Yeah, so this came in a little higher than I was going for (which was 1.076), but I don't think it's a major cause for concern. The target ABV is now around 7.6% (assuming around 75% attenuation), though that could easily grow to be around 8% if I get more attenuation out of the yeast. My only real concern here is that I have enough bittering hops, though this is a malty style, so I think I should be fine.

I plan to bottle in 3 weeks time (could probably go shorter, but I want to make sure the attenuation maxes out here, and my previous experience with Belgian yeast makes me want to make sure I don't bottle too early). I'm not sure what will be next in my brewing adventures. I've been thinking about some sort of highly hopped imperial red ale, but I'm also considering a big ol' American Barleywine (perhaps finally getting myself a secondary fermenter and doing some bourbon oak aging). I'm also out of the IPA I made last year, and I'm definitely going to make more of that stuff at some point. And I'm not sure what I want to do about a Christmas beer this year either. Should I replicate last year's recipe (which was perfect)? Or try something new? So many beers, so little time! Stay tuned.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on September 30, 2012 at 11:47 AM .: link :.


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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kickstarted
When the whole Kickstarter thing started, I went through a number of phases. First, it's a neat idea and it leverages some of the stuff that makes the internet great. Second, as my systems analyst brain started chewing on it, I had some reservations... but that was shortlived as, third, some really interesting stuff started getting funded. Here are some of the ones I'm looking forward to:
  • Singularity & Co. - Save the SciFi! - Yeah, so you'll be seeing a lot of my nerdy pursuits represented here, and this one is particularly interesting. This is a project dedicated to saving SF books that are out of print, out of circulation, and, ironically, unavailable in any sort of digital format. The Kickstarter is funding the technical solution for scanning the books as well as tracking down and securing copyright. Judging from the response (over $50,000), this is a venture that has found a huge base of support, and I'm really looking forward to discovering some of these books (some of which are from well known authors, like Arthur C. Clarke).
  • A Show With Ze Frank - One of the craziest things I've seen on the internet is Ze Frank's The Show. Not just the content, which is indeed crazy, but the sheer magnitude of what he did - a video produced every weekday for an entire year. Ze Frank grew quite a following at the time, and in fact, half the fun was his interactions with the fans. Here's to hoping that Sniff, hook, rub, power makes another appearance. And at $146 thousand, I have no idea what we're in for. I always wondered how he kept himself going during the original show, but now at least he'll be funded.
  • Oast House Hop Farm - And now we come to my newest obsession: beer. This is a New Jersey farm that's seeking to convert a (very) small portion of their land into a Hop Farm. Hops in the US generally come from the west coast (Washington's Yakima valley, in particular). In the past, that wasn't the case, but some bad luck (blights and infestations) brought east coast hops down, then Prohibition put a nail in the coffin. The farm hopes to supply NJ brewers as well as homebrewers, so mayhaps I'll be using some of their stuff in the future! So far, they've planted Cascade and Nugget hops, with Centennial and Newport coming next. I'm really curious to see how this turns out. My understanding is that it takes a few years for a hop farm to mature, and that each crop varies. I wonder how the East Coast environs will impact the hops...
  • American Beer Blogger - Despite the apparent failure of Discovery's Brewmasters, there's got to be room for some sort of beer television show, and famous beer blogger and author Lew Bryson wants to give it a shot. The Kickstarter is just for the pilot episode, but assuming things go well, there may be follow up efforts. I can only hope it turns out well. I enjoyed Brewmasters for what it was, but being centered on Dogfish Head limited it severely. Sam Calagione is a great, charismatic guy, but the show never really captured the amazing stuff going on in the US right now (which is amazing because it is so broad and local and a million other things Brewmasters couldn't really highlight given its structure).
Well, there you have it. I... probably should have been linking to these before they were funded, but whatever, I'm really happy to see that all of these things will be coming. I'm still curious to see if this whole Kickstarter thing will remain sustainable, but I guess time will tell, and for now, I'm pretty happy with the stuff being funded. There are definitely a ton of other campaigns that I think are interesting, especially surrounding beer and video games, but I'm a little tight on time here, so I'll leave it at that...
Posted by Mark on April 15, 2012 at 08:28 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter Bottling
Charles, 2nd Earl Grey was prime minister of the UK for four years, backing significant reform of the British government (in particular, he architected a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons and an expansion of the right to vote). How he came to lend his name to the famous bergamot-flavored tea is mildly mysterious. Like a lot of historical beer origins, there appear to be a lot of apocryphal tales surrounding Earl Grey tea, usually involving a recipe made by a Chinese mandarin. In some accounts, the mandarin is grateful to Lord Grey because one of his men saved the mandarin's son from drowning. The story that seems more likely to me is that the recipe was specifically formulated to suit the water at Grey's estate. The bergamot apparently offset the lime present in the water there and when Lady Grey used it to entertain guests in London as a political hostess, it became popular enough that Twinings sought to make it a brand. Or something. But enough about stuffy British politicians, let's get to the beer!

Bottling of my Earl Grey bitter commenced after two weeks in the fermenter. From observation of the airlock, fermentation seemed to go well for the first two days, but then it dropped off considerably. Given the low original gravity, this was not too surprising, but I gave it the full two weeks anyway.
Post-Fermentation, Pre-Conditioning Earl Grey Bitter
The beer turned out to be a little lighter in color than I was expecting (which is not a big deal or anything), but the aroma was quite nice. A lot of citrus in the nose, which is exactly what I was going after. However, I'm not entirely sure how much of that came from the bergamot tea I used in the recipe. I had also used a small amount of orange peel, which certainly contributed something to the flavor, and it's also worth noting that Fuggle hops (even when used in bittering applications like I did) can contribute a soft, fruity aroma/flavor to the beer. I suppose one could call this more of a variant on Earl Grey than anything else - something more like Lady Grey tea, which also has orange (among a few other ingredients). Well, whatever the case, it seems like it will be quite an interesting beer.

Final Gravity came in at around 1.010, and according to my calculations, this works out to around 4% ABV (maybe a little more), which was pretty much the target (a little over 75% attenuation, which is pretty good). I had a bit of a worry when I first took my refractometer reading, as it came in at around 5.4°Bx, but it seems that Final Brix is a bit misleading because the alcohol distorts the readings a bit. With the help of the internets, I was able to correct for that distortion, and all seemed well. I also took a hydrometer reading, which came out a little lower than reported above, thus the beer might be slightly stronger than expected (but still around 4.5% ABV).

Another point of interest is that I primed the beer with around 2.5 oz. corn sugar, about half the normal dose. The style is typically not very highly carbonated, so I didn't want to overdo the priming sugar. Hopefully this will work out to create something with enough carbonation, but still smooth and quaffable. The beer actually tasted ok right now, even in its relatively flat form, so I think a minimum of carbonation would suit this nicely.

That about covers this beer. It's been an interesting exercise and I can't wait to taste the final product in a couple weeks. Next up will be a Belgian-style dubbel, though I'm not entirely sure when I'll get to that and we're starting to get to the warmer months of the year, where fermentation temperature will get more difficult to control...

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog and Tempest in a Teacup)
Posted by Mark on March 25, 2012 at 01:14 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
So I've had this crazy idea for a while. I like beer. I like earl grey tea. Why not combine the two? The thing that makes Earl Grey tea distinctive is bergamot, which is a sorta orange-like citrus fruit. Very nice aroma and flavor, as evidenced by the famous earl grey tea. I love a little citrus in my beer, so my first thought was that I should just go out and buy some bergamot oil, and add a tsp or two to the wort towards the end of the boil. Unfortunately, food grade bergamot oil is not as common as I thought. Everything I found was for aromatherapy or skincare - for external use only. Now, I didn't exactly want to make tea beer, but it looks like that's what I'm going to end up doing. And in fact, I had some Stash Double Bergamot tea laying around, so I figured I could use that to impart some bergamotty character (with the tea hopefully being drowned out by all the malt and hops and whatnot).

The next question was what to use for the base beer. In looking around, I see that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but other folks seemed to be doing this with something like a Belgian Wit beer. This would certainly highlight the bergamot and tea flavors in the finished product, but I didn't want a beer dominated by those flavors, so I looked around at some other options. Since I was making an Earl Grey beer, I thought I should try to use an English style as the base. This was also in keeping with my recent affinity for lower gravity beers (or, at least, non-face-melting beer), and I eventually settled on the English Bitter style. The name is a bit of a misnomer - these are not super-bitter beers, though perhaps there's more hop character than usual for low ABV styles. Still, it seems like a beer that would take on the nice flavors of the bergamot and tea without being overwhelmed either way. In searching around, I found this nice kit from Northern Brewer called The Innkeeper, which sounds rather awesome. I added in some of my tea and, for good measure, some Bitter Orange Peel that I had leftover from previous beers. Here's the final recipe:

Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
March 10, 2012

4 Bags Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
0.25 lb. English Extra Dark Crystal (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Pilsen LME
1 lb. Pilsen DME
1 lb. Corn Sugar
1 oz. US Fuggle (Bittering @ 5.2% AA)
1 oz. UK Kent Goldings (Bittering/Flavor @ 5.8% AA)
1 oz. Styrian Goldings (Aroma)
1 tsp. Bitter Orange peel
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

It's a mildly unusual recipe to start with and I'm adding my own unusual elements too. Here's to hoping it turns out well. I started by bringing 2.5 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I began steeping both the specialty grains and 3 of the tea bags (I was reserving one for the end of the boil). My hope was that adding the tea this early in the process would yield an interesting, but not overpowering flavor to the beer (after all, I imagine a lot of the character will be lost in the boil). I only steeped the tea for about 5 minutes, leaving the grains to steep for another 15 or so minutes.

Brought the mixture to a boil, added all of the malt extract and corn sugar, waited (again) for it to return to boiling, then added the Fuggle hops. The strangest thing about this recipe is that the second hop addition comes a mere 15 minutes later. This seems like it would provide more bittering than flavor, but I assume both will be present in the finished product (normally flavor hops are added no less than 30 minutes into the boil, as the flavor compounds are lost after long boils). Finally, with about 5 minutes left, I added the Styrian Goldings. About a minute later, I added the last teabag (though I didn't keep it in the whole time - in retrospect, I should have probably just made a cup of tea separately, then poured it into the boil). And while I was at it, I threw in some bitter orange peel, just to amp up the citrus a bit (in case the tea didn't provide it).

Off to the ice bath for cooling, which is something I think I've got a better handle on these days. I think some of the issues with my early beers were partially due to poor temperature control. And I'd guess that part of the reason my last few batches have come out so much better is that I've gotten much better about cooling the wort in an ice bath (I use much more ice now, basically, and it helps that I'm doing this during late winter, when I can open my windows and drop the room temperature quickly). Anyways, got this stuff down to about 80°F - 90°F, strained it into the bucket, and topped off with some room temperature and cold water, bringing final volume up to 50 gallons.

Apparently one of the things that makes this recipe distinctive is the yeast, which seems to have relatively low attenuation (certainly lower than the American and Belgian yeast strains I've been using of late), but given the relatively low gravity nature of the recipe, and the sizeable simple sugar addition, I think the result will still be dry enough. The yeast was packaged on 1/16/12, so it's relatively fresh.

Original Gravity: 1.042 (around 10°Bx). I got sick of using my hydrometer, so I invested in a fancy new refractometer. Unfortunately, I got the variety that only displays measurements in Brix, but the conversion is somewhat straighforward and I have an easier time reading this than my hydrometer. The gravity came in a little below the target, but it should be fine. If all goes well, this should produce a beer at around 4% ABV (maybe even less). Given the alcohol and simple sugar addition, I'm looking at a light (in body, not color), quaffable beer. Fingers crossed.

I plan to bottle in about two weeks time (could probably do so earlier because of the low gravity, but I'll keep it at two weeks). Since the style isn't supposed to be heavily carbonated, I'll probably end up using less priming sugar than usual, maybe 2-3 oz (as opposed to 5). Next up in the brewing adventures will be a Belgian style dubbel, though I need to do some work to figure out a good recipe for that one. After that, who knows?

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog and Tempest in a Teacup)
Posted by Mark on March 11, 2012 at 01:15 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tasting Notes - Part 5
Yet another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

Television
  • Fringe - I posted about the first couple seasons a while ago, but I've recently caught up with Season 3 and most of Season 4. To my mind, the show really came into its own in Season 3. What started out as unfocused and aimless has very slowly evolved into a tight, well-plotted series in season 3. I'm not sure I'd call it great, but Season 3 was a lot of fun. There are some ridiculous things about the series as a whole, and that's still there, but it all seemed to be worked out in the third season. Season 4, on the other hand, seems to have taken a few steps backward. It's actually very disorienting. Everything from the first three seasons is now unclear and less important. This was probably their intention, but I'm not entirely sure I like it. I mean, we've spent three seasons getting to know these characters, and now we're in yet another alternate universe with the same characters, but they're all slightly different. I'm not ready to give up on the show or anything, but it seems like the show is back on its unfocused track...
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Terriers - This is an interesting series. It was cancelled after the first season... and while I can see why (the film is almost incessantly anti-mainstream, often finishing off episodes on a down note), I did still enjoy watching the series.
Movies
  • The Secret World of Arrietty - Solid Studio Ghibli film. Not perfect, but well worth a watch and very different than typical American animated fare. Here's my question - what's with the title? It's so weird and unapproachable, whereas the source material, a book called The Borrowers, seems much more appropriate and marketable. This just makes no sense to me. (I suppose one could also quibble about the term "borrowers" since that implies that the goods will be returned, which doesn't happen either. There's actually an interesting discussion to be had here about what constitutes theft/stealing in the world set up in this book/movie.)
  • Act of Valor - A very... strange movie. I don't quite know what to make of this. It stars actual, active-duty Navy SEALs and... they are clearly not actors. Any scenes with dialogue are a little on the painful side, and it doesn't help that they keep talking about their families and how they can't wait to get back to their family and isn't being a father great? I'd give a spoiler warning for what happens here, but it's pretty damn obvious from, oh, the first 5 minutes in the movie what's going to happen at the end. All that being said, the action sequences are very well done and seemingly authentic, though there are a number of scenes shot to resemble a FPS video game. For the first time ever, I think it actually works in this movie, though it's still a little strange to see movies and video games blending together like that.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Gambit - Classic heist film starring a very young Michael Caine as a burglar who hires Shirley MacLaine to help rob one of the richest men in the world. Caine's got a great plan, but of course, things rarely go as planned. Or does it? Tons of twists and turns in this one; very entertaining and satisfying. Highly recommended. (Update: Well, shit, Netflix apparently took it off Instant Streaming... and they don't even have a DVD for the thing. It is on Amazon Instant though...)
Video Games
  • Shadow of the Colossus - I finished Ico a while ago and I loved it. I've since moved on to the other Team Ico game, Shadow of the Colossus. I've actually played this before, but I never finished it. The HD remix that's available on the PS3 now is actually quite nice, though the game still seems a bit stunted to me. Don't get me wrong, it's got great production design and an interesting structure (basically 16 boss fights and that's it), but some of the puzzles (i.e. how to defeat each Colossus) are a bit too obtuse, and once you figure them out, it can still be a huge pain to actually defeat your opponent. It just seems like sometimes the game is giving you busy-work just for the sake of doing so... That being said, I'm determined to actually finish the game off, and I am kinda looking forward to the next Team Ico game, which should be coming out sometime this year.
  • Upcoming Video Gamery: Mass Effect 3 came in the mail this week, and I'm greatly looking forward to it. It took me a while to get into part 2, but once I got there, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm a little intrigued by the fact that my character/team from the second game can be transferred to this third game. Not sure how dynamic that makes things, but I guess we'll find out.
  • Other Video Gamery: I've played a little Soul Calibur V, and fighting games remain inscrutable for me. I can get some of the basics down, but once I get into the more advanced maneuvers/enemies, I fall apart pretty quickly, and the game doesn't seem to do a very good job teaching you the more advanced aspects of combat. At this point, I have more fun creating custom characters than actually fighting. I also got a copy of Resistance 3, which is just another FPS with aliens and guns and big explosions and stuff. What can I say, I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.
Books
  • Of the eleven books posted in my last Book Queue, I've read 5. I've only got two books left in Lois McMaster Bujold's excellent Vorkosigan Saga, and I've posted about some of the other books I've read.
  • I'm currently finishing off Shamus Young's Witch Watch, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.
  • I may end up finishing off the Vorkosigan books next, but I'm also quite looking forward to famous security wonk Bruce Schneier's latest book, Liars & Outliers. It promises to be informative and level-headed look at "trust" from a security professional's standpoint.
The Finer Things
  • I've had lots of great beer recently, but I'll just link over to my beer blog rather than repeat myself here. I've been updating that blog much more often than I ever thought I would, and it's been a lot of fun. Check it out!
  • I think I'll be posting on Sunday about my next Homebrew. I had originally planned to make it an "Earl Grey" beer, but it turns out that food-grade Bergamot oil is somewhat hard to come by (most of what you can find is made for external use). I may still end up getting some flavor from a few teabags of Earl Grey, but it will probably be less prominent than originally planned. Again, more details to come.
And that's all for now...
Posted by Mark on March 07, 2012 at 08:03 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #7: Bottling
After two weeks in the fermenter, I bottled the single-hopped Simcoe IPA this past weekend. Fermentation started quickly and lasted most of the first week, despite the small batch. About a week into the process, when fermentation had slowed considerably, I cracked the lid and dropped in another ounce of Simcoe hops. I've never done dry hopping before, but it's supposed to impart additional aromas to the beer...

And judging from the smell in my kitchen during bottling day, I'd say that extra step was worth the stretch! Amazing citrus aromas (grapefruit!), not quite as much in the way of pine, but still a great smell.

Final Gravity was 1.012, which is a little lower than expected, but it could also be that low because the Original Gravity wasn't as high as I estimated. That being said, I'd say I'm in for something around 7-7.3% ABV, right at the high end of a single IPA (or the low end of the Double IPA). I gave it a taste, and hoo boy, that citrus is huge. Very nice bitterness in the finish too, though I'm guessing that will mellow out as the beer conditions in the bottle. I'm so very looking forward to this beer! There's nothing quite like a super-fresh IPA, and this is probably as fresh as I'll ever get to taste...
My IPA, straight from the fermenter
I'm planning on cracking one open this weekend, though who knows if it will be carbonated enough. I only got around 1 case of beer out of this batch, but then hugely hopped beers fade with time, so having a case should last just long enough.

Up next is what I'm calling an Earl Grey beer. The base beer will be a sessionable English Bitter (which is a style that has always confused me, since they're not actually that bitter), and I'll be adding some Bergamot oil towards the end of the boil (and maybe even some Earl Grey tea). Should be interesting! After that, I'm going to start working on my Belgian Dubbel for this summer...

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on February 22, 2012 at 08:31 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Taxonomy Platforms
The human brain is basically a giant correlation machine. Well, ok, that's a drastic simplification, but I've often written about how correlation and induction play an important role in life. This is a large subject, but today I want to focus on one result of our predilection towards correlation: our tendency to develop complex taxonomies. For books and movies, we've got genres. For beer, we've got style. Retail stores have departments. You name it, chances are that there's a complex taxonomy describing variations (you'll notice that this post tends to consist of examples from my obsessions with movies, beer and technology, but this would all be relevant to a wide variety of subjects).

This tendency invariably leads to nerdy arguments about specific examples and where they fall within the taxonomy. Is Inglourious Basterds Science Fiction? Are comic book movies science fiction? Should we make a distinction between science fiction and science fantasy? What exactly constitutes a West Coast IPA? What do we call Black IPAs? What are the defining characteristics of a Weblog? What are some examples of the Hillbilly Horror genre? Take a trip down TV Tropes lane, and you're guaranteed to find a comprehensive list of genres, sub-genres, and myriad conventions or cliches.

Why go to all this trouble to categorize everything? What is it about the internet that seems to magnify these discussions?

Well, the most obvious reason for such excessive categorization is that it will communicate something about the particular instance being discussed. Categorizing movies into various genres helps us determine what we're in for when we sit down to watch a movie. Style guidelines communicate what kinds of characteristics to expect from a beer. Genres and styles provide a common ground for both creators and critics, and the reduce the pool of possibilities to a more manageable number.

Those are good things1, but they're really only scratching the surface of why we taxonomize. Most people get frustrated by taxonomies. It seems that every genre, every style, is inadequate, especially when their favorite instance is pigeonholed into a particular category. Hence, we get the aforementioned nerdy debates on the nature of science fiction or west coast IPAs. Genres and styles are blurry along the edges, and there's a great deal of overlap. Individual works often fit into many categories. If one were so inclined, they could make each category excessively inclusive or moderately narrow, but worrying about the blurry edges of taxonomy is kinda missing the point. In the parlance of hackers, the blurry edges of taxonomy are a feature, not a bug.

I've been reading Steven Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, and he makes a fascinating observation that genres are the stacked platforms of the creative world:

For understandable reasons, we like to talk about artistic innovations in terms of the way that they break the rules, open up new doors in the adjacent possible that lesser minds never even see. But genius requires genres. Flaubert and Joyce needed the genre of the bildungsroman to contort and undermine in Sentimental Education and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dylan needed the conventions of acoustic folk to electrify the world with Highway 61 Revisited. Genres supply a set of implicit rules that have enough coherence that traditionalists can safely play inside them, and more adventurous artists can confound our expectations by playing with them. Genres are the platforms and paradigms of the creative world. They are almost never willed into existence by a single pioneering work. Instead, they fade into view, through a complicated set of shared signals passed between artists, each contributing different elements to the mix.

I love the description of genres fading into view, perhaps because you could say that genres never really come into full clarity. That may frustrate some, but that inherent blurriness is where taxonomies derive power and it's what allows geniuses to create their most amazing works. And this does not just apply to art. In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):

In one of the many stories he likes to tell about German, English and Belgian brewers, Michael Jackson first asks a German how beer is made. "Pils malt, Czech hops," the brewer replies. Then Jackson asks the German brewer down the road the same question. "It's the same as Fritz said. That's how you make a Pilsener, that's what we learn in school."

After getting a different answer from a British brewer, Jackson turns to a Belgian brewer. "First of all, you take one ton of bat's droppings. Then you add a black witch," the Belgian answers. "The brewer down the road uses a white witch." Jackson concludes with the lesson: "Belgium is a nation of tremendous individualists."

If style guidelines for Bat Dropping Ale stated that color shouldn't be less than 25 SRM, do you think that would have stopped the brewer down the road from using a white witch? Of course not. Style guidelines don't limit creativity, lack of imagination does.

As Hieronymus later notes, if we didn't make "rules," we wouldn't know when to break them.

That is the power of taxonomy. It gives us a place to start. It gives us the basic rules and techniques. Defining such conventions may seem limiting, but it's actually freeing. You have to understand those conventions before you can break them or combine them properly, which can sometimes result in something inspirational and brilliant. Ironically, this seems to happen with such regularity that I'm sure many "innovations" we see today are repeats of previous revolutions. As Johnson notes, genres and style are part of a stacked platform. They're built on top of even more basic building blocks, notably technology. Technology often recontextualizes existing taxonomies, opening them up to subtly different interpretations. The same innovative idea can be magnified and mutated into something different by technology. It's very rare that something completely new emerges from history. It's more likely something that has existed for a long time, but slightly tweaked to match the times. Taxonomies are platforms. They are not limiting. You build things on top of platforms, and that's why we go to the trouble of categorizing everything we can.

1 - Nerdy fury on the internets is one thing, but for the most part this isn't really controversial stuff. However, once you start placing taxonomies on human beings, things get a little more complicated. If one were so inclined, an interesting discussion on the nature of prejudice as it relates to the human penchant for correlation could yield interesting insights. Unfortunately, this is not a post for that more weighty (and controversial) subject.Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Mark on February 12, 2012 at 09:21 AM .: link :.


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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #7: Simcoe Single-Hopped IPA
After some post-holiday procrastination, I finally settled down to make myself a small batch of a Simcoe single-hopped IPA. Hops are one of the 4 key ingredients in beer, and there exists an amazing variety of hops. Most of the bitterness in beer comes from hops, but they also provide flavor and aroma characteristics. Some hop varieties are good for bittering, but not for flavor or aroma. Some are great for flavor or aroma, but not really for bittering. And then there are the utility players - hops that do everything. Simcoe is one such hop. Simcoe is actually a relatively new variety of hop, often referred to as Cascade on steroids (Cascade hops were the most revolutionary of American hops - most notably featured in Sierra Nevada's classic Pale Ale). They're a high alpha acid hop (around 12-13%), which makes them great for bittering, but they also impart a huge, distinctive citrus and pine flavor/aroma.

I patterned my recipe on Weyerbacher's Double Simcoe IPA, though I have no idea how accurate the recipe I used matches that beer (I do know that my recipe wouldn't be as strong as 9% ABV though). The guy at the homebrew shop mentioned that my grains, at least, were similar to Bell's Two Hearted (which is another fantastic IPA), but that beer uses Centennial hops instead of Simcoe. Anywho, this is what I settled on (note: this is a small, 2.5 gallon batch, so there's much less malt than you might expect):

Beer #7: Simcoe Single-Hopped IPA
February 4, 2012

.25 lb. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
.5 lb. CaraPils (specialty grain)
.5 lb. Vienna Malt (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Briess Pilsen Light LME
1 lb. Golden DME
0.5 lb. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @12.2 AA)
1 oz. Simcoe (flavor, 2 additions)
1 oz. Simcoe (aroma)
1 oz. Simcoe (dry hop)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast

Nothing too fancy here (although damn, Simcoe hops are expensive!) I suppose the Turbinado sugar isn't a typical ingredient, but simple sugars like that help dry out the beer (which would otherwise have been pretty heavy). Steeped the specialty grains in 2-2.5 gallons of 150° F - 160° F water for around 20 minutes, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, threw in the can of Light LME, and put the lid on to bring the wort to a boil. During the wait, I scooped out a small sample of wort and made myself a Hot Scotchie. It's a strange beast, this hot scotchie. I've heard many homebrewers talk about it, but details on exactly how to make one are a bit scarce. Near as I can tell, you take a sample of unhopped wort before it reaches boiling, then add a shot of Scotch to it. Jeff Alworth has a decent description:
Brewers would draw off a small amount of the mash as it issued from the grain bed, fresh and warm. To this they added a dollop of Scotch. What happens is nothing short of mystical. Mash runnings are very sweet and flabby--there's no definition to the flavors. The addition of Scotch somehow reverses all this. Like an electric current, the Scotch animates the grains so that you can taste them in HD. The Scotch is likewise a very clear note, but not sharp or aggressive. It has all the flavor of a straight shot, but it's floating amid Mom's comforting malted. Insanely beguiling.
So I took a sample of wort, and threw a shot of Ardmore (it's a cheap Scotch, but it's got a nice, distinctive peat smoke character to it that's not overpowering) in there.
A Hot Scotchie
It was an interesting experience. My experience with the hot scotchie wasn't quite as revelatory as it seems to be for everyone else though. It was good, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's something I'd always do. Also, because this is a small batch, I probably shouldn't have taken that much malt out of the wort - I ended up with a lower OG than I'd like...

Anywho, once the boil begins, I add in 1 ounce of Simcoe hops and start the timer. 30 minutes into the boil, I add the Golden DME and Turbinado sugar. When I do this, the temperature of the pot seems to drop (makes sense because I'm adding room temp ingredients), so I pot the lid back on the pot and bring it back to a boil (I'm not counting these 5 minutes time as part of the boil). Once it's back boiling, I add a half ounce of hops (the first flavor hop addition). 10 minutes after that, I add another half ounce of Simcoe (second flavor hop addition) and the teaspoon of irish moss. Finally, with 5 minutes left to go, I add the aroma hops (actually sprinkling some throughout the last 5 minutes).

Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 80° F, strained the wort (removing the hops) into the fermenter, and topped off with about 1/4 to 1/2 gallon of cold water, bringing the final temperature down below 70°.

Original Gravity: 1.068. Definitely lower than I was shooting for (my target was in the 1.070s), but assuming a 75% attenuation, this should work out to around 6.7% ABV, which will be a solid IPA. Add in that citrusy, piney goodness from the Simcoe, and I'll be a happy camper.

I did notice a lot of sediment in the wort, even after I strained it into the fermenter, which has me a bit worried, but what else can I do? I guess we'll find out in a few weeks.

I'm going to try something new with this batch - dry hopping! I talked to the guy at the homebrew shop and he said I could do it in primary, so I figure I'll wait a week or so (i.e. until fermentation ends), chuck in the last ounce of hops, give it another week, then rack to the bottling bucket and bottle the suckers. Exciting!

Not sure what my next batch will be. I've been toying with the idea of a Earl Grey beer - start with a british beer base (perhaps an ESB), then use some sort of bergamot oil for extra flavor. I have no idea if it will work, but I want to see how it turns out. It'll probably be another small batch, so even if it's bad, it won't be a big deal. After that, I've been thinking about a Belgian dubbel for a while now, and I think it'll be time...
Posted by Mark on February 05, 2012 at 12:14 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #6: Bottling
The Christmas beer was in the fermenter for two weeks, so it was bottling time. Fermentation started quickly, lots of bubbles in the airlock for about 4 days, after which, things trailed off quickly. The biggest question with this brew was the spices and damn, this smelled great. The cloves were probably the most prominent of the spices, but it seemed well matched to the rest of the beer. That being said, I wanted to get some more cinnamon out of this, so I chucked a few cinnamon sticks in the bottling bucket to give it some extra... cinnamonity? And the finished product did indeed seem to display a little more cinnamonitivity. My guess is that the spiciness will fade in time, so this will probably be nice and complex by Christmas.

Final gravity was 1.014, which was a hair lower than expected, but that's a pleasant surprise. If my calculations are correct, this will bring the beer to around 6% ABV, which was my exact target. I gave it a taste, and it seems pretty good. I don't really have a feel for how non-carbonated beer will taste once it's carbonated, but this seems right. Nice spiciness, good body, seems like it will be good stuff. The appearance is a very pretty dark amber color.
My homebrewed Christmas Ale, straight from the fermenter
There's about 6 weeks before Christmas, which should give it enough time to condition in the bottle. My saison was awesome at week one, but that's rare and in this case, I'm assuming the spices need some time to settle down. 6 weeks should do the trick.

Not sure what's next. I'm saving the dubbel for the summer and since it's winter, I'd like to make something that requires lower fermentation temperatures. An IPA (single hopped Simcoe?) or maybe a British ESB of some kind (my nutty idea is to get me some bergamot oil and make an Earl Grey British ale, maybe even using some tea in the initial steeping phase.) Funnily enough, a lot of Christmas beers say that they get better with age, so I might even want to make next year's Christmas beer now, and age it. Or something. I was also thinking that it might be time to get a secondary fermenter, which would allow all sorts of fun stuff like dry hopping and oak aging (and bourbon oak aging!)

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on November 20, 2011 at 08:21 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #6: Spiced Christmas Ale
I really wanted to start this beer earlier, but due to a variety of factors1, I didn't get to this until now. All I really knew is that I wanted a winter warmery type of beer, which is pretty damn vague. My local homebrew shop owner was very helpful, despite my lack of preparation here. We discussed a bit, talked about Anchor's Christmas Ale (which, granted, changes every year), and eventually settled on a dark red ale with my choice of spices added at the end of the boil. I'm actually pretty happy with the recipe - it sounds really good. Now to find out if it will taste good!

Beer #6: Spiced Christmas Ale
November 5, 2011

1 lb. Crystal 40 (specialty grain)
2 oz. Roasted Barley (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Golden Light LME
3 lb. Amber DME
1 lb. Golden Light DME
1 oz. Northern Brewer (Bittering @ 8.6% AA)
1 oz. Hallertau Hops (Flavor)
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 tsp Bitter Orange Peel
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Coriander
2 Cinnamon Sticks
3 Whole Cloves
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast

Nothing super unusual here, though there are only two hop additions. The reason for this is that the aroma will be derived from spices rather than hops. Speaking of spices, I have no idea what I'm doing. Everything I've ever read about spices indicates that it's very easy to overdo things. So I'm deliberately attempting to keep it down2. Looking around at some other recipes, I see people adding about 0.5 oz. (or more) of spices to beers, which works out to 3 tsp. I'm trying to do less than that (though it's difficult to tell with cinnamon sticks/whole cloves, but I'm using slightly less than most recipes I've seen), which will hopefully leave me with some spicy goodness without overwhelming the beer.

Not wanting to go in completely blind, I tried making a couple cups of spice tea (i.e. hot water and spice) using two different spice mixtures. I completely overdid the Nutmeg, which overpowered the other spices, so I cut that down in the recipe. But otherwise, it smelled pretty great. Of course, this doesn't even come close to approximating the final product I'm hoping for, but it seemed like a useful exercise. Alright, enough preamble, let's get this party started!

Steeped the specialty grains in 150° F - 160° F water for around 20 minutes, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, and put the lid on to bring the wort to a boil. Once there, added the 3 pounds of Amber DME, stirred like crazy for a while, brought it back to a boil and added the bittering hops. Here starts the clock. 30 minutes into the boil, added the rest of the DME and LME. This brought the boil to a standstill, so I took some extra time to get it back to boiling (which took 5-10 minutes). After another 10 minutes, I added the flavor hops. 5 more minutes, added the irish moss. With about 3 minutes left, I started adding the various spices, removing from heat just when I was finishing with the spices.

Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 90° F, strained the wort (removing most of the spice and hops) into the fermenter, topped off with about 2.5 gallons of water, mixed it up real good, and took a sample and hydrometer reading. The wort was still about 75° F, so I had to wait a bit to get the temperature down (I moved it out of the kitchen, which was pretty hot at this point, and it cooled off after about 25 minutes so that it was in the high 60s). Not sure if the extra time sitting out in the open will be good for it, but it was definitely too hot to finish. I pitched the yeast, put the top on the bucket and installed the airlock. The temperature in my closet is in the mid 60s, which is perfect for this. Done.

Original Gravity: 1.060. Assuming 75% attenuation, that should bring me down to 1.015 and about a 5.9% ABV. I'm actually hoping for slightly higher attenuation (and thus a dryer beer with slightly higher ABV), but either way, this should be pretty good.

So I'm looking at two weeks in the fermenter, then bottling, and at least 2-3 weeks bottle conditioning. This will bring me to early/mid December, which is just in time for some Holiday celebration. Indeed, it should be peaking right around Christmas and New Years (though it may peak later).

I don't think I overdid it with the spices. I could clearly smell them in the finished product, but it didn't seem overpowering. I guess we'll see what happens after the fermentation. My guess is that it will become even less potent after the yeast has its way with the wort. Worst case scenario, if the spices aren't coming through, I'll throw a cinnamon stick in the bottling bucket to give it some extra oomph. But from what people say about these kinds of spices, I should be fine.

So there we have it. Not sure what's next. I've wanted to make a Belgian dubbel since I started (about a year ago), but winter is not the time for that. I should really make something that requires lower fermentation temperatures. I'm thinking perhaps an Simcoe single-hop IPA (or mixed hop IPA).

1 - And by variety of factors, I mean that I was lazy.

2 - But then I found that I had some leftover bitter orange peel from my saison, so I added a tsp of that too. I still think I'm under most other recipes when it comes to spices...

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on November 06, 2011 at 12:15 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #5: Bottling
When I finished my latest homebrew attempt, a stout, I was a little worried that the yeast would have trouble getting started. I had activated the smack pack early in the day, and it did expand a bit, but not to the extent that my previous attempts had. Fortunately, I saw activity in the airlock within about 12 hours, which is better than I was expecting. Indeed, about a day and a half later, it was bubbling furiously. It may have been the most active I've ever seen the airlock. Of course, it cut out a couple days later, and by the Wednesday after brew day, it had slowed considerably. I probably could have bottled this a few days ago, but I waited for the weekend, just to be sure. So as hurricane Irene made it's way up to my area, I was hunkered down inside, bottling my beer.

Final gravity was a little on the high side - around 1.019 or so (maybe a bit higher, adjusting for temperature). My target was around 1.017, so this was probably close enough and will probably contribute a fuller body, which might actually be a good thing here, as I prefer full bodied stouts. From the aroma and taste, it may be a bit more roasty than I was hoping for, but we'll see how the bottle conditioning affects things. It tastes good, but extrapolating how it will taste after conditioning is something I haven't really figured out just yet. That being said, I think the bitterness turned out quite well. I was a little worried that the small amount of hops wouldn't be enough, but they either were, or the natural bitterness from the dark grains is also pitching in... Anyway, given the starting gravity of 1.062-1.063 or so, this should wind up at around 5.5-6% ABV. A little lower than my goal, but given the fuller body I'm expecting, I think it will work out fine.

The appearance was very nice indeed, though I'm really curious as to what the head will look like in the final product. Stouts usually have a relatively dark head, tan or light brown in color. But I'm wondering if my use of light DME as the base will lighten the color. From the picture, you can see a little of the head, and it does seem darker than normal. I guess we'll find out. The color of the beer is a really nice dark brown color (almost black) with some lighter brown highlights. Holding up to the light, I can't see through it at all, and the highlights are minimal.
Homebrewed Stout - after fermentation, before conditioning
When I bottled my saison, I tried one a week later, and it was fantastic, so I'll probably be trying this next week, hopefully with similar results!

I think I'll be going for a Belgian-style Abbey Dubbel for my next batch. It's one of my favorite styles, so I'm going to need to make sure my recipe is good here. I found a nice clone recipe of St. Bernardus 8 that might provide a good base to work from. But given my schedule for the next couple months, I probably won't get to brew again until October, so I've got time. Not sure what I'll try after that. Perhaps an IPA of some kind. I should probably try to take advantage of the cooler temperatures inside the house during winter, which means I did things kinda backwards this past year (I brewed a Belgian tripel in winter - using a yeast that requires high temperatures, then I went and brewed this stout in summer, which requires lower temperatures). I may also be upgrading my equipment a little for these future batches. I think I've established that I really enjoy this little hobby, so some new toys are probably worthwhile...

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on August 28, 2011 at 03:35 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #5: Stout
So the past three beers I've brewed have been pale in color, and I was looking to do something a bit darker this time around. For one thing, dark beers are apparently more suitable for extract homebrew as the extract process naturally makes the malt a bit darker, and the fact that I'm doing a partial boil (I only really boil about 3-3.5 gallons of liquid, then add water later to make up the difference) also leads to a darker color. And after a summer of drinking hefeweizens, saisons, tripels, and other pale ales, I'm getting to be in the mood for something darker anyway. Stouts have never been one of my favorite styles, but I have to admit that certain variations on the style have really grown on me. One of the big advantages of doing homebrew is that you can make whatever you want, so I started trying to figure out how to make a stout that emphasized the chocolate and caramel flavors, rather than the one--dimensional roastiness that overpowers a lot of stouts. I didn't want a really dry stout, nor did I want a super-strong imperial stout. Something in the middle, with a lot of body and caramel/chocolate sweetness, but not a ton of roastiness.

I toyed with the notion of a milk stout, but none of the homebrew kits I could find online were really doing it for me. So I started playing with some online recipe calculators, and came up with a (rather lame) recipe. I probably know a lot more about beer than your typical beer drinker, but when it comes to expert homebrewer stuff, I'm still somewhat of a newb. I was unsure of my recipe, so I figured I should just take it to the local homebrew shop and ask the friendly guys there what I should do. I'm not entirely convinced that the recipe we ended up creating is exactly what I want, but it feels like it will be good.

Brew #5 - Stout
August 13, 2011

0.5 lb. Roasted Barley (Specialty Grain)
0.75 lb. British Chocolate Malt (Specialty Grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Special B (Specialty Grain)
0.5 lb American Crystal 120L (Specialty Grain)
7 lb. Light DME
1 oz. Target Hops (bittering @ 8.6% AA)
Wyeast 1284 - Irish Ale Yeast

If you're in the know, the first thing you'll notice is that the majority of the sugars in this beer consist of light dry malt extract. But stouts are supposed to be dark! Well, it turns out that you don't need much in the way of dark, roasted malts to get that nice, dark brown/black color, and since the specialty grains were fresh (and just crushed), you can get a much better flavor out of that than you can by just selecting dark malt extracts. As such, I think this is the most complex (and largest) specialty grain bill I've brewed. And according to our calculations, it will indeed be very dark. The way brewers measure beer color is called the Standard Reference Method (SRM), and this beer should have an SRM of around 45 (anything above 30 is usually referred to as black).

The other thing that stands out about the recipe is the single, relatively-small hop addition. Most brews have a hop schedule consisting of three additions: one for bittering, one for taste, and one for aroma. But since I was looking to highlight the caramel, chocolate, and roasty flavors of my malts, those taste and aroma hops would only detract from the experience. As such, the homebrew shop guy recommended I go with a single hop addition at the beginning of the boil. I'm not entirely convinced that there's enough bitterness in what I ended up with, but again, I'm looking to make something that is sweet, chocolately/caramelly, and a little roasty. This isnt' meant to be a hop bomb like some imperial stouts (or American Black Ales, or whatever you call that style), so it makes sense that the hop presence would be a bit muted.

I steeped the specialty grains in approximately 2.5 gallons of water at around 150° F - 160° F for about 20 minutes. Sparged with some 150° F water, bringing the total volume of the pot up to a little more than 3 gallons. Let the grains drain out (careful not to squeeze the grain bag), observed the black-as-night color of the wort and the various aromas it gave off. This may end up being a bit roastier than I expected, but nothing I could do about it at that point, so I punched up the stovetop to bring the mixture to a boil. Once at the boil, added the 7 pounds of DME and the hops and boy did it create a lot of bubbly head (Not sure exactly if you would call this head, but there was a bubbly head-like substance at the top of the pot, and it took some supervision to make sure it didn't boil over). Settled in for the 60 minute boil. Once complete, I moved the pot to the ice bath in my sink. Unlike previous attempts, I came prepared with lots of ice this time, and that certainly helped cool the word down quicker... until all the ice melted. Still, it got down to around 100° F quicker than any of my previous attempts. At this point, I strained the wort into my fermenter and topped it all off with cold water, bringing the temperature down to around 75° F. Just a hint too hot, so I let it sit for a while (once I hit the cooling phase, I cranked the air conditioner, hoping to help with the cooling process), took my hydrometer reading, and pitched the yeast.

If I got one thing right with my initial recipe, it was the yeast choice (or at least, my yeast choice was exactly what the homebrew store guy said I should use). Apparently Irish Ale Yeast is really well matched with dark malts. So before I even started brewing, I had activated the wyeast smack-pack. It was dated 5/16/11, which is still somewhat recent, but unlike previous smack-packs, it didn't swell up right away and took some cajoling to get it to swell at all. About 4 hours after the initial smack, it seemed to be swelling a bit, but I'm not sure if this yeast was really ready. This represents my greatest fear in this batch - the yeast seems to be a bit old and tired. Now, the Wyeast package says that the swelling need not be extreme for the yeast to be ok, but I'm still a bit worried (note to self - learn how to make a yeast starter so that I can avoid such anxiety). I pitched it at around 70° F, so I guess we'll see how it does.

Original Gravity: 1.062 (approximate). Adjusting for temperature, maybe a tad higher. Either way, this is a little lower than my recipe implied (somewhere around 1.067), but still within the realm of what I wanted to make. Assuming solid attenuation, I'm looking at an ABV of around 6-6.5%, maybe higher.

My last batch turned out really well, so I've got high hopes for this. Even if it comes out a little roastier than expected, I'll be happy. I am a bit worried about the yeast, but I saw some activity in the airlock this morning, so that's promising. And besides, I worried a lot about the last batch, and it turned out great (first batch I've made that I really love).

Not sure what's up next. I think I'll want to get the Belgian Dubbel underway, so that I have it ready for the Holidays. After that, who knows? I was thinking about an IPA of some kind, but there are definite issues with hop utilization in extract boils, so maybe I'll hold off on that a bit. I probably won't be able to get to the next batch until October anyway, so I've got some time.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on August 14, 2011 at 04:52 PM .: link :.


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recent Podcastery
I like podcasts, but it's depressingly hard to find ones that I really enjoy and which are still regularly published. I tend to discover a lot of podcasts just as they're going through their death throes. This is sometimes ok, as I'm still able to make my way through their archives, but then I run out of content and have to start searching for a new podcast. I will often try out new podcasts, but I have only added a few to the rotation of late. Here's some recent stuff I've been listening to:
  • The /Filmcast - I tried this podcast out a few years ago and my recollection is that I found it kinda boring. I don't know what was going on during that episode though, because I find that this is the podcast I most look forward to every week. I enjoy the format, which starts with a "what we've been watching" segment, followed by a short "movie news" segment, and then an in-depth review of a relatively new release. And when I say "in-depth", I mean very long and detailed, often in the 40-60 minute range. It's also one of the few podcasts to really get into spoilers of a new release (they are very clear about when they start the spoiler section, so no worries if you haven't seen the movie). It's something most reviews and podcasts avoid, but it's actually quite entertaining to listen to (if, that is, you've already seen the film or don't care about the film in question). Also noteworthy is that the show features 3 regular hosts, and a guest host - and the guests are usually fantastic. They're mostly other film critics, but occasionally they'll have actual actors or directors on the show as well - people like Rian Johnson (of Brick and Brothers Bloom fame) and Vincenzo Natali (of Cube and Splice fame). What's more, they don't have these guests on to just interview them - they make them participate in the general format of the show - so you get to see what Rian Johnson has been watching that week or what he thinks of various movie news, etc... It's a really unusual perspective to get on these directors, and it's stuff you rarely get in an interview. So yeah, if you like movies (and television, which they often discuss in the first segment and after dark shows), this is a must-listen podcast.
  • The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show - No, that's not a typo, but don't ask me why he's repeated his name either. I don't really get it. But I do really like the show so far. This is the only relatively new show that I listen to, and so far, it's been great. You may recongnize Rubin from his work at CollegeHumor, such as the great video series, Bleep Bloop and Nerd Alert. In this podcast, he basically interviews someone in each show. So far, we've got an interview with Anamanaguchi (a band that uses old Nintendos as an instrument), a discussion of Game of Thrones with another CollegeHumor guy, Jon Gabrus, a completely awesome interview of a guy that runs pizza tours in NY, and an interview with the guy responsible for writing/directing all those porn parodies that have been coming out lately (brilliant). I have to wonder how well he can keep up the quality of his guests and the variety of topics, but so far, so good.
  • Rebel FM - Video Game podcasts are weird. They often spend a ton of time talking about new or upcoming games that you can't play yet, which is kinda annoying. It's also hard to go back and find an episode where they talked about x or y game (and usually the discussions aren't that enlightening because they're just talking about the mechanics of the game). IRebel FM falls into this category a bit, but what sets it apart is their letters section, which isn't really anything special, but which can be a lot of fun. Somehow, they've become known for giving out sagely advice on relationships and other life challenges. It's just funny to see this sort of thing through the lens of a video game podcast.
  • All Beers Considered - I haven't done a lot of exploring around the beer podcast realm, but I like the Aleheads website, so I tend to listen to these podcasts which generally cover various beer news stories and whatnot. It's not something I'd recommend to someone who's not a beer fanatic, but, well, I am a beer fanatic, so I like it.
  • Basic Brewing Radio - This seems to be THE homebrewing podcast, and it's got a massive archive filled with great stuff (at least, I've found many episodes to be helpful in my brewing efforts). Some stuff works better than others (really, it's kinda strange to listen to a beer tasting, especially of homebrew that you'll never get to try), but there's lots of good stuff for new brewers in the archives.
  • The Adventurenaut Cassettes - There's no real explaining this podcast. It's just really weird, disjointed and almost psychadelic. Good when you're in a certain mood, though.
I really only have 3 or 4 shows that I really look forward to every week, but I'm always looking for more...
Posted by Mark on July 27, 2011 at 10:01 PM .: link :.


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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #4: Bottling
When I put my most recent homebrew, a saison style beer, in the fermenter, I started seeing bubbles in the airlock after only a few hours - a much quicker start than any of my previous brews. Indeed, this thing fermented vigorously for nearly 5 days. With all my previous attempts, bubbles didn't appear in the airlock until at least 12-24 hours after pitching the yeast, and once they had started, there was only 2-3 days of vigorous activity, after which things trail off. Usually by the end of 2 weeks, things have slowed down considerably. And that happened for the saison too, but I was surprised at how long that initial phase of activity lasted. Now, I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I suspect that perhaps my pitching/fermentation temperature was a bit high, leading to a more active fermentation than is normally desired.
Or I could be completely wrong. The beer seemed to come out ok. It smells wonderful. It looks a little darker than usual for the style, but that's kinda expected for extract brewing. I took a quick swig of it, and at first glance it seems to share a certain character with the Hefeweizen I brewed on my last attempt. Here's to hoping that this goes a little better than my last attempt.

The final gravity was really low though. Somewhere around 1.005 (target was more around the 1.010 area), maybe even less. I guess we'll see how that plays out. Doing the calculations, this means the beer should be somewhere around 7-7.5% ABV, which is certainly higher than I was shooting for, but not outside the realms of possibility.

I won't bore you with the details of the bottling process, which basically went the same as usual - it's a semi-tedious process, but the only really bad part is the sanitization of the bottles. Otherwise all went well and this stuff should be ready to drink in a few weeks. Wish me luck.

At this point, I'm looking to try something a little darker for my next batch. That's apparently more suitable for extract brewing, and besides, my last 3 batches have been lighter style beers. Also, since I've been doing so much in the way of belgian styles, I figured I should try something different. Perhaps a chocolate stout or maybe an American Black Ale (or whatever you call those things).

(Cross Posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on July 06, 2011 at 11:32 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tasting Notes - Part 4
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

Television
  • Game of Thrones - The season finale aired last week, and I have to say, I'm impressed. My usual approach to stuff like this is to let it run for a couple of seasons to make sure it's both good and that it's actually heading somewhere. At this point, the book series isn't even finished, but friends who've read it think it's great and they say the books get better, so I gave the series a shot - and I'm really glad I did. It's a fantastic series, much more along the lines of swords-and-sandals (a la Spartacus or Gladiator) than outright fantasy (a la Lord of the Rings). People talk about magic and dragons and whatnot, but most of that seems to be in the distant past (though there are hints of a return to that sort of thing throughout the series and especially in the last minutes of the season). Most of the season consists of dialogue, politics, Machiavellian scheming, and action. Oh, and sex. And incest. Yeah, it's a fun show. The last episode of the season doesn't do much to resolve the various plotlines, and hints at an even more epic scale. Interestingly, though, I don't find this sort of open-endedness that frustrating. Unlike a show like Lost, the open threads don't seem like red-herrings or even mysteries at all. It's just good, old fashioned storytelling. The worst thing about it is that I'm all caught up and will have to wait for the next season! Prediction: Geoffrey will die horribly, and I will love it. But not too quickly. He's such a fantastic, sniveling little bastard. I want to keep hating him for a while before someone takes him down.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Doctor Who - Most of the semi-recently rebooted series is available on watch instantly, and I've only just begun to pick my way through the series again. I vaguely remember watching a few of Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor episodes, but I never finished that first season. I'm not very far in right now - just saw the first appearance of the Daleks, which should be interesting.
Movies
  • 13 Assassins - Takashi Miike tends to be a hit-or-miss filmmaker for me. Fortunately for him, he is ridiculously prolific. His most recent effort is a pretty straightforward Samurai tale about a suicide mission to assassinate a cruel and ruthless evil lord. Seven Samurai, it is not, but it is still quite engaging and entertaining to watch. It starts a bit slow, but it finishes with an amazing 45 minute setpiece as our 13 heroes spring their trap on 200 enemies. Along the way, we get some insight into Japanese culture as the days of the Samurai and Shogunate faded, though I don't think I'd call this a rigorously accurate film or anything. Still, there's more going on here than just bloody action, of which there is a lot. An excellent film, among the top films I've seen so far this year.
  • HBO has a pretty great lineup right now. In the past couple weeks, I've revisited Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and How to Train Your Dragon. All of these films have improved upon rewatching them, a subject I've always found interesting. Scott Pilgrim, in particular, has improved it's standing in my mind. I still think it's got some problems in the final act, but I also think it's a dreadfully underappreciated film.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Transcendent Man - I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but it's an interesting profile of Ray Kurtzweil, a futurist and singularity proponent. I don't really buy into his schtick, but he's an interesting guy and the documentary is worth a watch for that.
Video Games
  • I'm still playing Mass Effect 2, but I have not progressed all that far in the game. I've found this is common with RPGs lately - it takes a long time to get anything accomplished in an RPG, so I sometimes find it hard to get started. Still, I have liked what I've seen of this game so far. It's far from perfect, but it's got some interesting elements.
  • Since I had to hook up my Wii to get Netflix working during the great PSN outage of '11, I actually did start playing Goldeneye again. I even got a Wii classic controller, and that made the game approximately 10 times more fun (but I have to say, plugging the Wiimote into the classic controller to get it to work? That's just stupidly obtuse, though I guess it keeps the cost down). Since I could play it in short 30 minute chunks, I actually did manage to finish this one off in pretty short order. It's a pretty simple FPS game, which I always enjoy, but there's nothing particularly special about it, except for some muted nostalgia from the original.
Music
  • The Black Keys - Brothers - This is a pretty great album. Lots of crunchy blues guitars and catchy rhythms. I'm greatly enjoying it.
  • Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil - Another hipster rock album, but I rather like it, especially the song Secret Mobilization. Good stuff.
Books
  • I've been cranking my way through Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novels, of which there are many (and I'm actually quite glad, as they're all great fun). I've covered the first few novels in SF Book Reviews, and will probably have finished enough other books to do a Bujold-only edition in the near future. I'm currently reading Ethan of Athos, which seems to me to be a kinda spinoff/standalone novel, but an interesting one nonetheless (and we get to catch up with a character from one of the other books).
  • I also started Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, but have found myself quickly bogging down (it doesn't help that I have, like, 10 Bujold novels sitting around, begging me to read them) almost from the start. It's not bad, per say, but there's something about the style and scope of the book that bothers me. There are some interesting ideas, and Diamond admits that his methods are, by necessity, not that rigorous, but it's still seems extremely speculative to me. I would normally be fine with that sorta approach, but I'm finding something about this grating and I haven't figured it out just yet...
  • If you count the aforementioned Guns, Germs, and Steel, I'm down to just 4 unread books from my last Book Queue, which is pretty good! And I've only really added the Bujold books and Fuzzy Nation since then. I'm actually at a point where I should start seeking out new stuff. Of course, it probably won't take long to fill the queue back up, but still. Progress!
The Finer Things...
  • I've managed to have some pretty exceptional beers of late. First up is Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40, an imperial porter aged in 40 year old Highland Park casks. It's an amazing beer, though also outrageously priced. Still, if you can get your hands on some and don't mind paying the premium, it's great.
  • Another exceptional beer, the legendary Pliny the Elder (currently ranked #3 on Beer Advocates Best Beers on Planet Earth list). It's a fantastic double IPA. Not sure if it's really #3 beer in the world fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless.
  • One more great beer, and a total surprise, was Sierra Nevada Boot Camp ExPortation. Basically, Sierra Nevada has this event every year where fans get to go to "Beer Camp" and collaborate on new beers with Sierra Nevada brewers and whatnot. My understanding is that the batches are extremely limited. Indeed, I never expected to see these, but apparently there were a few on tap at a local bar, sorta leftover from Philly Beer Week. The beer is basically a porter with Brettanomyces added and aged in Pinot Noir barrels. This is all beer-nerd-talk for a sour (in a good way) beer. I'm not normally big into the style or Brett, but I'll be damned if this isn't a fantastic beer. I loved it and unfortunately, I'll probably never see it again. If you see it, try it. At the very least, it will be an interesting experience!
And that's all for now.
Posted by Mark on June 26, 2011 at 06:22 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #4:Saison
Last time, I mentioned how my next batch of homebrew would probably be a saison style beer. I've been drinking a lot of saisons lately, and it's quite a broad style. What I wanted to go for was something along the lines of Saison Dupont, but in looking around at the various homebrew kits out there, I didn't see anything that really came close. So I picked up a book called Clone Brews, which has a recipe for a Saison Dupont clone (amongst many others). I ended up finding a Northern Brewer kit that was for a really weak, session strength saison that had enough similarities that I could buy that, then augment it with some additional ingredients. The recipe used below is a sorta hybrid between the recipe from the book and the Northern Brewer kit.

Brew #4 - Saison
June 19, 2011

0.5 lb. Belgian CaraVienne (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Northern Brewer Pilsen LME
3 lb. Muntons Extra Light DME
1 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
1 lb. Light Belgian Candi Sugar
2 oz. Styrian Goldings hops (bittering @ 4.6% AA)
0.5 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast

To make sure I wasn't throwing the recipe completely out of whack by adding extra malt/hops/whatever, I played around on Hopville's Beer Calculus thingymabob. It turns out that I was a little low on bittering hops, but I had enough other hops left over that I was able to adjust the recipe just fine (part of the problem is that the packaging for the Styrian Goldings hops says they're 4.6% Alpha Acids, while the recipe from the book has them at 5% - so by adding extra, I probably screwed it up and made myself a very bitter saison). I did save the recipe in case you want to see some more stats on it. Note that they let me add this - which basically tells me to take most of the recipes on there with a grain of salt! Also, I had to use "Munton's Light DME" instead of "Extra Light", which I presume inflated the OG a bit.

Anyway, my last batch turned out kinda weird. It tastes ok, but it's also not much like a Hefeweizen. It may continue to work itself out in the bottles, but basically, the light wheat flavors one expects out of a Hefeweizen are nowhere to be found. I think one of the big problems was that I used too little water when I did the boil, thus leading to a bit of caramelization of the malt, which kinda destroyed the delicate wheat flavors. There are probably some other process things I can improve as well. This saison recipe is a little more complicated than the last one, but it's not particularly difficult either.

So I start with steeping the Belgian CaraVienne grains in 2 gallons (or so) of 150°-170° water for around 20 minutes (surprisingly, the temperature was rising quickly, so it was probably a bit less than 20 minutes). I've never done this before, but I slowly removed the grains, put them in a strainer, and sparged with another half gallon of hot (not boiling) water. At this point, I removed from heat, then added the malt extracts and candi sugar, stirring vigorously to make sure the candi dissolved in the water before putting it back on the heat (again, don't want to caramelize the sugars - this is supposed to be a light colored beer). At this point, I estimated about 3.5 gallons of liquid in the pot, maybe even more.

Settled in for the long wait for it to boil. I put the lid on the wort to start, but I made sure to remove it once it got to boiling temperatures. One of the things I may have done wrong on my last batch was to keep the pot partially covered for most of the boil. This helped me maintain a good boil, but apparently during the boiling process, bad chemicals are released in the steam, and if you're covering the pot, some of it can't escape and you get off flavors in your beer. So despite my pitifully weak electric range, I tried keeping it uncovered for the whole boil. It actually wasn't that bad - perhaps the summer climate is more conducive to brewing...

Once it got to boiling, I added the bittering hops and started the timer. 45 minutes later, added flavor hops, bitter orange peel, and Irish Moss. 10 minutes after that, added the aroma hops (I had some extra Saaz hops from the kit, so I made a last minute audible and added an additional 0.5 oz. of hops for aroma). 5 minutes later, and it was off to the ice bath, which continues to be a challenge. Got it down to a reasonable 110° or so, and strained the wort into my fermenting bucket, pausing to clear out my strainer several times (all those hops were clogging it up). It filled up about 2.5 gallons of the fermenter, meaning that I had boiled off at least one gallon. Filled the rest of the bucket up with cold water, bringing the temperature down further (maybe a little more than 70°). Stirred vigorously to aerate the wort.

I mentioned last time that I was struggling with the yeast for the saison. If I really wanted to make a true Saison Dupont clone, I would have used the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, which, rumor has it, is based on Dupont's house yeast. However, it's also infamous for getting stuck at around 1.035 during fermentation, unless you maintain really high temperatures (like, upwards of 85°). Given that my brewing skills are still fledgling and that my ability to control temperature is lacking, I decided that I should try something else. At first, I was looking at a bunch of Abbey and Trappist yeasts, but then I found the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast. Near as I can tell, it will give me a similar feel, but without the trickiness of the 3724 variety. I had smacked the Wyeast packet early this morning (couple hours before starting the boil) and it had swelled up as the yeast became active. After all was ready, I pitched the yeast, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.060 (approximate). This is a bit low according to my calculations, but adjusting for temperature and imprecision at reading the hydrometer, you can maybe fudge that up to 1.062. Assuming reasonable attenuation, this should result in an ABV of around 6.5%-7%, which is right around where I was aiming. Hopefully it won't be overwhelmed by hoppiness...

Timewise, it took about 3-3.5 hours (including the cleanup), which is about average. I'm a little bit worried about temperature control here, but I should be able to keep it at around 70°-75°, which is towards the upper range of the yeast's comfort zone, but I'm hoping that will be ok. There are some doubts about this batch though. Between the extra hops and the temperature and how my last batch turned out, I'm not sure it will turn out well. But then I did correct some things about my process, so hopefully this will make up for any problems.

My next batch will probably be something a bit darker. Apparently these are a bit easier to brew for extract brewing. Perhaps a Belgian Style Dubbel. Or maybe just something a little more amber, like an IPA or something.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on June 19, 2011 at 08:39 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #3: Bottling
After two weeks in the fermenter, I went ahead and bottled the Bavarian Hefeweizen yesterday. I probably could have bottled it a few days ago, but I decided to give it a little more time, especially since I don't really do secondary fermentation - that's a process where I would transfer the beer from the primary fermenter to a secondary, separating it from the majority of the yeast and giving it a chance to condition and clear. However, I only really have one fermenting bucket, and besides, transferring the beer opens it up to the air and the possibility of infection (by wild yeast strains, bacteria, etc...) I'm pretty good about sanitation, but still, the less chances for mistakes the better. Also, Hefeweizens are supposed to be cloudy - the name itself literally translates to "yeast wheat", or "wheat beer with yeast". The question of whether or not to use secondary fermentation seems to be a pretty contentious one, but for simplicity's sake, I'm going to stick with only using the primary for now.

The final gravity was 1.010. For some reason, Northern Brewer never mentions target gravity for any of their kits. Nevertheless, for a beer with a starting gravity of ~1.050, that final gravity was appropriate. My previous two batches came in a little lower than I was expecting, but this one was just what I was hoping for (in monitoring temperatures, it seems that conditions were ideal for this batch). Doing the math on this, I find that this will be a 5.25% ABV beer, which is just about perfect for the style.

As with my previous two attempts, the bottling process went smoothly. I did invest in an auto-siphon this time around, and yes, it was worth every penny. Not that getting a siphon to work was particularly difficult, just that it was a huge pain in the ass to get going. The auto-siphon makes that process very easy. Otherwise, nothing new to report - sanitizing bottles is a tedious chore, filling and capping the bottles is a little more fun, but also tedious and repetitive. I ended up just shy of two full cases of beer.

Like last time, the beer looked and smelled fantastic. It's a little brighter than I expected, but I expect it to darken up a bit as it conditions in the bottles (about 3-4 weeks after bottling the tripel, the color was significantly changed). The smell was really wonderful - all due to the yeast I used. It's a German yeast, but it has very distinct characteristics that I usually associate with Belgian yeasts. I really can't wait to try this beer!
Homebrew 3
If all goes well, this should be ready to drink in 1-2 weeks (definitely in time for my next beer club meeting)... Indeed, it should be reaching full maturity right as summer is hitting, which is perfect. That pretty much covers it for this beer, and I'm already attempting to work out a recipe for my next beer. I'm looking to make a Belgian style Saison (in the mold of Saison Dupont or Ommegang Hennepin). Most of the kits I've found haven't quite met my expectations, so I might actually have to try my hand at a more free-form recipe. In particular, I'm a little worried about what yeast to use. My understanding is that some saison yeasts require high temperatures (in the 80°F - 90°F range) and will often putter out early if conditions aren't just right. As such, I may end up using some sort of alternative, as I have little control over temperature (interestingly, the temp for the Hefeweizen was just about perfect).

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on May 15, 2011 at 11:56 AM .: link :.


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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #3: A Wheat Beer for Summer
I had wanted to start this batch a little earlier, but compared to my first two attempts, this one is actually a lot simpler and should take less time to mature. It's a wheat beer (a Bavarian Hefeweizen to be exact), which is generally light and refreshing - a perfect beer for summer. Since I brewed this yesterday, it will take about a month for this to be ready to drink, which will be right around June, just in time for summer.

My last attempt was a Belgian style Tripel. It was a relatively ambitious attempt, but it came out reasonably well. I like it better than my first homebrew, though it's clearly not a perfect beer. Still, it was quite encouraging. This time around, I went with a kit from Northern Brewer and was surprised to learn how much simpler the Hefeweizen is to brew. No specialty grains and only one hop addition means that the time between each step is relatively long, letting me get some other stuff done while waiting to finish the boil (or whatever).

Brew #3 - Bavarian Hefeweizen
April 30, 2011

6 lb. Wheat LME
1 lb. Wheat DME
1 oz. Tettnang hops (bittering)
Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Wheat Yeast

As you can tell from the relatively small recipe (compare that to the recipe for the tripel), there's not much to this one, and the process really was a lot simpler. This was, however, the first time I've ever used one of Wyeast's "Smack Packs", which come in a little packet containing yeast and a sealed nutrient packet. A few hours before you're ready to brew, you "smack" the nutrient packet, which gets the yeast started. It's a little weird, and I wasn't sure if I did it right at first, but after about a half hour or so, I could actually hear the yeast going, and about an hour later, the packet was starting to swell (which is how it's supposed to work). Comfortable that my yeast would be ready to pitch once I finished, I started the process proper.

Brought 2 gallons of tap water to a boil, after which I removed from heat and added the liquid and dry malt extracts (incidentally, I've heard that it's better to rehydrate the DME separately, though I've never done that - perhaps next time I use DME), stirring carefully. Put it back on the heat and returned it to a boil. Added the hops, stirring carefully to avoid any overflow, started my timer, then sat down with my book and read for about 50 minutes, stopping only once or twice to check on the boiling wort, stirring occasionally. I prepared my ice bath and started sanitizing the rest of the equipment. When the 60 minute mark was reached, I added the pot to my ice bath. This continues to be a bit of a challenge, but the temperature dropped quick enough. Once it was at about 100° F, I took it out of the bath and poured through a strainer into the fermenter. Topped off the fermenter with enough cold water to bring it down to about 68° F, which was just about perfect according to my yeast package. Pitched the yeast, sealed up the fermenter, and installed the airlock.

I was surprised that I could really smell the yeasty character while pitching, though it makes sense, given that the nutrient packet had already gotten the yeast started. Previous attempts were using dry yeast (which would have no odor) and a vial of White Labs yeast, which was more concentrated (though probably around the same volume as the Wyeast packet, it didn't have the whole nutrient pack to get things started). Temperature in my closet seems to be a pretty steady 70° F, which is about exactly what I was looking for. I just checked the fermenter, and the airlock is bubbling away happily.

Original Gravity: 1.048-1.050 (approximate). The recipe called for 1.049, so I'm almost dead on there. Strangely, the Northern Brewer site/directions make no mention of the expected Final Gravity (not that it really matters, fermentation ends when it ends).

Though the process was easier, I didn't really cut much time off of the session. It came in at around 2-2.5 hours, which isn't bad at all. The real advantage of the simple process was that there was enough unbroken periods of time that I could get other stuff done while waiting. The really time consuming part continues to be getting the pot to a boil. This is probably because I'm on a electric stove. Well, now that it's warmer out, I may be able to invest in some outdoor equipment, which might make things easier.

I'm already working on the recipe for my next beer, which will probably be a saison in the style of the excellent Saison Dupont, one of my favorite beers and another crisp and refreshing beer for summer. The recipe won't be an exact clone, as my understanding is that the Wyeast version of Dupont's yeast is infamously finicky with regard to temperatures (which is the part of the process I'm least able to control at this point). So unless global warming hits with a vengeance in late-May/early-June, I'll probably end up using the Wyeast 1214 Abbey Ale.

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on May 01, 2011 at 04:52 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tasting Notes - Part 3
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

Television
  • Community is actually a pretty fun show. In a lot of ways, it's standard sitcom fodder, but the inclusion of the character of Abed redeems most of the potentially overused cliches. Abed is a pop-culture obsessed film student who appears to be aware that he's a part of a sitcom, and thus his self-referential observations are often quite prescient. The cast is actually pretty fantastic and there are lots of traditionally funny jokes along the way. Honestly, I think my favorite part of the episode are the post-credits sequences in which Abed and Troy are typically engaging in something silly in a hysterically funny way. I've only seen the first season, but I'm greatly looking forward to the second season (which is almost complete now, and probably available in some form, but I haven't looked into it too closely).
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: The X-Files - It looks like the entire series is available. I watched the series frequently when it was on, but I never realized just how many episodes I missed. I was never a fan of the alien conspiracy episodes (in part because it was difficult to watch them in the right order and I never knew what was going on), but I've always loved the "freak of the week" style episode, and now that all of them are at my fingertips, I'm seeing a bunch that I never knew even existed. The show holds up reasonably well, though it's a little too on-the-nose at times (especially in the early seasons). In the context in which the shows were being produced, though, it's fantastic. From a production quality perspective, it's more cinematic than what was on TV at the time (and a lot of what's on today), and it was one of the early attempts at multi-season plot arcs and continuity (technology at the time wasn't quite right, so I don't think it flourished quite as much as it could have if it had started 10 years later).
Video Games
  • Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is a lot of fun, though you can sorta tell that it was a near launch game. I actually mentioned this a while back, and because it was my first Ratchet & Clank game, I didn't suffer from most of the repetitive and derivative elements (which I gather is what disappointed old fans). Some minor usability issues (constantly changing weapons/tools is a pain), but otherwise great fun. I particularly enjoyed the Pirate themed enemies, who were very funny. I enjoyed this enough that I'll probably check out the more recent A Crack in Time, which I hear is pretty good.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops - It's another CoD game, so I got pretty much exactly what I expected. The single player game actually has a semi-interesting story, though the animators fell in love with the overly-hyper cutting and shaky-cam style that is already overused in film, and which is mostly unnecessary in video games. Don't get me wrong, the story is kinda hokey, but it's entertaining in its own way. And, of course, the combat is very well balanced and fun (as every game I've played in the series is...) The game ends with one of the most gleefully manic sequences I've ever played (much better than, for example, the airline thing at the end of CoD4). The multi-player is not particularly noob-friendly, but I got a few hours out of it and even managed to win a round one time. The kills come so quickly that it's pretty rare that you'll escape anyone once they start shooting (the way you can in some other games). This is both good and bad though. All in all, it's a good FPS for console.
  • I've started playing Mass Effect 2 for the PS3. I have no idea what's going on with the story (I thought there was supposed to be some sort of PS3 intro thingy, but I didn't see it when I started the game), but I'm having fun so far. It's not something I've been playing a lot though, perhaps because I don't have a ton of time to dedicate to it...
  • Remember when i said I would play more Goldeneye for the Wii? Yeah, I still haven't unpacked the Wii from that trip, which is a pretty good expression of how I generally feel about the Wii these days. I guess it's a good thing Nintendo is announcing their next console soon (though I have to admit, the rumors I'm hearing aren't particularly encouraging).
Movies
  • James Gunn's comic book spoof Super continues the trend towards deconstruction of superheroes that's been going on recently in comic book cinema (though things look like they're about to revert a bit this summer). As such, it's semi-derivative at times, but it sticks to its guns (or should I say, Gunns!) and never flinches at its target. It's also not afraid to embrace the weird (such as, for instance, tentacle rape). It's extremely graphic and violent, and some of it is played for laughs, but there's at least one unforgivable moment in the film. One thing I have to note is that there's going to be a lot of teenage nerds falling in love with Ellen Page because of her enthusiastic performance in this movie. She's awesome. The critical reception seems mixed, but I think I enjoyed it more than most. I wouldn't call it one of the year's best, but it's worth watching for superhero fans who can stomach gore.
  • Hobo with a Shotgun does not fare quite as well as Super, though fans of Grindhouse and ultra-violence will probably get a kick out of it. If Super represents a bit of a depraved outlook on life, Hobo makes it look like the Muppets. A few years ago, when Grindhouse was coming out, there was a contest for folks to create fake grindhouse-style trailers, and one of the winners was this fantastically titled Hobo With a Shotgun. Unfortunately what works in the short form of a fake trailer doesn't really extend well to a full-length feature. There are some interesting things about the film. Rutger Hauer is great as the hobo (look for an awesome monologue about a bear), the atmosphere is genuinely retro, it actually feels like a grindhouse movie (as opposed to Tarantino and Rodriguez's efforts, which are great, but you can also kinda tell they have a decent budget, whereas Hobo clearly has a low budget), and the armored villains known as the Plague are entertaining, if a bit out of place. Ultimately the film doesn't really earn its bullshit. Like last year's Machete (another film built off of the popularity of a "fake" trailer), I'm not convinced that this film really should have been made. Again, devotees to the weird and disgusting might enjoy this, but it's a hard film to recommend.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: The Good, the Bad, the Weird - Kim Jee-woon's take on the spaghetti western is actually quite entertaining, if a bit too long and maybe even a bit too derivative. Still, there are some fantastic sequences in the film, and it's a lot of fun. Jee-woon is one of the more interesting filmmakers that's making a name for Korean cinema on an international scale. I'm greatly looking forward to his latest effort, I Saw the Devil.
Books
  • In my last SF book post, I mentioned Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor. I really enjoyed that book, which was apparently the first in a long series of books, of which I've recently finished two: Barrayar and The Warrior's Apprentice. I'll save the details for the next SF book review post, but let's just say that I'm fully onboard the Bujold train to awesome. I put in an order for the next several books in the series, which seems to be quite long and varied.
  • Timothy Zahn's Cobra Trilogy is what I'm reading right now. I'm enjoying them, but it's clear that Zahn was still growing as a storyteller when writing these. Interestingly, you can see a lot of ideas that he would feature in later works (and he would do so more seamlessly too). I'm about halfway through the trilogy, and should be finishing it off in the next couple weeks, after which, you can expect another SF book review post...
  • I've also started Fred Brooks' The Design of Design, though I haven't gotten very far just yet. I was traveling for a while, and I find that trashy SF like Zahn and Bujold makes for much better plane material than non-fiction. Still, I'm finding Brooks' latest work interesting, though perhaps not as much as his classic Mythical Man Month.
The Finer Things...
  • The best beer I've had in the past few months has been the BrewDog/Mikkeller collaboration Devine Rebel. It's pricey as hell, but if you can find a bottle of the 2009 version and if you like English Barleywines (i.e. really strong and sweet beer), it's worth every penny. I got a bottle of the 2010 version (which is apparently about 2% ABV stronger than the already strong 2009 batch) recently, but I haven't popped it open just yet.
  • My next homebrew kit, a Bavarian Hefeweizen from Northern Brewer, just came in the mail, so expect a brew-day post soon - probably next week, if all goes well. I was hoping to get that batch going a little earlier, but travel plans got in the way. Still, if this goes as planned, the beer should be hitting maturity right in the dead of summer, which is perfect for a wheat beer like this...
  • With the nice weather this weekend, I found myself craving a cigar. Not something I do very often and I really have no idea what makes for a good cigar, but I'll probably end up purchasing a few for Springtime consumption... Recommendations welcome!
That's all for now. Sorry about all the link dumps and general posting of late, but things have been busy around chez Kaedrin, so time has been pretty short. Hopefully some more substantial posting to come in the next few weeks...
Posted by Mark on April 24, 2011 at 06:36 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #2: The Bottling
After three weeks in the fermenter, I've finally managed to bottle my Belgian Style Tripel. Since this was a high-gravity beer, it required additional time in the fermenter and will most likely take a while to condition in the bottles as well. I'm hoping to check it out in about 3 weeks, just to see how it's doing.

The Final Gravity ended up being somewhere around 1.015 (maybe a little less). The more I use a hydrometer, the less confident I am in the measurements. I got somewhat inconsistent readings. Nevertheless, it was definitely lower than the recipe's goal of 1.020. My last beer also ended up lower than the recommended FG, so perhaps I should bottle a little earlier in the process. If my math is correct, this yields a beer that is somewhere in the 9-10% ABV range, which is right in the middle of the proper range for Belgian style tripels. The recipe I was using was meant to imitate Westmalle Tripel, which is 9.5%, so I'm definitely in the right neighborhood. If I make some extreme assumptions about my hydrometer readings for both the OG and FG, the highest it could come out is around 10.5% ABV, which would be a little high for the style, but still within the general range of acceptable ABV.

The process went smoothly, just like last time. No problems racking the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. Sanitizing the bottles is tedious and repetitive, but easy enough. I was hoping to be able to use some 750 ml bottles I'd harvested from recent drinking, but it turns out that the caps I have don't fit on those bottles, which are slightly larger than the standard bottlecap. I had plenty of regular bottles, and even some 22 oz bombers that worked, so no real problem there, I just had to sanitize more bottles than I realized. Filling the bottles was kinda fun though, even if it's also tedious and repetitive. Something about using the bottling wand is just great fun.

The beer itself looked and smelled great. The aroma was maybe a bit boozy (I was sorta expecting that given the high ABV), but it still had that distinct Belgian yeast smell that I love so much. Once the bottles condition and the priming sugar does its thing, there should be plenty of carbonation to cut the alcohol though, so I still have high hopes for this one. I poured some in a glass and it looked great. Whilst brewing and looking at it in the buckets, it seemed a lot darker than your typical tripel, but when I poured a glass of it, it looked fantastic. The picture below actually looks a little more orange where I remember it being a little more brown, but I guess we'll see what it looks like when it finishes conditioning (obviously, since it's now bottle conditioning, there's no carbonation and thus no head in the picture):
Homebrew 2
So that just about finishes up this batch. I'm already looking into a new batch of beer, though I'm torn about what style to go for next. If I brew again in the next few weeks, I could probably have something that's ready to drink right in time for summer. So I was thinking of trying my hand at a wheat beer (perhaps a Hefeweizen) or a Saison. Both tend to be lighter and more refreshing beers, so they're perfect for summer. Right now, I'm leaning towards the wheat beer because Saison is another Belgian style and I just finished something along those lines. Of course, I could end up brewing both (one for early summer, one for later summer), which would leave time for a fall batch (perhaps an IPA of some kind) and a winter batch (I was think a Belgian dubbel, perhaps with some added holiday spices).

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on March 06, 2011 at 07:21 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #2: Electric Boogaloo
I learned a lot during the course of my first homebrew attempt a few months ago, and after the hectic holiday season and beginning of the year, I resolved to put my learnings into practice this weekend. My first homebrew was a straightforward English Brown Ale. I don't think there was anything wrong with the beer, and it's certainly drinkable, but it's also a bit too simple and the taste ends up a bit thin. Again, not bad, but not very complex or interesting either. But then, that was kinda the plan. It was my first beer, so I wasn't expecting much out of it.

But I wanted to try something a little more ambitious for my second attempt and after browsing the recipes at High Gravity, I settled on a Belgian Style Tripel - one modeled after the Trappist Westmalle Tripel (one of my favorite beers).

Brew #2 - Belgian Style Tripel
February 13, 2011

10.5 lb. Montons Light LME
2 lb. Weyermann Pilsner Malt (grains)
4 oz. Melanoidin (grains)
1 lb. Belgian Light Candi Sugar
1.5 oz. Styrian Goldings pellet hops (bittering)
0.25 oz. Hallertau Herbrucker hops (flavor)
0.25 oz. Tettnanger German hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. Czech Saaz pellet hops (Finishing)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
White Labs Trappist Ale Yeast WLP500

Steeped Weyermann Pilsner Malt and Melanoidin in about 2.5 gallons filtered tap water at around 150°F for 20 minutes. Unlike last time, I started this batch with warm water, which saved a bunch of time in getting to 150°F (also, I wasn't afraid to crank the stovetop to it's highest setting). Removed grain bag slowly, letting letting whatever water was left in there drain out. Per instructions, I added a little more water, removed from heat, and added about half of the Light LME and all of the candi sugar. I stirred vigorously, as I was afraid the candi sugar would stick to the bottom. After a few minutes, all appeared well, at which point I threw it back on high heat, eventually bringing to a boil (in the future, I need to figure out a better way to do this - my stovetop is clearly not up to the challenge - it took around 45 minutes to bring the mixture to a boil). The ingredient kit I bought came with another muslin bag (i.e. a thin netting) for hops, so I put the hops in the bag, then put the bag in the boiling wort. Kept at a small rolling boil for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the hops didn't just float to one side of the pot. Added flavoring hops. Directions say to add to existing hop bag, but I just threw them in directly, along with the Irish Moss. 10 minutes of that, and I added the remaining LME. I also threw in the finishing hops, and removed from heat. A few minutes later, I removed the hop bag and placed pot in my sink (which was filled with some cold water and some ice) to quickly cool. I was a little more prepared with ice this time, but cooling the wort continues to be a bit of an issue. Got the wort down to manageable temperature and poured it into my fermentation bucket (attempting to remove sediment with a controlled pour through a sanitized strainer). Added some extra water to the bucket to bring up the 5 gallon mark, pouring from high up to aerate the wort. Stirred things around some more, again attempting to aerate the wort, and took an original gravity reading. For such a high OG, I probably should have done a yeast starter, but I didn't have any extra DME laying around, so I figured I could just use the yeast as packaged. The packaging says the yeast is best before April 15, 2011, so I'm definitely ok there, though I'm not sure when the yeast was packaged in the first place. Pitched yeast, stirred a bit, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.085 (approximate). This is a little less than what the recipe says (1.088), but I also have a hard time reading the hydrometer, so I'm guessing it's good enough for the start.

Well, it looks like I cut off about 30-60 minutes from the process - it only took about 2.5-3 hours this time. Plus, I was a little more comfortable walking away from the stove and doing other stuff while (for example) the boil started, so it wasn't quite as draining of an experience. The only thing I'm worried about now is keeping the temperature of the fermenting wort at around 70°F (this is apparently the temperature at which the yeast works best). My house tends to be in the mid 60°s F during the winter though, so maybe I'll need to break out the space heater and make sure my closet is at a better temperature or something.

I'm already planning out my next batch, which If I start a couple weeks after I bottle this batch, should put me in a good timeframe to consider a summer brew. Perhaps a Saison or a wheat beer....

Update 3/6/11: Bottled!

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on February 13, 2011 at 03:21 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Adventures in Brewing - Part 2: The Bottling
A couple of weeks ago, I started brewing an English Brown Ale. After two weeks in the fermenter, I went ahead and bottled the beer this weekend. Just another couple of weeks in the bottle to condition, and they should be ready to go (supposedly, the impatient can try it after a week, which I might have to do, just to see what it's like and how it ages).

The final gravity ended up at around 1.008, so if my calculations (and my hydrometer readings, which are probably more approximate than I'd like) are correct, this should yield something around 4.5% alcohol. Both my hydrometer readings were a bit low according to the worksheet/recipe I was using, but that ABV is right in the middle of the range. I suspect this means there won't be as much sugar in the beer and thus the taste will be a bit less powerful, but I guess we'll find out.

I ended up with a little more than a case and a half of bottled beer, which is probably a bit low. I was definitely overcautious about racking the beer to my bottling bucket. Not wanting to transfer any yeast and never having done it before, I was a little too conservative in stopping the siphoning process (which was a lot easier and faster than I was expecting - just add the priming sugar and get the siphon started and it only took a few minutes to transfer the grand majority of the beer to the bottling bucket). Next time I should be able to get around two full cases out of a 5 gallon batch.

Once in the bottling bucket, the process went pretty smoothly, and I actually found filling the bottles up and capping them to be pretty fun (the bottling wand seems like a life saver - I'd hate to do this with just a tube). Once I got towards the bottom of the bucket, it was a bit of a challenge to get as much out of there as possible without oxidizing the beer too much. I managed to get myself a quick cup of the beer and took a few sips. Of course, it was room temperature and not carbonated enough (carbonation happens in the bottle, thanks to the priming sugar), but it sure was beer. I didn't detect anything "off" about the taste, and it smelled pretty good too. Maybe I managed to not screw it up!
Beer Siphon
Siphoning the beer
The worst part of the process was really the sanitation piece. Washing and scrubbing two cases of beer bottles, then getting them to dry out (as much as I could - I'm sure some still had some water in them when I was bottling, which is probably bad) was a huge, tedious pain in the butt. That was probably the most time consuming portion of the process. The actual bottling/capping probably took the same amount of time, but that was more fun. It probably took a little over 2 hours in total, which actually wasn't that bad. In the end, I'm pretty happy with my first experience in brewing. Even if the beer turns out terrible or bland, I feel like I've learned a lot and will undoubtedly have an easier time of it in the next round. Speaking of which, I'm looking to put together a recipe for a Belgian Style Tripel. This will be a higher gravity beer and probably take longer to brew, but it's one of my favorite styles and it's apparently not that difficult either.

(Cross posted at the Kaedrin Beer Blog, along with some other stuff posted today)
Posted by Mark on November 21, 2010 at 07:04 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Adventures in Brewing - Part 1
As I mentioned the other day, I've been getting into beer in a big way of late (see my beer blog), and now I've made the leap into the realm of homebrewing. I've noticed lately that while I do participate in a number of creative activities, most of what I end up creating is virtual (i.e. it's all done on the computer). There isn't anything wrong with that, of course, but I've been itching to make something out here in meatspace, and brewing beer should help me scratch that itch.

I stopped by a local brewshop yesterday and picked up a brewing kit, complete with a Brewer's Best English Brown Ale ingredient kit (which should make something akin to a Newcastle Brown Ale). A Trappist brew master, I am not, but it seems like a good place to start (a step ahead of the venerable Mr. Beer, but far below the all-grain brewers). My first brewing attempt is tonight, so wish me luck. Beer nerd details are below, and I'll post an update after I've finished.

Brew #1: English Brown Ale
November 7, 2010

3.3 lb. Amber liquid malt extract
2 lb. Amber dried malt extract
8 oz. Caramel 60L malt grains
4 oz. Chocolate malt grains
6 oz. Crushed Carapils malt grains
1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops
1 oz. Willamette Flavoring Hops
0.25 oz. Willamette Aroma Hops

Steeped grains in about 2.5 gallons filtered tap water at around 150°F for 20 minutes (some of the thinner grains filtered out of the bag before even putting it in the pot - is that bad? I just poured the debris into the pot too...). Removed grain bag slowly, letting whatever water was left in there drain out. Brought wort to a boil (mental note: allow more time to heat and boil water), removed from heat, added liquid and dried malt extracts, stirred vigorously, brought back up to a boil (again, I've underestimated how long it takes to bring even hot wort back to a boil and even had trouble keeping it at a good rolling boil - it was a very light boil). Once it was boiling again, added bittering hops. Kept at a small rolling boil for 45 minutes, added flavoring hops. Boiled 10 more minutes, added aroma hops. Boiled for 5 more minutes, then took off heat and placed pot in my sink (which was filled with some cold water and some ice) to quickly cool. This didn't work as well as I'd hoped, and I'll probably need more ice next time. Got the wort down to manageable temperature and poured it into my fermentation bucket (attempting to remove sediment with a controlled pour through a sanitized strainer, but wasn't super successful with that). Added some extra water to the bucket to bring up the 5 gallon mark, pouring from high up to aerate the wort. Pitched yeast, stirred a bit, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.040 (this is a bit low, but the temperature of the wort was still a bit high at the time (around 80°, which can throw off the hydrometer because calibrated for 60° measurements). Correcting for temperature, I'm estimating something around 1.042-1.043. Still 0.002 or 0.003 off from the recommended O.G., but this will hopefully still work well enough. I'm guessing the ABV will be a bit lighter than predicted, but that should be ok.)

Well, it took a lot longer than I expected (between 3-4 hours). 2.5 gallons of water plus steeped grains/malt extract takes a while get back up and running on my setup (I have an electric stove, so temperature control is limited here, and honestly, it was even a bit difficult to keep it at a good boil without putting the lid on (but you're not supposed to do that really, so I tried to avoid that)). Part of it is also that it's my first time, so I was trying to be attentive and didn't really take any time away from the kitchen to do other stuff (next time I'll probably read a book or something, knocking out two birds with one stone). I'll need to check in tomorrow morning to (hopefully) report on the bubbling of the airlock (which would mean that fermentation is underway). In any case, it was an interesting session, and I think I've learned a lot, which is probably the best I should be hoping for at this point. Hopefully the next session will go a bit smoother (not to mention the wracking/bottling process for this batch).

Update 11/8/10: I was a little worried this morning when I didn't see any activity in the airlock, but when I got home from work, all appeared to be well. I have no idea how active it's supposed to be, but it's going at about one bubble per 20-25 seconds. Looking around the interwebs, this seems to be ok. There are too many variables to be sure, but at least there is some bubbling going on... So now we play the waiting game.

Update 11/9/10: Well, now this thing is bubbling up a storm. Intervals between bubbling have decreased to about 3-4 seconds. Once again, no idea how active it's supposed to be at this point, but this seems promising.

Update 11/20/10: Beer has been bottled. Read a recap here...

(Cross posted at the Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on November 07, 2010 at 11:26 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Link Dump
It's hard to believe, but it's been over two months since the last link dump, so here goes:
  • A radical pessimist's guide to the next 10 years: Author Douglas Coupland makes a series of 45 predictions about how technology and society will change each other. Some are interesting, some are way off, but most are interesting nonetheless. A few samples:
    3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now

    The next sets of triumphing technologies are going to happen, no matter who invents them or where or how. Not that technology alone dictates the future, but in the end it always leaves its mark. The only unknown factor is the pace at which new technologies will appear. This technological determinism, with its sense of constantly awaiting a new era-changing technology every day, is one of the hallmarks of the next decade.

    10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness

    34) You're going to miss the 1990s more than you ever thought
    The 90s have a bad reputation, but I liked them.
  • The Museum of Soviet Arcade Games: No wonder they lost!
  • Experiments in Blind Tasting: I've been getting into beer in a big way this year, and one of the things I find a little amusing is the way a lot of people seem to review their beers. They always seem to have these amazingly well attuned taste buds, picking up the most subtle of flavors easily. Sometimes I think I'm missing something, and sometimes I think they're just making it up. This article covers a course intended for beer judges, and it's a apparently quite a challenge. The key graph:
    We were then given a batch of three unidentified black beers, and told to write notes on them, then attempt to guess the beer styles. After tasting the three we were asked one by one to read our notes on the first one, all of which went along the lines of "roasty, caramel, maybe a bit neutral". The shock was considerable when we were told that it was, again, Ringnes Pils, this time with some black colouring added to it. Every single one of the 10 participants claimed to taste roastiness in the beer, and not one of the 10 so much as came near the idea that this might be a pilsener. An interesting example of the sense of taste being affected by visual signals.
    I knew it!
  • Kaedrin Beer Blog: Hey, did I just mention that I was getting into beer in a big way? Well yeah, I started a beer blog. I have no idea if it will last or how often I'll update, but so far, I've been updating a pretty good clip. And it being me, of course there's a little movie talk going on as well. I'm open to any comments or suggestions about the blog, and if you're a designer, I need to come up with a nicer looking headline than the default template orange text thing I've got up there now.
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on November 03, 2010 at 08:50 PM .: link :.


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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Tasting Notes...
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

Television
  • The only show I watch regularly is True Blood, and even that has been a bit of a bust this season. There are some good things about this season, but it seems like all the side characters are annoying this season. Even Lafayette seems to be getting annoying. You can't keep increasing the number of big character arcs indefinitely, and this season definitely hit the limit and then stomped over it. All that being said, it's still an entertaining show, and last week's cliffhanger was kinda interesting, except that I know better than to trust that it will be conclusive, which is probably a bad thing. Unless it turns out the way I expect, which is kinda ironic. A damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, I guess.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Mythbusters. Yeah, we've all seen these epsiodes, but putting them on Netflix Watch Instantly is a problem. I didn't know they were on there until Shamus mentioned if off-handedly, and now I find myself watching them all the time.
Video Games
  • It turns out that I've played approximately 0 hours of GTA IV since the last Tasting Notes, so I'm thinking that I should just move on to something else. Complaints are, more or less, the same as last time. All the good things about the game are the same as GTA III, and all the new bits only seem to weigh it down. And for crying out loud, it's ok to let people save their games whenever. This is something that I've become pretty inflexible on - if you have static save points that force me to replay stuff and rewatch cutscenes, I'm not going to like your game much.
  • In lieu of GTA IV, I've been replaying Half-Life 2 on my PC. It's interesting how great that game is, despite its aged mechanics. It got me thinking about what would make for the ideal FPS game (perhaps a topic for another post).
  • Portal is fantastic, but you probably already knew that. Still, for a 3 hour gaming experience, it's just about perfect. I only got stuck a couple of times, and even then, it was fun piecing together what I needed to do... Well worth a play, even if you're not huge into gaming.
Movies
  • Machete is brilliant trash. Interestingly, Rodriguez takes the opportunity to address politics and make a point about immigration. This sort of hand-wringing would normally be annoying, but the mixture of polemic with gloriously over-the-top action, gratuitous nudity and violence, is actually pretty well balanced. On their own, those two elements would be cloying or frustrating. Mix them together, and you've got something altogether different, and it works really well. Also working well, Lindsay Lohan in a bit of self-aware stunt casting (I can't really say that the role "transcends" that with a straight face, but it does go further than simple exploitation). Not working so well: Jessica Alba. She's fine for most of the movie, but when it comes time for her to give an inspirational speech, it's kinda embarrassing. Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, and Don Johnson (!?) are great. Robert De Niro and Steven Seagal are kinda sleepwalking through their roles, but they're fine. In the end, it's trashy fun, and I have a feeling it will stick with me more than other trashy summer fare.
  • The American, on the other hand, is slow, ponderous and ultimately pointless. A promising start, but rather than build on that, the tension evaporates as the film slowly grinds its way to an unsurprising conclusion. Poorly paced and not much to it...
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Beer Wars. A documentary about beer, featuring a pretty good cross-section of the craft brewing leaders in the US, as well as some interesting behind-the-scenes info about legal side of things and how the laws impact the rest of the distribution chain. Really, it's just fun to see interviews with some of my favorite brewers, like the guys from Dogfish Head and Stone brewing, or the Yuengling owner (who seems to get drunk and spill some beans). If you like beer, it's well worth a watch.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week That I Haven't Even Seen Yet: Mother. This Korean thriller made waves in the film-nerd community earlier this year, so it's on my must watch list. Seems noirish.
Books The Finer Things (aka Beer!)
  • Brewery Ommegang is probably my favorite brewery in America, and I recently managed to get my hands on some of their more uncommon brews. BPA is a Belgian-style pale ale. Not as hoppy as an IPA, but also not quite as tasty as Ommegang's other beers. An interesting experiment, but not something I see myself turning to very often. Bière De Mars, on the other hand, is great. I think Ommegang's standards are pretty tough to beat, but that one holds its own. It's a seasonal beer and a limited batch; the one I found was from 2008. It was well worth the wait. There are a bunch of other Ommegang seasonals or specialty beers, but the one I really want to find is the Tripel Perfection. The Tripel is probably my favorite style of belgian beer, so I'd love to see Ommegang's take on it.
  • Some interesting stuff in my fridge: Saison Du BUFF is a collaboration between three local breweries. This batch is from Victory, but the formula was created by Victory, Stone, and Dogfish Head. I saw a case of the Dogfish Head somewhere, but didn't want to buy it until I tried it out. Also in the fridge: Fantôme Saison (this comes highly rated, but I haven't seen it around until now), and a few pumpkin or Octoberfest ales.
And that's all for now.
Posted by Mark on September 05, 2010 at 07:24 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tasting Notes...
So Nick from CHUD recently revived the idea of a "Tasting Notes..." post that features a bunch of disconnected, scattershot notes on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. It sounds like fun, so here are a few tasting notes...

Television
  • The latest season of True Blood seems to be collapsing under the weight of all the new characters and plotlines. It's still good, but the biggest issue with the series is that nothing seems to happen from week to week. That's the problem when you have a series with 15 different subplots, I guess. The motif for this season seems to be to end each episode with Vampire Bill doing something absurdly crazy. I still have hope for the series, but it was much better when I was watching it on DVD/On Demand, when all the episodes are available so you don't have to wait a week between each episode.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: The Dresden Files. An underappreciated Sci-Fi (er, SyFy) original series based on a series of novels by Jim Butcher, this focuses on that other magician named Harry. This one takes the form of a creature-of-the-week series mixed with a bit of a police procedural, and it's actually pretty good. We're not talking groundbreaking or anything, but it's great disposable entertainment and well worth a watch if you like magic and/or police procedurals. Unfortunately, it only lasted about 12 episodes, so there's still some loose threads and whatnot, but it's still a fun series.
Video Games
  • A little late to the party (but not as late as some others), I've started playing Grand Theft Auto IV recently. It's a fine game, I guess, but I've had this problem with the GTA series ever since I played GTA III: There doesn't seem to be anything new or interesting in the game. GTA III was a fantastic game, and it seems like all of the myriad sequels since then have added approximately nothing to its legacy. Vice City and San Andreas added some minor improvements to various gameplay mechanics and whatnot, but they were ultimately the same game with some minor improvements. GTA IV seems basically like the same game, but with HD graphics. Also, is it me, or is it harder to drive around town without constantly spinning out? Maybe Burnout Paradise ruined me on GTA driving, which I used to think of as a lot of fun.
  • I have to admit that this year's E3 seems like a bit of a bust for me. Microsoft had Kinect, which looks like it will be a silly failure (not that it really matters for me, as I have a PS3). Sony has finally caught up to where the Wii was a few years ago with Move, and I don't particularly care, as motion control games have consistently disappointed me. Sony also seems to have bet the farm on 3D gaming, but that would require me to purchase a new $5,000 TV and $100 glasses for anyone who wants to watch. Also, there's the fact that I could care less about 3D. Speaking of which, Nintendo announced the 3DS, which is a portable gaming system with 3D that doesn't require glasses. This is neat, I guess, but I could really care less about portable systems. There are a couple of interesting games for the Wii, namely the new Goldeneye and the new Zelda, but in both cases, I'm a little wary. My big problem with Nintendo this generation has been that they didn''t do anything new or interesting after Wii Sports (and possibly Wii Fit). Everything else has been retreads of old games. There is a certain nostalgia value there, and I can enjoy some of those retreads (Mario Kart Wii was fun, but it's not really that different from a game that came out about 20 years ago, ditto for New Super Mario Brothers Wii, and about 10 other games), but at the same time, I'm getting sick of all that.
  • One game that was announced at E3 that I am looking forward to is called Journey. It's made by the same team as Flower and will hopefully be just as good.
  • Otherwise, I'll probably play a little more of GTA IV, just so I can get far enough to really cause some mayhem in Liberty City (this is another problem with a lot of sequels - you often start the sequel powered-down and have to build up various abilities that you're used to having) and pick up some games from last year, like Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Movies
  • I saw Predators last weekend, and despite being a member of this year's illustrious Top 5 Movies I Want To See Even Though I Know They'll Suck list, I actually enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong, it's not fine cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but it knows where its bread is buttered and it hits all the appropriate beats. As MovieBob notes, this movie fills in the expected sequel trajectory of the Alien series. It's Aliens to Predator's Alien, if that makes any sense. In other words, it's Predator but with multiple predators and higher stakes. It's ultimately derivative in the extreme, but I really enjoyed the first movie, so that's not that bad. I mean, you've got the guy with the gatling gun, the tough ethnic girl who recognizes the predators, the tough ethnic guy who pulls off his shirt and faces the predator with a sword in hand to hand combat, and so on. Again, it's a fun movie, and probably the best since the original (although, that's not really saying much). Just don't hope for much in the way of anything new or exciting.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for reasons expounded upon in Sunday's post.
  • Looking forward to Inception this weekend. Early reviews are positive, but I'm not really hoping for that much. Still in a light year for movies, this looks decent.
The Finer Things
  • A couple weekends ago, I went out on my deck on a gorgeous night and drank a beer whilst smoking a cigar. I'm pretty good with beer, so I feel confident in telling you that if you get the chance, Affligem Dubbel is an great beer. It has a dark amber color and a great, full bodied taste. It's as smooth as can be, but carbonated enough that it doesn't taste flat. All in all, one of my favorite recent discoveries. I know absolutely nothing about cigars, but I had an Avo Uvezian Notturno XO (it came in an orange tube). It's a bit smaller than most other cigars I've had, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Again, a cigar connoisseur, I am not, so take this with a grain of salt.
  • I just got back from my monthly beer club meeting. A decent selection tonight, with the standout and surprise winner being The Woodwork Series - Acasia Barreled. It's a tasty double style beer (perhaps not as good as the aforementioned Affligem, but still quite good) and well worth a try (I'm now interested in trying the other styles, which all seem to be based around the type of barrel the beer is stored in). Other standouts included a homebrewed Triple (nice work Dana!), and, of course, someone brought Ommegang Abby Ale (another Dubbel!) which is a longtime favorite of mine. The beer I brought was a Guldenberg (Belgian tripel), but it must not have liked the car ride as it pretty much exploded when we opened it. I think it tasted a bit flat after that, but it had a great flavor and I think I will certainly have to try this again (preferably not shaking it around so much before I open it).
And I think that just about wraps up this edition of Tasting Notes, which I rather enjoyed writing and will probably try again at some point.
Posted by Mark on July 14, 2010 at 07:38 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

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