Beer

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)

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)

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…

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)

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)

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)

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)

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…

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.

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 <a href="Predator“>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.