Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Hey, that seltzer ain't free!"

So said Krusty the Clown in the classic Simpsons episode, "Bart's Inner Child." However, it's virtually free in our house now that we've got Ten Percenter Seltzer on tap in our kegerator. I think it's a pretty cool idea for those who want more variety than just keeping one type of pop on tap, so I figured I'd briefly write about it.

Our kegerator has four taps, and the last tap is dedicated to a non-alcoholic selection (usually some kind of pop, or--for those of you who don't live in the green portions of this map--"soda"). Initially, my plan was to make up some red creme soda once we ran out of our Swearengen's Old Tyme Root Beer. However, in doing some research for my recipe, I discovered that cream soda was originally mixed up in soda fountains (and yes, I should've known that without having to do research; thanks for pointing it out), and this got me thinking. Before I got into coffee drinks I used to always buy Italian sodas at Starbucks. And Leah and I both love strawberry sodas (the ice cream kind, that is). It seemed like simply having seltzer on tap would give us more versatility, and I kinda liked the whole throwback quality of soda fountains.

My one concern, though, was that it takes much more CO2 to carbonate water than it does to carbonate beer. In fact, some places suggest over 40 psi for water, as opposed to the 12 psi I generally use to carbonate beer. Since I only have one CO2 regulator, and my hose is cut to the appropriate length for 12-15 psi of pressure, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to dispense seltzer from the same system. Of course, the only thing I had to lose was some CO2 so I decided to go for it. I carbonated my water to a relatively low level (around 25 psi) and it seemed pretty comparable to store-bought seltzer. Then I hooked it up to my kegerator at 12 psi and it seemed fine! It didn't fizz over or anything, and a week later it seems just as carbonated as before.

So there you have it. We'll see if I discover problems down the road, but for now having seltzer on tap seems like a pretty good deal to me. It gives you a lot of flexibility to experiment with various drinks; Leah will even do half cranberry juice and half seltzer and it's pretty damn good! Now if only I could figure out the right mix to replicate Barq's Red Creme Soda...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Quick Metro update

I just wanted to take a second while I'm on my lunch break to mention that, starting tonight, Metropolitan Brewing's Flywheel Bright Lager will be on tap at the Handlebar, Risque Cafe and Hopleaf here in Chicago. (If you missed it, I blogged about Metro--Chicago's newest production brewery--earlier this week). I'll probably stop by the Handlebar around 12:30 tomorrow afternoon for lunch and a pint. I recommend you do likewise!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mmm... bacon.

So, I'll get to the bacon in a second, but first I have to take care of a little housekeeping (or, more specifically, record-keeping). This past Sunday Leah and I bottled our Folsom Prison Gluten-Free Stout. We used 3/8-c. corn sugar to prime it. The final gravity was a bit high at 1014, but at three weeks I (perhaps foolishly) assumed it has to be done fermenting. Hopefully no exploding bottles will ensue.

The other thing to note in my records is that I cleaned my kegerator lines on Monday (January 19). I'd like to clean them every couple months, so hopefully I'll remember in late March.

And now, to prove that everything's better with bacon, I give you...

[...DRUM ROLL...]

Chibebräu with bacon!

(A tip of the hat to Jonathan at beermapping.com for the link and amazing bacon thread.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

A trip to Metropolitan Brewing!

(from left to right, Doug, Dorrie and myself chillin' at Metro.)

I've often said that one of the coolest things about homebrewing is the people you meet. I guess there's just something about beer that attracts incredibly friendly and helpful people. Sometimes that can lead to disappointment, like when one of your favorite brewmasters decides to bolt for Oregon. But you know that old saying about how when God closes a door, he opens a window? Well, I guess it's true (even if a little impractical... have you ever tried crawling out of a window?) because while Chicagoland beer geeks are losing Flossmoor Station's Matt Van Wyk, they're gaining a brand new production brewery courtesy of Doug and Tracy Hurst. And Doug and Tracy just happen to be good friends of ours, so last night we headed up to the Ravenswood neighborhood and checked out Metropolitan Brewing. I figured I would share some pictures.

Dorrie climbs up to check out the mash tun with a little help from Tracy. They'll be mashing and lautering in the same vessel, just like most of us small-time homebrewers! Of course, they'll be mashing and lautering about 30 times what I do...

Here are the fermentation/lagering tanks. Unlike most craft brewers, Metro will specialize in German-style lagers. When we first arrived, Doug poured me a Zwickel (unfiltered lager) straignt from one of the tanks. Because it was both young and unfiltered, it had a noticeable yeasty/sulfury quality that kind of reminded me of a fresh Gose. Good stuff! Oh, and on a side note, all of their tanks are named after secondary Star Trek characters. I've always wanted to have a job where I need to name multiple items so I could name them all after secondary Simpsons characters (I know that sounds weird, but I got the idea while a grad student because one of my profs named all of his network drives after Pixies songs). Sadly the opportunity has not yet presented itself.

Dorrie walks down the steps from the mash/lauter tun and brew kettle. An out-of-focus Doug is enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Kegs! Kind of hard to have a brewery without kegs, right? Metro taps should be popping up in Chicago's better bars within a month.

"Heeeeeeeeeeeeere's Dorrie!" Okay, so she didn't proceed to chase us all with an axe like Jack Nicholson did in The Shining, but that picture totally reminds me of it.

If you want to check out Metro, you should go see BEER, a puppet show about beer (duh!) produced by the Neo-Futurists that's actually going to be performed in the Metropolitan brewery itself! Leah and I will be at the Friday, January 30th performance.

Afterwards, we went back to Doug and Tracy's apartment, where they treated us to a wonderful dinner and we proceeded to have an Altbier tasting. The tasting was the first step toward crafting their spring seasonal I-beam Alt. Knowing what an Altbier geek I am, they willingly listened to a good hour of me rambling on about my beloved German ale. I just can't wait until the day when you can pick up a real, Düsseldorf-style Altbier from the shelf of an American liquor store. In the meantime, if you happen upon a Metro taphandle, be sure to try a pint. Here's to craft lagers shared (and brewed!) among friends.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New label gallery

It's a little known fact that I designed my first beer label a good two years before I actually brewed a beer. I often post a picture of my label when blogging about a new brew, but a few times people have asked to see all my labels at once. With that in mind, I decided to create a Flickr account just for my labels. You can check it out by either following this link or clicking the new permanent link in the right frame. Pretty cool, huh?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Operation Dunkelweizen: Brew Phase (or in the alternative, Brew Day: Cloud-to-Cloud Dunkelweizen)

After tasting some tasty Dunkelweizens and developing a recipe, the time finally came to brew the beer with which we will celebrate our son's (or possibly daughter's, if the ultrasound tech goofed up) birth. While this one will have a special "It's A Boy!" label (as illustrated to the left; I decided to blur out the name in case we change our mind in the next month), future versions of this recipe will be called Cloud-to-Cloud Dunkelweizen (as illustrated further down in this post). The brew day had a few snags--what's new?--but nothing I couldn't deal with.

After having a few online discussions, I decided to skip a protein rest, do a regular saccharification rest, and do a decoction for the mash-out (as opposed to my previous method of using the decoction to go from the protein rest to the sacc rest). As such, I started to mash in with 167°F water at a 1.25 qt./lb. ratio. However, after adding half the grain I realized something: I had forgotten to re-attach the mash tun manifold to the hose out before adding the sparge water and half the grain. This meant I had to scoop out half the mash, tip the mash tun so the remainder flowed away from the manifold-hose connection, and re-attach the manifold. And all that maneuvering meant I ended up mashing in around 141°F. Crap! I heated up another two gallons to near boiling and added that to the tun to bring it back in the 154°F range; I didn't even bother to take the mash temp at that point because I didn't want to waste any more heat. I fear it may not have totally done the job, as by the end of the 60-minute rest my temps were in the upper 140's again. Oh well.

After that I decocted 9 quarts for a 15-minute boil and returned them for a ten-minute mash-out rest. I recirculated for fifteen minutes and sparged for 1:15, collecting 12 gallons (about a half-gallon more than I needed, but no big deal). During the boil I ran into my second problem... I couldn't find my carboy brush, and my three carboys (a 6.5-gallon one and two 3-gallon ones) were all still a bit dirty from after I racked the Munich Helles. We searched all over but couldn't find it. Fortunately, my buddy Paul--who lives a block away--was home, so I was able to snag his. However, this meant frantically rushing to get everything set up to chill the wort, and I ended up boiling about 75 minutes instead of the intended 60. I was probably better off doing a 75-minute boil anyway, but it made the last half-hour of the boil quite frantic.

When it was time to chill, I got to bust out my new toy: a Thrumometer. It was pretty sweet, though I learned that slight changes in the flow of the hose water can really affect the temperature of the wort. In any case, I ended up with probably 11 gallons of wort at around 72°F. I also got a gravity reading of 1054, a couple points above my target. That's particularly good considering I also had a high yield. I figure this was due to mashing out. I pitched a 1000mL starter of White Labs WLP300 Hefeweizen yeast, and I'll let it get started at room temperature before throwing it into my chest freezer tomorrow morning.Not a bad day, over all. And despite the fact that it snowed all day, the temperature sat right around 28°F the whole time so I never got too cold. Now I'll just have to wait and hope the Dunkelweizen doesn't come out too thin. Of couse, I'm guessing by the time the little one's here I'll have more pressing things on my mind than mouthfeel and final gravity!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Operation Dunkelweizen: Recipe Phase

As I've posted about before, Leah and I are brewing a Dunkelweizen to hand out when our second child arrives on or around Feb. 14. Here were my concluding thoughts after tasting five different Dunkelweizens:

"Now that I've tried all five, I'm thinking my beer will actually be somewhere in the middle of all of these. I hate to say it because it sounds like a cop-out, but I would like the melanoidin sweetness of the Bonfire, a little of the toastiness of the Erdinger, the copper hue of the Ayinger, and the subtle caramel and cocoa notes of the Franziskaner."

So what did I come up with? This:

10.00 lb Wheat Malt, Ger (2.0 SRM) Grain 50.0 %
5.00 lb Munich Malt (9.0 SRM) Grain 25.0 %
3.00 lb Pilsner (2 Row) Ger (2.0 SRM) Grain 15.0 %
1.00 lb Cara Munich I Malt (34.0 SRM) Grain 5.0 %
0.50 lb Cara Munich III Malt (66.0 SRM) Grain 2.5 %
0.50 lb Chocolate Wheat Malt (400.0 SRM) Grain 2.5 %
1.80 oz Tradition [4.90%] (60 min) Hops 14.1 IBU

The two main things I wanted to avoid were too much roastiness and too dark of a color. By going mostly with Munich malt and just a touch of chocolate wheat malt for color, I figure I should get some nice sweet, chocolatey flavors without getting any roasty bitterness. And Beersmith estimates this will clock in at 15.6 SRM, which is about as light as you can get and still fit within the style guidelines. Overall, it's still a little higher than I would like on the crystal malts, but I'm going for broad appeal here as opposed to German authenticity, so I think it'll work.

I made a 1000 mL stater of WLP 300 Hefeweizen yeast (I actually prefer WLP 380 - Hefeweizen IV but my local homebrew store was out of it) on Tuesday and we should be ready to roll when I brew tomorrow. If only it were going to be a few degrees warmer--the forecasted high is 25°F--but such is the life of a Chicago brewer. Until tomorrow...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Chibebräu Wine update

Do you get the above cartoon? I don't. Maybe it's because I'm not a wine guy. But I'm trying, honestly. And that's why I started Chibebräu Wine. I've already reviewed two wines in this young year, and if you know something about wine I invite you to comment so I can (hopefully) learn a thing or two. If you don't know anything about wine, I invite you to comment so I can realize I'm not the only moron. I can't imagine I'll ever be as passionate about wine as I am about beer, but a little knowledge can't hurt, right?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Reflections on a Weihnachtsbier

(From left to right, our F5 Altbier in the Schumacher glass, Füchschen Weihnachtsbier in the Füchschen glass, and our F6 Sticke Alt in the Uerige glass.)

So, immediately after acquiring a principal's ransom in excellent German beers unavailable in the U.S., I came down with a cold. As any good beer geek knows, smelling is key to tasting beer and you just won't catch all the subtleties of a beer if your sinuses are all stuffed up. Well, my nasal passages finally cleared up and I decided to bust out my Füchschen Weihnachtsbier, one of the crown jewels in my recent score. While it's a stronger version of their regular Altbier, at 5.2% ABV it's less than one percent higher than a traditional Alt. Anyway, I figured I would jot down some thoughts for me to keep in mind when re-brewing my Altbier.

First of all, here are my tasting notes:

Aroma: Pours a brilliantly clear deep amber with an ample off-white head. Smell: The straw-like smell of noble hops co-mingles with sweet, bready munich malt. Taste: Interestingly, a somewhat pithy herbal hop taste greets the tongue. However, it quickly gives way to a wonderfully sweet malt flavor, with notes of sweet breads, honey and even a hint of sweet lemon. A crisp, earthy noble hop bitterness--characteristic of Duesseldorf Altbiers--gives this beer a nice finish that keeps the sweetness well in balance without leaving it overly bitter. A perfect balance of malt and hops. Mouthfeel: Typical of an Altbier, it's fully carbonated but not overly so. Drinkability: The wonderful balance of this beer lets you easily come back for more.

I had a chance to enjoy this side-by-side with both of my Alts (one brewed with WLP029 yeast and the other with WLP320) and overall I thought mine compared somewhat favorably. However, there were two main distinctions, one of them significant and the other less so. The less significant distinction was my beer was somewhat more bitter. I have a tendency to underhop my beers so I guess I went overboard the other way. The bigger difference, though, was a subtle sweetness in the Weihnachtsbier that I just didn't pick up from my beer.

This leads to my big question... Do I up the CaraMunich or up the mash temp? My inclination is to increase the CaraMunich, as my concern is that upping the mash temp will increase the mouthfeel and I don't want a thicker beer, I want a sweeter beer. Seems like CaraMunich would fit the bill. However, my recipe is already around 5% CaraMunich and as crystal malts aren't traditional for the style, I'm hesitant to increase it. It's not that I'm beholden to tradition, but if German brewers are able to get more malt sweetness out of just Pils and Munich malts, I want to learn how to do that too!

Here's the other possibility I see... I did a single decoction with a saccharification rest temperature of 152°F. A lot of the instructions I've read for decoctions call for rests between 155 and 160°F. Obviously when you're brewing Hefeweizens and Pilsners you're not looking for a "thick" beer, so I wonder if there's something about a decoction that allows you to use a higher rest without increasing mouthfeel. I really should do some research on this, as it will probably determine whether I up the CaraMunich or up the mash temp next brew.

Oh, and one other thing I'd like to do is add 2.5% CaraHell malt. According to a buddy of mine on BA who knows Altbier way better than I do, a little CaraHell will cut the harshness of the hop finish and that sounds like a good idea to me.

So those are my thoughts regarding the Weihnachtsbier and my Alts. I probably won't post on every German beer I received shortly before Christmas, but I'll definitely have something to say about the Goslarer Goses so stay tuned. Prost!