Friday, October 30, 2009

FotoFriday #17

Hopefully the above picture will encourage those who claim they can't brew anymore because they have kids. Or shame them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Devil made of honey; devil made of honey.

So, for our Mr. Kim's Secret Microbrew, I noted that I would be enriching it with honey. Well, this past weekend we stopped at V's Bees, the apiary of Buzz and Marcia Vahradian, which is just minutes away from my parents' cottage near Wautoma, Wisconsin. I had talked to Buzz ahead of time and he had three pounds of honey set aside for me.

When we arrived at the apiary, Jonas had fallen asleep so I told Leah I would just run in and pick up the honey. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't tell Leah to wake up Jonas and bring the kids in. It turned out Buzz and Marcia were actually collecting and bottling honey that weekend. I was inquisitive and Buzz was happy to show me the process. (This is where I would post the awesome pictures Leah took... had I gone outside and told her to come in. Yes, I'm an idiot.) The process can be simplified as follows: First, the wax that covers the honeycombs is sliced off, releasing the honey. Next, the honeycombs (which are in slats that slide into boxes) are placed into a centrifuge roughly the size of a keg. The centrifuge spins up and the honey is forced to the outer edge where a spigot is located. The honey then flows out of the spigot where it's collected. It's really that simple (though I'm sure Buzz would tell you getting to that stage isn't so simple).

I think that when you make something yourself--even something like beer, where you're dependent on farmers and maltsters and microbiologists to get you your raw products--you gain an even greater appreciation for people who make other things, and it was really cool to see how Buzz and Marcia produce their honey. It's even inspired me to make mead some time soon (and next time I stop by the apiary I'm making sure Leah--and her camera--is in tow). Oh, and the honey's really good too. It's wildflower honey, and while I'm no honey expert by any means, it's way more floral than the clover honey you get at the store. Thanks to Buzz and Marcia for showing me around; I'll make sure to have some beer with me next time I stop by!

Having purchased the honey, it was time to add it to the beer tonight. Now obviously, since we had already brewed the beer, we didn't add the honey to the boil. Like anything with volatile flavors or aromas, boiling would have killed virtually any character the honey could add. However, adding the honey to the secondary poses its own issues. Namely, how do you avoid bugs? Like many unconventional (or quasi-unconventional) brewing processes, there's no one answer. This BYO story suggests pasteurizing it over 2.5 hours, diluting it to the gravity of the beer, and then adding it. Others (including many meadmakers) suggest doing nothing, suggesting that the likelihood of contamination is minimal at best. You can get a feel for the various arguments in this thread.

Well, I wussed out and decided to pasteurize my honey by heating it up to ~175°F and then keeping it in our oven, set to 180°F, for a little over two hours. I chose not to dilute it afterward, but did add some fermenting beer from the carboy to thin out the honey so it would pour more easily. I took a gravity reading of the honey (diluting it in water, of course) and calculated its specific gravity as 1.044 per lb./gal. This would make the equivalent starting gravity of the beer (in other words, the actual starting gravity plus the honey contribution) 1068. On a related note, the beer itself was down to 1021 before the honey addition. After the honey, the gravity should be roughly 1033. I'll be getting the rest of the honey to Mark and Marlowe to add to their batch; I'll leave it up to them to figure out how they want to add it.

Oh, one other thing I did this evening... I made a starter for our Scottish Export/Christmas Ale that we're hoping to brew on Saturday (2.5 gallons will be aged on vanilla beans, and that's what will differentiate the Christmas Ale from the regular Scottish Export). I suppose I should come up with a recipe for that some time soon...

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was bottling for an upcoming homebrew competition tonight (more on that in a future post), and I ran into a problem. I had soaked four bottles in Oxiclean to get the labels off but three of the bottles were old returnables that used some hardcore glue. I wouldn't think it would be an issue at the competition but technically the bottles are supposed to be clean and these were downright sticky. I tried scalding hot water, scrubbing, even scraping with a knife to no avail. I was almost off to the store to by Goo Gone when I decided to do a quick Google search on household products that take glue off of glass.

The winning suggestion? WD-40. Now obviously you don't want to get any IN the bottles, so I put plastic wrap over the tops of the bottles, but saturating the glued area with WD-40 and wiping vigorously with a paper towel took the glue right off. Just to be safe I soaked the bottles in some more Oxiclean before sanitizing and filling, but I was impressed with how well the WD-40 works. And after bottling, I took a close whiff of each bottle and didn't notice any solventy smells. I know other people run into similar issues so I thought I'd pass along the tip. And, to whoever first posted this online, I say: brilliant!

Rock Bottom Brewer's Dinner on Monday

As I posted in greater detail over at the HOPS! Blog, the Rock Bottom Brewer's Dinner is coming up this Monday. Leah and I used to be regulars... and then we had kids. Well, my awesome sister said she could watch the little ones so we're getting back on the horse. If you're in Chicago, I highly recommend that you come out and join us (we made our reservation this morning, so they still have a few spots left). A good time is guaranteed to all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy 30th Birthday Leah!

Yesterday I was married to a beautiful, twenty-something award-winning homebrewer/stay-at-home-mom/blogger extraordinaire (even posting a few times on this blog!)/photographer/Red Wings fan (yeah, nobody's perfect)/best wife ever. Today I'm now married to a beautiful, thirty-something award-winning homebrewer/stay-at-home-mom/blogger extraordinaire/photographer/Red Wings fan/best wife ever. And for the record, it IS the same person. So happy birthday Leah! To celebrate (as much as we can on a work day with two kids under the age of four) we'll be heading out to Flossmoor Station for dinner. Here's to a new decade on this planet and many more adventures together (some of which might not even have anything to do with beer!).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Final analysis: Hoar Frost Oktoberfest

Last year we had some issues with our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest (check out the spin I put on it in this post). Then, I ordered an Oktoberfest import at a local beer bar that turned out to be in the style of a non-export Oktoberfest, which is more like a slightly stronger Helles than it is the copper lager they send Stateside. Between these two experiences, I decided to scratch last year's recipe and start from scratch. Having brewed a Helles fairly recently, I didn't want to make it exactly like the domestic German Oktoberfests, but I wanted it to be more like the domestics than the imports so I settled on a grain bill of 50% Pils and 50% Munich malts. The brew day went well. Now here are the results...

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen. Orig. gravity: 1055. Final gravity: 1014.
ABV: 5.4%. IBU's: 25.

Appearance: The picture above is a bit deceiving between the background and the fact that I poured the beer into a 1-liter Maß. The color is a tad darker than a typical light lager, but not as dark as the Spaten or Paulaner Oktoberfests you find in your local liquor store (at least here in the U.S.). It's sort of a deep honey color; exactly what I was looking for. And since this was the first beer I filtered, it's nice and clear.

Smell: This is probably the sweetest-smelling beer I've ever brewed without crystal malts. It's that bready sweetness you only get from Munich malts. No noticeable hop aroma, no DMS, no esters or phenols. Nice.

Taste: Initially, a grainy Pilsner flavor greets the palate. However, as the beer sits in your mouth you start to pick up the depth of the Munich malts. I can't really think of any word to describe it other than malty. A nice, herbal grassy finish from the noble hops makes this far more balanced than the malt-forward Oktoberfests of Munich, but with time it's mellowed out quite well (initially when I brought this to my homebrew club's meeting as part of an Oktoberfest tasting it was more abrasively hoppy than any German varietals).

Drinkability: Yeah, you're drinking the one liter at a time whether you like it or not.

Overall: I'm really happy with this beer. I like the simplified malt bill. I like the melanoidins. I like the color. The only thing I'm thinking for next time is maybe drop the IBU's to an even 20 and perhaps up the gravity just a couple points. It may have been a little rough around the edges when I first tapped it, but now it's an easy drinker, perfect for throwing back while hanging out with friends or watching football or--best of all--both.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brew day: Mr. Kim's Secret Microbrew (California Common)

Today we had a full house for brewing. As I explained earlier this week, we had been talking with my good friends Mark and Marlowe about collaborating on a beer, and I found inspiration in the awesome TV show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Today we would put our plan into action. Additionally, my friend Mike--a fellow Rock Bottom Mug Clubber--expressed interest in seeing how all-grain brewing works, so he and his wife Melissa stopped by to help out as well. The only bummer was that Marlowe ditched us. In her defense, she had to work until 1pm or 1:30 or something like that. But seeing that we didn't wrap up until almost 4pm, she could've come over for a good two hours, so I'm officially considering us ditched.

Anyway, the brew day itself was pretty straightforward. We mashed in at 154°F at 10:10am, and I added a half-teaspoon of acid blend (as is my custom with light grain bills). I ended up heating a little more sparge water than necessary (for future reference, 8.5 gallons is pretty much the max for our hot liquor tank) so by the time we heated up the water and started recirculating it was 11:20. We collected 12 gallons by 1pm and reached a boil by 1:10.

We went with a 75-minute boil, with a bittering hop addition of Simcoe and German Tradition hops initially, a flavor hop addition of Simcoe and German Northern Brewer (along with Irish moss) at 15 minutes, and an aroma hop addition of Simcoe at knock-out. I also meant to add a half ounce of Northern Brewer at knock-out, but I didn't really mention that to Mark, so while I was cleaning up I found the remaining Northern Brewer hops. I'm figuring it won't be a big deal, and if it is I can always dry-hop with the remaining hops.

It took at least a half-hour to chill and fill both carboys. We ended up with a final gravity of 1057, which is a couple points below our pre-honey target OG, but we ended up 11.5 gallons instead of the 11 we planned, and we had an extra half-gallon in the kettle that we had to dump because we didn't have the capacity. For whatever reason, it seems like my boil-off rate has been inconsistent lately. Regardless, our efficiency seemed pretty good. We pitched a decanted one-gallon starter of WLP 810 San Francisco Lager yeast.

We'll give it a couple weeks for primary fermentation and then we'll be adding three pounds of Wisconsin wildflower honey. According to Beersmith, that will add another ten gravity points, so I'm expecting the beer to have an "effective" original gravity of 1067, leaving us with a beer around 6.5% ABV. Stay tuned to hear how the honey addition goes.

EDIT: Woke up this morning (the next day) and there was a good inch-and-a-half of foam on top of the carboy. I had left the carboy out in the basement (~62°F) to get started, and now that it's fermenting away (with an internal temp of 66°F, I should add) I've thrown it in the chest freezer set to 55°F. Ordinarily I'd be inclined to go with 60°F for a steam beer, but since Mark will be fermenting his at around 60°F I figured it would be interesting to ferment mine a little cooler to see what kind of difference it makes with the finished product.

Friday, October 16, 2009

FotoFriday #16

The Isle of Skye Brewing Co. in Uig, Scotland.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Next up: a California Common with a twist

I know I reference the Simpsons probably once every two posts on this blog, but right now my favorite show on television--by far--is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. A couple of years ago they had an episode in which their bar, Paddy's, was threatened by a new Korean restaurant called Mr. Kim's, which was producing a top-secret microbrew. Not only was is delicious, but it was also powerful. The secret? It's enriched.

Anyway, this episode inspired me to come up with a recipe for Mr. Kim's Secret Microbrew. Assuming plans haven't changed, we'll be brewing with our good friends Marlowe and Mark (proud proprietors of Zoo Brew) who are also big fans of Sunny. Mark had expressed interest in brewing a California Common (a/k/a steam beer) so I started with a Common-ish grain bill (12 lb. Pils, 12 lb. Munich and 1 lb. crystal 30°L--like I said, Common-ish) and decided we'll enrich it with a pound of flaked oats and three pounds of wildflower honey (added to the secondary). Not sure what I'll use for the finishing hops, though I guess Northern Brewer is traditional.

For tonight, I'll be making 4-liter starter using WLP 810 San Francisco lager yeast. Then Saturday it's showtime!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Kids Need Beer Too!

Okay, so kids shouldn't really be DRINKING the beer. But, malt, hops, yeast, and water are good for you no matter what your age!

I found a spectacular and easy recipe today that is easy, very tasty, and bakes off the alcohol so the kids can enjoy the homebrew. The best part? It makes baking with a 3 year old less messy because everything goes in the same bowl! (Baking with a 3 year old is one of those things that sounds WAY more fun and idyllic than it actually is.)

This recipe for beer bread took Dorrie and I about 10 minutes to throw together, then it baked for an hour. It came out of the oven about half an hour before Russ got home, so it had a bit of time to cool. We all really enjoyed it once it was baked too (including Jonas, who kept eating from his chunk of bread and then turning around and looking at me like "YOU HAVE BEEN HOLDING OUT ON ME WITH JUST THAT MILK, WOMAN!").

I used 12 oz. of the sticke altbier for the recipe. Afterwards I was kicking myself for not using the Black Moon, since altbier is so hoppy. But it turned out wonderful, so I'm guessing it would be pretty darned good no matter what beer you use.

FotoFriday #15

Making a yeast starter. I don't know why I like this picture (there's nothing that exciting about a starter), but I do. Maybe it's the thermometer probe that makes it feel like some sort of mad scientist's experiment.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Man, these guys will let ANYBODY on their show...

One month after having me on to pimp the HOPS! Oktoberfest party, Steve Mosqueda of the Drinking & Writing Radio Show interviews HOPS! member Tom Saldana (that's him on the left in the Schlitz shirt) for the October episode. If you didn't take my advice and listen to last month's show, take my advice and listen to this month's show (available here). And if the chat with Tommy isn't enough, listen for coverage of the Great American Beer Festival and an interview with beer author extraordinaire Ray Daniels. It's good stuff.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Introducing the HOPS! blog

If you're one of the three people that read my blog regularly, you've noticed that from time to time I mention my homebrew club, Homebrewer's Pride of the Southside (or HOPS! for short). Well, we've finally entered the 21st century and created a blog to keep people up to date on HOPS! news, pass along info about Chicago-area beer events, and generally discuss homebrewing. I'm one of four contributors to the blog, and we're hoping that between the four of us we can both inform and entertain. Check it out at if you get a chance, especially if you're here in Chicago.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Best . . . Oktoberfest . . . EVER.

See all those kegs above? Yeah, that was maybe one third of the beers we had on hand for this year's HOPS! Oktoberfest. My homebrew club's Oktoberfest rocks every year, but this year it rocked especially hard. Why, you ask? Well, in no particular order:

1. This was the first year in recent memory that we SOLD OUT. Like, had-to-turn-people-away-at-the-door sold out. (Actually, it kinda sucked that some people just assumed they could get tickets at the door like in years past, but we can't get in trouble with the fire marshal.) The crowd was huge but not crowded. It was beautiful.

2. We had donations from the awesome brewers at Flossmoor Station, Goose Island, Gordon Biersch-Bolingbrook, Half Acre, Metropolitan, Rock Bottom-Chicago and Rock Bottom-Orland Park. Each shared some incredible beer with us and I encourage anybody reading this to support them.

3. Our best friend Stephanie flew in from Lubbock, Texas just to attend (well, she also came in to see her goddaughter Dorrie and go to the Bears-Lions game and do a bunch of other things, but the bottom line is she was there).

4. The Polkaholics (right) rocked.

5. The beer and food were awesome. In all the years I've gone, I can't think of more than two beers that I didn't like.

6. I didn't feel like crap the next morning.

7. The VFW has turned into a great venue. We've messed around with the set-up since our first year there in 2007. This year I think we finally got the set-up just right. Even with intermittent rain, people managed to stay pretty dry.

8. Everybody in the club worked their ass off to make this a success. Well, maybe I worked half my ass off; others worked a lot harder than I did!

I think I had some other comments to make about Oktoberfest, but those are the ones I can think of right now. For those of you who couldn't make it this year, I hope you get there next year--once you go you'll never miss it again. Zigi zagi zigi zagi oi oi oi!

P.S. Thanks to Paul for the pictures; I completely forgot my camera yet again. [And a quick edit... according to Paul, fellow HOPS! member Brian Blaauw took the last picture.]