Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The plan keeps coming up again...

Late summer is always a bear for us when it comes to brewing. See, there are three different events that we need to plan for: my church's Oktoberfest party, my homebrew club's Oktoberfest party, and our Novemberfest party. We generally bring one keg to each of the Oktoberfests and have three kegs for Novemberfest, so that's 25 gallons of beer right there. Since we can brew 10-gallon batches, that translates to three brew days with three different styles, two of which need to be ready by late September. This year we're planning on brewing an Oktoberfest/Märzen, an Altbier and a Schwarzbier.

Now the tricky thing with planning is making sure we have adequate space for everything. You figure the lagers will need at least three weeks in our temperature-controlled chest freezer for primary fermentation, and the Alt will need around two. After primary, we have a fridge in the garage we can use for lagering, but that only holds three kegs. Of course, if the chest freezer is being used for primary fermentation, that means we can only lager three kegs at any given time. Therein lies the problem.

There's also the issue of timing. If I need at least three weeks in primary for each lager, that means the brews have to be staggered three weeks. And if it takes roughly six weeks for the lager to be ready overall, that means nine weeks before two batches of lager can be ready. Looking at my calendar, that means I have to brew the first beer by August 1st for everything to be ready by the 25th. Oh, and we have a baby due six days before August 1. Hmm...

For now I think the easiest solution is to try and brew our first beer (probably our Oktoberfest) sometime in early July. Then it gives us a little more flexibility for a brew day in August. And then we can brew the Altbier in late September, thus avoiding any issues with refrigerator space. This does run the risk of Leah going into labor during a brew day, but if that happens I guess we roll with the punches.

In the meantime, it looks like we'll have to put our Rauchbier on the backburner (my buddy Mark and I want to try smoking our own malt in an effort to duplicate Schlenkerla's Fastenbier). Nonetheless, between the brewing and the baby it looks like late summer/early fall is going to be rather busy!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Brew day: Step Leader ("It's a Girl!") Hefeweizen

We're now down to one month before Leah's due date. For each of our first two kids we brewed a beer to hand out instead of cigars (a Kölsch for Dorrie and a Dunkelweizen for Jonas). Since baby #3 will be arriving in the dog days of summer, we figured a traditional Hefeweizen would be a good call this time around. And since, as I just noted, we're now a mere month from the due date, I had to brew this weekend to have it ready by then. So I headed out to the garage despite a high temperature of 91°F to brew some Weizen!

Given the heat and the fact that I had been out rather late the night before (I trekked up to the North Side to see Ween at the Aragon) I decided to go with a simple infusion mash rather than a decoction. It actually ended up being one of my most efficient brew days ever. I mashed in at 152°F (hitting my target exactly!) at noon; I went with 1.5 qts./gal. instead of my usual 1.25 to avoid stuck sparge issues (my grain bill was 54% wheat and I didn't have any rice hulls on hand) and added 1/2 tsp. acid blend to keep the pH down. I started recirculating by 12:45; collected wort from 1:00-2:30; boiled from 2:30 to 3:45 and chilled down to 70°F by about 4pm. I pitched a 1000mL starter of WLP 340 (Hefe IV) yeast. I finished at 1052, one point above my target. The carboys are now sitting in my chest freezer at 64°F.

The only issue I ran into was that one of my hose clamps broke while pumping from the kettle to the plate chiller. I was able to improvise but I will now be sure to keep an extra clamp or two on hand just in case.

While the brew day went well, I did have one slight beer emergency... I tried our Roggenbier which had been conditioning at room temperature for the past month and, um, apparently we shouldn't have left it at room temperature for a month. Yup, sour. The good thing is it's a clean sourness and actually not too bad. My thought is to add some raspberry extract and make it sort of like a fruit lambic. I'll bring it to our next HOPS! meeting and see what people think.

Anyway, lots more brewing coming up as we get into Oktoberfest season, but for now we've got to get ready for another addition to the family. Pray for us; we'll need it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beerfly Alleyfight Revisited

Last year I kept saying I would do a recap from Beerfly Alleyfight but sadly I never got around to it (and my sincere apologies to Naomi Ashley, the wonderful singer-songwriter we were paired with that year who performed an awesome song inspired by our Somethin' Else India Black Ale). So this year it may have taken me a little over a month to post about the 2010 Alleyfight, but compared to last year that's practically realtime!

Anyway, as I posted about a while back, we brewed a Cocoa Puffs-infused Dunkelweizen we called Kokopüffenweizen. We paired that with mini Swabian soft pretzels encrusted with Cocoa Puffs crumbs and bacon bits for which I came up with the name Eine Kleine Schwabische Schweinenkokopüffenbrezeln. The day before the Alleyfight I tasted the beer and was disappointed to find that it wasn't very Cocoa Puffy. This surprised me because the last beer we brewed with Cocoa Puffs, our Cocoa Puffs Stout, had a very pronounced Cocoa Puffs flavor so I cut down on it this time, especially considering that this was lower gravity than our last offering. However, I suspect that the somewhat drier quality of the Dunkelweizen combined with the phenols and esters meant more flavors competing with the Cocoa Puffs while the sweet, roasty flavors of the export stout enhanced the flavors. Bottom line was it needed a kick, so the night before I threw a couple cups of Cocoa Puffs in a muslin bag and I dry-puffed it.

The next day, I still found both the aroma and flavor to be subtle. I mainly picked up the Cocoa Puffs in the finish. Reviews from folks at the Alleyfight were mixed in terms of the Cocoa Puffs contribution... some said it was way pronounced while others said they couldn't notice it at all. This was entirely consistent with my experience with both vanilla and peat-smoked malt; I guess different people have different taste thresholds. Overall, however, the beer got very positive reviews, and the keg kicked fairly early. I also thought it paired well with the pretzels. Obviously wheat beers and pretzels go hand in hand, and both the Cocoa Puffs and bacon bits were subtle enough to give a little sweet and salty complexity without being overpowering. I was definitely proud of our offering overall (even if the pretzels took WAY longer to make than I anticipated).

Now, we had a good idea of how our pairing would turn out. The real mystery of Beerfly Alleyfight is the art. The artists tend to be pretty tight-lipped about their creation, so we waited in anticipation for Laura Grey and Laura McKenzie (who just happened to draw the last performance of the Alleyfight) to take the stage. As a little background, Laura and Laura recently concluded a run of their original show, "The Laura on Laura Comeback Tour." It was about two teachers who decide to throw off the shackles of the classroom and follow their dream of becoming rock stars. It's absolutely hilarious but kind of hard to explain so just go to their Youtube feed here and check out some of their performances.

Anyway, they reprised their roles as Laura and Laura the teachers (as opposed to Laura and Laura the actresses) for Beerfly Alleyfight and performed an absolutely hilarious song about--oddly enough--Kokopüffenweizen. Much like their show, it's hard for me to explain the song and do it justice, and unfortunately I'm not sure if anybody videotaped it. But to give you an idea of what was going on, check out this pic of their performance:

As soon as they were done I knew they had the best art award wrapped up. It was funny. It took a lot of talent. It totally integrated both the spirit of the event and our beer specifically. And it had a vibraslap.

Sure enough, when it came time to announce the winners, Laura and Laura took home the Best Art trophy! Given how great their performance was, the announcement was about as surprising as hearing that Mayor Daley has won reelection. We didn't win best beer, which didn't surprise me given how many other great beers there were. But there was one award left... best overall pairing of beer, food and art. Considering how well Laura and Laura integrated our beer into their performance, and also how well-received our beer was, I honestly believed this was our chance to finally win a Beerfly Alleyfight. And when they announced the winner, it was...

...not us. Oh well. We will remain the Susan Lucci of Beerfly Alleyfight. But that's fine because we had yet another great time with great food, great beer, and great art. I had lots of friends involved and I won't bother to mention them all because I'm sure I'll leave people out, but I will give a shout-out to fellow blogger Brian Mitchell of the Daily Ikura and his wife Euni. Brian brewed a slightly soured wheat that was a wonderful balance of complexity and drinkability, and he and Euni whipped up some Vietnamese subs that Leah is still raving about.

So thanks again to Laura Grey and Laura McKenzie for the time and effort they put into the Alleyfight. That's Laura Grey to the left of Leah and Laura McKenzie to the right of me with the coveted Alleyfight trophy. Sadly (for us Chicagoans, at least) Laura Grey recently moved to New York so I'm not sure if she'll be performing anything around here any time soon, but if you ever get a chance to see anything involving either Laura, DO IT. And then afterward, buy them a beer and ask them to write a song about it. But you might have to provide your own vibraslap.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Back in September of '06, Leah and I brewed our S.O.B. ESB, named in honor of then-Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz. Who would have imagined that just under four years later the very same Chicago Blackhawks would hoist Lord Stanley's Cup???!!!

In honor of this momentous occasion (49 years in the making), I'm planning on brewing a Stanley Cup Coffee Stout. Here's the trick... I'd like to use espresso beans from roasters in each of the cities the Blackhawks went through in their quest for the Cup (for non-hockey fans, that would happen to be Nashville, Vancouver, San Jose and Philadelphia). Since it's really about the symbolism, a handful of beans sent in a business-sized envelope will do. Hell, they don't even have to be espresso beans. Anyway, I'll be in Philly next week so I think I'll be able to take care of that city myself, but if anyone in Nashville, Vancouver or San Jose happens to read this (and yes, I realize this is a long shot) and is willing to help me out, shoot me an email at rchibe @t gmail d0t c0m.

In the meantime, I'd just like to state one more time... THE BLACKHAWKS ARE STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, June 04, 2010

FotoFriday #23

Okay, this one requires an explanation. When Leah and I add Cocoa Puffs to beer (in this case, our Kokopüffenweizen) we mix the Cocoa Puffs with water and bring it to a boil, which creates a pudding-like mixture. After adding the mixture to the secondary, Jonas discovered there was a little bit left in the sauce pan. As you can see, he really liked it.