Friday, November 26, 2010

FotoFriday #25

Our keggle (a half-barrel keg converted into a brew kettle).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brew day: None More Buzzed Coffee Stout . . .

. . . or, A Middle Finger to the FDA

So I have to be honest: I was planning on brewing our coffee stout before this whole Four Loko nonsense broke. However, the timing couldn't have been better.

For those who are unaware of Four Loko and the ensuing controversy, I'll briefly summarize. People without functioning tastebuds (or the will to ignore said tastebuds) have been mixing Red Bull and vodka for years now. The makers of Four Loko skip the middleman and produce an energy drink/alcopop that not only has caffeine, taurine and guarana but also 12% alcohol by volume. It comes in eight flavors, all of which are quite rancid from what I hear. (Wanna brew your own? Here's a clone recipe!)

Over the past few months several states have banned Four Loko, and the Food and Drug Administration recently declared Four Loko "a public health concern." Why? Because it mixes alcohol with caffeine. Now the reasoning behind this is absolutely ridiculous. Like most public health scares, people start with a truth (too much alcohol and too much caffeine is not good for you) and comically distort it. College students being rushed to the hospital after drinking Four Loko . . . An despondent Iraq War veteran committing suicide after drinking Four Loko . . . As if these things never happened back in the day when people drank regular ol' alcohol. And, in typical American style, our reaction isn't to warn people to act responsibly, it's to ban the stuff altogether.

Now I know what you might be thinking: "But Russ, I don't want to drink that crap so what do I care?" Well, in the wake of this scare, Michigan has banned a California IPA brewed with Yerba Matte. You can read more about craft brewers' concerns about the fallout of Four Loko Madness here. (And, if you're a dork like me you can also read an interesting First Amendment take on the issue over at

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now, but it really is the perfect time to brew a coffee stout--something I haven't done since the inaugural Beerfly Alleyfight back in 2007. My base recipe is our None More Black oatmeal stout (hence the name None More Buzzed), and I decided to tweak my recipe in two substantive ways. First, I upped my oats from 1/2 lb. to a full pound for five gallons. This was mainly because my local homebrew store sells flaked oats in 1-lb. packages and what am I going to do with the remaining half pound? Second, my previous recipe called for 1 lb. of roast barley and 0.3 lb. of black patent malt. Since the coffee contributes plenty of roastiness, I changed that to a half pound each of roast barley and black patent malt.

The brew day was pretty uneventful with a couple exceptions (as usual). I mashed in at noon at 152°F (a couple degrees short of my target) but when I started to sparge at 12:45 I started getting a lot of grain in my hose. Once again, my manifold had come disconnected. Ugh. After dumping three quarters of the mash out into a stock pot, I was able to reconnect the manifold and I recirculated from 12:55-1:10. I collected six gallons of wort from 1:10 to 2:20.

I boiled from 2:20 to 3:20 with hop additions at 60 minutes, 15 minutes and 2 minutes. I chilled down to 68°F and ended up with 4.7 gallons at 1062. Since I was high in gravity but low in volume I added 1/4 gallon bottled water to get to 5 gallons at 1059.

Now we come to my "I'm A Dumbass" moment that seems to happen at least once every brew day. I recently bought an O2 regulator so I can aerate with pure oxygen, but before buying my own a borrowed a buddy's so I could do some experimenting to see if it made a noticeable difference. Well, long story short, I cracked the cap on my buddy's O2 regulator so I told him when I bought mine we could swap so he wouldn't have to deal with the cracked cap. So yesterday I was using the cracked cap for the first time and sure enough, after about three twists the rest of it broke off.

I could still turn the metal knob without the plastic cap, but it barely stuck up so I had to use pliers to grip it. It was slow going, but it should still work, right? Well, I kept twisting and twisting and twisting and nothing was happening. I started to worry that there was something in the cap that acted as a safety such that it wouldn't work without the cap. I kept twisting and twisting and twisting and still nothing.

Then it occurred to me: I'm probably just out of O2. Now, I had just bought my first O2 canister for my last brew, so there's a good reason I dismissed this possibility earlier. But there was no other explanation; there must have been a leak somewhere. Sure enough, I ran to the hardware store and bought a new canister and--voilà!--it worked. So I aerated and pitched a healthy slurry of yeast courtesy of Bryan at Flossmoor Station and I had fermentation four hours later.

The carboy is gurgling away right now. In ten days or so I'll rack to the keg and add 1/2 lb. of whole espresso beans. It may not be Four Loko, but it'll have to do for now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Solved Mystery

So our Novemberfest party was this past Saturday (thanks to everybody who came out!) and while things went well overall, we ran into one glitch... About three hours before the party, after changing my kegerator lines and cleaning all my hardware, I hooked up all my beers and when I poured my first pint of our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest there was a sound that was somewhere between a whoosh and a gurgle, and the beer shot out as mostly foam.

My immediate thought was, "Not again!" You see, at our Novemberfest party two years ago we debuted our kegerator. I was all excited to show it off but due to a wonky new CO2 regulator all of my beer was way overcarbonated and I had to pour everything into pitchers so people weren't drinking cups full of foam. This year I started carbonating my Oktoberfest by leaving it at 30 psi overnight but I do this all the time and never ended up with overcarbonated beer.

While I couldn't figure out why the beer was overcarbonated, it seemed clear that it was, so I started shaking the keg and purging every five minutes or so. This seemed to help a little but not much. By the time 6pm rolled around I had no choice but to pour half a pint, let it settle, then top it off--and even then it still had an overly ample head. The keg was gone by 11pm so obviously people were able to make due, but nonetheless I was both disappointed to serve overcarbonated beer and puzzled as to what exactly went wrong.

Now fast-forward to tonight... I'm kegging our Snow Squall Christmas Ale, which obviously requires cleaning and sanitizing a keg. I just happened to pick the keg I used for our Oktoberfest beer, and I also just happened to lose my deep-well socket to take off the out valve. As a plan B, I figured I could put the keg under pressure and run some Oxi-clean through the valve.

So what happened when I did that? Same whoosh/gurgle. At that point I realized it wasn't my beer... it was the keg. And my immediate first thought was that it was missing the gasket along the top of the dip tube. A second search turned up the socket I needed and when I pulled off the out valve, sure enough, there was no gasket. Don't know if this will ever happen to anybody else, but just in case I figured I'd post about my experience. As a brewer, when something goes wrong my first thought is always that it's the beer, but don't forget that it might be the equipment.

Anyway, while I'm blogging, a few other post-Novemberfest notes . . . First, I'm guessing we're the first people in the history of Chicago's South Side to ever fly a Baden-Württemberg flag in front of their house. . . . Second, for the first time in the history of Novemberfest all three kegs kicked. While I'm thrilled that everybody liked our beer that much, it meant that I never got a chance to sit down and take notes on our first-ever Novemberfest beer. Just going from memory, I thought it was a very tasty beer. It was definitely hoppy, along the lines of a really hoppy Maibock, and the ounce of Hallertau I used to dry-hop wasn't even that noticeable. My only disappointment was that the 25% rye wasn't that noticeable; I'm thinking cutting down on a Munich a bit might allow it to stand out more. Otherwise I thought it was a success, particularly for being my first shot at a somewhat experimental beer. . . . Having all three beers kick also means we need more beer, stat! As such, I'm planning on brewing our None More Buzzed Coffee Stout this Saturday. . . . Finally, I kegged our Christmas ale into the Frink keg today; the gravity was 1015.