Friday, April 29, 2011

Supreme libations derive from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcicial aquatic ceremony!

There are lots of reasons today's royal wedding annoyed the crap out of me. From a political standpoint, I find the monarchy--stripped of any actual power as it may be--abhorrent. As a father, I find the notion of little girls looking up to a princess to be ridiculous. And as a fan of the WGN Morning News, I was annoyed that 75% of what I watched this morning was taken up by live coverage of the procession.

But this is a homebrew blog, so I just wanted to take a second to point out one huge, beer-centric reason to be offended by the wedding: there will be no beer there. (Sorry, BrewDog; I'm assuming that includes your Viagra-laced beer brewed especially for the occasion). As reported by respected British beer scribe Pete Brown, a spokesperson for the royal family declared that beer "isn't really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen's presence at such an occasion." I don't think I need to tell my two readers (hi Mom and Dad!) why that is a completely absurd statement. While I'm a huge critic of Barack Obama (and lest you start making assumptions, I was a huge critic of George W. Bush, too), at least I can take pride in living in a country where our leader intentionally chooses to hash out issues over a cold beer rather than avoiding it for fear it will make him look like a commoner. It seems like a slap in the face of Britain's awesome brewing tradition, and I have to assume that somewhere, J.W. Lee, John Bird Fuller, Henry Boddington and Barclay Perkins must be humming "God Save the Queen" (and I'm not talking about this version; I mean this one).

On a side note, I stole the image above from an old Chuck Sudo post on I assume the pictured woodcutting has entered the public domain, but if you happen to come across this, Chuck, and it turns out you actually did the woodcarving yourself, I owe you a beer at this year's Drinking & Writing Festival. ;-)

Monday, April 11, 2011

So, about Germany...

As I've alluded to a couple times recently, Leah and I will be heading to Germany with our youngest in tow in about a month (my mother-in-law will be coming down to graciously housesit and watch our two older kids and our dogs, so any would-be burglars out there shouldn't get too excited). Our last trip to Germany, four years ago, was planned entirely around beer. While it was amazing, the one bad thing was we didn't really have too many experiences where we just stopped in a random pub and had a local Pils or Weizen. As such, most of this trip will be based on non-beer factors and we'll take our beer as we find it.

We know where the trip begins and ends. We're flying into Stuttgart and will make Tübingen (home to the Neckarmüller brew pub pictured above) our home base for the first few days. Nine days later we'll end up in Düsseldorf, where I'll stock up on Altbier (notice I said most of the trip will be based on non-beer factors, not all of it). What we don't know is what we're doing in between. Currently we're thinking of spending a few days in Heidelberg, but we're open to other ideas (particularly ones that are off the beaten path, though still accessible by train). If anybody has any suggestions or recommendations for towns to visit, attractions to see, or bed-and-breakfasts to stay at, feel free to leave a comment below. Prost!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Brew day: Trans-Continental RyePA

This year is the fifth annual Beerfly Alleyfight. Leah and I have been fortunate to participate every year since the first Alleyfight in 2007. But this year, there's a problem: we'll be in Germany on May 21st, when this year's Alleyfight will be held at the Haymarket Pub and Brewery. Not wanting to be left out, we asked our good friends Klavs and Mary if they'd like to team up with us and take over the gameday duties of pouring the beer and serving the food. They graciously accepted, and we quickly worked on a plan for our beer. Turns out this year's theme is Belgian IPA's, so it's a good thing we asked Klavs since I have little experience with Belgians or IPA's. My one contribution was the idea of using about 20% malted rye; Klavs took care of the rest.

Today they came over to brew (and drink and eat, but also brew). I feel like my posts lately are always about what random thing went wrong. Fortunately today, nothing went wrong. Well, okay, there was one thing at the end of the brew day, but I'll get to that later.

Unlike my crazy German mash schedules lately, this beer was a simple infusion. We mashed in at 152°F (adding 1/2 tsp. acid blend for pH) at 11:20. We recirculated from 11:30-11:50 and collected 11.5 gallons of wort from 12:50-2pm. We boiled from 2:05-3:05 with hop additions at 60 minutes (courtesy of my daughter Dorrie, as you can see to the left), 15 minutes, 5 minutes and flame-out; our late hops were a mixture of Athanum, Amarillo and Cascade. We also added 2 tsp. Irish moss at 15 minutes. We chilled to around 68°F.

The one problem? I took a gravity reading after we chilled: 1064--significantly lower than the 1072 pre-starter gravity we were shooting for. I wasn't sure what the problem was until I looked over our recipe and realized we forgot to add the 2 lbs. of turbinado sugar our recipe called for. Oops. We immediately added a little water to the sugar and brought it to a boil, and then added it to each carboy. I didn't take a gravity reading after that, but according to my calculations it should be 1072. And it only raised our wort temps a couple degrees. Crisis averted.

After adding the sugar, I aerated each carboy and we pitched a half gallon starter of WLP 550 Belgian ale yeast. Now we wait . . . and start to plan our food pairing! I'll post more on that when we figure out what we're doing food-wise. For now, we had a great time brewing, snacking and drinking with Klavs and Mary (and, towards the end, our buddy Chris who's also a HOPS! homebrewer). And remember, if you want to taste the fruits of our labor, keep your calendar open for May 21st. Cheers!

UPDATE: As of Sunday morning our carboy is fermenting away. Hooray for starters!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Brew day: Hail Shaft Pilsener

Way back in 2002, when I first decided I wanted to start brewing, I started designing logos and labels. And while I never seriously considered opening a commercial brewery, I did come up with a flagship beer and slogan. The beer was Hail Shaft Pilsener, and the slogan was "Get Shafted." I think I even designed desktop wallpaper for my laptop with the logo and slogan over the Chicago skyline.

When I started to actually research the practicalities of brewing, I realized I couldn't brew a Pilsener at first because I didn't have lagering abilities. I soon got a chest freezer with an external thermostat so we could do lagers, but we were still brewing with extract and I wasn't sure extract could produce a quality Pilsener. And even though we've been brewing all-grain for over four years now we've yet to brew our flagship beer.

Until now.

Of course, given how long it took us to get around to brewing our Hail Shaft Pilsener, I suppose it's only fitting that it ended up being the longest. Brew day. Ever.

It all started around 8:30am. I had done my recipe the night before and realized I didn't have any CaraPils. I ran to my local homebrew store but I forgot they don't open until 9, so I came back home and did a little cleaning in the garage. I went back about an hour later to find three people in front of me. After about twenty minutes, the last guy in front of me stepped up and said, "Hi, I'm new to brewing and would like to know what I need to get started." I should had jumped in and said, "Hey, do you mind if I just grab two pounds of CaraPils really quickly?" but for some stupid reason I didn't. And I waited another half hour.

Eventually I got home and got the strike water heating. I had invited my buddy Mark over, and while Mark and I have done collaboration brews before, he doesn't have lagering capabilities so I had invited him over to hang out, drink and watch baseball rather than to help with the actual brewing (I feel bad asking for help when I can't send the co-brewer home with a carboy of wort). Well, given the late start I realized I was going to need Mark's assistance. He crushed the grain while I got the mash tun pre-heated, and at 11am we mashed in at 131°F (with 1/2 tsp. acid blend added, as I do for all light beers). My plan was a three-step infusion so I had to start thick (.75 qt./lb.), and I guess it's hard to get a good reading with a mash that thick because a half hour later when we did the next infusion it was at 136°F. Hope that's not a problem.

After the thirty-minute protein rest we added 2.5 gallons of water to raise it to 150°F and get a mash thickness of 1.33 qt./lb. Of course, I never seem to learn that BeerSmith's water calculations don't work for my equipment for whatever reason and it only raised my temp to 141°F. I quickly brought a gallon and a half of water to a boil and added it to get to 150°F.

During the sacc rest I went to pump our sparge water up to our hot liquor tank when I suddenly heard some clicking and then noticed the adapter that powers my pump was glowing. Then the pump stopped. Turned out my cord was touching the brew kettle's stand so the insulation melted and shorted the adapter. Shit. Gotta work a trip to Radio Shack into the brew day.

We did a full hour sacc rest from noon to 1pm and then added more boiling water to get to our mash-out. Unfortunately, because of the extra water we added to reach our sacc rest we could only add enough boiling water to get up to 155°F. Some mash-out. Anyway, Mark let it rest fifteen minutes and then started recirculating while I ran to Radio Shack and picked up lunch (both stops involved more waiting around, evoking painful memories of my trip to the homebrew store).

The rest of the day was much smoother. We collected from 1:30-3pm and I boiled for 90 minutes with hop additions at 90, 60 and 45 minutes. No late hop additions; I'll dry-hop when I lager. I re-wired the new adapter to my pump and it worked just fine so I was able to efficiently chill to around 50°F. By a little past 5pm I collected 10.5 gallons at 1048 (one point above my target). I threw the carboys in my chest freezer to chill to around 45°F, and when I got home from a buddy's beer tasting (around 1am) I aerated and pitched a nice thick slurry courtesy of Doug and Tracy at Metropolitan.

Can't tell if fermentation started this morning or if it's still foam from the aeration, but the beer has warmed up to around 49°F. I'm sure fermentation will start soon if it hasn't already. And once again I'll stress that Mark was a total lifesaver (and he brought me a bourbon that literally has my name on it!) and I owe him several growlers of the Pilsener once it's done.

In the meantime, it's time to turn our attention to this year's Beerfly Alleyfight. Leah and I will actually be in Germany during the event itself (something I keep meaning to post about, and will eventually) so we're pairing up with our friends Klavs and Mary for this year's event. The theme is Belgian IPA's, a style I'm neither experienced with nor even particularly fond of, but fortunately Klavs is a great brewer of both Belgian styles and hoppy North American brews. The event is May 21st, but we'll be getting together to brew next Saturday, so I'll be posting more about our Alleyfight adventures over the next month and a half.