Archive for September, 2010

Slate does homebrew – Slate V

Friday, September 24th, 2010

I love that “populist” sites like Slate highlight homebrewing with videos like this.  It gives people who wouldn’t otherwise attempt homebrewing a bit of motivation, especially when it’s being done by a cute, quirky girl.  It would have been great if she had mentioned all the information and help you can easily find on the Internet, but we can’t have it all!  Her experience with brewing is the common first-brew story I always hear, and it’s a good one.  “I didn’t know what I was getting into”, “it wasn’t as hard as I thought”, “I’ll probably do it again”, “My beer turned out much better than I thought”, etc.  My only nit pick is that she served the beer in the bottle instead of giving people glasses to drink from.  Classic rookie mistake! 😉  Always serve your homebrew in a glass to give it a moment to breath and open up!

21st Amendment – Back in Black

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

These tasting notes on the 21A Back in Black come with a bit of an interesting story.  It’s a Friday night in San Francisco and I’m off to see a show at the Great American Music Hall called WootStock.  It’s basically a geekfest nerdcore show staring none other than Wil (Wesley Crusher) Wheaton, Adam (Mythbusters) Savage, and a musical duo called Paul and Storm.  Lolz were had and I was able to meet Wil and Grant Imahara (also of Mythbusters), which was all very cool.  My friend had made Wil a shirt (back story here) and so as thanks he bought us a round.  That’s right, Westley Crusher paid for our beer.  It was awesome.  Nuff said.  By this point you’ve guessed that the beer I selected was the 21A’s Back in Black, Black India Ale.

Other than the fact that I love the 21A and nearly everything they produce, my primary interest here was to try another commercial example of a Black India Ale/Cascadian Dark Ale (whichever you prefer) and compare it to my own attempt at the style, which is now a nicely matured brew of its own. Back in Black has a very nice, but not overbearing roast malt flavor that you would expect from the dark malt additions. It’s a bit more malt forward than the one I brewed, and I admit, I rather liked the upfront dark roast character. As expected, the dark roast quickly gave way to the the hops and it faded fast into a IPA feel and flavor, which I still find somewhat magical and is why I’m so enamored with this style of beer. The hops were exactly what you’d expect from an IPA, I’m guessing
somewhere in the 70-ish IBU range with definite citrus notes of the Pacific Northwest hops. I ended up sucking down 5 of these over the course of the evening, discretion being the only reason I didn’t rage on with more.

As with many of the 21A’s beers, this one came in a can, which is really starting to catch on with the craft brew world, and rightly so. I’ve had their Brew Free or Die IPA and Water Mellon Wheat in both the can and fresh off the tap without noticing much difference between the two. Cans really are mini-kegs.

Letters to a Young Brewer – Equipment

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

When you first start out on the brewing odyssey, you’re first stop is the equipment kit isle at your homebrew shop.  I’ve covered this before in the How To section, but I thought I’d take a different tack on it this time.  See, there are those that will buy a basic kit for around $200, brew once or twice and then unload it on Craig’s List for $50.  Then there are the others of us who will brew on it 5 or 6 times, get the “fever” and then start going bat-shit crazy picking up new gear and upgrading everything until we’re $1000 into it and have no idea where the money went.  It’s that second group of people that I’d like to address.

Truth be told, if you really really knew, deep down, that you wanted to brew and that you were going to do this for the rest of your days no matter what your significant other says, then there’s actually a few ways to get a hold of a totally bitchin’ rig on the cheap.  First, let’s just jump straight to all-grain brewing.  You know you’re gonna do it, so why bother avoiding it?  It’s not like it’s hard, nor does getting a rig that is setup for all-grain exclude the odd extract brew.  Second, skip the kits at the homebrew store.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re priced at a bit of a premium and since you’re just going to go for it, you’ll want to save some dough for larger ingredients purchases you’re going to make.

Option 1: Scan Craig’s List.  There are always people who, for whatever crazy reason, buy in WAY too big and never use the gear.  It ends up taking up space in the garage, and one day they just dump it on CL for 1/3 of what they paid for it.  I see it quite a bit.  If you have around $1000 (sometimes less) you can score a full brew sculpture with pumps and chillers.  The worst thing you may have to do is purchase new high-temp hoses and give the kettles a good scrubbing.  The down-side to this is that it may take some time for one of those super sweet deals to pop up, so some level of patience may be required.  I don’t have that so I went with option 2.

Option 2: Locate a kitchen supply outlet.  There are two kind of these – ones that say they are kitchen outlets and knock off $5, and those that are overstock dumps for importers of stuff from China.  Guess which one you want to find?  The “restaurant supply stores” take the same stuff that you get from the Chinese supply store, but they’re usually not the direct buyer, so there’s not much savings to be had there.  So find the direct importer either near you, or on the intertubes, and get things like kettles, burners, large stainless spoons and digital thermometers from them.  For example, I picked up the exact kettle that my homebrew shop sells for $350 for $180.  No joke.  Same brand name and everything.  Next, if your using coolers for a mash tun, check out Costco.  You can get 75qt coolers for $40.  Pick up your stainless fittings (faucets and hose barbs) from McMaster-Carr.  If you’re putting together a ghetto rig like mine you can do a 10 gallon setup for under $500.

Option 2.5: Can you weld?  Well then you are in business!  Taking the same tack as option 2, you can weld up a free standing brew sculpture with just a few weekends of work. Though I’ve never priced it out, I have it on pretty good authority that you can put a system together for $1000 or less.  There are plenty of plans available on the Internet for you to choose from.  If I had the mad welding skillz, I would be doing this.  Here’s a guy who got one together for under $800!

Perhaps I can save somebody out there some big money.  I know I certainly would have benefited from knowing some of this stuff when I started out.

“Letters to a Young Brewer” or, “Unsolicited Advice You Didn’t Know You Needed”

Monday, September 13th, 2010

When I don’t get the chance to brew for several weeks in a row (my wife keeps us on the move pretty much constantly in the summer) I spend some time scanning the homebrew forums, looking for insights. Sometimes I find them, most the time I just find anecdotal BS passed off as wisdom, but hey, it’s the internests, so take it as it comes. I very often see posts by new brewers asking a series of questions that the seasoned vets among us don’t spend much time thinking about, but probably should.  So I thought I might do a quick rundown of the things I’ve learned brewing and pass along my own anecdotal BS wisdom. I think I may do this as a weekly.

Fermentation practices seem to scare the bejesus out of new brewers, perhaps rightly so, but I see lots of hand-wringing about it on the forums, so I thought I’d start there.

It can be said that sanitation in all elements of brewing is the most important thing you can do at all times, and you would be correct. However, if you accidentally touch the wort when transferring it to the kettle, or have to scoop out a stupid bee that decided to end it all by kamikazeing into your collection vessel (don’t ask), the boil will take care of most issues such as this. Do feel free to stomp on the bee and swear at its mangled corps once you have it out of the wort. No one could blame you for that. However, once the boil is done and the cooled wort is transferred to the fermenter, there is no safety net. I follow a few steps to mitigate contamination in the fermenter:

  1. Right about the time I have the boil started and the first charge of hops thrown in, I retrieve the fermenter(s) and give them a quick rinse just to get out any dust or loose “stuff” that may be hanging out.
  2. I fill them about 1/3 full of warm water and dump in about 5 tbsp of PBW powder, swish it around in the fermenter until I feel it’s mostly in solution, then fill it up the rest of the way.  I’ll let the fermenters sit like this for about 45 minutes while the boil is going on.
  3. After a good scrub with a cleaning brush, I then dump and rise the fermenters with warm water.  I usually rinse 2 or 3 times with about a 1/2 gallon of warm water each time to be sure the PBW is out.
  4. I then mix up a 1/2 gallon of warm water with about a tbsp of Star San, dump it in the fermenter, cap the fermenter with aluminum foil, then swish the sanitizer all around the vessel.  At this point, you have done about all you can to insure that there are no “bugs” in your fermenters.
  5. Just before I move the chilled wort to the fermenter, I give the sanitizer one more swish around, dump out the excess (no rinse needed for Star San), then drain in the wort from the kettle into the fermenter.  From that point you can add the yeast and aerate the wort by your preferred  method, cap with your airlock and store it for the primary fermentation.

Happy brewing!