I didn’t post about it, but I bottled up the oatmeal stout I made last month. And because I can’t do anything the same way twice, I used one of those five liter keg thingies. The not-entirely-local homebrew shop here in Jersey carries them, so I picked up a couple. The stout went filled one minikeg and two 12 ounce bottles. One bottle to test and one to give to a friend of mine. The test bottle was cracked a week ago after about ten days of conditioning and it was tasty enough, so that was nice.

Then I threw a party.

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I made the mistake of telling a friend/co-worker/homebrewer that I was getting back into the hobby after a two year hiatus. Now I can’t not brew anything because then I’ll look like a jerk. Normally I don’t mind looking like a jerk, but somehow this feels different.

Digging through some old notes, I found a recipe that looked like it would be hard to screw up. I had all the grain on hand and my homebrewer friend was kind enough to pick up some yeast and hops for me. So at 9:30 on Saturday night, I fired up my kettle.

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Man oh man. I suck at this whole blogging thing. It’s been almost two years since I last posted anything and most of my posts have started with something like “I’m back” or “I’ve been gone for a while” or some other crap.

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Brown ale, in just about any of its varieties, is probably my favorite style of beer. Northern English, Southern English, American, even the granddaddy Old Ale – I love ’em all. So today’s beer is going to be a big winter American brown. Here are the basics:

Big American Brown
3.5 Qts
1.75# Marris Otter
1.5 oz British Crystal 50 – 60L (I like the character it gives over the American 40L or 60L)
1 oz Chocolate Malt
0.75 oz Victory (I like the toastiness this gives brown ales)
0.375 oz Willamette @ 90 min
0.167 oz Willamette @ 35 min
0.125 oz Willamette @ 0 min
WLP001 Yeast

My methods were a little different this time from the last brew, but not much. First off, the grain crushing. I read on the More Beer forums that some people were using a blender to “crush” their grains. It seems easy enough, so I gave it a go. Read the rest of this entry »

I bottled my first beer of the season tonight, though I’m not sure what it is. It was an experiment to test the beer-in-a-bag process as seen in this post on The Brewing Network forums. The process worked great, but I didn’t bother putting together a recipe and just threw hops in all willy nilly. That was kind of dumb.

The final product is seven bottles of what I’m going to call a blonde ale. It dropped from 1.043 to 1.010, which gives it about 4.3% ABV. The hydrometer sample was a little more bitter than I had wanted (probably due to my low original gravity), but I’ll just let it sit and mellow out for a while before I make a final judgment. And I saved the yeast cake so I can make some more beer this weekend without running out on Friday to buy and overpriced vial of White Labs from the local shop. This time I’ll throw a recipe together beforehand, though.

The real point of this post, and most of my posts really, is to say that if you think you a) can’t brew beer or b) can’t brew all-grain beer, you’re wrong. It’s easy and you can do it in your kitchen in not much time and without that much space. So get to it.

There’s a food market in central New Jersey near where my parents live called Delicious Orchards. They’ve got lots of great fruits and veggies, gourmet coffee and tea, chocolates and candies from places I’m not sure actually exist, cheeses, cakes…you name it. But the best thing they have is apple cider. Awesome apple cider. They make these killer apple cider donuts with it that are painfully good. Painful because I eat too many and get a stomach ache. That good.

So one day I decided I’d try to make some hard cider with some of this stuff. I mean, I’ve got all this equipment for fermenting things and I love cider, so why not? They sell two kinds: regular and tart. I’ve never actually had the tart, but I’m sure it’s good. For this experiment I bought a gallon of the regular stuff. The process was simple – dump some cider in a gallon jug, chuck in some yeast, pop an airlock on it and wait. I used some ale yeast I had sitting around, probably WLP001 California Ale but I honestly can’t remember and I lost the notes for this. I don’t even remember when I did this, because I only just found the bottles of it this morning. The bottles are labelled “Cider 7% 6-20-08” so I’m guessing I threw it in the primary in April, secondary in May and bottled in June. But that’s a wild guess. Read the rest of this entry »

I was away for a while but now I’m back. It doesn’t really matter why but here’s a quick summary for those who care (i.e., nobody): There were some ruined batches and some equipment failure at the beginning of the summer and then I didn’t feel like brewing and then I didn’t have time. This morning I had the urge and the time so I did. The end.

This tiny batch brewing was getting on my nerves. The tiny batches themselves are fine but my inability to hit my targets and brew a successful beer as planned is a real pisser. So I put together a new plan for mashing that simplifies the whole process (I think) and ran a test batch to see how it works.

Here’s the basic approach: I mashed in the kettle with the crushed grains tied up in a mesh bag and sitting on a metal steamer basket at he bottom of the pot (that kept the grains from scorching). Doughed in with all the pre-boil water needed. The grains absorbed some water so I poured boiling water over the grains after mashing until the water was back to the volume I needed (a tea kettle, wire mesh strainer to hold the bag of grains and a pre-marked metal ruler to gauge the wort volume worked perfectly for this). I used a candy thermometer to keep an eye on the mash temperature and hit the kettle with some flame whenever the temp dropped too low.

Easy right? No mash tun to worry about, no stuck runoffs, no juggling multiple pots of water at different temperatures for mashout and sparges and all that crap. I got this idea off one of the homebrew forums and adapted it to my stovetop brew. I think it’s something the Aussies call “brew in a bag” or something. I don’t remember and I don’t feel like looking it up right now. Point is, it was easy and it seemed to work. I used 2 pounds of 2-row for this just to see what kind of efficiency I’d get then picked out some hops based on the pre-boil gravity. Here’s a basic rundown (yes, I took notes, shut up):

2 lbs Domestic 2-row
0.5 oz Styrian Goldings (2%AA) @ 60 minutes
0.25 oz ” @ 30 minutes
0.25 oz ” @ 5 minutes
Mash @ 155F for 60 minutes
Pre-boil volume = 6.75 qts
Pre-boil SG = 1.027 @ 60F
Post-boil volume = 4.5 qts
Post-boil SG = 1.043 @ 60F

As you can see, the post-boil volume is way higher than the 1.050 or so I was expecting based on the pre-boil SG. I guess I misjudged the boil-off rate. No big deal, really, because it still looks like a decent beer to me. The brewhouse efficiency is about 65%, which I’m fine with. I don’t really care what the number is as long as I can get that number each time, or close to it.

So that’s the method I’m going to use for the next batch and just try to dial in the boil-off to nail my SG. The whole thing took 4 hours from getting stuff out to putting everything away and was WAY easier than the way I’ve been doing things. I even cooled the wort down in a sink of ice water rather than use the immersion chiller. This may be the easiest way to brew all-grain I’ve ever come across. 3 liters on the stove mostly with equipment you have around the kitchen anyway. Awesome.

Conclusion: I’m brewing again and it looks like this might be a successful first beer of the season. Huzzah!

A symbol of man’s hubris

I’ve been gone for a little while, but I’m back now.  I had some business trips and then I was sick and then I had to travel again.  But now that I’m back I have some funny stories for you all (both of you reading this).  Well, not so much funny as depressing.  See I’ve had some beer related failures lately and since I’m an honest guy I’m gonna tell you all about them.

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You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new for a couple of days. The fact is, I haven’t brewed anything in a couple of weeks – mainly because all my fermenters are full and I don’t want to rush my beers (and cider). Also, this week I was out of town visiting a manufacturer for work. While this may not sound like the story is getting exciting any time soon, I promise that beer is involved. One of my co-workers (let’s call him J.) knows that I am a sucker for a good beer so he recommended a local brewpub called Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster, PA. I trust this kid so the first night we were in town we drove out there.

Below is a basic overview of their current beers. Keep in mind that I didn’t take notes or anything while I was there because I didn’t want to look like a tool. Also, I was – and continue to be – suffering from a pretty bad cold so my senses of taste and smell were (are) dulled. But the place was cool so I think it deserves a review anyway.

So for 7 bucks you can get a sampler which contains a 4 ounce glass of every beer they have on tap. Not just five or six of their pre-selected favorites – but ALL ELEVEN BEERS! That is fucking brilliant. They get an A+ for that alone. But how was the beer, you ask? Here’s a brief rundown of my recollections:

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Let’s stop talking about our (my) problems for a minute and talk about something cool – like gadgets. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem when it comes to gadgets and tinkering. It could be that I’m an engineer and that’s just the way we work, but I think it’s deeper than that; I think it’s genetic. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a TV repairman back when there were actual vacuum tubes in those things (TV’s not grandfathers). And my father is always building, repairing or modifying something in his house – currently he’s bugging me to get some infrared emitting diodes so he can make a bunch of battery-powered Wii sensor bars…for real. It only makes sense that I’m a tinkerer – and infuse all my hobbies with that tendency. I put together mash tuns from Igloo coolers and made a little wort chiller from some cheap copper tubing from the hardware store. So what would be next? Behold!

You are a blinding brilliant light from heaven.

Now I may be biased, but that has got to be, without hyperbole, the coolest damn thing mankind has ever and will ever know.

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