Lookin’ for some hot break baby this evening

posted on January 8, 2009 in beer review, homebrewing

Last night was my first attempt at brewing all by myself.  In fact, it was only my second attempt brewing at home.  It was also the first time I tried to use my new wort chiller and refractometer.  And I chose to brew a lager (which I previously wrote were more difficult than ales).  Probably the easiest type of lager to brew, but a lager, nonetheless.

And, I tried to make guacamole in the meantime.

Guess how it turned out?*  No, not the guac, the guac was actually pretty good.

Center-left: My foil - the guac that undid the best laid plans

Center-left: My foil - the guac that undid the best laid plans

The beer on the other hand, well…that’s a bit of another story.  Of course, I don’t actually know how it turned out; I’ll have to wait an entire month to see if my mistakes actually hurt my beer, but let’s just say I’m less looking forward to trying this batch than MinR Ale.  OK, well I’m quite curious, but in a curious-about-what’s-in-your-tissue-after-you-blew-your-nose sort of way, not a what’s-inside-Willy-Wonka’s-Factory sort of way (I’m watching that movie right now; it’s all I could think to write).

Things started out well enough.  I bought 3 gallons of reverse osmosis water from the Davis Co-op and steeped my crystal malt grains.  I steeped them for half an hour though I am not sure if my water ever reached the suggested 170 degrees F.  Last time I brewed, John commented that my thermometer didn’t seem to be working properly so I didn’t trust it at first.  So, there was problem one, though a minor one.

After removing the steeped grains, I heated the wort to a boil and added the Ultralight malt extract from my MoreBeer kit (Palmer recommends pale malt for steam beers, and I think I would have preferred this, but am sure Ultralight will do just fine), turning the heat down so it didn’t scald the pot.  When I turned the heat back up I added the 2oz of Glacier (bittering) hops and waited for the lovely hot break.  It’s not true a watched pot never boils, but it is true that it can be a bit long boring (especially 3 gallons) - so I entertained myself thus.  I apologize for not sparing you my singing voice but you can at least be thankful I edited out the portion where I spontaneously donned a horrible Sarah Palin impression voice.  I am no Tina Fey.  Though I do have sweet black glasses.

After the hot done broke (ha), I turned the heat down, made sure it was still steadily boiling but wouldn’t boil over, set my timer for 50 minutes, and…ran out to get some tomatoes for my guacamole.  In How to Brew, Palmer lists the “Murphy’s Laws of Brewing” (in the online version, he only lists one, but includes the cool story of how “Murphy’s Law” became famous).  Well, in his next edition, he should include the law “if one is still new to brewing, don’t try to make guacamole while you should be preparing for the next steps”.  I know, I know, guacamole is so easy to make, and the store was just minutes away and all I had to get was the tomatoes (that’s what I thought!) - but trust me: bad idea.  Though I had 50 minutes, I still had to wash my wort chiller and figure it out, and finish sanitizinig everything.  Meanwhile, I was so distracted by the guac I didn’t remember that at 20 minutes left of the boil (not 10 like I had set my timer for), I was supposed to insert my wort chiller and the whirfloc tablet.  Instead, I added the Willamette (flavoring) hops on time (10 minutes left) and hastily added the forgotten whirfloc tablet with only about 4 minutes left.  If my beer’s too hazy, I can probably blame it on that.

I also totally flailed on the wort chiller situations.  In several ways.  First, I inserted it with only a few minutes left in the boil and mistakenly (stupidly) thought that “insert wort chiller” meant to also turn it on.  Only in hindsight did I realize that I was only supposed to insert it to sanitize it, and turn it on after the boil was done.  I know - this is where you’re supposed to sarcastically ask where I went to school.  Sorry, like I said, I had a lot on my mind.  I think this combination of adding the whirlfloc tablet too late and turning on the wort chiller too soon could have pretty catastrophic effects on my beer - making it both hazy and contaminated.  Maybe that’s what I’ll call it.  More than that though, while I was away fussing with my fermentation bucket, the hose from my wort chiller let loose from the sink and sprayed all over my floor.**

There were other problems too, but I am certain I am boring you at this point.  There is, however, one thing I did right: Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scottish Ale is a great brewing beer - the fact that it comes from a can just makes you feel like you’re that much more blue collar.

Lookin' Good Old Chub.

Lookin' Good Old Chub.

I’ve heard a lot about these beers and had been dying to try them; thankfully, the good beer buyer at the Co-op, Tom, recently started carrying Oskar Blues’ beers.  I plan to do a post about the canned craft beer movement soon enough.  For now though, let’s just say they please me :)

*I know I’m not supposed to technically use a question mark there but I did want the “going up at the end” inflection a question mark confers.  I apologize for those of you reading this that aren’t as easily perturbed by grammatical errors as I (or is it me?).  Ugh, that’ll kill me.

**I read a piece in Brew Your Own about green homebrewing (Oct. ‘08) and they had some good tips about trying to save water used by your wort chillers.  As suggested, I tried to save as much water as I could to do things like water plants and run a load of laundry, but it is really astonishing how much water those things can use.  Email me (beermaster@beermeabeer.com)  if you’d like more of the tips.

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Beer, Beer & something…oh yeah, More Beer.

posted on January 3, 2009 in beerventure, homebrewing

I made my pilgrammage to MoreBeer today.  Again, like RRBC, MoreBeer is sort of a beerlover’s mecca - with a face only a homebrewer could love.  That’s because B3 is tucked in a remote corner at the end of “Detroit Ave” in Concord, CA, amonst a bunch of warehouses.  I don’t think I could come up with a more ghetto sounding location if I tried.  However, once you walk in, you’re greeted by a bunch of happy beer geeks, which is about the friendliest atmosphere in the world.  MoreBeer isn’t much bigger than the Home Brew Outlet I went to in Sac, but it was staffed with four times the amount of people, who were each about 10 times more helpful.

Beyond the knowledgeable, friendly staff, B3 also purports a variety of goods beer enthusiasts are into, such a rotating list of several different craft brews (which I wish I had written down - still a little new at this whole blog-reporting thing) you can buy by the keg.  Call them to ask.  As you can tell by the website, their equipment and ingredient inventory is about as extensive as you’ll find anywhere - they boast that they are “The World’s largest single-source provider” of anything you need to make your own beer, wine or coffee…a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering they were started from a garage in 1995 (according to the first ever Sunday Session podcast on the Brewing Network, from 2005, OMG so long ago).

My mission to B3 held 4 main objectives:

1. Purchase a refractometer

2.  Purchase a wort chiller

3.  Purchase a California Common beer kit

4.  Have a general looksee (1.), and get an idea of what I’ll be spending more money on in the upcoming years.


The Ultimate Accessorizer

As for the first two objectives, it’s a bit ambitious for a second-time brewer, and one who still uses a 6 gallon kettle on her stove in her small apartment kitchen to brew, to buy what some might consider more advanced toys such as a refractometer and a wort chiller.  And in fact, it did cross my mind that I might be in danger of becoming what my brother, Seth, describes as an “accessorizer”, i.e. one who gets into a hobby more for the accessories than for the actual activity.  Still, seeing as how I am on a path to get my masters in brewing sciences, I figured it was safe to invest in this hobby.  And unlike when I tried to lock myself into the law school path by signing up for the LSAT, I feel much better about taking a plunge in this direction.


Your faucet is pretty standard, really.

I ended up purchasing the cheapest refractometer - they range from about $60 to $115, so I guess I could have gotten even more committed (a true accessorizer would have gone for the $115 USA-made Fender of refractometers).  I felt the wort chiller was a useful purchase for any brewer - or at least, Palmer made me think so; I also had to buy a faucet adaptor because my apartment doesn’t have a hose.  I didn’t even think about this before I left so I had to hope I bought the right kind of adapter and wouldn’t you know it, it actually fit.

As for the beer kit, I’ve decided my next homebrew will be a California Common, in the style of the ever popular Anchor Steam.  I chose this style for a few reasons: by the time it’s ready it will be February, too late for holiday ales, too early for wheat or lighter color ales, I’m still not ready for real lagers but this beer, because it uses a lager yeast is unique, and it still is a warm enough beer for colder temperatures.  I could’ve gone with an IPA, but I sort of felt that that was a little cliche given their ridiculous popularity out here.  But honoring my move to California by brewing the type of beer the state was first known for somehow seemed less cliche.  I’ve also decided I’m going to attempt to brew this guy all on my own, without the help of my mentor.  Again: plunge.  Things could get interesting.  Stay tuned.

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Mercury in Retrograde Amber Ale

posted on December 24, 2008 in homebrewing

Ambers are a great first-time brewer’s beer. Not too complicated, pretty forgiving, and just plain tasty.

When I went to buy my beerkit at the HomeBrew Outlet in Sacramento, I was so excited to start my homebrewing I wasn’t thinking straight and bought an Oktoberfest ingredient kit. Oktoberfests are not first-time brewer friendly beers; in fact, even many experienced homebrewers are wary of lagers due mainly to their temperature control demands. But it was early October, I was a bit overwhelmed, and all I could think was Oktoberfest. I would have appreciated it if the lone HBO employee gave me some sort of heads up about lagers not being novice-brewer friendly, but sans such advice, I came home with the Oktoberfest kit.

Enter my beer mentor, John. John’s been brewing for a few years and I think has brewed only one lager (a super-tasty pilsner) - not just because he is partial to ales. Lagers are about as temperature-sensitive as a menopausal woman (I’m a chick, I can say that). Without the high-tech machinery of industrial breweries, precise temperature control can be, well, challenging. As Palmer notes in How To Brew (AKA basic homebrewing bible), ales also tend to be a lot more forgiving if off-flavors do occur. So John wisely ordered me ingredients from MoreBeer for an amber recipe he concocted using his nifty BeerTools software when I told him how much I like the Boont Amber Ale we have on tap at the restaurant I serve at.

The recipe for what I later dubbed “Mercury in Retrograde Amber Ale” is the following:

7.75 lb Ultralight Extract
.75 lb Caramel Malt
.5 lb Victory Malt
.5 lb Caramel Malt 120L
.75 oz Horizon (12.0%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min
.25 oz Centennial (10.0%) - added during boil, boiled 10min
.25 oz Amarillo (8.5%) - added during boil, boiled 10 min
1.0 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 10 min
0.25 oz Centennial (10.0% - added during boil, boiled 0.0 min
1.0 ea Fermentis US-05 Safale US-05

We brewed on November 2 and seeing as how we were getting to know my new system and John was teaching me everything along the way, it took about 5 hours to complete everything and get everything clean and sanitized again. Thanks to John, there were no real problems to report.

I let the ale sit in the fermenting bucket (John advised I forgo the glass carboy, especially since it didn’t hold nearly the 5 gallons it was supposed to) until the 25th - a little over 3 weeks. After bottling, I waited until December 10th (two weeks and a day post bottling) to crack open my first one. My next post will give a thorough review of MinR. As a preview, I disclose my first and second draft of the front MinR label and the back label I made using photoshop (also a total noob at that), giving a brief description of the story behind the name and the beer itself.

First Draft
First Draft
Second Draft
Second Draft

Back labels
Back labels
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