Archive for March, 2014

Week 2 Brew 2: The Brown

It’s the second week of The Brown brewing experiment and I am ready to move the beer to secondary fermentation. This is the stage during which the beer settles down and ages. To do this, I used an auto siphon to move the beer from the primary fermentation bucket to another bucket. The auto siphon, sometimes known as a “racking cane”, is a neat gadget that relies on suction to provide a continuous flow up the tube of the device and into a hose attached at the other end. This is much quicker than traditional siphoning using the mouth– not to mention much more sanitary.

IMG_1871This step in the process could not be easier: I merely placed the end of the auto siphon into the fermented brew, attached a 3/8″ hose to the outlet at the top of the siphon and placed the end of the hose into the secondary fermenting bucket. Then I just let it rip, taking care to let as little of the yeast muck into the transfer as possible. This is because beer in the secondary fermentation step is not to be exposed to the dead yeast and other debris (also known as “trub”) that have settled to the bottom of the primary fermenter. This helps avoid off flavors and such in the finished product.

The entire 3-gallon mixture took about 5 minutes to drain into the secondary bucket. After it was done, I just put the lid on the secondary bucket and wrapped it up with a towel like the previous week to keep the temperature more consistent throughout.

Now to wait another week while this does its thing. Then it will be time to bottle this stuff up!

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Week 1 Brew 2: The Brown

IMG_1889The time has come for my second attempt at brewing beer at home. This time I went with a Nut Brown Ale kit from All About Brewing. They have a pretty wide variety of kits to choose from and I seriously debated getting their Irish Red Ale kit as a sort of do-over from last time, but perhaps next time. This time I planned to dedicate myself to correcting as many of the wrongs, or things my inexperience told me were wrong, with the last batch. Not only was I going to sanitize all my equipment properly, but I told myself to read the instructions with a much keener eye. With these things in mind, I set to work.

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First, I compared all of the equipment to the list included on the box to make sure it was all there. After confirming it was, I set to cleaning everything in the box. This cannot be stressed enough for anyone thinking about brewing their own stuff at home: do not assume things are clean out of the box or merely “good enough” with a simple rinse; clean anything that could come into contact with your brew. Use sanitizer, either the stuff that comes in the kit, or if the kit does not include any, just go purchase a food grade sanitizer. Star San is a popular choice, but there are others. It can come in two forms: pre-mixed and the powder you have to mix into water yourself, like making some kind of weird Kool-Aid (although not harmful if it touches stuff you eat or drink from, it is still not recommended you drink it straight.)

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Once I was sure everything was clean, I moved on to the second step, which was to steep the grains. Now, this is the first place we messed up with our last brew, which brings me to my second recommendation: read all instructions CAREFULLY. In this step, you are not boiling the grains, but merely steeping them as with a tea bag in tea. Make sure you have a pot large enough to boil the amount of water appropriate to the amount of beer you want to end up with. This particular kit calls for 6 gallons of water, but I didn’t have a pot big enough for this, so I split a 5 gallon Sparkletts-style container between two pots, with about 3 gallons going into one pot and another gallon boiling in a smaller one alongside it.

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This allowed me to steep the grains in water that got hot enough on an electric stove to get to 170 degrees in a reasonable amount of time (~1 hour). When it got to 170, I removed the grain bag (which smelled delicious, by the way) and added the second pot of boiling water to get as close to the original 4 gallons I had started with. I brought the earthy-smelling water to a boil, which took about another 20 or so minutes, took it off the heat, stirred in the malt extract that was included in the kit, and brought that back up to a boil. At this point, the mixture is called “wort”.

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The malt step was kind of an adventure: I had to keep the canister of syrupy liquid in a bath of warm water to loosen it up and make sure I was able to get enough of the extract into the pot. Then I shook some hot water around the inside to get the last of it and…the canister exploded all over the kitchen. Yep, sticky, syrupy malt extract all over the place. Oh well- you live and you learn.

After it was at a boil again for 15 minutes, I added the bittering hops. The recipe called for a full 60 minute boil with the hops, but I like my beer less hoppy, so I decided to decrease the exposure of the hops. This kit came with a clarifying agent called a Whirlflock tablet. This helps to take any haziness out of the mixture. I added this tablet with about 5 minutes to go in the final boil.

While that was finishing up, I had a buddy watch the boil while I ran to the store to get some ice, as the next step was to cool the wort as quickly as possible. Last time, we used a chiller ring, but we didn’t have one for this brew, so the plan was to put the kettle in the sink and pack the sink with ice around the kettle. I figured direct contact with the metal sides of the kettle would transfer the heat pretty evenly. This process took much longer than I anticipated and about 30 minutes later I had it at 81 degrees. The instructions recommend 70-80 degrees, but I had an appointment in about 5 minutes, so I just wanted to get it done. I figured transferring the mixture to the primary fermenter would cool it down the rest of the way, anyway.

After transferring the 80-degree wort to the primary fermenting bucket, I added the yeast. The kit came with a packet of Safale US-05 yeast, which seems to be a pretty standard choice for making ales. I want to learn more about yeasts and maybe even culture my own someday. So, here is another step where I should have read more carefully, but in my rush, I did not… The packet is a dry yeast, similar to bread yeast, which means that I should have reconstituted it in 90-degree water for about 10 minutes before pitching it into the bucket with the wort. Well, I didn’t do that and just pitched the dry yeast straight into the bucket. This is what we did with our first brew and ended up with very carbonated beer (more on that in the third week).

It was at this point that I remembered something else I wanted to do this time that we had forgotten last time: to take what is called the ‘original gravity,’ which gives an idea of the potential alcoholic strength of the final brew. This measures the fermentable and unfermentable substances in the wort before fermentation. To do this, the kit came with an instrument called a hydrometer. It is a float or buoy with a scale printed on it that essentially compares the relative thickness of the liquid compared to just plain water. This brew came in at about 10% with this initial reading.

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Then I wrapped the fermenting bucket in a towel to keep the temperature somewhat consistent. We’ll see what happens, but for now, as with much of the beer-making process, all I can do is wait and prepare for week two: secondary fermentation.

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It’s Time for a Pint (Part 2)

IMG_1819In case there are any that were not aware, San Francisco is a pretty awesome city. Not only is there a fantastic atmosphere, with the people being about as friendly as you could want, but there is a vibrant Irish culture in pockets throughout the city. In and around Union Square, where we stayed however, there wasn’t a whole lot. It became our mission immediately upon arriving there to seek out the best pubs we could.

That brought us to the main feature of our trip: dinner at Foley’s. This place does indeed have a very authentically Irish feel immediately upon entering; from the whiskey barrels, to the old paintings and 19th century decorative furniture, everything gave the place a nice inviting feel. It’s a larger pub, with a huge open room with a high roof just past the host stand. I suspect the large windows were a product of updated building codes, as traditional Irish pubs try very hard to block out natural light (they are called “Ireland’s sunblock” for a reason).

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We sat at a table under the watchful eye of a Mona Lisa painting, showing her holding a glass of what we assumed was Guiness, with a white beer head mustache. The menu had lots of good selections on it, but they sure knew how to charge, so don’t go in there expecting a cheap meal. We got the beers we all wanted, mine being a delicious Kilkenny, and ordered some garlic fries. All of this got us watered up for the main course we had been itching to have since my uncle started singing its praises before we left: the Guinness Stew. Yes, I have certainly had this wonderful dish before and I couldn’t wait to try it. Looking at the entrée selections on the menu…no Guinness Stew. No, they stopped making it a few years earlier and replaced it with- wait for it- a vegetable broth stew. Yep, they went cheap. “No matter,” said I and ordered my second favorite and had a fine time of it.

IMG_1821After that, we went to our concert/show and that was fantastic. Lots of history at The Fillmore and the sound was great. The next day we went exploring the city for some more Irishness (when together, our group is real into that.) We found a diner/bar across the street from our hotel called Lefty O’Douls. It turned out this place wasn’t as Irish as we had hoped, as good ol’ Frank “Lefty” O’Doul was a member of the San Francisco Giants baseball team in the 1920s and ’30s. Once again, we made the best of it and had a grand time over pints of Guinness.

That night had to be one of the best times I have had while exploring a big city. We had stopped at a shop by our hotel selling Irish trinkets and decorative items. We asked the very Irish lady behind the counter if there were any good pubs around and she mentioned a couple, one of which was “down a kind of alley.” That’s all we needed and we were off. We never did find that pub, The Irish Bank. We landed at a little nondescript place called Murphy’s Pub. This place was great. There were no free tables when we arrived, so we headed out to the ‘patio’ out in back of the place. This turned out to just be a tarp hanging over some plastic patio tables set up in the alley. It was so unusual for us that is what made it special. Aside from some spilled Guinness, due to the tables being very sensitive to any movement, we had a great meal. When using the restroom inside, we discovered that the door lock did not work and the door did not hang flush in the frame. This became a comical game with each person unwittingly opening the door on the prior occupant.

One particular victim of this game was very good natured about it and after talking with him for a little while, we invited him and his buddy to share a round with us. We pulled up a table in a private back room and had a great time with them. It turns out they are from Malaysia and they had lots of fascinating stories and descriptions of home. This just made this particular stop all the more special and a fine way to end a great trip. I hope to be back very soon.

Oh, and…

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!!!

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Age of the Fist

IMG_1754I have had it on the back burner to write this one for a while now, but could never quite find the words. I still may not, but I’m going to give it the old college try. Iron Fist Brewing Co. is up in Vista, which is in Northern San Diego County, or so-called North County around here. I have never had any other beer from this brewery, but after trying this one, I’m not sure I need to. This lovely concoction is a smooth, not-too-light, but not-quite-heavy Belgian style golden ale that comes bottled in a capped 750ml champagne-style bottle. This is necessary (I assume) to contain all the malty deliciousness inside.

It pours a rich dark orange color, with bright white foamy head that really sticks around and lays like a light blanket on top for a good while. The smell is mostly that of the heavy sweet malts and very little hoppiness. The first thing to hit me in the taste is the sweetness coming from all the malts packed into this beer, which apparently is unusual for a Belgian strong ale. Generally, these beers are higher on the abv, with this one clocking in at 9.5%, and have a more hoppy profile than this one does. While I would consider 9.5%abv a pretty hefty alcohol content, it is anything but overpowering. In fact, I think it works well with all the malts to bring a warmth that I usually find with the holiday ales or wine. The lack of hoppiness isn’t a problem either, as long as you don’t expect a lot of them to come through. The finish is pretty much just that warmth from both the booze and malts, with the slightest hint of the sweetness.

While it is unfortunate that this beer is hard to find, at least for me, I completely understand and recommend snapping this one up when you find it.

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