Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's the economy, stupid

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving and, for state employees like me, this year the day meant more than just feeling bloated and planning creative ways to use up all that cranberry sauce. This year, it meant taking an unpaid vacation day (i.e. a furlough day) to help address the state’s fiscal crisis in my own infinitesimally small way. You see, the State of Connecticut is projecting a deficit this year of almost $400 million, and is counting on its many thousands of employees to help plug those pesky budget holes by taking a few uncompensated days off before the end of the year.

Being loyal and humble public servants, we (my pals Eric and Scott are also state employees) decided that since we had to furlough, we might as well furlough in style. Breathe it in deeply and embrace it. Fill it with activities as far removed from work as possible.

Therefore, after a vigorous morning hike (on the blue trail) at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, CT, we got down to the serious business of bottling our Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale and brewing a batch of High Octane Furlough Stout.

Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale (8.4% ABV)

You can read about Wallace Fogbottom's conception here. We brewed the batch on August 29, pitched extra yeast (dry) on September 25, and bottled it on November 27. Initially, we planned to bottle it closer to Halloween, but laziness and the challenge of matching three schedules kept pushing the date back. Our brew had a hefty O.G. of 1.099 and an F.G. of 1.040, meaning the ABV came out to a respectable 8.4%. Fogbottom was based (ever so loosely) on Anchor's Old Lighthouse in the Fog Barleywine Ale, which has an ABV of 8.8%. The recipe we used gave us a target O.G. of 1.099 (bull's eye!) and F.G. of 1.032. With different yeast (i.e. a little more care), I think we would have gotten there. In any case, the green beer tasted great. Strong and sweet, though with a little less hop bite than I would have liked. Once this strong ale ages for another month or so, I think it will be a pretty special brew to hunker down with on a cold Christmas Eve.

High Octane Furlough Stout

Our Furlough Stout is based on a recipe for Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout from Charlie Papazian's book, Microbrewed Adventures. Our grain bill differs slightly from his insofar as we had to substitute the 10 ounces of crystal malt in his recipe for 7 ounces of Munich + 3 ounces of Vienna that we had on hand. To his recipe, we're planning to add 2 quarts of espresso steeped water after fermentation for a little umph!


4.5 lbs amber malt (3.5 pounds extract; 1 pound dry)

8.0 oz wheat malt (dry)

2.0 lbs Briess 2-row pale malt (crushed)

1.5 lbs British roasted barley (crushed)

12.0 oz organic rolled oats (whole)

7 oz Munich malt (crushed)

3 oz Vienna malt (crushed)

1.0 ounce Magnum hops pellets (14.4% alpha) - 90 minute

0.5 ounce Hallertau hops pellets (3.0% aplha) - 30 minute

1.0 ounce Cascade hops pellets (7.3% alpha) - 1 minute

1 tablet Irish moss - 10 min

Irish ale yeast

Target O.G. 1.061

Target F.G. 1.016

Target ABV 5.7%

Target IBU +/- 44

Actual O.G. 1.052

Post fermentation, we'll be adding 0.5 lb ground espresso beans steeped in 2 quarts water.

We began by bringing 5 quarts of distilled water to 180° F, adding the crushed grains (Briess malt, British roasted barley, Munich malt, Vienna malt, and rolled oats), stirring to distribute the heat evenly, and turning off the heat. Over the next 45 minutes, the heat in the pot stabilized at about 150° F. The consistency in the pot was that of super hearty oatmeal. In fact, Eric claimed (after a few beers) that he planned to save the spent grains and eat them for breakfast the following week.

We then brought the temperature of the grains back up to around 167° F and strained them into a second pot, rinsing them with water that we heated in a small saucepan to 170° F. At this point, we added enough water to achieve 2.5 gallons in the pot, added our amber malt, wheat malt, and Magnum (90 minute) hops, turned up the heat, and turned our attention to Wii Sports. We brought the pot to a boil and reduced the heat at around 190° F.

An hour later, I'd lost every game we played (as usual), and we added our Hallertau (30 minute) hops. With ten minutes to go (80 minutes after adding the amber/wheat malt and Magnum hops), we added a tablet of Irish moss to help clarify, and nine minutes later we killed the heat and added our Cascade (one minute) hops.

We strained the brew into our fermenter, adding enough water to hit 5.5 gallons, and dropped in the wort chiller. Once we hit 70° F, we pitched our Irish ale yeast and sealed the lid. One week until we re-rack. Two weeks until we bottle and add the coffee. Then presto! Our High Octane Furlough Stout will be ready just in time for Christmas!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Christmas in Oktoberfest

Last month, we rang in our fifth Christmas in October. That’s right, Christmas in October. This tradition, which admittedly hasn’t spread a whole lot further than our immediate families, began way back in the fall of 2005. Danger Kitten and I were living down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, working hard as public educators, and beginning to suspect that our relationship might outlast our two-year commitment to Teach For America...

Case in point: at the mall on a balmy September Saturday, I found an almost-too-good-to-be-true deal on a Kitchen Aid mixer and snatched it up faster than a Cajun on a crawfish. Nothing says I'm in this for the long haul like a counter-top mixer (with the exception, perhaps, of a mortgage). Danger Kitten had been intimating for some time how much she wanted, nay needed, a mixer, and this one was even the right color -- majestic yellow.

As the owner of an insatiable sweet tooth, I’ll be the first to admit that this purchase wasn’t entirely altruistic. As I stood in the store, gazing at the mixer, I imagined an unyielding parade of cookies, cakes, and other such delights marching down the counter and onto my plate. I knew right then that the sooner I gifted this little machine, the sooner I’d be sated!

Therefore, I immediately set to teasing my future bride with hints that her Christmas gift was already purchased, and that she was really, REALLY going to like it. After several weeks of this, she announced that she, too, had gone Christmas shopping, and that perhaps it would be best to exchange gifts early in order to end the suspense. I heartily agreed, and the holiday was born. We pulled out our decorations, loaded some holiday music on the iPod, and celebrated an impromptu Christmas, in the middle of October.

Celebrating our first Christmas in October, down on the bayou.

This year, Christmas in October happened to be scheduled exactly two weeks after the bottling of our Oktoberfest homebrew: Lavoratory Choctoberfest (which I first wrote about here). Given Danger Kitten's work schedule, and the fact that I was unemployed at that point, I had total autonomy over the planning and execution of the event. So it was decided that (a) we'd have a German themed celebration and (b) there would be lots of Oktoberfest. Here's a little taste of what we ate:

Appetizers: liverwurst from Moon In The Pond Farm in Sheffield, MA; rye bread (which I baked); cheddar cheese; and apple slices.

Dinner: chicken schnitzel; spaetzle (German egg noodles which I made with a little help from my stepfather); and brussel sprouts in browned butter.

Dessert: anisplatzen and pfeffernuse (German Christmas cookies); and pumpkin ice cream.

I planned the meal with an emphasis on advanced food prep, which meant I'd be free to enjoy my Oktoberfest in a state of unrushed bliss, rather than hustling about the kitchen like a mad man. The only cooking that needed to be done at supper time was the dredging and frying of the schnitzel, the boiling of the spaetzle, and the browning of the brussel sprouts. In the words of Charlie Papazian, I was able to relax, not worry, and have a homebrew!

My stepfather, Michael, happily stirring the spaetzle.

The blind tasting, which preceded dinner, included the following Oktoberfests:

And, of course, our very own Choctoberfest.

Our illustrious lineup, brought to you by Dario's unnamed cousin.

The panel of tasters included myself, Danger Kitten, my father-in-law and his girlfriend, and my mother (for the first three samples) and stepfather. Grandpa opted for his usual -- Beefeaters gin, neat, with one cube.

The beauty of this panel was its inexperience. No one knew much about head retention or IBUs; instead, the focus was on taste, appearance and overall impression. It was a lot of fun tasting and discussing each beer as we went. And because I masked the bottles early in the day, the only beer I knew for certain during the tasting was my own (#4).

The blind tasting, served up with liverwurst, apples, cheddar and rye

The main takeaway for me from the tasting was that no one was able to identify the home brew in the lineup by taste, although Michael did eventually notice the haze in sample #4. It is my hope that someday my home brew will stand out from the crowd for its singular excellence. But, at this point, I'm just glad it blended in with its commercial peers.

In fact, the Choctoberfest (named after Eric's chocolate lab, Wallace) ended up one of the highest rated among the bunch. The big winners in our unprofessional tasting were Blue Point, Weyerbacher, and the Choctoberfest. Some of the comments offered on our beer included: yeasty; great aroma; light amber, cloudy color; very drinkable (which is always good); sweetly balanced; and spicy flavor.

Fast forward to today (November 21), and it's been a month-and-a-half since bottling and three weeks since Christmas in October. Since I'm finally almost ready to publish this post, it seems like an opportune time for another tasting! Therefore, without further ado...

The sweet nectar of fall - Lavatory Choctoberfest!

Lavatory Choctoberfest (4.1% ABV)
Eric's Kitchen
West Haven, CT

Brew Date: August 29, 2009
Bottling Date: October 3, 2009
Tasting Date: November 21, 2009

Appearance: Copper in color. A creamy, hazy body. Thick head with fat bubbles.

Aroma: Bright, spicy, yeasty, malty.

Taste: Heifeweizenish? Yeasty with hints of clove. Spicy. A smooth, malty flavor. Mild bitterness. Tastes Oktoberfest!

Overall Impression: Hands down the best beer I've been party to. I was a bit more critical of the beer at the Christmas in Octoberfest tasting a few weeks ago than most of my guests (I've always been my own toughest critic); but in this brewer's opinion, the beer has really opened up since then. Very balanced. Great color. Great flavor. I'll be taking a six-pack to Thanksgiving next week, and I look forward to sharing it with the uncles! Should be fun.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Northwest Brewfest

A wise old soul once told me (or did I read it somewhere?), "Practice moderation in everything." And, for the most part, this rule describes my life fairly well. I'm pretty balanced in my approach to work and leisure (excepting fantasy baseball, on which I spend entirely too much time...), and I try not to overdo it. That said, sometimes it's just more fun to cut loose.

From left: my father-in-law, Carlo; his girlfriend, Reka; my pal, Eric; and yours truly, Brewfus. Eric is a fellow brewer and blogger. And yes, we coordinated...

On August 23rd, my comrades and I attended the
Northwest Brewfest in Torrington, Connecticut, and cut loose we most certainly did. I mean, how can you not when surrounded by 50 brewers, wielding 100+ of their best beers, who gleefully fill your 4 oz. plastic cup to the brim, over, and over, and over again. Another expression I like is, "When in Rome..."

The Brewfest was a riotous time, and the lineup of brewers in attendance included some of the big dogs of the craft brew world (Boulder Beer, Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head, and Sierra Nevada) as well a local favorites (Thomas Hooker and Willimantic BrewingCo).

Even Kona Brewing showed up, which was fun for me because my wife and I honeymooned in Kauai, and Kona was our beer of choice!

Clearly, Carlo needed a re-fill...

The highlight of the day for me was sampling Sierra's Kellerweis, an open fermented American hefeweizen. (I can't be expected to remember its finer points, as we were 80% of the way canned, err, through the event, when we reached Sierra's table. Suffice it to say it stood out from the least for me.) Here's an excerpt from this Beer Advocate article about the beer's unique brewing process:

Several years ago, the brewers began working with a unique Bavarian hefeweizen yeast strain unknown in this country. This amazingly flavorful yeast was so exciting that they began working on a recipe for a traditional German hefeweizen with the Sierra Nevada twist. Traditional hefeweizen is a style that seems deceptively simple, but in reality is devilishly complex. For years the brewers weren’t satisfied with the beer; something was missing. In a flash of inspiration, an epic trip was arranged. The brewers took a whirlwind tour through the legendary Bavarian wheat breweries to see what they were doing. It was there they realized the advantages of making wheat beer using the traditional system of open fermentation.

My father-in-law (see pictures above) fell in love with three of the heartier brews being poured: Brooklyn's Local 2, Dogfish Head's Palo Santo, and Sam Adam's Dunkel. He's not a fan of hoppy beers, which explains his affinity to these rich nectars.

A Reka sandwich, courtesy of the twins.

While the boys played at the Brewfest, Danger Kitten (my wife) and Cup O'Cake (Eric's wife) got together with their friend Linda for a little Bake Over, which you can read about on their blogs here and here. Needless to say, there's nothing like capping an afternoon of beer drinking with hot-from-the-oven baked goods. Except, of course, a nap.

Never let anyone convince you that beer tasting is easy!


Monday, August 31, 2009

Let them eat beer!

Those of you who also subscribe to my wife's blog, Danger Kitten Bakes, know that I recently made her a chocolate stout cake for her birthday. My mom gets credit for the idea (thanks mom!), because she knew I was planning to make a cake for Elena, and she came up with the idea of mixing our respective blog topics - beer and baking - into a dessert we could eat and then write about.

I won't recount the cake making process, which you can read about here, but I will tell you about the stout I used to make said cake. (The recipe called for Guinness; I thought otherwise.)

Dario, the wonder pig, protecting his afternoon delight...

Young's Luxury Double Chocolate Stout (5.2% ABV)
Wells & Young's Brewing Co.
Bedford, UK

Appearance: Coffee almost black in color. Super velvety head (creamier than Guinness).

Aroma: Chocolaty and robust, with a slight metallic edge lurking in the background. Once the beer warmed up a bit, the aroma blossomed into what can only be described as a plate of warm, chocolate chip cookies.

Taste: The first (and obvious) flavor is bittersweet chocolate, followed closely by a sweet nuttiness. It feels smooth and creamy on the tongue, with a hint of bitterness lingering at the back of the mouth.

Overall impression: If it's going to be stout, make mine an Oatmeal from either Wolaver's or Samuel Smith. Young's Double Chocolate was delightfully creamy and smooth, though a bit too sweet to drink all night long - much better to have with a plate of rich, creamy cheeses, or else with dessert. And, if you do choose to pair it with a dessert, you might as well make it a decadent, chocolate stout cake...


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Three guys. Two batches. One dog.

This past Saturday, I brewed not one, but two batches of beer with my homebrew pals, Eric and Scott, and Eric's new chocolate lab, Wallace. Wallace seemed more interested in his new rope toy than our brewing session, but his emotional support and unyielding companionship really carried the day.

We brewed an Oktoberfest lager (Eric's choice) and a Barleywine ale (mine). The Oktoberfest recipe, called "My First Marzen," came from this website. The Barleywine recipe came from Charlie Papazian's third book, Microbrewed Adventures. It was called "Old Lighthouse in the Fog Barleywine Ale." In honor of Wallace the dog, and in light of the fact that we had to substitute 50% of the ingredients in the Barleywine, I'm calling it "Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale."

For the first time ever, the Original Gravity of a beer brewed by yours truly came out on the button! The Barleywine was supposed to be 1.099 O.G., and we achieved 1.100. The Oktoberfest should have been 1.064 O.G., but we hit 1.043.

The Barleywine recipe Charlie presents in his book was based off of Anchor's Old Foghorn Barleywine. He did not know the actual recipe, so he guesstimated, and since we had to make partial hops and yeast substitutions, ours is a variation on a best guess, which puts it rather far afield. No matter, I am excited for the final product, which should come of age around the beginning of November - perfect timing to enjoy a Fogbottom in front of the fire on a cool, fall evening.

[insert name here] Oktoberfest (6 gallon recipe)
1.8 lbs German Vienna Malt
1.8 lbs German Dark Munich Malt
0.12 lbs Belgian Chocolate Malt
6.6 lbs Dry Light Malt Extract
1.2 oz Hallertau (pellets, 4.5% AA) - 60 min
(We only used 1.0 oz)
0.6 oz Hallertau (pellets, 4.5% AA) - 15 min
(We used 0.7 oz)
WYeast 2308 Munich Lager
O.G. 1.043

Wallace Fogbottom Strong Ale (4 gallon recipe)
8.8 lbs Light Dried Malt Extract
1.5 oz Northern Brewer Hops (pellets, 9.0% AA) - 120 min
(We used 1 oz Northern Brewer, and 0.3 oz Hallertau)
1.0 oz UK Wye Northdown hops (pellets, 7.0% AA) - 20 min
(We used Challenger (7% AA) hops)
1/4 tsp powdered Irish moss
(We used one tablet Irish moss)
English-type ale yeast - double dose
(We used one vial of English-type, and one packet of dry ale yeast)
O.G. 1.1oo

NOTE: Depending on fermentation activity, we may pitch additional yeast when we rack the Fogbottom to a secondary fermenter.

(I'll keep you posted!)


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Driving Ms. Danger Kitten

A month and a half ago (yes, I've been negligent in my blogging duties), my wife, a.k.a. Danger Kitten, scheduled a classroom observation in Harlem, and asked if I was interested in joining her for an afternoon in NYC, i.e. drive. Being a devoted husband, I agreed to chauffer, and immediately set to finding a suitable watering hole to hunker down in while she watched reading teachers do their thing.

My first thought was to sign up for a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery, but unfortunately our visit landed on a Tuesday and tours were weekend only...

Not to be deterred, I surfed over to Beer Advocate and turned up this list. Someone needs to check it for selection bias, because if we accept it as valid, 6 of the top 13 beer bars in America are located in the Big Apple, including the one I chose - David Copperfield's. And, no, the bar has absolutely nothing in common with the illusionist of the same name.

I was drawn to David Copperfield's for two reasons. First, it was the easiest pub for me to reach using public transportation. Second, I'm a sucker for literary association. David Copperfield was a character from a Charles Dickens novel of the same name. The story is supposed to be autobiographical in nature - a mistreated youth perseveres to become a successful author - though I haven't read it. (Dickens never grew on me, though I do remember enjoying Great Expectations in high school.)

In any case, Copperfield's was cozy and comfortable, with marble bar tops, a quality juke box (Motown dominated the airwaves during my visit), and a friendly staff; in fact, while I was tasting and jotting down notes, the bartender, Andrea (from New Jersey), asked what I was up to. When I told her about my little blog, she was intrigued. When I mentioned that my wife blogged about food, she was even more intrigued, noting that she and her sister were planning to make ravioli from scratch that evening. (NOTE: I was totally okay with the fact that she was more interested in the food blog than the beer blog.)

The draught list at Copperfield's is extensive (30 on tap), and the bottle lineup includes many of my favorites, such as Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Biere and Samuel Smith's Nut Brown. The balanced offering included everything from the tried and true classics (Anchor's Liberty Ale) to the truly bizarre (Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron).

As it was a hot July afternoon, I was in the mood for a saison, and first sampled Southern Tier's Cherry Saison. This tart and tinny ale was copper in color and had a simultaneously sour and boozy flavor. The head dissipated almost instantly. On the whole, the beer left me unsatisfied.

I ended up with a pint of Sorachi Ace (another saison) from Brooklyn Brewery; so in a way, I ended up getting an abridged version of the brewery tour I'd been aiming for. The beer was released in July, and is only available on draft near the NYC area.

Sorachi Ace Saison (6.5% ABV)
Brooklyn Brewery
New York, NY

Appearance: An almost pinkish hued, golden colored ale. Fluffy, proportionate (i.e. the right amount) head.

Aroma: Lemon/citrus with a yeasty backdrop.

Taste: The Japanese hops mingling with the Belgian yeast gave the beer a smooth, sweet, yet crisp flavor. I first tasted a bubble-gumminess, that moved to a clove/fruitiness. Each sip yielded a slightly different and pleasurable flavor. Complex and enjoyable.

Overall Impression: This was a truly unique beer - complex enough to beguile the taste buds, yet light and clean enough to satisfy without demanding much attention. It drank lighter than its 6.5% ABV, and, if you can find a keg, it would be the perfect choice for a Labor Day BBQ.

-- Brewfus

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hot off the Wire - Baltimore beer from an old friend...

Those who know us well know that we don’t watch much television. I watch sports. Danger Kitten occasionally channel surfs for movies. The only reason we have cable is for the bundle discount on our Internet service. Yet, last year, friends turned us on to HBO’s series The Wire, a five-season drama that ended in 2005, which we watched religiously this spring thanks to Netflix. Better late than never?

Anyway, the show takes a nitty-gritty look at the mean streets, schools, docks, politics and media of Baltimore, through the eyes of the police, drug dealers, unions, teachers, politicians, and journalists who call the city home. It was a riveting show which we became utterly obsessed with, and which we sadly finished in June. And, our viewing of the final episode coincided perfectly with a visit from my good friend AJ and his fiancée, Amber, who moved to Baltimore this past year to teach, and who were on their way to Petoskey, Michigan (AJ's and my hometown) via Ann Arbor. As new Baltimoreans, we've encouraged them to give the show a try. But I digress...

Turns out people do read my blog, because AJ showed up in Ann Arbor bearing this little medley:

He got the idea from this earlier post. (See #28.)

AJ brought me this six-pack of Maryland brews after reading my blog, and in honor of his kindness, and my disposition toward strong beer, I decided to taste (and write about) the barleywine...

The six-pack is long gone, but the gesture lingers on. Thanks, AJ, for pulling a solid.

Below Decks Barleywine (10% ABV)
Clipper City Brewing Company
Baltimore, MD

Appearance: Ruby, deep reddish copper, lacy head that dissipates quickly.

Aroma: Malty, spicy yeasty.

Taste: Strong and warming, a malty kick in the teeth! Smoothly carbonated, neither flat nor over bubbly. Alcohol lingers on throat and nose, spicy and fruity but quickly covered by the booziness.

Overall Impression: My head felt warm after three sips, perfect for savoring on a winter's eve by the fire, not so perfect for consuming between innings at a softball game.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Salute your Short's! Pandemonium Pale Ale and Huma Lupa Licious IPA

Despite growing in up northern Michigan, I am sorry to say I have not visited Short's Brewing Company, in Bellaire...but I will. I discovered Short's this past winter during a visit to my hometown, Petoskey, Michigan, when my sister, Christina, compared a batch of Bitter I'd made to a Short's sold at the food co-op where she works. Intrigued, I made a point to do some investigating (i.e. sampling), and I've become a big fan of their Bellaire Brown.

While shopping the other day, I remembered the sole surviving Pandemonium Pale Ale in my fridge, and decided to grab a bottle of Huma Lupa Licious for an impromptu tasting.

Pandemonium Pale Ale (5.4% ABV) &
Huma Lupa Licious IPA (6.6% ABV)
Short's Brewing Company
Bellaire, MI

Pandemonium: A somewhat thin and translucent head with coarse bubbles - disappears pretty quickly. Bold, coppery amber color.
Huma Lupa Licious: A thick, soft, lingering head. Deep straw color - almost orange.

Pandemonium: A grassy, almost sweet aroma - earthy.
Huma Lupa Licious: A crisp, fresh-pine scent - invigorating.

Pandemonium: Zesty bitterness followed quickly by a full, sweet malty goodness. Fizzy with quick dissipation, followed immediately by full bodied malt. A pleasant, celeryish flavor that dissolves into a mild, lingering bitterness.
Huma Lupa Licious: A clean, sharp, grapefruity flavor. Smooth and creamy. A bitterness on the back of the tongue that hangs on well after the sip.

Overall Impression
Pandemonium: A good choice for a Friday night at the pub with a few friends. Tasty, but won't distract you from the topic of conversation. Drinkable and satisfying.
Huma Lupa Licious: Very refreshing - the kind of beer you want after a few hours of yard work, during an August softball game, or while tending burgers on the grill.

Parting Shot...
Maybe its the fact that I've been on a big IPA kick lately, but if I'm getting dropped on a desert island, I'm hoping to wash ashore with a flat of Huma Lupa Licious. Speaking of IPA, I just bought a four-pack of Double Trouble, an Imperial IPA from Founder's, the big-hitting Grand Rapids brewery. I am very excited to dive in to these 9.4% ABV heavy hoppers.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bella Wheat, a.k.a. The Leap Year Beer

Today I'm writing about my first homebrewing experience: Bella Wheat - a Bavarian wheat beer I brewed on February 29, 2008.

When he sold me my brew kit, Paul Zocco, owner of Zok's, encouraged me to first brew a few batches of beer straight from a pre-hopped kit in order to get used to the process. I purchased two kits that day, one of which was the Edme Microbrewery Series Wheat Beer that became my first batch; the other was a Northern Brown Ale kit from Ironmaster (more on that later).

I wanted to start with a wheat beer because Elena is a big fan of hefeweizens, and this was the closest I could get (from Zok's) in a kit. A true hefeweizen (hefe means "with yeast" and weizen, "wheat") is unfiltered, i.e. the little yeasties are permitted to reside in the finished product, making it rich in both character and vitamin B12!

I must have studied the four sets of instructions I ended up with (a cheat sheet from Zok, the instructions on the side of the malt extract, and the Beginners Steps in my newly purchased homebrew books - How to Brew by John Palmer and The Complete Joy of Homebrewing: Third Edition by Charlie Papazian) for a week or so before feeling fully prepared to begin. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, all four sets of instructions gave similar guidance: some recommended a longer or shorter boiling of the wort; one said it was imperative, another optional, to start the yeast in water before pitching into the lukewarm wort.

Facing four sets of slightly differing instructions caused me to experience feelings of intimidation followed closely by liberation. Truth is, there isn't much to brewing beer (from a kit, anyway). And, even if you screw up (a little bit), the final product is usually more interesting than most of the six-packs you find in stores. Charlie Papazian, the Godfather of American Homebrewing, offers the following advice to homebrewers young or old, novice or experienced: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew.

Brew Day
On this day, as I didn't have any homebrew yet, I probably reached for an offering from Otter Creek, whose mixed-twelves were frequent visitors to the beer shelf that winter. But I did relax, and not worry...too much.

After sanitizing all of the equipment I would be using that day, I began by combining the two cans of hopped malt-extract (12 1/2 c.) with water (11 1/2 c.) and brought the mixture to a boil, stirring vigorously to prevent the molasses-like extract from scorching on the bottom of my aluminum brew pot. After maintaining the boil for 30 minutes, I poured the near-boiling mixture into my fermenting bucket, which contained enough chilled (not quite frozen but plenty cold) water to give me a total liquid volume of pretty close to 5 gallons.

The initial temperature of the fermenting bucket, after I added the hot wort to the cold water, was 90-degrees F, and my task now was to reduce the temperature as fast as possible to room temperature so as not to kill off the yeast I was about to add.

I hoisted the bucket to our kitchen sink, packed ice around it and stirred as fast as I could to bring the temperature down as quickly as possible - speed is of the essence. After 15 minutes, I pitched (added) the yeast, aerated (introduced oxygen, which yeasties like, to the wort by stirring vigorously (again)) the green beer for 10 minutes, put the lid on, and inserted the airlock. And that was basically it. In a lot of ways, brewing from a kit is a lot like preparing canned soup for fifty.

Fermentation Cha-cha-cha
At the time, we were living in a charming but drafty old house in Collinsville, Connecticut, and the only place in our apartment warm enough for the beer to be happy was next to the radiator. I was elated, 18 hours after sealing the bucket, to notice the first few bubbles of CO2 escaping through the airlock. Every time I passed through the living room, I would crouch down, wait for a bubble to pop, and sniff the escaping air for some clue as to what the final product would be like. Signs of fermentation ceased after about four or five days; and, after eight days, I trasferred the beer to a secondary fermenter.

Bottling Day
On March 20, after watching Michigan State (my alma mater) knock Temple out of the NCAA Tourney, I bottled and capped with no surprises. My notes from bottling day say it tasted of alcohol, but not much else. That was good enough for me at this point - evidence of, at least partial, success.

Here's what I wrote in my beer journal on March 27: Final product was darker and more flavorful than I expected. I like the flavor despite the intensity, but will try one can of extract plus the comparable amount of dried malt next time. Bella Wheat tastes very similar to a beer Carlo (my father-in-law) gave me for my birthday - Lumpy Gravy a 2007 brown ale from Lagunita's Brewing Company.

And on November 14: ...Elena and I chilled and drank the last bottle of Bella Wheat. The beer matured into what Elena describes as "thick and caramely." I was impressed by the head that developed, and the rich, sweet aroma. The sweetness approaches unpleasant, with subtle cidery hints. The effects of priming sugar over time? In any case, the character of the beer is much changed from the beer I brewed and drank this spring. This is an argument in favor of setting aside a few beers from each batch to sample over time. In this case, 9 months later.

Bell Wheat was my first born, and consequently holds a special place in my heart. I was very proud to share that beer with friends, family, and coworkers, even though the process was simple enough for a toddler to pull off and the final product reminded people of anything but wheat...

I'm think about brewing another Wheat, or maybe a Saison, this summer, once Elena and I move back to Connecticut in July. One tempting recipe I found recently was for an Apricot Wheat, which called for pureed apricots and sounded like a real summer hit. I found the recipe while surfing Bryon's blog. The recipe was offered by Hunington in response to the all important question, What should I brew for a summer family get together? Good question Bryon. And great answer Hunington. Stay tuned...


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Live from Grizzly Peak... It's Sunday Afternoon!

Today's post comes to you live from Grizzly Peak, one of three brewpubs - on the same street, in fact - in downtown Ann Arbor. I'm sitting here for three reasons. First, Fox Sports Detroit is not included in basic cable, and I'm tired of listening to Tigers games on AM radio. Second, the pub is WiFi equipped. And third, I felt like having a pint!

Out of kindness, or is it an aversion to promoting mediocrity, I won't bother naming the third brewpub; but, the other brewpub, Arbor Brewing Company, is great. I'm particularly fond of their Sacred Cow IPA, which tastes a little like apricots and pine needles (in a good way). A real summer treat! Elena, who happens to be an excellent baker and happens to have an excellent blog devoted to her baking adventures (no, I am not above shamelessly promoting my wife's blog), really likes ABC's Brasserie Blonde, a citrusy, orange-hued Belgian ale flaunting a subtle spiciness.

As a former English teacher, I'm a big fan of analogies. The best analogy I can come up with to compare Grizzly and Arbor (ABC) would be high school cross country teams...just hear me out. ABC is the well coached team with a stable of finely conditioned athletes. From top to bottom, they know how to compete and win more meets than they lose because of their depth. In other words, you will rarely be disappointed with a pint from ABC. Grizzly, on the other hand, won't win many meets, because the few star runners (and no Prefontaines, mind you) on the squad are not enough to compensate for the slackers. Their Bearpaw Porter is pretty good (a B+ on Beer Advocate), but I've had a few duds, too.

Today's pint, however, is not one of them. I'm drinking Wee Owen's Roggen from the rotating tap; a beer and a style - roggenbier - I hadn't heard of before this afternoon. Beer Advocate describes roggenbier as a traditional German style rye beer with a pronounced spiciness and a slightly sour flavor. I'm not getting much rye from the beer, and the color is sort of a hazy peach (as opposed to the coppery/red you'd expect in a rye), but there is a pleasant citrus flavor mingling with a mild sourness, accompanied by a fruity aroma and a yeasty, chewiness, all balanced out by a mildly bitter finish. Probably wouldn't win awards in the "rye" category, but a yummy brew, nonetheless.