Thursday, January 30, 2003

Sahti Update

Well, I tasted a swallow of it, and so far have survived to tell the tale.

When cold, that dark, weird smell is much reduced, and (I hope) may dissipate over time. The taste of the Sahti itself is surprisingly mild, and thankfully (finally) there's none of that over-sweetness I was used to in 2Red and the young BDBrown.

Somewhere between the smell and the taste I may actually "get" it, but it could be wishful thinking, too.

-Rich, trusting in a benevolent, brewer-friendly God.

Dear God, what have I wrought?

I bottled the Sahti this evening, and I'm worried as anything. I have yet to taste it, because I'm chilling one of the bottles. Why chill before tasting?

It smelled absolutely vile.

Not bacterially vile, but something more sinister. Musty, acrid, back-of-the-throat recoil kind of smell. This doesn't strike me as any sort of infection problem, because the wort went straight from the boil-pot, freshly cooled, to the fermenter, which was just as meticulously sanitized as it's ever been. It's only been five days since the fermenter was sealed; that's hardly enough time for a serious infection; heck, the yeast even behaved normally. The color is even right - see the bottle at left in this picture.

I'm worried I did it all correctly. This might be how it's supposed to smell. There could be any number of explanations if I did mess it up... Far too much juniper, perhaps, or some truly weird yeast...

I'm scared to try it, to be honest. I did take extra care to grab one of the non-toxic varieties of juniper...


Snowy, Gray and Wet

It's a subdued, overcast, contemplative sort of day in Richmond; there's snow coming down, and sticking to everything except roads. I imagine that'll start to change around four o'clock or so, at which point all the Richmonders will panic and head for home at once. I think I'll set out around 6. I know that I can drive in ice; it's everyone else I'm unsure about.

Still, it's a nice day. Almost everyone around me has been in meetings, which means I can actually get work done. I also enjoy walking in cold rain, even downtown. Somehow amid all the falling flakes and hissing, hurtling cars, it's quiet. That works for me.

I wonder why I find rain so compelling and soothing. I suppose that it's not entirely strange; anything that emanates white noise is supposed to tap into the reptilian forebrain in ways that soothe and relax. Surf does the same thing, as do random-white-noise generators.

But even visually, rain transforms a landscape: it makes the scene moodier, with its edges both sharply defined by wet reflections, and obscured by falling droplets. Reflections play all sorts of optical tricks, too: a stop light reflects in puddles beneath a car's tires; a "Don't Walk" sign, inverted, undercuts a coin-op newspaper stand. People sprout umbrellas of all sizes, colors, and states of repair, and even walk differently.

Where am I going with this? I dunno - I just like walking in the rain. :-)


Lessons Learned

Well, my Vindictive Vampire India Pale Ale is showing signs of bacterial infection, too. Not surprising, considering its container stood open to the elements for the three hours I spent getting stitched up after the hose-cutting incident during its siphoning. I thought I'd got lucky with it, but no.


Well, this can serve as a lesson. Yes, sanitation is important at all stages of the beermaking process. Not that I was especially cavalier in the prior two instances, but now I know to be especially paranoid at certain points of the process where I know beer is vulnerable.

To recap: Rich's Big Dawg Brown Ale was infected when I accidentally popped the gasket that would have sealed around its airlock through its hole and into the fermenting bucket. I never did get another good seal, and in trying may have worsened the problem. It was also my first time reusing bottles from 2Red, so I may not have cleaned some of them properly.

Rich's V-VIPA had all sorts of opportunity to infect as I left it open to the air of the apartment for several hours when bottling was interrupted, as chronicled above. There's also the possibility that I fouled up some portion of the siphon through inadequate sanitizing, introducing microbugs there.

Luckily I haven't committed any infectious screwups with Rich's Nearly-Finnish Sahti as yet... The bubbler was going at about one pop every 55 seconds last night, so I could bottle tonight if I felt like it, but I may make up a batch of sanitizing solution before I do, and soak all the bottles for a while before embarking on the process.

Happily Rich's 2Red Richmond Ale, my first brew, seems to have escaped infection -- I opened one of my precious last bottles last night, just to be sure I wasn't going to be shipping my friends anything nasty, and it was still the same good stuff. So I know I can do it right.


Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Yep. On the money.

Which OS are You?
Which OS are You?



The World of Beer

Sadness and Loss
Well, I came to a hard admission last night: Big Dawg Brown Ale was awful. Really nasty. Sour, bitter, gross.

I obviously introduced some nasty bacteria to it what with all the airlock problems I had back in December. When the beer was young it was no big deal, and the beer was pretty drinkable, but as it aged the bad guys began to win. I tasted several bottles, just to be sure the sourness wasn't some unreliable artifact of the bottling process, and I couldn't stand more than a swallow from any one bottle.

You may have noticed all the past tense usage by now. I dumped it all down the sink -- approximately four gallons. Sigh -- I have now irrevocably besmirched my Irish karma. (Chuck, in case you're wondering, it was much worse than when you stopped by for the Philly-Atlanta game. Undrinkable, truly.)

(A moment of silence while Taps plays...)

(snaps fingers) Ah well. Plenty of empty bottles to fill now. :-D

The Next Generation
Rich's Almost-Finnish Sahti is still fermenting. The airlock was bubbling every fifteen seconds or so as of this morning; I have no idea how well the bread yeast I used for this batch will do, but I do know that Sahti is not supposed to be very highly carbonated, so I'll probably wait until bubbles are around a single minute apart, then bottle without any priming sugar.


Tuesday, January 28, 2003


I realized this morning that I'm happy.

Not yeah-but happy, or if-only happy, or so-long-as-I-don't-think-about-it happy...

Just happy.

I was commenting on sugarmama's blog about pickiness in dating, and realized that I haven't had one of those "man, I miss having a woman around" lonely moments for weeks, possibly months. (I should check my archives here to be sure I'm not exaggerating, but what the heck.)

When I think of dating I think, "oh, that again?" and when I think of having a woman around I imagine all the stuff about me that the hypothetical "she" would probably want to change, like boxes of bottled beer aging in the living room, or the speakers naked on their stands in the theater room. Why bother?

I think about the lovely smells of mashing and boiling wort, and playing computer games 'til early in the morning, and letting dogs and cats up on the bed, and all the little things I've come to love and enjoy in my life, and I wonder, "why upset the apple cart?"

I'm free. :-D


Monday, January 27, 2003

Way ahead of ya, Chuck

I have added a Beer Glossary to the site, linked over at left, under the logo.

In future I shall add references to the glossary when appropriate, so that the less beer-informed can keep up. :-)

[Edit: I also updated the "That's more like it" post below with links to the new glossary.]


Sunday, January 26, 2003


Just so the world knows, bread yeast will indeed make beer. The bubbler is going nicely.

Not that this is much of a revelation; there was little distinction between "beer yeast" and "bread yeast" as much as fifty years ago, and a hundred sixty years ago (ish, before Pasteur's work), there was no distinction between yeast and the benevolence of a God who by granting the gift of fermentation showed that He wanted His people to be happy. :-)

The James River Homebrewers are having some "club brew" sessions today, wherein something like fifteen gallons of Pale Ale will be brewed. I was planning to give it a pass after last night's brew, but upon waking this morning, I believe I'll head over for a few hours before the Super Bowl afternoon starts. :-D
"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker and glory to his bounty by learning about... Beer!" --Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
Happy Super Bowl Sunday, all!


Saturday, January 25, 2003

Now That's More Like It!

Okay, so it took until 11 instead of 9, but it was worth it.

The new lauter tun worked beautifully. Because of this, I was able to filter and re-filter the wort until it ran clear as a bell. The branches in the bottom of the tun caused no sticking during lautering or sparging, and because of the juniper my apartment smells like a dark, musty mix between bread and Christmas trees. :-)

And then there was the wort chiller. Bloody amazing. I don't think I've actually giggled at a gadget working so well in a long time. It took four gallons from boiling to 78° F in nineteen minutes flat. I achieved a cold break like none I've ever seen before (I could actually see the chiller extending three coils down into the wort - about 2½ inches), but after such a spiffy lauter and sparge, there was precious little sediment to worry about anyway. :-D

The chiller worked so well I became worried about the dilution water I'd prechilled being too cold (which would make for sluggish yeast), at which point Matt recommended I shoot hot water through the 'chiller' (more accurately a heat-exchanger) to warm up the gallon-plus of 40° F water to room temperature. It took all of two minutes. Simply astounding. I wound up waiting on the starter culture for the yeast! I've never experienced this much control over fluid temperatures before. Hee hee hee.

So anyway, the brew went wonderfully well, for a change. Rich's Nearly-Finnish Sahti is in the fermenter. Now we'll see how well the "rapid rise" bread yeast works.

Hum te tum te tum... Makin' beer...


Da Tun is Done, Da Beer is Near

Dropped by the WeekEnd Brewer again today, and had Bob help (using his fully-functional hands) get the hosing/piping from the false bottom to the spigot installed, and he managed to get it all together and functioning like a champ. He actually needed the help of my one good hand at one point - the interior of a five-gallon cylindrical cooler does not have a lot of room to turn wrenches in!

Last night I knuckled down with a few web articles on Sahti, Designing Great Beers, and a slick little application called ProMash, and came up with what ought to be a faithful yet doable riff on the melody that is Sahti.

1½ lbs. rye malt, dark roasted (it's what Bob had)
1½ lbs. Cara-Pils Dextrine malt
½ lb. 20° Lovibond (a measure of roast darkness) Crystal malt
3 lb. German Pilsener malt
8¾ lb. light liquid malt extract

There's also an ounce of Czech Saaz hops to counter maltiness, a half-ounce of crushed & dried juniper berries, and (the coup de grace) trimmings from a tiny $1.00-clearance juniper tree (that I just snagged twenty minutes ago) in the bottom of the new mash/lauter tun as filtration.

Yep, I'm having a blast. I'm going to get myself set for the brew right now. I should finish by nine-ish tonight. :-)


Friday, January 24, 2003

Sahti Plans

Okay, I'm making plans to take on a brew of Sahti this weekend, if I can get my lauter tun finished. The trouble is that with the false bottom installed in the Rubbermaid cooler, the back end of the spigot (the hole for which is itself close to the bottom of the cooler) crashes into the slope of the false bottom when I try to assemble it. I'll be traveling to the WeekEnd Brewer tomorrow to see if Bob, the proprietor, has any ideas.

But back to the Sahti. I have yet to crunch the numbers for amounts of barley, hops et al, but since there's a lot of latitude in Sahti recipes, the main things I'm going to focus on are the use of rye, the filtering through juniper branches, and the use of bread yeast.

Should be fun!


First Friday Five in a While

1. What is one thing you don't like about your body? Its low metabolism. I've finally figured out how to lose weight pretty easily by now, but it's be nice if I had a bod that "just kept it off," like some people I could mention.

2. What are two things you love about your body? I heal quickly. :-) I also seem to be blessed with good stamina, even when I'm not exercising regularly. I could hop out of the office today and do a middling-strenuous five-mile backpack hike without too much trouble.

3. What are three things you want to change about your home? Its location (I grow tired of Richmond), its storage space (two walk-in closets are not enough for all my packed-up junk by a long shot), and its furnishings (most of my furniture is --what's the word?-- disposable).

4. What are four books you want to read this year? Jeez, I'm so far behind... Well, the fifth Harry Potter is one, and I'm feeling like I want to read all the "Scarpetta mysteries" Patricia Cornwell has written, and if I'm not mistaken there're eleven or so of them.

5. What are five promises you have kept to yourself? Keep healing, keep growing, keep shedding, keep brewing, keep blogging. :-)


Thursday, January 23, 2003

Beer Exploration

I need to find a way to make fewer than five gallons of beer at a time - I want to experiment, and five gallons is a lot of beer to get through without developing any bad habits.

I grabbed a Russian Imperial Stout (which style actually has its origins in the UK, but mainly for export to Russian aristos like Katherine the Great) the other day called Old Rasputin, and it's one of the more enjoyable high-alcohol brews I've found outside of a good IPA. Black as velvet, surprisingly hoppy, and warming in the tum, it's been described by some as beer's answer to espresso, and I'm inclined to agree.

I also snagged some Newcastle Brown Ale, but wound up disappointed. Compared to the Brown Ale from Richmond's own Legend Brewery, there is no candle it can possibly hold. Newcastle Brown seems rather weak-willed, actually, and not even as full-bodied as a Pete's Wicked Ale or Sam Adams' Boston Lager (and the Sam Adams isn't even a brown ale!), and brown ales are supposed to be full-bodied beers. Interesting to see the differences come to light.

I've also become a real fan of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but I'm in good company there. Crisper than an IPA, it functions as a good thirst-quencher, so long as you don't mind a fair bit of pucker from its healthy dose of hops.

Speaking of IPAs (India Pale Ales), I've been searching around for a good "standard," and so far the most fun I've had with them has come from Stone's Ruination IPA (which hits the IPA standard like a 10-pound sledge in leather chaps) and Lagunitas' IPA Maximus, which is eminently more refined, though still appropriately (ahem) assertive. Anyone else have a favorite IPA?

Yours in malt and hops,


Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Two-Handed Typist Once Again!

I got the stitches out of my hand today, and despite the fingers on either side of the wound being amazingly stiff and weak from their week together in a splint, I can type much faster (gently, though, gently) than I could one-handed. This is one serious relief. I've still got several tiny "butterfly" bandages along the wound (that look more like small pieces of strapping tape than anything else) to hold the outermost edges together. BTW, I did keep Neosporin on too long, Joanie - good call. The whole area still feels a trifle delicate, but it's use that the hand needs now, not pampering. Yay!

More Beer
Headed over to my favorite brew supply shop yesterday and snagged a "false bottom" and some hose fittings to finish up the lauter tun I began a while back. No word yet as to when a "next brew" will occur---I've still got around 3½ gallons of disappointing Big Dawg Brown Ale and almost five gallons of immature VVIPA to account for, so it might be worth waiting for a while before embarking on a new batch of anything.

I found an online version of the Kalevala yesterday, and while it's very long, I did hit a few interesting places, like Rune XX, The Brewing of Beer. Heh - a fun story about how beer was first brewed in Finnish legend.

Wonderful to be able to type semi-normally again. :-)


Monday, January 20, 2003

Sackcloth and Ashes

The Eagles lost. Someone forgot to tell the offense that there was a game scheduled yesterday. Sigh.


Saturday, January 18, 2003

VVIPA Reaction

Wow. I'm surprised by how little this beer sucks. It's still obviously very young, and thus still cloudy and unfinished-tasting, but not horribly bitter or otherwise "ruined." It is way too dark, though, but I expected that.

It is slightly thin on the palate, as if it were diluted, but then it was, sort of, considering the lautering trouble that attended the brew day.


I Had a Little Trouble with the Scissors...

Took a week, but I finally came up with the perfect witty riposte, as above. Most of the world has run out of sympathy, though, a la: "What? You're still whining?" No, actually I type one-handed with Microsoft's "Accessibility Options" on because I want the attention. :-p

Weird thing is, the wound chose today to start complaining in earnest for the first time. Must finally have got round to hooking the nerves back up. Joy.

Yep, I'm still flaking out over beer. :-) In the combined spirit of adventure and masochism that has come to represent my interaction with home brewing, I have just slapped a week-old bottle of Vindictive Vampire IPA (still two weeks short of its prime, assuming it has one) into the fridge, and shall sample it later this evening as I wince to the antics of the Fox Football commentators.

Finnish Stuff
Went looking for Sahti beer and a (local) dead-tree edition of the Kalevala, the main Finnish epic (said by some to be on the level of Beowulf and some of Homer's stuff). Struck out on both counts, but may have a bead on both down the road. Amazon has the Kalevala, BTW, but it's a one to three week wait.


Monday, January 13, 2003

So-Wrong Giggle of the Day

Viking Kittens Sing Led Zeppelin. Be afraid.

Courtesy gigglechick, though I found an earlier work by this guy months and months ago. There's all sorts of other weird stuff on his site, but be warned, much of it is very twisted indeed.

Valhalla, I am coming! }(:-D


Sunday, January 12, 2003

More Anaesthetic, Please. Ice Cold, in a Pub Glass.

Just washed and changed my gauze & splint dressing for the first time. I've had more fun. For the record, it was three stitches.

At least the Eagles won.

I also wanted to send a shout out to Chuck, who was gentleman and scholar enough to drive my bleeding self to the clinic yesterday. He also watched the game with me last night, and took the Atlanta loss like a man. :-)


Saturday, January 11, 2003

Beer Developments

I am typing this one-handed. This is not for any prurient reason.

This morning while I was attempting to bottle the nefarious IPA, and experiencing difficulty siphoning, I did a stupid thing. I went to cut a longer length of vinyl tubing and neglected to point the scissors away from myself. Several stitches later, I've decided to rename the beer.

Rich's Vindictive Vampire IPA.*

This goddamned recipe has been more trouble than it's worth.

Nevertheless, it's in bottles now, and on the off chance it's at all palatable the new name will suit. The ruined webbing between my left middle and ring fingers bears mute testament.


* To the best of my knowledge none of my bodily fluids got into the beer. Still, nobody puts more into their brews... ;-)

Friday, January 10, 2003

Pushbutton Bartender

I know automated mixed-drinks dispensers are old hat in many upscale bars, but this little jobber (running Linux, of course) is just wrong somehow.

My favorite touch: the need to manually enter a hexadecimal user PIN and drink code. Methinks that would be self-throttling as a person continues to imbibe. Heh.

Courtesy Slashdot...


Thursday, January 09, 2003

Second Visit with the James River Homebrewers

Legend Brewery, Richmond, VA

Had a good time with the JRHs last night - it's good to be recognizing some familiar faces, and be able to discuss seriously nerdy beer topics with anyone in the room (wives included). There was a guy named John there who brought a beer for his first time: a very nice "clone brew" of the Pilsener Urquell that I rhapsodized about a few weeks back. He received plenty of kudos and backslaps for his work. Makes me wish I had had one ready, but all my beer is either spoken for (looks like shipments of 2Red will have to wait until next week, BTW) or still fermenting/conditioning. :-)

Very cool: the lecture topic for the evening was what, biochemically, causes a head of foam on a beer, and how to control the foam a given recipe generates in the finished beer. Very cool stuff, and suitably esoteric. :-D Most breweries that pay attention to head formation shoot for the holy grail of five minutes from pour to head dissipation. "Belgian Lace" (or "Brussels Lace") is a term for the tendency of some beer foam to cling to the sides of a glass as beer is drunk, and is highly desired in certain beer styles.

There was also discussion of how bubbles form (with respect to the tendencies of gases at differing partial pressures to equalize; as when pressurized beer is opened to the 14 psi environment of normal air [CO2, for example, has a vanishingly small partial pressure in normal air, and thus escapes very quickly from beer, where its partial pressure is much greater; Nitrogen has a much greater partial pressure in air, and thus escapes more slowly from beer than CO2]), and why bubbles last (in short form, it's all about increasing a beer's viscosity through encouraging several compounds like beta-glyconase and other substances called gycoproteins to form through enzyme action [by maintaining certain temperatures in one's mash for certain periods of time]; certain other helpful bubble-aiding proteins are also released from bittering hops during a good long boil).

To sum up: good creamy head lasts for at least five minutes, allowing for lace; close attention must also be paid to viscosity, pressures and temperatures.



Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Construction Begins on the Mash/Lauter Tun

Ah yes, back to beer. :-9 Since my misadventures with bad lautering during my last brew session, I've decided to construct myself an actual container for mashing and lautering (heating and straining) per several sets of instructions I've found online and in some of the many books I've acquired.

I went casting about for materials yesterday evening. There are several options, but the one that appealed to me most involved the use of a Rubbermaid water cooler with a DIY extraction manifold in the bottom. A manifold, in this case, is a network of tubes and/or pipes with slots in the top to allow liquid in and then carry that liquid out the side of the cooler.

Here's a diagram of my intended manifold build (figure 163, the quadrant-divided ring).

I snagged the cooler for just under $20 at Wal-Mart, and then hopped by my local Lowe's to grab the vinyl tubing and hose-barb connectors to make the ring pictured in the link above. I even scored a hose-barbed ball valve to regulate the flow of wort out of the thing. The one thing I didn't manage to find (through a lack of expertise on both my part and that of my Lowe's associate) was a means of sealing/gasketing the exit of the tube through the hole that used to hold the cooler's thumb-operated spigot. I'm hoping that'll be easier to find tonight.

In short, it's gone well. The manifold is built (I'll try to take a picture of it and the cooler tonight), and once the cooler's watertight again around the exit tube I'll be loaded for bear for an all-grain batch. I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to try again on the Resolve IPA (which is still distressingly cloudy and dark) or plunge into the juniper-and-rye world of Sahti.


Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Good God, a Non-beer Post!

Yep, someone's actually managed to derail my train of thought. :-)

In this case it's sugarmama, with her musings about what's necessary to keep her happy while dating. Good for her - I've bumped into many, many (many) women (and men, for that matter) who haven't bothered to articulate their wants/needs nearly so well.

I did want to chime in a bit, though, on the whole sex side of things (fair warning: the next bit might as well be marked PG-13). Sugarmama finishes with the very typically female comment, "i can live with being single until one man finds the whole of me more enticing than merely having meaningless sex with me." Understood, and in terms of a fledgling, not-quite-past-'hey-you're-cool' kind of relationship, entirely reasonable and prudent.

However, when things get to the serious-exclusivity stage, there's an unfortunate difference between the male and female of the species that bears highlighting here: whereas females tend to view sex (and general sexuality in the relationship, not just coitus) in a barometer-of-the-relationship, extracurricular kind of way, males tend to see sex as one of the best, most pure, most direct ways of expressing affection and love.

I see all sorts of women deriding men for "just wanting to get into my pants, never mind the rest of me." Assuming the guy's your main squeeze, bear in mind that being entranced with the rest of you is probably exactly why he's so hot to jump you.

All of us tend, at a knee-jerk level, to express love by making the gestures we want made back to us, regardless of the needs or wants of the 'gesturee.' The good news here for the ladies is that boffing your man occasionally is the single best way to make him feel wanted, needed and loved. The bad news for all of us is that guys usually need to be taught how best to express love in the other direction.

Anyway, end of sermon. Not that it really applies to sugarmama's situation at all. :-)

Well, Okay, a Little Beer Stuff
In learning about Finnish Sahti beer, I wound up speaking to my mom and dad last night (part of a weekly ritual we all have) and my Uncle Regem came up; he's the brother of my maternal grandmother, and is evidently well connected in Finland. I'll be contacting him about recipes and yeast in short order.


Monday, January 06, 2003

Is he gonna talk about beer again?!?

Yep, sorry. :-)

Big Dawg Brown
As of Saturday, Rich's Big Dawg Brown Ale has been in bottles for one week out of the four to six I'm supposed to let it condition, so I had a taste. Very nice - I'm so relieved. That rich, almost coffee-like texture and feel is beginning to show, and it's nicely counterbalancing that bitterness I was so worried about. The recipe called for dry malt extract for priming instead of corn sugar, and as a result the beer's head of foam is much creamier and has better longevity - it's gonna be a real winner.

It's got that slight cidery sweetness that I'm beginning to realize is the result of incomplete fermentation (which has so far happened with every batch, despite waiting patiently for the two-minutes-between-bubbles stage). I'm not sure what to do about this problem, because even though it's not unpleasant (in fact it's garnered rave reviews from all tasters), it's still incorrect, and when I start making beers with the intent to adhere to a style (as was my plan for the IPA), this sort of thing will be a real detriment. Suggestions, Acidman?

I do seem to have blown it cleaning my used bottles from the 2Red batch, though - the Big Dawg in new bottles tastes better than that in the bottles I cut corners with by running through the dishwasher. Bummer. Still, half the batch is in the good bottles, so all isn't lost. I'll just have to get busier with the bottle-brush for future brews.

Resolve New Year's IPA
The IPA was racked or siphoned into the secondary glass "carboy" fermenter as of Friday evening (as the fermentation had slowed markedly), which got it off the layer of trub (yeast and other debris) that settled out during the first few days of fermentation. The beer will now have about a week (maybe two, depending) to clarify and lighten before I bottle it for three weeks or so of conditioning.

Oy, da patience this hobby needs. :-) I already want to brew another batch of something, just so there'll be something going on. :-)

I'm thinking about Finnish Sahti, which is a rustic barley-and-rye beer with juniper (and sometimes other yummy things) in it, and which is fermented using bread yeast. There's a heritage crossover for you... :-D

[Addendum: Found a cool (if somewhat technical) article on Sahti here.]

Does he ever think about anything other than beer?
Um, nope, sorry, not recently. :-D

Or, well, not that I can talk about in a public forum yet...


Friday, January 03, 2003

Yep, it's Friday

Like, Beer Stuff
Slowly but surely, things are righting themselves... Snagged the faucet adapter for the wort chiller yesterday, and after a quick test I can report that it works like a champ.

The IPA really began to ferment in earnest yesterday, and once again I appear to have inadvertently overachieved in the realm of yeast-pitching. Tough to do, considering it was a premixed vial of White Labs liquid yeast, but still. This time around the kraeusen (head of yeast-produced foam) rose so high that it began bubbling out of the airlock, partially clogging it! If I hadn't been watching I might have had a real mess on my hands; as it was the lid was visibly bulging by around half an inch at the center. I removed the bubbler and as the pressure relieved I was sprayed with flecks of yeasty foam. Yow! After cleaning up I tried a few ways to both contain the foam and keep things sanitary. A sponge over the airlock hole just threatened to clog again; a dishrag did the same. I eventually just sat a small transparent Rubbermaid tub roughly over the bubbling mass (leaving corners hanging over the fermenter's edge, so air could flow) and hoped for the best.

Morning came and the fermenter hadn't exploded. The foam had stopped issuing from the airlock hole, though, and there was no blockage, so I wiped the whole setup down again and reinstalled the bubbler, which resumed operation with no more foaming or clogging. Whew! Talk about overachieving yeast! Well, I suppose the consolation is that no matter how badly I fouled things up during the brew, I will still end up with beer. :-)

I always suspected this, but here's the proof: Mail-order beer is illegal in Pennsylvania... But maybe not for long.

Like, Social Stuff
In other news, Hunter and I spoke last night, and I'm planning to visit Birmingham sometime around the end of this month, beer in hand. Maybe I'll get to meet the indomitable sugarmama!

And Acidman and Joanie, I owe you bottles of 2Red. E-mail me your mailing addresses before I run out!


Thursday, January 02, 2003

Embarking on the New Year

It's 2003! In case anyone hadn't noticed. :-)

A Twofold Lesson in Brewing Humility
Rich's Resolve New Year's IPA is in the fermenter, but not without inordinate drama. I decided that this recipe would break new ground on a few fronts: first, it'd be a recipe of my own devising, using the tools so thoughtfully given to me over the Christmas Holiday; and second, it'd get me closer to the Real Brewing Deal of going "all-grain," or extracting all the sugars myself from the raw malted barley, rather than relying as heavily on processed malt extract syrups and powders.

Many parts of this went very well yesterday --- I got my two-gallon, five-pounds-of-grain mash (where previously I'd done a single pound of grain in half a gallon of water) going just dandily, with it's main extraction of 150° F for an hour, and 10-minute "mash-out" at 168° F going swimmingly.

However, when it came time to lauter and sparge (i.e., separate the yummy sweet sugar solution or "wort" from the now-spent grain, and then rinse out every last bit of the sugar) I ran into a problem. Previously, I'd done this with my pound of grain in a muslin grain bag - lautering was a simple matter of yanking the bag, and sparging was done by drizzling 170° F water through it over a period of 15 minutes. I tried to reproduce this process for my five pounds of grain (now waterlogged to more like ten pounds) using a big, beefy colander, and it sort of worked, but I realized afterward that I screwed up pretty mightily because A) in straining the grain from the wort I aerated it heavily at relatively high temperature, which is likely to have oxidized things at a very bad point, and B) water drizzles through that much grain very badly when dry, finding all sorts of narrow channels through instead of extracting the whole mass well. Matt tried to warn me, he really did.

The solution for the future is to build myself a proper lauter tun (a big vessel modified to help in the lautering and sparging processes) from a big pot or a clean water cooler, which provides for doing this properly with either a porous "false bottom" or an extraction manifold built out of slotted piping. Yay - more to fiddle with! %-)

Anyway, after making a sow's ear of my potential silk purse in terms of lautering, I proceeded to the boil, which brought me back to the familiar world of competence. I had a total of five hop additions (IPAs are high in hop bitterness and flavor as a style):
  • once with East Kent Goldings hops during the mash (to avoid the necessity of dry hopping in the fermenter),
  • then, during the boil, once at zero minutes with Target hops for bittering,
  • once at 30 minutes with more East Kent Goldings for flavor,
  • once at 45 minutes with more Goldings for flavor and the beginnings of aroma, and
  • a final addition of Goldings at 55 minutes for aroma only.
I then, listening to a book I shouldn't have, I partially covered the pot full of boiling carbohydrate-filled water and turned to check the recipe...

Can you say boil-over? I knew you could. I lost a portion of the last aroma-hop addition, and made a spectacular, smelly mess, but otherwise survived. Sigh.

Anyway, the boil completed, I moved to chill the wort with the new, shiny, spiffy wort chiller that Matt gave me. Got it sanitized and clean, and ready to plug into the kitchen faucet... Wait, the fitting won't... Uh oh...

Faucet and hose fittings come in two sizes.

Well, okay, the wort will take hours to cool by itself, so I can cover it and make a quick run to a hardware store to score an adapter.

At 6:30 in the evening. On January First. New Year's Day.

Smack in the middle of the season least likely for garden-hose sized fittings to be in stock.

SIGH. Emit swearwords. Repeat.

Head over to the Kroger and snag some big bags of ice after an hour of bullheaded searching.

One of the things that's very important about cooling wort is that the quicker you do it, the more thorough the precipitation of certain undesirable solids called the cold break happens, and I had to cool the better part of four gallons of wort, after leaving it for an hour. I had one seriously crappy separation of cold break.

My target specific gravity was 1.071, and between bad lautering and compensating for the boilover with dilution I wound up achieving one around 1.057. This is going to be a rather wimpy India Pale Ale in terms of alcohol content. I'm going to be racking or siphoning the beer to a secondary fermenter for clarifying after the major part of the fermentation is complete, so the poor cold-break separation shouldn't affect the beer's color too badly, but there may very well be some off-flavors from the bad cold break and from the hot aeration I did.

Sigh again.

Matt called me up during the boil hour, and when I told him all the extra aggravation I was having he said, "You know, this is beginning to sound an awful lot like work."

Well, yeah, can't argue there, but you know what, for all the sweating and swearing I did yesterday I still love the smell of hops and wort that's lingering in the air of my apartment. And most of the extra effort came from not knowing what I was doing and committing some spectacular foul-ups, so I'll just keep learning, and the next time it should go a lot better.