Thursday, February 14, 2013

Infections -- no, not that kind

On a recent weekend, I bottled and brewed with my brother; the first time I've actually had help in any of these homebrew processes.  Whilst bottling, we were moving relatively quickly and I neglected to be properly mindful of contamination on the bottles we were using.  Usually when I bottle, my hands have been in starsan enough that I'm not concerned when I touch the bottle to shake it or dump it or fill it or cap it, etc.  This time though, the bottles were changing hands and there was more jostling in the process.  Too, I didn't inspect each bottle as I usually do for any potential contaminants that require a quick bottle brushing.  Result: about one out of every 4 bottle has a noticeable film at the fill-line in the bottles implying some contamination.  I'm not sure there is a proper way to handle this beyond just dumping all those contaminated bottles, though I have dumped about 5 of the ones that looked bad enough that I wouldn't want to drink it.  For the others, when I find a contaminated bottle, I shake it up really good, get the yeast that's dropping out of suspension stirred up, dislocate any "film" and let it go into suspension, and trust my yeast to knock out any bad bits before it all falls into trub.  The end result is that bottles from this batch won't be shared -- I'll power through.  Some will taste "off" while others will be good.  Lesson: start kegging?  Soon... Soon.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Brewing and Connecting

It turns out that despite the rise of apps, the Web is alive and well, and that even in the face of Tumblr and Facebook and other platforms, people are still blogging. Who knew, right? 

Several trips down various online rabbit holes (tabletop gaming, home grown tobacco, home brewers, pizza makers) lately have led me to some very interesting, dedicated, deep and motivated communities doing things they care passionately about. I think what these communities share are: personality traits that embrace life-long learning, an absence of fear when it comes to taking risks or trying new things, an ability to revel in DIY even when (or especially when?) it's imperfect, and most of all, a deep desire to share the things they do with others -- both inside and outside of their communities.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time here on my "b-side" knows that when we aren't being "legitimate professionals" in our day jobs, we are working (or at least trying to work) as amateurs in other parts of our lives: child rearing, pet owning, gardening, poultry raising, housekeeping, canning, cooking, baking, crafting, brewing, etc. Add to that list, things I like to dabble in, even if I'm not very good and/or may not have done them recently: spoon carving, knitting, sewing, wood working.  Something you'll note about this list is that it's really stuff you'd have run into in a Home Ec (or Shop) class back in the day.  (Sidebar: is what's lacking from our schools today, programs that help forge better connections with the world around us?)

For me, the thing I really love about all these pursuits is that trying them myself, or doing them regularly even if unevenly, connects me to the things in my life in ways that merely procuring their finished pieces does not.  I used to hear an older generation say that in order to appreciate something you have to work for it or earn it. This was generally the counter-point to upper/upper-middle class individuals being "given" things. In any case, I don't think that a workmanlike approach is what impacts appreciation -- even full appreciation, though it's close; I think what they meant rather, is that in order to fully, really, fully appreciate something you need to ACTIVELY connect with and invest in it.  Maybe it's semantics, but here's an example:

Whether gifted, purchased or made, the things that remain in my life -- which move with  me, which I work to care for, to sustain, to keep around -- are those things (and people!) with which I have formed a bond.  Maybe it's research or a book that resonated, travel that turned that item into a sentimental attachment, a connection with a person that carried over into the gift, or something I worked on myself and of which the work turned out objectively satisfactorily.  At the same time, I've made a number of things myself that I'm perfectly happy to "surplus" (this includes "friendships").  For some reason, those items didn't have the strong connection even though I made them.

Ok, so who cares, right?  Well over at, John posts topics that he's thinking about and encourages the homebrew blogosphere to weigh in. The most recent session #71: Brewers and Drinkers, asks the question about one's relationship with beer and how it's made. "Do you brew," he asks. "If so why? If not, why not? How does that affect your enjoyment of drinking beer?"  For me, this was more about, what is your connection to beer and moreover, how do you forge connections you care about?

For what it's worth, to brew a simple all extract beer you need about 40 minutes of stove time, a food safe bucket, and the ingredients (malt extract, hops if they aren't in the extract, and yeast).  From there, you need to wait a minimum of about two weeks before you spend another 90 minutes putting that into bottles, followed by another two weeks of conditioning the brew.  That initial 40 minutes can be amped up to about 5-7 hours if you've jumped into all-grain brewing, which doesn't consider creating your recipe, procuring and milling grains, and adding steps like temperature control, secondary fermentation, lagering, etc. TL;DR, even for people taking the easy approach, they're spending more time with their beer than they would in the aisle at their bottle shop of choice, sometimes by an order of magnitude.

Therefore, if you brew (and if you blog about brewing you probably aren't taking the Olive Garden approach) does this connection that you are so actively attempting to forge with your beer change how you think about that object, the community that coalesces around it, and the way in which you interact with it?  How has that connection changed your appreciation (or has it?) and what do you think about it?

I think a lot of home brewers -- especially long time home brewers with whom I've spoken -- have started at or near the elitest end of the spectrum and come out the other side, right back with where beer's proletariat roots began.  (see: a recent rift in the homebrewing scene pitting "craft" vs. "crafty")  Others are so wrapped up in their beer and "the movement" that they feel very strongly about those who they believe are trying to take it away (Miller-Coors, AB InBev) or those who are turning craft beer into some sort of classist dichotomy.

When I started home brewing, I was a wine drinker. (In case you're keeping track, "Do you brew?" Yes.) I have never liked spirits, but have always enjoyed beer.  But for me, wine was where it's at.  ("If so, why?") However, after several years playing with various types of fermentation, making the move to beer really upped the ante.  It meant using some of my cooking skill, but adding things like attention to temperature control, gravity, pH, flavor profiles, standards, and much bigger equipment (my first 10g pot will arrive tomorrow, and I've used a propane burner outside off and on for a while now).  In effect, it was a challenge of my abilities, and also a challenge to connect with my food in still more ways that I had yet to experience. 

(How does that affect your enjoyment of drinking beer?)  As a local foods supporter, I had long been drinking local beer and have avoided beer made by international conglomerate-owned breweries (with no misconceptions about their technical prowess, which is exemplary).  But making beer meant supporting another local business (my Local Home Brew Shop or LHBS), spending MY time making more of what I consumed and less time just consuming it (though that's debatable -- which is to say, I'd lose that debate), and LEARNING!  My first beer was below average, for homebrew. 

Let it be said, home brewers make amazing beer.  Do not judge homebrew by any home brewers first 10 attempts.  "Average" homebrew is exceptional.  Of my first 10 attempts, I had three wonderful beers, three iffy beers, and four good beers.  Of my second 10 attempts, I had 8 wonderful beers and two good beers.  Of the last five beers?  Three, I would have entered into competition (Saison, CDA #1, California Common) and two I gladly included with Christmas gifts (CDA #2 and Belgian Strong). (I'm saving some for you Nate!)

Has that affected my enjoyment of drinking beer?  Not all beer. But definitely, yes.  It has matured my palate and caused me to understand what I took for granted.  It cultivated awareness of the social history of beer as a beverage and an agent for social change and connection.  And it makes me feel like I'm part of something larger than me -- which is a community of brewers, of free people, and of people who love to share.

So here's the thing: I do things that make me feel more connected.  I don't do things that don't enhance my feeling of being connected.  Beer doesn't make me feel more connected, but home brewing does.  Also, I like making things, and I think (and this has been objectively affirmed) I make pretty good beer.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saison Yeast (more than I want to share on Facebook)

Warning: Nerd post about beer.  (more for me than you, but you may care too so enjoy or whatever.)

At some point in the past year, my time available to sit and write blog posts has diminished leaving me to either share via Facebook or via Twitter.  This though, is something longer than I'd share in either place so here it'll sit.

Today I brewed my second Saison of the summer, using a nearly identical grain bill but a different yeast strain due to seasonal availability of certain Saison style yeasts at my local home brew store (LHBS).  Previously, I was able to duplicate the Northern Brewer Farmhouse Biere De Table recipe.  I LOVED the result.  This time though (as I was quaffing the lone remaining bomber from that 5 gallon batch, I was forced to pitch a strain one point removed from the 3725 "Biere de Garde" yeast of the other batch, simply called a "Farmehouse" 3726..

According to the WYEAST blog:

Wyeast 3725 PC Biere De Garde is a low to moderate ester producer with a subtle spiciness. Finally, Wyeast 3726 PC Farmhouse Ale produces complex esters which are balanced with earthy and spicy notes.
 What I loved about the Biere de Garde yeast was its mild esters and, yes, subtle spiciness.  This time the "complex" esters lead me to believe I'll get more of a Saison style, hopefully with a more efficient alcohol conversion and hence, drier mouthfeel..

In batch 12 (the Biere de Table) I used a partial grain -- extract with some specialty grains -- meaning I was able to match the correct gravity from the recipe exactly.  It left me with a nice 4 ish percent alcohol beer.  Right in line with the Farmhouse style claiming enough alcohol to keep the "water potable" and hydrate the farmhands, but with a low enough gravity to keep all those folks from getting drunk. 

In today's lucky 13 batch, I did all grain, upping the grain bill about a pound and a half to make up for my poor efficiency in my batch sparging method.  Well, I'm inside now, having completed the wort chilling and getting ready to take a gravity reading before I pitch.  I ended up losing less volume in the boil than I thought -- maybe about a gallon rather than the 1.5 - 2 gallons I usually get, which means I'm at about 6 gallons of wort rather than 5.  Should be interesting!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Early Canning

Since Christmas, when we discovered that Piper loves pickled beets, I've been thinking about getting on the  canning bandwagon. I was even gifted a new book full of canning recipes. I know that in the past few years I've been getting more into what I'd describe as the fringe of food preservation and fermentation with kim chee, kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut, cheese and tofu, but I never did much canning.  Until now.

This year I've already done a bunch of strawberry jam, several liters of strawberry syrup, three pints of preserved lemons, and now two pints of spicy carrots and 7 pints of pickled beets.  Part of what is so fulfilling about canning -- because it's a real mess and takes quite a lot of time -- is how beautiful the things look in their jars when you're all done.  I prefer to use the newer wide mouth jars, and I'm loving these little squatty pints.

I can't wait for cucumbers to start appearing, and other berries.  And in late summer, it will be peach time! 

Goat Hugs

Piper loves to hug animals, and when we were at Elodie Farms on Sunday, she had opportunity to hug as many baby goats as she could catch. It was pretty adorable, but you don't have to take my word for it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And then she was 2

Today is Piper's second birthday.  We had helium balloons, strawberry cake with strawberry icing (which Paige last night using fresh strawberries just picked eariler in the day when they went to a pick-your-own farm), and French maccaroons from Guglhupf.  Gioia and Irena came over for treats and tea, as did our neighbors, Ed and Margie.  Piper's nanny Amber dropped by, and Susan (Piper's Grand Meme) is here for the week.  We also had a special visitor... an OWL!  Too bad every day can't be a birthday.

Pictures are in the album, here >

Friday, April 13, 2012

Irish Stout Homebrew # 9

Last night I brewed an Irish Stout kit from Midwest Supplies (think Guinness clone but with American hops rather than UK hops).  This will probably be my last (or one of my last) extract kits before I switch to all grain brewing.  It's what's called an extract kit because you don't boil massive amounts of crushed grains to create your own base wort / tea, you use extract -- which is basically wort that's been reduced to syrup, packaged and sold to be thinned out by adding water later.  In most of the extract kits I've done, there are also some specialty grains that impart complexity or different mouth feel -- this is usually around a pound and a half of grain that you crush and put in a big muslin bag to make a "tea" with before adding the rest of the extract.

For this kit the ingredients were:
Specialty Grains: Crystal Malt, Roasted Malt, Chocolate Malt, Flaked Barley
6 lb Dark Malt Extract
.5 oz Gypsum
.5 oz Nugget Hops (at boil)
1 oz  Wilamette Hops (with two minutes left)

Kit SG: 1.042 - 1.046,  FG: 1.010-1.012 for an ABV of about 4.6%

The way I usually do these extract kits on the stove top, I end up boiling between 3 and 4 gallons of filtered water in my 6 gallon pot, leaving room for the hot break so that I don't get a boilover. There's also "boiloff" or evaporation that occurs over the course of the hour long boil so I usually end up adding water periodically or at the end so that I don't hurt the hop absorption throughout -- it's less complicated than it sounds, but it can be very complicated if you want it to be.  I haven't had a problem with this but I'm learning that in all grain brewing you do all these calculations to plan for how much water you don't get back from your grains (you want like 6.5 gallons of wort to come from your mash so you may end up starting with close to 8 or 9 gallons of water total -- the grain keeps some), then have enough for boiloff so that in the end, you are left with precisely 5 gallons of finished wort for your fermenter.

What I did in my first few batches -- and which everyone swears by -- is taking original gravity readings after you chill the wort and before adding your yeast, to make sure you have the right amount of fermentable sugars and stuff.  It's also how you calculate the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) in your final brew -- by comparing Starting Gravity with Final Grafity and converting the difference.  In straight extract kits, you don't have to worry much because the extract is all there and you just add water and the math works.  You end up with what the kit says you'll end up with and usually your gravity readings just tell you if you did it right or not.  In all grain, it's trickier.  So because I haven't been doing all grain, I haven't been worried and all of my beers have turned out pretty good.  Last night though, I decided to do an SG reading and I was really high (1.061).  I haven't determined why yet but I'm assuming it's because of a few things, possibly including:
  1. I didn't realize that I was low in my volume (about a gallon low) when I took my reading so maybe it was high because it was more concentrated.  I ended up adding the extra gallon of filtered water at the end to bring up the volume but didn't take a reading to check it out. (pretty sure this is it but as I said, I didn't re-check after I corrected the volume -- I'll take a reading when I rack and again when I bottle and see where I end up.  If I'm back in range, I'll know it was volume or general user error.)
  2. The gravity readings you get are usually set to work at about 60-degrees F and I was about 80-degrees F when I took it (the temp conversion isn't enough to account for my OG reading -- amounts to only a .003 difference)
  3. This is the first time I crushed my own grains, and also the first time I've added hops directly to the boil without having them in a bag -- so there could have been more particulate matter floating around than usual... probably nonsense)
This is the third time I've used dry yeast but the first time I re-hydrated it and made a starter.  I usually use wyeast liquid yeast pouches with a starter.  I really like them, but the dry yeast packets are usually fine if you have viable yeast.  The starter was really roaring by the time I pitched it into the bucket, and this morning it's bubbling strong.

For the past two months I've been drinking English Bitter, Irish Ale (like a red ale but with my own hop blend), and occasionally craft beers I buy down the road.  I'm looking forward to having a stout back in circulation.

(Yorkshire Bitter Homebrew #7, Erin Go Braugh Irish Ale Homebrew #8)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beer Post

I’ve been brewing beer for a few months now but I haven’t taken the time to sit and write about it.  I haven’t really even had a chance to talk with any other brewers about what I’m doing, how I could be doing it better or what they learn in their own pursuit of brewing a fine beer they can call their own.  I’m a bit down on the lack of community I have but that could extend to a number of things from baking to raising the chickens.  I probably just need to get out more.

In any case, today I’m brewing batch of beer number 6.  It’s a creamy brown ale based on a recipe found in Stephen Snyder’s “The Brewmaster’s Bible” as submitted by Ric Genthner of Wine Barrel Plus in Livonia, Michigan.  This will be my second brew based on a recipe from The Bible, and as the other turned out really nice I’m thinking positively about what I have going now.

As a bit of a recap, below are the beers I’ve made so far:
1. Basic Wheat, 5 Gallon, Extract kit - Cooper’s Wheat Beer
2. Australian Pale Ale, 5 Gallon, Extract kit - Coopers APA
3. Cream Ale, 3 Gallon, Partial Grain - Recipe from the Brewess
4. Chocolate Maple Porter, 1 Gallon, All Grain, kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop
5. Oatmeal Stout, 5 Gallon, Partial Grain - Based on recipe from The Bible
6. Creamy Brown Ale, 5 Gallon, Parial Grain - Based on recipe from The Bible

So far, none of my beers have been disappointing.  In fact, the basic wheat from the kit which was really not very drinkable early on, got quite good after about week 5 of conditioning.  I have a few bottles left that I’m saving to try in the spring, and I will probably brew up a partial grain batch from recipe to compare it to, as my next project.

The APA which was also had a pretty good chance of being awful, is quite nice.  It’s very thin and probably the furthest thing from a beer I’d actually buy on my own, but it has nice hints of apple and a smooth tartness to it.  There isn’t much aftertaste or bitterness to it -- it’s good cold but warms up to have some nice flavor too.

If there’s one beer that’s been most disappointing it’s actually been the 1 gallon all grain kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop.  And it is getting much better the longer it sits too.  I’ve given a few bottles of it away and people are pretty complimentary.  The problem with this brew is akin to buying coffee beans that are already ground.  The longer cracked grains sit in a bag, the more stale they become.  When I do a partial grain brew now, I use the grains freshly cracked from my homebrew store -- they crack them while I wait so I don’t have to make a mess at home.  Those are like using freshly ground beans to make your morning pot of coffee.  There’s no staleness and the flavors of the grains come through.  Also, I think there’s probably something to the husks sitting open like that for very long.  They impart bitterness (like garbanzo skins in hummus) so the sooner after you crack the grains that you brew, the better.

My cream ale was really good and I’ll do another batch of beer from The Brewess sometime soon.  Her recipes are nice because a 3-gallon recipe can almost be all-grain on the stove, which makes is really inexpensive.

So far though, I’m most proud of my Oatmeal Stout and my soon to be Creamy Brown because feel like I really did something to make those 5-gallon batches, I enjoy the partial grain process, and they are some darn good beers.

More to come on this front, including pictures and possibly a report about baking with spent grains, but I wanted to get this out of my head.  

The mash is done steeping so it’s time to boil.  More soon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making Tofu

Mike got after me for not posting about my projects much -- especially my beer exploits and my more recent tofu experiments. I haven't popped open any homebrews for a few days, but I did make tofu last night so here are my notes.

1. It's easier than you think
2. You don't need special equipment
3. Home made is way better and richer than store bought
4. It's considerably cheaper than store bought
5. It's fun!

I didn't get any pics of the processing, just my ghetto press and the finished product.  The process though goes as follows: soak 1 lb dried organic soy beans (bulk or packaged from Whole Foods or the like) for at least 6 hours or over night, food process or blend in batches with soaking liquid for 5-12 minutes depending on method until smoothe and creamy, cook in a big pot over medium heat until a soft boil stirring constantly for about 15 minutes -- watch out for the boilover and keep some cold water on hand to knock that down, skim off the foam, drape several layers of cheese cloth (or a sanitized cloth diaper - flat fold) over a colander to retain the solids, press through as much soy milk as you can.  I feed the solids to the chickens but they're very nutritious and can be used in baking if you want.  Once you have your soy milk, let it cool to about 145-160 degrees and add your coagulent.  I use 2 tsp of gypsum (an adjunct I have on hand for beer brewing) or the juice of one lime.  Stir it in calmly then let the pot sit undisturbed for 20 or 30 minutes.  Place another few layers of cheese cloth or another sanitized flat-fold cloth diaper over your press (my ghetto press is a modified half gallon cardboard milk carton).  Spoon all that jelly tofu into the press.  Fold the cloth over, place the other carton side down and weight it.  The rest is super easy.

Tofu in process with a few cans of soup.

Inside the press ready to remove the yummy tofu.

Flip that thing upside down.

Here's the big brick in its cloth.

The top is a little lumpy because of the folded cloth, but it's super smooth inside.

Cut it into two bricks to fit in the water bath and it's ready to use.  See how smooth and creamy it is inside?  Those two cans of soup on the tofu overnight make a very nice silken to medium firm tofu.

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