Archive for February, 2008

Feb 24 2008

A tale of two festivals

Published by under Beer,Events

A little bit of a belated post, for many have already covered these two fine Bay Area beer events, and who won the awards, etc.; What’s on Tap and Brookston Beer Bulletin to name a few. Just wanted to recored my impressions, this was the first year I managed to get myself to both the Bistro’s Double IPA Festival and the Toronado’s Barleywine Festival. I have to say to any none Bay Area beer appreciators out there who may be thinking about making a visit to our region. Mid-February is the time to do so. There are simply a stunning amount of beer events this time of year. All highlighting the superb quality of of our local (and in some cases not so local) brewers.

Bistro DIPA Fest 08

Both events happened to luck out with fantastic weather, a real gamble this time of year. At the Bistro in Hayward could have almost worn shorts, but got pretty cool in the evening. This was a great event, spilling out onto the sidewalk / beer garden surrounding the Bistro. Even with the large crowd, accessing the taps was not a big deal. Admittedly I find it a bit tough to remain objective about tasting after my fifth or sixth (maybe even less) glass. There did not seem to be a dud in the bunch.

Of note for me was my first sample of Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Younger. This beer really pretty much defies classification. It is by far the hoppest I have tasted, and some how remains a drinkable beverage. I don’t know how he does it. One to think about. I seem to remember reading some where Vinnie does three or four separate dry hop additions for Pliny the Elder. The concept of multiple dry hop additions seems pretty radical to me. How many for the Younger, six or eight? (edit: R. R.’s website says that Younger undergoes four dry hop additions.)

Several brewers from many of the local breweries were in attendance, and I also ran into many homebrewers. A great atmosphere and a great festival, tasting the top tier of microbrewing craft with a great crowd. Some good exchange of ideas and just general good natured fun. Also, was directed to Val’s for a post festival hamburger. Excellent!

Toronado Barleywine Fest 08

The following Saturday was the opening of the (dare say) legendary Toronado Barleywine Festival. I have made it to this event several years in a row now. In contrast to the Bistro event a bit more crowded. For the Lower Height location of the Toronado does not really afford them any room on the sidewalk outside. The same rule applies here, in so much as I find it hard to be objective after only a few samples. But, will remark that there seemed to be a very wide array of differing flavors and interpretations of the barelywine style this year. Oaked, bourbon, brandy, and many even with considerable hop character to them. One of my festival going companions remarked that they really enjoy these two events, for we are tasting the styles of beer that really highlight the brewer’s art. Agreed.

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Feb 21 2008

a bit of venting, or: how i learned to relax, don’t worry, and have a blowoff tube

Published by under Homebrew

i meant to write this up last night, when i thought the matter was settled. the matter was not settled.

on monday i brewed up a 4.75G batch (a bit of a volume screwup, as usual) of 1070 pale ale. into it i pitched a healthy looking 500ml starter of WLP001. i filled my 3 piece airlock with vodka and stuck the carboy in the closet.

by the next morning, the beer had sucked half of the vodka into itself, and the airlock was bubbling, but not especially frantically. i thought nothing of either matter; i’d had vodka loss before, and maybe the yeast was just a little slow starting (though I didn’t quite believe that, considering what a monster WLP001 is, but I had no other explanation for the lackadaisical airlock).

yesterday evening when i arrived home from work, i was very surprised to find the kreusen had risen all the way to the neck of my 6.5G carboy — recall that I had only 4.75G of beer! this was a first for me.

i had dinner and then went back to check on the beer again. by now, the yeast was actually in the neck of the airlock, and i could see it pumping up and down, prepping for a jump into my precious bodily fluids — er, vodka. i grabbed a couple paper towels and my trusty bottle of vodka, doused the towels in the least interesting of all spirits (sorry, comrade!), yanked the airlock out of the bung, and capped the bung with my vodkatowel. there was an audible “poot” as i removed the airlock. huh.

a tragedy narrowly avoided, i sat back and thunk. perhaps the pressure is enough to lift the plastic piece through vodka but not enough to lift it through air. so what was needed was… more vodka. i wiped the airlock down as best i could and added more cheap vodka inside it, and stuck it back on. it appeared to work, as it began bubbling furiously. at the same time, the kreusen retreated some. i got back on the computer and made some jokes to my buddy about kreusen retreating in the face of vodka. har!

i relaxed for a little bit and commenced not worrying, but i did not have a homebrew. that was a mistake. when i was ready for bed, i checked the airlock “one last time”. it was full of yeastgoo. d’oh! i did the thing with the paper towel again, yanked the airlock, but this time, i replaced it with an S-type bubbler airlock. that has a longer neck for the gunk to climb, and i figured it would be easier to blow off gas because there’s no plastic to lift.

half a minute after i had attached it, it was bubbling so violently that it was shooting vodka out of the top (i had not overfilled it). a couple minutes later, the yeast was in the airlock. nuts!

so i gave up and decided to use a blowoff tube. i’ve never used one before and i have high hopes for this beer, so i worried a little, and became a little un-relaxed, and i still was not drinking a homebrew. i was doing everything wrong!

if there’s one thing i have in abundance, it’s tubing. someone once said about homebrewing, “how did i ever get involved in a hobby that involves so much plumbing?” i’m with you buddy, plumbing and tubing. and i’m just scratching the surface, so far.

i selected a tube, cleaned it up a little, swabbed the business end with the remainder of my bottle of rotgut, and jammed it right through my carboy hood. the other end went into the rest of the vodka, poured into a saucepan sitting in a large mixing bowl.

i dunno the ID of the tube, i think it’s 5/16″ or something. pretty small. probably not great for a blowoff tube, but it certainly worked. immediately, in fact. it sounded like a really bad case of the runs, bloorp bloorp bloorp bloorp. the bubbles came fast and furious, and quite loud i might add. before long, some yeast junk came shooting through the 4 foot tube. i went to bed, satisfied that i had protected my beer *and* my brewing closet.

i sleep with earplugs. even with my earplugs in, i could hear the intermittent blurp blorp blarp! of the blowoff. i had to put the bowl into the closet (no small feat — it’s a small closet) and close the bedroom door. even then, i could still hear it. i relaxed, don’t worry-ed, and had a nice sleep (but alas, still no homebrew).

this morning, the blowoff bowl was pasty with yeast junk. but it was still bubbling and there was no mess on my carpet. success!

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Feb 02 2008

brew: fifth commandment belgian stout

Published by under Homebrew,Stout

Not long ago, I was digging around in the back of my fridge and came upon a bottle of beer #4. The records from those days are sketchy, you know, on account of The Incident. It appears that #4 was bottled on May 6, 2006. It was a partial boil extract batch, since that’s what I did back then, with the following recipe:

.5lb carafoam
1.0lb chocolate malt
.25# munich malt
.25# honey malt
.5# special B
3lb light DME
6lb dark malt extract syrup
1oz kent goldings (6.2% AA) (45)
1oz kent goldings (6.2% AA) (5)
wlp500

I am kind of proud of this one, it’s the first recipe I formulated on my own. Back then I thought that “stout” meant “having an OG of not less than 1.080”, and the records show that this one had an OG of 1.094. The yeast is a Belgian strain: I was attempting to make something fruity and estery, but also more brooding and chocolatey than a dubbel. I called it a “Belgian Stout,” and it’s a concept I tried again later (to limited success).

Anyhow, I was sitting there drinking #4, and enjoying tremendously the raisiny, heavy chocolate notes, and thinking to myself, “self, why don’t we make another one of these?” And I said to myself, I said, “self, that’s a fantastic idea. also, for some reason, i’m feeling sentimental right now, so why don’t we dedicate it to our parents?” We both agreed that this was a great idea, and then hit upon a swell witticism, because every batch of beer needs a witticism (in case the beer comes out poorly, it can at least have a funny name or story behind it). The witticism (term used with permission) was this: beer #4 got better and better with age, so in honor of my folks, I’d make a reproduction of #4, intending to age it, and advertise widely that it, like my parents, gets better with age.

Get it?

Anyhow, it’s called Fifth Commandment Belgian Stout, it’s number 18, and here’s the final recipe:

Grain : rice hulls 1 lbs
Grain : dark munich malt 6 lbs
Grain : roast barley 0.5 lbs
Grain : special b 1 lbs
Grain : chocolate malt 1.5 lbs
Grain : belgian pale malt 10 lbs
Grain : carapils 0.5 lbs
Grain : carafoam 0.5 lbs
Grain : honey malt 1 lbs
Hop : willamette 2 oz whole
Hop : amarillo 2 oz pellet
Yeast : Wyeast 1214

Mash was 90 minutes at 155F, 1.25qt/lb.

There are several things of interest to note. First, it’s all-grain. I’ve sunk so much cash into my all-grain setup that I can’t ever go back to extract, except for the batch I’m going to do real soon with the cluster hops I got. Also, since brewing #4, I’ve decided that I really don’t much care for the English hops, which turns out to be a good thing these days since they’re damned hard to get. In any case, the recipe calls for boiling the heck out of the hops, then aging the beer for a year, so after all that, it almost does not matter what hops you use. Almost: since #4, I’ve decided I like a hoppier beer, so I upped the hopbill for this one (also because I have a freezerful of the green buggers, thanks to my stockpiling nature).

I wish I could say the brewday went uneventfully. You’d think that I’d have it down by now, being on #18, but every brew provides me with a new learning experience. Last time, the learning experience was “don’t dry-hop with unbagged pellets”. This time, it was… well, read on.

My on-again off-again brew assistant, ChefJef, dropped by for the assist on this one. This is especially appropriate, as ChefJef is my brother, and this beer is dedicated to our folks. It was his third brew assist.

The mash and batch sparge went stunningly well, with no stress despite the massive 22lb mash. I had calculated that with 65% efficiency, I’d hit about 1.080 OG, but I achieved more like 75% efficiency (note: of my last 4 brews, two have been 75% efficiency, and two have been 65% efficiency. the 75-ers were made with crushed grains from Fermentation Frenzy, the 65-ers were from Williams. I suspect that the crush/freshness has as much to do with the extract as my technique.) which calculated out to a whopping 1.094 after the boil. Right on target for a faithful reproduction of #4!

After the sparge, we had 8.5G of wort. Now for the first mistake: I didn’t boil it long enough. I wanted to do a 90 minute boil, and that’s what I did. At the end of 90 minutes I had 6 gallons at 1.080 instead of 5 at 1.090. Lesson #1: boil for gravity, not volume. Lesson #1 is minor, because now I’m going to have 6 gallons of kickass 1.080 stout instead of 5 gallons of stunningly kickass 1.090 stout. I can live with that.

Yes, boilovers. I had 8.5G in my 9G brewpot. Part of the reason it didn’t boil down was that I simply couldn’t boil it vigorously enough without a wort eruption. They say there are two types of brewers: those who have had a boilover, and those who are about to. I am now quite firmly in the first camp.

The other problem: see those whole hops in the recipe? I dumped them in the boil, unbagged. No, I don’t have a false bottom, why do you ask? My wort chiller? Yes, it’s a Therminator plate chiller, why?

That’s right: I clogged the hell out of my wort chiller. We drizzled out about 1.5G before it stopped. Now, that was some ice-cold 1.5G. My last batch, I chilled 5G to under 70F in 11 minutes. I had my system down. That batch did not have unbagged whole hops. This one did.

After the wort stopped, my assistant fetched a stainless slotted spoon, and we sanitized it, and I kajiggled the pot and put the slotted spoon against the out hole. It did not work. After much despair, I began slotted-spooning out the whole hops and dumping them in a pot. This was futile, because as everyone knows, whole hops multiply, infinitely, when exposed to boiling wort. What had begun as 2oz of hops now amounted to 18 bushels, and nobody can remove 18 bushels of hops with a slotted spoon. Nobody. By the time we gave up on the futzing approach, we had maybe 2 gallons of 60F wort in the carboy. I looked at the carboy. I looked at the boil pot. I made an executive decision. I unscrewed the tube from the wort chiller and dumped the hottish (it was freezing cold outside (well, for the bay area… it was 50F or so) so the wort had chilled somewhat on its own) wort directly into the carboy. Five minutes later, I had 6 gallons of wort at 95F.

I shook it like a mofo who is too cheap to buy an oxygenator, grabbed my somewhat anemic starter, and dumped it in.

Now, many of you are saying 95F! Please, Mister Toad, that is too hot for yeast! To you I say: nuts! Yeah, I wanted to pitch at 70F, but you know? 95F is right about where I used to pitch before I had a fancy-pants chiller that can’t handle whole hops in the wort, back when I made… beer #4. That’s right, I pitched at 95F for authenticity. It was my plan all along. SUCCESS!

I bit my nails in anticipation of my success for nearly two days as I waited confidently (biting my nails) for the yeast to show some sign of having enjoyed the 95F pitch. After 2 days, I was rewarded with a massive kraeusen, perhaps the biggest ever, prompting me to fear a clogged airlock + explosion. It’s calmed down by now, all appears good, and though we may have oxidated and infected our hot wort with all that slotted spoon nonsense, there will be at least some alcohol in there — the yeast is alive!

Now I just have to wait another week to rack it, then a year to find out if it’s any good. By exercising such patience, I reckon I honor my parents even more. Cheers!

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