Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Holidays from Beer and Now!

Happy Holidays from Beer and Now!

This year, for the holidays, I gave a tasty Yule Gingerbread Porter to our friends and family* as gifts.  It was a standard brown porter recipe to which I added gingerbread spices (ginger, allspice, clove and cinnamon).  I enjoyed making and drinking this beer.  

*Not all of our friends have received it yet, but I figure at this point it is all good. If they read this blog, they'll just know what they're getting anyway. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Southern HemisBeer

I just got back from a tip to South Africa. If you want to read the general recap, you can check it out at our Tiny House Blog.

One of the things I wanted to experience while we were there was the local beer culture. I quickly learned that there really wasn't much of one. There is a single macrobrew company, South African Breweries, which is a subsidiary of SABMiller. It turns out that all the the available beers are owned by this same company. Coming from the rich and diverse American Craft Brew movement, this was a bit of a shock but we did find that several of the beers were quite tasty.

Lagers appear to be the most popular style. Only one of the available beers was an ale, and that was a stout. Here are the beers we experienced in South Africa, ranked from least favorite to favorite. 

Hansa Pilsner
This was a not-bad-at-all drinking beer, but it lacked a bit of personality. It was a little better than the typical American Pilsners - like Budweiser and Miller.

Castle Lager
Similar to the Hansa, regular Castle Lager isn't much to write home about but it is still better in general than most mass produced American Beers. 

Castle Draught
However, Castle Draught is essentially the same thing as Castle Lager but a little better. It has more of an Octoberfest taste, still a Lager but richer than their regular offering.  I found this one a reasonable beer experience.

Hansa Marzen Gold
But speaking of Octoberfest, Hansa had a Marzen available that was better than the Castle Draught.  Marzen is the actually style of the traditional German Octoberfest beers.  It is typically brewed in March, which is what Marzen means, and stored cold underground until the September festivals in Munich.  I'm not entirely sure that the Hansa beer is a true Marzen but it was drinkable.

Castle Milk Stout
My favorite beer in South Africa, however, was the Castle Milk Stout. Milk Stout is one of my favorite styles of beer in general so I was excited to give this a try.  It doesn't match my favorite microbrew milk stout, but I found int on par with some other American versions of the style. 

It is interesting to note that I don't know that I would have liked any of these beers if it hadn't been for the American Craft Brew Industry. I knew off the bat that most of these beers weren't brewed with the style and quality of a good craft beer.  That was made clear when I read the ingredients and Corn was on all of the lists. In the US, corn and rice are used as fillers by the corporate beer industry.  This was very apparent in the Castle Draught and the Hansa Pilsner but it was less obvious in the Milk Stout that had enough other things going on to mask it.

South Africa is certainly not going to be known for it's beer culture, but what they had available were passable and, in the instance of the Milk Stout, not bad at all. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pomegranate Wheat Beer was somewhat successful

In August, I brewed up a batch of wheat beer.  It seemed to go well.  I had gone to the  Brewmaster's Warehouse and asked for a pretty basic wheat recipe. He suggested one called American Golden Wheat, and that seemed to do the trick. I came home with 3 pounds of wheat extract, 2 pounds of Briess white wheat grains and 2 pounds of Briess 2 Row Brewers Malt. the white wheat and brewers malt would be put in a bag and placed in the hot water to steep in a process called mashing. As you can see from the photographic evidence, I was very studious about this process.  I also had couple different types of hops for added flavor and aroma.  I used Cascade and Centennial. But then, once the boiling was done I added my own variation on this wheat beer.  I added 1.5 quarts of pomegranate juice.  The resulting wort was a lovely peachy color blending the pink of the juice and the gold of the wheat beer concoction.  It looked like this...

Then, well, I got distracted. Once the yeast was pitched and the carboy was stored in a cool place, I got kind of busy doing other things.  I should have bottled this beer early September, but I didn't. Lots of people gave me advice - and as you might expect, all of it was different. Some people said I had probably already ruined the beer and it should have been bottled directly on schedule. Other people said you can't ruin the beer by letting it sit too long and it'll be fine.  I just wasn't sure what to expect.  When we finally had time to bottle, I decided that because of the uncertainty, I wanted to bottle it in one liter grolsch bottles. Mostly because I hate bottling, but also because if it was bad I didn't want to have wasted an entire day filling 12 ounce bottles.

Well, yesterday we were ready to taste the pomegranate beer experiment. And you know what...? It was delicious. There was only one major flaw in the brewing. I had put too much water in the carboy resulting in less alcohol content. I know what I did and I won't do it again, but for now we have a tasty light beer to enjoy.  The beer is crisp and clean and the pomegranate isn't excessive but gives it just a nice tartness.  It was thoroughly enjoyable.  I am actually looking forward to sharing it with friends. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Have Never Met A Stranger…at the bar.

Recently, I was out with some friends and we went to a great little bar in Decatur Georgia called the Thinking Man Tavern. I was there with people I know and love and we enjoyed conversation and beer and food and it was a great time. Of course, that kind of bar experience is always fun. But I got to thinking about what happens when you don’t have your social network on hand.

Occasionally, I find myself at the bar alone or maybe just myself and Matt.  I treasure those experiences just as much as a great night out with great friends. The reason for that is that beer helps you make friends. Not in an “I’m really drunk so I’m going to fall all over you, stranger” kind of way, but more in appreciation of the art of craft brewing.
Just last night, I found myself on my own for dinner so I went to the Taco Mac closest to my work. It was Thursday, so it was Pint Night and I wanted to get my beer glass.  I sat down at an empty chair at the bar and ordered my requisite Beer of the Month and settled in. I pulled out my iPod and connected to the Internet, perfectly content to amuse myself. But then, the two people to my left started talking about being from Michigan so I politely smiled and told them I was from Michigan as well. I didn’t want to interrupt the rest of their conversation, but occasionally they would draw me back in. We talked about sports teams and colleges and a few other things. But then I started to talk with two guys on my right – a Father/Son drinking team. They were both kind of new to the Beer Club so we started talking about what kind of beers they liked. They were surprised by how much I knew about beer, but that was because I reached the next benchmark of the beer club – I get a tee-shirt and glass mailed to me now. I enjoyed the conversation, truthfully more than I enjoyed the beer…but that is a slightly different topic.
But I got to thinking about how the art of beer seems to bring people together. My last post was about getting to know some other guy at the bar when they sat down at our table because we were leaving. We didn’t end up leaving because the discussion of beer and music was so engaging. You always have at least one thing to talk about – Beer. When you go to places the specialize in craft brewed beers, you tend to meet other people who also like craft brewed beers. Sometimes if you dig deeper you’ll find other things in common with these strangers. And truth is, you will probably never see them again but just that hour or two of great conversation can really make your day.
Now in regards to the beer. I’ve recently tried two local breweries newest additions and one I loved and one…not so much.
At the Thinking Man’s Tavern I was able to try Wild Heaven’snew quadruple called Eschaton. It was absolutely delicious. I try really hard to be able to describe the flavors of beer, but this one was really complex. It was a dark beer, but not overly heavy. It was a sweet beer, but not cloyingly so. It tasted of brown sugar and molasses and some mild fruitiness. Since it is a high gravity beer, it is served as an 8 ounce poor. This is good; I might have kept drinking it because it was so delicious. It is funny – I don’t often find myself describing beer as “Delicious.” Usually I use adjectives like “good” or “tasty”. But for some reason those didn’t adequately describe Eschaton. Wild Heaven is only one of several new breweries taking over the Atlanta market. If you find yourself in our fair southern town, make sure you try the local beer.
But not this one...
I’ll admit, I am a gigantic fan of local Red Brick Brewery. Their Brown is one of my go-to beers. So at the bar last night when I saw they had the brand new Vanilla Gorilla Porter, I wanted to give it a try. I didn’t want just a sample, though she would have given me a taste. I wanted to try a whole one, and get the additional points on my beer club card (which is what put me over the edge to getting to the next level). The bartender described it better than I ever could. It tasted like Bacon and Ice Cream. And not in a good way. There is a trend now to brew Smoked beers, and I have to admit that the flavor is not among my favorites. Vanilla Gorilla, as you might imagine, is a Vanilla Smoked Porter. I think it might have been a fantastic vanilla porter. It might have even been a good smoked porter if you’re into that sort of thing. But the combination of the meaty smokiness and the sweet vanilla was not good for me. Thanks, Red Brick, for trying something new. And the next time you try something new I will give it a go as well. But for now, I’ll just be over here with my Red Brick Brown.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Great Beer Night

It has been a while since I've paid much attention to this blog. With my other projects, sometimes this one gets a little neglected.  Making beer is very much a repetitive process, so sometimes I don't feel the motivation to write about it after I've done it.

However, there has been another aspect to Beer and Now that I have been neglecting. The beer experience. I have certainly had some great ones this summer.  Last month, we spent an afternoon at Highland Brewery in Asheville.  We've also been spending some times at local Atlanta bars enjoying new brews. But last night was one of the best beer nights I have had in a while.  

After work, I picked Matt up at our apartment and we drove up to our favorite beer bar, and one of Atlanta's best kept secrets.  We had a mission, so we decided that while we were enjoying some tasty craft brews, we would also work on a budget for our project in South Africa.  We ordered our first beer, the Southern Tier Harvest, and some food. This past week in Atlanta had cooled down significantly after Hurricane Lee swept through and yesterday really felt more like a gorgeous Autumn day. The Harvest Ale felt like a great kick off to an early fall.  I don't usually associate ESBs, which is one of my favorite styles, with Autumn beers, but it was a really well done brew.  The color evoked the season perfectly with the orange-amber lights and the flavors were earthy and malty with just a hint of caramel.  We got some food too and chowed down before the table was cleared and we set up our laptops to work on the budget for the shelter project.

While we researched and set up our spread sheet, we were ready for our second brew of the night.  Matt had the Rogue Love and Hoppiness. He wasn't as impressed as he was hoping to be, but he said it was all right.  I, on the other hand, tried the Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Here is the thing about pumpkin beers.  They are either hit or miss - either they blow your mind or they taste like pumpkin flavored water. I asked our waitress her opinion before ordering and she said that this was the good kind of pumpkin ale - full of spicy flavors. I went with it and seriously did not regret the decision. She was right about the spices. The flavors of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg were prominent and a fresh pumpkin taste. 

Nearing the end of our research, it was time to try our third beer of the night.  Matt got the Stone 15th Anniversary Black IPA, which our waitress said was super hoppy and really good. He agreed and my sip did confirm it as well.  But since I had been enjoying Fall Seasonals all night, I really wanted to keep it going.  So, I did the unthinkable... I ordered a beer I have already had before!  The Sierra Nevada Tumbler has long been one of my favorites. Since I do love a good brown beer, this one is a great Autumn offering and it was exactly what I was looking for.  It is just a solid brown beer with some nutty flavors.

We had already packed up our laptops and were finishing our beers when we asked for the check.  While that is normally the end of a great evening out, that was actually when the fun began.  Two guys who had been standing at the bar came over and said "Hey, we saw you were paying and we wanted to know if we could be vultures and get your table?" So told them they certainly could and they sat down in the other two chairs. They introduced themselves and we started talking. We started talking about beer, of course, because we were all enjoying fancy beers at a fancy beer bar. Then, it turns out, one of the guys is This Guy. Now, we went from talking about enjoying beer to brewing beer.  Matt and I told him we were home brewers and that we had a pomegranate wheat in the carboy. He told us that he started homebrewing and now he does contract brewing with Thomas Creek in South Carolina.  Then his friend asked us if any of us were musicians and Matt told them he had been a drummer since he was a kid and recently took up the guitar and singing. Both guys were also musicians so then we talked about music for a while.  And finally, somehow, the conversation got around to building and we talked to them about our cabin in North Carolina and about or project in South Africa. 

It was such a great night.  We got a lot of work done, drank some fantastic beers and met some folks who seem pretty cool.  That is one of the things I like about the "Culture of Beer".  There is something about this shared interest that can really open up those spontaneous social situations. Seriously, hanging out at the bar and talking to strangers is truly one of my favorite hobbies.  You just never know who you'll meet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Damn, I make good beer!

Okay, I don't want to jinx myself and I am sure the first bad batch of beer is coming eventually, but my most recent batch is awesome.  The Austin Home Brew modified brown recipe is delicious.  A little bit nutty, a little bit chocolaty.  It has a beautiful thick and creamy head that leaves a beautiful lacing on the glass.  I couldn't be more pleased. 

Here is the party pig - along with whatever it was we were making for dinner.  

Yum.  

A couple of weeks ago, we stopped by a local home brew store - Brewmaster's Warehouse. I was planning to design my own beer but I wasn't feeling too confident when we got there.  I decided to just have them help me pick out a recipe.  We went with an American wheat.  I do plan to modify this one as well, but my plan is to add pomegranate as a part of a secondary fermentation.  There are a few companies that do a pomegranate wheat, so I imagine that it can either be amazing or really horrible.  I'll keep you updated. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chocolatey and Roasty

Chocolatey and roatsy are two of my favorite words when it comes to beer. If a beer is either chocolatey or roasty they are typically beers that I like.

Yesterday, Matt and I bottled the latest beer that I had brewed about a month earlier along with some friends. I wasn't sure what to expect since I had taken a recipe from Austin Homebrew Supply and added an additional pound of dark malt. I wasn't sure what this modified recipe would do for the final product and since reading Designing Great Beer I have learned that randomly adding ingredients isn't precisely the way to modify a recipe. So, as I set about cleaning and sanitizing the space, equipment and bottles I was little nervous about the outcome.

Once we started the siphon, I put some beer in the hydrometer tube to determine the final gravity and alcohol content. I think we finally have a hang of this process and the beer ended up being about 4.5% alcohol by volume which I think might be the first time I've made something more than near-beer.  (Actually, I don't think that is true entirely, but I'm just not certain what the content was in the previous two batches was).

Then as the beer was transferring from the carboy to the bottling bucket, I poured two sample glasses of the finished but not carbonated beer.  I really wasn't sure what to expect. I was a little worried, to be honest.  What if this beer just wasn't good at all. I suppose I shouldn't have been too worried, the beer had a great foundation with good flavors including chocolate malt.  It smelled pretty good so I proceeded to give it a small sip. And I was pleasantly surprised.  The chocolate and roast flavors were the most pronounced. It was probably the most complex beer I  made so far.  It is, I should say. 

We filled the Party Pig and then bottled about another case and a half.  It just needs to condition for about three weeks or so and then chilled and enjoyed.  We plan to try the Party Pig first and save the bottles for a summer camping trip with friends so we can share it.  I can't wait to taste it once it is carbonated in the bottles.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Recent Adventures in Beer

I've been absent from the Beer Blog lately and that isn't for lack of trying. The brown is still in the carboy brewing and the ESB has matured nicely in the bottles that it has lost that Belgian sugar taste.
 
Since that time, there have been a couple of beer related events. 
 
On April 28th, we went to our favorite local beer bar for the NFL Draft's opening night.  We intended to go to a super secret beer club, but when we arrived we discovered it was closed for a private event. We ended up at the public bar to watch the draft instead. While there, we talked with some other guys at the bar.  That is one of the things I love about beer. It is a great way to have a conversation with a total stranger.  It began with a discussion of Allagash beers, which was a favorite of one of the attendees.  Turns out he is also a regular but more regular than we are and also a member of the beer club with a lot more beers under his belt.  He knows his stuff when it comes to dealing with the beer club politics.  This conversation led to each of us trying a different Allagash beer.  Myself and another guy tried the Allagash White.  Matt tried the Allagsh Dubel and the Beer Chancelor and the fourth guy had the Allagash Tripel.  We discussed the various complexities of these beers and enjoyed conversation about that as well as about Football. 
 
Two days later, we went back to the same bar for their parking lot beer fest.  We got there early, went inside to have a pre-beerfest drink and then went out to the festival.  It was a really hot day though and I learned a very important lesson, kids.  Hydrate!  We had walked to the bar - about three miles - and by the time I had that first beer and not a lot of water I started to feel dizzy.  We didn't stay long.  I wish we could have, there were a lot of beers but the thought of just standing in the sun all day didn't sound like fun once we were out there. So, when we talk about drinking responsibly, there is more to it than not driving or useless bar ware. Make sure you keep hydrated.
 
The next day, though, we donned our Ye Old Renaissance Festival Costumes and joined some friends for a day of fun at the Georgia Renaissance Festival.  I was hoping for great local beer, but alas they were service Ye Old Wisconsin Leinenkugel.  They had the Amber and the Summer Shandy.  For as ridiculous as it sounds, the Summer Shandy was actually very satisfying and refreshing.  A good time was had by all. 
 
On Monday, we were out at the bar with some friends and I was able to introduce some folks to some of my favorite beers.  My friend Jack wanted to try some stouts so he had Bell's Java Stout and, my personal favorite stout, Duck Rabbit Milk Stout. He was pleased with my recommendations.  Several of us decided we should get together more often.  Beer brings people together.  

There will be bottling soon. I'll update on the brown when that happens.  The next project will be using what I learned in Designing Great Beer to create my own recipe. First plan - a wheat. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Not my usual, but nice

Beer brewing is an interesting hobby.  There is a lot of chemistry as well as some baking and cooking skill, which I suppose is also chemistry.  Back on March 5th I brewed what the recipe told me was an ESB.  Now, certainly I am not faulting Austin Home Brew.  In the hands of a more skilled brewer, this may be the best ESB ever.  In my hands, it is not at all unpleasant but I wouldn't characterize it as
an ESB at all.

Yesterday, Matt and I cracked open the first two bottles. Uncapping made the perfect "Pfft" noise that is musical to a brewer's ears.  At least with that noise, you know you probably don't have a dud. We poured it into glasses.  The color was a lovely orange gold.  It it pretty clear, but might clear more over time. It smelled like beer, but not like I expected though I couldn't place  the aroma.  So, finally, we tried that first taste.  It tasted Belgian.  Not like a really amazing brewed-by-monks Belgian beer, but like a pretty good attempt by an American brewery at a Belgian style beer. It wasn't the least bit unpleasant, but not at all what I was expecting.  As I continued to sip at the beer, some of the more ESB qualities began to shine through.  Perhaps the flavor profile will change over the next few days or weeks as well as it continues to condition in the bottles. I have also not yet cracked open the Party Pig so that might be a different experience than the bottles as well.

I am not unhappy about this beer, but I do wonder what I did in the process to cause this to happen.  We have a modified brown beer in the carboy as we speak so I'll be curious how that one turns out as well. That is kind of the fun part about beer.  After you do all the work, you have to wait a while to see what really happens. 

I also got a couple of books for my birthday.  Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels and Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher.  I have already started devouring the Ray Daniels' book and I have already learned a few things that will help with our next batch - specifically about calculating the original gravity. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Girls a-Brewin'!

Matt has been out of town.  Actually, out of the country.  He is in Toronto with his brother this weekend.  But I wanted to brew the next batch of beer, so I set out to do just that.  I invited our friends Andy and Emily over for some assistance and company.  The process went smoothly and the beer is fermenting away as we speak so I would consider it a success so far. 




Since Emily was helping me out with the brewing this week I got to pondering the role of women in home brewing.  I'm familiar with the history of brewing and that it had long been a woman's role in the household, but then the 20th century came and it became the domain of the college-age man.  There is a female presence in the professional brewing industry, but still don't hear a lot about women home brewers.  When googling the subject, you find some articles as old as 1994 and messages in forums wondering if there are any women out there, but receiving only a few responses.  It seems that beer hadn't been an interest for women until the craft beer boom in recent years, so it seems to me that brewing would be a hobby more women would want to get involved in. 

So, this weekend, with Emily helping me with my third batch of beer ever (and second brown) I wanted to celebrate Girl Power in brewing.  I really enjoy this process and I am getting more comfortable with my skills. I'm ready to move on to designing my own recipes. Maybe I can lead the way to a girls home brewing movement.  Who's with me? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Beerthday Weekend

This past weekend, Matt and I had a Beerthday party.  Since our Birthdays are only a couple of days apart, it is easy to combine the celebration. We sent out the invites to a few friends to attend our Beerthday party at local brewery 5 Seasons. We had a great time and even got some beer related gifts (which weren't required, but our friends are awesome that way).  I enjoyed three of their beers. First, I had the Brave Sir Robin Brown, a slightly hopped roasty brown beer.  The I had their Red, which I don't see on their website but I found it very crisp and tasty.  Lastly, I tried their Stout, which also is missing from the website. I think everyone had a great time, which you can see in the photo because both Emily and Bill think it "rocks!"  Afterward we came back to our apartment and hung out, drank more beer and listened to Matt play guitar. 

On Sunday, we bottled our second batch of beer ever.  This one was the ESB we brewed a month ago.  The process went smoothly.  We even used my birthday present from Matt this year, the Party Pig.  He bought it on the recommendation from some friends who also home brew and the first use so far seems pretty cool.  It is kegging without all the hassle of kegging.  We also used the bottles that And and Emily gave us at our Beerthday Party.  The beer is conditioning in the closet as we speak and we should be able to enjoy it in about three weeks. 

The taste test of the beer was seemingly successful.  I liked the golden color of the ESB, the hops seems to be well balanced.  Even without being carbonated, I thought it was pretty good.

I have also been pleased with the clarity of our beers so far without going through a secondary fermentation process (also known as a clarification). It might just be beginners luck or the fact that we like to use a filter when pouring the beer in the carboy and again when we put it in the bottling bucket.

I have another brown recipe ready to go.  This time, I bought a "kit" from Austin Homebrew but added some additional malts to modify it a little.  I expect to be brewing that in a few weeks and we'll see how it goes.  Expect more updates from Beer and Now soon.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brief History of Women Brewers

A friend of mine shared this article with me today. I love it! I feel like I am a part of a very ancient and sacred tradition - and I suppose I am.

Other tablets from Mesopotamia, ranging over a period of hundreds of years, suggest that most brewers were women, and that they undertook their occupation on both domestic and ritual scales.
I also like the fact that the article points out the role of beer in ancient Greek culture. Apparently, Wine was considered the drink of men while Beer was more feminine.

What I am most excited about is the resurgence of Women in Beer today. The article points out several breweries that have women in prominent positions.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Beer Brew II: ESB

After the most successful outcome of my first brewing attempt, I wanted to dive right into the second batch of beer.  This time I wanted to brew another favorite style - an ESB or Extra Special Bitter (or Extra Strong Bitter depending on who you ask).

I started by purchasing a recipe from a great website called Austin Homebrew Supply. Like the pre-made kit I bought at the local homebrew store, this included all that I would need to brew this beer. The difference was in the presentation.  Austin Homebrew puts together recipes and when you select them the website gives you options with different ways to put that particular recipe together.  It was a great option for my second brew.  (And my third since I already bought the ingredients but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Like my first brewing day, we decided it would be fun to invite a friend.  Andrew, who has brewed himself, came and spent the day with us.  We each enjoyed a Bare Kitty Brown as well as the brand new Wheaton Wheat that my Beer Yoda Bill brewed on the day we went to learn the art of home brewing.  As a side note, his beer was excellent as well. I began my second brewing with the typical process of cleaning and sanitizing and then I just followed the recipe.  This kit included a bag of grains for steeping, which the other kit did not include.  It was as easy as making tea. Once that was done per instruction, it was time to add the malt extracts and bring everything to a boil.  It boiled for 60 minutes with a bittering Nugget hops added at the beginning and then an aroma Kent Golding hops added in the last 5 minutes of the boil.  After this process was complete it was time to pour it into the carboy, take the original gravity reading and add the yeast. I don't think I still have quite the hang of the gravity readings down.  I recently broke my first hydrometer so Matt went and bought me a new one that included a tube with stand. 

Here is the beer boiling process.  

Here are Andrew and Matt helping pour the wort into the carboy.

Even Piglet joined in on the fun.

Here is Matt considering the Hydrometer reading.  It was 1.041 this time, which was lower than the recipe called for.  We figure that has to do with the amount of water we may have added.  I'm not terribly worried about it.  We still have no idea what the alcohol content is of the Brown and it hasn't affected the taste at all.  I suppose this is a skill I will need to perfect over time, but for now I'll just keep brewing. 

And the tasting of the wort, with the kitty timer looking on with judgment. It tasted like bread, which is precisely what it should taste like. 

Now the airlock on the carboy is bloop blooping away happily.  The house smells pleasantly like hops and in about two to four weeks we can bottle this batch and see what we have.  

Matt asked me yesterday if there was anything I found specifically difficult in the brewing process.  I don't, actually. I have always been good at following recipe directions. The cleaning process isn't too bad either, even though it isn't my favorite part.  

I have another kit from Austin Homebrew Supply in my pantry ready to be brewed. It is another brown - a recipe from their selections with a slight modification (extra dark malt to add to the recipe).  It will be my second brown and I am interested in understanding the differences. Once I get that one under my belt I want to get a couple books to help me design my own recipes. I just want to understand the basics that go into beer styles and from there I can make my own modifications.  I am excited about that. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Introducing: Sphynx Cat Home Brew

Today, I opened my first bottle of home brewed beer. I wasn't sure at all what to expect. It was hoping for "Well, that's all right."

I was pleased to discover that what I had was "Wow, that is really good!" Now, of course, this is a beer brewed from a kit, but considering it was my first attempt I feel really good about it. 

Sure, it seems cheezy to name your home brew, but I am doing it anyway. My beer is named after my Sphynx Cat, Piglet. This first beer is the BareKitty Brown. And it is yummy.

I am excited to brew my second batch now. 



Sunday, February 20, 2011

Atlanta Winter Beer Carnival 2011

Yesterday, Matt and I attended the Atlanta Winter Beer Carnival in Midtown Atlanta.  I just wanted to stop by to let you all know that it was a great time.  I loved the idea of a festival that wasn't just a beer tasting but offered other entertainment opportunities including roaming performers, carnival games and a fun house.

I thought the beer selection was interesting.  There were certainly several craft brews from all over the country but also a lot of more mass produced beers than I typically see at a festival.  There were several breweries I was unfamiliar with and was able to experience some new beers.  We tried Point Brewery out of Wisconsin.  I enjoyed their 2012 Black Ale and Matt liked their Pale Ale. We also tried Strangford Lough's two offerings, the St. Patrick's and the Legbiter.  I thought it was a micro brew out of Ohio based on the signs (that appears to be the distributor, however) but I have learned that they are a real Irish beer from Ireland.  I was also able to try Wild Heaven beers. Because they are higher alcohol beers I had been careful not to try it when out in a social situation.  Since we road MARTA to the Carnival I felt safe giving this one a try in a small dose.  Their Ode to Mercy, an imperial brown, was probably my favorite beer of the day.  It was complex with a sweet malty taste with a hint of a smokey tobacco flavor.

Just like other beer festivals we have been to in Atlanta, for some reason Bell's Brewery out of Kalamazoo Michigan (where Matt and I went to college) seems to be a favorite of this southern city.  At the Decatur Beer Festival, I stood in a very long line to get a sample. Their booth had the longest line at this beer festival as well.  We began to stand in line but then realized that we had some Bell's at home so decided to continue on. It would have been worth it, though.  

We did very much enjoy the non-beer entertainment as well.  The fun house was our favorite - what a great idea to have a fun house at a beer festival!  Matt also enjoyed the snow tubing!

Also at the festival were volunteers from Safe Ride. This worthy organization is a great service to anyone who enjoys beer in a social setting.  If you find yourself out and unable to get back home, give them a call.

In other beer news, Dogfish Head brewery was recently the subject of a misdirected tweet by an employee of the Red Cross.  Check out the story here. I assert that people who enjoy beer are a community and we can put our love of this art form to a very good use when we feel like it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The consequences of questionable decisions

There are a lot of poor decisions that beer consumption can lead to*. "Drink Responsibly" is not just a catch phrase in advertising for alcoholic beverages. Understanding your own responsibility when it comes to beer is probably the most important thing you can consider before enjoying that beverage.

There are some lesser infractions, however. This Super Bowl Sunday, I gave in to one of those. The "Free Beer Glass" decision. I love collecting beer glasses. I have a growing collection. Occasionally, though, it is probably a good idea just to say no.

As you may have seen recently, I just spent a week's vacation traveling in the south east. On that trip, with friends, we went to a local sports bar to watch the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Being a Detroit Lions fan, it is sometimes difficult for me to get really into the super bowl game. We arrived by cab at this sports bar a little before the game and planned to stay until about half time and get some wings and have a couple of drinks. The waitress approached and told us about her specials, which included "blah blah blah blah with free football shaped beer glass blah blah blah blah." I was sold. I didn't care what it was, I wanted that beer glass. She even told us that since we get to keep the glass after we drink the first beer we could just get pitchers of other beer and use the glasses. This sounded like the best idea ever.

Turns out, the beer was Coors Light. Now, if you enjoy Coors, that is fine for you. What ever you like, I'm okay with that. I do not, however, like it. Many years ago, our friend Dann (who we were traveling with) offered me a Coors Light style beer when we first met and I looked at him and said "No! Beer Yucky!" which he thought was hilarious. It was a shock to him when he learned I was enjoying beer at all. Well, for me Coors is the epitome of "Beer Yucky." But for the good of the Football Shaped Beer Glass (tm), I was willing to suffer through.

Thankfully, we did have that option to purchase pitchers to fill up our Coors Light glasses after the first sampling. We resolved that problem with Sweetwater 420. Interestingly enough, I am just starting to explore pale ales. I find that this Atlanta brewery's flagship beer is a very drinkable beer.

Later in the week, I felt the need to make reparations for the partially regretted decision to get the Football Shaped Beer Glasses (tm). While on a visit to the beautiful Biltmore in Asheville on the last day of our vacation, Matt and I enjoyed some Biltmore brewed beers and acquired a more sophisticated pair of pints. I enjoyed the brown ale and Matt had the pale ale.

I suppose this will not be the last time I fall victim for the free glass with purchase trap. Sometimes you get nice glasses, and sometimes you get Football Shaped Beer Glasses (tm).

*Please be aware that this video is pretty intense. No matter how intense it is, the Australian PSA might be one of the most powerful drunk driving commercials anyone can watch.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bottles of Beer!

Another step in the beer brewing process has been achieved today.  After returning yesterday from our vacation we spent today bottling our first batch of home brewed beer. 

We cleaned the kitchen, got everything set up and sanitized our tools.  We popped the carboy up on the counter and siphoned it into the bottling bucket on the floor.  During this process we also took a sample for the hydrometer and we added the priming sugar solution.  We realized at this point that we had recorded our initial gravity reading incorrectly and because of that we were unable to calculate our alcohol content.  So, the recipe suggested that it would be about a 4.5% alcohol beer so we're going with that. It was also a good time to taste the beer.  The color was a perfect brown color and it tasted like not-half-bad flat beer, which I suppose is exactly what it is supposed to taste like at this point.  I can't wait for it to condition in the bottles so we can taste it with the right carbonation. 

At this point, it was time to  bottle the beer.  We used typical amber colored 12 ounce bottles which we had washed, sanitized and rinsed.  We used the sweet bottle rinsing attachment on the kitchen sink.  It is a little brass doohickey that goes on the faucet and points up with a lever that when you push the bottle down, pressurized water swooshes into the bottle.  What fun! 

We put the bottling bucket up on the counter and tried at first to use the spigot to bottle the beer.  I found this method messy.  So we attached the siphon hose to the spigot along with a nifty spring loaded attachment.  You stick that into the bottle and press down until it fills up to the mouth of the bottle and when you remove the device the bottle is filled to a perfect level.  It worked very well.  Then we set the bottles in the dishwasher just to dry, which you can see behind me. 

Of course, after bottling comes bottle capping. We have the simple hand held bottle capping tool and it was so easy to use that even I could do it.  It didn't require any sort of brute force, just the right downward pressure and it was a snap. 

As I said, now it is a waiting game.  The bottles need to sit and condition in a cool, dry place.  This will ensure that it they are carbonated properly.  I believe that we will end up with a thoroughly drinkable beer. 

In other beer news, I also received a package today containing the ingredients for my next two batches of beer.  I found a great website called Austin Homebrew Supply where they sell "kits" for beer making but not the traditional beer kit in a box like the one we just did.  Essentially, they have developed several recipes and sell you the combinations of ingredients to brew that particular beer.  It opens the door for some experimentation as well.  We ordered the recipe and ingredients for another brown as well as for an ESB.  We are in Atlanta this coming weekend so we think we might brew up our second batch of beer while we're home. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Savannah and Charleston Microbrews

I am currently on vacation.  We left Atlanta Friday night right after work and arrived in Savannah Georgia just around midnight.  We met some friends from Detroit and now we are on a tour of the south east.  We started in Atlanta and now are in Charleston and at the end of the week we will end up in one of my favorite cities in the world, Asheville North Carolina.

Of course, one of my goals for the weekend was to experience some local brews.

Savannah is home to a great brewery called Moon River.  I have been there before but I wasn't drinking beer then. We were there on a haunted pub tour and, honestly, by the time I made it to that location I was so freaked out by the tour that I couldn't go into the haunted room. I stayed downstairs and waited for my tour companions to rejoin us.  I tend to be easily scared, however.

My friends, Dann and Cindy, along with Matt and me went to Moon River on Saturday afternoon and had a beer that day. I tried the Apparition Ale, which I greatly enjoyed.  This is a traditional English Pale ale more like a Bass than the types of pale ales that are common in the US.  Because it is lighter and less hoppy I found it very tasty.  Matt didn't like it as much because he prefers a little stronger tasting beer.

On Sunday, however, my companions decided to go golfing.  This is an activity that I do not typically partake.  Instead, I wandered over to the Unitarian Universalist church of Savannah for service.  After church, though, I decided to go back to Moon River for lunch by myself. I sat at the bar and Richard, the awesome afternoon bartender, was delightful.  I got another Apparition Ale to start with and ordered a burger for lunch.  As I finished my burger I decided to give the Captain's Porter a try.  It was a coffee flavored beer with some smokey notes.  I found it tasty but I liked the Apparition better.  I left the brewery to meet up with my travel companions but after wandering around the city on Sunday afternoon we found ourselves back at Moon River.  Richard greeted me warmly and I said "Well, if I had known they wanted to come here..."  While there, Matt tried their Swamp Fox IPA.  I am exploring pale ales but the IPA was a little too strong for me right now.

Tonight, we find ourselves in Charleston SC for the first time (for all of us).  After checking in to our hotel, we made our way to the bar in the hotel lobby where I discovered Palmetto beer.  I had read about this beer but the brewery is not near where we are staying so I didn't expect to give it a try, but it appears to be widely distributed throughout the Charleston area.  I started with the Amber Ale.

After the hotel bar, we were on our way to check out the town, eventually ended up at a delightful sushi restaurant.  Prior to that, though, we walked over to a local brew pub called South End Brewery.  While there I tried two of their beers, the Oatmeal Stout and the Bombay Pale Ale. Both beers were quite tasty.  The oatmeal stout was more up my alley in regards to the type of beer I normally drink.  The Bombay Pale was not an IPA specifically but a little hoppier than a typical pale ale.  I did enjoy it thought.  The universal observation I cam make when it comes to hoppy beers is that the hops does hit your palate heavily at the front end kind of ruining your taste buds for the remainder of the beer but if you can get past that the rest of the beer is generally flavorful and smooth.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a market to get some beers for the hotel room.  I found the Palmetto winter seasonal beer, the Bocat Chocolate Bock.  Honestly the first taste is pretty good with a heavy chocolate flavor but after that it tastes just kind of watered down.  I wouldn't name it among my favorites but it isn't bad.

We are turning it a little early tonight and plan to visit a local plantation tomorrow and the just hanging out on the town until we leave on Wednesday for Asheville where we will undoubtedly have more beer.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

There will be beer!

Yesterday, I brewed my very first batch of beer. It remains to be seen if this batch is indeed successful - we'll know after a few weeks when we bottle it and chill it. 

I woke up kind of early on Saturday because my brain started working and I was getting excited about trying my first home brew.  I started the day by cleaning everything as per instructions.  Matt and I are by no means dirty people, but the kitchen was the cleanest I think it has ever been once I finished with it.  A little at 1pm our friend Emily came over to hang out while making the beer.  We all decided that it was imperative to enjoy beer while making beer so Matt was drinking Sierra Nevada Pale ale, I had a Left Hand Milk Stout and Emily was drinking Framboise Lambic. 

The brewing process was pretty much a one girl show.  I felt pretty good following the directions.  I decided to start with a kit because it was my first time brewing.  I wanted to be able to follow the directions step by step so I understood the process and could take that to experimentation with recipes in the future.  Before Emily arrived I spent some time actually writing out my own step by step directions using notes from my first beer making tutorial with Beer Yoda Bill several weeks ago, the book The Joy of Homebrewing and the directions included with my kit.  I started by making a brown ale, because it is my favorite style of beer. 

Step 1, Clean and Sanitize
I did all of this, as I said, before Emily arrived.  The kitchen was sparkling, the equipment was ready to go. 

Step 2, Prepare Malt Can
This was something beer Yoda Bill showed me how to do and I didn't realize it was standard practice. I removed the label from the can and soaked it in a hot water bath so it would soften and become more liquid-y. 

Step 3,  Boil Water
The directions for the kit said 1 to 1.5 gallons of water.  This seemed low, but I wanted to follow the directions.  However, I decided specifically to start with the lower end because I knew this would not be a high alcohol beer and I thought (maybe erroneously) that the more concentrated the ingredients were perhaps it would be a little stronger.  I don't suppose that really does matter because you add a lot of water in the end anyway.  But, there I was with 1 gallon of boiling water.

Step 4, Add Extract, Malt and Hops
The package directions suggested I take the water off the heat at this point to mix in the ingredients.  I did turn the burner off but after getting the extract out of the can, I decided to turn the heat back up because that was how we made the beer at Beer Yoda Bill's.  I slowly added the malt powder mixing it with the paddle to make sure there were no lumps.  Then I added the hops, which the beer store people assured me wouldn't make the beer too hoppy, it was just there for a little bitterness and aroma.  I trusted them. 

Step 5, Bring back to Boil

Step 6, Boil for 30 minutes
Once it came back to a boil, I set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes.  I noticed in the package directions they were pretty noncommittal in regards to how long to boil it.  I decided to boil it at the long end of the suggested times.  This was done for purely unscientific reason.

Step 7, Pour Cool Water in Carboy
I don't remember doing this at Beer Yoda Bills, but it made sense to me.  By having cool water in the carboy it would help bring the beer temp down significantly once it was in the carboy.  The package directions suggested "3 to 4 Gallons" so we went with 3. 


Step 8, Pour Mixture Over Ice Into Carboy
The ice trick was something we had learned from Bill.  It was an easy way to bring down the temp of the mixture quickly.  We used a giant no-splatter funnel that we bought when we got our equipment.  I really liked it.  We put in the funnel filter but also used, at the recommendation of the beer store people, an additional nylon bag screen that we fit over the funnel.  This was to keep a lot of the sludge out of the carboy.  Worked like a charm.  We filled it up with ice and then slowly poured the beer mixture through and let it filter and melt down and then repeated this step until all the mixture was in the carboy.  My assistants were very helpful in this endeavor.  This photo is a dramatic recreation. 


Step 9, Add More Cold Water
The final number of total gallons in the carboy was to be about 5.  We calculated how may gallons we already had and added a couple more to get it up to what should be 5.  It looked to be at about the same level I remember Beer Yoda Bill's wort being in the carboy so I felt good about it. 

Step 10, Temperature
The wort at this time needs to be between 70 and 80 degrees to be able to pitch the yeast.  We dropped in the thermometer and it was perfect - about 75. 

Step 11, Take Gravity Reading
Our specific gravity at this time was 1.38.  This was great since it said the starting gravity would be about 1.45.  The lower the gravity the higher the probably alcohol content so I am guessing it'll be slightly higher in the end than the 4.5% that the package indicates.  This is good, actually.  Not that I am trying to make an 11.5% alcohol beer, but I didn't want to make O'Doul's

Step 11a, Taste the Wort
I failed to put this on the list, to Emily wrote it in.  When we tasted the wort at Beer Yoda Bill's house it tasted like bread.  This is normal.  His beer was a wheat, while ours is barley based but it still should taste like bread.  We put a little into some cordial glasses my sister got us for Christmas.  (She liked them because they looked like little beer pilsners and because they were tiny she bought them for our tiny house) They were perfect.  The wort tasted like water and bread and I think that was about right.  Bill's tasted less like water but he had used a LOT more malt to get a higher gravity beer so the difference even made sense to us. 


Step 12, Pitch the Yeast
There was some conflicting information about how exactly to pitch the yeast.  Some suggest mixing or shaking the carboy to make sure it is all incorporated into the wort.  Some suggest just pouring it in and letting it drop on its own.  I hadn't yet made the decision but the decision was made for me soon in the process.

Step 13 Add Airlock
Throughout this whole process I thought to myself "Wow, this has been really easy".  There was no issue, no complications.  I followed the steps and I felt really good about it.  Then I had the "Oh Shit" moment. Matt, while attempting to be helpful, stuffed the airlock stopper too far into the carboy neck.  In an attempt to get it out, we simply managed to push it into the wort.  That the was moment where I thought to myself, "I can't do this?  What am I doing? I suck."  It is a feeling I've had several times in my life, but I think it is those challenges that make the ultimate experience worth while.  After I few choice words, Matt made an emergency run to the beer supply store. 

Step 13a: Buy New Airlock Stopper
When he went in the owner was there and he said to her, "We have an emergency!  We have just put our beer into the carboy with the yeast and we don't have a stopper!"  She told him to just take it and he came back within just a few minutes.  A quick google search later I discovered that this is not an uncommon problem.  We will deal with getting the sanitized stopper out after the beer is done fermenting. 

Step 14 Take over the World
After our beer brewing adventure we decided instead of taking over the world we would simply walk up to a local restaurant for dinner, which was yummy.  We'll take over the world some other time. 

Over night, the yeast started working it's yeasty magic and the airlock is happily blurp-blurping away.  The next part of the process is to simply wait.  The fermenting beer smells like hops, which I also googled to find is completely normal.  In fact, it seems that fermenting beer can smell like all sorts of things so hops is one of the more normal smells.  It should mellow after a short time. 

Now, we wait.  Watch for updates on my first brown beer once we get to the bottling stage. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Beer Events in One Week

This has been a very good week in the world of beer for both Atlanta GA and Asheville NC.

On Thursday, January 20th we went to the Taco Mac in Kennesaw for the introduction of the California brewery Lost Abbey in Georgia. I learned about Lost Abbey earlier this year when there was some controversy surrounding their summer beer, Witch's Wit.  Throughout the online discussions, I often wondered whether or not the beer was worth all of the attention.  I had wanted to try it, but it wasn't yet available in Georgia, until this past week.

We met some friends at the Kennesaw restaurant and enjoyed dinner and conversation.  Then we dove headfirst into the beer selections.  The bar had several available on tap and a few bottles.  I tried the Lost Abbey Red Barn at first and honestly I didn't really like it.  That wasn't because it was a bad beer, but because it had flavors that I don't prefer.  It is a Belgian style beer with a lot of complexity, but it was heavy with the hops and I'm not a friend of hops. I want to be able to understand the intense flowery taste of hops more, but this beer featured more than my palate could really handle.  In fact, the taste was so strong it lingered after I finished this beer and may have affected my taste of the second beer that I tried. 

Which brings me to that second beer.  I had read about Gift of The Magi back in November and was quite intrigued.  It is brewed with Frankincense and Myrrh for Christmastime.  I wasn't sure if that would be gimmicky or good, so I really wanted to experience it.  As I said before, I'm not certain I got the full flavor profile because the Red Barn affected my taste buds, but I did enjoy the beer.  It was a spicy Belgian style beer that I believe lived up to my expectations.

However, the winning beer of the evening was the Couvee de Tomme which was enjoyed by two of my bar-going companions, Emily and Robin.  As you can see, Emily endorses it highly.   It is a strong wild ale with a heavy secondary fermentation with cherries which made it taste, as my friend's described, like a really good cherry wine.  Lost Abbey does consider several of their beers to be more wine-like than traditional beer, so I can see where this fit that description.  I tried several sips of the beer and while it was fruitier than I typically like my beer to be these days I can agree it is a very good fruit beer.  It is exactly the kind of beer I would have liked when I first started exploring lambics.

The second beer themed event that I attended this week was the Winter Warmer Beer Festival in Asheville.  On Saturday, Matt and I left for Asheville and arrived in town in time for lunch, which we enjoyed at the Twisted Crape.    From there we made our way to the Civic Center for the festival. The event had sold out, but we got there pretty early and were near the front of the entrance line.  Matt and I were both wearing our knitted Beer Hats, which as a side note we had no less than 4 comments on throughout the event.  We even pointed someone to our friend Susan's knitting website and told her to leave a comment about the hats because she wanted a pattern to knit one for herself. 

At the festival were all breweries from the South East.  Mostly North and South Carolina, two breweries from Tennessee and one from Georgia.  I make no excuses when I say that "Local Beer" is my favorite kind of beer.  I love local beer because it is typically the freshest available.  I love tasting local beer wherever I go.  There were some definite highlights.  We tried to start out with beer that we hadn't had before so we purposefully skipped over several of the Asheville breweries.  We had heard about a German-style brewery from Sylva, NC called Heinzelmannchen.  I had their Black Forest Stout which was a crisp beer with caramel and coffee flavors.  We also tried Lonerider from Raleigh.  Matt really liked their Peacemaker Pale Ale and I liked their Sweet Josie Brown.  The real star of the beer festival for us was a Tennessee brewery called Yazoo.  Matt had their Sue and I tried their Sly Rye Porter, which we shared tastes of with each other.  Both beers were premium examples of their styles.  We talked with one of the guys from Yazoo and asked them where they were located (Nashville) and where they were distributed.  He said they didn't distribute at all and the only reason they come to the Asheville beer festivals is because they love the people and the city and it is just fun for them.  I would definitely check out Yazoo if we find ourselves in Nashville. 

Once we had tried several new beers, we went back to some of the breweries that we were already familiar with.  Duck Rabbit Milk Stout is one of my favorite beers, so I couldn't pass that up.  Atlanta brewery SweetWater did not have any of the beers that I like so I tried their flagship beer, 420.  It is a pale ale and as I have mentioned I have not yet cultivated a relationship with hops.  I wanted to try more hoppy beers this year even if in the end I determine that I don't like them.  420 is not bad.  It isn't as hoppy as other beers I have tried and it is all around drinkable. I don't think I would have it a lot, but I might try it again.  However, out of the tried-and-true breweries I have to say I enjoyed Pisgah Porter the best.  This led to a discussion of what makes a really good beer.  One of the reasons I like Pisgah Porter so much is that no matter where I am when I taste that beer I know it is Pisgah beer.  It tasted like Black Mountain NC.  It has some IT-factor that I am not sure I can define.  We came to the conclusion that the flavor is actually "Consistency", but I think it might actually be, as cliche as it sounds, "Love."  Of course, we tried a lot of other beers as well but these are the ones I wanted to share here. 

All of the beer events this week were a lot of fun as well as an educational exploration of beer styles and brands.  This is why I love the art of beer.
 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Primordial Beer

Our Beer Yoda Bill took this video of the Wheaton Wheat fermenting.  I love the accidental cinematography at the beginning. The slow reveal of the airlock is almost Hitchcock-esque.



I can't wait to see what the resulting beer will taste like. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Visit to Beer Supply Store

After our adventure in beer brewing apprenticeship yesterday, Matt and I decided to go to the local Sandy Springs beer store to get some supplies.  We were going to go after the Bears Vs. Seahawks playoff game but it was so one sided and therefore boring that we headed out before it was over.

Mostly, I just wanted to mention Wine Craft of Atlanta (soon to be called Beer and Wine Craft).  The owners were super cool and really walked us through what we needed and gave us a deal on all of our equipment.  We got a lot of major items including a glass carboy and a kit to make a brown ale.  It is one of my favorite "every day" beers so I figured it would be a good one for a first try.

When we got home we hopped online and bought a 16 quart stainless pot for brewing as well as a chrome shelving unit to store the items in the room we are converting to be our beer headquarters.

As I mentioned earlier we will be in Asheville at a beer festival next weekend and after that it will be time for me to start my own beer brewing experiments. 

Do or Do Not, There is no Try

Yesterday, Matt and I spent the day with our very own beer Yoda, our friend Bill. Bill has been brewing beer for many years with varied levels of success.  So we joined him and his wife Susan for a day of beer making.

We arrived at their house about 11am and then headed out right away to a beer store in Lilburn GA.  I had intended to get some supplies myself but because of this past week's winter weather event, they hadn't had any recent deliveries.  In fact, they didn't have the precise ingredients for the beer that Bill wanted to brew.  So I learned my first lesson in beer brewing - be flexible. He wanted to do a wheat beer he had done before and really focus on that for the next several batches he would make to perfect it.  They didn't have the exact wheat beer so he chose another type that seemed like it would be a good fit.  It required additional malt which he purchased as well.  However, one key ingredient to Bill's "Wheaton Wheat" was an apricot extract so we discussed with the owners (a husband and wife team) about what some alternatives would be and she suggested we go down to an international market just down the street and get some apricot nectar.  We were super excited about these ingredients and believe they will make an excellent apricot wheat.  We returned to their house and began the process.

The first step we learned was to make sure the work space was clean and sterile.  Bill recommended a product called B Bright. We cleaned all the equipment and all the surfaces in the kitchen.  He also showed us some additional equipment like the bottle washer attachment that seems invaluable.

Once the work surface was clean, we placed the can of malt syrup in hot water to make it easier to work with.  We also filled the 16 quart stainless pot with about 8 quarts of filtered water and set it on the stove to boil. 
Susan also showed us their brewers journal and shared with us how valuable it would be.  It showed them what worked in the past and what didn't. I will, of course, keep notes for myself by largely record them here for future reference as well as for the good of my project.  Bill also reminded us to read the directions.  He admitted he wasn't always good at that since he has brewed before, but sometimes they actually have helpful information.

Once the water was boiling we added the canned mixture which was a complete beer mixture including wheat malts and hops.  Bill showed me how to make sure we get every drop of syrup out of the can.  However, while doing this we discussed how to add ingredients if we wanted to.  This beer wouldn't have any additional hops but if we were to Bill explained that would you put the hops into a permeable sack and drop it in only for a period of time depending on how much of a hops flavor you want.  The best example of this is Dogfish Head Brewery's series featuring 60, 90 and 120 minute IPAs. 

We then added the additional malts and stirred the mixture until there were no clumps.
Once the mixture was boiled for several minutes make sure all the ingredients were well blended, it was time to pour it into the carboy.  Beer needs to cool quickly from boiling to about 70-80 degrees.  Bill had learned a trick on You Tube to put ice in the funnel and pour the beer mixture over it into the carboy.  Worked like a charm.

Once it was in the carboy we added water and the apricot.  Bill and Susan had measured out how much you needed to fill the carboy to be able to make 2 cases worth of beer and drew the lines.  They also determined that they needed to fill it just a little above the lines so that when you transferred it to the bottles you off set the level of sediment at the bottom of the carboy. 

We checked the temperature and it was at a perfect 79.  Then we used a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity.  Once we had those figured recorded in the trusty brewer's journal we added the yeast.  Of course when brewing you need to use specific brewers yeast not bread or any other type of yeast because brewer's yeast can handle the alcohol.  It does all the magic by eating the sugar and fermenting it.
At that point, it was time to put the stopper on the top.  It is a cap known as an airlock that lets the co2 escape.  Bill and Susan fill it up with vodka which keeps away the tiny fruit flys who really love the co2. 
And now, the beer does it's magic.  It will sit in the carboy and the yeast will eat all the sugars and belch out alcohol and after some time it can be bottled.  Bill tells us that now is the lazy part of brewing.  It'll be ready in a couple of weeks but you can leave it in for longer if you just aren't available to do the bottling.  Susan has promised to take photographs of the fermenting process where the beer bubbles and churns without the help of human intervention.  We plan on going back when it is ready to be bottled and help with that part as well.  It still won't be ready to drink then, it'll need to age in a cold refrigerator for a few more weeks after that while the carbonation works it's own magic in the bottles.  That will be a blog post for another time. For now, we wait. 

After the beer brewing event, we went up to a local bar called the Brick Store. It is known for a great selection of Belgian Style and American Craft Brew Beers.  Bill and Susan's nephew and niece-in-law joined us at the bar and we really enjoyed meeting them and had some great conversations. 
Today, Matt and I are going to put together a list of things I need to start home brewing and then walk up to a local beer store to see what they have and buy what we can there and order the rest on line tonight. 

Next week, we will be in Asheville for their Winter Warmer Beer Festival.  I plan to write about our experience there as well.  The weekend after that, though, I will start my first batch of home brewed beer.  I can do this.