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.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What is in a beer glass?

Besides beer, of course.

Even before I began my odyssey of beer, I loved bar ware.  I liked the variety of styles and the design of the labels.  Once I began to enjoy beer, I learned that the type of beer glass you choose for the beer style you are drinking really does make a difference.  At least that has been my own experience, but a quick search of the Internet gives you just as many opposing view points.  I enjoy bar ware for a lot of reasons. 

Over the last couple of years we have put together a lovely beer glass collection.  Most of them are free because one of our local bars has Pint Night event weekly. There you can get a free glass for the beer of the month with purchase of said beer, while supplies last.

The first beer glass in our collection was actually for the British beer, Boddingtons.  My husband began to drink Boddingtons and since it is sold in the pub cans, he wanted to drink it from the proper glass once it was poured. They are a tulip pint glass which is also used often for Guinness (which we also have). 
After that, he discovered the joy of Belgian style beer.  Belgian beer bars are known for having a variety of beer glass styles.  Not only do they have a glass for every style of beer, but typically there is a different glass for every single beer they offer.  So we purchased a set of Chimay glasses.  The goblet style is intended for heavy Belgian beers which are usually sipped more like wine. 
At this time, I still wasn't drinking traditional beers. However, I had been introduced to Lambics.  While I can't drink them often any more because they are crazy sweet, they were a reasonable introduction to beer.  I got a set of lambic glasses for Christmas one year. The style is intended to maximize the fruit aromas and flavors. 
However, it was a fateful trip to a Belgian beer bar that opened the world of beer up for me.  I didn't know what to get, so I got a sampler with a lambic (because I knew I liked it) a local beer and the previously mentioned St. Bernardus Abt 12.  From that moment on, I wanted to know more.

That is when I started to learn more about how beer glasses affect the way the beer is experienced.  One of the most interesting glass styles we found were designed for Samuel Adams brewery.
The Sam Adams website gives some information on why this glass was designed.  The shape does several things.  The smaller bottom keeps the beer at the right temperature for longer.  The bell shaped middle collects the aroma of the beer.  The narrow top maintains the head and enhances the hops while flared mouth lets the beer hit the front of your palate to really maximize the malt flavors.  Is this just marketing?  Maybe, but we got the glasses for free as part of a Pint Night promotion, so I'm okay with that.  I do enjoy drinking beer from these glasses.

Wheat beers are also served in a different style of glass.  We have Paulaner and Warsteiner glasses.  They are narrow at the bottom with a wider mouth and are usually larger to make room for the fluffy, creamy head a good wheat beer should have. 

I also enjoy collecting beer glasses from local breweries that I enjoy.  First, it is great to support the local beer industry where you live but also it is a cool keep sake if you eventually find yourself out of that area.  We spend a lot of time in Asheville North Carolina so we are starting our NC Brewery glass collection.
We live in Atlanta Georgia, though, so we have a few more local beer glasses from this area. I really like the Red Brick Brewery glass with the US map indicating "Us" and "You All".  The ones you can't see as well are Terrapin Brewery out of Athens and Sweetwater which is here in the city. 
Part of the beer experience is exploring new beers at a beer festival, and we have kept the tasters that we have gotten from the premier beer festival here in Atlanta - the Great Decatur Beer Festival.  We enjoy attending that with some friends every year.  Collecting these glasses is sentimental.
There are some other beer glasses that are purely sentimental.  Each year we attend a local Canada Day Celebration with a friend of ours who is Canadian.  Each year they give out beer glasses, which supplies last.
And, of course, it is always just cool to drink a beer out of the its own glass.
I hope you've enjoyed this exploration of beer glass styles as well as a the showcase of my collection.  Stay tuned for exciting new beer adventures, beer tasting and beer making. 

PS: Check out the awesome hand knit beer hat that I used in my photo vignette.  It was made for me by a dear friend for the Decatur Beer Festival.  I hope to share more about it.  Perhaps I can encourage her to share it in a guest post. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Welcome to Beer and Now

It is 2011 and time to start a whole new adventure. Welcome to Beer and Now, by new blog about beer. 

My enjoyment of beer started only a few years ago.  I never use to like it.  As recent as a decade ago I was known for referring to beer as "Yucky."  However, I blame the city of Asheville North Carolina, the bar The Thirsty Monk and one taste of St. Bernardus Abt 12.  Once I realized that beer was capable of that level of complexity I wanted to know more. 

I now enjoy exploring new beer styles, going to beer festivals and understanding the art of brewing.  This also means I am about to embark on a new hobby:  Home Brewing!  This blog will be a place to record all of these endeavors.   

So please, join my on my adventures and maybe we'll all learn a little something about beer.