Monday, January 27, 2014

About to (hot) break

The gloves are coming off for round two. My wife and I are going to double team a hazelnut brown ale. I had a Hideout Smuggler's Hazelnut Stout a few months back, and boy, was it good. I've been looking for it everywhere, but no dice. A really good exhibit of some fantastic local brewing if you ever find it on the draft list. Very warm-feeling beer.

I was sitting with our kid in the middle of one of his naps when she returned home from the grocery store with a big bag of hazelnuts. "This is what you needed, right?"


We're looking to boil up the wort and start fermenting the goodness on Friday. Too bad it won't be ready by the time we see some of our family this weekend, they seem very excited by the prospect of homemade beer. We were skyping with them earlier, and their ears seemed to perk up when I mentioned that we might be able to make good use of all those black walnuts they bring in every year.

Oh well. Until then, we'll just drink all their beers for them. =)

She's a big fan of milk stout. Maybe we'll try to figure that one out next, depending on how this goes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lessons learned

The book betrayed me. Knowledge is power, it seems... like shaking up a pop can.

As has been confirmed both by my internet beer friend and the lady at The Cork and Cap here in Jackson, the first couple of days in the fermenter require a different kind of airlock. You run a rubber tube into a glass of water and let the gases bubble out into that. Apparently, that handles the pressure better than the "bubbler" airlock I had on there.

The book describes these two pieces in unmistakably interchangeable terms, which I double-checked last night to make sure. I thought I would be cool with the bubbler, and then I got bubbled.

In addition, it turns out that the beer probably wasn't spoiled after all. The positive pressure from the gases coming off the yeast, in addition to the hostile environment for invading bacteria, probably prevented any contamination of the beer itself, and I could have saved it.

More guilt! Shame! Why did I pour that beer down the drain?

All right, so I'm reading up some more, and I'm trying to decide what I'm going to do next. I can't start another batch this weekend, because I've got a lot going on. In the meantime, I think, I'm going to come up with a beer to try next. Maybe I'll stick with the brown ale, maybe not. I dunno yet. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. Thanks!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Disaster strikes

Sometimes, I silently complain that I don't fail often enough. I consider all the things I miss out on learning because of all the mistakes I don't make. I realize how that sounds, but this is a blog, and I'm allowed to real talk if I want.

I received this response from that friend who recommended the book this afternoon:

"Hopefully at this point your kreusen has risen, and you're getting a nice, vigorous fermentation. I love that smell."

He was right! About all of it. Even the smell, which I could smell from the doorway, because the airlock blew and my beer was all over the floor of the closet. Womp womp. Best smelling spill I've encountered in months! Most of the time it's baby vomit, and that spoiled milk smell gets old.

But I'd rather clean up a dozen spitups than have to dump another gallon of spoiled, fermenting beer down the drain. Lord have mercy.

I'll get on with documenting what I think might have gone wrong later. I'm just gonna go have a good cry.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Begins with a single step

"A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is."
- Laozi

Starting homebrewing is both exciting and terrifying. I enjoy beer as much as the next guy, and I can't count the number of times I've thought that whipping up my own suds would be a lot of fun. But I know how badly a batch of beer can go-- between just tasting bad, to making someone sick. Exploding bottles. Beer volcanoes.

I've heard that the Babylonians, if you made a bad batch, would drown you in your own beer. Makes sense to me.

So, upon receiving a homebrew kit from my inlaws this Christmas, I immediately sought out a good guide for taking me through the process. I got a tip from a commenter on for a book called How To Brew by John Palmer-- and it's fantastic so far. It starts you off right away and explains the details later. Perfect. I don't have time to discuss the qualities of different strains of yeast. I've got some beer to brew, dammit.

There's enough ingredients for a one-gallon batch of Brown Ale in the kit. So I picked up some sanitizer and got started!

Brewed the grain bag, stirred in the malt, boiled with hops, cooled it. Simple stuff. Cooling the wort in the snowbank in the backyard took longer than an hour, which was really unexpected. I started rehydrating the yeast right when I put the pot in the snow, and that's only supposed to take 20 minutes. Hm.

Anyway, I poured the wort into the carboy (and I was mean about it, because aeration), filled it up the rest of the way with cool water, and pitched the yeast. Then clamped on that young airlock and relegated the beer to a closet in the bedroom upstairs (~65 degrees). Can't wait to see those bubbles!