Monday, May 19, 2014

Ring By Spring

You there, come closer. Let me tell you about my beers.

The carbonation, LUC (for some reason, Gmail didn't tell me I got a comment), went swimmingly. I was a little spooked when it warmed up this past week and we had a bit of a temperature excursion (~78-80 degrees for a day). But it ended up not being an issue. As with most dangers in brewing, I'm finding that patience and understanding prove the greater. We took some pale ales and Trapdoors up north to my parents' house for my mom's birthday to taste. I pried off the American cap and poured what I hoped to be my biggest win yet.

Always use a coaster.

The Citra hops hit you right on the nose. Gator, my brother, could not keep his nose out of the glass. It's a little darker than I wanted-- take typical unfiltered pale ale a couple SRMs toward an amber-- but it leaves a persistent, frothy white head and a torrent of bubbles. The taste is clean: it's not sticky or sweet, nor is it overly bitter. And the hops add a lemony-shandylike scent without dominating the brew. It's not complex. It's not gourmet. It's not going to win any awards. But damn, it is good.

My family suggested "Stoop Beer" as a name. While an excellent name, it doesn't really fit the intended purpose (a wedding present). Carrie and I are going with Ring By Spring, and she will be designing f'real labels. She is just the best.

As for now, two problems now present themselves:

1) What am I going to brew next
2) How am I going to keep that beer from tasting like a flower patch in a house without A/C

Allow me to explain the second one, because this involves some minor microbiology. If you're not interested, but you should be, skip to the bottom.

(Specifically, if you're one of my Facebook friends who endured biochem with me, this has everything to do with enzyme kinetics. Remember that lab where we had to wait a couple hours to make sure the enzymes were working at the right temperature and producing a predictable dose-response graph, and even then we had to start all over a few times? Easy now, put that hammer down.)

The yeast used in brewing is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Until very recently, recently being the last couple hundred years of brewing out of about 6,000, we did not know that yeast had anything to do at all with fermentation. We did, however, know that temperature has an effect on beer. Anyone who has ever taken a wincing gulp of skunked beer can attest to that. It turns out that yeast cells perform fermentation with predictable effects (alcohol and carbon dioxide) inside a certain temperature range. The range depends on the strain of yeast. Most ale yeasts can tolerate warmer temperatures, but only up to about 75 degrees F. Any higher than that, and fermentation speeds up, and the yeast produces chemicals that are incomplete products (mostly esters). If you remember organic chem, you remember how esters smell. Not like beer.

Maybe I'll talk about some of the technical stuff later. I know a lot of my friends who are considering brewing their own beer read this blog, and if I'm feeling spunky, I might try summarizing what I know about the process. When I was just starting out, it seemed very complicated. It was often surreal to think about what was happening in the fermenter-- beer was happening.

As Guy Montag says in Fahrenheit 451, "I'll hold onto the world tight someday. I've got one finger on it now; that's a beginning."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Elbow grease

This post is about hard work. It's more American than your post.

You wish you were this America.

I'm not as patient as I tend to let on. When I think a plate is clean, my wife shows me that it is not. When I think Magoo has had enough pureed cheesy vegetable soup, she shows me that I'm wrong. When I want to bottle this pale ale two days early, she kindly implores me to wait.

I tell myself that she does this because she loves me, and because she's got an awesome track record in the "being right" department (~100%).

I didn't clean the ten bottles I used last time, that was all her. I didn't have the exquisite pleasure of wrestling with label glue, tearing paper, and musty old beer stank from bottles I didn't rinse as well as I thought (see: not patient). But with this batch, which is almost five times bigger, I had to wash all of them. Which I would normally complain about-- except I took mental notes.

Following is a review of beers and breweries... by the experience of removing their labels from the bottle.

Victory Brewing Company

Beers used: Dirt Wolf IPA
Even after soaking in blazing hot water for fifteen minutes, it was rough coming off. And the paper didn't hold together very well. Hence, poking around said blazing hot water for scraps of paper. 

George Killian's

Beers used: Do they make more than one?
I noticed this one needed to soak a long time, too. The paper tended to hold together pretty well, but it left an assload of glue behind. Even in hot water for twenty minutes, it didn't scrub off easy. But no neck labels, and the bottles have that funny bubble in the neck, which I think is cool. But it's hard to justify all that scrubbin's.

Full Pint Brewing Company

Beers used: Rye Rebellion Stout
The paper was pretty plasticky, so there was no way it was going to tear.  It took a lot of effort to finally get the label off, but the amount of glue left behind: sweet Fanny Adams.

Brooklyn Brewery

Beers used: Brooklyn Lager
I am now convinced. There is a chemist who works at this brewery, whose only job is to develop new and stronger adhesives. Probably using genetically modified oysters. The paper was in shreds, the glue had to be soaked all by itself for twice as long... even then, it left a slimy film before I got it all off. Great, now I need a shower.


Labatt Brewing Company

Beers used: Light Lager with Lime
I didn't know if a clear bottle would be work the work, especially given my disposition to Labatt out of hockey season. The label was 100% plastic, so all it took was a little time and tough fingers. I will give this bottle to someone who is not sure what color pale ale should be.

Rating: I win this time, Canada

Bell's Brewing Company

Beers used: Oberon
I was warned about this one, from Keegan. I gathered these bottles with slight hesitation, wondering how much more difficult it would be to get the labels off. The other option was Killian's, the devil I knew. I took them both. The moment of truth... they came right off. Neck label, front, back labels came clean off after only 15 minutes. Minimal glue. Huzzah for Michigan!

Rating: I want to swim in a lake and pick an apple and plant a pine tree because of my state

Atwater Brewery

Beers used: Vanilla Java Porter
Man, my state sucks. Michigan can bite me.

Rating: You Midtown hipsters trying to ruin my night?

Anheuser-Busch GlobalCorp Soul Devouring Inc. Unlmtd.

Beers used: O'Douls
It's official. I'm an O'Douls man now.

Rating: I feel like that should have been harder and also that's what she said

Enjoy your night! I know I will enjoy mine: waiting, biting my nails, reminding myself that waiting one more day to bottle the beer isn't going to cause any death or serious injury.