Wednesday, January 30, 2008

San Miguel Cerveza

The standard in Mexico
I've tried pretty much every cerveza available here in San Miguel. I knew coming to Mexico that the beer would be light lagers and so I settled into accepting the loss of those bold, malty and ultra hopped beers I was used to on the west coast and tempered my taste buds to fit the local offerings. Modelo is the 'Bud', or should I say Coors/Molson of Mexico and they have an extensive selection of beer that ranges from minimal malt and hop flavor (Negro Modelo), to effectively No hop and what appears to be just the remnants of malt (Corona). I settled for awhile on Victoria which has some beer like flavors that my pallet could detect. Also the 'Mega' Super Mercado has their brand name version of a Bohemian Pils that was surprisingly similar to what one might expect from a European import (in the can only). Then, to my surprise I discovered 'Bohemia' which , although light in malt, had a distinctive Saaz(?) hop flavor and aroma. Bohemia is what I buy when I can find it and for some reason it is a rare item in San Miguel. I suspect that it doesn't sell very well here because of the pronounce hop flavor. Some, used to the typical samplings may taste the hops and think that the beer has gone bad or something. In the mean time I wait patiently for my bottled beer to carbonate (2 days more!!). Speaking of my beer, after taking a gravity reading and tasting the sample, I actually scared myself with the huge hop profile, after being weened on the likes of Victoria for the last few weeks. I don't think the friends I've made down here will appreciate the flavor of my beer but, I'm pretty sure I will.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Back to the brewing



The new burner in action.
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Getting back to my first brew here in Mexico. At the time of this writing the beer boiling in the picture has been in the bottle for a week now. But I want to fill you in on the process.
After setting up the burner I discovered that the flame was far to low to bring 6 1/2 gals. of wort to a boil. I needed the control valve orifice to be larger to provide enough flame. I was able to ream it out with a rusty bent nail I found on the ground nearby. The nail reference is because I don't have any tools accept a used crescent wrench I bought at the outdoor market. Tools are any home brewers best friend. I used bottled water because I suspect that the water here is very hard and because I don't know what else is in it. I had to order all of the ingredients on line except the Honey which is available at the local supermercado (Bonanza) and the Columbus hops which I brought down with me. I also brought us56 dry ale yeast. All of the equipment I was able to round up here except the wort chiller and I brought my Hydrometer and thermometer with me. This is my recipe:
American IPA
7 lbs. light liquid malt extract
2 lbs. local honey
1/2 lb. Crystal #60 (steeped)
1/2 lb. aromatic (steeped)
In a 60 minute boil I used:
3/4 oz. columbus for bittering 60 min.
1 1/2 oz. cascade for flavor 15 min. and Irish moss for clarity
1 oz. cascade for aroma 3 min.
1 oz. cascade for aroma 1 min.
Everything went well and I reached my target gravity of 1.061 in 5.5 gals. It took a while to cool to 70 degrees F. because of the tap water temperature and after getting down to a little over 100 degrees I lowered the boil pot into a tub of ice water. The fermentation went without a hitch and I bottled directly from my primary fermentation using 3/4 cup of cane sugar (boiled).
Now I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm a little nervous about the bottling process because I have been force carbonating my beer in the keg for many years now.

A beer at Cafe Etc.


The beer I prefer out of the lot of them.
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I was enjoying a Bohemia Classic at Juans' "Cafe Etc. yesterday. His place is just down Calle Relox past the Biblioteca. It's an outdoor patio setting with good food and coffee. He has a great side business that is popular with the gringos, he makes copies of current and classis DVD movies and music for sale and has a extensive catalogs of both. There are usually several people flipping through the numerous binders that he keeps on shelves by the cash register. These are quality CD's And DVD's, not like the ones you can get at the tuesday, outdoor market where you will most likely get a movie that is a copy from a hand held camera recording from the local cineplex. Many buy their coffee from Juan too. A kilo bag of espresso beans for around $8.50 usd. Anyway, the original point here is that he is one of ;the few places that has Bohemia in the cooler. After the first, I ordered 'una mas', but as is the tradition(?) here in Mexico nothing is forever and it seems Juan is temporarily out. My choices then became Sol (ultra light) or Indio (kinda the same only with a better label). I chose the Indio. The picture of Montezuma beckoned me. Well, it could have been just that one beer but, there was a distinct metallic flavor (oxidized?), that made me regret my choice, but the weather was warm and balmy that day and I had nowhere to go so I sat back and sipped my bebida and listened to the solo violin wafting from the naked speaker nailed in the corner to the concrete wall and opened my beginning spanish homework book.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Choices!

That's a lot of choices!

I'm at a cross road in my life. A moment where answers may be discovered. Answers to questions about where to go from here with my passions and desires? How to leave the past behind? How to end my patterns of familiarity for the sake of comfort. How to be comfortable in the unfamiliar. My work has afforded me my comforts, but I'm tired. Tired of the need to continue in order to pay for the necessary commodities of life; food and shelter, gas for the car, insurance, bla, bla, etc. etc., just to be able to continue some more. I'm at a place where the value of the things I do are more important to me than just doing to keep doing. If that makes any sense. So here I am in Mexico, not getting my questions answered but brewing beer. Maybe brewing beer is the answer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Patience

Patience is a virtue in the world of brewing, and a pint helps!
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Finding the equipment has proved to be easier and cheaper than finding ingredients. The local ferreteria had a pretty good burner on a stand for 300 pesos ($30 usd). After a series of exagerated hand gestures and some badly expressed spanglish I was able to explain my needs for "mucho fuego" to the young clerk. Of course I was assured the burner in question would provide adequate fire. I carefully inspected the spoke shaped burner head and the clerk graciously replaced a cross threaded fitting where the gas line attached. I proudly carried this floor model back home.
Hardware stores in Mexico are different than the States. They have all the same stuff including an extensive supply of very cheap Chinese versions, but you don't walk down aisles picking up what you need. Here you step up to a counter (kind of like an auto parts store) and you ask for what you want. I had to learn quickly to say in spanish "I want..." fill in the blank, Cobra tubo, manquera regulador and otro regulador esta roto "...another regulator this one is broken", again pointing and picture drawing were important language skills.
For those familiar with home brewing do's and don'ts, aluminum boil pots are a big NO-NO (See picture above).Primarily because of the possible metallic taste that may occur in your beer and also, some claim that the metal may cause brain damage. We'll I've got another two weeks to wait on the flavor aspect since that is when my first batch of brew will be fully carbonated in the bottle. I'll keep you posted. As far as the brain damaging effect...only time will tell. I will say though that over the many years of my life I have ingested significant amounts of vegetable, mineral and animal parts that could possibly cause brain damage, so if some brain related desease or deficiency does occur, one would be hard pressed to single out aluminum as the route cause. In any case I purchased a 6.5 gal Aluminum pot at the Tuesday outdoor market. I haven't seen any stainless pots here and my plan is to only make two 5 gal. brews anyway.
Fermenters in the form of glass carboys are a very rare item here in Mexico, "land of the plasticos". Although I did find a couple in the rubble of a friends house that is being remodeled. My first instinct was to grab them for nostalgia sake and because I like to horde anything beer related, but I gave up on the inconvenience of the weight and difficulty in cleaning carboys long ago. I have been primary fermenting in a large foodgrade plastic containers for years (I use some empty malt extract containers that I got from a homebrew store with no ill effects. Before coming to Mexico I had the forthought to toss a few food grade bags in my carry-on and these I use to line my current fermenting container which I know for sure is not food grade.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

No Expert


The entrance to one of the local Cantina's near our house

I'm no expert on brewing. I don't know all the aspects of the chemistry involved in brewing that say, a commercial brewer probably needs to know. I couldn't even guess about some of the technical aspects of moving liquid in a large brewery while at the same time preventing contamination and the introduction of oxygen. I haven't had the hands-on exposure to that kind of beer making. What I do have is about 8 years of personal experiential knowledge of making small batches (10 gals.) of the type of beer I enjoy drinking. I have the kind of experience you get from trial and error. I have retained a little information from books I've read on brewing and the history of fermented drinks. I've also picked up a few pointers from fellow homebrewers like the ones from the homebrewing club in Santa Cruz, Ca. http://zymurgeeks.org/ or from the question and answers on the http://hbd.org/ internet discussion board. But, for the most part I just brew, over and over again. I modify my ingredients, techniques, practices and/or yeast until I have , like an alchemist, turned malt into gold or at least a gold alloy. I can't stop trying to perfect my pale ale (the Holy Grail of brewing in my world).

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