Thursday, October 30, 2008

Last day of School

The final day of Brewing School was literally a bitter sweet experience. The students brought in food to pair with the beers we brewed over the last 5 weeks of classes. First we concluded the lessons by going over the mechanics of making your own kegerator out of a chest freezer. Also, forced carbonating kegs was discussed. Soon, the students guests started to arrive and we moved on to tasting beers, including a bottled Hefeweizen and a kegged IPA from the very first class. Also on tap were the Irish Stout from the third class and finally the All-grain English Ale from the fourth class.

Students discuss the kegerator before the food pairing

My goal when starting the beer school was to teach the students that anyone can make a batch of decent tasting beer with the simplest of equipment and ingredients. I think I accomplished that goal but along the way, as the brewing techniques became increasingly difficult, I found that it was necessary to educate myself along with the students and that as prepared as I thought I was, there is still more that I need to learn to adequately prepare the students for the more advanced brewing skills. In the end though, I received good grades from the students concerning my teaching abilities and the curriculum. I felt a little relieved when the final day was done and I had cleaned up and packed the van with the beer related school stuff. Driving away from the campus I reflected on my efforts as a teacher, a difficult but rewarding job. I learned a lot about how I teach and what I may do in the future to improve. I went into the classes fully prepared with a written agenda and syllabus to guide my way, but quickly realized that I had to be flexible and go 'off-script' when needed. I will be taking away from this experience an improved format for the next series of classes and by the spring I should be rested and mentally prepared to go through the process again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Beers of October

It's not
about size!

We (the zymurgeeks) got together with the local mushroom gathering club to celebrate the season of October by combining the earthy flavors of the mushroom with the heavenly flavor of fermented malt to give thanks to these gifts of nature these sacred gifts that make us whole as human beings. An abundance of great homebrew was on tap including a fantastic Vienna lager, two other oktoberfest lagers, a pale ale, IPA's and stouts to compliment a variety of delicious foods. Several of the beers were brewed at the Santa Cruz County Fair in August and were ripe for quaffing in the warm California October air. For a moment, I was nastalgic for the crisp cool air of my past life in the Pacific Northwest. The hint of a winter snowfall blowing in on the northern wind. Rain and sleet pushing me near the comforting flame of a cozy fire in the family room. Then again, 75f. on the deck, with dozens of friends drinking cold homebrew to beat the heat is just alright with me, Oh yeah!
Its tough to really get into the spirit of Oktoberfest in California. I guess you just have to have a different frame of mind when it comes to the idea of a cool time. Californians think of cold when it drops down into the, oh, I don't know, the 50's? So what? To us it's damn cold. Then again, cold or hot it takes beer to make it right. Not temperature.
I don't know about you, but when it come to celebrating the season I love the outdoors and having a nice cool malt beverage under the shade of a scrub Oak in the warm California sun. Sure the cold rains of winter are close behind this Indian Summer but that could be weeks away and with the way things are going we'll be in Mexico before the first winter storm. Then again, I'll be leaving behind some of the best beers in the world.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brewing class day 4

Homebrew class of 2008

We brewed up 10 gallons of an Extra Special Bitter today using the all-grain method on my gravity feed system. 18lbs. of 2-row and 28oz. of Crystal #60. Our efficiency was huge which required us to add some water to the wort to get down to the gravity that we were shooting for (1.052). This ESB is a very quaffable beer and always scores well in the competitions. In the mean time we tasted the Hefeweizen and IPA from the first class and discussed a method of evaluating the beer. Then we rack the Irish Stout from last weeks class into a keg and forced carbonated it, readying it for the beer fridge to condition for a week before tasting next week at the potluck. The class was very engaged in the all-grain brewing process and all went well until the end when it was time to chill the wort. We had a large amount of pellet hop debris that clogged the outflow valve of the boil pot that required some reaming to correct. Once that was cleared the chilling went forward smoothly and the wort was pumped directly into the fermenter at 70f. We pitched a stepped up English ale yeast (Whitelabs WLP002) and concluded the brewing session.

Friday, October 10, 2008

GABF in Denver

I only wish I could be at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. I have to get by with the stories and images forwarded to me from my friend Chris, who happens to be in Denver working for the Democratic campaign. Chris is fortunate enough to be staying in a condo two blocks from the facility where the festival is being held. I got a call from him as he stood in line to get in on opening night Thursday. I suggested that he head for the gold award winning breweries first and take some pictures for me. I was a little jealous. Later in the evening I got a follow up call, Chris found his favorite beers of the evening and wanted to let me know how wonderful they are and what I was missing. Thanks. Apparently he ranked them in order of Gold, Silver and Bronze.

He liked the Dogfish Head "Midas Touch" for the Gold category

He found that the McKenzie Brewery was worthy of the Silver in his ranking for their "Scottish Ale" which must be new to the taps because I couldn't find it on their website.
And finally he decided that the Bronze should go towards "about 90 others I sampled!!!"

Chris imbibes!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Brewing Class day 2

Over this last week the two beers that we brewed in class, fermented nicely and on time for me to take them back to the classroom for bottling and kegging. The fermentation attenuation was 75% for both beers. I'm used to 80% attenuation when brewing all-grain. I have to assume that the dry malt extract that we used for both beers was the reason for only getting 75%. The wheat beer has a distinctive banana aroma/flavor and some spicy clove. The pale ale we renamed an IPA because of the higher than expected gravity and hop bitterness that we achieved, primarily from boiling down to 4 1/2 gals instead of 5 1/2 gals. I managed to take both buckets of fermented beer back to the classroom without agitating the yeast bed too much.
In the class the students got an earful from me regarding malt bill calculations, hop bitterness utilization and the math to figure the attenuation and alcohol of the beers. We spent some time learning to siphon and cap bottles then went to work bottling the hefeweizen and kegging the IPA. All went smoothly. In the course of the day we also sampled an example of a home brewed ESB that we will be brewing as the class continues into the all-grain techniques in a couple of weeks.
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