Sunday, December 28, 2008

No reason to stop brewing

In this article I would like to explore the reasons we start the hobby of homebrewing and how we keep the hobby alive which ultimately leads us to more brewing knowledge and practices and consequently, better results in the quality of our beer.Most of us are motivated by a number of personal reasons when we start out making our own beer.
Some might be...

1. The idea of duplicating a favorite beer
2. The challenge to creatively express ourselves through brewing
3. Saving money
4. Impressing family and friends
5. Furthering personal knowledge of the world we live in
6. The novelty of making an alcoholic beverage name a few.

No matter what our individual reasons are for beginning the hobby of homebrewing we all share a common desire, and that is to succeed in our efforts. To end up with something that is, if not an outstanding example of our favorite beverage, at least a halfway decent drinking beer that prompts us to move forward in our efforts. I'm not really sure what motivates the average homebrewer to continue with the hobby year after year but I suspect that it's the same for most as it is for me, which is best described as a passion and to stop brewing would be to let myself down. To disappointment me. I think we all have very personal reasons when we consider the the longevity of our hobby, but again I think passion is at the root.
I do have a pretty good idea why some do not continue brewing and it usually revolves around some initial failure in the first or first few attempts. A bad batch, bottles blowing up, beer related intestinal distress, just plain taste bad, etc., but what I think it really comes down to is the passion. Sometimes you just have it, but I would say to the new brewer that sometimes it takes time and many brews to develop the passion that leads to years of satisfying beers. It will be necessary to move beyond some of your brewing failures, don't let it be the cause for you to throw your hands up and look for another hobby. Growing the passion is about plowing through the bad batches and learning from them.
I am continually encouraged in my brewing endeavors whenever I come up with a good beer or bad. It gives me hope for the future and enlivens me with the prospects of future successes. I want to build on the experience and carry the feelings forward in my attempts to educate myself, design more recipes and improve on the mechanical applications.
Begin your brewing with simple styles using one type of malt extract and hops. Many times a new brewer will want to recreate a beer style that he loves but one which may be difficult for even the most experienced homebrew. Lagers in particular should be brewed after some experience. Ignore the tendency to regard a bad batch of beer as a person failure. Discard it and move on. When you brew a good batch, celebrate your achievement and share it with friends who will appreciate it. Brewing beer that you like and that is acknowledged as good by people who's opinion you trust, validates your efforts as a brewer. This in turn drives the desire to expand on the hobby by building bigger and/or better brewing equipment, challenging yourself into attempting to brew more difficult styles of beers, the courage to trust your wisdom and to pass it on to those curious about brewing.
There is nothing more rewarding for me then to see the smile appear on a friend or family members face when they take that first sip from a beer that I made with my own hands. Holding the glass up to the light to see the golden clarity as pearls of carbonation rise up to support a foamy head.
Finally, there are a couple of simple suggestions that I would like to pass on to help the new brewer continue the hobby beyond the initial excitement of the first few batches, good or bad. These few tips are often overlooked at the beginning but have a big impact on the outcome of your beer.

1. Keep to simple recipes to begin with
2. Use an abundance of healthy yeast, if the recipe calls for 1 pkg of dry yeast for 5 gals. use 2(a large yeast colony will outperform any spoiling bacteria)
3. Ferment cool (65f.-70f.) Not above 72f. (pitch yeast after wort is 72f. or below)
4. Sanitize fermenter and after boil equipment thoroughly

Can you recommend other simple tips? Let me know.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Mexican barley at last!

Si! Viva La Cebada en Mexico!
Finally. It seems like it should have been an easy task to find a supplier of malted barley in Mexico, but it was quite difficult. I did extensive internet searches using English and Spanish words and phrases like malt and malto, barley and cebada, malta de cebada, l├║pulo para elaborar la cerveza with no results until the other day. I was at the point of not caring if I found malt in Mexico or not when I just happened to stumbled upon
The website indicated an entire inventory of brewing related materials and equipment but lacked details like individual items and costs. They did list a phone number and address (estamos en la ciudad de pachuca hidalgoparque industrial canacintra av. b lote 14 a). I became very exited with the possibility of finding a source of malt, and rushed out to purchase a phone card to make the long distance call to their office. Returning home I scribbled out pertinent questions on a note pad. Do you have malted barley? Can I buy it locally? How much? Etc. Because my Spanish is so limited I solicited Susan to call and habla espanol with whoever answered the call. I waited for Susan to finish talking and hang up before insisting on every detail of the conversation. Turns out that Maltayderivados is located outside of Mexico City but is willing to ship anything I want to San Miguel. They have a 50 kilo minimum order for malted barley and the cost per 25 kilo is 350 pesos ($35 us). They also have all of the specialty grains and Cascade hops. In addition to materials, they sell brewing equipment. The salesman 'Luis'
said that he would follow up with an e-mail giving more details on the costs of grain.
I'm very excited to finally know for sure that I can get the materials that I need for brewing here. I will plan on developing my contact with 'Luis' over the remainder of my time here this year.
In the mean time I discovered a source for malt extract
on the web but have yet to make contact with them. I will purchase another phone card soon and follow up with them.
And if all this good news wasn't enough, I also came across a homebrew supply place in Mexico City that appears to have the basics albeit a limited inventory.
In my future trips to Mexico I may be able to pack my bags without the need to save half the space for brewing ingredients!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mexican bottling system

Drilling a hole by hand
with a paddle bit.
Using two packages of the Safale s-33 created quite the fermentation fury doing its job and settling out after only four days so I was able to bottle two cases of beer today. I once again have renewed sense of appreciation for kegging as the process of getting the beer into bottles was very labor intensive. Soaking the bottles over night, removing the labels, scrubbing inside and out, rinsing and sanitizing. Then racking the beer into another bucket with preboiled sugar, bottle filling and finally capping left me exhausted and thirsty for a good ale. Alas, I settled for another, you guessed it... Barrilitos.
Now for two weeks of patience before I can enjoy the fruits of my labor. Of course I did some tasting during the process and I think this will be a good beer. The hibiscus addition was most evident with a tart dryness and since it is so young the flavor of yeast and residual sweetness is up front. The phenolics that I was expecting is very subdued. I can't wait to taste this after it has conditioned for awhile.
In the mean time I've got another couple of batches to brew and I can't waste any time so I plan to do my Agave Pale Ale tomorrow. I'll be using 50 ounces of Agave syrup this time and Centennial hops throughout.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jamaica Wheat

In my attempt to use local ingredients to add the flavor of the Mexican culture, I'm going to start with a wheat beer with the addition of jamaica (dried hibiscus flower) and tamarindo. Each has its unique flavor but they both impart a sour or tartness to the taste.The hibiscus is mildly tart and with tangy fruit and flower hints. The tamarindo is boldly tart with strong dried fruit flavors.
I am using a Belgian style yeast (safale s-33) that should contribute a large phenolic flavor and I'm hoping that the hibiscus and tamarindo will accent and support that with their tartness. Naturally, I was concerned about using too much of either of these so, I went with a conservative one ounce of the hibiscus and about a quarter cup of the tamarindo in my five gallon batch. The original gravity for this beer is 1.046 and I hope that it will ferment down to 1.008 but this beer is new territory for me so I will be happy if it ends up drinkable. One thing I was expecting to happen that didn't is that the hibiscus flower did not impart the red color to the beer that I wanted. I had made a small tea of some of the flower earlier and the color in the water after steeping for only a few minutes was very beautiful. If I'm lucky, some red highlights may show up in the finished beer.
I chilled the beer in an ice bath that brought the temperature down to 70f. after 25 minutes or so and I aerated the wort by pouring it back and forth several times between the boil pot and the fermenter. As you can see in the background of the picture of the boiling wort, I have amassed a couple of cases of beer bottles in anticipation of bottling this beer in a week. I'm also realizing that I better get busy making another batch soon because of the delay in letting the beer condition in bottles. We will only be here until the end of February and I want to get fifteen
gallons of beer bottled, conditioned, drunk and shared with friends and some local business people before we leave. Which reminds me, I bought a phone card today and have phone numbers and addresses for three different grain suppliers in Mexico. I've asked Susan to habla the espanol for me to some of these businesses so I can finally put an end to
my search for a supplier down here. Keep your fingers crossed.


Friday, December 12, 2008


Dancers with Barrilitos on their heads.

After a week in San Miguel I'm starting to relax into the Mexican way of life. We spent yesterday at the thermals enjoying a day of soaking in the hot springs and laying about the warm lawns playing cribbage and sipping cerveza. Today we went to a church gathering in a barrio north of town called Mexiquito for a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Food vendors sold home made gorditas, enchiladas, tamales and chicharron while throngs of proud parents paraded their young boys, (whom they've dressed up like the historical Juan Diego after he had his vision or the Virgin), around the courtyard. In the mean time, I haven't done much in the way of preparing for brewing except to browse around the markets looking for the materials that I will need for my upcoming brews and considering the local foods that can possibly be used for added flavor and cultural appeal. Since arriving in San Miguel I've been drinking a beer (lager) called 'Barrilito'. Produced by Modelo (of course), it is the only one that comes in non-returnable bottles and perfect for re-using to package my homebrew. Barrilito is the lightest of Modelo beers in terms of color and flavor, unfortunately, but is perfect if your goal is to collect the bottles as quickly as possible. The other up side is that it's cheap and has the distinction of being in bottles that I don't have to pay a deposit on and can re-cap, so I buy it and try to enjoy it. The fact is that most of the beers here are considerably lighter than what I'm use to drinking, and accepting that fact dispels the disappointment that may rise from experiencing Barrilitos. The majority of the beer in Mexico is sold in the bottle and it is required that you return the empties to the outlet that you bought it from. The idea being that you pay a deposit on the bottle and when you return for more beer you simple exchange the quantity of empties for your new purchase. I get my beer from the local 'Modelorama' aptly named because it sells all brands of Modelo exclusively. A modern day Mexican 'tied house'.
I'm getting a lot of good ideas about adjuncts and flavorings that can enhance the beer I will brew and look forward to sharing my final product with some of the local business people that I have discussed homebrew with recently. One restaurant suggested presenting a night of food/homebrew paring and just down the street from there, a store that sells flavored rum products made by a local family, was interested in selling locally brewed beer.
I'm still searching for a source for malted barley but I have an increased sense of hope since discovering a major wholesaler in Mexico City.
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