Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Keeping The Wife Happy

The author responds to the previous post, with a homebrewers perspective.

Over the years I have stumbled across some important lessons about brewing beer at home and not all of them have been about the brewing processes. Some lessons have come in the form of important tools for a tranquil home life. It is easy for me to become so self absorbed in my hobby that it sometimes overshadows some other important parts of my life, specifically my relationship with my wife. I can sometimes overlook the simplest of domestic responsibilities as I endeavor to make up a batch of beer and keep my kegerator well stocked. I forget that another person occupies the same living space and should be considered when spreading out the materials and equipment to do battle in my makeshift brewery.

So, I have come up with a list of do’s and don’ts that have served me well over the years and I would like to share them with you here. As a side note I want to make clear that although I am referring to my wife, these tips are useful to consider for whoever you live with. These are not in any particular order of importance but all should be remembered on brew day and applied as needed.

1.) Cook up your starter on the kitchen stove when she’s gone. There is nothing that will irritate a loved one more than having the kitchen completely taken over as you maniacally protect your newly sanitized starter. I have noticed myself placing my body between my wife and the sink I’m using as an ice bath for chilling, in order to protect my precious, sanitized wort starter. She won't understand that you're just trying to keep the starter from being contaminated. It's also a good idea to air out the room thoroughly when your done. Odd smells create unnecessary suspicion.
2.) Schedule with her well in advance of brew day so she can mentally prepare herself. If she is warned of the big day, the chances are she won't expect anything from you for at least eight hours while you create the 'holy grail' of pale ales.
3.) Make sure you have everything you need outside so you don’t come and go into the house. Coming and going through the garage door (in my case, leading to the kitchen) can be irritating even when they are forewarned.
4.) Brew some beers she enjoys and make sure you tell her that you are brewing it for her even though you will probably be drinking 95% of it. It shows you care.
5.) Keep your brew area organized and well stocked. Make it look like you expect to be homebrewing for many years, it will help her get used to the idea.
6.) Tell her you love her more than beer (really). I mean it, she probably suspects differently.
7.) Don’t let empty beer bottles accumulate around the kitchen sink. One day is o.k. but not longer.
8.) Use your kegerator for storing large qty’s of hops instead of the refrigerator in the house. The fridge is usually full to begin with. You don’t want her to unload bags of groceries to discover that the precious real estate is lost to several pounds of half used bags of hops wrapped with rubber bands.
9.) Don’t fill the cupboards with your collection of pint glasses from around the world. Even though you have a lot of pride and unique stories about each one of them, they can quickly crowd out the regular household glasses. She may not want her morning juice in a pilsner glass.
10.) And finally, tell her again that you love her more than beer (I’m really serious). Sometimes just saying it once will be looked upon as manipulative, repeat it as often as you remember.

I'm sure there are more suggestions to help. Leave a comment below.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life With A Homebrewer

This is a guest post by my wife on being married to a homebrewer and what that's like. You can read her blog at http://www.artpilgrim3.blogspot.com/
by Susan Dorf
When I first came home to what looked to be some one's dirty underwear soaking in my best cooking pot, I have to admit I was a little unsettled. Even after he explained to me that they were just used hop bags, they still looked disgusting. And what was that sticky stuff all over the stove? Yeast starter? What the hell is that? Ugh.

From a page in my art journal. ©Susan Dorf 2009

It had been several weeks since my husband had taken the one day Introduction to Brewing class at the local home brewing supply store and come home with a glazed look on his face and a starter kit to make his first batch of home brewed beer. Now he was moving from malt extract to all grain brewing and had acquired a mill and a few other bits of paraphernalia to make it possible. As long as it all fits under the sink, I said.
But really, I was glad to see that Mark had found a passion. After all, it's good for a man to have a hobby, right? And this one made a lot less noise than the wood shop idea, and was much less risky and stressful than the commodity-trading phase. At least he wasn't racing motorcycles or raising strange animals. Still, I wondered how long it would last.
After the equipment started taking over the kitchen cupboards and then the kitchen itself, we bought a plastic shed for the back deck for him to store the accumulating burners, pots, kegs, CO2 tanks, grains, etc. And when the beer glasses collected from the various breweries and pubs and beer festivals began to shove the other drinking glasses and dishes into unapproachable corners of the cupboards, I agreed that he could use a shelf in the laundry cupboard for the overflow. Soon there were two shelves of glasses, a bin of hop pellets that looked like rabbit food, along with various other devices and several books on home brewing. Laundry and cleaning supplies were stacked on top of the dryer and our storage space was reduced to a few square feet. Then one day the freezer arrived on the back of a friend's truck and with some pushing and shoving was wedged in next to the washing machine. A few adjustments and attachments later, and it was goodbye storage, hello kegerator.
He kept meticulous notes on every aspect of his brewing process. And while his dirty clothes may have been sprawled across the bedroom floor and his bathroom took on the appearance of a war zone, the beer area was always spotless and orderly. He became manic about sanitation and cleanliness, and though my kitchen knives would disappear into fermenting kegs to become weights for dry hop bags, or my pots and measuring cups would mysteriously relocate themselves to the beer shed, I was told that I must never, ever borrow a beer utensil for anything else. Some mornings he trots out to visit his fermenter the minute he wakes up, then comes back with a glass full of some cloudy yellow liquid as I'm trying to wake up, sitting down to a cup of coffee. ‘Taste this', he says. ‘Tell me if it's any good.' He is a man possessed.
Little by little, the world of beer began to infiltrate into our lives. Weekend outings gave way to brewing Sundays. Our vacations and road trips were punctuated by tours of micro-breweries, (which I found I could use as leverage to my advantage, countering with museum and gallery visits.) My usual healthy eating habits became compromised with countless brewpub menus while participating in numerous taste evaluations of beer samplers. I learned about hops and how they are used as a bittering agent, used to balance out the sweetness of the beer to give it a fuller and more complex flavor. Gee, I found myself thinking, it sounds just like a relationship.
He explains to me about the yeast. How it changed the course of history by turning nomadic wanderers into agrarian people because they needed to cultivate grain to make enough beer to keep them satisfied. One night I woke up to a strange rhythmic bubbling sound coming from the bedroom closet. When I opened the door I saw that his shoes had been shoved to one side to make room for the glass carboys wrapped in electric blankets like precious bundles. I pulled one of the blankets aside and stared at the foamy mixture inside. All of that yeast in there multiplying away in a feeding frenzy. Living organisms that through some strange intelligence knew just how much they needed to reproduce to consume the sugar provided by the malted grain. I knelt down to get a closer look at them. "What have you done to my husband?" I asked. And that's when I knew. This wasn't just a hobby anymore. This was his calling.

He joined a homebrew group where he and other brewers would gather together like mad scientists and taste each other's concoctions and talk endlessly about gravity and hop ratios and IBU's and clone recipes along with the latest must-have brewing gizmos. He was a man communing with his tribe. He would come home from beer festivals with a wild satisfied grin on his face, like a kid coming home from Disneyland. He would look like a walking advertisement for micro-breweries, laden with tee shirts and key chain bottle openers, bumper stickers, hats, glasses. Here was a man who wouldn't buy himself a pair of socks, who balked at the price of food and haircuts, and yet when it came to beer or beer related doodads, the money flowed from his wallet. There was no holding back. After the arrival of the beer sculpture, the ominous skeletal multi-tiered monstrosity that appeared one day after he had befriended a welder, I knew that our lives had turned a corner. It was time to move. We needed a garage.
One night I asked him the question a wife should never ask her homebrewer husband. "If you had to choose between beer making and me, what would it be?" I could see the wires crossing in his head, the almost visible sparks as he struggled to find the right answer. Finally, "What the hell kind of question is that?" He said, and went out to the garage to check his fermenter. I'm okay with it. Really I am. Because in my heart of hearts I know that when your true purpose and passion calls to you and makes you feel happy and whole, what choice do you have, really?

Read Susan's follow up post "life with a homebrewer (part II)" here!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Ol' Factory Cafe In Sand City, Ca.

I recently made the short trek to the other side of the bay to meet up with a friend of mine and enjoy his company over a couple of beers. During the drive down I couldn't help but smile in appreciation, for the privilege of living in one of the most beautiful places in the country. As Highway 1 bends south along the shore I witness the stunning views of the coastline with its cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach lining the distant horizon over a vivid expanse of deep blue ocean. My destination is The Ol’ Factory CafĂ©
located at the entrance to Monterey. Morgan Christopher is the owner and beer aficionado, who opened for business two years ago introducing to the public the vast array of remarkable beers from all over the world.
As I walk in I am immediately drawn to a bar that boasts at least forty specialty beers in bottles and another ten or twelve on tap. We’re not talking your usual domestic craft fair although there is some of that also, including Belgian style ales from Maine and California , but more appealing to me is the large selection of classics from around the world. Schlenkerla rauchbier from Germany, Koningshoeven Quadruple from Netherlands, Delirium Tremens, Belgium. And on tap, Chimay Tripel and Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Erdinger Dunkelweizen to name a few. Needless to say, I was in heaven.
I located my friend and we ordered immediately.
A Karmliet Tripel
www.bestbelgianspecialbeers.be/main_eng.html for me, and a La Chouffe Ipa www.achouffe.be/en/nos-bieres/nos-produits/for Karl. Both were delicious. We spoke briefly with Morgan about his operation and then opened a bottle of homebrew that I brought down for the occasion. It was a Chimay Tripel clone that had been aging in my kegerator for several months. He seemed suspicious at first but after a couple sips agreed that it was indeed good. Morgan introduced his chef Kevin Fisher who is also a homebrewer. Kevin has been at The Ol’Factory for seven months where he has refined and considerably improved the menu. His excitement about beer and food was contagious and we talked about the possibility of holding a homebrew and food pairing event in the future. I will follow up on that idea with the other Zymurgeek home brewers. We ordered a couple more beers and enjoyed the open space ambiance of the place with its comfortable couches, big chairs and coffee tables that give the place a feeling like you're in your own living room. Did I mention that they have a full bar for coffee and tea?
The day was drawing to an end and I decided that a perfect beer for the road would be one that I was sure Karl had never had. We were brought a bottle of Girardin gueuze and a couple of glasses to share. After the first smell and sip we both agreed that this beer definitely had a distinct barnyard flavor and aroma and I was relieved when Karl proclaimed that he enjoyed the beer with all of its unique character.
The time came too soon for me to drive back up the coast.
The Monterey Bay area is one of the most beautiful and picturesque places on the planet and only one thing could improve on this image, an establishment that has a huge selection of specialty beers on tap and what seems like an endless array of bottled beer from around the world. Oh wait, it has such a place by the name The Ol’Factory Cafe located in Sand City, within minutes of Monterey.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not A False Bottom

Let me begin by stating that I don't have a problem with using a false bottom in the mash tun. I used one successfully for many years when I began brewing with all-grain. In fact, I would probably still be using one now if I hadn't gone from five gallon to 10 gallon batches. When I switched to larger brews I converted a Sanke keg to use for my mash tun. When I did this, rather then purchase an expensive false bottom to fit, I decided to take the easy and cheap way out by modifying a length of plumbing supply line into a mash grain filter. Here, I want to show how to circumvent the need for a perforated false bottom.

In the first example, I use a short length of stainless steel braided hose attached to a plastic spigot in a 5 gallon bucket for a simple solution for partial mash brewing procedures. Go here for the video example. In the second example I have a longer length of s.s. hose connected to a copper pick-up tube that is in turn connected to a ball valve for use in a larger metal mash tun that can come in direct contact with your heat source.

In either case it is necessary to separate the exterior s.s. braided hose from its inner rubber component. There are a couple ways to achieve this and the pictures are examples of both.
For the partial mash example, I cut the threaded nut off of one end off of a 12" length of water supply line. Then, using a sharp pointed tool (in my case a scratch awl) perforate the inner rubber hose around the entire circumference near the other end of the hose near the 1/2" threaded nut. Be careful not to molest the braided steel, you can see the black rubber hose underneath between the braids. Once you have thoroughly perforated the inner hose, pull it firmly from the cut off end until it separates and slides out. Now you have a s.s. braided hose with a 1/2" nut on one end. Now, slip about an inch of the cut off end through a one inch length of 1/2" copper pipe and hammer the copper pipe until it crimps the end of the hose. You can then thread the s.s. hose onto an adapter that is attached to the spigot. The spigot is attached to your bucket (mash tun) and your ready to mash. (See images above for reference)

For the converted Sanke keg mash tun or other large metal mash tun you can use a longer section of supply line. I have a three foot section of which I cut off both threaded end and then pulled the inner rubber hose out. I crimped one end with a length of copper pipe. The other end is attached to a length of soft copper tubing using a hose clamp. The tubing is in turn connected with sleeve and ferrel nut to a metal ball valve. I hope the pictures help to explain what is turning out to be a lengthy and difficult explanation. Comment if you have any questions.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sudwerk By UC Davis

I was recently taken aback by an unpleasant experience with a professional brewer. After a short conversation about the business of brewing he convinced me that at some point, for the most part, professional brewers were left to give up their passion for brewing, and must devote their energies towards the need for fiscal responsibility in order to succeed in their business. Fortunately, I was quickly spared the idea of this disappointing, alternate reality when I had the chance to talk with Mike Hutson, the brewer at Sudwerk www.sudwerk.com in Davis, California. His passion for brewing still lives on despite the large financial needs required to operate a facility as large as Sudwerk. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Earlier, after driving three hours to Woodland, to pick up grain for the Zymurgeeks homebrew club www.zymurgeeks.org I decided to stop at Sudwerk in Davis for lunch and of course a couple of well deserved cool ones after the long drive. I ordered a Pilsner while I waited for my burger. This beer is very pale straw, a crisp light malt character and very refreshing. After getting the burger I ordered a stout. Black as night with a thick creamy tan head this beer was robust with a strong presence of crystal malts along with a good roasted bite. I took a couple pictures of the restaurant which features copper brewing kettles within a circular bar, and asked about viewing the brewery. Within moments Mike Hutson appeared, weary from the previous nights efforts, but enthusiastic and let me into the back where the beer is made. Mike is a graduate of the brewers program at UC Davis and has been brewing at Sudwerk for several years. The facility is used by UC for their Brew Masters Program, preparing the students to brew in a large scale brewery environment. I took a quick look at the mash/lauter tun and steam heated boil kettle. We passed the 130 bbl fermenters on the way down to the cellar where Mike was excited to take a sample and experience the results of a new batch of hefeweizen. Using a devise called a Zahm/Nagel, www.zahmnagel.com Mike checked the carbonation level of the beer, then we tasted. A great example of a classic German style hefeweizen with subtle esters and loads of phenolic spicyness along with a rich creaminess from the wheat. Very good. We finished tasting, and I thanked Mike for his continued enthusiasm which re-instilled in me the satisfaction of knowing that the business of brewing can continue to be about the beer even when the need for financial success seems to displace the alchemy and art of crafting great beer.
What do you think? Leave a comment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

3 Simple Homebrewing Tricks

If you don’t use or haven’t heard of these techniques, I highly recommend adding them to your regimen of brewing ideas. They sound primitive but I use them regularly with excellent results. Also, check out a more recent posting with additional tricks at "3 more easy homebrewing tricks" posted in November of 2009.

A.) The mighty spray bottle. A very helpful and simple tool to have at your disposal is a common household spray bottle filled with distilled or filtered water.Keep it filled and nearby when the wort is coming to it’s initial boil. As the foam rises a couple inches, spray a heavy mist of water on the top which will effectively knock the foam back down into solution. You will have to spray periodically at the onset of the boil. Using this technique, you may be able to eliminate the
awkward need to
adjust your temperature down as a way of preventing boil overs, of course, it depends on your heat source and/or how vigorous you want the boil. When the boil is stable and underway, your done with the sprayer until your next brew.

B.) Food grade disposable bags for yeast salvage and easy clean-up. I re-use my yeast at least half a dozen times and sometimes more which in itself is a easy brewing trick but what I want to share here is the idea of using disposable food grade bags as a liner and yeast harvester in your fermenter. One of the most important things to consider when salvaging yeast is reducing the amount of exposure to contaminating bacteria and wild yeasts during the process of transfer and containment. This means handling the yeast as little as possible. I ferment in an open container of sorts. My fermenter is a large plastic container with an open top like a bucket. It is actually a 13gal. Liquid malt extract drum that I got from my local home brew store http://www.breworganic.com/ . I cut the top off to easily transfer wort for fermentation. The trick here is that I line the inside of the fermenter with a food grade disposable bag. http://www.papermart.com/ After inserting the bag, I tape the top edge in a couple of places to the top of the drum to hold it in place so that when I transfer the chilled wort from the boil pot, the weight of the wort doesn’t drag the bag in with it. After fermentation is complete, I rack the beer into my secondary (in this case a corny keg) and prepare to salvage the yeast. The process is as follows:

  1. lift bag containing yeast out of fermenter
  2. lower bottom of bag into a bucket of water/sanitizer solution for a couple of minutes
  3. lift bag out of solution and let solution drip off for several seconds
  4. hold sanitized bag full of yeast over a previously sanitized jar (quart sized)
  5. perforate bottom of bag with sanitized knife and let yeast drain into the jar
  6. cover jar of yeast with foil and place in fridge until needed
  7. dispose of bag and excess yeast You now have a large yeast starter for your next batch of beer and no need to clean your fermenter. I have used this technique many times and teach the process in my home brewing school in addition to the traditional ways of yeast salvaging.

C.) Wort aeration made easy. Finally, an effective way to aerate your wort without having to ‘rock’ carboys or hook up air pumps is to transfer the wort between sanitized buckets several times. This means pouring the wort from a height of several feet into another bucket. Here’s what you do.

  1. After the wort is cooled to pitching temperatures, drain or pour into one or two 5 gallon buckets depending on the batch size.
  2. Then pour the wort back into the boil pot, or another sanitized bucket.
  3. Then repeat this step two or three times.
  4. Finally pour into you fermenter. Your done.

I hope you’ve taken away from this post some useful information. There are a lot more ideas like this out there. If you’re willing the share, leave a comment below to help others with their brewing endeavors. And remember to sign up for email notice for new posts. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mezcal Not Beer

We’re back from Mexico now and getting acclimated to the quite, cool coastal atmosphere of northern California again. As I sit here enjoying a Sierra Nevada ESB I can’t help but notice the absence of the noises of Mexico. From the midnight fireworks to the diesel buses and car alarms, there was never a moment of peaceful silence. The garbage man called for your trash by hammering pieces of sheet metal together and the gas truck played a funny tune repeatedly over loud speakers attached to the cab. The calls of the vendors at the market and the special whistle of the knife sharpener who road his bike with a grinding wheel attached to the fender, through the neighborhood. The old man that sang his tuneless song as he made his rounds in the park each afternoon. Barking dogs, honking horns, mariachis bands, crowing roosters, televisions novelas, fighting cats and the church bells, always the bells from the Spanish Colonial churches that anchored each barrio to the earth like a rusty castle. I’m choosing what comes out of storage first and going through the process of unpacking as we settle into our new temporary home. I pulled out a bottle of tea colored mezcal that is wrapped in a shirt in my luggage and I want to open it and taste the flavor of Mexico again. But I set it aside to later share with friends at the next Zymurgeek meeting. I remember when I bought the mezcal. We were staying in the city of Patzcuaro for a few days and I got wind of a local Mezcaleria on the opposite side of the ‘lago de Patzcuaro’ just past the town of Erongaricuaro in a little hamlet called Oponguio. We took a ‘collectivo’ (van) out of town a few kilometers and were dropped off on the highway at the entrance of a long dirt driveway. We walked down and found a iron gate in a tall stone wall. A woman met us at the entrance and proceeded to show us the facilities of ‘Palomas Mensajeras‘ or ‘messenger doves‘ where this mazcal has been made for generations. First, the pit used to roast the ‘pina’ (the heart of the maguey plant) and the vats for natural fermentation. Fruit flies swarmed as she had us lean into the fermentation vats to get a good whiff of the odors associated with the process. Finally she explained the primitive still for distilling the fermented maguey juice that resulted in the mezcal. “The fermented juice is distilled twice to concentrate the alcohol,” she told us as we tasted the mildly alcoholic first runnings. . It was all very interesting and soon she led us to a table were we tasted two types of tequilla and some young and ‘reposadomezcal.
For more information on Palomas Mensajeras, contact:
Sr. Miguel Perez Resendiz
Calle Morelos #9 Opengulo
Mpio de Erongaricuaro, Mich. Mexico

Tel. 01(443) 393-2938

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