Saturday, December 28, 2013

Brewing Without A Net

I've been using pellet hops in hop bags in the boil since the beginning of my brewing habit. I first purchased the medium sized nylon type from MoreBeer and soon discovered how limiting the size was. After the boil, the hops had expanded into a fist tight ball that pressed against the constraints of the bag. No me gusta! So, I started using 5gal. paint strainer bags a couple years ago to give the hops some more room to be exposed to the hot wort. My thinking and hope was that I could achieve a higher degree of flavor and aroma. You can go here to see other ideas or here to see my 'hop spider' solution. But there were problems with using these techniques, mainly that even with the larger bags the expanding vegetative mass appeared to seal off the flow of wort through the hops. I haven't done any studies to prove this so don't hold me to this theory but just from the looks of it I'd say I'm not getting my fair share of the available goodness from the hops.

Hops, hops, hops
Last week, I brewed my typical Belgian tripel and did away with the hop bags entirely and instead simply threw the pellet hops in loose. I wasn't real concerned with getting the most aroma from these hops for this recipe but used the brew day as a way of testing the 'loose hops' waters so to speak. Overcoming my main concern was my agenda here, that the hop material running through my chiller would gum up the works. I was really afraid of this. Yes, afraid. But, I witnessed the whirlpool technique that I've heard about so often while I was at Sante Adarius Rustic Ales a couple weeks ago and saw that a pile of hop debris will collect in the center of the boil kettle if a vigorous stirring in a clockwise direction (must be clockwise and not counter-clockwise, just kidding) was performed to create a whirlpool at the end of the boil and the wort left to settle and come to a rest after ten minutes or so.

I did this at the end of the boil for my tripel. Then I purged the kettle pick-up tube of any dregs by opening the valve for about a second. Some debris came out followed immediately by clear wort. I then closed the valve and hooked up my quick disconnect line and transferred the wort though my chiller to discover that the wort was nice and clear as it entered the fermentor. At the end of the transfer there was a nice clump of hop debris left behind in the center of my kettle. Oooh.

Of course I knew this would be the case but naturally I had to prove it to myself and I still worried the entire time I transferred that I would clog up my chiller. Really.

But today was different, and so the fear returned. The tripel recipe was only slightly more than 2oz. of hops for an 11 gallon batch and consequently a relatively small amount of debris was left behind as a cone. Today's pale ale recipe was over ½ a pound, significantly more.

What to do if this clogs my chiller in mid stream so to speak? I had no answers but boldly went ahead with only my weak faith to comfort me. Fortunately, I didn't have to come up with a back-up plan because the cone formed nicely albeit largely and the wort flowed clear. As I got down to the last couple of quarts the pickup tube wanted to draw off the hops so just before this happened I quit the transfer and called it good.

Ending transfer as the hops started to be drawn

The big benefits of changing my approach to hop additions is that I will hopefully introduce more aroma and flavor and just as importantly I won't have to use the bags anymore, which are a pain to mess with and I especially won't miss the cleaning. This pale ale will be ready in a month and I'm looking forward to tasting the difference. I may end up with a higher ibu count brewing this way and so may have to back off on the first wort hop and bittering hop additions. I'll let you know how it tastes when I get there. Cheers!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Round Trip For Beer

Sometimes I find myself suffering from high anxiety.

I woke up late the other night from a dream in which I was flying around the countryside sitting on a pillow that was strapped to some sort of small wooden bench. As I blissfully moved through the air I followed the line of the street far below. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't need to follow the road, that I was free to cut across the country side on my flying bench to get to my destination and save time. This I did and my new route took me over a large grassy playing field where some older kids were throwing a ball back and forth. The ball ended up landing in my lap and before I could return it the kids started chasing me from below, yelling at me as if I intended to fly off with their beloved toy. Soon I began losing elevation and was floating dangerously close to the angry kids who were jumping up to catch me. As much as I willed myself to fly higher and faster I kept dropping like a leaky hot air balloon. Just as I dropped low enough to be captured, I woke up.

I don't know what this means but it stuck with me.


Got my round trip ticket to Santa Cruz. I'll be heading there for a short 10 days stay starting December 7th. I'm excited to return and catch up with my S.C. friends and share a few beers but mostly I have to renew my tourist visa and will be busy selling my van and handyman tools. I need another injection of cash to keep me fed and housed while I continue my efforts to make the brewery a success. At this point in time it is paying for itself and small upgrades along with a small stipend for my personal expenses.

It's scary though. I have to admit that I live with a mixture of fear and optimism that battle each other for primacy. Some days the fear wins and other days the optimism holds strong. My commitment for success is tempered by the sense that there is no turning back. I carry around a bit of worry. O.k., a lot. Concerns that I literally won't survive if I turned back at this point and I won't survive if I stay the course. Irrational? Yes, but that I've gone beyond the point of no return feels oh too real.

Fortunately I have strategies to deal with the anxiety. One coping mechanism that I use and am quite proud of is to just not think about it, I excel at this. Or I zone out by watching multiple episodes of Orange is the new Black. I also spend a lot of time developing (or is it taking refuge in) the trust that this will work out. I refer to this technique as 'blind optimism'.

There is an upside. Something to be optimistic about is the fact that we are now selling Dos Aves in a dozen restaurants in San Miguel, one in Queretero and two more in Baja. I'm proud of that and encouraged that people are enjoying and asking for our beer. We are near the point of surpassing our ability to produce enough beer for the demand with our current equipment and will need to expand very soon to keep up. We finally have in place relationships with the vendors we need here in Mexico to keep the brewery operating including a recently discovered supplier of cartons with our logo printed on the sides. A wholesaler of malted grain, bulk bottle company and a label printer right here in San Miguel. We just received two new conical fermentors (thanks to my indiogogo supporters) which will help increase production considerably not to mention facilitate the ease of yeast harvesting.

I'm learning a lot about myself during this journey. Some things I don't like but many more that I do. My tenacity and drive continue to surprise me. My ability to produce a quality product with consistency and how easily I'm able to communicate with clients who seem to appreciate my efforts. The sense of humor that I can conjure up from the depths when my optimism wanes, and my feelings of gratitude towards the people in my life that continue to support my efforts and believe in what I'm doing.

By the way, if you'd care to contribute to this effort, donations are always welcomed. There's a donate button on the side bar of this blog.

Anyway, enough about me, how are you doing these days? Cheers!

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