Friday, September 12, 2008

weapons of mash destruction

Most people that know me know fairly well that I like to brew my own beer. As of this week, I've also made my first batch of root beer. Yay me, right? Most people that know home-brewers also know that they like to make other stuff, too. For example, I also like to make desserts and bake homemade bread. But the obsession with creating stuff for most brewers doesn't stop in the kitchen. It also lends itself well to other projects that involve lots of milling around in The Home Depot looking for parts that can suit some new equipment project. And sometimes it also involves a little bit of woodwork like my project today.

A lot of home-brewers start off by brewing with malt extracts. *nerd alert!* This is where barley, or other grains, has had its starches converted into sugars (the stuff yeast likes to turn into alcohol) and the resulting liquid then has its water evaporated off leaving behind a solid "sugar" that is further processed into powder. Keep in mind that other non-volatile compounds remain as well. You take this extract, dissolve it in water, add some other ingredients like hops, boil it for a while, and then cool it for the yeast to have a fun time. And voila, a few weeks later, you've got beer!

But the more you get into brewing, the less and less that this approach with extracts seems to satisfy. You read about how starting with the grains themselves and doing the starch to sugar conversion yourself is way more satisfying and some say it produces better beers. Something to do with preservation of nutrients for the yeast, yada yada yada, blah blah. So, a few trips to The Home Depot and a couple hundred bucks later, you've got yourself a "real" brewery! Now the fun begins.

Well, if you're like me, you start off relatively inexpensively. One of the best attributes of a home brewer is to be able to do more with less. It takes some improv skills, but not the acting-type. More of the engineering-type improvisation skill. But acting is okay, too, as long as you're brewing with a few friends. Anyhow, back to the point about being on the cheap... A fairly cheap way to make a vessel for converting the starches into sugars, called a mash tun, is to use a 5-gallon cooler, of the variety that you see on construction trucks that are commonly orange like mine. Change out the button-style spigot with a ball-valve (handled) spigot and like magic, you've got a nice insulated mash tun. Did I mention that mashing occurs at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and that holding that temperature is important for good conversion? Well I have now.

Well, the only real problem that I've had with mashing has been stirring the mash, which is not easy to do with about 12 pounds of grain and only three gallons of water. The mixture is a lot like a fairly firm mud. It takes some effort to get down to the bottom of the mix. And stirring is essential to get water into the nooks and crannies of the grains to convert more starches plus to even out the temperature of your mash to avoid hot and cold spots. Those natural enzymes only work in a fairly limited temperature range. I had been using a long plastic spoon, but it started bending way too much due to the heat. Plus it was kind of skinny and was difficult to get down to the bottom of the mash tun. Then I was using a kitchen spoon that had a metal handle with a plastic spoon end with some luck, but it just wasn't long enough. I did mention that this stuff is at 150 F! Ow, fingers!

So, I was looking for a solution. They had a nice long metal spoon at the homebrew store, but it just didn't look as durable as I would like. The metal was rather thin, probably less than 1/32". And barely long enough. I asked about a wooden mash paddle, like the ones you see on the internet for about $40, and the owner said that his suppliers don't sell them. So, it looked like another project time! Yay!

After reading up on the Internet and in a homebrew magazine that I subscribe to, it looked like the best wood choice was a nice hard wood like maple. So, off to The Home Depot to find a suitable piece of wood. The only problem was, the one I went to only had pine, red oak (too porous), and poplar (which was too grainy/pitted), and cheap "whitewood". Disappointed, I sulked off. Looks like I have to go elsewhere.

So, today, I headed out to another Depot, hoping their wood selection would be better. No such luck. I guess it doesn't sell well enough for them to keep it in stock. Since it was just a quarter mile down the road, I figured I'd try my luck at BLowe's. I avoid it as much as possible since it don't pay my bills but sometimes, it's worth the try if El Depot de la Casa don't carry stock. And guess what. They had maple boards. So I bought one. It only cost me $8.50 for a 1x4x48" plank. A far cry from the $40 bucks or so to order one pre-made!

I got it home and started measuring and marking. I'm not a stickler for perfection on simple projects where the only consumer is me so I marked some guidelines and free-handed a few curves and cut-outs then headed down to the garage to drill/cut/router/sand. About an hour and a half later, my masterpiece was complete! I didn't think to take pics during the construction so you'll just have to imagine from the jigsaw puzzle of scraps. I also took a picture with it resting in my homemade mash tun so that you could see perspective. There are a few places where it isn't perfect, chipped edge and bad drill placement on the upper handle, but the business end is pretty decent.

*cross posted at Illiteracy Rules!

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

It is probably superfluous to point this out, but we aren't really posting here anymore. Speaking only for myself, I don't really feel like I have a great deal of beer writing left in isn't that I've lost interest in the subject so much that there are now so many people out there doing what we've attempted to do here--and doing it exceedingly well--that I just don't really feel that I have much add at this point.

Also, I frankly have a great deal less spare time on my hands than I did when Chris and I got this started nearly 4 years ago (!)

I am genuinely humbled by the kind words and insightful comments left over the years, and that we still have the occasional visitor wandering through. I have no plans to take the page down; indeed, one of the beauties of a blog like this is that it is somewhat timeless. But I also don't think I have a great deal more to say.

All the best,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

blue in georgia

It's been a trying week. Most of the hassle had to do with the fact that the robotics team had a competition at Auburn this weekend. That even had its own trials and tribulations thanks mostly to a stowaway from another team on our bus.

What's the cure for these ailments? You guessed it, a cool brew with lunch on Sunday. Especially after two full days of abstinence due to my job as a "role model" for a bunch of teenagers. Whoever wrote the rule that trip chaperones can't drink obviously hasn't actually chaperoned a trip.

So you can imagine that the last thing I needed was someone telling me I couldn't have a beer. But that's exactly what the waitress told me. She's lucky I knew it wasn't her just being a jackass. It just wasn't 12:30 PM yet in Georgia on a Sunday.

Blue laws in Georgia can kiss my grits.

And to the politicians that stand by this nonsense, what makes you so sure I didn't take my ass to the early service so I could beat you to the good restaurants? Or is it that you just don't want me to beat you to the well? I respect that you don't drink until after your service. You're so good that you don't even have real wine with communion but rather substitute unfermented, government Juicy Juice (which seems to be a downright sacrilegious act in itself). But that doesn't mean that you have to simultaneously worry about what I'm doing with my personal time and personal money.

Besides, it seems like I'm the least of your worries before 12:30.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Brewer's Art, Baltimore
October 5, 2007
(photo by [m])

Thursday, October 04, 2007

it's in the primary!

Brewed another batch of the coffee imperial porter. When I find out more about the event it was created for, I'll try to fill you in on the details. I'm strictly working through my "agent" at this point and didn't think to ask him more about it while we were brewing this afternoon. We were too busy watching for boil-over and talking about how awesome it smelled. And stuffing our faces with pizza and wings. Yay health foods!

I'm really excited because I'm trying out my new temperature controller on the fermentation fridge. I think I'm going to have to eventually change out the bottom glass shelf in the fridge with a more durable structure. It is holding up about 40 pounds of liquid, a glass carboy, and a plastic Home Depot bucket (which fits a 5.5 gal. like a glove and gives you a rim to catch on the sides to pick it up. wouldn't recommend using the built-in handle, it is shitty LDPE).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

i have an agent?

My friend that occasionally brews with me here called me up earlier this evening. He had apparently been talking with the owner of a local establishment about the legal issues of serving free beer. Free as in we give it to him and free as in give it away, not sell it. What is there to tax if no payment is received? I'm a little wary of the seemingly easy "loophole" which is why I'm simply referring to it as "a local establishment."

I think I'm going to do it. I have until essentially the 27th to brew, ferment, and carbonate. The guy thinks it'd be fun to try at a private party he's having on Halloween. Even better that it's a private party. I'm not particularly excited about trying a new recipe for such an event so I think I'm going with the tried and true porter recipe that got me a third place prize in my first ever homebrew contest. That one gives me the advantage of knowing what pro judges thought could be better about the next batch. And it seems like it might be the right time of year to start drinking porters.

The drawback is that I won't be able to attend. I'll be in Belgium having even better beers. Woe is me. I guess I can send my agent on my behalf.

Wish I had known a few months ago. I could have made the more appropriate Oktoberfest.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Triangle Brewing Company, Takes 2 and 3

Please see the update to my post on the Triangle Brewing Company.

I see that they are pouring a Dubbel at the World Beer Festival in Durham this weekend...sadly, I will be out of town at a wedding (my friends really need to stop getting married during beer festivals), but I look forward to finding it on tap in the neighborhood soon.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Beer Hunter, RIP

It completely escaped my attention until just moments ago that Michael Jackson, aka "The Beer Hunter" and arguably the most important and influential beer writer ever, died on Thursday.

NYT obit here.

Much has been said and will be said about his legacy, so suffice to say that if you enjoy good beer, you need to raise a glass in his memory at the first opportunity. Among other things, no one would be writing (or reading) anything called a "beer blog" without Mr. Jackson's body of work to inspire and inform.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Triangle Brewing Company

UPDATE Sept 30--I had occasion this weekend to try this off of two other taps (one at Piedmont, and another at Bull McCabe's) and the beer is 100% better. Per Barry's comment below, the word is the tap at Satisfaction is fine now, too.

My working theory is that we either got a bad keg or it was just too damn young.

Needless to say, I am glad to report I mentioned in the original post, I am very happy to have someone brewing in Durham, and I want to do everything I can to support the business in my neighborhood.

As far as a revised review goes: golden and slightly cloudy with a light and lacy head. Fruit and flowers on the nose, and a palette well-balanced among crispness, sweetness, and alcohol. Refreshing and quite drinkable; wine-like, in that it is probably better with food (hearty salads, roasted vegetables, fish, poultry, and maybe even pork) than without--at least for me. (Necessary caveat: I am a bit of a hophead, so my preferences for session beers tend towards pales and IPAs, especially in warmer weather.)

As to where this falls on the continuum of North American brewers doing "Belgian" beers--I'd say they're not quite up there with the well-established specialists, but significantly better than most NA microbreweries that are just dabbling. Which is to say that with some time and refinement, they have the potential to be known as one of the specialists.

Nicely done, gentlemen. Let's have a dubbel this winter, shall we?

----original review below----

OK, this one is hard for me to write. Seriously.

I'd heard rumblings about the Triangle Brewing Company, which was allegedly setting up shop here in Durham, for a few months now. They have finally gone public with their "flagship" Belgian Style Golden Ale, which I went to Satisfaction's tonight to try.

I'll just rip this band-aid off: it isn't very good. As much as I want to boost the local guys, if I'm not willing to give a negative review when it's deserved, I have zero credibility when I rave. This ain't Rachel Ray's beer blog, is what I'm saying.

Now, a Belgian strong golden (or pale) is a pretty ambitious style to launch with. Many good examples exist, and achieving the proper balance between grains, fruits, yeast, sugar and alcohol is really quite an art. The brewers that really know what they are doing with this have a few centuries of experience to fall back upon...and the North American brewers that have had success in this style include heavyweights like Unibroue, Allagash, and Russian River.

So sure, it sucks when your first beer is getting compared to Duvel and Fin du Monde, but that's the choice that TBC has made here. I applaud their moxie, but they are just way off the mark. The glass I had poured golden with virtually no head, fruit (pineapple, maybe?) on the nose, biscuit at the front followed by a pretty overwhelming (almost sickening) sweetness. Alcohol became more prominent as the beer warmed. Hops nowhere in sight. To tell the truth, it tastes too young--maybe they rushed this batch out the door too quickly? And really--it needs more carbonic acidity to balance the sweetness and more head to stir up the aromatics that I assume are there but buried in sugar and alcohol.

All of that said, I wish the guys at TBC nothing but success, but I do hope that they consider producing something a little easier to pull off, and soon. Personally, I will loyally consume even a merely good pale ale if it's brewed down the street from me.

And many other Durhamites will too.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Oregon Brewer's Festival 2007 -- Top Five

If you're a fan of pale ales and IPAs, you're not going to be disappointed by the beer selection at this year's OBF. If you aren't a fan, you may have some issues. Especially if you're not a fan of fruit beers either. Ambers? Darker beers? Pretty limited.

We went last night. Thursdays are great -- small lines, all beers are still flowing, port-o-potties still clean. I know they always run out of some, but I was suprised that at 5:30 on Thursday they were on their last keg of the collaborator (don't know if it was for the night or the weekend). My tasting notes are at home, but here are my picks based on memory. Quotes are taken from Exploration of Portland Food and Drink, where I did a little research beforehand (what can I say, I'm a nerd and love reviews/stats).

Disregard if you have no interest in this, but here are my picks below.


1. (tie) Diamond Knot Brewing Co Mukilteo, WA Industrial IPA Imperial IPA Buzz: "They put Columbus hops *in the keg* . Industrial IPA looks to be an ‘over-the-hop’ kind of beer, and at 8.2 ABV you had better take the MAX home." Not what you think of when you taste an ipa, Asa agreed. Darker and different. Ken's favorite of the IPAs.
1. (tie) Green Flash Brewing Co Vista, CA West Coast IPA West Coast IPA "very floral hop nose and a dry finish add up to a beer both bitter and refreshing. 95 IBU’s might overpower the slight body." – nope, it was fabulous. Great IPA.
3. Collaborator Portland Rawkin Bock Bock my favorite non IPA/ESB beer of the festival.
4. Golden Valley Brewery McMinnville Red Thistle Quercus Pinot oak barrel aged red/ESB Not overpowering pinot flavor and definitely different. Enjoyed. Contrast to the nasty bourbon aged beer below (see under yuck).
5. Standing Stone Brewing Co Ashland Standing Stone Double IPA Double IPA Buzz beer: "5 types of hops and a hair-raising 95 IBU, yet somehow I feel that it will be both fresh-tasting and balanced." Totally right. It was fresh tasting and balanced. Great beer.

Honorable mention: Alameda Brewhouse Portland El Torero Organic IPA American Style IPA Buzz: "90 IBUs"

Silver City Brewing Co Silverdale, WA Whoop Pass Double IPA Imperial IPA "Silver City brought its Whoop Pass imperial IPA to the festival last year, and it was a big hit. No wonder considering the beer’s 9.1 ABV!"
Boundary Bay Brewery Bellingham, WA Galena Single Hop Pale Ale Pale Ale
Ram Restaurant and Brewery Salem Double Exposure IPA Double IPA "Hitting 100 IBUs is Ram Brewing’s Double Exposure IPA, crafted especially for the festival"
Rogue Ales Newport Rogue Imperial Porter Imperial Porter Buzz beer
Terminal Gravity Enterprise, OR TG Triple Abbey Triple hoppy.

Deschutes Brewery Bend 19th Anniversary Golden Ale Belgium Style StrongGolden Ale Full Sail Brewing Co Hood River Full Sail LTD 02 Pale Bock
Laurelwood Brewing Co Portland PNW Pils Strong Pilsner "Imperial Pilsner + Laurelwood = winner. Plus, people love the flavor of Saaz hops. If they can’t locate this tap, there’s also Prima Pils at the festival." eh, ok
Ninkasi Brewing Co Eugene Believer Double Red Ale Wanted to try; loved at holiday but I found this batch to be flat.Spanish Peaks/BlackDog Polson, MT Black Dog Ale Amber Ale
Stone Brewing Co Escondido, CA **Stone 07/07/07 Vertical Epic Saison/Belgium Farmhouse ale
Butte Creek Brewing Co Chico Organic Pilsner Pilsner Revolution XI anniversary beer

Bison Brewing, Berkeley Organic Chocolate Stout Dry Foreign Style Stout (great head, good start, bad finish. Not full bodied)
Flying Fish Brewing Co Cherry Hill, NJ Bourbon Barrel Abbey Dubbel Belgian Style Dubbel Buzz beer. "produced for the OBF from a New Jersey Belgian specialist, the malty, bourbon barrel aging could provide the perfect je ne sais quoi to their already exemplary, fruity, malty dubbel. " Overpowering bourbon flavor, yuck.
Fifty Fifty Brewing Truckee Donner Party Porter Porter weak body
Dick's Brewing Co Centralia, WA Dick's Lava Rock Porter English Porter
Lompoc Brewing Portland SummerAid Golden Ale Way too light.
Kona Brewing Co Kailua-Kona, HI Wailua Wheat Wheat Ale brewed with tropical passion fruit. Way too light. Terrible flavor. This may be the worst of the bunch.
Old Market Pub & Brewery Portland A Midsummers White Belgian Wit "Belgian Wit called A Midsummer’s White that looks to be a lacy lovely" Or this one. I actually poured it out. Citrus and light. but not in the good way.

Didn’t try (bold indicates beer still on my list to try):
21st Amendment Brewery San Francisco Watermelon Wheat Fruit Beer +/-
Alaskan Brewing Co Juneau Alaskan IPA IPA
Amnesia Brewing Portland Dry Hopped Dusty Trail Pale Ale Pale Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing Co Boonville, CA Summer Solstive Cerveza Crema Cream Ale
Ballast Point Brewing Co San Diego Yellowtail Pale Ale Kolsch
Bayern Brewing Missoula, MT Bayern Pilsner German Pilsner Lager
Bear Republic Brewing Co Healdsburg, CA Racer X Double IPA
BJ's Brewing Portland c'est bon blonde Belgian Blonde
Boulder Beer Co Boulder Sweaty Betty Blonde German Weiss Beer
Brewery Ommegang Cooperstown, NY Hennepin Farmhouse Saison Farmhouse Saison
BridgePort Brewing Co Portland Haymaker Extra Pale Ale TBD
Calapooia Brewing Co Albany, OR Yankee Clipper IPA IPA
Cascade Brewing at the Raccoon Lodge Portland Razberry Wheat Fruit Beer
Eel River Brewing Co Fortuna, CA Organic IPA IPA
Elysian Brewing Co Seattle Prometheus IPA West Coast IPA
Eugene City Tracktown Ales Eugene Honey Orange Wheat Wheat/Fruit
Fearless Brewing Co Estacada, OR Fearless Scottish Ale Scottish Export
Four + Brewing Co Salt Lake City Wildfire Organic Extra Pale Ale
Grand Teton Brewing Co Victor, ID Bitch Creek ESB ESB
Great Divide Brewing Co Denver Titan IPA IPA
Hale's Ales Brewery Seattle "El Jefe" Weizen Ale Bavarian Style Hefeweizen Expected to like more than I did in the past
Hazel Dell Brewpub Vancouver, WA Red Zone Pale Ale
Hopworks Urban Brewery Portland Hopworks Organic IPA Organic American IPA Buzz beer: Everybody wants to try Christian Ettinger’s latest, even before his new pub is open. (But it) may be too balanced for the extreme hopheads and too hoppy for the rest.
Klamath Basin Brewing Co Klamath Falls Crater Lake Golden Ale Golden Ale
Lucky Labrador Brew Pub Portland Triple Threat IPA IPA
MacTarnahan's Portland MacTarnahan's Amber Ale Northwest Style Amber Ale
Mad River Brewing Co Blue Lake, CA Steelhead Double IPA IPA
Max's Fanno Creek Brew Pub Tigard Farmer's Daughter Belgian Saison Golden Strong Ale
McMenamins Fulton Pub & Brewery Portland Monkey House Northwest IPA
Michigan Brewing Co Webberville, MI Celis White Belgian Wit
New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins Skinny Dip Summer Lager
North Coast Brewing Co Fort Bragg, CA **PranQster Belgian-Style Golden Ale Belgian-Style Abbey Ale
Oregon Trail Brewery Corvallis Oregon Trail Wit Belgian/Oregon Style Hefeweizen Pelican Pub & Brewery Pacific City, OR Heiferweizen Belgian Style Witbier
Philadelphia's Steaks and Hoagies Portland Betsy Ross Imperial Golden Imperial Golden Ale
Pike Brewing Co Seattle Pike IPA IPA
Pyramid Breweries Portland Thunderhead IPA American Style IPA
Redhook Ale Brewery Woodinville WA Long Hammer IPA IPA Rock Bottom Brewery Portland Velvet Pale Ale Pale Ale
Russian River Brewing Co Santa Rosa, CA Pliny the Elder Double IPA
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico Summerfest beer Pilsner Style Lager
Siletz Brewing Siletz, OR Spruce Ale Other Snipes Mountain Brewery Sunnyside, WA IPA IPA
Sprecher Brewing Co Glendale, WI Mai Bock Blonde Bock
Steelhead Brewing Co Eugene Full Count Pale Ale American Pale Ale Trumer Brauerei-Berkeley Berkeley Trumer Pils Germany Style Pilsner Victory Brewing Co Downingtown, PA Prima Pils Pilsner
Widmer Brothers Brewing Co Portland Noggin Grog Imperial Wit takes the Belgian Wit to the extreme with its 9% ABV Noggin’ Grog