Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Importance of Being Cool

The idea was to go out of town for the weekend. So, it's Thursday evening and I'm sitting there all alone with a new batch of ingredients to make a lager. The idea was to use the unfinished basement as the lagering cellar because it's really freakin' cold down there. That won't last more than another month or so in Georgia so time is slightly critical. So I made the obvious decision that it'd be reasonable to go ahead and brew even though it was a school night. Only childless people that go into my profession tend to worry about such things at my age.

Did I mention that it was my first attempt at a partial grain batch?

Well, it started off well. I borrowed some equipment from school to monitor temperature constantly with a laptop and it worked perfectly. The mash went well and it was time to sparge in my newly fashioned lauter tun. This is when it started to go downhill. Apparently, I either mashed for too long (a possibility since I had to run some movie rentals back to the store) or my drain holes were too small (or both) because I was pretty much sitting there with a stuck sparge. Stirring made about 3 mL squeeze through the drain but it was obvious that I was going nowhere fast. In a pinch, I pulled out the two colanders and made a double tier grain bed. It was slow going but about 45 minutes later I had a pretty decent amount of sweet wort.

Now time for the boil. Temperature rising steadily. About 99 Celcius and boil is gentle so let me run and write some stuff down in my beer journal. Sizzle, sizzle. Oh shit, my first boil-over. Run to the stove, turn off the burner. Switch burners, turn on heat a little lower this time. Clean up mess on the other stove eye.

Eventually, time to pour into primary fermenter. I usually pour through a strainer to remove the hops and to aerate the wort for the yeast. This time, the strainer decides to get clogged just enough to cause a pretty good splash back from the incoming pour. Sugary wort all over the floor and me. And it's hot because it was boiling 2 minutes ago. Not too much loss, just 1/2 cup or so, but it's everywhere and it's sticky.

It's way past bed time so I pop the lid on, set the container in the sink and make an ice bath around it to cool overnight to an appropriate temp to pitch the yeast. I have been using the Wyeast brand since I've been ordering online. They have this pouch inside that you smack to release nutrients to "start" or activate the yeast. I usually do this when I start brewing and it's ready 3-4 hours later, but this time I had planned to hit it before bed and pitch in the morning. So, I smack it and off to bed for 4 hours. Yeah, it's 2 AM at this point. I'll be a happy person at work tomorrow.

Up and ready to go to work. Let me pitch the yeast and be on my merry way. What? the pack is still the same size. What gives? I feel around for the nutrient pack but can't seem to locate it. What gives? Smack again, no noticeable change. Well, it looks a little bigger. The pack says it may not swell "fully." What the heck does that mean. Well, let's open it and see what's going on. Open the pack. Guess what. There's the nice little pack inside, fully intact. I've already opened the pouch so might as well pitch it. It should work fine. Will leave at 70 F until fermetation is noticeable.

Plans change, no longer leaving for the weekend. You mean I could have waited until Saturday?

24 hours later, nothing. No signs from the yeast that everything is hunky-dory. Can't do much at this point so might as well let it sit for a while longer. Besides, I have to go check out the robotics team since we stayed for the weekend.

5 PM Saturday. Get home from the robotics thingy. Airlock on the fermenter is happily popping along. Phew. In 2 months or so, I'll let you know the results.

Basically, everything that could go wrong that I had read about decided to happen all at once. But the important thing was that at no point did I get too uptight, likely thanks to reading Papazian as he repeated the phrase over and over again. "Relax, have a homebrew."

I'm not saying that brewing is easy, but it seems like the more I feel like I'm screwing it up, the more it keeps showing me who's really in charge.

Monday, February 14, 2005

La Policia Cervesa

Sucks to be this guy.

I'd have fired him for drinking either of those beers.

Moral of the story: Drink alone. (or at least somewhere the photographer can't see you)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

No New Tax Cost Recovery Fee on Beer in Oregon

I wish we could get Republicans like this in D.C.:

Advocates of higher beer taxes said Thursday that they think most Oregonians would be willing to pay a few cents more per glass for their favorite brew to help fund alcohol addiction programs.

But the beer tax idea went flat almost immediately, with House Speaker Karen Minnis signaling that House Republicans have no intention of bending their no-new-taxes pledge, regardless of the cause...

Oregon has some of the lowest beer taxes in the country (they've not been raised since 1977), largely due to the influence of the state's booming craft brewing industry.

Another statistic is worth pointing out, in light of the drive behind this proposal:

"Cheap beer is the direct cause of our out-of-control youth alcohol abuse problems and the damage, death and violence it creates," said Howard Scaman, an Alaska activist who's now working to raise Oregon's tax.

But as Radley Balko points out, Oregon has one of the lowest number of traffic fatalities among drivers aged 15-20 in which the driver had a BAC of greater than 0.10. There were 11 such accidents in the year 2000--in the entire state--or 13.7% of all the state's traffic fatalities in that age group for that year. The national average was 25.6%.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Beer and Chocolate

'nuff said. I'm sold.

But you you might want to read the article for yourself.

(via HtA)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Arcadia IPA

Tonight I'm having an Arcadia IPA.

'Tis no secret around here that the India Pale Ale is my favorite style, hands down. So I tend to jump at the opportunity to try a new one. As the label suggests, the Arcadia Brewing Company, though located in Battle Creek, Michigan, is driven by a "passion for full flavored and delicious British beer". All their ingredients, brewing equipment, and methods hail from Merry Olde England.

The result, in the case of the IPA, is true to form. My first impression was that it reminded me of Fuller's...or more precisely, how I remember Fuller's as it's been a couple of years since I had one.

Copper colored, excellent clarity. Just the right amount of head--enough to stir up the complex aromas of caramel, fruit, and of course hops, but still very smooth and and easy-drinking. The flavor is actually not overwhelmingly bitter or hoppy, but rather malty and perhaps even a bit of citrus-like acidity. Not as assertive as some IPAs (especially those brewed on the west coast), but a well-crafted and balanced beer, and an excellent introduction to the style if you've not had one before.

Unfortunately, I hear it's a little tough to get a hold of outside of Michigan and the Chicago area. So if you'll excuse me, I need to savor the rest of it...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Call a Spade a Spade

In a typical eating or drinking establishment in the U.S., the beer list is frequently divided into sections. These sections were once "domestic" and "import". "Domestic" denoted the standard, mass-produced American beers: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and maybe a handful of other offerings of similar quality.

Which is to say, crappy.

"Imports" denoted anything from somewhere else, which was bound to be better and more expensive.

Nowadays, we make good beer here in America, and people do drink it. The microbrewery revolution has been going on long enough that drinking something other than a Budweiser isn't really revolutionary anymore. The culture, and the market, have shifted. In fact, quite a few "microbreweries" really aren't that micro anymore, with nationwide distribution, brand recognition, and even TV spots.

Of course, the vast majority of beer sold in the U.S. is still made by Bud, Miller, and Coors. And as a result, "domestic" still means basically the same thing.

So now beer menues might say "domestic" and "premium", the latter designation including both American microbrews and imports. Some places split "premium" and "import" up, but this seems less common. Occasionally, you will see good American beer erroneously listed as "import", which really pisses me off.

But you will never, ever, see American microbrews called "domestic". Especially in the context of drink specials--"$1.50 domestics" does not mean Sierra Nevada or Stone IPA.

The distinction between domestics and microbrews is artificial, but let's face it: it isn't arbitrary. There is a clear dividing line, and that it is the quality of the product. I suspect the reason that the domestic label persists in its dated and inaccurate manner is that if we begin to include well-crafted beer in the category, we must acknowledge that there is good American beer and bad American beer, rather than American beer and "microbrews".

During the Superbowl, I saw a commercial for Budweiser's new "premium" brew...advertising as its main feature an absence of aftertaste. The thing is, aftertaste is only bad if your beer doesn't taste very good to begin with.

I'd like to think that this is a sign of things to come. That the market will continue to move towards higher-quality products. This isn't about some David and Goliath, family business vs. big bad corporations nonsense. As I've mentioned, some of the newer breweries are getting to be downright huge themselves. People, this is a good thing. Scale of production is no longer an excuse. And as a result...neither is price.

As in all things, it's all about the beer.

Monday, February 07, 2005

6/10...not bad for a Yank...

Take the BBC's beer quiz.

(via Hail the Ale!)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Man, The Legend...

The NY Post has a nice write-up on the man behind 1000 Bars.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Efes Dark

It was recently pointed out to me that I have been slacking on the beer reviews lately...especially in light of my recent birthday present, which is providing a steady stream of new stuff.

So, to kick things off, I'll start with what I'm pretty sure is the first (and therefore only) Turkish beer I've ever had, Efes Dark. I'd never heard of it (imagine that) but apparently the Efes brand (they have very popular pilsner) is virtually synonymous with beer in Turkey.

Efes Dark is brewed with bottom-fermenting (lager) yeast, which makes this a European-style dark lager. On first impression, it reminds me of a muted, flatter version of Northern German Altbier.

Color is a deep reddish-brown. Very little fact, it's nearly flat like an English ale. The aroma is rich--malty, roasty, yeasty--but compared to most other beers, it's actually not very aromatic. (Point of reference--I'm a bona fide hophead, so my baseline for aroma is probably a little higher than average.) Flavor is predominated by roasted malt, followed by sweet, slightly raisiny undertones. Clean, crisp finish with very little aftertaste. Warming alcohol presence (6.5% ABV). Overall, a very easy-drinking beer...the kind that people might say "I don't usually like beer, but I could drink this" about.