So I seem to have picked up a new hobby. This post is more like a tale of my fitness than a straight line explanation of why.

I was not into structured fitness and prescribed by junior or, horror-of-horrors, high school. It started in college. I’m not sure if was tennis near the dorm, racket ball, swimming, my badminton course, but moving just came easily. I wasn’t an expert in any field, but I put just enough effort in to have fun. I could keep up, no trick shots, or many baskets or unattested matches, but I liked it. Unknowingly a spark struck. Year three, I took in a job at Walmart nearly 4 miles away. I was going to ride my bike to work. This came as a shock to everyone but me, but I knew if I just set to do it, it wasn’t going to be hard. I still remember that first ride on my first day to work. My shift started at 9 am, I left early to make sure I was on time, but also could ‘cool down’ before starting work. It was an unseasonably warm late spring day, and it didn’t take long for me to question my sanity. The other important detail? My college town, Macomb, is situated amid a couple of swollen hills. I lived at the very bottom of the these, my journey to work took me from there to the highest in a pretty short distance. The hill is steep enough to question why I’d bought a cruiser bike with extra wide handlebars. The first time I hit the hill in the near-empty college town – the only sounds were distant birds, my huffing and the clang of a cheap bike chain. I could have walked to the top faster, across four lanes country roads, but I was riding my bike. It got easier; summer got hotter, and then it got hard again. I started bringing a shirt to change into and hitting the rarely used water fountain to keep up appearances. On days off I began riding the corn-glazed hills, getting chased by leash-less dogs and developed a love of moving under my own power.

After college, I biked to work, and one year non-stop through winter – which got rough in early February – but the sense of accomplishment became a badge I wore. In Maine, I rode from our house in the East End (North Side) to work near the airport (clear across the city limits). Later, out East I rode through dark woods –  where every day brought adventures; nearly crashing into deer, turkeys, and other critters. Once Finn was born and I worked from home, we rode for 30 miles in one direction, walked/played for a bit, and rode back. We were out there and moving, 4′ snow falls didn’t stop us from at least walking the neighborhood.

Maybe I just have to keep moving. The thing was though I always hated running. I liked to bike. Running was the for the birds, but starting in those rolling hill college days, speaking to mentors and peers – a dream arose. Something that I wanted to do, one may call it a “bucket list item” but I never classified it as such until late: to run a marathon.

It started with me running my mouth. I had joked for years that a 5k was for children, and I could just sign up and run one, no training was needed. My wife did just that, giving me a fair warning first, but entered my name no less. We did great, and I started to really… like? running? After our race, I confided in her that running a marathon was on my bucket list in a halfhearted chuckle about my madness and slight melancholy about it never coming to fruition. I got a text a month and a half later – I was still jogging off and on short distances – that we were now entered in a half marathon. My heart sank. This was my test; it was only half, but it’s a path to see if this could ever happen. I got more serious about training, I put in the miles, and somewhere in there, fell for it. Post half I wanted more.

Now for the real reason why I run. I’ve tried to explain it, but people think I’m either insane, or I do it for the endorphins; I’m not sure they’re entirely wrong or right on either count. The longer distances I go, the more I “like” (up to a point) running. So what happens? I’m not entirely sure. I’m me, but not me. I’m running, but I’m not. At the peak jogs, the best ones, my body melts away, and my mind takes its path. I’m plugged into an audiobook, focused and melding into the story. In there, in the movement and deep listening, in the quick pace of books (1.6x) – I’m there and not there. I’m listening and wandering all at once. Transcendence?

That is why I run; I run to get away.

There are, of course, the normal fears that come chained to running and exercise. Fear of gaining too much weight; I have relatives with serious health problems – obesity, heart issues, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, etcetera – and I’m running away from those too. I’m also running to find balance, to put time in for myself and adding savings to my life bank. I’m feeling healthy and happier every day, and I’m sure that is thanks to my activity.  I run for my kid; exercise is not only fun but an important part of taking care of yourself. Couple that with the former fears, I’d like to be around as he ages. So I run for all those things too, it’s an added benefit.

So now I’m training even more: killing off the majority of a weekend morning to moving, and then squeezing in short runs during the week. Recently, I’ve found it hard to get up to and past 14 miles; I get tired, thirsty, hungry, and so on. But I’ve got until the end of October. I’m at the bottom of the hill again – I’m sweating in the quiet hot morning – either pedal or I’m late.

For a bit of time, the idea of a solera has been rattling around in the noodle.

Like many homebrewers I only grazed the info of what other posters were talking about and pieced it together to create my kind of story. A lot of “sour soleras” for homebrewers means whipping up a massive 30-60 gallon batch, letting it age in a barrel, then at X number of months/years pull 5-15 gallons and replace with new. Headspace fills back in, you’ve got aged beer and fresh beer, it’s in a neat in a little package, and so it goes. To me this sounds like someone took the idea of what Rodenbach does with bottling for their Grand Cru and ran with it. Only, this isn’t really what on is, this a solera is:

12diagramofasolerasystem-1That. That blob of circles with arrows and all kinds of whatever the fuck. Technically, posted above is for making sherry at a particular winery, but what we’ll focus on is the bottom. Basically, you make a thing, put things in barrel and move it down and through the system to the bottom where you end up with a bunch of old product being bottled and increasingly younger product trickling down.

What does this do? Well for me, a few things. One, it’s a pretty bad ass ‘thought experiment’ put into practice. Two, it creates a blended consistent product. Three – maybe, someday,  it will create a system for having always badass delicious aged wild beer on hand.

How the hell am I going to do this? First and foremost, I’m NOT doing the lazy ‘one giant barrel’ approach. So that is out. Then I thought, brew the same beer every month for a year, then start blending down. Things get a little complicated when I want a real drinkable amount through. Why not two fermentors every two months? It suits me perfectly. I brew an unorthodox 8 gallons, and split, makes an ideal space in those amazingly cheap 5 gallon food-grade buckets widely available at hardware stores. Recently, I’ve loved the amount for blindly easy yeast experiments (more on these soon).

And, so, without further ado, my process:


Quick details: Brew 8 gallons of ‘house’ every other month for a year (solera -> 5). Bottle 4 gallons (solera), blend 2 gallons from each fermentor down newest (6) added to stack while birthing a 4 gallon one-off.

First thing one would likely notice is the painful vertical nature of my solera. I toyed with a building a ‘base’ solera first to then move build up and attempt to blend down, but this is simply a starter project. It’s really a peek into how much I’ll hate brewing the same thing over and over, how much I’d enjoy working a brewery, and an exercise in patience. I may end up not loving the idea after a year and a half and just bottle the thing and give up. It’s a working example.

The beer will be a slight variation on my personal favorite brew and attempt at crafting a ‘house’ beer – I could not think of a better candidate.

Photos, updates, and much more to follow. Brew day to follow arrival of the group grain buy.

UPDATE: 4.19.14
After a bit of thinking, prompted mostly by a ‘B’ below, and the grilling from my wife on why we needed 48 gallons in ‘the pipe.’ I worked on a new “design” of the solera:

Update: 1.11.15
#1 and #2 stages are done and #3 is to be brewed in short order.

Here in a list is all things bubbling.

.5 gal – pear cider – natural fermentation
.5 gal – (mixed grape) wine – 5 day natural fermentation, then cote des blancs
5 gal – apple cider – natural fermentation
5 gal – apple cider – s-04
5 gal – mead – EC118/Red Star Champagne dual pitched
1 gal – mead – EC118
1 gal – mead – Red Star Champagne
1 gal – mead – ‘Blonde blend’ w/ cherries added

5 gal – Quad – Wy3787, will oak and pitch brett blend
5 gal – Coffee Porter – WLP400, adding cold brewed Metropolis Medium Roast to keg

That is just what is fermenting/ed.

Tuesday, an IPA with 2012 experimental hops for good measure. Will have to work on vetting a recipe this weekend. I may also bring back all the yeast and my yeast culturing biz to start ranching that week.

I love this hobby.

An aside: the blog has fallen to the wayside because work is taking over any time I wish I had and when I’m not working – I’m not writing, I’m playing a game because I don’t even want to write for myself. It’s work. Well, get on the horse. Practice makes perfect. Now, beer making.

While stationed at the fringe of the Chicago suburbs at my mother’s house for a month – I knew I wanted to brew and brew I did. I’ll try and remember most of the brew day(s) but this post is coming nearly two months so stick with me and you’ll make some tasty beer as well.

First, the reading. Like with all the beer I brew I do at least some digging in finding those who have forged the river before me. Those newer to brewing, do this, but you may already be doing so reading this – so good on ya. I found some info on Wikipedia [link], a couple of guys on HBT [#1, #2], and just about anywhere I could. This was not my first sour mash so I knew the routine, it was the % of grains that were a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, here is where I landed:

Amt                           Name / %
6 lbs 12.0 oz          Pilsner (2 row) (Gambrinus) (1.6 SRM) / 64.2 %
2 lbs 8.0 oz            Corn, Flaked (1.3 SRM)  / 23.8 %
1 lbs                          Rye Malt (4.7 SRM) /  9.5 %
2.1 oz                       Chocolate Wheat Malt (400.0 SRM) / 1.2 %
2.1 oz                       Crystal 75, 2-Row, (Great Western) (75.0 SRM) / 1.2 %

Kentucky Common Mash

Then came the mash in. Just like in the hybrid sour mash [link] I had previously used, I started with a standard mash in schedule. Mashing in during the morning, I aimed for 148°f, but hit a few degrees high. From there acid malt was forgot for this particular step on this sour mash, so it simply became a more traditional sour mash where I allowed the mash to sit nearly all day and added a handful of crushed grain in the evening with the idea of hitting the magic 100°f mark which lacto loves so much. A sanitized plastic wrap across the top of the mash allows for less O2. This is to avoid spoilage microbes to flourish and keep those in the air from getting into the mess. I then sat the kettle on top of my mother’s pre-auto-off heating pad and a thick blanket I use to insulate my mashes, covered it all up and walked away for the evening.

Sour Mashing

This is where a lot of people would complain about the smell of the mash, but between the two – the “worst” smell I’ve had is way-over-ripe pineapple. That’s it. I also check mine often making sure to keep the souring mash at 100°f. This is less than easy without a temperature controller so keep an eye on it if you do no own one (like me). For this sour mash, a short 18 hour souring period was what I planned for as it wouldn’t be as ‘lemonade-y’ as the Berliner Weisse. The wort smelled like toasty pineapple and a freshly cracked plain yogurt.

Fly sparge

The sparge was super easy and I even fly sparged for the first time. Ballsy. Boiling was a short 30min with two ounces of hops at the start only. Uneventful and likely too late in the evening to care about smells, I think I was too focused on keeping the mosquitoes from ravaging my body.

Boiling Kentucky Common

Fermentation was during a sudden cool spell that ended up working perfectly for me. A pitched sachet of K-97, a pretty clean and dead simple dry yeast that I thought would fit the ‘heritage’ of the brew. The heat kicked up again after it was close to being done but it wasn’t taken for a tumble and just finished a touch lower than anticipated. It was then kegged and an ounce and half of medium french oak cubes were placed in for a week. I tasted it through the oaking and found day 7 right where I thought the ‘wood’ and vanilla held just a whisper in the spinning anamorphic flavor profile in the glass.

The first few pours were confusing to the senses. It always, always poured a muddy, dredged-from-a-creek-bed, brown. Which to say that I’m not afraid of having hazy beer, but the sight is just too much like pond water. The smell is deceptively sweet with cracks of fresh lemon from lacto. My first impressions were that I wouldn’t likely try it again. It was too odd and pulled in too many directions at once but after about a month it sat slowly dwindling it calmed down. Either I began to pull apart its layers or it just simply grew on me or it just became an amazing (easily one of my favorite) beers is beyond my simple mind – but the thing was astounding.

An undertone of caramel with a ‘just this side of tart’ pared against a backdrop of looming oaky vanilla. The yeast stepped to the side but was not outmatched and made for a clean drinking low-but not invisible ester profile. Drinkable in a way the Berliner never was: complex, deep, and rich with new flavors each take. A beer I will love to revisit soon, likely a perfect candidate for early spring or fall.

I thought I’d try and do a bit of explication on some things my lady and I have found useful after living in relativity small apartments. Yeah, out of character, but I’m trying to write more (again) and this is going to help me.


Rethink your drawers.

Yeah, might be strange to see your things out on display but when you have two (or one) drawers in your entire kitchen, it’s easy to fill them. We’ve found that putting our silverware in these IKEA buckets has freed us from the clutches of drawerdom. Spoons, forks, table knifes, and ‘useful junk’ all are easily accessible and available to anyone visiting and make their ‘home’ obvious. We also got a hanging basket that fits the same pole system that holds our most used cooking items: olive oil, salt, pepper, and “angry rooster sauce.” Our current apartment’s kitchen is so small we’ve even placed our measuring cups on the end. Similar ideas: put up hooks and place all those kitchen utilities with handles on the wall, as a functional type art piece; find hanging paper towel holders and put plastic wrap type of items on an open wall.


Use all hidden surfaces

Buy sticky hooks, a lot of them. We try and utilize as much surface space as we can, but living in a small apartment can be limiting. Rethink how you use the back of your door (key hooks), what sort of things go on your fridge (magnetic basket), where your broom goes, how you hang your scarves, etc. Your place doesn’t have to look like an example room The Container Store – just be inventive of how space is used.


Hide messes in things

People think there is some kind of magic in making a tiny apartment look larger – just keep the place neat. I guess that is what all of these pointers are really about. Use containers to hide all your junk. These look a bit messy inside, but if all the crap in them were strewn out on the shelves it would look awful, busy, and very sloppy. Put all of your medicine in a latch-able plastic container – makes them easier to find when you are sick and keeps things tidy and handy. It also empties out your medicine cabinet to hold useful things like deodorant, the current shaver, make up (not mine), etc.

I think the take away here is just don’t stick crap anywhere – put it somewhere.

I’ve been looking at improving my beer in one way or another. Wort chiller, auto-syphon, yeast starter? I wanted to start at where I might see the most improvement: the yeast starter. I quick reason on why I’d want this thing. First, it’s just another beer toy – pretty obvious. Second, there are different ‘sections’ of life that yeast go though and without going into the boring details the faster to the part where they poop alcohol and burp co2 the better.

Well I had seen and read a handful of how-tos on  making my own stir plate so I thought I could easily pull that off. Basic idea is grab a pc fan stick a knob on to limit the speed and stick it in a box, plug it into the wall, drop a glass flask on top and use a little metal pill like thing in the yeast and malt to grow the critters.

Problem being I’ve tossed all my old useless computer widgits years ago and haven’t upgraded my desktop in over 4 years. So, I did what any good cheap nerd does and asked a buddy. I asked my quasi-boss (thanks Seth) if he had any old computer parts – namely a fan (which he supplied two) and an old HHD. Well this “old” hard drive was newer and bigger than anything else I was packing so I had to swap. I moved all my data around and now I’ve got the smallest hard drive ready to go under the “knife” to harvest the rare earth magnets.IMG_20110222_183646

I’m looking for a lucite box or small cigar box-like container to sum it all up and will be visiting ‘the shack’ tomorrow to pick up a couple pieces.

More to come soon, I bought labels (still in transit) and a fourth beer (in transit). Plan on starting both as soon as they show up, posts forthcoming.

IMG_5348I thought I’d write this both as a warning to others and as a reminder to myself.

So I bought a triple to brew from Brewer’s Best at the Brew ‘n Grow in Chicago – the only home brew shop in all of Chicago proper. I needed to pick up a new Thermometer, for those not keeping up, which broke before my first brew. I also wanted to get a new brew pot, because fuck waiting a full hour for water to boil, a nice long spoon for stirring.

Side note: the brew pot wasn’t exactly what I wanted (see: flat bottom) so I went to a restaurant supply and picked up a ridiculously nice stainless steel 5gal pot on the cheap. If you have this at your disposal, buy a pot there not online or a specialty shop.

So, this is where I learn from doing. For some stupid ass reason I kept the thermometer in my pot during the entire process. Yeah, sure it’s needed for reaching the correct temp for steeping specialty grains and making sure the wort is cool enough to pitch yeast – other than that if the damn thing is boiling, it’s boiling. So this leads me to the lesson – stop touching shit. Leave it alone. Don’t have anything in the brew pot you don’t need. Piss off the thermometer.

I was quite far into my boil, as in seconds before tossing in the aroma hops, and I checked the temp of the boil. Yeah. Surprise  the stick was unbelievably hot, shocking because it was only just sitting in boiling water for the past hour. I dropped the thermometer and it smacked against my fancy flat bottom pot emptying all it’s wax, metal shot, and the bottom bulb of red alcohol.

For those who don’t know, I’m a pretty big cry baby. So I pouted for a second dumped all the shit, knocked the pots around when cleaning up, and laid in bed for about an hour. Hind sight – I should have just filtered it thought some cheese cloth and pitched the yeast anyway.

After I sucked it up and went back to the LHBS to get another kit. That post coming soon (tomorrow, maybe).

update like woah, I need to write more – this one is for Jay.

IMG_5334 So after the first week I racked  my beer to secondary. I thought it would be a good exercise for a few reasons, but I’ll get into that after I explain what racking it. Essentially racking is just a cool made up brewers name for moving the beer from one vessel to another. This is almost always done with a racking cane – a hard plastic or metallic tube that sits just above the trub – dead yeast & bunch of junk you don’t want in your final beer – and takes about 30min or so. I wasn’t counting. So the reasons for racking was I had read on the instructions from Brewer’s Best was to help with flavor was to take it off the trub [image]. I also had read in ‘Complete Joy‘ that it would clarify the beer, making it pretty (not a big deal), but making some the bad stuff go away in the process. I had also read that contradictory to what I had read and was instructed to do, that racking was nearly completely unnecessary and the yeast ‘used today’ is so much better that it didn’t give ‘off-flavors.’ But I had the fun toys, I was going to use them.

I, of course, sanitized like the phsyco hypochondriac I am then put the conditioning beer in the ‘better bottle’ for a week.

A week later I was antsy and wanted to bottle, the american amber was likely “done” after about 9 days but who gives. I pulled all my bottles out and let them soak in the ‘cleaner’ for removal of the labels. Note to self: buy more “frugal joes” and less two brothers for sake of sanity when it comes to removing the labels – vinyl or plastic, whichever they happen to be, are a real pain in the dick.

I rinsed them out with my fancy water jet sink attachment and went to sanitizing them. Nearly ever where said to do this by filling the bottling bucket (the one with a spigot) with sani-solution then drowning the bottles in said full bucket letting them sit for a full 60 seconds and then take them back out and then being ready to fill.

IMG_5346I drafted Liz to give me hand and convinced her that it would “go faster” and “be kinda fun” to bottle the beer. Yeah, I could have done it all myself, but we flew through the bottling – plus I think she enjoyed getting involved in my minor obsession. So I pulled Liz in to fill the bottles with sanitizer just as she would with the beer as to get her acquainted with the beer wand [link] before the real thing came rushing out. We (she) filled all them up while I supervised and subsequently emptied. I dunked the capper and dumped the solution, and moved the beer over to the sanitized bottling bucket. Liz came back in, I dropped the tops in sani-solution and set us up in an assembly line fashion. Far left was the bottling bucking w/ beer which drained to the hose which Liz used to fill the bottles, which she then put on a towel to dry the bottoms, where I would take a now full bottle of beer place it on my drier towel and capped it, then set them in saved beer cases. It worked flawlessly – and we rocked through it pretty fast.

The rest of the day went pretty shitty, but that is for another post. Tomorrow I promise.

I want to state for the record I’m not a big fan of Amber beer. Sure New Castle is okay, but I wouldn’t go around drinking the stuff or tell people to go out and get a bottle. That said, I love my beer. I haven’t tried it yet – but I can already say it’s like a child to me. A day in and it’s making tiny popping noises in the air lock. But this isn’t the start of the story, it’s the end so let me go back.

This past Christmas I got a beer ‘starter’ kit coupon from Lis, a American Amber Kit and a lesson at a LHBS in St. Charles. Took the class, quelled my fears, picked up my two-stage starter kit and I was ready to kick some ass. Images were posted last week.

I had been checking the temp in the office/brew house with the floating thermometer I got in my kit. I placed it in the kettle Friday morning to avoid sun warmth and checked it that night. The plastic sheath was still on, because it was protecting it – from what I dunno. The thin glass tube shot out the end a popped it’s top against the speckled black enamel. Shit.

So moral of the story is my thermometer looked like this on brew day:

Yes, that is a headband. Yes, that is box tape. Yes, that is a set of chop sticks.

The problem here is two-fold: My pot is massively wide and so the water isn’t high enough for the thermometer to stay buoyant in, and if it just let it lay in the water, the cavity would fill and be impossible to read. So this was my solution.

So on Saturday I pulled out all the ingredients, all the toys and stood back – it looked a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Just have to filter – focus on each step and it makes it a whole hell of a lot easier. So I got my two and half gallons of water up to temp (150-165). Filled my sock with the provided 80L grain – it made one hell of a mess and some residuals that I tossed, but maybe should have just tossed in the steep anyway. I put the filled sock in the steeping water and it sounded crazy.

It sounded as if I was deep trying it, strange low crackles and knocks as it steeped – very weird. I took the steeped grains out after 20 min. We kept the grains and have been using it in almost every meal but breakfast: bread, salads, pasta, etc. Then came the boring part – so hideously terrible I didn’t take a single picture.

See, my pot also sucks because I got the wrong one. It’s really made for a gas stove or campfire or something. Sure, it’s great it steeping grain in, but reaching boil took an hour. Each time. And it needs to reach boiling three times. So I’m on the look out for a tall 5 gallon plus size pot with a flat bottom. See, that is really the trouble, there is a space between the bottom of the pot and the stove – I have an electric flat glass stove top – and the pot has a small bump up in the middle which would be great for a gas stove.

Boil, add bittering hops, boil for an hour, add aroma hops, boil for five min. Here are the aroma hops:

If it seems like I am annoyed, you should have seen it while it was sitting there being dumb. So while the aroma hops were going I got my yeast ready. Time was up and I put the pot in the sink filled with cold water and ice. I knew I was going to have to add more water anyway so I dropped in about two more gallons into the pot while it cooled.

Finally at temp I dumped it from about waist hight into the first stage fermenter, topped it off with about two more gallons of warm water, took a gravity reading (1.051), and pitched the puffing yeast. I placed a sanitizer doused finger over the opening and shook it like a hurricane.

The air lock was a real pain in the butt because it kept sucking in the sanitizer but I finally figured out that i need to not let it create a vacuum – nearly took on three table spoons of it but I’ve read that it’ll be impossible to taste or notice.
Pulled it into the office and let it do it’s thing. I’ve just been smelling the air lock and timing between bubbles. I was going to take a gravity reading this saturday when I plan on moving it to a second stage.

So for a while I had been lugging in our Logitech iPod dock into the bathroom on days that I wanted to listen to my podcasts or music while showering. It just seemed to be a bigger pain than worth the trouble. Also, I’ve had my smartphone (droid) for sometime and have listened to pandora, usually just with headphones. I’ve used it for it’s aps – usually downloading them after I read reviews. But hey this thing has a speaker – usually used when on hold or talking with Greg, same thing pretty much – but never really listened to music. Why not though? Sound quality isn’t really an issue in the shower; as song long as I hear the words (podcasts) and the beat/high hats (music) it’s fine. My only problem was finding a solution to keep my phone dry. So I thought, what do I use to keep things dry? Well a sandwich bag would work, and it’d be a good fit too. So I bring you my new shower radio:


This thing works pretty good. The touch screen reacts, though not always fantastically; best used when pulled tight and a deliberate finger. The sound is, honestly, pretty awful. Outside of the bag it almost always sounds like it’ in a tin can, while in the bag it sounds kinda washy and somehow more tinny. Over the shower noise it is nearly impossible to tell the difference, plus I know I’m now waking any neighbors above or below me (which I have) while I try and listen to my favorite tech news podcasts – no one wants to wake up the blaring sound of Apple news or Windows mobile 7 releases. I feel like I can hear it better too, instead of the sound cascading through the echo chamber that are hard-surface-everywhere bathrooms it is piped right to me at head-height. Plus I can play nearly anything and even listen to NPR live or really anything. Try this at home – just make sure it is sealed before turning on the shower, as well as dry off the bag/yourself before digging for it.