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.

So I’ve been lamenting a lot on what exactly I should be brewing. I know for a lot of brewers it’s making a great pale ale, or kicking out a pilsner to be proud of, but for me it’s about making something I can’t buy at the store; I want my beer to mean something to me in a way too, a self-expression and representation of me as a person.

So far it’s done a pretty good job of describing my clunking along in a sort of ‘duct-tape-the-muffler-back-on’ sort of way. From the not great attempts at brett table beers, to the way brew days always seem to go, I’m more or less running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But I’m trying to change that – at least with my brewing.

I’ve got a spreadsheet running with upcoming beers, ideas, and current/past beer on the list. I’ve added what is ready, what is currently fermenting, and the litany of ideas below. I think this year as well, I will attempt to have a standard ‘house brew’ on tap. I’ll work on getting my method down more. Brew more often, and just generally ‘tighten’ up the ship.

2012-11-28 09.16.49

As far as current brews, I’ve got the first group brew day beer on tap. It’s a toasty dark-brown beer with heavy doses of wheat and fermented with wheat and roeselare blend (pictured above). It’s mostly “wheat” with a kind of over-toasted bread taste profile. I don’t get much sour/funk but I’ve been told it’s there. Hard to compare it to something else I guess. A stout of unknown recipe is bubbling along from a huge 40 gallon brew day just this past weekend. Myself, I tried to blast through 4 batches of solo-hopped beer during the same time, but due to weather and bad planning only made it to 3 with the last one a blend of last two remaining hops. It’s likely that those are in the upper 1.070s – didn’t get a clean measurement (another mistake).

So in a roundabout way – this post is also my declaration that I’m going to start taking this much more seriously.

I thought I’d take a second as to why I love brewing and to a greater extent – beer. Initial impressions would lead people to think I’m a drunk; that I make the cheapest swill garbage possible with as much booze as spirits, and then get blasted for fun. Reality being, for me, that drinking my work is only an added bonus. Then folks may say, oh sure – I brew huge bomb beers, sure I enjoy the process, but I’m basically out to get plastered. Still not true, I brewed a ~3.5-4% abv last go-round. Then ‘they’ will say oh, so you are just a super ned with a hobby of fun toys, making a slightly more complicated version of tea, and reading. To that I’d say – oh, so you are a homebrewer as well?

It’s really less about the drunk part so much as the process. The ability to make something that [nearly] everyone can enjoy. It’s about cultivating a living organism, watching it grow and chew away at sugars and hearing the ‘clink clink’ of the airlock. Sure, like most homebrewers the process can lead to frustrations, burning your extract, missing your target OG, having a stuck sparge, ect – but the clouds clear after the first deep sniff of a bubbling blow-off tub. Even if the beer sucks (I’m looking at you cranberry beer) there is a flood of happiness that fills you when you watch someone drink your beer. It’s a learning process, something to be picked up, cleaned up next time. You shuffle again and deal. Didn’t like the bitterness in this one? Want to tweak a famous beer you had? There is almost nothing the big boys do that you cannot. There are few hurdles, which I think make it appealing in the first place.

A year only I’ve been at it. I’ve plowed thorough a handful of beer making books, cram my day full of reading beer blogs, it envelops my day. Finally a passion, a goal orientated hobby, and a relatively cheap one, comparatively. I don’t see this ending soon. You could maybe expect bottles for Christmas gifts.

Yeah, I know I forgot about a day. Hell, I even had the day off from work. But I was brewing so I do have that in my defense.

Yeah, this post will be about beer, sorry – not much of a story time.

I have a spreadsheet with the upcoming planned beers and their information – nerd out. First up is the English Bitter mostly because of the short lead time into readiness, my dark saison is nearly all gone so I’ve got to get something in the pipes. The ‘bitter’ name is a bit of a misnomer. Sure it’s a bit on the sharp side, but it (should) have great balance, be a decent session beer, and be quite tasty. I was looking at picking up the Northern Brewer exclusive ‘neo-britiania’ (1945) strain but read the tasting notes and thought the Thames Valley (1275) would provide me with something a bit more of the ‘real bitter’ I was looking to achieve. I cannot honestly say the last time I’ve had a bitter though, take my advice for yeast with a grain of salt. That is until the brew is ready. The fully inflated yeast pack I broke into smelled pretty dang good – looking forward to having a nip. It’s bubbling away at a bit warm 70f in the basement of my apartment. My luck this week is one of the warmest weeks since mid July. Grain bill was 2lbs of Gambrinus Honey Malt and 1lb of Briess Victory. The mixture smelled like honey glazed biscuits – amazing. I don’t have a full grain setup (yet) so I topped with 3.15 lbs of “gold” Liquid malt extract. I was feeling cheap so this brew is all Cascade hops, saved a couple bucks by buying one 8oz pack instead of 1oz packets [note: I only used 2.5oz]. Brew day went off without a hitch. Only issue I had was that the strange setup of this apartment’s kitchen makes for a very warm brew day.

Next up is a Cranberry Wheat beer using a Belgian wheat yeast (3942). The yeast is not chilling after making a 2L starter. The beer is planned to be at 8% so I thought it better of me to make a hefty yeast, give them a leg up. More on this brew day when it happens.

A Day Late