Sunday, June 28, 2009

Man O'War IPA - Best in Show

That's right! You're looking at a winner!

Having arrived in Westport around lunchtime yesterday, my wife and I quickly unpacked the cars, dumped the kids off on my mother and her sisters, and bolted up to Swansea, MA to hear the Yankee Spirits 2009 Home Brew Contest results.

It proved to be a harrowing experience. The winners were being announced as part of their 1-4 pm beer tasting, where they had several breweries (20+) offering tastings, as well as a New England Patriots cheerleader signing posters for customers while they stared at her breasts. Or at least that's what I did.

To make a long story short we first heard winners were being announced at 2 pm, so we took off and grabbed some lunch and came back just before 2. Walked around, sampled some beers, got impatient, asked again, heard it was happening at 3 pm. I guess we could have waited around another 40 minutes, but we didn't want to taste too much (had to drive about half an hour to get back to Horseneck Beach) and hey - there was ocean, waves, and fun waiting for us. Knowing they'd contact me if I won anything, we left (after purchasing a suitable amount of alcohol for the beach weekend).

I was annoyed, a bit. More at having to wait, and sort of wanting to wait longer but not wanting to hang around a liquor store soaking up promotions. In reality, if I had done my homework and called before we went I wouldn't have wasted as much time.

Anyway - weekend at the beach is great, it's 4:30 this afternoon - with me heading back up to Boston after dinner while my wife and kids spend the rest of the week on the beach - and my iPhone rings with a number I don't recognize.

After the pleasantries, the nice lady on the other end tells me she wishes to congratulate me, as my beer (now called Man O'War IPA thanks to my cousin James) had won Best in Show by a unanimous vote. I was on the porch, in a fairly quiet beach community, and I think I shouted an expletive. Actually, I'm pretty sure I did given the look I got from the neighbors. So there's a $100 gift certificate waiting for my pickup. I'll get it this weekend...and quite possibly spend it!

If I can find someone to do so, I may have the beer judged by BJCP regulations just to see how it stacks up. But it doesn't bug me that they didn't use them there. They were just people who know and like beer who wanted to drink some and judge it. And isn't that how you pick the beer you like anyway?

Enough crowing. I said when I bottled this one it was a keeper, and it is. I'm shut down from brewing for at least a couple more months, but once I'm moved back to RI and in place, this will be the first recipe I make.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Future Blogging and Guest Blogging

First, thanks to Maggie for noting the importance of this day to U.S. and naval history. For the last couple of weeks I've been tossing around the idea of doing a short series of posts concerning the first 60-or-so days of the war leading up to a battle at sea that would shock the mightiest navy then known to the world. And if I feel ambitious, I may just carry on and post about the rest of the naval engagements as the year carries on.

Fun as that sounds, it's not quite as ambitious as what Steeljaw Scribe has planned at his place. Which is why I also volunteered to author a couple of posts for him that he'll also put up on the USNI Blog. He calls it guest blogging I call it trying to run with the big dogs as he's lined up some pretty savvy help. For me that's the greater challenge I look forward to.

Oh...and I'll post about beer, too. Promise. Haven't brewed much, but I've drank plenty of what I have brewed, and even entered the IPA into a contest based upon the recommendation of my cousin's refined nose (and taste) for the drink of the gods. So I suppose I should at least wrap that recipe up.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D - Day, June 6th, 1944 - Thanking the Gods of War...

Like Midway the last few days/weeks, there is plenty to read online about the D-Day Landings online. Just doing a Twitter search for Dday65 will yield a veritable cornucopia of anecdotes and links to stories, videos and pictures that are all amazing to peruse. Or pick one of your favorite MilBlogs and read away.

The weather dilemma that Ike faced is no secret. It was bad. Really bad. Go now, or go in two weeks. And if the weather is bad then, your next chance is in the Fall.

Ike relied on the meteorological advice of Group Captain Sir James Martin Stagg in moving the invasion from June 5th to June 6th. Ultimately, he decided to go on June 6th counting on Stagg's forecast that the weather would clear shortly following the landings.

As it would turn out, the weather on the secondary date would have made an invasion impossible.

In a quaint little corner of Portsmouth, England is a place known as The Southwick House, that served as the Supreme Headquarters for the Allied Expeditionary Force. Right now, it is the Royal Defence Police School. I had the fortune to visit the Southwick House last October, when they were having their annual Trafalgar Night Dinner. There I found out they still have the exact map that the invasion was planned out on:

Pardon the picture...I was dealing with a limited camera, less than ideal lighting, reflections of a plexiglass case, and several glasses of champagne. While this is amazing in and of itself, what made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was a map and a letter I found framed in the hallway. The map was a meteorological map of the England, the Channel and the northern coast of France on 20 June, 1944. The letter, marked "SECRET" and dated 21 June 1944, was a report from Stagg to Eisenhower detailing current weather conditions in Normandy. In the upper right corner there was some writing.

They read:
Stagg -
Thanks - I thank
the gods of war we
went when we did!

Seconded...thank you, Gods of War.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Midway Memories - From the Mouths of Veterans

It's been a damned long time since I posted here - it's been a damned long time since I brewed any beer but I'm moving in under two months so I don't need the hassle of gallons of beer to pack and move. So I'm going to take this opportunity to make a small comeback and talk about the "other" topic (and even more neglected than brewing!) of this blog, naval history.

On June 4th, the United States Navy observed the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. But I'm not going to write about Midway - at least directly. There is plenty of outstanding information about Midway put out by the Navy and in the Naval Blogosphere this year. Just look here and here for two outstanding examples. The second series was put together by this guy whose blog I read fairly often, and even comment on once in a while.

I did, however, participate in a commemoration ceremony in Boston today. You can see some pics of the ceremony and cake cutting here. Two Midway veterans attended the ceremony where they were honored, and afterward I had the chance to speak at length to both of them.

The two gentlemen (and their wives) were a pleasure to speak with, and at the same time a study in contrasts in a social situation. One was gregarious, quite extroverted and very willing to share his experiences as a gunner aboard a PBY Catalina at Midway, as well as the rest of his experiences in the Navy. A proud WWII veteran who loved to share photos and memories. The second was definitely more reserved; he moved a little slower, and did not want to speak during the ceremony - I had initially been told that he did not remember much of Midway, so my assumption was that this gentleman may be beginning to suffer from memory loss. It turned out that his hearing is failing, he had developed some speech problems, and he didn't want to run the risk of embarrassing himself or become a distraction. He was a radioman on a cruiser - USS MINNEAPOLIS - during the battle.

Both were a pleasure to be around and speak to, and during the ceremony the first gentleman addressed the audience for several minutes (I remember "Pardon me for saying this but...we blew the Hell out of the Japanese there" as a highlight.). In a slightly more private setting, the second gentleman warmed to much of the conversation and began sharing a little bit with us. It was great to see him let his guard down a little and become more engaged, not worrying about his speech issue as the conversation became more friendly. He remembered MINNEAPOLIS, being on the gunnery range on December 7th 1941, 20 miles from Pearl Harbor as the Japanese were attacking and staying at battle stations for 3 full days after, how many men were in the radio shack (too few to man everything they needed to) and a few other experiences. He wasn't very forthcoming about Midway though...I was stumped at how he could not remember anything. Eventually the conversation turned to the all too familiar plight of junior enlisted personnel - having to do things without really knowing what is going on.

The first gentleman spoke up "Really, unless you were an admiral, you didn't know what the big picture was." As far as he knew, they were flying around looking for the Japanese because they were told to. He recalled spending long days after the battle flying around looking for downed aviators. He remembered looking at the water, without binoculars, for hours on end, until he thought he was going blind. I believe he then turned to the second and asked, "How about you - where were you?"

"I really don't remember much about Midway," he finally began. The rest went something like this:

"We went to our battle stations in radio, which was near the outside of the ship, and all of a sudden we heard the big 8-inch guns start firing. I was wondering why they were using them as the Jap ships were nowhere near us, and I later found out that they used them to make splashes to try and throw off incoming Jap torpedo bombers. Shortly after that we hear the 5-inch guns open up, and there was one of those right outside radio, it was manned by Marines, and it was loud as heck. Soon we hear the 1.1's start going off, and then the 20-millimeters because they're getting closer and closer and all this is really loud. Soon the .50-calibers start firing, and they're not so loud. Then I think, 'Whoa! They're really close!' By the time the little water-cooled .30's started shooting we're thinking 'What the Hell is going on here? How close are the Japs gonna' get?' So we had this little porthole in radio that opened up to the outside, and one of us opened it up. He looked out and said 'Yup, the carrier's still there!' and shut it. I think we opened it up two or three times, and each time the carrier looked okay."

He paused for a second.

"And that was the Battle of Midway for me."

I almost started laughing at my ignorance. It wasn't that the guy was losing his memory, it's that the most memorable experience for him was just a really loud (and I'm sure pretty frightening) ten minutes or so in the radio shack.

I don't think it hit me until just before dinner time that night what I had been witnessed earlier that day. I wonder how long he had kept that story, when was the last time he told it, if at all. And even though we look at Midway as this great and inspiring epic (which it is) it is still the sum of thousands of individual experiences, from the radioman who looked out the porthole of radio central while the guns blazed to the pilots and air crews that delivered the fatal blows to Kido Butai to the petty officers who strained their eyes staring at the endless surface of the Pacific trying to find the ones that didn't make it back "home". Every one of those experiences counts, and every one should be treasured. I consider it a gift to have been told these stories.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fermentation Friday - Spring Fever

as promised last Friday, I would take part in Bryon's Fermentation Friday (today) by answering the question:
How will you grow or change as a home brewer this spring? How will you embrace your spring fever and channel it towards your brewing?

This spring is bringing much change to me as it is. Uncle Sam has finally cut my orders and is sending me packing back to Rhode Island for a year of school, and probably off to a place where brewing isn't possible after that. While that will put a serious crimp on my brewing progress, the positive side is that I will be in an academic environment for 10 months, which will be far more conducive to developing my skills.

Since I am moving I don't plan on brewing too much ( have two batches I want to make) this spring and anything I make needs to be in the bottle (or drunk) by moving day. So my "growth" this spring will not come from brewing so much as learning and doing things to make the most of my brewing once I move in July.

I'm going to start by reading and re-reading some serious brewing books, including Principles of Brewing Science by George Fix. Pretty involved, but I know I better understand things when I can break them down to the smallest possible level.

The next thing I plan on doing is really and truly learning to "taste" beer. To tell you the truth, I still get confused by notes, esters an everything else. I can taste malt. I can taste hops. I lack the refinement to pick out the rest; obtaining that refinement is good...because it means drinking beer, among other things. I understand Randy Mosher wrote a book on tasting beer that's very good, so I'll probably add it to my reading list.

The last thing I plan to do is build a kegerator. I. Hate. Bottling. I've come into a perfectly functional dorm fridge (one of the big ones that fits a couple of corny kegs) for exactly $0.00 and I plan to take advantage of it. At first I'd thought about modifying it to make a lagering fridge but that is way more tweaking and work-shoppy stuff than I'm used to. With readily available plans, this should be a good first project for someone who hasn't really done a big brewing do-it-yourself project before.

I said I was going to talk about schedules, too. I lied. Scheduling isn't growing. It's scheduling.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

IPA Update

Yesterday ended up getting away from me, and I could not get to the brew shop to pick up the barleywine ingredients I needed to brew today. Or to BJ's to fill the gas cylinder. Or to the supermarket to get the water. Sigh...hey, sometimes there are more important things than brewing. I know, I know hard to believe but true. So I got that all together today with the intention of having an evening brew session but once everything was said and done I didn't feel the desire. It would have all been too rushed. So I'm brewing tomorrow. It should go quickly as I'm only making 3 gallons and it's an extract w/ steeped grain recipe. Plus my yeast starter can use the time to kick into higher gear.

Since I had to do something brewish yesterday I decided to bottle the IPA (finally!). So here's the final (okay, penultimate) assessment:

Color: Close to a Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale. My to-be-carbonated "new beer" is on the left, the Sierra Nevada (which I just happened to be drinking last night) is on the right.

FG: 1.013 for an ABV of 6.96% - call it 7%

Aroma: Pleasant but not overbearing cascade aroma - floral, citrusy, just a bit spicy.

Taste: There is an assertive (but not overly so) bitterness that gives way to a mild grapefruit taste at the finish. Your taste buds are left vibrating slightly from it, but it is by no means harsh or unpleasant. I made this recipe from a similar one I tried some years back. That beer turned out way out of balance, and drinking it was akin to having your tongue flattened out by a bitter, grapefruit flavored Louisville Slugger. I was worried that this may come out the same, but it most certainly did not. I'll get a more thorough taste report when it's finally carbonated.

Overall: I love this beer. I was "eh" over the Porter, (though I've had my local homebrew shop owner confirm it was just fine), but this has (thus far) turned out better than I thought it far. Assuming it doesn't go to hell in the bottle, this one is a keeper - something to use as a standard as time goes on and watch it improve as I do.

As a note, I had a small disaster dry-hopping. The bag ruptured putting half the hops (and marbles for weighting the bag) outside the fermenter. So I didn't get as much in the fermenter as I wanted to. Turns out, it may have just been enough. We'll see. I also had a lucky break when I set my racking cane down on the ruptured bag to rack the beer to the bottling bucket, as the torn bag acted as an additional filter preventing sediment from transferring.

Since I also used gelatin as a clarifier I'm wary that there might not be a lot of yeast sediment that transferred and the beer will carbonate slowly, but I don't think that will be much of an issue. It's a nylon straining bag and not a micron filter, and I plan on letting this stuff sit several weeks before trying. I also need to think through a better mechanism for dry-hopping than filling a straining bag with whole hops and sanitized marbles and trying to force it into the carboy.

There they are...well, half of them. 12 x 22oz bottles. I also have one case of 12 oz bottles and one 16 oz swing top. Not a bad haul. I marked an "I" on the caps so they are not confused with their friends the porter bottles.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

27 March 2009 - Fermentation Friday

I just found out that next Friday is something called Fermentation Friday. The idea itself seems really cool (similar to The Session) and this month's topic is:

How will you grow or change as a homebrewer this spring?

It's a perfect topic for someone resurrecting his homebrewing hobby, so I'll be participating.

On a different note, this Saturday is another brew day - my plan (desire) is to brew three beers every two months (ambitious I know - this is something I'll address next Friday) and thus far I've done three in Jan/Feb and zero in Mar/Apr. So my Mar/Apr sked looks like this so far:

21 Mar: Barleywine

28-29 Mar: Australian Ale (Cooper's Sparkling clone)

Apr: Beer. Not sure what kind.

I'm stoked to get the barleywine going. More on that this weekend...I need to get the starter going soon...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Capture and Exploitation

If you want to compete with, or best an opponent, you need to know what you are up against. Observation can only provide so much information. Ideally you want to obtain - purchase, steal or capture - the machine of your opponent and break it apart. Open it up, get inside, put it back together, operate it, determine its limits. Then make yours BETTER. The aircraft is the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. For eighteen months it dominated the skies over the Pacific in World War II, but in fact the Zeros doom was sealed within 8 months of Pearl Harbor. Captured and exploited, the Akutan Zero enabled the generation of American naval fighters that would sweep one of the most famous and dangerous - not to mention beautiful and graceful - planes in history from the skies.

Such practices were nothing new - it is as old as competition itself. In August of 1812, England was shocked when a Royal Navy frigate lost a ship-to-ship duel for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Within 5 months, two more of England's vaunted frigates had been taken on the high seas. The stark reality had set in that the Royal Navy was facing a superior class of ships in the American "heavy frigates" and they adjusted their operations accordingly.

The Royal Navy would not capture a heavy frigate in time to exploit it before war's end, but they would capture one nonetheless, and implement some of the innovative design elements of these ingenious ships into their own fleet.

I had decided to brew an Australian-style ale for ANZAC Day. As my wife is Australian, April 25th is an important day in our house. As luck would have it, the latest issue of Brew Your Own magazine is almost completely devoted to Australian brewing styles and techniques, recipes included. The most promising is a Cooper's Sparkling Ale clone recipe that I decided to brew. I have scoped the ingredients, everything looks like it can be put in place for brewing.

There were two sticking points, however, and they are related. First, the recipe states the best way to brew it is to use yeast activated and re-pitched from an original bottle. Second, the best way to judge if your clone is true is to actually DRINK some of the beer you want to clone.

Vindication on these points came last week in my usual "haunt" (as far as liquor stores go). Coming upstairs from their basement (and restroom), I popped out near the cooler in the back and lo! Three different Cooper's beers inside! Could they? Do they? YES!!! Sparkling ale! I finally have my capture.

Needless to say, I have been doing a lot of research. The beer itself is beautiful, light bodied, and crisp. It's a highly attenuated beer, with an initial aroma of yeast and bread. A hint of malt on the tongue, followed by an assertive (but not overwhelming) bitterness from the Pride of Ringwood hops, that lingers for a second or two before a clean, dry finish. Some fruitiness (pear). Very refreshing, and it will go down great on a hot day. It is also a "fast" beer. The recipe cited 16 days from brewing to drinking - bottling it for conditioning after less than a week (6 days) in primary to ensure plenty of yeast for conditioning and high carbonation. I've enjoyed it both clear and "mit hefe" and it is fabulous both ways. I cannot wait to brew this at the end of the month, and I plan to use a different technique than I have been using recently - an "Australian" method, as it is called, in BYO.

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Experimenting With Fruit Beer

I promised myself I wouldn't post any more "Beer Photos of the Week" until I got moving on some actual brewing posts. And as I have several to talk about, I decided to go with the fruit beer post today.

Why a fruit beer? Because fruit beer is fun, and I wanted to try something a little different. I've made beer with cherries and strawberries in the past, but wanted to try something different this time. So I chose two tropical fruits that go great together: orange and mango. I would implement them in different ways though. So, here is the recipe:

Fruit Beer - 6 gallons, mini-mash, 1.049 OG, 24 IBU

3.5 lbs Pale Ale Malt
1 lb Vienna Malt
0.5 lb Crystal 20L Malt
2.0 lbs Munton's Ultralight DME
2.0 lbs Breiss Bavarian Wheat DME
Zest of one medium blood orange - 60 min boil
0.75 oz Saaz Pellet Hops, 6.8% AA - 60 min boil
0.75 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops, 3.9% AA - 5 min flavor/aroma
8 lbs Frozen Mango Chunks, pureed (secondary)
Wyeast 1056 American Ale (harvested and re-pitched from IPA)

My goal was to have a basic ale, not too dark (recipe calculated 5.5 SRM, but I got a little darker), without a lot of bitterness or hop character, but what hop character I get should be from noble hops to complement the fruit. Best guess, the base is supposed to be kind of like a German Barley Ale (Alt or Kolsch).

I used the wort chiller for the first time. It was beautiful. 40 min of chilling and the wort was at 72°F. Opened up the lid, saw the beautiful cold break at the bottom of clear wort, and thought "Easy as pie!"

Yeah, right. Racking to primary was a different story. I simply could not prevent the break from racking into the bucket without losing waaay too much beer. I was trying to rack through the spigot at the base of my kettle instead of siphon from the top. So I ended up straining it all into the bucket and sealing it up for 2-3 hours to allow the trub to settle and then rack the beer into a glass primary before the beer could re-absorb the break.

Success! The sample is from the top of the bucket before racking, and you can clearly see the trub left over. As you can see at the top of the post the "new beer" beer is a little darker than 5 SRM, but the color is still great. OG was a touch high - 1.051. So into the primary it went, with a starter of harvested yeast thrown in...

Nearly two weeks later came secondary day - the day to put the beer on the fruit. I was worried about space - where would I put 5 gallons of beer plus 8 lbs or pureed mango? My first thought was to put it all in the bucket and do a secondary in plastic, but on the odd (or not so odd) chance I could not get back to it rapidly, I didn't want the beer spending weeks and weeks in plastic. Yech. So again, I transferred it into the bucket and sealed it HOLD while I cleaned and re-sanitized the carboy and put the pureed fruit in...

That's the harvested yeast in a flask of new wort (to wake it up) on the bucket.

SG of 1.010 equates to about 5.6% ABV. That's the only accurate measurement I'll have to go with.

The new food processor ready to go. It's wet because I sanitized it with Iodophor before commencing.

That's what 8 lbs of pureed mango looks like in a carboy. Now, to rack the beer onto the mango...

We went out to dinner, came home, and lo and behold...

Wakey, wakey! Eggs and bakey- uh, I mean...barley!!! Pitch it into the carboy, put it back in the corner, and 24 hours later...


So I'm leaving it all alone to let the yeast beasties devour the fruit sugars for a couple of weeks or so. Then I'll clarify and bottle, and hopefully when late spring/summer comes, we'll have an awesome fruit beer that will go great with Thai or Indian food...

I love this. It's so "wide-open"!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beer Photo of the Week - Stone Ruination IPA

Yeah, I'm really not keeping this thing up if all I'm doing is going from photo to photo. I have one brewing experience to catch up on, and a schedule to promulgate. Plus all the cool gadgets and shite I want to put up here. But for now, all I got's a pic...

This is what could be called a "full bumper". What a beautiful color, and it tasted as good as it looked. Hops from the second it hits to well after it's gone down the gullet. But so well done. I truly admire this beer.

h/t my wife for the photo...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Beer Photo of the Week - Chocolate Porter

It is just barely ready to go, but I cracked one anyway. Glad to see the slightly brown head, which is what I put the roasted barley in for. Bottom line is it's drinkable - tastes okay, like a typical porter with some extra roastiness, and some added coffee flavors from the chocolate. Additional conditioning should improve it. I can't detect any of the bourbon I put in. It also has a good color for a robust porter...

So I guess this is "Beer Photos of the Week"...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

At Long Last - The Tale of the IPA

I'm really not keeping this up like I want to, but sometimes you just can't. So here I am now; I finally got around to brewing my IPA on 01 February, aka Superbowl Sunday. I got much more out of my brewing experience that day than I did the Superbowl, which I tried to get officially re-named "Who Gives a Rat's Ass" since the Patriots weren't in it.

In the interest of keeping the learning curve steep, I stepped up to partial mashing. I was happy with how I handled the nuts and bolts of boiling, adding hops, cooling and racking, so I figured I'd up the difficulty.

First, the recipe (I make 6 gallons to end up bottling 5):

3.5 lbs American Pale Malt
1 lb Crystal Malt 20°L
0.5 lb Victory Malt
6 lbs Munton's Extra Light DME
0.75 oz Chinook 13%AA - 60 min boil
0.75 oz Cascade 7.4%AA - 60 min boil
0.75 oz Cascade 7.4%AA - 15 min boil (flavor)
0.5 oz Cascade 7.4%AA - end of boil (aroma)
0.75 oz Cascade 7.4%AA - Dry Hop (add to secondary)

Predicted OG is 1.066, 60 IBU (BU/GU ratio is 0.91 - pretty hoppy)

I've read some bad things about Chinook hops - too resiny, too piney, blah blah blah. I have used them in the past and found that if I stay under an ounce and make sure I have a good, vigorous boil, I get good results.

I mashed in a min-mash bucket that I lined with a 24" x 24" mesh bag. Once I mixed the grain and water I dumped them into the bag, covered the bucket and insulated it.

I used an old sweater to insulate the bucket. It did the trick - the mash pretty much held at 150° the whole time.

Mashing is easy. Just sit there and enjoy the starch conversion. Sparging sucks though. The general instructions stated to draw off the wort at a rate of 1 cup per minute while slowly adding hot (175°F) water on the top. Since I used a bucket there is no built-in sparge, so I had to slowly ladel the water on top. When I cracked the drain the grain bag was drawn into the drain valve, all but stopping up the flow. So getting 1 cup/min was a laughable chore. I was "left holding the bag" straight up and away from the bung the entire time so the wort could flow out.

My kingdom for a proper mash tun! The entire sparge lasted about an hour (with recircs and interruptions) so I guess I got it sort of kind of right. The water at the end of it all looked light but not too light (not that I have much experience to compare it to) so I don't think I got too many husky tannins in the wort.

When all was said and done, I collected 2.5 gallons of wort at SG 1.041. The goal was 3 gallons but I was out of patience and out of sparge water. The quick math tells me 102.5 GU, which when diluted to 3 gallons would have been an SG 1.034. Target would have been 3 gal at 1.036/7, so I can assume I came close to the sugar extraction I wanted. So I pumped the wort volume up to 6 gallons, began heating and carried on as normal.

Cooling once again went on in a snow bank - and it took way too long. I haven't detected any DMS in my latest sample, so I guess I'm okay, but I'm sure the stuff will be hazy as heck. I compensated with malt during the boil and water after transfer to get as close to a 1.066 OG as possible. Of course I forgot to measure "final" OG so I'll just assume I'm in the ballpark (within .003). Fermentation got a fast start, and blowoff was noisy and frequent for several days.

Happiness is a blow off tube full of yeast...that box contains the Chocolate Porter in secondary. Ten days later I transferred to secondary.

The weight on my hydrometer is uneven so it doesn't float straight up and down. SG was in the vicinity of 1.016 at transfer, so right now the beer is in the low-mid 6% ABV range. It tasted great, too. A good pale ale taste, with some of the toastiness of the Victory Malt, with serious but not out of control bitterness. An evident citrus/grapefruit character to the bitterness.

I'll be keeping the beer in secondary for around three weeks, the last two of which it will be dry-hopped, and possibly oaked as I found some sweet-looking French oak chips at my local homebrew shop. It's a bit cloudy, so I plan on fining with some gelatin before bottling. I still don't think that will be enough to eliminate haze completely. To remedy this, I have finally purchased a wort chiller and will also pay much more attention to racking the wort off the break post-boil instead of just transferring as much as I can. That method will get tested tomorrow when I brew my next batch.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beer Photo of the Week

If only a Man O'War could sail the seas of Märzen Rauchbier...water through the gun ports might have actually been welcomed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chocolate Porter - Making Landfall

It's time to catch up from the early neglect of this "new" blog, now that my life allows it. Even though I have not been able to blog the progress (until now) things are chugging along okay - the Chocolate Porter is bottled and cellared, and the IPA is in the last few days of primary fermentation. My brew days are taking longer than I would like them to, and I'm not working on the dates I want to, but such is the way of life with a family and small children.

The first recipe is near completion - sort of like a ship making landfall. You can see the destination, but you are not there. The right combination of wind and tide is still needed to reach port. Even if a coast is well-charted, there is always the risk of running up on the shoals, whether by human error or force of nature.

I bottled the porter last night, but the process actually started this past Saturday, when I added the final dose of chocolate to the beer. Resisting the urge to roast the cocoa beans, I ground them fresh. It was originally recommended that I soak them in vodka for 15 min or so to sterilize them. That was an issue, as I was out of vodka. I used a substitute.

In all, I added about 6 oz of bourbon to the beans. Why? It seemed right. About 60 hours later, I bottled the beer. As I'm doing this (or at least part of it) as a gift for my father, I got some growlers that I can put some customized labels on. They'll feature a goofy picture of him or something like that. The rest of the bottles I needed I made up from what I had in storage in my garage - some 16 oz swing-top bottles and a case of 12 oz bottles. I had dug the bottles out from the garage the night before, and there's an interesting story in there as well, that I'll tell some other day.

Before I primed, I took final gravity. It measured 1.015. That's kind of high - I just barely got 70% attenuation. Ideally I would want to hit 1.013/1.012, to get me at about 5% ABV. As it stands, it is 4.8% ABV. A bit on the low side (technically below the threshhold) for a robust porter, though a 1.015 FG is "within spec" for one. Maybe something to be tweaked the next time I brew it, but I'll wait and taste the finished product first. To keep carbonation on the low side, I then primed the 5 gallons of "new beer" with 3.6 oz of light DME, using the priming guidelines from Randy Mosher's The Brewer's Companion.

I. Hate. Bottling. It takes a long time, it always seems awkward to me moving between filling, topping off, capping, back to filling, etc. Still, if I wish to enjoy the beer I need to do it right, so I was as meticulous and clean as I could be. One of my next steps is to start kegging. When all was said and done, I had three 1/2 gallon growlers, 24 12-oz bottles, and six swing-tops.

First test is in a couple of weeks; then I'll know if I made it safely into port or took a wrong turn and ended up on the rocks. It still tastes okay, but I've never had an easy time predicting final taste by tasting what I have at bottling.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Taking a Fix

This weekend I racked my beer to secondary and took a fix - determined where my current brew stands on it's path of intended movement (PIM) from wort to porter. I drew a sample and once the remainder of the beer was racked and stowed I took a gravity measurement and tasted a couple of mouthfulls for good measure.

The "beer" when I opened the primary was as it should have been - clean and clear, and it smelled great. The transfer went smoothly, with very little sediment taken up. The slurry of yeast at the bottom of the fermenter was impressive.

Some day, I'm going to think and prepare ahead enough to recover and re-use the stuff. SG was 1.018 (OG 1.050) so it currently stands at about 4.4% ABV. It tasted immature but pretty much like a porter. Strong coffee-like notes, the roasted barley was evident, medium bitterness. So I have no doubt some more time in the carboy and then the bottle will have this beer tasting as it should. "Ideally" the FG should be 1.016 or below and I'm pretty sure those last few thousandths will drop off in the next week or so. If not, no biggie, I can figure it out next time.

It's like dead reckoning. Estimate your future position based upon your last known position and course and speed, and then your fix tells you where you really are. Right now, it looks like I'm pretty much "on PIM".

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gear Adrift

On a ship, anything not properly stowed or secured is "gear adrift". In good times, it makes sailors unhappy. Compartments fail inspections, the gear gets confiscated, and the seamen who cleaned the compartment are unhappy because they have to clean the compartment again and present it after working hours. In bad times, it gets people hurt. Heavy weather and rolls cause it to fall on people, cutting them, bruising them, or - if it's large - breaking bones or worse. In the worst of times, it gets people killed.

Picture from Navy History and Heritage Command

The Chesapeake lay off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, and was under the command of Commodore James Barron. The Leopard, under the command of Salisbury Pryce Humphreys, hailed and requested to search the Chesapeake for suspected deserters from the British Navy; when the Chesapeake refused, the Leopard began to fire broadsides, killing three aboard the Chesapeake and injuring another 18 including Barron. The Chesapeake, her decks cluttered with stores in preparation for a long cruise, managed to fire only a single gun in reply to the Leopard, and Barron quickly struck his colors and surrendered his ship; however, Humphreys refused the surrender, and simply sent a boarding party to search for the deserters.

Of course, American seamen were being impressed by the Royal Navy, but America was not at war - the gear could always be stowed once at sea, since there's no way they could be attacked. Chesapeake could afford to start her cruise in a low state of readiness; what could possibly happen?

A bad chapter in the unfortunate life of an unfortunate ship. She was eventually captured by the British off Boston on June 1st, 1813 and brought back to England as a prize.

Picture from Navy History and Heritage Command
While not technically a "Man O'War", Chesapeake was still a frigate - a fighting ship built to fight and manned by those who would otherwise be "Man O'War's men". And no proper Man O'War's man should countenance gear adrift.

What does this have to do with beer? Precious little actually, except for this:

This won't cause me to eventually be taken and broken up and made into a mill. In fact, it makes me, the captain of this Man O'War, MORE ready to brew at a moment's notice. It WILL, however, get me in trouble with The Admiral.

So I'd better stow it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Shakedown Cruise - Chocolate Porter

Part One - The Ship New Rigged

The rigging; clew, bunt, leech, reef, halyard, braces, tacks, sheets, lifts, stays, shrouds...the standing and running lines that bring function to the towering form of the ship's mast. The interaction of muscle, line, wood and canvas can be mastered in time (it is actually not as difficult as it looks) and the judgment to govern them is not impossible to acquire, though it does come easier to some than others.

Here is this man o'war's new "rig". The kettle is old, but the majority of the rest of the material is new. I went through my Christmas money and then some getting it, but it was worth it. It's dangerous walking into a homebrew shop, especially one where the owner keeps kegs of what he's most recently brewed by the register. I could've spent hours there. With this rig, I plan to make some serious beer. But before either serious sailing or serious beer can happen, one must literally "learn the ropes". In the case of our Coast Guard friends here that means sweating lines and getting the basics of line handling down before moving on to the finer points of the art of sailing.

Part Two - Chocolate Porter, Extract with Specialty Grain

For me today, it meant going back to basics; re-learning the ropes in a very real way and getting familiar again with the mechanics of boiling, chilling and transferring. Though when I last brewed I had got as far as partial-mashing, I decided I would brew one of the simplest ways; malt extract with specialty grains.

I'll start by saying I am not a fan of porter. I see a black (or very dark) beer and I want to taste a stout. But I'm making this for a reason - my father's 65th birthday next month. He loves porter, and in 2004 he and I made a similar recipe (this one is based on it) for him to have all to himself, and he loved it. He still talks about it. So I guess it was good. Also, porter is one of the most ubiquitous - a staple, if you will - styles around, so it's good to be able to brew one. And who knows, I may brew one I actually like some day.

I don't plan on making this a step-by-step how I brewed it blog, but I have no problem posting the recipe:

6 lbs amber dry malt extract (DME)
1 lb dark (120L) crystal malt
8 oz chocolate malt
4 oz roasted barley*
2.25 oz Fuggles leaf hops
0.75 oz Spalt pellet hops
Wyeast 1098 British Ale yeast**
2 tbsp baker's cocoa powder (boil)
4 oz cocoa beans (secondary fermenter)

*Roasted barley is really not part of the traditional porter style, but it seems porter brewers use it anyway. I decided to include some (approx. 3% of the total grain bill) as it contributes to a brown head, and also to get some roasty character with the chocolate. It also might help me like the porter - remember, I like stout.

**The yeast was a deviation from my original desire, the Wyeast London Ale. But when the supply store is out, you have to find a substitute. The fermentation characteristics are similar, though I'll get a slightly more attenuated (drier) beer than planned.

The cocoa beans are also something new that I didn't do last time. I'm a fan of Sam Adams Chocolate Bock, which has rare cocoa nibs added to the secondary; I plan on doing the same (though not in the same quantity).

I guess I could say my goal, besides simply getting through the process relatively unscathed, was to see if I could hit the predicted original gravity. I managed fairly well. Building my recipe using, it predicted 6 gallons at a specific gravity of 1.053. When all was said and done, I managed 6 gallons at 1.050. I'll call that a success. Here are some cool pics:

Snow banks are a good way to chill wort without wasting water. I don't know why this reminds me of the beginning of The War of the Worlds.
No Martians here, just sweet, hopped wort.
I like this color. I hope it keeps it. Through the maltiness of the wort (and the loss of taste due to my cold) there was a definite, but not too strong, roasted flavor, along with the coffee-like character of the chocolate malt.

The entire concoction is happily percolating away as I type. Less than seven hours after pitching the yeast the fermentation lock was slowly bubbling. Fewer than 12 hours later I had to replace the lock with blow-off tubing. Vigorous fermentation is a great sign.

Like I said - maybe this will be a porter I could come to like.