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...