Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mid-Summer Update

When you've got a pair of active young sons at home, the livin' is never truly "easy", not even in the Summertime. But having a cushy teaching job which affords a couple of months away from the office, if never truly off work, certainly helps. Historically, the warm temps of summer meant a brewer's holiday--hence styles such as Franco-Belgian Saison or Austro-German Märzen/Oktoberfest that were originally brewed at higher strengths during the cooler months so that they could be stored to and through the warm months for later enjoyment. You brew when you can, however, and for me, that means loading up the brewing calendar during summer and relying heavily on my converted Igloo IceCube cooler to help me keep fermentation temperatures within reason. It also helps that I'm only a few miles from the cool waters of the Pacific, which (usually) keep my narrow coastal stretch of Sunny Southern California reasonably cool. There hasn't been much down time for my family this summer, with the front half loaded up with small family trips and excursions and me desperately preparing for a new class I'll be teaching this fall. Still, I've managed to brew a few times since my last posting a couple of months ago. The last four batches, in order, have been:
  • Velo Wit (brewed May 11) - a pretty standard Belgian-style Wit made with a 2:1 mix of continental wheat and pilsener malt, and flavored with modest amounts of Northern Brewer and Tettnanger hops, as well as some coriander and orange marmalade. (OG=1.056, ABV=5.8%)
  • Beckham's Best Bitter (brewed June 23) - a classic ESB made with pale English Maris Otter, Vienna, and Crystal malts, and hopped with a stereotypical blend of Fuggles and Goldings. (OG=1.052, ABV=4.8%) This was my first use of my home-converted "keggle", and it allowed me to brew a few extra gallons. It's still coming into its own as it conditions in keg and bottle, but I think #23 himself would be proud.
  • Barista Porter (brewed July 11) - My first attempt at a porter, and early reviews are quite promising. It's a historically influenced robust porter which leans significantly on Brown Malt, along with a little Aromatic and de-bittered Black, to round out the pale malt base. The hopping was again pretty unadventurous, consisting mostly of Fuggles (which I had a bunch of in my freezer) and a little Northern Brewer and Willamette. The only significant twist was the addition of a pair of big double-shots of Espresso to the 5 gallons I have in keg. After some conditioning, it will be interesting to compare this draft version with the unadulterated stuff I put in bottle. (OG=1.059, ABV=5.5%)
  • CrossXtoberfest (brewed July 23) - It's a little late on the calendar to be making an Oktoberfest, but it still should be ready by October. As I make my way through the classic styles, this recipe is again pretty conventional. The malt bill included more-or-less-equal parts of pilsener, vienna, and munich malts, with a little melanoidin thrown in, too. I bittered with a small amount of Magnum hops, with a classic mix of Saaz and Hallertau dropped in the kettle later on. It's only been five days, but so far this first-ever lager for me appears to be going well. The ferment is proceeding at a steady but not-too-fast pace, and daily additions of ice to the water bath are keeping the temps inside the IceCube in the low 50s. When cyclocross season heats up this fall, this promises to be a true refresher if all continues to go well. (OG=1.058)
That's what's brewing for now. My initial hop-growing attempt has had mixed success. The Cascade plant is going quite well for a first-year plant. It's got several happy bines in the neighborhood of 8 feet tall, it's showing signs of producing some cones, and I've even managed to start a vigorous bine in a separate pot after first starting it as a cutting in a glass of water! The other varieties, though, have been a bust. The Hallertauer and Sterling made a brief appearance above ground, then withered away and disappeared for good. I've still got hope for my tiny Wye Challenger; for weeks on end it has been nothing more than a two-inch "seedling", but in just the last couple of weeks it resumed growing. It's too late for it to amount to much this year, but maybe it's laid the foundation for something bigger next.