Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quick Update - Jan 25, 2009

My robust porter is nearing the end of its ferment. All appears to have gone well, but I don't have a good way of checking gravity so I won't know for sure until kegging in a few days. But this weekend was still an eventful one for the Bicycle home Brewery. I successfully converted by beer fridge into a 4-tap kegerator. Sometime soon, I'll post some pictures and my story (rather uneventful, I'm happy to say) of the project.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Barista Porter

With my recent resolutions in mind, I not only knocked out a new batch of beer yesterday, but I am writing about it here. I'm also compiling tonight a parts list for my kegerator. My last brew of 2008 was a batch of my Century IPA, and it left me with a nice supply of "California Ale" yeast, the clean-fermenting workhorse of today's craft- and home-brewers alike. I also have a fair amount of 2007 hops in my freezer, which aren't getting any fresher, including an unopened bag of Fuggles. So it just seemed to be the right time to have another go at my Barista Porter. Even more so than beer, coffee is the universal beverage of bicyclists around the world, and the espresso-pulling barista is our soigneur of the café. The robust porter--a style with a very modern yet still mysterious history--comes as close as any beer style to capturing dark-roasted coffee essence in a glass. My grain bill yesterday was very conventional, with significant contributions from crystal, chocolate, and black specialty malts on top of a base of American 2-row and German Munich malts. Also sticking close to the current standard practice, I generously hopped with both Fuggles and Willamette. Based on my sampling of the chilled wort, this beer will have prominent chocolate notes alongside the coffee--not exactly surprising given all the "chocolate" malt. Depending on how much I like the finished product, I might add some fresh-brewed espresso to the keg to bump up the coffee flavor and aroma. The nice thing about brewing 10-gallon batches is that they yield two homebrewer's "corny" kegs, so I can try one with the extra coffee shot, and one without. The brew day yesterday was not my smoothest. I forgot to install the "bazooka" screen in my picnic-cooler mash tun before loading in the grain, which I didn't realize until half-way into the mash-in. But I managed to get the screen installed, and the only real loss was of a few degrees in mash temperature, which might make the beer a little thinner and drier than I would hope. Regardless, it was a beautiful sunny January day in southern California--a perfect day for cooking up some wort and roasting a pound of coffee, too, during the boil. Twenty-four hours later, the beer appears to be happily fermenting in the garage. And we already sampled some of the coffee this morning. All is good.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brew Year's Resolutions

New Year's Day has come and gone, as has the ridiculously strung out college football bowl season, but it's still the first half of January, so I figure it's not too late to for my annual resolutions. Perhaps the only New Year's resolution I've ever kept was the one I made a handful of years ago to brew--and to drink--more beer! Hoping for similar success this year, here are my Brew Year's Resolutions for 2009: 1. Build a kegerator. I celebrated my 40th birthday a few years back with a new refrigerator in the garage for my beer. This included acquisition of a few "Cornelius" kegs, a pressure regulator, and all the other basics that one needs to set up a basic home draft system. Well, like so many other homebrewers before me, I've found the shift from bottles to kegs to be truly revolutionary. But the fascination of drawing pint after pint of my own homebrew from a cheap little picnic tap has finally worn off. I've grown frustrated by having to fumble through a tangle of beer lines and to swap over a gas line from keg to keg every time my wife and I want a pint. Plus I've got a couple of tap handles I purchased on eBay a few years back just sitting around gathering dust. It's time I finally correct this situation. 2. Plan a brew sculpture. My brewing setup is still rather primitive, featuring a hodge-podge of converted coolers, half-barrel kegs, pots, plastic buckets, and carboys, but it's mine, and it works. Still, it would be nice if I could build something just a little bit more elegant to, if nothing else, reduce the heavy lifting of hot water currently required on my brew days. I know myself well enough to know that it would be overambitious to expect to finish this project this year, especially when I've got a kegerator to build. But it would be nice to have some specific plans to carry into 2010. 3. Make a mead. I don't drink mead, and I don't particularly like honey. I'm always looking, though, to expand my fermentation experience, and I listened to an absolutely brilliant podcast on the drive home from our Christmas trip to the Bay Area. The podcast featured a long conversation with Ken Schramm, author of the book on the subject, The Compleat Meadmaker, and, well, he inspired me to give it a shot. I think I'll even start with the Vanilla Orange-Blossom recipe he presented on the show. If nothing else, it should help prevent my wife from drinking all my beer. 4. Make a cider. Speaking of my wife, on that same Christmas trip north, we went to see our sturdy Golden Bears play in (and win!) the Emerald Bowl. Since the game was at the San Francisco Giants ballpark, we were obligated to enjoy some pre-game festivities at the 21st Amendment, one of California's premier brewpubs. I had an absolutely fantastic series of beers, while my wife thoroughly enjoyed the pomegranate cider (made in Sacramento) they were serving. I enjoyed it, too, so I think I'll try making some of my own. 5. Make a wet-hopped beer. I've been growing some hops at home for a couple years, and I've now got several Cascade plants well established. I yielded enough this past summer to help hop a recent IPA, but I still haven't got the drying process dialed in. So this year, I'll make a fresh "harvest" ale instead. 6. Become a "Certified" BJCP beer judge. One of my biggest brewing milestones in 2008 was to finally take the Beer Judge Certification Program exam. I passed, and I came agonizingly close to scoring high enough to rate as a National-level judge. With just a pair of experience points, though, I'm still a ways off from being eligible to achieve a National ranking, and I'll just re-take the exam when that time comes. My immediate goal, then, is to acquire the small amount of experience I need to officially become "Certified". There are enough local competitions that I should be able to accomplish that by summer. 7. Make significant progress on my beer book. The first paper I wrote in grad school was about brewing--an historical geography of the industry in the United States. I've long regretted letting that project lie dormant for so long, and for the last year or two, I've been compiling notes and sketching some crude outlines that would extend my original essay into a book. My summer travels to Munich last year only confirmed my desire to take the project global, and I'm already scheduled to give a talk on the subject at my college in March. 8. Go to the NHC. During my first stint as a homebrewer, again back in my grad-school days, when brewing was more a curiosity for me than a full-fledged hobby, my wife and I attended the annual National Homebrewers Conference. It was just down the road in Milwaukee, and we made a weekend day trip out of it. The NHC has since grown into a far bigger event, and ever since I re-started by homebrewing in earnest, I've been eager to return. Since this year's conference, in Oakland, is once again in-state for me, it would seem an ideal year for me to attend. Now if I can only get approval from my wife; perhaps the promise of mead and cider will do the trick? 9. Blog more. I started this blog almost two years ago, and while I haven't truly ignored it, I haven't contributed to it nearly as much as I had originally planned. I'd like to pledge a new entry every week. But let's keep this realistic: how about a new entry every month? If nothing else, I need to actually begin that series of beer-style posts I promised here several months ago. 10. Brew more. Last but not least, I need to make more beer. I was on a nice run for a while, with several consecutive years of growth in the number and volume of batches brewed. Like our economy, though, 2008 proved to be a year of recession, as my brewing output fell off a bit. My goal in 2009 is nothing less than a new personal record: more brews, more beers, more fun. Happy Brew Year to you all!