Thursday, December 11, 2008

Culturing Yeast Part 4

Aaaaaaand.... we're back.

So the last step in culturing up this yeast was to sample the 100ml starters to make sure that they fermented properly and grow them up to a full sized yeast starter. That and to innoculate the agar slants, but I'll post on that later.

I decanted some of the fermented wort (hereon refered to as beer) from each of the 100ml starters. Here they are. I knew those beer festival sample glasses would come in handy one day!

I tasted each one and each tasted exactly the same. Neutral, clean, no off flavors at all. Well attenuated. So the next step was to prepare a 3000ml yeast starter with some yeast nutrient, 5.2, and a drop of olive oil. The yeast slurry from each of the 100ml starters was pitched into cooled 3000ml starter and it was set on the stir plate to ferment out.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Culturing Yeast Pt 3

With our trio of 10ml yeast starters having fermented out, it's time to step them up to 100ml. I've read that it's best to step up at a rate of anywhere from 4:1 to 10:1. I go with 10:1. It has worked just fine for me, so I see no reason to drag the process out any longer than that.

Equipment (in addition to what was used in previous steps):

1) 100ml pyrex flasks

2) Foam stoppers - a stopper and airlock setup would work just fine too, but I prefer to use these guys


1) Prepare the starters - fill the pyrex flasks with 100ml of 10 brix wort. The yeast nutrient and drop of olive oil can be used here too, though I bypassed that step this time. Stop up the flasks with the foam stoppers.

2) Sterilize the starters - flasks in a water bath on the stove top works just fine here. Boil for a few minutes to kill any dirtbag germs that might have made their way in there and allow them to come back down to room temperature.

3) Innoculate the starters - I sprayed sanitizer around the mouths of each 10ml test tube and the 100ml flasks before opening anything. I then decanted the top 5ml or so from each test tube, swirled up the remaining starter beer and yeast from the bottom of the tube, and dumped into the 100ml flask. Put the foam stopper back in there when done and give a gentle swirl to get everything mixed up and to aerate a bit.

4) Wait.

After a day we've got something that looks like this:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cluturing Yeast Pt 2

As promised, here's some more on the latest steps in my yeast culturing project... We left off with a petri dish streaked with yeast from my slurry. Here's what it looks like now:

The next high-level steps are to:

1) Prepare 10ml starters

2) Innoculate those starters with single colonies from the petri dish

Equipment (in addition to what was used in the previous steps):

1) 10ml test tubes - I prepared three starters

2) Airlocks - I treated myself and got some of the fancy glass ones so that I could sterilize them in the canner if needed

3) Drilled stoppers - I was unable to find drilled stoppers that fit test tubes and would accept an airlock, so I was forced to take matters into my own hands. I took stoppers that fit the test tubes and drilled them myself. It's a huge help to have a drill press handy when doing this.

4) Autoclavable test tube rack - Mine has turned out to be not so autoclavable

5) 10ml pipette

6) Prepared sanitizing solution - Use this to fill the airlocks. I just use my handy spray bottle of Star San.

7) Olive oil and a tooth pick.


1) Prepare the starters - Using the same 10brix wort (with a dash each of Five Star 5.2 and yeast nutrient, no agar this time) and the pipette, fill each test tube with 10ml of starter wort. Also at this time, I dip the tooth pick in the olive oil, and put a tiny drop in each of the test tubes. I won't get into that in this space, but here's the rationale behind it (the fatty acids in the olive oil are a substitute for aeration of the wort). Put the stoppers and airlocks in. Fill the airlocks with sanitizer. Presumably you've already got the test tubes in the rack.

2) Sterilize the starters - This is a basic water bath procedure. Place the rack with the starters in your stainless steel sauce pan. Add enough water to the bottom to come about 1/3 of the way up the test tubes. Heat the water to a simmer. Wait for the starters to come up to a simmer and then give them about 10 minutes. Take off of the heat and allow them to cool to room temperature. Now you've got yourself some sterile 10ml starters. Note: at the same time that I'm doing this, I also like to prepare my sterile distilled water for cooling the innoculating loop. Put some distilled water in a small pyrex flask, cover with foil, and let it serilize in the sauce pan next to the rack.

3) Innoculate the starters - Take the starters to the clean, draft free area where your petri dish is hanging out. Put on your dust mask to contain your disgusting germs. Flame and cool your innoculating loop. Open up the petri dish. Quickly grab a small colony from the center of the petri dish with the innoculating loop, quickly open one of the starters, and quickly add the colony to the starter. Quickly put the stopper and airlock back in the starter. Did I mention that you should act quickly? Quickly repeat until all starters are innoculated.

4) Wait - Let your starters culture up in a clean, draft free room temperature environment. You should see activity within a day or two.

Next steps... Once these starters have finshed we'll repeat the above steps with 100ml starters, innoculating them with the 10ml starters.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday brew

Given the sorry state of the kegerator these days, it was time to brew up a quickly servable batch. I decided to go with something along the lines of a British bitter, but considering that I was using almost exclusively American ingredients, I'll call this an American Bitter. The details:

9 lbs Briess Organic two-row
.5 lb Briess Special Roast
.25 lb Muntons crystal
.25 lb Muntons dark crystal

Mashed in at a 1.2 quart:1 lb l:g ratio to 140˚ - this was way low. I was shooting for 150˚, but this is homebrewing, so somehow I missed. Go figure. I was able to add some more boiling water to get up to 146˚, and that was just going to have to do. After a one hour mash, added some more boiling water to mash up to 158˚. This sat for a few minutes before I started recirculating until the wort was clear, and then began the sparge. Colltected 6.75 gallons at 1.036 OG and began my boil. Hop charge as follows:

60 minute hops: 1 oz Brewer's Gold pellets at 7.46% AA
20 minute hops: 5 grams American grown whole Goldings at 4.2% AA
15 minute hops: 5 grams Willamette whole hops at 4.5% AA
10 minute hops: 5 grams Goldings
5 minute hops: 5 grams Willamette
Flameout hops: 5 grams Goldings and 5 grams Willamette

Added whirlfloc tab at 15 minutes short of flameout. Final kettle volume 5.25 gallons at 1.048 OG. Chilled to 70˚ and pitched my zillionth generation Cal Ale slurry and shook the heck out of the carboy since my O2 bottle ran out. 24 hours later I've got high krausen at 66˚.

I also began growing up my yeast from the other day, so there will be another post on that hopefully tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh Sam, you're the dreamiest!

If you've got an hour to kill, check out this New Yorker article on Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head and some back and forth between Sam, Garret Oliver, and some beer advocates.

What do I think of it all? Well, I'm glad you asked.

First and foremost, I'm completely behind Garrett. After reading the article and subsequent comments from Garrett on the BA thread, there's no question that he has every right to be upset that his quotes were used out of context.

But he should be furious - along with every other brewer who gave time to the author - that he was completely duped on the subject of the piece. From what I can read he was asked to participate on a piece about craft brewing (or "extreme brewing", I can't really tell) and it turned out to be a fluff piece on Sam Calagione.

I have to completely disagree with most all of the BA commenters, including Garrett himself, that this was a great article or a well done piece on craft beer. It might be a great article about (and great publicity for) Sam and Dogfish, but I really fail to see how this article benefits anyone else out there in the craft brewing community, except by virtue of their association with Dogfish as members of the same craft brewing community. All publicity is good publicity, as pointed out by many in the BA thread, but this article certainly benefited one much more than it did the community.

I read Brewing Up A Business. A great read and very informative. I would strongly recommend it to anyone out there interested in craft brewing. What I learned about Dogfish Head is this:

Sam's skill as a marketer far surpasses his skill as a brewer. And I mean that as a compliment - Dogfish Head has, by light years, done a better job of crafting its image than any other microbrewery in the country.

But I'm sick of hearing about Sam. There are celebrity chefs all over TV, I know, but I never really imagined how the Cult Of Celebrity might touch the world of craft brewing. I think that Sam has turned into America's first Celebrewer. Sure, Garrett and Jim Koch have had their faces out there for a while. But not like this:

"For a while after college, he did some modelling, and he still looks as if he belonged in, well, a Budweiser commercial. He has a surfer’s loose, long-muscled frame and perpetual tan. His chiselled features are set in a squarish head and topped by a thick black ruff. When he talks, his lips twist slightly to the side and his voice comes out low and woolly, like a crooner’s at a speakeasy."

Give me a fucking break. And let's not forget about how many times we have to be reminded what a cool rebel he is and how radical and extreme he is. He'd be arrested, tarred and feathered in Germany. He'd be fired if he worked for a publicly traded company. He's inspired by Andy Warhol. He flunked out of high school.

Does the guy make beer or is he James Dean? Or Paul Bunyan, perhaps, is a better analogy.

Look, the New Yorker can do whatever they want. They can write about whomever they wish and on whatever subject they think will sell magazines and they have absolutely no obligation to the craft brewing community at large. But I, for one, am tired of hearing about how great Dogfish Head is. I really like the Palo Santo Marron. It's a great beer. I love it even. The 60 Minute is an excellent IPA. Everything else I've tasted from them reminded me of bad homebrew - the kind of beer where the brewer couldn't resist throwing that last ingredient in that makes it wind up tasting confused and over the top and, well, not like beer.

I don't care if people love Dogfish Head and think it's the greatest brewery on the planet. That's fine. To each his own. And I don't begrudge Sam Calagione for anything he's done or is doing. This is America and he has a right to run a business any way he sees fit. If the New Yorker approached him and they want to write an article about him he has an obligation to his business to accept that publicity.

But I'm interested in craft brewing for the beer, not the bullshit and the hype. And to read an article that primarily serves to blow smoke up one guy's ass rubs me the wrong way.

If anybody actually read this thing I'm sure I'd catch a ton of shit for it. I'm not trying to tell anyone that they shouldn't like Dogfish Head. But if this little blog post serves as a couterpoint for one or two people, then great.

There, I got it off my chest.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Culturing yeast

This weekend I got around to setting up some agar slants and petri dishes in an effort to culture up some yeast. I have a slurry of Cal Ale yeast that has gone through several pitches and I'm going to streak a petri dish to isolate colonies of what hopefully will be my "house" yeast strain. I've been re-pitching this slurry at a temperature slightly lower than what is recommended for the strain (65° as opposed to 68°), so this is an experiment to see if the yeast has adapted to a slightly different environment and taken on a different character (i.e. produces a different tasting beer).

There are definite risks in this experiment. For example, since this slurry has been re-pitched several times, I'm quite sure that it's not 100% sanitary. I could easily wind up isolating a colony (or colonies) of wild yeast, bacteria, a mutated strain, who knows what... So what I'll probably wind up doing from a high level is:

1) Streak the petri dish to isolate colonies

2) Ferment three small samples of wort with three separate colonies

3) Taste the fermented wort and hopefully find that one of them is acceptable

4a) Inoculate an agar slant from the best sample

4b) Culture up a starter for a full 5 gallon brew from the best sample and hope that the resulting beer is awesome

Here are the steps that I followed to make create the culture medium for the agar slants and petri dish:


1) Wort - I usually save my last runnings from a brew day and boil them down to around 10 brix on the refractometer. Saves me from having to buy malt extract.

2) Agar - 1 tbsp per cup of wort. This stuff has to be simmered for a little while to dissolve before pouring into the petri dish or test tubes. You can find it in most health food stores - it's a vegan gelatin substitute.

3) Yeast nutrient - I add a pinch per cup of wort.

4) Five Star 5.2 - Since I'm boiling down last runnings, I like to make sure that the pH of my medium is stable, so I add a pinch of 5.2 to the wort before simmering.

5) Glass petri dish

6) Test tubes with screw on caps for agar slants - I get these. There's an option for autoclavable caps, which is really important.

7) Small funnel for pouring medium into slants

8) Test tube grabber - don't want to handle hot test tubes if you don't have to

9) Inoculating loop

10) Pyrex dish with autoclavable lid - I was lucky to just have this lying around the house. When you culture the petri dish, you want it to grow in a sanitary environment. So you need to enclose it in something. Pyrex glass is perfectly autoclavable, but the lid can be tricky. I tried my darndest to get Pyrex to tell me whether or not this lid would hold up in a pressure cooker at 15lbs. Of course they wouldn't give me a definitive yes, so I just went for it and when the lid didn't melt, I knew I was in business.

11) Pressure cooker - I think this is a 12 quart model, not sure. It's made by Mirro and I got it on eBay for a pretty reasonable price. Also great for canning stock!

12) Yeast to streak the petri dish with

13) Propane torch to flame the inoculating loop

14) Sterile distilled water in a small pyrex measuring cup, covered with foil - to cool the inoculating loop

15) Small stainless steel sauce pan to simmer the wort

And here are the steps that have been taken so far:

1) Set up the pressure cooker - Put the bottom down and add in the recommended amount of water. Place the glass pyrex dish in the center. Put the bottom half of the petri dish in the pyrex dish. Put the distilled water in the pyrex measuring cup next to - not in - the pyrex dish.

2) Simmer the wort, yeast nutrient, 5.2, and agar (this is the culture medium) for a few minutes in a small stainless steel sauce pan until the agar is all dissolved. Not too long though, because supposedly under too much heat you can denature the agar and it won't congeal.

3) Pour culture medium into the bottom half of the petri dish to a depth of about 1/8 to 1/4".

4) Place the plastic lid on the pyrex dish - I put it on kind of half cocked, so that it will vent, but just stable enough that I can put stuff on top of it, like....

5) Put the top half of the petri dish on top of the plastic lid, open side up.

6) Using the funnel and grabber, fill the test tubes with culture medium to about 75%. Be careful, they fill up quickly.

7) Screw the caps on the tubes very loosely and lay them down inside the top half of the petri dish. The idea is to keep them on an angle so that when they cool and the medium congeals it's in a slanted configuration. It just so happens for me that the top half of the petri dish is perfect for this.

8) Seal the pressure cooker according to its instructions.

9) Process on 15lbs for 15 minutes, as per its instructions. On mine, I keep it on high heat until steam starts to come out of the vent, then put the 15lb weight on it. Once the weight starts rocking gently, reduce heat to maintain and turn the heat off after 15 minutes.

10) Allow the pressure cooker to cool to room temperature - this takes a good few hours.

11) Set up to inoculate the petri dish - have your yeast, flame, and inoculating loop ready. I also wear a dust mask so I don't breath my filthy germs into my culture medium. This should be done in the cleanest, most draft-free area of your house.

12) Open the lid to the pressure cooker. Seal the caps on the slants and close the lid to the pyrex dish as quickly as possible. Note: I seal the slants in a sanitized sandwich bag and keep them in my fermentation fridge until I'm ready to use them. Also note: You should see that your culture medium has congealed and is solid. If it's not, (i.e. you pick up an agar slant and it's still liquid) something went wrong and you need to start over. You either denatured the agar, didn't dissolve it all the way, or didn't use enough. Also also note: There will be condensation in the slants and in the pyrex dish. I haven't figured out how to deal with that yet.

13) Bring the pyrex dish, top half of the petri dish, and distilled water over to where your inoculating area is set up. Peel back the foil on the distilled water. Open up your yeast sample.

14) Flame the inoculating loop to sterilize it and cool it in the distilled water.

15) Quickly dip the sterilized inoculating loop in the yeast sample.

16) Open the lid to the pyrex dish and streak the culture medium in the bottom half of the petri dish. The standard method of doing this is to run a zig-zag pattern in the four corners of the plate (I know, a circle doesn't have corners), dragging the fourth one into the center. The idea is that by the time you've swiped the sample across the four outer quadrants of the plate, you're down to single cells by the time you get into the middle. This is where your single cell colonies will be found. Something like this:

17) At this point I sprayed sanitizer in the top half of the petri dish, then quickly flamed it to dry it. There's probably a better way to keep the top half of the petri dish sterilized.

18) Put the lid on the petri dish, then put the lid on the pyrex dish.

19) Keep the whole thing in the same clean, draft-free area if you can. I can't, so I keep it in the most clean, draft-free area that is also inconspicuous. Periodically burp the lid as the yeast grows on the medium.

Next steps...

After a few days, I should have small colonies of yeast in the middle of the petri dish that have grown up from single cells. These will be used to make small samples of test beer as described above. When I get to that next step (hopefully tomorrow) I'll post more.

Friday, November 14, 2008


If you should happen to find yourself in downtown Jersey City around happy hour and you're looking for a drink, Ox is well worth the visit. Definitely more of a wine/mixed-drink scene than a craft beer bar, but half price drinks until 9 can't be beat. Of their four taps, three seem to be dedicated to North Coast's Blue Star Wheat Beer and Red Seal Ale, and DFH 90 Minute. The fourth tap rotates (last night it was a Smuttynose Ale - not sure which, my guess was Old Brown Dog).

I'm no hophead and not really a fan of DFH's offerings, but I'm sure that there are a lot of people out there who would be very interested in $3.50 pints of 90 Minute. Not sure what the deal is with bottled beer. They used to have the bottle selection on display, but that was not the case last night. Saw a dude drinking a Peroni, so at least we know they have that - thank god.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend in Philly

Saturday morning at the General Lafayette Inn was the 1st Annual Stoney Creek Homebrewers competition. I definitely have to tip my cap to the competition organizers. For a first time competition to start on time and end on time (if not early) is most impressive. The judges were definitely well looked after at this one.

I judged Porters and American Brown Ale in the first round and IPA's in the second. Turns out that the first place IPA from our flight went on to win Best Of Show. As for me, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my entries were received. A first place for my Munich Dunkel, second for Oktoberfest and Amber Ale, and third for my Dubbel. Honestly, I really thought the amber was the only one that had a chance going in. Boy, they really have some great taste in beer in those Philly suburbs...

After the competition, R and I went into center city for the night. Here are some of the stops that we hit with some brief details on each:

The Nodding Head: Definitely one of my favorite brewpubs around. Had some nice apps (the white bean and sage thing is awesome) and a few half pints so that we could sample most of what was on tap. Not the best beer experience we've had there (no Berliner Weiss and a couple of the beers tasted like they may have been a tad long in the tooth), but still a must for us when we're in Philly. Love that all of the beers were 5% ABV of less, including a Scottish 60/- and a Mild.

The Standard Tap: I've read all about this place being at the forefront of the "gastropub" movement (don't get me started on what an annoying term "gastropub" is), but had never actually been. We got some small plates - butternut squash soup, tuna tartare (that was out of this world), fried oysters (eh), and a stone crab claw (had no idea how thick the shell is on one of those things). We were kind of beer-ed out by late Saturday night, so we each had a Yards Pale Ale and called it quits. I was floored that they had Climax Nut Brown on tap. Don't see that every day and I have to give huge props to a place that does.

Beau Monde: Another Philly "must". Best crepes around. R had spinach and swiss, I had gumbo and andouille. And as usual, it was awesome. This might be our favorite brunch place in the whole entire universe.

Pat's: Best cheesesteak ever. I choose Pat's over Geno's now, rather than doing the taste test (i.e. eating two cheesesteaks back to back, one from each), mostly for political reasons. I only ingest cheese wiz inside the Philadelphia border. Couldn't live with myself otherwise.

Tria: Whoa. Talk about love at first sight. Or is it bite? Or sip? Right before leaving we hit this spot for their Sunday School thing. Great beer list, great wine list, insane cheese. Turns out they get it all from Murray's, which is good to know. I can stop there at some point this week to get some of that queso gallego that knocked our socks off. If this place was in Manhattan, I'd be there twice a week (and it would also be twice as expensive, but that's neither here nor there).

It should also be noted that we went to the Rodin museum. Lest you get the impression that we go away somewhere and just eat and drink ourselves into a stupor. We're cultured people.

And... we got out of town just in time to fight the traffic and get home to see the Giants defeat the Eagles - in Philly. I come to your town, I eat your cheesesteak, and then I laugh at your team in defeat! Ha!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some industry news over on Lew Bryson's blog (see Boston Beer and Trading Down posts - Lew posts in bursts sometimes, so try to keep up). I get geeked out on beer biz trends just as much as I do on the art and science of brewing, so this stuff always keeps me interested. However, there's something that makes me squirm in my chair a bit when I start reading about cost outlooks and third-quarter results when it comes to beer. Moral of the story? Don't go public. Stay small, drink local. Tell Wall Street to go take a crap. Board yourself up in a boobytrapped shack in the woods and drink homebrew. Buy some shotguns. Grow a beard.

I'm much more comfortable with information like this:

Yay craft beer.

This weekend I'll be heading out to the Stoney Creek Homebrewers competition at the General Lafayette Inn just outside of Philly. I've got a few entries in, so with any luck I'll return with some good news about my brews. R will be along with me. We tried to get a room at the Inn's awesome guest house, but it was all booked up. I have a feeling that the competition organizers have something to do with that. Instead we're staying in center city. We'll probably hit some of our usual favorites (Nodding Head, Beau Monde, Pat's) and hopefully a few we've never been to(Standard Tap, Tria). Any tips, let me know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Getting your money's worth

Had a blast at Brewtopia on Friday night. Working the NYCHG table was a lot of fun. It was great to get such positive feedback on the beer that I brewed and served, and also fun to talk to some new people about homebrewing. Hopefully we'll get some new people interested in the hobby.

As for Saturday...

One of these days I'll learn that I don't need to drink every drop of beer I can get my hands on at these beer festivals. I went with R on Saturday afternoon. The two tickets were pretty expensive - came to about $130 - and somehow I think we actually managed to get our money's worth. By the time we left, the fates had determined that Saturday night and Sunday morning would be shot.

This was the second year in a row for Brewtopia at the cruise ship terminal, and this year definitely went better than last year. They made much better use of the space available and there seemed to be more tables - meaning fewer lines. They also set up a specific area for food and made it much easier to get food quickly, though the quality was nothing to write home about (probably being generous here). It's really expensive, though I think we'll probably go back again next year.

Speaking of tickets to fun events...

After being given quite the hard time while tailgating before the Giants game due to my condition (paying for Saturday), the game itself was a blast. Always fun to see those Cowboys fans leave Giants Stadium with their tails between their legs. Does it get on anybody else's nerves that all of these asshole Cowboy fans who come to Giants Stadium are all from Jersey? I mean, these people aren't flying up from Dallas to take that kind of abuse.

Also got tickets to the Cunningham vs. Adamek Cruiserweight championship at the Prudential Center in Newark on 12/11. I can't wait for this. I've never been to a prize fight in person before, and I've been looking forward to it for a long time. Thankfully the Prudential Center has a (small) craft beer selection.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kegerator woes

Kicked my keg of amber last night. That means I have exactly one out of four taps up right now on the kegerator. How embarrassing. I do have some oatmeal stout in the primary that fermented like crazy (almost done after three days) and should be ready to tap in about a week. Also a lager in the secondary, but that's at least three weeks away. I think it's time to brew a quick bitter or mild - something that will be ready to drink within a week of the next brew day.

Much like our sagging economy, we have to really examine the root causes of these horrible problems in order to ensure that we do not repeat them. Why so little beer on tap? Well, I typically brew once every two or three weeks. And in the last six months (say, ten brews) four have basically been giveaways. Two for the wedding, one for DC's, and one for Brewtopia this Friday. That's forty percent of my recent beer not getting tapped up on the kegerator and being given away.

What does that mean for you, loyal reader? No more free rides. So be there at Brewtopia on Friday night, stop by the NYCHG table, and get while the gettin's good. My American Red will be on tap.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brewed an oatmeal stout on Saturday

Thinking about the sorry state of affairs that is my kegerator (one out of four taps up now... yeesh) this weekend, it was time for another brew. With the weather cooling off I decided that it was time to whip up another batch of oatmeal stout. This is a recipe that I've been tweaking and playing with the last few years and haven't brewed it in a while. It will make its triumphant return shortly. The details:

9.5 lbs Briess organic 2-row
1.5 lbs flaked oats (half of which were toasted in the oven at 300° for 10 minutes)
1 lb Simpsons chocolate malt
.75 lb Franco-Belges kiln coffee
.25 lb Muntons crystal
2 oz Simpsons roasted barley

4 g baking soda added to mash to increase carbonates and raise mash pH

Mashed at a 3:1 liquor:grist ratio for 1 hour at 146°. Pitched boiling water to mash out at 168°, recirculated until clear, sparged, and collected 6.75 gallons wort at 1.048 OG. Boiled for an hour and 20 minutes. I had only a bittering hop addition at the start of the boil (no flavor or aroma additions). It was basically franken-hopped - I used whatever partial bags I had left over to get me up to about 25IBU (Target, Northern Brewer, Willamette). Whirlfloc tab added with 15 minutes left in the boil.

Had some trouble cooling the wort. I bought one of these gizmos and decided to use it for the first time and it totally screwed me up. It backed chill water into the carboy and sprayed water all over the kitchen, so I lost time and had to resanitze the carboy and clean up the kitchen. I was able to get it down to the mid-70's, pitch about 500ml of three week old Cal Ale yeast slurry, and give it a minute of O2. Put it in the fermentation fridge at 68°.

I really thought that the three week old slurry would give me some trouble getting started, but it took off like crazy. The next morning I had a huge blowoff mess to clean up. I probably lost a half gallon of beer, which is a pretty big bummer.

Oh, and I made an electric heat stick to help me get up to a boil faster and achieve a more vigorous boil. Used it for the first time in this brew, and let's just say that this thing rocks. I'll post more on that project later in the week.

In other weekend news, went to Grimaldi's again with R on Saturday before brewing. Nothing like the best coal oven pizza in the world and a Climax IPA to get a brewer revved up for his day. And big win for the G-Men yesterday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chili and Beer at the Newark Museum

I came across an article in one of the beer rags about a chili and beer tasting event at the Newark Museum on Thursday (10/23). It's a shame that there hasn't been more publicity about it, it sounds kind of cool. R and I will try to make it over there, but that's not set in stone yet. It starts at 6PM which may be a bit too early for us, especially considering that it will be over at 8:30. $50 is kind of steep for a 2 1/2 hour event, but the money is going to a pretty good cause. Tickets will be available at the door and there's plenty of parking right on site.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Counting yeast

So, as promised, here's some detail on my yeast counting adventure the other night...

I ordered a smack pack of the Wyeast Danish Lager yeast about two months ago. I knew that I'd need to build up a starter in order to have enough healthy yeast to pitch into my 5.5 gallons of 1.054 wort. So, about four days before brew day I made a starter:

3.5 liters of 10˚ Plato wort boiled with 1/2 tsp. of yeast nutrient. Cooled it to room temperature, pitched the smack pack, and set it on the stir plate to ferment out and build up the yeast count. Once fermentation was finished, I crashed it to about 32˚ until brew day. Decanted the "beer" off the top of the yeast slurry (by siphoning, not pouring) and was left with about 300ml of yeast slurry to pitch into my wort.

Here's everything needed to do the job:
  1. 4000ml erlenmeyer flask - I have 1000ml and 2000ml flasks, but they just don't do the job. No room for enough wort to build big yeast counts, and more importantly, not enough room for krausen. Had too many overflow problems with the smaller flasks.
  2. 10˚ Plato Wort - I take my last runnings from brew day and boil them down to about 10˚ brix on the refractometer (brix/Plato, close enough). I then fill up mason jars with the near-boiling wort, cap, bring them down to room temp, then refrigerate until needed.
  3. Yeast nutrient - the yeast nutrient gets boiled for about 10 minutes in the flask with the wort to sanitze before making the starter.
  4. Foam stopper - these dudes are great. I get them from Northern Brewer, and they're perfect for yeast starters. easier than doing an airlock because I can keep it in the flask while I boil and sterilize the whole bit.
  5. Stir bar - I've used a few different sizes and seem to have the best luck with the smaller ones. They don't get as much of a vortex in the flask, but they don't get thrown nearly as often as the larger ones. Throw it in the boiling starter wort shortly before it's finished to sanitize it.
  6. DIY stir plate - the standard CPU fan and magnet project.
So on brew day I wanted to know about how much yeast was in that 300ml or so of slurry. How? Gotta count it on a hemocytometer under a microscope. Not exactly the easiest thing for most folks to do in their basement or garage or spare bedroom, but when you take a hobby too far....

  1. 10ml pipette
  2. Pipette pump (10ml)
  3. (2) 100ml graduated cylinders
  4. Hemocytometer and slide cover
  5. Methylene blue dye
  6. Microscope
I filled each of the 100ml cylinders to 90ml with distilled water. Used the pipette and pump to take a 10ml sample from the yeast slurry and add it to one of the cylinders. Now I had a 10:1 dillution of slurry. Then I took 10ml from that cylinder and added it to the other one. Now I had a 100:1 dillution - this makes it easier to count.

The theory behind the hemocytometer is that it has a 0.0001 cubic mm chamber that you can view under a microscope and count the amount of stuff that's in there. Usually blood or sperms, but brewers use them to count yeast cells. So try not to get yourself a used hemocytometer.

I added a drop of methylene blue stain to the cylinder (more on that later), used a dropper to take a sample from it, put it on the hemocytometer, and put the slide cover on. Then I viewed it under the microscope to count the cells at 400X magnification.

The 0.0001 cubic mm hemocytometer chamber is divided up into a five by five grid. You could count what you've got in all 25 boxes, but that's a lot of work. Standard practice is to count five of the boxes - the four corners and the one in the middle.

So I counted the yeast cells in five of the boxes. (My hemocytometer has two 0.0001 cubic mm chambers, so I counted both.) I counted 239 in one and 286 in the other. So now how do we figure out how much yeast is in the slurry? Multiply the cell count (239 or 286) by the proportion of boxes counted (5:1) by the dillution factor (100:1) and divide by the hemocytometer chamber volume (0.0001 cubic mm = 0.0001 ml).

(239cells*5*100)/0.0001ml = 1,195,000,000 cells/ml


1.195x10^9 cells/ml


1.430x10^9 cells/ml for the second chamber counted with 286 cells

Now, the rule of thumb is that you're supposed to pitch 1,000,000 (1.0x10^6) cells per ml of 1˚ Plato of wort. I had 5.5 gallons of 13.0˚ brix wort. 5.5 gallons = 2.08x10^4ml, and we can assume that 13.0 brix = 13.0 Plato. So I needed:

13.0˚ x (1.0x10^6 cells per ml/1˚) = 1.3x10^7 cells/ml

2.08x10^4ml * 1.3x10^7 cells/ml = 2.7x10^11 cells

So how much of my yeast slurry would give me 2.7x10^11 cells?

2.7x10^11 cells / 1.195x10^9 cells/ml = 226 ml


2.7x10^11 cells / 1.430x10^9 cells/ml = 189 ml

Hope you love math. Oh, and what about that methylene blue stain? The idea is that healthy yeast will reject it, and dead yeast will be stained blue under the microscope. I don't know if I didn't add enough dye or what, but I couldn't see any stained cells. So I skipped that part of the exercise.

And how exactly is this supposed to help me when my erlenmeyer flask only has 500ml marks? Not much. I guesstimated about 300ml of slurry in the flask, but it easily could have been 200. Or 250. Or 350. And then what about my 5.5 gallons of wort? That could have easily been 5.25, which would throw my calculations off by about 5%.

So what's a poor homebrewer to do? Just pitch the whole damn slurry! RDWHAHB!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Weekend brew

Busy weekend. Friday night, met R in Hoboken and did a bit of bar hopping. Nothing too exciting on the beer front - Old Scratch Amber, Rowhouse Red, and Reissdorf Kolsch at Mile Square (yes, corny, I know), Radeberger Pils at L&J's, Flying Fish ESB and about the most disgusting pint of Pilsner Urquell I've ever had at the 8th Street Tavern. They also served up about the worst plate of nachos we've ever had. Not even ballpark quality.

Finished up Friday night at the Malibu Diner. Nothing like dumping disco fries and a taylor ham, bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll on top of all that beer. I'm surprised I'm still alive.

Saturday was brew day. I went back to work on tweaking my lager recipe:

10 lbs Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner (would have preferred an American lager malt, but this was all I could get at the LHBS)
1.5 lbs Weyermann Light Munich
2 oz. Briess Carapils

Shot for a 122° protein rest, but missed it and hit 126° (for 30 minutes). No big deal. Mashed at 148° at a 3:1 l:g ratio. Wound up with a two hour mash, due to trouble cleaning the wort chiller. Again, no big deal. Mashed out at 168°, recirculated until clear, sparged, and collected 7 gallons wort. Boiled down to 5.75 gallons at 1.054. Added 5g Gypsum to the boil since the pH read a bit high. Oh, hops:

1 oz Polish Marynka pellets 6.5% AA boiled 90 minutes
5g Sterling whole hops 7.0%AA added with 20 minutes remaining
5g Sterling whole hops 7.0%AA added with 15 minutes remaining
5g Sterling whole hops 7.0%AA added with 5 minutes remaining
5g Sterling whole hops 7.0%AA added at flame-out

Added whirlfloc tab with 15 minutes remaining, and 1/2tsp rehydrated yeast nutrient with 10 minutes remaining. Chilled and collected 5.5 gallons at about 66°. Cooled the wort overnight down to 54°, pitched about 300ml Carlsberg yeast from a starter, oxygenated and continued cooling the wort. Had active fermentation at 49° within 24 hours of collecting wort.

The Carlsberg yeast is Wyeast Danish Lager, I believe. This is my first time using it. It seems to have formed a weird looking mass at the top of the carboy. Always interesting to see how a new yeast performs. Also, I counted cells with a hemocytometer and microscope. I'll post more on that later...

Went to Krogh's in Sparta on Sunday afternoon. Had the two seasonal beers - Lindfor's Lager, a Czech style pilsner, and their Oktoberfest. The lager was malty with a pleasant hop nose, though a touch too bitter for me. The Oktoberfest was a deep amber, rich and malty, though there was a slight sulfury note that was a minor distraction. All was forgiven with some rarebit sauce.

Friday, October 10, 2008

HB Oktoberfest at Hop Devil

See below...

Stopped in there last night to sample this very intriguing beer. A bit disappointing in that it wasn't truly a wood beer, as the description made it sound. The cask was wood covered, but definitely lined either with plastic or stainless - no wood character in the beer at all. You could even tell by the seams in the faux hoops, that it was really just a show piece and not a "real" barrel at all.

The beer itself was good. A true German lager, just as you'd expect from HB. Not really an Oktoberfest beer, more like a milder pilsner. Had a fragrant noble hop nose and malt sweetness, but restrained hop bitterness.

On the homebrew front...

Got my 3.5 liter lager yeast starter going. I'm going to use the Carlsberg yeast for my next lager - the granddaddy of all lager yeasts. Unfortunately it got started very slowly, so I don't know if it will be ready for a Saturday brew. If not, I've got an ale yeast slurry ready and it will be Oatmeal Stout time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Hop Devil Grill on St. Marks Place does not do the world's greatest job of keeping their web site up to date, so I thought I'd share something very interesting that I received from them in one of their e-mail updates. This Thursday, 10/9 at 6PM they will have a

"wood cask of celebration beer from Staatliches Hofbräuhaus München sitting on their bar for the gravity pour"

Sounds pretty darn cool to me. Hopefully I'll be able to make it over there to check it out.

Monday, October 6, 2008

JC O-fest Recap

Friday afternoon saw the third annual Jersey City Oktoberfest party on Grove Street, right in front of (and sponsored by) Bar Majestic. The festivities were kicked off by a short parade down Grove Street, from Christopher Columbus down to Montgomery Street. This works out to all of 0.1366 miles according to the extremely helpful gmap pedometer site. The mayor, councilmen, and other honorees all met out in front of Bar Majestic, had a beer, then walked down to Columbus, waited for about twenty minutes, then paraded back down Grove to the Bar. Probably the strangest little parade you can imagine. Definitely the only one I've ever been to where there were more people marching than watching. Kind of charming in a way.

Standard German fare available under the tents - wurts and pretzels, plus veggie dogs, a thoughtful touch. Didn't sample any of the food as I was treating R to a fancy dinner out at the Iron Monkey afterwards. We did, however, take advantage of a few Sam Adams Oktoberfests, the only Oktoberfest beer being poured. You can do a lot worse than Sam Adams Oktoberfest.

As for the music situation, it was much improved over the last time we went to this event two years ago. There was a band (the Milwaukees) playing, which was cool. In between sets, the DJ played non-techno/dance music at slightly more tolerable volumes. Definiltey an improvement, and it allowed us to effectively chat up a few councilmen and feel important.

All in all, definitely a fun time. We'll look forward to it again next year. As for the Iron Monkey, the waitress told me that the braised pork shank was "impressive". So I ordered it. And she was right. Great stuff, especially with an Ayinger Oktoberfest, possibly my favorite of them all. Great time of the year for beer drinking.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jersey City Oktoberfest Celebration

Happening tomorrow afternoon on Grove St. There will be a parade at 4, followed by festivities centered around the Bar Majestic. Luckily I'm getting out of work early tomorrow, so I'm hoping to check out the parade. No word on what beers will be served. Hopefully there will be multiple Oktoberfest beers available.

R and I went to this a few years ago. It was a good time for a while until, in typical downtown JC fashion, the DJ showed up. No better way to ruin an Oktoberfest celebration than by blaring techno in everyone's ears. I'll never be able to understand JC's facination with techno DJ's.

From the looks of the poster on their site, it seems that Bar Majestic will be having a DJ. With any luck it either won't be awful dance music, or if it is, they give us a few hours peace before they start spinning (corny DJ lingo for the simple act of playing a fucking record).

Still absolutely a worthwhile evening. It's always a positive when JC supports fun adult-themed events like this. Wish there were more. I'm looking forward to the parade, some beer, some sausage, and meeting the honorable Mayor Healy again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Oktoberfests of The Times

Eric Asimov in today's Times has a writeup on Oktoberfest beers, featuring a tasting with Lew Bryson and the guy who owns Bierkraft in Brooklyn. Lew's one of the absolute best beer writers today, period, and an awfully friendly and accomodating man (over e-mail, anyway). And I judged my first homebrew competition at a table with Richard from Bierkraft.

I hobnobz with celebz.

It's duely noted that the O-fests being produced in Germany these days are starting to get lighter and lighter (both in color and on the palate) and that the American micros are picking up the slack. While Americans are producing some of the best beers of the style in the world (as evidenced by their favorable reviews by Asimov and friends), I would also note that some American micros are taking it a bit too far. Personally, I find that some of the Oktoberfest beers coming out of American micros are a bit too hoppy and/or rich.

I'll have to keep an eye out for the Thomas Hooker Oktoberfest, the numero uno in their tasting. Never had it before. My personal favorite out of Germany, Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen, did not make their top ten.

What's your favorite Oktoberfest beer?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Come try my beer

I had the privilege of serving a keg of homebrew to some friends last night. Some old friends, some new friends. It was well received, though I'm going to keep tweaking the recipe. The feedback was very helpful. We kicked the keg in about two hours.

I was calling the beer an American Red Ale, though it was really more like an American Brown in the BJCP style guideline sense. I often think back on the beers that I drank in brewpubs back in the mid-90's when brewpubs were first coming on the scene here on the east coast. It seemed like every one of them served a Red Ale - ruby colored, full bodied, slightly hoppy - and this was the kind of beer that I was trying to conjure up.

I felt like I missed the mark, but I wasn't really all that far off. It was too dark, a bit too chocolatey, a bit too bitter, and maybe not malty enough. I took another stab at brewing it yesterday. This one will be served at Brewtopia on Friday night at the NYC Homebrewers Guild table. If you're there, stop by and say hello.

Here's the recipe I went with yesterday:

7 lbs Briess Organic 2-row
3 lbs Weyermann Light Munich
.5 lbs Munton's Medium Crystal
.5 lbs Munton's Dark Crystal
.25 lbs Weyermann Carafa Special

Mashed at 148º for an hour, 3:1 liquor to grist ratio. Added approximately 2.5 gallons boiling water to raise temperature to 168º. Recirculated until clear, sparged to collect 7.25 gallons wort. Boiled about 2 hours and 20 minutes down to 5.75 gallons (stupidly collected too much wort, plus boiling on the stove top is not the most efficient and I like to make sure I drive off all of the DMS) .

17 grams Target hop pellets, 10.4%AA for bittering
5 grams Willamette whole hops, 4.5%AA added with 20 minutes remaining in boil
5 grams Willamette whole hops, 4.5%AA added with 10 minutes remaining in boil
5 grams Centennial whole hops, 9.7%AA added with 5 minutes remaining in boil
5 grams Centennial whole hops, 9.7%AA added at flame out

Added whirlfloc tab with 15 minutes remaining in boil, rehydrated yeast nutrient with 10 minutes remaining. Whirlpooled briefly, cooled to 63º and collected about 5.5 gallons in primary fermenter. Pitched ale yeast slurry and gave about a minute and a half O2.

The big differences between the beer served last night and the one that will be at Brewtopia are:

1) Used Carafa Special this time instead of Chocolate Malt. Hopefully this cuts down on the chocolatey finish and brings out the maltiness a bit more.
2) Used Target instead of Summit for bittering hop and shot for lower IBU.
3) Used Willamette instead of Northern Brewer as flavor hop.

Come to Brewtopia on Friday night to let me know what you think of it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jersey's finest...

Jeff over at Beer Stained Letter does a great job of calling attention to this really lousy write-up of Jersey brewpubs that appeared in Inside Jersey magazine. I won't rehash everything that Jeff already covered - he does a much more thorough job than I ever would have. The basic recap is that it's amateurish, inaccurate, and in no way helpful to people interested in learning more about NJ brewpubs.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cask Ale Fest recap

Friday night at the Cask Ale Fest was a very good time. By all appearances, it was quite a success. To the left you see the Harviestoun Ice Maiden - first one I sampled. I was definitely surprised at how hoppy it was. This was more of a British bitter, not a Scottish ale like you might expect to come out of that particular brewery.

Jersey represented very nicely with casks from Harvest Moon (Elmes' Mild Manor is one of my favorite brewpub beers, a treat to try it from the cask) and Pizzeria Uno. And the Chelsea beers were also very nicely done. The 1000 Gyle Imperial Mild is aging very nicely and their wet-hopped beer was tasty too. I had a chance to chat with both Chris and Mark, the brewers at Chelsea, for quite a while. Nice guys.

Saturday, after visiting the Raptor Trust in Millington, took a trip with R to the Trap Rock. Had the sampler again, as it's impossible to choose from all eight of their great and varied beer selections. Food was excellent as always.

Sunday at Giants Stadium was the long awaited seafood fest tailgate. Old Bay Shrimp boil for the first course. I just do the standard steamed shrimp recipe from the back of the can and I use red wine vinegar. Cooked with shells on, of course. Second course was grilled clams with a butter and shallot sauce for dipping. Third course was New Orleans style BBQ shrimp - recipe (more or less) based off of the one found in the recent issue of Beer Advocate. Sopped up the gravy with a biscuit (sorry, no luck finding the clip from Coming to America). Lots of homebrew. Great stuff.

Friday, September 19, 2008

TONIGHT - 2nd Manhattan Cask Ale Festival and Chelsea Brewing Co

At the NYCHG meeting this week I had the opportunity to chat up Alex Hall, the man responsible for the cask ale fests at Chelsea and also tri-annually at the Brazen Head in Brooklyn. He gave me a peek at an advanced copy of the list of casks that will be pouring tonight, and it was quite impressive. Looks like the full list is up there on his site now. Hopefully there will be one imported cask on tap, a Scottish Ale from Harviestoun.
It's a pay as you go thing, so hopefully I'll be able to control myself this time around (as opposed to last week's beer festival). I definitely recommend going with the 8oz pours. A lot of these beers you'll never get the chance to try again, so might as well keep the volume of each small in order to get to as many as can reasonably be gotten to.

Also, looks like there will be a few from some unlikely Jersey candidates - Pizzeria Uno out of Metuchen, and New Brunswick's Harvest Moon. I'm sure that the availability of Jersey casks has something to do with the recent cask fest that was held at Uno's. (Yes, there's a Pizzeria Uno that brews beer. They're the only one in the country. Another story for another day/post.)

As for this afternoon, it's the last day (for me, anyway) to hit the San Gennaro Festival. I think I'm going to check out one of those very intriguing cheesesteak sandwiches on garlic bread. Looks like R will have to put up with some fierce breath this evening.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Uinta, you intiot!

Special thanks to Mikey of the Utah Beer Blog for pointing out my mistake on the name of Uinta Brewing. You'd think I would have caught that. It's not like I posted a big graphic with the brewery's logo up there or anything...

Went over to the Blind Tiger last night and sampled two of the Uinta beers. I'm not really loving the whole beer review thing these days - there are a zillion beer reviews out there, I don't think that mine are any more or less interesting or qualified, so why bother? But anyhow, here are my notes:

Uinta Solstice Kolsch: Brilliantly clear golden straw color with a thin white head. Definite wheat in the nose. Sweet, grainy in flavor and aroma. Some mild noble hop flavor. Low bitterness. Dry finish with a wheaty aftertaste. Easy drinking and flavorful, great late summer beer.

Uinta Gelande Amber Lager: Clear amber with a thin, quickly fading white head. Chocolatey. Super clean. Think a nut brown ale brewed with a lager yeast. A touch of hops in the finish. Interesting beer, again, very drinkable. Only flaw might be a very slight paprery oxidized note in the aftertaste.

I wish I could have hung around to try more. The two that I had were great, clean, easy drinking beers. Right up my alley.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unite for Unita!

There's a Unita Brewing event tonight at the Blind Tiger and I'm going to try and stop by to sample one or two. Unita is a brewery in Utah that has to adhere to some arcane law about beer not being greater than 4.0%ABV/3.2%ABW. Why am I not surprised?

I haven't been able to find a list of the beers that the Tiger will have on tap, but I think I'd be most interested in trying the Brown, the Pilsner, and/or the Kolsch. No particular reason why. And what's up with the Cutthroat Pale Ale and the Angler's Pale Ale? What's the difference? Looks like the same label, same beer, different name. I'll see if I can get to the bottom of it...

One other thing about Unita that I think is particularly cool is that they are 100% wind powered. I can't find much on their website other than boastful claims to that effect, so I'll try to get to the bottom of that one too. I wonder if they have anything on site or if they're just buying wind power from the local power company. I'm quite sure the latter, but it's kind of cool imagining a brewery with a bunch of wind turbines in the parking lot. If I were them I'd throw in some solar panels too. Heat the sparge water. Just a thought.

Monday, September 15, 2008

NY Brewfest Sh*tshow

And by sh*tshow I mean two things - the combination of rain and crowd that made for a less than ideal experience, and the general state of my being by the time the thing was over.

The folks at the NY Brewfest corrected two of their biggest problems from last year's event. One, they allowed people to check-in before the actual start time of the event, which made getting in a heck of a lot easier. Two, they arranged for each brewery to have enough beer to last the event. At the end of last year's Brewfest there were huge crowds around the few remaining tables that still had beer. You can imagine what a mess that was, so hat's off to them for correcting it.

Unfortunately there's not much that they could have done about the rain. It rained steadily for most of the evening, which was a real drag, but made a bit more bearable when we scored some cheap ponchos. And like last year's event, the crowd just got huge about halfway through. It would be nice if they could do something to control the size of the crowd, but being completely out in the open in a public space, there's really not much they can do. And besides, I'm sure they're not really interested in selling fewer tickets.

Didn't really try any memorable beers. Seemed like every other one was an amber lager this year for some reason. I did speak to some very friendly people, like the reps from Abita, Otter Creek, and Kelso. And one complete dick - the guy from Dundee who, when asked "what are you pouring?" responded "who cares, it's good".

Of course, by the time it was said and done, I went and got myself completely wasted, falling into the trap of trying to get my money's worth. At this point I'm feeling like I probably wouldn't go back next year. But who knows. By August of 2009 I'll be all pumped up for the Brewfest again.

Going to try and make it to the Blind Tiger on Wednesday for the Unita thing. And we'll be at Chelsea for the Cask Ale Festival on Friday.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I hate that feast with a passion

The 81st Annual Feast Of San Gennaro is now on, right around the corner from my office. Contrary to the title of the post, I do not hate the feast. I just can't think of a Feast in Little Italy without conjuring up Robert DeNiro in Mean Streets. That's one of those movie lines that goes around and around in my head, over and over again at nonsensical hours of the day for no reason at all.

The Feast means two things: Sausage and Peppers with Broccoli Rabe, and Mozzarepas. I like to get my sausage and peppers with a little broccoli rabe thrown in. It makes me feel good about myself because there's some green in there. Hey, you have to be able to hang your hat on something. As for mozzarepas, there's not much to explain. They're delicious and awesome and awesomely delicious. And absolutely horrible for you.

Try a mozzarepa at The Feast on Mulberry Street some time between now and the 21st. Good street food and carnies. Can't beat it.

As for tonight - see you at the NY Brewfest...

These numbers look good

Interesting post today from Lew Bryson on the recent state of macro/micro sales. Looks like folks are really pumped about no longer having to cut up lime wedges and trying to do that trick with your thumb over the opening of the bottle where you flip it over... you know, that one that your cousin never figured out how to do and he still sprays beer all over everyone at the family barbecue every summer. Anyway, you knew that all of the hand wringing over Bud no longer being "American" would blow over in no time.

Gotta love the continued success of the craft brew segment. Just keeps growing and growing. Keep it up, people of good taste.

Monday, September 8, 2008

How much beer would a beer gun bottle...

The beer gun got a good workout over the last couple of days. The bottles you see before you were all filled - pale ale, dunkel, and cream soda beer for competitions, and the entire batch of dubbel, which was primed in the keg. I thought it would ever end. Big time props to R for being capper extraordinaire.

I finally took a taste of the dubbel tonight, and if I've learned one thing, it's that I can't taste my own beer objectively. It's a strong belgian beer, so it's going to have some phenols. But would I describe it as medicinal and unpleasant if I tasted it in a competition? Or would I call it spicy, and therefore well brewed? I guess I'll have to pass some off on to some unsuspecting victims in the next few weeks. If anyone wants a bottle of homebrewed dubbel, please send a SASE to...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Saturday in Allentown for the LVHB competition

R was kind enough to accompany me to Allentown yesterday for the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers' Malt Madness competition held at the Allentown Brew Works. We braved Hanna and drove out to eastern PA at the crack of dawn. (Personally, I thought the whole Hanna thing was way over blow. Sure, it was a rainy day and all, but where were the torrential downpours? The sustained winds?)

First of all, magnificent job by the folks in the LVHB for running a great competition. Everything was on time and moved quickly. We were hooked up with breakfast and lunch, which is always appreciated. And second, it's really great to see a place like the Brew Works being so supportive of the homebrewers. They were really very accomodating, so I tip my hat to them too.

I judged strong Belgians in the morning and Saisons in the afternoon. (I really have to start brewing these styles so that I don't wind up judging them in EVERY competition.) Though none of the entries were really mind blowing, I was very impressed at the lack of stinkers. Of the 26 or so beers that I judged, there were maybe only one or two that were poor. So great job by all of the homebrewers out there whose beer I was lucky enough to sample.

Your favorite author had a nice showing at the competition with a first and a second for an American Pale Ale and ESB respectively. The competition had some generous sponsorship, so I snagged a gift certificate to Porter's Pub in Easton and treated R to dinner immediately following our stay at the Brew Works. If you've never been to Porter's Pub, go. Go now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go directly to Porter's Pub. The beer selection is great and the food is even better. And the gift certificate covered an app, a sandwich, an entree, three beers, and a soda. The turkey dinner sandwich is truly a thing of beauty. What a great spot.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Best pizza in New Jersey

I'm far from an aficionado, but for my money, Grimaldi's in Hoboken is the best pizza in Jersey. Went there with R on Friday night. They use fresh mozz, as you can see in the picture. The sauce is sweet, tangy, and not overly spiced. And the crust - well, the crust is the best there is. Crunchy and doughy at the same time, and with just the right amount of charring from the coal oven.

And you can't beat it with a Climax IPA (aka Grimaldi's IPA). This might be the best pizza and beer pairing ever. Climax IPA is a perfectly balanced IPA with a great Centennial hop aroma and flavor. It's rich and malty with just the right amount of hop bitterness. Think an Irish red ale with a big citrusy Pacific Northwest hop presence. Great stuff.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day brew

Took the opportunity to brew yesterday, what with the holiday and all. Here's the recipe:

9.5 lbs Briess Organic two-row
1 lb Briess Victory
.5 lb Briess Special Roast
.25 lb Simpsons Medium Crystal
.25 lb Simpsons Dark Crystal

1 oz Ahtanum pellets 5.5%AA boiled 90 min.
.25 oz Centennial whole hops 9.7%AA boiled 20 min.
.25 oz Northern Brewer whole hops 8.5%AA boiled 15 min.
.25 oz Centennial whole hops 9.7%AA boiled 10 min.
.25 oz Northern Brewer whole hops 8.5%AA boiled 5 min.
.25 oz Centennial whole hops 9.7%AA at flameout

Mash at 150°F for about an hour. Recirculate until clear, sparge to collect 7.25 gallons wort. Boil 90 minutes down to 6 gallons. Add whirlfloc tab with 15 minutes remaining in boil, add 1/2 tsp. rehydrated yeast nutrient with 10 minutes remaining in boil. Cooled, pitched White Labs California Ale Yeast slurry, gave about 1.5 minutes O2. Ferment at 64°F.

This was the first time I ever used Briess Organic two-row and I noticed that my extract efficiency was much lower than usual. I'm usually in at around 75-80% or so. This brew was around 70%. We'll see if the trend continues with future brews (I've got a 55lb sack of the stuff).

I made the yeast starter with my new 4000ml Erlenmeyer flask. Isn't that exciting?!?!! It was a bit of a challenge to decant the wort off of the yeast, but I think I'll get the hang of it with time. This week we'll be bottling a ton of beers and prepping for the Giants home opener. You can't throw an important tailgate together in one day, you know.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Preseason football = lousy tailgating

Headed over to the stadium tonight for the Giants preseason finale vs. the Pats. Nothing like a 7PM game on a Thursday night to get you psyched for football! I can't wait to rush out from work, fight the traffic, get home nice and late on a school night, etc...

What really bums me out the most though is the lame tailgating. When you have to run out of the office just to pray that you make it into the parking lot an hour and a half before kickoff, it doesn't really give you the opportunity to get anything going. Just grab some sandwiches and beer, and fly as fast as you can. And that's not really what my crew is about. We tailgate properly, so nights like these are kind of an embarrassment. We'll have to make up for it on opening day.

Check out this article on beer floats. Yes, beer and ice cream. My world renowned oatmeal stout is due to be brewed shortly and I will be certain to try it with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Session beers

I've always had a problem with the term "session beer". This is a phrase used to describe beers that are easy drinking and lower in alcohol. A beer that you can drink three or four (or more) of and not fall off the ol' bar stool.

But just what is a session, anyway? "Hey pal, care to join us in a beer drinking session?" This event where you sit around and drink a few rounds of these beers would seem to be the session that's referenced. And I don't know about you, but I've never heard anyone refer to this as a session. "OK, Ethel, I'm headed down to the Blarney Stone for a session." No. Nobody says that. And don't get me started on "sessionable".

Alas, this curious phrase appears to be the lexicon. So we'll go along with it against our will.

Why bring this up? The New York Times ran a very interesting piece on the trend towards producing more of these types of beers in the American craft brewing scene. There are quotes from microbrewers all over the country talking about how there's a real need for some lighter beers to balance all of the big giant strong beers being produced out there. I couldn't agree more. However, as usual, this isn't just about market need and craft and all that wonderful feel-good stuff. Malted barley, hops, and most importantly, the gasoline used to ship them to the brewery cost more than they even have. A coincidence that everyone has suddenly recognized the market need for beers that use less raw material at the same time? Right.

Thanks to the NYCHG for influencing the author today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

New York State Beer Night

Tonight unexpectedly turned out to be a New York State beer night! I brought back a mixed twelve pack from Cooperstown Brewing after our recent trip to Woodstock. I haven't had any of their beers in a while, so I figured I'd dive back in. Also, we went to the Giants preseason game against the Browns last week and picked up the Saranac summer mixed twelve pack on the way. I had a few left over, so here we go...

Cooperstown Brewing Nine Man - Pours deep golden with a white head. A light aroma featuring some sweet malt, no hops, definite diacetyl. Flavor is malt balanced still, with diacetyl present. Hop flavor and bitterness are low. Pretty full bodied. I know that they use Ringwood yeast, which explains the diacetyl and the seemingly low attenuation. An easy drinking beer, though this is not their best offering.

Saranac Hefeweizen - Clear golden beer with a white head. Has the standard banana and clove aromas that you expect in this kind of beer, clove increases as it warms up. There's more of a bubblegum ester in the flavor. Toasty malt flavors come through in the finish. Very lightly hopped and highly carbonated, as to be expected. This is fairly mild as hefeweizens go, since the yeast qualities are somewhat muted and the wheat doesn't show as much as the malt. I'm not the biggest hefeweizen guy in the world, so it suits me just fine.

Saranac Belgian White - Cloudy gold with a quickly disappearing white head. Aroma is of orange zest, pepper, and with a slightly sugary note, almost like marshmallows. Orange is strong in the flavor, along with sweet malt and bready grain - can't tell if I pick up on the wheat and oats or not. Hops barely noticeable. Medium body, fairly high carbonation. Not as mild an example of the style as the hefeweizen, but not overwhelming either.

And the mystery trip was to... Woodstock!

Took R to Woodstock for the weekend to celebrate her birthday. We stayed at the Skytop Motel which, conveniently enough, is right next door to the Skytop Restaurant and Brewing Company. The accomodations are about what you'd expect from a roadside motel off of a New York state highway. Good enough to spend a night.

The food at the Skytop was very good. Pub grub, but done very well. The altbier was the highlight of the beer menu. A nice malty beer that went well with the meal. The lagers had a bit of a sulfury quality to them that was either a product of fermentation or the water - I did notice that the water in our motel room smelled like matches. The scotch ale showed that it was brewed with smoked malt.

After lunch we went in to town. This was my first time ever in Woodstock and I have to say that it reminded me quite a bit of New Hope, PA. Saw some lifer hippies wandering around town - one who we affectionately referred to as "Merlin" every time we saw him. I'm sure you can guess why. But the highlight of the trip was in the evening...

Went to the Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm Studios. This was a real treat. Levon plays these shows at his studio/home for a crowd no bigger than 250-300 people. He's got a great band that includes Jimmy Vivino (brother of Uncle Floyd) and Mike Merritt from the Max Weinberg 7 on guitar and stand up bass, respectively, and the incredible Brian Mitchell on piano, keys and accordion. They run through some blues standards, some country/folk tunes, and some classics from The Band catalog and play for close to three hours. We wound up standing on a balcony about ten feet away from Levon's drum kit with a clear view of the show. Really amazing. Billy Bob Thornton's band (The Boxmasters) opened and Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes sat in on Shake Your Money Maker. They were standing right by Levon's kit watching the show, and at one point I looked down at Levon Helm, Billy Bob Thornton, and Chris Robinson all within a couple of feet of me rocking out and thought, "wow, this is kind of weird". No photography allowed in the studio... sorry.

The next morning we ate at the Garden Cafe in Woodstock, which we would recommend highly. They do the organic, sustainable, vegetarian thing, and they do it very well.