Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fermentation Chamber Complete / Dregs #2 Bottled

Fermentation Chamber

After some thought and experimentation, the fermentation chamber is pretty much finished and functional.  All I have left to do is remount the front light cover.  The shelves that came with it ended up working out nicely for storing bottles and one gallon dregs fermenters.  The bottom of the chamber is plenty large for all of the homebrew that I might need to keep temperature controlled.  Beyond cleaning it, painting it, repositioning shelves and connecting a temperature controller, the only major process was deciding how to black out the glass doors.  Thanks to everyone at the NB Forum for their input and to friends and local brewers for their ideas as well.  Ultimately, I decided to use chalkboard paint after seeing a similar set up at Hess Brewing here in San Diego.  Having the glass tinted would probably have worked, but all of the tinting businesses I talked with said that there could be a problem with flat glass tinting on a fridge with any exposure to heat.  Apparently, the tint you use for cars is not necessarily appropriate for any other glass.  Chalkboard paint served the dual purpose of excluding all light and adding functionality to the chamber by allowing me to write on the outside.  I just had to make peace with the fact that there was no turning back after the paint was applied.  The letters and numbers on the front correspond to kegs and fermentation vessels, respectively.  You can also see some of the beer I have fermenting inside as well as dregs batches and bottles stored for aging.

Dregs #2: Oud Beersel Oude Gueze Vieille

While finishing the fermentation chamber I went ahead and bottled Dregs Beer #2.  This one gallon beer was made with the Farmer's Daughter Flanders Red base that I made last November with Lewy from Lewy Brewing.  Oud Beersel Oude Gueze Vieille was pitched to initiate fermentation.  I was wary of bottling this beer because the final gravity halted at 1.008 and I didn't want bottle bombs.  After 2 months of checking gravity and being happy with the taste, I went ahead and bottled it.  You can see it sitting next to the Dregs #1 batch in the image to the left.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Citra Inyo Pale Ale / Dregs #6

Citra Inyo Pale Ale

Lewy and I split two pounds of Citra hop pellets the other day, so I decided to brew a tried and true recipe but mix it up by using Citra for the aroma additions at 10 minutes and flame out.  The recipe itself is super simple with only base malt and a single crystal malt for grains.  The hop additions are those used in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: Magnum for bittering, Perle for flavor, and Cascade for aroma.  I substituted Citra for the Cascade and am hoping to get a fruitier finish in contrast to the floral highlights that I've come to expect from Cascade's profile.

Dregs #6: Green Flash Rayon Vert

While making it, I decided to get another dregs gallon batch together.  I adjusted the grain bill for an additional gallon of wort and gathered it prior to boiling so that I could do something different with the hops.  I did a one gallon boil on my kitchen stove, adding only aged Perle hops at the beginning of the boil and yielding one gallon after about 25 minutes at low boil.  The dregs from two bottles of Green Flash's Rayon Vert were added (details here).  If you haven't tried it, it's hoppier than most Brett beers, but is similar to Orval in color and general flavor.  The beer is fermented with an ale yeast and then bottle conditioned with Brett and ale yeast to provide just a hint of Brett character and make the beer interesting.  The great thing about dregs beers is that you have a chance to compare the parent beer with its offspring.  My base beer is certainly different than that made at Green Flash for Rayon Vert.  I can't wait to see what the final product is like.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sweetening the Deal

30 (of 40 total) pounds of raw, unfiltered clover honey.
Honey is a magical substance.  It's the only food on the planet that contains all of the elements necessary to sustain life, including water.  Likewise, it never spoils (if stored properly), is the only food produced by insects that humans consume, and has purported and proven medicinal applications.  On top of all that it tastes great.  It's no wonder why humans have been eating honey and semidomesticating bees for thousands of years.  Despite all that we know about bees and honey production, there is still some mystery to the process of converting nectar into honey.  That unknown adds to the intrigue that honey brings to any beer, braggot or mead making project.  I've made three different meads in the past 8 years (Jumpin' the Broom Honeymoon Mead, Odrerir, and Claire's Mead) but it has been a while since the last one.  Lewy, my brother Jeff, and I decided to pool resources and order 40 pounds of raw, unfiltered clover honey.  It came in the mail yesterday while Lewy was hanging out during my Ecotopia CDA brew session.  Here's what I plan to do with my 15 pounds:

1)  1# - added to Ecotopia CDA secondary fermentation to lend additional flavor/aroma and dryness.
2)  5# - used to brew a braggot that attempts to clone Rabbit's Foot Meadery's "Hel"
3)  6# - for use in a Tart Cherry Riesling Pyment
4)  3# - ???????? - spread it on toast, mix it in tea, eat it straight out of the container...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ecotopia CDA

Map of Cascadia; Columbia River watershed areas.
Imagine a future world where common bioregional areas encompassing major parts of the Pacific Northwest secede and form their own country.  An environmentally-minded, socially liberal, and fiercely independent and self-governed nation determined to set themselves apart from the wonton consumerism-at-any-expense practiced by the rest of the contiguous United States.  This "Ecotopia" is the subject of Ernest Callenbach's 1974 novel of the same name.  He imagines such a place as a utopia of forward-thinking independent citizens who embrace the rugged individualism embodied by their lush and fertile landscape, and place ecological priorities above all others.  Callenbach's book celebrates the ideals of Cascadia in a fictional way but is significant in that he presents a functioning, ecologically enlightened society in a realistic way for the first time.

I was inspired by Callenbach's vision of the future and the ever larger number of delicious Cascadian Dark Ales being produced to make one of my own.  Ecotopia CDA makes use of generous amounts of hops, but deviates from traditional varietals in the use of Citra in the finish and for dry hopping.  American 2 row, crystal 120, chocolate and Carafa II (dehusked) comprise the grain bill.  I mashed on the cooler side (148 degrees F) to encourage beta-amylase activity for a more fermentable mash.  I'll be adding a pound of raw, unfiltered clover honey to secondary to dry the beer out further and hopefully retain some of the raw honey's characteristics.  It should be opaque, hoppy, medium-bodied and delicious.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Brewing as Art Form? / NHC 2012

Labeled, rubber-banded and ready to be shipped.

I've always harbored suspicions about the role of competition in a creative act.  If you are using your creativity to make something, you're likely doing it because you're driven by some inner need to express yourself in that medium.  Why should the influence of outside entities have relevance to a person who creates for the sake of just doing it?  While I don't claim to be an artist by any stretch of the imagination, I like to think that I brew beer for me and those close to me, making beer that satisfies my palate and pushes my understanding of what beer should be like.  Brewing definitely can be associated with creative people, and one can argue that creative people are artists to some extent.

In any case, entering a beer into a competition always seemed far from important to me.  I always focused on the idea that there was some vanity in the act of submitting my beer for evaluation.  What did I hope to gain?  Validation?  Recognition?  Maybe I was just afraid that the feedback would be negative.  My thoughts on the matter have changed somewhat recently.  Feedback from someone with a discerning palate, whose connection to me is nonexistent could be the most valuable, constructive assessment of what I do.  Sometimes you're blinded by your own absorbed involvement in something, and it takes someone with a fresh take and a penchant for honesty to reset your course.  I guess that's what I'm hoping for by entering Low Country Pale Ale into the 2012 National Homebrew Competition.  The recipe evolved based largely on a beer made by Jeff at Bikes, Beer & Adventures.  Almost everyone that tasted it had kind words to share.  Pretty soon it was almost gone.  Then a few weeks ago, Lewy ordered a Blichmann Beer Gun and encouraged me to enter it in the NHC.  I hesitated at first, but I realized that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I'm an idealist, but not to a fault (I hope) so why not expose what I do for better or worse?  All of the entries were taken in San Diego so I entered in a different region with a drop off point in Illinois.  Today I mailed a 12 ounce bottle away for critical consumption by a trained BJCP judge in the First Round of the NHC.  I guess I'll soon find out if what I do in my garage deserves consideration by a wider audience.  Either way, I'll always brew because I love to.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Irish Brew Day Tomorrow!

The next Brew Off! homebrew competition has been hashed out, with Irish Red as the style chosen.  I've never made an Irish Red before, but I have always wanted to experiment with Nottingham Ale Yeast.  I know that there are plenty of other yeasts suitable for brewing a beer like this, but Nottingham has intrigued me for years. I think it's because it seems like its been available for a long time (in homebrewing years) and has been used for some of the recipes that I read about when I first started brewing.  Also, as I start to think about the different ways that beers are fermented and maintain an open visage in regards to the creation of flavors using different microbiological cultures, I think it's appropriate and essential that dry yeasts make their way into the conversation.  I'm a huge fan of Safale yeasts (both because they work great and are relatively inexpensive) and I'm excited to try Nottingham and see if it's reputation for a clean fermentation can help bring out the sort of nonthreatening maltiness that one might expect in an Irish Red.  With Nottingham in mind, I went ahead and formulated an additional recipe for a Milk Stout-another style I have yet to brew.  So tomorrow, Ben and I are going to bang out two Irish ales.  Maybe the milk stout will be ready for St. Patrick's Day.  Link to the recipe's below:

A New Homebrew Competition

For as long as I've been homebrewing, there's never been a shortage of excuses to get together and share beer.  While weekend nights at someone's house are always fun, local homebrew competitions among friends take that comaraderie to an elevated level.  There's been various incarnations over the years.  Red Off! 1, Red Off! 2 and Red Off! 3 really started the whole thing, getting bigger and bigger each year.  The Brown Ale Competition last year brought another large group of homebrewers into the mix.  Now, a new competition has been devised with a special twist.  Here's the way it went down:

1.  Participants selected their two preferred BJCP styles and submitted them via email.  

2.  All of the different styles were placed in a container and chosen from.  

3.  The selected style provides the parameters for the next homebrew competition.  

The whole rationale behind this method is that styles submitted by multiple brewers would have a better chance of being selected.  However, there's also the possibility that a challenging or unpopular style could be selected, adding some intrigue to the process.  Lewy came over a few nights ago with some Mission beer to share and we made the selection.  A date for the competition hasn't been set yet, but we're shooting for late April.  See the selection video below (that's my daughter, Claire, picking the style):