Thursday, August 30, 2007
Racking (in layman's terminology, moving or draining) to a secondary fermenter is not absolutely necessary. But, I figured it didn't involve that much extra effort, bought me a little more time before bottling, and increased the chances for a more clear, stable, and better beer. The jury's out on those last three claims until I pop open the first bottle. But, the big idea is getting it off the sludge of yeast and other matter that had fallen to the bottom of the bucket after the primary fermentation had completed and allowing the beer to condition a bit more.
After a week in the plastic bucket that served its role in the primary fermentation, the frothy crud produced during fermentation (aka krausen) had mostly fallen to the bottom along with other particles (hops, proteins, and other stuff that I'm sure I'm not aware of) that didn't get strained out on its way into the bucket.
How did I know that it was ready to be racked? Well, honestly, I didn't. The fermentation never got up to a vigorous level of activity, but krausen was being produced...and had subsequently fallen. Watching the airlock bubble at a couple of times per minute for a few days, then not at all for a couple of more days seemed to indicate that some level of fermentation had indeed taken place. Plus, when I took the hydrometer reading, the result was 1.020 (down from an OG reading of 1.050). So, even though there may still have been a bit more fermentation yet to take place in the secondary (which, by many accounts, is not surprising), I felt comfortable racking it to the carboy.
Getting the beer into the glass carboy serving as the secondary fermentation vessel started with, you guessed it, sanitation. The glass carboy, racking cane, plastic tubing, and airlock (to be used again on the carboy) were all soaked in the bleach solution to be sanitized.
After a thorough rinsing and drying of these parts, I started the process of moving the beer. I filled the plastic tube with water, attached it to the racking cane, submerged the racking cane in the plastic bucket full of beer, and allowed the siphoning to begin. I ran the water out of the tube into a plastic cup until the beer started running through, then took a sample from the tube for a hydrometer reading, then shoved the tube to the bottom of the glass carboy. I was careful to minimize the splashing, or aerating of the beer, as it siphoned over from the plastic bucket. With the fermentation mostly completed, there was no need to get more oxygen into the beer.
If I thought this whole process of making beer required patience, then the secondary fermentation was the true test. The plan was to leave it in there for two weeks before bottling it. I kept the carboy covered with a brown paper bag (with a hole cut in the top for the airlock and neck to stick out) and kept the temperature regulated between 68-75F (best I could do in the northeast's summertime). After 8 days, things got interesting. Days 9-12 all of sudden brought more vigorous bubbling in the airlock than it had experienced in the primary. It coincided with a dramatic shift in the weather...cool, damp, rainy conditions. Approximately 3/4" of loosely packed bubbles sat on top of the beer for almost 2 days as it bubbled through the airlock several times a minute. Then, it began to subside and the bubbling slowed.
Days 13-17 saw no activity whatsoever. This led me to believe that it may be ready to bottle. Adam loaned his "beer thief" to me so that I could taste the beer and take a hydrometer reading. I did not, but planned to do so before making the decision to bottle the beer.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Have I mentioned how much I like one of my newest pieces of glassware? It's the one that Boston Beer Company spent a lot of effort on to make it the "perfect" beer drinking vessel and sent to me earlier in the summer. Whether or not you choose to believe it, I for one can say that it fits the hand and the mouth quite nicely. And, overall, it showcases the head, the aroma, and the beer just right. Would I pay $30 for a 4-pack of these glasses? Hm, maybe.
p.s. gracing the glass this weekend was the latest "Brewmaster Reserve" batch from Stoudt's...Joey's Saison; the Tröegs Scratch Beer #2 (porter); the Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale; and just for fun Ommegang's Three Philosopher's.
Here are some of the purported features of the glass, according to Jim Koch and company:
-beaded rim (to release flavor)
-outward lip (to direct beverage)
-narrow top (to contain head and aroma)
-rounded middle (to collect aroma)
-thin walls (to maintain temperature)
-laser-etched bottom (to instigate bubbles)
-features a slogan "Take Pride In Your Beer" (makes you feel good!)
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Without having a good brewing setup at home, I needed to move the 3.5 gallons of wort to the laundry room to be chilled and incorporated with the reserved 1.5 gallons. I set the kettle on top of the washing machine, rigged up the wort chiller to the laundry basin, and began the chilling process. Surprisingly, for one of the hottest weeks of the year, it took barely 15 minutes to bring the wort down to around 70F-80F.
I then set a strainer over the top of the plastic fermenting bucket and vigorously poured the wort into the waiting 1.5 gallons of reserved water. I took a small sample for a hydrometer reading (1.050, by the way), then pitched the dry yeast from the supplied packet.
I then sealed the lid on top of the bucket and, covering the airlock hole, shook and rocked it around for about 30 seconds. Lastly, the airlock was put on and filled with vodka. Water can be, and is often, used in the airlock. Alcohol further provides for assurances for a sanitary environment, but in some opinions is hardly necessary.
That's it. I placed the bucket in area that wouldn't go above 75F and let it sit for a week.
Over the following week, the fermentation began. Check back again soon for more about the primary fermentation stage.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
After adding the extract and returning to a boil, the dark extract was now officially "wort" and on its way to becoming beer. Nothing too exciting happens during this boil. I stirred occasionally, perhaps just out of boredom.
I've heard people talk about hot-side aeration and its potential to introduce off-flavors. Although this seems to be more of a topic for all-grain brewing, I took care not to stir too often or too vigorously. But even though I tied a good luck goat (the Ayinger goat to be exact) to the spoon, maybe I was a bit too vigorous as the spoon fell into the boil!
Near the beginning of the hour-long boil, I dropped the bittering hops in from the prepackaged bag. The good thing about kits is that everything is nicely measured out with clear instructions. The bad thing is that for people like me who want to know as much as possible about every ingredient and every step, some of those details are omitted. Like, in this case, what type of hops were used for bittering and which type for aroma. But, no worries, as I progress through my brewing experience I'll have plenty of opportunity to get intimately familiar with probably more than I ever thought I might.
During this almost 60-75 minutes of boil time, I read through the directions again and made sure that the wort chiller and fermenting bucket were ready for their next step. I cracked open a beer and took a breath. Maybe this wasn't as difficult as I first thought. Ah, but we've only just begun.
As the boil stage neared completion, following Adam's advice I placed the wort chiller in the boiling pot approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled end of the boil. This was a way to sanitize the wort chiller, which I had already given a once-over in the sink. With about 5 minutes remaining in the boil, I dropped in the aroma hops.
Check back again soon for the next stage of chilling the wort.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
My trip to Birmingham last week allowed me to once again explore this decent little hangout in the Five Points area, near the UAB campus. I used to get to Birmingham fairly often and Dave's was a place that I'd been to a few times before. Though, it had been almost two years since I was last in Birmingham and this trip was barely a 24 hour southernly jaunt. After deplaning at 8:30pm, I quickly checked in to the hotel and was sitting at Dave's by 9:15pm. This was after staggering down the street in 98F heat that made it feel as if the sun was still hung high in the sky.
The pub is located on the southern edge of Five Points and has a front porch area running the length of the building that overlooks the street action. The Five Points area is definitely considered a nighttime destination for many locals and tourists alike. With the variety of ethnic dining options, bars, and nightclubs there is a little something for everyone here.
Okay, back inside to Dave's. Obviously, the weather was hot so almost everyone was hunkered down in the air conditioned bar instead of outside. Dave's is a dimly lit bar of brick and wood...very pubby feeling indeed. It's a smoking-allowed pub where the staff is just friendly enough to make for a pleasant visit. The brightest area is at the bar where two flat screen TVs hang above showing some variety of sporting events. (This was the night of Barry Bonds' 756, for whatever that's worth.) The remainder of the seating area fades back into a scattering of high-tops and a jukebox. And, after noticing the missing footrail at Union Barrel Works, I rediscovered at Dave's the beauty of a well-placed footrail!
As I mentioned earlier, Dave's does do the best it can to bring in the better of the lower alcohol domestic craft and imported beers. Local favorites of the south, Terrapin and Sweetwater, are readily available by draft and bottle. Lower gravity offerings from Left Hand, Rogue, Sierra Nevada, Weihenstephaner, Anchor, Brooklyn, Red Hook, Franziskaner, Paulaner, and Mackeson are some of the better stocked beers at Dave's. While the taps are lined up approximately 20 long across the far wall, the bottles are presented in an ice trough along the bar top for the seated customers to help themselves to....I mean, to look at. My choice of the litter on this particular evening was a solid standby, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, and a surprisingly well-done newcomer (in my logs) in Terrapin's India Brown Ale.
Food? I wasn't eating and I neglected to check, but I don't believe they have a kitchen there. I could be wrong, so it will have to take a follow-up visit next time double-check this! In the meantime, should you find yourself in the Magic City, check out Dave's. You can't do much better.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Sunday, August 12, 2007
After laying out the ingredients and equipment, I figured my first step was sanitation. It was, but I quickly learned that this can be done while bringing the water to a boil. See, this much water takes a while to boil and you know that thing about a watched pot, right?
Since I used a 24 quart stock pot, I didn't feel comfortable trying to do a full 5 gallon boil in one pot. Adam advised that I do a partial boil. I used a smaller pot to boil 1.5 gallons, then set it aside for incorporation later. In the large stock pot, I brought a little over 3 1/2 gallons to a boil.
While boiling the water, I mixed somewhere around 1/2 cup of ordinary (unscented) household bleach with approximately 5 gallons of water in the plastic fermenting bucket. Into the solution, I put any equipment that would touch the wort after it begins the cooldown from its boil. This included the plastic bucket (obvious, right?), the airlock, the strainer, and the thermometer.
While bleach worked just fine, I may consider using something else to sanitize in the future. With bleach, I needed to very careful to control splashing. Also, thoroughly rinsing after soaking the equipment was mandatory so not to leave any bleach behind. And, while time wasn't a factor, when using bleach to sanitize, it's recommended to allow the equipment to soak for approximately 30 minutes. Using an alternative like Iodophor would require less time soaking, less care in handling, and no rinse cycle.
After a few good rinses and drying, the equipment was sanitized. In the meantime, the 3.5 gallons came to a boil around 45 minutes after lighting the flame on the cooktop. Time to add the malt extract. Also concurrently, I had placed the bag of liquid extract in a sink of shallow warm water to help soften the liquid a bit more. I added the extract slowly, stirring it around to prevent scorching on the bottom. This obviously lowered the temperature, so I needed to return the mixture to a boil. I kept the rolling boil for a little over 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Check back again soon for more information about the boil, the malt, and adding hops to the boil.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Friday, August 10, 2007
Monday, August 06, 2007
I can't honestly recall if I've ever broken a bottle of good beer before. Well, tonight brought an unexpected cleanup project in the garage.
To make a long story short, the refrigerator door fell off its hinges. The temperature soared quickly from 50F to 72F, blood streamed from my bare feet and hand, and Salvation ran across the concrete floor. Go ahead, take the chance now to tell me that this is why we don't put bottles on the fridge door (another argument for O'Reilly, O'Sullivan, and O. Blues and their aluminum cans!!).
Vinnie and Adam could not have been more disappointed. I suppose I was more upset about the project of putting the fridge back together and reorganizing the bottles. Because the net damage was just one bottle...the Collaboration.
The vintage Thomas Hardy's, Russian River, Samichlaus, and other more recent goodies survived the fall...only by the grace and cushioning of Salvation, obviously.
Interesting how the tragedy began smelling like, well, sweet Salvation but ended up being a sticky mess reminiscent of many morning afters in college days. All that was missing was cigarette butts, stale crap beer, and strange people laying across the couch and in the bathtub.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Friday, August 03, 2007
"Buy a man a beer and he'll waste an hour, teach a man to brew and he'll waste a lifetime."
Let's get this all setup and the party started. Brew Day is tomorrow. I've got my AHA membership card. The Homebrew Song (from The Brewing Network) is playing in the background. And, I've got my homebrew gear all laid out in front of me. Alright now, I realize that only the equipment and ingredients are necessary. Oh right, and a good quality beer to drink while making the homebrew. Before this first brew day of mine, I've re-watched the extract homebrewing DVD from Basic Brewing Radio. I've talked over the process with Adam, and he's gonna join me to give pointers along the way. And, I've read through the recipe and brewing notes again, just like I would do with a food recipe. Now I need to ask all of you homebrewers out there: "What is the one thing that I should be mindful of during my first homebrew experience?" "What is the most likely thing for a newbie to screw up?" In coming posts, I'll describe the various stages of my first homebrewing experience. Maybe throw in a few pictures too. First up, sanitation...oh, how important is this step? Oh, so very important!
Thursday, August 02, 2007
I've been to Max Lager's in Atlanta, GA at least a half dozen times or so over the past few years. Each time, I never seemed to stay long enough or partake in enough of the experience (atmosphere, food, beverage, service, etc.) to do a full-blown review. What this will represent is an accumulation of all of my experiences to date. Fortunately, my impressions of their place have been consistent enough from visit to visit that this is fairly easy to write. (Isn't that what we wish for in all of our dining and drinking encounters? consistency.)
I need to start by saying that to understand why you must go to Max Lager's in downtown Atlanta, that you must first have been to downtown Atlanta. Okay, that may not have made much sense. But, if you've been there, you know what I mean. (And, you also know that everything begins with, ends with, or crosses a Peachtree of some kind or another! see right, if you don't know what I mean)
Unfortunately for a lot of business travellers in the downtown Atlanta business district, there are not many of what I would consider interesting options for eating and drinking after the work day is done. Within walking distance of the many offices and hotels you will find plenty of the typical chain offerings from Hooters, to Hard Rock Cafe, to Benihana, to Steak & Ale, and on and on and on. Sure, fair enough, there is Ray's in the City, Pittypat's, and Azio offering some creative dining fare in more comfortable setting. But, there is no real good outlet for brewpubs, beer bars, or take-out beer in the downtown Atlanta business district.
You've seen me write before about Gibney's...not a bad little downtown Irish Pub. Then, also about my trips to Midtown (Vortex and Gordon Biersch) and to Decatur (Brick Store Pub and Twain's). Other stops around the region could include Little Five Points (another Vortex location), Buckhead (eh, Fado), Smyrna (Muss & Turner's), and The Highlands (Limerick Junction, et al).
But, downtown, what's a beer lover to do without heading out of downtown? Go to Max Lager's. They're set off on the north end of downtown just a short couple of blocks from the Peachtree MARTA stop. The brewpub is inside a decent size two-story building, with a bar on each level. There's a small parking area out back if you have a car. It's unmistakable when they're brewing, as the mash tun sits just inside the front door. There was no mistaking the fact that I was in a brewpub the couple of times I walked in as the grains were being raked out.
The downstairs holds the kitchen, a decent size dining room, and a front bar area that can hold a moderate crowd at barstools, hightops, and tables. Upstairs you'll find the bright tanks, pool tables, another (longer) bar, and more dining.
The service for me has always been even and non-threatening. On one hand they're not slackers, but on the other hand they're not overly ambitious about helping out with beer or food selections. The middle ground, in this case, probably is not a bad thing. But, the good thing is they've always been available to get me what I need. A food order or a new beer has never beer far away. From a food perspective, the funny thing is, on maybe half of my visits I've ordered the Jambalaya with cornbread on the side. What a great food accompaniment for a variety of beers. So, without further ado....
....the beers. They run the gamut here from non-threatening (is that the second time I've used this descriptor?) for the timid to bigger, more flavorful beers for those that are looking for them. Here's a quick rundown of their four usual taps, followed by a couple of seasonals that I noted on my last trip there.
Gold- nothing much pleasing to note; aroma/flavor too sharp and metallic
Honey- subtle honey, very quaffable; good for a session
Red- thinner than expected, but nicely drinkable, just enough malt, nothing offensive over all
Black- ROASTED HEAVEN!, hint of chocolate, just enough weight
English Pale Ale- nicely balanced; a pleasant, mild fuggle hop bitterness in the finish
Barleywine- very nice; smooth, 11.5% ABV, decent body, hops noticeable in finish, then disappear; ready for more!
I think you get the message here. While Max Lager's may not be a destination beer stop in and around Atlanta, if you're in the downtown business district it is the place to go for decent craft beer and a nice dinner.