Monday, April 14, 2014

Well, Crud.

Normally, I pride myself on being a very observant and detail-oriented individual. Occasionally, however, I will overlook a major item, and kick myself for it later.

Take today, for instance. Last week, my eagle eye spied a beautiful, warm, sunny Monday. So, I took a vacation day. To brew and rid the yard of weeds. Make lunches for the week. Cut out a dress pattern. Wrap up the day basking in the sunshine in the hammock, watching the hop bines grow.

As I was waking this morning, I decided to peruse my selected recipe (a Berliner Weisse). Apparently I missed out on this key sentence (which so happened to be the first one): "Make bacterial starter 2 weeks before brew day."

I had not done this.

So, I decided to think this over. Went outside, pondering whether I really need to do a two week bacterial start. As I was aggressively ripping out crab grass, I came to the conclusion that, yes, I do really need to do a two week bacterial start. So, the yeast has gone back in the fridge, keeping the rest of the ingredients company.

Harumph. No brew day today. Which is a shame because it is glorious day. Not yet noon, I am decked out in shorts and a t-shirt and am perfectly comfortable.

So, my Things To Do list is a little shorter today. Probably more attainable. Plus, I will get to do my first ever bacterial starter! And definitely get to the hammocking.

Cheers, and have a lovely week!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Look

With a new focus comes a new blog look. Naturally, it will likely evolve over the next few weeks.

Cheers, and have a lovely week!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


This year marks the tenth one that I have spent brewing beer (also later, mead and cider) at home. When I first moved out West, it was because I wanted to be a professional brewer, own a pub. Big ideas I had for my brewery. Grand ones indeed. So I packed up, drove my little Toyota Tercel for three days toward the sunset, ended up in Eugene, and started culinary school.

You see, when I lived in Des Moines, the craft beer scene had yet to arrive, and my first exposure to it was six packs of  Fat Tire and Blue Moon purchased for outrageous amounts of money at the local Hy-Vee. How far my palate has come since those days. Naturally, I assumed the rest of the country was suffering the same fate. I was coming to Oregon to help alleviate said suffering. Little did I know, as this was far before smartphones, plus internet service was still paid by the hour, so one could say my research was...insufficient. Needless to say, I arrived in Oregon to find ye olde Saccharomyces cerevisiae being utilized in ways my Midwestern taste buds had not experienced.

Yes, I was a shade shaken. Finding that owning a brewery might not be my path to fame and fortune,  I decided that I would make my own. For pleasure. Fortunately, one of my housemates taught me how to brew. I started at the apprentice stage (doing sanitation), and would help every time he would invite me to assist, absorbing every bit of knowledge I could.

Fast forward to present day. I have brewed over 200 batches (I assume the number is higher, however, I haven't kept terribly thorough records and cannot confirm). I have made amazing beers, horrid beers. Bottles have exploded and actively fermenting batches have blown their tops (sometimes splashing as far as the ceiling). I switched from extract brewing to all grain. I keep learning each time.

But lately, (well, within the last couple of years "lately") I been rethinking what I really want to brew. There are hundreds of breweries in Oregon. Breweries that make an astounding array of amazing Pale Ales, IPAs, Stouts, Porters, and the like. This has gotten me to thinking. I never started brewing because it is cheaper to make your own. A common misconception. What you save in ingredients, you easily spend in time doing amateur zymurgy. It's a wash, and I can easily pick up great beer for a reasonable cost at multiple locations that Skipper and I pass on the commute home each day.

In the last bit of time, I have become rather enamored of the more "wild" end of the brewing spectrum. Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus. These are the wee beasties that I want to get to know better. Plus, a vast majority of my fermenters now carry a badge stating "I AM A BRETT FERMENTER". And I derive far more pleasure taking a good, deep sniff off a fermenting sour that I ever did from an IPA.

So that's the news. I am going all wild (save for the two fermenters that will be used for mead and perhaps a "regular" here and there). Becoming a Sourpuss. So, pucker up Buttercups, and join me on the ride.

Cheers, and have a complex and interesting week!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Field Trip! Plus, the Commercial Offerings in The Beer Cave.

Why yes, this is yet another post about an event that did not happen in the last two weeks. Or in the last month, for that matter. Anyway...

Several months ago, I happened upon a group of folks who are as similarly taken with wild and sour beer styles as I. We've had a number of bottle shares (one member has access to her condo building's meeting room, which is really lovely. Beautiful views of the city from an upper level of a Pearl apartment building), and I have found these people to be both knowledgeable and fun. Quite the winning combination.

Back in early December, with the aid of some of our "industry insider" members, a field trip to Corvallis was arranged. The plan was to have lunch at Les Caves, and afterwards have owner-led tours of Block 15 and Flat Tail Brewing. Sadly, a good deal of us in this group are non-drivers, so my foursome had to use a ZipCar for the day. Fortunately, I did not have to drive. Good thing, since I have not been behind the wheel in more than 8 years. And I did not enjoy driving when I did anyhow.

Fascinating tours, both. At Block 15, we wound through multiple rooms in the basement, checked out the coolship, and had some amazing tastes from barrels.

Pretty pretty coolship. Way deep down in a basement.

Nick fetching samples for the eager guinea pigs.

After Block 15, we braved two blocks of snowy streets to get to Flat Tail Brewing. Oddly, the public area of Flat Tail is very... fraternal. Sports bar to the extreme. But goodness, what amazing beers they make. Plus, they have their own Brettanomyces strain. Again, a great tour, plus tasty samples.

An incredible day spent in Corvallis, picking the brains of two amazing brewers and braving snowy conditions. After many many tasters and snacks, I might have fallen into a light snooze on the drive home. Car rides have that effect on me.

Now, with these field trips came some cellar-building. Since I have one now, I  have been making an effort to collect some good "special occasion" beers. Currently:

This shall continue to grow and grow.

Cheers all, and have a lovely week!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snowmaggedon 2014

Portland has snow. A good deal of snow.
If you are in, or know someone in Portland, you know this is big big news. 4 or 5 inches will easily shut this city down. The over-a-foot snowfall from the last few days is unbearable for quite a few.

My office closed down midday on Thursday and remained so for Friday.  I have made cheese, done laundry, ventured out for milk, made chili and cornbread. Among other chores.

I am glad for this brief bit of winter weather. For one, I miss this occasionally. Being from the middle of the country, we had snowdays almost yearly. Granted, Iowa would have been dug out long ago, seeing as most people own snow shovels. Not that I do, mind you, because I know it will melt by Wednesday, since we have high temperatures in the upper 40s forecast for early next week. Feels like a useless purchase and waste of space. The second reason I am happy about this weather is that I brewed a Kolsch style a couple weeks ago. It has fully fermented, and so it ready for it's lagering phase. What better a way to lager an ale than in the snow?

I am looking forward to not only seeing how much snow accumulates on it overnight, but how many of my many backyard critters have to check it out.

And for tonight? Well, my stir craziness has won. We are getting bundled up and braving the "storm" to go to the opera. Scratch that. The snow (and now freezing rain) beat me. No opera, once again.

Cheers, stay toasty, and have a lovely weekend!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thoughts On Session Ales

In my year-plus of working part-time at a homebrew shop, I noticed a pattern of how homebrewers typically develop. While the following is, obviously, not applicable to everyone, it seemed to be true of many.

Stage one: Cluelessness
What is a mash? Sparge, what the heck? IBU, ABV... why are there so many acronyms?

Stage two: A slight mastery, now more...
Alcohol! Hops!
Now spend a few months making under-fermented Barleywines (which will likely induce some wicked hangovers) and tooth enamel eating IPAs. This will teach you that more is not always better.

Stage three: If I haven't quit this hobby yet, I want to get better at it.
Tackle those off flavors with temperature control, start taking original gravity readings, etc. Basically, start doing the things the people at the LHBS told you to do in the beginning.

Stage four: Specialize
Those brews in stage two? Maybe you've decided upon (and have perfected) your house brew. It is likely some some version of the stage twos. You probably have developed your "house" IPA or stout.

Stage five: Expansion
At this point, you've started reading some books that are not The Joy of Homebrewing. Perhaps you're exploring Belgians, observing Reinheitsgebot, or perfecting lagers.

Stage six: Session ales
By now, you have realized that you can only have one or two of your house Double IPAs or stouts without getting weebly or slurry. So, you aim to perfect the Session Ale.

Typically defined as 5% ABV or less, these are sometimes referred to as Lawnmower Beers. This style is not limited simply to light ales. Several summers ago, I attended the Mighty Mites beer fest, which focused on session ales. I was quite impressed with the large array of styles represented at the fest: Stouts, IPAs, and Porters (among others).

Anyway, this brings me to what's brewing this week.

It is a bank holiday weekend, so in addition to yard work, homework, cooking, and cleaning, I get to brew with the extra day! I will be making a Rye Session Ale, plus a Kolsch. I finally have the ability to properly ferment the latter (which requires lagering), which is super exciting.

This is all for now.

Cheers, and have a lovely weekend!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why 2014 is Already Better than 2013

Last year, I attempted to purchase two bottles of a very special once-yearly release, Fantasia. To steal a snippet from the brewer's website (Upright), Fantasia is:

A barrel fermented beer using fresh peaches from Baird Family Orchards. The Fantasia is firmly tart and hugely aromatic with a character not unlike Belgian fruit lambics. Minimum one year on oak before an extended bottle conditioning prior to release. Will cellar for several years, but best within three. 

I initially sampled the Fantasia the first year the brewery released it. Oh, it was so delicious (it certainly helps that peaches are my favorite fruit of all time)! Alas, at the time I did not have the foresight to purchase a bottle, a wrong I had hoped to right in 2013. But it was not meant to be. The brewery owners allowed folks to purchase a case each, not recognizing the iconic status this beer obtained within a year. Long story short, wives and friends of the beer nerd public were recruited to purchase additional cases, and many of us did not get any at all. I almost wept.

So, earlier this evening, I wandered down to Upright, hopeful that I would be successful, since the purchase limit this year was dropped to three bottles. When I arrived, I found that the line snaked into the bowels of the basement. Once 4:30 rolled around (opening time), the line inched forward quickly. We all chuckled together, told tales of last year's release, and patiently waited.

Victory was mine! Obviously, the three bottle limit was a far better concept, as there were markedly more smiling faces this year. I walked away with not only my Fantasias, but a bottle of Fatali Four:

A blend of barrel aged Four that has fresh homegrown fatali chiles added for a couple months before bottling. It also incorporates light use of brettanomyces yeasts providing a contrasting earthy backdrop for the bright chile flavors.  Cellar for up to three years.

I am a pleased Brewmistress. They will all be going into the cellar this weekend. Which brings me to my next topic: The Beer Cave.

I have not addressed the Beer Cave yet. When I was house shopping, one of my wishlist items was a basement. Oregon (with it's regular downpours) does not have a heckuva lot of basements. And the ones that do exist tend to flood. So, in Clementine, I found a happy medium. A crawlspace.

Hidden under this carpet lives the Beer Cave

Secret door

Into the abyss 
Cleaned up and reorganized beer cave

The cellar currently holds:

Fig vanilla mead
Plum mead (two different batches, about two years apart)
Assorted other meads
Peach mead
Gooseberry Lavender Mead
Peach Rye Sour
Mango Pineapple Sour
Flemish Red
Thai Iced Gose

Maple Porter.

Oh, the Maple Porter. It was so well behaved at Friendsgiving. But later, it was naughty. Over carbonated. While I was organizing the Cave, I discovered a swing top bottle mislabled "Peach syrup", which seemed odd. So, I decided to crack it in order to give it a sniff. It foamed over immediately and smelled like chocolate and smoke. Hello, Maple Porter.

So,  I decided to use this beast as a vinegar.
The explosive maple porters

Maple Porter Vinegar
 This shall sit for upwards of eight months, making  a tasty vinegar (probably fab for a German potato salad).

Last, but not least...I tasted the nearly-two-year-old peach mead

Peach mead,  summer 2012

Yes, I realize the glass is an abomination.

Tasting notes:

Aroma is fruity (not just peach, but also apple, pear, and flowers). Starts off sweet and ends a bit tart. Just a shade hot still.

Cheers, and happy New Year!