Archive for the ‘homebrewing’ Category

Brewing in the Moonlight Cottage
February 6, 2011

Yesterday was bottling day– all the Cold Moon Pale Ale has been bottled, quite neatly, thanks to a spigot-bottling stick.  No more sticky wrasslin’ with the siphon tubing! The Cold Moon was all about using up what I had– some light spray malt, crystal malt grains and cascade hops and calling it a Pale Ale. It was my first experiment in dry hopping as well.  Thanks to Simon, Oblivious and Zak for the pointers!

Today I’m brewing more of an experiment– I’ve had a notion to brew something akin to my favourite candy– chocolate-covered orange peel.  I hit a snag when I went to the local brew shop looking for some spray malt that wasn’t extra-light, and that’s all the unpleasant shop owner had.  He was too busy endlessly chatting to some punter about his range of kits to help.  Despite my patience– waiting a good 10+ minutes to be noticed, and then some polite inquiries which were met with barking and vague pointing.  Why, in the day of hot competition from internet vendors, do brick-and-mortar places not get their customer service in order?  If it’s easier and more pleasant for me to shop online, that’s what I’m going to do, despite the sticker on the door of the shop that insists I should “Shop Local.”

I dropped thirty pounds in this place, feeling like a chump, leaving with the wrong stuff entirely.  But, I’m brewing with it anyway.  Generic ale yeast & extra-light spray malt will hopefully be tempered by chocolate and black malts for steeping and loads of cascade and Amarillo hops which will be added late in the boil, and later to the fermenter (dry hopping).

One of the best things about brew day– the hops and boiling wort make the kitchen smell like some bacchanalian garden of plenty. Oh, and it’s a good excuse to make a dent in the stash– in the name of research.  I’ve had a bit of Dogfish Head 60 minute and Meantime Coffee porter.  Oh, by some sympathetic magic that I might make a melding of the two!

Life Through a Sparkler
January 18, 2011

House of Trembling Madness Illustration by Rebecca Wright

I’ve lived in Yorkshire now for nearly two months, living in three different cottages and one hotel room.  My nomad ways are over (for a time) and I find myself in a little cottage (“Moonlight Cottage” it’s called on the door, in that affectionate way the British have of naming their houses) in a little village a few miles outside of York.

It’s the kind of place where people win prizes for floral arrangements and making elderberry wine.

Though I may not win any awards, I have begun a little private brewery in the Moonlight Cottage– the first batch is bubbling in the fermenter as I write, an American Pale Ale brewed on the Cold Moon from partial extract, steeped with Crystal malt and Northern Brewer bittering hops and lots of Cascade for aroma.  I’ll be dry hopping this batch with more Cascade or Amarillo hops– I have yet to decide.

In the two months of Northern living I’ve drunk many a beer from a sparkler, which is a particularly Northern way of serving cask ale.  It is a method of delivery that produces a denser head and a mouth-feel that is creamier, at least initially.  I like it, or maybe I just like the beer up here that seems to echo the laid back understatement and love of place– predominant Northern qualities, if I can generalize.

I’ve had some cracking pints, which must be fuel for a future post.  The House of Trembling Madness, a medieval drinking hall specialising in Belgian beers, has become my new York local.  Oh how I love it’s cozy strangeness.  But there are no handpulls– no cask ale.  Mr. Malting made the mistake of asking the guy behind the bar if they had any “real ale” on, and he returned with a perfectly straight face, “What do you mean by real?” Which just made me like the place more.  And in the Shambles there is Pivni, which always sets my heart racing as I peer in at the taps.  It was there I tried BrewDog’s There is No Santa, the standout Christmas beer (and I tried quite a few this year)– with its velvety-nugmeg-dark-comfort– unforgettable!

The other unforgettable pint was of the omnipresent Black Sheep Bitter.  Yes, it’s everywhere here, and I was loathe to try it as the pints I’d had in London were just not that great, but I found myself snowed in in the village of Hutton-le-Hole on the moors during the beginnings of the brutal winter snows.  The Crown pub had been closed due to the snowy roads but somehow on this night the landlord made it in, and this was the beer they had.  There were just a few of us there but he’d stoked a roaring fire and if that wasn’t the most beautiful pint of bitter I’d ever had, I’d be lying.  And I had two more, something I almost never do.  I commented that the beer was so much better than the Black Sheep I’d had in London and someone called out, “It don’t travel well!”

On that night, tucked up near the fire, all the moors coated in fondant and sparkling in the moonlight, I thought, “and why should it?”

New Beers Resolutions
December 31, 2009


The Beer Chicks have asked us for our best and worst beers of 2009.  There is a tie for best– between the sublime BrewDog Zephyr, and Pete Brown’s traditional Burton IPA– the same beer brewed for his voyage which he documented in Hops and Glory.  After fermenting for two years, it took on all sorts of mysterious, vinous, lambic-like characteristics.  Really haunting and complex, made moreso by its role in such a marvelous narrative.

In 2009 this blog turned one.  It started as a whim and has now become central my lens on life and London.  The days of the lone blogger are over; I’m part of a community.  It’s introduced me to fascinating people, many who are now friends.

My biggest leap of faith in 2009 was investing in BrewDog.  Why did I do it when so many in the blog-o-shire put forth compelling arguments not to?  When it’s not really an investment? When the Equity for Punks promo material was clearly sexist? When the guys at BrewDog went one stunt over the line and reported their own beer to the Portman group?  I confess the lifelong 20% sweetened the deal but really, I believe if anyone can inject new life into brewing in the UK and turn on a younger generation to craft brewing, it’s BrewDog.  Their beers excite me and capture my imagination. James’ sincerity and passion have won me over. I want them to do this thing– the new brewery, the brewpub, everything. It’s going to be amazing, the kind of thing that is already alive and well in the US. The Equity for Punks scheme is a bit crazy, but it just might work, it might be this kind of craziness that’s needed to ring in this sea change. What a coup it will be if they pull this off. These are exciting times in terms of craft beer, especially in Scotland, but in the whole of the UK.  I don’t want to miss it and I want a front row seat.

My big mistake of 2009 was not brewing enough of my own beer, not finding enough time, bottles, gumption.

The Beer Chicks have also asked us what kind of beer-o-phile do we want to be in 2010.  For me that would be a home-brewster beervangelist of a higher order.  Brewing stronger, bigger, tastier.  I want to take the beer message to the people.  And by people I mean non-beer drinkers.   In 2010 as in life, I want beer to dictate my travel itenerary and season my travelogue.  I want to eschew the role of foodie in favor of beer bard and alethropologist. I want to have a green knees up in Hastings at Beltane. I want to be my own surveyor of a beer map of Scotland and hunt for booze in Bruges.  And all this I can do, provided the Border Agency sees fit to keep me.

Happy New Year, beer-0-sphere!

I’ve had worse…
May 17, 2009

(Let’s face it, this year’s Norway was no Lordi)

So, yesterday our flat was full of friends and really crap pop music on the telly.  It was the Eurovision song contest and my Black Heart Stout went over well, I think. (I didn’t have the forethought to line up an international range of beers, as suggested by Mark at Pencil and Spoon.)  I figured a really camp evening involving drinking games and bizarre pop acts in the name of European harmony (oh, and Israel) would be a good environment to debut my stout.

Initially J said, “I’ve had worse.”  I took it on the chin and stuck several brew dog beers in the fridge to chill as back up.  But then when E tried it, she kept sipping saying it reminded her of Christmas.  As the night wore on I noticed that for those drinking beer, well, it was the beer they were drinking. (Save one person who couldn’t be disuaded from Fosters in cans).  J later said, “the bubbles are very tiny.” I don’t know if this is good or bad in a drinking-game beer, and I didn’t press it.

Every time a contortionist showed up, or pyrotechics were used,  cleavage heaved or gazes lingered on the camera too long, we drank my stout.   And it was good enough.

Sassquash Mild
April 6, 2009

Drinking the mild I brewed four weeks ago.

Drinking the mild I brewed four weeks ago.

That moment you crack open a beer you have brewed yourself– it’s kinda magical, kinda scary.  It’s hard not to load it with harbingers of life in general (if the beer is shit does that mean I’m shit at life? What if it’s good, but not good enough?  Am I consigned forever to mediocrity?)

I am a worrier, and drink beer as a way to regulate certain personality flaws, this being one of them.  But my first solo brew is totally drinkable.  Sure, the body is thin, and there is no head to speak of.  The carbonation level threatens the delicate flavors– in short, a hyper active child only a mother could love.  And I do love it.

I shared it with friends, and we were all eating pizza and playing with a Blythe doll.  It seemed like the thing to do, as my beer wasn’t going to put hair on anyone’s chest.  It’s a shandy-like beer, a return to childhood, to the furtive sippings of forbidden stuff.   My friend noticed the chocolate malt and the biscuit, and she’s not even a beer-head.  She also said it was squash-like.  For non-Brits, squash is a refreshing, fizzy fruit drink. I don’t think it really tastes of squash but the mouth-feel is certainly reminiscent.

Sassquash.  It’s as good a name as any, and my friend is pretty darn sassy.  I realize now, just like Adam in the garden, naming things is a certain privilege.  Just so with beer.  I love the ‘in-joke’ names of home and micro brews that crown this anachronistic labor of love.

I don’t want to spend my entire brewing career churning out fizzy lifting drinks.  Now I have to figure out what exactly went wrong here, and how the next batches could be improved. But where to begin?

A Stout as Black as my Heart
March 29, 2009


Today I decided to use up the 6 pounds of dark spray malt I had laying around (don’t ask me how I ended up with so much). I steeped a 1/2 pound of chocolate malt which in hindsight maybe wasn’t the best idea as the charred flavor might take over everything. It did make the wort blacker than black. \m/

It’s in the fermenter now. I remembered to take a gravity reading this time. Wooo. 1.049. Hopefully this is OK. The recipe says the gravity should be at 1.054. I was pretty fast and lose with this recipe which I found in How to Brew. It will be curious to see how it turns out.

Polarities
March 25, 2009

The beer flavor wheel.  GEEK OUT!

The beer flavor wheel. GEEK OUT!

The more  beer you drink, the more you notice things– my latest fixation has been texture or mouthfeel in a beer. People will describe beer as chewy or smooth, dry or creamy. (I enjoy looking at the flavor wheel.  It’s a bit like a diagram an ex of mine had with emotions clearly labeled.  It was supposed to help him talk about his feelings.  I liked to put together the worst combination of emotions possible, and I do the same thing with the beer wheel!  Mouthcoatingly-solventlike-cooked veg, anyone?)  Italo Calvino once said that one of the most admirable qualities of good writing was lightness.

photo by _bubby_ on flickr

photo by _bubby_ on flickr

The same can’t be said about beer.  Or can it?  Yesterday I had some Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout.  It’s an imperial stout, my favourite style of beer.  I should have loved it but I couldn’t finish it.  It was just…so…sludgy.  With a weird mineral tang that distracted me from what should have been round, chocolaty warmth.

Still, it reminded me that beer is a mystery.  This stout is a polar opposite of the Brew Dog IPA I had last week. No matter how many beers you try, there is always the possibility of tasting something new.  What other beverage can claim such a thing?

And also a complete contrast to the stout is my own beer I just bottled.   It was  my first solo batch– the batch I brewed without my friend Bob.  I tasted it before putting it in the secondary fermenter and it is light in color and body, and gently carbonated.  Though I used the mild recipe it is nothing like a mild. The water here is very different than LA water.  Also, I had to substitute different grains and spray malt (DME), and I’ll admit finding the ingredients and equipment here has not been easy.  I bottled the beer using some janky make-shift siphon purchased at Wilco because I couldn’t find a regular stick filler. But hey, it tasted good, and hopefully after bottling it will taste even better but who knows?  I’m worried that if it carbonates more during bottle fermentation I’m going to have some really lively beer on my hands.

How important is mouthfeel to you in a beer? What kind of carbonation is too much?  How heavy is too  heavy? Have you ever had what’s described as a ‘powdery’ beer?

It’s Brew Day
March 8, 2009

Steeping the malt grains

Steeping the malt grains

Today I attempted to brew a mild, this time without the help of my friend Bob, brewer extraordinaire who taught me how to brew on my recent trip back to the States.  (He’s also the guy who originally turned me on to beer.)

I was using  his recipe because it turned out so well the first time, but I had a hell of a time finding the ingredients and had to substitute some of it.  I had to go to Surrey to get the crystal malt  (thanks to the very helpful Richard Burns at Cheers Brewing) and Grotusque sent me the magnum hops from the US.  (It seems the variety of hops available in the UK is very limited– or am I missing some amazing supplier? At this point hop distribution should have recovered from last year’s shortage.)

Once I got the wort going I was encouraged– it filled the whole flat with that comforting smell: the hominess of bakng bread with the halo of Bacchanalian promise. It’s in the fermenter now– hoping I get to see a bubbling airlock tomorrow.

A Mild for my Old Man
February 19, 2009

So this post is no longer topical, being a Valentine’s post. I’ve returned from America and blame the jet lag.

With the help of my friend Bob, I brewed a mild, which happens to be Mr. Malting’s favourite kind of beer. I smuggled back a very large bottle of the Blackout Mild, swaddled in bubble wrap and tee shirts and I gave it to him on Valentine’s Day.

We drank it together and he said it was second only to his favourite, Harvey’s. On occasions like this I would really welcome hyperbole and maybe even some white lies (what do you mean it’s not the best thing you’ve ever tasted?) but he’s not that kind of guy. It was malty and smooth and at 3.5% it seemed really true to the style. The crisp carbonation, which I really enjoyed, seemed a slight departure.

Can I reproduce another successful beer without the help of my friend Bob? It remains to be seen. I still have to buy some basic equipment, most of which I can get from Wilkinson’s down the way. But those of you that do brew at home, would you recommend an online seller?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers