Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Verdict Is....[UPDATED TWICE]

Um, yeah.

I don't know whether the difference is this particular beer, or whether it's the fact that we bottled in 22 ounce bottles for the first time (we used to do 12 ounce bottles).

But, for whatever reason, only one week of bottle-conditioning is definitely not enough.

At. All.

The flavor is good. But the fact that it's still flat is making me gag.

So here's the (moral?) dilemma we faced. Do we throw out 22 ounces of flat beer? Or do we man up and drink it, gaggy faces and all?

I'll leave it up to you to guess which road we traveled.

UPDATE (3/8): Slightly better after two weeks, but still not right. We've moved the beer to someplace we think might/maybe/could be warmer than where it was sitting before and we'll wait some more. If we don't have carbonated beer soon, I think we'll have to investigate other options. This has never happened before.....I really dislike new complications.

UPDATE (3/12): We have carbonation! I think it still needs another week to be fully carbonated, but we tried a bottle last night and it was much improved. I think the final lesson with this batch of beer is that higher gravity/alcohol beers may take longer to carbonate. Which is what I found during my research on this problem. But the independent confirmation is nice.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Nut Update and a New Toy

So, as I mentioned before, we are now in the market for a new piece of beer brewing equipment: an aeration system.

Sadly, it's not going to be the fish tank air pump I'd mentioned. I'm a bit disappointed, really. Because the idea that you're using fish equipment in your brewing process just sounds so delightfully ridiculous.

But it turns out that the stuff that works so well for a fish tank isn't the best option for aerating your beer.

Honestly, I think I could have guessed that.

Based on the freakish amount of research that has gone into this, we've determined that this is what we want, and is on its way to our house as we speak:

It's an aeration kit. Only thing missing? The oxygen tank. That's right, friends....we're bringing pure oxygen into our brewing space. Should be legendary.

I just hope no one loses an eye.

(Related to the topic of bodily catastrophes: I did warn Michael, that if at any time he even suggests this thing might explode, we're switching to filtered air rather than O2 tanks. I don't need a single additional thing that he could worry will explode in our faces.)

Here's how it works: That brass-looking/black knobby thing hooks both to the O2 tank and to one end of the plastic hose. The knobby thing is used to regulate the flow of oxygen from the tank. The other end of the hose (with that white thing on the end) goes into the beer. And in 30-60 seconds, you've got yourself some tricked out beer full of oxygen...a perfect environment for healthy yeast growth.

The only problem is we're going to wait until the aeration system gets here to start our next batch, so we won't brew again until next weekend. That's kind of a bummer, but I think the wait will be worth it.

In the meantime, the nut brown ale should be ready to try tomorrow. Okay, technically we're supposed to wait another week (the beer has only been in the bottle for a week, and the "rule" is that it should bottle-condition for two weeks before you try it), but I'm too impatient to wait that long. I'll report back once we've cracked open one of these and let you know whether my haste was, well, too hasty.

I also have a new plan/promise for our next beer. I'm going to document the brewing process all the way through. With photos. And labels.

For those of you who haven't seen this business in action, I thought it might be fun to show what this whole process looks like.

Or, it could just be funny. Because I haven't really thought through the acrobatics of this yet....taking pictures with one hand while stirring/straining/measuring/pouring/etc. with the other. But we'll figure it out. Between us, we've got many years of advanced education, which hopefully will equate to a certain level of manual dexterity.

Because I'm positive that's how that works, right?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blog Stuff: A New Feature Already!

I decided that trying to add definitions to terms in-line with the post itself is becoming cumbersome.

Seriously. How many sets of parenthetical phrases can be good for the soul, anyway? Plus, those of you who know the definitions of these terms already may not want to be bothered.

To solve that problem, I've added a new feature to the blog: The Unauthorized Glossary. If you look above the day/date stamp for this post, you should see a new tab up there. Click on it. It's fun stuff.

Fair warning: These are my definitions. Which means I try to make them a little more entertaining than your typical Webster's or beginning brewing book definition, but still mostly accurate.

I'll add to this page whenever I use a term I haven't defined for you yet. And add a big bold blue link in the post so you know it's a term in the glossary. Like that. See? I look out for you guys.

And, by the way, have I used a term in a post somewhere and you haven't a clue what it means? Let me know! I'll write you up your very own definition and add it.

Because I'm all about the value-add.

Just In Time for My Birthday

Okay, well, my birthday isn't until June. But whatever....this will give you all plenty of time to score me one of these.

It's an absolutely-necessary-fire-extinguisher-turned-brew-keg:

Read about it here:

Thanks to Neil at for pointing out such awesomeness as this.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Good News and the Other News

I'm slow at getting to this, but here's an update on the Imperial Nut Brown Ale.

First, the Good News, Part 1:

1) As of Sunday afternoon, the ale is now at home in fermenter #2. All wrapped up in its black garbage bag. (A well-equipped brewer with all the bling would have a carboy cover in some crazy, statement-making fabric--to keep out the light, as fermenter #2 is clear glass--but since I don't have one, I use a lawn/leaf-sized garbage bag. Very ghetto-chic.)

2) I'm fairly sure the beer will be delicious. You know, once it's done being 72 degrees and flat.

3) We've freed up enough equipment and counter space that we can brew again.

Now the Other News:

1) Um....Imperial ales are HARD to ferment, yo. I've never done one of this style before, and I'm not sure I'm going to do another. At least not until I've recovered from this episode. And replenished my Xanax supply.

2) Our beer never reached its target gravity. Which means something didn't go as expected in the fermentation. We know that everything was spot-on until we pitched the yeast. The suspected culprits are a) not enough yeast, and b) not enough aeration of the wort.

An extra note on b): It turns out that simply sloshing the wort around while you're adding the yeast to get some air in there isn't good enough--especially with higher gravity beers. But never fear.....Mr. Engineer is on it! And no involves a fish tank air pump.

Of course it does.

Good News, Part 2:

1) We've learned a ton while brewing this beer. And since the only flaws in the beer will be that it's a little sweeter and a little less boozy than it's supposed to be, I think it was well worth doing, if only for the educational experience.

2) I bought a couple of new books as a result of this experience. Including a whole book devoted to yeast. Jealous? Come know you are.

3) And, I guess I'll soon be the proud owner of some fish tank equipment. I feel truly blessed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's Like We Discovered Fire!

This posting is dedicated to those glorious items, without which, I will not brew.

Not any more, at least. I used to brew without all of them, but I have seen the light, and will wander in darkness no longer. Because each one of the following items is, frankly, beyond brilliant.

And I'm about to tell you why.

Oh, and I brought pictures!

Immersion Wort Chiller
Definition: A contraption made of copper and plastic tubing designed to cool wort to 70 degrees in nothing flat. If you have a bit of skill you can make one of your own. (I don't, and I didn't.)

Approximate price: $65

How It Works: The copper coils sit inside the brew pot, immersed in the beer. One plastic tube gets attached to your kitchen faucet to provide cold water. The cold water swirls through the copper tubing and picks up the heat from the just-boiled beer. The other plastic hose provides an outlet for the hot water (heated by the beer) to pour back into the sink. Once the water coming out of the outlet hose is no longer warm, your beer is ready for the fermenter.

What Life Was Like Before: Insert ridiculously hot (200+ degree) stainless steel brew pot into ice bath. Watch ice immediately melt. Replenish ice while saying many four-letter words. Do not touch plastic ice bags to side of hot brew pot, for they shall melt, causing more obscene language and a damn near impossible clean-up. Measure the temperature of the wort. Exclaim in utter frustration that the temp has only dropped 4 degrees. Lather, rinse, repeat until wort is 70 degrees. Time to completion: 3+ hours. Pounds of ice required: About a million.

What It's Like Now: 15 minutes of cooling time. Tops. And no ice or melting bags. Awesome.

"The Thief"
Definition: A long plastic tube with a widget/plunger thing on the end that allows you to easily take a hydrometer reading (for testing the beer's gravity) without wasting the beer. Easy-in to collect the beer, easy-out to measure the beer, and easy-back-in to waste not that beer you sampled, young Jedi.

Approximate price: $11

How It Works: Insert a hydrometer into the open end of the "Thief." Stick the business end of the tube into the beer until the tube fills and the hydrometer floats. Read the hydrometer. Press the widget/plunger thing against the inside of the fermenter to dump the sample back into the beer. Reading done, and nothing lost because of it!

What Life Was Like Before: Uh, yeah....we didn't take hydrometer readings unless absolutely required. Previous procedures involved, well, wasting beer. Totally unacceptable.

What It's Like Now: We're following our beer's measurements so closely, it'd be justified in getting a restraining order.

Digital Thermometer
Definition: This is not your grandmother's thermometer. This is the baddest of all bad ass thermometers, my friends. A temperature probe (with a handy-dandy clip). A digital readout display. A long cord connecting the two, so the probe can be in the pot on the stove (or in the turkey in the oven) and the display can be on the counter, away from all heat sources. The ability to set alarms when temps go over or under desired readings. Oh, yeah...and it has a timer. (And for those of you who don't brew, but who cook meat/stews/soups or make candy? I'm telling you.....put this on your Christmas list. Now.)

Approximate price: $25

How It Works: Hang the probe in the brew pot. Set your over/under temp alerts. Walk. Away. This Holy Grail of Digital Thermometers requests your presence when you need to attend to something. Let me hear you say, "Freedom!"

What Life Was Like Before: See that 6-gallon pot filled with 4+-gallons of syrupy-sticky-really-crazy-hot stuff? Hold your old thermometer in that until you get your temperature reading....or until your arm skin flakes off. Do that every 10 minutes or so....for hours. And then report back on how that's feelin' right about now.

What It's Like Now: No need to dangle body parts over boiling liquid. there anything else that needs to be said?

The above items are never included in a "beginning brewer's" equipment kit. But I'm telling you, if you brew and don't have these things, you are missing out. Go buy them. Now. In fact, each of the pictures above has a link beneath them that will direct you to some online shop that sells them.



And you're welcome.