Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Double IPA Photo Shoot: Brew Day Prep Work

New computer. Check.

New external hard drive installed. Check and check.

This gets two checks because it's a networked drive. The Resident Computer Geek gets bonus points on this one. We can access brewing files from any computer on our network, including our smart phones. Booyah! This brewing operation is nothing if not high-tech.

Now I can proceed as planned. With photos, y'all.

So, where was I? Oh, yes. Brewing a Double IPA.

The effort to brew beer takes several weeks and has a number of phases, marked by exertions on specific days.  By my count, Phase 1 begins with Brewing Day. Phase 2 is Racking to the Secondary Fermenter Day (I really need to get a better name for that....uh...Racking Day?). Phase 3 is Bottling Day. Phase 4 is Drinking Day.

Phase 4 may be the most awesome phase ever. But the others are different kinds of fun.

Brewing Day (the longest of the days, depending on how committed you are to Drinking Day) starts with a collection of various pieces of equipment and ingredients and a vigorous cleaning and sanitizing effort. The Day ends when you have a fermenter full of yeast-fed liquid all sealed off and ready for a week or so of fermentation.

But here's how you start the process of getting from here to there.

We'll start with ingredients:

A mix of specialty malts (mostly for flavor)
An assortment of hops (for bittering and flavoring)
Liquid extract (which provides most of the sugar for the beer and is REALLY sticky) 
and yeast (in cute, smackable pouches called "smack-packs")
Oh, and there's water too. But I didn't take a picture of the water. Water is kind of boring.

In all, there are four basic ingredients for beer: water, yeast, hops and grain. Done.

Well, there's also magic. And fairy dust (the sanitary, non-dusty kind).

More on that later.

A quick word about our brewing process. We do what's called "partial-extract" brewing. Which means that most of our sugars are in pre-prepared liquid form (the brown bottles above). This means that we are cheating a bit, and relying on the makers of the liquid extract to do most of the work of getting fermentable sugar out of grain. Advanced home brewers do that part for themselves, which is called "all-grain" brewing. We're not there yet. That takes a level of expertise and equipment investment that we're just not ready for. Plus, we need a better kitchen before we go that route.

And I'll need a full supply of Xanax. For sure.

"Partial-extract" brewing means that while we use extracts to help get us started, we do add specialty grains that provide added flavor, and we add our own hops. So, it's not "all-extract." Yes, you can make decent beer using just the extract. But what we do is a bit more fun. Because we get to play with recipe ingredients, but we're not 100% responsible for the hard stuff.

Now on to the equipment. Here's an assortment of what we use on Brewing Day:

Assorted pots and pans. The biggest one there is the brewpot.
I'm madly in love with my brewpot, I must say.
(Notice how clean the stovetop is? Pretty much like that only on Brewing Day.)
Michael's computer with his nifty Excel spreadsheet that calculates EVERYTHING.
(He's promised to write a post explaining how this bad boy works.)
Primary fermenter. This is where most of the magic happens.
The thing lying flat there is the hydrometer. The tall thing is the vessel that holds the beer sample.
Then you drop the hydrometer in the vessel and try to read what the stupid hydrometer says.
I put Michael in charge of reading the hydrometer because trying to do it myself makes me stabby.
(We're fixing that, by the way. We've ordered a different tool that will make life easier.
You'll hear about that later, once I've had a chance to try it.)
Oxygen tank. As if that wasn't self-explanatory, right?
Tube and air stone (grey thing at the end) that gets
its one end hooked to the oxygen tank and the other end dropped in the beer.
Makes lots of little bubbles. Makes yeast happy.
Best. Thermometer. Ever.
Assorted widgets. All of which are important.
 But not enough to name or take separate photos of, apparently.
Wort chiller. For cooling down the boiling beer QUICK.
Most of this stuff has to get cleaned and sanitized before it can come into contact with the beer. Especially anything that will touch the beer post-boiling. Here is my cleaner/sanitizer of choice:

Uh, yeah. This is bleach. And I took a picture of it.
You're welcome.
That's basically it for prep. 

Next up: Putting all this stuff to use.

But I need a break first. This photo-journalism thing is hard.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Photo-Less Update

I was really hoping to have pictures to share by this point, but those will still have to wait. I do have a new computer (Michael got it narrowed down to two options and I picked the prettier one), and a neat gizmo that will let me easily load photos onto it. But, the external hard-drive I use for storage-of-all-things doesn't work with Windows 7. So now I need a new external drive that's compatible with the new computer.

If it's not one thing it's another.

Plus, I'm in California right now and won't be home to purchase said hard-drive until Thursday.

In the meantime, though, I have some good news to share about the Double IPA, which is doing its dry-hopping thing in the secondary fermenter.

I mentioned previously that we had some new gadgets and techniques we tried out with this batch to see if we could get better fermentation results. I'm happy to report that all of those new things we tried (and I'll detail those once I can add the photos) paid off. Our last test of the beer shows that we hit the mark on our fermentation and have a beer that is smack-dab in the middle of our target final gravity measurements.

First time, ever.

My final gravities have always been slightly higher than they should be. It's not serious enough that anyone drinking the beer would notice, but it bothered me (from an OCD perspective) that I couldn't get it "just right." According to the official numbers, anyway. Knowing I was slightly off always gave me a touch of heartburn. Especially because I wasn't sure why it was happening or what I could do to fix it.

Problem solved. According to the recipe, this beer is supposed to have a final gravity somewhere between 1.014 and 1.018. We ended up at 1.016. Brilliant.

The fact that we rocked this particular fermentation is pretty darned exciting.

High-fives (yes, literally) all around. There may or may not have been some happy-dance moves too.

No worries, though. I didn't take pictures of any of that.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Alas, Poor Computer! I Knew Him..."

What a dead computer looks like.
The computer is, in a word, dead.

So says the Resident Nerd.

The good news is that "dead" doesn't seem to mean "explosive."

But in any case, we're shopping for a new computer. Which means my photos of our brew session will have to wait. As well as round two of the photo shoot, which consists of documenting the dry-hopping of our Double IPA.

In another word? Poop.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ready, Set, Brew/Shoot! A Double IPA

Well, I did it.

In a previous post I promised that as we brewed our next beer, I would figure out how to contort my body in such a way that I could be both brewer and photo-journalist. And I was successful!

But I have to tell you, the whole thing would have been far easier with another person in the room whose only job was to take pictures. I seemed to always set the camera down someplace inconvenient. Retrieving it often involved lots of stretching, since my other hand/arm was usually doing time/space-specific brewing activities. (I guess that's one upside to a small, crappy kitchen. Most everything is almost within reach.)

Or Michael and I would be in the middle of pouring something and I'd say, "Wait! Stop pouring....I want a picture of this!" It's a good thing he loves me. Because I'm thinking that otherwise he might have pummeled me with a brew spoon. People with cameras can be just that annoying.

Only problem is, the home computer has died (again). That computer was the easiest way for me to get the photos off the camera. So, my big photo shoot post will have to wait until The Resident Computer Nerd fixes my wayward machine. Bummer.

What's cooking this time? A Double India Pale Ale. I'm very excited about it. We really like beers with a lot of hop flavors, and this one shouldn't fail to impress. It has 4 different kinds of hops, plus a dry-hopping step that we'll do after it ferments a week.

And at some point here, I'll have pictures to prove it!