Sunday, December 30, 2007


Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I can use "Alt" codes to make an umlaut. So now I can spell out Kölsch using the numeric keypad and the ALT code 148, or even KÖLSCH with ALT 0214. I tell ya, that's pretty damn neat. The brew has fermented nicely at 64-66 F (I suppose I'll have to learn the "alt" codes for the degree symbol!), the head has dropped and the surface is almost clear. I like this yeast and expect to use it more in the future, it seems to have a nice tolerance for cooler regimes. I'm lucky that the main fermenting room (the hall closet) is pretty steady much of the year, but it can get a bit cool in the winter months. I'm also intrigued by the idea of German ales (like Kölsch and Altbiers), and want to experiment more with Continental malts. I can also get organic German hops from 7 Bridges. My goal is not to re-create some "style" or make an "authentic" hefe-dunkel-weizen-whatchamacalit, but to learn to use a greater variety of ingredients, and have some fun with new (for me and FSB, that is) combinations. (ALT 167 for degrees, as in 66º Fahrenheit!)

Happy New Year, everyone.
a.d. III Kal. Ian.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

I checked on "Aught-eight Ale" just a while ago, 24 hours after pitching. The Kolsch yeast is starting slowly, but it is starting, that's the key. So I can relax and let this one go. It is currently 64 F in the hall closet--perfect. Today was clean-up day. I've got most of the brewery washed, dried, and put away. We have consumed multiple pints of Pity-the-Fool Porter since I tapped the keg, and it is damn tasty. I made a decision: from now on I'm going "all-organic" in my purchasing. It will be more expensive, but I think it will give the brews a uniqueness, and I like supporting sustainable agricultural practices. I think aught-eight ought to be a good time to get that going. Happy Boxing Day!

a.d. VII Kal. Ian.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Aught-eight Ale

Thus I named my "New Year Beer." Happy Xmas, me buckos! It was bloody fookin' cold this a.m., the merc running at 16 F. I waited until noon to get started. It was at least in the high 20's and low 30's most of the afternoon. I wound up mashing 13 pounds of pale malt with the 3 lbs. of other stuff (pilsener, wheat, chocolate, and three kinds of caramel). Sixteen pounds along with 16 quarts of liquor (4 gals.) is the ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM my mash tun (5 gal. Gott cooler) can hold. I managed to extract 2 gallons of 1.098 wort from that. I just dumped the contents of the tun into my priming bucket (5 gal. plastic pail) with a cloth straining bag. Hi-tech lautering, eh? Skipping the sparge, I had to let the damn thing drip for a while, but that's how it goes. I added 5 gallons of liquor and we started cooking. The bittering hops were Northern Brewer, 1 ounce for 1 hour. That isn't a whole lot of IBUs, but I want to taste the malt on these "first runnings" brews. I flavored the beer with 3 additions of organic German Perle (another 7 Bridges score!), 1/2 ounce at 20, 10 and 5 minutes each. Yummmmmmmm. The Kolsch yeast (how do you make a fookin' umlaut, eh?) still has me worried, but I pitched it at just about 1700 hours PST. The final yield was only 4-1/2 gallons at 1.040 (10 degrees Plato). It is 66 F in the fermenting room (hall closet) right now. We'll check it out tomorrow--Boxing Day!

p.s. I tapped PTF Porter and it is THE BOMB!!! The "first runnings" give a sweet, syrupy quality to the beer. I could increase the roast malt flavor and play with the hops a bit for a skosh more bitterness, but the rich, malty taste is quite delicious. Merry Everything, lads!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Xmas Eve

Today I pulled out the Corona mill and cranked out a boatload of malt for tomorrow's brew. I also threw together a yeast starter. White Labs has these nice vials of pitchable yeast that aren't supposed to need any help, BUT . . . 1) the "best before" date on the Kolsch (WLP029) is TODAY, and 2) the stuff got shipped to me late one evening and spent the night on my porch in near freezing temperatures. So I figured better safe than sorry. I'll get a look at it tomorrow before pitching.

So far I'm thinking I'll need at least 15 lbs. of the Rahr pale malt for my "no-sparge" method. I've got a pound each of wheat and pilsener malts, and I'm flavoring them with 1/2 pound of Briess organic 20 L crystal, 1/4 pound of Weyerman Carafa 2 organic chocolate (375 L), plus 1/8 pound each of some weird stuff (140 L Briess "extra special" and 120 L Briess caramel). I think we've got a fine, tasty combo there. We'll see what fits in the mash tun tomorrow. U.S. Northern Brewer or German Perle? I haven't decided yet--maybe both!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pity the Fool who misses out!

That's right, you miss out on my new porter, I pity you. Cracked the goods tonight with J & R and it was bodacious. Not just bodacious, but righteously bodacious. Mellow and smooth, but with clean malty sweetness and a crisp finish. Looking forward to tapping the keg over the holidaze!

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Pity-the-Fool Porter is going in the fridge today! It got very chilly in the conditioning room (hall closet) when we went away for Thanksgiving, down to 58 F! So I kept the beer there for another 2 weeks. Hovering from 62 to 66 F during that time, I worry that the yeast has petered out. We'll just have to wait and see. It has been very cold. I decided not to brew this weekend, and wait until my xmas holiday. We'll be bringing the last of the Rye-P.A. to Andrei and Kim this weekend. That was a damn tasty brew.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Shropshire Lad

Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

A.E. (Alfred Edward) Housman was born in England in 1859 and died in 1930. A Shropshire Lad is his most famous work. The selection is from number LX ("Terence, this is stupid stuff:/You eat your victuals fast enough;/There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,/To see the rate you drink your beer."). Housman was a classicist, specifically a professor of Latin, for most of his life. The poem is a long, melancholy rant on the vagaries of life, and the healing power of a good brew. Well, maybe the numbing power! There is a reference at the end to Mithridates, who--supposedly--inured himself to the effects of poison by ingesting small doses throughout his life, and thus could not be killed that way. I wonder if it works for alcohol.

Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pity the Fool!

In the bottle and keg today--Pity the Fool Porter! I wound up with about 4 gallons total, I primed with dextrose (50 g for the 2.5 gal. keg and 1.5 oz. for the bottles) boiled in a cup of water. Set aside a 4-pack for my pals K & K on the occasion of K's birthday. These vessels will condition for about a week, depending on temperature, then head for the fridge for another week. Can't wait.

Monday, November 5, 2007

It's all worth it!

Sometimes brewing days are long and slow and a pain-in-the-arse. Like yesterday. My mash got stuck, I had to scramble to extract the sugars, it was a big mess. Because I'm on this "no-sparge" kick, I do TWO mashes (my vessel only comfortably works with about 10 lbs. of grist) which takes TWICE as long. I did not vorlauf (re-circulate) the extract, like I normally do, because I needed to save some time, but it seemed to come out OK. So, yesterday, I mashed 18 lbs. of malt, including a "kitchen sink" melange of specialty malts for color and flavor--my goal was a robust porter.* I managed to get 3-1/2 gallons of extract at about 1.080, to which I added 3-1/2 gallons of liquor to make 7 gals., which boiled down to 5 at 1.055. My yield, at the end, was about 4-1/2 gallons of wort. I used 2 oz. of whole Willamette hops for bittering (60 mins.), and pitched Safale-05. It is fermenting nicely this morning. Long, tiring day. BUT, I remembered WHY I brew my own when we busted out the Rye-P.A. My birthday is the 13th, and my good pals H & D are coming to visit us this weekend, and I wanted to be able to drink this beer for both events. So, we had to check it out. The result? Heaven in a bottle! Indeed: a crisp, spicy-sweet rye flavor layered on a rich, malty base with a clean, dry, hoppy finish. Wow, it is a GREAT BREW! (The photo is my kettle, w/paddle, on the double burner.)

*Pity-the-Fool Porter (in honor of B.A. Baracus of the A-Team)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Grind

Yes, it is the tried & true workhorse of many a homebrewer, the Corona mill! I "got crankin' " yesterday for today's brew. As you can see it was a gorgeous autumnal day. That is a redwood 2 x 6 the mill is clamped to, and the plastic patio chair is just the right height. I can sit next to this set-up and leisurely grind away. Some day I suppose I'll get an automated roller mill, but that's quite a spendy item, and I'm not ready to take the plunge. The Corona crushes the grist a bit too much, but my small-scale system is forgiving, and I rarely have trouble with the mash. I admit my extraction rates are pretty low, but the run-offs rarely get stuck. This new kick I'm on, the "no-sparge brew," will require quite a bit more grain, and a higher conversion/extraction efficiency would be nice, but I'm not going to sweat over it. I'll be posting more picture of the scheme here at FSB over the next several weeks, so stay tuned!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Full Moon Fridge

The brewery refrigerator is full as I've moved the bottles of #155 in for their final conditioning. The full moon was at perigee, but clouds obscured its rise Thursday night. It glowed brightly Friday morning, though. Saturday brings fresh fall weather: sunny, brisk, colorful. The bottles of Rye P.A. had been in the fermenting room (the hallway closet) since October 14th, my last posting. The temperature stayed between 66 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (19-20 C). I thought the extra few days might help. The last batch was a bit under-carbonated. I suspect that the Safale-04 settles out so quickly that not enough is left behind to prime the beer. Especially when the beer is racked off the trub and given an extra week in a secondary fermenter. That step might not be needed with this yeast. We'll see in a few weeks--this beer should be perfect for my birthday!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Relax, don't worry . . .

. . . have a homebrew.

That's Charlie Papazian's motto, and ours as well when we bottle a batch. Bottling is a bit of a pain, but worth it, I think. Kegs are handier and easier over the long haul, but a bottle of your own beer is something special. We bottled up the RYE-P.A. this afternoon, and I think it will be a unique and tasty brew. The final gravity was a tad under 5 degrees Plato (1.018) and the beer will have around a 7% abv. That is a BIG beer for my tastes, and a big beer for FSB. Only had a final yield of 3-1/2 gallons, so a case (12) of 22-oz. bottles and a sixpack of 12-oz. bottles took care of most of it. I used one of my very cool swing-top 2-Liter jugs, one 0.5-L Grolsch bottle, and one clear 12-oz. "Newky Brown" for the rest of it. I like to have a clear bottle to watch the conditioning process. The 2-L jugs are very nice for a dinner party, they have an elegant look. We tasted the dregs as we cleaned up. The pale, light brown ale has an interesting crispness--can't wait to crack the first one!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Rackin' Rye

I siphoned the Rye P.A. into a secondary vessel (another PET carboy). I like to get the beer off the yeast sludge (trub) after a week or so. It seems to give me better luck when I use dry yeast. I normally don't like to mess with the beer until bottling, but I have a smooth, easy system. I figured out to put an in-line valve on the tubing end of my racking assembly, and then add a 4-inch piece of tubing to that. I suck the beer to my mouth (on the small tubing piece), turn off the in-line valve, and remove the piece. Now the part of the racking assembly that touched my mouth is out of the picture: I move the valve to the caboy opening, turn it on, and feed the tubing into the empty carboy. I've got the length right so the stainless steel racking cane sits in the fermenter full of beer, the tubing (and valve) rests on the bottom of the new, empty carboy. The beer siphons quickly, with a minimum of splashing. The kitchen table is just the right height for the fermenter while the secondary sits on the floor. The beer is a light amber color, with a clean, fresh aroma. Looking forward to getting it in the bottle this weekend.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tappa kegga brew

We tapped the keg of SIR Brown today. It was a little under-carbonated, I topped it with 20 PSI after drawing a couple of pints. We'll see how it looks after a few more days in the fridge. The brew is dark, with a color closer to amber than brown, and is a smooth, refreshing autumnal ale. Next on the task list: rack the Rye-PA so I can bottle it next weekend.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Workin' out the kinks . . .

I fired up my small 30,000 BTU/hr. burner this a.m. to heat my small kettle with 6 gallons of charcoal-filtered municipal water (we have great water here, I just like to get the chlorine out). The burner sits on legs, up on a table, and acts as a Hot Liquor Tank. I then run that (untreated) liquor into my mash tun (Gott cooler). The damn thing burned too rich, the thick yellow flame covering everything with black soot. What a mess! I pulled it apart, spraying water through the burner ports, even removing the propane hose and blasting it with 30 lbs. of CO2. The venturi tube area seemed clean, so there must have been some crud (dust? insect debris?) in the burner itself. Still workin' out the kinks! I have a large, 3-foot high double-burner set-up with another 30,000 BTU/hr. burner and a "blowtorch" 100,000-sized screamer. I use it for the boil with my big 10-gallon. So, I had to improvise a bit, making it a long day. I fired up the little guy again after all that cleaning and it appeared to be all fixed up--nice blue flame. In the meantime, I tried two new things today: 1) a RYE beer, which I called RYE-P.A., and 2) a "no-sparge" mash regime. I use a simple infusion and run the wort off the grist with a false bottom in the cooler and a ball-valve assembly. I did two 8-1/4 pound mashes with 12 qts of liquor each. I was only able to get about 4 gallons of wort from that. I added a gallon and a half more of liquor, and another gallon that had 1-lb. of DME dissolved in it. After 4 ozs. of Goldings hops (2 oz. for 60 mins., 1 oz. for 15 mins, and 1 oz. for 5 mins.), and a 70 minute boil, I found myself with . . . 4 gallons! However, it was 4 gallons at about 1.069 (17 deg. Plato)! So, I will have a big, unusual rye brew. Lots of work for a yield that was 20% too low--I wanted 5 gallons--but I'm not complaining. I brewed today by the "seat of my pants" and missed the target. My extract efficiency is pretty poor anyway, and the absorption by the hops (I use whole hops only) and the high boil-off rate (I've a big, wide kettle) combine to keep my yields low. And, I'm out of practice. I'll get the kinks worked out. In the meantime I'm going to have a really interesting new beer. Safale-04 was the yeast of choice today. Check in next week when I rack it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Soon to be beer

SIR Brown was refrigerated today. After 10 days at 66-70 F in the fermenting room (the hall closet), it was time. One 2.5-gal. Cornelius keg and a few gallons worth of bottles should be ready to drink in a week or two. It's almost beer!

BTW, note the new Beertown link, the home of the American Homebrewers Association and ZYMURGY magazine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Well-stocked larder

Brewing season is nigh here at FSB. The summers are bloody hot: 90+ days, often only cooling to 60 F by midnight. That sort of climate plays hell with my "fermentation room" (the hallway closet), which can get up over 75 F unless the swamp cooler is running all day. So I get a serious case of Autumnal Anticipation during the Dog Days. This weekend is the Autumnal Equinox, and the cool mornings are announcing Fall's imminent arrival. I note that FSB's larders have over 80 lbs. of malts and 30 oz. of hops. I bought a full sack (55 lbs.) of Pale Malt from Williams's Brewing in San Leandro, a reliable outfitter, and a 15-lb. sampler (1 lb. each of 15 different grains!) from my organic brew heroes, 7 Bridges of Santa Cruz. William's charged me 16 bucks to ship the $35 sack of malt, which I thought was outrageous, but the organic malts at 7 Bridges are more than twice as expensive. I wish the organic stuff was cheaper, but I will likely buy a sack for my December break, as I like to make my annual St. Patrick's Day Stout an all-organic brew. 7 Bridges does sell full pounds of whole hops for only $15 once they are over a year old. I got some German-grown Perle this time. Last year I got a pound of Belgian-grown organic Goldings. The stuff is foil-sealed and nitrogen-flushed: the hops were beautiful and amazingly fresh and aromatic. I had fine luck with them. I keep them frozen and they last a surprisingly long time. My next brew will be a Rye-PA, and I will try the no-sparge method. It will require two mashes, increasing the length of my brew day, but I want to get rid of that slow, clumsy rinsing step, and get rid of the astringent flavors it seems to add. I'm looking for richer malt flavor and fuller body in my beers this fall.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

SIR Brown, phase II

I purged my handy-dandy little 2.5 gallon corny keg with CO2, boiled 50 grams of corn sugar in a cup of water and tossed it in, then added the beer. It still looked and smelled nice and clean. There was a trace of sludge in the lightweight, odorless, easy-to-clean carboy. (If you don't know about BetterBottle, check 'em out.) I set the lid with 10 lbs. of CO2 (and a film of Keg Lube on the flanges and gasket). It then went back in the closet at 70 deg. F. The remaining 2+ gallons (looked like a pint over, not quite a quart) I primed with 2 oz. of corn sugar in 10 fl. oz. water. My trick is to boil the water in the tea kettle first, dissolve the sugar in a quart-sized Pyrex measuring cup, then microwave the solution until it boils again (about 2 mins.). Seems to yield a nice, clean priming mixture, I have never detected off-flavors with this method and the convenience rarely tempts me to use dry malt extract (which I keep around for yeast starters). The remainder of the brew--#154, SIR Brown--was bottled in 9 brown 22-fl. oz. "Etna" bottles, 6 brown 12-fl. oz. "Anchor Steam" bottles. and 1 clear 12-fl. oz. "Newcastle" bottle. I like to have one clear vessel to watch the conditioning process. My lovely bride, SIR, runs the bottling at French Street Brewery. She stores the bottles in the kitchen, keeps them clean and handles the sanitizing. I transfer and prime the brew, then fill the bottles. She does the capping and cleanup, I mark the caps and pack the bottles in the closet with the keg. It is a lovely bit of marital cooperation! SIR Brown will go into the refrigerator next weekend, and be ready to drink the weekend after that. I broke my hydrometer (I think that is my third), so I can only guess at the gravities. Typically I get 10-11 deg. Plato (1.040-1.044) OG with 6 lbs. of extract, and it ferments out to 3 degrees or so (1.012). This one will be a mild ale with a translucent brown hue. Looking forward to having some of my own beer again

Saturday, September 8, 2007

SIR Brown

SIR Brown was racked today. I'll give it another week before kegging and bottling. It looked and smelled nice and clean. I'm back on the brew horse after a long layoff. This is my first home-cooked batch since February. I've named it in honor of my lovely bride--whose initials are SIR--and made a brown ale because she likes browns, porters and stouts. I had a 6-lb. sack of extract laying around, along with crystal and chocolate malt, and some Willamette hops. The package of Safale-04 was the last in the larder. I've had both good and bad luck with this new-generation dry yeast. The combination of cost and convenience is hard to ignore, and I think if you keep the beer below 70 deg. F. the chance of off-flavors is very low. I'll order some specialty yeasts when I stock up again, but it is nice to have a workhorse around.