Sunday, July 26, 2009


My friends threw a party last night and I got to share the Summerfest with a happy crowd. Everyone got to have some, and I filled a growler for the host and hostess to stash in the fridge and enjoy later. That's one keg down, and I think there might be a pint or two left in the other, which I'm saving to taste with our houseguests later this week. It has been very hot here in the State of Jefferson, and it's barely civilized to be outdoors before the afternoon sun has set. Yesterday, we enjoyed a crescent moon and a twilight view of Mt. Shasta while drinking our homebrew. Today, we will flee north, over the Siskiyous, hoping it will be cooler in the Rogue Valley. The hot weather will continue for another month, precluding any brewing here at FSB until at least September. I'll be looking for some new equipment this fall, in particular another hydrometer (I broke the old one), and a refractometer. Yes, I'm going to splurge on a fancy gizmo. I'd like to better monitor the wort gravity, for one thing. Also, a buddy of mine will be harvesting some grapes, and one of these days he'll grow enough to make wine. I told him I'd ready with the instruments, equipment, and fermentation experience for that day!

a.d. VII Kal. Aug.

Monday, July 20, 2009


My lovely bride worked for the University of California library system on the Berkeley campus for many years. She was always bringing home discarded reference books and other treasures. One of my favorites is the third edition (1959) of Louis De Vries' German-English Science Dictionary for Students in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Agriculture, and Related Sciences. I figure that includes brewing! On p. 492 Prof. De Vries defines "Vorlauf" as "first runnings, heads." When you run the wort off the mash, the so-called "first runnings" are the richest in sugar content. The sweet, viscous liquid is the portion of the wort with the highest specific gravity. It also contains much undesirable material--proteins, grist debris, unfermentables--that ideally should be separated from the kettle liquor. One of the ways to do this is to re-circulate the "heads" by running it through the grain bed one more time. The porridge-like mash acts as a filter and helps clarify the wort. You can actually see this if you take a sample in a glass and hold it to the light. My Dictionary of Beer and Brewing (2nd ed., Rabin & Forget) defines "vorlauf" on p. 275 as "German term for recirculation of wort through the grain bed." I noted in my first tasting that the Summerfest had a cloudy appearance that I hoped might disappear with time. Alas, it has not. Looking over my session notes, I see that I neglected the "vorlauf" stage! I just ran the wort off, sparged the grains, and cooked away. Much of the haze-causing material settles out in the boil, especially if it can be strained through a bed of spent hops. I do this by having a colander-like false bottom in my kettle, and after the brew is chilled it drains through the sieve into the carboy. Lots of gunky stuff sticks to the hops and does not get into the finished beer. I pride myself on bright, clear beers, so this one is a little disappointing, despite the fact that it tastes great and is very refreshing. So, all you brewers out there, don't forget to vorlauf.

a.d. XIII Kal. Aug.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's the water

I am continually reminded why I love living in the State of Jefferson and why I love brewing at French Street. The waters around these parts are known not only for their taste but their purity as well. Fall Creek, off the main stem of the Klamath River, is the source of our municipal water. It originates somewhere underground in the southern Oregon volcano country--I like to think of it as ancestral Mt. Mazama water. The latest water quality report from the city just arrived, and I was eager to compare my brew liquor to the famous waters** of brewing lore. Water from Pilsen, in Bohemia (Czech Republic), is renowned for its softness and for its contribution to the feel and flavor of those legendary beers. It clocks in at 30 ppm on the Hardness scale and 35 ppm in Total Dissolved Solids. My water? 61 ppm Hardness, 122 ppm TDS. Not as soft as the famous pilseners, but lovely to brew with nonetheless. Munich waters (250/275) and London waters (235/300), as you can see, are quite a bit harder, with more ionized matter. The most important thing in a brewery is to have clean, good-tasting water, and we have that in abundance. You can work with chemical profiles if you need to, but I don't have to because I'm lucky to have a great municipal source. The biggest contaminant in the water is the chlorine they put in to comply with federal drinking water standards! I carbon-filter the water for that very reason before it becomes my brew liquor. (Brewers call water "liquor" once it has been prepared for the mash tun.) I like to think that my twenty years of brewing experience is why my beers taste good. But I might just have to give the hat tip to Mother Nature for her Fall Creek water.

**The numbers are taken from Gregory J. Noonan's invaluable book, New Brewing Lager Beer.

a.d. XVII Kal. Aug.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer in the glass

We tapped the Summerfest today to have with our chips, salsa, and Giants baseball. Alas, the game has been a disappointment. The beer, however, is smooth and dry with just the right touch of sweet malt flavor. I think we have a fine summer ale. Here in the State of Jefferson, summer has been unusually mild, with cool breezes and afternoon clouds softening the sun's blows more often than not. I'm loving it! I'm glad I didn't overdo it with the hops on this batch--they have a nice, bright flavor with a clean finish and no lingering bitterness. Perfect for thirst-quenching! It is a little cloudy in the glass so far, we'll see if that settles out. What say we have another?

a.d. IV Id. Iul.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summerfest II

The beer went into the fridge today. It spent the last nine days in the "main fermenting room" (er, the hall closet) hovering between 65 and 69 ºF. It has been HOT here in FSB-Land, and I had to use my old trick of putting a milk jug of ice in the closet to keep it from getting too warm. We hit the road tomorrow for a family Fourth Festival in Lake Tahoe. Should be much fun. Then we go to SF and stay with old friends and go to TWO GIANTS GAMES! Too cool. We are back on Wednesday the 8th of July--beer should be in prime condition a week or two after that.

FSB readers (are you out there?) might note that yours truly is now on Facebook. That's right, the computer has taken over and enslaved me.

Be seeing you.