Friday, December 31, 2010

Elevenses Ale

In honor of year twenty-eleven I have christened my New Year's Eve brew Elevenses Ale. "Elevenses" is British English and refers to a late-morning break for tea and biscuit that happens around eleven o'clock. According to Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma), "elevenses" was also used in the United States in the early 19th century to mean a pre-lunch dose of corn whiskey. Apparently the glut of corn (sound familiar?) led to an abundance of cheap corn whiskey and it was commonplace for workers to have a snort instead of a coffee break! It seems to me that sort of thing should be encouraged. To hell with "productivity." I think sloth and idleness should make a comeback. Unfortunately today was a busy day for yours truly--it was freezing cold (high of 24 ºF) and I had to hustle to get a batch brewed while the sun was shining. I made a thinner mash using 16 quarts of liquor for the 15 pounds of grain and after an hour at 152-154 ºF I added 12 quarts of 170 ºF sparge water and gave it all a good stir. I re-circulated 10 quarts and then ran all of it off into the kettle. I topped it up to 28 Liters and boiled for 70 minutes with one one-hour hop addition of one ounce of 9.9% whole Northern Brewer. The yield was almost 20 Liters and it registered 11.5 % Brix on the refractometer. I put it down as 1.046-47 OG. I pitched a pack of Safale-05 (formerly -56). This, I'm guessing, is the classic "American Ale" or "Chico" strain. I think I'll have a big fat glass of primo 21st-century corn whiskey (bourbon) tonight at eleven o'clock to celebrate the New Year and my new Elevenses Ale.

HAPPY 2011!!

prid. Kal. Ian.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New ho-rye-zons

I've decided to make a pale ale with the rye malt. The grain bill will be 15 pounds total and I'll use the "first-runnings/no-sparge" method I've recently adopted. This afternoon I milled two pounds of rye, a half-pound of 60 ºL crystal, a half-pound of Victory malt, and 12 pounds of 2-row. Tomorrow I will cook up batch number 174 and come up with a name for it. I've also got these fresh Northern Brewer hops and I think I'll just have to use them.

This afternoon I also went to the local hardware store and swapped out my five-pound carbon dioxide cylinder for a fresh one. I've got one of the 2-1/2 gallon kegs of the stout left and I tapped it with the new gas. I'm drinking it as I type. Mmmm-mmm, it's good!

Did I mention that the San Francisco Giants are the World Fucking Champs? No? Get this: the San Francisco Giants are the World Fucking Champs. I think I'll drink to that. Some World Series Stout, if you please.

a.d. II Kal. Ian.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Re-stocking the larder

Stopped at the Medford store Grains, Beans & Things yesterday and picked up some goodies. I'm very interested in rye malts and rye beers, and I hope to add of couple of pounds rye to my next batch. There was some dark (roasted) rye malt as well, and I think I might try to flavor a stout with it. Speaking of stouts, I'm a big fan of dehusked dark malts like Carafa as they impart lovely black color and a nice roast flavor with a little less risk of adding a bitter astringency. Flaked barley always seems to help with the head and mouthfeel on a stout and I grabbed a pound of that. I rounded things out with the usual 60 ºL crystal and some black patent which are useful in lots of beers. I can never pass up Northern Brewer hops and I picked up a 2-oz. package of that as well. Full sacks of domestic 2-row pale malt--including organic--jammed the narrow aisles, and there were at least three dozen bins of specialty grains. If you brew anywhere in the State of Jefferson I'd suggest you drop Bob an email ( and see what he's got in stock.

a.d. III Kal. Ian.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

World Series Stout tapped!

The Giants won the World Series on the the 1st of November, the traditional start of the winter season in the old Celtic Calendar ("Samhain"). The December Solstice--our first day of winter--would thus be Midwinter for the Celts. In honor of all those holidays I tapped the World Series Stout today. It was a mini-catastrophe at first, as I sprayed beer all over the fridge before finally getting the fittings properly attached. Eventually I got things all cleaned up and poured a nice, tall pitcher of the lovely black brew. It was smooth and delicious with the rich malty sweetness that the "first runnings" produces. The carbonation level was perfect, the bubbles were small, dense, and creamy, forming a firm, thick head. We drank World Series Stout and watched Game 1 of the World Series again. What fun!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

World Series Stout

I started brewing in 1988. One of the first of my many formulations was "Championship Ale." I brewed it in honor of the 1987 San Francisco Giants, who were NL West Champions. I followed that same theme in 1990 with "Pennant Porter," which honored the 1989 National League Champions. I imagined a "World Series Stout" to honor, some day, the World Champion San Francisco Giants. That day came true! Finally! The 2010 Giants won the World Series! I've been waiting over 20 years to make this beer. I had a lot of fun with my new "first-runnings only" approach, and had some excellent results. I used 15 lbs. of malt, a mixture of 2-row (8 lbs.), Pilsner (5 lbs.), and Munich (2 lbs.). I made a thick mash (12 quarts of liquor) that settled in at 152-154 ºF and held it for 40 minutes. I then added 12 more quarts of liquor at about 170 ºF and recirculated 10 quarts. I then drained the mash tun into the kettle. No sparging! I also had 1-1/2 pounds of specialty malts (Black, Chocolate, and 120 ºL Caramel) that I steeped in a gallon and a half of hot liquor. That I added to the kettle with the wort. The whole process yielded about 4 gallons at 1.068 (17 ºPlato). I filled the kettle to 28 Liters and took another refractometer reading and got 1.040 (10 ºP). I boiled it for 70 minutes. I added 20 grams of 14%-alpha Belgian Admiral hops for an hour to get the medium bittering I was looking for. The yield was 20 L of clean, clear wort in the carboy at 1.050 (12.5 ºP). I left behind about 1.5 L in the kettle. It was thick with "break" proteins and other sludge. I pitched a pack of Safale-04. I think this one is a winner, just like the 2010 Giants!

a.d. XVIII Kal. Dec.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A fond farewell to the Ale of Mark

We finished off the Ale of Mark last night at Mike's party--everyone seemed to like it. I think it made an ideal summer beer as it was both sweet and dry, both full-flavored and easy-drinking. That's the brewer's art right there: finding the right balance. I like a beer with a bit of fruit on the nose, like this one, but not too much. I like a malty, bready brew, but it has to have some bottom, too, and some tartness and bitterness to give it depth. Ale of Mark was one off my better efforts, I think, and I intend to do more with this first runnings/no sparge scheme that I played with back in July.

a.d. X Kal.Sep.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tasting Ale of Mark

Oh man, is it good! Smooth, silky, full-bodied . . . my god I'm not sure I can keep from drinking it all before Mike's party. Is that bad?

Non. Aug.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ale of Mark 3

Ale of Mark, my version of a "Scottish-style" beer, went to the refrigerator today. It has been quite hot here at FSB and it has been a bit of a bother to keep the hall closet properly cool. I've found that a couple of old gallon-sized plastic milk jugs, filled with water and frozen, can a keep a small space cool for hours.  The big "blue ice" packs for picnic coolers work even better. I set them on the floor on a towel (for the condensate--the jugs get very wet), and leave them in the closet through a blazing hot afternoon. They seem to have just enough heat capacity to absorb the excess heat and keep the closet around 64-68 ºF. Of course, we run the swamp cooler in the summer to keep the house livable. Normally I don't brew in the summer heat. I don't really have anyplace that stays below 70 ºF to ferment the beer. I know brewers who modify an old fridge with a controller that overrides the thermostat. That allows you to set nearly any temperature for the enclosed space. It works great for lagers, which need long, cool ferments. One of the improvements I'd like to make for FSB is an automatic temperature-controlled area like that. I've a few ideas. The system I have now is pretty simple, and I manage to get good beer, so I'm not highly motivated to change things. Some day, perhaps.

a.d.XIII Kal.Aug.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ale of Mark 2

The beer went to the keg today. I split it into two 2-1/2 gallon batches, one for each of the two small kegs. The first I primed with 50 grams of dextrose and the second I primed with 80 grams of dried malt extract. The 5-to-8 ratio seems to be the recommended scheme in the resources I checked. I was just about out of corn sugar and was fortunate that I had at least enough for one batch--I certainly did not have 100 grams of the stuff! It will be interesting to see if there is a taste difference. I used sucrose (table sugar) for many years because it was cheap and available, but every piece of contemporary homebrew literature I've found has said to stick with dextrose or DME, so I do. I never force-carbonate: I always prime the beer and let it condition before refrigeration. I think it produces a creamier, smoother carbonation. I could be full of shit, but that's the way I do it and I'm sticking with it. The kegs need a week or so at room temperature and then they'll go to the refrigerator. It has been very hot here, and keeping the house cool enough for the beer has been a challenge. Also, I broke my hydrometer--I do that all the time--and don't know the final gravity. Seriously, I think I've gone through five or six of those damn skinny little glass things. It's OK, the measurements aren't as important as the taste, and this one should be interesting. I'll just have to be patient, I doubt it will be drinkable before the end of the month.

a.d. V Id. Aug.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ale of Mark

The Fourth of July is always a good day to brew a batch of beer. My pal Mike is throwing a party next month and he wanted a "Scotch Ale." Well, I don't know about that--we drank quite a lot of beer in Scotland and couldn't settle on exactly what was supposed to be the national type. There were a number of small breweries that made full-flavored but easy-drinking ales, many of them served in the traditional manner, i.e. "from the cask" in the pubs. We went to one place on the outskirts of Inverness that had beer from the wood--actually drawn from a small wooden cask called a firkin--and drank an ale at a spot in Edinburgh flavored not with hops but with heather! We had black beers and golden beers and all the hues in between. We had craft beer and draft beer and bottled beer and mass-produced beer and imports and exports and you-name-it beer. So I'm not sure I know what a "Scotch Ale" actually is. Of course, lots of brewers will tell you that Scotch Ales are malty and full-bodied and probably amber-colored. So I made Ale of Mark today inspired by that notion. We stayed at a place called the House of Mark in the Angus region (Tarfside) that sat at the foot of a long canyon called Glen Mark. Through that glen flowed a stream known as the Water of Mark. Thus the Ale of Mark had its genesis.

I compromised a bit between a "first runnings/no-sparge" beer and a "batch-sparge." I used 15 lbs of malt including some Victory malt, British amber, and 120ºL caramel. I mashed with 4 gallons of water, and after an hour I added 2 gallons of "sparge" water. I then drained the tun and got 3+ gallons of 1.068 wort. I diluted to 28 L and boiled with 1/2 ounce of Admiral hops (15% alpha-acids). I wound up with 20 L of 1.044 wort into which I pitched a package of Safale-04.  Stay tuned for updates.

Happy Fourth of July!

a.d. IV Non. Aug.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The longer I wait, the better it tastes

Homebrewing demands patience. It's easy to get excited and try to rush the process, but you can't. Beer is a living thing, and it has to find an equilibirum with its environment. Over the years I've learned that homebrew needs time--time to condition, to settle, to blend, to mellow. Wait long enough and the beer reaches a flavor peak that just cannot be achieved any other way. Today was such a day for Giants Fever. It's pouring from the keg with a clarity and brightness that was not evident last week. The creamy head is still there, and the dark amber/orange color. But the flavor is better! It's smoother and richer, and better balanced than before. This is that peak time, and on top of that, the Giants won a great game in extra innings.

a.d. VIII Id.Jul.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Giants Fever tapped today!

The amber-orange brew poured out of the keg with a nice, thick, creamy head and was deliciously refreshing. There's a big, malty aroma, and a dextrinous sweetness on the tongue, but the mellow hop finish seems just enough to balance that out. Giants Fever is a light, easy-drinking, good chips-n-salsa summertime beer, but it didn't help the Giants today. Let's hope it does soon.

a.d. XI Kal. Iun.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fridge time

Giants Fever went to the refrigerator last night. I figure to give it at least a week, maybe two. It will certainly be ready to drink by Memorial Day weekend. The Giants lost in New York last night and are struggling today as I write. Let's hope things improve for the lads, eh?

a.d. VIII Id. Mai.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

St. Mark's beer

Giants Fever went to the keg today. I primed it with 100 grams of dextrose (boiled in a quart of water). The delicate orange-ish brew came in at 1.005 for the final gravity (a notch above 1 ºP), and it looked and smelled clean and fresh as well. It looks like the Cooper's did a good job fermenting out and settling, or in brew-speak, attenuating and flocculating. There was only a small amount of sludge (trub) at the bottom of the carboy. It's the Feast of St. Mark, but that didn't help the Giants, who lost 2-0 to St. Louis. The keg will go to the fridge the first week of May, and be ready to drink a week or two after that.

a.d. VII Kal. Mai.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Giants Fever: update

I racked Giants Fever to a fresh carboy. A much smaller amount of yeast sludge than I expected sat at the bottom of the fermenter. Much remains suspended in the brew despite clear evidence that the bulk of fermentation is over. Everthing looks good, though. The hall closet holds a steady 64 ºF despite the variable spring weather. The batch goes to the keg in another week or so. April 25th, the Feast of  St. Mark, looks like a good day!

a.d. XVII Kal. Mai.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Giants Fever

I mixed up 10 pounds of Pilsner malt, 3/4 pound of 60 ºL crystal, and 1/4 pound of 350 ºL chocolate and mashed at 150 ºF with 12 quarts of liquor. I used 1/2 ounce of Belgian Admiral whole hops (14.7 % α-acids) for bittering (60 mins) and 1/2 ounce New Zealand Hallertaur (7.4 % α-acids) for flavor (20 mins). A 70-minute boil yielded 5 delicious-looking gallons of wort. The refractometer said 11-12 ºP which I'm calling 1.046 OG. I pitched two packages (@ 7 grams) of Cooper's dry yeast in the carboy, one at the bottom and one on the top. I think this dark amber brew will be worthy of the name "Giants Fever." I'm looking for less hop bitterness and more of a malt character. Speaking of the Giants, they are 4-0, the only undefeated team in baseball!

My "hillbilly malt mill" made its debut with this mash. I used two small C-clamps to attach the mill to a piece of heavy counter-top material which I then clamped to my brew table with a monster-size C-clamp. With an old milk crate--the heavy-duty kind--and two pieces of scrap lumber I could mount a square plastic pail directly under the mill's rollers. I removed the hand crank and powered the shaft with my electric drill. It worked great and I turned malt into grist lickety-split. That sure saved time and effort!

Even though it is a bit cool in the closet (62 ºF), I expect the beer to ferment vigorously and I plan to rack it right away to a secondary fermenter. I'll keep you posted.

Go Giants!

a.d. IV Id. Apr.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beer & Baseball

Me and my homey JC getting stoked for the Giants Opener and Tim "The Franchise" Lincecum! Note the delicious pint of St. Patrick's Day Stout. Baseball without beer is too terrifying to consider. Stay on top of the San Francisco Giants at RAISING MATT CAIN.

a.d. VIII Id. Apr.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Verdict

Thirsty beer drinkers can easily suck down 2-1/2 gallons (20 pints) of good brew, and that's exactly what happened on Saturday last. Fellow homebrewers Otto and Tommy-O supplied their stouts (and a pale) as well. It was a great night for fresh stuff. My stout was probably the mildest, but it poured well and showed a nice head of very fine bubbles. I still prime my beer, even though I could "force" carbonate it with my existing setup, and I believe that delivers a smooth creaminess that can't be replicated. I was happy with the stout I made, it definitely had that "traditional" Irish vibe, and folks seemed to like it. Kudos to my mates for always making great beer and "raising the bar" for all of us. What comes out of our kegs every year just seems to be better and better. And "t'anks a million" to N & R for the annual St. Patrick's Day Festival that's the best craic in the State of Jefferson.

a.d. IX Kal. Mai.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taste test

I tapped one of the 2-1/2 gallon kegs of new stout this evening. The black beer showed a robust, creamy head upon pouring. Light on the palate, with a dry, lingering finish, it went down easily. I meant to make a beer reminiscent of the ones we drank in Ireland, like Beamish and Murphy's. And Guinness, of course. (That's your holy trinity, lads.) This particular stout starts out smooth like an English mild (a dark type of cask ale we drank over there), but the crisp, roasted grain flavor soon comes to the fore. I think this will be a dandy brew!

The famous Ides of March were yestersday, on the 15th. March has 31 days so today is a.d. XVII Kal. Apr. in the Roman reckoning, or "17 days before the 1st of April." (Those pesky Romans counted inclusively.)

Ave Imperator, bibituri te salutamus!

Sunday, March 7, 2010


The St. Patrick's Day Stout gets two weeks in the fridge before it's tapped. It should be ready to sample on St. Patrick's Day (Wednesday the 17th) and ready to quaff at Nancy's party on the 20th.

To "lager" means to store, particularly at cold temperatures. This helps to settle and mellow the beer after the fermentation and conditoning periods. Since I store and serve all  my brews in the refrigerator, they all get "lagering" time before the kegs are tapped, even if they are made (like this one) with ale yeast.

This is supposed to be a very light, dry, crisply-flavored brew. We'll see!

a.d. VIII Id. Mar. (Beware the Ides!)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sealed in steel

The St. Patrick's Day Stout is primed and kegged. It is a nice, light drink, with a final gravity of 1.010 or 2.5 ºP. I expect the abv to be about 4%. That should make it eminently quaffable. I enjoy a full-flavored beer that is low in alcohol because I get to drink a lot more of it in one sitting!

a.d. IX Kal. Mar.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Racking the stout

Racking means moving the beer. In this case, fermentation is over and I want to get the stout off the yeast sludge (trub) at the bottom of the carboy. Yeast starts to feed on itself (autolysis) after it is done feeding on the wort, so it helps the flavor to get the new beer into a fresh vessel. I happen to have a lovely Better Bottle carboy (with valve) for this very purpose. Today I moved the stout from the primary fermenter. It will be ready for the keg this weekend.

a.d. XV Kal. Mar.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stupor Bowl Stout

I made beer today, and managed to catch a little of the 2nd half of the Stupid Bowl. I have to admit that I was rooting for New Orleans. I'm proud of the fact that I watched NOT ONE SINGLE FOOKIN' COMMERCIAL. A television event that celebrates advertising is not one I can get excited about. Football is pretty dull stuff--I can handle about two games or so per year. It was a relatively warm and sunny day here in the State of Jefferson. I put together a very simple dry stout for St. Patrick's Day. I used only 9 lbs. of Pilsner malt and 1 lb. of specialty malts (1/2 black malt, 1/4 Carafa 2--German chocolate, 1/4 roasted barley). I infused the grist with 175 ºF liquor (10 quarts) and the mash settled in at 152 ºF. I have some high-alpha (14-15 %) whole Belgian Admiral hops, and it only takes a half ounce to to get 30 IBU with a 60 minute boil. The yield was just short of 5 gallons with an OG of 1.040 (10 ºPlato). I pitched a package of dry Safale US-05 right on top. It was an easy brew day and everything went smoothly. I'll probably rack the beer to another carboy later this week as the Safale strains are pretty fast-acting. Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in only SEVEN DAYS!!

a.d. VII Id. Feb.