Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Pumpkin Dance"

Just finished brewing my fourth batch, "Pumpkin Dance" pumpkin ale. I'm not attached to the name. I'm having a little difficulty coming up with a pumpkin related name that hasn't been used already. "Big Pumpkin"? I dunno. I've got two weeks to solidify that.

So, let's talk about the beer, shall we. This is a small, kind of a science project of a batch. I'm a little short on funds, so I used one of the Mr. Beer HMEs that I had left over from my Christmas gift set. It was a "Canadian Draft" can, I added the booster, a cup of brown sugar, 1/2 a cup of honey, one can of pumpkin, and some spices. This should yield around 24 bottles. It'll have around 6% abv.

I think one of the first beers I had that kind of opened me to the possibilities of beer being more than either Miller Lite or Guinness was Cottonwood's Pumpkin Spice beer. I was visiting my friend, Brian when he was living in Boone, and we drank a 6 pack, and I loved it. Ever since, I've been searching for the perfect pumpkin beer. Dogfish Head's 'punkin Ale is by far the best. I want to reach that level of taste and alcohol content (eventually).

I'm not sure how this one will turn out. So far the HMEs have been pretty good to me. Though this is the first time that I'm using one that doesn't exactly thematically fit with what I'm trying to do. I'm also worried that the canned pumpkin...

oh, and a quick aside about the canned pumpkin.
from what I read, almost everyone said, don't use it.
I found one person who said to spread it on a cookie sheet, and bake it for an hour.
that seemed to cook out a lot of the excess water.

... in that it might taste a little too squash-like. Adding the spices should take care of that (hopefully). Also worried about the extra sugars, if the yeast can handle it, or if it'll come out too sweet.

All of that worrying aside, I'm really excited about this one. Hope it comes out good.

Prior Restraint Coffeehouse Porter: The Results Are In

Prior Restraint came out as a very smooth, very drinkable Porter with mild coffee undertones. That wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Not that the beer is bad, I have been drinking it and enjoying the hell out of it. It's just not exactly the flavor profile I was hoping for.

However, I believe I mentioned the 5 experimental bottles with chilled coffee added to them in secondary fermentation. Those came out more along the lines of what I was looking for. It tastes just like a cup of coffee. When I return to this beer later, I will probably replace the smoked malt with something more... creamy? Maybe keep the smoked malt and add the coffee and some lactose sugars? Needs work, but I'm very encouraged by my first big batch of beer.

I've given some bottles away to friends and family, and I'm just waiting to hear some feedback.

That Went Well

Okay, very sorry about the lack of updating on the blog. A series of unfortunate events put me in a new job, and working through the transition, I haven't wanted to work on the blog, until now.

The Pecan Ale made it's big premiere at our baby shower a few weeks ago. I had a case and it was gone halfway through the party. Everyone really enjoyed it. It came out with a very smooth taste, a nice alcohol content, and just the right amount of pecan flavor. I would really like to thank everyone at the party for their kind words, also their baby shower gifts. We've pretty much got the baby's room together now, and we couldn't have done it without the generosity of our friends.

Pecan Ale is all gone now. I will return to it soon enough, making a larger batch.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prior Restraint Coffeehouse Porter: One Week Away

It's been a really busy, really insane week. Two days in the hospital with my pregnant wife for a really bad asthma attack, taking care of her afterwards. And still finding time to bottle batch #3, Prior Restraint. There are 52 bottles out of this batch, 5 of which I added chilled coffee to. I added different amounts of coffee to each in an attempt to enhance the flavor. More on all that in a week.

Oh, and I realized that I did not give credit where credit is due. My good friend Daniel coined the term "Big Acorn" in reference to Raleigh, NC.

Sorry about the light posting, more when I have time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brewing Now: Prior Restraint Coffeehouse Porter

My first big batch is fermenting right next to my desk as we speak. A soft ticking sound coming from the airlock tells me everything is working out just right.

It was an arduous process yesterday, getting this beer made. As much as I learned from first batch, I learned a lot more from this third batch. A flat top range isn't the best for heating large pots of liquid. That's lesson #1. Most of the time taken up during the making of this beer was waiting for the water to reach steeping temp. and then waiting (forever) for the wort to reach a rolling boil when I could add the hops and LME (liquid malt extract, a syurpy additive that is going to give this beer it's porteryness.)
Lesson #2: The hops, once in the boil give off one hell of an aroma! My wife, Amanda, said it smelled like "burnt carpet samples".
So, what is this beer gonna be like? I took a recipe for a smoked porter, with chocolate, caramel, and smoked malted hops, and added 2 oz. of cracked Tanzanian Peaberry coffee. Peaberry is one of my favorite types of coffee, the name refers to the very small beans that are usually looked over because of their size. They have a great concentration of flavor, though, and with a medium roast, they shouldn't be too oily for the brew. I'm hoping that with the coffee, the smoke, chocolate, and caramel it'll kind of bring to mind spending hours in Cup A Joe on Hillsborough (before the smoking ban) the superstrong coffee competing with cigarette smoke from the other side of the building, and a nice brownie on the table to be picked at while you talk about revolution. (What revolution didn't have a nice brownie at it's inception.) Though I don't smoke, and really am not a fan of the smell of billowing clouds of the stuff, it's indelibly linked in my head with those countless hours spent drinking coffee with friends. So, here, I'm trying to recreate that.

The name is an arcane Big Lebowski reference, after The Dude is shown Bunny's toe, he meets Walter in a coffee shop. As the tension escalates between the two, the waitress asks Walter to quiet down, to which he takes umbrage, and starts spouting off about the Supreme Court "roundly rejecting" prior restraint. Working on the bottle art for it, hoping to get the acorn head on Walter's body with his sunglasses on.

The beer started fermenting today, so it has about 6 days before it will be ready for bottling. Then another week after that for the secondary in bottle fermentation. I'm wondering if I should get a carboy for secondary fermentation, though. It would certainly be less time consuming than priming 50 some bottles... Anyway, it should be ready in two weeks, either way, so look forward to that.

Big Acorn Pecan Ale

Like a lot of beer enthusiasts in North Carolina, I've only come to this recently. In 2005 our state allowed high gravity beers within it's borders. Before that time my favorite beers were Yuengling, Rolling Rock, and Tecate. Which are all still very good, but I wasn't really aware of the diaspora of beers that would begin to flood the market after the law passed.
Then, I had a Chimay "bleu", and I was in love. Then it was Delirium Tremens, then Dogfish Head Black & Blue, then Unibroue Maudite, and on & on. But all these things seemed like impossible Jimmy Page double necked guitar solos. Golden gods, sending down amazingly delicious lightning bolts from the fizzy clouds in beer heaven.

A lot (really, mostly all) of my previous writing has been about music, it's a subject of obsession for me. So, I find it very easy to draw parallels in life to the great rock narrative. Forgive me, here's another. I saw the documentary Beer Wars (available streaming on Netflix), which was like hearing the Ramones for the first time. Realizing that you can take on those golden gods, or maybe, no, that's not it. It's realizing that you don't have to be a golden god to make something you love. In Beer Wars, you're introduced to Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head. You see him in their brewery working on a small batch of something, and my god, that looks like cooking, and I know how to cook. Maybe these people aren't golden gods at all, it finally occurred to me to me that maybe I could do this.

Months later, I finally take my first steps towards brewing. Last month, I made my first small batch, using a Mr. Beer kit I got for Christmas, I made a wheat beer. I felt that I couldn't just make a simple beer, though. I had to bring other flavors and a sense of experimentation to what I was doing. Mr. Beer kits come with a pre-made can of wort (beer before it's fermented). There's only so much fun that you can have with that, so I added a few things. A cup of honey, two clementine peels, and some coriander. It came out pretty damn good, a bright summer wheat which was very easy to drink. There were some glitches, too much priming sugar in the bottles led to way too much carbonation, which ended up completely escaping the crappy plastic bottles that came with the kit.
I took the lessons from that first batch and applied them to the Big Acorn Pecan Ale. A great brown ale with roasted pecan flavor up front and a smooth, slightly sweet brown sugar finish. I used a Mr. Beer Octoberfest Vienna Lager pre-made wort, with booster sugars, brown sugar, and a cup of pecans I dry roasted a day before I brewed. Clocking in at around 5-6% abv, it's got a nice little kick that you won't notice until you've finished your bottle. (I switched to glass bottles after the plastic debacle.) It will make it's debut at my wife and I's couples baby shower.