24 December, 2007

Makin' Glögg

Glögg is a Swedish drink that we make yearly. Only last year, however, did we get serious about storing the finished product. Because of the added sugar it begins a very sweet drink - too much for me, but after a month becomes drinkable. Two weeks ago I opened 2006's batch. With age, it becomes smooth and spicy.

Last year I followed the recipe we have saved in the folds of The Joy of Cooking, but this year that book and recipe is packed away in preparation for our January move to Texas. Good thing Adie has an online copy.

I want to record the recipe I used this year so I can look back at it next year. I had to stray a little because the grocery store was out of a few things this morning (big surprise, Christmas Eve...)

In a saucepan mix:

  • A bottle of dry red wine. This year I used a $3 bottle of merlot.
  • Peel of a navel orange
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup prunes
  • 12 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 whole cloves
  • About a teaspoon of ground cardamom
Simmer for 15 minutes, then add
  • A bottle of ruby port
  • 1 c chopped almonds
Reduce heat to low, cover. In a pan heat over a medium flame
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 bottle Aquavit
Ignite the aquavit and burn until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remainder of the aquavit and cover to extinguish. Add this mixture to the mulled wine.

I left the glögg covered over low heat while I cleaned up, about 30 minutes. Strain out the mulling ingredients, bottle and label.


11 August, 2007

Day Two In St Michaels

Day two in St Michaels. This year I discover that my uncle Ron's taste beer is more sophisticated than most. Delighted, he tells me of the ales at the C Street Saloon on the main street (the one and only street in town). There is even an English-style ale there, which makes me salivate. My wife wants to spend the morning shopping with Aunt Dottie.

St Michaels' town motto is “The town that fooled the British” deriving from a August 10th, 1813 ruse. The residents learned of a British plan to bombard the town and fort. Hanging lanterns from the trees, they tricked British gunners into overshooting the town. Dottie says the motto should be updated to read “The town that fooled the tourists.” Overpopulated with fashionable clothes shops, art boutiques and tourist crap shops, there is little much else to do. I endure the commerce until lunchtime at the pub.

The C Street Saloon sits on the corner of St Michaels Blvd and Carpenter Drive. Like all the shops in the town the pub was formerly a home (often Victorian style) converted to business some time in the 1950's. The bar is separated from the restaurant, forming two long rooms comfortably seating about two dozen apiece. The faire is typical sea-shore pub food: fish, crab, burgers, etc.

There are two beers of note on the menu. The first being the aforementioned C St Ale, and another a Yuengling Porter. Yuengling's lager is easy to find, but the porter is new to me. I decide to start with a mug of the ale. Ron tells me that it is actually brewed 50 miles away in Annapolis.

A mug of clear amber beer comes to the table. It retains a thin white head after the trip from the bar. On the nose there is a great floral hop aroma. Not much malt, but certainly noble hops. It's cold and has a carbon dioxide bite which complements a medium bitterness. The sweetness is well attenuated leaving behind a few British malt flavors to delight the taste buds. Medium body with uncharacteristic medium-high CO2, it finished dry and bitter without begin soapy. Warm it up a little and reduce the carbonation for a great English bitter.

Next up is the Yuengling porter, black and opaque. A whiff reveals strong molasses, but not much else. It tastes sweet, but one sided. The hops are barely noticeable with their bitterness coming out halfway through the glass. Low carbonation, medium body. Overall, a disappointing shallow porter. I order another C Street ale.

10 August, 2007

Fordham Lager

We just arrived at my aunt and uncle's weekend getaway (soon to be retirement) home in St Michaels, Maryland situated in an area known as the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. A sleepy town on the surface but all around there is a quiet bustle of boutique shoppers and vacationers. The area is beautiful, my aunt and uncle's place an exemplar of subdued extravagance.

They live on Mt. Misery Road – something of a misnomer as the area couldn't be less mountainous or miserable, unless you count their neighbors: Donald Rumsfield and Dick Cheney own houses nearby. The back of the property, where the house sits, looks out over an arm of the bay. It is quiet, picturesque, one of my favorite places to spend time. Down on the dock the crab pots are out of the water and the tide is too high to harvest the oysters just off shore. Yesterday's crab haul waits in the fridge.

Ron greets us and shortly pulls out a local beer by Fordham Brewing, handing me a glass. The label says “Est. 1703” on one side and “Re-Est. 1995” opposite. Looks like they have been in business for a long time. Although the beer is brewed & bottled by Southern Beverages Inc in Dover, Delaware, the recipe is from the Fordham family.
Simply labeled “Lager”, it pours a clear, rich golden color. I am able to coax a little white head to the top of my beer, but it quickly fades. Bringing the glass to my nose there is a noticeable sweet aroma. Honey flower lurks in the background giving the impression of noble hops. Like the aroma, the draught is grainy and sweet. As it rolls around a low hop bitterness comes out hanging on to the carbonation crispness. The only fault I can point to is an insufficient carbonation. Medium bodied, the finish is pleasantly bitter leaving the memory of initial sweetness.

It occurs to me that this is not simply a “lager”. Thinking for a moment, I peg it at Munich Helles. A read of the BJCP guidelines for category 1D confirms my suspicion. Not surprising that Fordham picked the simpler moniker for wider appeal, but they should be proud of the fine Helles. I might make room in my suitcase for this (with the Old Dominion barleywine).

06 August, 2007

On Vacation, Beer Tasting

The weather report says 55% humidity, but it lies; the air feels much heavier. When we left the house, the reading indoors was 70% and I'd wager it is closer to 89% outside. A moist haze, unlike California smog, mingles high with threatening cumulous giving the sun an indistinct outline. I am escaping the ninety degree heat at one of the Washington DC metro area's best Irish pubs – The Old Brogue. Situated in Great Falls, VA it lies a mere twenty minute walk from my grandfather's home and stables. We drove, however. It's hot. The pub is a typical Irish pub; picture Molly McGee's or O'Flaherty's. Dark wood everywhere, green accents, a tiny raised stage, and decent selection of pub beer.

I am most of the way through Magic Hat #9 and need to get a review of the previous beer down before I forget it entirely. Thirty minutes ago the waiter brought me a bottle of Victory Prima Pils. It poured a pale straw color with a thin white head smelling of floral hops. The bottle says “whole flower European hops” and I picked up citrus and spice. Unlike traditional pilsners with their subdued but palatable bitterness, Prima Pils comes at me more like a West Coast American pale ale. After returning to the house I will be surprised to find it in the BJCP's list of commercial examples of German Pilsner. Guess I need to taste more German nobles. Although the hops are unexpected, Victory obviously took the usual route when crafting the grain-bill. It is soft and crisp. Malt character takes a back seat to this spicy hop ride. Carbonation and other mouthfeel details conform to style. Overall, the beer is good, but I wouldn't order it again. Before I return home my palate will find a famous Victory Hop Devil.

The steamed mussels just arrived. I have an inch and a half of #9 left. gulp Less than that now. A narrow ring of white head still clings to the top of the beer. “It's on draft. It's an apricot beer,” was all the young waiter could tell me about it. The dulcet aroma is heavy with fruit. In general, I do not detect the fruity smells of most ales. My nose is just not attuned to that scent, but it has no trouble with these 'cots. When I peer through the beer in the dim light it appears a slightly darker straw than the pils, with an orange-pink tinge. Fortunately, this beer does not taste as sweet as it smells. It is nearly dry in defiance of a full apricot flavor with complementing hop spice like a subdued sassion. The last sip, warmed, goes down easy making for a drinkable beer. Not a style of my liking, but enjoyable.

Just in time for this paragraph the attentive waiter places a Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA next to me. My wife, head buried in her iBook, has helped me make a small dent in the mussels. The IPA wafts promises of American hops and a wink of malty sweetness to my nose. The light shines through palest golden leaving you with the impression of lager rather than ale. Hops and bitterness hit my tongue. This is a great IPA. Sharp, fresh, with citrus undertones, not overpowering, makes for a good complement to the Chesapeake Bay mussels that now sit nearly finished by my laptop. While the hops grab my attention, if I concentrate I can taste the supporting malt quietly providing a backbone to the beer. Saving the last swallow, my concentration turns to the mussels. Adrienne's battery is almost dead, she's fidgeting now, and our waiter is quitting for the day. I am going to miss this IPA when I get back to the West Coast.

This is just the beginning. More tasting sure to come.

22 July, 2007

Quick evaluation of the bitter

The Bitter has been on tap for about three weeks now and I am five gallons down. Here is a little post about it so far.

What I like:

  • Excellent hopping level
  • Turned out drinkable after the giant problems with the previous batches
Some problems, and their solutions:
  • Cloudy - I stopped using Irish moss when I ran out, must go back to it
  • The malt profile is simple - expected from a simple grain bill
  • Had a very noticeable chlorine warmth - I de-gassed it twice and the problem is lessened
San Jose uses chloramine in its water and I did not filter my water prior to brewing. Chloramine is becoming preferable to chlorine because it does not dissipate in the system. It is that property that carries it through the brewing process.

Roger, who brewed along side me at the brew-in, had the same problem in his IPA and suggested that I de-gas the beer a few times. After the beer was carbonated, I opened the top vent until it stopped hissing, then allowed it to carbonate over a few days. Repeat as necessary. This will also carry out some of the flavor you want to keep, but it is a small price to pay for drinkable beer.

I have another five gallons still in carboy - interested to see if the off-flavors are still there.

Before I leave, I feel compelled to give you a little BJCP-style judging of it. The keg is nearly empty and I want to bring a half a gallon to a friend's house tonight, so here is the evaluation from memory:

Aroma: No hop aroma, all malt and a hint of alcohol warmth.

Appearance: Amber, cloudy

Flavor: Full malt flavor with a residual bitterness level. Bitterness is low, skimming the bottom of the expected magnitude. There is a noticeable alcohol warmth and some off-flavor that my inexperienced palate can't identify. Maybe it's just the "homebrew flavor".

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, finishes pretty clean.

Overall: Drinkable, as evidenced by the short turn-around time on the keg. Not my best, but a welcome beer none-the-less.


29 June, 2007

Kegged the Bitter

Friday I emptied 5 gallons of the newest beer into a keg. It's been under pressure for two days now, and I just put it into the serving fridge. It is slightly under-hopped and a little too malty, but it should be a decent beer. Admittedly, I tasted it warm, in a frozen mug, so the flavor will be different tomorrow when it's cellar temperature.

Final gravity was around 8° Bx (1.015 SG), putting it at about 5.5% ABV - too high to be a session beer. Guess it is a Strong Bitter rather than an Ordinary Bitter.

Glad it will be ready for Independence Day.


17 June, 2007

Brew-in at the LHBS

Yesterday, the Sudzers held a brew-in at Beer & Winemakers, a local homebrew shop. It is a chance to get together with club members and show off your brewery. If you have read some of my previous posts you will know that my brewery is in transition from average-homebrew-size to double-homebrew-size. I have the big pieces of equipment, but not the stuff to efficiently connect the individual vessels. Despite this, and in defiance of previous infections, I packed most of my brewery into the car - resolute to make a full batch.

In order to take advantage of my shiny new counter-flow chiller and false bottom for my kettle, I needed to stop off at the hardware store. There I picked up some copper fittings and hose clamps to connect the kettle and CFC. Since it has been ten years since I last soldered copper, I hoped someone among the brewers there could refresh my memory. The beer path of my chiller was also a little tweaked from a storage accident and I feared the fittings might not set into place properly.

I arrived 20 minutes after the prescribed start to find only Roger St. Dennis set up and mashing. Always jovial, he greeted me and pointed to where I could set up. I was thankful to have a spot near the shade - the previous week was hot and sunny. There were customers, mostly neophyte brewers, checking out our equipment and asking questions about the process. I poured a beer from the jockey box.

Despite being determined to make beer that day, I did not have a recipe. I am beginning a search for a stellar bitter recipe and the owner at B&WM helped me get a start. Off the top of his head, he recommended these ingredients:


  • 20 lbs Maris Otter
  • 2 lbs Crystal 35L
  • 3.0 oz Goldings 5.1%AA 60 min
  • 1.0 oz Goldings 5.1%AA 10 min
I choose White Labs Dry English Ale yeast and the hopping schedule. I poured a beer from the jockey box.

He erred towards the malty side, but even with my brewery's 68% efficiency that put the OG -about 1.056 - well above range for an ordinary bitter. I could have used half the fermentables and come out at the low end of the gravity range. Not to worry - I like big beers too.

I heated 9 gallons of strike water to about 160° F and mashed in. The only thermometer I brought that day had a tiny dial, so these readings are approximate. I hit around 155° F for my sacc rest and called it good. I poured a beer from the jockey box. While the hot water did its thing, I chatted with customers and set about other brew-day tasks.

Since my 15-gallon fermenter does not travel well, I resorted to two dirty 5-gallon glass fermenters. Cleaning those bottle-necked vessles is a real pain in the ass, but PBW worked well for me. Another beer from the jockey-box. Many people asked questions and I was happy to explain the whole brewing process.

Even with the extra distractions, I remembered to heat up some sparge water in time for mash-out. My crappy software recommended 8 gallons sparge water, but I only brought a 5-gallon HLT. I decided to make due and heat two batches of water to get the correct volume. The first was ready on time and the second shortly afterwards. The brew-day was quickly progressing. I poured a beer from the jockey box.

While waiting for the kettle to boil, I talked with a machinist about how to best handle my bent chiller outlet. We decided that it would be best to shove a hose way up onto a more sturdy part of the outlet and clamp it down. This worked and I was able to solder a hose-barb on to the other end; ugly, but water-tight. I poured a beer from the jockey box.

Hops were added according to schedule and fermenters were sanitized in time. The new chiller worked superbly and I employed ye ol' shake the fermenter for aeration trick. 30 minutes later, my equipment was clean and put away in the car. The bar-b-que was going and I relaxed until my brew-day buzz wore off before driving home.

Twenty-four hours later, one fermenter is running and the other is just picking up steam. (I think one got more O2 than the other.) I have a crawl-space that maintains about 70° F which should produce a fruity ale. I will report on the process as newsworthy events develop.


12 June, 2007

Sam Adams Treats Us Right

Before I go into this post, I tapped the pilsner and it was infected. Quite disappointing. I brewed yesterday - more on that next post.

This month I judged at the Sam Adams Longshot Competition. It was an awesome weekend. Sam Adams put me and my wife up in the 5-star Hotel Nikko in San Francisco. They paid for meals, parking, rounds at the bar and provided beer (Sam Adams of course). In total the hotel bill was $12, only because I used their gym on Saturday morning. All they wanted was my opinion on some beer. Before I describe the weekend in detail, I'll tell you a little about how you too can be a beer judge.

The Beer Judge Certification Program is an organization that promotes beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and recognizes beer tasting and evaluation skills. (That's the answer to question one of the BJCP test.) It is a hierarchy of some 4,200 judges worldwide that rank beer at competitions. To become a judge you simply must take a test. I took a class before the test and am ranked at Apprentice. After getting some "experience points" I can re-take the test and advance in level. I received 2 points for the Longshot Comp.

Sam Adams holds a yearly competition where they call homebrewers to submit their beers for the chance to have it produced and sold by the company. Losing money on the promotion, Sam Adams gives back to the homebrewing community and promotes the craft. Each entry is submitted under a beer style by the entrant and judged against the guidelines for that style. The Bostonian reps, Rob and Kelly, were great and Adie and I got to know them a little over the weekend at meals and the bars.

On Friday the 1st I played hookey and we drove up to The City. 50-some judges were already pouring flights so Adie and I helped out with the stewards. She got right down to the business of handing out entries, double checking scoresheets and managing the judged beer while I grabbed a Boston Lager with the cellermaster and his assistant. Soon enough there were enough judges to start another flight.

The table I sat down at was tasked with tasting category 17 beers - Sour Ale. This category is often used when a beer is infected but the brewer still wants to compete. Fortunately, this time around there were no examples of that behavior. I tried 3 Flanders Red Ales (17B) and one Fruit Lambic (17F). One of the Flanders had far too much brettanomyces, often described as "horsey", sometimes appropriate, but not in this style. The cherry lambic had an awesome cherry blossom aroma, but a disappointing taste. None of the entries stood out for good or bad reasons.

After judging concluded on Friday the hotel catered dinner then many of us went out to the Rogue Brewery's pub. With so many brewers and homebrewers in one place, the conversation was almost strictly beer and BJCP-related topics, but that's to be expected. We chatted with the reps about working at Sam Adams and the beer scene in Boston.

Saturday morning I got up bright and early to check out the hotel gym. It was small but adequate. We mingled with friends and judges at a well-laid breakfast. Everyone was excited. Moving on to the first flight, I chose to sit down at the category 8 table - English Pale Ale. It was still morning - 10 o'clock - and I did not want to start off with something heavy; plus it's one of my favorite categories. That round there were no extraordinary beers for me to judge, each one as unmemorable as the next. I finished disappointed, but glad I didn't have to sample any hideous brews.

The hotel fed us lunch before the second flight. With the event at full steam on Saturday there were at least 125 judges who had made the trip from all over California, many with wives and kids in tow. (There were a good number of women participating in the judging, but the majority of judges were men.) With so many volunteers I had the option of slacking off for the second half of the day. I decided to get some experience with Spice, Herb, and Vegetable Beers -category 21. Always different, this category is a place for brewers to experiment with stuff you wouldn't normally think. The only beer that stood out was a licorice-spiced beer that was really on-balance with the right amount of anise bitter-sweet.

If you are in San Francisco with people who know beer inevitably you end up at the Toronado. Many of the Sudzers in attendance decided to set out for an evening on The Haight. After a debate on transportation, we decided to take the 71 up Market st. When it appeared that the bus wasn't coming the group split into walkers and cab'ers. As city-dwellers, Adie and I took to our feet for the two mile walk.

The Toronado is famous for its great selection of beers from Belgium. The group picked out something exquisitely sour, the name of which escapes me these two weeks later. My wife and I didn't say long, being worn out from the day, and ditched the group shortly after arriving. We made it back to the hotel in time to have dinner and relax in our room with a good view. By dinner, the best in show had been selected - an Imperial IPA brewed by Mike McDole.

With all of Sunday left and no schedule a group of us bid goodbye to the hotel and headed back to The Haight, this time to Magnolia for some brunch and beer. Their Prescription Pale was excellent and I would make a special trip to the city just to drink their Blue Bell Bitter on cask. Sudzers members Guy, Matthew, Pete, Rahgu, and the two of us were there and we met a pair of judges that came up from San Diego for the event. The eight of us sat at a cluster of three tables, drinking and chatting for a few hours.

Thanks to Samuel Adams for holding the competition and treating us judges to a memorable weekend.


02 April, 2007

A Beginning to the stand

With my Pilsner still lagering it’s third week away (after a week-point-five fermentation), I finally started on the new brewstand!

The design is a pretty standard 3-tier setup even though I have a pump.

I’m not a welder (a quarter of welding in college isn’t enough), but want a metal stand so I will bolt together angle iron. While doing my research, I came upon the idea of using discarded bed frames instead. They are made out of the same stuff and I can easily find them for free. After a few weeks of trolling Craig’s List, I had enough to start.

Yesterday, using a chop-saw, hacksaw and power drill, I cut four 42-inch legs for the tower that will hold the kettle and HLT. It’s a slow process because the frames are pretty hard.

With five weeks work and a little luck, my stand should be done at the same time my pilsner is coming out of lagering. Really looking forward to kicking one back and brewing a batch on the new brewstand.

12 March, 2007

Introducing the Midnight Hour Brewery

I have been brewing since February of ought-four. I have a blog here, and occasionally here, but I want to do a dedicated brewing one.

All breweries, no matter how small, need a name. That idea had not yet crossed my mind when I took up all-grain brewing around my 4th batch. As you may know, all-grain beer takes quite a bit more time than making simple extract & specialty grain. In those days it did not matter how early I started the strike water, clean up wouldn’t end ’till midnight or afterwards. It was a bit of inexperience and a bit my style. So, when I decided that I needed a name for my brewery, I picked the Midnight Hour Brewery to remind me to attempt an earlier finish.

Now-a-days I do not finish so late on a typical brew day. My last batch, however, was another late-night finish. It had been five months or so since I made beer and I was really feeling the desire to brew. Finally I decided to play hookey and make beer. I whipped up a recipe for three gallons of Bohemian Pilsner.

Fermentables (est 1.056 OG)

  • 1.5 lbs Vienna Malt 1.037, 3°L
  • 5.0 lbs Lager Malt 1.037, 1°L
Hops (est 45.6 IBU)
  • 1.5 oz Tettanger 4%AA 60 mins
  • 1.0 oz Tettanger 4%AA 10 mins
  • 1.0 oz Tettanger 4%AA flameout
White Labs Czech Budejovice Lager yeast & distilled water.

Why the small finish volume? My kettle is out on loan for one thing, but I am also in the middle of building a stand for some new equipment I got for Christmas and my birthday. I got a great deal on some 15-gallon MiniBrew conical fermenters on EBay earlier last year, but they stand about four-foot-six off the ground. To get the chilled wort in there I would have to lift my 20-gallon kettle full of just-boiled liquid to the top of my pickup’s camper shell and put the chiller on a milk-crate on the tail gate. That crap had to stop, so I got a pump for my BD. A nifty false bottom, a mega burner, an upgraded CFC and a grain mill came for Christmas and at that point I needed to put together a way to chain it all together. So my brewery is in pieces right now, explaining the infrequent and small batches.

The Pilsner was a frustrating process. I decided to do a two-step infusion mash instead of my normal single step mash. I had problems hitting my rest temperatures, mashing at 155° F instead of 162° F like I wanted to. I also collected 5 gallons 1.023, putting my original gravity around 1.059 for 3 gallons, and a two hour boil. That’s a little outside the style guidelines for Bohemian Pilsner, but I wanted it at the high end of that gravity range, and it was the long boil that troubled me.

When I sanitized my new chiller, I discovered that I did not have the right hose diameter to get enough suction and clamps probably would have deformed the soft coper of my new chiller. I had already sold my old CFC to the person who also had my kettle, so I had to chill overnight.

At present, the brew is fermenting away at 50° F so it appears there were no infections. Now I have to wait out a 10 week lager for it to be ready. I’ll probably have my stand done before then, then it’s back to consistent, 10-gallon batches.