The Return of the Keg

Let’s hear it for small victories!

This blog has been somewhat neglected for the last year, and in fact, the last several years. No, not neglected; just back-burnered, like a few quarts of extra wort run out from a mash tun into a saucepan to boil in case it’s needed for something, only to be forgotten until the brewer smells evaporated malt syrup burning on the stove seven hours later.

It’s been an adventure for me for the past few years, gradually adjusting, then unadjusting and readjusting to rapid changes in life. As I’ve continually tried to balance the demands of fatherhood, my career, the never-ending project that is my new house (it’s still “my new house” after two years, and I don’t see that changing soon) and now a podcast about the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, something had to fall by the wayside. That something was brewing, because it’s hard to set aside an entire day to brew a batch from all grain, and it’s hard to commit to dry hopping, kegging, and all the rest on schedule to make the best possible beer.

No brewing means no blogging about brewing, and because I don’t want to turn this blog into just a bunch of reviews on commercial beers I’m drinking, I haven’t had much to write about here. But that did change recently. (Woohoo!) I’m not quite certain that I’ve turned the corner and will be brewing regularly again, but it’s worth reporting that I’ve made some progress.

I just kegged for the first time in several months. Almost a year ago, I came up with two new recipes inspired by my family’s growing obsession with Walt Disney World, including a Star Wars-inspired black IPA with Galaxy and Mosaic hops. After months of thinking “By Yoda, that sounds good,” I carved out some time five weeks ago to pull the Grainfather out of the garage and brew the beer I’d been thinking about.

I’m proud (and a bit shocked) to say that I still seem to know what I’m doing. I had no major mishaps on brew day; the biggest speed bump was a half-hour delay caused by me forgetting where I had put away a couple of the many small metal and rubber bits that make up the Grainfather’s pump filter system. After I located them, it was smooth sailing. I missed my target OG by a few points (1.065 instead of my target 1.071) but I’ve never been one to get too upset by missing gravity targets. My FG was on target at 1.017, so I ended up with a more quaffable 6.3% ABV beer than the seven-percenter I was expecting. Even kegging went smoothly. It helped that I had a nice shiny new keg in a box with no leaks ready to receive the brew.

img_4887

The hoppy black elixir transitions gently to its final resting place. In hindsight, maybe my hose was too long.

It was nice to have three beers on tap in my three-tap kegerator for about 24 hours. The following day, though, I emptied one of those three kegs, so I once again have an empty slot. Fortunately, I have a plan for that tap: the light, crisp honey wheat with floral East Kent Goldings hops I planned last year will be a wonderful beverage for spring in Texas. I hope to carve out time for another brew day for that recipe in early April.

But for now it’s back to fatherhood, work, and podcasting about Tolkien. So while this isn’t quite the story-ending “Well, I’m back,” of Sam Gamgee in the final chapter of The Return of the King, I can honestly quote Bilbo Baggins in the same chapter by saying, “And now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey.”1

Now if I can just find the time to clean all this equipment.


1 Quote taken from the book, not the Peter Jackson film.

Thoughts on San Diego Comic-Con from a safe distance: Of Beer and Geek Culture

In what has become an annual ritual for the worldwide geekosphere, all eyes are on the West Coast this weekend for San Diego Comic-Con 2016. I’ve never actually been to SDCC personally, having always preferred smaller conventions (such as SDCC’s little sister WonderCon, which I used to attend every year in San Francisco before it moved to Anaheim in 2012). Most of my geekier friends say SDCC has gotten too big for its own good: it’s been taken over by mainstream entertainment, the lines are too long, the space too tight, the “leet” swag and events too hard to get. But it’s the con everyone knows about, so it’s the one I’m often asked about by casual acquaintances: Am I going? Have I been? Would I be going if I didn’t have small children? No, no, and no … cons this big are a young man’s game, and unless they shrink it down for an old fogey like me, I probably won’t brave the travel or the crowds until the day my children beg me to.

But even though I’m not in San Diego for the con, I was in San Diego last week for something a bit less exciting: a business meeting (ooh. ahh.). While I was there, I stopped into a couple of local tap rooms, and I managed to get an early taste of SDCC at the Stone Brewing Tap Room at Petco Park, by tasting this year’s Stone Farking Wheaton W00tstout, an annual collaboration between the brewery’s Greg Koch, FARK.com founder Drew Curtis, and beer-geek-cum-regular-geek-icon Wil Wheaton.

The service at Stone was fantastic; the bartenders were friendly and had real conversations with me, and they let me taste whatever I wanted. And perhaps seeing my hipster glasses and the look in my eyes that said “I can’t wait to go back to my hotel and read,” one bartender recommended I try the W00tstout.

Stone’s website panderingly calls this beer a “whopping, complex superhero version of an imperial stout with a profound complexity” and panderingly states that “we can’t say this beer bestows jedi powers”. Wow! It’s like it’s made just for me … a geek! And of course it must be perfect for a guy like me, because it’s got Wil Wheaton’s name on it!

So I ordered it, and what I got was a half-pint of a pretty ordinary bourbon-tinged imperial stout with a little bit of pecan and a lot of booziness. It was fine, but it was only “fine”. And it wasn’t very different from any other  bourbon imperial stout I’ve ever had (and there are hundreds of them), except that it was a lot harder to drink.

Again, I cannot stress enough how great the bartenders were at Stone, and I’m not knocking them at all. The guy who poured me the W00tstout asked me how I liked it, and I noncommittally said it was “good” … but a little boozy. His response was knowing and apologetic: “Yeah,  but we’re gonna sell a ton of it next week at Comic-Con.” His tone was clear. He wasn’t the biggest fan himself, but he knew that it would sell on the basis of its geek cred alone. Geek cred, I might add, which extended no further than the names attached to it and the word w00t on the tap handle.

I much preferred Stone Mocha IPA, an odd but delicious little IPA with mocha (exactly what it says on the tin, really … but such a surprising combination that a Lyft driver who talked to me about craft beer the next morning refused to believe it existed). I much preferred Ballast Point’s Orange Vanilla Fathom India Pale Lager, a refreshing bit of creamsicle in a glass I drank at the Ballast Point Tasting Room with my dinner earlier that evening (though my wife and friends made funny, good-natured “yuck” comments when I bragged about it on Facebook). I even preferred the smooth, rich Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout I drank at the airport the next day, which was served to me through tap lines that probably hadn’t been cleaned since the Bush administration by a waitress in her sixties who didn’t know the difference between milk stout and cream ale.

And so I wonder, what gives one beer more geek cred than another? What makes one beer … or one anything … “geekier” than any other?

Being a geek used to mean being obsessively passionate about something weird, some oddity of pop culture that mainstream culture didn’t really get. We all know comic book geeks, sci-fi geeks, fantasy geeks, gamer geeks. But a couple of things have happened to that word that have changed its meaning. One is good, one is bad.

The good: The term “geek”now can apply to an extreme or even alienating obsession with other pursuits outside of that general sci-fi/fantasy/comic continuum. I’ve heard friends describe themselves as snake geeks, football geeks, bike geeks, and yes … beer geeks. Some of these things would have been unheard of when I was a kid and first began to identify myself with the “geek” label. Football geeks? Weren’t football people the guys who used to beat us up and rip the covers off our Robert Heinlein paperbacks? But there are those guys who love football so much – with their fantasy leagues and their stats – that casual sports fans like myself can’t begin to understand. Those people are football geeks, and I’m cool with that.

The bad: The original brand of geek culture has become commoditized. The sci-fi and fantasy properties that used to get us ostracized have gone mainstream. And as that has happened, the little divisions between geek cultures have started to erode. It’s not enough anymore to be geeky about Star Wars, or Marvel Comics, or Tolkien. Geek is truly an identity now, and if you’re a “geek”, you’re supposed to be geeky about everything from video games to Game of Thrones. That’s a big expanse of a lot of different kinds of popular entertainment, and so while it seems obvious to me that no one is going to like everything in that category, still it’s shocking to so many people when (for example) I say I hate The Walking Dead, or I complain that there are too many comic book movies. “Aren’t you a geek?” the unspoken question goes, “Aren’t you supposed to love all that stuff?”

This also seems to me to be the same mentality that says that hordes of SDCC attendees should float keg after keg of a mediocre imperial stout just because it’s got Wil Wheaton’s name on it.

Any one of the beers I drank in San Diego that I actually liked seems more “geeky” to me than the W00tstout. Being a geek used to mean knowing more than others about a mysterious topic (like the vast difference between a cream ale and a peanut butter milk stout). It used to mean even people who tried to understand you didn’t always understand you (like the Lyft driver who swore there was no such thing as a mocha IPA, and it must have been a mocha stout). It used to mean loving something so much that even your friends thought you were a little weird (creamsicle IPL).

It used to mean being misunderstood, a little uncool. It didn’t mean talking about the one movie or TV show that everyone else was talking about. It didn’t mean drinking the same thing as everyone else, whether they were “geeks” also or not. W00tstout, I have to say, is commoditized geek beer. It’s geek-pandering beer. It’s the Walking Dead of beers. It’s a beer for SDCC, which has gotten too big, and consequently appeals primarily to the most identity-conscious geeks, and to the corporations who want to sell them things.

Again, no offense to Stone. I loved every other beer I had at their tap room that day, and again their bartenders are the best I met in San Diego. They have a business to run, and that means brewing beers that will sell. The best thing I can say about Stone is that they are still doing the really geeky stuff, and doing it well.

But they also are doing the other thing, and for some reason, that other thing is getting all the attention.

 

 

“Chill Bill” avenged

Well, happy Father’s Day to me!

Finally, two months after ordering a new kegerator to replace the late, great “Chill Bill”* which passed away while my family was on vacation in April, the replacement has been installed. If you happen to follow me on Twitter (@shawnbou21), you’ve already seen the pictures and you know it’s glorious.

new_kegerator

Glorious!

I certainly waited long enough. Not for the shipment, though. The kegerator was here a long time ago, sitting in a cardboard box for something like five weeks waiting for me to find the time to open and assemble it.

A travesty, you say? Certainly. But May was a pretty hectic month that kept me busy with my day job, my family and my other life-consuming hobby of Tolkien podcasting, so I had to do what I had to do. And what I had to do was … nothing with the kegerator.

But I finally got that sucker up, and did I mention it’s glorious? The exterior is all stainless steel, not that black plastic top I had on my old one. The industrial look of the stainless steel is accentuated by a T-shaped three-tap draft tower that I ordered separately to install in place of the tower that came with the fridge unit.

Now all I have to do is:

  1. give it a name, and
  2. fill it with beer.

The first task should be easy. I’m going to try farming the name out to the social media sphere and see what we come up with. If you have any ideas, please post them here or find me on Twitter or Facebook (My Brew Home). Any play on the old kegerator’s name “Chill Bill” would be welcome (such as “Chill Gill,” “Chilly Willy,” etc. – but those are all now disqualified!) but I’m not setting any real rules. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know. This could be disastrous, either because I’ll get a barrage of responses along the lines of “Keggy McKegface” or worse, I’ll get no responses at all … but I’m feeling confident. Ready to roll the bones. Bring on your best ideas, if there’s anyone reading this at all.

The second task is already in progress. Tap #1 is already flowing with the remains of Belfast Breakfast Oatmeal Stout, and I’ve got a batch of session IPA fermented, dry hopped, and ready to be kegged any day now. Getting that third tap flowing is going to be a little harder, because I’ll need to brew another batch soon and of course that’s an investment of eight hours on a weekend (after I had trouble stringing two hours together to assemble the As-Yet-Unnamed Kegerator). But summer is here, and it seems like the perfect time to brew, so I’m going to make it happen. The weather is perfect for the honey wheat I’ve been dreaming of.

More to come as the kegerator gets filled … look for an update in the coming weeks as the session IPA gets kegged and Tap #2 starts flowing. After that I’m going to need something to write about, so that will be two good excuses to make time to brew.

So stay tuned, and until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.

*Note: Never actually referred to as “Chill Bill” until after its death.

Bineta Applebum, you gotta put me on

As I’ve written before on this site, I’m not much of a cider guy. I don’t hate it or anything, but I will nearly always reach for a beer first, and I admit to not completely understanding the current cider craze. Sorry, cider fans … I just think they all taste pretty much the same.

But there’s a time and a place for them, or rather several times and places. Two times and places that immediately come to mind are:

  • My backyard in mid-May, when spring begins to turn into a scorching Texas summer
  • A party at my house, when my kegerator is broken and I need a fast/easy small batch of something to serve to my friends

Cider – at least the way I make it – is so easy, it’s the go-to whenever I need a small batch to pop into the kegerator (or, in this case, into a KEGlove cooler sleeve) to fill an empty tap. All I do is pour a few gallons of organic unfiltered apple juice into a fermenter, pitch a bit of dry yeast, and wait. Okay, sure, sometimes I just pitch yeast directly into the glass jug the juice came in and ferment in that … I’m a Louisiana boy by birth, and we like to keep things simple.

Except when we don’t. And this time I didn’t.

I decided that for my recent batch of cider, I would mix things up a little bit. I’ve been hearing a lot about hopped cider – and having not tasted any (see above re: “I will nearly always reach for a beer first”) – and seeing as how I have a ton of hops in my freezer, I thought now was the time to try it out for myself.

The somewhat experimental cider – experimental not in the sense that no one is doing it, because everyone is; but experimental in the sense that I just winged it without bothering to do any research on how they are doing it – ended up being called Bineta Applebum Hopped Cider – in reference to the song “Bonita Applebum” off the first album by A Tribe Called Quest, but spelled B-I-N-E for bine, like a hop bine … get it?

P.S. – I know that if you have to explain a joke, it’s a shitty joke.

P.P.S. – R.I.P. Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who was taken from us in March 2016 in between the deaths of David Bowie and Keith Emerson and Prince and oh my God this year has sucked for music fans and it’s not even June.

You know what? To paraphrase Charlie Papazian, let’s just get on with the recipe.

This really is one of the easiest brews I’ve ever done. Here are the ingredients:

  • 2 gal (4 half-gallon bottles) Trader Joes Honeycrisp Apple Cider (unfiltered juice)
  • 1 oz Cascade hops (7.1% AA)
  • 2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Mangrove Jack’s Burton Union Yeast (M79)

The main point of interest here is the hops, so let’s talk about them. I chose Cascade because I have a crap-ton of them on hand, and I figured if this was an experiment I might as well use the most basic American hop imaginable just to keep down on weird variables. I wanted to add half the hops before fermentation, and half afterwards as dry hops.

For the pre-fermentation hops, I brought a pint of the juice to a boil, then turned off the heat and added a half-ounce of Cascade and the yeast nutrient. I steeped this mixture for as long as it took me to sanitize the fermenter and pour the rest of the juice into it.

A word about the yeast nutrient: it’s not absolutely essential, and I’ve made good cider without it. The sugar in apple juice is fructose, which is pretty easily handled by ale yeast. But I didn’t want to take any chances, partially because I was going for a clean ferment to let the hops shine through, and partially because my Mangrove Jack’s yeast was 11 months past the expiration date. (If you won’t tell anyone, I won’t … tell anyone else, that is.)

Once the bulk of the juice was in the fermenter, I added the hot hopped juice and pitched the limping-on-its-last-leg expired yeast (in case you’re wondering, it worked just fine). The OG measured 1.046.

The cider fermented over the next three weeks to a FG of 0.996, giving an ABV of 6.6%. Not too shabby for a bit of juice from a plastic jug and some bargain-bin yeast. I added the other half-ounce of Cascade I had set aside for dry hops. One week in the fermenter, and then into my small-batch keg it went.

The cider was a hit. It was refreshing, the hops came through nicely, and everyone at the party could detect a little something special in the cider even if they couldn’t quite figure out what it was. We nearly emptied the short keg in an afternoon … there was one glass left in the keg by the end of the day, which allowed me to get this picture and toast to a successful experiment:

File_000 (2)

It may look cloudy, but it sure tastes sunny.

I will brew this again someday, maybe even with more interesting hops, the next time I need a small batch of something to fill an empty tap or satisfy a party need. But I’m hoping that won’t be the case again anytime soon, because I have recently received a freight shipment of …

my brand new kegerator!

… and the kegs of beer I have sitting in a fermentation chamber cranked down to 37°F to keep fresh will soon be on tap again. I hope to get the kegerator set up and running in the next few days, and don’t worry, I will document it here with all the appropriate fanfare and celebration. Watch this space for updates, and until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.

 

 

 

National Homebrew Day, Part 2 – Tasting the Frog and Gnome

About a week ago I wrote about the two big bottle-conditioned beers I brewed to commemorate the births of my children: Old Froglegs Barleywine and Gnome Brew Wheatwine. I set a reminder for myself to taste both of them on National Homebrew Day (May 7) and write up the results here. So here we are.

Both of these beers were brewed for extended cellaring and aging. My master plan – probably a very bad plan – is to ration the bottles out slowly on special occasions and give the last bottle of each batch to my children on their twenty-first birthdays (never let it be said I don’t think long term!). I say “probably a very bad plan” because I suspect that after twenty-one years, it will be little more than fancy-pants malt vinegar in the bottle that I give to my kids … in which case I’ll gladly help them fry up some fish and sprinkle the ancient beer on some chips.

So maybe twenty-one years is too ambitious. But as they were brewed with aging in mind, it’s not too surprising that they’re both still getting better. In fact, the barleywine – which just celebrated three years since its brew date – seems to be getting close to its peak. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Beer 1: Old Froglegs Barleywine

Brewed April 29, 2013. Bottled December 6, 2013.

File_000

File_001

Old Froglegs poured a deep, cloudy mahogany with little carbonation and no head retention. Sniffing it was a delight, and I just wanted to crawl into the glass and explore its complexities – black cherry, tamarind, a cordial aroma like Grand Marnier.

The flavor didn’t disappoint either. After nearly three years in the bottle, it’s very smooth with no burn at all and no boozy bite. It’s thick, not quite syrupy but hefty like a liqueur, but the sweetness is full of caramel and melanoidin and not at all cloying. My wife got some woody flavors from it, though there was no wood in it. All in all it was a little like sipping brandy: a vinous, palate coating and very sophisticated-seeming beverage. It’s hard to imagine it getting better, and I’m starting to wonder whether I should worry less about saving bottles for the future, and enjoy more of this beer now while it’s so good. These are dangerous, dangerous thoughts …

Beer 2: Gnome Brew Wheatwine

Brewed February 23, 2015. Bottled November 2, 2015.

File_005

File_006

A bit lighter in color than its older brother, Gnome Brew poured more of a dark bronze color. Similarly lacking in carbonation, and with no head retention. The aroma was nowhere near as complex, and there wasn’t much aroma to speak of at all. I got a hint of apple and pear, but that was it. Not green apple like the acetyldeyhde tang of green beer, but a riper, fruitier apple … but still pretty ordinary. There was a hint of alcohol on the nos as well.

The flavor was good, but coming on the heels of a well-aged barleywine, it was unfortunately lacking. A bit boozy – not at all a surprise given this has been aging in the bottle only seven months – and with a thinner mouthfeel, so it lacked that delightful “cordial” quality of the barleywine. There are good flavors in there: cranberry, red wine and/or port, a bit of tannin. And it’s much smoother than it was when I opened the first bottle at Christmas 2015. But it still has a way to go before it’s quite where it needs to be.

Here are both beers side by side, with Old Froglegs Barleywine on the left and Gnome Brew Wheatwine on the right:

File_002

I don’t have to tell you it was a lovely evening. The only better way to celebrate National Homebrew Day would have been actually to brew (but it was my son’s birthday party; see last week’s story for details). And it was a wonderful way to remember the past: how in the weeks after each of my kids was born, I rallied myself – against the lack of sleep, the struggle to adjust to a needy new person in the house, and the feeling of untethered confusion about the future that accompanies the birth of a child – to brew a batch of beer that would give me a long-lasting memory of the time. Both beers have certainly done just that. And what delicious memories they are.

Check out the complete recipes for both beers in the Recipes section of the site.

Next week, I’ll write about the homebrew we served on tap at the birthday party on National Homebrew Day: a simple and tasty hopped cider that’s perfect for a Texas spring day. Until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.

National Homebrew Day 2016, Part 1 – Brewing the Frog and Gnome

Saturday, May 7 is National Homebrew Day, which the American Homebrewers Association celebrates with its annual Big Brew. Homebrewers across the USA will head to their patios and garages to fire up their systems on the same day, like some coast-to-coast hive mind straight out of the pages of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal science fiction novel Childhood’s End (but with beards and cargo pants); linked by social media and a common tipsy feeling. What better way to celebrate the fact that being a homebrewer has never been cooler in this country, that the brotherhood (and sisterhood) is growing faster day by day?

Unless you’re like me, and you won’t be homebrewing that day.

Now, before you scroll straight to the bottom of this page to post hasty invective against my not showing solidarity with my homebrewing brothers and sisters, let me explain my two very good reasons:

  1. I have no room to ferment another batch of beer until I keg the session IPA waiting in the closet, and I can’t keg that batch until my deceased kegerator “Chill Bill” is replaced; and
  2. It’s my son’s birthday party.

If #1 made you feel sorry for me, good. If #2 made you think I’m an awesome dad, great. Never mind the fact that my son’s birthday was almost a month ago and that this party is just a small affair to allow a few friends to celebrate with him, given that we were at Walt Frigging Disney World on his actual birthday. (See? Awesome dad.)

So I won’t be brewing. But that won’t stop me from enjoying a tasty homebrew, right?

Oh, right. The broken kegerator. So drinking draft is out of the question.

Fortunately, I do have a couple of bottled homebrews at the ready. For the past few years, I only bottle commemorative beers for cellaring, but I just happen to have a bottle each in the fridge of the barleywine I brewed to celebrate my son’s birth in 2013 (and bottled for sampling at future special occasions, such as his birthday … it seems almost like I planned this all along, doesn’t it? I didn’t), and the wheatwine I brewed to celebrate my daughter’s birth in 2014.

So in honor of National Homebrew Day, I have decided to drink both of these big beers after the kids go to bed. Rest assured that two bottles of 11-12% ABV homebrew in a row should have me nice and tipsy like the rest of you. Solidarity, brothers and sisters.

I wrote about Old Froglegs Barleywine back in 2013, and the recipe is posted hereGnome Brew Wheatwine, on the other hand, has not yet made an appearance on this blog. So I’m posting the recipe below and a little bit of the story behind it.

Gnome Brew Wheatwine

Story: I set a high bar for myself by brewing an American barleywine as my first homebrew after my first child was born. So when the second came along, I had to do something similar. And since I still had most of the barleywine in my cellar, I decided to do something “similar but different”, and brewed a wheatwine.

Wheatwine isn’t exactly a style that’s littering the shelves at the local bottle shop. I first heard of the style when I picked up a bottle of Boulevard Brewing’s Harvest Dance, and found it lighter and brighter than a syrupy, boozy barleywine. So a wheatwine seemed like an excellent thematic companion and a flavorful counterpoint to the barleywine I already had a stock of.

The BJCP Style Guidelines don’t even have a category for wheatwine, and there aren’t many recipes out there. So beyond the bulk of advice I read online that said “make a barleywine with up to 50% wheat,” it seemed like I had free rein. I went back to the recipe for Old Froglegs, and modified it with the goal of using almost half wheat and making an end product that was lighter and fruitier. Here’s what I ended up with:

Grist:

  • 10 lbs White Wheat Malt
  • 9 lbs 8 oz American Pale Malt
  • 3 lbs Vienna Malt
  • 8 oz Crystal 40L
  • 8 oz Caravienne Malt

Hops:

  • 2.5 oz Chinook (13% AA) at 60 minutes

Other:

  • 1 lb Agave Nectar, light

Yeast: Safale US-05 (28.75 grams)

Comparing it to the above-linked recipe for Old Froglegs, I split the base malt nearly in half with slightly more wheat than barley, and replaced the body malts with lighter versions (Munich with Vienna, Crystal 60 and 150 with Crystal 40 and Caravienne). Chinook was simply the highest alpha hop I had on hand, for maximum bitterness and no real flavor contribution. And I really liked the added fermentability from the pound of piloncillo I added in the boil to Old Froglegs, so I added simple sugar to the kettle here in the form of light agave nectar. I mashed at 149°F for 90 minutes, collected 9.5 gallons at 1.069 and then boiled for about 2 hours to achieve an OG of 1.101.

The beer fermented for 4 weeks before it was racked to secondary to age for another eight months. When it had smoothed out to my satisfaction, I bottled it with a half-pack of Danstar CBC-1. This is an incredible yeast for bottle conditioning. I highly recommend it when bottling beers with high ABV, after long aging, or both. It’s made specifically for bottle conditioning, but it’s not always easy to find, so in a pinch one can use champagne yeast.

The FG was 1.016, yielding a final ABV of 11.3%. I designed a label and named the beer Gnome Brew Wheatwine in honor of our daughter Vesper (Confused? Let’s just say that nicknames given to newborns before they’re discharged from the hospital have a habit of sticking around in my family).

So how did it come out? To be honest, it’s been in the bottle for less time than it was in the carboy, so it’s still mellowing, showing rapid improvement month to month. I’ll know for sure how it is this month when I open a bottle on National Homebrew Day for a side-by-side tasting against my 3-year-old barleywine. So watch this space, because I’ll be back next week with tasting notes for both beers.

Thoughts or questions about the recipe in the meantime? Comment below, or find me on Facebook. Happy National Homebrew Day a few days early … and until next week, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.

Just when things were getting back to normal …

We’re back from vacation. I’ve got a couple of recipes queued up to brew soon. This blog is back up and running, and there’s a session IPA in the fermentation chamber awaiting a dose of dry hops.

Everything was just getting back to normal at myBrewHome when my kegerator broke.

It still runs, but it doesn’t cool. So I’ve got three kegs of beer sitting in a hot box at 77°F right now (that’s 25°C for my overseas readers, and too bloody hot for craft beer fans worldwide).

I’m not nearly handy enough to fix it. I got into the homebrewing hobby to make beer, not gear, and the only household appliance I know how to take apart and rebuild is a desktop computer (a skill I doubt will help me here). I’m sure it’s going to need a new compressor or something, and any repair guy will tell me to replace the whole thing. So I’m just shopping for a replacement now.

I’ve got a beer fridge stocked with commercial bottles and cans, so I won’t go thirsty, concerned readers. And replacing the kegerator will give me an excuse to finally install the fancy new draft tower I ordered a while ago but haven’t had the time to unpack. But in the meantime, my bar area seems tragically quiet and dark without the hum of the kegerator or the faint blue glow of its temperature readout.

I’ll post an update as soon as I have one. Have strength. We’ll get through this.

Until then, a memorial for my first kegerator, complete with the white-on-dark Monotype Corsiva Italic font I always see in memorials on rear windshields:

I've never called my kegerator "Chill Bill" before today. But I figured that in death, like a member of Project Mayhem, a kegerator should have a name (H/T to Fight Club).

I’ve never called my kegerator “Chill Bill” before today. But in death, just like a member of Project Mayhem, a kegerator should have a name (H/T to Fight Club).

Farewell, gentle appliance. I will always remember the joy you brought me, my family and my friends. May Ninkasi receive you into her arms.

Rough Draft Recipes: Unauthorized Disney Edition

By the time this is published, I will be on a plane for a week-long Disney vacation with the family. The little ones will spend the week basking in the glow of fireworks, the thrill of rides and the utter fabulousness of a certain snow queen, while my wife and I will count the footsteps from the Dole Whip kiosk to wherever we can occasionally find a decent beer on draft. They’re there. Trust me. They aren’t easy to find, but they’re there.

Okay, I’m bending the truth a little. Not about the beers (they really are there if you know where to look), but about Momma and Daddy’s lack of enthusiasm for the whole Disney thing. Actually my wife is totally into it, and I am definitely not too proud to sing a rousing chorus of “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” while sailing out of the darkness of Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course Disney now owns the Star Wars universe, and Jawas and stormtroopers will litter the landscape more than strollers. And, as my closest friends know, I absolutely love the wordplay and hilariously maladjusted cast of characters in the Winnie the Pooh series … so yeah, I’ll be as happy as a bear in a honey-tree with the whole Disney thing.

My kids are similarly obsessed. Both of them are very big on Mickey. More to my own taste, though, my son is fascinated with Star Wars (he loves the Dark Side and runs around saying “I’m Kywoh Ren!” – should I be concerned?). My baby daughter learned the word “Pooh” before pretty much any other word, and she means the bear, not … the other thing.

In honor of my family’s unanimous love for these stories and characters, in fact, I decided a few weeks ago to design beers to commemorate both Winnie the Pooh and Kywoh – er, Kylo – Ren. So without further ado, below are the first drafts of the recipes I’ve come up with.

Warning: minor spoilers in the notes below for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is landing on home video this week. Watch it, then read this.

Kylo Ren beer: Dark Awakening Black IPA

  • 13 lbs 8 oz American pale malt
  • 12 oz Dehusked Carafa III
  • 8 oz Chocolate Malt
  • 6.25 AAU of Mosaic hops at 60 minutes
  • 7 AAU of Galaxy hops at 60 minutes
  • 12.25 AAU of Mosaic hops at flameout
  • 14 AAU of Galaxy hops at flameout
  • 1 oz of Mosaic hops for dry hopping
  • 1 oz of Galaxy hops for dry hopping
  • American ale yeast (Fermentis SafAle US-05)

OG 1.071, IBU 75.8, SRM 37, ABV 7%.

Notes on ingredients:

Grain – American pale malt because it’s an American IPA. Dehusked Carafa III is a standard dark malt for the style that adds color without astringency. Chocolate malt is a little unorthodox, and will add a bit more body and roast flavor than typical for the style, but the roasty notes should add a welcome roughness around the edges, just like that unstable young man in black and that fuzzy-looking lightsaber he carries.

Hops – Mosaic and Galaxy are both fantastic hops and delicious in IPA. Mosaic is trendy and still a little bit new on the scene, but you can’t argue objectively with its capabilities. (Hello, Kylo.) And Galaxy … well, you know. Far, far away and all that. There are a lot of hops, but I want it bitter. Bitter like an emo kid who thinks the best way to get back at his parents is to take over the galaxy.

Winnie the Pooh beer: Silly Old Bear Hunny Wheat

  • 6 lbs Maris Otter
  • 1 lb 8 oz Flaked Wheat
  • 4 oz Crystal 15
  • 5.4 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes
  • 1.8 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 15 minutes
  • 2 lbs Honey at 5 minutes
  • English ale yeast (Fermentis SafAle S-04)

OG 1.047, IBU 27, SRM 4, ABV 5.4%.

Notes on ingredients:

Grain – Maris Otter because it’s as English and traditional as A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin. Flaked wheat to stuff the beer with velvety smoothness. Crystal 15 to add a touch of honey sweetness. And of course, honey in the kettle near the end of the boil when it’s “Time for something sweet!”

Hops – Not the focus of this beer, so just a little bit of East Kent Goldings for enough hop bitterness and character to balance the sweet, fruity crispness of fermented honey. The bitterness is on the high end of the spectrum for American wheat and on the low end of the spectrum for an English ordinary bitter.

If you’d like to offer any tips or suggestions while I’m away on vacation – or even brew one of these before I get around to it – please share your thoughts here. Soon after I get back from the Most Magical Place on Earth, I’ll try my hand at brewing one or both of these myself.

Until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.

Scotch-Irish Stout: the Davy Crockett of beers

You could say I’m a “high concept” recipe designer.  I like to include ingredients that have some fun meaning or reference so that each beer recipe tells a story.  Sometimes, though, the concept is way more unique than the recipe itself.

My wife has (and therefore my two kids have) a strong strain of what Americans call “Scotch-Irish” heritage.  They’re the people who left Scotland to settle Ireland in the 1600’s when the English started crowding them out, then came to America in the 1700’s after the English followed them to Ireland, only to move out west and build homesteads on the frontier when they found the American colonies populated by – you guessed it – more English.

Scotch-Irish is the heritage of the early American moonshiners who started the Whiskey Rebellion, of Davy Crockett and Texas President (back when it was an independent republic) Sam Houston, and the kind of anti-establishment iconoclasts who’ve defined the American cultural landscape from Mark Twain to Alec Baldwin.  They’re tough.  They’re rugged.  They’re unapologetic individualists who don’t take crap from anyone.  They know it, and they make sure you know it.

And they all claim to be related to Davy Crockett.  They really, really love Davy Crockett.

For a descendant of Italian immigrants like myself – whose ancestors left the strangling misery of a life of endless toil on farms in Southern Sicily to enjoy the unbounded freedom of endless toil on farms in Southern Louisiana – it’s usually easier to just let the Scotch-Irish have their way, especially when you’re outnumbered 3 to 1.  Even when their Protestant Irish self-importance leads them to openly proclaim wild and baseless assertions like “Bushmills Whiskey is better than Jameson!” one learns to just concede the point before some’un reckons it’s time to fetch a musket and settle things the frontier way.

But I love ’em.  I love ’em almost as much as they love Davy Crockett, and that’s a lot.  So when formulating a recipe for a “Scotch-Irish stout” recently to celebrate the lineage of 75% of my household, I sought to brew something bold.  Uncompromising.  Full-bodied but smooth and pleasant.  Sufficiently Irish, but with that untamable individualism common to the Scots and their frontier American descendants.

I started with my recipe for Anna Livia Irish Stout.  My most recent variation on that was:

  • 6 lbs 14 oz Irish pale malt (Malting Co. of Ireland Stout Malt)
  • 2 oz Acid Malt (for a lactic tart hint; the notorious “Guinness tang”)
  • 2 lbs Flaked Barley
  • 1 lb Black Roasted Barley
  • 10.8 AAU of English hops (East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, etc.) at 60 minutes
  • Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP 004)

OG 1.049, 42.2 IBU, SRM 34, ABV 4.9%.  Good astringency, a bit of tartness … a little higher gravity and alcohol, but otherwise a fair approximation of an Irish Stout, BJCP 2015 style 15B.

The first thing I did was “Scotch-Irish up” the recipe up by replacing the Irish base malt with British malt.  I didn’t have Golden Promise – which would have been my first choice as a Scottish/Northern English barley variety – but Maris Otter was close enough.  I also increased the amount of base malt to result in a stronger beer, befitting the burly in-your-facedness of the Scotch-Irish people.  I also removed the acid malt to divorce the Scotch-Irish stout from the Guinness/Dublin legacy that inspired my Irish stout, and replaced that with base malt.

I believe every stout should have some flaked grain in it for that creamy, coat-your-palate mouthfeel.  But flaked barley is famously used in Guinness for that reason, so I nixed it for being too Irish.  Oats are a staple of Scottish cuisine from oatcakes to haggis, so I replaced the 2 pounds of flaked barley with flaked oats, which is always (to me) a big step up in mouthfeel from flaked barley.

So, to balance that silky mouthfeel of the oats, I wanted a little residual malt sweetness.  So I cut the black roasted barley by a few ounces to reduce astringency and added a half pound of chocolate malt.

British hops are pretty all-purpose, so I kept those the same.  I also kept the Irish Ale yeast.  Although I could have Scotch-Irished the recipe up a bit further by replacing the yeast with something like White Labs WLP028 (Edinburgh Ale), I felt I needed something to retain the Irish character before my Scotch-Irish stout became a Scottish stout.  After all, if this had been a real beer brewed by Scottish immigrants to Ireland, the method of pairing imported British ingredients with an indigenous Irish yeast would have been a likely way of brewing it.

So in my mind, I had created a recipe that was wholly unique.  Something as original and individual as the Scotch-Irish heritage I was celebrating!  I patted myself on the back for a job well done, then looked at the BeerSmith window open on my computer and saw the following recipe staring back at me like Davy Crockett down the barrel of a musket.

  • 8 lbs Maris Otter
  • 2 lbs Flaked Oats
  • 13 oz Black Roasted Barley
  • 8 oz Chocolate Malt
  • 10.8 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes
  • Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP 004)

OG 1.057, 40 IBU, SRM 37.5, ABV 5.8%, with medium hop bitterness and malty, chocolatey sweetness.  (And if you’ve already spotted the problem, shh!  Don’t spoil it.)

It seemed that my “wholly unique” and “original” beer recipe had turned out to be a completely in-style Oatmeal Stout, BJCP 2015 style 16B.

The punchline is that I don’t even really like oatmeal stouts.  What’s worse, my Scotch-Irish wife (who loves Irish stout) kind of hates them.  But in hindsight, it’s hilarious to think that I ever thought I was designing anything other than the perfectly reasonable but ordinary oatmeal stout that I got.

File_000

But it sure is black. It’s like, “How much more black could this be?”

Don’t get me wrong.  The beer (christened Belfast Breakfast Oatmeal Stout) turned out to be delicious.  It’s sweet and smooth, easy drinking but unavoidably stout without coating your palate like a pint of motor oil.  And as you can see, it sure is pretty to look at.  My roundabout way of backing into a recipe for an Oatmeal Stout (with a capital O. S. for “Oh, Sh-t”) instead of intentionally trying to design one, actually produced a version that I like a lot more than any commercial oatmeal stout I’ve ever had.  So there’s that.  But it’s an interesting lesson in being so high-concept, getting so wrapped up in my own cleverness, that I fail to see how what I’m doing is nothing new.  How it’s been done before … many, many times.

There’s still something unique about it in the unique combination of ingredients I used to get there – and I will make it again, especially next time I get a hold of some Golden Promise malt; I might even brew an imperial version and age it with oak and some Bushmills.

But as it turned out, the only story my supposedly high-concept Scotch-Irish stout tells is “Once upon a time, Shawn accidentally brewed a surprisingly decent oatmeal stout.  The end.”  Decent beer, not much of a story.  Or is it?  In today’s foodie world where we celebrate the pedigree of every ingredient that goes into our food and beverage, from floor-malted barley to heirloom tomatoes, maybe it’s enough to have an interesting story behind the ingredients used to make something familiar.

At least, that’s the story I’m sticking with.  And I think Davy Crockett and every Scotch-Irish American would approve of me going against the … uh, grain … with a little blustery self-importance.

The recipe is posted in the Recipes section of the website, along with its more Irish cousin Anna Livia Irish Stout.  Try them both and tell me what you think … and until next time, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.

Welcome to myBrewHome!

If this is your first visit, welcome! Pour yourself a beer and take a look around. Let me know if you like what you see or if you have questions about anything.

If this is not your first visit, you may notice that the name and look of the site have recently changed. So, still pour yourself a beer and look around, but rest assured that everything that was here before is still here. All posts from 2015 and earlier are still in the archives, along with the Brewing Glossary and the Recipes section that I hope to be updating soon. But I’ve changed the name of the site to reflect its new direction and focus.

What do I mean by new direction and focus? Well, my previous mission for this site – formerly titled Last of the Zyme Lords – was to merge my love of homebrewing and craft beer with the my love for writing and the geekier things in life, such as fantasy and science fiction. That mission kept this site alive for a long time, but I put it on hiatus early in 2015 when the birth of my second child started an avalanche of life changes in a very short time. I was never sure if I would come back to writing regularly on this site.

So here’s the good news: I’m back, and the site is back. And I’m still interested in all the same geeky stuff I was interested in before. In fact, if you’re interested in such things, check out The Prancing Pony Podcast, a podcast about J. R. R. Tolkien I co-host that launched in February.

But now that my life has changed, my priorities have changed, and so has my attitude towards brewing. Brewing and beer are not just another geeky pursuit for me anymore. I no longer brew just to pursue the excellence of a technically perfect (or as close as possible within my means) glass of beer, or to come up with recipes and names that reflect my love of Tolkien, Doctor Who, or Japanese horror movies.

Again, I still love all of those things, but they’re not my only inspiration as a brewer anymore.

As my family has grown, we’ve moved into a new house that was built with homebrewing in mind. Homebrew is a part of every event I host to see friends that I don’t see nearly enough anymore now that family life keeps me busy. I’ve brewed for baby showers, births and birthdays. My cellar is stocked with big beers brewed in commemoration of family milestones. I’ve explained it all on the page “Why ‘myBrewHome’?”

So we’re still having lots of fun over here, but our focus has expanded a bit. I’m happy to report that my kids are turning into geeks as big as I am. But at this point, I’m just as likely to brew a beer inspired by my son’s fascination with Kylo Ren or my baby daughter’s obsession with Winnie the Pooh as I am to brew a beer inspired by hobbits, Godzilla or John Landis films.

In fact, a Kylo Ren Black IPA or a Pooh Bear Hunny Braggot sounds delicious right about now. To the recipe creator!

Stay tuned, and I’ll be back very soon with more brew talk. Until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.