O vessel clear, with name inscribed
From which my brew I oft imbibed;
From me too soon your life was took
When clumsily, the table I shook.
I miss your sides, I miss your rim,
I miss the lace upon your brim,
I miss the feel of my glass complete
And filled with lager, stout or wheat.
Perhaps, someday, I will replace
Your perfect sides, your perfect base;
But for today, I mourn the loss –
Into the bin, your shards I toss.
– Me, “Ode to a Broken Glass”
I wrote that for a fellow member of the HomeBrewTalk.com online community a few years ago when he dropped and broke his favorite beer glass. Since then, I’ve recited it under my breath many times while disposing of the shattered remnants of my own glassware. See, I’m a bit of a klutz. Even sober I have inadvertently sent many innocent pint glasses crashing down to the tile floor of my kitchen (and hydrometers, but that’s a story for another day).
So when I was browsing the shelves at Austin Homebrew Supply recently, looking for last-minute impulse purchases I can’t live without, this caught my eye:
It’s called a Silipint. Although this version is obviously an Austin Homebrew exclusive, a quick dip into the Google pool shows that Silipints are available at tons of online retailers for around $10 each. As the name suggests, it’s a non-breakable silicone pint glass. After the salesperson helping me threw one to the store floor … hard … to demonstrate its durability, I bought two.
I’m sure some of you are laughing it off already. There’s a lot of debate these days about the “best glass” to serve beer in, and the Silipint might seem to have two strikes against it. It’s in the shape of an ordinary straight-sided shaker pint, which has gotten a lot of criticism from the “best glass” gurus. Not only is the Silipint is molded in that controversial shape, it’s also made from an unorthodox material that feels a little weird between your lips.
I’m not about to jump into the “best glass” debate, because many others out there are doing much better research on it than me – and to be honest, I don’t really care that much. I keep a variety of glasses, and I have preferred shapes for a few beer styles, but shaker pints are the foot soldiers of my glassware collection, and almost everything I pour from my kegerator goes into one.
But no matter the shape, glass breaks. Especially when I take it out of the house. So what’s a guy to drink from on a Sunday afternoon in the backyard, hovering over the grill or the brew kettle? Or when he brings a growler of homebrew to a picnic or a favorite BYOB barbecue joint?
Until now, the choice has been clear: red Solo cups. And I hate red Solo cups. And that goddamned song.
For all the spectrum of snobbery one can imagine in response to a drinking vessel that feels like a sex toy, I found that it actually drinks pretty well. Yes, the silicone does feel weird in your mouth, but it has some fortunate side effects in addition to durability. The rough texture is easy to hold onto (the container would survive being dropped, but we don’t want to waste beer, do we?). And during a brewing session on a Texas-hot summer day, the Silipint kept my Berliner Weisse cold enough to nurse for over an hour while I bounced between brewing tasks, longer than glass would have done.
The Silipint is now my vessel of choice to take with me when I bring homebrew out of the home. So I’m raising my glass today to toast the Silipint and the space-age silicone polymers that made it possible.
In other news, this week I ordered parts to build a portable draft system with a 20-ounce paintball CO2 tank. With that and my Silipint, all I’ll need is something to keep it cool and I’ll be able to bring a whole keg of draft homebrew with me wherever I go. The project will be finished a little late for the summer, but autumn in Texas still offers lots of chances for outdoor imbibing.
Tailgating? Not really my scene. But when I take my son for his first trick-or-treat this Halloween, I’d love to be the guy rolling around an ice-cold keg and offering tastes of pumpkin ale to the neighbors. Who wouldn’t?
In French, the word means season, as in the seasons of the year. Spring, summer, autumn, or winter. A generic term, a category with specimens so varied that each is the opposite of another.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the beer style we call “saison” is a varied, open-ended style as well. Call it a seasonal beer unattached to a particular season.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Look it up anywhere from Wikipedia to the BJCP Style Guidelines, and you’ll learn that saison has its roots in the farmhouses of the French-speaking Walloons of Belgium who spent the winter brewing spicy, refreshing ales to be consumed in the summer by workers pulling long shifts in the fields. So traditionally it’s a summer beer.
But the Wallonian brewing tradition was highly improvisational and localized. Each farmhouse brewed their own beer with the ingredients available at the time, often raised on their own farms. The resulting beers were, unsurprisingly, vastly different from place to place and from month to month.
So unlike the seasonal beers of, say, Germany – which tend toward profile standards of characteristic Teutonic rigidity, with names easy to mark on your calendar like Märzen, Maibock, and Oktoberfest – this traditional Belgian seasonal can be light or dark, strong or sessiony, and anything in between. A December 2006 Style Profile article from Brew Your Own magazine lists a wide disparity of characteristics for the modern style in regards to color, mouthfeel, residual sweetness, strength, hop profile, and spices. The main common thread is the yeast, descended from traditional Belgian strains that produce a characteristic spiciness, an estery je ne sais quoi that makes these beers decidedly farmhousey, even when made in the (sub)urban backyard.
With that range of profiles, I’d say seasonality goes out the window. A strong, dark, spicy saison would be a great nightcap on a cold winter night. I like light, refreshing saisons in spring (I’m pretty sure spring in Texas feels like summer in Belgium anyway). So I brewed one now to be ready by the last week of March.
There was another reason for my timing besides the oncoming vernal equinox. The last beer my wife and I drank together was a bomber of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, the day before we learned she was pregnant. Our baby is due in April, so what better beer to have on hand to celebrate her return to the world of the ethanol-metabolizing than a hop-forward saison?
I started my brew with a clone recipe of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace from the December 2011 issue of Brew Your Own and a Gallic sense of laissez-faire. The recipe called for 11 lbs (5 kg) of Belgian Pilsner malt, which I increased to 11.75 lbs (5.33 kg) to compensate for lower efficiency on my system (more on that below). This made up the bulk of the fermentables along with 1 lb (453 g) of dextrose in the boil. The recipe also used a 3-step mash, which I did not. I did a single infusion mash at 146°F (63°C). The low mash temperature makes a more fermentable wort, but saccharification takes a little longer so I mashed for 90 minutes instead of my usual 60.
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace is hopped entirely with Sorachi Ace hops, which I couldn’t get locally. Instead of replacing it with a similar substitute, I took a different path entirely. I used 16% AA Warrior hops for neutral bittering, two additions of .37 oz (10.5 g) each at 60 and 30 minutes (~6 AAU in each addition). At flameout, I added 3 oz (85 g) of 15% AA Summit.
I had prepared a 2-liter starter of White Labs WLP 560, an Austin Homebrew Supply-exclusive Classic Saison Yeast Blend. That starter was decanted and pitched into a wort with an OG of 1.073, eleven points higher than my target OG of 1.062. Eleven points!
Little mishaps are common in brewing, and usually a good sign. Minor, easily correctable problems during the brew day keep the brewer on his/her toes, and (I think) make us less prone to serious mistakes that can’t be fixed. But overshooting target gravity by this much is a new kind of problem for me.
Is it even a problem? Obviously my efficiency is much higher than I thought – I’m noting the data for future batches – and the extra malt I added was unnecessary: a “problem” many brewers would love to have. I’m not entering any contests, so the fact that my OG landed past the upper limit of the BJCP range for saison doesn’t concern me. If it fails to attenuate completely, I may end up with a beer that’s too sweet. But if I got the kind of fermentability I was shooting for out of my low mash, that extra sugar should ferment out, leaving me with an ABV higher than I intended.
So if I’m lucky, I’ll be welcoming the spring with a dry, high-alcohol saison. Maybe it won’t be strong enough to qualify as an “imperial saison”, but it should be worthy of some noble title. I’d settle for “ducal saison” or better yet, “marchional saison”. With its extra kick, it might be a little too intense for farm work, but it sounds about right for celebrating the birth of a new Marchese.
Saturday was Learn to Homebrew Day in the USA, and today is Election Day. To honor both events, I did what any patriotic and pedantic zyme lord would. I made beer.
I called it Colonial Progress Ale, and it’s something between an English bitter and an English brown ale. “Colonial” comes from the fermentables, adapted from a recipe I envisioned for a colonial-style ale during a trip to Philadelphia earlier this year. I ended up with:
- 6.5 lbs American 2-row
- 1 lb Victory malt
- 8 oz Flaked wheat
- 8 oz Flaked oats
- 1 lb Molasses
Each of these ingredients was chosen for a reason, starting with American 2-row malt as the base. Wheat is common in colonial ale recipes, including one attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Victory and oats I had no historic precedent for, but I added them for body in the finished beer, along with some bready/biscuity flavor (Victory) and silky smoothness (oats) to accentuate the English-inspired malt profile. I mashed at 153°F for medium fermentability, counting on the highly fermentable molasses to dry the beer out.
Ohhh, molasses. A common ingredient in beer in early colonial Philadelphia (according to a quote from William Penn), I can eat the stuff right out of the jar. But I was nervous about using it after reading John Palmer’s tasting notes ranging from “rumlike” and “sweet” (woohoo!) to “harsh” and “bitter” (ergh). But further research online suggested that harsher flavors were associated with fermenting mineral-rich blackstrap molasses, not the regular unsulphured kind. I went with regular, and added them at the beginning of the boil with high hopes.
The “Progress” part came from the hops: one ounce of 6.6% AA Progress at the 60-minute mark for bittering, and another quarter ounce at 15 minutes for flavor. Progress is a UK varietal related to Fuggle hops, a good choice for English-style ales.
But that wasn’t all I added to the boil. Hops were available to some colonial brewers, but apparently not all that prevalent, so other bittering herbs were common. My original plan was to use horehound, but I realized the medicinal flavor might overpower a low-gravity ale. I thought of rosemary, but was talked out of it by the sages (ha, ha) at Austin Homebrew Supply. I landed on:
- .25 oz Juniper berries (crushed in mortar)
- .5 grams Sweet Gale (dried)
I added the herbs in the last minute of the boil and let them steep during cooling and whirlpool. I may add more later during conditioning.
The wort had an OG of 1.046, a true session ale for the upcoming winter (insert witty apropos Valley Forge reference; I can’t think of one). I pitched the slurry from a 2-liter starter of WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast – reportedly the Sam Adams house strain – in keeping with the colonial theme. I set the fermentation chamber to an ambient 65-68°F, a little warmer than typical to coax some vintage ester flavor from this low-flocculating yeast.
By this time tomorrow, the future of the United States will be written for the next four years. But regardless of whether my guy wins or not, I’ll have something to look forward to: a beverage in the tradition of the first beers brewed on American soil. Beer has always been a part of American culture, even before there was a United States, and from #1 on down to #44 many presidents have been homebrew aficionados: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were homebrewers and Barack Obama bought a homebrew kit for the White House with his own money. And beer remains one of the few things people can agree on regardless of personal politics.
Don’t forget to vote today, no matter who you’re supporting. Red and blue be damned. We can all party together in the colors of the SRM scale.
My name is Shawn, and I have a problem with gas.
Specifically, the carbon dioxide tank in my 3-tap homebrew kegerator. About two weeks ago, I noticed that my beers were getting a little overcarbonated. My regulator, it turned out, was set to a very high 14 PSI. I try to keep it at 10 PSI, which produces an acceptable level of carbonation for most beers; not ideal for all, but it’s good enough and a simple round number.
But when my precious beers were suddenly pouring out as 80% head, I knew something was amiss. So I got on my knees, pulled a keg out of the kegerator to get to the 5-pound CO2 tank at its home on the compressor hump, relieved pressure at the tank valve and turned the regulator screw a tiny bit counterclockwise to lower the pressure. It doesn’t take much to get big results: a few degrees of torque on a quarter-inch bolt can result in a difference of 3-4 PSI, and sometimes it takes a day before it stabilizes.
But it seemed like it was going to work, for a few days. Then, by coincidence, the tank ran out of gas (I suspected a leak, but thankfully found none). Unfortunately, it was a Monday and I live too far from Austin Homebrew Supply to go there on a weeknight, so I had to wait 5 days before I could get it refilled. Once done, I happily hooked up the newly filled tank and set the pressure to 8 PSI in the hopes that the pressure differential would bleed out some of the extra carbonation in the beer and equalize at the level I’m looking for.
And bleed it did. I poured a pint of Weiss Blau Weiss a few days later, and it was straight-up flat. The regulator was surprisingly at 3 PSI. I was in full WTF mode by this point, until I realized that I set the pressure before I opened all the valves in my gas manifold. 8 PSI with one valve open to one keg dissipated after I opened the other two valves.
Now I think it’s back to normal. We’ll see in a couple of days. And someday I’ll invest in longer beer lines for the system. Longer beer lines mean more distance for the beer to travel from keg to glass, which means it doesn’t come out so fast and so foamy even when the pressure’s a little high. That’s the next logical step, but I’m hoping to put that project off for a less-busy weekend.
Was there a point to this story? No, mostly I’m just venting. But it’s a solid cautionary tale for any homebrewer out there still slaving over a bottling bucket, manually filling and capping 11 bottles for every gallon of homebrew and thinking, “Once I get my kegging system, all my problems are going to be solved!” I once thought that, too.
Nope. Sorry. There will always be problems. Something can always go wrong. Especially when your hobby’s primary equipment options are mostly Frankensteined together by DIYers from common appliances, picnic gear and plumbing fittings. Problems are a given. You just have to roll with them.
But that’s part of the fun. Anybody can go to the store and buy great beer by the case. What makes homebrewers invest the time and the money in all the constant tinkering? Ingenuity. Creativity. And a morbid, wretched drive to find problems that need solving. It’s the same reason I build my own desktop computers from scratch instead of buying them off the shelf. It’s the same reason I’ve been researching and outlining my novel for an obsessively long eight months, poking holes in my own ideas before I write the first page. Like many men, I may shout and curse and bang my fist when a frustrating problem rears its head, but secretly, I love it when a problem arises, because it’s another chance to prove how smart I am by solving it.
So here’s hoping this problem is solved … for now. A pint is calling my name, so I’ll test it soon. But I’ve got hours to kill before bedtime, and who knows what might be waiting for me in there?