Being cultured

October 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Have you ever gotten a friendship bread starter? It’s a cup of smelly liquid often given in a ziplock bag with instructions that take about 10 days to follow; some days you just stir, some days you add sugar, flour, etc. At the end, you have a loaf of sweet bread with three cups of starter to give to your friends.

The process, of course, is culturing bread yeast. After giving the yeast food and oxygen for days at a nice temperature, the yeast multiplies and voila, you have enough for several batches.

I don’t bake bread often, but I do brew beer, which also requires yeast, beer yeast. A different organism. I can get dry yeast from my supplier, or I can get liquid yeast. I generally get the liquid kind which come in lots more varieties. But they cost $6.50 a pop just for the yeast. So, I decided to get some culture.

Following the directions in Charlie Papazian’s great book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing I took a batch of a yeast I use often and am multiplying it times three. More details and pictures to come.

I’m calling my next batch of beer made with this yeast “Friendship Beer.” And if I give you a bottle, you won’t have to wait 10 days to drink it.

EDIT: Apparently beer yeast and bread yeast are different strains of the same organism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, not different organisms. See the Wikipedia entry. Thanks for the correction, Virgil!


Commercial Craft Beer

August 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I’ve been trying a lot of different craft beers lately, and I’d like to remember what I thought of them, as the flavors are already starting to blur in my mind.

Who am I that feel qualified to rate beer? I’m just someone who enjoys drinking good beer. I also brew my own. I was delightfully surprised to find that homebrew can often be better than good commercial craft beers. I am not a professional brewer, nor a master brewer, nor am I qualified by the BJCP to be a judge in beer competitions. I just know what I like, and I want to remember. Because life is too short to drink bad beer.

Here’s my rating system. It is entirely subjective. My ratings may differ wildly from yours.
5 = Truly excellent. I must drink this again before I die. Nirvana.
4 = Great. I’d gladly pay good money for this beer. I’d give this to people I like.
3 = Good. Not my top choice, but enjoyable in a pinch. I’d stock it in my house if I were short on cash or if what I really wanted wasn’t available.
2 = Eh. If I bought it, I’d finish drinking it, but I’d never buy another.
1 = Bad. If I were a guest in someone’s house, and this is the only beer they had, I’d choke the first one down with a smile and drink water henceforth.
0 = Truly terrible. The drain is the only place for this. I question the sanity of anyone who drinks this on purpose.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Wasatch Beers, White Label (Belgian Style White Ale): 4.5
Very, very good. Everything I want from a Witbier. Somewhat fruity, light, flavorful, smooth, distinctive … a joy to drink.

Boulder Beer Company, Kinda Blue (Blueberry Wheat Beer): 2.5
The beer itself is so-so, and the blueberry flavor is mild. It would be a 2.0 if not for the novelty.

Bear Republic, Red Rocket Ale: 3.5
A nice balanced flavorful beer. I prefer Retro Red (New Belgium Brewery) to this, but Red Rocket is a decent red/amber ale. I probably wouldn’t regularly stock it, but I’d pick it up occasionally.

Left Hand Brewing Company, Milk Stout: 4.0
Wonderfully smooth, slightly sweet stout. Just enough bitterness to make it not too sweet. Creamy. Want more.

Left Hand Brewing Company, Good Juju (Beer Brewed With Ginger): 2.0
The beer is forgettable, and the ginger is barely noticeable. I’m trying to not let this put me off other beers accented with ginger.

Widmer Brothers Brewing, Hefeweizen: 4.0
Very good hefeweizen. Possibly the best I’ve had in a bottle that wasn’t a homebrew. I’d have to do a taste test to compare it with Lake Placid Brewing Company’s Hefeweizen.

Lake Placid Brewing Company, Hefeweizen: 4.0
Very good hefeweizen. Possibly the best I’ve had in a bottle that wasn’t a homebrew. I’d have to do a taste test to compare it with Widmer Brothers Brewing’s Hefeweizen.

New Belgium Brewing, Mothership Wit (Organic what beer brewed with spices): 3.5
Good, but disappointing compared to Wasatch. If it were the only wit around, I’d drink it and enjoy it.

Shock Top, Raspberry Wheat: 3.0
Very fruity! I can barely taste the beer. If you don’t like beer very much and want something cold and fruity on a hot day, this is for you. Not my preference, but I’m giving it a 3 since it’s very good for its style (very fruity, light and refreshing).

Nimbus Brewing Company, Pale Ale: 3.0
A good, balanced pale ale, but I prefer Sierra Nevada a bit more.

Bell’s Brewery, Oberon Ale (American wheat): 2.0
The taste is more like an Eastern European lager, not an American summer wheat beer. If I wanted that flavor, I’d get a Pilsner Urquell. Not to my taste.

New Belgium Brewing, Sunshine (Wheat beer brewed with spices): 3.5
A nice American wheat beer. J would give this a 4.0, and I might, too, if she left any around long enough for me to taste. 😉

Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Firestone DBA (Double Barrel Ale): 4.0
Very nice! It’s a very flavorful pale ale that pushes the boundary of enjoyable bitterness, but doesn’t cross it. A very interesting American pale ale. It beats out Sierra Nevada for my money. (BTW, Sierra Nevada is about a 3.5 on my scale, possibly 4 if it’s very fresh and cold.)

The Golden Dragon

April 23, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I just started a Northern Brewer recipe called The Golden Dragon. It’s a Belgian dark strong ale. With an original gravity of 1.083 (20.2 Brix), this will be the strongest beer I have ever made. Like the Winter Warmer, I did a yeast starter for this one. Here’s the description of where this recipe came from.

“Legend tells us that the recipe for this Belgian beer was given by a Norse king to the city of Minneapolis after Vikings buried the Kensington Rune Stone up north, but it was stolen by railroad magnate and St. Paul resident James J. Hill and ensconced in a turret of his Summit Avenue mansion. It remained hidden there, undisturbed for years, until NB’s Heyward Gualandi retrieved it after a grueling traverse climb along the South wall. Or maybe Heyward made it all up. Whatever you end up believing after sipping down a chalice of this formidable Belgian dark strong ale, there can be no doubt that it’s potent and delicious. A beguiling complex of dried fruit, toast, butter caramel, spice, and ethanol wafts out of the glass and fills your mouth, leading up to a long rich finish. … It looks innocuous, it tastes smooth, but it can breathe fire … ”

It’s probably BS, but it’s a good story. I plan to bottle this one in traditional Belgian style 750 ml bottles with corks and everything. This is going to be a special occasions beer. I accidentally added the 5 minute hops at the 15 minute mark, so it will taste a little hoppier than intended, but hopefully not too much more bitter.

So, if you ever drink any craft beer from a Belgian style 750 ml bottle, I’d love to take the bottle off your hands when you’re done. Whether they have corks or caps, I’ll take ’em.

In other news, I tried the Bavarian Hefeweizen I brewed 5 weeks ago. It’s a week early, but I couldn’t resist. It tastes good, but it’ll benefit from sitting another week or two. Yeasty and yummy!

In non-beer news, I made some origami, I went for my first motorcycle ride of the season, and it’s end-of-the-semester crunch time at work. Motorcycle classes start in 3 weeks, and I can’t wait for my Arizona trip.

Bavarian Hefeweizen

March 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The next brew is Northern Brewer’s Bavarian Hefeweizen. This recipe was much simpler than the other extract kits that I’ve gotten from Norther Brewer. Wheat malt syrup, dry malt powder, and one bag of 60-minute hops. And the yeast, of course. I guess that’s the point of this beer; it’s all about the wheat and the yeast.

I brewed it yesterday with some friends. We ended up putting it in the carboy at 7:30PM, and it was already bubbling away this morning at 10AM. It smells distinctly different from other beers I’ve brewed at this stage. It smells lighter and cleaner somehow. Curious.

Here is a list of the beers that I’ve brewed so far.

St. Paul’s Porter, 08/2009. This one showed signs of an infection on bottling day, after the beer was in secondary fermentation for a few weeks. I did secondary fermentation in a plastic bucket instead of a glass carboy, since I didn’t have two carboys. There were a few strands of moldy looking stuff in the beer. Rather than toss it, I scooped out the strands with a sanitized slotted spoon, and bottled it, hoping for the best. It turned out ok, and I inspected every bottle of beer as I opened and poured it for signs of anything that shouldn’t be there, and found none. Every bottle was fine, and it tasted ok, but I couldn’t bring myself to offer it to anyone else. I eventually drank it all, but the experience as a whole was not completely satisfying.

Caribou Slobber Brown Ale, 03/2010. This time I cleaned and sanitized the plastic secondary fermenter scrupulously, and the beer came out a winner. Seriously good. Like, I’d pay money for this beer, good. Everyone who tasted it liked it. This success really fired me up for long term home brewing.

Belgian Dubbel, 07/2010. This time I took advantage of a sale NB was having on 5-gallon glass carboys. No more fermenting in plastic for me! This beer was another huge success. Belgian hard candies were added during the boil. It is a nice, complex beer that gets better with age. I have two bottles left in the basement that I’m saving for a special occasion, maybe for when my Dad visits next, hopefully this summer. Jenny doesn’t care for it, but I love it.

Caribou Slobber Brown Ale, 08/2010. I had lots of requests to make this one again, and it was just as good as the last time. I think I have to make this one a regular in the rotation.

Winter Warmer, 12/2010. This one had more fermentable sugars in the wort (unfermented beer), resulting in a higher alcohol content in the end. This recipe required a yeast starter for that reason; it lets the yeast multiply before brewing day so there’s enough of them to handle all those carbs. It turned out tasty, but the carbonation was weak. This was most likely due to the beer being stored at too cold a temperature, about 60 degrees F, right after bottling. After I realized this (I first tried it two weeks after bottling, and it was flat) I put the bottles in a temperature regulated container at 70 degrees F. One week later, it’s better, but still low carbonation. I’ll try it after another week or two and see how it turned out. I’m considering adding more sugar to the bottles and recapping them, but I’ll try being patient and waiting first. I hope the carbonation picks up, because I think it’s nice and tasty. One last note: I didn’t realize that one should swirl the yeast starter around a couple of times per day as it’s getting ready. I didn’t do this, but I’ll do it next time to see if it makes a difference.

The next beer is probably going to be Caribou Slobber again since it’s always (all two times) a winner.

I really like my hobby.

Winter Warmer

December 9, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’ve been brewing my own beer for roughly a year. I have a lot of my own equipment, and I’m borrowing some from a friend while I acquire the rest. I just started my fifth batch tonight, a darkish ale with above average alcohol content called Winter Warmer.

I get my supplies from Northern Brewer, a company based in Minnesota. If you have your own recipes, they have all the supplies you could want, or at least all I can imagine. They also have recipe kits of their own. You just browse their recipes, pick one, and they send all the ingredients with instructions.

Don’t worry, I’m not kidding myself into thinking I’m becoming the next Jim Cook; it’s a fun hobby, and it’s really good beer that’s significantly less expensive than buying microbrews.

Anyway, this recipe calls for something I’ve never done before, a yeast starter. See, normally you boil the ingredients for a while, cool it down, add yeast, and let it sit. Boiling breaks down the complex starches into simple starches the yeast can eat and turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. But this recipe gives the yeast lots more starch, resulting in the higher alcohol content.

Apparently, the normal amount of yeast for a typical 5 gallon batch doesn’t cut it for this recipe. They can’t handle all that starch and get stressed out or something. I don’t know the details, but I know that in general, if the yeast are happy (they have the right food, the right temperature, no other bacteria to compete with, etc.) the beer probably won’t suck. I also know that NB recommend a yeast starter, and they haven’t steered me wrong yet.

Long story short, I just gave my yeast an all you can eat buffet and put on some Barry White. So instead of about a dozen billion yeast cells, I’ll be adding a couple hundred billion on brewing day so they can handle the job. This batch should be ready in February or so. I’m anticipating it’ll be worth the wait. It has been for each batch so far.

I like my new hobby.

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