Homebrewing Beer 101: The Finale

For the past two months, almost two cases of beer were in my front hall closet going thru a process of fermentation, carbonation, and conditioning. If you’ve followed along with us so far, then you’ve seen the background of how we got to this point and why. You might have even seen the second batch we bottled.  Weeks of waiting and holding and damn near torture and we’ve arrived at Judgement Day…we’re going to uncork.

This beer is a clone of Tire Biter Bitter Ale. We used a blonde malt…

And steeped hops for 90 minutes:

This creates a “wort”. The wort is the beer before it starts beerifying itself. We left the beer in a primary fermenter for a month. NOW…we should have pulled this after the first 7 days and then moved into a secondary fermenter, but we didn’t. Also, we realized when we went to bottle that we left out a couple pounds of sugar on the recipe, so we added it posto facto. It couldn’t be that great of an idea, but it worked out pretty good, all things considered. The wort went for a second fermentation with the added sugar. Then we pulled it, bottled it, and let it sit for 3.5 weeks to condition perfectly.

And here we are.

We keep a stocked kegerator that has a freezer on top, perfect for keeping frosty mugs and p’s for the beer. Four friends, four frosty pubbers, four bottles of beer.

Let’s do this…

The immediate pop is a HUGE relief to us. You never know if the carbonation is going to really take place. As long as the sugars stay fermenting and the cap stays airtight, then we should be good on bubbles. If not…well, let’s not discuss the ‘if nots’ right now.

The pour is perfect…lots of air, lots of foam. Good head forms on the top of the golden elixir and tiny bubbles work their way up thru the now completed beer.

Tasting notes: I’ll admit…I expected this to kinda suck. The homebrews I’ve had in the past have sucked harder than anyone has ever sucked before. This got off on the right foot in the glass. It looked like beer. It smelled like beer. And by gawd, it TASTED LIKE BEER. And not just homemade beer…this tasted DAMN GOOD. Tons of hoppy flavor and bite, a very citrusy finish that didn’t linger as much as the hops. We didn’t take measurements on this one, but from the buzz we got right afterwards, we are guessing that the abv is quite high.

This was a really good beer. Not to brag, but we KILLED it the first time out. We all sat in awe of the process and the work we did, still not really sure if one or all but one of us got together and filled the glasses with real beer as a joke on one person. It was a very good beer, to the point that I’d take it over most commercially made beers. The body was deep; lots of character to it. The bubbles made a perfect head with creamy froth for your lips.

We call this one “Made In Voyage”.  It’s a play on words from “maiden voyage”, or our first time thru the process.  But mainly because we changed things up from the original recipe as we went, so we were literally making this in the voyage and making it up as we went.  We are still learning the rules, but so far our little maverick ways have paid off.

And after all this time, all it took was a little homebrew. I’m hooked. Can’t wait to get right back in and try another batch.

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Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Bitter Ale Part 2

If you remember the last time we met here, we were in stage one of our new project: homebrewing. It’s the essence of true Arcadia. Anyone crazy enough to move out to the country needs to pacify themselves somehow.

The last time we were here, we just finished up the wort for a bitter ale called “Tire Biter”, made with blonde malt syrup and blonde malt grains, seeped in a tea for a while, then all mixed together for an hour with noble hops, and then we cooled it off in our primary fermenter, primed the airlock with vodka and slid it into the hallway closet for the magical yeast to take it’s time to do what it do, baby. Next step: Bottling.

We always start with a little bit of hot water and some bleach. Not too much…just enough to kill stuff. Now, since this is our first time thru the beer making process, we were told to used diluted bleach. Since that time, we’ve met up with a couple different homebrew supply stores who think we are batshit crazy for using bleach. There’s some other stuff we are supposed to be using, so we’ll get some the next time we’re in. For now, it’s bleach.

All parts go in to the bleach soak:

We’ve got two cases of bottles washed and disinfected in the dishwasher. We’ve got a disinfecting cycle on our Bosch diswasher. Pretty damn handy for kids or beer.

The only ingredient we are using today is corn sugar. 3/4c is all we need to prime, which means we are going to add it to the wort to make the fizzy bubbles in the beer.

First thing, we have to take off the top of the primary bucket and prime the wort. I mixed up ¾c of corn sugar with enough water to make a pint. Then, I left it out for a bit to come up to room temp and swirled it into the wort, being careful not to upset the yeast on the side and bottom of the bucket.

Now, before we go any farther, let’s take a look at the wort so far:

I ran a little thru the bottle filler hose to flush out anything left from the rinsing stage. Gorgeous color, and the smell is divine. The yeast looks absolutely dreadful, but it smells like warm bread dough. We debated on uses for the left over gunk, but could only come up with “potential sourdough starter”.  In the end, we just washed it down the drain.

Gravity says we have to siphon from up above to down below, so we put the bucket up on the counter, attach the bottle filler, and open the valve. Since the top is open, we don’t have a problem with creating a vacuum.

The bottle filler is designed to go all the way to the bottom of the bottle and trigger to release the flow of beer into the bottles. When it gets to the top (maybe even overflowed a bit), then you pull it out and it’s ready to be capped. The extra space in the bottle helps age the beer, which it needs an additional 3 weeks still after this bottling to mellow the flavor and create the bubbles. The bubbles are made from the leftover yeast and the sugar we added to prime.  The yeast eats the sugar (which calms the flavor), and yeast expunges CO2 as its “waste” product.  That’s right, kids…beer is bubbled with yeast poop.

Our bottles are mottled this time around. We went heavy on the EZ-Cap style. I think we’ve decided to go with the EZ-Caps as much as possible in the future, but we also have about 50-60 regular bottles that require a metal cap. Since we are just starting out, we are just going to do both and see which one we like best.

With the bucket up on the counter and bottles in place, we are ready to go.

Top view before we start. The color is like a light orange honey.

This is about halfway thru with the bottling, but I wanted to show these two up next to each other for effect.

And of course, the bottom of the barrel

The bottom still sorta churns itself as the yeast are still somewhat active.

If you’ve ever had a bottle of Fischer’s Alsatian style beer or a Grolsch, then you know how easy the EZ-Caps are to open. They are just as easy to put on as they are to take off. When we ran out of EZ-caps we went to the old standard beer bottles and our analog bottlecapper.

We had some old unused bottlecaps that came from an old Sunkist bottling plant. We don’t give a shit what the caps say. All we care about is the beer. As long as they work, that’s all we care about. Plus, it will be a good conversation starter.

Another shot at the wort…maybe it is Sunkist afterall.

And when they are all finished, they go back into the hallway closet at 60deg F for another 3-4 weeks for bottle aging. We are a month away. Can’t wait.

Finale coming up shortly…

Caldo de Pollo

I recently spent a week with a stomach bug, which meant a lot of not eating. While my clothes were fitting better, it  wasn’t very fun. After a couple days of self-starvation I decided to go to an old faithful recipe to ease myself back into real food again. This is a favorite dish of mine that’s good for just about any occasion…cold Sunday mornings during the winter or hot summer days where a little fresh vege is all you need to relax.

Originally, this recipe came from someone I knew who grew up down in the south Texas valley. I have no idea if it’s authentic “Mexican” food or not, but it’s a damn good recipe and one that you’ll go back to when you get stuck for something to make in a pinch.

The mise:

-2 split chicken breasts

-four russet potatoes, peeled and rough chopped

-1 large yellow onion

-diced garlic, 3-4 cloves

-3 carrots, peeled and sliced

-3 chicken bouillon cubes

-a head of cabbage

-1 zucchini, halved and chopped

-chicken broth to fill in as needed

Start with a stock pot ½ full of water. Take it to a boil and throw in some salt. Not too much, but enough to soften the water.

Three bouillon cubes:

Concentrated flavor. Great for soups.

Take that up to a boil and make sure the cubes are dissolved.

Drop a couple of split chicken breasts in and let them cook. Should take 15min or so. No rush…all the fat from the skin and bone needs to melt off.

When they are good and cooked, drop them into an ice bath (makes them easier to handle).

Quarter an onion and chop the garlic.

Drop in the potatoes. Cut them big b/c they’ll cook down. You want bite sized chunks, and they will break up on their own in the soup.

Carrots go in, too. They bring an incredible sweetness to the soup.

Vege so far. Give it a taste to see if it needs some salt. I’d add a little pepper in as well, but not too much.

And drop in the zucchini.

At this point, you want to get the chicken out and start pulling it apart into shreds. Try to get as much meat and all that as possible. You can do this step at any point, really, but the chicken will be really hot and hard to pull apart when it’s really hot. I like to put the skin and fat back in to cook. You can remove it before you serve. Let it cook for 30min-hour or so on a low slow boil, covered.

Wash your cabbage down and then chop off the stem at the bottom.

Quarter that bad boy.

And then take out the bottom of the core on all the quarters. It’s tough to eat.

Do a rough chop on this….it will fall apart and go pretty limp, so no worries if you get some big slices in there.

Crumbled it on top of the soup (don’t stir it in). Sprinkle a pretty healthy amount of kosher salt on top of it, then cover for 10 minutes to let it wilt under the steam. This will preserve some of the green color in the leaves and the salt will push a lot of the water out of the cabbage. After it’s good and limp, stir it in.

This is what it should look like. Gorgeous color from the carrots, onion, chicken, and the cabbage. Give it a good taste and season it with more salt/pepper. If you want it hot, hit it with a couple shots of Cholula sauce or some clear pepper sauce. Not too much, though. I usually add just enough to give it a little spice and then serve it with the pepper sauce so people can adjust as they want.

Your potatoes should be reduced down to this:

Right before you serve, turn off the heat. Chop up a bunch of cilantro, and dump the cilantro on top.

Cover it for a couple minutes, then stir it in.

The cilantro adds such a big fresh taste to the soup, but you don’t want to add it until right before you serve. Plus, you don’t want to cook it or the leaves will lose their texture.

Garnish with some fresh lime a sprig of cilantro, and you’ve got a tasty afternoon soup. It’s a pretty good reheater for leftovers, but it’s best right out of the pot when the cilantro is still perfumey.

Caldo de Pollo. Get some.

Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Golden Bitter Ale Part 1

I am a serial hobbyist. Admittedly. One of the things I love to do is learn how something works and/or take an interest in something that most people talk about but never do. In my lifetime, I’ve:

-had saltwater aquariums

-owned beehives for extracting honey

-collected sports cards, mainly hockey

-had a substantial MAD Magazine collection

-played in an acoustic guitar duo in bars

-own a full set of Callaway golf clubs in a leather tour bag

-have the best damn greenhouse in town

Those are just a few off the top of my head. At one point, I owned my own bowling ball and even have a Lionel trainset in my garage. They are all fun hobbies that there are tons of individuals out there in the world who devote their entire lives to. Now, I’ve never gone that far…most of my hobbies will either go on the back burner after a couple years or I’ll just lose interest. HOWEVER…the one thing that I love to do and have done for the better part of 20 years is:

Drink beer.

Oh, man. I’m the best beer drinker I know. I love different types of beers, from the heavy stuff that tastes like thick soy sauce to cheap Texas O.P. beer. The one hobby that I’ve often thought about but never got into was homebrewing. I have friends who have done it and have even tried homebrews. One or two were passable but the rest were downright awful. Terrible.

One night recently, I was watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats on tv, and his homebrew episode came on. Ever fascinated, I watched the whole thing and then turned to my wife and said, “I could totally do that.”

Now, normally when I come up with a new hobby, she just rolls her eyes because she knows it will either be something I forget about or it’s going to end up being something I spent time/money on. This was different. When I said it, she lit up and said, “We can totally do that.”

Bingo.

My next call was to Runnin’ Buddy. I told him my wacky idea, and he told me that he grew up with his dad homebrewing, and it just so happened that his father- in-law was a homebrewer years ago and gave him an entire set of gear to homebrew including carboy, cooker, bottles…everything. All we needed to do was clean it up, buy the ingredients, and get going.

My newest hobby was born:

Off to the big city to a local homebrew store, and we got not only the ingredients, but also some expert advice and recipes to make beer. We chose two different brews…one that should take about a month and another that will take nearly 7 months to completely age. The ingredient list:

-2lbs of milled grains

-a bucket of malt syrup

-0.5oz of Fuggles hops

-0.5oz of Hallterau hops (that’s one of the noble hops…more on that later)

-a packet of dry ale yeast (ale yeast ferments from the top down vs. lager yeast that ferments from the bottom up, so we don’t have to stir it in)

-corn sugar…looks like powdered sugar but tastes different. It’s a disaccharide, which means that we can add it directly to the wort after the primary fermentation)

-bottled drinking water (cheap stuff..not distilled)

-cheesecloth socks for the hops

-whirlflac tablets

Immediately, you are going to be overwhelmed because we are talking about ingredients and stuff that you’ve never heard of (probably). I know I was. Stick with it, though…it’s not as bad as you think. Your homebrew store will be able to provide all of this for you and explain what it all is. If not, then go find another homebrew store.

The gear:

-4-gallon, stainless steel stock pot with a glass lid

-7-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot and a sealable lid

-digital probe thermometer

-assorted other stuff. What? Yeah, keep trusting me on this and read the whole thing before you start.

The very first thing you do after inventory assessment is to sterilize everything. Even if you’ve washed and cleaned everything with hot water and soap, there still may be some bacteria floating around, and even the smallest amount of bacteria can turn the beer bad fast. We mixed 2 tablespoons of regular bleach with hot water in the primary fermenting bucket and shoved everything in there that we could…corks, burper, probe thermometer, metal whisk…anything we thought we might use at any point after the boil phase, we sterilized.

From up above:

While all that sat for 30 minutes, we started up our “brew tea”, which is a gallon of water with the milled grains seeping.

That has to simmer at 153 degrees F for 20 minutes. Why so precise? The whole grains have a lot of sugars and resins deep inside their kernels that will be really bitter if they are extracted, so if you keep the heat down they will not seep out. In addition, you CANNOT squeeze the bag they are in AT ALL or you’ll squeeze them out.

The mesh grain bag with the grains inside:

Do this over the sink our you’ll have this to clean up:

While the brew tea is making, I boiled another pot of water, then put a towel in the bottom so that the malt syrup could get hot and be easier to pour out. I’ll explain more in a bit, but the malt syrup is an extracted blend of grain sugars already pre-made by the brew store. Serious homebrewers will extract their own, but since this is our first time and since it takes about a day to extract them, we are going to just use the premade stuff. I don’t expect that to change.

Shangri-La Dog is there to help lick up anything that hits the floor.

After the water boils, turn it off and put the uncovered syrup bucket in, making sure you don’t overflow the water.

The malt is so sugary sweet, you can barely stand it. It looks like super thick honey and kinda tastes like honey a little bit, but the aftertaste is really potent. Not bad, but definitely a shock to the system when you taste it. It’s beautiful, though.

In goes the bag of milled grains.

We kept the water boiling at 153® for five minutes to make sure we could maintain the heat. As well, we gently stirred the tea from time to time to equalize the temp and make sure there wasn’t a build up of heat in one spot under the bag.

After 5 minutes, you can see the wort begin to take shape as the water turns a pretty blonde color.

Meanwhile, we took 1.5 quarts of water and heated it up to 170 degrees. We’ll use that to pour thru the tea to make sure we get all the goodies out when we are draining it.

After 20 minutes, we pulled the bag and drained it. Then, we poured the extra hot water thru it.

Top off to 3 gallons of water for the boil. We’ll bring this up to a boil…

The pour in the malt syrup. It’s so thick that you have to immediately start stirring it up or it will stick to the bottom of the pot. Why do I know this? you might inquire? Later.

After we bring that back to a boil we are going to had the hops. Remember up top, I mentioned we are using two different types of hops. “Hops” are the petals of a flower from a plant that is the same family as marijuana (no lie). Brewers have used the petals straight in for years, however they now concentrate them into pellets for homebrewers. I’m sure real beer makers do the same, but we for sure are going to. There are four types of “noble hops”; those are the original hops that were first used:

-Hallertau Hallertauer Mittelfruh

-Tettnanger Tettnang

Spalter Spalt

-Saaz

They are all grown in central Europe and are the standard for Bavarian style beer. Other hops varieties are grown all over, but the noble hops are considered the grandfathers of beer flavoring/finishing. Today, we are using a British hops called “fuggles” (leave it up to the Brits to come up with a goofy name) and the noble hops, Hallertau. We’ll do this in two stages: flavoring & finishing/aroma. The fuggles will boil for 75 minutes and add a big robust flowery flavor. The Halltertau will only be in for two minutes because we just need the aroma and oils to give a bitter punch that this recipe calls for.

We’ll put those into a cheesecloth sock, darned at one end and tied off at the other end. The pellets will swell up and expand pretty big as they cook, so we need to give them plenty of room to grow.

The boiling wort (which is what you call beer before it’s finished):

When the rolling boil begins, we throw in the fuggles and let them cook.

Now, I wish I could explain to you how great this smells. The malted barley and Munich grains that are in the bag smell like Grape Nuts if you’ve ever had them cooked. The hops smell so good…it’s like perfume, but with an anise kick. It’s so strong when you first open the bag that it takes you back, but you immediately get right back in for another whiff.

After 60 minutes of boiling on the flavoring fuggles hops, we need to add whirlfloc. Whirlfloc is a synthetic additive that doesn’t affect the smell, taste, or flavor of the beer at all. What it does is grab on to all the suspended particles in the beer and make them heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the primary fermenting bucket. If we were making a dark beer, then this isn’t an issue. However, with a lighter golden beer then we are probably going to see particles in the beer if we don’t filter it. Since we don’t want to filter, we use whirlfloc. Purists will use Irish Moss, but we’ll just use whirlfloc for ease of use.

After 13 more minutes, it’s time for our finishing or “aroma” hops. The first hopping gives flavor. We go with a more potent hops to add the smells of the hops only. For this, we are using the Hallertau:

Two bags of hops.

Notice the line on the inside of the pot where the original level of the wort started. We’ve reduced down considerably, concentrating the smells, sugars, and flavors of the wort.

The finishing hops stay in for two minutes, then we turn off the heat and pull the bags.

The wort will continue to churn for a bit with the carry-over heat. If you taste this now, it tastes like sweet bread that you’ve liquefied. Big flowery taste with a bit of bitterness on the back of your tongue from the hops.

We let this cool down for 15 minutes in the pot. Then, we took 8lbs of ice and put it into the sterilized primary fermenting bucket with the spigot turned off so it doesn’t run all over the floor.

For reference, by the way, we cut the hops socks open to take a look at the hops after the cook. The flavoring fuggles hops are on the bottom and are a noticeable browner color, as we’ve cooked a lot of the chlorophyll out of the flower. The aroma hops are on top and are still bright green.

The grains that we seeped for the brew tea look like cattle feed, and frankly kinda smell like cattle feed, too. We’ll set those out in the fancy greenhouse to dry and will put in the birdfeeder.

Pouring the wort into the fermenter…look how beautiful that is.

Pouring it over the ice will help melt it.

Remember what I said about having to stir the syrup well or it would stick to the bottom and burn?

Damn, I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us down the road.

Topping off with another gallon of water to make five gallons total in the fermenter (

The wort in the bucket:

We have to let this cool off to somewhere between 65-75 degrees before we “pitch” the packet of dry yeast. If it’s too hot, then the yeast will immediately die. If it’s too cold, the yeast could die or just be arrested and not bloom.

The packet of yeast

“Pitching” the yeast into the top of the bucket:

Now, we do NOT stir this up. Because we are using ale yeast, it needs to sit right on top to work. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the wort and craps out air and alcohol as a natural process. We need the air to escape in this portion of the process, but want to keep all the alcohol. We do this by sealing the top of the bucket except for a small hole with a “burper” or an “airlock”. This will slowly let air out while not letting any back in. Air has bacteria, and we don’t want that.

Alton Brown tells us to add water into the airlock to make bubbles, but the gearheads go one step further. If you use vodka in the airlock instead of water, then it keeps it extra disinfected. It just so happens that I keep vodka laying around for just such an occasion.

Carefully pouring it into the airlock chamber.

Upright.

Knucks for a finished wort

Here comes the tricky part. We’ve got to let this ferment for 10-20 days in a dark cool place, no hotter than 70 degrees and preferably around 60 degrees. It just so happens that we have a coat closet that stays at 62-65 degrees at all times

That’s our first part. There are two more parts on the way, but you’ll have to wait for a couple of weeks for the wort to ferment.

To be continued…

Homebrew: Just the Beginning

Tonight we started our first batch of homebrew beer. Actually my Husband and his Runnin’ Buddy started it. I took pictures and smelled the aromas.

It’s a complicated process that requires specialty equipment and ingredients. Fortunately Runnin’ Buddy and my Husband went on a man-date Monday to get the necessary supplies. Runnin’ Buddy’s daddy-in-law provided the equipment.

The process of making homebrew beer goes through several phases and takes about a month, for the shortest cycle and up to two years.

The smells of the ingredients and brewing process itself constantly reminded me of feeding cattle in the winter while gnawing on a cowcake cube. The malt extract and the milled grain smell remarkably like finishing feed for cattle. (it’s the same stuff).


Through the process, we all kept talking about how people figured out how to make beer. Considering all the sanitation we did in a modern kitchen, I can’t imagine how the monks did it.

I wonder how many people got sick or died from drinking bad beer? And who thought of adding hops? Back in the dark ages someone figured out that hops was a natural preservative. So it makes sense to add it to the brew, but who knew? By the way, hops are part of the cannabis plant family, a curious fact indeed.

We’ll be posting more about the steps and process to making your own homebrew. Being the foodies we are, I’m not surprised we are attempting this. But unless you have a burning desire and a good friend who will loan you the equipment, it’s not for the faint of wallet or novice in the kitchen.

I can’t wait until next month when we can uncork our own bottles of brew. More fun to come from Arcadia. But for now, we have a wort in the closet, fermenting. (I hope we can find the vacuum). The step-by-step recipe will be on Its way to a blog post soon.

Random Awesomeness in Photos

I had plans for a different post tonight … a recipe post. Unfortunately I’m still working on it. I even got up at 5 a.m. today to get all my stuff done and, well it’s after 10 p.m. Just out of gas.

Recently I installed PhotoShop, so I’m learning to use it. One of the exercises is to go through all your photos and organize, categorize and tag everything. So here are a few of the ones I looked through yesterday. Some you’ve seen, some maybe not.

Haboob in January 2012
There is something so witty and whimsical about this photo that makes me chuckle every time I see it.
This sums up my cat's attitude.
The joy on Jdub's face is priceless.
Screwy Squirrel on top of Fort Williams. Fat little effer has been stealing the bird feed.
Jdubs + Taos + blue door + Instagram=photo awesomeness.
Instagram awesomeness
This is what The Arcadian Experience is all about: my dad and my son feeding cattle with the dogs. Jdubs is in his undies.
Passion Vine blossom -- Awesomeness
The loveable Ruby. Also known as the "obnoxious shepherd"
Frost in the morning
Lucky: that's what this photo is. It was simply being in the right place at the right time with a handy iPhone.
Homemade pizza -- this is what I made for dinner tonight! It was Awesome!
Another shot that says it all about The Arcadian Experience ... my son playing guitar with his daddy. (A photo of my husband is as rare as catching a snipe.) (The clothes line and witch's cauldron make it especially nice, don't you think?)
Jdubs and me.