Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brewing Calamity Photos

So, Brandon's wife was taking photographs of my ridiculous brew day and I figured I might as well share them.  First first boilover.

It doesn't look too bad there as it really only shows some liquid on the ground...but the sides of the kettle are just ridiculously sticky with residue from the boilover.  Since we brew in the garage, what hits the ground isn't that big of a's just the cleanup that sucks.

Yep, that's me in my work clothes, zesting a grapefruit in the garage.

This is what the controlled boil should look like!  We got there eventually.

When one person is having a bad day it is always nice to have friends around to help...or to laugh! :)  Brandon is on the right and Brandon's friend is on the left.

While brewing, it is always nice to have a drink.  In this case, Brandon's wife is drinking Brandon's "Not Red Ale".  Essentially it was supposed to be a Red Ale, but really turned into a Porter!  It may not be what we expected, but it really does taste good...I promise.

Even on a rough brew day, at least the beer is happy!  As I mentioned in the previous blog, we put a copper coil into the beer that we run cold water through in order to bring the temp down.  This is the coil.

There's my burnt exit hose.  Oy!

Believe it or not, brewing is fun!  Doesn't Brandon's wife look like she's having fun?  Brandon is turning into the Mad Blogger working on his first post.

End result of a burnt hose is me on one knee, wearing an oven mitt holding a short little hose...

Brandon's wife and the dog are trying to be supportive of Brandon's blogging efforts!

Still chilling the beer on bended knee...yeah, I just said it!

The Mad Blogger's work is lonely.  Even the dog is leaving him!

Someone finally got me a chair. :)

The beer is finally chilled and ready to transfer to the fermentation bucket so the yeast can go to work.

Yeast needs oxygen to get started.  I'm aerating the brew with a tool attached to an electric drill.  Beer and power tools...always an interesting mix.

What's left after a long day?  Cleaning up.  Never fun, but always important.
I hope you enjoyed the photos and I'll be sure to share the end results of this beer.  There are a few more steps and another ingredient to add, but we should have a good beer in a month or so and I am definitely looking forward to it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Zen and the Art of Brewing

Some days, it just doesn't make sense to get out of bed.  Those are the days that when I happen to have a brew scheduled, I really look forward to those few hours.  Brewing, for me at least, has become a very relaxing and meditative activity.  The very nature of the process builds in periods of time where there isn't much to do other than sit and watch sugar water boil.  On days where everything is nuts and you are being pulled in 12 different directions at the same time, it is nice to just sit and brew.  It's made even better since I can't brew at my home (apartment dwelling was not made for brewing) so I don't even have chores or other distractions pulling me away from the process of making beer.

Yesterday was one of those days.  My day job really wasn't too bad, but things didn't start to go belly up until after I left work.  I was planning on making a beer that I designed for my girlfriend's birthday and graduation.  I had already come up with a name, Sweet Celebration, and gathered the ingredients.  On my way to pick up some sushi for her I realized that I had forgotten to get a grapefruit (a rather important ingredient since it is supposed to be a grapefruit beer!).  So, sushi in hand, I make another stop at the grocery store to pick up my fruit.  I rush in the store, head to the fruit section and carefully select the very best grapefruit I can find (after all, this is the one piece of fruit that will flavor this had better be a good one!).

By now I'm pretty late already, but I still had to run back to my place to pick up a propane tank and get it exchanged for a new one.  There is nothing worse than having your propane peter out in the middle of the boil, so having a spare is essential.  I run home to pick up the forgotten tank, realizing now that I don't have time to change out of my work clothes.  On my way out the door, I realize that I was just about to go brew without even a copy of the recipe I created!  Now, I've been working on developing this recipe for about 3 weeks so I have a pretty good idea about what I'm putting in and when...but when a day starts going like mine was, brewing without the recipe is just asking to produce a rotten beer.  So, printed recipe, propane tank and empty growler in hand I rush out the door and into the car.

There are several places where I could get propane on the way to Brandon's and I stopped at the one I believed would be able to get me in an out the quickest.  Of course, there is only one employee behind the counter when I go to pay for the exchange and a quickly growing line of people behind me.  She politely tells me that as soon as she is done helping the people behind me, she will be out to unlock the storage container and get me my full tank.  Not wanting to wait out in the rain, I go and sit in my car which I had parked right in front of the container (I don't know a better word to describe those things...cage?  receptacle?  pen??).  I see an employee coming out of the store to help me so I start to get out of my car.  Just then, a newly licensed 16 year old in a shiny new Chevy parks next to me.  And by "next to me" I mean she parks within about a foot of the side of my car.  Now, those of you who know me know that I am not short nor am I, how do you say...flexible.  Looking back on it now, I would really like to see the surveillance footage of me trying to extract myself from my car.  I should have just asked her to open her windows so I could climb through them...might have been easier!

Propane in the trunk (cause there was no way I was going to get it into the back seat without putting it through the windows!) I get back in the car (much easier this time since I knew how I got myself out) and head to Brandon's ready for some relaxation.  Halfway there I start cursing myself because I realized that I forgot my mother's zester back at my place.  I know Brandon's wife has one, but hers is small and a grapefruit is a rather large fruit to zest...and I have a kick ass one back at home (chalk that up to "things I never thought I would hear myself say" before starting to brew..."I have a kick ass zester".  Really??).

So, ready to finally get this brew underway I pull into Brandon's place.  While describing the recipe and laying out the plan for him he looks at me and says exactly 5 words that make it crystal clear that my journey is not anywhere near over...."You sure that's a grapefruit?"  Crap.  I ‘thought’ it was a grapefruit since I went to the grapefruit section of the fresh food area of Hy-Vee.  It was carefully inspected for firmness and a good, clean rind.  I was charged for a grapefruit and I obtained said “grapefruit” from the grapefruit section…silly me to think I had actually walked out of the store with the fruit I planned.  Oh well, fortunately there is another grocery store close to Brandon’s so I could go get an actual grapefruit. While the hot water was working on extracting the sugar from the raw grain, I took my little trip to get a grapefruit.  Upon my return I had it verified that this time I succeeded.

Next on the schedule came the boil.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process of making beer, after soaking the grains in hot water and draining to get all of the sugar out of the grain and into the water, this liquid (called wort) is boiled for a predetermined amount of time based on the desired characteristics of the final product.  When the boil first begins a chemical process takes place where many of the proteins in the beer coagulate and fall out of the beer.  This is desired, but has a noticeable effect on the beer.  It foams like crazy!  Unless you have a very large kettle, you have to monitor this stage very carefully or the pot boils over in a sticky mess.  I have taken great pride in never allowing a boil-over.  Until yesterday.  I had managed it fine initially, then realized I hadn’t extracted as much sugar as I had hoped.  To balance this, I added some dry malt extract (essentially a product where wort has been evaporated and the solids that remain are purchased and added to beer.  Some people make beer exclusively from this extract).  Unfortunately, the addition of this extract caused more foaming and my spotless record is spotless no more!

The next step in the process (after adding hops, grapefruit zest and quartered whole grapefruit) is to cool the beer.  This coagulates more proteins and helps produce beer that is clear.  To do this, we have a copper coil that Brandon made that we run cold water through.  In order to make sure that this coil doesn’t contaminate the beer, we put it into the kettle with about 15 minutes left in the boil.  Spending this time in the boiling wort sanitizes the coil and kills off any bacteria that might be on there.  I’ll post some photos later, but since copper is somewhat expensive and plastic tubing is quite cheap, we have a long plastic hose attached to the outlet side of our coil.  So, as we’re waiting for the boil to finish a friend of Brandon’s who joined us for the brew day said, “That tube doesn’t look right.”  Upon inspection I discovered that when I put the coil into the kettle, I allowed the plastic tube to sit directly on the propane burner stand.  My long piece of tubing was now two separate pieces with nicely charred and melted ends.  Seriously??

Back to the point of this entire post.  While normally brewing is a very relaxing and meditative experience that helps me escape from the rigors of everyday life, yesterday’s brew was more of a demonstration of Murphy’s Law.  I think I did a better job of helping Brandon, his wife and friend relax than I did myself due to my bumbling nature yesterday.  What will make every bit of it worthwhile is if, in a month or two, I crack open a nice cold beer that tastes outstanding and know that if I can make a great beer while floundering around like an idiot the entire time, imagine what I can do on a good day!!

For now, however, I think I’m just going to go back to bed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beer, beer and mo beer! written by #2

First time hearing from me and #2 of the 4 brewers, to make a blog entry. It is actually my first ever blog entry so bare with me.

A good friend of mine, a co-worker at Wells Fargo, invited me to check out brewing from pure grain to make beer. It only took one brew day to know I was going to be a home brewer. People love tasty beer and like to try varieties. That is what we are all about, making deliciously fresh, high quality beer and sharing it with others.

Tonight is the second night in a row where we've had a few people over and tasted between 6-8 different types of beer and talk about them. Yes, we are beer geeks and we love it! Even the most novice beer drinker can talk about what they like and don't like and we listen.

At this point in our start up we are refining our signature flavors and still experimenting with other varieties. Yesterday Ryan brought some of the IPA he's been working on and I was shocked. Ryan is a great brewer, but to get a signature IPA I thought it would take many more test batches experimenting with different grains and hops and balancing the ratio. I would definitely classify it up there as one of the best IPA's I've had and the IPA's are what brought me to enjoy craft beer. The recipe as is, is solid, but we'll continue to make some minor adjustments to see if we can make it even better.

Here's the list of beers we have ready to taste or soon to be ready. If you are interested in trying some send me an email
I can put together a little sample pack for you. All we ask in return is you give us some honest feedback.

American Ale (little hoppy/bitter but not quite an IPA)
Sour Berliners (light wheat beer some regular style and some with touch of blue berry)
Numb Nut Brown Ale (kinda like a New Castle with a little more spice)
Doppelbock (fermenting)
Smooth Porter (not thick, dark and refreshing)
Imperial Stout (aging to maximize flavor)
Sweet Celebration (brewed tonight by Bailey in honor of his girl friend's graduation - first experiment with using grapefruit)

Cheers! Brandon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Business Plan!!

A couple of months ago Brandon, Dave and Ryan went to the Smart Start series at the Small Business Development Center.  I wasn't able to go on that date, but will be attending the series next month.  It seemed like a great resource as, over the course of two days, entrepreneuers are given information about business plans, tax information, marketing information and more.  It would have been well worth the $40 just for that session, however attending this series allows us to have free counseling whenever we need it from here on out!  It's an absolutely wonderful idea that has no doubt helped many small businesses in Iowa get off the ground and stay off the ground!  One of the unique aspects about this series is that it puts you in touch with the actual firms and professionals you will need to partner with (attorneys, accountants, etc.).  So, not only do you get great information, you get to pick the brains of people who have been through this with other businesses many times over!

Our counselor is Greg Saboe, President of Strategies Plus, Inc (follow him on Twitter at @gsaboe).  Strategies Plus is a company that specializes in management and marketing issues for small businesses.  His bio lists a wealth of work experience, including being an adjunct instructor at DMACC.  We are very happy to have his assistance with our little venture!

Anyway, we finally got our business plan to the point that we were comfortable showing it to someone.  We all worked on different sections and Ryan pieced them all together a few days before our meeting.  Going into it, I was worried that it would look like a hastily written 8th grade essay...covered in red ink from beginning to end.  Thankfully there was no red ink in sight!  There was, however, a little yellow highlighter and black ink...but I can deal with that!  He gave us some great ideas for bettering our plan as well as some ideas to help us nail down a solid name for our yet-to-be-named business!

Looking at the suggestions Greg had for us will definitely help us maintain momentum as we move through the planning process.  It has been very easy to get bogged down in working on a document that very few people will ever see!  However, its importance can't be understated.  This is laying the groundwork for our business and if the foundation isn't can we expect the end result to be?  Not only will this help us maintain our momentum, it will likely force us to think about various problems from a different angle which could ultimately lead to a solution!  Since each portion of the plan is integral to the rest, working on one section can seem completely separate from an issue in another, but while working through it we can see how they link together and how they both depend on each other and support each other.

Anyway, our living document has been born and even though it isn't fully developed and has a lot of rough edges, it is great to really have something that we could give to someone and prove we haven't simply been just getting together, dreaming and having a beer!  There is a plan!  Now it is time to nurture it and coax it into a healthy being that will support all of the work that we have yet to begin!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Brew Day!!

Brandon and I took a little bit of time this afternoon to brew and do some work with past brews.  As I'm writing this, I'm having a taste of a Strong Belgian Golden Ale that Brandon and I brewed a couple of months ago.  It's not the best Belgian I have ever had, but it was our first attempt, and overall I'm pretty satisfied with it.  Good, strong malt profile along with some fruity esters associated with the Belgian yeast we used to ferment.  Yes, I am drinking it out of a Sam Adams glass (thanks to Craft Brew Week at El Bait Shop!).

Anyway, back to brew day.  Our goal today was to brew a Doppelbock for Brandon and I was working on a special request brew for my girlfriend.  My instructions were to brew a fruity, summer ale for her.  I know that she doesn't like really hoppy beers, so I am keeping the bitterness low.  However, I am going for a grapefruit taste and a lavender smell (I know, it's a little goofy, but I'm going to give it a shot!).  Unfortunately, the brew store didn't have one of the hop varieties in stock that I wanted to use, and none of the substitutes really were what I wanted I decided to wait until I can find some Saaz hops somewhere!  So, our busy brew day got a little bit less busy.  We still had to brew Brandon's Doppelbock, bottle my Numb Nut Brown Ale and bottle Brandon's Berliner...with a twist!

Brandon's Berliner is a very sour beer, but we are working on some other interesting iterations of this beer.  This time, Brandon bottled half of the batch like normal...the remaining half he simmered some blueberries and let it sit in the secondary fermenter a little bit longer to try and add some fruity flavors to the mix.  So, we bottled about 3 gallons of that and, what I found interesting, is that even though he used only blueberries...the beer turned out a surprising light pink color!  I'm really eager to try some of that!

As we were doing our bottling of the Blueberry Berliner, we were also moving right along with brewing the Dopplebock (as yet to be named!).

Hot Break!!!

First hop addition...German Tettnang, if I remember correctly.

Mmmm...hops!!  Love how they turn the beer green!

When I brewed my second edition of Numb Nut Brown Ale, we apparently had an extremely vigorous boil going on, because instead of ending up with 5 gallons of finished beer, we only ended up with about 4.25 gallons.  Regardless, we went ahead and bottled that today as well.  So, even though we weren't able to get the Sweet Celebration Ale (named because it will be in honor of my girlfriend's birthday as well as her hard-earned graduation from college!!) brewed, we were able to get a lot accomplished on an extremely hot and sticky day!  I came back home with a growler of the Belgian, 42 bottles of Numb Nut Brown Ale as well as a few bottles of Brandon's American Pale Ale.  Now, if only I knew some people who liked craft beer to give some bottles away for some "taste evaluation"!!  Any takers! :)

I think I'll finish my glass of Belgian Blonde and see if I can't figure out a way to get my girlfriend's beer brewed and perfected in time for graduation!  Have a great night everyone!