Archive for January, 2012

Brewing my First All-Grain Beer

Posted in Brewing with tags , on January 29, 2012 by Verge

I figured I should step my beer making up a notch, especially since I work in a Homebrew supply store, and I really should know my shit.  The next step up from extract brewing, which is what I was doing in my older posts, is partial mash brewing, or mini-mash.

But, while pondering what I would have to do to make a mini-mash, and knowing my real goal was to step into all-grain, I figured I’d just skip the middle step and go for it.  The differences between these three types of beer making I often equate in difficulty to baking.  Extract brewing is like buying one of those pre-made logs of cookie dough, cutting it up and baking it.  Pretty damn simple and hard to fuck up.

Partial mashing is a bit more difficult.  It’s like buying a box of brownie mix, adding the egg and water to the premixed batch, then baking the resulting glop.  Still pretty hard to ruin, but you might actually have to know complex things like how to crack an egg and use a measuring cup and whisk.

All grain is the most difficult.  That’s like taking you grandmother’s 100 year old recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies ever and making them from scratch.  You measuring out everything yourself.  You need to find the right ingredients and know that baking soda is not baking powder.  2 tsps of salt is definitely not the same as 2 tbsp of salt.  Folding is not mixing, sifting flour is not sprinkling it in.  There is more than 1 type of sugar and confectioners is not raw is not white is not brown.  There are actually vast differences in dark and milk chocolate, and it can be chipped, morsels, shaved or grated.

Yeah, cookies can be that complex, and I’m just scratching the surface.  All-grain beer is like that.  Instead of using pre-measured amounts of grain, hops and yeast, you’re actually crafting beer from it’s raw ingredients completely.  It’s the closest thing to actually brewing like a real brewery a home zymurist can get (unless you live on a farm, grow your own barley and hops, have an oast house and know how to malt grains)

Fist thing I needed to make was a mash tun.  When you make extract beer, all the fermentable sugars are in a can or in powder form, and you simple add them to water.  All-grain requires a brewer to get all those sugars out of the grain themselves, and that is called mashing.  You must add very precise amounts of your grain bill to very specifically amounts of water which have been heated to very specific temperatures.

Luckily, for about 45 bucks, you can get one of these from Home depot. They're big, they hold a lot of hot water, and they keep the temperature fairly constant over a period of time, which is critical in mashing. And, it's exceptionally easy to take off the stock nozzle and replace it with a kettle valve.

on the inside of the kettle valve, you need to install some sort of screen. This one screws into the valve and fits so perfectly into the cooler that it's clear the manufacturers specifically made it for a Home Depot cooler. Amazing!

After mashing grain in the cooler, you need a way to slowly add water as you drain water out. This serves to wash the sugars out of the grain bed, which sounds simple, but can be a disaster under certain circumstances. I decided to get my buddy at work, the machinist, to help me fabricate a "rotating sparge arm" from scratch.

We have a ton of cool toys at the Lab and can pretty much build anything from scratch. Hugh, the guy on the right here, like to make things. If it can be done's not getting done that way! He like to make things really fancy.

building this thing required some actual precision for it to work properly. I even had to calculate the area of a circle, and got to use Pi for the first time in years.

well, here it is...kind of. this is the sparge arm mounted on the mash tun (removable,and height adjustable, of course). It has yet to be hooked up to the hose and pump.

this is the whole setup. I actually don't have any pictures of it working, because at that time I was not in any position to be taking pictures.

When you step it up into all-grain brews, it really helps to make a "yeast starter." In extract, you go for simplicity and just toss a dry packet of yeast in your beer to start making alcohol. A yeast starter you make the day before. It's like a little tiny batch of beer that gets the yeast multiplying, that way when you pitch it into your all-grain, it's nice and hungry and gets to work quickly and efficiently.

well, here it is. this is during the mash part of brewing. Basically, a waiting period of about an hour. After this part, I really don't have any photos because 1. I was busy brewing and 2. I was busy drinking.

here's the whole scene, complete with my patio heater. Came in handy, it was pretty damn cold out there. The whole things took way longer than we expected. But, that's what all grain-brewers tell newbies like me. We didn't have any huge disasters, but it certainly didn't go perfect. Nevertheless, I about to rack the beer into a secondary fermenter tonight, and will be drinking the beer in a few weeks. Oh, and one more thing. This particular beer is a clone of Fat Tire Ale, and you welcome to come try one at my house in February! Cheers!


Sometimes the Ice Cream Melts

Posted in Creative Writing, Reflections with tags on January 6, 2012 by Verge

I woke having remembered the last part of my dream.  It took place a while back, perhaps ten or 15 years.  I was younger, I knew that.  I was with friends, including one who was a police officer, I guess.  There was a small crew of us and we were hanging outside an Arcade.  It looked like the arcade from Smithville, which I saw two months ago, except it was at night.  The feeling was a lot like the boardwalk at night in The Lost Boys

I had an ice cream Sunday with me as we walked around.  Some one told us that a friend of ours had gotten into trouble.   This guy was just like a friend I used to have about ten years ago, so I assume I was thinking it was him.  I’m not sure why he was on my mind last night.  He had been busted by the police in a drug sting.  We headed to his house, which was basically further down the boardwalk.

He was being led out by police, but because he was friends with the cop in our crew, he was allowed to say goodbye to every one of us.  He hung his head low, and we all shook our heads.  It was saddening.  My ice cream melted in the cup.  As he was led away, I realized I like the sundae better after the ice cream had melted.

Then it was 10 years later.  Our friend still wasn’t around, we had all lost touch.  We were all back together, though, and were in a club.  There was a DJ in the center of the floor spinning records.  It was very nostalgic to have all of us together again.  I got the feeling that we had all lost touch to some degree in that decade, our lives diverging like they do.

I had another drink with me, and I said to my friend, “Sometimes it’s better when the ice cream melts, ya know?”  And he was confused.  He asked me what that meant.  I explained that sometimes things are only this good after all things fall apart, melt, fade away…and we can remember them again with a fondness we only feel from a distance and can appreciate how the past has shaped the present.

I don’t know how that all makes sense, but I really do feel that way.  There was a time in my life when I did fall apart.  And things wouldn’t be the way they are today if  my life hadn’t gone to shit at some point in the past.  And life is much sweeter today because of it.

New Years Eve, 2011

Posted in Friends and Family, Good Times, Reflections with tags , , on January 3, 2012 by Verge

Monika and I worked our asses off all of December.  I was working two jobs and she was working three part time jobs.  We rarely had a day off.  On top of it, I was putting in 20 hours a week in retail, something I though I had given up 5 years ago when I quit Sam Ash.  I even had to work on Christmas Eve Eve, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas!!

We were both desperately looking forward to a second-year-in-a-row trip to Ohio to visit Sam and Tuk, and spend the New Year with Sam for the fourth year in a row.  We had a day trip to Cleveland to visit Great Lakes Brewpub, and another day trip to Falling Water, a place we’ve wanted to visit for some time now.

Well, a family emergency meant that we weren’t going to Ohio;  Sam was coming to New Jersey.  At least we would still get to see her, but Tuk was bound fast to work back west, and Sam was going to be busy with family affairs.

We made the best of it, though.  She arrived in Atco Saturday evening just as Monika was getting out of the shower and getting ready to start the party.  Here’s the annual slideshow:

custom made hat from Sam

let us all have Champagne

with my sweatered bottle of Maker's Mark

lets get this whiskey out of this bottle, already

we pose in the bar

the three of us with our Christmas Cracker hats


at midnight, we decided to blow things up!

like a boss

i don't even know why the girls let me do it, but I guess we all love adventures

the first mortar is alight! I can't believe the cops didn't show up. These guys are REALLY loud in my hood.

it's cold, but the party continues

one of the last pix of the night

the next morning, we sat on the kitchen floor with Mimosas

New Years Day with Craig and Kat, opening another round of Christmas Crackers

Sam in the morning, on her way back to Ohio

It takes the best friends to make you smile when life has dealt you a horribly sad hand.  Especially during the holidays.  It’s nice to know you have some around for you when you need them.

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