Wednesday, July 10, 2013

National Homebrew Conference 2013 Recap

Coming soon....

Adventures in Public Transportation

This is totally off topic, but I had to share the experience and the absurdity I found on a recent "commute" to Boston via public transportation.  I normally work from home in Lowell, MA, but I had to go to the Longwood area of Boston for work, so I thought I would be virtuous and use public transit.  Here's how it went:

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6:00 AM

I left home and drove to the Lowell parking garage.  No traffic, got there in about 10 minutes or so, and I was feeling great!  As I drive in, I roll down my window and stick out a hand to take a ticket. The guy at the entrance greets me with an open hand, too.  Oops, he's looking for a $5 bill to cover my parking for the day!  At that hour, there were lots of spaces, so I was quickly in the terminal, looking for the ticket office for the commuter rail train to Boston.  No office, so I bought a Charlie Card for $30 in the machine there, figuring that was the way to buy my ticket.  
I am struck by the fact that I have to go up and down several flights of stairs to get to the platform from the garage.  It would be incredibly slow and inconvenient to do this with a rolling suitcase or in a wheelchair as the elevators are not fast or easy to get to.
Cost so far: $35

6:18 AM

The train leaves Lowell for Boston on time!  Great start, so far.  I settle in with my bagel and coffee and prepare to eat breakfast while waiting for the conductor to pick up my ticket.  When she comes around I offer my Charlie Card, only to find that it doesn't work on the train, only in the subway (so why sell them in Lowell?).  I have to buy a paper ticket (no surcharge because the ticket office hadn't opened yet) for $8.75, cash only.  The conductor is really nice, though, and she tells me about an app for my phone that I can use to buy a ticket for the commuter rail and just flash when she collects.  I make a note to use it on the way home.
Cost so far: $43.75

7:05 AM

We roll into North Station and I head down into the subway (green line, E route).  To do this, you have to actually EXIT the station, down a short flight of stairs, and then go into a subway entrance about 50 feet away.  Again, if I had a rolling bag, this would be a pain, as the escalators are busy and narrow.  There are 3 different flights.  And this is a new station!
Once I'm down in the station, I head for the turnstile brandishing my brand new Charlie Card.  When I tap in, I discover that for my $35 I got a hunk of plastic--it doesn't actually have any stored value! Wish they had told me THAT up front!  Off to the machine to feed the card $20 so I can use the subway.  Once I do that, now I can use the subway, and off I go to find the Green Line train.
Cost so far: $63.75

7:35 AM

Miracle of miracles, I arrive at my destination.  I am supposed to meet my co-workers and the client at 8:00, so I have time to get more coffee (I finished my original cup on the train).  Nice to be early, and the worst I endured was a crowded train.  Expensive, but a good experience.
During the day, I download and install the Commuter Rail pay app that the conductor told me about, and so that is installed on my phone. I ordered up a ticket for the trip home, so that is all set as well. That's another $8.75.
Cost so far: $72.50

5:00 PM

I dash out of my client meeting to catch the 5:00 Green Line trolley back to North Station so I can catch the 5:30 train to Lowell. I get the trolley (using the Charlie Card again to pay), but it is delayed, so I arrive in North Station at 5:33 and the train is gone.  RATS!  Next one is at 5:50, so there's nothing to do but wait.  On a beer related note, there is a Paulaner Bier "Garten" in the station waiting area, and it is open.  Hefe can wait, though. Exhausted, I opt not to get one so can get some work done on the train home and not fall asleep. 

5:50 PM

The train departed on time--Yea!  I spent the ride home watching recorded lectures for course I'm taking, and after 7 stops, I arrived at the Lowell station again.  It is 6:40pm. I reverse the process of parking and hop in the car to go home!

6:55 PM

I'm home.  Tired and hungry, but home.  It has been almost 13 hours since I left. I resolve never to take a job that requires me to do this every day!
The total cost for the day:
  • Parking: $5.00
  • Commuter Rail: $17.50 ($8.75 each way)
  • Charlie Card: $30 (sunk cost, this never expires, but has to be reloaded)
  • Subway fares: $4 (note that I loaded $20 on the card, so I have $16 left)
Out of pocket expenses are $72.50, but only $27.50 was for actual transportation ($16 still on the card is still available).  For $27.50 I could park all day in Boston, but there would be more wear and tear on me (and on my car), fuel cost, etc.  I do feel slightly virtuous (but dirty) because I took public transportation, so there's that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Apricot Saison and the AHA Conference 2013

I'm getting ready for the AHA Conference in Philadelphia in June of this year.

Brewing Apricot Saison in collaboration with my friend and fellow BFD Mike Damiano, and Patriot Oatmeal Stout.   We brewed the Saison in a 15 gal batch on Mikes electric brewery, which was pretty freakin cool!  I have about 4.5 gals on apricot puree sitting in my apartment right now, while Mike has the remaining 10 gals.  So we have 5 for AHA and about 4 for each of us!  This is my first fruit beer (unless you count a pumpkin ale I made right after I started brewing).    Here's the info on how to add fruit:  http://www.homebrewjunkie.com/2008/05/adding-fruit-to-home-brew.html

After speaking to a couple folks who have done this recently, I think we may have been light on the Apricot, but we will see.

Today I am brewing the Oatmeal stout, and I have had the difficult experience of trying to do a double infusion in a 10 gal cooler.  I added another 2 gals of boiling water to the mash to get to Mashout temp (168 degrees F) and ended up with minor overflow.  This was one of the most difficult brew days I have had in some time, and it all started with the grain crush. I couldn't get it to crush properly, and I ended up with the grain still in the husk, even though I conditioned it and re-milled it.  I think there could have been two issues:
  1. I was using some Valley Malt 2 row that is now 2 years old, I think.  It is possible that it isn't good anymore.
  2. I was trying to mill the grain using a drill instead of hand cranking, as I usually do.  I wonder if I milled too fast and it just squirted through.
  3. (oh, yeah, I said two--well tough) I might not have sprayed sufficient water to condition the grain .
So from the start, my gravity was low.  Of course, I had a hard time telling that because for some reason my refractometer seems to be messed up.  The line you read is now on an angle, which is not so good.  Also, the plastic cover doesn't seem to line up properly.  I checked it with a hydrometer though, and it was accurate once I nudged it back to place and re-calibrated with some distilled water.  I was shooting for a relatively high OG for the style, but ended up with 1.054, which is in the guidelines, but not what I should have had given the grain bill--that would have been 1.069!  A major miss, that one!   Of course the calculation was with Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter, not Valley Malt 2-row, so it might not have hit exactly, but I expected to be closer.

One cool thing that I tried (anyone but a brewing geek can stop reading here) is to recirculate the boiling wort in the last 15 mins and after knockout to cycle it around the kettle and the immersion chiller. Got the fasted cool down I have ever had with that chiller, so I guess it works! Thanks, Jamil, for idea.


Here it is in the fermenter.  Notice that there is a TON of headroom, because I had to boil for 2 hours to get the gravity UP to 1.054.  I only collected 4.5 gals, and then I pitched my dry yeast.  I hope it tastes good, but we will see in a week or two.

Next up for tasting is the apricot saison. I may get another can of apricot and add that in as well.

Happy brewing!

Monday, July 30, 2012

A week in Belgium--Wow!

Some time ago I received a copy of Beer Traveler Magazine in the mail. In it there were several beer vacation itineraries, including a two week trip to Belgium that caught my eye! You see, I had a big birthday this year, one ending in zero, so I wanted to commemorate it with a really fun and interesting trip. Accordingly, I decided to plan a trip around the itinerary they suggested. I'd like to share it with you because I think it worked pretty well, and I had an awesome time!

First of all, I went with my girlfriend, who is not a big beer drinker, though she likes some beer and is a good sport about trying it. We didn't want to have to drive everywhere, particularly if we are drinking, so we opted to stay in two places and take trains everywhere--usually an easy option in Europe. We stayed in Gent (or Ghent or Gand, in English and French, respectively) and Antwerp (or Antwerpen or Anvers in Flemish and French). This allowed us to cover the West and South of Belgium from Gent and the North and East of Belgium from Antwerp. Only having one week limited us a bit, and we didn't want to just spend each day drinking, but sightseeing and enjoying Belgian culture as well.

Day 1 (Sunday): 
Gulden Draak 9000
Arrive in Gent We stayed at the Charme Hotel Hancelot, which was excellent! On arrival we discovered that Gent was having a big music festival, which had free music and stages all over the downtown area.  This was fantastic from an entertainment standpoint, but it meant that the bars and restaurants might be more crowded than normal--and reduced the beer menu at at least one place.  Nevertheless, we headed into the Oud Stadt (old city) to check it out, and found that they had beer tents set up where you could purchase some pretty good beer, including Leffe Blonde, Leffe Bruin, Gulden Draak, etc.  I LOVE a country with good beer, and so we enjoyed some music, some beer and had fun.  I had a Leffe Blonde at one stage, and then a Gulden Draak 9000 (Quad) that was delicious while we watched a rock band at another stage. Then we went for Moules et Frites at a restaurant on De Graslei, which is a beautiful spot, but a main site of the festival to so hard to appreciate it for its beauty. 

Day 2 (Monday):

Westy 12
What beer lover's trip to Belgium would be complete without a pilgrimage to Westeverleteren (Abbey St. Sixtus)?  Not mine, that's for sure!  Of course, if you are going to get there, it turns out that you must do it by car or bicycle, because public transportation is not even CLOSE to convenient--so we rented a car.  I also wanted to bring back some beer, after all, Westy 12 is supposed to be the best in the world, so I tried calling to reserve a crate but was unable to get through at the right time by getting up at 4am!  Nonetheless, when we got there, I was able to buy a six pack of Westy 8, which also scores pretty respectably, at In De Vrede, their shop and restaurant.  Of course, I had to have a glass of the 12, and I also tried the blonde (not so great, IMHO).  The coolest thing was being there, which is one of those beer experiences.

After Westverleteren we drove toward the coast, and ended up stopping at a nice little town called Veurene to buy some bread, cheese, and meat. I, of course, had to get some local beer as well, and the woman we spoke with at the grocery suggested three: Poperings Hommel Bier, Sporkin, and Boeteling, which I purchased and drank later.  All three were good, but not great.  Popering is an interesting place (we drove through it) for two reasons: It was a big WW I battlefield, and it has a hop museum and festival!  I also caught sight of some hop bines growing along the road as we drove.  All in all it was a good beer day!

Day 2 (Tuesday):

We got up early and after breakfast we took the train from Gent to Brugges.   While this is not the biggest beer destination on the planet, you can't go many places in Belgium without finding something beer related and (usually) interesting!  Here we found the brewery De Halve Man, where they brew Bruggse Zot and a couple other beers that are very nice!  This it the ONLY brewery tour we took, and it is also the best tour I've been on anywhere.  The woman who was our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and we (literally) saw the brewery from bottom to top, ending with a stop on the roof to enjoy the view!  Along the way we saw modern and old brewing equipment including open fermenters, a kuhlschip, and stainless tanks and brewing gear.  They no longer use the open fermenters or kuhlship, but they keep them around (probably expensive to remove) as sort of a museum exhibit.  They also used to do their own malting, so you get to see the malting floor and kiln.  We followed the tour with a lunch in the courtyard and an unfiltered Zot (only served at the brewery), then headed off to explore more of this beautiful city.

We stopped at the old Gruuthus, now a museum of unrelated things, but you get the importance of Gruit (or Gruut in Flemish) when you see how nicely this place was appointed!  We finished the day with a stop at De Garre, with a glass of their own tripel, which was quite nice.  This place is a very cool old, old bar that is off in a tiny little alley you would only find if you are looking for it.  Thanks to the article from Beer Traveler and the nice person at the Brugges tourist office, we knew how to find it, and surprisingly, so did a lot of others.  We found a table on the 2nd floor and the bartender served us up there, which was great! Outside there was a nice little canal, and I would have loved to linger, but my wonderful GF had other plans: a birthday dinner in Gent at Faim Fatale, so back to Gent we went!  Dinner was wonderful, as was the Rochefort 8 that accompanied it-absolutely one of the best beers of the trip!

Day 3 (Wednesday):

(l to r) Bruin, amber, blonde, wit, all made with Gruit.
We decided that we needed to explore Gent more thoroughly than we had on Sunday, so we took the day and did it in a leisurely way.  Our first stop was at Brewery Gruut, the only brew pub in Gent, and one of the few women head brewers.  Of course, I had to try the Gruut beers, since it is the only place I've been where they make commercial beer without hops!  I was underwhelmed by the Wit (on the right), but the bruin and amber were delicious, and the blonde was pretty good.  I would definitely buy some if it were available in the US!  Alas, it is not exported yet.  I discovered that you could get it in a number of places in Gent, at least.

After a visit to the castle, and a few interesting stops to watch the Tour de France and various bands, we ended the afternoon at Het Waterhuis, and here's where we hit a shortcoming of the festival: limited beer menu!  I had a couple of nice local beers, MAMMELOKKER, and  a Floris Frambozen, which was absurdly sweet.  We struck up a nice conversation with a local retired gentleman, who is a sculptor and was very interesting.  And we watched the end of the day of the Tour de France to see how it came out before we headed back to our hotel to freshen up, then out to dinner.  No unusually good beer for dinner, however, just a Westmalle Dubbel.

Day 4 (Thursday):
We decamped to Antwerp and settled into our hotel (the Hilton, right on the Groenplatz), before grabbing some bread and cheese and hopping a train to Mechelen, home of the Het Anker brewery, which brews Gouden Carolus.  This is an interesting town, and unfortunately, one of those breweries (like Gruut) where you need 12 people to have a tour.  They also have a nice hotel and pub at the brewery, but rather than head that far from town, we elected to check out the Vismarkt (Fish Market) area and have a beer there, then explore the town, and end up at another highly rated bar near the other train station.  And that's what we did!


 The bar we started at was Den Akker (on the Vismarkt), and we ended at T' Afspraak, which was a neat old bar with a nice modern, garden section.  They had a very impressive beer selection, but between the two places, I had to try a number of the Gouden Carolus beers: Hopsinjoor, Ambrio, and of course the Classic.  After that, we headed back to Antwerp (it is a 25 minute train ride), and had a nice dinner on the river called Zuiderterras, where I had a Tongerlo bruin.  It was a nice beer, but the food was better than the beer.

Day 5 & 6 (Friday/Saturday):
You can't go to Antwerp and not see Ruben's house and museum. Pieter Paul Rubens was perhaps the best painter to come out of Belgium, and apparently quite accomplished in other areas as well.  So on Friday morning, off to visit the house we went. I managed to set off the alarm one time by leaning too far over the rope in front of the exhibits, but it was a great thing to see! 



We followed up with another museum, and then searched the city for Kulminator, #8 on the top 150 places to have a beer.  We found Kulminator, but discovered that it didn't open until 4, so we put it on the back burner until after dinner.  We finally got there around 8, and I had a 3 year old Gouden Carolus (on draft), which was quite nice.   I confess that I was underwhelmed by the bar, however.  The article had led me to believe that this would be a really fantastic, happening place, but in reality, nobody in Antwerp seemed to know anything about it.  It is truly a beer geek's bar, and there's no reason anyone else would go there.  In fact, when I was in Antwerp on business in November of last year, I tried to find it, even giving the cabbie the actual address, and he couldn't find the place!  Nevertheless, they do have an amazing selection of vintage beer, and we went back the next day (earlier--before dinner) and I had a 2001 Chimay Grand Reserve (blue) and a Maredsous Tripel (on draft) that were really wonderful, and we sat in the garden out the back.

I finished off the trip with a nice Duvel, while we sat in the Groenplaats watching the sun set.  It was a great trip, and I had some wonderful beer and great experiences (lots of sight seeing not discussed here, too)!  Belgium is a wonderful country to visit, and I feel like we left some great things to come back to on the next trip. The people we met were friendly and helpful, and we enjoyed the scenery, and even the rain! 

I hope that the links I posted above will be useful. Gent, is a great city, and if the festival is not on, even more historic sights await.  During the festival it is fun, but not quite as easy to view the medieval buildings in the old city.  Antwerp is also beautiful, and has a lot to offer.  We deliberately skipped Brussels because we thought it would be fun to be more off the beaten track.  The only regret about that is that we didn't get to see the Belgian National Day celebration in Brussels, but that's OK! 


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Passover and beer--not a kosher combination!

It is Passover the Jewish holiday of liberation, celebrating the Jews' exodus from a life of slavery in Egypt, led by Moses.  If you haven't seen The Ten Commandments, or read the story in the bible, go check it out.

Each Passover, Jews all over the world stop eating leavened bread for the duration of the holiday (8 days) in sympathy with our brethren who fled Egypt without the time to let bread rise, as they were fearful of being pursued by Pharoh's soldiers and prevented from leaving Egypt. That the Jews ate matzoh then was driven by necessity, of course. 

Today, the practice extends not just to bread itself, but to any food which might actually contain leavening (yeast or baking soda) such as breakfast cereal, or bagels, but also extends to those things that rise for other reasons, such as rice or corn.  I bet you see where this is going!  Beer is on the prohibited list, of course.  Wine, which is also made with yeast, is not prohibited, AND we are commanded to drink four cups of it at the seder!

Doesn't seem fair, does it? 

Even worse, beer (as are other "chametz" products--the link gets into some detail) are supposed to be disposed of before Passover starts.  For someone with a beer fridge full of several batches of beer or expensive collected beer, this is just not an option!  Luckily you can sell it to a non-Jewish friend, so there is no prospect of it being consumed, even by accident.

According to a conservative rabbi I consulted, the explanation of why beer is prohibited has to do with the fact that beer is made from malted barley, and the malting process causes the barley to be in contact with water for more than 18 minutes, which causes germination of the seed, and swelling of the husk (the 18 minutes is the significant bit).  Thus it appears to me to fall into the same category as rice, as something that grows/swells not from leavening, but because water is introduced for more than 18 minutes.  Hmmmmm.

One of the things I love about being Jewish is that EVERYTHING is open to interpretation and review.  There is an old saying that if you put two Jews together, you will get three opinions.  There are two branches of Judiasm (stick with me for a second, this will be clear): the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic.  The Ashkenazi's are the main group in the US and come from Northern, Eastern and Western Europe (Russia, Germany, Poland chiefly).  The Sephardim are from Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal) and North Africa for the most part. The Jews airlifted from Ethiopia in the '70s were Sephardic Jews. I bring this up because the Sephardic tradition ALLOWS the eating of rice during Passover!  Right on!

So, in my own modern interpretation of Passover, while I come from an Ashkenazi background, I adopt the Sephardic traditions when celebrating this wonderful holiday.  I eat rice, and I eat matzoh.  And, under the principle that if wine (made with yeast) is allowed, therefore  beer can't be disallowed because it is made with yeast.  And if the Sephardim can eat rice, which plumps from water, that beer, therefore, should be OK for the same reason!  Hooray, I'm Sephardic at least for 8 days a year.

For reinforcement, I think this is even backed up by Christian tradition, when the monks in Germany gave up bread for Lent, replacing it with Bock beer. OK, I'm stretching the point a little, but I think it is not entirely invalid. 

And with that decision, I am going to drink beer during Passover!

Friday, December 30, 2011

I'm Back!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I finally found some time to brew, helped by the fact that I took off this last week of 2011.   It was a busy brewing week, and here are the (quick) highlights:

On Tuesday my friend Wayne came over with some honey from his bee hives to make some mead.  Wayne gave me honey previously, and I used it two beers, a honey porter, and a tripel.  This year's crop was apparently excellent (the sample I had was very good), so we made a dry mead.  The process was incredibly simple, and today (Friday) the airlock is bubbling along merrily, so fermentation is going well from what I can see.  I am looking forward to seeing how this turns out, as my previous attempt at a mead was a sweet mead, and came out quite well, but is a bit sweeter than I like it.

On Wednesday I brewed an IPA.  I used the Stone IPA clone recipe as a staring point, but changed some significant things:
  • I used English Maris Otter as the base malt instead of US 2-Row pale ale malt
  • I used Safale US05 as the yeast, rather than the WLP007 Dry English Ale yeast that Stone specified (still not their house yeast, I gather)
  • I swapped out an ounce of the Centennial aroma hop for an ounce of Citra.  The Citra smelled heavenly, and I think I'll dry hop with that as well.
Now  it is no longer the Stone IPA clone, and my son recommended that I name it after our dog, Shayna.  so it is now Shayna's All American IPA!

On Thursday I brewed an Oktoberfest / Maerzen.  The recipe is 46% Pilsner, 46% Munich, 8% CaraMunich, and it smells fantastic!  I am fermenting with natural refridgeration, so I hope that Mother Nature helps me out, and keeps the temperatures below 50 for January, and below 30 for February.  It is tough to count on that, as she is fickle this year, and it has been unseasonably warm!  In fact, my starter needed some additional time, so I let it go overnight, and then racked the beer onto the yeast cake this morning after I oxygenated it.  As of now (Friday evening), it looks like fermentation is starting, but it is not yet at high krausen. 

Last, today I picked up more malt (I feel like I am swimming in it) from the Malt of the Month club (see Valley Malt in Western MA), so I'll have to keep brewing or really be in trouble!  BTW, Valley Malt is a really cool local maltster, and I'm happy to support them since they are doing some interesting things locally.  The malts I have used have all been interesting. I used one of them in an American Amber ale in November, and I'm pleased with the results.

That's it for now. Hoppy New Year to all!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Belgian Blondes, and more....

It has been a while since I last posted, and thought I would catch up a little bit.  I have not been brewing too much this year, in fact I think I have only made three batches in 2011:
  • Honey Porter (using some local honey from my friend Wayne)
  • Wit (a summer favorite that didn't last the summer)
  • Belgian Blonde
The Blonde was quite an adventure in fermentation, as I brewed it on July 7th.  Since I live in Boston, summertime brewing is a risky thing, unless you have pretty good temperature control for your fermentation.  I really don't, nor do I have a conveniently cool basement (I live in an apartment), so I have to do without or brew Saisons.  Not that I don't like Saisons (I do), but I brewed them the past two summers, so I wanted something different.  I ended up with the Blond, as I have a fair amount of Pilsner malt, and not so much Maris Otter (pale ale malt), and the Blonde is a nice light style.

My original intent was to make a fermentation chamber out of rigid foam insulation, as was described in a BYO magazine article.  Finding the materials wasn't as easy as I hoped, and I bailed out on that for lack of time before my brew day.  Instead, I improvised a fermentation chamber with a large cardboard box, an air conditioner, and a temperature controller--and a sleeping bag.  It worked as well as I could have hoped, and the temp of the wort stayed on target through the fermentation, and there were no off flavors when I kegged the beer.  Hooray!

Next up, is an experiment with locally grown malt from Valley Malt, located in Western Massachusetts. I joined the Malt of the Month Club with another BFD member, and got my first shipment a while ago.  I now have 25 lbs of 2-row pale ale malt to work with, and I'm dying to try it out--but I'm waiting for the cooler weather first! Next post: the results!