November 11, 2012

Four More Beers!

A lot has happened since we brewed up our batch of White House Honey Ale: Superduperstorm Sandy ravaged our home turf, leaving both the 2JB HQ and 2JB Annex dark and cold; and President Obama was reelected to four more years of residence at the homebrew-friendly 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So with everything more or less back to normal in NJ, we sanitized the 2JB rig and a few dozen empty bottles, and got down to the people's business of bottling up our beer.

The first thing we noted when taking the lid off the ale pail: the brew looked good and smelled great. The second thing we noted, after sampling a bit of it: even flat and at room temperature, it tasted great, with a slightly sweet flavor and a slightly bitter finish. No matter what you may think of Obama's policies or politics, there's no denying that he and his staff know what they're doing beer-wise.

Another note: when we racked the beer into the bottling bucket, the yeast left behind was a nearly solid and perfectly flat plug at the bottom of the bucket; when bottling, we noticed little-to-no detritus floating in the brew. Whether this is due to the recipe, the specific yeast we used, or the fact that the Sandy blackout meant it sat for a little longer in a little colder space, we do not know.

So we did our thing, and in about an hour there were 45 bottles ready to go. (It's kind of a shame we didn't end up with the more-symbolic batch of 44, but you bottle the amount of beer you have, not the amount of beer you wish you had. And why would anyone wish for one fewer bottle, anyway?) Now it's fizzing up in the 2JB HQ basement, and we'll be able to lift an ale to the chief by Thanksgiving, with hopefully a few left over for Inauguration Day.

October 22, 2012

Ale to the Chief 2012

Four years ago, Nahum and I celebrated the election of Barack Obama by brewing up a batch of black and tan beer, a seemingly appropriate way to toast the new president. And while we'd discussed doing the same for the 2012 election season, the White House went ahead and presented us with an even better option.

The White House staff, in order to find good uses for the honey being produced by the First Lady's on-site beehive, created honey ale and honey porter recipes to be brewed for the Obamas. In September, they made the recipes public, and we had our orders from the Brewmaster-in-Chief.

Of course, the recipe for White House Honey Ale calls for 1 lb. of honey from the White House hives. Since the Secret Service would not take kindly to 2JB stopping by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., we made do with some local NJ honey.

 Aside from that, we stuck pretty close to the presidential directives for brewing honey ale. The biscuit malt had a nice aroma as it steeped in 1.5 gallons of water. Interestingly, the addition of a pound of light DME and 6 lbs. of light malt extract...did not lead to a particularly light-looking or light-tasting wort.

Of course, it might have been the pound of honey that darkened things up. And it was certainly the Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops that made it all smell so nice.

After a surprisingly quick brew (I guess they're pretty busy at the White House and don't have 3 hours to kill on homebrewing), we cooled it down, pitched the yeast and sealed up the Ale Pail. The pre-fermented brew was very tasty, and I have high hopes for what we'll get post-fermenting.

In 2 weeks, it will be time to bottle, and time to vote. We'll do both, and hope for the best on all counts.

October 16, 2011

Roll Up for the Mystery Brew

OK, it's been awhile since the Two Jews got to brewing. Why? No matter - we're brewing now, and that's the thing.

Now, I'd be lying if I said that our 1st brew in some time went exactly according to plan. We pored over the possibilities and settled on an Oktoberfest recipe (even though it wouldn't be ready until November...a minor detail). Nahum was going to call the ingredient order in, and I was going to pick it up.

Which I did. Our regular guy was on vacation, so I dealt with the kid working behind the bar. He didn't have an order for "Nahum"...but there was one that looked about right for a "Naron." An easy mistake to make over the phone.

But when I got the stuff home and checked in with Nahum, he informed me that he had not, in fact, put in our order. Really? Well, it was now too late in the day to go back to the supply shop...and anyway, the ingredients were bought and paid for, and ready to deploy. When you can't brew with the ingredients you want, you brew with the ingredients you have. Sorry 'bout that, Naron.

And anyway, the bag of stuff we had looked like our kind of brew - likely a porter or nut-brown ale, both of which we've made an thoroughly dug. So we put the 1/2 lb. of crystal malt, 1/4 lb. black patent malt and 1/4 lb. of chocolate malt into the gran bag, and got to boiling in 2 gallons of water.

It was immediately clear that the Mystery Brew was not going to steer us wrong: nice dark color, good nutty aroma. At the boil, we added a 3.3 lb. can of Briess sparkling amber malt and 3 lbs. of light amber DME. Once it got back to boiling, we split out 2/3 of the oz. of Northern Brewer hops, and added the last third after a half-hour. Twenty minutes later, a 1/2 oz. of Willamette finishing hops, followed by a few more minutes of boiling.

As we strained the wort into some cold water, it looked and smelled just right. Oh, and it tasted good - a quick sample showed that (unsurprisingly), the brew is more malty than hoppy, but certainly good. (We're debating some dry hopping after it's had time to ferment.)

Nahum had to hit the road after we strained the hot wort, so we're letting it cool and will pitch some English dry ale yeast later in the day, then the Ale Pail goes down to the basement.

Some of the beer-brewing reflexes might have been a little rusty, but the result seems right on target. And we owe it all to Naron, the (accidental) Honorary Third Jew, who helped make it happen.

November 20, 2010

Short and Stout

Oh, apparently we made a batch of stout and I forgot to say anything. I could make all sorts of excuses for why this update is more than a month overdue, but one interesting excuse is that this batch seemed almost effortless. We decided to make it and then did so, and it all seemed to breeze by without undue effort or noteworthy details.

Basically, it went like this: we decided to catch up with the cooling fall weather by brewing another batch of the stout from the year before, but this time with a tweaked recipe. We ordered up 8 oz. crushed black patent malt, 4 oz. roasted barley, 2 cans of Cooper's Dark Malt Extract, 1.5 lb. light dry malt extract, 1.5 oz. Northern Brewer hops, 1/2 oz. Cascade hops, 1/2 oz. Fuggles hops and some yeast. The grains and malts were essentially identical to our initial stout, but we altered the hops profile to make it a little more robust.

And like I said, it turned out to be one of our easiest brews, with even the cool-down working out pretty quickly; the bottling was mostly a breeze, too. Which makes it hard to say, exactly, why this particluar batch turned out to be so...OK.

Don't get me wrong--it tastes pretty damn good, with a nice full body, a good aroma and a clean finish. But something about this stout didn't break past good into great. Did we pay insufficient attention to some part of our easy-breezy brewing? Was our hopping change not entirely for the better? Was something off with one or more of the ingredients? Or was it just one of those things? Take a look:

My guess is that it just kind of happened this way. Hey, we're not pros, and not every batch turns out exactly the way we intended. This one seems a bit more high-alcohol than the last stout, and that might be it right there. But I'm not complaining: it's a fine stout, one worthy of the 2JB name...even if it doesn't quite scale the heights of the Grape Nuts Ale, Ale to the Chief or its other brothers in brew.

July 18, 2010

Cereal Brewers

Well, I see it's been awhile since I recorded any 2JB activity. I have only one excuse: My wife an I adopted a newborn baby boy 6 months ago, and that turns out to take up a bit of one's time. So there.

But that doesn't mean there's been a cessation in 2JB activity. Soon after bringing my son home, Nahum and I bottled up the Parlor City Porter; actually, it was long enough ago that the whole batch has been drunk up. And it was delicious.

 Flash-forward to: One of the reliable tropes that comes up every time we brew is that, at one point or another, the wort smells like Grape Nuts cereal. It makes sense, since Grape Nuts is primarily malted barley and such, much the same as what goes into the grain bag at the beginning of each brew. Which got me to thinking...and to searching, specifically on Hopville, for beer recipes that used Grape Nuts in the brew. Sure enough, the similarity between early-stage brewing and morning-stage breakfast had occurred to other folks as well, and there was a variety of Grape Nuts recipes from which to choose.

I chose a cereal-based wheat ale (perfect for the summer season that was imminent during our early-may 2JB session) and bought 2 boxes of cereal to complement our regular haul of hops, extract and yeast.

Two pounds of Grape Nuts went into the grain bag, which was lowered into 2 gallons of water. Oddly enough, once we got the water boiling, this batch was smelling less like Grape Nuts than pretty much any we'd attempted before. Go figure.

At the boil, we put in 6.6 lbs. of light LME, returned the wort to a boil and added 2 oz. of Willamette hops. And while I don't know the science behind it, for some reason we got a very cool hot break once the hops dropped in.

At the 35 minute mark, in went 1 oz. of Crystal hops and a tsp. of Irish moss;with 10 minutes to go, we added another 1.75 oz. of Willamette. (The recipe had called for nearly all of the hops to go in at the beginning; Nahum and I agreed that this didn't sound like it would lead to maximum deliciousness, so we spread the hopping out a bit.)

Since it was not yet The Hottest Summer Ever (though it was getting there), we used an ice bath to get it down to 80 degrees, strained it into a bucket and added refrigerator-cooled water.

The OG was 1.050, more or less what we'd been told by the recipe to expect. It still took awhile to drop down enough for pitching the yeast, but pitch we did with German Wheat Activator. this point, I would usually sign off and come back for bottling and then tasting. But please recall the aforementioned new baby and accept the following facts:
  • It fermented in the bucket for a couple of weeks.
  • We racked it into the carboy, along with some dried orange peel, and let it sit for another couple of weeks.
  • Bottling was quick & efficient, producing about 40 bottles.
  • Grape Nuts ale was perfectly fermented, as delicious as anything we'd ever brewed, and unbelievably perfect for a hot summer day(s).

January 19, 2010

Parlor Game

Even as our medium-bodied Abbot Ale was finishing up in the basement, Nahum and I had our eye on the next brew. Specifically, something dark, heavyish and delicious...which meant, after very little contemplation, that we'd be brewing a batch of porter.

The recipe that leaped out at us on Hopville was Parlor City Porter (which abbreviates, unfortunately, to either PCP or PP...maybe this one should just be PC Porter, yeah?). The ingredient list was enough to put the taste in our mouths, and even before we'd placed the order at the Gaslight we were both impatient to be drinking this latest batch.

However, once we did put in the order, we ran into a new wrinkle: our supplier didn't have several of the ingredients, specifically coffee malt and golden oats. Now, he's had to make a substitution or two before, but usually just a minor adjustment; in this case, he gave us a whole different kind of oats than what the recipe called for (the type we put into the oatmeal stout, actually), and chocolate malt instead of the coffee varietal. Obviously, this would alter the final product, but we wisely decided to relax and make some homebrew.

I opened the box of ingredients (another difference--they've always come in a bag before!), and put 1 oz. of American Crystal 60L, and 0.8 oz. each of chocolate malt, oats, and black patent malt into the grain bag, which steeped in 2.5 gallons of water.

At the boil, we pulled out the bag and dropped in 2 lbs. of DME and a 3.3 lb. can of light LME, followed by 1 oz. of East Kent Goldings hops. Right from the start, the wort had a coffee-dark color and a rich, dark-roast aroma. Clearly, the substitution parlor game wouldn't be a problem for the Parlor City Porter.

After 30 minutes, we put in another ounce of EKG hops, along with a tsp. of Irish moss; 25 minutes later, half an ounce of Fuggles hops went in as the finisher, and the whole thing got another 5 minutes of boiling before we strained the dark, dark liquid into the Ale Pail and topped it off to 5 gallons.

At this point, we've alternated methods for cooling down the wort: sometimes we've used an ice bath, sometimes added chilled water, and last time we just put the bucket out in the wintry weather. This time, we had a couple of our top-off gallons in the fridge, which seemed like it would do the trick--the temperature was already about halfway to where we needed to be before pitching the yeast.

So we waited. And waited. Nahum went home. I did some stuff around the house. Hours passed. Many hours. And even with the lid open, we'd only lost a few degrees.

Finally, I lost patience with the PC. It had been almost 5 hours, and it was only down to 85 degrees...but that was going to have to do. I pitched the Activator pack of 1968 London ESB yeast, sealed it up and popped the pail in the basement.  It's supposed to age for 2 weeks...but you can be very sure I'll be looking in on it very frequently. The yeast was already pretty active at the pitch, and the high temperature tells me that there will be a lot of activity in the bucket. To avoid a second Explosivo! incident, I wrapped the pail in plastic and am keeping a watchful eye on the airlock.

Pour One for Len

In addition to our shared passion for homebrewing, love of good food and conviction that Mad Men & The Simpsons are two of the best shows on TV, Nahum and I often come across other little places where our lives and interests overlap. This weekend, there was one more: Nahum's wife had invited Len, one of her good friends from college over to their house...someone we'd learned, through the magic of Facebook, was also a friend of mine from high school.

Since Len's visit coincided with the ready-date of the Abbot Ale clone, it seemed like the natural thing to do was to pour one for Len as we took our first sips of the latest brew. Which is exactly what we did.

The Abbot poured with good carbonation and a light-brown (but still somewhat cloudy) appearance. It looked good and had a nice aroma. We split two bottles into three glasses for Nahum, Len and me. L'chaim, Len!

The taste was just about what we'd figured: malty, not very bitter, medium-bodied and quite good. It's probably more autumnal than wintry in taste and feel, but you can't always nail the season right on the head, eh? I would probably rate the Abbot somewhere in the lower third of the dozen-plus brews we've produced over the last year and a half...which just means it's on the low end of an overall highly rated bunch.