December 30, 2008

The Greatest Gift

I received many, many wonderful gifts from friends and family this holiday season, and I'm grateful for each and every one. But there was one particular gift that was both unexpected and particularly relevant to the expanding 2JB enterprise.

One side of my family does a "limited" swap amongst the adults, which this year entailed everyone getting 1 name (drawn out of a hat) to whom you'd give a gift. When we got together for the latkes and candles Hanukkah extravaganza, I certainly had no idea who had gotten my name or what to expect.

As my very good luck would have it, my cousin Ben drew my name at random...and proceeded to knock the gifting ball so far out of the park that it very nearly achieved orbit. Ben is a follower of the 2JB blog (via Facebook, I think) and liked some of the 2JB graphics that people had been submitting via e-mail. So he took one, downloaded it, and sent it off to a company that will print up limited runs of custom-designed T-shirts.

He was considerate enough to order 2 shirts (one for each Jew!) that had the logo on the back and "One Jew" in the name-tag spot on the front.

I didn't tell Nahum about this until he came over with bottles of lager & stout for us to sample from Batch Gimmel. His face lit up like an 80-candle menorah, and we cracked open the latest brew while wearing our Official 2JB Uniforms. Dorky? Maybe just a bit. But also a bunch of fun and a fantastic gift.

P.S. - I almost forgot about the beer! The lager was very good, but the stout was out of this world. Really terrific! We mixed up an initial black & tan, and it was pretty much as delicious as you could ask a beer to be. I'm saving my pre-mixed black & tans for a toast to President Obama in January, and am now doubly, maybe triply excited for the coffee stout that is wrapping up fermenting and awaiting bottling.

Processing Power

Brewing Batch Gimmel in two parts has generated an unintended, though excellent, side-effect: a new perspective on how to use the equipment that came in our homebrew kit. See, we'd looked at all the stuff, read the instructions for all the steps necessary to create a batch of beer, and done just that. Step 1, step 2, step 3, etc...and when it was all finished, the result was a batch of beer.

But here's the thing: many of the steps use their own discrete piece of equipment from the overall kit. So our process had us waiting until the entire set of steps was complete before starting the next brew...which sounds perfectly reasonable until you consider that during any given step, several pieces of equipment were sitting unused.

In other words: we had the right equipment to brew a batch of beer, but we also had enough equipment to be brewing multiple batches at the same time. All we had to do was game it out a bit and make sure that the different batches were timed to hit different stages of the process (and therefore be occupying different containers). So if Beer One has been in the Ale Pail for a week or two, it can move to the glass carboy...which frees up the Pail for Beer Two to start fermenting. Then Beer One moves to bottles (and out of the carboy), Beer Two shifts to the carboy (and out of the Ale Pail) and your intrepid brewers can get rolling with Beer Three. Everything moves over one step, and the brew keeps flowing.

When we first read that the NJ Homebrew Permit allowed for a max of 200 gallons a year, that seemed preposterous. Who the hell had the time (and necessary equipment) to brew nearly once a week? turns out that we just might.

Which is why on a cold December Saturday, we took the lager and stout batches (which had been in the carboy and Ale Pail, respectively) and bottled 'em up...while at the same time getting Batch Dalet (aka, 5 gallons of Monty's coffee stout recipe) boiled up and ready for the Pail. It not only was a ton of fun, but it eliminated the standing around that can accompany the brewing process - with several things going on at once, we were continually bouncing around from attending to the brew or cleaning the bottles or racking to the bottling bucket or...well, let's just say there were no idle hands (which is partially why there are so few photos for this brew!).

By the end of the afternoon, here's what we'd accomplished: 15 bottles of lager, 16 bottles of stout and 9 bottles of pre-mixed black & tans were sealed, boxed and moved to the basement for carbonation. On top of that, we had 5 gallons of stout with a 1.055 original gravity ready to ferment (containing: 1/2 lb. crystal malt, 1/2 lb. chocolate malt, 1/2 lb. black patent, and 1/2 lb. roasted non-malted black barley; 6.6 lbs. Cooper's Dark Malt Extract; 1 oz. Northern Brewer's hops, 1/2 oz. Fuggles hops, 1/2 oz. Kent Goldings hops, and 1 tsp. Irish Moss; and a topper of American dry ale yeast) and 2 Jews worth of very tired, very satisfied homebrewers.

The Other Half

I seem to have gotten sidetracked from my 2JB business, but am back to make it all right again.

As indicated at the beginning of the black & tan project, the next step was to get a half-batch of stout going. An upside of coming back to the brewing process so soon after the last is that we were able to keep in a kind of rhythm (or, at the very least, not have to re-read the basics of what we were supposed to be doing here). So after we shifted the still-fermenting lager from the bucket to the carboy, the grain sack got 4 oz. of crushed black patent malt and 2 oz. roasted barley, which was submerged into 2 gallons of water that had 1 tsp. of gypsum mixed in.

And it was not hard to guess that we were making a dark, dark stout beer: the wort looked and smelled plenty dark before we'd even reached the boiling point. And once 3.3 lbs. of Cooper's Dark Malt Extract went in...hoo-boy! The liquid was pitch-dark, with an aroma that was just this side of burnt.

Since we didn't have the exact hops called for in the recipe we found online (unless one is willing to track down every last exact iteration of hops and malts and such, one is often at the mercy of what the supplier has access to), we went with 3/4 oz. of Northern Brewer and 1/8 oz. Cascade hops, some Irish Moss, plus another 1/8 oz. of Cascade for finishing.

By the time everything had been boiled and mixed and brewed up, we had a dark, dark brown, almost syrupy wort on our hands. As a long-time fan of dark, heavy beers (time spent living in Scotland will do that to a fella), I had two immediate and simultaneous thoughts: 1) Wow, this is going to be good, and 2) Why, exactly, did we only make a half batch of something so potentially yummy?

As we sampled the pre-ferment stout, it was clear Nahum was having the exact same thoughts. I's not really any more or less effort to brew 2.5 or 5 gallons (most of the water is added at the end to get the proportions balanced out right), and our experiences with Batches Alef and Bet suggested that 2JB homebrew does not have a long shelf life - it gets drunk up pretty quick. In fact, we were pretty much out of beer (save for the 4 bottles of pumpkin ale I'd set aside for my wife's family to try over the holidays). So as we measured out a 1.070 original gravity and sealed up the bucket, the Two Jews made a solemn vow: never again would we make puny half-batches, and we would make it our central mission to never be this low on ready-to-quaff bottles of 2JB product.

December 9, 2008

Half & Half

One of the key features of a good partnership is the ability to be on the same page but also bring different things to the table. That balance has served the 2JB enterprise well: I like the process and enjoy documentation efforts like this blog; Nahum is more into the characteristics of the ingredients and likes digging into a new challenge. Between the two of us, we seem to bring most of what we need to the table.

So apropos to his love of challenge, Nahum reconsidered our plan to make an inauguration-season batch of black & tan. Sure, we could do another 5-gallon brew like we'd done in the previous two batches...or we could break down the two ingredients of a black & tan (stout & lager, respectively) and mix up half batches of each in rapid succession.

Now, I was just fine with the original idea of kicking back with 40 bottles or so of homebrewed black & tans, but who was I to not be up to this new challenge? We found recipes for each beer type that could be reasonably broken down into 2.5 gallon batches, put in an ingredient order at the local supply shop and got to work.

Upping the ante on the brew process ended up providing an additional new factor to our process: now that we were buying individual ingredients (instead of the prepackaged kit that had powered our two ales), we had to focus on the materials a bit more. Packs of hops had to be measured and divided; bits that would go into one brew (like the gypsum that would "harden" the lager water) but not the other had to be separated out; and we had to pay more attention to how the brew was proceeding, since the recipes were just ingredient lists (assuming you already knew the process for your beer type).

So the challenge was a good one - it was keeping us from resting on our homebrew laurels and helping make us better brewers. It was very satisfying to make our half-batch of California Common Lager (you can't call it "Steam Lager," since that's trademarked by the Anchor Steam folks...but we were basically following their lead).

A half pound of crushed amber crystal went into the grain bag, which we boiled in gypsum-hardened water. Pretty quickly we detected a doughy smell, and the water darkened quite a bit. At the boil point, we pulled the grains and kicked in 3.3 lbs. of light malt extract, and soon noticed that there were odd bits floating around in the wort. (Even odder was when they all began to move and gather together in one spot toward the side of the pot - it reminded me of the scene in The Right Stuff where John Glenn's capsule is surrounded by a luminous swarm of specks.)

Northern brewer hops went in next, followed by cascade hops and Irish moss, and eventually the rest of the cascade hops. As we racked the wort into the Ale Pail (though this was to be lager, not ale!), we noticed that nearly a half-gallon of water had boiled off, and there seemed to be more sediment matter than the ale had generated. Intriguing stuff folks, I promise.

Anyway, we topped it off with some more water and 1 tsp. of lager yeast...and now we've got a half-bucket of lager doing its thing in the basement. There's no rest this time, though: we'll need to move the lager into the glass carboy later this week, and then move on to whipping up the other half of the black & tan equation - a half-batch of creamy, delicious stout.

P.S. - I couldn't resist taking a picture of Nahum's cat, who took about 10 seconds to figure out that she'd fit perfectly in the empty half of the box of spring water:

November 30, 2008

A Brewful Holiday

When Monty told me that one of the side-effects of homebrewing was an always-ringing doorbell, I figured that had something to do with the relationships he had with his particular neighbors. But now that all of the fermenting & such is finished for Batch Bet, it's becoming clear that half the fun of making beer is sharing it at opportune moments.

I brought a six-pack of the freshly minted 2JB pumpkin ale to my parents' house for Thanksgiving, chilled it in their extra fridge and brought out the bottles for the cocktail/appetizer hour. I'd originally thought there'd be some mild interest from most of the gathered family, along with a smaller core of fans who'd want a bottle.

It only took a few minutes to realize that six bottles of 2JB wasn't going to cut it. Everyone wanted in on the action! So I distributed small portions in paper cups to everyone from my grandmother on down (saving meal-time bottles for my bro-in-law and me). Uncles, aunts, cousins, parents and sibs all agreed that it was a fine, thankful brew.

A couple of days later, the missus and me had a few friends along for a night of leftovers...and wouldn't you know there were requests all 'round for some 2JB. So out came more bottles and more happy drinkers.

(Oh, and btw: I thought it turned out great...a solid, clear beer with the right touch of the flavors we'd added in.)

So here we are on the last day of November, and I think I've got 4 bottles in the refrigerator and 4 or 5 more coming to me from Nahum's basement (I know he's been spreading the holiday cheer at his family & friend meals, too). And that's it - Batch Bet is nearly as gone as Batch Alef...which means next weekend we have to get the next brew rocking!

November 24, 2008

In-Between Days

At the coming-out party for Batch Alef, my friend Monty told everyone about his days as an avid homebrewer. At all times, he said, he'd have two different batches in some stage of preparation and two finished batches in the fridge. "Basically, I wanted to never have to buy beer," he said, adding, "Plus, the neighbors rang the doorbell a lot."

Now, I'd be happy to entertain the neighbors from time to time...but I really don't see Nahum and I carving out the time to brew that often (or that much - there's only so much beer I'd really want to be drinking in a given time frame). But on the point of not wanting to buy beer anymore...that I can get behind.

So what to do in the in-between days? Right now, I'm down to my last bottle of Batch Alef, having quaffed one of the two pictured here with dinner.

As for Batch Bet, I've got a six-pack set aside for Thanksgiving (hands off!)...and that's it. If I suddenly decide I want to take it easy and have a homebrew, I'm kind of out of luck until either the rest of Batch Bet is ready & available...or until Batch Gimmel makes an appearance.

This, of course, is not much of a complaint. And I'm not really complaining. It just seems odd to be making beer five gallons at a time and finding myself low on bottles of brew!

(P.S. - I think this is also on my mind after reading The New Yorker's recent article on "extreme beer." I'm very tempted to go out and pick up a six of Dogfish Head right about now...)

November 23, 2008

On the Straight & Narrow

While Nahum and I have been having no end of giddy, satisfying fun with the Two Jews Brew venture, there is something we'd turned out not to be so diligent about. Homebrewing is a hobby, like collecting stamps or building model of vintage cars...but it also involves the creation of alcohol.

Which is where The State gets involved.

All states oversee matters of alcohol, tobacco and firearms...but NJ has one of the more draconian approaches to the first of those. Getting a liquor license for a restaurant is a serious hassle & expense, and you can't go to your average grocery or convenience store to pick up a six-pack. (How this squares with NJ being one of the few states with pockets of legalized, non-reservation gambling isn't entirely clear to me, but so it goes.)

All of which is to say: NJ requires homebrewers to get a permit. When Nahum first brought this up, he told me that the permit was aimed at people turning out a bit more brew than we are (it limits a homebrewer to 200 gallons a year...which at our rate of 5 gallons a brew, would mean we'd be at this 40 out of 52 weeks annually). To which I replied: "So instead of being Nahum and Brian the Homebrewers, you and I can be Nahum and Brian the Licensed Homebrewers?"

After a minute or so of laughing, we decided to each pony up the $15 (plus a stamp) to fill out & send in the application to the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Off it went to Trenton, and within a week or so...a thoroughly official-looking document showed up in the mail. Festooned with the seal of the State of New Jersey and signed by Jerry Fischer, the D of ABC's director, this suitable-for-framing page makes me an officially recognized member of the NJ Brewing Class.

There are a few Ps and Qs to mind about how much we make, where we make it and with whom we share it (plus, of course: no selling!), but it feels good to be back on the straight & narrow after a brief stint as homebrew scofflaws.

November 15, 2008

Ale to the Chief

If there were to be such a thing as The Number One 2JB Fan, that post would no doubt go to Nahum's friend Jay. He not only counseled and encouraged us from the very start of our homebrew enterprise, but he also has been providing a steady stream of Two Jews Brew graphics. The latest is not only timely but also pretty damn funny:

Still, the message was not lost on us. As the Pumpkin Ale sits in bottles, ramping up both its carbonation and deliciousness, we started plotting out Batch Gimmel. As Jay slyly suggested, we'd probably be uncapping these beers around the time of President Obama's inauguration. Could we possibly link a 2JB project to this momentous event?

Yes we can!

After much debate about the right message to communicate with our beer (yes, I know - we're a bit far gone), Nahum and I agreed that the moment would pair well with...a batch of black & tan. (And if McCain had won? A bitter, no doubt.) A little bit too on the nose? Perhaps. But it also seems like it'll be an enjoyable winter bevvie that will be perfect to celebrate a very happy piece of history.

November 9, 2008

Pump(kin) Up the Volume

Is it my imagination, or is Batch Bet rolling along more quickly than the 1st set? I mean, all of the right things are happening, and the beer looks, smells, tastes and seems just right. It must be the additional ingredient - a dash of self-confidence as brewers - that's making the process seem like it's moving at such a heady pace.

But I digress. Yesterday Nahum broke out our latest tool/toy - The Thief, a long tube that lets you draw out a smaller volume to check specific gravity - and got an SG reading of 1.012 (again: just right!). He then dropped some cracked nutmeg and a cinnamon stick into the carboy. Within just 24 hours (or maybe just a bit less?) the pumpkin ale now had a more powerful aroma, the spices making themselves more present and highlighting the pumpkin notes that had been sitting underneath.

Not wanting it to get too strongly spiced, we racked the carboy (which had a lot less solid matter in it, a nice benefit of the double fermentation), boiled up a sugar solution, waved the bottling wand (no lie: that's the totally real name for the bottling attachment that goes on the end of the siphon), and filled 43 freshly sanitized bottles with 2JB Pumpkin Ale.

To be honest, it probably could have been 44...but we had to sample enough of this new brew to see what we were dealing with. The beer has a deep color (maybe just a bit darker than the non-pumpkin ale, but not too much); it smells spicy & intense, but the taste is much smoother/less intense than the aroma suggests. It's somewhat spicy and fruity, but the sweeter flavor is in the back of the overall taste.

Just like last time, we felt like we'd be perfectly happy drinking it as is...a sign we're taking to mean that it will be thoroughly delicious in 2 weeks' time. think pumpkin ale will go well with a Thanksgiving meal? As America's Alaskan Sweetheart would say: You betcha!

November 8, 2008

Graphic Content

Another graphically inclined homebrew fan, Elizabeth, has contributed a logo to the 2JB movement:

November 6, 2008

Twice as Nice?

Despite being knocked ever-so-slightly off balance by the addition of pumpkin and spices to our ale, the second batch actually seems to be going very well. The yeast activity is moving at a good pace, the aroma is fab (slightly mellower than the last batch) and the color is a nice, rich brown.

It's going smoothly enough that we've moved ahead with another effort to kick up our homebrew game a notch. Although ale doesn't really benefit much from a dual fermentation, we decided to try adding in the extra round for two reasons: 1) a second fermentation will help clarify the beer, and the addition of the pumpkin has introduced more solid matter than we dealt with last time; 2) we've got this kick-ass 5-gallon glass carboy and we really, really want to use it already.

So just one night after Obama's electoral-college victory (yes we can!), the Two Jews uncapped the Ale Pail, sanitized the carboy & siphon, took a specific gravity reading (1.014, which is about where we want to be for an eventual 4 or 5% alcohol content) and then transferred the almost-beer from plastic to glass.

The process was actually extremely satisfying. For one, it really did allow us to leave a lot of the sediment and sludge behind. (Of course, we stuck our heads into the sludge again; the smell was again very pleasant as long as you kept your eyes closed.) But it also added something more ephemeral: the glass container just looked somehow more...right. Like we were Real Beer Guys, using Real Beer Guy equipment.

Anyway, now it sits for a few more days, and then Batch Bet heads to the bottles. We were a little unsure about whether to put the cinnamon and nutmeg back into the liquid at this point; when we sampled some of the bucket leftovers, it was hard to say if we detected hints of pumpkin & spices because we knew we'd put the pumpkin & spices in the wort or because the flavors were really there. I suspect we'll end up adding them for just a day or two, but it's hard to know how to best strike the balance between adding enough extra flavor without turning it into "mulled beer" or something like that.

November 3, 2008

Standing Around

Those in the entertainment biz say that making films or music or theater or whatever tends to have one major ingredient: lots of standing around. In between the steps of creation there is, inevitably, a lot of downtime.

As Nahum and I began our second brew, we'd shed some of the puppyish enthusiasm of our initial effort, no longer able to kill 15 minutes just sniffing the wafting aromas and discussing what we thought it smelled like. Sure, we took a sniff...but it smelled more or less like it did last time.

Well, except for the pumpkin.

Ah, the pumpkin. Feeling that we'd achieved basic mastery of the American Amber Ale process, wanting to see if we could do it again and change it up a bit, the 2JB Executive Council settled on Pumpkin Ale for Batch Bet. And while the pumpkin will no doubt add a whole range of flavor notes to the beer, it also jacked up the standing around quotient exponentially.

We'd done some research, which mostly involved checking out a bunch of recipes online, making some decisions, and then running those decisions by the homebrew guy at the Gaslight. Once armed with information and a plan, we met up at 2:30pm on Sunday to run through the next brew.

And wow, was that not nearly early enough to start. The pumpkin - the biggest new variable in the recipe - turned out to be quite a time-suck. See, we needed to caramelize it first, to make sure that the starches and sugars and such interacted correctly with the wort. So Nahum chopped the pumpkin (which turned out to be a Sweeney Todd-level challenge, knife-wise) and put it in the oven...which all told added an extra hour and a half to the brew.

Since we needed the caramelized pumpkin before we could really get rolling with the rest of the brew, we waited. Nahum pulled out a couple of guitars and we strummed. We shot the breeze about the election. We ate pumpkin seeds. We bought ice.

We waited.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, we got the rest of the brew going. But to be honest, I think the pumpkin threw us off our rhythm a little. Like, we almost forgot to put the finishing hops in. We hadn't gotten the liquid malt quite liquidy enough. We couldn't find the nutmeg (which, along with some cinnamon sticks, went into the brew along with a cheesecloth bag of pumpkin pieces). There was the Irish Moss to deal with, which would work to clarify the pumpkin-infused beer. And as we got ready to rack the wort into the bucket, Nahum realized the yeast wasn't prepped. Plus, it got late enough that we each had to also start cooking dinner for our respective families (I was running back & forth across the street!).

In short, we were not the very model of a modern pair of experienced homebrewers. But you know what? Just like Jay and Papazian told us, each in their own way, making beer is not an exact science (relax!). We made some (little) mistakes, we got a little distracted, but when we checked out the pre-fermentation liquid in the pot...oh man, did it smell and taste and look good!

It had taken from 2:30 to 6:50pm, but it was clearly worth it. So now we do more waiting, this time for the yeast to do its thing. And in a couple of days, we'll evaluate whether our new ingredients did the job during the boil or if we need to re-add the spices during fermentation. Despite the slow (and slightly erratic) brew process the second time around, I'm still confident that we've got something good going in the 2JB basement brewery.