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.

No comments: