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: