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:

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