December 17, 2009

Hey Abbot!

Where do ideas for beers come from? Why, from other beers of course. Nahum recently took a family trip to London, and while there he sampled one of the UK's fine premium bitters, Abbot Ale. He liked it. A lot, in fact. And since my new favorite homebrew site, Hopville, had a recipe for an Abbot Ale clone, there really wasn't much to discuss as far as what we needed to brew next. Hey Abbot!

Since Nahum was running a little late for our Sunday morning brew session, I got things rolling by heating up 3 gallons of water (with 1 tsp. of gypsum) and filling up the grain bag for the initial steep. In addition to 8 oz. of British crystal malt (70 - 80L) and 6 oz. of British Amber malt, the recipe called for something we'd not used before: 4 oz. of Belgian candy sugar. It looked like rock candy!

As soon as I mixed it all up in the grain bag and got it steeping...I immediately started to panic. Did I just put rock-candy sugar into the 1st stage of the brew? Wasn't that probably for the carbonation? The recipe didn't suggest I'd gotten it wrong, but I totally convinced myself otherwise (and forgot to relax and have a homebrew). See, one of the good things about having 2 Jews brewing instead of 1 is that we're less likely to make mistakes or overlook something. We've got each other's back, and I think it helps the beer.

Anyway, Nahum arrived, calmed me down, and on we went with the Abbot. After the initial steep, in went 6 lbs. of light dry malt extract. It was a heavy, heady amount of malt, and the wort now had a frothy head and looked like a 3 gallon cappuccino.

As it came back to a boil, we added 1.5 oz. of Progress hops. There was a pretty immediate (and pretty cool) reaction, with a hot break that sent hoppy green tendrils snaking through the beeruccino foam.

On we went: 1 tsp. of Irish moss after 30 minutes of boiling; half an ounce of Progress hops after 80 minutes, and .75 oz. of Fuggles in the last 2 minutes. By the end, it had a lightly hoppy aroma and a dark-straw color that were already hitting good notes.

This batch had called for a 90-minute boil and more water than we usually start with, so the cool-down was clearly gonna be a lot of work. We dunked the pot in an ice bath. but the ice didn't last long and we'd only gotten it down to 75 degrees. We were out of ice in the house, but you know where there was abundant cold on this wet December morning? Outside, that's where. So we strained the beer into the Ale Pail, snapped the lid on, and put the whole thing out on the porch for a couple of hours.

(Nahum took a really cool photo of it with his phone...but then lost it! You'll just have to picture the scene of a big bucket o' beer chillin' on the front porch.)

After lunch, we hauled the pail back in and had a nice, cool wort with an OG of 1.054, which according to the Hopville recipe is right where we want to be to get an alcohol content in the mid-five percents. Then we pitched a very puffed-up Activator pack of Thames Ale Yeast, sealed it back up and put the Abbot away for a long winter's nap.

P.S. - A couple of nights later, I checked on the bitter to see if there were signs of progress. Were there ever! The lid was puckered up, the airlock was full of yeast sludge, and some liquid had spurted out. Again, a panic set in (Nahum had to remind me, once again, to relax and have a homebrew) as I rushed to avoid another Explosivo event. The inside of the lid had a ton of yeast sludge (no wonder that Activator pack had looked ready to burst), but in short order I'd cleaned everything up and got it more or less back in place. Now it seems to be happily bubbling along on the way to being sweet sweet bitter.

December 6, 2009

2JB Interlude: Prague Pints

This recent article in The New York Times reminded me that I have been remiss in posting about the many delightful beers I sampled during an October trip to Prague. It was a while back, but luckily I took notes (and had beers worth remembering).

9/25/09: Our first day in the Czech Republic, and we need to work through the jet lag. After touring the sights in Prague's Jewish Quarter, we stopped to have local fare for lunch. Along with my goulash I had a mug of Pilsner Urquell, the country's #1 brand. For my 1st in-country brew, I choose the one that's a mix of the brewery's light & dark varieties (sort of a Czech black and tan).

I am woozy well before the initial sip, but it's not hard to tell how delicious and refreshing it is. Without this beer, I might not have made it through the time-zone shifts of the day.

9/26/09: While planning the trip, my wonderful wife tracked down and booked an excursion to the heart of it all: the Pilsner Urquell brewery. We woke up early, joined our tour group in the middle of the city and were bussed to the outskirts. When we arrived, it was like the beer equivalent of the Magic Kingdom.

They had displays of all the beers the company makes (it's part of a larger conglomerate you just might have heard of: SABMiller) and even the vending machines dispensed fresh brews.

We toured the facility, and it reminded me what a small operation we run in the kitchen and basement (not that there's anything wrong with that). In the keg room, we got shot-glass-size samples of the regular Pilsner--kind of stingy, but still refreshing and yummy.

Of course, the Pilsner Urquell brewery has an on-site brew pub serving...Pilsner Urquell beers that are fresh as can be. Along the way, I discovered that there was another homebrewer on the tour: Joss, who does his thing in Seattle (Hi Joss--sorry this took so long to post!). I had a pint of Kozel, which is their dunkel/black beer. It was richly flavored but not as heavy as it might look.

Next, we went from the brewery to a nearby Beer Museum. Now, I don't say this lightly...but by the time we got there, I was kind of beer'd out for the moment. Admission to the museum included a token that was good for a beer in the (of course) attached pub. I chose to hold onto it as a souvenir.

9/27/09: Back in the city, we go about our tourist business, visiting museums and historical sights. On our afternoon break, I order up something I'd been looking forward to: a Budvar, aka the Original Budweiser. There's a longstanding chicken/egg dispute between the Budvar and Budweiser brands, but suffice to say it's not hard to guess which one is better. The Budvar Dark I ordered was rich but light-bodied, similar to a porter. I quaffed it at an outside table at the Green Tomato restaurant while the missus hit a museum that didn't strike my fancy. It wasn't a contest, but I totally won.

9/28/09: Our last full night in Prague was full indeed. After lots of touring around, we finally went to a spot near our hotel I'd been eyeing--a little hole-in-the-wall joint with a sign that said "Jazz Bar." I like both of those words plenty, and figured we couldn't go wrong...well, we didn't exactly go wrong, but with no live music (just an iPod-powered sound system pumping out old rhythm-and-blues) and no beers on tap, Jazz Bar was a bit of a letdown. I had a bottle of regular ol' Pilsner Urquell, which wasn't itself a letdown at all, even if the flavor was already starting to seem kind of standard.

9/29/09: We're booked on an evening train out of Prague (headed to Amsterdam...more on that later), so we pack our bags, leave them at the hotel and climb up to the city's top tourist locale, the Prague Castle. While there, we luck onto a terribly terrific little restaurant, and I have the #1 meal of the whol trip: veal schnitzel, potatoes that are mashed w/onions and veggies, and a Krusovich Dark, which tastes a bit like the darker Urquell. At that moment, I'm a pretty happy dude.

But I should note that while the Krusovich was delightful, it's not technically my last Prague brew. No, that would be the bottle of Budvar I bought on the train, which just barely fit into the tiny drink holder in our tiny sleeper car.

In the few days we spent in the ciyt, Prague's beers were not as wide-ranging as what was on offer in Scotland...but not a bit disappointing, either. The Czechs have figured out how to brew a few things very, very well, and brew them often.

November 27, 2009

Science Proved It

We're still waiting for just the right moment to sample the Quaker Stout. In the meantime, good news for beer fans from real scienticians.

The key pull quote is, "...the article goes on to list a million caveats and concerns from other scientists, but you know that people are only going to hear what they want to hear, which is, SCIENCE PROVES BEER WILL MAKE YOU IMMORTAL."

October 25, 2009

Quaker Stout

Two paths converged in the 2JB woods: summer was cooling off into autumn, and Nahum and I were running out of beer. Despite overloaded schedules, we mapped out a weekend moment to get to some brewin', and to some brewin' did we get.

Since last year we'd both loved our November stout so much, we decided to kick off this year's season with an oatmeal stout--all the stouty deliciousness, plus a little touch of Quaker-oats goodness!

Because of the addition of oats to an already heavy/hearty brew, this one was fairly grain heavy: 1 lb. ESB/Mild malt, 1 lb. roasted barley, 0.5 lb. Crystal 120L, 0.25 lb. chocolate malt, and 0.5 lb. flaked oats. I was kind of looking forward to checking out each of these ingredients one at a time, but our supplier at the Gaslight mixed it altogether into one giant, heavy-duty Ziploc bag. While it was disappointing to not get to spend a little time with the chocolate malt all on its own, I ended up finding the big bag of "brewer's trail mix" pretty cool, too.

Because this was a long recipe (the big bag o' grain got a 1-hour steep @ 155 degrees ahead of a 1-hour boil) and Nahum had some stuff to attend to at home, I found myself manning the brew pot for awhile as he dashed back and forth between our houses. (Good thing we live across the street from each other.) I kept myself company with a bottle of 2JB Bitter.

But once the main boil was going, Nahum was staying put, focused, and ready to brew. It's a good thing, too, as he immediately noticed some oddities in both the recipe and our stock of ingredients. First, the recipe called for 6 lb. of amber or Munich LME...which we asked for, but upon examination we found that we had 6 lb. of amber DME. Seeing as the liquid and dried malts are not exactly equivalent in terms of how much malt they deliver, I have a feeling we over-malted a bit (and we only noticed this after dumping all 6 lb. in, missing the chance to dial it back a little). Second, the hopping schedule seemed off: the recipe called for 1 oz. of Tettnang hops @ 45 minutes, and 1.5 oz. of Goldings @ 60 minutes. That put almost all of the hopping near the end of the boil; seeing as we'd already over-malted an already-sweet recipe (and since we'd gotten 2 oz. of Goldings from the Gaslight), we made the executive brewmaster's decision to drop 1/2 oz. of Goldings pellets at the boil, the powdery Tettnang hops at 45 minutes, and then the rest of the Goldings near the end.

How will all of this affect the Quaker Stout? Well...we don't really know. This was a new recipe, and we went with our experience/collective gut without knowing how it would turn out otherwise. Based on the rich, coffee-ish color, the heady roasted malt aroma, and the satisfyingly sweet flavor of our initial sample, I think we made the right call(s).

After straining the wort into 2 gallons of cool water (the strained material was seriously stouty dark), we topped it off to 5 gallons.

The temperature was a bit higher than we'd hoped for (around 95 degrees), so we made another executive decision and went to watch some Monty Python's Flying Circus while the wort cooled. One episode and several degrees later, we took an OG reading of 1.060, pitched in a "Smack-Pak" of Whitbread Activator yeast, and sealed it all up.

Since we'd gone a little off the followed-by path (and seeing as our last attempt at a stout yielded one serious explosion), I put the Ale Pail inside a metal bucket and hooded it in a plastic bag. You can never be too careful when you're this excited to drink a new batch of homebrew...

September 24, 2009

L'shanah Tovah

It was going to be an ideal 2JB Moment: a Rosh Hashanah meal at my uncle & aunt's house. My uncle is a beer fan, and his son is the originator of the limited-edition 2JB T-shirts. I chilled a 6-pack of sweet bitter, nested it in a cooler and brought it up the Turnpike to pass around with family.

When I arrived, I showed my uncle the 6-pack...and he immediately asked if he could have it. Not to serve for the crowded RH fete, but for more low-key sippin' after everyone had left.

I was a little disappointed, but also flattered--he'd only had a small sample of our wares, but had tasted enough to know that this was worth stocking away. Well, l'chaim to Uncle Jeff, and a Happy New Year to all in the 2JB orbit!

September 7, 2009

Bitter Sweet

Betting on the "sooner" end of the bitter recipe's line, "Excellent within 2 weeks, sometimes sooner," Nahum and I dipped into the batch of bitter just 1 week after bottling. It was a Sunday night, Mad Men was on TV, and we planned to join the show's characters with a tasty libation.

The first and easiest thing to notice was that this beer was fully, frothily carbonated. There was already a gathering head in the necks of the bottles immediately after popping the tops, and the pour showed our bitter to be actively bubbling with the energy of a freshly pulled tap beer.

The next thing to notice was the bouquet of this particular brew. The graduated hopping had given it a delightfully flowery aroma, but it wasn't overpowering or aggressive. Just a nicely bold set of notes on top of a light-colored body. This was clearly going to be good.

And lo and behold, it was. Really good. Nahum's first word after his first sip was "quenchy," and I agree. The light body made it go down smooth, the carefully complex hops gave it plenty of flavor and the energetic bubbling gave it a nice bite in the end.

Luckily we test-tasted this the night before Labor Day...which means we've got the perfect accompaniment to a sunny day off in the last waning moments of summer.

August 26, 2009

Running on Empty

The bitter was ready pretty quickly: by Wednesday, there was no sign of bubbling and a SG reading of 1.019 (not exactly the target for Papazian's Palace Bitter recipe, but pretty close), which was holding steady through to the weekend. It was time to bottle this bitter.

We'd scheduled the bottling session for Monday night, and I had some time to kill before Nahum was able to come over to the 2JB brewery & bottling facility. So I decided to get things set up & even rolling a bit. Things started going badly immediately--I took out our bag of caps and found that a plague of rust had invaded the little metal discs. Which wasn't surprising; what was surprising was that this hadn't happened before. See, we've tended to sanitize all of the caps we have on hand each time, and I'd be lying if I said that the unused caps were thoroughly dried before we put them away. This bunch included caps that had been in sanitizing solution at least twice, and had been stored in a plastic bag.

Not well thought through, was it? I had a mild panic, but saw upon closer inspection that only one section of the bag had rusted. So I dumped them out, rinsed the caps and proceeded to inspect each cap, one at a time, for rust. In the end, I had salvaged about 45, which seemed to be enough.

Next I rinsed and sanitized 42 bottles, which, in my memory, was about how many we usually bottled...not that I actually checked my notes or anything. But the bottom rack of the dishwasher was full, and I felt like that's how it usually was when we got to it. Why was I trusting my memory instead of looking in the notebook that was right there in the room? I can only plead "Monday."

When Nahum arrived, we set up and gave the bucket o' brew a quick sniff. It smelled really good, though also less intense than most of the batches we'd brewed recently. As we passed the uncarbonated, room-temperature beer into the bottling bucket (which had 4 oz. of priming sugar that had been dissolved into 1 1/2 cups of water), the tasting sample supported our theory about the bitter: it was delicious. The graduated hopping had given it some complexity in the flavor, aroma and aftertaste, but it also had a light body and an overall straightforward character. In other words, when this gets a little fizzy and a lot colder, it is gonna be one hell of a thing to drink.

But back to the bottling. We got into our familiar rhythm--Nahum filling the bottles and me capping them--but soon hit the next snag of the evening. Some of the empties were Amstel Light bottles...and for some reason the capping tool couldn't get a solid grip. We couldn't get the cap to crimp on the Amstel bottles...which represented 2 of our 42-bottle total.

It wasn't a serious setback until we realized that we were running out of bottles a lot faster than we were running out of beer. A quick look at my notes showed that we typically net a little more than 42 filled bottles from a single batch. Luckily, we had some more empties...but we also both realized that we were running on empty. It had gotten a bit late, we'd had an Originale to go along with our bottling (Papazian suggests drinking homebrew while homebrewing; insists, really), and the idea of going back to the sanitizing process in order to fill the last 4 or 5 bottles suddenly seemed like a steep hill to climb.

I'm not proud to say this, but we punted. Nahum and I each hoisted a bottle and drank down some of the unbottled brew (which was already good enough to drink, if not yet in its ideal state) and poured the last bit out of the bottling bucket. Straight into the drain, the image of which is giving me some serious mental pain as I type.

Still, we have 40 bottles sitting in the basement and carbonating. The recipe says, "Excellent within 2 weeks, sometimes sooner." I'm hoping for sooner, so I can start replacing my feeling of having let down the side with my prep process with the feeling that we made a heckuva batch of bitter.

August 15, 2009

Happy Bitter

It had been a long week. It was a hot day. There was only one thing to do.

Relax, stop worrying, and do some homebrewing.

This Saturday morning, Nahum came to the 2JB Brewery to cook up a pot of bitter. Which is not a grumpy euphemism: I'd found a recipe for Palace Bitter in the Papazian book, and with its mix of light malt and frequent hopping, it sounded like a summer-drinkin' version of the flavorful UK bitter ales I'd enjoyed over in Scotland.

Now, I should point out when I say "light malt," I do not mean this recipe didn't call for some serious malt to go in the mix. When Dan at the Gaslight brought out the 4.5 lbs. of light dried malt extract, I initially went into a small panic. Could this flour-sack-sized bag of powdered malt really be right? But since the Palace Bitter recipe doesn't call for any liquid malt extract, it seems to make it up with more dried stuff. The bag of malt was big, heavy, and kind of exciting.

So after steeping a grain bag with 12 oz. of crystal malt in 2 gallons of water (30 min. @ 150-160 degrees), we dumped in the full 4.5 lbs of malt. Holy crap...there was so much of it that it wasn't dissolving! Nahum had to whip out the whisk and have at the pot for several minutes to get it to stop looking like batter and start looking like beer.

It finally dissolved and hit the boil point, which called for 1/2 oz. of Fuggles hops and 3/4 oz. of Kent Goldings hops. 30 minutes later, we flavored the wort with 1/4 oz. each of Fuggles and Goldings, and 15 minutes later there was further flavoring with another 1/2 oz. of Goldings (plus 1 tsp. of Irish Moss about midway through the hopping). With 2 minutes left to go in the boil, we added a final 1/2 oz. of Goldings for aroma...the whole process was very satisfying, with the timed-out additions of hops allowing tight control over the flavor characteristics of the bitter.

We then grabbed 2 gallons of water that had been chilling in the freezer (even with the a/c going it was pretty warm in the kitchen, and we needed an edge to cool the wort), poured them into the Ale Pail and strained in the brew. After topping off to 5 gallons, we had a bucket o' beer that had a delightfully light brown color, a gently hoppy aroma (surprisingly restrained, considering we kept hopping every 15-30 minutes) and a flavor that was already refreshing. Another 15 minutes or so passed before it got down to 80 degrees and we could pitch 11 g. of Windsor ale yeast (in 4 oz. warm water) and seal up the pail.

Now it's down in the basement at 74 degrees while the fermenting magic happens. If there's one downside to the whole thing, it's that we both got pretty excited to drink the bitter...and have to find the patience to let it ferment and carbonate. I want my happy bitter now!

P.S. - One of Papazian's tips that we don't always follow is to make sure to enjoy some homebrew while homebrewing. Today, about halfway through the process I reached into the back of the fridge and pulled out the final bottle of our deeply delicious stout. It wasn't exactly the right thing for a hot day, but splitting that last bottle was nothing short of a total treat.

July 30, 2009

The Audacity of Hops

This has been a very, very good week for beer in the news. Though I am very, very disappointed to hear that the President drinks Bud Lite:

Red, Lite and Blue: The Beers Obama, Gates, Crowley Will Drink at the White House

[Update: Read this, too]

July 27, 2009

Broadcast News

The FiOS News piece ran this week...and it's pretty damn fun.

I kind of love the way it's in such a recognizable news format (the reporter's stand-up in front of our house is the same one it would be for a crime scene or any other regular new story...the key difference being that it's about Nahum and me and our brews). Thank you Ms. FiOS!

Fairy Tale

This weekend, the Beer Fairy brought 4 six-packs into the 2JB fold, and was rewarded with 5 wheat beers and two Originales.

Which means that my personal stock is running dangerously low.

Which means we really need to get to some brewin'.