January 25, 2009

Process Progress

The average day can usually be broken down into a series of processes: wake up (pre-set alarm based on a planned point of departure), shower (get the water to a certain temperature, use certain soaps in certain ways on certain body parts), shave, dress, eat, work, etc. Each step of the day is either a process in itself or a part of a larger process.

I'd go a step further and say that most of those processes are one of two kinds: either a static process that is repeated pretty much the same way every day (e.g., showering), or a progressive process that can be altered, improved upon or cut back on from instance to instance (a lot of what I do in my job would fall under this classification). The 2JB process originally seemed like it was going to be the former (this is how you follow the recipe to make the beer - repeat as necessary), but it's clearly become the latter as we make progress with our process each time.

As we began Batch Hay (an English Brown Ale), foremost in our minds was the fact that we have been wasting a tragic amount of beer each time. When it goes from brew-pot to fermenter, we'd leave some behind so as to try to minimize the sediment and other solids that are at the bottom of the pot; the same thing would happen when we moved it to the secondary fermenter and then to the bottles. All in all, we were probably sacrificing as much at 10 bottles worth each time.

That would clearly be an unacceptable lost in any accounting. So with a little advice from Monty and a little help from Charlie Papazian's book, we decided to alter our process a little and make some progress by sparging. Yes, that's a real word - it's the term for straining out the solids more thoroughly straight from the brew-pot so that you're not wrestling with them in later steps.

So we began with a typical (static) process: 1/2 lb. crystal malt and 1/4 lb. black patent malt went into a grain bag, making sure to shake out some of the loose grain-dust before dropping it into 2 gallons of water and beginning the boil.

Next was approximately 6 lbs. of Mountmelick unhopped dark malt extract, 1 tsp. of gypsum, 1 oz. of Fuggles hops and 1/2 oz. of Northern Brewer hops; after the boil, another 1/2 oz. of Fuggles went in along with some Irish Moss, and finally we finished with 1/2 oz. of Cascade hops.

And then we made progress. Instead of spending a ton of time cooling down the wort and siphoning it into an empty pail, we started the fermenting pail with 2 gallons of cold water that had been chilling on the porch, cooled the wort just enough to make it stop steaming, and got on with the sparging.

The wort went through a mesh strainer and into the cold water, getting a cereal-bowl's worth of solids out of the wort before it even hit the pail.

As a bonus, this progressive process ended up aerating the wort more than usual (which is a good thing) and by the time we pitched 11 g. of Nottingham yeast (dissolved into 4 oz. of warm water) onto the top, we had a full 5 gallons of beer in that there bucket, sporting an on-target original gravity of 1.046.

Progress indeed.

P.S. - Another change came by way of the recipe we used. Apparently, this ale ferments fast, and will be ready for brewing before the week's up. Looks like we'll need to get on top of the next batch faster than we'd originally thought!

Double Blind

As soon as Monty mentioned that he was brewing up a batch of his coffee stout at the same time that we were producing the 2JB version of his recipe, I knew that we'd have to do a side-by-side tasting.

So on a cold Sunday afternoon, Monty came to the door with a six-pack and Nahum brought his whole clan over to the 2JB Annex. In the interest of getting a solid blind taste-test going (and keeping Nahum's kids interested), we had the young'uns choose between a Bugs Bunny and a Daffy Duck glass for decanting a bottle of each brew.

Once the beers were indistinguishable (though Monty suspected his would be visibly less carbonated; I don't think that happened) our wives each tipped back a sip from one of the glasses.

Then they switched and tried the other.

Nahum's wife Sarah picked her favorite, as did my wife Eileen. The kids lifted the double-blind and it turned out that Sarah had preferred the 2JB bevvie for its heavier stout flavor, and Eileen had favored Monty's more pronounced coffee flavor (she's less of a stout fan than Sarah is).

Then we men-folk took our turns, and pretty much agreed with what the gals had tasted: Monty had a more-coffee/less-beery bottle of brew, with noticeably less stout; and the 2JB product was heavier, slightly more carbonated, with less pronounced coffee overall.

The most interesting part, though, was seeing how much variation there was between two beers born of roughly the same recipe. We'd each gotten our hands on a couple of slightly different ingredients (especially the hops, which clearly have a major impact on the final flavoring) and approached them a bit differently (I think we put in less coffee; Monty had a more skilled hand with racking his beer and leaving the sediment behind), leading to noticeably different beers.

After cracking open a few more bottles and spending another hour or so sippin' and chattin', we agreed on a winner: everyone who'd gotten to sample either (or both) of these very tasty coffee stouts.

January 20, 2009

Two Men and a Beer

Nahum and I both had the day off for MLK Day...which just so happened to coincide with a) an unexpected snowfall of several inches, and b) the maturing of Batch Dalet.

Like Hannibal, I love it when a plan comes together.

At around 4.30pm, Nahum came to the 2JB Annex holding two freshly chilled bottles of coffee stout. "Your house is kind of my Man Room," he said, referring to the excellent attic/fortress of solitude where this blog is put together. And since the missus was not so lucky to be off work, we'd be able to drink as two unfettered fellows, kicking back with their homebrewed creation.

We popped the caps on the two bottles and poured them into frosted mugs. I opened a bag of chips and jar of salsa (no wife present=no plates/bowls required for the snacks--we just dropped 'em in the middle of the remote controls) and put on some CDs. We clinked a hearty "L'chaim!" and kicked back to some serious enjoyment.

The stout was noticeably different from the previous, non-coffee brew. Drier, mellower, more roasted-tasting (which I think gives it a flavor and mouth-feel of chocolate). The carbonation wasn't too crisp, which was a good match to the solid body of the stout. We smiled, took another sip and spent the next hour or so as two men (well, at least manly for us...) discussing the topics of the day over a cold, tasty brew. And I'd even throw in a suggestion that the snowy scene added to the tastiness--looking out the window from the warm room to the cold yard turned the coffee stout into a kind of grown-ups' cup of hot cocoa on a snow day off of school.

By the time we'd gotten to the bottom of the glasses, we were enormously pleased with our latest creation and eager to pounce on the next batch. We picked an English Brown Ale recipe that will be the basis of Batch Hay...coming soon to a NJ Man Room near you!

P.S. - Today was Inauguration Day, and I finally was able to open up one of the bottles of pre-mixed black and tan, made specially for this day. Did we make a beer worthy of the momentous moment? Yes we did! This one's for you, President Obama...

January 13, 2009

Buzz Beer

If I've got one worry about the 2JB project, it's that we're potentially veering into the same thing that brought the housing market and finance industry to their knees: the idea that it will just keep getting better and better, with no end in sight. I mean, here we are on our fourth batch of beer (fifth, if you count the two half-batches of Gimmel's black & tans as separate brews) and it's the best yet.

Just like the last one was. And the one before that. It's almost like we know what we're doing.

But pride cometh before the proverbial fall, right? So to try and sidestep too much bragging: the Batch Dalet coffee stout seems on course to be pretty damn good. We uncapped the final bottle of pumpkin ale and set to work bottling the latest concoction.

First up was a specific gravity reading: 1.020, which according to my little chart means we're going to have about 4.5% alcohol. Just right.

The next, and maybe even more important, step was sampling the pre-carbonated brew. Oh. My. Goodness. This stuff was delicious. The coffee is definitely in there, but it ends up working with the stout to form a kind of chocolate cast to the overall flavor. (Nahum pointed out that coffee and chocolate were both the results of roasted beans, so they're related flavors.) We each drank a small glass of warm, flat stout and could barely figure out how many ways to express how much we dug what we were tasting.

Back to the practical matters. 4 oz. of priming sugar was boiled into 1.5 cups of water, and into the brew it went. We then turned to the bucket o' bottles that Nahum had been soaking for a few hours, scraping the labels off as best we could. (There have been a lot of commercial bottle donations as we've quickly outgrown the original order of virgin bottles.)

38 bottles got filled, capped and stored, and hopefully we'll find the strength to wait 2 weeks to try these out. I have very high hopes for the Dalet bottles, and look forward to seeing how the buzzy coffee and smooth stout come together in the final product.

[Side Note: Monty tells me that he's just brewed a batch of his coffee stout, too. Given that we'll have used slightly different ingredients and approaches, I think a side-by-side tasting may be in order!]