February 15, 2009

Very Originale

Today we began Batch Vav, our half-dozenth shot at the many varieties of homebrew (though perhaps technically the seventh, since Gimmel was comprised of two different kinds of beer). Each one has been good, some very good, and at least one or two was excellent, if I do say so myself.

But all of them were someone else's. Whether we got the recipe from a book, the Internet or a fellow homebrewer, we more or less ordered what was on the list and brewed it as per the instructions for brewing. Sure, we got a little creative with the Pumpkin Ale, but even that time we more or less picked an existing approach and followed it.

Not this time. For Batch Vav, the Two Jews concocted our very own original(e) beer. Over the course of the four or five months we've been at this, each brewing session made it a little more clear how the different ingredients, steps and processes affected the final result. So we felt confident enough to order up ingredients based on what we like and how to make that happen. (Plus we had some leftover ingredients from previous batches...and we made sure to include those in the recipe.)

So this morning we put a 1/2 lb. of crystal malt in a grain bag and got it going in 2 gallons of water with some gypsum. Just before the boil, out came the grains and in went 20 oz. of dry malt extract, 3.3 lbs of Muntons extra light amber malt and about half a can (approx. 1.5 lbs.) of dark malt extract that was leftover from the previous brew. The idea here being: get that nice crisp ale taste that has made many of the 2JB batches eminently quaffable, and then turn it just a little in the darker direction that made the two stouts so flavorful.

As the wort hit the boil, in went 1 oz. of Northern Brewers hops with a nice, piny aroma. After 30 minutes, we added a 1/2 oz. of (leftover) Kent Goldings hops and some Irish moss. Then I split up our 1 oz. of our Cascade finishing hops and dropped half at 10 minutes before the end of the boil and the other half 5 minutes later.

The aromas were intense (but pleasantly so) with a nice balance of nutty & floral...and totally our own. We'd worked out the ingredients and the timing and such-like based on actual, honest-to-goodness experience and know-how. It felt good.

(Speaking of feeling good: I should note that after listening to us moan about not having "brew stools" to sit on while we did the 2JB thing, Nahum's wife brought home just such a stool. Super comfy and convenient...though we couldn't help but notice that there was only 1 stool for 2 brewing Jews!)

After our experiment with sparging the English Brown Ale, we were pleased enough to make it the new standard operation. Two gallons of cooled water went into the fermenter, and we sparged the wort one small saucepan-full at a time. The process took a lot less time and effort than cooling the pot and siphoning it into the bucket, with the added bonuses of less sediment and more aeration. Everybody wins.

After topping off the bucket to 5 gallons, it was already down to 95 degrees all on its own, and was sporting a right-on-the-nose original gravity of 1.046 (suggesting an eventual alcohol content of around 5.8%). Nahum pitched a combo of new & leftover yeast - 1/2 a package of Windsor Ale Yeast (about 5.5 grams) and another 5.5 g of Soft Lager S23 Yeast, and then we sealed it all up. The idea is that one of the yeasts will get busy during the room-temperature fermenting phase, and the other will make its magic happen when we move the bucket to a much cooler space.

How will Batch Vav taste in the end? For once, I'm not quite sure...but I'm pretty confident it will be tasty. Plus, later on we're planning on trying some brown sugar in place of the corn-starch priming sugar. And it will be all ours to enjoy, tinker with and eventually build up into an original, signature Two Jews Brew beer.

P.S. - I should also note that we started this pretty early on a Sunday morning and Nahum hadn't had breakfast yet. That led to a funny tableaux of 2JB beer boiling next to a pan of fake/kosher bacon:

February 1, 2009

Mr. Brown in the Kitchen with a Beer Bottle

There is a quote I know I've read (but couldn't Google up a source) that goes something like: "Busy hands are happy hands." It went through my head at 9.30am on Sunday as Nahum and I got down to the task of bottling Batch Hay, aka our version of an English Brown Ale.

Bottling is one of the simpler, almost mechanized parts of the homebrew process, and I find that our hands quickly become busy with the rhythm of bottling. Once in that rhythm, it's all smiles and a relaxed air, even as the cat pokes around the sanitized bottles or Nahum's son wanders over from his cartoons suddenly desperate for a juice box. The hands are busy and the 2 Jews are happy as the beer flows from the bottling bucket and the bottles line up in the cases.

In just an hour and a half, we moved 5 gallons of fermented brown ale from the fermenter to the bottling bucket (there was still a light layer of foam which made us wonder if the yeast was entirely done...but the SG reading of 1.0.12 was steady on from the day before); dissolved 3/4 c. of priming sugar into 1 1/2 c. of water and mixed it into the beer; and filled & capped 46 bottles of ale.

The aroma was spot-on for an English Brown, reminding me of the end of a night of Newcastle Brown Ales back in my Scottish days, and the flavor was a little different than we'd expected - less sweet but very, very smooth. I suspect that once it's carbonated and chilled, this is going to be a very refreshing beer, with the bubbles & temperature adding a crisp & sweet mouthfeel to the smooth & nutty taste.

The other good news is that our sparging paid off: we wasted very little liquid and seemed to have much less sediment swirling through the siphon. Oddly enough, the bottom of the fermenter had a lot more yeast than we'd ever seen before; was the Nottingham yeast particularly active, or is this just a recipe that really gets the active stuff active? I guess this is why the recipe we used said the fermenting would be noticeably faster than in other brewing cycles - the yeast gets seriously busy for this one.

Now we've got just under 2 cases of bottles with a "B" for Brown on the cap, sitting in a cool room in the basement making the last bit of the magic happen. Hopefully we'll have a moderate day (or at least one that's not quite so icy-cold!) in a week or two to kick back with bottles of Hay...keeping the hands busy and happy until it's time to start in on the next batch.