April 29, 2009

A Moving Day

In addition to the explosive qualities of Batch Gimmel 2, we had another reason to be a little off-kilter. For reasons we couldn't avoid, the 2JB operation had to hit the road from Nahum's house to the 2JB Annex (aka, my house across the street). We packed up all of the equipment and ingredients into the back of a car and drove the full 50 or 60 yards to my back door.

It was strangely melancholy. I mean, we weren't throwing in the towel or crippling the 2JB machine in any way...it was just kind of weird seeing everything in the car trunk, like school had ended and now we had to get going into a post-graduation future. Which was across the street.

The strange juju of the move was quick to dissipate once we got to brewing. The task at hand: a second batch of 2JB Originale. Once again, we had in mind to test our ability to keep a consistent flavor batch-to-batch...and once again we were foiled. This time it was right in the bag of ingredients. The 1st pail of Originale had mixed a full can of light amber malt with the leftover dark malt from a previous brew. We'd asked for the same stuff, but our homebrew shop seemed to have supplied us with regular amber malt. No biggie, but it meant we'd already sealed our fate and an inconsistently darker batch of beer was to come.

Shrugging our shoulders, we set to it and dipped a grain bag filled with 1/2 lb. of crystal malt into 2 gallons of water (plus 1 tsp. of gypsum). Just before the boil, the bag came out and in went 20 oz. of dried malt extract, our 3.3 lb. can of Munton's regular malt and somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 lbs. of dark malt extract.

The hops went according to plan, at least. 1 oz. of Northern Brewers hops at the boil, followed by 1/2 oz. of East Kent Goldings + 1 tsp. of Irish Moss half an hour later. Ten minutes before the end of the boil we added 1/2 oz. of Cascase hops, and another 1/2 oz. 5 minutes later.

We sparged to the Ale Pail and added 3 gallons of water. Now, I should point out that we picked an unusually hot day for this brew: it was mid-April and we were facing temperatures in the mid-90s. Our wort was at 120 degrees...and we didn't seem to have a smart way to bring hte temperature down to a yeast-able level. We figured this out doubly when we looked at the prepped yeast...and it was already bubbling and multiplying before it had tasted a bit of hops!

No big deal: in the end, we just brought the bucket to the basement, which in the 2JB Annex is consistently cool. The wort got down into the 70s in a little over an hour, and we pitched in 1/2 a package of Windsor Ale Brew yeast (about 5.5 grams) along with another 5.5 g. of Saf Lager S23 Dry Lager yeast.

The cap went on tight, and before we knew it the air lock was bubbling away contentedly. It was an odd brew, and maybe not quite what we'd been aiming for, but the 5 gallons currently doing its thing in my basement is clearly destined to be a top-notch batch of Originale.


Our confidence had been somewhat shaken by the exploding vat of beer, so Nahum and I approached Bottling Day with a step or two missing from our game. The beer looked, smelled and tasted fine (not like any kind of stout, but more like a Becks Dark or other dark ale), and had an SG reading of 1.024.

But as soon as we started the bottling process, it was clear that our normally steadfast rhythm was off. I forgot to rinse the bottles before sterilizing them. Nahum kept dumping out the sterilizing solution before we'd wiped everything down. We almost forgot to get the sugar boiling. It was kind of a mess.

So, in my infinite wisdom, I served up this brilliant nugget: Why not switch our normal bottling tasks? See, Nahum always fills the bottles, and I always cap & label them and get the bottles into the cases. And we've developed a sort of effortless production-line rhythm, churning out full bottles with a smile and a spring in our step.

This, on the other hand, was a disaster. I couldn't get the bottles filled quite right, and I didn't have a smooth flow of empties into the bottling area as I got each one done. Nahum struggled to work the capper, with each one seeming to take an inordinate amount of time. We weren't getting anywhere, and it was taking a long while to get there.

In a moment of simultaneous epiphany, we looked at each other, put down our unfamiliar tools and switched into our "normal" positions. Within minutes, we had 42 bottles of beer capped and stacked for a week or two in the cold room. I labeled them "E," both to commemorate the explosion that helped birth this particular batch and the enormous effort it took to get it done.

This one was in no way smooth sailing and at no point easy. But it also seems like it's going to taste just fine, and there was a lesson there: we may not have the pro-level skills for consistent back-to-back batches, but we're at a point where we're unlikely to make a genuinely bad bucket o' brew. I take quite a bit of comfort in that, and I look forward to kicking back with a fresh bottle of Explosivo Beer!

April 20, 2009

Bound to Happen

Uh-oh. This just in from Nahum:

So. It was bound to happen.

About an hour ago, I opened the door to the basement to do basement chores, and remarked out loud, "wow, I really smell the beer already and it smells great! It has never been such a strong aroma." Half way down the stairs, I saw, to my dismay, an ale pail with no lid, and with a big head of krausen, and some that had already poured over one edge.

What I didn't see, was the lid to the pail. After some searching, I found it, a few feet away and wedged on its side against the wall.

So what we had was an open bucket of not-yet fermented beer, exposed to the basement ambiance. What to do? Well, I am pleased to say the first thing I decided to do was--you guessed it--not worry. Instead, I thought about the bottled of homebrew waiting to help me relax. Next, I took the lid upstairs, with the airlock, which was full of, and likely clogged with, krausen (thus, I hypothesize, causing a build-up of carbon dioxide, which lead to our beer blowing its top). I washed the lid and sanitized it. I found a clean airlock and sanitized it. I wiped off the edges of the pail with a wet cloth, followed by a paper towel soaked in sanitizing solution. And I closed it up. Tight.

When we open it, if it tastes normal, then we escaped bacterial contamination. I think we will know pretty quickly after the first (pre-bottling) sip whether we dodged a bullet. At some point, I will clean the basement floor of the wort spatter so it no longer looks like a beer-crime-scene. In the meantime, I am going to relax and have a homebrew.

P.S.: The thermometer on the ail pail read 79 degrees, which cannot be correct. However, it is probably warmer than in the past, and I moved the newly capped bucket to the 60 degree room.

April 19, 2009

Back to the Brewhouse

After an uncharacteristically long layoff from brewing (caused by a combo of Passover, busy schedules and a slight overabundance of beer), the 2JB crew met this Sunday morning to get back to the brewhouse and back in the saddle.

The return to brewing was marked by another new corner turned: we were, for the 1st time since we started this enterprise in the fall, planning to repeat ourselves. Now that we'd successfully produced more than a half-dozen varieties of tasty beer (including one original recipe), Nahum and I had figured that it would be important to see if we had any consistency. After all, it's one thing to be able to make a good batch of beer, but quite another to make multiple batches that are both good and similar. So we planned to go back to two of our greatest hits: a 2nd batch of Gimmel (aka, stout) and a 2nd run at the Originale.

...and right off the bat, we pretty much failed. Part of consistency is repeating your process, but an even bigger part involves using the same ingredients. Since our 1st run at the stout was a half-batch (part of the inaugural-themed black & tan), we needed to double certain parts of the recipe. The calculations were off just a bit, and we found ourselves there on a Sunday morning half a pound shy of the correct weight of dry malt.

Oh well. It'll still be good, though probably lighter than Stout 1.0...which we decided will be perfect for warm-weather drinking! And we do have the right weight of hops - which we know because Nahum's wife found a digital food scale for us at a dollar store. Our 1st new piece of equipment in a while, and one that will come in very handy.

And so 4 oz. of crushed roasted barley and 8 oz. of Black Patent went into the grain bag and into 2 gallons of water. As we waited for the boil, Nahum and I stepped outside to check out the newest members of the 2JB family: the two strains of hops he'd planted out in the garden.

They're already starting to bud, and each plant has a thin pole nearby so they can grow upward & onward (apparently these suckers grow fast) and we'll be able to start using fresh, homegrown hops for some autumn homebrewing.

Back to the kitchen. We're pulling out the grain bag and adding in 6.6 lbs. of dark malt extract and 1 lb. of dry malt (instead of 1.5 lbs...) along with a bit of gypsum. When we hit the boil at 9:35am, we very nearly had a tragic boil-over (the Papazian book warns of avoiding the Boil-over Blues), but Nahum's fast reflexes on the stove dials brought it under control. In went 1 oz. of Northern Brewer hops; 30 minutes later another 1/2 oz. of NB with a bit of Irish moss; and we finished with a 1/2 oz. of Cascade hops.

After Nahum reconstituted 11 g. of Windsor yeast in 4 oz. of water, we sparged the wort into the Ale Pail (along with more water). It looked good, smelled good...and most amazingly, we lost very little liquid to either the boil or the transfer: it hit the 5 gallon line almost right on the nose.

Our original gravity reading was 1.052, which is not quite what Batch Gimmel had yielded (that was 1.070), but given that the ingredients for Batch Gimmel 2 were different and our process more streamlined, it was just fine.

The Ale Pail is now sealed up and fermenting in the basement. Next weekend: another run at the Originale. This one is more important for the side-by-side comparison between the two batches. Now that we're back into the rhythm of the brew again, I'm pretty confident that we'll get everything squared away for a consistent batch of brew.

P.S.: On my way out of the house after we'd wrapped up, I nearly tripped over something sitting in front of the front door. Mike, our benevolent donator of many many bottles, had left a trio of six-packs of empties along with a note: