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.