Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beer Shampoo

So this Friday I had decided to take a break from brewing. Three Fridays in a row seems like a pretty good track record in my opinion. Well, I had some things to do out and about, and some around the house. Honestly, it was mostly because I hadn't sat down and did some gaming in ages.

However I did set aside an hour to do beer things. First thing was to keg the IPA (smells fantastic), hook up the Newcastle Clone (tastes fantastic), and transfer the blonde to the secondary with oak chips (sounds fantastic). Things were pretty standard. Trying to get the pan full of oak chips (i boiled them in a frying pan) into the next of a better bottle carboy proved to be a little difficult. Ever see Mike Rowe heard cows? It's like that on a smaller scale.

My biggest problem was hooking up the Newcastle clone to my kegerator. I got these nice and shiny brand new Perlick faucets. They look absolutely beautiful. A brilliantly sculpted piece of steel (much like the millennium falcon, or the aluminum mallard). Well like usual I hook up the faucet and have my head buried in the kegerator when I hook up the keg and the beer starts flying. Which is frustrating since the last time I had beer in the kegerator the same thing happened. There's still a little stout on the ceiling. This time I got beer in my hair. Looking back now I'm not really sure how it happened since my head was in the kegerator when it sprayed. Mysteries of the world I guess. First problem is that I hadn't tightened the faucet enough. Apparently you have to wiggle them a little bit as they seat on the shank to get a good fit. My next problem I still haven't figured out. For whatever reason the faucet does not seem to want to close. At this point I really can't figure out why. I ran out of patience before I figured it out. I did notice that the beer was totally flat, which tells me i didn't have enough pressure in the keg to carbonate. I've read here and there that this pressure holds the Perlick faucet closed. Once I renew my now spent pool of patience, I'll give it another go.

Anyone had this trouble with the Perlicks? Post below and let me know!

And while I have a second, next week I'll be in Jamaica, so no post from me on Monday! Splobucket will be lying on the beach, drink in hand, soaking up the sunlight, a la Kenny Chesney song.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chill Out, Wort.

In a play straight out of Gene's book: I have big plans for a new contraption. For a while now I've been using a wort chiller that my friend Eric and I made out of a refrigerator condenser coil and a hose adapter compression fitting. Seriously, that's it. Does it work? Not-so-much.

The biggest issues I have with my current wort chiller are:

  • One end pees like a fountain cherub.
  • It takes nearly a full hour to cool the wort down the requisite number of degrees.
  • You end up with a backyard swamp unless you can do something with all that water.
  • You need a hose and therefore can't use it for indoor applications other than creating a slip-n-slide from the bathroom to the couch.
  • The coil isn't long enough to be effective.

I was reading Brew Your Own Magazine a few weeks ago and saw that somebody used a recirculating pump in an ice bucket to cool their wort. This closed system doesn't waste any water and once it warms up it can be used for cleaning. This article gave me an idea: why don't I use a recirculating pump in an ice bucket to cool my wort!

The cheapest pumps I could think of are either a fish-tank pump or a pond pump. The fish-tank pump probably doesn't have the cherubic umph to create enough back pressure to get that steam flowing; a pond pump seems like it would.

When I told my wife about this idea she replied, "too bad we threw out our old pond pump." I pretty much had to wrestle it out of swamp-things cold overcooked spinach covered hands. For cleanliness sake, I think I'd rather not use something that spent most of it's operational hours submerged in a outdoor bird toilet, algae farm, or cesspool. In this case I think buying new is worth the extra money.

I'm still not sure about what type of hose or fittings to use, but I'm sure I'll find something other than rubber bands, magic tape, or an unwitting assistant. I also need to find a cheaper source for copper pipe since I don't need much (but I need more than one refrigerator coil's worth.)

Anybody out there have one of these? Have any advice on where to get the materials? Leave me some comments below!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The brewing continues

There's nothing better than another Friday of brewing!

This past Friday I brewed ATOTB #02: Clean Blonde with the thoughts that I'm going to be aging it over wood chips. I think that this could actually go quite well. I've heard from some people that aging over wood makes the beer taste like a rotten oak tree, but with age I'm sure it can get better.

The brewing itself went much smoother than the week before. No burns, bad backs, missed OGs (sorta). No major malfunctions. I did however run dry while I was sparging. Apparently a bubble occured in my hose between my HLT and my MT, which stopped water from getting to my sparge. This caused me to miss my OG by .01 points, because the sugar wasn't extracted from the grains as efficiently as possible. The beer will be a little lighter, but the flavor profile should be similar. It's currently fermenting away in my closet, and next week it will be aged over the toasted oak chips.

While brewing I took the opportunity to move Nikki's Newcastle Clone into a keg, and the IPA into the secondary. If I do say so myself, the Newcastle clone smells absolutely phenomenal. I can't wait to give it a try. I am also impressed with the IPA's fermentation. After transferring it to the secondary, it again developed a small layer of krausen indicating there was still yeast activity. Maybe I didn't ruin the IPA after all!

On a side note, the world was supposed to end yesterday. Yeah... the fact I'm still writing this says something about that. Unless of course the end of the world means all of my warranties have ended, because everything seems to be breaking down this past week or two. I had to bring Nikki's car into the shop, she's at the physical therapist, I had to fix the pool, and just this morning my computer monitor bit the dust. What's next?

The end of the world is here, and it looks like a bunch of broken consumer electronics.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beereview: Chelada (a Beer with Shellfish in it)

Might be hard to see
how murky this is
If you've been reading the blog for a while, you know I have a nemesis. She is named Chelada and she lurks around areas with more Southern culinary influences. I use the term culinary here loosely because this stuff is so cheap and nasty I could have just as easily said "wherever the worst 40oz malt liquor is sold" and odds are you'd find it. This stuff is all over the place in the south but I have yet to see it here in New Jersey. We either have the good sense to avoid combining Seafood, Terrible Beer, and Hot Sauce together in one glass or (which is much more likely) all the pizza restaurants around here use the statewide supply of tomato sauce on "Tomato Pies," a.k.a. soggy upside-down mess-pizza.

Since they don't sell Chelada here, you may be wondering where I got it. In a previous post I confessed to having smuggled some back from my Honeymoon in Arizona. I had big plans for these two cans but one after the other they all fell through. I wanted to do a taste test with some friends but they all refused. I wanted to compare it to a homemade version but my clam juice was so disgusting that I refused. We're down to the wire now since this stuff is nearly a year old and probably about a century past it's "best by" date. It's all on me now to do a good old fashoned beereview.

I wanted to make sure this foul brew was ice ice cold (think: mastadon's nipples cold.) There're a lot of flavors in there that I definately don't want to experience fully. Even writing this as a live review has risks of accidentally tasting them. I had to pour it into a warm glass and take time out to type. One degree of warmth here could make all the difference.

Budweiser - Chelada

This "beer" pours thin and cloudy with increasing amounts of chunks, sediment, and what can only be described as herbs and spices. The color is somewhere between water from a rusty bucket, dishwater after taco night, or heavily diluted tomato juice (which it is.) This being a live review, it's time to taste.

Chelada tastes like salty sweat. The initial flavor isn't really like beer since the tomato juice is pretty overpowering. I happen to like Bloody Mary's but this is exactly like what the leftover stuff in the cup tastes like (once all the ice has melted.) The aftertaste has an insidious foulness that does indeed remind me of clams, but not in a good way. It reminds me of the little foot that stays stuck in the shell when you eat defrosted stuffed clamshells (which we ate a surprisingly large number of when I was growing up.)

Burping isn't usually part of my review but there's something about a beer that's made to be swilled fast and cold that demands some thought on this topic. After drinking only about an inch off the top of my glass I'm burping continuously. These burps burn. This beer doesn't taste hot, but the spicy clams make their presence known in (1) my burps, (2) my stink breath, and presumably (3) a little later in the bathroom. The burn continues to build and I really wish I had some taco chips or something to send down there in a frontal assault.

What's the bottom line?

I'm dumping this devil juice down the drain. Some people actually like this stuff. Some people are serial killers. Just sayin'.

Do you like this crap? Leave me a post in the comments below and tell me your secret!

Monday, May 16, 2011


I'll never brew on Friday the 13th again.

I'm not a superstitious man. Usually. But Friday was not my greatest brew day. I wouldn't say everything went wrong, but I didn't have the best luck.

In continuation of my brewing binge, I brewed again this past Friday. I took an hour Thursday night and designed a pretty promising IPA (if I do say so myself). Friday I got out of work on time and got cranking. Well, like I did once before, I let my HLT get too hot. I was keeping pretty close watch on my mash, but for about 5 minutes I got distracted, and when I came back my mash tun was reading 160 (I needed it down at 150). 10 degrees might not sound like a lot, but for a human that can be the difference between a nice hot shower and 1st degree burns. For grain, it's practically life or death... for sugar extraction at least. Time for damage control. My method of damage control is to pop the top on my tun and spray water in. That usually works pretty well, but I was not getting the response of temperature that I was used too. Eventually the temperature plummeted to 140, so I started bringing it back up. Again, the temperature wasn't responding like I was used to. I was heating the mash full bore with little response. I had a problem.

I use my Blichmann autosparge in my mashing process as well, I just remove the float. It's nice since the tube floats on the surface, I get a continuous wash over the grain from the top to the bottom where it exits through my false bottom. Well the tube float was jammed up at the top of the tube, causing the tube to sink to the bottom. This directly injected my now superheated mash directly in to the exit of my tank, mostly bypassing the temp sensor. Good for jacked up Honda Civics. Not good for my mash. I replaced the float and the temp again raid upwards of 160. Damage control again. Finally it remained at 150 for the rest of the mash. But I knew I damaged the wort. Oh well press on.

The next step of my process is to tank the HLT, place it on the table, and sparge away. The keg is heavy as sin. 60 lbs easy. But I manage to put my back into it and heave it up there. Not today. No no. I don't know how buy my burner was stuck on my keg like a fly on a windshield (or if you're in Florida, a love bug on every part of your car... I digress...). Well I manage to kick the burner off, and in the process burn my leg, and almost dump the entire keg of 180 degree water on me (flash back, 1st degree burns anyone?). I've never seen a burn turn my skin bright white before.

Aside from dropping a package of hops, the rest of the brew went fine. It even dawned on me to put the pot in the pool while I'm cooling it with my chiller, which saved my 5 minutes off my cooling time (10 minutes to go from boiling to 90). So I'm happy with that. Unfortunately I missed my OG by almost .03 points (that's 3 1/2% alcohol less than it's supposed to be!), and who knows what the flavor profile is going to be like. It's vigorously bubbling away, but it's still frustrating to spend 5 hours preparing something knowing it's damaged.

But such is life! Next Friday I'm going to experiment with light toasted oak chips. Some people say beer aged over wood chips is amazing. Others say it makes the beer taste like moldy rotten wood. We'll see! If it works for Budweiser it should... wait... does it work for Budweiser?

Share some of your brew day mishaps! Post below! And try our quiz for a free shirt!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beereview: Highway 78 Scotch Ale

If your local liquor store or beer distributor has a beer section almost as large as their wine section you can guess one of three things. They know good beer, they got one heck of a deal on Milwaukee's Best, or a Nissan Pathfinder crashed into their wine room. Being the least likely of the three, I'm going with "they know good beer."

A few weeks ago I was picking up some Midas Touch and Stone Levitation. The shopkeep noticed that I was buying some pretty good stock and offered a recommendation. I know what you're thinking: upsell, but in beer the closest you're likely to get to a beer Sommelier is either a liquor store owner, viking, or European. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt (that they are trying to sell you something that's good rather than something that's just expensive.)

I'm no snob but my access to Europeans is somewhat limited; I won't turn my nose up at a good recommendation. The shopkeep suggested "Highway 98 - Scotch Ale" which is a collaboration between Stone, Green Flash, and Pizza Port Carlsbad. I like Stone and weird names, so it all sounds good to me. On to the review!

Highway 78 Scotch Ale

This beer pours a rich reddish brown and is not cloudy whatsoever. The smell is sweet brown sugar but with my allergies it's a little hard to tell. It smells very much like caramel or shoo-fly-pie. It's very bubbly and forms almost no head but keeps what it has.

The taste: Wow. Starts very sweet and slightly hoppy then quickly turns to burnt caramel and coffee. It's a little fruity at first, but fruity like red grapes or raisins. The aftertaste is a little strange: a few seconds after swallowing there's this little sweet flash that passes very quickly and leaves behind a flavor I can only describe as the taste of the unpopped rock-hard buttered popcorn left in the bottom of a microwaveable bag. It's very subtle but it definitely doesn't taste like mouth.

At 8.8% ABV this beer is no slouch but you wouldn't know it from the taste. Overall I'd say this is a quality beer akin to Mother's Milk by Keegan Ales. It's probably a one-of-a-kind which means if you have any interest at all in tasting it you need to get it soon. I wouldn't worry too much though: it's really good but it's not that memorable (unlike Saison Du BUFF.)

Once again Stone has confused a beer label with a blog post. If I wanted to read all their personal anecdotes I'd check their website; when I want to read about the beer I'll check a label. It's sort of annoying when you're writing a review and the label says nothing about the beer or who made it. Having never heard of the two smaller breweries it would have been nice to have a little bio or something. This bottle is just covered in inside jokes (or I hope they are, they aren't very funny otherwise.)

Have you tried a good collaboration beer? Have you heard of Green Flash or Pizza Port Carlsbad? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Back in the Saddle

A real tragedy happened in my house about 4 weeks ago. All four of my kegs went bone dry. My kegerator was completely tapped out. A home of a brewer, with absolutely no homebrew. How is that possible? How could I let that happen? Well never fear. My track season is over, and I have an ambitious plan. I plan on brewing something different the next 4 weeks. That's right, 4 weeks, 4 brews. Watch out people, this could be the most exciting thing since bread started being sliced in 1928.

I'm off to a great start. I brewed this past Friday and things went great. The weather was beautiful, and I finally cracked the binding on my new brewing book I got for Christmas... Yeast. I brewed a Newcastle clone for my wife from the book CloneBrews (now in the second edition). The recipe was easy to follow, and it came with an all-grain side-bar. Converting the recipe into Beersmith took only a few minutes. Before I knew it I'm picking it up my order the next day and I'm ready to rock. I also remembered to pick up my first blow-off tube from Heart's. I've learned my lesson after blowing the top off my airlock the past few brews.

As I've already mentioned, brewing went off without a hitch. The HERMS system is still working beautifully. I only missed my OG by .02 points. I'm super excited to try this brew. The color is spot on to be a Newcastle clone, and it smelled fantastic. The fermenter has been bubbling vigorously the past two days, and I'll be racking to my secondary on my next brew day, which should be Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.

I've been planning out these upcoming brews. The Newcastle clone has been a long time coming, and I'm excited to try my hand at designing my first IPA this week. I'm a little at a loss for the next two however, and I'm looking for some good ideas (remember, I can't brew any lagers... yet). Summer time's a coming, so I'm looking at doing something light. Not entirely sure what. I've been thinking a pale ale or a white ale. I recently brewed a wheat, which came out great, but I'm looking for something new. If you have any good ideas drop a post below! Also, give the quiz a try! I'm dyin' to give out some Newcastle shirts!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

5 Tips for New Brewers

We were back in Long Island this past weekend for a family party and I was delighted to find out my wife's cousin has started brewing beer. He apparently did a lot of research online and at this point has one batch in the primary and one batch in the secondary. Unfortunately, I think I scared the bejeesus out of him.

If I know anything about online research it's free and you get what you pay for. Sure there are tons of great brewing resources out there (*cough*) but there are just as many thinly veiled "how-to" advertisements. There's no substitute for actually going out and brewing your own batch but I think there are a few points that a less-than-careful scouring of the internet won't turn up (since they're probably buried in pornography.)

Here's five tips you won't find in the instructions (although you will find them in a good book.)

1. If you put something clean on something dirty, it's dirty

Would you use a spoon that fell on the floor? If you're me it probably depends on whether you're eating wet or dry food, but I digress. The instructions are pretty clear in telling you to clean all your tools thoroughly but they usually neglect to mention that you also need to clean any surfaces those tools will come in contact with. You may think that your kitchen counter-top is "clean enough" but if you haven't recently burned away all the little nasties they would just love to colonize your brew spoon.

The way that Gene and I have found to avoid this problem is to just keep our tools in the no-rinse sanitizer solution when we're not using them. He and I both have a PVC pipe that can fit long skinny tools and will hold sanitizer. You could go nuts cleaning all your surfaces or you can just use the bucket, but don't risk your entire batch just because you believe in the 5-second rule.

2. Start simple

My cousin-in-law started with what I would consider a fairly advanced kit involving multiple types of hops which had to be added at multiple points in the process. There's so many little things that could go wrong; the simpler the starting recipe the better. Until you really know how your equipment is going to work, it's best to choose something like an American Ale to proof the system. Buy a kit the first time around, you can try to save money and get fancy with recipes later. This isn't exactly like baking a cake from Betty Crocker (since the final step of baking means you barely even have to wash your hands).

3. Don't over-buy

If you're new to brewing you may want to consider buying the minimum amount of equipment required and adding to it as you gain in experience. You can spend some big bucks on a Kegerator, Lagering Fridge, Beer Gun, HERMS system, etc. but if you overwhelm yourself you're never going to get started. All you really need is a 5 gallon brew pot, primary fermenter, air lock, long spoon, siphon, thermometer, original gravity meter, bottle-capper and kit to get going. None of that stuff is very complicated.

Once you get your process down and know how to clean everything (and transfer the wort between the various pots and barrels) you can add in stuff like a secondary fermenter, bottling bucket, and wort chiller. Ramp up the difficulty so you don't end up with a $500 bottle of beer and a big pile of crap in the garage that you don't want to clean (other than that car you're "fixing up.")

4. Watch the heat carefully

I ruined my last batch of beer because of a problem with heat. If you're doing a full five gallon boil, you probably don't need to worry about the bottom of the grain bag getting a lot hotter than the top; if you're trying to do this on the kitchen stove and are only boiling a portion of the final volume make sure you measure the temperature at the bottom of the pot. When the recipe says not to let the temperature exceed 170 degrees that means that you really don't want your grain bag sitting on top of the electric coil. My beer tastes like old tea, learn from my mistake.

5. Don't be afraid to taste

Finally, this tip is something I learned after posting a question on another blog. When you take a sample to measure the gravity don't return the sample to the fermenter because it's likely contaminated. The half a cup of beer in the sample tube isn't worth the risk, but it is worth a taste. You can catch a lot of problems early on and not waste your time cleaning bottles for a bad batch just by tasting the sample every time you take a reading. It's not going to taste like beer until the very end, but it shouldn't taste bad.

Oddly enough, if you ever try a beer called "Pork Slap" it tastes exactly like wort to me. Anyway, I hope these tips help you on your way to taking up this fun hobby!

Have any tips of your own? Leave me a comment below!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pop Quiz!

Alright everyone. The beer review contest went pretty well, but i still have a few shirts left. My wife came up with a great idea straight out of 7th period math class, a quiz! Use the new blog search bar that you'll find in the upper right corner of our page and scour the blog for answers! Answers will start off easy and get progressively harder.

A Tale Of Two Brewers Quiz!
1) What state does Brewer Gene live in?
2) What state does Brewer Nick live in?
3) What is the date of the first ever post?
4) What is the date of today's post?
5) What was the first beer reviewed?
6) When did Brewer Nick sign on as a co-author?
7) What does HERMs stand for?
8) In Gene's first batch of beer, he forgot to add something. What?
9) Nick's brewing nemesis recently got arrested. What was his name?
10) What was the most frustrating part of Gene's kegerator build?

Ok, this is where we seperate the men from the boys. Extra tough questions.
11) What's Gene's favorite Olympic sport?
12) What's Nick's wife favorite hobby?
13) Using a special tweak Gene fixed the foamyness of his kegerator. How?
14) Gene has an article posted on the net. Where at?

Last but not least the tiebreaker. Creativity and humor is applauded. In the event of a tie I'll look at these answers and pick the one I like best!

15) If you had a grain named after you, what kind would it be and what would it contribute to a beer? (Extra points for a fancy name)

Good luck everyone! Again, you have a month. That puts you at June 3rd! Go! Put the answers down in an email and send off to ataleoftwobrewers@gmail.com! You might win a free shirt!!