A blorg about brewing beer and writing songs

24 Nov. 2009

Woe to me

I'm very proud of my beer. I've never lost a brew. Every keg of beer I've tapped has been drinkable and, often, delicious. That all changed on Sunday; a day of unseasonably high temperatures (it got up to 40 degrees). A day that I will forever remember as Sour Sunday.

You see, I'd been attempting to make a particularly fine beer. I made it from pure pale malt, which I sparged multiple times to extract as much malty sugars as was possible. I used no bittering hops at all, as I wanted the hopping to be fresh and aromatic, with a summery vibration. I fermented carefully using some fine californian ale yeast. When the fermentation was done my hydrometer told me I had created a brew with a sturdy 10% alcoholic content. I was well-pleased. I kegged up the beer and lowered a sterilised bag, full of aromatic hops into it to sit for a few days, gathering flavour like a mother gathers her young up to her teets.

Then Sunday hit, and at some point before my heat-addled brain thought to move the keg into the fridge my lovingly crafted brew turned to vinegar. I don't really blame it, sitting in our house (the doors closed tight to keep out the heat, but still sweltering at 35 degrees) my mood had also gone acidic. If anything my brew was a mirror to myself, quickly turning sour in the face of the relentless Australian sun.

I'm clinging to a dwindling shred of hope that I can save my brew of it's tangy fate. I've been scouring google, but to no avail. Just now I have sent off some emails to a few homebrew experts who might be able to help me. Perhaps there is some way to neutralise the vinegar and return the flavour of my beloved brew in time for the entertaining I'd planned around it's fruition.

Regardless of the outcome, it seems that little today can lift the weights from my heavy heart.

23 Nov. 2009

I'm gonna do it by myself (sometimes)

In lieu of any new music or beer (both are currently fermenting), I had this idea to write a blog post about the concept of doing things for yourself, going back to first principals and learning how things work. Even if you don't always do it yourself, you get an appreciation for how it should happen. The formation of this idea was closely followed by a warning from my inner self-critic (a rare event!) informing me that I should have a look around before I shoot my mouth off. Turns out that DIY culture is at least as old as my parents and, these days, is tightly associated with "punk"-like counter culture.

So wikipedia helped me dodge a bullet there and I got to thinking instead about how little I want to be associated with a subculture or scene. I had my fill of subcultures when I was a teenager and it's made me suspicious of the kind of exuberance often displayed by proponents of otherwise interesting things like bike-maintenance, dumpster diving or guerrilla-anything. Like old man Buddha, I'll look for the middle path, not that I'd ever want to be associated with Buddhism.

Some things, like beer and music, suit a DIY methodology so well that it seems silly to rely on other people to make them for me. Other things, like computer memory sticks, I'm quite happy to let someone else have a go at on my behalf. I'm pretty sure that if it came down to it, I'd fail at making my own memory sticks.

I don't want to write a blog post unless I have learned something new. So I guess what I have learned today is that I'm a ignorant of modern punk culture, that I'm hesitant to sign up to any pre-defined lyfestyle movement and that despite all of this I still love to make my own shit.

5 Nov. 2009

Chocolate Stout

There was a time when if you happened to walk into my house on a weekend you'd likely smell some sweet barley aromas and see me bent over a large blue esky with a sack of barley on my shoulder. We got kicked out of that house a year ago and I hadn't made a proper beer since. Now a coopers homebrew kit is cheap as chips and makes a drinkable beer, but you can never hold up a chilled glass of that stuff and feel a swell in your chest cause all you really did was follow the instructions. This had to change and so a few weeks ago I made an order with the good people at Dave's Homebrew to organise a nice, big bag of grain and some other goodies delivered to my door, then I got busy making some real beer.

This tasty beverage is my first all grain mash in exactly a year, according to my beer diary. I keep a record of every beer I make, noting the recipe. I spent a long time honing two beers down to just how I wanted them, a cream stout and a lemongrass ale. Coming back into it, though, I wanted to mix it up a little so I decided to make a hoppy chocolate stout.

Most commercial stouts are pretty mild in flavour but I've been really enjoying some extra hoppy beers lately (in particular, Matilda Bay's Fat Yak) and I wanted to keep on drinking them from my own keg. So I set out to make the perfect chocolate stout. This is what I love about the DIY approach, you can create things just the way you imagine they should be, rather than relying on someone else's judgement of what the market wants (which invariably leads to the lager plague!).

My mash was made up of flaked barley, chocolate malt and pale malt, plenty of stouty flavours in there.

Barley for stout making Ready to mash

I'm pretty unsophisticated when it comes to the mash. Just a single grain infusion for two hours. Then out comes the sugary brown liquid. I drank a cup of it straight from the tub, all sweet and malty, and admired the wort as it boiled and turned green with bittering hops.

Draining the wort Draining the wort Boiling wort

The new warm weather has made fermentation easy, in our slate-covered laundry it stays around 24 degrees most of the time. The perfect temperature for the californian ale yeast that I love so much. The brew took about 2 weeks to bubble right out and then went down into the keg with the finishing hops for a second in-keg fermentation. I let it sit there gathering flavour for a few more days until I couldn't wait any longer. I connected up the keg to the gas line to pressurise on Tuesday, then tapped the keg on Wednesday. What happened next was not an immediate success and the first of several lessons I learned that night. The finishing hops I'd added did not dissolve into the mix as I had imagined, they simply formed a mealy green layer at the bottom of the keg and completely clogged the lines as soon as I tried to pour from them. This took a little work to fix with my wife helping me strain from one keg into another through a layer of muslin. We lost most of the fiz that way (not a huge loss, but still).

After a lot of lifting, moving and wiping up spilt beer we finally had a pourable brew!

Ground Stout Chocolate Stout

Turns out that the beer was delicious and weighing in at 5.6% alcohol it is not to be taken lightly. I held back a bit on the finishing hops, so it didn't really come out as hoppy as I hoped, but that was probably a bonus as the chocolate tones are also quite subtle and the balance of flavours is pretty much perfect. And now all there is to do is sit back and enjoy my tasty, tasty chocolate stout.