Monday, January 24, 2011

Brown Ale is On Tap!!!

Literally!  On tap.  My house.  And I built it.  Finally got everything squared away and ready for a test keg when Stuart from Breckenridge Brewery unexpectedly called to tell me that he talked the brewers into filling a keg of their Ballpark Brown Ale for me and it was sitting in their cooler with my name on it.  I say unexpectedly, as I talked to him about a week ago, and he told me that he had no idea when he would have some Brown available.  I asked Stuart to give me a call when it came in.  I really had no faith in him.  I figured him very differently.  I was dead wrong.  He was nice enough to talk someone into filling a keg and getting back to me.  That is a lot of service for one 5 gallon keg!  So, I got my keg of brown on Saturday, and bought some longer hose to better balance the system.  Happy belated birthday to ME!
A balanced system is where the pressure applied equals the volumes of co2 in the beer at the set temperature, and the beer pours nicely (no foaming).  The trick is to have the hose (3/16" choker at approx. 3 pounds of pressure per foot of length) length equalize the pressure so the beer comes out as beer, not foam.  It isn't an exact science (although it should be) as corrections have to happen for altitude (in my case +/-5000 feet), height of faucet above keg, pressure variations, temperature variations, etc.  My theoretical hose length should be about 5 foot long, and I am using 8 feet.  Go figure.
I only have one complaint.  To get a beautiful pour, you have to pour the cold beer from the keg, so I have to run a little of the first beer out (as waste, which breaks my heart) or have foamy beer.   Anyway, I have a guest beer on tap, and my own beer will be available in about a week.

I had the thought of putting a Breckenridge sticker over the Lite Beer tap handle, but I couldn't find one....I had a Colorado Brewers Guild one that will have to do for now as inspiration.

Total Costs: Freezer $80 on Craigslist
Wood: $0, Redwood bedframe found in alley
20 lb Co2 tank, regulator, Coupler, beer faucet and Lite Beer tap handle $50 after buying a Kegerator for $100 and selling the fridge for $50.  New hoses, fittings, Co2 splitter, cleaners, and ball lock keg, $100, additional hardware for kegerator $30, 5 gallons of Ballpark Brown Ale from Breckenridge, $36 (with American Homebrewer's Association discount). Temp Controller: $80  Total: about $380.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brewday Aborted!

Another thing I have never done is bail out on a brew day, that is, until today.  We had planned on a bottling run and brewing the Oktoberfest (ok call it a Marzen), but at 11:30am, with 5 gallons in my new keg and no bottles capped, we called it off.  Also, at 11:30am it was cold and windy, so the prospects of spending the next six hours outdoors wasn't sounding so much like fun.
Instead, we finished our brew kettle repairs/modifications and have an almost, nearly, totally, functional system.  I think we need some more silicone hose to operate the heat exchanger, (oh, and another pump would be nice).

So, no, we didn't use our $600 water boiling pot.  We never even lit the burners, but we should was chilly out in the garage while working on the kettles.

On the bright side, I kegged my first beer, and my impression is that it is a 20 minute endeavor...if I get the keggerator done correctly, I may never cap another bottle ever again....actually, that is not true.  I am certain that I will elect to bottle some special or aged beers.

Today, and lately, I have been wishing that I spent more time in high school in the industrial arts wing.  Yes, my high school had a whole area devoted to the trades.  I was down there for photography classes (a lot of good that does me).  I am wishing I took metal shop and welding, and woodwoorking....of course, I still have all of my fingers, and am not sure that would be the case if I did.  Why in the hell did I take 4 literature classes?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Sure it isn't a very inventive title, but it is the single most expensive thing outside of a car and a home that I own....and only half of it is truly mine.  I got this Hot Liquor Tank via UPS today.  The tank is nice, and I am glad to have it, but truthfully, I feel a little guilty as I believe this kettle was made outside of the United States.  This explains its lower cost, and the Chinese writing on the handle of the valve.  Still, I can't wait to fire this puppy up (literally).  I am mad at UPS, however.  UPS does not allow you to "schedule" a delivery, and in this case, they couldn't leave it, leaving me no choice but to go pick it up.  Also, if you ever call their customer service..... you are calling f-ing India.

Getting my new brewing toy hasn't put me in a good enough mood to not bitch about everything, however.  I am in a foul mood with various things.  Let me air my grievences.

1. I stopped into a chain Irish Pub for a beer the other day.  It was during one of the playoff games and it was packed.  I ordered a Dale's Pale ALE.  The bartender brought it to me in a girly Sam Adams glass.  At first I figured that she might have been out of glasses, then I noticed that even all the women drinking beer had nice American Pints (tumblers) or British Pint glasses.  Needless to say, I sent it back and then walked out when the bartender made a face at me.  I would guess she is not a Cicerone.  DON'T SERVE AN ALE IN A GIRL GLASS.  I will not accept a flute, a pilsner glass, and definately not a girly Sam glass for an Ale.  I barely tolerate a Sam Adams in the Sam Glass.

2. I was trying to get my hands on a 5 gallon keg of craft beer to christen my keggerator.  No dice.  Brekenridge Brewery didn't have anything I wanted in 5 gallon kegs.  I almost bought 5 of their Avalance just to have something....but I just had my heart set on their Ballpark Brown Ale.  This just makes me sad.

3. I bought all of the specialty grain for our Oktoberfest from the LHBS.  It was my fault, but I broke the bag in the front seat of my car....and malted barley went everywhere....luckily, mostly on the floor of the passenger seat, which is the cleanest spot in the car.  I was able to salvage most of it.

Well, life could be worse.  I hope the weather is nice for brewing on Saturday.  I need to keg some beer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wild, Wild West

I know of more than a few new breweries that are supposed to be coming on line in Denver in 2011.  Here is an article about another.  I remember the time in the mid to late 1990's that there were many new breweries....and then there weren't.  Some would say that this time business is more beer (quality and variety) driven instead of marketing driven, and that consumers are more savvy.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the brewers and businessmen are any smarter.  It still takes a combination of capital, marketing, and good beer to be successful.  The beer's quality is probably the least important of the three.

As a reminder, while craft beer has had year over year growth, the craft industry is still in the single digits of the overall beer market.

I still believe that I could make a go at brewing, but I would like to see if there is a flood of brewery equipment on the market in 3-5 years.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nine is Not Ten - 2010 in Review

In the beginning of 2010, I made the resoulution to brew more in 2010 than I did in 2009.  You can read about it here.  I brewed nine times in 2009, and you guessed it, I brewed 9 times and posted 77 times in 2010.  Self loathing was a challenging year for the family brewery, we tried a number of new things, added equipment, and changed a lot of process.  Let's take a look at the beers:

January: American Pale Ale
There really wasn't any complaint about this beer.  It was a fine example of the style, but it is a style that is both well represented and one that is not one that I crave.  It is a simple beer, but one that is difficult to pull off correctly.  With the availability of Sierra Nevada, Dale's, Upslope's and others....the big question is, Why bother?

January: Oktoberfest.
I had the last of these at Christmas, 11 months after brewday.  It is part of our Window Well Series.  Each year, we do only one lager, and we ferment it in the window well of my brother's basement in January or February, and truth be told, I like lagers less than ales (so why bother).  Until last year, that was the closest thing to temperature control we had outside of our 62-68 degree basements.  We picked a cold snap last year to start our ferment and it took about a month to complete, but it was well worth the time. The beer itself was well received by novice and professional alike.  We were considering doing a different style for 2011 (like a Bock), but we loved the Oktoberfest so much, it may become a regular seasonal in the family brewery.

March: Scottish Wee Heavy
We had a lot of debate about this much or if any peat smoked malt to add.  I wanted less, my brother wanted more.  Style expert, Jamil Zainasheff in his book Brewing Classic Styles advocates none.  We wanted to use some as it is an ingredient we never used before.  We compromised between what I wanted and what my brother wanted.  The flavor profile of the smoked malt was too strong at the start, tapered off in the middle, and by the end of the batch it seemed to reassert itself (perhaps as other flavor components degraded and subsided).  Now I am in the same camp with JZ.  Next time, I would use none.  Other people liked this beer (some hated it, though) and more than one offered to pay to have this made for them.  I liked it, but would like it more without the smoked malt.  I figure we will get around to this beer again.

April: Belgian Wit
Our first foray into the Belgians.  It was excellent, until the last bottles that were kept past their freshness date.    I would do it again.  I also owe this beer shipped to friends, so I guess I better plan on it.

June: Blonde Ale.  
A traditional summer seasonal, last year's version was an all malt version.  We had been experimenting with corn and other adjuncts, but I like the all malt version we made in 2010 better.  I am not crazy about the style as it is so much easier just to buy a good version of a Blonde or a cheap American Lager for a hot summer's day, but it is really appreciated when you want one.  This one probably stays in the rotation for 2011, but I would probably opt to go with a Belgian Golden or Strong Ale given the option.

June: Watermelon Wheat. My nephew really got into brewing with us this year.  Prior to this year, he was only a little interested (all kids like bottling).  It is nice to think that my brother and I still do something that is cool enough to teach kids....but I think it has more to do with either the fact that he is now in college (that's what college kids do, drink beer) at Colorado State, or he has realized that we are old and we could die at any moment.  I will continue to delude myself that what I am doing is cool.  As for the beer, I think that this was a big fail, but it happened to be my nephew's favorite beer (edit: as my brother reminded me, some people liked it enough to offer to pay for it...but some people pay for Miller High doesn't make it good) I said, he is still learning, but he got a fair amount of it as a result.  I had to choke it down.  So, if I have my preference, we will skip the fruit beer this year, but we may not.  

August: Brown Ale  It is hard for me to believe that we didn't brew between June and late August.  The Brown Ale is a favorite of mine.  We have been working on this recipe for about 4 or 5 years, and I think we finally got it very close to its final.  We started with an American Brown Ale and over the years, have scaled it back and re-Anglosized it.  We still use American hops, a little toned down, and switched back to an English yeast.  Although, sometimes I crave the meaty-earthy East Kent hops.  This year, I will be itching to brew something in the brown family and keep it on tap (literally).  I have interests in trying a Mild Ale from the 1800's (which is more London Brown).

November: West Coast Red  The WCR or West Coast Red is our interpretation of the style.  It will never win any awards as an American Amber if I call it a WCR, but it started life as a Irish/American Red Ale and when I had a bounty of fresh cascade hops they got packed into this beer.  The beer is not as strong or bitter as a real Westie, which is more of an amber IPA, but it has plenty of hop flavor and aroma that burns bright and fades quickly as the beer ages.  Last year, I grew my own hops for this endeavor.  This year, I should have a bigger crop (1st year crops are notoriously low yielding).  Last year, the beer got a wicked haze and finished with an unusually high finish gravity.  Yeast problems and cleanliness is my diagnosis.  I hope I am right.

November: Porter  The porter got racked onto the WCR's yeast cake.  It is still improving with age now, even though it is nearly gone.  The porter was less smooth and a little more acrid than last year.  I would have had the same yeast, process, and cleanliness issues as the WCR to blame, but I also used a different yeast than last year.  We will have to make that switch back to see if both the WCR and Porter are improved.

Well, that is the year in review.  I have been tinkering with our equipment, but really won't start to see results until this year.  I need to take pictures of everything and get them up.

As always, thank you for sharing my experiences with me.  If you are new to the blog this year, welcome.  If you are in Denver, come over for a beer sometimes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Almost Done!

I have been working on my kegorator now for a few hours a night, and I am happy to report that I am nearly done.  I will have pictures as soon as I get a keg into it...

For now, I have so many questions...there are two ways to go about learning anything.  The right way, and the cowboy way....guess which path I am on?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Coming Full Circle

After posting the article about the almost 11 ounce glass, I decided to get myself a beer.....I have two tasting glasses that I got from a tasting event that I volunteered for a few years ago, and as of late I have been using them for most of my beer drinking despite the fact that they do not hold a full 12 ounce bottle of beer.  This got me wondering how much they do I filled the glass with water, and poured it into a Pyrex measuring cup.  The total volume is somewhere between 10 and 12 ounces.  Precisely a schooner of beer.  Lo and behold!  I own two schooners!

These glasses, which I have been calling a half pint, have been part of the reason that I have desired building a keg system.  I would prefer to pour myself this volume over a full pint, and therefore, am wasting a few ounces of beer (not that I don't drink it, so not exactly wasted, but a few ounces of beer less desired) each time I open a bottle.

So, I come full circle and wholeheartedly endorse the Schooner as a unit of beer measure in British Pubs....interestingly, with a nice head (which is hearsay in British Pubs), the Schooner actually holds about 1/2 Imperial Pint.

Got this from my brother today.  It is an article about the British Government introducing the Schooner, as a unit of measure for a beer.  The British Government already requires pubs to serve standard measures of beer in a pint or half pint.  I don't know if that unit of measure is really what I call an Imperial Pint (20 ounces) or a Standard Pint (16 Ounces).  I reckon a standard pint, because the that would make the half pint 8 ounces.  The new measurement is from Australia and is 2/3 of a pint (or a little over 10 1/2 ounces) what would be the point if the 1/2 imperial pint is 10 ounces?

I have never been to Britain, but the 1/2 pint is used in many places in California, and I like the smaller size, especially for sampling bigger beers.  Therefore, I am all in favor of a Schooner size as long as the glass isn't a girly pilsner flute.  If I find one to buy, I will have to "try" it out.  Otherwise, a half pint is cool with me.