We've finally gotten onto a rhythm in our brewing and bottling.
You've probably gotten the look. That look you sometimes get when you tell someone you're a homebrewer -- and you know they view that as someone who makes a lot of booze, cheap. If you're unfortunate, you've had to explain that homebrew is not the equivalent of bathtub gin and you don't have a still hidden in the woods. If you're fortunate, you were regaled with the "funny" tale of Uncle So-and-So, who used to make homebrew and stored the bottles under the porch (for some reason, it's always under the porch), but then one day they all exploded.
I'm always amused at the difference between the perception of homebrewers and the reality. This was drawn into sharp focus last weekend when I gave a talk on water chemistry for the Austin ZEALOTS. Keith Bradley, a longtime ZEALOT and award-winning competitive homebrewer, discussed hosting a water seminar for club members on our Yahoo (email) group and got several positive responses. Debbie Cerda, another ZEALOT, until recently worked at a water treatment facility and volunteered to discuss how our local water is treated. As a former chemistry major, I volunteered to explain a little bit about pH and buffers.
We ended up holding the event at NXNW (an Austin brewpub) at 11 pm on Saturday, and it was "sold out" -- we didn't charge, but the room only held 40 people and we had that many register before hand. Debbie, Keith and I discussed water for 3 hours to a room full of homebrewers who not only stayed awake, but had lots of good questions. Imagine that, 40 homebrewers willing to spend 3 hours of their Saturday learning about water.
Debbie started us off and discussed water treatment in the Austin area and how this affects our water. One part of this was how and why chloramines are used, and how to deal with these as a brewer. I took the second leg and talked about pH and buffers. The take home message of my segment was that you should measure the pH of your mash, your wort as you are running it off and your boiling wort (cool the sample down first), but you don't need to bother to take (or adjust) the pH of your strike water or sparge water. Because wort is much more heavily buffered, the pH of your strike or sparge water doesn't give you any information about what your mash or wort pH is going to be, unless you have worked out a correlation by trial and error (and if so, that information only applies to you). Keith finished things off with a hypothetical look at three beers -- a pale beer, an amber and a dark beer -- and what mineral adjustments you'd need to make to turn Austin water into a suitable brewing liquor. His presentation used John Palmer's spreadsheet to calculate all the possible options....
It seems I can’t brew without making at least one mistake. Is it my poor note-keeping, my short attention span, or the fact that I’m always brewing late at night? Whatever the reason, just about every time out, I do something big or small that adversely affects my brew. There was the time I forgot to put water in my airlock; the time I forgot to put my wort on ice and waited and waited and waited for it to cool on its own. As Napoleon Dynamite would say, “Idiot!”
This time out, there were several knucklehead moves that will likely lead to a finished product that’s slightly “off.” And a handful of little missteps that were just annoying. I learned a few things along the way, however.
I learned that little things are important. Like making sure to open your canisters of liquid malt extract before the moment you need them. This I highly recommend.
As I’ve mentioned, I want my hefeweizen amber-brownish. I’m using Carafa III for that purpose. I threw them in cold water and raised the temperature. My goal was between 150 °F and 160 °F but … I had to put my daughter to bed. Child asleep, I raced downstairs to a faint burnt smell of too-roasted barley. Not what I was going for. Also, I couldn’t remember how long to let them steep. My lame notes from the last time I brewed were useless. So I winged it and left the malt in for 20 minutes. Wort looks awfully dark. Twenty minutes is too long and I should’ve removed it from the heat. Idiot!...
Float is that portion of your kegs that are out in the market. Generally, the number of kegs you need for every tap handle you want to support is somewhere around three or four.
So a couple weeks ago, as I detailed in my previous blog entry, I brewed a tripel. Last weekend, I brewed a quad . . . of sorts. OK, in reality, it was a clone of Four Loko. Yes, the sweet, obnoxiously artificially flavored “malternative” beverage that also contained caffeine, taurine and guanine until it got banned and the company changed the formula.
A great question at this point might be, why the hell would you do such a thing? It’s a long story, but it starts -- where many very, very bad ideas (bacon Randall anyone?) start -- at a ZEALOTS meeting. (The Austin ZEALOTS are my local homebrew club.)
I was talking with a couple fellow ZEALOTS, Dave Ebel and Joe White, and we were wondering if it would be possible to make something like that at home, hypothetically. After discussing it awhile and realizing the technical challenges it would entail, we decided to actually give it a shot. It was a little like seeing a mountain -- we wanted to try it because of the technical challenge. So, in short, making a Four Loko clone became our Everest . . . or, as a friend of mine put it, our horizontal Everest....