Equipment: The Triumph and the Defeat

Last week, Jules and I decided that the time had come to bottle our beer.  This decision was based on the properties of the grains we were working with, and the flavors we were hoping to manifest in our finished product.  I lie-the decision was based on when we accrued enough bottles and had a couple hours free, and a sparkling kitchen to bottle in. For us, this was the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving after picking up pizza across the street for dinner.

Our ‘baby gate’ system for keeping our brewery/kitchen pet free!

Our newest acquisition is our auto siphon, and if I had the talent to do so, I would sing hymns in its honor.  Before, using our gravity siphon and our racking cane involved setting up an elaborate system consisting of our dining room chairs and a yoga block.  Getting it started caused agonies brought on by the specters of watered down beer and unsanitized thumbs. The auto siphon eliminated the need for all of this!

Our delightful siphon delivered in all of its usual glory in transferring the beer from our carboy to the bottling bucket, and we laughed about the psychological trauma we had suffered with our prior siphon as we set the bottling bucket on the counter and retrieved a sanitized bottle from the dishwasher.  Which was when things started to go downhill.

When we bought the autosiphon, we also bought new tubing to complete the setup.  The diameter of the tubing was slightly larger than our original tubing, but the staff at the homebrew store assured us all would be well, and sure enough, the new tubing was totally compatible with all of our equipment for the first two stages of the process.  When bottling, however, the tubing is too large to fit snugly around the spigot of the bottling bucket, or to create a seal on the bottle filler, which basically renders it useless.  Since we had transferred the beer before we checked our equipment (at 9pm. On a holiday weekend.), we didn’t really have any choice but to continue on as best we could.

While we were eventually successful, dear readers, learn from our mistakes! I was stuck sitting on the floor trying to create a seal with my hands on both ends of the tubing as I filled the bottles.  Since I don’t have a third hand, I had to leave the spigot open for the duration, which resulted in quite a bit of spilled beer. Our kitchen and my person were soaked. And since I was stuck on the ground, Julie had to retrieve sanitized bottles, leap over to me to exchange an empty bottle for a full one, cap the full bottle, and repeat- all in the time it took to fill a bottle, or else we had overflow due to my third arm problem.

It was a mess! I think a couple of the kitchen drawers are still stuck together. In the end though, we managed to capture 31 bottles and 4 bombers- which is pretty good considering.  The spiced beer smells great and I can’t wait to try it in another week!

Cheers to learning from experience- and always checking your equipment!!

Festival!

Hello readers!

Colorado makes an appearance at Hoptacular

Sorry I left you hanging there for a few days. Or a couple weeks. But I’m back now! Last Tuesday saw me neglecting posting because I was in Chicago.  One of the reasons I was in Chicago was to attend the annual Beer Hoptacular festival! And, my God, let me tell you.  It was cool to attend a beer festival out of state because Hoptacular featured a number of smaller, regional breweries I had never heard of.  There was some downright delicious beer, like 5 Rabbit Brewery.  Their 5 Lizards sour beer ended up winning the night and my group agreed wholeheartedly with this honor.  A surprising hit was Sam Adams. Yes, the not small, not regional mega brewery Sam Adams.  They brought this crazy sampling of beers that I’ve never seen in stores including a gingerbread beer that smelled like cake, a Chocolate Cricket beer that was reminiscent of Tootsie pops (but in a good way), and a couple light, floral, herby beers that made November in Chicago taste like summer.

There were also great winter appropriate beers with names like Christmas Ale, and Flannel Pajamas. And, as all homebrewers know, it’s a lot of pressure to name a beer! Therefore I was grateful for the suggestions.  Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘Kelsey! I want flannel pajamas beer! Share the name of the brewery!’ And I would love to.  But, I simply don’t remember! There were a lot of breweries, and there was a lot of beer, and the careful notes we were taking in our programs kind of went by the wayside as the three hours wore on.

Which brings me to my next point: Beer Festival Survival!  Wow.  I am pushing thirty, and I need to prepare for wanton drinking in a way I didn’t used to.  So, take my advice:  Eat a couple good meals before you go.  Bring water! I don’t know if this was a unique oversight at this particular festival, but we were dying of thirst halfway through because there was no immediately accessible water at the event.  And the best, most unusual, final point- carb necklaces.  My pal Gretchen, who brought me to the event, had clued me in that we would be making pretzel necklaces to wear to the event.  This was brilliant, amazing, and, since we strung our pretzels on sparkly ribbon- fashionable! The necklaces were a delicious way to hold ourselves over until our post beer-fest grilled cheese sandwich bonanza.  Should you find your self preparing to attend a beer festival, don’t feel the need to limit yourself to just tiny twists.  String some bavarians! Add a bagel or two!  You name it, we saw it at Hoptacular.  Gretchen’s brother-in-law wants to start wearing pretzel necklaces just in the normal life. I say, cheers to new (and practical) fashion statements!

Happy American Thanksgiving to you!

Election Day and some new discoveries

Happy Election Day, U.S. homebrewers!

A review/roundup post today- it’s a busy day, and a busy time of year for ALL of us, I’m sure!

In the fridge:  We’re drinking Deschutes brewery’s Jubelale currently.  We’re on our second six pack/week of it, if you’re looking for total honesty here.  Julie and I are both big fans of seasonal beers, and I’ve been looking forward to this one since last year!  Plus, they come in the type of bottles we need to save for our homebrew- bonus!

Homebrew Tip:  Have you trained all of your friends to save their (non twist off) bottles for you yet? We’ve been trying to put the word out since we started brewing, and it’s really paying off!  I made out like a bandit with empties from a friend’s birthday party this weekend (Thanks, Tessa and Kyle!).  It helps that this friend’s fiancée is a beer guy, so he gladly accepts homebrew in exchange for his empties.  Kyle also exposed me to some new beer this weekend…

Discoveries:  Kyle also gave me a glass of the New Belgium/ Alpine Brewing Company collaboration, the Super IPA.  I was a skeptic, because I’m not jumping on the hops for the sake of hopping it bandwagon.  To me, it’s like atomic chicken wings.  I can show how I’m totalllllly cool by downing something so spicy that there’s no flavor left, or I can dial it down a few notches and enjoy it.  Same with really really really hoppy beer.   I can drink it, but I don’t love it, and really, I like to taste all the flavors in my beer, as opposed to a hop scorcher.   In the end, I was glad Kyle persuaded me on the Super IPA because it was a delicious, smooth, complex IPA. I may or may not have procured my own bomber of it yesterday.  I’m giving a lot of credit to the presence of my much-adored Amarillo hops- I can’t wait to add some of that grapefruity goodness to our next batch of homebrew!

Ky also showed me his precious, single bottle (bottle- not bomber) of the Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA.  We didn’t open it this weekend (he’s waiting for the right moment) but I’m going to go ahead and hold on to my skepticism on this one.  15-20% ABV and 120 IBUs- phew!  I’ll get his review on it, when he finds the perfect moment. If you try it, let us know what you think too!

Here’s where you can learn more about the beers I’m rambling about, and find out how to get some of your own!

Deschutes’ Jubelale

New Belgium/ Alpine Brewing Company’s Super IPA

Dogfish Head’s 120 minute IPA

Finally- don’t forget to vote today.  And all you lady homebrewers remember, women weren’t ‘given’ the vote, a bunch of strong, courageous women fought for us to have that right.  Let’s get out there and use it!  Cheers to civil rights for all- and the beer all of us can use to make it through a contentious election day!

Experimenting

Wort, getting spicy!

When we started making our first beer, I knew we were going to go with a brown. I knew we were going to go with a kit, because I was too scared not to. We followed the clearly written, specific directions in the kit to the letter, and ended up with a fairly lovely beer.  The first sip of it is… strange.  It benefits from warming up a little, rather than being straight out of the fridge.  It is very low in alcohol content.   But from the third sip on, it’s pretty delicious.  Friends were surprised by it’s deliciousness, the compliments we received were incredulous and funny. Our neighbor texted me to say, “It tastes storebought!” and followed that up with “And I mean that in a good way!!!”

Emboldened by the success of Oliver’s City of Dreams Ale, we went in a new direction with our second batch. We tried a new store for supplies: Barley Haven in Lakewood.  It’s very different than the Bald Brewer.  It’s larger, and has a big chalkboard with changing suggested recipes, as opposed to boxed kits.  The center of the store is lined with bins of grains and add-ins, and it’s fun to open them up and smell the differences. When you’ve decided on a recipe, you just let a store employee know and he’ll bag up everything you need to complete it! Jules wanted something ‘spicy and fall’ this time around, and we’d been toying with a pumpkin beer.  However we’d been drinking Blue Moon’s seasonal sampler at home and their caramel apple beer very pleasantly surprised us. It wasn’t as sweet as we’d feared- the ‘caramel’ in the name referred to a caramel malt.  The gentleman at the store took this information, and Julie’s enthusiasm for the cider press in Barley Haven and suggested a spice beer.  We would take one of the store’s suggested fall beers (another Oktoberfest, but this one with different malt and a different hop schedule), and add some spices to the wort.

We did a partial mash this batch as opposed to extract brewing,  and it took longer, but I liked the process. We added a cinnamon stick and some cloves, and the sterilized peel of an orange to the end of the boil.  We strained out the spices when we put the wort into the primary, but left the orange peel.  I also replaced a half-gallon or so of water with apple cider.

We’re not sure yet how this experiment is going to pan out! This beer is still in the secondary.  My biggest concerns were if all of the extra sugar was going to make the beer more prone to spoilage, but it smelled like beer when I transferred it to the secondary. It also smells really spicy.  We’re going to let this one have a long aging process, in hopes that those flavors will…mature.  Yeah.

In the meantime, I’m adding some empties of Deschute’s Jubelale to our bottling collection, and hopefully we’ll get this baby bottled in the next week or so.  Keep your fingers crossed- cheers to exploring the unknown!

Field Trip: Left Hand Brewery and Tasting Room

The Left Hand Brewery is about an hour away from our house in Denver, so we usually need some outside impetus to make the trek out there.  When we got a free pumpkin coupon in our produce delivery last week, (I know, that sounds like the most pretentious sentence ever, but if you live in Colorado for awhile this starts to seem normal, peeps take the produce sarioslah out here) with a Longmont redemption requirement, we’d found our impetus!

I like Left Hand’s beers.  Depending on the day, I like them a lot.  Their Milk Stout on a nitrogen tap is a dream- It’s one Julie’s favorite beers, period. However, I really like Left Hand’s brewery and tasting room.  The space is great- big, open walls out to the patio and a view of the Rockies that you can practically touch.  The front yard features Cornhole and a shuffleboard table. The indoor bar is small, I’d cozy, and if you get there early, has a local dive bar feel to it.  Or it would, if dive bars were clean, sunny, and served delicious craft beer.  Really, on a warm Monday afternoon in October in Colorado, I’d be happy drinking water in that setup.

Mmmmmmm- delicious Milk Stout

But it gets better, because there’s beer! I went for a glass of their Ambidextrous II, which was smoky, and brown, and a little sweet, and a little strange, and those are things I like in a beer. And some people. But I digress.  Jules stuck with her nitro Milk Stout, but the beer man convinced her to try the cask conditioned Milk Stout too, and that was also good- although we felt the texture lacked in comparison.  We also sampled their Back to Black IV, and their Oktoberfest.  I thought the Oktoberfest especially was a standout for the type.  It was also fun to try since we just opened our first batch of beer- a brown Oktoberfest lager.  The homebrewing experience changed the tasting practice of similar style beers for me. I felt like I could identify certain tastes in the finished beer that I remembered from similar smells during the brewing process. And, most exciting, I could also taste some similarities between the beers- homebrew success!!

Our final taster of the day was the Wake Up Dead stout, and I think it was the standout.  It’s delicious; we compared it to the beer version of port with its dark chocolate and raisin flavors.  It’s a high alcohol beer, prompting our favorite bartender quote of the day.  We mentioned that the beer was good, but that the taster size glasses seemed to be a pretty optimal serving.  The bartender replied, “Yeah, if you drink a full pint of that, you’re going to be changing your plans for the rest of the day.” So, naturally, we bought a bomber of it for Thanksgiving.  I think it fits into our plans for the day nicely.

Cheers to sunshine and shuffleboard!

Start Up

Our first post! I’m sorry I’m not a more consistent blogger yet, I need to get into the groove here. Let’s start: Welcome to the Ladies’ Homebrew Society! We’ll do another post about why we felt the LHBS was necessary, but for today, I want to talk about equipment. Because if you are reading this, and you’re not already homebrewing, I want you to be!

I was fortunate to have my friend and homebrewing mentor, Cookie, walk me through the homebrew store on my first visit.  I was feeling intimidated because I wasn’t sure what I really needed, and what somebody might be trying to just add on to raise the price of the kit.  Cooks also helped me to determine that even though homebrew start up kits often advertised that they were complete open-the-box-and-get-brewin packages, they did not include really important items.  Like a pot. The big pot is key.  In case you don’t have a homebrewing bestie like mine to get you started, here’s what we went with:

 -The two plastic bucket ‘Ale Pail’ setup.  One of these buckets has a spigot for bottling.  One does not.  These also came with a bucket lid with a hole for our

-Airlock

-Sanitizer.  Our kit came with LD Carlson Easy Clean No Rinse Cleaner (which I really like).

-A racking cane

-A siphon

-A hydrometer

-A stick on thermometer (that I couldn’t figure out how to use. I might be slow.)

-A bottle filler

-A capper

-and a bottle brush

 

On Cookie’s advice, and that of the books I got from the library, we also added:

 -The big, aluminum pot (check restaurant supply stores)

-A thermometer (that I could figure out- also from the restaurant supply store)

-A glass carboy and the drilled stopper for the carboy.

-A gallon jug of water, because beer measurements often require a few gallons of water and I don’t have a measuring cup that large, so I reuse my empty jug.

 We also got a beer kit from the homebrew store that had the ingredients, the recipe, the caps, and the priming sugar for our first batch. All told, I walked out of the homebrew store that day with all of my gear for about $200.  We spent another $50 at the restaurant supply store.

 Let’s take a moment to talk about your neighborhood homebrewing store. Our equipment and our first recipe came from The Bald Brewer in Longmont, who is amazing.  Mark answered all my questions about the various pieces of equipment, about the beer recipe I chose, and taught me about different yeast strains and did not talk down to me.  I appreciated that, because, while I’m new at this, I’m not stupid. This is a quality you should really prioritize in a homebrew store, especially if you are a member of the LHBS, because you’re not stupid either! And if your shopkeeper makes you feel like you are, or perhaps makes you feel like being a gal and being a homebrewer makes you a crazy and/or unwelcome anomaly, then that’s not the store for you. Or your two hundred dollars.

 Cheers to standing out in the crowd!