Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Brewing, and another try at live blogging...

Today is a brew day, and I'm going to live blog it for thoese of you out there stuck at work. I'll be working from home during the brew, trying to figure out if extra-marital affairs of the over 55 population correlate to religion. I tried this before -- the blogging, not the old-people sex -- with limited succcess. I got bored and thought the post was getting pretty boring as well. This time I'll try to toss in some antecdotes, some pictures and some better descriptions.

The beer turned out crappy, by the way, due to my fucking up with the yeast. See, I had hoped to pitch on a yeast cake, but it was a low flocculent yeast, and I was worried about pitching essentially onto the remains of the last beer, as a cake hadn't really formed well. So I pitched an un-expanded pack of Wyeast, as I didn't want to expand it and waste it. Now I know an expanded pack lasts for weeks in the freezer- so I'll do that next time.

Here is today's recipe, my first with Beer Smith. [Sidebar: I'm really pleased with Beer Smith] 

Style: Special/Best/Premium Bitter
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0) 

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.25 gal      
Boil Size: 7.32 gal
Estimated OG: 1.042 SG
Estimated Color: 9.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 28.4 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount        Item                                      
6 lbs 8.0 oz  Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM)
12.0 oz         Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (60.0 SRM)
8.0 oz        Wheat, Torrified (1.7 SRM)
6.0 oz           Victory Malt (25.0 SRM)
1.00 oz         Williamette [4.80 %]  (60 min)
0.50 oz        Willamette [4.30 %]  (Dry Hop 7 days)
0.50 oz         Williamette [4.80 %]  (30 min)
0.50 oz         Williamette [4.80 %]  (10 min)
0.26 tsp       Irish Moss (Boil 15.0 min)
1.00 gm       Salt (Mash 60.0 min)
2.00 gm       Baking Soda (Mash 60.0 min)
5.00 gm       Epsom Salt (MgSO4) (Mash 60.0 min)
22.00 gm    Gypsum  (Mash 60.0 min)
Yeast           London Ale (Wyeast Labs #1028) [Starter 500ml ]

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body
Total Grain Weight: 8.13 lb
Single Infusion, Medium Body
Step Time     Name               Description                         Step Temp     
60 min        Mash In             Add 9.99 qt of water at 168.3 F     152.0 F       
10 min        Mash Out           Add 6.00 qt of water at 200.7 F     168.0 F       

We'll fly sparge with about 5 gallons of 168F water. Nothing has happened yet, but I'll keep updating this post throughout the day, maybe with some pictures. Right now I'm waiting for my brewing buddy to show up, then we'll clean, organize and get the mash on.

11am- still haven't started brewing. I'm trying to dial in my system a bit more. just under 5" is 5 gallons, and 5 3/8" is 5.75 gallons, which should get me 5.25 gallons with .5 gallon of trub left in the pot, I hope. Today I'll shoot for 6" of beer.  I'm guessing with my boil off I need *about* 7 gallons to start. This should let me boil off just over a gallon of wort during my boil (maybe more, beersmith calculates I need 7.38 gallons). That measurement is just over 6.5 (7 gallons). I'll shoot for 6.5" to boil down to just over 5" of beer. This should let me get a nice 5 gallons-ish. For mash, 2 gallons is 2", 2.5 gallons is 2.5".

We mashed in 8#6oz of grain with 10qts of 168F water, which turned out to be a hair high, due to my monkeying with beersmith. I'm getting drastically varying readings, as the mash tun is barely 1/4 full, so the top and bottom of the mash have very different temps (6F difference). 5 minutes in our mash we were at 155F, 15 in we were are 152, and 30 min in we are still at 152F. We're going to start getting our 5 gallons up to 178F (the HLT eats about 10F), so we can sparge at 168F. After an hour we'll try to get our 6qts up to 200F for the mashout, definitely needed with the short grain bed today.

Well, the water is up for mashout and sparge, but the grain hasn't converted after almost two hours. I forgot to put a coat on the cooler, which I usually do. Between that and some intentional heat loss earlier due to a high mash in, It got down to the mid 140s. I just added a quart of boiling water to try and get the temp back up to around 152, then I'll sit it for another 10 minutes. I'll then mash out as discussed earlier and hope it works out. Next time, I'll trust the computer! Gah!

First wort is 1.032 at 146F = 1.050. 
We'll run out between 6.5 and 7" of wort (around 7 to 7.5 gallons) and will boil down to 6 gallons. I figure we'll have .75 loss in deadspace in the bottom of the kettle (trub)... We put 7" (7.5 gallons) into boil. Cock-up of the day, I hold the ruler up with a magnet, which I just dropped into the bottom of my metal, ferrous, stainless steel pot. Ha!

Alright, so I've got the wort about boiling. The gravity going into the pot was 1.037, so I have 90% efficency from the mash into the pot. That's pretty awesome, but I lose a ton of efficency in the boil because I can't get enough heat on it. Yeast issue now- I have 2 starters going, a scottish yeast and an old 1028 that I stored. The 1028 is from the fall, the scottish from the winter. I tasted both (they've been fermenting for like a week). The Scottish tastes bland, but the English tastes like rubber. So I'm not sure what to do, continue making the bitter and pitch it onto Scottish, use the English anyway, or change over to making a scottish (one hop addition and kettle carmalize a gallon / gallon and a half... I'm thinking just go to scottish, the base is similar, if this is a tad too adjuncty for a scottish...

Alright. We've decided to scrap the english yeast. It tastes like rubber and is probably beyond dead, despite its fermenting out. Luckily, and historically, the Scottish 70/ is akin to an English bitter with Scottish water and scottish yeast, less hops and more carmel. Well, we just ran out of English yeast, so our English bitter is a scottish ale. DODGE AND WEAVE PEOPLE, KEEP UP, KEEP UP! So, same recipe. One hop addition of .75oz of Willamette for 60 min. I've got a 5qts burning away on another pot, we'll let it go as we cool the main beer down, hoping it will carmelize down to around .5 gallons by the time the rest of the beer is cool. Then we'll cool that, put it in, take a gravity reading and move along. I'd like to thank the English for letting me down again! Bah! So, accidental Scottish ale, welcome into being. Sure, we were drunk on bad rye beer when we went into that mini-golf windmill, but we made something beautiful. Hell, my last accident (a scottish ale turned porter) took a medal in a new brewer category. So, Scotland, he're to sloppy creation and wonderful accidents!

Got 5 gallons, pitched yeast at a little over 70F. We got 89% efficency out of the grains!! but only  70% out of the system, meaning that our boiling isn't working right. We are either getting to low of a heat from the stove to get a rolling boil, or something else. I'm thinking we might need to boil with the lid part-way on to keep the heat in. Having the extra pot might have limited our boil temp too. 

Pitched a yeast slurry- the beer on top of the starter was pretty tasty and smoky. The wort was good and had some nice nuttiness thanks, I think, to the victory. The wort wasn't very sweet due to the low temp, but had a nice color and taste. Next time I won't be so afraid of the carmel and will be sure to further insulate the mash tun (doubly stupid as there is a coat hook and a coat behind where the tun goes. It sucks about the yeast, thankfully I had a backup and tasted before the hop additions. I think we saved ourselves here- but I clearly need to get the mash temp stuff down and trust my calculations. A good brew day, and hopefully it'll ferment out for kegging on Friday, for a party Sunday (a stretch, I know).

Fermentation Friday - Cheese it! It's the fuzz!

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Old phrase. It has its origins in ancient Hebrew, someone who may or may not be full of shit once claimed. But the expression has more than age to lend it credibility. Science, practical experience, and riding the bus all bear this out. Letting sanitation slip is something you'll pay for in the end. Let your car stay dirty, it'll be more prone to rusting. Let your body get dirty, and you get hit on by Brad Pitt. Let food you're cooking get dirty, and some guy with mutton chops projectile vomits chicken fried steak into a stranger's yard as his car sits with blinkers on in the middle of the road. But in the home brewing world, being dirty can lead to even more horrific results.

Now, Paddy and I are pretty careful when it comes to cleaning our brewing equipment. We dish out the no-rinse pretty generously, and even give it a rinse with hot water after that, in spite of the product's name. It's served us well, other than the fact that it will most certainly kill both of us in some rare or possibly even as-yet-undiscovered way. Every time we open the container, the powder becomes airborn, and we invariably inhale some of it. It can't be good for us.

But even with being so cautious and clean, there have still been some failures related to sanitation. Three stick out in my mind.

Ginger beer. Beer with ginger. Simple idea, right? It was an interesting experiment we'd hoped would lead to epic drunkenness. We essentially brewed up a really light beer with a shitload of ginger in it. 2 weeks later, we had something surprisingly interesting, but it lacked the sweetness we had hoped for. So we decided to blend in some sugars and let it sit for awhile. A quick sample spiked with sugar seemed to confirm this was the way to go. So we heated up a small amount of water on the stove, and began stirring in various sugars. The water was at a simmer. I asked if we should boil it, and Paddy said "Nah, it'll dissolve just fine this way." (If you're keeping score, this was the mistake.) We cooled it, poured it in, racked it into a carboy for good measure, and let it sit with a fermentation lock on it. Two weeks later, we anxiously opened up the carboy and took a big whiff. It smelled like someone had pissed in a sweaty gym sock.

If we had sterilized the sugar water we added, we might have had a couple cases of a wonderful sweet, bitter, alcoholic concoction. But instead, we dumped the awful swill down the drain and chased it with Clorox. Fail.

Wine has had the similar problems twice for Paddy and me. Once was a strawberry wine that ended up moldy. Brown fuzz climbing up the sides of the bucket. Yeah... that shit got Cloroxed before dumping it. I commented that it made the whole room smell like a pool, not bleach. Paddy would later open his pool for the first time, and learn in his research that was the smell of death. Then, most recently, we brewed up a bucket full of blueberry fail. Or rather... didn't brew it. Which was the problem again. Paddy tells me the bucket is currently filled with green fuzz, so at least we're achieving some variety in our mold cultures.

So to close it all up here, I'm going to boil the ingredients for all my beers and wines from now on. I mean, just boil the shit out of it. Literally. Kill anything that's in there. That, and hold my breath when scooping out the no-rinse.

Fermentation Friday-- Sanitation

All of my friends have some sort of phobia in brewing. One is terrified of yeast, another is afraid of all-grain. I am afraid of bacteria. I can't get through the idea that I sanitize things, then expose them to air before putting them back in my beers. So... I sanitize everything, below is the rough process.

First, I oxyclean everything. I use the stuff from Costco- blue specks and all. It is cheap, easy and cuts through any mess. I then make up 2 gallons or so of Star-San. I love the foam. Really. I try to keep a bucket of star-san ready the whole day. I clean and then star-san the boil pot, ditto the mash tun and hot liquor tank (another 5-gallon tun). I also clean and sanitize all the hoses. At this point, I'm not worried about the beer going bad, but I gather all bacteria tastes bad, whether or not it ruins the beer. When I add in the Irish Moss (15 min left) I make sure to clean the immersion chiller with vinnegar, rinse and hit it with the sanitizer (which at this point holds all of the spoons and other equipment to touch the wort after it is cooled). I then let the coil sit for the last five minutes of the boil, put the lid (re-sanitized) back on the pot for the last two minutes of the boil and then put the flame out. I then start the chilling and put a gallon of star san into the carboy and shake for a minute. It is then put upside down in a bucket so it can drain out the foam (as much as possible). Eventually, I'll put a sanitized zip-loc over the neck and let it set out. The beer goes in and a blow-off is put into a gallon jug full of sanitizer that had been used to clean things previously. In secondary, I sanitize the airlocks with whiskey, drinking when we fill them for good luck. Tedious, boring but effective so far. If only I was so careful with my yeast.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Perfection is an affront to god

Weavers and Builders in the Islamic world always put in a purposeful slight imperfection into their product, because perfection would be an affront to god. I'm not sure that in our brewing, or our drinking, that we should subscribe directly to this protocol, putting in a purposeful flaw, but it provides a relatively compelling introduction to this post.

My erstwhile companion in starting this blog, bJames, has suggested that perfection should be our goal. Our brewing should become metered and consistent, but I wonder how far. Were all beer to come out the same I would not drink out, I would just bring my beers in. I live in a state with relatively easy liquor laws, and going out for the $5 draft could be avoided with a $3 single bottle, closer to my house. Where I could also be assured no unrine but my own is on the toilet seat (thankfully the cat has gotten over his most recent bouts with a nasty UTI). So the draft is different- it sits in the keg, pumps through lines and into my glass. There is more carbonation, it dances a little, the beer has traveled, not alone, but with friends, been through some new and interesting narrow channels and has come to tell me what it has learned. Still, it is pasteruized and pressurized to the point that almost any idiot can get it to me in a reasonably consistent condition (except for the knuckleheads at the campus bar-- with the gall to charge a membership fee no less-- for beers that are priced and sourced as premium but pushed through lines that would make the Hilton's plubming look hygenic).

But, perhaps I digress-- beer is alive. As our friends out in California remind us, beer is teeming with living organisms. Any batch of drinkable beer is the result of a miracle of the right bugs eating the right sugars to make the right alcohols-- and flavors too. The British, as I may have mentioned before, love their cask ales. These beers are alive when the hit the floor and are kept by cellarmen and cellarwomyn who keep them the best they can. The elements affect the beers, they leave the brewery in under two weeks from inception. The drive, the cellar, the tempature, season, pollen, lines, other beers, spiders, they all conspire to make the beer different every time. These beers are alive, and I am alive. Sure, I've gone home with migranes from poorly kept beer, sold past its date by landlords who can't sell 6.5 gallons of the same beer in a week. This when they only have a few taps. But I've also had exquisite beers this way, that will never be the same again, only fleeting memories to be replaced by new ones as I try them again. It is the same with brewing- while ending up with radically different brews isn't desirable-- things change and we need to embrace that. 

My beer is alive, sitting in bottles in my closet as the whims of my landlord drive the heat in my house around 10 degrees, with the Chicago weather doing the same for another ten. Beers get better, they get worse, the age. I'll keg soon, but there will still be yeast alive chaing the profile of the beer. We can know a lot about our beers- we can take them to near perfection. But actual perfection-- beer brewed in nine locations in the US tasting exactly the same every day regardless of the season. Miller High Life being innoculated against skunking? These are technical marvels fitting of the first nation to put a man on the moon, sure. But they are also an affront to us as living beings, to nature, to our world, and, of course, to god.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For the Benefit of Mister Dicks

If you have read Richard's post on last Saturday's unfortunate events, you may be wondering what happened the night before to cause all that. (And if you're Richard Dicks, you're definitely wondering what happened that night.) So, without further ado...

My girlfriend and I had gone to an excellent pizza shop with Paddy and his wife for some pizza and a pitcher of Yuengling. We were particularly impressed with their heavy glass beer pitchers and their cooler's awe-inspiring selection of large beer cans (that last bit will figure into an upcoming joint post with me and MC Paddy, keep an eye out for that.) Afterward, we were considering either checking out a roadhouse up the highway to hear a blues band and continue drinking, or just hanging out at Paddy's pad; but then my phone rang. It was Dicks. He was down at the bar we used to hang out at (see his post for details) and he was wondering if we wanted to check out what had become of it since being sold. The four of us agreed we were curious, but we'd all been putting it off and figured now was as good a time as any; so we hit the road.

By the time we got there, Richard was already reeking of beer and- not three sheets to the wind, but maybe one-and-a-half. The music was a bit too loud for casual conversation, but the booze was cheap and a thorough cleaning had done the building well. I'd be lying if I said I was having fun, mainly because of the lack of conversation, but Richard seemed to be having a good time. We stayed for a couple rounds, but then the karaoke began. Richard invited us all over to his home bar, which is better stocked than most commercial bars. So we all caravanned up to his place, and commenced to serious boozing.

Richard's bar can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. There are so many possibilities that people tend to just stand and stare when asked to pick their poison. Once you get rolling, though, it's quite an experience going through cocktails most bartenders haven't heard of and most bars aren't equipped to serve. Shots of Ouzo, Jim Beam yellow, Jager and root beer, Sailor and Cokes, gin and tonics. Richard had been away on work for awhile, and during that period his wife had developed a taste for whisky. In fact, she had drank him out of Jameson's, and asked him to make her a Bushmill's and Coke. No high school quarterback watching his son grow up to win the Superbowl could ever look as proud as Richard did at that moment. As for Paddy, Richard, and myself... our alcoholic consumption was all over the place, spanning the full range of what Richard's bar had to offer.

Jager and Root Beer - In Central Pennsylvania, Paddy was introduced to a shooter called a "Jim Morrison". It's roughly 50/50 Jägermeister and root beer schnapps. Few I've spoken to have have heard of it, and no one knows why it bears the true name of the Lizard King. Anyway, a few years ago, Paddy thought; if Jager and root beer schnapps makes a good shooter, Jager and root beer would probably be a good cocktail. And so it is!

Sailor and Coke - Bacardi sucks. There, I said it. Even mixed with something as bold as Coca Cola, I prefer better tasting rum. My girlfriend always specifies "Captain and Coke" when drinking out, just to ensure her beverage isn't made with Bacardi, or worse. But if you really want to get the job done, I highly recommend replacing your Captain Morgan with Sailor Jerry. No, it's not a cheap nautical ripoff; it's named for a tattoo artist, as each bottle's booklet explains. It's about the same price, it's much higher proof, and tastes just about the same. And I challenge anyone to find something wrong with that.

- A clear liqueur, popular in Greece, flavored heavily with annise (licorice). Think Sambuca and you're not far off. Shots were poured, but at the last secon Richard plopped an ice cube in each. Because of the anise, it then louched like Absinthe and turned a milky white.

Early in the night, Richard came to the realization that he could drink as much as he wanted because he didn't have to drive (we're always careful about that.) Now, I didn't notice Richard drinking any more than Paddy or myself. Maybe the cocktails he was drinking were a bit stronger, or maybe he was doing shots when no one was looking. Whatever the reason, Richard just seemed to get drunker quicker. Soon, his eyes were half closed, and he was shuffling his feet to keep from falling down. At some point in the evening, his terrified guinea pig made an appearance. At first his wife just reminded him that he's allergic to the guinea pig and shouldn't be letting it crawl all over him, but Richard was too drunk to care. Eventually Richard started breaking out in hives, and his wife just had to order him to put the piggy back.

Paddy and I had to drive home, so we were watching our intake and by the time 2AM rolled around, not only was I under the legal limit to drive home, I was downright sober. But Richard, well...

He made one more rum and coke to take with him, stumbling up the steps to say goodbye to Paddy and his wife. When he came down 2 minutes later, the rum and coke was half empty. My girlfriend commented that Richard will probably be sleeping in the bathtub, which he is wont to do in these situations. "Nooo!!!" Richard vehemently denied, drunkenly waggling his head. But upon further consideration, he admitted "Well... maybe." The weary look in his wife's eyes confirmed that it would be a long night.

And so it was.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Beer Hornet

Time for my Monday "hangover" post. I figure every Monday, there's a good chance I'm too hung over to write, and an even better chance you're too hung over to read. So here's a booze-related video clip.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Hard Choice

OK, I'm going to write something more fitting to the younger college crowd. Never the less, it is a serious issue, which affects all disciples of Bacchus no matter their age or experience with a bottle.

I returned home to the United States last week after being gone for two months. This past Friday night was the first time I had really gotten together with a larger group of my friend for drinks and fun in quite some time. We met down at our old watering hole, which is in fact 'not' our watering hole now, but nobody had tried the place since it changed ownership. It was bought up by a woman who had been thrown out of every other bar in town, so she decided to buy one of her own. The place had been renamed "Krazy Karens". Needless to say, we were a bit hesitant. It actually wasn't half bad. The music was a bit too loud, but maybe I'm just getting older and crotchetier. Yeah, we'll go with that. But it was around 10:00PM when the ultimate killer of a good time showed up. The karaoke machine. Yes that evil little box. The eerie blue glare of its monitor screen washing over the bar, entrancing would be victims in their alcohol induced susceptibility to pick up a microphone and burst into song. Yes, it was definitely time to leave.

I invited all my friends back to my place where we were free to drink and converse into the night. A pleasant tune from Pandora filling in the background , not overwhelming our good times. And so we drank. And we drank. And we drank some more. Being in my own house, I felt no need for restraint and drank myself into such a stupor that I don't recall how the night ended, but I'm told I provided much entertainment for my friends.

Now we're to the root of my predicament. 7 hours later, my eyes slowly peel open. The morning light cuts through me like a lightning bolt. I feel as though two squirrels are inside my head fighting over a bag of nuts. Except the squirrels are 20 feet tall and the bag of nuts isn't nuts, but bowling balls. The squirrels aren't fighting over the bowling balls. No, they're playing hacky sack with them. Oh it's such a wonderful morning. I look over at the night stand where an open bottle of Gatorade sits. Only a sip or two had been taken, and I knew at that moment that I was f*cked.

The poison is still in me, working through my veins. I can feel it in every inch of my body. I grab the Gatorade and I chug it, but it doesn't help. Over the next hour, I spend the bulk of the time wallowing in my own misery. I try to get more fluids into me. I try to get some food into me, but it only seems to make things worse. I stand up and I feel dizzy. I lay down and I feel queasy. In fact, there is this growing feeling in me that I'm going to throw up.

Now drinking oneself to the point of expelling one's own stomach contents is a very different experience depending on when said upchuck occurs. If you are drinking heavily and during the night's festivities you feel the need to hurl, it is something that was destined to be and flows fairly smoothly, usually to the amusement of your friends. It just happens. You feel it coming on, you're light headed and dizzy, and the alcohol flowing through your veins has you fairly numbed and desensitized to the unpleasantness which is about to befall you. If however you are sober and hung over the next morning, it is a cruel and ruthless experience. There is nothing to ease the pain, nothing to help you through it. The pain and suffering you thought was bad when you first woke up, and hoped would be better by now, has just begun to have its way with you. Actually there seems to be only one way to ease your suffering.

Much like a cleansing hangover dump, drawing waste from stores deep in my furthest extremities, vomiting seems to provide instant relief of ones condition. Unfortunately, I had not taken care of this the night before and was facing a dilemma. If you've already woken up, gotten some fluids back in you, gotten some food in you, it's an hour later and you still haven't thrown up yet, it doesn't come easy. I spent the next two hours wallowing in pain. Praying to God to just "Let Me Throw Up! Please, oh please God, just let me throw up!" You reach a point where dignity holds no value to you any more. You cling to that porcelain vessel, holding on for dear life, staring at your lifeless counterpart who gazes back up at you with dead hateful eyes. Mocking you. Taunting you, because you just can't get it up.

It's at this time that I had to make a decision. Do I deal with the fact that I'm not going to throw up, no matter how much my body is telling me it wants to, and spend the rest of the day in complete misery? Or do I force myself to throw up, an incredibly painful and unpleasant process, in hopes that following will come relief? My choice? Well, i think the whole praying to God thing kind of tells you what my choice was. So I take a big glass of warm water and chug it, stick two fingers down my throat, cough and gag for a minute or two, and then I grab hold for dear life... SUCCESS!!!

Never before have I been so happy to have my stomach contents come back up on me. It was a truly spiritual experience, as everything evil inside of me burst out in a glorious display. I felt the presence of Father Merrin over my shoulder with a cross and holy water. "I cast you out of this pour soul! Begone with you, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels! I banish thee, Captain Morgan and Sailor Jerry! The Power of Christ compels you! The Power of Christ compels you! " I am free, FREE of the retched demons in my belly.

I went upstairs and got a shower, and came back down refreshed and ready for a new day. I felt instant relief. My headache left me within the hour and I preceded to engorge myself on greasy food. So when you're faced with such a dilemma as mine, do the right thing a puke as soon as you can. You'll be much happier with yourself in the end. Thank you, oh porcelain goddess, you never steer me wrong.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Too much of a good thing

I was at a lesser known chain Friday night with Richard Dicks, his wife, and my girlfriend. It was the kind of place that had just a little more soul than somewhere like Olive Garden, but not nearly as much as a small local restaurant. The waitress approached, introduced herself, and asked if we would like to order drinks. Richard ordered a 7&7, his wife had a glass of wine, I settled on a vodka martini, and my girlfriend decided to try one of the chain-specific beverages on the drink menu. Some concoction devised at franchise headquarters... wherever. A "Blue Hurricane". Why not?

The drinks came promptly. The 7&7 was acceptable, the martini was above average, and the wine, well, it was mostly in the glass... how can you fuck up a glass of wine? The Blue Hurricane came in a water glass, so even if it wasn't terribly tasty, it was guaranteed to do the job by sheer volume alone. But as the four of us sat staring at it, I noticed it was awfully blue. This was a warning sign.

My girlfriend took a taste, and pushed the glass away from her. I took a sip and pondered. It was fairly standard hurricane with a blue coloring agent; and just as I suspected, that's where the whole thing had gone wrong. Larger chains might have opted for blue food coloring, or some blue syrup the parent company pumped out of a factory. But being a smaller chain, they had opted for Bols. More specifically, they had opted for way too much Bols.

Now I have nothing against Bols, it has a delicious orange flavor that's much more more restrained than something like Cointreau, and it adds a wonderful blue color to your drink. But its flavor isn't pure orange, it's bitter, tangy, and quite syrupy. So you can't be heavy-handed with the Bols. Moderation is key. Too much Bols can leave a tart flavor in your mouth, overpowering the rest of your beverage. And sure enough, I could taste the pineapple and rum, but the whole thing was just completely overpowered by the flavor of Bols. And as anyone who has spent any time mixing drinks knows, its important to maintain balance when making a cocktail. Sure, it can add wonderful flavor, texture, and color to your drink, but it is possible- in fact, quite easy to have too much Bols.

But whose fault was it? The 7&7 and martini were passable, so that leads me to believe it is the franchise drink designers, and not the establishment's bartender, who can't get enough Bols. And maybe that's fine for them, but in a chain your job isn't to force your particular preclusions upon the patrons, but instead to design something everyone can enjoy. And not everyone likes a big cup full of Bols.

I'm sure there are lovers of Bols out there- people who can't get enough Bols, who are yelling obscenities at their computer screen right now, but it's true! You have to be careful with Bols. Sure, Bols can add a twist, and an great deal of visual appeal; but its something that usually has to be accompanied by other flavors to really be enjoyable. And even then, you have to carefully measure your Bols and use great care and finesse. You can't put Bols in everything and expect it to work, you have to carefully choose when and where to work your Bols in. And don't try to be "generous" with your Bols, that's how the Blue Hurricane ended up being ruined. Try to always keep in mind that just plain Bols isn't something most people like.

Now you might still be able to blame the bartender for not augmenting the recipe of their own volition, but that is all dependent on how closely management watches their Bols. If a drink went by that didn't appear to have enough, they might grab some more Bols to put in it; possibly reprimanding the bartender in the process. So maybe the Bols in the drink weren't the bartender's fault, but someone was to blame.

Will their Bols hurt their business? Probably not. It's not as if every drink they have prominently features Bols. But no one at that table that night will be ordering a Blue Hurricane in the future; it was far too much Bols for any of us.

So whether you're a bartender at a chain, a local restaurant, or just a plain old bar; please, take it easy with your Bols. It's just not everyone's cup of tea.

...or Bols.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Brew Weekend

So, I just got these kegs. While bottling last week I sanitized two of them up, and they are just waiting to be filled. We also have a lot of guests coming through and some prospective students coming into town, so we might make some beer to share with them. I'm down to 12 bottles of our IPA, at least 4 of which are headed for competition (my brew partner for that one has 12 also, so that leaves us 10 each). The red rye wasn't very good, so the 42 bottles of that (some larger bottles, we got 5 gallons exactly from it), is around, but not that tasty. It is supremely cloudy, due in part to a bad yeast bloom, which is entirely my fault. So, the point is I want to get some stuff up on tap sooner rather than later, and when I think beers that are easy to make, cheap, and ready for drinking pretty fast, I think bitters. I have London ale yeast in my fridge, which I can whip into a starter before heading to the brew store. I've also got some torrified wheat, 20L and some 2-row available, though it is American and calls for an APA, not a bitter, persay. Still, I've got plans for that stuff.

So, back to the bitter. My first one wasn't great, we had terrible efficiency and it was my first solo beer. I had nice help from my friends, but still, it wasn't great-- not terrible, just not great. It clocked in at 3.2%, and the carbonation didn't work well. It was a thin, low body beer, but the yeast bloomed well and it was free of any major deficiencies. I bottled with DME, which didn't help the process, taking about a month to fully carbonate. The recipe was one from the Clone Brews book, and I wasn't entirely happy with it. So, I'm thinking of using a similar idea, but with some twists that my very limited experience has shown me. I would like to add, in my defense, that I've drank a ton of bitters, so it is a question of taking what I remember and getting that flavor out. So, here goes, a special bitter recipe:

 6# Marris Otter
.5# UK Crystal II (~60L)
.5# Carmel 20L [or victory...]
.5# Torrified Wheat (For head retention)
Mash at 152 for a drier beer
Fly Sparge to 7.5 Gallons

Hops (44 IBUs):
1 oz Target/Challenger (9%AA) @ 60 minutes = 36.4 IBU
.5 oz East Kent Golding (EKG) (5%AA) @ 30 minutes = 5.6 IBU
.5 oz Fuggles / Willamette @ 2 min = 1.1 IBU
Keg Hop (in bag): .5 oz Fuggles & .5 oz EKG = 0 IBU

London 1028 (2nd Gen), 75% Attenuation 

Total IBU = 45 IBU
ABV = 3.7%
FG = 1.010 (higher if I mash higher, I'd imagine)

So, I'm happy with the above recipe. It should run me about $25 for five gallons, if I reuse the yeast (though I'm sure making the starter costs some money to make). It will be just inside the BJCP Best Bitter boundaries, as weak as a best bitter can be, as bitter as it can be, and within the color range (8 SRM). So I'm happy with the idea.

I also have some chocolate malt to burn through and 3# of 2-row, sitting in a closet going bad. For this, I'd like to re-do an earlier porter that took 3rd place in a competition. I got great feedback (and a score of 38, the lowest score in the 'excelent' category). This was my second batch, a straight copy from the clone brews book. This beer was a Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter, which had a bit more treacle and a hop substitution. I liked it, and so did the judges. All around they said I should have less roasted grain, as it led to astringency. I would have liked a slightly sweeter final product, mabye with some extra dark crystal, and more treacle. I'd alos like there to be some more, and some more appropriate, hop flavor and aroma-- which means more dry-hopping! The comments were about the excessive black malt, so I cut that a lot. It was also suggested that I use some Victory malt which I'm all for trying, I might even drop it into the bitter above instead of the 20L...

8# 2-row
.75# Carmel 60L
.25# Carmel 120L
.5# Victory Malt
6 oz Black Malt
6 oz Chocolate Malt

Mash at 155F

4oz black treacle (full boil)

1oz EKG for 90 min
.5oz Fuggles for 15 min
.5oz EKG for 2 min
Keg Hop .25 oz Fuggles & .25 oz EKG [This might make the hop aroma step out too much...]

Originally Irish Ale Yeast, but I want to use Scottish Ale Yeast this time around (2nd Gen). Low attenuation, apx. 70%

Friday, February 13, 2009

Moving to beer, part 1

I've started drinking more beer of late. This has been a two step process. The first step occurred when moving to the UK, where drinking real beer is a political stance aligning yourself with traditionalism, along with not using metric, the Euro or the 35 hour work week. We here at JABB really enjoy these traditional stances, hence our lovely decoration. More on that to come.

The recent shift to beer drinking is a shift borne of craft. I came home and drank Schlitz and whiskey, so many whiskies. Then my friends (and co-authors) let me hang out while they made beer. We were all drinking whiskey at the time (or absinthe) but I was hooked. A little while later my house mate started making beer, as it turned out one of my colleagues did. Between them all I got started and have talked about little since.

Admittedly, I'm still in the honeymoon phase. I've brewed less than I would have wished, averaging twice a month. The brew logs will be coming shortly, along with detailed descriptions of what we've been using to make the beer. But for now, I'll talk about my favorite beers of the moment.

I love anything done by Two Brothers Brewing. They are amazing in transforming hearty foreign ales into rich and strong American versions. So, bigger, more flavorful and delightfully more carbonated, though never as fizzy or sweet as the pop-lagers that pass as European beer over here. Back to 2 Bros. They make my favorite beer, the Cane & Ebel. I want to make this beer. I want it on tap and have bottles in my house. I want a soap, a breakfast cereal and a potpourri candelabra made out of it to burn in the bedroom when I'm doing my thing. Really, it is that good. The beer is super bitter, but balanced with a nice malty body and a good dose of Thai Palm sugar. We used to use Thai Palm sugar in our Caipirnhas at a bar where I mixed drinks (bar manager, if we are keeping score). The beer has a heavy does of rye, which delights me. The lovely red color astounds by neophyte beer making mind. They also make an excellent French Country ale which evokes eating cheese outside on a warm spring day watching lithesome young French women frolic in a field. The Northwind stout protects against just that, and is nicely malty with a lot of alcohol (not much in the flavor) which keeps you safe out in the mid-western winter.

I have waned in my desire to copy my favorite beers for the moment. I don't have the skills to do it correctly and not living in a draconian, puritanical state, I can buy a single beer, at the super market, to fill a craving. Or I could go to one of the many bars around town devoted to beer. Instead, I stick with experimentation, in part because it allows me to avoid knowing I cocked a beer up too badly. Unless it gives me a migrane or I find mold in the bottle, both of which happened with the last batch (NB: I expect this is because of unclean Red Stripe bottles, gifted to me by a friend with an unclean kitchen).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Darwin

A bit off topic, but how can you not pay recognition to the 200th birthday of the man who derived the concept of natural selection. It is a day we should look back upon those individuals who have lowered the bar for the rest of us by choosing to bow out of the gene pool a little bit early.

The Darwin Awards

This post actually isn't entirely off topic, for what better tool is there for implementing Darwin's Law than alcohol. Like steroids to a German female Olympic swimmer, alcohol and Darwin go hand-in-hand. So raise a glass, and toast those poor saps who bring a little entertainment into our lives by choosing to end their's in such a glorious, and retarded fashion.

Happy Birthday Charles Robert Darwin!!!

A classic past winner: God Bless Alcohol

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Viva Inicio

Yea! After two months halfway around the world I am finally home in the Burgh. I missed it so much. I was away for my birthday, I missed the Steelers pummel the Ravens in the AFC championship game, and worst of all I missed the Super Bowl. I was up at 3:00AM to watch the game auf Deutsch, but it's not quite the same. I missed the buzz, the air of excitement, that builds up during the 2 weeks prior to the game and ultimately culminates in the drunken revelry and celebration of that magical night. I missed the parade that followed. I missed...the One for the C*ck.

But I am home now, and the one thing I did not miss is the weather. I went from pleasant 75 degree desert winters to the cold, down to the bone Pittsburgh winters. So how do you warm yourself up when the weather has you down? You get yourself some booze. And when looking to warm your spirits, why not a spirit from the sunny Caribbean? So I picked myself up a bottle of Havana Club Añejo 3 Años.

In my first post I mentioned my penchant for picking up stuff up not available in the U.S. Well you don't get any more "unavailable" than a product of Cuba. I also brought a few cubans back with me as well. Havana Club's 3 year aged white rum has a light straw color and is advertised as a premium cocktail rum. What makes Havana Club different from other rums is the use of column distillation with fractional condensation. This lets them pull only the heart distillates (aguardientes) from the rum, leaving behind the head and tail for use in lower quality products. It's then aged in white oak barrels. It should be far better than Bacardi Superior or Gold, which is over-hyped rum flavored grain alcohol. I'm looking forward to cracking it open and trying it out on a cuba libre or maybe a fresh mojito.

I would've rather picked up something a little better out of their line, such as their Cuban Barrel Proof or their Máximo Extra Añejo, which actually comes in it's own crystal decanter. But since I've never had any Havana Club rum, I really can't complain. I was simply glad to find something at all. When you go to the Middle East the one thing you don't expect to find much of is alcohol. It was obvious to me that I wasn't going to find any of the local spirits of the region. It flat out just doesn't exist. My only hope was the Abu Dhabi Airport duty free. On my last trip I didn't find anything of interest, and the prices weren't anything worth while, so i didn't pick anything up. Fortunately I chose to take another look this time around, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I may not have found this little gem.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Line

Tomorrow will be the first day of the year around these parts that's suitable for golf, and I'd really like to take off work and just go golfing. But the two people I usually golf with, MC Paddy and Richard Dicks, are busy. Paddy just started a new job and has to make a good impression, and Dicks is on a plane somewhere bribing the flight attendant to give him a 12th little bottle of rum. Why is that a problem, you ask? Why can't I just go out golfing myself? If you're asking these questions, you are obviously not a golfer. Not a real golfer, anyway. Doubtless, you've caught a glimpse of men on TV in business casual dress hitting little white titanium balls with graphite clubs.

This is not golf.

Golf is getting up slightly earlier than you would normally on a day off, meeting friends in a parking lot to have doughnuts and coffee, then heading out in little white vehicles to get drunk and tool around what amounts to a large garden. Maybe smoke some cigars, tell some stories, generally hang out. This being the case, the titanium skinned balls and graphite shaft clubs aren't the most important equipment. Number one, first and foremost, is a good flask.

I have a few. The most unique is a small leather case that opens to reveal three cylindrical flasks and other drinking equipment. This was a gift from Richard Dicks the night before his wedding. This is good if you want to get fancy. You can bring several liquors, or the ingredients for a cocktail. It's a pretty slick setup with my initials engraved on a plate on the case.

And one can get even spiffier than that, if one were so inclined. They sell beer dispensers disguised as drivers, and tee holders that open up to reveal a snort or two of your favorite spirits; but at the end of the day it's hard to beat a good, old fashioned hip flask. I have two of these. One is wrapped in black naugahyde with the Jim Beam Black logo embossed on it. It was a present to myself, part of a gift set at the liquor store that I just couldn't refuse. The other is all stainless steel, polished on the outside with an etched design. It was a gift from M. Randolph the night before his wedding.

Armed with these, I can easily transport more than half a fifth of liquor in two pockets. Often Richard will bring some beer in a soft cooler that zips shut. Add the fact that many golf courses themselves have a bar or at least a cooler with beer for sale, and you have a hell of a morning. And that is golf!

But notice how I keep talking about my friends. They are the major element to this. It just wouldn't be the same without at least one of them there to share the experience. The crisp morning air that warms as the day goes on, the flask of whiskey, the well kept greenery, the flask of rum, the satisfaction of the one well-played shot of the day, the half case of beer, the relaxation of ignoring the world outside the course, the three small flasks filled with pre-mixed martinis... it just wouldn't be the same all by myself.

Now, I recognize that compared to most people, I drink more often and I often drink more. But even the most dedicated disciple of Bacchus has to draw the line somewhere. I'm not sure where my line is, but taking a Wednesday off work to wake up early and get drunk alone before 9AM is way past it.

Thursday, on the other hand...

Our Theme Song

Well... here's our theme song for the moment. 

Monday, February 9, 2009


Thanks to the amazingly kind generosity of a CBS member, it is about to get pretty real up in here. 7 kegs, 33 gallon capacity (one is 3 gallons). Regulators and CO2 will be sorted this week. And until April or May, the 3 season fire-escape back porch will be nature's kegerator.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sui Generis

I have always taken great pride in my extensive collection of spirits. Not for it's sheer volume. Any idiot with money to spare can stock a full bar over night. Believe me, I've done it. It usual ends with the cashier at the state store giving you an inquisitive, and yet concerned look, as you roll on up with 3 shopping carts of $400 worth of liquid stupid. You get this sense of juvenile pride, as the group of prepubescents in the parking lot stare in awe as you carry your bounty to your car. So, we've established that my bar is big. In fact it puts most establishments I've imbibed at to shame. When friends, neighbors, the police see it for the first time, the usual response is something along the lines of "Holy F*ck", "wow", or sometimes they just stand there gurgling and drooling all over themselves. But, what I take the most pride in with my bar is its vast variety of unique spirits.

In the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the state store system is truly top notch. The PLCB is the single largest purchaser of wines and spirits in the U.S. But even with such substantial purchasing power, you still can never get your hands on everything out there. It's for this reason that I make a habit to drop about $200 in booze every time I find myself traveling outta state or country.

I just love stocking my bar with the odds and ends that just aren't available locally. And my friends love it too. I've collected quite a few unique spirits over the years. Some I have absolutely loved and always make sure to pick more up when I get a chance. Others have been downright nasty and would probably be better suited as an industrial cleaner or as a means of euthanizing the hippies (god damn those hippies). But here are a couple of favorites, that if you ever come across them in your local store, you should consider picking up a bottle or four.

Oronoco RumOronoco Rum had me sold just from the sight of the bottle. There is just something about a bottle wrapped in stamped leather and antiqued paper that just says "I'm not your typical mass produced, hyped out, bottle of piss". Well my gut feeling was correct, unlike last night's decision to dine Mexican, and it was well worth the purchase. This small batch artisan rum is distilled from fresh cut Brazilian mountain cane. It offers a light clean taste of vanilla and a smooth rounded finish. This is the only white rum I've ever come across that I would call "super-premium". Most white rums are so overladen with added sugar they become too sweet, or they are just a step above rubbing alcohol with some rum extract flavoring.

Bushmills Single Malt
Bushmills 10 yr Single Malt hails from the world's oldest licensed distillery. It is the original single malt. For those who find single malted scotches too harsh, this whiskey offers a well balanced flavor that is smooth and mellow. No peat is used in drying the malt, preventing it from absorbing the fire's smokiness while retaining the malt's distinctive character. This one I drink straight up or over just a small amount of ice. You don’t mix this one, or the booze gods will shove a lighting bolt up you ass.

Black Strap
When the words "Navy Tradition" and "Black Strap" exist on the same label, I envision sodomy on the high seas. And as disturbing as that may be, this rum tastes so good, you may drink enough to be open to just about anything...almost. Seriously though; Cruzan Black Strap Rum is a rich full-bodied navy rum. While many dark rums are bitter in taste, this one's creamy vanilla and molasses notes make it a great substitute when making your more traditional rum drinks.

Pimm's No. 3Pimm's is a product of the UK that has not gained wide popularity here in the States. Pimm's is something of an enigma, being more of a tonic with an alcohol base, rather than a liqueur. Depending on which you choose, each variety has a different base. Pimm's No. 1 Cup is the original and most popular, and is made with a gin base. The Brits like to mix it with lemonade or tea for a cool summer drink. No. 1 can be found in most state stores, but there are also Nos. 2-6, each with its own base, including whisky, rum, brandy, rye, vodka. Unfortunately all but a few of these have been phased out. Pimm's No. 3 Cup has the brandy base, but in recent years it's formula has changed and has become known as Pimm's Winter Cup. I have a friend who has brought a bottle back for me from the UK a couple of times. I keep telling him not to waste his duty free allowance on me, but he just smiles and says he smuggled it in where they won't find it. I never felt the desire to ask. Anyways, The No.3 makes a great alcohol base for egg nog during the Christmas Season.

Sangsters Rum CreamSangster's Jamaican Rum Cream truly is the nectar of the gods. Not available in the U.S., this liqueur is made with premium aged Jamaican rum. I got hooked on this stuff the first time I visited the island. It's just perfect poured over ice, but if you really want to enjoy it, you should try a traditional Jamaican cocktail called a hummingbird. It only takes one sip, and if I close my eyes, I am in Jamaica, if only for a moment.

There is something to be said for sampling the drink of the people. Every culture, every region, every walk of life enjoys getting shit-faced. Yes, even the Muslims, but they won't admit it. I'd like to think that what one imbibes says something about them. It's my own little way of taking that culture home with me, consuming it, and 5 hours later cursing it to hell. I encourage you to go out and try something new. You may just learn something about yourself.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Damn Few

So you and a few friends are drinking, and a round of shots has appeared in front of you. Maybe you’re not too sure where they came from, but that doesn’t really matter at this point in the evening. You all grab a glass and raise it high, and then there’s that expectant pause. Someone has to say something… but what? You all wrack your brains. This has happened many times before, and each time someone has broken the silence with some reasonably appropriate verbalization, but which one of those words or phrases best fits this situation?

You’ve heard some in person, you’ve heard some in movies, there’s books full of them, maybe you’ve even thought of a clever one yourself; but when the moment is finally upon you, it’s hard to come up with something. Some people remedy the situation by having a stock utterance that they’ve used so often it naturally flows out of their mouth. This avoids being at a loss for words, but it risks your catch phrase becoming stale, no matter how clever it might be. And even if you do go with that method, you’d better have something pretty good picked out. What is there to choose from?

“Cheers!” is rather generic, but really not too bad when you think about it. Wishing cheer unto your fellow drinkers is a nice thought, and since you’re drinking there’s a good chance your wish for them will come true.

“Here’s mud in your eye!” Does anyone actually say that unless they’re playing a stuffy British person in a bad TV movie? I’m not sure where that came from. I suppose I could look up its origins on the internet, but it’s a safe bet whatever I’d find would be bullshit.

“Prost!” just makes me think of Donald Sutherland pounding beers in a hospital bed.

“Lechayim!” To life!

“Campai!” If you’re drinking rice wine, it should be illegal to say anything else, unless it somehow sounds more Asian or more dirty (don’t act like you don’t know what I mean by that.)

“Na zdorovia!” I’ve read that it isn’t really said in Russia anymore. I’ve also read it’s actually what they say when someone sneezes. I’ve also read that it’s their reply when someone says Thankyou. But I think that’s all bullshit, because two drunken Russians taught it to me while we were doing shots of vodka one night. And speaking of vodka…

“You know what they say about vodka, don’t you? One’s alright, two’s the most, three under the table, four under the host.” I suppose that’s not technically what we’re talking about here, but usually people laugh and raise their glasses after you say it.

“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” Once I said that one while actually dressed as Quint. The sheer awesomeness of that moment was so great, that it shattered windows and set off car alarms as far as 10 blocks away.

“To toast.” I love toast.

“Here’s to the Army and Navy, and the battle’s they have won; here’s to America’s colors, the colors that never run. May the Wings of Liberty never lose a feather.” I’ve said it a few times, but it’s long, pretentious sounding, and obscure enough that no one gets the reference.

“To life everlasting.” is something a friend of mine always drinks to. Sometimes it can be a bit of a downer if life uneverlasting has been on your mind lately, but it’s a nice romanticism to drink to.

“To us!” is something that I’ve drank to at someone’s suggestion, but if all the people in the group aren’t having sex with each other… it might be a bit awkward.

“Here’s to us and those like us” is a more palatable version of that. Another friend of mine would sometimes say it, to which someone else would then reply “Damn few.” Sometimes he’d just bypass the call and response by raising his glass and saying “Damn few!”

“Jimmy… you- you’re a- a fine brother, man. I mean, brother. An… an you got yurself a fine womn der… an… an you take care of him!!!! *sniffle* He’s the best damn (inaudible) an all I did… yeah. Yeah, I know I gotta talk into the micaphone!” This one is to be avoided.

“To booze!” is my ultimate exclamation whenever I’m lacking something to raise my glass to. It’s relevant to the situation, it’s on my mind at the moment, and it’s usually a sentiment everyone can agree with.

So those are things I’ve said, or others have said –and not a comprehensive list at all. There’s lots more that’s been said in my presence when drinking in honor of something.

What do you say when its time to raise your glasses high? We’d love to know.

Oh yeah, and...

Here's to booze!

Monday, February 2, 2009

What more do you really have to say?

One for the c*ck.

One for the c*ck, that's right, I've said it. In honor of this, we open our site to comments of anyone interested in developing a "One for the c*ck Barley Wine." All grain please, we expect this to be a callabo for the ages, ripping off, finding inspiration from some of the other fine collaborations last year. We open the board to comments, and we'll brew two batches of this, one in our native Pgh and one in frigid Chicago. Anyone who contributes can expect a bottle of one in the mail, and anyone who makes it is welcome to share. The brew will go up some time in March, to be opened during the next Steelers run. Whoo! Go Steelers! Winningnest franchise in football history and possibly the finest franchise in all of sports. (NB: Art Rooney II's son is the current QB of my HS football team).

ps. If this is your first time and you want to link-share on the blog roll, please email jabb[dot]mrandolph [at] gmail