22 September, 2014

Visiting Valdez

Instead of doing any brewing over the weekend, we went to visit Sara in Valdez.  I normally make it there a couple times each summer.  It's a nice change of pace, a beautiful drive, and a distraction from the daily grind.

(Note: I've come to the realization that I *suck* at documenting through photography.  This trip was filled with lots of people and beautiful scenery, and I captured a minute amount of it.  No pics of the three sisters, none of the cousins, none - or rather, ONE - of the friends that also made the trip. Sigh.)

Leaving after work on Friday means that arrival time in Valdez is the wee hours of the morning.  Fortunately for us, Sara is always willing to let us wake her up so she can show us to the rooms we get to use while we're there.  It's lucky that we can stay at the cannery.  If not for that, I wouldn't be able to come visit.
Valdez isn't large.  And it hasn't changed much over the years - at least not enough for a casual, two-times-a-year, weekend visitor to notice.  Since I've seen Horse Tail Falls and Bridal Veil Falls multiple times - every time I go, I stop to look - I suppose I didn't think about taking a new picture.  And I've been down the mine road several times, so I didn't take a new picture with my car in the creek as we crossed over (the bridge washed out a few years ago, but the creek is shallow enough that the brave-of-heart - and vehicles with enough ground clearance - can make it across).  But I saw two waterfalls that I haven't noticed before, and we watched seals in the water.  No bear viewings this time.
On Sunday morning, we woke to fog thicker than pea soup, and received a tour of the fish processing plant.  The season's over, so it's all shut down and almost eerily quiet.  It was really interesting, and pretty cool since I hadn't ever been any farther inside than the main office.
When we came out of the plant, the fog was starting to lift.  For all the times I've been to Valdez, it's rarely sunny.  But those few times are precious, because the scenery is absolutely stunning.  I'm glad that we were able to enjoy some sun before the long journey back home.
Jeannea and I took a little side trip on the way home - a little off-roading with the car.  Because it was sunny the view was awesome; however, the wind was blowing so hard that I was afraid it'd rip my phone right out of my hands (and it was a chilly wind).  My pictures aren't the greatest because I was shivery and fighting the wind for balance.
As we got closer to home, clouds moved in and the sunshine evaporated, but the end of our trip was blessed with a rainbow.  An excellent finish to a wonderful weekend!

18 September, 2014

Adventures in Spent Grain

Greg asked me if I wanted to keep the grain from the beer to use for cooking.  I'd never heard of such a thing, so I told him that we would keep the grains for one day.  If I couldn't find anything to make with them, then we'd throw them away.  Turns out there are all kinds of things you can make with spent grain from your beer.
I found a couple websites that have lots of recipes - and now I'm excited to graduate from extract to grain-based brews.  I selected something relatively easy to start - a bread that incorporates the grain without having to dry it or grind it.  I made the first batch on Monday night.
It's an easy recipe, not very different from some of the other breads I've made - except for the grains part.  I found it here, along with some good information about using spent grains in bread recipes.  I found another recipe here, but opted to try the first one (mostly because there's a picture, fewer steps, and the rise time - and therefore overall time - is shorter).
It was delicious!  In fact, I set aside more of the grain so I could make the recipe again on Thursday - which I did, but then added chunks of sharp white Cheddar cheese.  Yum!!  For the remainder of the grain, I opted to dry it and then grind it into flour.  This idea came from yet another website (here), which also has all kinds of non-bread recipes for spent grain.  Cookies, banana bread, brownies, pie crust... It seems that if a recipe uses flour, it can be modified to use spent grain.  This opens up a whole new world to me!
I followed the instructions for drying my grains.  While I'm excited at the many options I see ahead, there's LOTS of room for increasing efficiency in my current process.  Like seven hours.  That's how long it takes to dry one sheet of grain in the oven.  Yeah, I know that's what the recipe said, but some of the comments indicated it might be shorter.  (And I thought my oven was at least partially convection because a fan comes on every time you turn it on and continues to blow until long after it's been shut off - turns out that's just a fan, and I have a standard oven which takes 7 hours to dry spent grain).

So my first recommendation: if you're using the oven, don't start the process at 8:30 at night - especially on a work night.  I slept in the recliner that night.  And I think one of my next acquisitions will be a dehydrator.  Because after 7 hours of drying and then a half hour of grinding (done the next evening, because no one wants to listen to the food processor grinding endlessly at 3am), I have just about 1 cup (ONE cup!) of spent grain flour.  My second recommendation (or observation, really): spent grain flour will not have the consistency of all-purpose flour - it's chunkier.  It's possible if I had some other implement to use I could get it finer and more flour-y.  Instead, it's finer than cornmeal and coffee grounds, but not powder like flour.  We'll see how that impacts the next recipe I try...

15 September, 2014

And On To The Next One...

We had a busy weekend planned - mostly cleaning, organizing, and getting Jeannea moved back into her room (so she didn't have to sleep on the couch any more... two weeks is more than enough of that) - but I decided I wanted to throw in another batch of beer too.  In part because I'm going to Valdez for the next weekend, so it's now or it's in two weeks.  If I wait, I'm not confident that the second beer (third batch) will be ready by Halloween.

We originally talked about brewing from the first recipe again.  This time, instead of going from primary to secondary to bottling, we'd skip the secondary so I could see the difference in color and clarity.  However, since nothing much happened while the first beer was in secondary timeout, I figured there wouldn't be much change.  So I went to the beer store looking for a new recipe, with the backup plan to use the first recipe if I couldn't find anything I liked.  I shouldn't have worried.
The third beer is exactly the same as the first, only different.  It's got the malt extract, a small amount of hops, orange peel, and cracked coriander.  But it also has grains, and the amounts for orange peel (double the amount, sweet and bitter) and coriander (half as much) are different.

I used the "Lessons Learned" from the first two batches in brewing this one - but still came up with more.  We put everything in bags - the hops, the grains, the spices.  Greg had picked up some more of the smaller bags, but we couldn't find them, so used the gigantic bag that will hold a small world and maybe some satellites for the grains - just tied it off and dangled it in the boiling water.  However, because it's a 15 gallon brew pot and we're only starting with 2-3 gallons of water, it touches the bottom.  Turns out my new lesson is that the grain bags can melt and burn holes, which in turn releases all the bits that I'm trying to keep contained.  Sanitized strainers come in handy for a rescue mission when it's time to remove the grains...
And likely because of the escaped grains, the pour spout on the kettle didn't work - yet again.  So we ended up siphoning the liquid from the kettle into the carboy.  But it was easier this time because most of the floaties were already gone.  One of these days I'll have the lessons down well enough that when I brew we can actually make the transfer in the easy way...
But the beer is done and active in the carboy.  It's still darker than I'm used to for a wheat bear.  Greg says that this is because we're using the malt extract, and it's darker even with the grains.  In a couple weeks, it'll be ready for the next step.  I think we're going to transfer this one straight to bottles.  At the same time, the apple beer will be ready to transfer into the secondary.  And it's possible (if I'm up for it) that the same weekend we could brew the fourth beer...

11 September, 2014

Bottling the First Beer

Beer the First has been in secondary for just about a week now.  It doesn't look like it has done anything at all.  No bubbling, no mess, no fuss.  To me, it doesn't seem to be any clearer, but there's definitely a small sediment layer at the bottom of the carboy.  So I suppose that's something, right?

I thought we were going to wait until the next brewing to bottle, but Greg picked up some supplies and we're ready to go.  The extra time spent waiting isn't going make the beer any better, so may as well get it in bottles - it's that much closer to drinking...
We didn't have enough bottles from Greg's previous foray into brewing, so he picked up some more.  (We've also been saving the non-twist-top bottles from the store-bought beer to re-purpose, but we still hadn't amassed enough.)  In addition, Greg acquired a bottle tree for us.  We had already washed the bottles in the dishwasher, but they need to be sanitized too.

This is another part of beer-making where prep, sanitizing, and clean-up actually takes longer than the beer process.  It took about a half hour to bottle the beer, but we spent an additional hour and a half prepping, sanitizing, cleaning up, and sanitizing again.  I keep thinking it's a wonder that anyone from hundreds of years ago had any beer at all...

So what I didn't know (and it wasn't included in the recipe) is that there's one more additive to the beer before bottling: corn sugar.  This apparently gives the beer its carbonation.  So we boiled water and added the sugar, then transferred the beer (one more time!) to a 5 gallon bucket with a spigot at the bottom.  We put the sugar water in first so the beer would (hopefully) mix evenly to get good carbonation.
From there, it's out the spigot and into the bottles.  Now to wait for two weeks - then this batch should be ready for drinking.  (*fingers crossed that it's drinkable - or even tasty - rather than drain cleaning poison.  I'll know in two weeks...)

07 September, 2014

Apples are in Season

To get back on the weekend brew schedule, I decided to pick up the ingredients for the next brew on Saturday.  I was planning to make the same recipe that we've already done, but Greg convinced me to try a fruit beer.  It won't be ready for Halloween (Greg says it'll be drinkable, but won't come into it's own until Thanksgiving or Christmas), but we can brew this one, then next week brew the first recipe again (which will still be ready by the end of October).  So I pulled up some of the recipes that I've been ruminating on and we picked an apple beer.

I like apple beer.  At least, I like the apple beer that Moose's Tooth used to have (they still have apple beer, but the recipe has changed and it tastes more like hard apple cider, which I'm not as fond of).  So I'm interested to see how this turns out.

It was a lovely day yesterday.  Perfect for collecting supplies, manual labor in the yard (for Greg), and brewing beer.  Since Greg spent the afternoon working with the neighbor to put up our fence, we didn't get started brewing until after 8pm.  In the meantime, I picked up the remaining necessary ingredients, which included apples picked fresh from our friends' tree, and a drive down Turnagain Arm to get more water.

Because we were starting so late (and it's fall, so we're losing sunlight faster and faster), Greg set up his construction lights on the deck.  Don't look directly in them unless you want to be blinded.
We started the prep by cutting the apples.  That was a chore all on its own.  Twelve pounds of apples that ranged in size between a golf ball (the smallest) and a tennis ball (the largest) takes quite some time.  Fortunately we didn't have to core them.
The apples are added at the very end, so we started by boiling hops, adding the malt extract, and priming the yeast.  The yeast was dry this time - not a slap pack - so we had to rejuvenate it and ensure it was active.  According to Greg, there's not a persuasive reason to use dry yeast over a slap pack - which is a lot less work.  I asked why we didn't get one this time - he said we're staying as close to the original recipe as possible for the first go-round.  If this turns  out well and we decide to make it again, I'm definitely using the easier method.  Eventually we'll cultivate our own yeast, but we're not ready for that yet.
The apples are supposed to steep in the brew for 15 minutes.  We continued the boil for a bit, so the apples would soften.  We wanted them soft so they'd be easier to transfer into the carboy with the beer.  (Had we been transferring to a bucket, this wouldn't have been an issue.)  Which leads me to the lessons learned this time:
  • When adding hops to a beer that has fruit in it, put the hops in a grain bag.  Otherwise, there's no easy way to separate the hops to keep it out of the carboy.  According to Greg, having the hops in the primary fermentation won't hurt the beer, but it's preferable to remove them prior.  They'll be gone (as will the apples) when we rack the beer into the secondary (in three weeks).  Because of the issues we had with the first brew (where I didn't put the cracked coriander and orange peel in a grain bag, so they blocked the spigot), I'm thinking that we should probably use grain bags for just about everything.
  • When using fruit (apples in this case, but any fruit really), cut them small.  Since we use a carboy (with a very small opening) for the primary, it's difficult to force the apple slices through the funnel into the carboy (and I'm still not sure how we're going to get them out again).  Next time the apples will be chopped (but not diced, because we don't want them to block the spigot of the brew kettle).
Overall, this time things seemed to go quicker and smoother.  As a bonus, we got to watch the moon rise.  Not sure if it's waxing or waning, but it looked close to full.
We finished brewing and transferring the beer at 1am.  Because Greg was getting up early to go hiking, he went to bed and I spent another hour cleaning and sanitizing the equipment, getting things prepped and ready for the next use.  Thank goodness today is Sunday, so I could sleep in.  (Two AM is late on a work night, even for me.)  The finished product is darker than the apple beer I'm used to, but Greg says all the beers we make using extract will be darker looking.
We were a little concerned about whether or not the yeast would be active, because the wort cooled down quicker than we expected (because we added the hot liquid to 3 and 1/2 gallons of from-the-rocks-cold water).  Not only that, but Greg has mentioned several times that there's the possibility that this brew will pop the cork and explode all over the garage.  I'm not sure why there's more of a concern with this one than the last - maybe the apples?  I certainly hope it doesn't explode, but we're sure the yeast is active.  As of this afternoon:
Next week, the plan is to bottle the first beer and brew the third batch.  The third will be the same recipe we used for the first - but this time we're not going to move it to secondary (and I'm going to use grain bags for the hops AND the coriander and orange peel).  I'm looking forward to tasting my first beer.  I'm guessing it'll be at least a week or so after bottling, so in two weeks?

04 September, 2014

Racking and Caning

That's the next step for my first beer.  Although the recipe says we can skip this step and go straight to bottling, we're going to rack this beer with a cane and put it in secondary.  Sounds like torture.

We actually could have done this step on Sunday, so we keep to the weekends for brewing - which I prefer.  But this past weekend was Labor Day, the last long weekend - and the last campout - of the season.  So Greg assured me we could wait a few days before bottling (and brewing the next beer).
On Wednesday, when Greg, James, and I headed up to the camp ground, the forecast was rain, with more rain, and a cold front moving in over the weekend.  Dubious camping conditions, to be sure.  But we were taking tarps and awnings and a truck FULL of wood, so we figured we'd make it through.  And instead of the rain we had sunshine, clear skies (cold nights), and a beautiful weekend.
I intended to take more pictures, knowing that I've started blogging again - and even if my blog may center around my beer-making activities, this counts (since it delayed my next beer).  Instead, you get the best two scenery shots, and a warning picture of what can happen at the end of the life of an air mattress.
There has been some internal hemorrhaging in our air mattress.  And every now and then you could hear a new pop - something else in there let go.  Originally the only external sign of damage was that a couple of the divots bumped up instead of bowing down like they're supposed to.  We've continued to use the mattress over the summer, each trip another pop or two.  Until this time.  The last night on the mattress, as Greg was going to bed, it sounded like several soft gunshots (or some very loud, hard farts), and the night was very uncomfortable.  In the morning, after giving thanks for several years of good camping use, we snapped pictures of the deformity, deflated the mattress, and sent it off to the dump.  There's another one in the shed, but I don't know if it holds air.  I'll have to test it before camping next summer so I know whether or not we need to get a new one...

We got home early evening on Monday and spent the rest of the time unpacking, showering, cleaning, and getting ready to go back to the real world.  Tuesday was supposed to be the next step in the beer dance, as well as beginning a new flavor.  Problem is, I haven't picked the next recipe I want to try.  To be precise, I've picked some recipes that I want to try, but they won't be done in time for our Halloween party, and I really want at least one more brew ready for tasting by then.

We decided to transfer the first beer into a secondary.  Greg says it won't hurt anything, it'll just make the beer a little clearer and there will be less sediment when we go to the bottling stage.  Because I'd like to have two batches ready for Halloween, we've opted to make this recipe a second time, but not put it through the second transfer.  This will let me see the difference in clarity and taste (if any).  We'll also be brewing a fruit beer - as soon as I pick the recipe - but it won't be ready for consumption by the end of October.
We're doing all our brewing activities on the deck or in the kitchen right now.  At some point, we'll have things set up so we can work out of the garage, hopefully over the winter so we don't get frostbite.  So Greg lugged the beer upstairs so we could make the transfer.  It's messy because of the yeast-y overflow.
To make the transfer (rack the beer), we use a cane with a flexible hose attached.  The cane is just a long, hard plastic tube that is held in the beer, the hose goes to the soon-to-be-filled carboy.  The most difficult part (aside from making sure everything is sanitized) is creating the siphon.  We filled the cane and tube with sanitized water, making sure there was no air in the line (harder than it sounds, for someone who's only siphoned gas one time years and years ago and ended up with a mouthful of nastiness).  Once this is done, Greg inserted the cane in the beer, down to just above the sediment layer, and the end of the flex-tube into a bowl (so we could drain the water without putting it in the new carboy).  After the water was flushed out, the tube went into the new carboy and the beer started flowing.  In all, it took longer to sanitize before and after the process than it did to transfer the beer.  Now it'll sit for a while in the secondary - while we figure out if we've got enough bottles, get more if needed, and get them sanitized - before we head to the bottling stage.  Now it's time to decide the next recipe and start the process over again...