Monday, 7 January 2013

Brew Day for the 2012 Hop Clearance

Today was brew day for the 2012 Hop Clearance and it could have gone much better. I forgot to put the false bottom in the brew pot (that’s step 1, even before turning on the burner).

So, the weight of 19 pounds of grain and the heat from the bottom of the brew pot burned a hole in my BIAB grain bag. Spilling out all 19 pounds of grain loose into the mash water. Thankfully, I had a leisurely 90 minutes before I needed to separate the soon-to-be spent grain from the soon-to-be hot liquor. In an effort to maximize my ‘it came to me in the shower’ chances – I grabbed my gym bag and headed out for a quick 30 minutes on the spin bike. Once on the bike, the answer was clear:

  1. grab the spare grain bag
  2. binder clip it into the unused large, rectangular, Igloo cooler
  3. dump the contents of the brew pot into the grain bag in the cooler
  4. put cooler on bar stool and drain back into freshly-cleaned brew pot

It worked slick and the walls of the cooler provide excellent resistance in squeezing every last drop out of the grains and into the brew pot. This process showed me the value of a separate mash/lauter tun and spigots – even for BIAB (admittedly this does mostly defeat the purpose of BIAB).

With the hot liquor ready for boil, I turned back on the outdoor burners and tidied up. Fifteen minutes later the temp was still reading 140°F. Oh sure, it’s only 16°F outside and the heat of mash has melted the snow off by back patio – but push through little turkey fryer – we gotta reach 212. I dove into the depths of the summer storage side of the garage, extracted the propane tank from the grill, and tagged it in. Fifteen minutes later – still 140°F. With both tanks giving up, it was time to take 6 hot and sticky gallons of grain juice into the kitchen to boil.

The Power Burner on the range quickly brought on a boil, and I prepped my first hop addition and an impromptu recipe tweak. Turns out my 4oz bag of Northern Brewer was hiding .8oz of Saaz. Fine. This is Hop Clearance – throw it in. It does mean, I don’t have as many IBUs as I planned, so while we’re here, let’s move the 10AA Centennial from flame-out to 45min. That’ll give us 10 IBUs back.

Then, I remember it’s January – which means the outside water’s been turned off for 2 months. Which means it’ll need to get turned back on, and hoses attached, to chill the wort. Now I have something to do between dropping the Irish Moss and flame-out. Perfect.

Through all of this, the starter of Headwaters waited patiently. I pitched them around 4pm and by 7:30 there was a nice solid krausen across the entire fermenter. Win.

With all the gear, the kitchen, the back patio clean, and Hopville’s calculators giving me a 73% efficiency on the mash (hitting 1.108 rather than the estimated 1.114) I’m tentatively optimistic on this one.

BTW – the fermenter smells fantastic.

Update 7 January 2013:

It’s been so long since I’ve brewed that I’d forgotten how wonderful fermentation smells.

Update 5 April 2013:

Turned out ok. Hops seem to be quickly fading. Overall, grainy/husky and less body than I’d like. I’m finding the strong finishing bitterness quite enjoyable. Barely any carbonation came through. The 12.8% ABV is quite prominent. I’m interested to see what the judges at the NHC think this weekend.

Update 18 Apr 2013

Received a 21 & 25 @ NCH Round 1. Higher than I anticipated. Primary fault identified by the judges: acetaldehyde (caused by weak yeast). Both judges describe the hops as low – glad I put so many in.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Big Beer Year: #1 The Hop Clearance American Barleywine

One thing that beer class confirmed for me – I have a strong preference for the rich, full, maltiness of big beers. Hops I’m ambivalent about, but if a beer doesn’t have a prominent malt presence – it won’t make my Ongoing Beer List.

With this in mind, I’m planning 8 beers for 2013, each a different style with common thread: big and malty. The first of these is The Hop Clearance, a big American Barleywine that will eat the unused hops I acquired in 2012. Recipe below:

17.5 # American Two-row Pale
1.0 # Table Sugar
1.0 # American Crystal 80L
0.25# Belgian Special B
0.25# American Chocolate

2.75 oz German Northern Brewer @ 60
1.0 oz Sterling @ 60
1.0 oz US Golding @ 60

0.5 oz Centennial @ 45

0.8 oz Saaz @ 0
1.0 oz Styrian Goldings @ 0
1.0 oz Willamette @ 0

Headwaters Yeast

1.108 SG
1.014 FG (25 Jan 2013)
99 IBU
0.87 BU:GU

The Hop Clearance @ Hopville

Friday, 4 January 2013

How Kubb Saved My Life

In the summer of 2011, my third child had just turned a year old. I was just beginning to feel reconnected with the world and something approximating normal. My business was having one of its best years, in no small part to my part-time assistant. Yet, despite the optimistic signs all around me – I was still selling and working as if the world would end tomorrow. Projects I wanted to forget for clients I wanted to ignore. My regular exercise routine was pacing between my 30″ monitor and the coffee pot. I wouldn’t leave my house for days at a time. I couldn’t hide it behind my computer any more – I had lost count of Days Since I Last Shaved. My temper was getting short. The slightest inconvenience would set me off. I was making my life and my family’s life worse. Not better. I didn’t know how to stop. I was convinced that if I just worked a little harder, a little faster, held my breath just a little bit longer…everything would magically stabilize and I could exhale.

In early August, two of my favorite people in the world came to visit and set up this strange game in my backyard. A simple game of 11 square wooden blocks and 6 wooden sticks. They were a little unsure of the rules – though they knew that 5 of the wooden blocks were placed on opposing sides, the larger king – placed in middle, and each side took turns throwing the sticks at the opposing sides blocks. The other parts of game play weren’t as clear. – It didn’t matter, we played game after game for was seemed like hours. The futility of throwing wooden sticks at wooden blocks 20 feet away was rewarded by the timeless, satisfying ‘thwak’ when they met.

Kubb – they called it.

Days later, my friends continued on their journey and took their Kubb with them. Kubbless, I returned to my unhealthy downward spiral. Yet, Kubb kept whispering in my ear. A few weeks later I purchased my first Kubb set. It sat mostly unplayed, whispering to me, until my 37th birthday. Where in the middle of a mild, Minnesota winter, I invited a bunch of friends over to play. And we did.

We joked about taking this silly wooden game seriously.
We joked about playing competitively.
We joked about making team shirts.

Then, I found out City of Lakes Loppets hosts a Kubb winter tournament that’s considered the start of the competitive Kubb season. Outside in February – in Minnesota. I pulled together two friends and we entered. Walking into the tournament I remember saying to Jim, “there’s this one part of the gameplay I don’t quite understand.” He shrugged and we waited for our first game.

That first game lasted no more than 5 minutes. Same as the second. In those 2 short games – Jim, Jamie and I got just a faint whiff of the strategy permeating the game and the bowling-esque short game it can create. We tried to apply what we were learning as quickly as we could, clawing our way into the championship bracket.

After that tournament, I set up that pitch in my backyard and practiced. The long game, the short game, everything. The 3 of us would play at lunchtime downtown. It quickly became clear that we needed to hone our game for the U.S. Nationals in July. And we did.

This past summer, when I had a hard problem on a client project – I’d step outside and throw some wood. Sometimes I’d play against myself, other times I’d practice one or two aspects of the game. I found that, in pure Buddhist tradition, a successful practice required no thoughts in my head. A clear, focused mind brought a hit every time. Any single thought guaranteed a miss. It would feel like hours melted away. Yet the clock would say only 30 minutes. Sometimes 45. I was always refreshed.

I started sleeping better. I stopped drinking 2 pounds of coffee a week. My inlaws started commenting on how much color was in my complexion.

At U.S. Nationals – we thought we were ready. We weren’t. We were ice cold. Couldn’t hit anything. But we could hold on. If we didn’t lose immediately, we could drag the game on for a hour. A slow painful slog only relieved by the tournament organizer calling time. Again we clawed our way into the Championship bracket. Again we lost immediately. Two long days in the heat of the midwestern sun. I felt we should have done better. I went home – and didn’t touch my set for a week.

When I set it back up, I found a comfortable throwing style and some new delightful aspects of the game I overlooked before; there’s no technology in Kubb, no internet, no inbox, but it does have lots of friends.

But most importantly – it’s just throwing wood across the lawn. A simple game. A simple game that saved my life.