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The Monday Brews 6-3-13

Well, we’re off to the start of a great week! And since it’s Monday, that means I get to talk about beer! It’s been a while since I discussed my brewing adventures. They’re just not as exciting as board game design. But I’ll get you all up to date on what I’ve been up to.

Alberti Amber

My first taste of Alberti Amber

My first taste of Alberti Amber

As you know I bottled my first beer about a month ago. That was my Alberti Amber. It is named after Leon Battista Alberti, a 15th century Italian renaissance man who invented the Alberti cipher.

I have now been able to enjoy the beverage and I was asked to give a 140 character “Tweetable” review of the beer. After the first bottle, which had been in the bottle for about two weeks, here’s what I had to say:

I have since had a few more and I can tell that maturing is making them better.

One of the things that I was worried about was during fermentation my basement was a little too cold for the yeast to throw the kind of party they like to throw. So the result is that this particular Amber Ale is a little sweeter than normal. I actually think it helps to give the beer a little character.

Overall I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I may try to brew the same thing again and see how much different it would taste.

Ben Franklin’s Honey

I think this one will be good!

I think this one will be good!

My second beer is currently in the carboy. It has been in there for just over a week and is therefore ready for bottling.

When this was in the plastic fermenter it was really bubbling like crazy. Bubbles were coming through the fermentation lock every two seconds. For the Alberti Amber at its peak bubbles were coming through every five seconds. The faster bubbling could be due to the large amount of honey in the brew. All that sugar was really giving the yeast something to chew on.

So the brew is sitting patiently in the carboy, just waiting to be bottled. I may try to get that done tonight since I’ve got a busy week. I sure hope it goes better than with the Alberti Amber.

The bottling process seems to be the worst part about brewing. You have to peel off the labels of the bottles, unless you buy new bottles. You have to wash the bottles. You have to boil the sugar that will get added to the beer so that it can carbonate within the bottles. You have to transfer the beer from the carboy back to the plastic fermenter. I suppose you don’t “have” to transfer it, but it’s easier if you do. And then you have to fill and cap about 45-50 bottles.

That’s all part of it though. I hope this turns out to be an awesome summer beer! Hopefully I won’t drink it all before summer officially starts.

My First Brew: Alberti Amber

Yes… Yes we do!

If you’ve been following this blog then you know I’ve purchased my first beer brewing kit. 2013 just seems like a great year to get started. I’ve wanted to brew for about 5 years now. So it’s about time I leveled up in Manliness and actually brewed.

Achievement Unlocked!

Two Saturdays ago I connected my propane tank to my turkey fryer and boiled some wort! It was an interesting learning process and I’m proud to be able to report on it today on B&B!

Pre-Brew Nerves

Some of us who run, and by “us” I mean “you,” have experienced something known as Raceday Nerves. It’s where you’re all nervous before you start a race. I’ve been there too. I ran a couple half marathons two years ago and have definitely had those butterflies. Why do I bring that up? Because for some reason I had a little pre-brew jitters. I guess it was because I was hoping to not mess up.

There was nothing I could do about the nerves so I just got to it. Here’s my homebrew setup:

So the stink was outside rather than inside with my wife!

This way the stink was outside rather than inside with my wife!

It looks all shiny and new there. That lasted about 3 minutes until the flames started to cause the black paint on the turkey fryer stand to bubble, crack, and burn away! Yikes. And of course as the paint and the bolts were flaming my neighbor walked up and asked what I was up to.

Who wants to boil some Wort?

Pre-warming for precise Wort extraction!

Pre-warming for precise Wort extraction!

For my first brew I wanted it to be as simple as possible. That means I was brewing with a pre-made extract. This is a liquid that comes in a half gallon jar. You can see it over there →

Brewing this way is pretty “easy.” You just boil the wort for about 40 minutes, then cool it, put it in the fermenter and add the yeast.

Eventually I will get to the point where I’ll be choosing the grains and hops that I use so that I can brew actual, legit home recipes. But as a first timer I think I made a good choice.

In some ways it relates to board game design. I could have chosen to go with a complicated all-grain brew and thrown a bunch of awesome stuff in there. But it probably wouldn’t have all worked together, especially on the first try.

In board game design it seems like it would make sense to put a bunch of awesome mechanics together and expect an awesome game.  But what ends up happening is you get a game where things feel non-thematic, unrelated, and almost like they’re work. *Cough* Archipelago *Cough*

So I didn’t want to put a bunch of awesome stuff together and hope for the best. I took this first batch as an opportunity to learn a little bit!

Gettin’ Hot in the Pot

Beware of the “Foam Over”

With my wort warmed up and the water boiling I was ready to begin! I was pretty nervous about this part. Reading through the directions it was pretty clear that this part could involve a “foam over,” not to be mistaken with a comb over.

Fortunately my turkey fryer is a 7.5 gallon pot and I was only boiling 2 gallons of water and the wort. There were a few times that the foam rose up near the top. If I had been boiling it on the stove it definitely would have foamed over.

By using the knob on the turkey fryer it was pretty easy to control the heat to the pot. Therefore any time I saw the foam building I was able to turn down the heat just a bit and watch the foam dwindle. I was really thankful that I paid for the turkey fryer since it gave me so much peace of mind when boiling the wort.

Here a peek into the pot:

I wish I knew if this looked right!

I wish I knew if this looked right!

When the wort started boiling I added the Willamette hops. After 30 minutes I added a half ounce of Kent Golding hops. And then after 8 more minutes I added another half ounce of the Kent Golding hops. And two minutes later it was done!

Am I a Brewer Yet?

Once the wort was boiled and the nervous part was over with it was time to cool the wort. I filled my utility sink full of ice water and placed the whole pot right in there on a metal trivet. With active stirring it cooled the wort pretty quickly. In a previous article I had mentioned making a wort chiller. I may still do that, but this cooled it down in about 12 minutes.

The next part was a little tricky too. It was time to transfer it over to the fermenter, which is a fancy word for plastic bucket. Without much hesitation I poured it right in. It felt really good to be done with the boiling portion of the brewing process.

Here’s what I left behind in the pot:

Some might call that "nutrition." I call it grit!

Some might call that “nutrition.” I call it grit!

So the beer was brewed. What’s next?

The Waiting Game

X-ray vision would have been great so I could see how my beer was doing!

X-ray vision would have been great so I could see how my beer was doing!

With the boiled wort in the plastic bucket (I just can’t call it a fermenter) it was time to wait. I was super excited about the waiting game. I was really looking forward to seeing some bubbles coming through the fermentation lock.

I was prepared to see no bubbles. My confidence in my brewing ability was so high that I was expecting to fail.

Fortunately a day later I saw the first bubbles! It was a great moment in my life. I put it right up there with taking the ACT for the fourth time in high school and that moment in baseball practice when I got hit, well… you know where.

So the bubbles, while exciting, really weren’t much to look at. I figured they would happen. I was just slightly worried that it would foam over through the fermentation lock.

Thankfully it did not. And I was able to move onto the second stage of fermentation… the Carboy!

Carboy is a Cool Word

So the next step is to transfer the beer over to the glass carboy. This doesn’t have to be done, but all the books and experts make it sound like it’s the right thing to do. So I did it.

I had purchased an auto siphon, which really made the transfer pretty easy. I hoisted the bucket up on a box and cracked it open. It really smelled good! I put the siphon in the bucket, being careful to keep it off the bottom, and then pumped and let it do its work.

Here’s how it looked during siphoning and after all was said and done:

Siphoning (left) and fermenting (right)

Siphoning (left) and fermenting (right)

I AM a Home Brewer! What’s with “Alberti?”

So at this point my beer has been in the carboy for about 4 days. It is a little cold in my basement where it is fermenting and I think that has caused it to ferment less than it perhaps should have. But the bottom line is that there are several gallons of my own beer sitting in my basement!

So the next step will be bottling at some point in the next week or so. That should be interesting. I bought a bottom up bottle filler, though. That should help the process a bit!

Like cracking a cipher, let’s crack an Alberti Amber!

So why did I name it “Alberti Amber?” This beer is named after Leon Battista Alberti, who was a 15th century Renaissance man. I like to consider myself sort of a Mediocre Renaissance Man and so it’s fun to name these beers after men I look up to. Alberti is a favorite renaissance man of mine due to his Alberti Cipher work in cryptography. I have a little man crush on unsolved ciphers and maybe my beer will help me solve some of them. Probably Not.

So it’s been a fun, if nerve-wracking, process brewing my first batch of beer. I think the second time will go much smoother. Or at least I’ll be more comfortable with it. All I have to do is figure out what style of beer I want to brew next! Helmholtz Honey Bock? Franklin Cream Ale? We shall see!

Almost Brew Time!

Beer bottles: a key component of brewing your own beer, unless you’re kegging, then the picture makes no sense. But I’m bottling, so it does make sense. Aye.

I now have stocked up over 50 bottles.  That means I have enough for my first batch of beer.  I was planning on helping a fellow homebrewer brew a batch so that I could learn by watching, but I think I’ll probably learn better by just getting my hands dirty.  So over the course of a month I have been able to obtain the necessary number of bottles from the board game nights that my group has.

My first beer will be an Amber Ale.  I chose it because I’ve heard Ambers are easy to brew.  I also chose it because an Amber ale is something my wife would drink.  I am only missing two things before I can brew:

Turkey Fryer

A turkey fryer will let me boil wort outside and not stink up the house.

A friend recommended I pick up a turkey fryer.  He said his wife doesn’t appreciate the smell of boiling beer.  And since you often have to boil for over an hour, this seems like it would be a good investment.  I had forgotten to purchase a 5 gallon stock pot when I picked up my homebrew kit.  That might have turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  These turkey fryers typically come with a large pot, since they have to hold a turkey.  You can get just the burner, but the all-in-one seems like a better way to go.  The pots often have a drain spout, which could also come in handy.

A 7.5 gallon (30 quart) unit runs about $65 at the large home improvement stores, not including the propane tank.  I have been looking for one secondhand without much luck so I might just buy one new.

Plus, I could use it when I’m not brewing beer to make deep-fried anything.  And we all know that deep-fried anything is good!  Though we can’t make deep-fried twinkies anymore.  Bummer.

Wort Chiller

Wort Chiller sounds like a bad sci-fi character name.

Another item that seems like a good investment is a wort chiller.  Why? Because a wort chiller can save you a lot of time.  After boiling the wort you have to let it cool down.  Using a wort chiller can cool the wort much faster, cutting hours off your brewing time.

A wort chiller works by running cool water through the copper coils.  The cool water pulls the heat from the wort much faster than simply losing heat to the air.

You can buy these for $40 and up, but I think I may make one.  All you need is some copper tubing, couplings, and a hose to connect with your water supply.  Here’s a video I found of a guy named Fo building his own:

That looks pretty easy, and much cheaper than buying a word chiller.

Timeline

My goal is to be brewing when the weather gets nice sometime in March.  There are usually a few warm days in Wisconsin in March, so I hope to have my wort chiller made by then.  This is gonna be fun!

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