Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Who's the half wit now?

Has it really been two months since I brewed a batch? It sure seemed like it when I went out to the garage Saturday afternoon and tried to remember what to do. At least it wasn't cold.

Brewed: 100401 Honey Half-Wit

When last I tried to make a honey-bearing beer I ended up with the disaster known as 090502 Honey-Brew List. It wasn't the honey's fault, it was my fault for over-adding the coriander and creating a spicy mess. Unfortunately I wasted a pound of good homemade honey on that batch and got nothing but a smelly bucket and a disappointed Brewmistress in return.

Not long after I created that lousy wheat beer, I brewed a different wheat beer batch, 090603 Half-Wit, which was very highly regarded among the members of the focus panel that convened in the garage on the Fourth of July. That recipe had no amendments, and it ended up with a nice clean taste. It clearly is among the top recipes I have brewed to date. (I'm not listening to you out there who are keeping score and saying "you've only brewed six recipes to date, that's not much of a distinction.")

It seemed logical to me that I could meet the Brewmistress' demand for a honey wheat by starting with a known good base recipe (Half-Wit) and adding honey and fruit amendments - and thus was born Honey Half-Wit. The modifications I made to the basic Half-Wit recipe were minor. I traded out (in a five gallon batch formulation) 1# of base malt in the mash for 1# of honey, which I added directly to the primary instead of to the boil. The reason for the late addition is that knowledgeable people have written that the risk of introducing contaminants or infections from unpasteurized honey is minimal, while introducing the honey in the boil kills off the components that provide the honey character. To the boil I added about an ounce of orange zest (sweet orange, not bitter orange), which smelled good at the time but I wonder if it will show up in the final product.

An electrifying experience

I decided to try and make this batch using only electric power. With a 2000W heatstick and a 1500W heatstick I figured I had enough power to manage a 5 gallon batch, and this turned out to be the case. I used a 1500W stick to heat the strike water and pre-condition the mash tun. Unfortunately, I also managed to melt a hole in the side of the cooler when I let the tip of the stick rise above the water level for a second. I plugged it with a high-tech solution (metallic tape) and made a note to be more careful.

I am still concerned about the ability of this tun to hold mash temperature. This mash was scheduled for 154F and it actually started just a tad higher, but an hour later it looked like I had lost 8 degrees. It might just be that the rectangular cooler has too much headspace for a small batch, but I have noticed comparable drops even with the 10 gallon Geordie-Boy and Por Favor batches. I either need to switch coolers (again) or speed up my plans to build the new recirculating mash rig.

I used the 1500W and 2000W sticks to run the boil and was able to get a gigantic rolling boil pretty quickly. The 2000W stick was sufficient to maintain the boil by itself, with a pretty reasonable wort turnover. When I put the immersion chiller in to sterilize I added the 1500W stick back in to compensate for the immediate cooling effect, then removed it once temperature stabilized.

When I moved the cool wort to the carboy, I simply opened the honey, pulled off the safety seal, and dumped it in. When I took the specific gravity it was much lower than predicted, coming in at 1.039 instead of the 1.052 that BeerSmith suggested, but at least part of that has to be the fact that none of the sugar in the honey was in solution at that time. However, even when I back the honey out of the BeerSmith model I still show about a 6 point deficit from the prediction. Clearly I'm not doing something right, and again I look to the cooler as a potential issue with efficiency. I guess if it tastes good though I'm not going to complain.

I'm tapping that

Get your mind out of the gutter, I'm referring to my serving system. I have started installing the new Perlick stainless steel forward-sealing faucets I got last month with mixed success. The first installation I did leaked like a sieve through the ring that fastens the faucet to the shank. The shanks are garden-variety chrome plated brass, not stainless, and I recall reading that there can be manufacturing tolerance issues with mating the stainless faucets with the plated shanks. With a little experimentation, I was able to find one faucet-shank pairing that would work correctly, and I now have one functioning tap on the keezer. For the other two I need to try and tidy up the end of the shank to get a better fit for the faucet. I think a little wire brush work may be in order.

Monday, April 12, 2010

No news is...no news

There's no useful news from the Fork and Hay production area. I have the materials all set to make a new batch of Geordie-Boy and a fresh run of Honey Half-Wit, but this weekend was consumed by the rebuilding of a retaining wall in the back yard. Maybe tonight I'll get to the Honey Half-Wit so it will be ready for the big graduation to-do in early May. The brown will just have to wait, but there's about half a keg left for now and I'm in training for a 5K so I have dialed back consumption estimates dramatically.

I have finally accumulated all the parts for the faucet assembly for my dispensing system, which I have been referring to as a 'kegerator' but in point of fact is a 'keezer' because it uses a freezer and not a refrigerator. I just don't like the word 'keezer' as it is uncomfortably close to 'geezer' and I don't need the reminder. I have some pictures that I'll post when I finish the assembly and draw the first ceremonial pint.

Outside the four walls of Fork and Hay there is mixed news. On the legislative front, Senate Bill 253, which would have formally legalized homebrewing in Alabama, died in committee because of politics having to do with petty, trivial issues - pissing matches over electronic bingo, some kind of ruckus around funding the pre-paid college tuition program, and (can you believe it?) school funding. It's too bad our legislators can't get their priorities straight.

On a more exciting note, Alabrew, our local homebrew shop, is moving to a location just minutes away from the world headquarters of Fork and Hay. I view this as being similar to all the auto component manufacturers who have moved into the Vance and Tuscaloosa areas to service the Mercedes plant. Fork and Hay's supply chain just got a lot closer to the just-in-time ideal, and I'll be able to reduce my on-hand inventory of grains and yeast accordingly.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Suits me to a tea

Fork and Hay Brewing is turning over a new leaf, so to speak.

I've spent the better part of the last year trying to learn the art of brewing beer, with mixed success. As the time has worn on I have found that I derive less and less satisfaction from the effort - the thrill is gone. I certainly didn't expect that outcome. The effort I've put into this hobby just hasn't given me beer that is different enough from what I can get at the convenience store to make it worthwhile.

As I sat here this morning wondering what I could do to recapture the spark that pushed me into this whole exercise, I started to realize that the solution was in my very hand - a bottle of green tea.

When I started Fork and Hay I didn't know the first thing about how beer was made, what ingredients were required, what processes were followed...and now I do. It struck me that on the whole lately I've consumed a lot more green tea than beer due to annoyances like company bans on alcohol in the workplace and the fact that Breakfast Stout isn't on tap next to the cinnamon rolls at the Holiday Inn Express, and I don't know the first thing about it. I did a little Topeka-ing
and found that there was a vibrant, if small, home tea-ing community just beginning to explore the boundaries of the green tea revolution.

I've grown weary of the limited taste opportunities afforded by the BNL (Bigelow-Nestle-Lipton) megabrewer varieties I can get at the grocery store. I want to have new citrus flavor options - try new concentrations and blends - maybe even process my own decaf. There's a lot of effort going into fusions like "Earl Green" too - tea blends that cross the boundaries of the traditional styles. I want in on the ground floor.

The upshot of all this is that I'm dumping the beer when I get home and starting a basic Sencha. It's been a great ride but it's time to move on to the Next Big Thing.