Wednesday, January 31, 2007

First Homebrew of 2007!

Just in time to make my January batch - tonight I brewed a Franziskaner Hefeweizen clone. Because of the cold weather, it was an indoor extract batch, using a modified recipe from Beer Captured. One case from this batch is a birthday present for my father-in-law; the rest will be for us and some friends.

Tonight was a special occasion because I had the founding members of the Indiana Beer Club over to see how to brew beer. We cracked open a few homebrews given to me by a fellow homebrewer, along with a growler of Marzoni's Doppelbock, Sly Fox Christmas beer (2006), and a few Magic Hat beers from a sample pack. We paired those with some aged cheddar and Amish blue cheese.

Another special part to the evening was a visit from Bill Zimmerman, a journalist from the Indiana Gazette. Bill is working on an article about local homebrewers and home wine makers - the article should appear in the Leisure section of the Feb. 11 edition. Bill spent about an hour with us, learning about the brewing process and enjoying a few beers with us. Hopefully, the article will attract some more brewers and some new members to the beer club!

I started the batch about 18:30, and the yeast was pitched in primary by 22:15 - not a bad way to spend an evening.

PA Senators Protecting Us From Ourselves

This state takes the cake when it comes to ridiculous alcohol laws. The three-tiered distribution system and the state store system is bad enough, but just when you think that things might improve for beer lovers, a couple of people spoil it for the rest of us.

There are those who would have us believe that the state would fall apart if beer was sold in supermarkets, as is allowed in many other states, and that underage drinking and sales to minors would skyrocket. Thanks for ruining it for the majority of consumers in the state.

Article can be found here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

East End Brewing on TV!

This Tuesday, January 30 on WQED at 7:30pm, the boys from Dave & Dave's Excellent Adventure will be visiting Scott at East End Brewing to see what good beer is all about. I can't wait to see that one! Congrats to Scott for great P.R. :)

Local Spotlight on Beer & Wine Making?

So I opened up the Indiana Gazette on Friday to see a small notice under the police blotter for beer and wine makers in the area. Apparently, the Gazette is going to write up a special Sunday Leisure section on the practices - it'll be interesting to see the spin they put on it.

As soon as I saw it, I immediately called the number and left a message (it was after hours, unfortunately). On Saturday, while we had stepped out for an hour, the Gazette returned the call. When I called back, they were gone again. So, I hope that tomorrow I can hook up with the appropriate people and at least give some information about homebrewing - I don't really care if I'm quoted or not, just as long as it's a good article.

As luck would have it, I'm brewing up a batch of Franziskaner Hefeweizen (extract clone recipe) this week as a gift for my father-in-law's birthday. A few friends are coming over to 'help' brew, and I'm going to see if the reporter wants to show up, too. We'll try to spread the word about quality over quantity, the joy of homebrewing, etc., etc. Maybe we'll even get him/her to join our beer club!

I'll let y'all know what happens.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Big Boost for Latrobe

Good news for the folks in Latrobe - the state is offering more than $4.5M in grants and loans to City Brewing Company for update and expansion of the Latrobe brewing plant. The company has committed to hiring 250 people for the plant.

The full article (AP Business) can be found here at The York Dispatch.

The brewer's lineup can be found here. and their webpage is here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Homebrewing a Chimay Bleu Clone

After a couple of extract, stove-top batches of homebrew last year, I decided that I wanted to step up to the challenge of all-grain brewing. In my mind, despite taking more time and effort, all-grain would give me more control of the recipes I make and ultimately (I hope) lead to better tasting homebrew. Add to that my enjoyment of cooking and that my degree is in chemistry. I love tinkering.

After a bit of reading and a lot of questions at homebrew stores and on homebrew forums, I set about getting the equipment together. I bought an outdoor propane cooker from Home Depot which I can hook up to the gas grill propane tank. Next, I picked up 25' of flexible copper tubing from Lowe's and some connections. I ordered a nice stainless (and weldless) ball valve spigot, which I placed as a drain on the side of a 16 gallon stainless steel beer keg purchased from a distributor in Pittsburgh. Duquesne distributor in town didn't want to sell me one, for some reason.

I used pretty much the recipe from the Szamatulski's Beer Captured for Chimay Grande Reserve, ordering all my recipe supplies from the Grape and Granary in Akron - great service and fast!

So, on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I started my journey in all-grain brewing. What a day that was!

I made a yeast starter slurry of Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey Ale two days prior - pitched it in some dissolved DME in a growler and let 'er go. On Saturday morning, I spent quite some time filtering a lot of water through the Brita ... mistake #1! Other than taking too long, I underestimated the amount of water I would need for all-grain - in short, only ~70% of the water I used that day was filtered. The rest was straight-from-the-tap Indiana Borough water. Now, I had used that before for extract - but now that I've tasted the finished Chimay clone product, I realize that one of the flavors that I don't enjoy in my homebrews must be from the water here - heavily chlorinated. In the latest issue of Brew Your Own, there's an article on how to make your own water filtration system using a Culligan showerhead filter. That'll be my next tinkering project.

Because of my set-up, I decided to just heat my mash to the proper temperatures, rather than heating water separately and adding to raise the temp - maybe that's good, maybe that's bad. In short, I mixed the cold water and my grains and brought the whole concoction up to about 122F and rested it for 30 minutes. Getting an accurate temperature in water with ~15 lbs of grain is not as easy as you would think ... hot spots. Mistake #2 - buy a bigger spoon!

I kept raising the temperature, hitting rests at 133F, 150F, and 158F. I used some of my iodine sanitizer for a starch indicator and found that I had conversion. Mashed out at 169F. By this time, I'd been at the keg for 2 hours.

Now for the sparging. I used a 6-gallon plastic bucket with holes drilled in the bottom and placed that over another 6-gallon bucket with a spigot on the bottom. I had some PEC tubing with holes drilled in it circling the upper rim of the top bucket for the water to trickle out of. Here's where I started using non-filtered water! I had to heat up the sparge water in the keg to around 170F (took some time), then I started sparging. Imagine my surprise when the liquor kept flowing and flowing. I must have heated three separate batches of water until my gravity was around 1.010 ... I now had various pots and pans filled with around 8.5 gallons of wort! Mistake #3 - a 6 gallon bucket seated in another is not big enough to hold all that grain. Had some liquor trickle out of the top of the bottom bucket (the ants loved that, I'm sure). Plus, my jerry-rigged PEC sparge arm wasn't holding up too well to the hot water.

Now I've got almost 9 gallons of liquor that I have to boil down to a reasonable amount. Mistake #4 - I need a good way to estimate volume inside a steel keg! I marked gallon lines on the outside, but it's a little difficult to interpret that inside the keg!

Boil, boil, boil. Oops! Ran out of propane. Drove to Sheetz to exchange tanks. Boil, boil, boil.

OK, now I think I have enough liquid to boil for hops addition and end up with ~5.5 gallons. Wrong! I underestimated the boil off. After my hops additions and wort chill, I ended up with a little over 4 gallons. Dang. I added enough water (again, non-filtered) in the primary bucket to bring up to 5.25 gallons - got the temperature to around 80F.

I finally pitched the starter at 8:30pm ... 9 hours after I started. Cleaned up and was ready for a beer! I'm glad we didn't make plans for that night.

Happily, by the next morning everything was bubbling away and continued to do so for about 5 days. I racked to secondary the next Saturday and left it to age and clear for about 3 1/2 weeks in the basement. Bottled it up the Thursday before New Years. I also decided that I was going to kraeusen - back on brew day, I used Papazian's formula for keeping out enough gyle (hopped wort) to use for priming as an alternative to corn sugar. It seemed to work, since the beer has since carbonated.

So how's it taste? Opened a bottle the other day. Decent carbonation, though the head isn't as full as I'd hoped for. A bit murky yet, but good color (looks like Chimay). It smells pretty much like Chimay. For taste, it's still quite raw. I think this batch is going to have to age for several months before it tones down and becomes more subtle in profile. Got the alcohol up to around 8.7%, so it's within expected range. Good malty sweetness and just about the right level of bitterness - and there's a decent amount of the estery and yeasty goodness you'd hope for. Here's hoping it ages well!

All in all, it was a great first all-grain experience and I learned a lot by doing it. My next all-grain batch is going to be a little lighter on the grain load. I hope to get a second keg converted for more efficient sparging and keep a better eye on the burner. Onward and upward.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Beer Scene: Indiana, PA

UPDATE - for a more recent review of what's in town, go here.

For any potential visitors, incoming grad students, or anyone interested in what's going on here as far as beer ... here's my two cents.

As we're in western PA with all of our ridiculous alcohol laws, realize that finding good beer at a reasonable price is an exercise in futility. Additionally, Indiana is a college town in a still economically disadvantaged county, with Indiana being the 'wealthiest' town. Mainly agriculture and blue collar, most bars serve up the standard array of the same type of beer with different labels (i.e., Bud, Miller, Coors, and their lights/lites). Every bar in town offers these, most at a deep discount during happy hour and to attract the college crowd.

As we're in western PA, throw in some Rolling Rock and Yuengling - maybe the occasional Straubs.

The list below includes the bars/pubs in town where such beer can be found. I'll highlight the exceptions.

Sgro's Bar: on Philly Street. Small, local, smoky. I need to revisit since the last time I was there was in 1991.
Bruno's Restaurant: Italian fare. Some beers to go in six packs.
H.B. Culpepper's: Young professionals and college crowd. Highlights include Guinness, Bass, Blue Moon.
Boomerangs: In summer, the biker bar; otherwise college crowd. Nothing exotic as far as I know.
Al Patti's: Local and college hangout. Guinness.
Brown Hotel: Smoky local. Nothing exotic as far as I know.
Wolfendale's: College crowd. Nothing exotic as far as I know.
The Coney: Early = family; late = college crowd. Largest tap selection in town so far. Seasonal Penn Brewery beer; a couple of Sam Adams. Blue Moon, Guinness. Labatt. Moosehead. Recently started a microbrew bottle rotation (2-3 new each month).
Ironwood Grill: Until recently, Blue Moon & Guinness. Added Troegs last year and now has a Victory on tap. Word has it that expansion will incur, including a few microbrew taps. Also might start monthly beer tastings. Keep those fingers crossed.
The Coventry Inn: Closed until further notice.

I think that's everyone. Not much to look at, as you can see. As for buying beer to drink at home in a Styrofoam cup ;), we have a decent beer distributor in Duquesne. Much better case selection than there used to be; they also supply the two places I buy six packs and single bottles ... Uncle Sudsy's and Ironwood Grill.

Both Ironwood and Uncle Sudsy's have a decent selection of import and microbrews (along with a lot of college swill, of course). Ironwood has the benefit of taking credit/debit, but has few single bottles with the exception of some 1/2 liter imports (Baltika) and some Stone bombers. Uncle Sudsy's keeps a full cooler of singles, which changes frequently, but it's cash only.

In short - this town has a long way to go before I no longer have to drive to Pittsburgh for the good stuff or an hour in any direction to get to a brewpub. Some day, I hope we'll get a brewpub. In the meantime - road trips and homebrewing keep me in really good beer.

My History of Homebrewing

It's been a long time since I became interested in homebrewing. The concept was introduced to me in 1995 by a colleague at Battelle Marine Sciences Lab in Sequim, WA. Alan Andrews was his name, but unfortunately, we both moved our separate ways shortly thereafter and have lost touch (but not for lack of trying). It was in Washington state that I purchased the glass carboy I still have today, along with a hydrometer, from a hardware store in Port Angeles. During a trip in Seattle, I bought Papazian's The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, 2nd ed. from Liberty Malt Supply.

My first batch of beer was an extract brew - a porter, I think - made in Chapel Hill,NC. I bought the rest of my equipment and first set of ingredients at a homebrew supply store in Morrisville (near Research Triangle Park). It was drinkable, but I can't say much else about it. While waiting to find full time work, I was working at a Barnes & Noble making coffee. One perk of the job was that when the magazines were recycled and sent back (covers ripped off), I got to have my choice of several brewing and beer-related magazines, which I still have (sans covers).

Due to apartment living and a host of other circumstances, I set aside the brewing until 1999. By this time, I was living in State College,PA and found ingredients at Keystone Kettles in Bellefonte (since closed, I believe). I bought Papazian's The Homebrewer's Companion and Homebrewer's Gold during that period, and joined the American Homebrewers Association. I enjoyed the year's subscription to Zymurgy, too. Again, due to grad school constraints, I set aside the equipment for some time. In the meantime, I continued to pick up some more literature, including Zymurgy for the Homebrewer and Beer Lover, Lutzen & Stevens More Homebrew Favorites, and Victory Beer Recipes (which I believe contains recipes of some brewing competition).

Finally, last year, after having moved quite a bit, we settled in good ol' Indiana, PA. Now I'm back in the homebrewing game and last year was able to put out three five-gallon batches. I updated some of my well-traveled equipment, such as buckets and hoses, and got some empty bottles from a homebrewing colleague. I got my first set of ingredients and a recipe for a Belgian ale from Country Wines in Pittsburgh. After a glorious brewing day one cold morning in March, I was hooked again. The beer turned out OK, but was a little weak.

My wife bought me Tess and Mark Szamatulski's Beer Caputred, from which I brewed two recipes. On July 4th, I made an extract batch of a Hoegaarden clone. It was much better than my first beer of the year, though it didn't really taste like a Hoegaarden - probably because of the DME I used - and I'm not sure of my water profile yet. On a balmy Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I took the plunge and moved up to all-grain. I bit off a little more than I expected by making a Chimay Bleu clone - but it turned out well. I look forward to the return of warmer weather so I can brew on the porch again.

I've got a wish list of books I want to get, including more detailed brewing chemistry books and cool ones like Farmhouse Ales and Brew Like A Monk. All in good time.

For those contemplating homebrewing, I highly recommend Papazian's beginner book (and the companion, for that matter). Between those two books and a few homebrewing forums, I've been able to make some nice beer. Recipe books are great for ideas once you get the basics down, and I'll be using those for quite some time. Eventually, I hope to get to the point where I understand all the grains, hops, and yeasts so that I can craft my own recipes and come up with some funky stuff.

I was looking through Papazian's Microbrewed Adventures, which I want to get, and found a recipe for a beer that I was fortunate to be able to try: Gotlandsdricke, a juniper flavored brew from the Swedish island of Gotland. I also want to find and perfect some good saison recipes (and biere de gardes), for those are my favorite styles to drink.

I picked up the last couple issues of Brew Your Own magazine and I'm thinking of subscribing. I got great ideas for a sparge arm in the last issue, and this current one has me thinking of building my own water filter. Part of the fun of homebrewing is also tinkering and building the equipment. For my first all-grain, I made my own wort chiller from 25 feet of flexible copper tubing. I bought an outdoor propane cooker so that I could heat a bigger brewpot. Since I didn't want to fork out well over $100 for a stainless pot (and I don't want to brew in aluminum), I bought a used keg from a distributor in Pittsburgh and cut the top off. Plugged in a nice stainless ball valve and voila!, a 16 gallon stainless brew pot. I hope to covert a second keg for lautering/sparging, since the 6 gallon plastic bucket with false bottom is a little awkward for larger grain bills.

Though I haven't brewed as much as I would have liked over the last decade, I look forward to upping the ante this year, and have a goal of one batch a month. 60 gallons of homebrew isn't too bad a thought, no?

The Obligatory First Post

I created this blog in April 2006, but haven't used it. Now that a few of us in town (Indiana, PA) are trying to start up a craft beer club, and now that I am back into homebrewing, I will make more of an effort to post things regarding these topics. I might also include topics relevant to the goings-on in town.

More to come soon, I hope.