Beer and Excuses

August 6, 2010

For those of you who may have wondered, i haven’t stopped cooking. I haven’t fallen off the edge of the world. I have, however, returned home to some semblance of normalcy and am actually quite happy. Its odd how the volume of my writing is a direct inversion of my happiness level. I make no excuses. I have been cooking on every sunday and lately have added a BBQ saturday because, well, its nice to be back with a grill and a back yard that allows it… This sunday we have a traditional beef stew on the menu for sunday with a nice loaf of crusty white bread. Saturday is a bit of an iffy proposition as we are doing a garage sale to clean out the closets so time will be at a premium.

The thing that has been consuming my time and thoughts as of late is the brewing of beer. Finally, now that i have a semi-permanent address that the military will not be telling me to leave, I have achieved the comfort level i needed in order to take the dive into home brewing. I have bought my basic equipment. I have brewed three batches of beer in the last 6 weeks. I have built my own immersion wort chiller. I am planning on moving to an all grain system in the next few weeks. things are progressing along as smooth as a bullet train, relentless and unslowing. Here is a quick recap of the beers that i have thus far made:

Batch One: I wanted to dive straight in and do something insanely complex but i bowed to the greater logic of friends and brew store staff, starting out with a basic Amber Ale extract recipe so i could go through the process and learn the procedures hands on. It turned out reasonably well and is getting better with each bottle. I read in one of my brewing books that aa batch of homebrew is at its best right after you finish the last bottle. This is probably an unfortunate truth as i am inexplicably drawn to drinking my first batch of beer, partially out of pride of creation and partially because it is readily available. My only complaints is that the head retention is poor and it turned out a little more hazy than i would have liked. It was a good lesson that needed to be learned to prepare me for the future of my brewing.

Batch 2: I decided on batch two that since i had learned the basic steps and procedures, it was time to move forward and get a little drastic. My wife and I both have a penchant for Russian Imperial Stouts so it was a natural choice. The economy of homebrewing this style of beer is undeniable. On a typical 22 oz bottle of Russian Imperial Stout, I am likely to spend between $8 and $12. By home brewing this batch, the cost has dropped to a little under $3 per 22 oz. Add to this the fact that i have tailored this brew to my tastes and you can’t go wrong. Again with the craziness, i decided with this new found freedom to split the 5 gallon batch into two parts, running one batch into the secondary fermentation and racking the second half over 2 ounces of toasted french oak. I plan on leaving these two batches to mature for 12 weeks in secondary fermentation, bottling around about the first week of October and allowing the beer to bottle condition until halloween. This will still be a young beer so i intend on immediately cellaring four bottles from each half batch with the intention of drinking them next October. I would like to make the Russian Imperial an annual project, brewing each july for a fall/winter consumption. i am excited already about comparing vintages and refining the recipe/process and that’s before i have had a single sip of finished beer. I will tell you that the sample i had during the hydrometer reading made at the transfer from primary to secondary fermentation was absolutely fabulous already with strong roasted coffee notes and a rich mouth feel that is making me really really anxious for halloween to get here! Credit where credit is due, this recipe was modified from the fine recipe given by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer in the great book Brewing Classic Styles as is the next recipe.

Batch 3: The day after brewing the Russian Imperial, I still had the bug and after looking at the calendar and discussing it with my wife, i realized that starting a beer on this particular day would have it ready to serve on my birthday. What better gift than a fresh batch of homebrew? well, sex comes to mind but this blog is focused on food, cooking and drinking so we will leave that one at the door. Anyway, all that aside, I decided a nice Smoked Porter, another of my favorite styles would be absolutely fabulous. Again, the recipe for this fine brew was modified from the aforementioned book, my primary modification being the inability to locate Rausch LME locally so i went to a partial mash, substituting in 3 lbs of smoked malt for the LME as suggested by the authors. It was probably this beer that cemented my desire to go to a higher ratio of grain to extract as it opened my eyes to the simplicity of doing so. it is true that its a little more time consuming but if the results are half as good as my expectations, the effort will be well worth it. We shall see in 8 days, if i can hold out that long.

My next beer, already planning ahead although i have two batches that i haven’t even tasted, crazy, i know, is going to be an Imperial IPA, based again on this excellent resources, with the intention of going almost all grain. i say almost because i plan on following the mash schedule and grain bill but with the late addition in the boil of some amount of LME to kick up the gravity a bit. It may turn out uncharacteristic for the style but i am okay with that. I have been listening to the excellent podcasts from Basicbrewing.com during my morning commute and recently heard two influential episodes that are changing my outlook. The first was on Freestyle Brewing which championed the idea of brewing beer to taste not to the specifications of a style. I am brewing to drink with friends and family, not for competition, not for anyone to judge how closely i achieved a specific set style so i am okay with running a little wild with my ingredients. I do like big beers so yeah, i will probably try to bump up the OG at the tail end which leads me to the other recent influence, the podcast featuring an interview with Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker just after his talk entitled Going Big: Life after 1.064. I picked up a few key points during this interview but the most applicable to this particular point i am making is the relation of the wort gravity to hop utilization. the higher the OG, the less utilization you will get from your bittering hops so going through the majority of the boil with a lower OG and then adding in a late addition of LME will succeed in both fully utilizing your hops to the maximum potential and also increasing wort gravity going into primary fermentation. It should also result in less darkening of the wort for a lighter end product, all goals that i am aiming for in this IPA. regardless, it should be fun and i will definitely post with an update on the process as i go along.

Well, thats about that, i promise at some point i will post about food. Thanks for reading!

links of use:

Basic Brewing Radio
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
The Brew Hut, colocated with Dry Dock Brewery, my “dealer”


Forever Feasting!

April 25, 2010

In five days, i am leaving Korea…  no matter how many times i say this, it seems unreal, a dream a year in the making, finally coming true.  I have yet to finish the final posts on 48feasts but am driven to make a new start…  48 weeks of planning and executing meals has left me with a drive to continue.  i like to think that of all the things i have done, this one is actually having an impact on people.  i like it.  I have sparked a fire amongst a number of my friends and readers.  Eddie is a budding gourmet now…  Dan and Andrew, here in Korea are planning to try some of my meals out to stretch the limits of what they have done in the past…  Joe has been indoctrinated into the truth of the world courtesy of Anthony Bourdain…  i could go on…

In five days, i am leaving Korea.  I am finally going home, anxious to apply the lessons learned in my culinary explorations, to share the wonders of cooking with my wife and children.  It will be nice to be able to share the burden, many hands make light work and all that.  i’m excited to share all these things with my friends and family…  in five days.

In five days I am leaving Korea…  But for now, i have bags to pack.