Wednesday, June 6, 2007

El Rojo Loco or 480-1

That's Neil's arm stirring the 10 gallons of our first homebrew atop my ancient Wedgewood. It was Earthday. It seemed fitting that we were enjoying libations and stirring a vast cauldron on such an auspicious day.

The brew ingredients and supplies were procured at the Oak Barrel, a Berkeley Institution since 1957. They have an extensive array of beer making supplies as well as wine and vinegar making implements. The recipe we used is also of their creation and is called a Russian Red that carries with it a theoretical alcohol content of 5 and a 1/4. Sounded good to me. I think that my first brew with Max and the boys was something along these lines so it felt like familiar territory, or so I tried telling myself.

For the brewing portion, Team Duff consisted of Neil, Ben, H and myself. After cracking grains and suspending them in the 10 gallon vat of water, we cranked on the heat. At the 165, the grains are pulled and the kettle is brought to boiling. Add the malts and sugars, then the hops and return to a boil. This recipe had pellet hops, which I had never encountered before. The guy at the Barrel said you just toss 'em in and they disslove. For a scientist like myself, this was a poor choice of words because my interpretation was to just chuck it in the wort, without a bag. Sure enough, they broke up and dispersed nicely, but this is only approaching dissolution and not actually getting there.

Half hour into this, you toss in the irish moss flocculant tablets. They float and resemble sweet tarts fizzing away in soda, adding to the mystique and general air of mad-scientist experiment in progress. After an hour of total boiling time with malts, the final addition of hops is tossed in and the entire kettle is removed from the heat and placed in a cool environment. If you have a wort chiller, you would use it now. Being amateurs, we put it into a basin with ice on the bottom and stirred it a bunch.

During this time, I rehydrated the packet of Windsor ale yeast in a sterilized pyrex measuring glass. When the wort was in the mid 70's, we pitched the yeast into the sparate carboys, measuring out half into each using the pour and eyeball method. I filtered the wort through a fine meshed stainless steel sieve to (hopefully) retrieve the majority of the hop mash.

With carboys topped off and air locks in place, it was time to bring upstairs. It was a warm day for around here (80's) but with the promise of foggy days ahead, so I brought the beer upstairs to begin fermenting. It took about 2 & 1/2 hours for the caps to be blown off and tons of foamy sludge to begin pumping out the valves. It appears fermentation has commenced just fine, but how much foam is gonna pump out of these things? I put them in the tub for the night.

On H's suggestion, I ventured out to Bo's Barbeque in Lafayette for some nice beer bottles for re-use. I scored at least enough to do 7-8 gallons of beer, including some ceramic Belgian type and a few other odd sized bottles. Trying to calculate how much beer was pumped out of each carboy involved eye-balling it again, with a rough guess of at least 1/2 of a gallon from each. So I washed and sterilized a little over 9 gallons worth of containers and hoped to fill as much as possible.

H, Sis, and I comprised the bottling crew of Team Duff. We gathered around the kitchen table and formed an assembly line of sorts. Only it was excruciatingly slow. Maybe next time I shoud use a larger diameter siphon tube because this took near an hour and a half to fill 8 gallons. We kept everything pretty sterile, including dipping the siphon tube into the iodine solution after taking a big swig of it to get it started. It tasted rather nice. After waiting a few moments the alcohol hit my stomach and registered a nice warmth. I thought about taking a specific gravity reading to figure alcohol content, but I failed to ask Max if I could borrow the hydrometer. Oh well, the warmth in my belly indicated it was somewhere near the 5's where it should be. I poured out a little glass to pass around and sample. We concurred it was nice, and that it would be a tough few weeks to wait while it carbonated and conditioned in bottles.

Standing over 8 gallons of beer, in your own garage, is a very nice feeling. It made me reflect on the possibility of one day "living off the grid, man" by adding another survival skill to the growing repertoire by acquiring the knowledge of making my own alcohol. It felt like I was somehow addressing the issue of homeland security, but not. Okay, maybe Beerland Security.

For the purposes of scientific inquiry, a test bottle was opened at one week after bottling. I mean, people say to let it condition for a few weeks before drinking, but why? Being the curious sort of monkey, I figured we should ask and answer the question for ourselves. I took one out back and cracked it open with my sister. It smelled and tasted good, and the alcohol registered warm and fuzzy in the tummy. But it was a bit......disconnected. Like chili the first day; yummy, but without the flavors completely melded together. Oh. Thats why they use the term conditioned, and not just carbonated for describing bottling and waiting half a moon cycle to enjoy.

Two days after the birth of my boy, I went insane. Hold on there. Just because, I went and ran Bay to Breakers with honorary Team Duff member Gunther after having very little sleep. But, while gasping up Hayes Street Hill, I pictured a big red glass of homebrew alongside some grilled goodies in my future.

3 week update: brew continues to "mellow" and is becoming maybe drier?
4 week update: even better, but only a gallon or so left (of 5+ gallons for this household, but a lot of it shared)
5 week update: damn, wish I had more than 2 bottles left