Makin' The Beer (Part 2)

I can't believe that I hadn't finished off this blog, seeing as how I wrote Part 1 on Sept. 30, and have been sitting on the pictures since early October.  In part 1, I covered the boil and primary fermentation.  Now the beer's been sitting in primary for a week, bubbling its little bubbles, and it's time to finish off the brew.

Step 4: Transferring to Secondary Fermentation

The goal of primary fermentation was to convert the sugars in the wort to alcohol.  Now that fermentation has settled down, we officially have beer!  We could simply leave the beer in the fermenter for awhile, but I'm a believer in racking off into secondary fermentation.  This will make the beer clearer, which we want since this is a pale ale, and it reduces the chances of getting off-flavors.  If the yeast runs out of sugars to eat, it will start eating other crap in the mixture and screw up the taste.  This process is extremely simple.
We take an empty carboy, racking cane, and tubing and put them in sanitizing solution.  Once they're clean we grab our hydrometer and a Sierra Nevada Stout.  We pull out a sample and use the hydrometer to check the alcohol content (as I feared, it's pretty low.  This will be a light pale ale, it seems).  We drink the sample, and it tastes ok, but a bit thin.  We then start drinking the stout.  The carboy full of beer comes out of the closet and we use the racking cane and hose to transfer the beer into the empty, clean carboy.  

All of that nasty crap in the primary fermentation vessel won't end up in the beer, thank God!  The gunk is called trub (pronounced troob in the US, trub in the UK), and it smells as bad as it looks.  Now that our clean carboy is full of beer, it gets sealed off with an airlock.  The grossed out carboy gets cleaned out, since we'll need it for bottling.  The beer sits in secondary for another week.  We won't see much bubbling in the airlock.

Step 5: Bottling

Bottling sucks.  It is one of the worst parts of making beer, especially if you're still using the equipment from a starter kit - which I am.  Thankfully, my wife got home early from work to help me. 

As we're well aware, sanitizing is the key.  So, our racking cane, tubing, carboy, funnel, bottle filler, and strainer all go into a sanitizing solution.  Additionally, I ran the bottles through the high heat cycle in an empty dishwasher, (no soap!) capped them off with aluminum foil, and stored them upside down overnight.  I also put my caps in boiling water to keep them sterile.

We transfer the beer (yet again) from the secondary fermenter into a clean carboy.  This is a bit of a pain in the ass, but it does mean that more trub stays out of our final beer.  Since we put in all of this work to get the beer tasting right, there's no need to skip steps now.  I also took a final sample, and the hydrometer confirms that this beer has a paltry 2% alcohol level, because I used too much water.  I'm disappointed, but it's not that of a deal, as most of my wedding guests drink Bud Lite and are used to thin beer.
Before bottling the the beer, we'd normally boil up a concoction of corn sugar and water and put that into the carboy holding our beer.  The purpose of this is to carbonate the beer in the bottle.  Whatever yeast remains will eat up the sugars while it's sealed in the bottle.  The escaping CO2 has nowhere to go, giving us carbonation.  
Since this is a fall spiced ale, I've also added 4 cloves, 3 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice, and 6 cinnamon sticks to the priming mixture.  Once that's nice and boiled up, we add it to the carboy and swirl it around to get a good mix.  This was actually a lot harder than it should've been.  Turns out all of those ingredients made a thick syrup, which got caught up in the strainer.  
Now comes the suck, and the reason why it's way better to have two people for this step.  Using the racking cane, tubing, and bottle filler (which is nothing more than a plastic tube with a stopper on the end), we transfer the beer from the carboy to the bottles one at a time.  The key to this is to fill up the bottle as high as you can so that there's little room for air.  There are a lot of contraptions to make this step easier, so that'll be my next set of purchases.

Once the bottle is filled up, we pull a cap out of the boiling water, using a sterilized set of tongs, and crimp it onto the bottle with our handy little capping contraption on the left.  My wife likes filling, I like capping, so it all works out well.  Now we just do that 39 more times.  Oh, then we get to do it all over again the next day, since I'm making two batches.
And that's about it, as far as brewing goes.  The beer sits in the bottles for ten days or so to bubble up.  I'll usually grab one at a week to see how it's doing.  This time around, there weren't any exploding bottles, so no infections.  It took about two weeks to get properly carbonated.

I bought some beer labels online, and my wife made up labels for the wedding.  The Celtic knot was a great choice, since my wedding ring has the same design.  The beer turned out to be a big hit with everyone, so I'm pretty damn proud of myself.  My photographer even offered to buy a case off of me.  I didn't take him up on it, as I don't want to become a bootlegger being chased by Boss Hogg and jumping over ravines in the General Lee.

Step 6: Drinking!

The final yield was 80 bottles of Matrimony Ale, three cases of which made it to the wedding.  I probably should have aimed for around 65 bottles when I first got started, as that would've given me a bit more body in each bottle.  One of the best parts about making beer is figuring this type of stuff out as you go.  I ended up with about a case and a half after the wedding.  Personally, I think that the taste is very good - I used the right amount of spice - but the low alcohol content and light body are big turnoffs for me, so I don't really think I'll drink a lot of it myself.  I'll probably take it to parties and stuff over Christmas.
I bought $700 worth of booze at the liquor store for the wedding, which didn't include any beer.  My cousin supplied 15 cases of assorted Redhook, Widmer, and Kona beers gratis (love ya, Chrissy!).  The picture below is what I had left over after the wedding.  I took some of the wine and liquor back to the store, but all of that wonderful beer is sitting in my coat closet waiting to be inhaled.  It's going to be awhile before need I brew anything else myself.


QOTD: Worst Game - Sega Superstars Tennis

I had to replace my E74'd 360 in January, so I got a slightly used Arcade off a dude on Craigslist.  It came packed with Sega Superstars Tennis.  It's not a horrible game, but it's so bland and boring that I put it down after about an hour.  My brother has an Arcade as well, and despite being tennis fans, his kids put up with it for about 20 minutes before running to the store and getting a copy of Top Spin.  Dude, when kids would rather play an overly complicated tennis game than one with Sonic, you know that the game is no good.


Makin' The Beer (Part 1)

My wedding is fast approaching, soh it's time to make some homebrew.  I'm getting married on October 31 (no costumes), so I thought that two batches of pumpkin pie spice pale ale would do nicely.  This time around, I'm taking pictures for posterity and blogging about it to make it feel extra special.  I started batch one last night.  Join me, won't you?

Step 1: Sanitation and Prep

Anyone will tell you that sanitation is key in all phases of making beer.  My last batch picked up an infection, though I still have no idea where from, so I've redoubled my efforts to make sure that everything that gets even close to my beer is sterilized.  Here's the equipment that we'll be using on brew day for this batch:  

1 large funnel (w/strainer), 1 small funnel (w/strainer), 1 glass carboy, 1 rubber stopper with blowoff hose attached, 1 hard plastic spoon, 1 set tongs, 1 candy thermometer, 1 turkey baster, and 1 12-quart stainless steel stockpot.  All of them sit in a solution of water and non-chlorine bleach for at least 20 minutes.  There's also a bunch of other stuff that I didn't need this time, as the large funnel made transferring from the brew pot to the carboy a LOT easier. 

 I should probably do the dishes at some point.
Next up is the fun stuff, the stuff that's gon' make the drinkins.  The ingredients for this batch are 1/2 lb. Crystal Malt (not pictured), 1/2 lb. Carapils Malt (not pictured), 6 lbs. Extra Light Dry Malt Extract, 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (for boiling), 2 oz. Cascade hop pellets (1 oz. for flavoring, 1 oz. for finishing), 1 packet American Ale Yeast, and 5 gallons distilled water.  We'll also need my hydrometer (to measure specific gravity before putting in the airlock, vodka (for spot cleaning and filling the airlock), and Dominion Oak Barrel Stout (for happiness).  The first rule of brewing is that you have to drink while doing it.   I activated the yeast packet a couple of hours before starting; you can see that the package is really inflated as the yeast is waking up.

Step 2: The boil

 Just like making tea.
First, we take the mix of carapils and crystal malts and put it into two grain bags.  This makes them much easier to work with, and makes the entire steeping process not unlike putting a tea bag in water.  Then we dump in a gallon or so of water and bring it all up to about 150 F.  The bags steep for a half-hour, so we drink for a half-hour.  This will impart the color and flavor of the grains into the beer.  Next we pull the grains out and get the pot up to boiling.  

The batch is about ready.
Once the water is boiling, we add the 6 lbs. of dry malt extract and stir it all in.  And we drink some more.  We fill a grain bag with the Simcoe hops, which will impart the floral/bitter flavor.  Since this is a pale ale, it won't be too strong, unlike the hoppy Stone IPA that I was drinking.  Most of my guests drink Bud, so we don't want to floor them with a hoppy beer.  Besides, the spices should take center stage.  After 50 minutes of boiling, we add 1 oz. of the Cascade hops (for flavor).  After 58 minutes of boiling, we add the rest of the Cascade hops (for finishing).  Then we stop the boil and pull the hops out at 60 minutes.
  We also play a lot of Chrono Trigger.  There's plenty of downtime, but you have to keep an eye on the pot so it doesn't boil over.  You only make that mistake once (trust me!)


Now we need to cool everything down, so the pot gets a lid and goes into an ice bath for 30 minutes.  During this time, we drink.  The gross-looking bags on the right contain the mushy remains of the hop pellets. 


Step 3: Into Primary Fermentation

So now the wort (aka unfermented beer) is cooled down enough to add to the glass carboy.  I dump it into the large funnel, straining out any remaining gunk.  Then we top off the carboy with another 3-3.5 gallons of water.  We also take a sample of the wort and test it with the hydrometer to get an idea of our potential alcohol.  The reading came out a bit lower than I'd like (1.029), so this will most likely be a relatively weak beer.  I think that'll work for the crowd at the wedding, and the spices should have enough flavor to make the beer interesting (hopefully).  I'll use a bit less water with batch two to give that a bit more punch.  I also give the batch a taste, though honestly it tastes like crap at this point.  It confirmed that this will be a light beer.  



From there, we put in the rubber stopper with the blowoff hose and run the hose into a vase full of water.  This will allow CO2 and any nasty byproducts to blow out out of the top of the carboy, but it also keep the air out of the batch.  Light and air are the worst enemies of good beer.  I keep my carboy in its box to keep some of the light out.  My coat closet has been converted to my beer closet for this occasion.
I checked out the batch the next morning.  All's well, because we've got bubbles!


By the time I got home from work, there was significant blowoff.  This can be a bit scary, as excessive blowoff means that your beer is probably infected.  My last batch went completely overboard.  However, a couple of hours after taking this photo, the batch settled down nicely and has been simply bubbling away like the good beer that it is.

Now the carboy just needs to sit for about a week.  Once the bubbling subsides, that tells us that the sugars have been consumed by the yeast and that the beer is ready to be transferred for secondary fermentation.  Right now, I'm in the middle of brewing batch two as I write this.  I simply repeat the same process over again, especially the drinking part.  The only difference is that I'm drinking Ommegang's Abbey Ale this time around.

Must-Have 2009 Releases (for QOTD)

Actually, I rarely buy any game brand new, with the exception of Rock Band games and RPGs.  I prefer to wait until they drop in price.  The only one on the list that I actually expect to get right when they come out are Scribblenauts and LEGO Rock Band, but those will be as presents for other people.

Upcoming 2009 Must-Owns

1. Scribblenauts

My wife-to-be's b-day is coming up, and she is getting this that I can have it, too

2. LEGO Rock Band

I'm not that interested in the LEGO aspects, but the setlist is surprisingly solid, and the songs will be exportable.

3. Fallout 3

Specifically the GOTY edition. I bought Fallout 3 when it came out, but I haven't gotten the DLC packs.

4. Dragon Age: Origins

I love fantasy settings, and I've really enjoyed Bioware's latest games. I'm really looking forward to this game.

5. Assassin's Creed II

Despite having the same complaints as others about AC (repetitive missions, etc.), I still think it's one of the best games that I've played in the past few years. I can't wait to see how the Italian setting works.



I just caught myself singing along and bopping my head to Dead on Arrival by Fallout Boy at work.  I need to go take a shower and get the suck off of myself.


Gotta Love SF4 Players on XBL.

MADBALL999: "awwwwwe what happened....turtling didnt work for u that time?"
Said after beating me with Seth.  I beat him the first match, and he picked Seth for the second match.
II JKILLA II: "hope ur asswhole feels better"
Said after beating me like four times in a row with Balrog and Guile.  I picked random people for 3 of the 4 matches, and barely lost to his Guile as Cammy (one of my worst matchups).