Monthly Archives: July 2013

Slow Happy Brewing: We’re going all-grain!

The other day CFL and I bottled our 20th batch of beer. Twenty 5-gallon batches in ten months… gosh, that’s something like 900-950 bottles of beer! Good thing we have friends who like to come over for beer tasting parties.

Batch #20 is something we call a “pseudo-lager” — it’s a very light, sessionable pale ale brewed with Saaz hops and ale yeast. Saaz is one of the “noble” hops, meaning it’s an old European variety and more or less the signature pilsner hop. If you remember the old brand “Lucky Lager,” you’ll appreciate the name we gave this batch — Chucky LaGer. We do hope it will have more character than the old Lucky.

Although we have brewed, bottled, and (I confess!) drank a whole lot of beer over the past ten months, some people would say that we aren’t yet real brewers. We’ve been using malt extract, a highly refined powder or syrup made from barley, for the bulk of the fermentables in our recipes. We’ve used actual, recognizable grains only in small quantities to produce desired colors and flavors. As an analogy, think of baking a cake from a mix (and adding a few ingredients here and there just for character) rather than baking completely from scratch.

Extract brewing is faster and requires less equipment than all-grain brewing. It’s an easy way to get started with brewing. But now, twenty batches in, we’ve mastered the basics and we’re ready to get creative with recipes and processes.

The key piece of equipment that we needed was a mash tun. This is a large vessel in which grain is steeped or “mashed” in hot water at a precise temperature for an extended period of time. I may not have all the right words for this, but basically the process works like this: Mashing causes the barley to release its fermentable sugars. After repeated rinses (sparging) you collect a sufficient amount of thick sweet liquid, which is then boiled to produce the wort that will become the beer. In essence, the mashing process creates the equivalent of the extracts that we’ve used since the beginning, but we’ll have control over exactly which varieties of barley we use. An English type of barley (for example Maris Otter) for an English-style beer, a German type for a German-style beer, and so on.

In search of the perfect mash tun, we pored through catalogues and drooled over stainless steel tiered systems with dairy fittings, pumps, digital temperature controllers, and price tags running well into four figures.

Ultimately we decided it would be prudent to start modestly.

This is not an Igloo cooler! This is a mash tun.

Here is a closeup of the spigot, which replaces the default Igloo spigot.

Inside the mash tun there is a false bottom. This screen allows the wort to exit the mash tun through the tubing at the bottom, leaving the spent grain behind in the mash tun.

There are formulas to calculate exactly how much water to add, when, and at what temperature to complete each step of the mashing process. We’re told that the cooler will maintain our desired temperature (usually 152 degrees) without budging for the hour or so that the process will take. 

I had intended that our first all-grain batch would be an IPA, but then our home brew club decided we’d all brew exactly the same recipe and compare everyone’s results at the September meeting. So I’ve juggled the schedule and we’ll begin our all-grain odyssey with an American Stout.

Are we excited? Yes!

It’s another new learning curve, and we’re all about that.

We’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I’m going to relax and have a home brew.

Our activity streak: Mid-year update

Today is the 190th day of 2013 — just past the halfway point of the year. Although I haven’t yet moved far from my computer this morning, as of last night I’d run, walked, hiked, and biked a total of 972 miles. I’ll hit 1,000 miles in less than a week from now.

Neither CFL nor I have missed a single day of human-powered forward motion. I have dutifully logged my every mile in one of my famous spreadsheets. CFL is a bit more casual about his record keeping so I can’t report his actual mileage, but his daily activity streak is intact.

We’ve walked through airports and around shopping malls to keep the streak intact. On road trips, we’ve driven out of our way to find interesting small towns where we can sample the local craft brew and then walk around downtown for an hour or so before getting back in the car.

So far I have run 464 miles, walked 401 miles, hiked 91 miles and ridden my bike 16 miles.

I really need to ramp up the biking miles! Next month we are going to Portland to ride the Bridge Pedal — a 33-mile ride over ten of Portland’s Willamette River bridges. I’m still not comfortable riding my bike on a public road, much less in close company with a few thousand other riders. I’m more nervous about running into another cyclist and causing both of us to fall, than I am about riding on a public road. As I understand it, the bridges themselves will be closed to auto traffic during the ride, but I’m not sure about the roads between the bridges.

It’s time to seriously increase the hiking miles as well. The mountain snow is almost gone, and I want this to be the year when I finally do an overnight backpacking trip.

And oh yes, the running miles are going to ramp up considerably as well, as I move into the serious weeks of training for my first full marathon. Within a week or two I plan to ease myself through the first big psychological barrier — running more than 13.1 miles (the half marathon distance) on one of my Sunday morning long slow runs.

I’ve discovered that if you spend enough hours outdoors, it’s possible to get a tan even in western Washington.

I’ve discovered that the home brew tastes even better when you’ve been out there earning it step by step!

Our friends have grown accustomed to seeing us together walking around downtown. These days I never drive anywhere within a radius of about three miles from home, unless I’m planning on bringing back a large load of groceries. We’ll be ready for the next gasoline panic — we’ll simply keep walking.

When we started this thing at the beginning of the year, I honestly didn’t think we would continue it for long. Now — barring serious injury or illness — I can’t imagine not being active every day. About a month ago I was moving some large plant pots around in the back yard and somehow managed to drop a concrete block on my foot. It was seriously bruised but not broken, so I walked… slowly… the same afternoon.

Today’s plans call for an easy walk downtown for the twice-monthly meeting of the Tuesday Night Beer Research Group. The group’s motto is “We drink to learn!”

Tomorrow I’ll hit the trail again for a 7 mile run. Then I think a high-altitude hike would go well, a bit later in the week. And another bike ride of course! The possibilities are endless.

Slow and happy — one step at a time!

A postcard from the Olympics

Remember post cards? What a quaint custom that now seems to be. It’s been a long time since I have gone on vacation and sent home (via snail mail!) a purchased image of the place I’d visited, with a few scribbled words. You know — something like:

“Having a great time — wish you were here!”

The other day CFL and I went up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. While ONP is a destination for people coming from all around the world, we like to think of it as our back yard. Yes, we are spoiled that way.

The Ridge was particularly crowded on this day, as it was the park’s 75th birthday! We decided that rather than hike one of the popular trails, we’d go out and back on Obstruction Point Road. This all-wheel-drive dirt road is normally open to vehicles by this time of year, but due to budget cuts the road still has uncleared patches of snow and is blocked by fallen trees in several places. However, the wide roadway gave us easy hiking and offered many dramatic vistas across to the mountain peaks. The air was even more crystal clear than usual, and I took dozens of photos.

So here, if you will, is a blogospheric postcard from the Olympics… a photographic sampling of a perfect day in a beautiful place.

By the way, we did have a great time — and don’t you wish you were here?