Tag Archives: Slow_Happy_Brewing

How much slow happy living can we fit on the calendar?

Ten months after I left the corporate world, I still marvel at how busy my days are. One of the things I’d hoped to do was write more — a lot more.  But CFL and I have been so busy doing that the block of time I try to set aside each day for writing gets wedged in between other calendar entries, and then somehow squeezed out. I’ve got a whole lot of “happy” going on but not so much “slow.”

One of the big post-corporate life changes for me has been turning off the alarm clock. I’d jolted awake to an alarm most days of my life since high school. It takes a while to catch up on decades of lost sleep and develop a natural wake/sleep cycle. Most days I awaken around sunrise, which in the Pacific Northwest is earlier than 5:30 AM between mid-May and mid-July. When your summer day starts that early and stays light until 10:00 PM or so, it’s easy to pack in lots of activities and still find time to write! But now, with the sun rising around 8:00 and setting around 4:20 (and when entire days go by without much sign of the sun), it feels like the day is already half gone before I’ve had my first cup of coffee.

Currently my “morning” runs are turning into noon-ish runs or no run at all. I run outside as often as I can and use the treadmill when the weather outside is frightful, but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be time for either. CFL follows a similar regime: hiking or biking on nice days, climbing stairs indoors when it’s stormy, and sometimes foregoing his exercise completely.

In addition to the seasonal schedule adjustments, we’re finding that brewing beer can be time intensive! We spend a lot of time reading about, discussing, planning for, and producing our beers. Then there is beer tourism.

In my last post I mentioned the winter beer festival that we’d planned to attend. It was quite enjoyable and extremely educational. About 35 local microbreweries were there, pouring more than 60 beers — each beer meeting the general description of “winter beer.” There are basically two different types of winter beer: (1) spiced beers and (2) high-alcohol beers like “old ales” and barleywines meant for sipping in front of a crackling, cozy fire. CFL and I share a belief that the only truly proper ingredients for beer are barley, hops, yeast, and water. We’re not enticed by orange peels, coriander, cinnamon, peppermint, coconut, or any of the other weird things that some brewers put into their “spiced” winter beers. But a nice English-style barleywine? Bring it on! It suits us well up here in the seemingly endless PNW winter. So we sampled lots of barleywine, talked to a bunch of friendly brewers, and had a great day! (I do approve of the current trend of aging barleywine in bourbon barrels…)

This past weekend we managed to fit beer tourism into a weekend trip that we’d already packed with events. We made a quick jaunt down to Las Vegas to see the Moody Blues!

I’ve lost exact count, but I’ve seen my favorite musical group the Moody Blues about 40 times since 1974. They usually tour the west coast about every other year, so I guess I’ve managed to catch two shows on many of their tours. About a third of the times that I’ve seen them, it’s been in Las Vegas. I have made a bunch of trips to Las Vegas over the years.

This year’s show was their last one of 2012, winding up their “Highway 45” tour commemorating the 45th anniversary of the release of “Days of Future Passed.” High energy and enthusiasm and great musicianship made for a wonderful show as always. These guys aren’t that young anymore, nor are we, but we all still know how to rock.

While in Las Vegas I had the pleasure of introducing CFL to my brother and his wife, who’d come over from southern California for the show. The four of us spent an afternoon with an old friend and her husband. He’s become a bit of a celebrity as a regular in a popular reality show filmed in Las Vegas (I’d tell you the name of the show, but I’ll keep some privacy for my friend’s sake). As it happened, he was scheduled to make an appearance at the show’s location for a fan meet-and-greet.  The four of us got the “celebrity” treatment as well — we bypassed the line outside, hustled through the door with my friend and her husband, and spent a couple of hours onsite checking out the ensuing madness. Given that I watch almost no TV, I haven’t seen more than a few episodes of this show. So I was honestly surprised at what a big deal this is!

As for Las Vegas beer tourism, we hit a couple of brewpubs, one a franchise restaurant and the other a truly local place called Ellis Island Brewery and Casino. It looked rather dubious (read “local dive”) from the outside, but inside it was authentic vintage Las Vegas, with polished concrete floors, low ceilings, and a cave-like bar. Their beer was decent (and a dollar a glass during the football game!), the service was prompt and courteous, and the locals were friendly. The world needs more places like this!

I intended to show you photos from our trip, but I never took the camera out of its case. I was having too much fun to stop and take photos.

Yesterday we bottled our 8th batch of beer and purchased the ingredients for batches 9 and 10. We’re now tweaking recipes and trying to improve on previous beers. I’d like to get us on a schedule of brewing every two weeks, but with everything going on it’s tricky to fit so much slow happy living on the calendar.

I guess that’s not such a bad problem to have, but in this busy holiday season, I’m trying to create some white spaces on my calendar and make a little more room for sloooowwww and happy.

I hope you can find a little slow and happy too. Cheers!

The weather outside is frightful!

Those who know me well are aware that I have a rather low tolerance for Christmas songs… but there is one song that I not only enjoy, I collect! I confess to owning, as of this moment, 65 versions of the song “Let It Snow.” One of my holiday pleasures is playing my “Let It Snow” playlist softly in the background when friends are over — I enjoy watching to see how long it takes them to figure out that they are hearing the same song over and over. I have versions from such a wide array of genres that it can take a while for people to catch on.

Looking out my window today, the weather is indeed frightful. It’s not snowing — yet — although friends who live a thousand feet higher than me had a flurry this morning. It’s 40 degrees, raining, and very windy here. The sun will set, somewhere to the south and hidden by clouds, at 4:20 PM today. Welcome to Pacific Northwest almost-winter!

CFL and I saw a new movie last night, the world premier of a 48 minute documentary called “Out of the Mist” (the link will take you to the official trailer) about the Olympic wilderness. The film played to an over-packed house at our local college. So many people showed up, in fact, that they opened up a second theatre and had two simultaneous screenings! CFL has met and hiked with one of the people featured in the film, while a couple of their names were familiar to me. In the audience we saw lots of people whom we both know. This is, after all, a film about the beauties of “our own back yard!”

Most of the places shown in the film are far in the back country, well beyond where I have ever ventured. CFL was able to identify many of the locations (he can boast of having climbed Mt. Olympus, a feat I can only imagine). But although I haven’t seen the specific places shown, I’ve seen front-country places that are enough like them that I left the theatre homesick for our mountains… and impatient for next summer when I’ll be able to get up there again.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Ridge looked like this earlier today:

Hurricane Ridge 12/07 1:51 PM

There are 69 inches of snow on the ground, with, obviously, much more to come!

I do find it a challenge at times to stay active and upbeat this time of year. But this morning I decided to make the best of it and did 6 miles on my treadmill. Even though it’s a boring old treadmill, at the end of my run I did feel a sense of accomplishment and just a touch of runner’s high. That’s not so bad!

This evening CFL and I are going to our local homebrewing club’s holiday party, where you can bet we’ll all pass around our various masterpieces. And then we’ll bundle up and walk home — no matter how frightful the weather (well, unless it gets really frightful in which case we’ll call the designated driver whom we have waiting in the wings). Tomorrow we’re off to Seattle for our first beer festival, at which local commercial brewers will showcase their special winter/holiday beers. For that outing, we’ll park the car an hour-plus away and take the ferry and bus to and from our final destination.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a pot of veggie chili simmering for tonight’s party. Downstairs our “Beyond the Pale” IPA is quietly winding down its fermentation in the secondary fermenter, while our second iteration of “Up the Elwha ESB” is bubbling away at a mad 65-beats per minute pace in the primary fermenter. All is good.

How good is it? Here’s what Hurricane Ridge looked like an hour later, at 2:51 PM:

Hurricane Ridge 12/07 2:51 PM

Things are getting better! Surely summer can’t be too far behind…

How about you? What keeps you going in the dark cold days of December? What places do you dream about revisiting next summer when the world is once again warm and green?

You win some, you lose some

We’re continuing to gain both experience and enthusiasm with our Slow Happy Brewing project! After the positive comments from our homebrew peers, we opened our next batch with high hopes and we were not disappointed. Dare I say it, Grand Festivus XII is an awesome winter beer — perfect for sipping in front of the fire if I only had a working fireplace (a chimney sweep is on my to-call list).

For our next batch, we thought we’d dip our toes into the wild and wooly world of IPAs (India Pale Ales). Neither one of us is a hophead, but it’s such a hugely popular style that we have to give it a go.

I fiddled with recipes, tweaked a few ingredients, and came up with something that I thought would nicely fit the style guidelines. We bought the ingredients and scheduled a brew day for last Saturday.

Everything went perfectly. We brewed outdoors on a propane burner for the first time. This allowed us better temperature control and we were confident that we’d gotten all the potential fermentables out of our grains and into the wort. We got the wort cooled relatively quickly. We were all ready to pitch the yeast (put it into the carboy with the cooled wort) and let it do its magic.

CFL decided to dip the thermometer in the carboy one more time to double-check that it was exactly 68 degrees.

He dropped the thermometer into the carboy.

It broke. The tip broke right off.

We looked at each other and immediately agreed that this beer was history.

We dumped the carboy and went out for pizza! No worries, no finger pointing. Good pizza.

So yesterday we went out and bought the same ingredients again. Today we brewed again, using an expensive new digital thermometer with a metal probe. It registers quickly and precisely. With its help, we successfully steeped our grains at a more or less exact 150 degrees for 30 minutes. Then, after an hour of boiling, we cooled our wort to 68 degrees in a record (and just about ideal) 20 minutes.

You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you even learn from your mistakes!

The next batch on our schedule to be opened is another porter, which we weren’t impressed with on brew day two weeks ago — it seemed a bit watery. But we have big hopes for today’s IPA take 2. We’ll see how we did, about a month from now.

Meanwhile I’m going to relax and have a homebrew.

The tasting of the beers!

Filled with hope, a dash or two of quiet pride, and a good bit of trepidation, CFL and I took two of our homebrews — the Angeles Porter and our just-debuted Up the Elwha ESB — to yesterday’s monthly meeting of our local homebrew club.

We were feeling semi-confident of our porter, as several of our friends have tasted it and pronounced it good, yet we were nervous about what our fellow brewers might have to say about it. We were on shakier ground with the ESB. When we opened the first bottles Saturday evening, I was pleased but CFL was unsure and a tad uneasy. I have many fond memories of drinking “bitter” during my year as a university student in Scotland, but it’s not a style that CFL knows well and I didn’t have a bottle of Bass Ale handy for an easy comparison tasting.

We’ve been to enough brewclub meetings now to know how these things work. Most everyone brings a couple of bottles of at least one homebrew to share with the group. Everyone gets a few ounces of beer in a plastic cup. For the first couple of rounds, each beer gets presented in an orderly fashion, we’re all attentive, and we try to provide some feedback to the brewer. After the third or fourth round everything descends into chaos with multiple bottles on the counter and everyone talking at once.

CFL and I were bringing a relatively “light” beer as homebrews go. An ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is supposed to be golden to copper with low to medium bitterness/hoppiness and a moderate level of alcohol — ours is 5.5%. Here in the Pacific Northwest, which is one of the great hop-growing regions of the world, everyone wants to brew an IPA (India Pale Ale). An IPA is basically a higher-alcohol ESB with as many hops as the brewer can force into the brew kettle — it’s a “bitter” ale on steroids. A more traditional English-style ale like our ESB can seem mild and bland by comparison. Knowing that, we hoped to be early in line so that people could actually TASTE our beer instead of losing it in the aftermath of something with a more robust flavor.

Well, that didn’t happen.

The meeting began with a mini-lecture on porters, complete with several demonstration rounds. We looked at each other, shrugged, and added our porter to the line-up on the counter.

Many porters (including those in the demonstration rounds) have heavy roasted or smoky flavors; ours is a bit on the sweeter side but still within the style guidelines. So we weren’t surprised when several people told us ours was a bit too sweet… but then we began to get some very positive comments, along with constructive suggestions for making it “even better,” from some of the more experienced brewers. A few people even asked for a second pour — a good sign that we’re on the right track!

With our confidence bolstered just a bit, we cautiously brought out the ESB. We initially offered it only to those few who’d been so helpful with their feedback on the porter. We were immediately rewarded with our highest praise yet: “This is a good example of the style, and there are no off flavors at all. You did a good job!” That gave us the courage to pass the bottle on to others. Given everything else that was being tasted at that moment, we weren’t surprised when we got a few raised eyebrows. By then we knew that we’d achieved what we’d set out to do with this beer.

As a further quality control check, we picked up a couple bottles of Bass Ale after the meeting and treated each other to a blind, eyes-closed tasting yesterday evening. I correctly distinguished our ESB from the archetype of the style, but CFL got it wrong. The two beers are that close in aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. With eyes opened, ours is cloudier visually because it is bottle-conditioned with residual yeast still in the bottle, but the color is almost identical.

We did well, and we’re pleased.

It’s a good thing we’re pleased with this batch (#3) because brew day for batch 6 did not go as planned on Saturday. We were making another porter… I had researched and tweaked ingredients to create a recipe that I thought would be an improvement on our first porter. But something happened, and the wort that went into the fermenter was a medium brown, several shades too light to be a porter. The worst part is I have no idea what went wrong. We figure we’ll ferment it, bottle it, and age it as planned — and then figure out what to call it… assuming it’s drinkable at all. I guess we are all allowed a bad batch now and then.

It’s bubbling away happily in the carboy right now, so I guess the yeast don’t care what color it is! And as long as they’re busily and contentedly creating alcohol, who am I to complain about the details?

Slow happy dining extravaganza

Tonight I sat down to a simple but very meaningful meal: homemade sauerkraut (six weeks in the making after months of growing the cabbage), homemade 100% rye sourdough bread (a week and a half from beginning the sourdough starter to baking the bread), and a couple of nice cheeses (not local but excellent), all topped off with an Angeles Porter from Slow Happy Brewing (now about a seven weeks since brew date).

Is this slow happy dining or what?

While CFL and I do carefully control the ingredients and environmental conditions for our beer, the sauerkraut and bread are wild and crazy!

The cabbage fermented on its own in a crock, happily doing its thing on whatever wild yeasts had chosen to inhabit our cabbage. When we finally tasted it, we were amazed at how crisp and crunchy it is! Really flavorful too — it’s not like the limp store-bought stuff at all.

I kicked off the sourdough starter with whatever wild yeasts happened to be hanging out on an apple from a tree in my front yard. My first attempt a month ago failed because I got lax about feeding the starter more flour after it began to bubble. I kept a close eye on my second attempt at a starter and caught it at its prime, just in time to start my first loaf of bread. It then took me about two days to get a lively bread dough going in my cool kitchen. When baking day finally came, I used a brand new cast iron loaf pan and held my breath.

The bread came out perfect! CFL and I consumed almost half of it in the first half hour, and then we had another large chunk of it at dinner.

The bread, sauerkraut, and beer complemented one another perfectly, with the cheese adding a few nice notes as well. CFL tells me his pastrami completed the ensemble nicely; I’ll take his word for that.

I forgot to photograph my plate, but here is a photo of our Angeles Porter. In contrast to our first batch, this beer has an impressive head! This particular bottle was actually a tad more exuberant than most — which is why I’d grabbed my phone to capture that moment.

There is something immensely satisfying about eating a meal that you not only prepared yourself, but waited a loooooonnnng time for! As I write this, the second batch of cabbage is aging in my pantry, to be enjoyed beginning about two weeks from now. It will be a lovely shade of pink, as it’s two-thirds red cabbage.

Two batches of beer are aging in my upstairs loft, to be debuted this weekend (Up the Elwha ESB) and next weekend (Grand Festivus XII). The still-unnamed strong Scotch ale is downstairs in a carboy, enjoying a long cozy relationship with a bunch of oak chips before it will be bottled (probably next week) and then aged another 45 days. Today we bought the ingredients for our second porter. It’s a recipe that I invented based on a lot of reading and my determination to create something as true to the “robust porter” style as possible. We’ll brew that one this weekend and plan to debut it just before New Years.

I think I’ll wake up the sourdough starter and begin another loaf of bread tomorrow morning… and maybe bake on Sunday.

Although CFL and I are committed to living one day at a time and enjoying each moment as much as we possibly can, I’m coming to love the long slow happy rhythm that fermenting requires. Especially this time of year, as the nights get longer and colder, it’s good to know that there is genuine, living, local, healthy food growing all around me. It’s good to mark the calendar and anticipate the first tastes. It’s good to plan a couple of batches out and realize that I’ll be eating or drinking them next year.

We’d both lost so much — we’d both lost the person whom we hoped and expected we’d spend the rest of our lives with. Somehow, when we create the slowest of slow foods together, it’s an affirmation that for us, life will indeed go on.

Slowly and happily.

The naming of the beers

Somewhere along the rambling way of my life, I (LKS) developed a penchant for naming things. I have given names to favorite places, childhood toys, items of furniture, cars, plants, and a large array of cats, dogs, finches, and koi. Naming is an act of respectful objectification — what was once undifferentiated is now called out from the whole, made distinct, unique, separated from other things and from nothing.

Sometimes I have to name things just to keep them all straight in my mind.

For me, one of the joys of creating is finding the perfect words to describe just what it is — whatever it is — that I have created. Therefore, a batch of homebrew isn’t really completed until it has been named.

Five batches into our adventures in home brewing, it is becoming necesssary to call a beer by its name. Yesterday we bottled Up the Elwha ESB, moved Grand Festivus XII from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter, and brewed our next batch. This still-nameless beer is a strong Scotch ale, so I’m mulling the possibilities of names with a connection that is both local and faraway. There is an area up in the mountains that I have not yet seen but CFL tells me I will love (it’s on the hiking list for next summer) called Heather Park. I’m liking that connection and it may be the name I’m looking for… but choosing the name is so final and it needs to be just right.

When we’d finished brewing yesterday, we both sat down with a homebrew. CFL enjoyed one of our last few Call 911 Amber Ales (batch 1) and I luxuriated with an Angeles Porter (batch 2).

After three straight brewing weekends in a row, I’m ready to go to an every-other-week schedule — or start recruiting a lot of friends to share our beer with! Next weekend we’re bottling Grand Festivus XII, and racking the Scotch ale to secondary. The week after next we’ll be ready to brew another batch… just as we’re settling down to enjoy our first bottles of Up the Elwha ESB.

Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for what to name a strong Scotch ale, I’d love to hear them. Cheers!

Slow Happy Brewing: We’ve got beer!

It seemed the day would never come, but we tasted our first homebrew on October 5! This was 23 days after we thought we’d set the place on fire while attempting to boil our wort on September 12. We racked our proto amber ale to the secondary fermenter on September 19 and bottled on the 26th.

As befitted the momentous occasion of bottling, I took a lot of photos.

The first step of the process was to thoroughly clean and then sanitize 48 used beer bottles. Well, even before that we had to (1) consume all that beer and (2) find room to store all those empty beer bottles. Suffice it to say that we have been preparing for our homebrewing operation for a while, quietly in the background of our busy lives.

CFL has done most of the reading about and researching of homebrewing techniques, and has developed an appreciation for the taste and health benefits of impeccable sanitization. We bought this very cool bottle drying rack. With 48 bottles suspended from it, it looks a bit like a Christmas tree, don’t you think? It may even replace my Festivus pole this year!

Once the bottles were ready to go, the next steps were “simple”:

  • Boil 3/4 cup of corn sugar with a like amount of water, create a solution and then let it cool.
  • Siphon the wort (which was now completely fermented and completely flat) from the secondary fermenter into the bottling bucket.
  • Add the cooled corn sugar syrup to the wort in the bottling bucket. This beer/syrup mixture, once bottled, would start another fermentation process that would then produce carbonated beer.
  • Siphon just the right amount of beer into each bottle
  • Cap each bottle.
  • Wait patiently for as long as we could stand it, before opening and drinking.

We had obtained a nifty siphon tube attachment that did, in fact, siphon just the right amount of beer into each bottle — if you were quick about lifting the tip at exactly the right moment. Achieving that little feat of perfect timing was my job.

It didn’t go so badly — I only doused myself with beer a few times. As I filled each bottle and set it aside, CFL grabbed it and capped it. For this task, we had an amazing little machine that may or may not have been made by the Ferrari company. It was made in Italy, it does say “Ferrari” on it, and it was marketed to us as “the Ferrari of cappers”!

When we were done, we had 48 bottles of amber ale. We’ve named our beer “Call 911 Amber Ale.” We haven’t yet designed a bottle label for it, but you are free to use your imagination.

In this photo you can also see what we were drinking in order to collect those 48 used bottles. It was a tough job!

Our recipe said the beer would be ready to drink 7-14 days after bottling. Well, we opened our first beers 6 days later… because we were going to be out of town on the 7th day!

It looked beautiful in the bottle!

However, it seemed to be missing something. Where was the head?

We’re not quite sure why, but that final carbonation step wasn’t 100% successful. Our beer tastes great — we’ve had independent confirmation from friends on that point. It has a crisp, clean flavor that tells us CFL nailed the sanitization part. We feel a touch of carbonation but don’t see as many bubbles as we’d like. It may be because we opened them too soon, but the ones we opened yesterday were still almost as head-free. It may be because we are serving them too cold — this is, after all, an ale, and ales are supposed to be served a bit warmer than lagers.

We’ve now become hyper-sensitive to carbonation levels, and guess what? We’ve sampled some very good commercial microbrews over the past few days and they were only marginally more bubbly than ours. So we think maybe we’re being too hard on ourselves?

In any case, we’re happy enough with our Call 911 Amber Ale that we’re not going to let any of it go to waste!

Meanwhile, our second batch is well underway and we’ll be bottling again by this weekend. We’re making a porter this time, and I think it’s going to be fairly hefty. While in the primary fermenter it actually blew off its airlock! Here it is being siphoned from the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter. Look at that yeast/malt residue in the primary (upper) carboy!

We’re trying to come up with a suitable name for our porter. Ideas have included “Pop the Cork Porter” and “Coal Porter” (because it is DARK). Do you have any suggestions for a strong, lively, black, chocolately-smoky beer? If you do, please let us know!

Slow Happy Brewing is getting underway, slowly and happily

The first batch of Slow Happy Brewing beer is bottled and will be ready for tasting in less than a week! We used an extract recipe described as an amber ale. Given our adventures with the smoky stove and the emergency call to the fire department, we’ve named this batch “Call 911 Amber Ale.”

After the initial brew day, this first batch has proceeded rather smoothly. We’ve learned how to siphon from one container to the other without spraying one another with beer. We’ve learned how to use the nifty bottle filler that simplifies the delicate task of getting just enough but not too much beer into each bottle. We’ve mastered the art of using the bottle capper.

Based on original and final gravity numbers (OG and FG), we think the ABV will come in at about 4.2%.

With all the work we’d put into it, we were hoping for a bit higher ABV! So for our second batch, I (LKS) looked for a recipe with a larger amount of grain (more grain going in equates to more alcohol at the end). We agreed on a porter recipe that leans toward the “robust” end of the porter family. My nifty iPad brewing app indicates that we can expect an ABV of about 7.3% from our eleven pounds of barley. That’s more like it! I’ve developed a taste for porter of late — a taste that verged on an obsession when I experienced Dechutes Brewery’s special “Black Butte XXIV” anniversary porter at their brewpub in Bend last week. YUM!!!

We’re brewing our porter this afternoon and will rack it to the secondary fermenter a week from now… right about the time we plan to open our first bottles of Call 911 Amber Ale!

We’re thrilled that, when we attend our next local brewer’s guild meeting in mid-October, we’ll be able to bring a sample of our own beer for others to taste and praise (or not). Our porter won’t be ready to drink before late October, so we’ll plan on bringing that one to the November meeting.

Eventually we plan to have multiple batches going concurrently so that we’ll always have a selection of Slow Happy Brews available for drinking and sharing with friends. Hey, maybe that’s you — why not stop by when you’re in the neighborhood?