Thursday, May 20, 2010

Transferring Your Homebrew via CO2

We made a major improvement to our home brewery last night, one that Mr Wort Hog's been bugging me about for a while. If you've ever had to transfer beer from a carboy to another container, you know what a pain in the ass it can be. We've tried it all - blowing on one end of the carboy cap (too germy), creating a siphon by filling the tubing with StarSan (fails regularly), creating suction by using a turkey baster at the output end of the tubing (rarely works), and squeezing the carboy to create pressure (never got that one to work). The whole carboy + racking cane/carboy cap/tubing assembly was frustrating to no end. And an auto-siphon just introduces too much oxygen to the process, so it's not even a participant.

Enter CO2 transfer.

Mr Wort Hog found some information on the Maltose Falcons website and sent me a link back in, uh, January? I finally took the time to order the parts online and we assembled & used it last night. The verdict? Best way to transfer beer. Ever.

The basic hookup goes like this: Connect a CO2 tank to the carboy containing the fermented beer, which pushes the beer through a racking cane and some beer line. The beer line is hooked up to the keg through a flare fitting, going in through the "out" beer line dip tube and into the keg. The benefits to this are multiple, but the greatest improvement is the introduction of a completely closed transfer - and CO2 purging of the lines. That is, there's no introduction of oxygen (or mouth-based germs) to the transfer. Let's take a look.

CO2 tank > gas line > carboy cap > carboy > racking cane > beer line > flare fitting > keg

From the CO2 tank, we've got a male/female quick disconnect from the regulator to the carboy cap. In the picture below, the keg is to the lower right (yes, that's the regulator peeking out there) and a freezer containing the carboy on the left. And a roll of paper towels lurking in the background.

The gas line then goes into the carboy: A 1/4" flare-to-barb fitting goes into the small little outlet on the carboy cap and a 1/4" nut & 5/16" barb fitting connects that to the gas line. In other words, shove the 1/4" fitting into the carboy cap and the nut fitting into the end of the gas line then screw them together. Here, we have the nut fitting in the gas line secured by a worm clamp. Click on the picture to see a much better picture of the detail.
A racking cane goes through the main opening in the carboy cap (this can take a little smooth talking and cajoling) and connects to beer line. I got the wrong size beer line (it doesn't fit onto the racking cane), so we used a bit of 3/8" ID silicone tubing and a worm clamp to ensure a tight transfer. Hey, it works.

That beer line, then, goes to the keg. The other end of the beer line has a barb quick disconnect that goes to the OUT line on the keg. That's it.

So before the transfer, fill the keg with CO2 and assemble the liquid end (racking cane, carboy cap, beer line, keg disconnect) with sanitizer. Purge some of the CO2 from the keg just to get a bunch of it out of there, then hook the assembly up to the keg before putting it in the carboy, and this will cause the CO2 in the keg to exit via the assembly. You've just purged your liquid lines with CO2.

Put the liquid assembly onto the carboy and turn on the CO2 to about 3psi. This will push the beer back through the liquid assembly and into the keg.

A few minutes later, you've got all your beer in your keg and have minimized its exposure to oxidation.

Sounds like a lot of work, I guess, but I assure you it is FAR less work and MUCH more sanitary (and O2-free) than other transfer methods. I only wish I'd ordered the parts a lot longer ago...

Monday, May 17, 2010

I'll take American Craft Beer History for $200, Alex

In the spirit of American Craft Beer Week, here's a little bit of trivia about some true American craft beer pioneering. (I'd say pionbeering, but that might be just a bit too much...)

Back in the 1980s, Scott Birdwell out of Houston was in San Rafael, CA for an annual home beer & wine convention, when he met up with Byron Birch. Byron, owner of a homebrew shop in San Rafael, shared with Scott a recipe for a dark ale named "Purple Passion Dark Ale" (I am not sure I'd admit to that). The recipe made a beer that was dark, malty, a little roasty, quite hoppy - and did very well in state competitions as well as with customers. It was, however, way out of style for any of the BJCP brown ale categories, so it never fared well against style standards or national competitions.

Scott enjoyed the beer so much, however, that he decided to create a new "California Dark" category for Houston homebrew competitions (named such as a nod to his California friends). Within a couple of years, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) added the dark, hoppy style to its style categorizations and named it "Texan Brown Ale" due to the popularization of the style in regional competitions there. Over time, the AHA renamed the style to...

(drumroll, please)

... American Brown Ale.

Yep, the style we know and love today as American Brown overcame prior lives as Purple Passion, California Dark, and Texas Brown. If it managed to survive those, surely it's worth drinking. So there you have it - an American beer style favored and recognized by homebrewers, then popularized by commercial craft breweries. Truly a great example of the spirit of American Craft Beer week.

Beers within this style should be dark in color and should taste slightly roasty (but not as roasty as a stout or porter), chocolatey, malty, and at least moderately hoppy (if not very hoppy). The hops definitely play a prominent role in American Brown ales, and they're typically American (citrusy, piney, resiny). Contrast this to English brown ales that are sweet and malty with a low hop profile (which aren't really available here) or are dry, caramelly, nutty, and also have a mellow hop flavor and aroma (think Newcastle or Samuel Smith Nut Brown).

Probably the first commercial American Brown was Pete's Wicked Ale (brewed by Pete's Wicked, started by homebrewer Pete Slosberg), but some great examples of the style include Bell's Best Brown, Lost Coast Downtown Brown, and Moose Drool (in cans!).

Speaking of home brewing (and craft beer, while we're at it), did you know Bell's Brewing started out nearly 30 years ago as a homebrew supply shop named Kalamazoo Brewing Company?

Now you do.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Toast to Dad in ALS Awareness Month

May is ALS Awareness month and, while I normally wouldn’t include this sort of thing on my blog, this is a topic that’s close to me and my family. ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal disease that progressively kills your motor neurons until your body can no longer function. Dad was diagnosed in 1999. He was having a hard time holding things and, after ruling everything else out, doctors determined he had ALS. Most people die within 5 years of diagnosis; dad died in 3.

In 1992, Dad had an opportunity to take a temporary job in Heidelberg, Germany for the Dept of Defense. He accepted the assignment and took the family with him over the summer. After a brief return to the states, he accepted a longer contract in 1993 and the family moved to Heidelberg for a five-year stint. I was in college in the states during that time, but got to spend summers in Heidelberg (plus I took most of a year off college to work & travel over there).

My dad left the US drinking MGD and returned drinking German beer – most typically Pils, Dunkles, or Hefeweizen. His experience there completely changed his perspective on beer, which led to my own understanding that beer was something more than Blue Boar.

He took a few trips to Bamberg, home of Rauchbier; it was one of his favorite cities, and I’ll never forget hearing about his discovery of beer that tasted like ham. He took the family to Berlin and introduced me to Berliner Weiss (mit schuss, of course). He also introduced me to Hefeweizen, which I swore had a shot of banana syrup in it no thanks to that Berlin experience. I drank my fair share of Helles and Pils, typically at fests in various small towns we’d visit. And a lot of Grolsch. (I blame that on the clubs.)

And, finally, he introduced me to the concept of proper glassware. He collected steins, krugs, goblets, weizen glasses, and a bunch of other beer-holding devices. My mom’s been gracious enough to let me have many of the glasses he collected, including small samplers from various small-town breweries and fests. My favorite, though, is the Augustiner Edelstoff willi becher glass. I hope to have this one for a long time.

Though Dad was diagnosed with ALS shortly after the family’s return to Portland, his interest in good beer continued. We hung out at Produce Row, Bridgeport, and Horse Brass. We drank Deschutes, Rogue, Widmer, and other good Oregon brews in a city that would, just a few years later, become a major beer destination for beer enthusiasts everywhere. He would have loved what’s happened with craft beer and I have no doubt he would have continued to introduce me to new aspects of the brewing world.

May 25th would have been my dad’s 61st birthday. During ALS awareness month, in honor of my dad and the beer enthusiasm he developed while in Germany, I propose a toast to those who have sparked or shared your interest in craft beer, glassware, beer-related travel, and all other things beery. Prost!

Doug - Dad and Beer Lover
1949 - 2002

To find out more about ALS or how you can help, visit the ALS Association's website. To volunteer for a charity walk, find an upcoming walk  near you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spent Grain Chocolate Muffins

We saved some of the grain from a batch of Premium American Lager, with the intention of making some veggie burgers and bread with it. This morning, I had a strong craving for muffins or coffee cake, so I figured I'd throw something together. I decided on muffins and the recipe evolved from there. I looked up the ratios for my base ingredients and made up the batch. And here's the resulting recipe:

- 4oz (8 Tbsp) butter, melted
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup spent grain
- 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I recommend Ghirardelli)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, combine the butter, eggs, and milk. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix until just combined, and pour into a lined muffin or loaf pan. Bake 30 minutes for muffins, 50 for a loaf.

Overall, I'm happy with how these turned out. If I made these again, I'd reduce the butter to 6 Tbsp instead of 8. The butter flavor in these is a bit too dominant for my preference. That's the only change I'd make, though.

I will note here, too, that I used a few substitutions. We were out of eggs so I used my trusty egg replacement tactic I learned in my vegan days: 1 Tbsp ground flax meal + 3 Tbsp water = 1 large egg. It works very well as a binder, but not quite as well as a leavening agent. That's likely the reason my muffins didn't turn out as fluffy as they would have otherwise. I also used Splenda instead of sugar and rehydrated dry milk instead of regular (milk's not really a common thing in our house, but I keep a box of dry milk for baking.) So what you see pictured isn't exactly what's in the recipe above, but close enough.

Each muffin in the recipe above is about 185 calories with 10g of fat, 2g of fiber, and 4g of protein. My version with the flax, dry milk, and Splenda comes out to 145 calories with 10g of fat, 2g of fiber, and 2.5g of protein.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wild for Raspberry Ale

I've finally given up and admitted that I like fruit beer. I'm not ashamed. I even bought a six-pack of fruity, malty goodness recently (OK, a month ago):  Great Divide Wild Raspberry Ale.

Described as a "beer lover's fruit beer", Wild Raspberry Ale is dry, bitter, and full of raspberry flavor. It smells like pureed raspberries with a little bit of graininess behind the fruity aroma. A little reminiscent of raspberry cobbler.

The flavor is pretty similar to the aroma. Initially tons of raspberry, followed by flavors of baked malt & grain and finished by a balanced, lingering hop bitterness. Mouthfeel is also dry thanks to a moderate-high carbonation level. Perfect for spring & summer!

I found this to be an interesting fruit beer because it's not like most of the ones I've had before. It's not the sweet, fresh, bready Samuel Smith strawberry ale I discovered (and loved!) last year. It's not a Belgian fruit style, so it doesn't have the esters or signature lambic-style flavors that are so common with various Belgian fruit ales. And it's much drier and hoppier than the ever-popular O'Fallon Wheach, Pyramid Apricot, Founder's Cerise, or even New Belgium's Framboise.

So here it is. If you aren't offended by the concept of fruit beer but you often find the sweetness of most on the market a bit too much, this is definitely one to try. It has a ton of raspberry aroma and flavor but is pretty dry and hoppy compared to its fruit-filled peers. I give it a wort hoggy thumbs-up and will likely buy this again.