Happy Independence Day

Enjoying a French dish (soufflé) for dinner, an English dessert (trifle) and a local, American beer (DC Brau’s The Corruption) for our first Independence Day here in the DC Area. Now all we need are the fireworks!

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Micro Mashing

Following the procedure in this excellent blog post, we did six micro mash test batches for a porter or double mild we’ve been thinking about brewing. We’ve been talking about brewing a porter for months now, but haven’t been able to agree on a recipe. Wind likes dry and roasty, Esme likes sweet and smooth. But there are also some outliers like Esme liking dark mild, but Wind doesn’t. When we have a porter or stout, it almost always turns out that one of us really likes it, the other doesn’t like it nearly as much.

We’ve experimented with multiple batches for trying different yeasts before, but didn’t have a process for trying different grain bills. So it was nice to find this process, which scales down a batch to quart size and then mashes and boils in mason jars. We made a few changes, with mixed results:

  • Instead of using malt extract, we did an all-grain mash because we wanted to test the difference between mild and pale ale base malts. We scaled our recipes down to 11.5 oz. of grain, which almost filled the mason jar, and were able to fit about 18 oz. of water. This worked reasonably well, but the mash efficiency was only about 45-50%, compared to the 70-80% we usually see with our usual mash process (Igloo cooler and fly sparging). So we would recommend doing a separate, larger scale mash to test different base grains (or accepting 50% efficiency and boiling down for higher gravity).
  • Because we were using more grain, a small strainer wouldn’t be big enough. So we used a pasta strainer lined with mesh bags (usually used as hop sacks). This worked very well, and gave us room to sparge the grains. We used the same setup post-boil to filter out the hop detritus.
  • We tried to do the boil in our usual kettle, using a canning rack to hold the mason jars. This seemed better than microwaving, since we’d be able to see them while boiling, easily add hops at the right times, etc. But the mason jars didn’t boil – an hour after the water bath started boiling, they were still slowly converging on 200°F. So we pulled them out and microwaved them, which worked fine.

This is a good process for trying out different grain bills, especially different specialty grains over a base malt you can get in powdered or syrup form. We’re looking forward to figuring out a grain bill we both like and brewing a full batch soon.

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Hunahpu Day 2015

Yesterday, we went to Cigar City’s annual bottle-release-and-beer-festival, Hunahpu’s Day.  In addition to releasing their Hunahpu imperial stout, there were dozens of breweries from all over the country, with more than 200 beers on tap. This was Wind’s first time going to Hunahpu’s Day, and after hearing the stories of last year, she was excited but not entirely sure what to expect.

As it turns out, Cigar City did a number of things differently this year, and for the most part the changes worked very well:

  • There were paper tickets from Ticketfly, with the purchaser’s name on them, instead of online ticketing.  Tickets and IDs were checked at entry, which got rid of the duplicate ticket problems from last year and kept the crowd from getting out of control.
  • Lunch was provided by Cigar City’s brewpub/catering service as part of the admission price.  There weren’t as many options as last year, but the provided lunch was good (Redbeard loved the Ropa Vieja, and Wind really liked her Bratwurst).  The line looked very long, but moved very quickly.
  • There were no bottle sales during the event, and no extra bottles sold first-come-first-serve at the end of the event.  Instead, everyone got 4 bottles in a tote bag as they left (with no re-entry).  This went very smoothly as we left, and avoided having to stand in a long line to purchase bottles.  It also avoided a problem Redbeard had in past years: buying bottles in the middle of the event and having to lug them around all day.

The good parts of the festival from last year were preserved: all-you-can-drink small pours from dozens of breweries made for very short lines.  Not having tickets or tokens or any other payment made everything quick and easy.  We’re glad they kept this system from last year instead of returning to 8 oz. pours for $5 like 2013.  Redbeard made a list of about 20 beers he wanted to try, and we managed to have more than half of them (along with some last minute additions).  There were a few breweries that ran out of beer after a couple of hours (like Cascade), but the vast majority were still going strong when we left near the end of the event.

Unlike last year, things went pretty smoothly and there was no angry crowd chanting “Cigar City Sucks!” when the beer ran out.  In fact, Cigar City  has a sense of humor (or was pessimistically planning to capitalize on any failures this year) – in additional to the usual merch, they had a “Cigar City Sucks!” t-shirt on sale. Redbeard had to get one, which resulted in us standing in the second longest line of the day (see below for the winner):

Of course, no beer festival would be complete without at least some logistical problems. Compared to last year these are manageable, at least:

  • The longest line of the day, by far, was the line for entry.  We arrived 30 minutes before the event started, and the line was down the block, across the street, and snaking all the way around the edge of their parking lot.  It moved slowly and it took us an hour and fifteen minutes before we got in.  It’s not really surprising that the line was slower because they were checking IDs, but they could have started much sooner to work through the line before the starting time.  We’ve seen other festivals do this effectively by taking tickets and letting attendees into a holding area (sometimes with food – looking at you, Vermont Brewer’s Festival, well done!).
  • There was very little shade at the event.  There was one tent with seating at the far end of the space (which was completely packed), and each brewery tent had a small amount of shade at the front of the line.  But since the event’s held in Cigar City’s parking lot, it was otherwise in full sun, with temperatures in the mid-80’s, under a cloudless sky.  A few tents in the middle of the space would go a long way towards providing more shade and helping people keep cool.
  • Even capped at 2000 attendees, the space was pretty crowded.  The lines for beer were (mostly) nice and short, but the food and merch lines were long and made it hard to move around the space.

All three of these issues probably boil down to not having enough space.  If they can’t move the event to a larger space, they should consider splitting it into a couple of sessions.  The Vermont Brewers Festival does this (three 4-hour sessions over two days), and that’s a great way to serve more people in a limited space.  It would also help address the shade problem if people could go to a session that wasn’t right in the middle of the day.

But, let’s not end on a low note – it was a great day and we had some amazing finds. We both agree the clear winners of the day were Nola and Night Shift. Getting to have about 6 different sours within 40 minutes of entering the event was a (tipsy) delight. In fact, some of the beers toward the front of the space were so good that that is probably why we didn’t get to back before some of the more big name brewers ran out.

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Code4Lib 2015 Craft Drinkup

At the Code4Lib conference in Portland, Oregon this year, there was a Craft Brew Drinkup event, a semi-organized bottle-share, with some effort made to make it more inclusive of non-alcoholic options like soda and tea.  An event like this has been organized at the conference each of the last several years, though historically it’s been focused more exclusively on beer. The event has ranged from ticketed events in a local bar, to tons people crowded into a couple people’s hotel rooms.  The event has been controversial for causing trouble at the conference hotel by being too noisy, or excluding non-drinkers.

I’ve felt conflicted about the event over the years.  On one hand, it’s the best beer tasting I go to all year, and where I really got into craft beer (I still remember tasting my first sours, Cigar City’s Sea Bass and Lost Abbey’s Sinners in a crowded hotel room in Bloomington).  On the other hand, many members of the community were uncomfortable with the event and questioned whether it was compatible with a professional conference.

What Was Good

This year’s event was held at eBay in a large event space that included a lot of the amenities you’d expect from a tech company: a kitchen, ping-pong tables, a pinball machine, a stage with a full rock band setup (real instruments, not the video game), and plenty of space for a crowd.  There was also more organization than some of the past years, including having a few of the organizers being dedicated servers.

The event space was very nice, people had fun playing the games, and there was plenty of space.  In past years, the event has typically been in a hotel suite, and has been very crowded and loud. Having enough space meant that there were different areas with different vibes: a crowd around the entrance and bar, several people clustered around the pinball machine and ping-pong table, a few small groups spread out, etc.  I found it very easy to move through the different spaces, and talk to different people.

There was more effort this year to include non-alcoholic options like sodas and tea.  After some conversation on Twitter, the announcement was revised to be more inclusive.   There were tables for tea and craft sodas, with a variety of non-alcoholic options.

Having designated servers worked very well.  I was a little worried about how this would work, since it was announced the day of the event.  But it worked very well, with each of the three servers handling a different category of beers and each keeping a small inventory of open bottles to choose from.  It made it easy to find the kind of beer you were interested in, and check out the options.  There was never a big line, and I don’t think I missed any of the cool beers I was interested in trying.

As always, it was amazing to see the range of stuff people brought from all over the country, and indeed the world.  I’ve been to beer tastings and festivals with huge taplists, but the Code4Lib bottle share rivals these, and I’m always impressed by the sheer variety of beers, from breweries I often haven’t even heard of.  It’s a powerful reminder of how far-flung the Code4Lib community is, and one of the things I look forward to every year.

What We Can Do Better Next Time

This was the best of these events that I’ve attended, but I think there are some areas we can improve for next year:

There was too much beer.  People were encouraged to bring something, and most of them brought beer.  And lots of it, with many people bringing several large bottles.  Or six-packs or growlers of beers bought in Portland.  There was a ton of beer left over at the end of the event, which was given to people to take away with them.  It’s better to have too much than too little, and it’s probably unavoidable that we’ll have at least a small surplus.  But next year, we should still encourage people to bring their local beer and homebrew, but discourage bringing more than one or two bottles.  We should also make it clear that it’s OK to come without bringing anything, and that there will be no shortages.

The non-alcoholic options were much better than in past years, but not on par with the beer options.  We can do more to listen to advice on how to make events more welcoming for non-drinkers, and improve the non-alcoholic options.  Adding baked goods to the event would probably help here, both by expanding the number of people who bring non-alcoholic items, and by giving people something to eat.

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Pointy Elf Hat

Miss L commented in passing that she really liked Mr. C’s red elf hat (which he longer wants to wear, alas) and would like one herself, preferably in blue or green. Luckily, I still have a print out of the pattern I used – this saved me the trouble of finding a new pattern online, thinking it was the old one, realizing it was wrong, looking again, and so on. Plus, and this is the bonus part, I found a yarn that is a mix of blue AND green!

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This hat is knitted flat and then sewn up the back. Honestly, my knitting is better than my sewing, and so in hindsight I might have been better off with a new pattern than was knit-only.

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Tasting of Doom

We were going to bottle a batch of beer, and were running short on 12 oz. bottles.  So we decided to taste all the homebrew we have hanging around (including some of questionable quality), and decide if there were any bottles we could free up – that is, if any of them were so bad we’d never drink them.

We started with our sours – five batches of saison fermented in 1 gallon glass growlers for a year, with various souring agents and a small honeycomb of oak for them to live on:

  • 17a (plain saison): this tasted fine, with more oak than we expected, but was almost completely flat.  Decision: borderline (would drink if we can carbonate it somehow).
  • 17b (Brett. bruxellensis): also fine, with good Brett character, but also terribly undercarbed.  Decision: borderline.
  • 17c (Lactobacillus): terrible and acrid.  Decision: drainpour.
  • 17d (Brett. & Lacto): sweet and cloying.  Decision: drainpour.
  • 17e (White Labs Sour Mix): very nice, but completely flat.  Decision: borderline.

We then moved on to our last batch of cysers/meads – again, small batches fermented in 1 gallon glass growlers, with four different kinds of honey:

  • 16a (Cross Creek Tupelo honey): sweet, rich, and completely flat.  Luckily still mead is a thing (not the thing we were trying to make, but sometimes you have to be flexible).  Decision: keep.
  • 16b (Cross Creek Everglades honey): very nice, but with a little bit of off flavor.  Decision: borderline.
  • 16c (Uncle John wildflower honey): lots of dark honey, oaky.  Decision: keep.
  • 16d (Uncle John’s clover honey): light, with tons of honey character, best of the tasting.  Decision: keep.

I’m left with an appreciation of how hard mead and sour beer are to get right.  Of the two, the mead definitely turned out better, with even the worst batch being tolerable.  By contrast, the sours with Lactobacillus are foul and undrinkable – it was easy to dump those to free up some extra bottles.  But the other sours were fine, other than being flat.  So we’re thinking about trying to force-carbonate them, either by decanting the remaining bottles into a keg, or using our Sodastream.

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New Beer Freezer

The old faithful wine beer fridge finally gave up the ghost a couple weeks ago.  It had been reliably chugging along for years, but recently had trouble keeping the temperature down, and was running most of the time.  I did some searching online to try to find a good replacement.  I initially thought that a kegerator without the taps would be the best option, since they are large, don’t have weird bumps in them that eat into bottle storage, and keep very cold efficiently.  But they’re also much more expensive than either wine fridges, or a new category I hadn’t seen before: beverage refrigerators.  The beverage fridges seemed like a good option, since they’re designed for soda/beer (i.e., colder than wine).  But I couldn’t find any good info on how big they were inside, and estimating their capacity based on the number of soda cans made it look like they wouldn’t hold that many bottles (20-30 as opposed to the 35 the old wine fridge held).

2014-12-30 10.28.33But then we found a reasonably priced chest freezer.  Even after buying an external temperature controller (which cuts the power to keep the freezer from getting too cold), it was less expensive than the beverage fridges.  And after I built a little shelf to hold a crate of bottles in a second layer, it can hold quite a bit more than the wine fridge (about 50 bottles).

The other advantage of having a chest freezer is potentially being able to lager or cold crash beers after fermenting (or being able to do a controlled-temperature fermentation if we wanted to).  And if our trusty kegerator stops working, we could always drill a few holes and make the chest freezer into a keezer.

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THE sweater (done!)

After way too many months, a whole lot of beer and a soupçon of profanity, the husband sweater is finally done! Drum roll, please…

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It seems so simple now… still not sure what took me so long. Though, I will say that there were a couple points that held me up because I was nervous about dealing with them – in particular I procrastinated forever before I finally worked up the courage to tackle button holes, and then I ended up knitting about twenty holes to get the five finalists you see above. (Button holes provoke so many questions for me: How do you get them evenly spaced? How do you prevent that weird stray stitch cutting through the middle? How can knitting empty space be SO IMPOSSIBLY HARD? Why couldn’t Redbeard have asked for a zipper?) But, more than that – the pattern also spooked me a few times. It was supposedly for beginners, and really good in some ways. But, I guess I am too beginner for even beginner status, because it would also throw out strange, uninterpretable instructions, too. With a scarf or hat, I would just roll with it – because honestly, how bad can it go wrong with a scarf or a hat? But, in the high stakes world of sweater knitting, where I might not even understand how badly I’d screwed up until I went to sew it all together? Not able to just bull ahead.

In fact, for the sleeves – I actually rewrote all of instructions into something comprehensible for me. That way, I only had to divine the meaning of the instructions *once* – with coffee in hand – and translate them into something a mere pre-beginner like me could understand, even when drinking beer instead of coffee several hours later.

But, all worth it in the end! In fact, there must be something wrong with my brain, because I hadn’t even finished sewing on the last button before I started thinking about what sort of sweater I’d like to knit next…

 

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Gin vs. Gin

Gin and tonic is one of my favorite cocktails, but our first gin drink is the simpler Gin Fizz – gin, soda water, and lime, all shook up with ice:

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We had two gins on hand, Hendricks and Plymouth. I’m partial to gins with character, and am particularly partial to Uncle Val’s. But, The 12 Bottle Bar recommended getting a dry gin, and so I went out and got a bottle of Plymouth to experiment with. Yay for an excuse to buy more gin! Redbeard and I decided we’d try Hendricks and Plymouth head to head, and so I mixed up a Gin Fizz with each. The verdict? There was definitely a difference, though not as dramatic as we’d predicted. To me, the Plymouth created a drink that tastes like summer – clean, crisp, with a clear lovely lime. The Hendricks was also very good, though – clearly dry gin is not strictly required for a good gin fizz. It was warmer to me; Redbeard characterized it as ‘well-rounded’.

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New adventures in advanced drinking

We recently acquired a copy of The 12 Bottle Bar, and it has inspired me (Wind) to start approaching cocktails in a way similar to the somewhat systematic way we’ve approached beer, with the goal this time of building up a small but select repertoire of excellent drink options.

So, armed with a few basics (Boston shaker, citrus juicer, 2oz jigger), I’ve started to put together drinks beyond the occasional haphazard rum-and-cherry-coke-zero and beloved gin and tonic.

First up, the Waldorf:

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This is a boozy combination of Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth and grenadine, all shook up with ice. Despite usually drinking liquor that’s largely cut with something, I found this to be pretty tasty. I’m still getting the hang of the Boston shaker, worried that I’m going to break the glass as I wiggle it free of the metal cup. But, otherwise this was an easy beginning.

We already have store-bought grenadine on hand, but I’m looking forward to making my own when it runs out.

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