Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homebrew: Bourbon Dubbel - 03

We're going places! I have added the quarter-pound of Bavarian candi sugar, the bourbon-soaked oak chips, and the 1/3-cup of bourbon. Luckily, there is still enough bourbon for me to drink.

Toki hasn't been in the kitchen for a long time, which is kinda crazy since right now the kitchen smells awesome. The bourbon, the oak, and the four grains that went into the malt all combine to make something really delicious. And I would be tempted to sample it right now except I have very good self-control and long-distance imaging, or whatever they call it. Delayed gratification. I know that the beer I'm going to make is going to be better than the freakin' awesome brew sitting on the stove right behind me right now, so I'm not going to ladle a sample into a little IKEA tumbler, let it cool, and... no, I won't even think about it.

I'm just going to have some bourbon. That's good enough for now. And maybe I'll walk up to Sebastian Joe's for some ice cream, if there's some stage in this process that will let me step out for a few minutes. But I'm terrible at reading ahead (see also sparging) and it might be important for me to always be around at all times until it's sitting in the carboy, in my closet.

It's interesting because the Brooklyn BrewShop's instructions don't mention a wort chiller at all: they actually suggest filling up your sink with "five inches of water and ice cubes." Isn't that quaint! Seriously, this is totally written by two people living in a little apartment! An apartment a lot like mine, I imagine, a little... I think this is a kitchenette and not a galley kitchen, but what do I know? It's a small kitchen, I think mine is like that of the authors', and I've totally got a sink full of cold water and ice cubes waiting for the hopped malt, sugar, and drunken oak chips. I would've done this in the bathtub, since I did it before and it worked out most handily, but I'll take these authors at face value and follow their disarmingly specific instructions. I mean, they've published a book and I haven't. I'm going to take the authorities' lead, and I don't think the philosophers will fault me for this.

Ugh! It's supposed to chill for 30 minutes, and this would totally be a great moment to run out for ice cream, but I just read ahead (contrary to my nature) and apparently there's some equipment I should be cleaning and sterilizing right now. Excuse me, I have to go wash a carboy, a funnel, some tubing, and evidently my own hands for the next step.

I was about to say, Boy, this beer better be worth it, but I totally know it will be.

Crap, the ice cubes have already melted! We're not even ten minutes into this! I can't make new ice cubes in so short a time! Guess I have to deviate from the printed word and do this bidness in my 'tub.

I prefer StarSan as a biodegradable, environmentally friendly sanitizer that does the job so well, even the pros recommend it. OneStep is great for cleansing, but you must remember that's what it's for, and cleansing is not the same as sanitizing. And as it turns out, I have sanitized a bunch of equipment I don't need right yet. In fact, I have transferred everything from the 5 gal. carboy into a 1 gal. carboy, which was a tedious and stupid process, but I'm not making that much beer so it was necessary to do. Especially since the book has specified a complicated process in which I allow the pitched wort to "off-gas" for three days, a stoppered tube running into a bowl of sanitizing fluid (why?) before swapping it out for the conventional airlock. I guess I'll go along with it, but I really wish the stupid book would explain why this was necessary.

On the other hand, I'm one step closer to my ice cream.

Homebrew: Bourbon Dubbel - 02

Have to maintain the temperature for an hour, keeping it between 144-152°. I went over a little bit but I left the lid off and cut the heat, so I hope it doesn't damage anything.

I'm going to say that a lot! I just get very insecure during this process. I want everything to go right, and beer can be pretty forgiving at some stages (like boiling the wort) and not at others (everything else). I'm not very skilled and I'm confronted with that all the time: while I was tediously adding and deducting hundredths of pounds on digital scales, cautiously searching all the bins for the various malts I needed, some old guy came in with a mixed expression of determination and tired intolerance. I was dinking around with fractions and he just strode right up, got a large plastic bin, threw pounds and pounds of various malts into a few bags, and strode out again. He's an expert, he's been doing this often enough that he knows what he needs, what can be overlooked, and where his margins of error are. Not so with me: I've got to study and stare and scrutinize to make sure every last tidbit is followed, and somewhere along the way I can hope to intuit the process, to internalize the formulas so that I have a relationship with the chemical process rather than following it blindly and methodically like an aspirant to a dead religion.

See, even now, I should be boiling the wort back up to 170° with a companion gallon of water as well, but I forgot about the galon and it's heating up now while I've cut the heat on the steeping malts. I'm so terrible. I believe in drinking my failures, sure, but it's not as good as drinking a success, and I'll leave the astute reader to guess at which I'm aiming.

Anyway, another step down and another step screwed up! I was supposed to sparge the grains over a large pot, which I found after ten minutes of searching, and then dump a boiling gallon of water through the malt grains. Instead, I got rid of the grains and had to salvage them (or as many as practical/hygenic) to dump the water through them. Do I have enough malted water left over? Good lord, am I making my own malt? That would make sense! Wow, this is the missing step in homebrewing that I was dreading: when the grid goes down, sure, I could grow my own hops and maybe find malt and barley, but how would I make the malt syrup? Apparently I'm doing it right now! That just now occurred to me!

Time for more bourbon.

Anyway, the malted liquid is boiling nicely and it's time to add some of the hops (this 1/5-reduced recipe is increasingly annoying: I have to waste many ingredients because I have more than is called for, in a one-gallon batch, but that's how we learn). And in the above left photo, please note my curious little kitty, Toki. He likes the smell of malt, apparently, though he won't actually eat a sample of the boiled grains.

Homebrew: Bourbon Dubbel - 01

Courtesy of the excellent Brooklyn BrewShop's Beer Making Book, I'm following a recipe to create what's called a "bourbon dubbel." The recipe they describe is mellower than regular bourbon-based beers, but I won't hold that against it. It might even be an advanced experiment and I might be underqualified, but in many ways I've let go of my ego and am willing, even eager, to make mistakes, thereby to learn.

What I like about homebrewing is what I like about stationery, absinthe, or smoking pipes: the ritual. I take it very seriously, perhaps to a degree others would find ridiculous. To prepare the kitchen I chased the cats out, put away the dishes, washed the counters and scrubbed the floor (my wife doesn't mind this at all).

The first thing to do was to soak some dark oak chips in bourbon overnight. Easily enough done: I'd recently picked up a lovely bottle of Woodford Reserve, so I let the French oak chips drink that up all night long. Apparently it doesn't matter whether you use chips, cubes, or spiral discs: these are all for wine but can be used for beer, and it's not a question of mass or surface area. I went with the chips anyway.

I picked up all the malts at Northern Brewer yesterday, but I was so excited to be gathering my own ingredients that I totally forgot to get the grains crushed there in the store. I've crushed my own grains before: I use a wooden mallet that I roll back and forth, with considerable force, over a plastic bag filled with small portions of the grains. Is it sufficient? I hope so, but when I poured it all into the stock pot of 160° water, some and maybe a lot of them looked perfectly intact. Just like with my last project, I hope this isn't as bad as I dread, and I hope it doesn't ruin the batch.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hennepin and 5th St is a Treacherous Gamble

Location: Hennepin Ave & S 5th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402, USA
There's a terrible tendency in Downtown West, and I don't mean the 60% rise in violent crime.

Driving northbound on Hennepin Avenue, traffic comes up to 5th St, along which runs the LRT. Traffic stops and waits for the LRT to pass, then it sits there: three lanes of traffic, one turning left and two going straight. There's a dedicated left-turn light for the left-turn lane, but it doesn't always trigger. While inconvenient, it doesn't mean the turn lane can create hazardous situations, though the people in it think it does.

It's quite common to see a car pull into the intersection as soon as the light turns green. They're trying to beat the three lanes of oncoming (southbound) traffic, of course, and sometimes they get away with it. Sometimes, however, they're held up by pedestrians in the intersection, people just crossing the street or leaving/going to the LRT. That means they're also held up in three lanes of traffic, but sometimes they just push through.

This girl nearly drove into a crowd of pedestrians, and if I hadn't leaped back she would've driven into me. She had no interest in waiting for people to get out of the way—she simply plowed through and expected everyone to defend themselves. Her expression was one of confusion, as though she couldn't understand why society didn't simply allow her to race through an intersection, pull out in front of three lanes of oncoming traffic, and have all the pedestrians clear out of the way for her. Where was the sympathy? Where was the community? What about her needs?